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Rewrite the Future

Chapter Text

Seidou was in shambles. Having few new first years (at least of quality) broke the team after the retirement of the third years. Having mostly second years to count on, the team imploded from within. An ace that wasn't trusted, a relief pitcher that got thrown aside and a head coach that only now began to see reason again made for a disastrous season.

The assistant coach felt like the one he thought of as the unrivaled ace was, at this point, more than useless and resigned. By putting all the blame on the head coach for not making him tough enough during the previous season he forewent his own responsibility in the destruction of the team. Saying that spending too much time on the (in his eyes) useless southpaw with only sparingly lucky moments was what naturally led to these results.

Awareness of bad decision making only started to make itself known after having lost, resulting in ending the senpais summer even quicker than the year before. Nothing was learned from the disastrous results of the previous spring tournament. The preparation time in-between tournaments was unsatisfying, because the wrong decisions kept getting the wrong follow-ups.

The team lost faith in their ace after underperforming in the last matches. Not to mention the cold and rude behavior towards others and the first years questioning. The coaches’ still stubbornly refused to reassign the ace number to someone else after the spring tournament fiasco. So, after putting the ace and relief pitchers technical data next to each other, one thing was clear to the whole team. Apart from the emotional leading it was proven on a statistical level too. They had the wrong ace. Openly questioning the head coaches decision was impossible, but they tried to petition anyway via their (vice) captains

The captain and vice-captain petitioned carefully the case the other players were making in regards of the ace number. With the time in-between tournaments comes a chance to reassign numbers after viewing the results of some practice games, intra-squad games and practice results. But however carefully they phrased it, even providing hard data, it seemed hopeless. They seemed set on helping the ace regain his footing and finding his path again after losing the Spring Koshien tournament, making sure the captain knew his responsibility as the starting catcher and captain. They had to concede defeat after the reassignment of the player numbers right before the start of the summer tournament. Having the head coach believe the words written in a specific diary and the coach assistant a fervent ace fan, it was a lost cause. They never felt more useless in their roles. They couldn’t protect the team.

Seidou lost.

They lost in the first round of the summer qualifier games. The senpais summer cut short by biased opinions and a cultural lack of openly rebelling while ace-sama never thought he was doing something wrong. Completely immersed in his internal one-sided egoistical fight with his final Koshien game counterpart he totally missed the declining support and lack of faith towards his person. His coaches believing in him and his captain still assigned to him as his main catcher was enough. No matter that his off season results were even poorer than his spring season results. He would get his Koshien level pitching back and show his true (Koshien) rival how much he improved. In the meantime he would make sure no other pitcher got any extra unassigned time in with his catcher. He was the ace after all, the coaches agreed, the captain despaired further.

Hard truths emerged, but it was in vain. The resignation of the assistant coach was met with cheers, no one liked the guy and no one was sad to see him go, but the other assistants still remained useless. The head coach felt like waking up from a long bad dream, but no apologizing or tears could make right the wrong committed to the (retired) players. There was only one hard truth he had to face. He sacrificed the team for one single person. Something he vowed never to do. He miserably failed. Left with no way other way out he chose the easy way out and also resigned. He had lost his confidence in his own coaching and the lack of faith of his players drove him towards this decision, despite the shared responsibility between the coaching staff. They asked him to change his mind, stating it would only make matters worse. He didn’t believe them; the results and players attitude spoke volumes. The school had no problem accepting his resignation this time. So he went, without looking back. A coward’s way out.

The retired third years wondered if after these results pro- or even university offers would still be forthcoming. Many were afraid of diminishing chances for going pro or even playing in college.

The second years were in tatters. Having a very long off season (again) and few first years to fill the spots, no true coach and the senpai leaving made for a crappy start of a new team and season. And all of this only because of one diary entry and the use of double standards by the people they should have been able to trust.

The first years where wondering if they could still transfer to other schools, since it was technically still the start of the school year and they wouldn’t have any problems fitting in at different schools or clubs since most weren’t on the active game roster anyway.

The Seidou baseball club was facing its biggest crisis of yet. The pressure of the times they almost made it to Koshien, but failed, remained bleak in the face of this new crisis: the internal meltdown of the baseball club mid-season. People wondered if this would be the beginning of the end. If the first years really transferred to other schools that meant at least one or two years without new players. This would effectively destroy the club: without players no results, with no results no new players. They would have to start from scratch and no matter how good a name Seidou build, no name imago could save them then.

For two players especially this meant an end to not only their dream of reaching Koshien, it also ruined their personal dreams as well: winning Koshien together as the best battery in the nation.

For the pitcher, after finally being acknowledged fully by his team, the loss in the first round and the loss of the person he most wanted to acknowledge him and finally did hit him hard. Not even the encouraging words of his most beloved senpai could mend the gaping hole that this particular person leaving left within him. They wouldn’t be able to from that special battery he hoped to pursue when he chose to come to Seidou, leaving his friends behind to be the fated partner that they promised each other to be on that first day they met.

The catcher on the other hand felt like he got hit by a truck. Under his captaincy the club fell apart. All the hopes and encouraging words his previous captain bestowed on him wearing him down. He never wanted to become the captain, but after getting the role anyway, he also vowed to do his best for the team. But this was not what he ever thought of happening after making one bad decision in that one spring tournament match. It all went downhill from there and he had no way of stopping it. His character and the blind trust in his coach clouding his normally genius game-calling regardless of position and personal preference, it became his and the teams downfall. Of course he knew he wouldn’t be held accountable for all of Seidou’s current hardships. Yet he knew he could have prevented some of it if he would have paid more attention to the steady and amazing growth of one particular player. He was always near him, always thought he saw the progress he made, but in the end he didn’t see it in time. He was blinded by his success in the spring Koshien matches. Looking back he noticed he got blindsided by the fact that he thought they still had time left until his pitcher caught up to him, so in the meantime he focused on the pitcher assigned to him. He just failed to notice the time when that other pitcher did catch up. And by then it was too late. He missed his chance, the left-over time too short and the coaches’ opinion’s too rigid. He wouldn’t get to be that one true battery he hoped to become after catching those peculiar pitches on that first day.

Some would argue they still had a chance to become a battery in university or after going pro. But many (and especially they themselves) knew that apart from academic differences (one not being the most academic person on this planet while the other excelled as the genius on and off the field), the path of sports is an unsteady one. One injury or one missed opportunity could end up destroying those hopes forever. Not to mention that because they rarely played matches together the chances of getting invites to the same (pro) team were almost nonexistent. They had nothing to show as a battery apart from the occasional game. Those reduced the chances of ever playing together to almost zero. One can only chase so far. And apart from that, no one could bring back the sweet taste of the hope to (finally) win Koshien with the team that felt like family. High school baseball was something special and treasured. It all lost its glory on that day. A day both pitcher and catcher wished they could redo, but not just that particular day.

They reverently wished to go back to that first day they met. To change what happened. Apart from each other they wished for the same thing. While Sawamura Eijun ran and ran and ran with tears streaming down his face as he prayed and collapsed on the mound of training field B, Miyuki Kazuya sat dazed and withdrawn in the catcher’s box of training field A. They both prayed, unaware of each other’s thoughts, for the same thing and sometimes, just sometimes there is an answer to those prayers. The feeling of being hit by a truck and squeezed through a much too small tube while losing all oxygen, the last thing they felt before they tumbled to the ground unable to move even one limp or call for help.

Chapter Text

“Eijun, hey Eijun”, Eijun heard from far away. “Eijun, someone’s here to see you”. The door of his room opened to let his grandfather in looking like he couldn’t believe what was happening. ‘Grandpa?’ Sawamura thought while waking up from what felt like a long dream. ‘ What’s grandpa doing in Tokyo? Omg did he see our game today and came to smack me around? But why, I didn’t even get to play so that’s totally unfair! But it doesn’t make sense. Why is grandpa telling me that there is someone to visit me like I’m at home? I’m at Seidou…’

Grandpa?!” Eijun yelled while turning around in shock. “I’m so screwed, what on earth is happening? Why are you here?”

A swift head chop launched him from his chair over to his bed and while trying to force his confused brain cells to work on something resembling a coherent thought, a loud “Stop dreaming you stupid grandson and wash up before you come downstairs” was heard before his grandpa left the room, mumbling about a person visiting especially from Tokyo.

“Tokyo?” Eijun wondered. ‘Why would someone visit me from Tokyo? I’m already in Tokyo aren’t I?’ he thought before looking at his surroundings. Taking in the familiar furniture of his Nagano bedroom he felt himself going faint. ‘What on earth is going on here? I’m sure I was at Seidou so what am I doing at home? Did I get sick while staying outside for too long or something and did they call my parents to pick me up, but I feel fine?’ Thoroughly confused and with a heavy feeling in his gut, he washed up and went downstairs as ordered.

When he opened the sliding door towards the living room he saw his family sitting in seiza with a look of utter confusion on their face. While still trying to comprehend what was going on he heard a very familiar voice. One he didn’t expect to hear again in his home and especially not speaking those particular words. His eyes refused to connect to his brain, his synapses still refusing to fire to connect the dots. He was sure he was still dreaming.

“Nice to meet you” he heard from the person in front of him. “You must be Sawamura Eijun-kun. I am Takashima Rei, the assistant director of the Seidou High School Baseball Team. We would love for you to join our team.”

He looked at the woman in front of him and muttered “Seidou High School, Takashima-san?”

‘What happened with the: You kids can call me Rei-chan and why is she telling me about Seidou as if I never heard of it?’

“Eijun”, his grandpa cut in. “Seidou High is a famous baseball school that played often at the nationals! They even have lots of alumni players in the pro leagues.”

“I know” he answered and everyone in the room looked at him like they couldn’t believe he just said that. “Whatever do you mean you know?” His grandpa asked. “They mention them regularly on TV when there’s a baseball game with them in it. Baseball games on TV are still boring but I couldn’t help noticing it when we have to watch them regularly. But I still believe baseball should be played not watched” he answered and wondered why they were having that particular conversation again. ‘Are they testing me for amnesia or something?’ He thought while looking at everyone in the room being stunned into silence. He himself didn’t fare any better at the moment.

At that point he got the feeling he should remember something and do it fast because this situation felt incredibly familiar. Almost like a déjà vu and a sneaking suspicion reared itself in the corner of his mind while his gut fell even further. His suspicions confirmed with the next words that left his grandpa’s mouth.

“But why would such a famous school come here, all the way from Tokyo especially, to look for Eijun?”

And as Takashima-san explained that she was present at the game he played in the other day and that she saw he had the potential to become someone great, Eijun felt like being in the Twilight Zone. Especially as his grandpa continued on to explain his slapping spree after the game to her, something that happened two years ago in his perspective. As she replied that his wrist movements truly represented his potential as a pitcher he felt his stomach finally hitting the ground and his vision blurring.

His family, seeing the chance presented to them, turned towards him and excitedly commanded told him to take Seidou’s offer before Takashima-san would rethink her proposal. They knew it was his only chance, especially after hitting other players and an umpire. If Seidou was willing to overlook it, they wouldn’t complain. While his mother was already imagining a feast for tonight, Eijun officially knew he in fact dived in headfirst into his own personal Twilight Zone, forget feeling like it, he officially entered. “What?” He said. “Hold on…” “Do you have something useful to say?” his grandpa asked and Eijun muttered: “Going to Tokyo to play baseball? But I already do, what is going on? Aren’t I already playing with the team?”

Misunderstanding his words, thinking he meant his old team, his family and Takashima san were stunned. “Do you know what an amazing offer you just got? You couldn’t get a better offer for high school even if you made a bet with the devil himself!” his parents exclaimed.

“So your friends are important to you aren’t they Sawamura-kun?” Takashima-san stated. “What day would you like to pay us a visit, since we are only getting busier we would like for you to come as soon as possible.” Eijun only wondered if she actually listened to him. He finally started to catch up on the possibility that this wasn’t a. an elaborate prank or b. a very realistic nightmare.

“The baseball field is a battlefield of warriors fighting for the win” she went on and Eijun at that point tuned her out. His synapses finally kick started again and presented him with the most absurd but logical explanation for his current predicament. Apparently some prayers are heard and do come true. He muttered something in answer to her story and his family gathered around each other to contemplate whether or not Takashima san really represented Seidou because of her sometimes weird statements. Eijun only hummed, too far gone to comprehend anything at the moment except the fact that apparently he revisited his past. In particular the exact moment he got challenged into visiting Seidou. And it was all happening again. After his latest hum the reply he got finally shook him out of his stupor. “I’ll come and pick you up in two days then, I’m looking forward to showing you Seidou Sawamura-kun” and Eijun only laughed nervously as he watched her saying goodbye to his family after finalizing everything for his visit this Sunday.

‘It is really starting again’ he thought and the next one got his stomach plummeting again. ‘ Will I see Miyuki again, and this time will things actually change? Is it even okay to change things? Will I make everything even worse? What on earth am I going to do?’ His family, thinking he got flabbergasted over the amazing offer he got, didn’t think anything was amiss with him being quiet, however rare an occurrence, and went on excitingly about the feast they would have tonight and dreaming of a famous Eijun debuting in the pro leagues since one could dream and as hopeless as Eijun was, they needed all the dreams they could get. Since they behaved like his attendance into Seidou was already finalized and went off into their own warped world, Eijun muttered a hurried excuse and went to his room to contemplate what on earth happened and how he should move from here onwards.

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About one and a half hours away by Shinkansen from Nagano, in the meantime in Tokyo, another boy wondered what on earth happened when he woke inside his dorm room and noticed a roommate that shouldn’t have been there for the past two years. Blinking twice and trying to check the time on the alarm clock on his bed stand, he saw after squinting so much it looked like he’d be permanently constipated, that it was only four am. Leaving any unnecessary thinking for another time, he turned around, pulled up his blankets and went back to sleep. Unable to comprehend anything before nine AM and at least one cup of coffee, the trouble of thinking wasn’t worth losing sleep over. And since tomorrow was Saturday, so no training till noon, everything could wait until at least nine o clock! In his opinion sleep was sacred and no mysterious roommate could come between him and his sleep. After dropping his head back on the pillow he went off to dreamland and his last thoughts were about the strange fact that Azuma-senpai was back in his old dorm room again. He only hoped it was(n’t) a nightmare and he would be gone come morning so his life would be right again. How wrong he was.

Chapter Text

Miyuki Kazuya’s lucky days of terrorizing first years into his bidding and being the king of the bullpen were numbered. They weren’t even days, there were only minutes left before he would wake up to his (in his eyes) worst Seidou days again. The days were he wasn’t the royal head commander of the bullpen and the team, the sadistic upperclassman who could order his firsties around (he of course was still a sadistic prick, only without the added firsties bonus) were already upon him, he just didn’t know yet. He would just be Miyuki Kazuya again. He would again be Seidou’s first year big mouthed catcher with his extremely sunny (sarcastic) disposition that could annoy anyone within zero to ten seconds after opening his mouth.

From far away he heard a sound he hadn’t heard in over two years. Reaching consciousness slowly he wondered who would play such a cruel joke on him. He still had nightmares of hearing that particular song. Only Ryou or Mochi could come up with such a cruel joke, days after retiring from the team. But since Ryou isn’t around anymore, Miyuki knew Mochi was in for a very bad day. Revenge would be incredibly sweet when he got that cackling hyena in his hands. ‘Big Belly Man, really?’ He knew Azuma-senpai was in love with what he always called his ‘cute masculine little belly’ but having that as your alarm clock sound and also his ringtone? That guy was such a narcissist. He just wondered when Mochi actually got to his phone, and managed to bypass his lock.

Pulling his face mask off, he blinked and blinked again. His hand slowly reached for the pair of glasses on his nightstand while trying to process the big black blob in front of him in the meanwhile.

“Miyukiiiiii. Get your ass out of bed and onto the field you lazy shithead. I’ll make sure the coach will kill you in training today as thanks for yesterday’s big mouth if you are even one second late. On second thought, I’ll make him kill you regardless you dick. And make sure that wimp is ready to face me for batting practice, I’m in the mood to hit some balls out of the park!” And the big blob went out of his field of vision and he heard a door slam shut.

“Ehh?” he muttered while finally putting his glasses on his nose. He looked around and saw his own dorm room. The strange thing though was that it seemed it wasn’t only his dorm room anymore. ‘Apparently Mochi put quite some work into this prank’ he thought. They weren’t scheduled to move out into the third year’s dorms for another week. But in his case it mattered not, since he didn’t have a roommate after Okumura requested a transfer to another dorm room after two days. He still hadn’t figured out what he did to make that one hate him so much.

A strange feeling crept upon him and he wondered why. He actually felt quite excited, as if something good was about to happen. Normally Mochi’s pranks would leave him feeling trepidatious, but for some reason the opposite was true. He felt elated. He couldn’t remember feeling like this in a long time. Not since the Ouya game where he caught all of Sawamura’s pitches for all nine innings.

Being reminded of Sawamura made his stomach drop again, the heavy feeling of guilt with which he was intimately acquainted by now. ‘ I really did wrong to him’ he thought miserably. ‘I was the one by his side the most after Chris-senpai retired. And I was the one that left him standing in the cold. As captain and catcher I should have done more. I should have made him shine more and I should not have closed my eyes on his progress only because I didn’t want to choose while knowing that Sawamura was actually always better Ace material. I knew, but I failed him. All because of being jealous of Chris-senpai, he should have been MY pitcher. By teasing him and putting him down while nagging on his control, I did more damage to our battery than him having trained for a short while with Chris-senpai ever did. I could have taught him so much more, but we all left him standing alone. In the end he had to fight alone, to learn alone and also cry alone. The people he called friends or coaches left him hanging and failed him, and all this because of the first successful Koshien achievement. One we had forgotten wouldn’t have been able without that particular southpaw.’ Feeling depressed again he got up and took care of his morning ablutions. He knew deep down that the only person blameless for the whole mess Seidou became was Sawamura.

Walking out of his room, head bent down and shoulders sagged with his heavy thoughts, he walked to the dining hall on auto-pilot. At first he didn’t register the voices coming from inside the hall. But when he got closer he started to pay attention and wondered why he heard Jun scream at Ryou while Tetsu-san demanded a shogi partner for tonight.

‘Incredible, Mochi must have felt really down for orchestrating this whole thing. He even invited the senpai back and got them acting it out, although most of them would find it a hilarious thing to do. But I wonder what he hopes to achieve with this since most of the first years don’t even know them, so it wouldn’t even help the current second and first years like how it worked for us back then. And why inviting even Azuma-senpai’s year, it makes no sense at all, especially getting them to act the part? It wasn’t April’s Fools Day was it?’ He opened the door and stepped inside.

“Miyuki” Tetsu-san said when he walked inside. “Make sure you come to my room tonight, I want a rematch today.”

“Ehh” Miyuki responded dumbfounded. “Whatever do you mean Tetsu-san, which room, aren’t you drafted already? What are all of you even doing here?”

“Kora, Miyuki, what are you blabbering about? Are you sleepwalking or something? You better wake up soon because you won’t get out of tonight. You better prepare yourself for an evening of massaging your senpai!”

“No Jun” Tetsu interrupted. “Miyuki is my opponent tonight. Shogi is more important than your massages, ask someone else.”

“But Tetsu….” “Don’t you Tetsu me Jun, I WILL beat him in Shogi tonight, I read up on some nice strategies so don’t interrupt!”

Jun muttered something incomprehensible and Miyuki only looked around to see if he could find the perpetrator who orchestrated all of this. “Has anyone seen Kuramochi? I want to congratulate him on his amazing prank, although now that I know about it you all can stop acting. I know you guys want to help, but I’m not sure this is the best way. Most of the first years and even second years don’t know yours or Azuma-senpai’s year. But thank you nonetheless everyone!”

“What on earth are you talking about Miyuki-teme” Jun yelled. “Are you feeling alright? What kind of shit are you muttering about the first and second years? You are just a measly firstie yourself; don’t get ahead of yourself talking like you’re the captain you dork. You may be the starting catcher now that Chris is out, but that gives you no right to command us around!”

“Are you sure you’re alright Miyuki?” Tetsu asked concerned. “You don’t look well”.

“Maybe we should check him for a fever” Ryou said “He looks really out of it, wouldn’t want to catch anything from him now do we. The only one catching something should be he himself.” Ryou turned to direct his next question to Azuma. “Azuma-san, did you do something to him last night?”

“What are you talking about Kominato. Miyuki will work himself to death in practice today so don’t help him to get out of it.”

“Ma-ne haha. You sure you haven’t seen Kuramochi around somewhere? I would really like to talk to him now”. Miyuki felt like something was really wrong. Their acting felt too real and that shiver of excitement he had this morning made itself known again. Although when he looked in Azuma’s direction, it sunk just as fast, like lead.

“Kuramochi-chan was still in his room when I left this morning Miyuki-chan. He should be here soon though.” Masuko answered. “He said something about ordering a new game so he got a bit pre-occupied. I only hope he makes it in time for breakfast. Otherwise it’s six bowls of rice tonight and no pudding Ugah”. The thought alone made Masuko teary eyed. How one could survive without pudding was a mystery to him.

Walking towards the door he thanked Masuko and went straight to room number five hoping Mochi would still be there. Knocking on the door, he opened it before he got an answer and walked in. Luckily Mochi was still in his room but he was definitely unhappy to see him.

“What the hell Kazuya” He shouted “At least wait till I give permission to enter you prick. Whadda ya want this early anyway?

“Neh Mochi, how on earth did you get everyone to help you with this prank? I mean you even got Azuma-senpai’s year back. I have to congratulate you though, but I’m not sure it will help any with this mess we created. Maybe you should tell them to stop it before more damage will be done? And really did you have to ask Azuma-senpai too? You know I hated my time with him here!” But while he was talking he saw Mochi’s face turn from annoyed to confused and he started to doubt this whole thing. “You didn’t this up?” he finally asked, but Mochi’s face, while often mischievous or angry, never lied. And he looked like he thought Miyuki himself was pranking him…badly.

“Kyahahaha, what on earth are you talking about Kazuya? What mess and what’s this about a prank. Did you lose that little bit of whit you still possessed or something after getting on the starting line-up?” Kuramochi looked uncharacteristically concerned at Miyuki. “Are you sure you’re feeling well? You are behaving strange today.” While Kuramochi could be unruly and harsh he was also caring and sharp. He just didn’t show it often since it didn’t match his image and made him embarrassed.

Meanwhile Miyuki felt himself get flustered “It’s not a joke?” he muttered. “But what on earth is going on then? How did this happen?” And while Mochi was starting to look rather alarmed he sat down on the floor to try and comprehend this situation. While looking at Mochi’s face he wondered why he looked younger than before. The look in his eyes was less tired and much happier. Like he hadn’t seen him look since first…since first year!!

Looking abruptly at his own body he saw that his legs where much less muscular than before and he was wearing shoes one size smaller. His eyes grew big as he finally began to understand. He didn’t know how and he didn’t know why but apparently he really went back to his first year! As realization finally hit him, he remembered sitting inside the catcher’s box and praying he could come back and apparently it happened! He still had trouble believing it, but seeing Mochi getting ready to call the coach over now that Miyuki was totally unresponsive to his calls he thought that maybe he could believe it would be true. Does that mean I’ve gotten another chance? Will I see Eijun again? Can I really try to change what happened? But how do I survive my first year again? Azuma almost killed me last time!

“I’m going to get the coach Kazuya, just wait, you are behaving really strange and while you’re normally an asshole, you’re scaring me. Stay here all right, I’ll be back soon.” And as Mochi ran from the room, Kazuya got no time to understand what Mochi just said because only one thought ran through his mind in a loop; ‘I get to see Eijun again!’

And while everyone he encountered wondered about the state of mind of their first string catcher, Kazuya himself found himself with another predicament; if he wants to change what happened, to ensure the future would not play out the same again, he had to change one specific part of himself first. Forget living like a first year again; forget Azuma-senpais trying to kill him, to make sure everything went well again he had to be nice. Nice…..to one Sawamura Eijun. That sounded like a totally unrealistic plan. How on earth could he be nice to someone that was his perfect target to tease? So perfect it didn’t cost him any active thought anymore. It was conditioned. But more than anything…he had to be nice to him? Miyuki Kazuya did not do nice! He hadn’t even started but he found himself in a predicament already and there was just one reaction he could give, one that scared anyone in a fifty meter radius because they thought something inside the catchers head just broke, doing irreparable damage;

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

In the meantime: Kuramochi ran like his life depended on it. He had to warn the coach that their catcher probably broke. He would have made gold in any Olympic game he entered while he ran his fastest two hundred meter dash ever. While about ninety minutes away from Tokyo, a chill ran down Sawamura Eijuns back and he wondered what kind of disaster would befall him next.

Chapter Text

"I'm going out mom" Eijun yelled towards his mother who was in the kitchen cleaning after dinner. "Make sure you're home before sun-down Ei-chan" she replied "And grab a jacket this time, it's still cold!" "Yes" he replied while rolling his eyes and grabbed the requested hoodie and walked outside with no specific destination in mind. He was still thinking about his current predicament and thought a quick run would help if not his mind, at least his body.

Considering the fact that Rei-chan visited the Sawamura household only yesterday and bullied challenged him into visiting Seido tomorrow, Eijun felt like time was running out.

He had a fitful night and without his Seido running routine (his self-inflicted everyone thought was crazy running routine) his body felt restless. He could already imagine his team-mates rolling their eyes at his thoughts.

While walking he thought things over once again, trying to come up, again, with a solution that would make him, the team and especially Miyuki Kazuya happy. He really longed for their battery now that Miyuki was out of his reach.

'First time I went to Seido was really unexpected in many ways. Why did Miyuku have to be there? Without him I would have went to the same high school my friends are. But noooooo, it's always Miyuki Kazuya that has to thwart all my plans, that stupid Tanuki. He's never where I want him, on or off the field. Dammit you damn city-nuki, why weren't you born in Nagano? Life would be sooo much easier if you were but nooooo, it's too much to help this poor Sawamura Eijun out isn't it?' He saw a stone, imagined Miyuki's face, and kicked it with satisfaction to the side of the walkway. "Finally, for once you do as I want" he told the stone "Now stay put" he cackled and continued walking. Luckily there was no one on the street since he made for a disturbing sight. Thinking really made his brain go poof.

The second time he was at Seido, after him joining the school and club, it felt like the beginning of the end. After that awful first day, which resulted in him running for weeks, getting called off the mound, his rocky start with Chris-senpai, losing the much important Koshien qualifier game because of his deadball and after all that Yakushi and his yips was already enough to want to reconsider going to Tokyo tomorrow.

'Nagano really was better since at least I didn't get bullied by a Tanuki and wrestling maniac. Of course he was blissfully forgetting Wakana and crew and their teasing of his truly which was only less physical, not nicer.

He finally decided on a destination and walked towards the baseball fields he and his friends used for practice. ' Although instead of baseball, Mochi senpai really seemed he wanted to be the second History's Strongest Disciple, maybe I should start calling him Younichi XD. I really should find a way around his 'loving care' this time ' he internally grumbled. 'Why did I choose to go there again? Oh yes, tanuki.'

He knew Seido and all events in the first months helped him grow, but that didn't mean it was a pleasant time. Those first weeks where lonely and it was hard to get back in the good graces of the coach. It also made it harder for him to prove his worth as a good player, especially when he ended up in the second string because of his lack of control.

He didn't feel remorseful about the challenges he faced but he wouldn't mind not having to redo them again. And however challenging those first months where, they were nothing like the time when Seido lost against Inashiro and got a new staff member.

He didn't even want to think about the time the sergeant first appeared. Everything went even further downhill from there. It marked a time-period in which everyone felt uncomfortable and doubtful. It felt like a dark emotional period where many lost confidence in their chosen path and themselves.

Not that there weren't any good moments play-wise and in the end his comments helped players but it felt like it always came at a price. If it wasn't for building a team suitable for Furuya, it was to show a player it was ridiculous to hold onto self-chosen beliefs. 'It is great luck we're all so stubborn and stuck together as a team, otherwise we probably would have fallen apart that time already' Eijun contemplated.

It also marked the point in which Kataoka-kantoku started acting weird. Eijun still believed it was only because they actually qualified for Spring-Koshien against everyone's expectations, that the school administration revoked his dismissal request. It seemed like a blow to Kataoka-kantoku since he was set on broadening his horizon and coaching skills (as self-retribution) to make up for his failure against Inashiro and the subsequent success overwhelmed him.

In hindsight they also understood why Furuya was able to perform as he did during the tournament. That guy had one major weakness apart of his lack of emotional empathy and control; he needed the right type of weather to perform. And Spring Koshien was that period. The cooler temperatures, right before the rainy season the perfect time for him to finally play at full potential, since early spring in Tokyo felt like summer in Hokkaido.

Again they didn't blame Furuya for his weakness as there was nothing to blame in this regard. One can't expect to get used to temperatures twenty degrees above average of what one is used to in just a year. The ones that should have thought about it though were the coaches. Eijun himself pointed it out earlier in the year and he was pretty dense about general game stuff normally. Still, when the summer qualifiers came around, apparently they forgot this extra weakness. One could say, in hindsight, even Furuya didn't believe what was happening to him and in the end he lost maybe the most of them all.

Eijun was never vain. Emotional, obnoxious, loud and irritating yes, but not vain or self-centered (except on the mound) but it frustrated him to no end that he was always considered not good enough or nothing more than a relief pitcher to the people who mattered most to him.

It still hurt him thinking about the times the coach and even Furuya said so without Miyuki interfering. He knew Miyuki had to stay neutral and to Miyuki Eijun maybe truly wasn't as good as Furuya, but after telling him he stood at the starting line and still disregarding him when it mattered in the outcome of an important game, hurt him the most.

It felt like Miyuki betrayed him on some level and he didn't like feeling like that. At the same time he also felt he let Miyuki down somewhere along the way, resulting in Miyuki losing faith in him and this being the natural outcome. He just couldn't pinpoint the specific time and now he wouldn't get a chance to ask since this wasn't his Miyuki here.

'I know the first years supported and believed in me after a while so why couldn't the coach and Miyuki do the same? I really wished they would have believed and trusted in me as they did in Furuya.' Wiping the tears away he finally arrived at the baseball fields and looked around him.

He really wondered about what kind of changes he could and should make. 'Should I go to Seidou again and try to change the way things happened from the beginning or am I supposed to stay in Nagano this time and try to reach Koshien with my friends here?'

He really wasn't sure anymore and time was running out. He knew if he went to Tokyo this time he would end up at Seidou again for sure. The lure that was Miyuki Kazuya was too enticing to reject. Not to mention playing with his senpais again, which he adored (even though he could do with less 'loving' from Mochi and the scary presence of onii-san).

He could still feel the guilt he felt for leaving Nagano in the first place deep in his gut and he also remembered vividly all the crying faces of his friends at being left behind. He didn't know if he could face it a second time.

Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned around and saw Wakana walking towards him. 'Ei-chan" she said "Your grandpa called and said you're acting really weird. He mentioned something about an offer for you to visit some baseball school in Tokyo and that it put you in a strange mood. It's not that you're normally not weird but seeing you quiet apparently freaked them out. What's on your mind?" she inquired and grabbed his hand to follow her towards the benches.

"Neh Wakana" he started. "What would you do if you got a chance to redo something, but you aren't sure what kind that change should be?" He looked at Wakana with solemn eyes which were normal for him now, but not for his old friends who knew nothing about his 'future'.

This whole situation was and felt really strange. He also felt awful since he again was half a mind to betray them again. He reached the end of his rope, tears accumulating in his eyes.

Wakana looked at him with worry. Her best childhood friend, one who was always cheerful and regularly acted as a total idiot, behaved like an Eijun she didn't know and she was scared.

Since there was no reason for him to do so and he didn't seem strange the day before yesterday this Eijun was a total mystery. 'What on earth really happened yesterday' she wondered 'he looks like he's going to cry, what kind of offer gets someone in such a mood?'

"Whatever do you mean Ei-chan?" she inquired. "Shouldn't you go with what feels right? You're not a great thinker but you always knew deep down what's really important right?" hoping her words would give him a nudge in the right direction, whatever that direction was.

"But when you have several options, how do you know you make the right choice this time around?" he asked her with a bit of desperation in his voice. "How do I know I won't make the same mistakes again?"

"Neh Ei-chan, what was it you wanted to do in the first place anyway? I mean considering it's you, and being the idiot you are, there aren't much things about yourself you could change right even if you wanted to" and she rolled her eyes at him.

"Is this about hitting those people and the umpire from our last game? I mean it definitely wasn't smart, but sometimes doing what's smart isn't what's right, right?" and she also looked out on the field while remembering that day. "It was pretty awesome though" she laughed. "Does this have something to do with that person from Tokyo? Did it ruin your chances or something?"

If it did she knew she would start to feel guilty, like she knew the rest of the crew would too. They could have stopped him, knew the kind of person he was and hoped they didn't fail him.

"No" he replied. "They still made an offer for me to go to Tokyo tomorrow to check out their team, but I'm not really sure about it." Next to him he heard Wakana sigh. It almost sounded like a relieved sigh, but what would she have to be relieved about he wondered.

Contemplating her questions, he found an opening to at least one of his recurring worries. She also gave him the perfect opportunity to finally start untangling his tangled thoughts without revealing all his reasons; he just had to love her.

In the end he only went with what was he felt was important in the matter between him and the crew. Maybe he could try to figure out this first puzzle piece and see from there the path he should take. He did feel cowardly for thinking like this but he was so stuck he was desperate to start anywhere as he felt time running through his fingers and childhood friends or not, even Wakana would ask for his admission into a psychiatric ward if he told her the whole truth. No matter how stupid people thought he was.

"It just feels like betraying you guys for even considering it. I promised you back then I would take you to Koshien but I know if I go there I don't want to turn it down. I feel like I'm betraying either you or my family." He finally answered.

Wakana looked at him with fondness in her eyes. "Really Ei-chan" she laughed "Did you really believe we would stop you from going? I mean this is a great chance isn't it? And with your academic performance you couldn't catch up to us anyway. We had no hope whatsoever that you would be able to follow us so that would have meant the break-up of the team anyway, no matter the studying you would have done." She continued on without reacting at the dumbfounded look on his face.

"We know that your grades were a result of you putting in so much time to train us individually. You just never got the chance to study and we're really sorry for that. So if this is what you want Ei-chan please go. I'm sure everyone thinks the same so please don't hold back on our account." And she got up from the bench.

"But I'll really miss you guys" Eijun said while again getting tears in his eyes, whether they were because he felt relieve or guilt he didn't know for sure.

"Baka, what are phones for?" Wakana taunted him while smacking him on his head.

"Thanks a lot Wakana" Eijun said while getting up himself. "I think I'm heading back home, it's getting dark so make sure you get home soon too, I'm really happy you found me I really wonder how I survived without you the whole time, maybe this mess wouldn't have been so severe if I asked your advice more often" and he started to jog away while waving at her.

Wondering what on earth Eijun was talking about she looked towards him and saw he already moved away. Deciding to disregard his last sentence she remembered something far more important. "Oy Ei-chan, Wakana yelled after the retreating figure. She never caught on which school was crazy enough to offer him a place. "Which school was brave enough to invite your silly person?"

"Seidou High School" Eijun yelled back at her and ran around the corner out of her sight.

Standing stock still Wakana couldn't believe her ears; 'Seidooooouuu?' The famous Seidou? They want Eijun?' She couldn't believe it." Eijun you idiot, how could you not tell me right from the start!" she yelled out load and started to run back to her own home laughing out loud. It was such an Eijun-thing to do. This is big news, gotta tell everyone!' and while grabbing her phone she finally smiled and thought. ' Eijun is going to grow up now isn´t he?'

While running back home Eijun thought about his conversation with Wakana. He had hoped in some tiny corner of his heart that she or the team would stop him from going this time. That's why he took the risk of even asking her in the first place, knowing it would be start of the change he came back for one way or another. Now he had no reason to not go to Tokyo tomorrow and he wondered how much really would change because of this conversation and if it was really the best cause of action. But since it was out of his hands now, he decided to follow through and take one step at a time. He was nothing if not stubborn and now that he decided which course to take he was confident enough to follow through.

As if in answer to his thoughts his phone vibrated and he took it out of his pocket to read the message he got; [You got scouted for Seidou Ei-chan?] Nobu wrote. [That's amazing! Wakana is angry at you though so prepare to grovel! But really Seidou, I can't believe it. Congratulations!'] and one after the other, more text messages appeared on his phone.

Still smiling he closed his phone without replying to anyone, knowing it would rile them up even more and screamed a heartfelt "Oish Oish Ooooish." While in the meantime wondering how Miyuki would react to his presence tomorrow.

This made him come to an abrupt halt. How on earth was he going to face Miyuki? The guy didn't even know he came back here right? 'Does that mean I have to hold back on my pitching tomorrow? Just to be safe and not change anything too fast? But if he doesn't know me, I can impress him even more if I don't hold back right?' "AAARGH THIS IS TOO DIFFICULT, WHY CAN THIS NOT BE EASY FOR ONCE. MIYUKIIII YOU FOUR-EYED EVIL TANUKI! JUST WAIT TILL TOMORROW I'M GONNA SHOW YOU THE AMAZING SAWAMURA!"

Back in Tokyo, at that specific time, Miyuki Kazuya sneezed right into Azuma's face, who just came to yell at him for taking Kawakami away from him and he knew he was soooo dead. Whoever had the guts to talk about him would be dead too he swore, after he found out just who it was and would haunt them forever.

Chapter Text

It was a nice bright day for mid-October. The sky had few wisps of clouds around and it was warm enough for only a hoody or vest. Winter felt like it was still far away.

One Miyuki Kazuya was, still half asleep, on his way to noon-practice. Especially now that the Fall-Tournament was still undertaking for an invite for the Spring-Koshien Tournament and a chance to play at the Meiji Jingu Tournament next month as well. It was a spare Sunday morning off after having to play a game only yesterday.

"It's a real bother that all matches are only played in the weekends. It makes for quite some long waits when a match goes into extra innings' Miyuki thought while yawning deeply. ´Well, at least we got into the third round. That means two games from next weekend on.

It's a nice way to assess the strength of the team again I guess. It sucks that Chris-senpai is still hurt though. Even suggesting his hidden injury to the coaches' right when I returned had no real influence. I hate that it was still too late for him. Getting the starting catcher position like this is just as frustrating as it was last time. The only thing it got me was gratitude from my teammates for being observing. It sucks, but I guess it's one way to make a head start with them trusting me more. Changing things is harder than I first thought it was.' And he sighed again while squatting down.

I really wonder about what's wrong with me. Since I came back I feel totally out of my depth. It's really strange being in first year again and having to relive all of this. Like a movie gone wrong. But on the other hand, it is also quite interesting. The main thing of course is how I can strive to better my relationship with Sawamura this time around'. Getting up he again started to walk towards the training fields. Knowing any further delay would result in him being late and the coach quite put out with him. Something he'd rather avoid. Running wasn't his favorite pastime after all.

'Thinking about Sawamura though, I do wonder when he will show up here. If I remember correctly it was around this time of the year Rei-chan scouted him. Our first meeting was quite interesting so I'm not sure I want to change anything here. After all; it did full-fill its purpose of getting him to Seidou, so maybe I should start meddling with this particular part of the timeline from our second meeting onwards? I'm still not sure what kind of action is appropriate but something has to be done. I never want to feel like that again nor do I want to see the team like that ever again and foremost; never should Sawamura be the subject of our incompetence and failures ever again.'

'Teehehee, I do wonder though, with all the knowledge I have of Sawamura, how I can get to tease him still, but get to change whatever I want as well. I really want to keep teasing the guy. His reactions brighten my day! He is way too easy to rile and he looks incredibly cute with his feathers all ruffled, like a Snow Monkey who lost access to his favorite hot spring and loudly demands it back.

Well, he would fit in perfectly with them even with his normal behavior hehe, although he could learn from them as well, especially the part about relaxing and being quiet! I really should start planning this again this evening, but for now, let's see if there's a pitcher free to work with.' And he walked through the fence door towards the bullpen having arrived barely in time for practice to start.

Since their roles and practice schedules were decided already, a formal assembly wasn't necessary before every practice. But the coach, for one reason, still always knew when one was late or otherwise occupied instead doing as told.

Sometimes it seemed as if he had eyes installed on every pole on the field with what knowledge he possessed. But until this day, no camera's, hidden or otherwise, where ever found. It made him even scarier in the players' opinion. Of course, no one ever told them that teenagers are just so extremely predictable. Why handing over your secret weapon after all?!

"Miyuki, that's one scary face you're making.' He heard coming from his side. He looked up and saw Kuramochi walking towards him and decided to ignore the person fully. He was not awake enough to deal with the likes of one Kuramochi Youichi after just one cup of coffee.

Mochi looked at his face and knew he just got pointedly ignored. Feeling is hackles rise, because seeing the bastards face alone was enough to get your blood pressure rising into the dangerous levels, he just couldn't hold back.

"Oy Miyuke teme, you wanna fight?! You're face reealllly annoys the hell outa me you shitty Tanuki. You may be invaluable on the field, but your personality really needs some work dude. So pre…" "You've escaped Ryou-san again right Mochi?' he interrupted his rant and hopefully his fists as well. "Still not used to working with him right, you Kansai-ben Yankee hehehehehe.'

"Only to inform you, you shitty bastard, this has nothing to do with Ryou-san. The coach told me to let you know that you're doing batting practice today instead of catching. Apparently he can see you suck at hitting with no one on base hyahaha." And he laughed even harder after seeing the sour face Miyuki pulled after that.

Far from happy he started to walk towards the batting cages. "Ah well, I didn't see Kawakami in the bull-pen anyway and I guess Tanba-san is off with Miyauchi-senpai again so I just as well hit some balls". "I heard Kawakami got dragged off breakfast by Azuma-senpai again." Mochi explained while looking uncomfortable. "Do you think he is purposefully trying to destroy or bully Kawakami Miyuki?"

Thinking over the question thoughtfully he answered; "Hmm, I do think Azuma has too much arrogance in him as of late. He barely listens to the coach anymore. But considering he still hits like a prize horse it's hard to go against."

"I'm not sure why he is so focused on Kawakami though. Considering Kawakami has like zero confidence and shivers like a squirrel every time things get though, he just might try to get him to toughen up or something? Although, truth to be told, I'm not sure it is actually working you know." ' But I'm not that interested in Kawakami anyway since it will work out well in the end for him. I guess Mochi still isn't acclimated enough to observe people's behavior as he normally did. Or maybe he just didn't bond with the people from third year and has no interest in them?'

"Hmm if you say so, I guess I'll observe it a bit longer and if I still feel it isn't right, I'll go to the coach. Baseball is a team sport and not a means to glorify oneself over the other." And after nodding to Miyuki he went back towards the training field for some more fielding practice.

After setting the machines to his preferred hitting sequence he started to hit and at the same time thought about Mochi's last words.

'It is really strange that now the coach would have still listened to our concerns about a player, but in a little while refuses to see the concerns of a complete team. Even now, after almost 6 months back I still have trouble accepting the 'old' coach. Ah well, I haven't trusted anyone anyway so I guess it isn't a point of concern right now. Let's focus on practice and leave the rest for another day.'

After a good solid hour of hitting, he went for a break before starting another round. While walking towards the training field to see how field practice came along he sat against the outer fence and watched Mochi getting trenched by Ryou-san and Kawakami once again getting spit out by Azuma. And that's when he heard it. Earsplitting loud and words boisterous as the boy himself shouted throughout the field.

"Are you really going to go pro with THAT body? You can't be serious! Just give up now, I mean did you even notice your belly? You should become a Buddhist priest or something instead. You're a high schooler? You look like you're in your forties old man!"

And watching Sawamura standing there, again on the Seidou field, in his ugly yellow sweater, happily taunting the bane of his existence, Miyuki only smiled and thought one thing; 'And so it begins again.'

Meanwhile, in Nagano, as Miyuki went for breakfast, one Sawamura Eijun got ready to board the shinkansen to Tokyo. Takashima and his family arranged for him to board the train alone. Thinking that if his family brought him to the train (not leaving until he was safely inside, lest he got lost) and Takashima picking him up at the Tokyo terminal, nothing could go wrong.

Eijun was slighty put out at their behavior, but even he had to admit that his first trip to Tokyo back then was quite the disaster. In the end it was a miracle he actually made it to Seidou at all. To make things worse; in the end Rei-chan even brought him back, not trusting him to get home safely otherwise. It was humiliating on another level.

They of course didn't know that by now he made that trip quite a number of times and he for once chose to pick the battles worthy of battling. And getting treated like a little kid was not a battle he wanted to pick right now. He had no plans of showing up at Seidou with loving left-overs of his grandpa's care.

As the train disembarked Nagano station he dutifully waved at his parents and friends who came to encourage him. Showing they really had no hard feelings at all about him scouting Seidou. Although for Eijun it felt like he finally went home. He even felt sad that it would only be for a couple of hours before he had to return again and wait for half a year which was even more depressing.

'Why couldn't I have been born in November as well or something? At least I could spend all three years with him then. He always has to be in front of me doesn't he? Maybe I should have returned even earlier in time to spur my parents to get to business a couple of months sooner. Do you think I could request it still?' and spent some time happily fantasizing being in the same year as Miyuki Kazuya. 'I mean, if it worked once it could work twice right?

Then, a cold shudder ran down his spine. ' Although, that would mean one year extra with Mochi in it too right? I'm not sure I can handle acerbic comments and wrestling training together every day for an extra year. Not to mention Onii-san senpai. No, I think I'll stick to this. It is much safer for my overall health.' And he went back to mindlessly staring out of the window.

After a while he saw the vast rice fields change into a more urbanized scenery, until at last, he finally saw the high rises of Tokyo appear. Getting ready to leave the train, he looked outside to see if he could see Takashima-san already.

Remembering what happened last time, he vehemently refused to talk to anyone during his train trip and was eager to let off steam.

It wasn't that he couldn't be quiet. The problem was that his grandpa and he always clashed, and since gramps lived with them he couldn't avoid him. He loved his gramps dearly but sometimes he was tiring. He appreciated the time with his father out on the fields even more because of it.

His father may be a musician at heart, but he also loved the farm and all that came with it. He also taught Eijun to appreciate quietness, dutifulness and a stubborn iron will to always finish what one starts to ones utmost abilities.

With his friends it was hard to contain his excitement. After all, baseball is a fun thing to do and something that's fun has to be appreciated, best loudly of course.

At Seidou he often felt pressured or lost, which made his loudness convert from fun into a silent loud scream for attention. Eijun himself recognized that after the game they lost against Sensen. In hindsight he almost felt proud at how spooked his teammates appeared to be when he finally grew quiet as how they requested so often before. They even begged him to get loud again, but by then Eijun learned to appreciate the influence his person and behavior could have in terms of team dynamics.

In the few months which were still left to him with his precious senpai, he tried to use his 'moods' for the good of the team. It didn't change who he was. He just felt more natural acting how he actually was.

In that regard only it would already have been amazing getting the chance to of redoing his first impression. He at least knew it was his true personality that he wanted to bring to Seidou this time. He was happy no one at Seidou knew him already and he hoped it would make an even bigger impression on Miyuki, than their first meeting last time, and maybe even plant a seed in his heart, that maybe he could come to find Eijun reliable and trustworthy.

To be someone even Chris will say would entrust their three years of baseball too.

Finally the doors opened and Eijun got off the train. He didn't see Takashima-san right away and decided to just wait. Knowing walking around would probably only result in both going the other way, and making a search and find take even longer.

"Sawamura-kun" Eijun heard at last. "I see you made it safely to Tokyo. It's nice to see you again. I hope you had a pleasant trip?" "Ah yes, no troubles on the way Takashima-san. Are we going to Seidou right away?"

"Yes, noon practice has started by now so it's a great time to see everyone in action while practicing. I really hope we can convince you to join Sawamura-kun. Seidou is really interesting."

'That I do know Rei-chan, I just hope I can make it even more positively interesting this time around. I don't think seeing your team fall apart was what you had in mind when you said that.'

'But maybe there's a chance to get you dating Kataoka this time around. I should start the betting pool early this time or does that count as cheating under the 'disqualified results because of acting with prior knowledge rule? Ah well, as if anyone will find out hehe, betting pool here I come!' And he turned towards her hopping from foot to foot excited to get to Seidou as soon as possible.

"Shall we go then? It's about 15 minutes by subway and a five minute walk." And she let the way towards the subway entrance.

Arriving at the required stop they got out and Eijun almost couldn't contain himself anymore. He started to walk quickly towards the exit, impatiently waiting for Takashima to catch up only to have to wait again at the top of the stairs.

'I do think there isn't much convincing necessary for this one. Not to brag but I think I can complement myself on a job well done already.' And she laughed when she saw him eagerly awaiting her arrival at the station exit.

Finally arriving at the school gate, he forgot about Takashima and ran towards the fields, coming to a stop when he saw the familiar fields occupied with players in front of him.

Taking in the so familiar scenery Takashima caught up with him.

"Well, as you can see we really take pride in our baseball facilities here. He have a specific space for practice during rainy weather and a dormitory for at least half our players." She explained to him, thinking his awe was directed towards the facilities.

Playing along with her he answered; "Well you only draft good strong players don't you so it makes sense they play well. Money isn't the most important fact about playing baseball. You only fish for players whose talent already manifested, like shopping from a catalogue don't you?"

"You're not wrong" She answered "But I don't think it is wrong. The level of Japanese High school baseball is considered top of the line. To be able to develop a player that can challenge the Major leagues with our intense training program is something we take pride in. Those players that leave home at the age of 15 to hunt after their dreams are people I can truly respect"

"Never lose that pride and believe Takashima-san, but also remember. We are only 15 and do need responsible adults; especially since we are so far away from home. Don't forget about the human inside the player as well. Cultivating talent is all nice and well but in the end, if the player or team loses moral because of it, it is the end. It's a precarious balance you are keeping." And he looked at her seriously while she looked back at him in shocked surprise.

Eijun looked back at the field and what he saw and heard made his blood boil again. The same as 2,5 years ago. "Kawakamiiiii, if you don't even wanna try, hurry the hell up back to your little shitty farmhouse and your mommy. Players like you will make me weak. Instead of trying, show some balls and start playing seriously!"

Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard Rei-chan talking to him but he was trying to get himself back under control. 'Some things never change do they. That guy is still quite rotten. I'm so happy we didn't have such shitty people in my time at Seidou. Even Okumura was a smiling happy Teletubbie compared to this dickhead."

"Oy Kawakami, how the hell did you get this far while being such a weakling? Get off here you sap!" and Eijun snapped. He knew it would have consequences later but he still couldn't 'let this pass. He despised people like that.

"Remember the about the line I told you about Takashima-san? I do think he crossed it didn't he? If cultivating players comes to this, I'd rather stay at home playing with my friends even without getting results" and as he walked towards Azuma he yelled: "Are you really going to go pro with THAT body? You can't be serious! Just give up now, I mean did you even notice your belly? You should become a Buddhist priest or something instead. You're a high schooler? You look like you're in your forties old man!"

"Sawamura-kun" Takashima said in a serious tone and waited till he looked back at her. "So you think you have what it takes to right the balance?" Accepting the challenge thrown towards him he nodded as he saw her walking towards Azuma as well.

"I'm sorry Azuma-kun. This kid is just a clueless country bumpkin with no knowledge of our way. Why don't you show him how it is done? Especially since this is a baseball field, so all difference should be resolved on the field right?" and she directed her killing blow towards both of them. "Or are you both only show-offs? How about showing us who is right here?

"So, hurry up and get changed Sawamura-kun. Let's see what you can do for Seidou's future." And she looked like a cat that just devoured a fat canary.

And then the one voice Eijun longed to hear again since his arrival back, spoke up, and he turned towards it with a huge smile. "Hehe isn't this interesting Rei-chan? Do you mind me catching for him?"

"Miyuki Kazuya!" Eijun shouted excitedly and Miyuki looked at Eijun with confusion written on his face. 'That's different from last time' he thought. 'I was pretty sure he didn't know who I was last time.'

"Oy Miyuki, a first year like you has no business here."

"Hahaha, I'm so sorry Azuma-san, but this is too interesting to pass up. Especially since you're quite on a high horse lately. Maybe you should start learning to play with the little kids again to reclaim some of your lost youthful spirit!

"What are you talking about, who's the bigmouthed braggard here. Who do you think you are you big-piece-of-shit Miyuki--!"

"Kazuya" one of his fellow first years interrupted "are you sure you're going to do this. He'll eat you alive, look at how he treats Kawakami and you have to sleep with the guy! Just apologize and stop being reckless"

"Miyuki Kazuya, are you going to run away?" Eijun challenged him. Miyuki looked back at him and smirked. "Who's the one going to run away here kid?" he challenged in reply.

And then they both smirked as they looked in Azuma's direction both thinking that it felt very familiar acting like this on the field.

"Miyuki-kun" Takashima called and he ran towards her. "I'm quite happy you volunteered to catch for the kid. He has a very interesting pitch so do try to pay attention. In the meanwhile, do you think you can pull out his true potential?" And Miyuki grinned big time.

'As if I didn't know that already Rei-chan, if there's one player that's interesting on the field it's Sawamura. Ah well he only has his straight down the middle pitch so let's see what we can make of it.'

Eijun, after finishing his warm up came running towards Miyuki. He was still a bit spooked about Miyuki's reaction towards his challenge. The way they fell in sync so familiar but he couldn't recall reacting like this to each other the first time they met. "So, how do you want to get this monster slaying done?"

"Eh" Miyuki asked confused. "Aren't you the type of pitcher that only throws fastballs that aren't fastballs straight through the middle without a care in the world?"

Squinting his eyes Eijun looked towards Miyuki in suspicion. "And how would you know? For all you know I could throw a cutter or four-seam?"

At this Miyuki regarded Eijun with a blank look while Eijun kept looking at Miyuki in suspicion.

'This definitely is different than last time. Does this mean I'm actually in an alternative reality instead of the past or is something else going on here?' they both thought.

"Well show me." Miyuki challenged again. "You'll wait and see." Eijun replied. And as to test his vague suspicion he threw one more challenge up. "Let's see if we can make a work of art between a pitcher and a catcher while getting that fatty out ne" and Miyuki looked at him thunderstruck.

Having no time to ponder what was happening since everyone got impatient he walked towards the catcher's box and pondered the boy in front of him. 'This turns out to be a most curious day.' He thought.

Chapter Text

The atmosphere at Seidou's A-field was tense. It didn't happen every day that a middle schooler had the guts to challenge a drafted player. They all wondered if the kid was only arrogant and loudmouthed or actually had something to back his words up. They all dropped the things they were doing to check out the match that was about to start.

Poor Kawakami was feeling worse by the second. He didn't know what felt worse; being stood up for by a middle schooler because of being yelled at, or his pitching being so weak to make others feel the need to rescue him. He felt quite embarrassed about the whole situation and wondered if he could ever look that middle schooler in the eyes again after everything was said and done. He only hoped he wouldn't totally fail and get humiliated afterwards. Wishing the kid would at least get one strike in.

He never understood why Azuma-senpai treated him the way he did and it sure didn't make him feel comfortable, but it did give him the chance to work more with Miyuki. It was only sad that he couldn't follow through with the things he achieved while being helped by Miyuki whenever Azuma-senpai called out for him. This made him feel even worse, as if he betrayed all of Miyuki's hard work. He did like working with Miyauchi-senpai a lot, but Miyuki produced more results he felt, although he would never say that out loud to anyone.

Looking onto the field towards Miyuki he wondered why the other looked so excited. As far as he knew Miyuki only had two faces; bored or predatory, but he never saw him excited; especially with a pitcher.

He watched their warm-up throws and wondered why that middle schooler didn't look frightened in the least. He saw how Azuma behaved towards him and how often he hit his pitches but he actually looked sourly down at the mound, shuffling his feet over the dirt as if this was an everyday situation for him.

When he turned towards the batter's box he saw Azuma getting more impatient by the second while waiting for the warm-up to finish. He was decidedly unhappy about that because an irritated Azuma was even worse to face and he didn't like to be the reason for that irritation towards the middle schooler. And if that kid failed he was sure Azuma would get back at him right away. He really created a mess didn't he? So with no small feeling of relieve he finally heard Miyuki call out that warm-up was finished. He sincerely hoped this situation would end soon. It was giving him a heart attack.

"Oy Sawamura, your shoulder should be warmed up by now right?" and in answer Eijun nodded towards Miyuki, signaling he indeed was ready. "Let's get this started then." Miyuki turned towards home-plate starting to jog towards the catcher's box.

Watching Miyuki reaching his position and squatting down, he mulled over this particular predicament. 'This mound feels just as disappointing as it did back then; it just isn't the same pitching to Miyuki from here. I really want to play a real game with him again soon. But let's focus on old pops big belly first; it wouldn't do to fail here now.' And he picked up the rosin bag.

'I suppose it would be great to leave a lasting impression on Miyuki already to increase my chances of getting him interested in catching regularly for me. I wonder if he will really call for stuff other than my moving fast ball. Well, we'll see I guess, but it will be fun if he did. He does behave differently though, I guess I just need to test this a bit further.' And got pulled back to the present when he heard Azuma yell at him.

'What the hell were those lousy warm-up balls kid? You have a big mouth but you're actually worse than our regular lineup, I can hit your balls with my eyes closed. You're nothing but a petty show-off aren't ya?'

"Oh, does that mean you're going easy on him because he's just a middle schooler?" Came Miyuki's immediate reply and Eijun had to fight to not start laughing out loud at that. He loved seeing Miyuki riling up the batters; either for his own fun or to mess with them for better pitching chances.

"You idiot, of course not, I always swing my best and I don't care if he's just a middle schooler. He could use a sound trashing for his big mouth; not even talking about his arrogance thinking he could actually take me on.'

Miyuki had to laugh at that. "You're really likeable like that aren't you Azuma-senpai?" 'But looking at Sawamura he actually looks decidedly unimpressed and even bored. This is going to be so much fun, but what exactly gives him this confidence? He did get Azuma out back then, but that was because Azuma was underestimating him. Now he looks like he thinks Azuma is only a measly fly, loud, annoying and in his way, ready to be squashed. He did mention a four-seam and cutter earlier but why would he even mention that? He feels less and less like the Sawamura I remember him being at first and more like the Sawamura from second year.' And he got distracted by Azuma's yelling, again.

'Heaven he is loud, at this point I would say he's even louder than Sawamura normally is. Except, Sawamura isn't loud at all today, not counting the part getting Azuma's attention in regards to his taunting of Kawakami; quite peculiar this. And of course there he goes again, he never learns does he?'

"What's with that face you brat. Don't worry, you won't be looking so good after I've hit so get a move on and throw" was the next taunt thrown towards the mound and Sawamura still looked decidedly unimpressed, no reaction whatsoever forthcoming.

'No, he definitely looks bored, who would have thought that the day would ever arrive where Sawamura looks bored to pitch, the apocalypse is upon us I guess?'

'So how to get this started, lets slowly figure out this strange Sawamura shall we? So just like last time; half strength right down the middle it is.' A nd he went into position holding his mitt nicely centered when looking at Sawamura made him open his eyes wide in shock. The kid had the guts to shake off his call! He couldn't believe it, before the match even started! 'He shouldn't know anything about me or Azuma so why on earth does he shake it off?!'

Eijun knew he rattled Miyuki. But he also knew that finishing Azuma with proper pitches would leave a better and more lasting impression than getting him out on being underestimated. He really wanted to be taken seriously, by Azuma as well as Miyuki so he gambled. Gambled on Miyuki's love for aggressive game calling and showing him he was up for it. And not a little to finally test his theory a last time.

The behavior Miyuki exhibited was completely different from last time. It wasn't the words he spoke but the behavior he exhibited. The old Miyuki would never accept such a personal challenge from a nobody middle schooler he never met and definitely not show confusion outright.

He normally would have gotten furious with him for such blatant disrespect, which should have resulted in him being treated coldly and not taken seriously anymore. Not the grinning and accepting behavior he actually showed while being disrespected as a senior and obviously much more renowned player.

And lastly there was that familiar feeling when both accepted each other's challenge towards Azuma. As if they were on the same wavelength and knew each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"Time" he heard Miyuki call and watched as Azuma told him something ("Oy, figure your stuff out before you start Miyuki, but I guess he isn't impressed by you as well is he") before coming over towards him.

"Hey, what were you thinking shaking my call off like that?"

Eijun looked straight back at him, face set in determination "I want to take him on seriously, not on courses he dislikes or with weaker pitches because he underestimates me. Call a serious game or I'll do it again." And he watched Miyuki's face taking on a dumbfounded expression again.

'He makes that face quite often today. I do wonder though why today's events throw him off so much, as normally not much would rattle him, and if it did he would definitely not show it. It's like he doesn't even expect what I think is an actual fact by now.'

'On the other hand; I wonder if he ever got taken seriously by any pitcher he worked with or if any pitcher ever repaid his hard work in full? We sure as hell didn't but this time I'm making sure I'll be the one to do so!' and he watched Miyuki's expression change again. And with a groan he recognized this one as well; he'd unfortunately gotten his full share of it.

"Oh, ho ho" Miyuki replied with a familiar shit eating grin. "You think you've got what it takes to play him seriously? You were right about shaking it off though; he would have hit it since it's his favorite course if you of course threw what I actually requested. Alright, I'll take you serious kid so let's get this monster out as partners alright?' And this time Eijun looked at him in surprise.

'I couldn't be wrong right? His words give me the idea he isn't 'my' Miyuki but his behavior doesn't back up those words. This is totally fucked up.' He also thought it would take more than this to get him to play seriously. He actually doubted he convinced Miyuki to really do so, so he was still wary. He was a tanuki after all.

"Well, let's try this again shall we? Leave the leading up to me; after all I do know all of his habits so trust my mitt and throw your best balls. If you can do so, we'll surely be true partners. So leave it to me alright!' 'And there he goes again with those confusing lines; time to test the waters again I guess.'

"A battery is a two way road Miyuki Kazuya" Eijun replied seriously. "I won't leave it all to you, we're in this together. So trust me to throw you my best balls and while you know his habits best, I'll trust you on your game-calling. I do request you tell me why you asked for them afterwards though so I can understand your way of playing." And he finally saw understanding, if not recognition, dawning in the other's eyes.

This was all Eijun needed and he looked towards Azuma again. "Let's discuss other stuff later and first focus on this shall we?" and he again bend towards the rosin bag, seeing Miyuki's nod and him walking back towards home plate.

When Miyuki once again reached his spot he regarded Azuma again, but this time with a different kind of wicked grin. "Sorry for making you wait" he said and he pointedly ignored the "You guys are slow" comment in return.

He knew he had to make absolutely sure. Not willing to gamble on making a fool of himself when he addressed something crazy like being from the future, he called for one specific pitch; A crossfire right towards the batters chest. He knew only Sawamura could pull it off in this type of environment, with all eyes watching them intently; believe they would fail spectacularly. But he knew that if this was 'his' Sawamura, they were in for a rough surprise. And this made his heart beat even faster in excitement as he watched him get ready to pitch.

Sawamura's eyes gleamed in excitement; he knew that this pitch would be Miyuki's confirmation. He told him about the four-seam and cutter, but not about the crossfire one.

They both knew Azuma expected some easy to hit pitches from someone who wasn't used to hard balls yet, considering middle schoolers play with rubber ones. If Miyuki was right and Sawamura could pull this off, he would be in for a big surprise. And Miyuki's gut told him he was right.

He only wondered why Sawamura behaved the way he did. As if totally making sure Miyuki would figure out something strange about him. He did have an inkling earlier but he would have never truly expected such an outcome. He didn't even consciously consider it. So how come Sawamura did?

He saw him wind up, and there it was, definitely not his old form and a grin spread across his face as he watched the ball travel right towards his mitt. A perfectly executed crossfire towards the batters chest and Azuma stood no chance.

"That was definitely a strike wasn't it?" He leered at Azuma feeling quit exuberant.

"I was just checking if he could actually throw a strike you fool!" he got back.

From behind they heard the other players exclaim in surprise. "Did you see that? He couldn't even touch it!"

And Eijun laughed. 'That's it. That's the sound I missed so much. It does sound best when Miyuki catches it. Not Okumura, not Yui only Miyuki can make it sound so perfect!'

He looked towards Miyuki and beamed when the latter regarded him with a smile of his own. "Nice ball" he called and threw the ball back towards Sawamura.

'God this is great, if this truly is the same Sawamura from my time-line we are going to stir things up seriously this time around, as how it was meant to be when we first met here. It would also make my life easier knowing there is someone who would understand me and if he doesn't revert back to his first year behavior, we could very well save Seidou this time around!

'Okay, the next pitch will be…' and he pointed his glove right in front of him while signaling the requested pitch.

Eijun nodded and started to wind up again, slamming his foot down and swinging his arm in a full motion.

Azuma startled. Just as rattled by this second windup as he was with the first.'Where is his arm dammit! How can I hit what I can't even see coming?' and took a chance at the ball missing it by miles as his eyes grew wider. 'A change up? This dude can throw an off speed pitch? How on earth is this a middle schooler?' and he looked at Miyuki's face seeing the shit eating grin plastered in all its wicked glory directed towards him.

"Strike two, right Azuma-san? I thought you said you would blast his balls out of the park?' and he smirked even wider seeing the other looking even worse.

Gripping his bat even more strongly he readjusted his stance and looked at the pitcher in front of him. 'What will he throw next? If I don't start hitting now I'll be the laughing stock here.' He heard the murmuring of his fellow teammates getting louder after each pitch and knew they were as surprised as he was.

Seeing the pitcher wind up again he tried to focus on the arm to see if he could finally see what would come towards him, but he had no such luck. That damn arm came out late again and before he truly registered the motion was finished, the ball already hurdled towards him.

He swung his arms down in hope of getting a piece of it to foul it off but luck was not on his side. He heard the ball slam into Miyuki's mitt and knew without a doubt, even if he wouldn't have swung for it, it would have been a strike.

He got striked out on three pitches by a middle schooler. It wasn't funny at all. Behind him he heard his teammates go wild and when he dared to look towards the mound he saw the loudmouth smiling towards Miyuki. Who in return smiled back.

When he dared to look towards his teammates he noticed they had the same dumbstruck look on their faces as he himself had. When he saw Sawamura walking towards Kawakami and patting the latter on his shoulder while talking to him, he lost it. Without a word he turned and went towards the indoor training hall, wanting some time alone. He knew his teammates watched him leave, but he didn't care; the humiliation still too fresh to even try to act indifferent towards them.

Apart from Azuma there were two other people who couldn't believe what actually happened.

Kawakami Norifumi looked at the pitcher talking to him in complete shock. Not even able to form a proper reply when the latter talked to him. After a little while he felt him patting his shoulder and turn towards some other teammates, obviously unaffected by his unresponsive behavior, to answer the rapidly hurdled questions towards him.

As for that second person; Takashima Rei looked at the boy currently receiving high fives, questions and cheers and wondered what happened between his last game and this. It almost seemed like a totally different person played today. She didn't truly believe the level of pitching today was a result of not having to hold back on his pitches like in the last match. This kid obviously knew nothing of them, nor did he know Miyuki well enough to be able to fully trust his catcher. This whole situation should have made him nervous and not debating strategy and shaking off pitches from an unfamiliar catcher!

Miyuki meanwhile only shrugged his shoulders when he saw Azuma leave the field. He hoped the latter would finally understand that he wasn't the almighty batting king and his behavior inexcusable. Last time he did pipe down somewhat, but because of him faulting a lot of pitches he could keep up an inch of appearance. But this was a severe blow. This wasn't a loss on lucky pitches or bad swings. This was a killing blow, perfectly set up and executed. He hoped it would be enough to rattle the other enough now to actually start to play like a team player again.

They didn't have many matches left and Azuma was a key figure in the team to get them to Koshien. ' I wonder if that is going to happen though. It didn't only depend on Azuma last time after all, it was more like how we lost with the senpai, we all made mistakes. But maybe this time it would be possible if everyone here got inspired by Sawamura's play. I guess we'll see. We will definitely reach Koshien with the senpai this time around though, that's something I want to make sure of.

He walked towards Takashima and saw her looking at Eijun with big eyes as well. "Neh Rei-chan, was this what you had in mind when you asked me to pull out his full potential?" he asked as he winked cheekily at her knowing perfectly well she would never have dreamed of this at this point in time.

"Miyuki-kun" came the immediate reply "that was definitely a great play. I do wonder though how you got him to play like this for you. When I scouted him, he didn't show this level of pitching, nor this serious behavior in confronting a batter, have you played before perhaps?"

And Miyuki knew he had to treat on carefully now. He didn't want to put it on too thick but at the same time had to sow the seeds for them getting a steady battery when Sawamura started next year. "Really? I never met the kid before today (technically that was true but at the same time not of course) so that can't be it."

"I wonder though; if he feels so different to you, was it because of the catcher? I felt like he did take a liking towards me and he actually had the guts to ask me to take him seriously. Did that other catcher not take him serious or was it some other team related thing that made him perform differently? 'Although I have no right to say anything; as I didn't take him serious at all too, nor the team; except for when we felt like it or when it was already too late. " Are you seriously recruiting him for Seidou, because that fellow is mighty interesting?!"

"I have to admit that his team isn't much to talk about. They are truly bad but seemed to have a lot of fun either way. His catcher most of the time failed to catch even his more simple pitches. But what amazes me is that he had a very peculiar pitch and I haven't seen him throw it today at all. If he had this kind of control, why didn't he pitch like this in the game I saw? It would have made it easier for the catcher as well. Something feels strange, as if I brought a different boy."

Miyuki started to sweat. If Rei-chan doubted Sawamura was who he said he was she would retract the offer for joining Seidou, scared of a possible scandal if there indeed was something strange going on. Going for immediate damage control he furiously thought about the right course of action to take. In the end he decided to go with a very heavily stretched out half truthful answer.

"He told me he had a moving fastball, but while they are nice for throwing off batters he didn't want to risk throwing them here. He said that pitch wasn't at the level of control he preferred to have yet and it was a double-edged sword and since he challenged Azuma-senpai, and wanted to make a statement, felt like more steady pitches would work better here. So I asked what else he had he felt confident in and after hearing about his other pitches and taking in Azuma-senpai's preferences agreed with him. So in the end we decided to go with that."

Looking at Rei-chan he saw her face clear up a bit so he knew he had to further hammer down any doubts. "I don't know why he only threw that in the match you saw, so you would have to ask him about that. But if he indeed has a moving fastball and the game would be fifty-fifty in terms of teams it is a nice strategy, since they are very hard to time, but if the catcher manages to catch them of course."

And with that Takashima's face cleared up completely. "They were quite equal indeed. They only lost by one point so I suppose it was a gamble gone wrong then. Well, it was an interesting day and to answer your question; I do see him as a good addition to our team yes; especially after today's performance.

But for now I have to make sure he catches his train back home, I didn't expect to spend so much time here and he has to return to Nagano soon." And with that said she turned towards Sawamura, intending to walk towards him missing the panicked look Miyuki threw her after those words.

"Rei-chan" Miyuki called out. "Is there enough time to talk to the guy for a minute? I'm really curious about him and promised to talk about game calling afterwards." 'I'm happy I remembered that little titbit. If there is something Rei-chan loves its players taking things seriously.' But of course it was for naught, shinkansen tickets where reserved by time after all.

"Sorry Miyuki-kun, we really have to leave very soon and he also has to change, maybe you could trade cell phone numbers? I actually think that would be a great idea, you could help me influence him to indeed accept Seidou as his first choice. He wasn't really enthusiastic when I mentioned us recruiting him and only agreed to come here after I challenged him."

'This truly is an interesting day. I never thought I would see the day where Miyuki himself actually shows interest in someone else; especially a pitcher. I think Sawamura will be a great addition in more ways than only his pitching if he can get this peculiar boy to pay full attention towards him.' And she had to hide a smile at seeing the slightly panicked expression on Miyuki's face.

'Damn, this seriously can't be happening now right? How on earth am I to solve this by phone? But by the looks of it, Rei-chan won't let him out of her sight so talking about this would be impossible anyway. Guess beggars can't be choosers right? Let's hope Bakamura gets the hint' and ran off for his bag, furiously searching for some paper and a pen; before hastily scribbling down his number.

In the meantime Takashima reached the throng of boys who were still surrounding Eijun, announcing they had to resume practice since he had to go change and get ready to leave. This was met with groans from the boys and an equally panicked expression on Eijun's face as Miyuki just had while he started to frantically looking around for said boy.

'This really is interesting.' Takashima thought. 'Maybe I won't need Miyuki's help after all by the looks of it but let's cement this home alright' and she regarded the boy in front of her.

"Sawamura-kun, Miyuki told me of his promise to talk to you about his game calling, but we are on a tight schedule here. I suggested you boys' trade cell-phone numbers so you can still make due on that promise but for now please hurry up and go change. We need to leave in max fifteen minutes.

Finally seeing Miyuki at the fence, scribbling something, he nodded and hurried towards the changing rooms. 'This really is bad timing. But I guess this is the best solution. I should have talked to him right away dammit but well; no use crying over spilled milk. Now where do I have a pen…?'

Hurrying to get changed in time after searching for a pen he finally walked back, towards Takashima when he saw Miyuki standing next to her. "Miyuki-senpai" he politely said and had to bite his lip to keep him from laughing when he saw Miyuki's expression after hearing that. "Takashima-san told me about exchanging phone-numbers. Please humbly accept mine since I had a great day today and look forward to speak with you again" while presenting the piece of paper with his number in a full ninety-degree formal bow and thinking 'Take that you tanuki.'

Miyuki meanwhile saw the mischievous glint in Sawamura's eyes and knew the guy was messing around. Gauntlet thrown, he accepted it and went in for the kill. "Likewise Sawamura-kun, you threw some great balls today. Please regard us favorably in regards to your future schooling-choice" and handed him his own number not daring to look at Sawamura's face, knowing it was bright red at receiving a compliment from him.

Takashima in the meantime only shook her head at the boys' antics. She was highly amused and looking forward towards the first of April, thinking things would really get shaken up next year.

Leading Sawamura back towards Shinjiku station so he could board the train on time, she thanked him profusely for helping to take Azuma down a notch. Explaining she wanted him a bit more level headed before actually going pro.

Wishing Takashima luck with the rest of the matches ahead and his promise to let her know about his choice of schools soon he boarded the train and gave her one last wave before finding his seat, preparing for his ride back to Nagano. He held onto Miyuki's phone-number and smiled wildly. He as well couldn't wait for April to start.

Chapter Text

"Morning"

"Ah good morning to you too" was heard all throughout the school.

The bell hadn't rung yet so Eijun leisurely made his way towards his classroom. He knew he would be grilled by his friends today since he came back too late to Nagano for a meet up yesterday.

He pointedly ignored all their texts in favor of waiting and then answering Miyuki's; resulting in both of them falling asleep quite late. For once he was happy still being in Nagano, he knew Miyuki was in for a lousy day.

He opened the door of his classroom and immediately got barricaded by his friends who almost exploded from excitement after finally seeing him.

"Ah Ei-chan, how was it yesterday! You totally ignored us you meanie!"

"Good morning to you too you lot" he teased and faltered; seeing their genuinely excited faces.

"Seidou was great guys. They have those wicked facilities and actually three practice fields! Over a hundred players apparently also attend and they were all so incredibly serious, it was freaky and amazing all at once; you almost saw aura's around them!

His friends looked indeed quite impressed hearing about the magnitude that was Seidou. Especially considering they made up a complete team on their own; with almost no facilities whatsoever and he went on recounting his day for them.

"And after that there was this one dude who was putting his teammate down and that was really horrible; so I took him down with my pitching; that was awesome but also totally weird. And then their catcher; he truly is something else, he's even featured in a magazine already!"

Eijun knew he was laying it on thickly but he still felt slightly guilty for leaving them here. And no matter how excited they seemed now, they were also sad about him leaving; they were a close knit bunch after all. So he at least wanted to make sure they knew he was going to be fine there; well this time around. At the same time he wanted to make sure they knew every team had its flaws; famous or not.

"Over a hundred guys huh, well that's exactly your type of challenge right Ei-chan?! After all Seidou did see how great you were right, or you wouldn't have been scouted!" Nobu told him matter of factly.

"Yes Ei-chan! That's totally something to be excited about right? If it's you; you definitely can! This chance won't come again you know. It is after all that Seidou!" his other friends commented as well.

The excitement was almost the same as last time but Eijun felt like this time they genuinely felt happy for him and when he caught Wakana's smile from the corner of his eyes it hit him. 'Guess she did pave the way for me again huh, even without Gramps going and messing stuff up' and he turned to look at her.

She in return turned slightly red, as if knowing what he was thinking about. "Well it is your only chance for a decent school Ei-chan. With your grades it would be impossible to go to the same school anyway so this scholarship is actually pretty neat. It also gives you the time to finally focus on your own studies since the others over there are pretty decent players already right? And be honest; you really want to go don't you? Stop worrying about us for a change! I mean it is Seidou we're talking about, you can't get much better you know."

"She is right you know and don't forget, you will represent us all and we will go and cheer for you whenever we can, so go and rock at Seidou Ei-chan."

And with that, they accepted him leaving because they knew in their hearts that he truly wanted to go and that it would be good for him. It also meant they would never accept him turning down such a great offer. And if he still dared; they would make sure he would go anyhow.

They also knew that the only reason Eijun would refuse would be because of his promise to them. They never ever wanted to make Eijun feel like he betrayed them for not being able to keep that promise. So they would reassure him even if they had to say it a thousand times over.

"By the way Ei-chan, what was it you said about pitching against someone already? Are you kidding us?" Wakana asked and after hearing that Eijun happily told them about the match he played against a drafted player and as they listened to him, they were actually shocked that there was a catcher out there who could catch all off Eijun's balls after only a short warm-up and they all thought simultaneously; 'That must be one hell of a catcher'.

Eijun of course didn't explain how Miyuki was actually able to do that, some things where better left unsaid, but he had to hand it to Miyuki; he did catch all his balls without fail the first time around. Eijun felt proud for Miyuki and being able to play again with him.

After he got home that evening he told his family about his decision to indeed leave for Tokyo in spring. He knew his mom would be sad and worry about him leaving but his grandpa and father were positively surprised.

"I expected you to mope around for days for leaving your friends Eijun, but I guess we were worried for nothing hmm." His father told him.

"We've already talked dad. They actually threatened to sign me up and dump me on Seidou's doorstep themselves if I didn't accept their offer, so I guess I have no choice right?" and he grinned mischievously.

"At least I'll make sure to stick around longer than you did for your musician career." And at that his grandpa and mother had to smother their laughter; especially when they saw his father's face.

"Ah, yes well, just remember that if you feel like you don't make it, you are always welcomed back home. And we will make sure no one will ever speak evil of you after that okay? I do know that it is frightening to go somewhere on your own. But don't give up too soon son." And he lovingly ruffled Eijun's hair.

Having the talk with his family over with, Eijun went upstairs to inform Miyuki of his decision.

He knew that Miyuki knew he wouldn't pass up on the offer; especially now. But that didn't mean he would make it too easy on the guy.

If he was serious about being taken seriously right from the start he knew he had to show him and for Eijun that meant open and honest communication. Something he knew was hard for Miyuki to return but still felt necessary for Eijun; if they ever wanted to move forwards.

He dropped down on his bed and grabbed his phone while casually stuffing his pillow under his chest for a more relaxing pose.

When he checked the screen he saw no new message notification appear in his notification bar; apparently Miyuki had indeed died in training today or, and he would bet his full allowance on that if he had someone to make a bet with, he still didn't feel comfortable enough replying to his last email.

'Well it was kinda mushy I suppose. Guess I've gotta go a bit easier on the guy; for now at least.'

"Yoshaaa, let's see how he managed today then" he muttered out loud and typed a short message to get communication going again.

[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: I've decided!]

Prepare yourself Miyuki Kazuya! In six months I'm definitely gonna make you catch my pitches! No way out now you Tanuki!

Ps. did you survive training today?

He sent it off but didn't expect an immediate reply. Truthfully Eijun was still perplexed about the fact that he could now mail and or text Miyuki whenever he wanted.

He never had gotten the guys number back then; Miyuki was way too afraid of him being harassed to catch every minute of the day by Eijun and Furuya. Especially because the latter would demand his number as well if he ever learned Eijun had it and Eijun had to admit that there was some truth in that statement; especially after Chris-senpai left.

But what could one do if the time granted to pitch to his favorite person got cut shorter and shorter? And said person wouldn't always keep his promises? Hindsight is 20/20 but at the time Eijun never understood why Miyuki treated him the way he did; now he did of course and it made accepting Miyuki and this situation a lot easier.

Getting even more comfortable on his bed he scrolled through the messages he and Miyuki sent each other yesterday; relishing in the fact that Miyuki really did honestly reply to him for once.

[ To: BuntMeijin [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: This is so messed up]

Oy Sawamura, what on earth are we going to do about this? I suppose we both know what I'm talking about right now so don't make me say it. This situation is totally messed up.


[ To: Leader in Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Re: This is so messed up]

Stop thinking and overanalyzing stuff and just catch for me Miyuki Kazuya!

No I'm joking, just joking (well partially, I do want you to catch for me and you have to stop overanalyzing since it's bad for your health!)

I do agree with you that this whole situation is messed up though.

But between coming back; going to Seidou and learning about you, I haven't had much time to think about all this stuff to be honest.

After Rei-chan visited I didn't even know if I wanted to go back to Seidou. I honestly thought I could change stuff by not going and staying here with my friends. Seidou was painful you know. So I thought that maybe that would be for the best. Wakana convinced me to at least check it out so I did and then stuff just got weird.

Eijun figured telling the truth wouldn't hurt if he wanted to make amends with Miyuki. So Eijun was willing to take the first step here to show Miyuki that he could be trusted by trusting him in return.

Miyuki may have a mean streak at times but he was never vicious. Eijun also never saw Miyuki poking fun at people based on personal information; on performance and character yes, but nothing more than that. So he wasn't afraid any of this ever ending up in a taunt or sharp remark from the guy.

And besides, just like Eijun got failed by the coaching staff, Miyuki was too. He started noticing that around the same time they lost and it opened his eyes towards the magnitude of a person Miyuki truly was.

Considered a prodigy he was made a starting player almost right of the bat. Eijun truly believed he would have become so anyway even if Chris-senpai hadn't gotten hurt. He probably would have been put in in place of Miyauchi-senpai or Ono-senpai. Miyuki's talent was too precious to waste in a second string team or on the bench after all and the coaches noticed that too.

So he became the leader of the bullpen, while receiving almost no guidance himself, except maybe some pre practice instructions but was in return expected to train the others. If they wanted someone to coach all the time, they should have assigned a coach mainly for bullpen matters. Kataoka-kantoku may know a lot about his players, but that doesn't excuse his handling of Miyuki related matters. And Miyuki wasn't one to complain openly about not being able to handle stuff. So instead of training together with his teammates: Miyuki became the bullpen coach who trained others and himself.

Alongside that he was chosen as the team's captain with Kataoka-kantoku only saying he was the right choice for it. Eijun personally thought Miyuki was an easy choice for the coaching staff to make; since in their eyes, Miyuki as a player himself didn't require much work. So when Yuuki-senpai proposed Miyuki, there was no reason for the coaching staff to deny him right?

Even after all that being the clean-up hitter and having to attend even more meetings were things naturally heaped upon him as thanks for being a prodigy. Eijun admired Miyuki for even finding time to study other team's batters and thinking up strategies with Nabe, not to mention his regular studies, even more now.

The guy could really never catch a breath before more responsibilities got heaped upon him it seemed.

Because Miyuki unfortunately was Miyuki he had barely anyone to rely on. Zono became more of a hindrance than strength, his results dropped dramatically as the year went on, and he didn't have the nerve to keep his calm when he noticed the team falling apart. Resulting in a nervous mess who started to rely on Miyuki instead of the opposite way in which it was initially intended.

Mochi may be the closest thing of a friend Miyuki has and luckily Mochi made sure Miyuki took some time to himself on occasions, forbidding the team at certain times to search out their captain and helping him finish his homework or covering for Miyuki in class when he slept in late because of exhaustion. But it was only a drop in the ocean.

Everyone seemed to forget that even though Miyuki may be a prodigy, he was only 16 when made captain and had to lead the whole team, the bullpen, hit as clean-up, juggling with captain's duties and fighting the coaches on their decisions while keeping his grades up. And by reaching his 17th birthday it all started to fall apart around him. It was no wonder he made mistakes.

And so Eijun forgave him his mistakes some time ago, knowing it wasn't fair to blame Miyuki for the mess or even a part of it. The guy had the right to some mistakes after all, just like every other person and especially considering he did a pretty damn good job at everything that got thrown his way. He always worked hard for the team even if it wasn't always visible.

When he finally saw the schedule that Miyuki kept up, it was a miracle the man actually agreed to catch after training times for them at all; they should thank him on their knees for that and Eijun felt ashamed that he actually had the nerve to treat him the way he did. Again hindsight is 20/20. That didn't mean he forgave all of Miyuki's behavior towards him though.

Nor that he felt betrayed by his behavior or wanted answers to his questions of where exactly he went wrong and where Miyuki got the idea of him not being up to par with Furuya.

It only meant he could see the reason why it happened in the first place and Eijun sure as hell wouldn't accept behavior like that this time around. Instead he decided to carry the responsibilities alongside him or support him any way he could, so the guy wouldn't have to act like that anymore and could get some time to actually wind down.

Why Miyuki never experienced a nervous breakdown would always be a mystery to Eijun. But secretly the thought crept upon him that if Miyuki also came back, he may have wanted a change as well, since Eijun only prayed for himself to go back and redo everything regarding Seidou and Miyuki.

After contemplating all this Eijun went back to rereading their mail exchange.

[ To: BuntMeijin [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Re: Re: This is so messed up]

What do you mean you only came back like three days ago??

I've been here for almost half a year already!

I'm also stuck with Azuma in my room again!

It's like being in a nightmare and his mood hasn't improved one bit even after a night of sleep!

As for the rest of your text; I don't want to admit it but I can somewhat understand you not wanting to come to Seidou again if you could choose another road.

I'm ashamed to admit that after a short while, Seidou wasn't a good place for you anymore and I want to sincerely apologize for that, especially my role in it. I can only say for sure that I do want to improve things overall Sawamura, and that includes you. I can't promise it will work out though but I'll do my best.

Ps. Make sure not having to run for three weeks this time and I'll catch for you! (I only apologize for instigating and us getting caught; the failure to apologize is still your own.)

Even after reading it again, Eijun still had to chuckle when he read what Miyuki wrote. It was so Miyuki-ish, complaining, seriousness and attempting to get a raise out of a person in one message. The apology was precious altogether though and he cherished it. Especially knowing what it cost Miyuki to admit that much already.

[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Re: Re: Re: This is so messed up]

You are roommates with THAT person? Now I almost feel sorry for you Miyuki Kazuya!

Well I can't help that I'm only back for three days you know. As far as I know I really arrived only three days ago when Rei-chan came to scout me. I didn't believe what was happening at first to be honest. It all felt totally surreal but everything was still exactly as I remembered.

After Rei-chan left I felt totally lost. Luckily Wakana was there but that went different than first time though you know. So by that time I knew I time-skipped apparently. I can tell you that it totally freaked me out at first. The only reasons I seriously considered Seidou again at that point were Wakana and you.

I still want to be your battery partner Bakayuki and this time I'll make sure you'll feel the same and won't feel let down! Your mitt still makes the best sound and considering I chased after you the first time, I figured I could do it a second time as well. So prepare yourself; This Sawamura Eijun will make good on his promise.

I do believe Wakana caught on to that. She of course doesn't know the exact reason and I sure as hell couldn't tell her about this crazy situation, even she would have gotten me institutionalized, but she really urged me to visit Seidou again. So I did and the result is as you've seen it.

But I for one would have never believed us going back together. That was a total surprise. I'm quite happy about it, it feels nice having someone around who knows what happened and experienced the same.

I just hope we are on the same page you know. I want to make Seidou better. I really regret letting you and the others down in that match against Inashiro and that since then everything went downhill. I never want to experience such regrets again but my biggest regret is that I could never make that perfect battery with you. It's the reason I came to Seidou in the first place and I regret letting you down now more than ever. You never made it easy but I should have taken you more seriously and I promise I'll make it up to you this time!

Although that doesn't mean I don't have any questions or can excuse all that happened without hearing your side of the story. I will wait for that but I wanted to tell you so you can prepare yourself for that one point where I will ask you about it.

But, Miyuki Kazuya, what is that you want from all this? You can tell me you know. Don't try to shoulder everything alone again.

Until now Eijun hadn't gotten a reply yet. He knew Miyuki was bad with 'emotional' stuff and he figured it would take a while before he felt comfortable expressing his thoughts. Eijun was willing to wait but that's also the reason he sent that other mail as well. If he gave him the chance Miyuki would retreat and it would take ages before the guy would reply again and by sending him something lighthearted; he gave him a perfect excuse to keep up casual contact as well before replying on serious matters.

He went to change and get ready for bed when he heard the message tone he specifically chose for Miyuki. Hurrying along he scurried underneath his blankets to read Miyuki's reply.

[ To: BuntMeijin [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Re: I've decided]

Well I guess that's that then. Maybe I should retire early? Or maybe Inashiro still wants to have me?

Training was alright I guess. Tanba still doesn't like me much and Mochi was his annoying self as usual. It sucks being a first year again though; I miss my muscle mass and believe me…training camp of hell…I forgot about that….why do I have to do that again and as a first year? Even the rice eating thing is hard again!

Hmm I don't want you to end up in second string this time so make sure you don't slack off and start rebuilding some muscle and stamina already it could give you an edge when you show up here. You've still got around six months and I suppose you can do even that much out there right? There are lots of fields you can run around over there right?

Downstairs Eijun's parents wondered what on earth happened when they heard a 'thunk' and laughter coming from upstairs. They looked at each other in surprise and could only think that Eijun really did change lately. They truly expected him to be depressed and here he was laughing like a maniac.

"Well I guess we can honestly say that that boy still has the ability to surprise us hmm."

"Yes, I do feel calmer after hearing about his day in Tokyo. I will still miss him terribly though. The house will get really quiet now. But if Seidou is convinced that Eijun is good for them and Eijun truly wants to go I won't stop him. I just hope he focuses on his education now too. Baseball isn't the most secure of jobs." And Eijun's mom sighed.

"Don't worry dear; he can always inherit the farm if he has to stop playing for some reason. And you accepted me even when I was a lousy musician with no coin and Eijun doesn't have to worry about that. He will be fine." And with that said Eijun's dad got up to hug his wife.

He too would miss their only child terribly. But he knew that if they didn't let him chase his dreams he would probably start to dislike them for it. Even his friends knew that even if Eijun himself didn't realize it. And who knew, maybe Eijun was meant for great things in the world of baseball.

They got up to go upstairs as well to prepare for bed. Working on a farm meant starting in the early hours and when they passed Eijun's bedroom they knocked before sticking their heads in.

They saw their son lying on the bed, completely immersed in his phone with only the top of his head sticking out of the blanket. They looked at each other and were reminded of a much younger Eijun in that same position cuddled right in-between them.

"Eijun dear, please make sure to not wake your Granpa alright? We're heading off for beds too, don't stay up too late."

Eijun looked up and dug up his arm from under his blanket to wave at them. "I will mom, after I replied to that crazy catcher" and flopped back down to start typing.

They looked at each other and back to their son wondering what catcher he was talking about.

"Which catcher Eijun?" his dad asked.

"That one from Seidou dad" Eijun replied absentmindedly while continuing to type.

Really surprised now they saw they lost their son's attention completely and retreated towards their own bedroom.

"Well I guess that means he already made friends over there right? Yes our Eijun never stops to surprise us huh." And they both chuckled before getting ready for bed.

Eijun sent his reply back to Miyuki in the meantime and still had to laugh.

[ To: BuntMeijin [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Re: Re: I've decided]

Don't underestimate the power of the country side Miyuki Kazuya! I will be as fit as a greyhound when I arrive at Seidou so don't worry about me.

And as if you want to play with someone like Narumiya Mei. Maybe you should consider Yakushi instead!

As for Tanba, he doesn't dislike you; he just can't keep up with you. You're quite an intimidating character you know and Tanba isn't. I always imagined you guys as a you being a tanuki ready to pounce a kitten.

Not even five minutes passed when he got a reply back.


[ To: BuntMeijin [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Re: Re: Re: I've decided]

If you want to join the track-team instead please do so, saves me headaches.

Please tell Tanba yourself how you think about him, but make sure I'm around when you do.

I don't think Yakushi is a viable option; I don't want a teammate that's even louder and could get me even bigger headaches than you can.

I'm off for bed now.

Having nothing to reply to that Eijun also decided to sleep and put his phone on his desk. He was therefore extremely surprised to find another message from Miyuki on his phone when he woke up the next morning.


[ To: BuntMeijin [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: What I want?]

Eijun,

You've never let us down. If there's someone that was wronged it was you so don't you ever say you've let us down again. Inashiro was not your fault, you procuring yips was not your fault and us losing at the start of the Summer Tournament also wasn't your fault nor was losing in spring. All these failures weren't due to one person alone so don't make me say it again.

I don't want to have any regrets either and in regards to our battery; I'm ashamed to admit that at first it was just something I said to get you to cooperate back then against Azuma. But after catching your pitches I found you truly interesting and when I saw you enrolled in Seidou I was quite excited.

Let's just say that we could have never become the kind of battery I proclaimed and you wanted, not at that time at least. This time I won't let anyone (including myself) interfere and if that means working you to death from Nagano I will. Just continue on like you did after spring and we will be fine.

I'm not sure I can give you all the answers you want but I will try to answer them honestly when you ask them. I do have some of my own for you as well.

For now focus on the practice menu I've sent you; we'll tackle the rest whenever it comes up.

After reading Eijun felt relieved and confused at the same time. He wondered how Miyuki managed to raise more new questions for Eijun than answering them.

Hearing him say that he didn't let everyone down was an immense relieve. In his head he knew, but even when the others told him so he still didn't truly believed it in his heart. Why? Because he never heard it outright from Miyuki and Miyuki was the one he chased and wanted to be acknowledged by. So hearing it outright from him was like balm to his heart and it made him realize it indeed was the truth.

He also knew that even though Miyuki never said it out loud, he did try to help were he could; especially if he thought he was the catalyzer. He was more a guy of actions than words. So having him say it was doubly precious.

He also knew Miyuki wouldn't commit to more right now. At least they were on the same page and could work from this point onwards towards their goals. Eijun knew that they were roughly the same and that relieved him immensely. Later he would ask what Miyuki meant when he said he wouldn't let anyone interfere including himself. For some reason he doubted he meant Furuya by that.

Mulling things over in his head he started to prepare himself for the upcoming day and headed towards the bathroom.

Meanwhile in Tokyo one Miyuki Kazuya again had a restless night.

Talking with Sawamura was at once fun and soul wrenching. The guy truly had the power to mess with his emotions.

He knew that when he told him that he would go to sleep, he wouldn't get a reply on his last mail, since he expected the guy to go to sleep then as well. That didn't mean he didn't hope for it because he was really nervous about the kind of reply Sawamura would give.

He still didn't know what came over him when he decided to reply to the guys email so soon.

Hearing his alarm clock ring, he got up and started to get himself ready for breakfast. When he pulled on his training pants he heard his phone signaling an incoming message.

Opening his phone he saw that it was indeed a message from Sawamura.

When he read the only line the message was composed of he burst out laughing; startling Azuma.

Heading out towards the cafeteria he could only think one thing: "Only you, Sawamura…" while rereading the message.


[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Re: What I want?]

You're the Devil Miyuki Kazuya, for daring to propose such a practice menu!


Chapter Text

During the next few months before Eijun was due attending Seidou, Miyuki and Eijun messaged each other regularly. They decided early on not to meet before the start of school because it would look conspicuous and Miyuki wanted to avoid any blatant signs of favoritism. Especially since they weren't expected by others to know each other apart from that first day and some sent messages.

The one particularly suspicious would have been Rei-chan since she wouldn't expect such out of character behavior from Miyuki; they only met a few short hours and however interesting they were, it normally wouldn't be enough for Miyuki to immediately jump into friendship with a stranger and Miyuki didn't want to heap even more doubts from Rei-chan after he successfully diminished her others first.

So those final six months passed with regular messages sent between them. Some were about the missed Koshien, Miyuki confirming that not everything automatically changed with them coming back, some about Eijun's practicing and some with tentative ideas on what to change or not to change when Eijun would finally arrive at Seidou.

Finally the day arrived that Eijun would officially attend Seidou. He got up early that morning, too excited to sleep for much longer, and went for his customary run. About half-way a horrendous thought popped up and he couldn't contain himself anymore; he just had to send Miyuki a message, praying the other would show understanding in his plight:


[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Today is the day!]

Oy Miyuki, should I try to avoid Mochi's 'roomtradition' today? And could I use you as an excuse for game-night?

He knew Miyuki would forever sincerely detest early mornings and that he shouldn't expect a reply before he boarded the train. But if Miyuki answered on time he could still come up with some excuse for Mochi and Masuko to escape game-night.

'Why didn't I think to ask him yesterday? I was so busy thinking on how to avoid angering the Boss again that I forgot what caused it in the first place! Let's hope Miyuki will play along.'

He sighed and resumed his run back towards home. When he arrived he saw that his mother was up as well and preparing breakfast. His stomach rumbled in anticipation when his nose caught onto the most delicious smells emitting from the kitchen. He would sincerely miss his mothers' cooking.

"Ei-chan? You went running again?' came drafting towards him from the kitchen direction.

"Yeah I did, it's really nice outside." He answered back and walked towards the kitchen. When he entered his eyes widened, taking in all the food that was prepared. "Are we hosting a party? That's enough food for ten people!" he exclaimed.

"Don't be silly Eijun, it's not often that a kid gets invited into Seidou and I just want to make sure you have a decent start already. I suspect the day will be long and having a decent breakfast hopefully makes it easier on you." And she turned towards the stove again. "Go take a shower now, but don't be too long, your friends will be here in an hour or two to send you off as well.'

Eijun looked at his mothers' back and knew it was only one part of the truth. He almost felt bad for being so excited, but knew he couldn't do anything to ease her feelings about him leaving. He made his choice and he knew she would cope now as well as last time.

He went upstairs to take his shower and after dressing did a last quick check throughout his room to see if he indeed packed everything he needed. He didn't want to ask his parent to send it after he left since it wasn't always cheap to do so and he didn't want to burden them even more financially. The scholarship that was extended to him, as he was recruited, covered almost everything, but they still had to cover some expenses.

He went back downstairs where his whole family sat around the table this time and they dug heartily into the offered feast.

Not long thereafter the doorbell rang and his friends entered the house. Eijun grabbed his suitcase and they went off towards the station to meet with Takashima-san, babbling excitedly.

"We are still not over the fact you got recruited Ei-chan! It still surprises us thinking about it. It doesn't feel normal for a country bumpkin like you going to Tokyo!"

"That's mean you guys, you know that this Sawamura Eijun is top-class so stop being surprised already!" he replied good-naturedly and knew they would be riled after this. He started to understand and appreciate why Miyuki always did it. It was just great fun to see the reactions coming from others over his taunting; it could really make his day.

They all rolled their eyes at him and cracked a smile when they saw him running towards a person he noticed standing in front of the station. They couldn't resist teasing him one last time.

"So now we know why you wanted to join Seidou Ei-chan. We would too if they have such beauties over there. You really tried to make us believe it was because of baseball but we think we figured you out huh." And they exploded into laughter after seeing his face, the adults looking at them in mock exasperation.

Luckily for them Eijun's rant was cut before he could even start by the station announcement following.

"All passengers bound for Tokyo, the 03:03 train will arrive shortly at track two. We repeat: All passengers bound for Tokyo, the 03:03 train will arrive shortly at track two."

When they looked they indeed saw the train entering the station and prepared to say their goodbyes.

"Eijun, if you ever want to give up, call me and I'll make sure to send you some love slaps to be prepared again!" his grandpa said followed by his parents' well wishes and promises of being careful. Even the principle and vice-principle joined the well wishes, incredibly proud that at least one student would carry on their diminished legacy."

He already said his goodbyes to his friends yesterday and they only made sure he would not forget his promise to mail them regularly and their promise to go see his games whenever they could if he ever played.

He mumbled his assent, they as well as he knew he was horrible at mailing and keeping in touch but he would do his best. This got some exasperated sighs and laughs from the whole gang again and they unanimously decided to spam him until he had no choice but to reply.

Another announcement was made and the doors closed. This time there were only a couple of teary eyed faces but thankfully nothing like the mess they were last time. "I really love playing baseball with you guys, so when I come back let's play again!" He shouted through the closing doors and all their faces lit up with huge smiles as they started to run along the train to wave for as long as possible while shouting encouragements.

Rei-chan watched the whole procedure with a fond smile and wondered how this boy could be so collected after leaving everything behind he sincerely treasured. It showed a maturity she hadn't expected of someone she thought Sawamura to be.

Eijun looked at her when he noticed her watching him. "This is the drive you were talking about isn't that right Takashima-san? I'll make sure to represent them to my utmost best while making sure we'll reach Koshien this time." And his eyes burned forcing her to look away.

"Let's find our seats Sawamura-kun; and you are allowed to call me Rei-chan like all the players now that you officially entered Seidou, although only on the field, in class you will show proper respect." Eijun nodded his assent and they both went to their respective seats, not talking much along the way; Rei-chan thinking Eijun would need the time to compose himself and Eijun happy he didn't have to succumb into a conversation in which he would be afraid to say too much.

They once again reached Tokyo and immediately went to Seidou where Rei-chan continued to show Eijun around. They finally stopped at the dormitory building were Rei-chan addressed him a final time. "After you're done unpacking make sure you rest well Sawamura-kun. It may be spring holiday, that doesn't mean we don't practice hard at this time as well. My duties as a scout end here and from now on I'll be your teacher and coach. Don't be too unsettled by the change of scenery as I for one know for sure; you have everything you need to be our future ace, so work hard future ace-kun." And she walked away.

Eijun only scoffed at her retreating back, knowing very well the results of that particular speech. He grabbed his suitcase and made his way towards his room, preparing for Mochi's onslaught, wincing slightly.

Rereading Miyuki's text, Eijun prepared himself for the inevitable; there were some changes to be made right about now.

He finally stood in front of room number five, and taking a deep breath he opened the door. In the exact same fashion as last time, Kuramochi Youichi stood in the door's entrance, covered in fake blood and grinning wickedly.

Eijun only looked at him, blinked and said: "I still don't know where the infirmary is around here so you'll have to excuse me while I apply some first aid. I can't say I'm good at that so let me know if you need a teacher instead" and blinked again awaiting Mochi's answer. From inside the room he heard Masuko snicker before the guy burst out laughing not able to look at Mochi's face any longer.

Mochi looked dumbstruck at the teen in front of him. He himself had been scared shitless the previous year but this punk dared to challenge him; he saw it in his eyes. He started to snicker, acknowledging for the moment that he got beaten and welcomed him anyway.

"Welcome to the Seidou baseball team Sawamura. Guess you aren't afraid of horror-movies huh? Well let's still get to know each other better shall we" and proceeded to nod towards Masuko.

"I'm Kuramochi Youichi and that one over there is Masuko Tooru, he made an error in our game yesterday and as self-inflicted punishment refuses to talk. So to deepen our friendship right from the start let's play some games alright?" He pointed towards a game console with a wicked little grin that Eijun missed the first time around.

It was the kind of smile that promised retribution and hell for the innocent caught up in its trap. Eijun had no desire to be more unnecessarily involved in Mochi's schemes than absolutely necessary. He loved the guy but he could be a menace.

He was impatiently waved in by both boys and knew he had to act fast and he decided to initiate stage two of Miyuki's suggestion (plan) .

"Uhm Kuramochi-senpai, Miyuki-senpai told me that you are an amazing roommate and big brother figure to have and that I should be really happy being in this room. I've never had any siblings so having the opportunity to get a big brother, especially while being away from home, feels really amazing. It made me look forward to coming here even more" and he proceeded with a ninety-degree bow, not missing the widening of the other's eyes, driving his point home.

Masuko at the same time was very glad he forbade himself to speak since otherwise he would have howled in laughter at seeing the wicked gleam in the newcomer's eyes and the dumbfounded look in Mochi's. The new one was smarter than they gave him credit for and apparently asked Miyuki about the people he would room with. It proved to become an interesting year but for now he wanted to see how Kuramochi would handle this situation which was directed as a direct blow to his character.

He knew Kuramochi considered Eijun innocent and sincere and at the same time wanted to lash out against Miyuki's manipulations and proving the other wrong but Masuko knew he didn't have the heart for it. He gleefully watched Kuramochi being manipulated instead of the other way around by one (maybe not so much greenhorn) pitcher. This could truly develop into a scary battery if Miyuki indeed applied himself towards Sawamura and Sawamura showing trust in Miyuki in return.

Kuramochi in the meantime swallowed sharply. He would get back at that manipulative tanuki at a later time he promised himself, but for now he didn't want to destroy Eijun's view of his (good) character. Considering at home he was the younger brother he felt flattered being addressed as someone worthy of being the big one. He didn't know if he liked the responsibility that came with it, but he liked the idea and decided to go along with it. Being a big brother also meant he would still be able to tease the guy so no true harm would be done; he only got a license to do so.

Watching the bowing boy in front of him, he scratched his neck and regarded him uncomfortably "Aah, don't bow Sawamura, let's just play for an hour to get to know each other better and then go to bed. Training starts early after all and we wouldn't want you to miss it now would we" getting even more uncomfortable after seeing the bright huge grin being flashed towards him in answer to this evenings (revised but the kid didn't know it) plans.

He turned around and therefore missed the knowing look Masuko gave Sawamura who in return acknowledged such with a small nod and smile. They talked (Masuko wrote) for a while and after about an hour prepared themselves for bed. When Eijun was sure everyone was sleeping he opened his phone to type one last message towards Miyuki:


[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]
[ Subject: Mission accomplished]

Thanks!

The next morning his alarm went off at his regular time and decided that new school or not, he would still go for his morning run. It would also give him the opportunity to bang on Miyuki's door on his way back to make sure the guy was awake also.

He wouldn't mind for Miyuki to be late (a sleepy Miyuki was always a sight to see) but felt like he owed the guy in return for his help yesterday. So while he jogged and thought matters over he didn't notice the figure standing at the edge of the field watching him thoughtfully.

After his run he made good on his promise banging on Miyuki's door until he heard him get up (running away before the latter could open the door and snap at him, he had some self-preservation thank you very much) and prepared himself for the teams assembly.

Together with Mochi and Masuko he made his way towards the field and got to the spot indicated to him. He didn't experience this last time so he was a tad bit excited at doing something new. With a relieved sigh he saw Miyuki getting in line at the senpai's side right in time and ignored the sleepy glare directed at him, since at that moment the whole coaching staff made their way over towards them.

The obligatory "Good morning Sir's" rang across the field and Kataoka Tesshin made his way over towards the new first years while the others stayed at the sides. He addressed them all at the same time and Mochi was feeling quite relieved seeing Sawamura standing across. When he first concocted his plan for the new arrival, he forgot to take into account their coaches temper and knew he avoided some misery in his own near future. Masuko only shook his head smiling.

Kataoka spoke up again demanding every one of them to introduce themselves and state their goals for their baseball time at Seidou.

One by one the first years started and when they reached Sawamura, Kataoka and Rei-chan looked a tad more alert although only people who knew them really well could tell.

"I'm Sawamura Eijun from Akagi Junior High, my goal is to form a true battery with one Miyuki Kazuya and reach Koshien as a fully united team. Oh and I play pitcher" and that last remark got him some snickers here and there where others only looked at him in obvious surprise for stating such a daring goal and claim.

It was so totally Sawamura to forget something while declaring something else and so silly that Miyuki didn't even try to suppress his own snickers.

He was actually amused that Eijun managed to make the plan he concocted work even better than he thought, considering the glares Mochi was directing his way. And after that particular declaration he felt not only Mochi's glares but Tanba's and Kawakami's as well. He dutifully ignored the blue aura coming from the first-year ranks since he had to pretend he didn't know who that person was.

It was the first time since joining Seidou that someone staked a claim without any qualms on his person and it caught the others of guard, considering that persons personality. At the same time they remembered the kid from that fight against Azuma, which made him something of a celebrity already, and their team-work. It was at that point that the Seidou High Baseball team was divided between exasperation and hope.

On one hand they felt exasperation because if there truly was someone that could keep up with Miyuki's personality, they were afraid of that person's own personality. On the other hand they hoped they maybe finally found a pitcher they could entrust their journey towards Koshien to, since they unanimous knew the catcher's skills and knew full well they didn't have a pitcher to complement those skills.

It was at that exact moment one Sawamura Eijun rose in regard in his senpai's eyes and they were tentatively starting to hope but would hold off judgement completely until the senior game. First seeing how the fellow would be in practice and an actual game.

They continued to listen to the long boring list of "I hope to become shortstop, I hope to be clean-up batter, I want to be the best out-fielder". Apart from Sawamura it was the same boring drivel as every year, until they reached a tiny pink haired person, immediately comparing him with another person in their own ranks and flinching when they saw the cold calculated gaze he directed towards said person.

"I'm Kominato Haruichi, my preferred position is 2nd baseman but can play all-round and I want to reach Koshien with my aniki. Wooden bats are my preference while batting." And he slinked back into the line, hiding his red face behind his bangs.

"Did he say wooden bats? That chibi? He's surely joking right?" Went in hushed murmurs through the ranks. It wasn't until Kataoka cleared his throat that silence prevailed once more and continued with the introduction of the last players.

"My name is Furuya Satoru and I'm from Hokkaido. I wish to become the best pitcher in Japan and know Miyuki-senpai can make me so" and stepped back into the line again as well."

Everyone now looked at Furuya not knowing if they should think him arrogant or ignorant. Regardless of their feelings of Miyuki's personality, he was still their teammate and they didn't like the idea of him being used as a stepping stone for personal goals and in extension themselves as well. They wondered what he'd be capable of thinking he could use Miyuki and the team like that. If, on the other hand, he appeared to truly be ignorant of the ways things worked in high school they would hold off judgement until he'd proven his worth to the team, but having been disregarded from the beginning still didn't sit well with them.

Miyuki in the meantime shared a meaningful look with Sawamura after Furuya's introduction. They knew they had to act fast, without disregarding Furuya's worth to the team, but if they didn't stop this mindless pursuit of being the best nothing would change. And especially Miyuki didn't want to get stuck with the same pitcher again this time.

Miyuki knew he himself wouldn't mind being harsh towards other people but also knew that at one point Eijun respected Furuya and didn't want to destroy him, just change the ways things worked out. It was a precarious balance they wanted to maintain and he hoped they could follow it, but if not, and the teams progress was at stake, Miyuki wasn't beneath acting coldly towards the other pitcher and making his displeasure to work with him known. There was too much at stake now.

They walked towards the cafeteria to pick up their breakfast which of course adorned the mandatory three bowls of rice. Eijun knowing this took a head start and started 'practicing' for this first obstacle at home to the consternation of his mother. He used his practice menu as an excuse but wasn't sure she completely bought it since the first few days he only looked miserable while trying not to puke whenever he ate.

Completing this first ordeal with little trouble, the other firsties looking jealously towards him, he got up together with Miyuki, returned their trays and went on towards the fields.

He knew he would have to wait for a while for the other first years to arrive before their practice menu would be announced while Miyuki already had his, so he opted for another slow run while observing his senpai.

After about half an hour all first years seemed to have made it onto the field and the coaching staff called for them to assemble. "We are going to test your skills for the position you desire. Put on your spikes and head for the B grounds."

He felt Miyuki's eyes and nodded without turning, knowing the other would understand.

Testing in the end disappointed him. It was nothing more than checking for posture, muscle mass and other technicalities in regards to their position, he only "pitched" like five balls towards the net before someone else had to take over. It apparently truly was as boring as Harucchi had always made it out to be.

Thinking about Harucchi; Eijun knew they didn't start talking before the senpai game but truly wished to do so now. The old Harucchi was someone Eijun was really fond off after all. Deciding to talk to Harucchi now was more important than stalling; he went over to the pink haired boy.

"Seidou is impressive isn't it?" and he saw the other nod shyly towards him and continued fishing for a response. "Although this is really boring, why did you decide on second baseman if you can also play all-round?" He saw Harucchi's eyes widen at being addressed further and Eijun face palmed himself.

"Ah sorry, I'm Sawamura Eijun. You're Kominato Haruichi right?" and Haruichi finally truly smiled towards the other boy in amusement.

"Yes, I am and I suppose it's boring since all they do is testing us for short times, but when we join real training I think it will get better. My aniki is the best second baseman there is and I really want to be as good as him."

"You really like your aniki don't you? That's truly cute so from now on I'll call you Harucchi!"

"Eeh? Don't you think that's a bit fast Sawamura-kun? We don't even know each other yet!"

"Of course not, you can call me Eijun. We are going to be teammates after all and you seem like a nice friend to have so no need for formality right? We need at least one person to fight alongside with in this battlefield towards Seidou's first string no?" and he slapped Harucchi on his back.

"I guess so" Harucchi replied and tentatively smiled towards the other boy. He just knew that if he went along with him things wouldn't stay calm and quiet in the least. And for the first time Harucchi felt like calm and quiet wasn't what he really wanted, he had had enough of that since his brother left home for Seidou. So taking a leap of faith he decided to go along with Sawamura abandoning his quiet days.

They walked back towards their respective dorms where Mochi was already waiting for him and started to berate for coming back late and that he should prepare for dinner and a bath, going in full throttle big brother mode after admitting to himself he already liked the guy in the short time he was around. Listening open-mouthed at the onslaught of words Eijun waved goodbye to Harucchi and tried to steer the conversation elsewhere.

"Where is Masuko-senpai, Kuramochi-senpai?" Eijun asked innocently and Mochi shuddered. "You said you looked forward to having big brothers right Sawamura?" and watched Eijun nod. "Then address me as such and not with senpai you hear me!" Eijun nodded again and thought for a short while.

"Then how about Mochi-nii?" he asked and didn't expect to see Kuramochi getting red and nodding consent, thinking the other would explode at the utter sentimentality of the name. 'What on earth did I just do? Miyuki is going to have a field day with this! Eijun thought with no small amusement.

He truly loved the other Mochi but he knew he could come to like this one even more, it wasn't that they were different at the core, it felt like the Mochi from his second year was already here and he liked it.

Still awaiting an answer for his previous request he saw Mochi's face darken considerably. "I suppose you will notice soon enough but Masuko is coming back late lately. In the last game he made an error and got dropped from the starting line-up. Since he's a senior, after this there is nothing left for him regarding high school baseball, so now I guess he is furiously swinging his bat to improve and get his spot back? At this point all third years are desperate for a spot and competition is fierce." Seeing the look of understanding on Eijun's face he patted him on the shoulder and told him to go for dinner together.

After his dinner and bath the wait for Masuko drove home to Eijun that even though you could change some things didn't mean everything changed. He sighed and hoped with all of his heart they indeed could change what was truly important to them. When Masuko finally came back, Eijun relaxed and fell asleep, unbeknown to him that his two senpai noticed him waiting for Masuko and smiled when he relaxed and fell asleep. They really liked their kohai already.

Chapter Text

The next day Eijun woke before his dorm mates again and prepared for his customary run; hoping that maybe Miyuki would be willing to catch a bit for him later that day but also being prepared if he wasn't up yet. They hadn't talked much these past two days and he had to acknowledge that he missed the guy; snark and all.

It felt really weird not being able to just talk with him whenever he wanted to, only because he wasn't a part of the first string yet. He couldn't wait for the senpai game to start but knew it would be a month longer. That didn't mean that he couldn't ask though.

Meanwhile he thought about his dorm mate's situation; he knew it would solve itself but still, it could also help his plans; in becoming more trustworthy much sooner; even if his motives were truly pure. So contemplating about the things he could do he came up with only one solution: 'Maybe I should help Masuko-senpai with his batting by pitching to him in the evenings? We'll just use the net so we won't have to involve anyone else. I guess I'll ask him at breakfast.' And he continued his way towards Miyuki's room.

As it was still an hour before breakfast he decided to lightly knock on Miyuki's door to see if he was awake and otherwise opted to message him later. On his way, another door opened and after a short while he saw Nori walking towards him.

Eijun noticed yesterday that Nori appeared to avoid him; he had a hunch about the reason but he didn't like it nonetheless. Nori was a very nice and gentle person and helped them through some though spots even if his confidence wasn't always the strongest. Eijun felt quite bad that in the end, Nori ended up not wanting to play baseball again, because the stress became too much. Hopefully they could avoid such a situation this time.

'Well, let's do this. Especially since he looks like he wants to escape again!' Eijun thought and he addressed Nori with a flourish: "Good morning Nori-senpai, how are you doing on this fine spring morning? Do you perhaps want to accompany me on my morning run? I wouldn't be averse to some companionship if you feel like it?"

"Ah, good morning to you too Sawamura-kun." Nori replied hesitantly. "You're going for a run now? You do know we've still got training today right?" He looked at Eijun and contemplated whether he should dissuade him from his run or not. 'How much energy does he have or did he seriously forget that even the first years, even though they aren't on any roster or string yet do have training as well?'

"Yes I know, but I'm still working at strengthening my stamina and to be honest, it's quite relaxing to run in the morning and evening. It's a great way to start and end your day; I recommend it.

Hearing that, Nori's eyebrow almost disappeared in amazement. "Relaxing? He calls running for two plus hours a day relaxing, after all the training we go through? I can understand the stamina part though. But well, he did get Azuma out so maybe there is some truth in his words, I guess it can't hurt to try.' "I will keep it in mind. I do have to try and keep up with you after all so maybe next time I'll join you." And with that he prepared to leave.

Eijun noted that Nori reached his max but couldn't let that last comment slide. "Nori-senpai, you do not have to try you know. You can hold your own quite well, just do the best you can and the rest you'll learn and train. Guess I'll see you later then!" and it was Eijun who walked off leaving a stunned Nori behind, again.

'That kid is really something; he doesn't feel like a kohai at all. I guess I'll take Miyauchi up on his offer for extra practice then. Can't be left behind now can I, regardless of what he says?' And he also walked away, a new goal in mind, feeling more at ease and not willing to let the new first years take all the limelight for themselves.

Eijun in the meanwhile finally arrived at Miyuki's door and tentatively knocked. He almost couldn't believe his ears when he heard a voice saying "enter". He opened the door and it indeed was Miyuki, fully awake and sitting at his desk reading a score book.

"Oh Eijun, I was wondering when you would show up. Guess I was right in estimating it to be around now.

"Mi..Miyuki, did you fall out of bed? Are you sure the apocalypse isn't upon us if you're awake at this hour?"

"You're a real joker Sawamura, even I can get out of bed if the reward or look-out is positive enough you know. And since you haven't deigned me with your presence as of yet I guessed it would be around now for you to ask me to catch and because I'm such a nice senpai I felt like I should indulge you just this once."

"Oho, you mean to say you haven't looked forward to this as well? I suppose having to catch for me feels like a worthy reward then? I'll make sure to remember you whenever you start complaining when I ask you then." And it was Eijun that had adorned a wolfish grin now.

"Ah but you better not forget Sawamura, for every catch-session I grant you, I will have one favor of yours in return! I'm not so nice as to do it for free now am I" and now it was Miyuki's turn to laugh at Eijuns face. "You didn't expect me to do so for free right? I mean as long as you haven't joined us at fist string we can't get people suspicious and train together during regular hours. I did promise to help so I guess I can sacrifice some early mornings for that but don't expect me to be totally happy about it!'

Rolling his eyes Eijun regarded Miyuki with some healthy sarcasm in his voice "Yes, yes you tanuki. It is so totally you to pretend to be helpful but still getting something in return. I guess I'll abide by your rules now, just don't think you'll get away with it every time. So where and how often do you want to do this?'

"Hmm we could do it around three times a week I suppose. You still need to keep up with your training menu and I refuse to get up early more often than that!" Let's say one hour before breakfast every other day from next week onwards unless something else comes up."

"Yeah fine fine, I guess we start Monday then since it will be easier to hide during schooldays, so I guess I'll just go for a short run now as planned." And with a cheeky wink he ran off.

Miyuki only snickered and went back inside picking up his scorebook for the next Seidou match.

The rest of the week went by quickly; spring break finally ended and it was time to start with school again.

Eijun was quite nervous. It's been a while since he could seriously study for school and he didn't want his teachers upset with him like last time. His favorite subject would always be sport but he didn't mind Modern Japanese or World history. He did detest science and social studies though; not having the patience for them.

He would participate in classes with Haruno and Kanemaru again, and vowed to do better than last time regardless how difficult catching up from his appalling high school records would be. And so with baseball training, his secret training sessions with Miyuki and catching up on school material his first month flew by.

They were incredibly happy they managed to keep their pitching rendezvous secret but he imagined that Mochi at least figured something out. The guy became even more protective of him now that the senpai game was drawing near.

Masuko spent even more time outside but he accepted Eijuns offer to pitch, though rarely, seeing he was struggling in the evenings to catch up on his schoolwork. Eijun was quite happy that he didn't fall asleep nearly as often in class anymore and that his teachers were generally forthcoming if he asked them questions about the material (it did help that he went through the material once before, but since he slept through most of his classes and only the Spartan help of Kanemaru helped him survive that didn't mean he grasped said material).

He and Kanemaru became quick study buddies and sometimes Haruno and Harucchi joined them as well. After informing after Furuya, Harucchi said that that Furuya had not much of an interest and rather spent his days throwing towards the net.

Eijun still wasn't sure how he should address the Furuya matter, but Miyuki said he had some ideas so he decided to forgo any action now, just like last time, and see where matters would take them while trusting in Miyuki's judgment for this one.

After some brainstorming with Miyuki they decided to also keep his full pitching arsenal a secret until the senpai game, not wanting to draw to much attention towards them. But fate decided differently.

It was the assembly before the Ichidai spring game and Kataoka-kantoku gathered the first string around for the final strategy meeting. "You do get it don't you guys? As the Fall Tournament confirms the selection and the summer qualifiers the big game, the Spring Tournament doesn't mean much in comparison. But today's opponent is Ichidaisan High, the ones we lost the Fall Tournament against so today were are going to repay them tenfold! Give it your best!" And they all answered in kind.

"I suppose that calls for a roar don't you guys?!" Yuuki asked to which the others happily agreed.

Gathering in a circle, the whole team united, and as one shouted their heartfelt believes.

"Who are we?"

"The King Seidou!:"

"Who have sweated the most?"

"Seidou!"

"Who are the ones that shed the most tears?"

"Seidou!"

"Who are the ones that love baseball the most?"

"Seidou!"

"Are you ready to fight?"

"YESSSS"

"With the pride for our school in our hearts, we aim for only one thing: WINNING KOSHIEN SO LETS GO!"

"OOOOOOOH"

Totally excited themselves the first years looked at their senpai in adoration "Oy Sawamura, that cheer is really amazing isn't it; I really wanted to join them ever since I saw them using it on TV."

"It really is, isn't it" Eijun replied. "Just work hard Kanemaru and I know you'll be able to shout it as well one day. I really want join them as well." And he looked at Miyuki wistfully when he passed by, only receiving a wink in return while the coaches called for everyone who wanted to go watch the game to assemble.

It felt really weird to see Miyuki go off on a game in which Eijun wasn't a part yet, and deep down he felt jealous of Tanba and Kawakami for having the chance to play with him right now.

"Oy Eijun, aren't you gonna join us?" Mochi asked when he saw him staring after the players.

"I will Mochi-nii, can't pass up on an opportunity to see you play now can't I, I do need to give you some pointers afterwards after all." And he snickered seeing Mochi's face.

"Oh you little shit, who is giving who pointers to whom huh. I do think I need to give you some loving care afterwards so be prepared little bro." and he walked off, feeling totally spirited with such a reward in his near future; it would be a good game.

Eijun smiled indulgently. He still did get some regular sparring sessions with Mochi but they weren't nearly as long or brutal as his old ones. He actually started to miss them but now that their relationship improved right from the start, Mochi didn't use them as regularly anymore.

He did still prefer Miyuki but this Mochi was a steady second on his favorite persons list. 'I'd never imagined someone would surpass Harucchi on my list, but then again, who would have ever thought that Miyuki Kazuya would actually be my favorite person at all instead of only favorite catcher right now?' and he had to laugh at the irony of it all.

He stepped onto the bus, looking for a place to sit and saw only one free spot next to Furuya. Shrugging he sat down next to the already sleeping pitcher and started a conversation with Kanemaru behind him. Unbeknown to him Furuya was regarding him with a sharp assessing look through half lidded eyes.

As Furuya noticed Eijun's popularity rise he started to take notice of the guy even more. As far as he could see his pitches weren't anything overly special but his body was quite well proportioned for a mere first year. His pitching motion as well caught his attention. He heard about Eijun beating one of the previous third years but wondered if it maybe was a fluke. But the others assured him that it didn't look like a fluke at all.

He even noticed Kataoka-kantoku keeping an eye out for the guy and he really wondered what was so special about this guy. He heard he got recruited but that wasn't what made him uneasy; he knew Hokkaido was too far to travel for mere recruitments if Seidou had a full pond much closer.

It was something about the guy himself that made him uneasy; as if he wouldn't stand a chance if he went up against him and that proved a different problem. Because Miyuki was the reason he joined Seidou, hoping the guy would be the one able to catch his pitches, but he also knew that only the best got to work with him and he wasn't sure he was the best after all.

After all nothing until this day showed that he actually was better than him and that irritated him. It looked like the whole team and staff were only waiting to see what would happen, a sort of tension in the air he couldn't explain but it made him uneasy. The worst was that the person himself didn't even notice the glances he got wherever he showed up.

Furuya also noticed the glances Miyuki sneaked towards Sawamura when he thought no one was looking. He wondered if even Miyuki had a preference or was only interested in what the guy had to show after all the attention he got.

He knew that Sawamura had one up on him; he pitched to Miyuki already so maybe he was just overthinking everything. He hadn't had a chance to show Miyuki the kind of pitcher he was after all, so he looked forward to the senpai game and prove to Miyuki once and for all that he was the catcher meant for him.

He trailed after his teammates now that they arrived at the stadium and went in search for a nice spot to sit down. He wanted the best possible view on Miyuki, to see if he truly was the catcher he thought him to be now that he got a chance to see him play for real instead of reading about him in a magazine. Forgetting his earlier thoughts he went on to focus as the teams assembled and started to play, completely engrossed in the play's Miyuki called and made.

As the visiting team, Seidou got to bat first and their vigor showed but it wasn't until Miyuki got at bat that shit truly hit the fan. With bases loaded it was an out of the park Home Run on Manaka's inside slider. It showed exactly why everyone was so in awe of one Miyuki Kazuya but Eijun only snorted.

Kanemaru turned towards him in surprise, seeing the guy sitting down with his arms crossed and snorting wasn't what he imagined to see of the guy who proclaimed him as his one true partner. "Oy Wamura, why on earth are you looking like that, that was an awesome at batt you know!"

"As if this was the best that Miyuki Kazuya could do" Eijun answered in return "He's a freakin' tease you know! He could have gotten the ball out of the park on his first pitch, but nooooo he has to drag it out to make his point even further so the poor pitcher thinks he still has a chance, and then he goes for the kill. He is the worst kind of person for a pitcher you know; a true tanuki in disguise! We should call him The Destroyer!" and Kanemaru could only shake his head at the other's antics.

He did wonder though how Sawamura could make such a claim; if he got the chance he would ask Miyuki himself if he could have hit the first pitch out of the park as well. He was curious now after all.

In the meantime Ichidai's team was in shock seeing the catcher run leisurely across the bases towards home with Manaka looking like he might faint right on the spot.

Mochi was the first lucky one to congratulate him on a nice at bat. "Oho you've got a bit full of yourself here hitting it like that huh, I suppose Manaka's best pitch didn't feel like much of a challenge did it now?. Look the poor guy's white as a sheet.

"Is he now?" Miyuki grinned in return. "Ah well it wasn't too hard a pitch indeed, but who knows how I'll do next time…" and he went onwards to his cheering teammates in the dugout.

Mochi looked at his retreating back and only muttered; "Easy pitch my ass; it's Manaka we're talking about here. Stop being sarcastic will ya."

After that Yuuki as well as Kominato and Zono continued playing with the flow of the game on their side and soon they had an eight point lead.

Everyone was quite shocked at this, Ichidaisan maybe even the most. Especially after their win in the Fall Tournament they thought Seidou easy to beat again but now it all fell apart.

At the bottom of the first inning Tanba took to the mound and quickly concluded the first inning with having given up just one run. The consecutive innings appeared to be a turn-around though; Seidou hitting less and less while Ichidai managed to catch up quite a bit. At the beginning of the fifth inning the score was still in Seidou's favor but if something didn't happen soon, Ichidai could still turn the game around.

Apparently the spectators also saw that such a thing was a possibility and they started mumbling about Seidou's lasting problems.

"Even though they have quite a strong batting line-up, it is useless if there isn't a pitcher that can follow through. Just like last year, Tanba doesn't seem steady enough, willing or even able to follow Miyuki's lead and Kawakami lacks too much confidence. It's a sad thing for such a great team"

"I guess you're right. I suppose it's also Kataoka-kantoku's biggest annoyance, especially since he was a pitcher himself, one that brought his team to Koshien! The current batteries just don't work out and it feels like dominating the whole country is still a distant dream if something doesn't happen soon. They really lack that infallible ace!"

They turned back towards the game missing the look Eijun gave them hearing them on his way back from the bathroom. He saw Miyuki standing near the dugout and called for him.

Miyuki hearing him call turned around and regarded Eijun in surprise. "Oy Miyuki, what on earth is going on? Tanba looks like he's falling apart on the mound and the gap is lessening every inning!"

"So you've noticed hmm. Well nothing I can do about that you know. Kawakami sprained his wrist so he isn't able to relieve him and we don't have another pitcher. Don't worry though we should still win this even with Kawakami out." And he cast Eijun a meaningful glance, trying to convey they did so last time as well.

Not revealing that in that game, Kawakami was actually the savior of the match, but now sprained his wrist due to Eijun's encouragements as he started to train more seriously. Miyuki didn't want Eijun to feel bad about it nor would it help anyone here right now.

Eijun glanced towards the coach and saw him sitting there decidedly unimpressed talking harshly to Tanba. Having Kawakami out of the rotation felt like a death-warrant for this game.

"Miyuki" Miyuki heard and he turned towards the coach who apparently called for him and signaled to join them. He gave a short nod to Eijun and walked towards the coach and Tanba.

"Miyuki, how good is he?" Kataoka nodded towards were Eijun was seated.

"Eh, who do you mean coach? Sawamura? He isn't in the line-up so why would it matter now?" and he looked slightly bewildered at his coach.

"I didn't ask whether or not he was in our line-up, I asked if he is a decent pitcher. Could you work with him right now or not?"

Miyuki looked at his coach with wide eyes, finally understanding where this was heading and nodded affirmatively. "He is an interesting and quite stable pitcher, definitely not afraid of some pressure kantoku. But do you believe it wise? I do not want to submit him to any remarks or bullying about foul play from the other players if you would decide to put him in."

"If anyone here has something to say about the decision I make in regard to this failure of pitching, they can take their grievances up with me. I will give anyone a fair chance if they are deserving of one, so go get that pitcher ready Miyuki, you'll be going in the next inning together. It should prove interesting considering what I've seen so far and don't worry about wining or loosing."

And as if it was an afterthought he looked Miyuki straight in the eye, convening the seriousness of his next words. "And make sure to call for proper pitches, no holding back."

Taken aback Miyuki knew that at that point the coach indeed noticed Eijun holding back. When and where he found out he didn't know, but he surmised he shouldn't really be surprised about it.

While trying not to feel too much pity for Tanba he couldn't really suppress the giddy feeling he currently had either. It was completely unconventional, but damn exciting.

He walked towards the fence and there he saw Eijun sit between Kanemaru and Harucchi.

As Eijun pulled up his brow seeing the mischief on the others face he grinned even bigger and yelled: "Sawamuraaa, get your ass down here, you're going in the next inning!"

At this the whole cheering team yelled in excitement, shock and disbelief, thinking Miyuki may have found a way to tease them again. The only one not reacting at all was Eijun himself.

"You do know I'm not part of the first-string yet do you Miyuki Kazuya, so stop joking will you!"

"It wasn't me that ordered it Sawamura so if you have any complaints, please take them up with kantoku alright?" and this time challenged him with his eyes, knowing full well that Eijun wouldn't refuse this one and conveying he knew so as well.

Eijun nodded, got up and while the whole cheering section was still at disarray moved towards Miyuki. "I do hope you brought a lefty glove Miyuki Kazuya, because I certainly didn't." and as the seriousness of the situation dawned on him, he still couldn't do anything other than smile wickedly at the other.

"I do think we can drag something up you know, so let's let kantoku know you're willing shall we?" And started to move towards the dugout again, fully aware of the dark look on Furuya's face. 'Knowing how innocent Eijun is in matters like these I need to find a quick way to diffuse this situation otherwise it could get really nasty and I know Eijun wouldn't want that. I guess I'll see what I can do after the game then.'

Eijun finally caught up and they went straight towards the coach, nodding their consent. Miyuki only hoped the batters could hold out long enough for Eijun to get a proper warm-up before they had to switch sides again but Mochi came to their rescue.

As the first-string still looked at them in confusion, Mochi made it very clear that he wouldn't accept any backlash towards Eijun. "We should also get our batting back up a notch you lot, we can't let it happen that some first-year is going to outshine us now can we?' and he winked at Eijun while simultaneously signaling towards Kataoka-kantoku who looked even more rigid and angry than normal.

Knowing full well they messed up, they nodded and prepared for their at-bat deciding to forget the unconventional ways this was happening, not being able to blame anyone but themselves for not living up to their own and the coaches' expectations.

Meanwhile Miyuki and Eijun started their warm-up in the bull-pen, fully aware of the surprised glances from the opposite bench.

With the team managing to stall Ichidai's three outs, they were fully warmed up and ready to go.

In a complete silence, only the announcer being the one saying anything at all by announcing the next inning, Eijun made his way towards the mound as Miyuki squatted behind home-plate. Both had tiny smirks on their faces and were happy to form a battery this early again.

They would show them all that they were and are forever a true battery, starting with taking the game back completely in their favor.

Chapter Text

"Kataoka-kantoku are you really sure it's a good idea to put in a player that isn't on the active roster yet?" Oota asked the head coach. "Even the senpai game hasn't been played yet so we haven't analyzed his use to the team yet, are you sure this will work?"

Without turning around Kataoka to face him Kataoka answered the totally panicked Oota. "Were have you been this past month Oota-kantoku if that kid didn't catch your eye? I'm sure you heard Takashima when she told us of the boy. I thought that would have been incentive enough to keep an eye out for him." And he watched as Miyuki threw the ball back towards Sawamura, who did a good job of imitating a hyper frog when he squatted in-between throws to warm up his legs.

"Aah, well, Takashima-san always brings back some interesting recruits, but compared to Miyuki or Kuramochi, Sawamura didn't look that special to me" and he as he finished his sentence his stomach dropped even further when he noticed a menacing aura coming from behind him.

"So Oota-san, you believe I've made a mistake in my recruiting then?" Takashima Rei asked him while pushing up her glasses.

Waving his hands frantically, knowing he was only burying himself deeper Oota tried to find a way out "No, no, no, nothing of the sort Takashima-san, I only meant to say that the boy hasn't really stood out as of yet and I wondered what about that boy made Kataoka-kantoku decide on such a highly unprecedented decision."

"Oota, considering the fact that I just put him in, a nobody as you've said, did you notice any resistance from the players at all? If you haven't noticed the effect the boy has on our players already, aside from the fact that he hasn't played seriously at all in training yet; why I do not know, or that he gets up before all the others to train, you should reconsider yourself for the job." Kataoka spoke harshly.

"I apologize Kataoka-kantoku, I spoke out of line" and he bowed down. "I will take what you've said into consideration and better myself, since apparently I really did miss some things in regard to this matter." He took his cap in his hand and sat down quietly, looking sadly towards the field.

Kataoka accepted his apology with a nod and then, seeing the players look at them open-mouthed, snapped a harsh "make sure to show some decent results this inning, this mess you've created for yourselves won't disappear if you don't step up and show what you're made off!" before signaling to go ahead with the call for a change of player announcement now that all the trivialities had been dealt with.

After that, Ichidaisan got their hard fought three outs, with Tetsu stranding at third base unable to get back home after Miyuki got jammed as Eijun was being helped by Miyauchi for his final warm-up minutes. When Tetsu made his way back to the dugout, the coach signaled for Kuramochi.

"Kuramochi, give this to Sawamura, can't have him play without a number and tell them to finish, they're up."

Kuramochi grinned and jogged towards the bull-pen to put Eijun's number on the guy's shirt urging them to get into position as well.

"At the bottom of the fifth inning Seidou High School announces a change in players. Replacing Tanba as pitcher is Sawamura, pitcher Sawamura."

"They really put him in." Kanemaru said flabbergasted. "Oy Kominato, they really put him in didn't they?" and he looked at Haruichi not truly believing that he wasn't dreaming.

"They really put him in yes. I wonder if Eijun is nervous though."

"Nervous? Have you ever seen that guy nervous? Look at him; he's totally grinning!"

"Oh you're right. He really is something else isn't he?" Haruichi replied as they both looked towards Eijun who was apparently having a blast standing on the mound.

The only one not enjoying the current situation was one Furuya Satoru. If looks could kill, Eijun would have died on the spot.

On the other side of the field Ichidai's coach Tahara also was confused. "Does anyone know the guy? No? Well, let's see what Kataoka-kantoku has in mind. Just play like you always do and get back some runs. We can still win this!"

After a nod Ichidai's first batter went towards the batters' box.

"At the bottom of the fifth inning; batting sixth is Takami-kun, catcher Takami-kun."

While greeting the umpire he sneaked a look at Miyuki. He respected the other catcher a great deal, but that didn't mean he didn't want to win this game. Seeing the other smile though made him sweat. He noticed early on that whenever Miyuki Kazuya smiled during a game it would be bad news for his opponents. Grabbing his batt he lowered himself into a batting stance, eagerly waiting for anything the new guy would throw at him.

Miyuki knew the other checked him out and had to grin even more. Everyone would be totally surprised after this and he couldn't hold his grin back; signaling towards Eijun to begin.

Eijun nodded, turned around and brought his finger up towards the sky and yelled to the astonishment of his own and the opposing team: "Balls will come flying your way, so fielders; thank you for your support"

"Wahaha Eijun, just throw already we'll take care of the rest." Mochi yelled back.

From the outfield Jun yelled as well. "Sawaaamuuraaaaaa. If you let them hit you there will be hell to pay!" which got confirmative nods from Tetsu and Ryou and laughter of the rest of his teammates.

"That's hardly motivating Spitz-senpai!" Eijun yelled back.

When the predictable "Who are you calling a Spitz you little shit?" was returned Eijun could only smile; reveling in the fact that it all felt really nostalgic and made him truly happy.

Turning towards Miyuki again, he nodded and the umpire called to start.

When Eijun started his wind-up, people on the bench, at the stands and in the field all held their breath; eagerly awaiting his first pitch.

As Eijun's foot came down there was only one thought running through Takami's mind 'Where on earth is his arm?' He gripped his bat even harder, brought his arms down and….."STRIKE".

All the holdup breathe was collectively released, in relieve off the knowledge that this guy could at least throw a strike.

Starting his windup again; he brought his foot down and threw the ball straight at Miyuki's waiting mitt; uncaring that the batter seemed out of his depth.

"STRIKE TWO"

Getting flustered Takami repositioned himself again and grabbed his bat even harder, gritting his teeth.

Miyuki looked up, saw the tense look on the others face and nodded. 'If you think you have an easy time against him think again. We won't let you win today' and called for the next ball.

After only a short moment he saw the ball coming towards him and caught it as the umpire yelled: "STRIKE THREE, BATTER OUT!"

Stunned silence reigned. The only ones not surprised being Miyuki, Sawamura, Rei-chan and Kataoka-kantoku.

"Batting seventh is Miyagawa-kun, Center Fielder Miyagawa-kun."

Kataoka allowed himself a small smile as he regarded Takashima. "I suppose we can now truly conclude that he held himself back can't we. Who knew he could seriously throw an inside cutter, low and away and even a breaking ball not to mention in these conditions."

"STRIKE"

Rei-chan nodded. "Don't forget the idiosyncratic pitch he has. That was what caught my eye in the first place."

"STRIKE TWO"

"Takashima, I do believe this boy has more than an uncontrolled idiosyncratic pitch considering the control he exhibits here. It wouldn't make sense to throw without any control when you actually have it. I do wonder what else he's keeping from us; and Miyuki too. But for now I'll let those boys be." And he turned back towards the game.

'You mean to say that that boy is even better than this? I knew he had the potential to become great, but what on earth are you implying? I know you kept a close eye on him as I did the same. Tesshin, what have you noticed that I haven't?'

"STRIKE THREE, BATTER OUT!"

Turning towards Oota she noticed her colleague sitting in shocked silence; unbelieving of the scene playing out before his eyes.

"O-oy Takashima-san, did that boy seriously allow no hits and two consecutive outs? He even threw a four-seam just now! Who on earth is that kid and how is that supposed to be a first year? He showed nothing like this in training!"

"Batting eight is Sasaki-kun, Right Fielder Sasaki-kun."

And everyone on the bench looked eagerly towards Takashima, awaiting her answer but Rei-chan only smiled, incredibly amused by this whole situation.

The stands in the meantime went wild after the second out was announced. They were yelling, chanting and singing at the same time, finally believing that the game could be pulled back in their favor.

Ryousuke glanced over towards Kuramochi and saw him grin widely. Lately he got a bit annoyed at the other's behavior. It was all good and well to announce being a big brother as of now, but that didn't give him the right to cut short on their alone time. 'You-chan really needs to learn to set his priorities straight.' He thought.

"I guess your little bro really has something to show hmm. I guess I can accept him a little bit then but Youichi, Haruichi is still way cuter. Just make sure he doesn't take up all your time you hear or I'll forget he's worthy of your attention and you'll regret it."

"STRIKE"

"Ryo, Ryou-san! That's a mean thing to say!" was all Mochi got out and was happy that Eijun procured another strike at that moment because he wasn't completely sure he would have reacted fast enough if a ball came flying his way.

He saw the coach throwing them a dark look and he got even more flustered. Ryousuke only laughed and turned his attention back towards their pitcher.

Miyuki meanwhile shared a small knowing smile with Yuuki. Yuuki had caught them one morning while practicing and after explaining that they didn't want anyone to believe that Miyuki played favorites, but that they like to play with each other after their battery against Azuma, only nodded and kept it to himself.

Therefore he was only slightly surprised at the skill Sawamura was showing. What surprised him more was that Miyuki changed ever so slightly over the past month. He was still snarky and sharp but the razor sharp edge disappeared.

Although he hadn't spoken to Sawamura himself yet, he noticed the positive influence he had on the other players; except for Ryousuke it seemed, but he kept that little tidbit to himself, he had some self-preservation.

He also noticed how the atmosphere changed when Sawamura took to the mound. Even though everyone believed they would lose now that he was subbed in, they didn't complain and even looked at him with indulgence, vowing to make up for the lost runs when pitching with securing runs while batting. Apparently they still didn't know the boss very well.

He threw out his arm and securely caught the ball that came flying towards him; Ichidai finally having hit off of Sawamura once, but also getting their third consecutive out.

"BATTER OUT, CHANGE SIDES"

Amidst the cheering of the crowd he ran towards the dugout and waited for Jun to catch up with him.

As he noticed that Sawamura was looking at him, he nodded in approval and saw the other starting to beam. Slightly taken aback he looked at Miyuki for an explanation but the other only grinned at him.

Seeing Kuramochi sneaking towards Sawamura and company he smiled and turned around seeing Jun standing beside him looking at him. He signaled towards the pitcher and smiled at Jun, Jun smiling back, understanding the compliment the captain just made to their pitcher perfectly well. When they heard their coach calling for Sawamura, everyone got silent.

"Sawamura, we saw you can pitch but how's your batting?" and he looked towards Miyuki when the latter burst out laughing. When he saw Eijun's face he sighed. "Well I guess we can't have everything, just go out there and try to hit, you'll be in the next inning as well." And Eijun made his way towards the batter's box as he batted seventh and it was his turn at bat first. Vowing to do better than Miyuki in revenge of his laughter he grabbed his bat and went towards the batters' box.

"At the top of the sixth inning; batting seventh is Sawamura-kun, pitcher Sawamura-kun."

As his laughter quieted, Miyuki was finally able to breathe again and say "He may be a lousy batter for as far as I've seen coach, but if we need someone who can bunt, he is our king. The guy is ridiculously good at bunting."

When he saw everyone's faces he had to laugh again, especially when they noticed Eijun standing in the batter's box in his famous bunt position, completely throwing Manaka off his game as there were no runners on base.

He almost crossed his fingers in hope of Eijun landing a hit, but also wanting to see him strike out swinging, as it was a ridiculously funny thing to witness.

Apparently Eijun was willing to meet him half way. The first two strikes went in typical Sawamura batting fashion but the third one, he hit, with more luck than ability, behind the shortstop and he made it to first base under the cheering of the crowd.

"Batting eight is Sakai-kun, Left Fielder Sakai-kun."

Miyuki noticed Eijun looking at him and waved. "That was more luck than ability Sawamura, a first year middle-schooler would hit better than you!" and he laughed again when all Eijun did was flick him off, knowing full well Eijun beat him this round at bat.

But his smile soon vanished, getting replaced with a look of surprise.

Having noticed that Manaka wasn't focusing on him, disregarding him as dangerous after his at-bat, Eijun took a big lead and when he saw him winding up, he ran towards second.

"Steal" was called but Eijun made it to second in just in time before the ball came flying towards second.

"SAFE"

Needless to say that this caught Manaka, and the whole Seidou team, completely off guard, not expecting someone who couldn't bat to safe his light performing base steals.

Noticing the look of surprise Kataoka currently wore, Eijun had to bite back a grin. He hadn't told Miyuki that he secretly practiced stealing bases and base running with Wakana and the guys. He also practiced his batting but for some reason that still didn't go well. He had no trouble with rubber balls, but the leather ones just didn't want to be hit correctly by him and Eijun couldn't understand why.

As Kataoka assessed the game flow he signaled for Sakai to bunt to move Eijun towards third.

With one out and a player on third, Shirasu-senpai stepped in the batter's box.

"Batting ninth is Shirasu-kun, Right Fielder Shirasu-kun."

Knowing Shirasu's ability, Eijun eagerly waited. He was also fully aware of the capabilities of the next couple of batters (if Mochi had a good day and was willing to focus on something else than his preferred course) and they could get more than one run this inning but Eijun had to gamble carefully. Miyuki may have an eye for pitching strategies but Eijun learned how to carefully assess base chances, thanks to Wakana's extensive hammering teaching.

When Shirasu hit the first pitch, Eijun made his move; he didn't take a lead from the base earlier, and pretended to start to run towards home but stopped at the last second when he noticed the catcher indeed turning to throw towards third and running those few steps back before the ball came flying, giving Shirasu the time to successfully reach first.

One out, players on first and third; that was more like it and Eijun nodded towards himself, not noticing Miyuki and Kataoka-kantoku looking at him in interest wondering what the pitcher was up to.

"Moving back to the top of the line-up, batting first is Kuramochi-kun, shortstop Kuramochi-kun."

Nodding towards Mochi Eijun prepared himself to run for real this time, knowing from the serious look Mochi gave him that he would be sent home.

As Mochi got ready to bat, Eijun started to move from third base; taking off the second he heard a solid clang. Ichidai's catcher; knowledgeable of Kuramochi's speed knew he couldn't advance further than first base because of Shirasu being in front of him, and Sawamura stuck on third. But since the ball didn't fly far he gambled on getting Kuramochi out at first as he couldn't imagine someone running for home under these conditions or if he indeed dared, getting him out with a return ball from first base as well; it would make a great double play.

But he didn't take into account that Shirasu would take a lead as well; the latter gambling on the fact that the catcher would choose first or third and Sawamura indeed running for home, after he saw the lead he took.

The catcher was thoroughly confused when he saw Kuramochi starting to round first base and frantically yelled for the ball being thrown back towards home instead of first; but it was too late. As the ball came flying, Eijun dove and with the speed he got while moving forward twisted himself and slid under the catchers' mitt with his hand outstretched on home plate.

"SAFE"

Under loud cheers and back pats Eijun returned towards the dug-out, receiving an impressed nod from the coach and surprised look from Miyuki. He gave Miyuki a cheeky grin in return.

"You can't always steal the show yourself Miyuki Kazuya, it's good to learn to be humble sometimes." and had to run away quickly when he saw the murderous look creeping onto Miyuki's face while laughing loudly.

Rei-chan only nodded her head, smiling at the boy's antics while Oota still looked like he found himself in the twilight zone. He started to wonder how much he actually missed and since when and contemplated when he had become so complacent.

As Ryousuke stepped inside the batter's box, Ichidai's fate was sealed. Hitting a ball deep into the outfield; Shirasu and Kuramochi came back home with Ryousuke stranding at third.

At this point Seidou got back the momentum and the flow of the game was completely in their favor.

In the end, Eijun allowed Ichidai only one more run in the last inning, having to bow towards the force that was Takahiro Omae, Ichidai's captain who was set on getting at least one run in before having to admit defeat. But they won and that was what mattered.

"Game set! Seidou High wins the quarter final match with 9-17; Bow!"

Both teams bowed towards each other and yelled "Thank you for this game." After which they shook hands on a game well played while Manaka talked with Tanba about Seidou's new pitcher.

After a short time everyone returned towards their respective dug-outs to clean everything up for the next game. Their participation in the Kanto Tournament and the Summer Qualifiers was secured due to them being in the best 4.

On the way back Nabe asked if the coach had a moment for him after they arrived back at Seidou. Kataoka nodded his consent after seeing the serious look on the others face.

As they reached Seidou he got up and told everyone to assemble in thirty minutes for their post-game meeting and signaling Nabe to follow him.

When they reached the coaches office he signaled for Nabe to grab a chair and begin.

"Kataoka-kantoku I don't want to be rude or be the reason for creating imbalance within the team but there is one player that worries me." And with this Kataoka knew enough already.

"I suppose you are referring to Furuya?" and when he'd gotten an affirmative nod he continued. "I will take care of this matter myself, thank you for notifying me. If others are starting to notice as well it is time it gets addressed. I had hoped the boy would come around but apparently he didn't if I understand your concern?"

"Well I did notice it a short while back already but today at the game when you put Sawamura in it felt like it would escalate quickly. Miyuki noticed of course and told Kuramochi to keep Sawamura out of the line of sight since Miyuki realized he is the actual catalyst for this situation."

As the coach nodded Nabe continued.

"Sawamura himself hasn't noticed it yet and I can tell that Miyuki isn't sure how to handle this situation without it escalating further. Jealousy is a hard thing to deal with if you are the reason. It doesn't seem like a normal rivalry either. Furuya isn't a bad guy kantoku but considering his background I doubt he knows how team-mechanics work and it could hurt him in the long term. I just want to prevent anyone getting hurt." And he looked down while nervously twiddling his fingers behind his back.

"Have you talked to Miyuki regarding your observations?" and when Abe replied negatively he knew he would have to do that as well. "I will take care of both matters after the meeting today Watanabe so go and get ready for the assembly as well." And with a relieved sigh Nabe went towards the canteen, taking his notebooks with him.

As far as post-game meetings went this wasn't their worst yet but definitely not their best one either.

Quite a lot of players got chewed out; Tanba had to sit out on the next game, with Kawakami and Eijun playing, and being informed that he would lose his ace number the second the tournament was over. Eijun was officially added on the roster (now with everyone knowing and agreeing). With seventeen players in the original roster, adding one was still possible since twenty were allowed in the line-up.

The coach requested for Furuya to meet him right after dinner and told Miyuki to meet up with him half an hour later.

Furuya, overhearing that part, wondered if he finally got a chance to convince the coach that after he showed what he got at the first available opportunity, he would be convinced that he was a better choice than Sawamura for a battery with Miyuki.

And so after dinner he made his way towards the coaches' room fully prepared to plead his case. As he knocked on the door and the subsequent allowance to enter, he opened the door seeing the full coaching staff assembled.

Not expecting this but seeing it as further proof that others took notice of him as well, he opened his mouth but was cut off by the coach starting to talk.

"Furuya, for this past month I have kept my eye on you and noticed something peculiar."

When Kataoka saw Furuya preen at those words he inwardly sighed. This had all the tell-tale signs of getting nasty very quickly. He shared a look with Takashima and saw the same worry reflected in her eyes.

"Your behavior towards certain teammates is concerning. It is to such an extent concerning that I had other players and coaches addressing your behavior to me, afraid of the road your dissatisfaction is taking you."

At this point Furuya lost all expression while he inwardly started to boil with anger. This was not what he had in mind when he was called over.

"Furuya, we have a total of 93 players in this team. Twenty of which will be able to make it into second string and another twenty into first. If you do not change your behavior or focus on team-play you will not be one of them in any string."

That got Furuya's attention.

"But I came here because of Miyuki-senpai"

Understanding the very short fuse Kataoka had with these matters, Rei-chan decided to step in.

"We understand, but you have to realize that people come here for one reason or another and in the end we are a team and because of that, personal preference has to take a backseat. You cannot demand a player, especially one that has a set position already, while you have not, for your own personal gain. That is not how we operate."

"So Sawamura can get whatever he wants and I can't? How is that fair?" and he almost shook in anger, completely aggrieved over the perceived slight towards him as a person.

"Sawamura didn't 'get what he wanted' Furuya-kun. He has asked neither us, nor Miyuki once for his cooperation or for being his battery partner. The boys met when Sawamura got recruited and stayed in contact, but not once have we nor anybody else seen that he abused that situation for his personal gain. Your grievance with Sawamura as well as Miyuki is unfounded. " and she sincerely hoped she got through to the boy, though seeing his rigid stance she knew it was in vain. Sighing she contemplated why teenaged boys were always such a handful.

Acknowledging the fact that Takashima also made no progress on the matter he regarded the boy in front of him again in the hopes of getting him back on the right track.

"Furuya prove to me you're worthy of playing and I'll give you a chance to play, if not, you won't play no matter how strong a pitcher you are. This does not mean I promise you an opportunity to play with Miyuki now or in the future. Remember that as of yet you are in neither first nor second string and therefore have no demands to make, requests will be taken into consideration but even if you do reach second or first string, we as coaches decide on who gets to play with whom. Don't forget."

"So you're saying that because at this point I'm inferior to Sawamura I won't get to play with Miyuki-senpai?"

"Yes" 'and if you keep that attitude up, you're inferior compared to everyone else as well.'

"Furuya, this is your last warning. Seidou is a very close-knit team. Figure out for yourself what that means for you, for us, and what you yourself can do to add to that. If you've found your answer you can come and find me. For now you'll continue to practice pitching at the net until we can assess your resolve."

When he signaled that this conversation was over he noticed that Furuya's rebellious expression hadn't left his face yet when he made for the door.

'This is your first and last warning, don't mess it up. You may have great talent but you need to learn much more before you can even dream of getting a player solely for your own sake. If you don't drop the attitude, I won't let you play, be it matches or practice until you've learned, so make sure you grab this chance to change our opinion of you.'

Sighing he saw Takashima wearing the same worried look while Oota looked contemplative. The latter had gotten quite a wakeup call with all that happened today but Kataoka hoped it would finally spin the guy back into action again as well, especially to the finer points of coaching.

When Furuya left the coaches office he let his anger show, kicking at the waste bin that stood innocently in his path. He vowed to make the coaches see reason. 'I'll show them how good I am and what a farce Sawamura is. Miyuki is mine and I will not share him. For now I'll bid my time but I'll prove to them soon that I am the better choice of being his battery partner.'

Back in the coaches' office the coaches, knowing full well they had a second conversation coming, talked about the game and the surprise that Sawamura turned out to be. Tomorrow at training Kataoka would address Sawamura's batting skills since something didn't seem right with him. He wondered if the kid ever tried batting right-handed, it's not uncommon for players to have to switch but, considering the kids skill, he seriously doubted anyone actually told him to try it.

He understood from his conversations with Takashima and Miyuki that Sawamura hadn't had proper coaching before coming here, so he was really curious to learn how he acquired such polished skills. It was way too good to be only talent and seeing him practice more than even his teammates he knew some serious work was involved as well.

After about fifteen minutes a soft knock was heard and Miyuki entered the room. Cutting right to the heart of the matter Kataoka addressed Miyuki instantly.

"Miyuki, we've had a talk with Furuya in regards to his behavior towards you and Sawamura. If he bothers you, Sawamura or anyone else you are to inform us immediately."

Being taken by surprise Miyuki only asked "But how did you find out?"

"You have some good friends amongst your teammates Miyuki-kun" Rei-chan answered. "But mostly Nabe was really concerned about you two." And she smiled at him.

"Do we have your word Miyuki?" The coach asked again and Miyuki, still taken by surprise answered. "Yes Sir."

"Ehm, was that everything you wanted to discuss with me?" and when the others answered affirmative he said his goodbyes.

Still slightly confused he went in search of Nabe; at the very least he owed the guy some words of gratitude since he solved his problem of finding the right way to deal with the Furuya matter himself.

Finally he located him in the cafeteria, re-watching today's game.

"Nabe" he called out and Nabe, when he heard his name being called, turned towards him.

"Ah Miyuki" he said.

"I owe you a thank you for talking with the coaches. I really appreciate it."

Nabe smiled. "If you want to thank someone, thank Sawamura."

"You've talked with Sawamura about this? I thought the guy didn't even notice until now?"

"Ah no, he saw me looking down and asked if I was sick. I told him in general that I had a friend on the team who needed help and what I could do to help. When he asked if the matter was team related and I said yes he told me to go to the coaches since it is their job to help us out if it's team-related stuff. I figured he was right and I'm glad I did if it indeed helped you."

"Still you indeed went and talked to them so thank you!" and he went and sat next to him. Nabe was always good to talk to when it came to analyzing a game and he was happy he told him to start doing so last year when he remembered that Nabe didn't actually start until his second year. It helped them a great deal already.

They talked quite a bit about today's game and when they noticed the time getting towards one a.m. they hurriedly went to bed. They only hoped morning training wouldn't be too brutal and the coach would be mellow (unlike his training-days from hell after a particular bad game).

When they reached the field just in time the next morning; they both looked at each other with knowing eyes. They really had to set an alarm if they ever talked strategy in the evening again. Otherwise it would one day kill them for lack of sleep.

Reaching the field they saw the coaches coming and hurried over. Getting a general outline for practice, Kataoka called for Eijun.

"I wonder Sawamura, has anyone ever told you to try and bat right-handed?

"Yes Boss. My old coach proposed I'd try but it doesn't seem to work. I was actually on my way towards you boss to help me with this matter."

"Don't call me boss and why haven't you asked earlier?"

"Well, I did try and talk to the other players and coaches but no one had any tips that I hadn't tried yet and since I know you were busy, and I had not expected to play this soon, didn't think of bringing this matter towards your attention sooner boss."

"I haven't heard of your requests towards the other coaches, I'll ask them later and don't call me boss."

"Yes boss! But was I wrong? I understand you are the head coach but since your primary focus is the first string I thought I should ask another coach. Wasn't that the right way to go about it?"

"Don't worry Sawamura, I will take it up with my coaching staff. For now show me your right-handed batting. Let's see if it is trainable."

"Yes boss, I'll go grab my stuff."

When Miyuki heard that Sawamura was called by the coach he got quite curious. Listening to their conversation got him confused at first until finally he noticed what Sawamura was on about. 'First with Nabe and now with his batting, he truly is trying to get the coaches more involved in actual coaching. Guess I'll have to learn to make some demands now as well and also get the others to do the same so they'll get used to it.'

Kataoka in the meantime regarded the boy in front of him. He still remembered his talk with Takashima regarding this boy and wondered what his true objective was. He didn't doubt the sincerity in his words but since this kid showed up things slowly started to change and he wasn't sure if it was a positive or negative as of yet. Honesty bid him to say that until now it seemed like it was all positive. He was quite curious about the things the kid had in store for them.

When Eijun was ready he saluted and decided to indeed voice his concerns for this practice menu. "Boss I want to be honest with you. I can show you but Wakana and gang strictly forbade me ever doing so" and he looked at his coach who in turn pulled his eye-brow up in a first sign of surprise.

'Well considering they couldn't even catch the boys pitches from what I've heard; it seems we may have struck gold again if they just couldn't handle them.'

"Did you manage to actually hit any balls when you tried?"

"Yes boss" Eijun answered

"Then show me" Kataoka replied "Did you practice by machine or with a player back then?"

"Player, boss!"

"Stop calling me boss! Well then, Tanba, pitch some balls for Sawamura and let's see what you've got."

"You're sure?" Eijun asked a final time.

"Just do so" the coach replied.

Eijun nodded and walked towards the batter's box while apologizing to Tanba for any future inconvenience he caused.

Tanba only wondered why Eijun looked so stiff. Considering the way he played yesterday it would be strange for the guy to have nerves while being at practice.

If he was honest with himself he was a tad jealous of the guy, especially after that incredible relieve he did yesterday but he also knew he had only himself to blame. So he would show him some good pitching just to make clear that he would fight again for that ace number!

Having heard the coach and Sawamura's conversation, everyone stopped what they were doing to look at them; wondering what Sawamura had in store for them next.

"You're really sure?" He again asked the boss.

"Just hit Sawamura" came the unfaltering reply.

..Okay...he muttered and lowered in a regular batting stance, standing in the right-handed batter's box. They had no catcher, the net being sufficient to catch while batting at some casual pitches.

Tanba, seeing Eijun was ready to bat, starts his wind up and throws.

Eijun saw the ball coming towards him, swung down, made contact and hit the ball straight back at Tanba, who was still balancing himself,…….. and got hit straight in the balls.

A collective moan was heard from every player watching the practice.

Eijun turned towards the coach "That's what happens every time when I try to bat right-handed so Wakana forbid it boss. Please help me." And he bowed in a perfect ninety degree bow.

"Well little bro, that's definitely hitting some balls Mochi yelled, half dying from laughter while trying to help Tanba up, who in turn didn't appreciate anyone who wanted to get him out of his fetal position.

"Well, Wakana told me it's not feasible in a match even with a 100% success rate so it doesn't matter that I actually hit them you know Mochi-nii" he replied sullenly as he watched Miyuki slumped against the fence, unable to stand because of laughing way too hard but unable to say anything because he knew he was at fault. He was at least happy he apologized beforehand to Tanba since the latter wouldn't be too gracious towards him at the moment.

Hearing the sad tone in Eijun's voice even Kataoka had to crack a smile. The boy never stopped surprising them but he had to agree with the boy. Batting like this it wouldn't be acceptable, they needed a battle plan.

Chapter Text

"Oy Sawamura, what was with that batting? You've never done that before." Miyuki asked after Kuramochi finally got Tanba up with the help of Miyauchi and they slowly walked towards the benches, Nori walking behind them clucking like a mother hen.

"Oh shut up Miyuki Kazuya. This is the worst; even after I warned The General. No one will want to help me with batting training now." and Miyuki saw Eijun was sniffing suspiciously.

"Don't worry Bakamura, we will still help."

Eijun looked up, trying to read Miyuki's face showing his surprise at those words. He was not being used to the fact that Miyuki would actually offer his help without making fun of him. "Really Miyuki? That must be the nicest thing you've said in a long…" and he got interrupted mid-sentence.

"After we've gotten some cup-protectors of course but don't sweat the little details now." And Miyuki smiled wickedly at Eijun.

Eijun only sighed. "I should have known better than hoping you would let this one go right?! Okay, how long will you not let me live this down?"

"As long as is necessary" came the immediate reply.

"Sawamura" was heard and Eijun, recognizing a good way to gracefully escape, walked towards the coach who apparently wanted his attention now. He waved his goodbye to Miyuki getting a nod in return.

"Yes Boss?" Eijun replied.

"How often do I have to say it, don't call me Boss!"

"Yes Boss!" Eijun replied out of reflex again blushing at the exasperated look Kataoka threw him.

"Never mind for now as we've got more important matters to discuss; especially in regards to your batting." and when Kataoka saw Eijun's face he had to fight off a smile again. He looked like a little puppy; all eyes and completely lost.

He scraped his throat and continued from where he left of. "For now you'll train with Kuramochi and Yuuki. Kuramochi should be able to help you since he's a switch-hitter himself and Yuuki will drill the basics again with you. So your training menu will be changed to accommodate this. Takashima-sensei will make sure to include it in your practice-menu." and Eijun nodded enthusiastically at finally receiving some serious batting training.

"I suppose we have to start seeing how you fare with rubber balls first and continue to build up from there. I do expect you to work hard but if the three of you can't progress let us know, we'll see about what needs to be changed." Kataoka continued and when he saw the small smile on the youth's face he got a tiny bit suspicious, wondering what he hid.

Eijun knew he had to catch up on his batting skills. Before, at the time when he truly needed it, Tetsu already left Seidou and Mochi was busy and Eijun didn't want to bother him. But he recognized early on that even if you are a prodigy that doesn't mean you know how to instill batting sense into a novice so even though Harucchi spent ages trying to patiently teach him he never truly got the hang of it and Zono was often too inconsistent as he tried a lot of different ways himself all the time.

As he noticed that Kataoka-kantoku wasn't done talking he snapped his attention back to listen to his coaches' words.

"One of the coaches will regularly check your progress." and Eijun nodded his consent at that having no objections at all with this course of action but actually welcoming it.

"The other thing we need to discuss is the senpai-kohai game we play every year. Since you're promoted to first string already, you aren't allowed to play in it. We will announce it at the end of practice. During the game you're free to watch or train but whatever you do, you can't interfere even though you're a first-year. Do you understand?"

"Yes Boss." He answered and steadfastly ignored the twitch his coach always had at hearing the nick-name.

"One last thing Sawamura; until the game you will practice with Miyauchi and Miyuki equally, after the game I'll see how I'll divide battery partners."

"Eh, Miyauchi-senpai, isn't he Tanba-senpai's main battery partner boss?"

"He is yes."

"But isn't it too much on Miyauchi-senpai to have to train mainly with Tanba-senpai while Kawakami-senpai and me need him half of the time as well? Can't Chris-senpai help out?"

At the first years words Kataoka's eyes grew wide.

"How do you know about Chris Sawamura? And besides Chris is a second-string catcher."

Knowing he was treading on thin ice Eijun knew he had to sound convincing. "I saw some games of Chris-senpai before and thought he was amazing and Miyuki-senpai told me Chris was his rival and anyone Miyuki Kazuya acknowledges as a rival can only be good right?"

Staring at Eijun with a thoughtful expression, Kataoka regarded his words. "At this point I won't change anything regarding Chris. Considering your concerns about Miyauchi; you will pitch mainly to Miyuki but will also pitch to Miyauchi. It doesn't do to only train with one catcher; one never knows what could happen in a game. We'll see about set assignments after the game. That was all."

Knowing this was as far as he could push his coach, Eijun nodded and even he recognized a clear dismissal when ushered. He decided to go in search of Miyuki again to discuss some stuff if the catcher had some time. Unbeknown of the thoughtful look Kataoka graced him with again.

As he walked towards the batting cages, since he knew that while Tanba was still out of commission with Kawakami mothering over him, Miyuki would switch his menu to batting if he had no pitcher, he heard a loud bang and surprised exclaims.

Looking towards his right he immediately noticed the reason was Furuya. Apparently Furuya decided to show his pitching skills off now, just like last time. But Eijun noticed something that was different: Furuya was looking straight at him with a dark look on his face.

Not understanding the look he got, since in the past they didn't had any problems at this point in their Seidou career, Eijun looked back at Furuya with confusion clouding his face.

Kataoka and Rei-chan noticed that Eijun stopped walking and seeing his face followed his line of sight straight back towards Furuya. As he noticed the exchange Kataoka carefully filed it away but decided not to interfere just yet as he saw Sawamura shrug and continue to walk away; opting to observe how things would play out a bit more while telling Rei-chan to keep an eye on the youth as she came to stand next to him.

Putting his focus back towards the field he heard the players exclaim in surprise.

"What on earth was that?"

"He totally blasted the catchers' mitt away!"

"Is he really a first-year?"

Were only some of the things he picked up.

Looking at the ruckus that their troublesome new pitcher made she sighed. "Furuya took the regular entrance exam and he is actually able to throw the ball for 120m. He's, apart from Sawamura, the only pitcher that caught my eye at this point. It's a real shame that his jealousy is affecting his plays and integration into the team."

Also looking at where Furuya was surrounded he knew it was time. "I suppose it's time to see how he'll fare when put in a game situation. At the end of training I'd like to assemble everyone to announce the game so I can see if there's anyone else I can use in a real game." And Rei-chan agreed.

Eijun in the meantime finally reached the batting cages. Upon seeing Miyuki had indeed switched to batting practice, he took a short time to appreciate the view as Miyuki brought his arms down to hit the ball coming for him.

When he bends his arms, Eijun noticed the muscles ripple with power. Miyuki hadn't wasted his time either this past year it seemed. Getting a bit flustered he decided to make his presence known, not sure why now off all times he noticed that Miyuki indeed was as pretty as his nick-names suggested.

Having seen Eijun enter and come to a stand-still Miyuki was curious as to what made Eijun stop when he noticed the redness that tinged the others face. Drawing up his eyebrow he focused back towards the pitching machine which, at that point, indeed graced him with another ball.

After Miyuki hit that last ball Eijun thought it was an appropriate moment to disturb the catcher and when he wanted to call out Mochi came in as well.

"Oy Miyuki, ah Eijun you too, coach is asking for us, we've got to assemble." And he put his arm around Eijun's neck waiting till Miyuki acknowledged him and cleared his stuff.

"Any idea what the coach wants Mochi?" Miyuki asked.

"I could wager some guesses but I guess we'll find out soon no?"

Eijun tried to look towards the field to see how much time they had left, not wanting to be late.

"I guess it's about the senpai-game." He stated and the other two looked at him.

"How would you know about that?" Mochi asked as he started to put him in a chokehold.

Trying to escape from Mochi's stranglehold he shouted a loud "Cause the General told me I'm forbidden to participate in it and now let go of me!"

"No can do Sawamuuuuraaaa. How dare you know something that we don't! You're only a first year!"

"Eeeeh? I can't help it if the General talks to me about stuff Mochi-nii! You're being totally unfair. Ah Onii-san senpai it's good to see you!" and when Mochi quickly released him while turning around Eijun made a dash for it and ran out.

"That little shit" Mochi grumbled when he didn't saw Ryousuke. "And stop laughing Bakayuki."

Miyuki at this point could only laugh helplessly at the display in front of him. "He really has you wrapped around his finger hasn't he 'Mochi -nii'" he teased the green haired boy.

"What would you know about it you shitty tanuki? Just make sure I won't have a reason to kick you for him!"

"Ooh so protective, I'll have to let Ryou-san know you've found a new love!" and he hurriedly stepped out of the way when he saw Mochi trying to kick him for real.

"Don't you dare you demon catcher! Ryou has nothing to do with this!"

"I have nothing to do with what Youichi?" was heard quietly behind him and Mochi turned rigid at hearing that particular voice.

He was well aware that Ryousuke didn't truly like it that he spent so much time with Sawamura but rarely complained about it. Mochi knew that Ryousuke believed it to be a nice thing to have someone Mochi could look after, after the third years retire and maybe feel a bit less lonely with Sawamura keeping him busy.

"You've got nothing to do with the fact that Miyuki is a shitty bastard. One with too much time on his hands that he uses to annoy others." Mochi smoothly replied while internally shaking, hoping that Miyuki for once would keep his mouth shut. He really didn't want to hurt Ryou more, especially when they have only such a short time together anymore.

Miyuki did sense the change in Mochi and decided to stop teasing him for now……or not.

"Well you're such an easy target Mochi. But it's really time to assemble. I guess I'll try to entertain myself with you later again since I have, what was it, oh yes, too much time on my hands."

As Mochi went red, he and Ryousuke looked at each other and chuckled waiting for the inevitable physical outburst but it never came as Sawamura rounded the door again and ushered them to hurry up.

As the four of them entered the line, they waited for the coach to start talking. Kataoka-kantoku indeed announced the senpai-kohai game for next week Sunday and told everyone to prepare for it if they didn't have any games to play on that day; otherwise it would be scheduled to Monday instead of training. It would still be a rare day off for the first-string at this time of the year anyway.

Everyone secretly hoped they would win the Spring Tournament. It would give them great momentum, but they also had to prepare for the Kantou Tournament starting right after and having qualified for the Summer Regionals the pressure wasn't as high but still, it was a matter of pride and one more opportunity for Miyuki and Eijun to play together.

Having the announcement done and over with, everyone went to clean up before dinner. Eijun tried to catch Miyuki again but the latter was hauled off by Nabe who wanted to talk about yesterday's game and about the batters he thought they would face in the next.

Sighing Eijun made his way towards his room for a quick freshening up and went to the dining hall. Getting his tray he went to sit down and eat and when Miyuki entered he looked around and noticed Eijun looked a bit stressed. Noticing Mochi entered behind him he caught the latter's attention and signaled towards Eijun; quietly asking if he knew more and when he saw a frown forming on Mochi's face he guessed the answer was no.

They nodded and made their way towards the food trays, picked them up and went towards where Eijun was.

As Miyuki stood behind him he noticed his tense shoulders and the way he was shoveling his food. "Sawamura, what on earth is wrong with you? You're eating like there's no tomorrow. If you don't watch it you'll puke!"

"Yeah and don't think I'll clean it for you! Ah wait, don't you dare puke in our room Bakamura! Slow down right now!" Mochi added for good measure.

"Shut up you two, I have no intention to puke or whatsoever."

"Then what has gotten you so riled up that you're trying to eat yourself sick?" Mochi asked. "And slow down before you choke on it."

"Hmm" Eijun hummed. "There is something I want to talk to you about Miyuki but not here, so if you have some time later I'd appreciate it."

"Oy Bakamura, don't tell me you're going to confess to this tanuki?!"

"Haaaah? Whatever gave you that idea you stupid brother! Who wants to date this pretty face?" and he made a beeline for Miyuki's shirt, hauling him off his chair, shaking him for good measure.

Seeing the tenseness of Eijun's shoulders disappear, Mochi and Miyuki shared a relieved grin until Eijun grabbed Miyuki's shirt tightly again and his body tensed even more than before.

As Mochi and Miyuki turned, Miyuki trying his best with Eijun's hand still clutched in his shirt, trying to figure out what had happened now, a voice made it-self known.

"Hey, is it okay if I sit here?" was asked by none other than Furuya.

Receiving, once again, a cold glare and pointed look at where Eijun still held Miyuki's shirt, Eijun quickly released Miyuki at which Furuya took the opportunity to ensconce himself between the two and claiming the middle chair.

"Oy Furuya why are you sitting here, there is enough space over there you know!" Eijun finally spoke up pointing towards the row of free seats opposite from them.

Getting pointedly ignored, Furuya directed his attention towards Miyuki, disregarding even Mochi's presence who shared a worried look with Miyuki at this.

"Miyuki" Furuya finally spoke. "I'm sure no one here will be able to hit my pitches, not even after another week of training. So, if I'm right will you be my catcher then?" and the whole canteen went silent.

Disregarding the looks everyone was throwing at him, he kept his focus completely on Miyuki as only his answer mattered to the pitcher.

He was quite smug with the fact that he finally found the right moment to break up their little intermezzo after he noticed that Miyuki didn't even consider sitting somewhere else after noticing that Sawamura.

He kept staring at Miyuki, who at this point internally started to worry but refused to let it show. From the corner of his eyes he saw Mochi trying to get Eijun's attention and was truly happy that at this point the others gathered around them, being outraged at the first-years words.

"So you're saying nobody will be able to hit your pitches huh. Don't you have a clue where you are?"

"You're sure arrogant for someone just coming out of junior high aren't you."

And at this point Ryousuke butted in as well. "So you want Miyuki to catch for you? Some big words coming from someone who hasn't shown anything yet don't you think!" and with this he had Furuya's attention.

Feeling his gut boiling at perceiving every comment he got as a favorable reply towards Sawamura, he couldn't hold back. "It's not like I had a chance to show anyone yet, did I? That guy is stuck to him like glue. Why don't you all mind your own business and let me talk to Miyuki!" at which the whole place went deadly silent.

No one, but truly no one spoke to one Kominato Ryousuke like that, and they were all waiting for what the pink-haired boy would do next.

Meanwhile Haruichi was trying to rush towards them to try to do some massive damage control. He did like the guy when he wasn't in any of his Sawamura rants. He was normally quite observing, quiet and gentle. It seemed that only the mention of either Sawamura or Miyuki could make him loose his head.

He did try to talk to Furuya about it but realized quite quickly that it fell on deaf ears. Harucchi did know for sure though that if something didn't happen soon, Furuya would be ostracized from the team before he even started and he didn't like that at all so he rushed towards the front but before he could reach them Tanba spoke up.

"Stop this bullshit right now; all of you. We will settle this through baseball. Now return to you seats." And everyone indeed returned to their seats but not without throwing some heated looks towards the first-year pitcher.

Miyuki in the meanwhile shared another knowing look with Mochi and also Ryou-san as Furuya placed himself back onto his uninvited seat again.

Ryousuke, having seen that Haruichi hurried over, grabbed his brother and placed him right next to Furuya, in-between him and Miyuki while signaling Mochi that he would take Sawamura out since he finished his food anyway and felt the murderous intent Furuya had towards the other pitcher. It would be safer for the latter not to be in his close proximity for the time being.

As they walked outside Ryousuke tried to figure out if Sawamura knew the reason for the boys' behavior towards him. Not wanting to enlighten him more if he didn't but had to make sure what to tell Mochi to look out for.

"It seems you are quite disliked right Sawamura?" and he watched as Eijun flinched violently.

"It sure seems so doesn't it Onii-san senpai?" Sawamura said softly and Ryousuke had to chuckle at the nickname given to him.

They all already noticed the boys' habit of gracing everyone with a personal nickname and they mostly found it amusing. He guessed he could live with this one as it was one of the nicer ones given to him.

He almost missed the muttered "I just wonder why, it can't be only because of Miyuki now can it? I mean we haven't even officially trained together" and knew he had gotten his answer.

"I wouldn't break your head over it Sawamura. Just go and take a bath. I'm sure that guy won't bother you anymore." And that statement had looking Eijun sharply at Ryousuke who only smiled back at him.

"I'm truly sorry you've been dragged into this mess Onii-san, but let the guy live okay?" knowing right away that he was fighting a losing battle when the smile turned even more sinister.

"Hop along now Sawamura. I'll send Youichi after you later so make sure you don't drown in the bath without supervision okay?" Chuckling at the spluttering that came from Sawamura as he walked away.

Looking wistfully at the retreating back he decided to indeed heed his advice and made his way towards the baths when he remembered Miyuki hadn't answered him yet on his request to talk. Sighing deeply he wondered if this day was cursed with bad luck, nothing went right.

'I suppose I'll text him later tonight. For now bathing does sound great. It's been a while since I had some time to myself.' He thought while walking towards his room to pick up his bathing supplies.

Having collected his stuff he made his way towards the baths while trying to comprehend everything that happened today.

Opening the door and seeing no one present finally made him feel secure enough to snap.

"Come on, what on earth is with this shitty day. Furuya is such an ass; we are in the same year so where does that attitude come from!! If he doesn't change his attitude fast I won't stand in for myself; how dare he involve others in whatever the hell this is!! What on earth did I do to him? The guy should get shipped back to Hokkaido already and put on ice to cool him down some. Tokyo is obviously not becoming to him!"

While smashing the sliding door open to enter the baths after undressing; totally not expecting the coach to sit there leisurely already.

Remembering the things he shouted and having flashbacks of this same situation in his past; Eijun wanted a hole to open up and swallow him.

Feeling himself starting to sweat he tried to make himself as unobtrusive as possible and slid along the wall towards the bathing stools and started to wash himself. 'Argh dammit, I don't want the coach hear me complain about another player already. It leaves a bad impression especially since I have no idea what Furuya's problem really is. I tried my hardest to leave a good impression on everyone right from the beginning; I don't wish to ruin that!"

'Please don't ask me anything, please don't ask me….'

Eijun continued to wash himself and when he heard no questions directed towards him he tentatively made for the bath as well; still feeling extremely uncomfortable being caught complaining.

Huddling himself miserably into a corner he turned away from Kataoka and cried silent tears of frustration. 'This day really turns out for the worst. This should be my time to relax and rewind myself, what did I do to deserve such a day?"

As he finally dared to relax a bit, thinking the coach wasn't up for a conversation he let his guard down slightly; and then it came.

"Sawamura" Kataoka called out.

'Nooooooooooooooooo, come on give me a break already' but Eijun knew he couldn't ignore his coach, especially when they were in this close proximity without being extremely rude. The coach didn't deserve it so he decided to just go along with it; too tired to fight or run away.

"Yes Boss" he answered.

"I had an interesting conversation with my coaching staff; it seems they indeed failed to properly instruct you when you asked for batting advice. I've set them straight." He said ignoring the widening of the boys eyes and pleased flush.

"But there is something else I would like to know. According to Takashima the level of play you've exhibited since you've first arrived here exceeded whatever you showed when you were scouted. Is there anything you'd like to clarify for us?" noticing the boy stilled with a confused look on his face Kataoka started to doubt the fact that more was going on. His body-language appeared to be sincere, his confusion palatable.

Eijun knew; when he heard the coach ask his question that he had to act fast and the only way he knew how was to play being completely confused; hoping that something would happen to end this situation. He'd had enough for today.

"I-I'm not sure what you mean boss" was what he decided upon as a suitable answer, noticing the scrutinizing gaze he received but keeping up with his act of befuddlement.

"Hmm, make sure you keep training and improving yourself Sawamura; if you keep this up you could become a magnificent ace." and Kataoka got up and out of the bath finally leaving Eijun some time to himself before the others would show up.

After a short while Eijun got out of the bath as well and upon returning to the locker room saw his phone signaling that a message was awaiting him. Curious as to who it was he flipped open his phone.

From: Tanuki-senpai

You looked tired; get a good night's sleep. We'll talk soon!

PS. What did Ryou-san say after you left? Will Furuya live?

Smiling he felt himself truly relax for the first time today as he read Miyuki's text. It was quite layered. Eijun thought Miyuki hadn't even noticed that he wanted to talk to him nor that today took quite a toll. But he did and at the same time tried to cheer him up. It made him rather happy knowing Miyuki noticed him and actually telling him.

'Eh, why would that make me happy? It's Miyuki Kazuya! Since when does thinking about him make me happy? Something's weird here!' and now confusion was added to the mix of emotions he already experienced today.

Knowing Miyuki expected a reply he typed one up and quickly sent it off before heading to his room to finish his left-over homework. He decided an early night sounded quite nice for a change. When he walked towards his dorm room he wasn't stopped by anyone and when he entered it appeared that Mochi and Masuko-senpai weren't around yet either. Grabbing his homework he went over to his desk to finish everything as soon as he could.

In the cafeteria meanwhile Miyuki was nearing the limit of his patience. After Ryousuke escorted Sawamura out, the temperature in the room dropped even further, turning the normally lively dining hall into a place of murderous intent and discomfort.

In the short month since the first-years arrived, most of them started to rather like the lively first-year pitcher and after yesterday's match they even started to admire him. So seeing him getting ignored or bashed like that to the point he had to actually leave to dampen the fuse instead of the other way around was rubbing them wrong.

Then, hearing him declare only Miyuki was worth his while and disregarding any other player was just ammunition towards the general dissatisfaction with this kid.

But it was when they heard the way he back-talked to Kominato they were truly done, he went too far.

The kid could be very lucky that Tanba decided to interfere but they wouldn't let it slide. Seidou was protective of their team and no one had the right to try and destroy what they build; whether from the outside or from within.

It was then silently but unanimously decided that Furuya would never be part of their team; they couldn't trust their years of baseball to a person of this caliber. He would not belong and with that he would be ignored, isolated. They would only tolerate playing with him when ordered in training but nothing more. He deftly alienated himself.

Not noticing that this whole intermezzo turned out disastrous for him, Furuya still looked only at Miyuki; awaiting his answer while ignoring Harucchi and the green haired kid.

Miyuki understood the looks and behavior from his fellow team-mates quite well. He'd been subjected to it enough in middle school. He only wondered where they went wrong because this wasn't the Furuya he met back then, he met this Furuya at the end of his second year.

The Furuya he met was stubborn, unsure how to fit in and not used to playing with a team but willing to do his best, to beat his rival.

This Furuya was obstinate, jealous and obsessed.

Miyuki had hoped they could change the way Furuya turned out from the start, but this wasn't what he had in mind when he thought about the 'Furuya situation'. He couldn't even pinpoint where it went wrong. In his old time-line they didn't have any real contact until this point so where did this behavior come from? He didn't like to admit it but he felt quite lost and unsure of what to do.

One thing he did know though and that was making sure Furuya understood were he stood in regards to him.

"I do not get to decide who plays with whom, so regardless of your results when playing in the game; I will not decide who forms a battery. The coaches will and I will heed their choice."

Seeing the other wasn't satisfied with that answer he sighed and looked at Mochi for a way to escape noticing Haruichi was trying his best to make the other drop this matter. Unfortunately Furuya appeared to be more stubborn than even Haruichi gave him credit for.

"But you could utter a preference couldn't you? And I'm sure the coaches would listen to you when you do. You are the starting catcher after all. I could see no reason why you wouldn't be satisfied being paired with me."

Suddenly Miyuki was thoroughly done with this situation and he snapped. "Even if I could I wouldn't do so. This is a team Furuya and the coaches know everyone's abilities best. I will not jeopardize a team or my spot on said team with selfish requests. Kataoka-kantoku does not take lightly to them." He took his tray, returned it and went out of the door, happy to finally be able to escape even though he now missed out on dinner.

He noticed Mochi and Nabe following him and waited for them to catch up with him with Mochi speaking first.

"I knew you were popular Miyuki but this is going a bit far. The guy can be happy that Tetsu or Yun weren't present or it wouldn't have ended like it did. I wonder if we should tell the coaches though" and Miyuki and Nabe shared a knowing look.

"I'm sure the coaches will hear about it, if not from us then someone else will say something. I just hope Sawamura-kun is alright, he looked tired today." Nabe said and it caught the attention of both Miyuki and Mochi.

'I had only hoped it wouldn't come this far and Furuya could have been protected from himself. I really hope it will all turn out good in the end. I do wonder though if Sawamura really didn't notice earlier or decided to ignore it. Have I made a mistake?' but turned his attention back when he heard the others talk again.

"He did look quite haggard when we came in yes. But before we could ask him, shit hit the fan. I guess I'll ask him later, see if I can get him to talk." Mochi said looking worried.

Knowing he couldn't wait that long, but having no clue were Eijun would be right now he decided to text him as soon as he could without the others noticing. There was just one thing that was nagging him and when he suddenly remembered he looked at the others with wide eyes;

"Oh my god, what do you think Ryou-san will do? This can't end well now can it?" and when the other two thought it over they too turned pale.

"Are you sure we shouldn't inform the coaches?" Nabe asked trembling, not sure if Ryou-san would be able to make it to the next game after he extracted his revenge.

Looking at each only one thought came to mind. "Let's make sure he doesn't get caught."

Chapter Text

After excusing themselves towards Nabe, Miyuki and Mochi made their way hoping to find Ryousuke and Eijun respectively. Miyuki wanted to make sure Eijun was really alright, especially after Eijun's haggardness and subsequent row with Furuya. Mochi wanted to make sure Ryou-san wouldn't get himself in trouble over this and check on Eijun for the same reasons Miyuki had.

As they turned towards, reaching the dorms, they saw Ryousuke sitting next to the vending machines as if expecting them.

"Ah Ryou-san, isn't Sawamura with you?" Miyuki asked him while checking the place to see if perhaps he missed Eijun actually being around.

"Nope, I told him to go bath"

At this Mochi's eyes got sharp and he leveled his searching gaze over Ryou-san. "Then why are you here? You didn't want to bath?"

"Ah no, I saw the coach going in earlier so I decided to refrain. Coach is no fun anyways." Ryou-san replied and he smiled when he noticed the other two snorting.

"So you've thrown Eijun to the wolves huh." Miyuki said. "Any particular reason other than the coach being there seeing you sitting around here like being on guard-duty?"

"Not really, I was busy planning." He replied and the two shared a worried glance at that particular answer.

"Planning huh" Mochi muttered. "For what?"

"Furuya's punishment of course" he said and a very cold shiver ran down Miyuki's and Mochi's back when they saw the small smile and half open eyes on Ryousuke's face.

"Oy, whatever you're planning, make sure it won't put you in jail you hear! And also make sure the coach won't find out about it! We can't have you sitting out in games!" Mochi almost shouted at him.

"Ah" and Miyuki hit his fist with his hand. "That's the reason you let Sawamura into the bath by himself. So he will keep the coach busy while you plan your murder!"

"Not really, I was actually giving him an opportunity to talk to the coach. I noticed he hasn't much problems with addressing stuff to him so I was wondering if he would do so if it truly affects himself personally." And as he looked at Miyuki's face he continued: "But you won't believe he will hmm." And Miyuki indeed shook his head negatively.

"Your little bro proves to be a handful already Youichi. But why do you think he won't Miyuki?"

"Mainly because at this point Furuya's behavior affects only Sawamura himself he believes and not the whole team. I suppose he's quite at a loss as to how he has to categorize Furuya's behavior towards him since it appears to be more than a normal rivalry." But upon seeing Ryousuke's knew the other wasn't completely convinced.

"That makes only half sense. Since you are also part of this team and Furuya is making trouble for you too with his behavior and subsequently with the whole team and he doesn't appear to be totally oblivious to the things going on around him. Especially considering the things he addressed the coaches with already."

Miyuki knew Ryousuke was quite observing and keen but he'd never thought Eijun would spark his interest this early on already; but maybe he should have seen it coming considering Eijun's changed relationship with Mochi and Ryousuke's focus on everything Mochi cares about.

He also knew Eijun hadn't caught on to the worsening atmosphere surrounding everything Furuya since the latter always made sure not to be in the same vicinity as Eijun except when they couldn't avoid each other, like in class; were Furuya would sleep anyway or Kanemaru, who asked by Haruichi, would interfere before it got to Eijun. And while Eijun would think that Furuya's behavior was strange at this point, he wasn't unused to that either and knew that Miyuki could fend for himself if necessary.

"I don't think Sawamura sees it as a team thing yet considering everyone is trying to keep interaction with Furuya to a minimum and our little brother won't give him a chance to start something during training. And now that Sawamura has joined our training there are even fewer moments in which they interact.

"I also don't believe he sees it as my 'problem' specifically since Furuya has only declared his intentions and in Sawamura's eyes is of course free to do so. So when he thinks Furuya is actually trying to compete with him over me that would make it a personal problem instead of a team problem hmm."

At this Mochi sighed deeply. "He really is trouble isn't he? I mean this years' firsties have proven themselves to be quite bizarre. I can't imagine any other batch of firsties being in this kind of predicament after the first month of joining the team." conveniently forgetting that he and Miyuki made quite a ruckus themselves when they joined last year.

"So what do you suggest we do?" Mochi asked no one in particular but also not quite sure what to do himself."

"I guess I'll go find him and see if I can get him to talk, I can't imagine it being just Furuya that has him so haggard." Miyuki said and Mochi nodding. "I guess I'll join then Miyuki. Are you coming as well Ryou-san?"

And Ryousuke nodded affirmatively, not willing to give up any more time without Kuramochi, even if it meant searching for the others troublesome little brother.

Considering Eijun should be in the baths, they first made their way over there but were surprised when Toujou told them that Sawamura had already left. Wondering where he went they agreed to check first if he returned to his dorm-room.

Upon reaching said room, Mochi opened the door and indeed found Eijun inside.

What they didn't expect was said boy lying on top of his sheets, snuggled around his pillow, deep asleep. As they watched more closely they saw the stress lines hadn't disappeared at all while asleep.

Sighing again, Mochi walked towards his roommate and pulled his blankets up, silently signaling towards the others that he would stay here. Understanding that he wouldn't get a chance today anymore to talk with Eijun he nodded and waved his goodbye, feeling a tad frustrated, while Ryousuke opted to stay until Masuko came back before leaving for his own dorm.

The next morning Miyuki woke up at the crack of dawn, having set his alarm the previous night, knowing that the only time he could catch Eijun now was before practice. They promised each other to stop their morning practice when Eijun made first-string, seeing as there would be more time to train together then, unless coach decided to pair them separately again, which they would fight of course and was happy he was still in the routine of getting up early.

He could never truly get used to getting up early though and today was no exception; he groggily made his way around the room to dress himself, set on catching Eijun.

As today wouldn't have been a secret training moment anyway he knew he would be running around the fields so he made his way over there first. Arriving, he indeed saw him running around and he also didn't fail to notice that also this time around he made the tire his most appreciated training buddy.

"Oy Sawamura, get over here we need to talk!"

Upon hearing his voice Eijun stumbled and almost fell, but managed to keep his footing at the last second. As Eijun turned and started to run towards him Miyuki checked to see if yesterday's events were still visible on the other boy.

He concluded that Eijun while looking more rested still seemed stiff and preoccupied, so he harrumphed and signaled towards the dug-out. Not in the mood to hold a serious conversation while running at this ungodly hour.

As Eijun caught up with him he wondered why Miyuki was here at this time of the day while looking uncommonly serious. He was happy that the other boy sought him out though because he wasn't sure he could hold on another day while his worries ate at him.

"Okay Eijun, spit it out. What has you so stressed out? It can't be you joining the first string nor does Furuya annoy you enough to warrant you looking like a nervous wreck." Miyuki started knowing he had to cut to the point real quick and avoid any misunderstandings.

Looking at Miyuki he decided to just go for it and address everything eating at him. "Do you think we did the right thing with wishing to come back and redo everything Miyuki?" and Miyuki's eyes widened, not really expecting this to be what really ate away at the boy.

It was one of the possibilities, as Miyuki himself often wondered the same thing, but he hadn't thought Eijun would still wonder about it considering how quick he adapted. He should have known though. Eijun may always seem carefree and oblivious, but was actually quite sharp; especially when it comes to the well-being of his friends.

"I'm not sure what exactly you mean. Are there things you're unhappy with right now in that regard?"

"It's not that I'm unhappy but after the game and me joining the first-string I started to wonder if things aren't changing too soon and whether we have any influence on the things happening at all anymore." And he started pacing.

"I mean, look at me and Kuramochi. I knew I wanted a more mellow relationship with him, but now he is acting like he truly is my big brother and I like it! But Furuya in the meantime appears to be like he was in second year, it's unsettling. My relationship with Harucchi is also different not to speak about Kanemaru. I do miss Harucchi though." He added a tad wistfully and continued.

"I also can't remember having Onii-san senpai coming to my rescue once before, especially without giving me the chills or demanding something in return." And Miyuki had to agree, it did feel a tad unsettling, and he focused again on Eijun's worries.

"You know as well as I did that especially the first months at Seidou weren't easy for me, but for some reason that doesn't seem to matter this time around. Look at where I am right now! After barely a month I made it to first-string with my first game pitching over already. I won't even participate in the senpai-kohai game! Leader-san and Spitz-senpai were very welcoming and nice to me and Masuko-senpai even offered me his pudding as congratulation for reaching first-string, while he's still in second because of that mistake!"

As his pacing got even more frantically, Miyuki wondered if Eijun would start to rip his hair out with the way he was gripping the strands. Eijun didn't appear to notice that he was busy getting himself bald.

"It feels too easy Miyuki. I'm starting to worry if either this whole coming back thing is spiraling totally out of control or the person I was before really was unlikable and they like this version of me more." And at this he looked at Miyuki with big round eyes pleading to tell him the second wasn't the actual reason why but knowing his behavior back then was quite childish and obnoxious.

Miyuki though chose not to look in Eijun's direction just yet; not willing to answer any of it before he heard all of it.

"But I still am myself from back then too. I feel at a loss on how to interact with all of them. Till this day, the time with the senpai's on the team was my most treasured time at Seidou and it was my favorite team. I just wonder if they felt the same because I've never had this closeness with any of them back then; especially not at this time already. It feels completely surreal."

And with a defeated sigh he went to sit down next to Miyuki, gripping his head in both hands.

"So much changed already, does that mean that whatever happened back then, was really my fault? Could we have had this team if I had behaved differently? Could I have gotten a spot on the first-string and a chance to play with you much earlier? Could I have loved the team we've had even more?" and at this point his voice broke, unable to continue.

Miyuki in the meantime was completely gob smacked and felt utterly unprepared in providing any emotional comfort though knew he had to. He knew logic wasn't what Eijun needed at this time he just wondered if he could provide the right support. He too was afraid he would again fail to do right by this person again so with a shaky sigh he decided to act.

"Eijun, do you like this team?" and when Eijun looked up with big moisty eyes he felt his heart twitch and at Eijun's confirmative nod pressed on.

"Then stop worrying about people not liking you. I believe it's universally impossible to not like you even a tiny bit even though you behave quite irritating, obnoxious, loud and dumb at times whether it's now or then. The old team didn't dislike you either, just look at Chris-senpai." And he had to look away when he saw Eijun's eyes water even more after that declaration.

I wouldn't dwell too much on the part of you joining Seidou from the first time. We can never be sure if things would have played out differently, that's the whole reason we made sure things would go differently you know. Getting into a frenzy because of that isn't really you; how on earth did you develop cold feet because everything goes right for a change?" and because Miyuki is Miyuki, regardless of the situation he added a "Are you a masochist?" for good measure and enjoyed the first incredulous spluttering's Eijun started to utter.

"I have to agree with you on one thing though" and this made Eijun sit up straight while focusing intently on him. "A nice Ryousuke is unsettling isn't it? And they both snorted before chuckling but Miyuki pressed on regardless.

"And I totally disagree with this being easy. It's just that the effort you had to put in before you came is now spread over a longer period, with you preparing these past six months before coming here. And don't forget that you've acquired quite some tricks and training these past two years." Knowing his words finally found some sort of stronghold he continued to drive his point home.

"It's also quite harsh of you to say that all of this feels easy when you know where you're coming from and knowing it's far from over. You're numbers will have to be developed further and your batting needs a lot of work. I'm not sure about your fielding capabilities after your stunt in that game but don't think for one second that it will be easy from now on. I will not go easy on you. I know you've got lots of room to grow yet so prepare yourself." And as Eijun looked at him he turned a shade whither seeing the devious grin on the others face.

"In the meantime enjoy your happy times with Kuramochi as I'm sure you're going to need them after I'm done with you! And as for the team, I'm sure they're quite happy that you've gotten yourself such a splendid big brother who together with Ryousuke will make sure you'll become quite adapt in the field. They can't have you looking bad now can they with family reputations on the line." And suddenly Eijun felt like he truly would start to cry.

"Are you trying to make me feel happy or sad having Mochi adopting me you jerk! How can I enjoy my time with him knowing that if I don't perform well he'll be disappointed which will garner me Onii-san's wrath?" he wailed.

"It wasn't me who said it felt 'too easy' was it now Sa-wa-mu-ra!" Miyuki taunted.

"I'll take it back you evil Tanuki! Nothing is ever easy with you. Why on earth did I think anything would be easy when it comes to you? I'm sure you're going to team up with Mochi-nii and Onii-san now to make my life a living hell right?" and groaned when he saw the big grin on Miyuki's face, knowing he dug his own grave but secretly relieved and grateful that Miyuki managed to help him through his break-down.

And he looked up when Miyuki addressed him again, instantly attentive at hearing the seriousness in his voice.

"And Eijun, leave the matter of Furuya to the coach. He is aware or what's going on. Just make sure to stay out of his way for now and if for whatever reason he comes onto you, make sure you just walk away or get someone else to join you is that clear?"

He nodded his consent but still felt a tad worried.

"Are you going to be alright Miyuki? Ultimately his goal is you and if you won't comply I wonder if he's going to take it well but at the same time I'm afraid coach will assign him to you again just to avoid a situation like that. I really want to become your partner this time and I really hope Furuya won't be the reason for that not happening again." And he blushed after confessing that little tidbit.

Miyuki's ears had also acquired a slight red tinge after being referred to as 'partner', knowing full well that Eijun just threw his own words back at him but not really sure why that made him feel embarrassed.

"I wouldn't worry too much about that, I even wonder if with the way he behaves right now coach would ever assign him a place on the First-string. It wouldn't do for a coach to assign a player with talent on the roster whose behavior will only destroy the team dynamic and therefore be unusable in any matches. Don't forget that this, at this point, is a different Kataoka-kantoku than back then." And Eijun nodded, seeing the truth in that and at the same time regretting it.

He still had a tiny bit of hope left that he and Furuya could have become equal rivals from the beginning this time and hadn't accounted for the fact that the other would see him not even as a rival but an enemy this time. It did feel unsettling and he hoped it would turn out for the best but would keep his distance for now.

As they both fell quiet, each contemplating everything they heard and said, Eijun's alarm went off signaling it was almost time for morning practice. Both boys startled out of their thoughts and got up with Eijun suddenly remembering something.

"Aah, I've got to hide my tire! Can't have anyone else claiming it! Just wait Miyuki Kazuya I'll be right back!" and he scooped his tire up and ran towards the storage shed before Miyuki could even react.

Chuckling he felt a surge of relieve passing through him when he finally heard the light tone in Eijun's voice again and started to follow him. Even though Eijun himself hadn't realized it yet but it appeared the senpai had all accepted him as a teammate already and they all wondered what happened after the game for him to be so unlike himself.

Eijun may have been part of Seidou for a meagre month now, but he already managed to wrangle his persona into their midst, the same as last time with his sunny and lovable existence. Miyuki would never understand how Eijun failed to notice that, now or then.

He only knew he had to keep an eye out for him considering the guy appeared really useless when it came to understand his position on this team and getting all kinds of strange ideas.

Noticing that Eijun managed to put the tire back in the shed, he waited till Eijun reached him again after which they made their way towards the main field were people started to assemble already.

When Kuramochi looked up, after being nudged by Ryousuke, his eyes widened at the beaming smile adorning Eijun's face. They both also noticed that the haggard look disappeared from his face and moved much more fluent. Exchanging a look they looked at Miyuki, who in return only pulled an eyebrow up as Eijun started to run towards them with Miyuki following at a slower pace.

"Mochi-nii, Onii-san; good morning! What do you think coach is going to assign for training today?"

"Aren't you chipper little bro, care to tell what it is that has you in such good spirits?" Mochi inquired while leveling an inquiring stare towards Miyuki; who of course still refused to take the bait.

"Eh?" Eijun answered, not quite understanding the slightly biting tone that accompanied the question. "Nothing in particular I'm only curious as to what coach has in store for us since our next match is in a couple of days. Do you think coach will let me play again?" and he turned pleading eyes towards Mochi who couldn't resist them of course as Miyuki chuckled when he saw the latter's resolve crumble under that look.

"I wouldn't know why not, but how come you've arrived here with Miyuki?"

"Oh Miyuki came to find me and we talked a bit, it just happened that we've finished just before training started so we came up here." was the honest reply which had both Mochi and Ryousuke staring at Miyuki incredulously.

"You mean to say that Miyuki, The Miyuki Kazuya, got up early - the same one who refuses to even consider any time before nine a decent time before getting up- even way before morning practice started, to find you, on the field to have a chat after which you happen to just randomly walk together towards practice as if anything isn't out of order?" Mochi asked not believing what he heard; still looking disbelievingly at Eijun as the latter nodded vehemently that yes that was the same person.

As all three of them looked at Miyuki, the latter opted for silence as the best course of action, seeing with relieve that Kataoka-kantoku finally arrived.

He knew Mochi would question him later but it didn't appear to be important now as he also saw the relieve crossing the other's face after he again checked his little bro's appearance.

Ryousuke meanwhile had a small sly smile on his face as he looked at Miyuki while regarding Mochi. "It seems that Miyuki beat you to it Youichi. I guess you have to thank him now." And both Mochi and Miyuki looked at him in surprise.

As Mochi saw Ryou's face twitch with impatience he quickly gathered his bearings and deigned Miyuki with a quick thank you to which the other only nodded in acknowledgement.

Miyuki had to truly agree with Eijun on this. A nice Kominato Ryousuke was just as unsettling as a devious one and he swallowed quickly before finding a safer spot to stand at to listen to the coach.

The rest of the week passed quickly with not much happening except for Kanemaru finally dragging Toujou to their study sessions and the team being uncharacteristically closemouthed when it came to the Furuya matter, whatever that entailed.

He only gathered that apparently more happened after Ryou shepherded him out of the cafeteria that day, but no one wanted to divulge any details, not even Miyuki or Mochi-nii.

After a couple of days he gave up asking about it, concluding that maybe the coach ordered them to keep it quiet, never suspecting that it was actually Kuramochi that requested it being done so as to not subject Eijun to even further guilt (that being the reason given by Miyuki as an explanation for Eijun's haggard look and their subsequent talk). And as the others didn't feel like talking about the guy anyway they complied easily, he didn't even need to threaten anyone with a painful death.

Apart from that matter, Eijun always secretly wondered why it took Kanemaru this long to include Toujou into their study group. He understood much better after the other boy explained that he had wanted for Toujou to make more friends of his own first instead of always being stuck with him because they knew each other from middle school.

But apparently Toujou seemed to be content being around Kanemaru so the latter just gave in and from that point on Toujou became a regular in their little study group. This to the utter joy of Eijun who really liked Toujou and still hoped to one day have a proper pitching battle with, acknowledging him as a very valuable player, with a gentle soul, capable of playing on many positions except his most favorite. That was something Eijun himself couldn't do since pitching was his life and he admired him even more for it.

Unfortunately they didn't see much of Haruichi these past days since Furuya leeched himself onto the pink-head, while continually voicing his displeasure for having to wait till the game on Sunday or Monday. Eijun still believed Harucchi should be rewarded sainthood and when he told Kanemaru so, the boy agreed before leveling an inquiring look at him.

And as such his week passed by quite quickly and uneventful and before he knew it, Saturday dawned and with it their game against Seikou Academy.

He and Miyuki had mixed feelings playing against them, clearly remembering the injury Miyuki acquired from that game.

Coach decided that since Tanba was still suspended, they would play with Eijun and Kawakami, the latter finally cleared by the doctor to play but being limited to a maximum of three innings, which made Eijun the starter for this game.

After breakfast the team made their way towards the bus to drive them to the stadium the game was held at. Arriving they noticed the stands were filling quite quickly but had no time to contemplate any further as they prepared for warm-up.

Many of the First-string were stealing glances towards Miyuki and Sawamura in the bull-pen to see if the latter was showing signs of nerves and surprised to find him relaxed and boisterous, chattering amicably with the people in the stands between warm-up throws.

They did notice the battery checking the opposite dug-out quite often and leveled Nabe with a questioning look; who just shrugged and told them that Sawamura told him they didn't like Seikou's second year pitcher much as he's being known for playing rowdy. Having seen some matches Seikou played in they agreed but still wondered why it made them look a tad apprehensive when checking out said pitcher.

When Yuuki called for everyone to assemble they made their way towards the umpires and opponents for greetings before spreading out into their positions, playing as the home team this time.

Standing on the fresh mound Eijun wondered why a feeling of apprehension kept creeping up on him. It wasn't just his general dislike of Seikou as a team but for some reason he didn't trust their opponents.

As the umpired called "Play" he quickly refocused his mind on the batter before him while awaiting Miyuki's signal.

Winding up he started the game with a cross-fire straight to the batter's chest, effectively scaring him and eliciting startling gasps from the opponent team.

"STRIKE"

Nodding he readied himself again, this time out and low.

"STRIKE TWO"

When he threw his third ball, he knew it would be a strike even before it reached Miyuki, having seen the batter being thrown off his game, not believing the kind of pitches Eijun threw.

"STRIKE THREE, BATTER OUT!"

Waiting for the next batter to enter the batter's box he looked behind him and upon seeing those familiar faces felt his calmness return to him. He grinned and couldn't resist riling them up a bit, and with it grounding himself a bit more.

"Fielders, please don't fall asleep behind me even though I'll strive to make it as boring as possible for you! But if they happen to hit, thank you in advance for your help!"

And as he suspected both the in- and outfield exploded and the subsequent:

"Don't you dare say that after only one batter Sawamura!!"

"I'm going to kill you after this is over, prepare yourself!"

"Kuramochiiiii, teach that brother of yours some manners!"

Where nothing less than he expected. He really understood now why Miyuki enjoyed doing it. It felt liberating.

Grinning he faced the next batter again seeing Miyuki grin mischievously back at him, knowing exactly why he did it as he saw the next batter shake in fury over the rude first-years words of challenge.

Miyuki knew this batter wouldn't be much of a problem either and quickly called for his desired pitches, which Eijun delivered flawlessly.

"STRIKE THREE, BATTER OUT!"

Getting to the three-hole Miyuki knew they had to start being more careful but from the data gathered by Nabe, they weren't yet at the same point they were when they faced them in the fall.

The three-hole got retired quickly as well and considering the silence that came from Seikou's bench, they couldn't quite believe what was happening. The spectators as well started to notice something special unfold on the field as Seidou's starting pitcher, being a first year, managed to retire all three batters allowing no hits or getting on base.

Rumors already circulated after the game from last week, but many didn't believe it to be true. Now everyone was really curious as to what would happen in this game and how that first-year south-paw would hold up.

The subsequent innings went by without many problems, Seidou leading 0-4 after the fifth inning.

At the beginning of the sixth inning the atmosphere in the Seikou stands soured immensely and Kataoka expected the opposite bench to make their move in this inning. What they didn't expect though was that instead of a batter switch, the pitcher would be changed and transferred to the outfield after Eijun retired three more batters again.

"Seikou Academy announced a change in players. At the bottom of the sixth replacing Kojima-kun is pitcher Ogawa-kun, pitcher Ogawa-kun!"

As he noticed the person walking towards the mound, his bad feeling returned with a vengeance and he looked worriedly at Miyuki who he suspected would be the reason why he had that feeling in the first place. If that pitcher decided to go after Miyuki again Eijun knew he would snap.

Noticing Eijun's look Miyuki only smiled and waved, signaling it would be alright but he knew Eijun could tell he too felt tense at seeing him again.

"Batting 6th is Miyuki-kun, catcher Miyuki-kun."

As Kuramochi noticed the tense form of Eijun and the slightly apprehensive way Miyuki held himself, he signaled to the rest of the team. Ryousuke already noticed of course and now the others were also on high alert as Miyuki made his way towards the batters' box.

But as the new pitcher prepared himself to face Miyuki, Jun noticed that something was off and that it wasn't Miyuki the pitcher appeared to have a problem with and quietly asked Tetsu. "Oy Tetsu, doesn't it look like that guy has a problem with Sawamura, with him sneaking glances over here all the time? But Sawamura seems to think that he has a problem with Miyuki?" And at this Tetsu refocused his attention towards the pitcher and finally noticed what Jun already had.

It was slightly, but he did check Sawamura out from the corner of his eyes and when he found him, sneered slightly as if Sawamura was something beneath his notice. But there was also another underlying emotion, one of anger and that was what was worrying him more.

He nodded and made his way towards Ryousuke's side, knowing that if anyone would notice it would be him. "Kominato, don't you think that that pitcher is focusing on Sawamura instead of Miyuki?" and at this Ryousuke answered affirmative. "But it also appears he is quite angry with him. But according to both Miyuki and Sawamura they haven't met the guy before so it's quite strange don't you think?" Ryousuke asked.

"Hmm, I guess for now we should observe and be extra careful when playing defense. I don't think coach will sub Sawamura out just yet if he can spare Kawakami another inning for his arm." Ryousuke agreed and told Tetsu he would inform Kuramochi and Shirasu who were observing the scene in front of them intently as well, if Tetsu-san would inform the rest.

As they heard the tell-tale sound of metal hitting leather they returned their attention from the on deck cycle towards the batters' box and saw Miyuki reaching first without any problems.

"Batting 7th is Sawamura-kun, pitcher Sawamura-kun.'

Seeing the coach signal for a bunt, Eijun nodded, greeted everyone, and got himself ready to bunt when he noticed the pitchers gaze upon him.

When he looked up he was quite shocked to see the expression the pitcher regarded him with. It appeared to be a mixture between extreme dislike and anger mixed with hate. Eijun truly wondered what on earth he did to elicit such a response and when he looked at the catcher he too seemed taken aback with his pitchers behavior and made an apologizing gesture towards Eijun.

Sneaking a glance towards his own dug-out he saw that the whole team appeared taken aback and Kataoka-kantoku even stepped outside the dug-out.

Swallowing he vowed to advance Miyuki and got into his bunting position.

Expecting this of course the catcher signaled for a pitch to try and jam Eijun, but Eijun being the bunt master for a reason wasn't deterred and executed a perfect drag bunt between pitcher and first base, throwing them off as he made his way towards first while Ogawa fumbled the ball allowing him to reach first with no problems, having advanced Miyuki to third.

The Seidou stands erupted and even Kataoka looked impressed, the team finally starting to understand what Miyuki meant when he called Sawamura a true bunt master, not quite believing at first he could pull it off as well in a game under pressure as he could at training.

"Batting 8th is Sakai-kun, left fielder Sakai-kun."

Waiting for Sakai to get ready Eijun contemplated if it was worth going for a steal. They had a 4 point lead with no outs and runners on first and third with Shirasu coming next before returning to the top of the line-up. There seemed no reason to not acquire some runs this inning so he opted for playing it safe, but that didn't mean he couldn't pretend he would, could he? Just to give Miyuki that extra second diversion that could get him home in time.

He slowly moved away from base, taking advantage of the pitchers obvious dislike of his person to divert his attention away from Miyuki as Ogawa apparently lost his temper and threw towards first.

Eijun dove back and "SAFE"

Not deterred he again started to enhance his lead but this time Ogawa ignored him and threw what the catcher ordered him.

Unfortunately Sakai struck out without advancing any of them so Eijun waited for Shirasu to get ready.

"Batting 9th is Shirasu-kun, right-fielder Shirasu-kun."

As Eijun again counted on Shirasu to be able to hit his pitch, he increased his lead and when he heard him hit immediately dashed towards second, as he arrived there the base coach signaled to keep running and he rounded second base when he heard a commotion start behind him.

Half way towards third he noticed Ogawa running slightly behind him without a ball. Remembering his scooping trick from last game Eijun expected the ball to come sailing in low with Ogawa picking it up and tagging him out but he was quite wrong.

The ball came sailing towards them indeed, and it was also low but instead of Ogawa appeared to be meant for the third-basemen. The outfielder who threw it only noticed Ogawa running with him at the last second and tried to adjust his throwing course but was still off, resulting in the ball coming in from an awkward angle for both Seikou players with the Third-Baseman going for it.

So when the Third-Baseman dove for the ball, Eijun got caught between them as Ogawa refused to stop running when he saw his teammate dive and effectively shoved Eijun over the back of his teammate, catapulting him in a misshapen somersault and as he lost his balance as well falling on top of him, knocking the wind out of him.

Eijun lost his helmet when he somersaulted and hit his head when Ogawa fell on top of him but that was not what had him screaming out in pain. Because of the awkward position he fell in, the second Ogawa landed on him, his right arm got caught between his body and the ground in an awkward position, popping his shoulder out of its socket.

He didn't even hear Miyuki making it towards home and Shirasu advancing to second, as he was too busy trying to dislodge the body on top of him while howling in pain the longer it took. The coach yelled for a time-out with both team coaches running towards the heap of boys with the Seidou teammates hot on Kataoka's heels.

Even though the Seikou dugout was closer Kataoka reached them first, hurling the body of the Seikou pitcher off his pupil not sparing a glance for the Third-Bbaseman who dazedly sat up, being kicked by Ogawa's foot when he stumbled over him.

Taking in the unnatural way of Sawamura's arm and shoulder he immediately yelled for the medics while simultaniously trying to calm him down.

Everyone in the stadium knew the Seikou pitcher collided on purpose, having had enough time to stop when he saw his teammate dive for the ball and no real purpose to even start running after him in the first place and the stands erupted in an angry mass shouting to remove him from the game as they anxiously waited to see what would happen next.

The Seikou team-members meanwhile stood there shocked, not ever expecting this to happen. They knew Ogawa had a short fuse but they never believed for him to act on it, especially not physically, and when they noticed the whole Seidou team looking at them with furious anger over the cries of their injured pitcher, they knew they were done fore.

As the medics loaded Eijun on the stretcher, after Kataoka finally managed to calm him down somewhat, they rushed towards the exit with Rei-chan hot on their heels.

He regarded the other team's coach with sparsely hidden contempt, barely accepting the offered apology, knowing the perpetrator in question wasn't sorry at all considering the small grin he wore when he saw Sawamura getting carried off the field.

Seikou's coach noticing his line of sight blanched even further, knowing whatever he said now would not appease the Seidou coach at all and signaled for the head umpire.

As this was an official tournament match, they couldn't put the game on hold and decisions had to be made although it was clear to all that whoever won in the end, Seikou would leave as losers.

After talking with the umpires Kataoka turned around and signaled his team back towards the dug-out. When he regarded them he wasn't surprised to see furious anger burning on their faces, except for two.

Miyuki and Kuramochi were white as a sheet and trembling, while trying to comprehend what had happened, with Miyuki a tad more put together than Kuramochi.

He knew he had to calm them down, while feeling extremely furious himself, and regarded all of them.

"I know you are angry but we are in the middle of a game; a game in which Sawamura fought to keep our opponent at bay. Do not let it go to waste, go out there and win this game so we can go see him as soon as we can. Channel your anger into hits and pitches; direct it towards plays that end the opponents chances to score. Go out there and win this game for Sawamura." And they all nodded with Mochi grabbing his bat, still shaken but calm enough to go and get his revenge for his little brother, knowing that the whole team was out for Seikou's blood loss.

Shirasu returned towards second base but the gaping hole on third reminded everyone again on what occurred here just moments ago, ironing their resolve even more.

"Seikou Academy announced a change in players, replacing Ogawa-kun is pitcher Kojima-kun, pitcher Kojima-kun. Player Ogawa-kun is hereby suspended from playing any further matches in this tournament and the Kantou Tournament. Player Ogawa-kun is suspended from playing in this and the Kantou Tournament."

Not at all appeased by the message, Mochi grabs his bat and hits the first pitch right out of the park. A 2 RBI home-run was the first nail in Seikou's coffin before the game got called in the 8th inning with Seidou winning 0-10 as Kawakami fought in Eijun's place, forgetting all about his nerves and just as set on defeating their opponent as the others as a small token in repaying Eijun for his help.

The mood was still volatile when the teams met in the middle to signal the end of the game and everyone from Seidou returned towards their dug-out immediately to clean-up and find out about Sawamura as soon as possible.

Never was the team done as fast as they were now as they made it towards the bus in fifteen minutes and when they saw Kataoka on the phone they got on immediately when he signed to them so he could relay the message as soon as he had all information required.

After a couple of minutes he hung up and addressed his team. "Sawamura appears to have a dislocated right shoulder and a mild concussion apart from some bruises. He also sprained his left ankle. Doctor's expect him to be able to lightly practice within two weeks again with being able to hopefully play in twelve; that means he will be or won't be ready for the first game of the Summer Qualifiers, we'll have to monitor him carefully. Therefore he won't make it into the next match or the Kantou Tournament for aforementioned reasons."

"After they treated his shoulder they'll keep him overnight for his concussion and he'll return tomorrow. Takashima-sensei will stay with him."

"For now we'll return to Seidou to evaluate this game. I want all of you to first take your baths and then assemble in the cafeteria. We'll see about practice for tomorrow's game after that. As for now, keep your heads and well done in finishing this game and if something changes in Sawamura's situation I'll let you know."

While keeping a careful eye on Mochi and Miyuki, the whole team vowed to make sure something like this would never happen again. Injuries were part of the game but not of this kind. This was deliberate and they felt awful knowing they couldn't protect their teammate. While driving back to Seidou, everyone fell silent and hoped that Sawamura would be back soon. It already felt lonely without him.

Chapter Text

The bus-drive back to Seidou was quiet as everyone tried to forget the screams they had heard coming from Sawamura after his collision.

Shirasu knew he wouldn't get a good nights' sleep tonight. He saw the collision when he himself was half-way between first and second base; he'd seen that all focus was on Sawamura and had taken his chance advancing another base.

He would never have guessed, even after Ryou-san's warning, that the other pitcher would resort to physical assault to repay his grievances. Thinking logically he knew he wasn't at fault and couldn't have prevented it even if he wanted, he wasn't omniscient, but that didn't do anything to appease his guilt over seeing his teammate getting hurt right in front of his eyes without being able to prevent it.

Sawamura may have been on this team for only a short while as of yet and always forgot his name, but he was still a much valued member who never failed to get everyone's spirits up. Sawamura had the uncanny ability of being the type of human that feels like he's been there forever and when he's not around takes the sun with him.

The current third- and second years may have gotten closer after the retirement of the previous third years but it was nothing compared to the closeness they'd achieved after just one short month with Sawamura Eijun on the team. The guy was a people magnet!

Looking over to where Miyuki and Kuramochi were seated he noticed both boys were eerily silent and glossy eyed. While knowing that in terms of injuries the pitcher got off lucky, being able to return tomorrow and it not being a threat towards his further baseball career, they were still afraid. Even though it would be for just one night, the fact Sawamura had to stay in the hospital for observation frightened them. They wouldn't feel relieved until the guy was back with them.

Everyone felt even more horrible because they couldn't go visit him in hospital, boss orders, and his phone was still in the bag that Kuramochi picked up because Sawamura himself couldn't, so they had no way to contact him either. He sighed deeply.

He changed his focus to Ryousuke and saw that he watched both boys intently as well; but feeling eyes on him he turned to try and locate the source. When Ryousuke saw him looking at him he gave a small pinched smile and a nod, silently telling him he would look out for those two.

As he turned towards the window again, he noticed they were almost at Seidou, recognizing the familiar scenery passing by. It was strange having won a game but having none of the exuberance they normally felt after winning. Sighing he sat back and let his mind wander, trying to dislodge some of the adrenaline still clinging to him.

When after a couple of minutes the bus arrived at the Seidou grounds everyone got up and grabbed their stuff, in nearly complete silence.

Ryousuke led both Kuramochi and Miyuki towards the baths and guiding them through the motions before making their way towards the cafeteria, knowing both of them weren't in the mood to relax in the hot water anyway, anxious to hear if there was an update on Eijun's condition. He slightly wondered about Miyuki's behavior, he could understand Youichi's but not the others.

He couldn't remember the two getting close as well but on the other hand, his main focus wasn't Miyuki, especially now that he had to look out for his brother as well, but remembered seeing the two often together. Apparently he had to pay closer attention from now on with Sawamura becoming a family relation and all. Sighing he wondered why the people around him always caused trouble and needed him to look out for them.

When they entered the cafeteria, they saw that everyone who were in the stands this game also arrived back and were waiting anxiously for news, not having heard anything at all as of yet.

Ryousuke quickly appraised them of what he knew and a small sigh of relieve made its way through the people present.

When the rest of the first-string entered the cafeteria, the coaches minus Rei-chan also arrived.

Looking at the sea of anxious faces Kataoka didn't have the heart to keep them waiting any longer.

"Takashima-sensei called and let me know that they're done treating Sawamura. They stabilized his shoulder and he's required to keep his right arm in a sling for the next two weeks. Knowing his tendencies though, Takashima-sensei requested that one or more of you make sure he actually keeps it on; since he was complaining about it already."

This garnered some chuckles as everyone could picture this quite clearly.

"On that same note; it made Takashima-sensei request for a more advanced sling, one that binds his arm completely to the side, as to not have him jar it accidently and delay his healing progress further, when apparently he mumbled something about not needing it at all and being fit as a fiddle, so she needs some volunteers to help make Sawamura put it on."

She nodded when the whole team minus one volunteered right away to make sure their pitcher wouldn't hurt himself any further. They felt relieved there was actually something they could do now.

"He will sit out on any practices for the next week- week and a half because of the sprain and his concussion and I will see about upping his practice with light running after that.

He will also come back straight from hospital to Seidou tomorrow. I do not know the specific time but do not get deterred by that during our game. This also means that we have only Kawakami available for tomorrow's game as Tanba will only be able to join him in the Kantou Tournament." This statement raised some eyebrows because coach said first he wasn't allowed in any competitions anymore until the new roster was made final. But they realized quickly that they couldn't depend only on Kawakami to get them through a complete tournament alone and seeing Kawakami's slightly relieved look coach understood it as well.

Tanba looked relieved as well but knew Kataoka-kantoku still wouldn't allow him to wear the ace number even though he could play; upholding that part of his punishment.

"Starting positions will be the same as today and you're free to spend the rest of the day however you want. Make sure you assemble at nine tomorrow morning; that means both first-stringers and people who want to watch and if you have any further questions I'll be in the coaches office." and he got up to leave with Tetsu trailing after him for their regular prior game meeting.

As the coach left everyone started to talk, finally able to feel a bit of relieve after the news of Sawamura's situation. It was only after some players noticed one face looking particularly gleeful that they stopped to see what had Furuya so focused. Tracing his line of sight towards Miyuki their anger flared up again.

This time it was Shirasu who first noticed the mood dropping drastically behind him and quickly distinguished its source, interfering before either Miyuki or Ryou-san noticed anything as he made his way towards Furuya who was flanked by Haruichi.

"Ah Kominato-kun, I'm really looking forward seeing you play in the Senpai-game on Monday. Which position did you try out for? Ryou-san didn't say much about it." and Haruichi knew exactly what the other was doing and decided to play along for now, not wanting a fight on top of all that happened today.

He himself was quite angry at Furuya at the moment; especially after the other watched the game and when Sawamura was taken away, expressed his joy at finally getting a chance at Miyuki now that his enemy was out of the way. But he was unwilling to show it in a place where emotions already ran high, knowing Shirasu-senpai had no way of knowing.

Taking the cue he took Furuya by the arm and moved towards the doors, not giving the other the chance to disagree as he answered Shirasu-senpai. "I really want to play together with my big bro so I've signed up as second baseman. Big bro is the best one there is but I'll strive to do my best." and they reached the cafeteria doors, effectively shoving Furuya out first who was a tad annoyed at being ignored but unable to voice it due to Haruichi keeping up the conversation.

"Well I'll make sure to drop by then and see you in action" and as he made to close the door he did not expect Haruichi to turn towards Furuya with anger in his voice telling him to go off and train if he was so sure he could win from Sawamura now.

Pulling his brow he let the first-year pass him as he went back in and saw Furuya trudge off, alone, with slightly hung shoulders. Apparently Furuya managed to also anger the only person still keeping up with his attitude and he felt something like pity stir inside him but disregarded it, knowing full well the pitcher had only himself to blame and he had more pity for Sawamura at this point.

After the strained atmosphere Furuya created had gotten diffused, most of the players decided to go off for some personal training, emotionally tired after this rollercoaster day leaving only Kuramochi, Miyuki and the two Kominato's.

It was in that moment that Mochi decided to say something for the first time since they'd seen the clash.

"Oy Miyuki, do you think it's possible to die of heart failure at this age? Is this what it means to be a big brother? Do I have to experience this every time something happens to that idiot?" and he looked uncharacteristically defeated. "I feel quite sorry now for everything I've put my sister through" and he sighed.

Looking up in a daze, Miyuki replied with difficulty, "I wouldn't know, I'm an only child. Why don't you ask Ryou-san?"

"Because I don't want to hear I'm right." he said and let his head fall on the table, suddenly exhausted.

Ryousuke and Haruichi looked at each other, unsure if they should partake in this conversation but after a short moment of contemplating they decided to just observe for now. It would give them the most information after all so they sat back and just watched the two interact with each other.

"Instead of heart failure, do you think the coach will promote Furuya into the first-string now?"

It instantly got the attention of all present and Ryousuke decided he couldn't stay silent anymore.

"Why do you ask?"

"I suppose your little brother can correct me if I'm wrong, but the guy has quite a killer pitch. No control though" and when Haruichi nodded affirmatively he continued.

"Considering Kawakami's stamina and mental strength I doubt he'll be able to play all nine innings tomorrow, regardless of how much he trained these past weeks. So that means there is a high possibility of us loosing tomorrow." and knowing he meant nothing bad by it they nodded affirmatively to this fair assessment as well.

"That means we have only Tanba-san and Kawakami for the Kantou Tournament. I wonder if coach thinks it will be enough. Especially after the strength Sawamura brought into the line-up."

"You're afraid he will get his way and be assigned to you, considering that he has more things he needs to work on compared to Sawamura-kun, aren't you Miyuki-senpai?" Haruichi asked. And looking at Miyuki's face they all knew the answer already.

"I wouldn't worry too much about it, I did notice the coaching staff checking up on us quite frequently but considering that no one is willing to talk to Furuya anymore I doubt Kataoka-kantoku would do something that could destroy the current team-dynamic." Haruichi said looking a tad uncomfortable for disclosing this kind of information. He didn't like to put others in a bad light after all; having a row or not.

Miyuki remembered that he said those exact same words to Eijun, but now the situation changed drastically with Eijun out for a while and he couldn't help himself panicking a bit.

He thought he had seen his fair share of injuries with Chris in rehab, Tanba getting hit, Eijun having yips and himself getting hurt as well, apart from regular sprains or pulled muscles. He'd never expected for Seikou to hurt them like this a second time and he was at a loss off what to do. 'Eijun really never gets a break from shit happening does he?' he thought and wished if it couldn't have been him who had gotten hit again, instantly recognizing the absurdity of that wish as it wouldn't solve anything, but still wishing it.

Sensing he wouldn't get much done today anymore until he saw Sawamura for himself he contemplated about what to do when Tetsu and Jun returned with the rest of the first-string. They announced they would hold a video-game tournament in Miyuki's room tonight and started to drag Kuramochi and Miyuki with them while Ryousuke walked after them with a small smile on his face as he put his phone back into his pocket with Haruichi walking beside him with a knowing smile. His big bro really was the best!

The next morning they were all assembled on time and off towards the final game of the Spring Tournament. The overall mood even a day afterwards was low spirited. They were all surprised at how much of a difference Sawamura's presence made even in the short while since they knew him.

That didn't mean they didn't give the best they had and for a while it seemed they would actually win but as Miyuki had fore-told Kawakami's stamina dwindled fast from the 7th inning onwards and their opponent noticed. They became bolder and before they knew it they lost their two run lead and were tied while the opposite bench got ready to sub in their ace. In the end they lost by one run and while disappointed, knew they had given the best they had and Kataoka acknowledged this accordingly.

He knew as well that it didn't matter how good your batters were if they lost the runs in defense and he couldn't blame Kawakami since the boy played his best game in a long time, he was actually positively surprised.

All things considered the mood wasn't bad when they returned to Seidou and they started wondering if Sawamura would be back already. When the bus stopped at the schools parking lot they saw Rei-chan's car. The mood turned instantly excited, knowing it could mean only one thing; Sawamura was back indeed.

Mochi put the speed he normally reserved for the field into good use to grab his and Eijun's stuff, and got off the bus before the doors even opened completely. And as if this was the starting sign, the whole team spurred into action.

In a flurry of shouts and pushes they finally got out and went after Kuramochi, following after Ryousuke who seemed to have an unnatural way of knowing were said person was at any moment of the day.

Miyuki, tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but for once fooling no one since he walked right behind Ryousuke with a hurried stride instead of trailing in the back like he normally would.

As they reached the dorm, they saw Rei-chan coming out of room number five, a bit startled at the throng of people surrounding her asking how Sawamura was doing, failing to notice that Miyuki, instead of running towards Rei-chan as well, made his way directly to the room and sneaked in, expecting Mochi there as well.

He saw he was right as he noticed Mochi standing stock-still next to the bunk-bed with barely suppressed rage showing on his face as he took in Eijun's appearance.

Walking towards the bed himself, his breath caught in his throat when he noticed what had Mochi so enraged. Bandages kept Eijun's arm tightly in place against his body, unable to move it, and another bandage supported his foot and was cropped upon a pillow. The sling was lying on a chair next to the bed and now they understood why Rei-chan said Sawamura would need help with it. He would need more help than just getting his sling on and off though, seeing that his right arm would be kept mostly immobile for the upcoming week.

Eijun's face was white as a sheet and he looked like he was in pain even though he was obviously asleep. They knew he had a concussion so they assumed that he had quite the bump on the back of his head but because of his arm they couldn't find a more comfortable position.

As he was cataloguing this Mochi spoke first. "Rei-chan said they gave him pain-killers and a mild sedative since he could barely sleep last night because of the pain every time he moved. He refused to show it but the doctors knew anyway. Stupid kid." Hitching a breath he continued.

"Apparently the ride back to Seidou didn't help either and when they finally arrived here she took the doctors' advice and gave him the pills, hoping he would get some rest now that he's back."

It explained the small tear-marks they saw. Remembering how his own ribs felt whenever he moved or hit a bump he could only wince in sympathy.

"How is he supposed to move around with his right arm and left leg indisposed, a wheelchair is completely useless around here" Miyuki mumbled, more of an observation than a real question.

It seemed to be enough to break even the last bit of composure Mochi had left as the latter sat down heavily with his head in his hands addressing Miyuki directly.

"Miyuki" and Miyuki looked up sensing the seriousness in the other boy's voice. "When I saw him getting on base I felt really restless especially when I noticed how that pitcher looked at him, and when Eijun tried that fake steal it became worse."

Taking a deep breath he continued, not truly wanting to relive those moments before Eijun got hurt.

"But when I saw him rounding second and that guy going after him, it was the first time in my life I wanted to seriously screw the rules and run after them. He was gunning for it, he was out to hurt him and I feel like I've let him down as I just stood by and did nothing."

Gripping his head even harder Miyuki saw Mochi's knuckles turn white from the force and he swallowed thickly.

"Dammit Miyuki I feel like I've failed as a friend and teammate and even though it started off as a joke, also as a big brother because it isn't a joke for me anymore. How on earth do I face him?"

And at this Miyuki knew he once again had to step out of his own comfort-zone and at least tried to console the boy in front of him, however bad he was at it and being totally out of depth.

He knew Eijun wouldn't blame anyone of the team and realistically speaking they weren't to blame of course but he knew the feeling of guilt that was eating at Mochi as he himself felt it as well. He didn't even want to contemplate what he would do when his path ever crossed Ogawa's again. It was safer to put that thought in a deep dark place of his mind lest he acted on it and committed murder.

He blamed himself as well for not having better assessed the situation; he again prioritized the game over the well-being of a team-mate. He felt like he'd let Eijun down again, knowing something wasn't right with the other pitcher. He should have requested a pitcher change as they said they would during the strategy meeting but he didn't because Eijun was doing well; but now he wasn't anymore and it tore at him.

Clasping his own hands together so hard they hurt he regarded Kuramochi and said: "I truly do not believe that Eijun would ever lay blame on any of us Mochi. If anything, he would place the blame on himself and say something stupid like how he should have just jumped over that other guy and performed a heroic leap but was caught off guard so it was his own stupid mistake."

"And if you think you've failed him you have to acknowledge we all did, since all of us felt something was off so you don't have to play the martyr and take all of the blame upon yourself."

"Lastly, if you don't want to feel like that again then make sure you're going to do right by him so it won't happen again. I can't promise you it'll work but at least it will help prevent you from reaching an early grave." and at that Mochi finally cracked a weak smile at the same time the door opened slightly, showing the concerned faces of Kanemaru and Toujou.

Waving for them to open the door completely but signaling to be silent they invited the other's to come in and have a look for themselves, seeing the same mix of emotions playing on their faces that they currently experienced.

Apparently Jun managed to find a shoujo manga in that short span of time and he meticulously placed it beside the pitchers left hand so he had something to do when he woke up.

Being the practical guy he is Shirasu came in with bottles of water of which he loosened the caps already so Eijun didn't have to wait for someone to get him a drink after he woke up.

Not knowing whether Eijun would be allowed into classes Kanemaru left a note saying that if he didn't show up he would bring the notes later and come over with Toujou to go through the missed content.

Like this, everyone came to check on the out-cold guy until Masuko decided it was enough and sat himself pointedly in front of the door, effectively keeping out the ones who kept coming back and making clear to everyone inside that it was time to get on with their own business. It wasn't as if Sawamura was dying and this being his wake. He scribbled down that soon enough everyone would pray for these quiet days as they for sure had some difficult days coming up when it hit Sawamura how stunted he truly was with his limited range of motion.

Blanching the others realized the truth of those words and made for the door, all of a sudden quite keen on experiencing some quiet time before all hell broke loose now that they knew that Sawamura would be alright.

It even elicited a small cackle out of Mochi, and Miyuki couldn't help but feel a bit grateful towards Masuko while feeling great relieve of having the emotional stuff over and done with. He suspected he would find an outlet for his jumble of emotions sooner than he liked, since he had to leave Eijun's side now but not wanting to.

Taking a last look at Eijun's face, he got up to leave but couldn't without at least pulling the covers over Eijun a bit more tightly worrying he might get cold, not noticing the look Mochi and Masuko shared over that particular fact, as Miyuki didn't do it consciously.

Noticing the look on Miyuki's face Mochi took pity on him knowing it was propriety demanding it from Miyuki and came to his rescue. "Oy Miyuki, why don't you grab your home-work, there's some science stuff I didn't get and now is as good a time as any."

Grabbing the opportunity with both hands he whispered a "be right back then" and went to retrieve his bag. His work was all finished already but he saw no reason to enlighten Mochi of that fact. No one said he couldn't work in advance now did they and returned to room number five in record time.

They worked silently until dinner and when they noticed Eijun hadn't awoken at all they decided to go and grab a bite, only now realizing that with the sleeping pill he would probably sleep through the night which was probably for the best anyway.

After dinner they took a quick bath, Mochi not wanting to spend much time away until he was truly convinced Eijun would be alright, and Miyuki made for his own room while Mochi settled himself in front of the television, starting up a game with Masuko munching happily from his pudding. And if both boys were stealing glances at the third boy sleeping there, they didn't comment on it before going to sleep as well.

The next morning, Mochi and Masuko jolted wide awake after they heard strained whimpers coming from the third bed, realizing Eijun woke up and the painkillers probably stopped working.

They jumped out of bed trying to find the pills and a bottle of water not realizing Eijun was half chuckling through his pain at the ridiculous picture they made as they were running around the room like a pair of headless chickens before remembering were they put the pills; and helped him take them.

Nature also called but Eijun wasn't sure he felt capable of getting up without the painkiller kicking in first and willed his body to hold out for a bit longer.

Seeing his roommates' worried looks he tried to smile. "Good-morning Masuko-senpai, Mochi-nii. I'm sorry for waking you on this fine morning and..."

"Stop, just stop Eijun, we know you're in pain and don't you dare hide it." Mochi angrily said while holding up his hand, realizing Miyuki was right. Eijun would downplay it all and blame himself and Masuko crossed his arms in front of him with a stern look on his face. Eijun only swallowed thickly.

"Is there something you need right now? And don't you dare lie about it!" he pushed, not relenting one bit.

"Uh" Eijun muttered, not sure how to address this particular problem but knowing he had to really soon.

"Spit it out" Mochi demanded.

"Bathroom?" Eijun replied meekly, a shallow blush dusting his cheeks. He had no idea how to get there without help but also being ashamed having to ask for it.

"Well I suppose we could let you pee in a bottle like in that one movie" he replied and at seeing Eijun's horrified look cackled lightly, enjoying his payback for him trying to downplay his pain and Masuko nodded in agreement, "but I guess I'll have mercy on you this one time. But only this time you hear! If you dare lie again I won't be nice anymore!" and Eijun nodded frantically.

Sighing at the predicament Eijun was in he couldn't help but comment. "You really had to go and hurt both sides of your body huh. Piggy riding isn't an option and hopping will aggravate your shoulder and head." contemplating all this they didn't notice the door opening after a light knock.

"Oh you're all up already!" they heard and turned towards the new voice. "What has all of you so serious?" Miyuki asked seeing their studying looks and noticing the slightly red face and tears at the corner of Eijun's eyes felt something akin to panic surge. "Did something else happen to Sawamura? Don't tell me he has a fever now too!" he exclaimed and he rushed towards his side trying to get a hand on Eijun's fore-head to feel for a fever.

"Of course not you idiot." Mochi replied and Miyuki froze half-way through the room. "We were trying to figure out how to get this idiot to the bathroom without aggravating his injuries further."

"Oh is that so" and his hand went to the back of his neck in a sheepish gesture, suddenly embarrassed.

Immediately figuring out the solution to their problem he replied: "But that isn't so hard now is it?" and he looked at the other two boys, not noticing the sudden sharp gaze from the injured party at the teasing tone he used and as Eijun looked at Miyuki he just knew nothing good could come from it; especially when the resident tanuki turned towards him. He really dreaded whatever would come next.

"Whatever do you mean you ass-hole?" Mochi asked but instead of answering he went towards the bed and noticing Eijun's suspicious look could only grin, delighted that the other seemed to still have fight left in him even while injured.

He put one hand on Eijun's feet and turned him 180 degrees before bringing his arm under his knees and the other around his waist and picking him up bridal-style, ignoring the incessant spluttering coming from the pitcher.

"Ah don't you think its romantic Sa-wa-mu-ra? This is just like in your shoujo manga right?" he dawdled and chuckled when Eijun's hand crept around his back to tug at the hair in his neck in revenge. "Don't go and fall in love with me now though!" he said after noticing the others red face and at the shouted "who would ever fall in love with a tanuki like you!" laughed even harder; resulting in Eijun starting to shout expletives from the top of his lungs, ignoring the slight pang those words invoked.

Mochi laughed as well seeing his little brother in such a predicament and Masuko could only smile and shake his head at the scene as they made their way to the bathroom; finally some normalcy again .

On their way they encountered several team-members who were looking relieved when they heard the familiar banter coming from the pitcher and catcher, knowing everything would be fine again now and mourned that their quiet time seemed to be over but not really sad about it; after all one needs some spice in life right?

Upon returning to their room, Eijun was indeed being excused for the first three days of classes as he wasn't allowed to put any weight on his ankle for that amount of time. He was put back in bed with pillows behind him.

His left hand hit on something lying next to him and when he got a good hold on it he had to swallow thickly before reverently laying it back and wiping at his eyes. He really had to thank Spitz-senpai for lending him the special edition manga of Kimi no Todoke.

Also finally noticing the notes and bottles of water he couldn't hold back anymore and sniffed, feeling extremely happy as Mochi ruffled his hair fondly.

Stacking his schoolbooks neatly beside him on the bed, with painkillers in reach, they promised to come back with breakfast soon before going off to classes.

Eijun knew he was in for a very bored day but if he wanted to have even the slightest chance of attending the senpai-game later he knew he had to behave for now.

He also had to come up with a plan to continue at least some form of practice without going completely crazy these two weeks. He couldn't understand how Miyuki survived his three weeks of torture!! He conveniently forgot that Miyuki's way of coping was torturing his teammates from the side-lines; Eijun had a better coping mechanism thank you very much! And a light-bulb went off in his head. Now all he had to do was wait till he got a chance to talk to the coach and he knew the game was the moment to go about it. Feeling resolved he dug up Jun's shoujo manga, for now ignoring his schoolbooks for after breakfast.

During lunch-time Rei-chan came to check on him together with Miyuki and Mochi and couldn't hold back a snort when she saw how Miyuki howled Sawamura off to the bathroom, the pitcher completely disgruntled at being manhandled.

She talked to the coach and they decided he was allowed to watch the game if he gave his promise to stay seated at all times and would tell them when he started to hurt.

Reluctantly agreeing, he would definitely make sure he could stay till the end injuries be damned, they left again with the promise to pick him up right after classes. No longer able to ignore his studies, knowing Kanemaru would have his hide injured or not, he took up his books and after reading for half an hour he fell asleep: exhausted and still slightly in pain.

That was how they found him when Mochi and Miyuki returned after class to pick him up. Noticing the stress-lines they knew he hadn't taken any painkillers and they just sighed. Leaving that discussion up for Mochi, Miyuki leaned against the doorpost and watched Mochi waking Eijun up.

After the dire threat of him not being allowed to attend the game if he didn't start to take his health seriously, Eijun gave in and took the offered painkiller. Hating them because they made him slightly drowsy as well but he knew he lost this round. After a couple of minutes he was quite happy he took them though as changing his arm from bandages into his sling hurt!

Resigning to his fate, as he knew why Miyuki was here, he stretched his left arm out and waited for the other boy to lift him up again. He would take this little tidbit to the grave but he actually didn't mind being carried by Miyuki all that much, but a man had his pride no?!

So with Eijun making his 'unhappiness' clear for all to witness, they arrived at the field were everyone watched with big smiles towards their loudest member who finally deigned them with his presence.

As they reached the fence, Mochi put a chair down and Miyuki placed Eijun on top with death-threads from Mochi to behave and to keep quiet! Having conveniently placed him in line of sight from the coach in the hope it would remind Eijun of his promise.

The whole first-string gathered around them and they waited for the game to begin. Quite some Alumni showed up as well, though not as many as on a Sunday, but that didn't deter anyone present.

As Eijun watched his teammates prepare he noticed Kanemaru looking stressed and couldn't hold back. "Oy Kanemaru, show those upperclassmen how it's done! You, Toujou and Harucchi are our pride! Go kick some ass!" and had to laugh at the splutters coming from the senpai section as Kanemaru looked murderous, Harucchi beet-red and Toujou cool as always.

"Saa-waaa-muuu-raaa, how dare you cheer for the firsties?! They should get obliterated as is their due!"

"Eh, but Spitz-senpai, I'm a firstie too! You can cheer all you want for the others but at least I have to be loyal right? And when I'm better I'll show you obliteration, how dare you think they won't win!" and that was the starting-sign of a heated discussion about the qualities of the upperclassmen versus the first-years. The whole first-string looked at the duo in fondness, happy to have Sawamura back.

After a little while, noticing the coach looking in their direction annoyed, Eijun decided a mellower course of action was necessary. "By the way Spitz-senpai, thank you for lending me your manga, I'm extremely appreciative of having had the opportunity to read this marvelous piece of work!" and started a bow that promptly got interrupted by Tetsu; preventing him from further hurting himself.

Beet-red Jun mumbled something as the others tried to hide their knowing smiles and at that moment Kataoka-kantoku signaled for the start of the game.

The first year dug-out was still a tad overwhelmed. However much they looked forward to this moment initially, now that the moment was here they realized they had to show their best after only a short month of joining; it felt daunting.

The spectators were speculating about the strength of Seidou's new firsties too:

"You think they'll find more good players in this years' crop?"

"It's pretty rare for Seidou to have a game this early, I wonder if that new first year isn't enough for their reoccurring pitcher problem?"

And they watched on, looking forward to the game.

Kataoka in the meantime made his way towards the first-years.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes Sir"

"I'm going to give all of you a chance to play, so be ready at any moment to enter and play your best!"

"Yes Sir!"

Remembering this particular moment very clearly, Eijun and Miyuki looked at each other with a small smile. They couldn't believe how much had changed already.

Noticing that private moment Mochi wondered about what was going on between those two. He would have to keep an eye on them and got startled when Eijun shouted again in encouragement.

"Don't you guys dare let this chance slip away! Go and kick their asses!"

"Keep it down you oaf!" Mochi retaliated and Eijun pouted while rubbing his cheek where Mochi lightly flicked him, conscious of the latter's concussion.

Watching the firsties with a sigh, Eijun saw that at least in this regard not much had changed. The first-years still seemed completely overwhelmed by the pressure the upperclassmen executed; and Tanba seemed to be on a roll.

His demotion apparently also lit a fire in him this time around and Eijun knew not much could be done to stop him except maybe Harucchi and Kanemaru.

Noticing Kataoka's look he was almost sure they thought the same thing and when he saw him looking in Furuya's direction he finally understood. Apparently Furuya issued his challenge this time around as well and Tanba was hell bent on showing him who the true Ace is.

Furuya of course didn't care and slept on while awaiting his turn.

He knew Rei-chan and Oota were observing as well. Eijun still didn't care much about Oota, finding him often useless and wondered why Kataoka-kantoku never requested a change of club president but maybe he would better himself this time around. He did see him looking really contemplative these past days and wondered what happened.

Rei-chan was still downright evil though and he knew she enjoyed games like these to sort out the truly talented and steadfast ones; a true baseball demon.

Kanemaru and Toujou, having been warned by Eijun to take it seriously, still didn't expect this kind of pressure put against them. They had to conclude that Eijun was indeed right and this wasn't just a normal scrimmage and that they better take this seriously right quick or they'll get obliterated as the score was now 0-12 against them. They needed to do something even though Toujou didn't seem able to hold them down while pitching and there were too many fielding mistakes securing runs for the upperclassmen.

While watching Miyuki remembered this game quite clearly as well. It was the start of his battery with Furuya and he was still anxious it would happen again. He sat down next to Eijun on the ground as it gave him a better way to hide his trembling hands. Last time it was Eijun's play with Kominato that changed the mood and made it an enjoyable game to watch, regardless of Furuya's immediate promotion to first-string.

It was also the moment Kanemaru transformed from an unsatisfied grumpy guy into the reliable leader of the first-years with Toujou at his back.

Noticing Eijun's movements but not consciously registering what that idiot was doing, Sawamura got up on one foot, hand before his mouth and yelled at the first-years in annoyance; "If you allow yourself to get beaten down by the enemy in front of you before you get to fight for real, you won't be able to release your full power! Isn't this kind of challenge the reason you came to this school? So stop dillydallying and get off your lazy asses and start to seriously kick some ass!" and everyone looked towards him.

Before their eyes, battered, bruised and bandaged with his arm in a sling stood a very unamused Sawamura Eijun and it made the first-years feel ashamed. They saw the senpai nodding at those words and knew they understood much better. Bowing their heads in shame they shortly contemplated those words and when they looked up again, determination graced their features; they would not go down without a fight.

Also looking at him was Kataoka. A very unamused Kataoka and Eijun felt a shiver running along his spine as he realized he a) interfered and b) stood up, suddenly remembering his promise and not wanting any punishment. Gulping he quickly sat down and made a zipping gesture, hoping it appraised his coach and missing the private grin the coach wore after noticing the change of mood in the first-years because he was busy executing a 10 degree bow with Jun holding him back while shouting to stop injuring himself further and Eijun wailing that he angered the boss.

Kataoka only snorted. One would have to be very naïve to expect Sawamura Eijun to stay out of baseball business after all, so he knew he would fail at one point or another. He was only surprised it took the kid this long and he signaled for a player change.

"Pitcher change; Furuya Satoru get on the mound!"

Feeling himself stiffen at that message Eijun ignored it as he noticed Miyuki going completely rigid beside him and looked at the latter wondering what was going on.

But apparently it wasn't only him and Miyuki that looked at this player change with trepidation; the whole team, kohai - senpai alike weren't happy and Eijun wondered about what really happened that time. He sure as hell didn't like the atmosphere gracing the field now though and shifted uncomfortably.

Furuya appeared to be completely oblivious to the changing mood though, having experienced it for a while now. He looked in Miyuki's direction and nodded as if confirming his position already, ignoring the blank look on the catcher's face as he knew after this the other would have no reason to not catch for him. He would show them all!

Noticing the change in mood the spectators' immediately payed attention again as well and wondered why that boy garnered such a strong reaction. "Do you know who that guy is?" and "I've never seen his face before" or "What junior high school is he from?" were just a couple of things going around the stands.

The upperclassman looked elated though, finally getting the chance to take him down a notch.

Keeping half an eye on Miyuki and half an eye on Furuya, Eijun startled when he felt a hand on his good shoulder. Looking up he noticed Onii-san behind him smiling and nodding towards Miyuki as if to say that everything would work out and not to worry about it. Raising his brow Eijun only nodded in surprise and refocused on the game again.

Finally read to start, Furuya winds up and releases the ball, completely surprising the catcher and hitting Kataoka's faceguard off; the ball went high right before home-plate and the catcher not able to correct his mitt resulting in hitting the coach.

Mochi, knowing Miyuki's fear, sat beside him and watched the now slightly shaking boy with concern. Apart from Sawamura and Ryou-san no one else seemed to notice the catcher's distress and Mochi prayed that coach wouldn't be so cruel as to assign him to the first-string.

Everyone on the field held their breath collectively, not having expected that but also not willing to review their opinion of him on the grounds of one single pitch.

Kataoka stole a glance around the field and noticed everyone's discomfort as well. He knew Furuya was easily good enough for first-string but he also couldn't ignore the boys behavior, especially after having warned him so he turned towards the teen.

"Furuya Satoru, you're done for now. Step aside; you're assigned to the second-string."

Not expecting that Furuya's eyes widened and he started to boil with anger; especially when he noticed the collective sigh of relieve going through the field. No one even complained about him only throwing one pitch, happy to resume without him.

Turning back towards the coach he opened his mouth but closed it abruptly seeing the angry expression.

"It's your punishment for your behavior. We warned you and you ignored it. Now step aside and be at the second-strings practice tomorrow." and he again called for a change in player as Furuya trudged towards the bench while Haruichi looked at him with sad eyes.

Kataoka watched him walk away and internally sighed but knew he couldn't relent as it wouldn't be fair to players like Tanba or Masuko. The only reason he even considered putting him in the second string is because his pitch is truly worth honing and letting such talent just sit there would do more bad than good in the end.

Knowing that he had a pretty good harvest already he considered stopping the game for a minute but remembered his promise of letting everyone play.

Preparing for their next at-bat against Kawakami, Haruichi's knew it was time for his turn; refusing to let the senpai's just trample all over them and set to show his brother that he too belonged here and annoyed at the others' showing of defeat.

"For the result we all seek, shouldn't you start to realize that your past achievements have no merit here regardless of which junior high school you attended? If you have no ambition as Sawamura pointed out, then get off the field and switch with people who are willing to fight for a win! For what reason did you people come here?" and he took his bat while announcing himself to be the pinch hitter.

Looking slightly baffled the others saw him go as the stands laughed at this turn of events; especially upon noticing his wooden bat.

"Don't you dare underestimate our Haru-ou Kawakami!" Eijun yelled and the snickers increased as Harucchi turned beet-red at the nickname, wondering how on earth Sawamura came up with them.

As if remembering something important he turned his head and regarded Ryousuke with a sheepish expression. "That doesn't mean I don't respect you as well Onii-san!" and at this Ryousuke could only chuckle as the others openly gaffed at the exchange.

Hearing this bit of normalcy helped Miyuki release his pent up stress upon realizing that the Furuya disaster had been averted for at least a short while. Boss could still assign him to him for practice however unlikely.

Trying for cool aloofness he just chuckled and said: "It looks like this game got fired up again right Ryou-san? Your little brother seems really interesting."

This had Ryousuke looking in Mochi's direction with an evil grin. "Well at least not as interesting as Youichi's little brother hmm.' and they all right out laughed at that; especially when Sawamura realized they meant him and spluttered about the unfairness of it all; considering Haruichi just announced a home-run!

Complete pandemonium broke out at that little tidbit

"Huh, he's seriously announcing a home-run?"

"Who on earth does that kid think he is?"

"What are his statistics?"

"Make it all the way home, is he crazy?"

And Eijun only laughed in delight, sharing another smile with Miyuki, knowing exactly what Haruichi was capable off.

"He can't be serious; he doesn't have the build for long-distance hitting!"

"The way he holds his bat he won't be able to hit even an outside ball!"

And as Kawakami got ready to pitch, Haruichi switched his hold from short to long; rightly expecting an outside pitch.

"Hehe going for an outside pitch on an unknown opponent huh, there's no easier pitch to hit than that." and with a massive swing hit the ball right out of the park as he said he would leaving everyone completely flabbergasted.

"Finally a freshman got a run!"

"That hitter was amazing, what's his name?!"

"We did it!! Whoooaaaaaaaaa!"

And when he came back from rounding the bases a true fire was lit under everyone, demanding the game to continue at which the coach asked why they didn't play like that from the beginning but not relenting this time; knowing perfectly well Sawamura warned them to take it seriously. Instead he told them to train like there's no tomorrow and if they found their true resolve to come and request a rematch!

The first-stringers all watched this with unhidden amusement, instantly recognizing the coach's words as a strategy for the first years pertaining to their pride. Eijun was slightly sad that his warning had had little merit but was still surprised at some of his batch-mates' plays.

Now that the excitement wore down he noticed that his shoulder and foot started to throb with a dull pain again and that all his yelling hadn't helped his head-ache either but he refused to leave until everyone would. Knowing he had no choice he regarded Mochi without looking at him, unwilling to show his pain but remembering his promise.

"Uh Mochi-nii, you wouldn't happen to have another of those pain-killers on you would you?" and at this everyone looked at him, only just now noticing his slightly drooping form and kicked themselves for not realizing it sooner as the game took longer than expected and Sawamura behaving like normal.

Nodding but not saying anything as Eijun did as promised, Mochi reached for the pills and a bottle of water, handing them over as Eijun gratefully took them.

As they prepared themselves to join the others they noticed one player coming towards them.

Walking past Miyuki Furuya only said: "Don't think I gave up, I'll make it into first-string in no time and then I'll make sure the coach makes us the main battery! Just wait for me, you can ditch him soon enough!" and proceeded to walk past him but Miyuki had enough.

Fear of the future repeating itself fueled with his annoyance of being treated like a mere thing spurred him into action.

He put Eijun back on his chair and grabbed Furuya's shirt, pulling him in close. "Don't you dare disregard my personal opinion on this matter you shit-head." he snarled menacingly.

"Even if coach would order it doesn't mean I will comply, even if it costs me my spot as a regular. And don't you dare think for one minute that you are more valuable than I am or anyone here for that matter." and pushed him away, turned, picked Eijun up again and started to walk toward the players on the field without looking back and missing the stunned expression on Furuya's face. The others only nodded and proceeded to walk after them.

Not completely realizing what just happened, Furuya only knew that somewhere something along the road went completely wrong but couldn't figure out where.

While looking at Miyuki's retreating back he noticed Sawamura looking at him with something akin to pity and his anger flared up again. It was definitely Sawamura's fault that Miyuki refused to acknowledged him and with that 'reassuring' thought in mind he walked off again, planning on how he could make it into first-string as soon as possible.

Chapter Text

As they walked towards the players on the field Eijun couldn't suppress a shudder running down his back. Miyuki wasn't the type to get angry easily and he could still remember his outburst towards him over Chris quite vividly.

Secretly happy that he wasn't on the receiving end of Miyuki's ire this time, he still felt bad. Apparently having changed some things had a negative effect on Furuya and he was happy that when the tables were turned he didn't behave this shamefully; they weren't even rivals now that Furuya acted like this. It made him slightly sad as well. He really hoped they could have gotten rid of this behaviour of Furuya completely but apparently it didn't matter whether it was not getting what he wanted or not letting go of what turned bad, if it doesn't go Furuya's way it seemed this is the behaviour he displays.

Hearing Eijun sigh Miyuki looked down and saw him looking sadly towards where he knew Furuya must be. He also noticed the slightly drowsy look on Eijun's face and just knew the other wouldn't stay awake for much longer but wouldn't say anything unless he talked to at least Kanemaru and Toujou.

Regarding him he could at least nib one worry in the butt. "Leave Furuya be Sawamura. He made his choice to behave as he does and I refuse to be a pawn in any plans he cooks up."

Miyuki's words caught the attention of everyone immediately and they looked at Eijun; noticing the same expression Miyuki saw.

"Oy Sawamura, I hate to admit that this guy is right, but he is for once, so stop looking as if it's your fault you dumbass."

Eijun did register Jun's words but only hummed non-committedly.

Noticing his words had little effect, Jun sighed and shrugged sharing a look with Tetsu who only smiled at him.

Whatever they heard next though put them in high alert.

"Miyuki, do you think he will survive training with Chris-senpai?"

Snorting Miyuki only shook his head in glee.

"I do pity Chris-senpai even more now" he snickered and started to count to ten.

Realizing Miyuki meant him he turned red and muttered angrily. "At least Chris-senpai is more reliable and likable than you are you stupid tanuki!"

After hearing Miyuki gwaf even more he knew he lost this round and sighed, feeling really sleepy now. "I really want to see Chris-senpai again, I really missed him. Do you think I can help again? It was hard staying away" was the last thing they heard before he fell asleep.

Realizing quickly that Eijun forgot where they were Miyuki panicked slightly; especially when he noticed the silence permeating around them now that the whole first string stopped dead in their tracks.

Seeing the confusion on everyone's face was bad enough, but seeing the hurt on Tetsu's and anger on Jun's was even worse.

"Miyuki, please explain to us how he knows (about) Chris?" Tetsu asked and the other's nodded at the question, also wanting to hear his answer.

Thinking furiously and wishing he could drop the stupid pitcher for putting him in this pinch he answered with some trepidation.

"Apparently he saw Chris-senpai in a game sometime and liked his play-style. When he came to Seidou he saw his name on the players' list and wanted to make his acquaintance while asking him to catch for him. I told him about the injury and him being in the second-string then and made him promise not to bother Chris-senpai until he was ready. I wonder if he thinks that now that Furuya's placed in second-string Chris-senpai will help him train and he can go ask him for training too?"

Really wishing he could scratch his neck to relieve that annoying itch there he noticed some of the hostility left Jun's face. That was until Ryou-san spoke. "What did he mean with again then? It seemed like they know each other hmm?"

Cursing Ryousuke in his mind to receive some unnamed gruesome torture he just said: "I never said that Sawamura would actually leave him be right? And I don't know, but then again I doubt he would have confessed to me after he promised me not to if he indeed met him don't you think? Just ask him yourself after he wakes up, it's not as if I'm his nanny. Mochi should know more right especially being his big bro!"

"Oy you bastard, leave me out if it! The only thing he always says is that compared to you Chris-senpai is some kind of God and should be nominated for sainthood especially when having to deal with a shitty catcher like you."

Hearing this the others couldn't help but laugh; knowing it was the truth but still secretly wondering about Sawamura's and Chris' relationship.

Continuing Mochi said: "When I asked him how he came to that conclusion he only looked at me with big eyes and said: 'Mochi-nii, you just have to look at the way Chris-senpai plays to know that much and everyone who Miyuki Kazuya admires must be damn skillful right? And let's not forget that when it comes to behaviour; one can barely be worse than that shitty catcher no?' It felt like a complete Sawamura thing at the time. I mean this is the guy who came here just to throw to that asshole right so why wouldn't he idolize someone from the get go?"

"And don't forget that he adopted Kuramochi as his big brother not even five minutes after meeting him, hmm?" said asshole replied, shiteating grin plastered happily on his face after noticing Mochi's look turn dark.

Laughing outright now everyone looked at Sawamura, who amazingly slept through it all blissfully unaware and wondered how much more mystery would revolve around the guy before it was all cleared up.

Miyuki in the meantime was only happy not to have to explain more and promised to dish out some heavy retribution for this disaster... after the pitcher was in a state to receive such!

Jun also seemed relaxed again but he noticed that Tetsu still had a considering look on his face when he looked at Eijun. But when he noticed Miyuki looking at him quickly reverted to his normal blank face.

Miyuki only shrugged, no mean feat considering his load, and was happy to leave Eijun with the mess he created after he woke up again.

Knowing it would be useless to join the others now that Eijun fell asleep he opted to bring him back to his room, but the others refused to let him leave so quickly, wanting to talk about the game they saw and secretly elated at seeing the uncomfortable look Miyuki sported while having a sleeping Sawamura on his lap; Mochi dutifully placed the chair back for Miyuki to sit on.

Ryousuke suddenly found himself with a lot of blackmail material and the coaches only looked at them in fond exasperation.

Rei-chan just knew Sawamura would be embarrassed as hell come morning since they would all tease him relentless for being the epitome of a shoujo manga heroine.

The only thing they were truly surprised about was the way Miyuki behaved. It was really strange for the boy to participate in things like this and then even actively offering his help as a personal caretaker.

They had planned other options but Miyuki thwarted them all before they could even suggest them. It was kind of endearing and Rei-chan wondered if Miyuki himself noticed his peculiar behaviour.

Noticing them breaking up they also made their way towards the teachers lounge, thinking about the players in the game today. They had a lot to talk about.

---

Walking towards the dorms with Miyuki, Mochi noticed his other roommate also making his way towards their room. "Kyahaha Masuko wait up, what did the coach say?"

Turning around after hearing Mochi call out for him he only gave a thumbs up.

"What? Really? So you're back for the next game?"

"Yep, I'm back on the starting line-up."

"So that home-run really decided it then?" Miyuki asked and Masuko nodded.

"Well Toujou-kun did his best but it wasn't much of a contest" Mochi agreed "I wonder how we would fare against Sawamura though." and they all looked at him.

"I'm not sure I would have been able to hit off like this from Sawamura-chan so I won't complain." Masuko said and they could only agree. They were just happy playing together again.

Depositing Eijun on his bed they tried to be as careful as possible to relieve him of his sling; happy the painkillers were in full effect already. With only some drowsy mumbles and complains of pain, but not waking up fully, they managed to release him of his sling and quickly bandaged his arm tight again.

Sighing in relief they looked at the sleeping boy and decided to go off for dinner while saving some for Eijun, should he wake up, and left the boy to sleep for now.

---

The next morning they woke up again and Eijun grumbled about feeling fine and not needing to stay in bed all day. After some dire threats from Mochi he relented and decided to be a good boy until training time so he could go with them.

Feeling extremely bored he thought about the upcoming training day and knew they would only allow for him to sit and he wondered what he could do to still participate without the boss finding out.

Running different scenarios through his mind he sighed and had to admit that whatever he came up with, Kataoka probably expected something and would be prepared for it.

"Wow Eijun-kun, that's quite the sigh" came from the direction of the door.

Not noticing him knock or even enter Eijun startled and turned towards the voice. "Harucchi! Is it that time already? I'm really bored!" and Haruichi could only laugh at the obvious whine that was in the others voice.

"Yes, but Miyuki-senpai asked me to tell you he'll be here soon; he has class duty and went to change right now."

"Hmmpf" Eijun huffed feeling irritated of spending here even longer knowing full well that neither Miyuki nor Harucchi were to blame for his current predicament.

"I'm off now Eijun-kun, I'll let coach know so see you soon!" and he waved his goodbye and Eijun waved back half-heartedly.

Five minutes later Miyuki arrived and they were on their way towards the field. Miyuki dropped him off on his chair; courtesy of Mochi, to watch the fielders and batters.

As he was only allowed to watch, he brought his phone along. After a while the telltale sound of an incoming message chimed and he wondered who would message him around this time off the of day.

Busy with his phone he didn't notice the person sneaking up to him from behind until a hand snatched his phone away.

"Oho, you've switched to the high-lows hmm but you sure are sneaky bringing your phone here little bro. Are we that boring to watch?"

"Aargg Mochi-nii give it back!"

"Of course not you dope I won't let this chance slide. I wonder who texted you?!"

"Even I don't know yet so return it okay, it could be important! Come on Mochi-nii."

Noticing their antics the others could only laugh. It was great to see Sawamura getting riled up. They knew he was sad he couldn't participate and they didn't like seeing his downcast face. The second he started to squirm on his chair however was the second Kataoka-kantoku intervened and told them to be quiet.

Blissfully ignoring his coach Mochi danced a bit further out of Eijun's reach and checked the message; effectively rilling Eijun even more.

"Kyahaha important hmm let's see: 'Eijun how are you? We've heard you've injured yourself and can't play for a while. We hope you'll feel better soon and don't bother your senpais too much. Being bored is no excuse for pity whining. If I hear different we'll come see you and make sure you won't do so again!'

'Our school isn't that strong in baseball but we all practice very hard! Koshien may be impossible but we're looking forward to see you on the mound at Koshien. We keep cheering for you from here so get well soon Ei-chan! Wakana."

Mochi's eyes narrowed dangerously and Eijun felt himself starting to sweat, anticipation of Mochi's reaction making him fretful.

"Wa-ka-na hmm" Mochi said menacingly. "So you've got a girlfriend at home and forgot to tell me about it? Tell me little bro, who exactly is this Wakana?"

"Y-you're wrong Mochi-nii" Eijun stuttered gesturing wildly with his one arm. "She's only a childhood friend!"

"Oho, only a childhood friend huh. I'll believe you after I've seen a picture of her. You're quite the player hmm little bro" Mochi snickered.

"What are you implying you stupid brother! It's nothing like that! Now give me my phone back and get back to practice before Onii-san finds you!"

Realizing the truth in those words Mochi gave the phone back and made for the batting cages; happy the sad expression left Eijun's face. Mission accomplished. He also confirmed his suspicions regarding Eijun's text behavior.

Considering Wakana's message they didn't mail quite that often so that means his little bro has someone else he talks to a lot. He was really curious now and cursed Eijun's foresight to password protect his phone.

Having noticed Mochi's antics, Ryousuke thoughtfully regarded his own little brother. He wondered whether he'd been a bit harsh yesterday when he saw him fetch drinks but he knew that it was imperative for Haruichi to stop copying him; first because Haruichi was too good a player to limit himself and become nothing more than a mere copy and second: like this they had no chance to play together as they both vied for the same position.

But seeing Mochi and Sawamura interact he couldn't suppress his desire to have something similar. He really hated to be a big brother sometimes; it made things overly complicated; especially with such a cute and idolizing little brother like he had.

Casting a last glance towards Sawamura he too went back to resume his practice and teasing of one overly protective shortstop.

An hour into practice the coach asked for everyone to assemble and Eijun was placed in the first-string line as well.

Regarding them all Kataoka started to talk.

"Listen up, there's only two months left until the Summer Tournament. We can't continue to train aimlessly from now onwards!"

"The first step in climbing a mountain, whether small or big like Fuji, is the same step but the resolution for each is different. So, which mountain do we want to climb?"

"Day after day you've been training, putting your all on the line! As long as you keep your high spirits and keep giving it your all, your training will never betray you!"

"YES SIR" they all answered heartfelt.

Resuming their practice once again, Eijun wondered why the coach decided to hold this speech at right that moment, when he noticed two people coming towards the coach.

Gracing his coach with a cheeky grin; which Kataoka-kantoku answered with a small twitch of his own lips, Eijun pretended to focus fully on his teammates while yelling encouragements when the principal and vice-principle reached them.

"Kataoka-kantoku! How does it look? With all the new first-years we have a total of 93 members this year again and they all look really intense while practicing don't they?!"

"Do you think you'll reach Koshien this year?"

Snorting at the pompous way the principal and vice-principal spoke to his coach he slanted a look towards his coach's face and saw the same unimpressed look he currently sported and he couldn't hold back a small giggle when he heard the coach answer.

"Our goal has always been the same: to rule the nation. Something else would be preposterous."

"Aha-ha yes of course, but in these past five years Koshien has always been a bridge too far it seems."

Looking decidedly uncomfortable the principle continued. "Please forgive me but I just don't think our team will be able to cause an uproar this year again."

Laughing outright now Eijun gave up any pretense off focussing on the field and regarded both unknowledgable clowns in front of him.

Although he realised it was an incredibly rude thing to do he butted in, annoyed beyond measure.

"I don't think you've got anything to worry about really. Kataoka-kantoku made quite the team really when you care to look."

Looking down at him Kataoka recognized the expression Eijun had as the same one he had when telling him about his batting problems. Deciding to not interrupt, as he too found the people in front of him unworthy of explanation, he wondered what Sawamura would say.

"Do you truly believe that any regular ball could pass our iron wall defense? With Onii-san as second baseman and Mochi-nii as shortstop nothing will get past them!"

"Then we have Spitz-senpai in center field. He would flay us all if we created a situation in which he can't get to the ball!"

Slightly baffled at being lectured by a player the principal and vice-principal looked at Kataoka who in return nodded his consent; desperately trying to hide a smile and truly happy with the cover of his shades.

Continuing Eijun went on. "Leader-san is the most steady person on the team and Masuko-senpai; regardless of his love for pudding -and with a better bodybuilt this moment than big belly senpai- is our super heavyweight hitter.

Coughing to hide his snort Kataoka opted to not look at Sawamura but the field instead; lest he lost his composure.

"And lastly, although he has a shitty personality and too much snark for his own good, we have our resident tanuki. Even I have to admit that he is incredibly smart when it comes to baseball! So how on earth can you say you have no faith in this team?"

"And I didn't even mention amazing players like Shirasu-senpai who have no set position!"

"A-ahaha I guess you're right. And if Tanba gets in shape again with you I guess we'll have a real chance right ha-ha-ha."

Narrowing his eyes Eijun replied only with: "If you think it only depends on one or two players whether we win or lose a game you really don't get it." and turned towards the field again. He was done with these two for now.

"A-a-ah well, we are only concerned for your coach but don't worry too much about it. I'm sure you're only one step away from dominating the nation, we appreciate all of your sacrifices."

When he heard Sawamura snort at this ridiculous answer Kataoka decided to step in.

"Well as coach I will take responsibility for my actions and see this team through so the next time you decide to grace us with your presence on the field, please refrain from talking about unnecessary matters. And now please excuse us." and he dismissed them.

They indeed left but not before they both heard them mumble about results. They both ignored them and instead changed their focus towards the others.

Eijun noticed Kanemaru and Haruichi running and laughed when he noticed Kanemaru's face. He appeared to be quite unhappy doing some basic drills. Noticing Haruichi next to him he was relieved and a tad sad, he promised himself to work on their friendship asap again; he really missed it.

His thoughts got interrupted when he heard Rei-chan calling for him.

As he tried to turn around Kataoka-kantoku stopped him and he had to wait until she walked around him, only then noticing she wasn't alone; Miyuki and Chris-senpai where with her.

"CHRIS-SENPAI!" Eijun yelled and startled everyone around him except Miyuki who knew of course and started to laugh at seeing the latter's face.

"Sawamura sit down!" Kataoka admonished the overly-excited pitcher. Eijun, in all his enthusiasm, scrambled from the chair and was now standing wobbly on one foot, much to the coach's displeasure.

Not truly registering his coach's words in his excitement he almost started to hop towards the dumbfounded catcher and only Kataoka's swift interruption prevented him from face-planting himself.

Noticing that everyone moved as if to catch him with worried expressions made him realize his error and he turned red in embarrassment as he mumbled his apologies and seated himself once again.

Unbeknown of the reason, but noticing the cold look Miyuki wore, he looked behind him and saw Furuya standing there; apparently the latter joined them while he was making a fool of himself.

Rei-chan and Kataoka noticed the change in atmosphere immediately but decided not to comment and Chris looked slightly confused towards Miyuki.

Clearing her throat Rei-chan regarded both pitchers.

"From now on you two will get your pitcher's practice menu; with Sawamura-kun's adjusted towards his needs of course."

"Furuya-kun you will receive double the amount of regular practice and you Sawamura-kun will focus on healing your body first and in a couple of days will start with conditioning. Until then you won't move unsupervised from this chair understood!" and she regarded him with a stern look so he swiftly nodded his agreement.

He felt a slight pang of panic when he looked towards Miyuki. His bout of enthusiasm suddenly felt like a bad move. He adored Chris but really wanted to form a battery with Miyuki.

Rei-chan continued "Considering that you've already joined our first-string you'll take up your training and sign confirmations with Miyuki-kun Sawamura-kun." and she deftly ignored the relieved expression on both their faces and the burning aura around the other.

"Rei-chan, this guy has quite the control already and not to mention stamina. We only have to leash him so he won't injure himself further you know." Now that he indeed got Eijun assigned to him Miyuki's snark also returned now that he got Eijun where he wanted.

Snickering at his comment Rei-chan regarded Eijun. "Do you accept this arrangement Sawamura-kun?"

Eijun opened his mouth but before he could speak Furuya butted in.

"Why assign him to Miyuki-senpai and not someone else? Considering his earlier bout of enthusiasm he would fit with that other guy too so why don't you give Miyuki-senpai to me? Apparently he doesn't care but I do." and he waved dismissively in Eijun's direction.

Opening his mouth, he again got interrupted, but this time by Chris so he gave up on being able to say anything soon.

Walking towards the fuming pitcher Chris took hold of his hand.

"I hope we get along, I also prefer the other player over you. Nice to meet you lonely monster-kun."

Looking at Chris in surprise, not expecting this kind of behaviour from the normally gentle but now distant catcher he explained further.

"Furuya, this is our third-year second-string catcher Chris-kun. He's going to teach you stamina, control and teamplay. That should be enough of a reason for you to explain ourselves."

When Furuya left without another word Eijun looked at Miyuki and wondered whether it was going to be okay. The coaches also watched him walk away contemplatively.

Dismissing Furuya Eijun turned his attention towards more important matters.

"CHRIS-SENPAI, it's an honor to make your acquaintance again. Please help me as well in the areas this shitty catcher is lacking. Please be my guide alongside Miyuki!" and when he made to bow again Kataoka again intervened but this time vocally as well!

"Sawamura, if you can't sit still I'll forbid you from showing yourself until you're allowed to participate. One more time and I'll have you returned to your room!"

"B-but coach, this is Chris-senpai! How can you not be excited when being close to him" Eijun beamed at his coach.

Kataoka only pulled his eyebrows up in surprise while glancing at Takashima who apparently did her best not to laugh outright while looking at the over-excited pitcher. He truly looked like a kid in a candy store when he looked at Chris.

Slightly overwhelmed with the worship Sawamura was showing him Chris regarded Miyuki.

"Miyuki, who on earth is this guy and what have you been telling him?"

Bursting into full blown laughter Miyuki looked from Chris to Eijun and could only think that things would get mighty interesting from now onwards; especially when he noticed the looks everyone's cast towards him as if he held the secret to everything in his hands.

How surprised would people be if they knew that Eijun was way more dangerous and devious than him. He enjoyed looking forward to that moment already but for now he relished in everyone's stunned faces and Chris newly arrived trouble in the form of one Sawamura Eijun.

Chapter Text

Walking through the city, Miyuki admired the way shops and streets had gotten decorated for Christmas. Although it is considered a western holiday the Japanese adopted it and every year more and more people and shops participated in the event; illuminating the city even more.

The Christmas-spirit didn't exempt Seidou either, this being the reason he found himself shopping with Mochi, Shirasu, Chris-senpai and Ryou-san on their day-off from training. In a couple of days they had their annual Christmas party and gift exchange.

He internally debated whether or not to get something for Eijun in private as well. They started dating not too long ago but hadn't discussed anything like this beforehand. But knowing the romantic disposition his boyfriend had, Miyuki guessed he had his answer already and he didn't think Mochi would let him get off the hook either.

He sighed and wondered about what to get his boyfriend. He still felt slightly embarrassed to call him that but seeing Eijun's smile was definitely worth it.

He was secretly happy that Eijun wasn't with them; not knowing how he could buy something with the pitcher continuously looking over his shoulder. They would meet up later so they could all get back to Seidou together.

He was only surprised Eijun gave in so easily when Haruichi suggested to come with him, Kanemaru, Toujou and Furuya; his relationship with the other pitcher was still rocky to say the least. He probably went because he knew what Furuya meant to Haruichi even though Ryou-san still didn't approve of him and like this it diffused the situation for Ryou-san as well, knowing they had a chaperone Ryou-san trusted.

Sometimes Eijun was too nice for his own good Miyuki sighed. He had to make sure the other wouldn't get taken advantage off as he had the tendency to put everyone before himself. Really now, being a boyfriend was so much trouble but at least Eijun was well worth it.

He couldn't imagine being without the pitcher anymore. They really had come a long way and changed for the better as well. He really loved his life at the moment. That didn't mean they were finished with their plans though; they only built a steady foundation on which they could built further; even the senpai's graduation hadn't wasn't able to change that. They were still a very close-knit bunch.

Sighing in happiness he noticed the others looking at him as if they awaited his answer for something.

"You still with us Miyuki?" Mochi asked

Laughing and feeling embarrassed Miyuki only nodded.

"You didn't hear us hmm" Chris said and took pity on the catcher who looked so happy a minute ago and was now feeling uncomfortable. "We asked if we should take a short break and get something hot to drink."

"Sounds good, it is quite cold and a break would be welcome. It's still quite some time until we meet up with the others." Miyuki replied, relieved they weren't making fun of him. Knowing exactly why he spaced out.

As they made their way towards the little café Shirasu pointed out, he noticed Ryousuke coming to a halt mid-step with an extremely wicked smile on his face.

Wondering about the thing that had their ex second baseman looking like a cat that just got to the canary, they followed his line of sight and got wicked expressions themselves.

Walking leisurely towards them was the one person all of them couldn't forgive; as he hurt one of their own deliberately. It may have been roughly eight months since then but they had never forgotten. It seems Christmas came early this time as they exchanged knowing smiles; even Chris.

They wondered whether the Seikou pitcher was alone, noticing that he was walking slowly towards them but then they noticed another familiar face trailing a couple of steps behind him; identifying him as Seikou's catcher Masu. It would complicate matters a tad more now but nothing they couldn't handle.

At this point everyone was really happy Eijun wasn't with them as he would definitely try to stop them when they sneaked behind a promotional stand to talk strategy; the Seikou players stopped at the food-stand Ogawa apparently wanted to try.

They knew they didn't have much time and had to act quickly. They wouldn't hurt the other guy but they wanted to make sure he would remember what came next for a very long time. No one hurt one of their own and could get away with it. Seidou never forgets!

"Okay what are we going to do?" Shirasu asked and Chris hummed, deeply in thought.

"I know just the thing" Ryousuke answered and the others shivered seeing his expression.

"I guess they don't know about Chris right?" and at the other's confirming nod proceeded "I want Chris to delay that catcher so we can get to Ogawa. After we've taken Ogawa Chris, meet with us at the light show in Roppongi but not before he realizes Ogawa's gone okay?"

Chris nodded, walking towards the Seikou players; happy he looked them up after learning about Sawamura's injuries so he had some clue about the player he was trying to engage in conversation. He left the rest of the plan in Ryousuke's hand; they were on a tight schedule after all.

Reaching the stand he tapped Masu on his shoulder, waiting till the other turned around before engaging him in a conversation.

"You are Seikou's catcher Masu-san aren't you?" and the other boy nodded. "I saw you playing and was impressed with your game-calling."

Smiling the other boy regarded Chris and shook his hand before they immersed in a conversation about catching and game-calling. Chris not even having introduced himself; they knew the Seikou players were hit hard after Ogawa's behavior, resulting in their coach's suspension and a declining reputation.

Chris felt some pity for the catcher; it spoke volumes about his character that he was still willing to interact with his battery partner, even after all he put them through.

The other boy was so happy to talk to someone who showed interest and knew what he was talking about without being sneered at for being a Seikou player that he let his guard down, and it almost made Chris feel guilty. Since his ire was not directed at this person he had to admit that he liked the conversation; it gave him new insights to explore.

It was at that moment Ryousuke decided to pounce upon their unwitting victim who was listening to the conversation with a bored look while eating his crêpe.

Shirasu and Ryousuke snuck up from behind Masu and when Ogawa saw Ryousuke's and Shirasu's face he froze in his tracks; instantly recognizing them.

They beckoned for him and he knew he had no choice when he saw the promise of retribution lurking in the pink-haired boy's eyes if he dared to make a scene.

Ogawa had always known that what he did would bite him in the arse one day. It was also the reason he always asked for someone to accompany him even if no one believed him; especially after so much time had passed but still reluctantly complying.

He could only selfishly hope they wouldn't hurt him. It may be the off-season, but he really didn't want to miss out on any training. His position on the team was on very thin ice ever since the incident and he was working hard to make it up to them, getting injured would definitely put a dent in his plans since his teammates would probably think he deserved it anyway for all the trouble he had brought them.

He never had the nerve to show up at Seidou and apologize to the pitcher he hurt; too afraid off the backlash he would receive when showing up so he cowardly tried to stay away from parts of the city he thought he could bump into a Seidou player but not it seemed a wasted effort.

He knew he lost even more respect and credibility when he refused to go with his coach and captain to go to Seidou to apologize but he couldn't change that now. It was only after everything happened and his teammate's rejection of him that he started to realize the errors he made and felt guilty after hearing about the injuries the Seidou pitcher had gotten because of his reckless behavior.

He did as the pink-haired boy requested and walked towards them, shivering when Ryousuke slung an arm around his shoulders and started to lead the way meanwhile texting to someone, the crêpe forgotten and dripping chocolate.

After a couple of steps he saw two other's joining them, recognizing them as the pretty-boy catcher and that green-haired demon. He didn't think it was possible but his stomach plummeted even lower at seeing the furious anger in their eyes.

In the meantime Ryousuke texted someone on his phone and they all wondered what the other boy had cooked up when they reached the Keyakizaka behind Roppongi Hills; the trees beautifully decorated with brilliant blue LEDs and leading towards the main-show: the Mid-town Christmas Light Show; a big field completely filled with LED's which changed depending on theme or music.

As he finished his texting Ryousuke led them all towards the small platform erected in the middle. This year they apparently built a special couple-seat in the middle of the field to enhance the romantic couple-atmosphere even more.

When they reached the platform Miyuki, Mochi and Shirasu looked at Ryousuke expectantly.

Smirking Ryousuke started to talk. "O-ga-wa-ku-n, you'll be a nice boy and stay here won't you? I'm sure you'll know whenever you're allowed to leave. Even someone like you should figure it out I hope." And Ogawa only nodded, wondering whatever they could do in a crowded place like this.

Ryousuke signaled for the others to come with him and they left the confused boy on the platform.

"Oy Ryou-san, are we just going to leave him there? That doesn't seem like any punishment at all you know even if the people behind him get annoyed."

"Just wait a sec Youichi, it should get interesting really soon. I just have to make sure he won't run before I'm done with him." And he looked towards Ogawa who was still following him with frightened but also confused eyes and nodded. "This seems to be an appropriate place. Now let the show commence!" and he typed something on his phone again.

Suddenly people around them started to exclaim in surprise and the other's also looked at the changed lights not believing what they saw right in front of them.

Right on the field the white constellation pattern suddenly changed and a big white arrow pointed towards the startled pitcher alongside some text which read:

'Injuring people for selfish reasons is my way of playing (life?)'

'I'm also too much of a chicken to apologize (or is it arrogant / unrepentant?)'

'I didn't take any responsibility for my actions until forced'

'My team's reputation plummeted and I let my teammates down but didn't care as I had an unreasonable grudge towards an innocent player'

As they heard surprised muttering around them and fingers pointing towards the pitcher on the platform the others looked at Ryousuke in surprise and admiration.

"Damn Ryou-san, this is genius." Miyuki smirked

"Look at the people, they're getting really angry. Apparently someone recognized him and it's making its round now" Shirasu said not feeling sorry at all. A bit of public humiliation in no way weighed against the weeks it took Sawamura to heal fully again.

"If I didn't love you already I would now Ryou-san" Mochi exclaimed and kissed Ryousuke right on the spot; laughing at the ingenious plan the other cooked up in that incredibly short time.

"Considering the other guy is still watching you Ryousuke, I guess you have even more planned don't you?" they heard Chris say; the latter finally catching up on them and actually laughing at the scene in front of him.

"Of course" Ryousuke said and right that minute a new text appeared:

'To show the world your true colors: enjoy the song that sums you and your plays up!'

And at that exact moment the music playing changed.

The crowd at once started to laugh, finding it a fitting song; especially when you changed it to having baseball metaphors.

"I don't want to know how you managed this Ryousuke, since knowing less is better if we ever get questioned about this, but that's a truly nice song to sum this up. How on earth did you think off 'No more mister nice guy?"

"Well, when we had our niece over Haruichi had to watch 'The Swan Princess' repeatedly. I found it quite fitting for our sacrificial lamb." And he snickered when he saw the tears rolling down Ogawa's face now that everyone was pointing and laughing at him and he fled the second the field showed the last message before turning back into its original state:

'True colors will always surface; make sure this is a lesson well learned!'

Walking back towards the café, this whole endeavor not having taken much time at all, they congratulated Ryousuke with this incredibly scheme of revenge in such a short time.

They decided to only tell the former first-string except Eijun about it, since Ryousuke filmed the whole time; as if he'd ever pass up on blackmail material.

There was just one thing they wondered about so Mochi decided to ask.

"Chris-senpai, how did it go with that other catcher?"

"Hmm? Oh we had a nice conversation and I kept talking to him until he noticed Ogawa was gone and he excused himself. I doubt he knew I was there to distract him. He excused himself before even asking my name."

"Do you think Ogawa will tattle-tale?" Shirasu asked generally.

"If he does he'll have to answer to me" Mochi said menacingly.

"I doubt we have to worry about that" Ryousuke said and as the other's pulled their brows he elaborated.

"I made sure to tell him before we walked away, that if he dared to, this would seem like a walk in the park next time I come across him, if I don't hunt him down first, I like to think he got the message but if not I'm happy to cross paths again." And everyone shivered at hearing the hopeful tone he sported.

They continued their shopping and after meeting up with Eijun and the others they made their way back to Seidou, where Eijun was conveniently sent off with Shirasu to provide everyone in the first-string with drinks, much to Eijun's dislike but not daring to complain as it was Mochi who asked him this time and Shirasu accompanied him.

After having showed everyone the footage of their revenge; providing the graduated players with a movie message, everyone agreed it to be fitting.

And when the next day some video's showed up on the internet about the Seikou's pitcher's predicament no one commented on it except for Eijun who wondered out loud about who would do such a thing with the others wisely keeping quiet.

And if Kataoka-kantoku held a half-hearted speech about team-play versus the need for revenge, knowing exactly who it was that did this, and let them off early, no one commented as they went to prepare for their Christmas party; everyone content that at least one matter was settled…..for now.

Chapter Text

"Miyuki Kazuya! What's there to laugh at?" Eijun asked exasperated when he noticed Miyuki laughing himself into a stitch.

"You never fail me, Sawamura" Miyuki said knowingly and at that Eijun turned bright red, knowing exactly why Miyuki was laughing and embarrassed being caught worshipping again. But it was such a long time ago that he actually got to see Chris-senpai again that he couldn't contain himself.

Regarding the still laughing catcher in front of him he frowned. "If you'd been at least one percent as nice as Chris-senpai, I would be happy seeing you all the time too you know!" and at this sentence poor Chris didn't even know what to think anymore. As far as he knew he didn't even know the guy and here he was being complimented like they were old friends.

With a surprised expression he glanced towards Kataoka who only looked merrily at the pitcher. It seemed they were right in following Miyuki's recommendation to get Chris to help out with the pitchers even though he had to primarily catch for Furuya.

Kataoka knew Miyuki admired Chris and was unhappy with the way he'd gotten his first string starter spot. It was also the same time Chris started to behave strangely and Miyuki feeling sad about it.

But still, it is a risk asking Chris to help out considering a lot of pitchers quit because of his guidance but Miyuki assured them that even though Chris seemed unreasonably hard, he was still extremely knowledgeable and cares for the pitchers even if you don't see it at first glance. He really wanted to get Chris to come back and help out, if anyone could reach out for him it would be Sawamura.

So in the end they gave in, telling Miyuki they would give it a shot on a trial base whilst pairing him up with Sawamura nonetheless; knowing Sawamura needed lesser guidance and therefore giving Miyuki the opportunity to help out Miyauchi with Tanba and Kawakami. If the results with Furuya were satisfactory they would see if they could expand Chris' help towards the first-string players as well.

Ignoring the doubtful look on Miyuki's face when he said that, he made for dismissing him when his next words made him halt; "I wouldn't gamble on Furuya being the solution coach but let's see how things work out shall we?" and he smirked, but not like normal, this was a devious little smirk as if he knew something they knew not and it caught the coaches by surprise. Before they could ask to clarify however Miyuki bowed and made his way back

Glancing at each other they wondered about what on earth was going on.

Ever since Sawamura entered the team things had been strange at times. Nothing bad, but strange nonetheless and they wondered how Miyuki fit into that pattern exactly. This was especially clear for anyone who cared to look at the supposed animosity Sawamura had in public towards Miyuki that definitely changed when they thought they were in private. Those two were a curious case. It almost seemed as if forming a battery for the first time that day was fated and they were at the start of something they'd never seen before. Whether it was good or bad, only time could tell.

For now however they would observe and stand back, acknowledging that it failed spectacularly already, and see how it all work out in the end and only take action if they felt it necessary. Curiously enough they'd never felt so sure of a team to win as with this one and it made them relax slightly as excitement took over to see how far these boys could get.

As Kataoka's thoughts turned towards the present he noticed Tanba lecturing Furuya for his fielding as Chris called for him to join him for some practice.

"Aaargh I'm so jealous, I want some guidance from Chris-senpai too" Sawamura cried and Miyuki only snorted, smirking knowingly towards the coach.

"Aah Sawamura, does that mean you want to trade places with Furuya? I can ask you know?"

"What are you saying you stupid tanuki?!" Eijun yelled slightly panicked. "Chris-senpai may be my idol but you are the one I want to form a battery with, even though your personality sucks! Don't make me say it over and over!" and he huffed in annoyance.

Trying to wrap his mind around the complexity that was Sawamura Eijun Kataoka only wondered how this boy ticked and shook his head. Trying to keep up with this boy was exhausting and he wished Miyuki good luck in keeping him in check. Although he seemed strangely capably of that already which led to another mystery. The distanced Miyuki actually cared about someone other than himself. Not only that but he also took a vested interest in that person. Wonders never cease to happen huh?

Leaving the two boys to themselves he made his way towards the bullpen to see how their newest training combo fared.

Reaching he stepped into the shadow's and noticed Takashima doing the same. The only one missing seemed to be Oota again; dismissing that for later; for now observing them stretch and talk.

"Your face says you envy him. You want to be there with them soon don't you?"

"You know, it's been half an hour already, how long do you plan on wasting my time stretching? If I can't have Miyuki-senpai then let me at least pitch some balls now that we're in the bullpen."

Regarding the pitcher in front of him he understood his dilemma immediately but didn't care.

"Your overall physique is acceptable but still weak. Your fingers are long but you don't take care of your nails."

"Hah?" Furuya asked surprised, not sure what the other meant with all this.

"However, you won't be able to become our ace in the future nor getting a chance at a battery with Miyuki."

Catching him by surprise Furuya only looked at him, slowly starting to boil and when he made to walk away Chris' next words stopped him dead cold.

"During the senpai-game; why did you choose to ignore the catcher's signs and did you pitch only whatever you wanted? Do you take us catchers as nothing more than a catching machine?"

"If a catcher can't catch my ball he isn't worthy playing with. I only need someone who can catch my balls to make sure we can win." He replied.

Sighing Chris could only say: "A complete greenhorn huh" and walked towards the practice plate. "I won't expect much from you so forget about it. Just pitch me some balls."

'Calling me inexperienced and not expecting anything from me huh? Guess this guy can't catch my pitch either. I feel like it's been a mistake coming to Seidou if Miyuki-senpai can't catch for me.' and he readied himself to pitch. 'I guess he too is afraid of my pitches if he believes he needs full gear huh. Another useless one it seems.'

He let the ball loose and wasn't surprised to see it fly past him. What he did notice was the look on Chris' face turning even more menacing.

"My mitt showed you were to throw your ball right, where were you throwing?" Chris asked.

'Who on earth does that guy think he is? He can't catch my ball but tells me where to throw? This guy sucks.'

"Overpowering your opponent? Not listening to your catcher? Why on earth do you play baseball? A player has to carry the burden of a whole team when he stands on the mound but are you playing to only satisfy yourself?" focusing his attention back to the catcher he got caught off guard.

"You would never understand the hardships we've been through these past three years. As you are now you're less than useless." And he walked away with a final look of disgust towards Furuya, leaving the other behind; completely stunned.

In the shadow's both Kataoka and Rei sported identical frowns before they too made their way back towards the main-field.

---

"You're looking especially dark today Furuya-kun" Kominato Ryousuke asked with apparent malicious pleasure. "Having a falling out with Chris already hmm?"

"Kyahahaha it kinda sucks for Chris-senpai to be paired with you hmm?" Mochi said "Quite some pitchers quit because of him, you're going to be one too?"

"Ah well Youichi that has nothing to do with us now right? Let's continue shall we?" and at Kuramochi's nod they left the pitcher behind, stewing in the results of his own making.

Ignoring them Furuya went to walk away when he heard Haruichi calling for him. Not having spoken in a while he had to admit that he missed having the pink-haired boy around him but didn't know what he did wrong and how to make up for it.

"Furuya-kun, Chris-senpai asked me to give this to you. Apparently it's your new daily practice menu."

Taking the scroll and opening it, he dropped it before he even read the first three options.

"A person who leaves without even catching one of my balls has no right to tell me what to do."

"Are you sure it's a good idea to ignore your senpai? Kataoka-kantoku made him your battery partner right? I don't think angering the coach further will do you any good Furuya-kun." Haruichi said as he desperately tried to make the other understand. "Look there may be a lot of things but you won't have to repeat them often!" and they made their way towards the indoor training hall hoping to get Furuya started right away. That was until they saw the people already occupying it.

"Oy Miyuki, I'm beyond bored now you know. When do you think coach will let me train again?"

"I wouldn't push your luck Sawamura, coach has no mercy for injuries so I wouldn't count on anything too much until you can ditch your sling and the doctor clears your foot!"

Sporting an extremely sour look on his face, acknowledging Miyuki's right (for once mind you, only this once!) he sighed. "Considering Tanba's training with Miyauchi and Kawakami's busy conditioning I guess I shall be generous."

Seeing the now mischievous look on Eijun's face Miyuki started to sweat at those words. "Whatever do you mean Sawamura?"

"I guess I'll have to teach you how to bunt properly now don't I partner?" Eijun said grinning. "Especially since you suck hitting when no one is on base no?" and grinned even harder when Miyuki spluttered that being something of the past.

"Oho, is that so? In that case you don't mind expanding your arsenal even further don't you? A good player always expands his knowledge right?" and at seeing the helpless look on Miyuki's face this time he knew he won and laughed heartedly at the other's sullen expression.

"Remind me to stay away from you next time you're bored Sawamura!" Miyuki muttered.

"Now where would my fun be if I did that senpai?" Eijun answered cheekily and it totally caught Miyuki off-guard making him blush slightly.

At the same a new voice entered their conversation. "Kyahahaha he got you there Miyuki, just admit your defeat already!"

"Mochi-nii" Eijun exclaimed, happy seeing the other. "You're here for batting practice too?" and at the other's confirming nod exclaimed: "Great now I can teach you too!"

"Teach him what Eijun-chan?" Ryousuke asked while entering, only having heard the end of the conversation.

"Onii-san! You've come at the exact right time as I; Sawamura Eijun will be most willing to teach you teamies how to bunt properly!" and Eijun dutifully ignored the sighs and moans coming from the other two as he regarded Ryousuke. Eijun knew he couldn't make the other do anything but also knew that Ryousuke rarely denied himself a chance to grow further.

"And how do you plan on teaching us?" Ryousuke asked and when he noticed Eijun's look switching towards Miyuki, who in turn looked even more menacingly, he knew he just had to take part in this; especially when Eijun confirmed his thoughts by saying: "Why by making Miyuki my example of course! He knows how I bunt after all!"

Ignoring the spluttering catcher Ryou-san and Mochi knew they couldn't let this opportunity to tease the catcher pass.

"Oy Eijun, I guess that means you won't mind if we ask the others to participate as well right?" Mochi asked him, fully knowing the answer and relishing even more in the obvious look of horror on Miyuki's face. 'We're going to enjoy this!' he thought and shared an amused look with Ryousuke. They knew full well Miyuki hated being in the spotlight if it wasn't in a match.

But who could pass up on an opportunity like this; Miyuki being guided by Sawamura to teach all of them. It was too sweet and Ryousuke signed towards Mochi that he should go and get the others; he would make sure that Miyuki wouldn't escape in the meantime.

Noticing Eijun's eyes on him Ryousuke looked towards the pitcher and got caught off guard at seeing the obvious laughter in the wounded pitchers eyes when he nodded towards the catcher.

'Heh, he truly is a devious little devil hmm. I can truly enjoy being around someone like him! Ryousuke thought and smirked in understanding. He even had to bite out a laugh when in response Eijun grinned back and started to tell Miyuki about what he expected of him; relishing in the 'deer caught in the headlights' look.

Observing all that, Furuya turned and walked away. While uninterested in the going-ons of the other pitcher he was slightly sad to notice that Haruichi apparently didn't think the same. Still ignoring the slight pang in his chest he trudged his way towards the now empty bullpen, set on throwing at least some today. It wasn't so different from throwing into snow piles after all.

---

Having noticed Kuramochi run around the field talking to everyone in the first-string, Kataoka and Rei wondered about what was going on this time. And when the complete first-string stopped with what they were doing and followed Kuramochi towards the indoor training hall they were even more curious.

They also wondered where Kanemaru found a chair with wheels and for what purpose it was when the latter passed in front of them.

Sharing a glance they decided to follow, but wait a little until whatever it was they were doing was occupying them so they wouldn't be noticed.

That was also the exact the moment when after they stuck their heads around the door, they had to immediately retreat so their laughter wouldn't be heard.

They had to agree that they hadn't ever in their life seen one Miyuki Kazuya so unhappy before, being set into the right bunting position by one Sawamura Eijun who, on his now rolling chair, took every opportunity to admonish the catcher on his stance.

But it wasn't only the catcher that got the full brunt. Having the freedom of a chair with wheels, steering it with one foot, apparently was enough to roll around and command others to take this seriously as well. And they had to admit when after a while they moved towards the batting cages and with Sawamura correcting their form even further, they started to bunt quite well.

It was only a start but especially for the people who never could or never had to bunt before it felt great finally being able to do it.

For the ones who could bunt more or less already it was a great exercise as well as they noticed that Sawamura's stance made bunting much easier and they made contact more often.

Noticing the value of this exercise, Rei made a mental note to increase their bunting practice a bit during the upcoming weeks. It was after all something Sawamura could do even while injured and best they did it officially as to not disrupt their training schedule as it did today.

Smiling fondly she even noticed that he made sure to keep his promise with the coach; he didn't break any rules Kataoka set for him.

She knew they soon had to end it though, they were going at it for 1,5 hours already. Sawamura was still recovering and on pain-killers. It wouldn't do to overexert himself after two days of being injured after all. Not to mention that the doctor would have their hide.

Apparently having come to the same conclusion, Kataoka cleared his throat, catching everyone's attention at once.

"I think it's time for you to wrap this up. Ten laps around the field should help out for the missed conditioning for today. After that, make sure you cool down properly before preparing for dinner."

Groaning collectively, but fully aware abandoning their regular practice would be met with consequences, they made for the field but they stopped when they heard the coach address one specific person.

"Oh and Sawamura, since this was your idea, make sure you guide them in their running. I'm sure you're capable of keeping them going right?" and this everyone groaned even louder; especially when they saw the stars in the boys eyes.

"OF COURSE BOSS. THIS SAWAMURA EIJUN WILL MAKE SURE TO GUIDE THEM UNTIRINGLY THROUGH THIS ORDEAL. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR FAITH IN ME!"

Having arrived at the field, Miyuki dropped Eijun once again and joined the others. And he cringed in sympathy as well when Eijun took a deep breath and started: "Well you lot, let's get these laps over with. Set, ready, staaaaart……" and as they made their rounds, they dutifully tried to ignore their overenthusiastic pitcher but secretly happy that he was at least capable to participate in some part of their training.

---

The next day had Eijun sitting at the sidelines watching practice again. He was incredibly happy that after today he would be allowed to slowly put pressure on his foot again, if the doctor allowed it. He couldn't wait for his doctor's appointment. Sitting in his room all day until practice was slowly killing him.

When he looked towards his right he noticed a familiar head walking towards the dorms. Not one for letting an opportunity pass, he carefully moved around and yelled: "Chris-senpai, good work today!"

Chris on his turn was startled and as he looked around he saw Sawamura sitting. He still didn't know what to think about this strange kid. Jun and Tetsu seemed to like the kid but they were slightly confused when he told them he didn't know him prior. Apparently something happened to make them think otherwise, he was quite sure of it.

Noticing the expectant look on the other's face he relented a bit and waved in goodbye; and in turn got stunned by the happy look on the others face at his gesture.

Shaking his head he turned around and continued walking, knowing his father would be waiting right now not noticing the considering look Eijun was regarding him with.

That was how Toujou found him a little while later.

"What are you looking at Sawamura?" he asked.

"Ah Toujou, it was nothing. You're without Kanemaru today?" Eijun asked while shaking his head to rid himself of unnecessary thoughts.

"We aren't joined by the hip you know." Toujou answered teasingly.

At that Eijun only snorted, knowing full well they were rarely apart. "One could have thought different." He teased back.

Seeing the other turning slightly red he relented. "So the day after tomorrow is the Kantou Tournament huh?"

"Yes, and it seems all team members are obliged to go. What are you going to do?" he asked Eijun.

"I guess I have to wait and see what the doctor says, but I doubt they would let me play."

His face morphing into full surprise Toujou regarded Eijun with a disbelieving "You actually thought coach would let you play like this?"

"Haha relax, relax. Even I understand it is impossible right now, that doesn't mean I don't want to however."

"I guess I can understand that a bit. But right now I can only watch from the stands anyway. But I guess we could treat it as learning about possible future rivals right? And who knows. Maybe we'll be facing them together then!"

Grinning at the other boy Eijun could only agree. "I can't wait for that day to arrive!"

---

After clearance by the doctor the previous day for his foot Eijun was finally allowed to walk small distances. He was only allowed to participate in morning classes for the last day and if that went over well and he had no problems in the weekend he was allowed to attend classes completely. He was still banned from practice for the next week though.

All this couldn't contain his enthusiasm for attending today's game however. He was sad he couldn't participate but happy to change venues for a while.

He and Miyuki didn't expect much from this game; they'd lost this one before and Tanba was still not in top condition; but that shouldn't spoil the fun.

Eijun knew Miyuki would pour everything in this game to see if they could win it; it wouldn't do to get on the field with a losing mentality after all and considering it was Miyuki it would hurt his pride to give up without a proper fight.

That didn't mean he wasn't realistic but until the game is played you'll never know whether or not the outcome will be the same. They changed quite some stuff already after all.

And so it began: Seidou's first match of the Kantou Tournament Preliminaries against Yokohama Kouhoku Institute.

Seidou played well but at the end of the seventh inning they were losing by one point. Kawakami surprised everyone by shutting the Yokohama line-up down to only three runs.

Yokohama was considered a veteran and keeping them from increasing the score gap was a huge achievement. It appeared as if Kawakami continued to grow steadily from last season's matches and it made Miyuki extremely happy.

He wasn't surprised at the call for a pitcher change though, considering Nori's stamina was dwindling fast. They really had to work on that now that he'd become more and more reliable. Miyuki wondered if Nori himself would have ever imagined being a starter or pitching (nearly) complete games. It seemed like a far-away dream last year.

Realistically speaking, it was only possible since Eijun was out of bounds of course but that didn't mean they couldn't see the growth Nori had made and it put even more pressure on Tanba.

"Seidou High School announces a change in players. At the top of the eighth inning substituting Kawakami-kun as pitcher will be Tanba-kun, pitcher Tanba-kun."

"So they are finally sending their ace out hmm" Yokohama's coach said. "They're really underestimating us sending their ace in this late. But let's not….heeeh? Oy isn't Tanba's Seidou's ace? Why isn't he wearing the ace number? Who is it then?"

The whole stadium erupted in whispers and pointed stares at seeing the number on Tanba's back.

"Why on earth is he playing with number 19 on his back?"

"What is Kataoka thinking?"

"Does that mean that Seidou has no ace right this moment? Isn't that unheard off?"

And on it went.

Noticing the change in atmosphere and Tanba's rigid stance, Miyuki wondered if Tanba would overcome this.

He had to hand it to the coach though. It appeared to be a gracious gesture to let him play while being suspended before, but one could wonder if not having to play at all was worse than this. It seemed he didn't think Tanba's punishment was over yet.

As much as Kataoka-kantoku changed, it appeared that his short fuse considering people slacking off stayed the same and it relieved him. That would mean that this time, instead like last time, he would hopefully keep his values the same.

Miyuki also knew that this was a way to protect Nori. Nori did really well these last two games and they couldn't afford for him to lose his confidence once again by not winning twice in a row with him pitching.

Checking the Yokohama dugout he sighed. They seemed completely hyped up after noticing this strange turn of events.

And when their first batter stepped into the batter's box he had his fears confirmed.

"Guess Seidou get's worse every year hmm" the batter mumbled.

"Hahaha, then won't you be kind and go easy on us?" he asked to the annoyance of his opponent who wondered why the catcher didn't look perturbed in the slightest.

Back in the stands everyone was watching Tanba as he struggled to get the batter out. More than one pair of eyes travelled towards were Sawamura was sitting as if hoping he could make a difference.

Noticing the looks Furuya huffed with contempt, something that didn't seem to get past a specific catcher.

"That's the difference between you and Sawamura. You aren't someone we want to rely on."

"Oh you've said something?"

"Haven't I said it already? It's impossible for you to become the ace as long as Sawamura is on this team!" and at that he turned and started to walk towards the exit; knowing they couldn't win this game with Tanba in this condition, when Furuya's voice stopped him.

"Those are some pretty big words for someone who got himself replaced by a second year. If you think you have something of value to tell me then back it up with your actions. You haven't caught any of my pitches yet nor are you ever at practice. As long as you aren't in first-string you have no right to talk like that to me. Considering you're the one who gave up in the end."

"Gave up huh. I guess you're right. I just hope you won't become like me then Furuya-kun." and at that he really did walk away leaving Furuya behind.

In the end Tanba's weak pitching was too much to overcome however strongly the batters tried to make a comeback and they had to admit defeat. That didn't mean they didn't gain anything from this match and Nori was the man of the match, having pushed Yokohama to the max.

As they slowly made their way back towards the bus, Eijun noticed Chris standing next to the bus already and was shocked at noticing the even deader expression on his face. He wondered what on earth happened to make the catcher look like that.

He gave Miyuki a nudge and when he got his attention nodded towards the other catcher with worry evidently on his face. Miyuki looked in the direction Eijun nodded and when he noticed the look on his face frowned in worry but unsure of what to do. Of course one could always count on Eijun.

"Ah Spitz-senpai, Leader-san!" he heard and turned around.

"What do you want Sawamura?" Jun answered and he looked surprised when all he got for a reaction was a thumb pointing towards Chris.

Wondering why he would point towards Chris, they looked over and when they noticed his expression made their way towards him immediately, sparing no words for the other boys anymore.

"Guess you knew hmm?" Miyuki said.

"Of course I knew you stupid Tanuki. I'm not stupid you know." and with a sigh he continued. "Let's get on the bus shall we, there's nothing we can do now anyway."

He got caught by surprise however when Miyuki turned him around and swept him into his arms in one go. Letting out an undignified squeak at that Eijun tried get himself put down again but Miyuki refused on the account that he definitely couldn't climb into the bus himself, blissfully ignoring the fact that he had done so when coming here.

"Stop struggling Eijun" he said and he caught Eijun off guard when he addressed him like that in public. "It was a nice thing you've done so take it as your reward okay?" and Eijun noticed the other's eyes turn slightly pink.

Not knowing how to react to that Eijun just complied, unaware of Mochi's and Ryousuke's pulled eyebrows at this new state of affairs.

They shared a look and wondered if those two noticed themselves how they behaved around each other. For now they decided to keep observing to see where this would go, not completely sure whether their hunches were correct.

Chris on the other hand appeared to have lost some of his hauntingly dark expression after Jun and Tetsu joined him but remained tight lipped; refusing to worry the other two and prevent certain future bloodshed if Jun ever heard what happened.

His eyes were drawn however towards another boy, who was regarding him with worry and he nodded to signal that he was alright. Strangely happy when the other's expression lightened in a small smile which turned radiant when he noticed Jun and Tetsu mother him.

He huffed a smile, completely catching them off-guard as he told them to board their own bus and reassuring him that he was fine. He sent a last look of gratitude towards the pitcher but instead of meeting his eyes, he met Miyuki's who appeared to soften when they met. It caught him even further off guard, especially when the catcher only shrugged helplessly towards Sawamura with rolling his eyes as if to say the pitcher just couldn't help it.

Not knowing what to do he just nodded and turned around to board the bus. He kept wondering about what was happening. Since meeting that pitcher his life got thrown into a loop even though they didn't even really talk yet.

No one could have foreseen what would happen at practice the next day.

Practice started normal with Furuya in fielding being yelled at for his appalling fielding with everyone wondering how he ever made it into Seidou.

"It really is annoying that a guy with no baseball knowledge, apart from throwing and with an attitude like that, gets promoted to second string while we have to run and do basic drills." Kanemaru exclaimed observing his teammates.

Rei-chan overhearing this conversation called for Furuya to join her.

"Well Furuya-kun how did it go? Did you think you learned anything from the game yesterday? Baseball is a nine-people's sport after all and there is much more to it than only pitching."

She despaired slightly at seeing the uninterested look on the boy's face.

Unaware to the both of them Sawamura made his way towards them, on his way to fulfill a request by Miyuki, but stopped when he noticed the atmosphere. He didn't want to interrupt after all but wasn't above listening in as long as they didn't notice him.

"You know, out of all the players on this team he is probably the one who knows about baseball and a pitcher's specific needs. He truly has an admirable skill in judging others potential. That's why I partnered him with you Furuya-kun."

She sighed even harder when she again got no response at all.

"Kataoka and I assigned you to Chris especially in the hopes that you'd learn this really fast but have you learned anything from him? Considering that I'm the second-string advisor as well I was thinking of letting you pitch in their next practice game but with you like that it won't happen I guess." She knew if she had to sigh one more time she would turn grey beyond her years.

"I wonder if we chose the wrong person to partner with you. You don't seem to work together really well and I don't think it's because Chris is reluctant to open up to you. You're the same after all."

At this Furuya finally responded. But not in the way she hoped.

"If that guy thinks he can judge me, he himself should work harder." Opening her eyes wide in surprise Takashima wasn't sure how to respond to this, but was even thrown further into a loop when the pitcher continued.

"Someone who has given up and refuses to catch my pitches is beneath my notice. The only one worthy at Seidou is Miyuki-senpai after all. Even now I can still imagine the sound my ball must make in that person's mitt."

"I understand your feelings Furuya-kun but there is no need to be hasty. I really believe you're able to grow with Chris' guidance so working towards that goal should be your main priority."

"I don't want a person for a partner that is of no use to me. I can't understand why that kind of useless guy can still remain on the team. If he refuses to play he should just drop out."

Hearing something snap they looked up right in time to see Sawamura charge towards Furuya; hitting him squarely in the face, attracting everyone's attention with his furious yelling.

"You goddamn forsaken bastard! I don't care if you were the best pitcher in the universe; it still doesn't give you the right to talk crap about other people; especially not with such a disgusting attitude you're having, talk about the pot and the kettle!"

Wiping his hand across his mouth Furuya looked up in surprise, startled to see the rage reflected in his eyes.

"Chris-senpai is a million times better than you could ever hope to be, whether it's playing or character wise and you have absolutely no right to trash talk him like that!!" He bowed forward and grabbed the startled pitcher's shirt while pulling him close.

"I dare you to say those words again after you've truly tried to learn and understand him. Until then you're nothing but a spoiled toddler, unable to cope with things not going your way. You are completely unworthy of someone of Chris-senpai's caliber." and Eijun released him, ignoring the throbbing in his shoulder and the light twitch in his foot he got when he ran towards the other guy.

Turning unapologetically towards Rei-chan he continued as if nothing was amiss but not leaving the other pitcher out of his sight.

"Rei-chan, Miyuki asked for the game-statistics of yesterday's game. He said you'd have them with you."

Having been completely caught off-guard by Sawamura's behavior Rei-chan only nodded and grabbed the book. But not before she berated him for hitting the other boy.

It was the first time Sawamura ignored her, completely unapologetic and refused to apologize. He knew he would get a stern talking too from Kataoka-kantoku, it could result in further consequences, but for now he was still too angry with the other boy to even consider it.

Turning he made for his way back when he noticed the surprised looks on everyone's face, but it was Chris-senpai's startled face that solidified his resolve even further and he only nodded towards him before walking towards Miyuki, ignoring everyone around him.

Without any words he handed him the notebook and turned towards his chair, sinking down on it gratefully when he reached it.

The silence still reverberated across the field and Eijun sighed, knowing he had to do something to get the attention off his person; he was in deep enough shit already and they didn't need to find out that his shoulder and foot hurt like hell as well.

"I suppose that if you don't want to run laps like last time you continue before coach shows up you know!" he yelled and as if a bucket of water was dropped upon them they startled and training resumed. But not without glancing towards the chair where their injured pitcher sat.

One would think people would regard him with disdain or even fear but they only ever looked at him with something akin to pride in their eyes; as if he did something they'd longed to do for a long time now.

They felt bad however that he alone would face the consequences now. Fighting wasn't dealt with easily at Seidou and when they noticed the coach coming towards him with Rei-chan at his side they started to worry. They could only wonder why it was just Sawamura that didn't seem worried at all.

"Sawamura" Kataoka spoke and when Eijun looked up to him he knew he just couldn't punish the boy too hard. He hadn't acted out of maliciousness after all but out of the need to protect a precious teammember. That didn't mean such behavior could be excused though.

"I expect a three feet essay about self-control and alternative ways on how to properly deal with situations like this. Also, for your first day back in full training, you will only run punishment laps understood? I will also not force you to apologize but I can't have team members in disarray with each other. Make sure this doesn't influence any future team play." and with that he walked off.

"Oh and Sawamura, that essay is due in two days, make sure it's done."

Having stoically accepted everything his coach said, at that last part his mouth dropped. It would mean he couldn't be at practice and would be holed up even more inside his room!!

Mumbling about the unfairness of it all he threw a pouty face after their coach. Knowing full well he got of lightly but unhappy nonetheless. When he was wondering whether or not he should go back to his room Miyuki showed up beside him with a bottle and painkillers.

Gracing him with a grateful smile Eijun took them when he remembered something. "I guess this can be considered payback for what I said back then hmm Miyuki?" he said and when he saw Miyuki's eyes crinkle at the corner, knowing he was trying to suppress a smile, Eijun only huffed. "But you always avoid getting punished for whatever you do huh?"

At that Miyuki could only heartily laugh and when he was the only one that saw Furuya heading towards the dorms with slumped shoulders he didn't comment on it. He just hoped it would be the turning point for the other guy.

It were the combined stares of Jun, Tetsu and Chris however that finally got to Eijun and he turned a deep red crimson while trying to keep his composure but failed completely. And Miyuki? Miyuki only laughed harder at seeing Eijun dig an even deeper hole for himself.

And if he together with Jun, Tetsu, Ryou-san and Mochi noticed the interest in Chris' eyes they didn't comment on it. Way too happy that something could actually catch the other's interest these days.

Chapter Text

Throwing Eijun a last intrigued look Chris excused himself as his father would be waiting to take him for his revalidation. When he walked away he noticed that Jun and Tetsu didn't follow as they usually would. Wondering about what kept them he stopped and turned around. He then noticed the dark look on Jun's face as he regarded Eijun and even Tetsu looked slightly worried between him and Eijun.

Looking towards Miyuki he noticed the other had seen it as well and they shared a comprehensive glance. Sighing Miyuki had to act fast before everyone truly misunderstood and real problems would arise. He knew Eijun hadn't noticed the full extent of his idolizing had on the other two boys and while he loved teasing them he didn't want for them to get hurt over a misunderstanding.

He sighed while wondering why Eijun always had to be such a handfull and leave him to clean up his mess.

"Oy Sawamura, the way you talk about Chris-senpai would suggest you're in love with him you know" Miyuki teased, knowing it was as far from truth as one could get.

"Haaaaah, what kind of crap are you spouting you asshole? Who's in love with whom?" Eijun yelled not noticing the surprised looks on the other boy's faces as his behavior seemed to contradict his words.

"Chris-senpai is beyond such sappy feelings! How on earth did you get that stupid impression? He is a baseball God for crying out loud! I could never think about Chris-senpai that way! Get your mind outta the gutter you creep!" and he turned around to face Chris again.

"Don't mind this guy Chris-senpai, he is has no clue about normal interhuman relationships as you can hear. Please continue onwards to your desired destination, I will take care of this guy." and Eijun bowed his head, totally missing the stunned looks on Tetsu's and Jun faces.

Turning around, without even waiting if Chris really left, Eijun faced Miyuki again with a scowl. "What are you playing at you bastard?! You know Chris-senpai is in a relationship and that I have no such feelings for the guy! Are you trying to make me look bad in front of him?" he scoffed.

"Nothing of the sort Sawamura, but you really should start to notice your surroundings when you're idolizing Chris." and nodded towards the other two boys who were listening intently.

Frowning he looked towards Jun and Tetsu, wondering what Miyuki was on about. When he noticed the uncertain expressions they wore however he turned white as a sheet, instantly realizing what Miyuki meant.

Flapping his left arm up and down as Miyuki grabbed him to stop from hopping towards them in his hurry to explain, he stuttered his apologies and reassurances in the same breath until even Jun took pity on him; especially when Eijun noticed to his great horror that Chris hadn't left yet and was watching it all.

"We get it Sawamura, no worries. Let's forget this conversation ever happened alright?" Jun said, uncomfortable at seeing the tears in Eijun's eyes at the misunderstanding he caused and his regret over it.

Tetsu nodded and added: "We fully understand, don't worry about us!" and he grabbed Jun's arm to finally join Chris' side. Sharing another amused look between the two of them Chris nodded his goodbye to Miyuki; not really apologetic to leave the other catcher with an obviously flustered pitcher. He was the only one apart from Eijun though who didn't notice that his tread seemed lighter than it had been in months and he kept his back straighter as well, making their way towards the parking lot.

Looking at their retreating backs, Miyuki only shook his head at the remorseful pitcher. "Only you, Eijun" he exclaimed sighing and his heart missed a beat when Eijun looked up at him, teary eyed, lip between his teeth and a look of utter horror on his face. Swallowing he wondered why he couldn't leave Eijun alone and that was even amplified when Eijun wailed "Miyuuukiii,what do I do now?", as the feeling of Eijun counting on him for even the smallest things was quite a heady feeling.

"Just act normal Eijun, it's nothing new, after all you've embarrassed yourself in front of Chris many times already" and couldn't help chuckling when he escorted the pitcher back; hoping to bump into Mochi so he could share in his brothers new misfortune.

---

When Furuya walked away he bumped into Rei-chan who seemed to already be expecting him.

She motioned for him to follow her. As they walked towards the car park they saw Chris entering a car and drive off. Not interested Furuya wondered why she brought him here when Rei-chan spoke.

"Are you interested in learning about your battery partner Furuya-kun?"

Even though the question was posed as such, when he saw the look on her face he realised it wasn't a question at all but a silent order and he shrugged.

Taking it as his assent, she let him towards her car and they too drove off.

Sitting in silence, Rei-chan regarded Furuya and hoped their destination would finally help the boy realize. If it didn't work now she didn't know what would.

"Sawamura's anger isn't completely unfounded you know. Chris is also the catcher Miyuki admires most. In middle school, Miyuki only lost once and it was against Chris' team."

At this Furuya looked up, surprised someone managed to beat Miyuki Kazuya.

"Chris has extensive knowledge of baseball because his father played in Japan's pro league and is still active in the scene. We've hoped that with acquiring Chris we would achieve victory with the team."

She noticed the boy still listened and quickly continued.

"But here we coaches failed. All the expectations heaped on him created a mountain of pressure and it resulted in him hiding hiding his shoulder injury while playing in games."

"Seems like a stupid thing to do" Furuya remarked.

"It would seem so if you don't understand the meaning of a team" and she pointedly looked at him "and as an individual it indeed almost ruined his chances for ever playing again, even though acquiring injuries while playing sports isn't unusual."

She sighed because the next part she would share now was something she wasn't proud of.

"The main problem though stemmed from us coaches failing to realize the true extent of his injury until it was too late and he had to quit playing immediately."

Noticing they arrived at their destination she stopped talking as they got out and walked towards the entrance of the training center.

Noticing the name on the building, Furuya pulled his brow up in mild contemplation.

"So I guess this place is…?" and got interrupted before finishing his sentence by a loud voice shouting orders.

"Once more and after this we'll continue with ten others!"

"Make sure to do them thoroughly."

"Take it slow!"

"Use your muscles and not your arm to raise it!"

Looking stunned Furuya saw Chris gritting his teeth, but still dutifully followed the instructions directed at him.

Pushing her glasses up Rei-chan continued.

"After his check-up at the hospital we learned he tore his subscapularis tendon and pronator quadratus, resulting in him being unable to throw as it hurts the area between his shoulder and waist."

Understanding the severity of the injury Furuya again looked at Chris.

"it was right before the summer tournament when he was diagnosed and told he had to take at least a year off. But even hearing that, he never once gave up his hope of playing; neither at Seidou nor in the future."

Noticing the tenacity on Chris' face Furuya had to admit that apparently he spoke too hastily on some matters regarding Chris but was still unwilling to completely let go of his resentment as the other hadn't taken him seriously either.

"Takashima-sensei, I think you made your point. Can we go back to school now, I would like to resume my training?" and he turned around towards the exit without waiting for her answer.

Throwing a final look towards Chris she sighed and followed the bull headed pitcher out.

As they drove back Furuya refused to answer any question Rei-chan asked and after a while she gave up. She could only hope she got through him this time, knowing Kataoka was about to lose his patience with the boy.

Seeing the boy off after arriving back at Seidou she also made her way back to the coaches office.

As Furuya made his way towards his room he noticed another person waiting for him. Apparently the pink-haired boy was waiting for him, curious as to where he disappeared to.

After their fall-out last time Furuya was still slightly apprehensive as Haruichi made his displeasure over his behavior towards Sawamura very clear and wasn't sure what the other wanted from him now.

He had no trouble to admit that Sawamura indeed had skills but he had the same and couldn't understand why everyone favored him. It had been the same in his old team but he had hoped that in someone like Miyuki he finally found someone to play seriously with.

Chris may have been an option if he wasn't hurt but as he was now he seemed useless and his frustration with the situation grew daily.

He supposed that Haruichi noticed it as well and decided to check up on him; regardless of his dislike.

He was slightly grateful to the boy for making him feel less alone but as all his 'teammates' before him he too left him. He just didn't get the reason why.

His grandfather always told him to put in all of his effort but what else did it garner him than throwing into snowpiles alone? There seemed no one worthy of his efforts and he had hoped Miyuki would be, but the latter refused to even catch for him so he could show him; it really wasn't fair.

He truly believed that if Sawamura hadn't been scouted and accepted, Miyuki would have been his and he would never forgive the boy.

Sighing he waited for Haruichi to speak up to see what he wanted from him.

"I saw you going off with Takashima-sensei, did anything happen?"

"She brought me to see Chris at his revalidation."

Immediately intrigued the other faced him completely, pulling his brow in a silent request for more information.

"Guess he hasn't given up on baseball after all." he supplied

Sighing Haruichi regarded the disinterested look in the other's eyes.

"Learned anything useful at least?"

"Only that he is in no condition at all to be of use to me." he finally replied and wondered what it was that he said now that got the other boy looking exasperated at him.

Both of them hadn't noticed two other boys coming towards them and overhearing everything; less than impressed by the pitchers words.

Trying to salvage whatever it was he had done he elaborated: "I guess he could have been interesting if he hadn't been hurt but for now I guess it really has to be Miyuki-senpai after all." and got slammed right into the wall off the dormitory by a furious Miyuki.

"You really think yourself high and mighty as a pitcher and all knowing of another's skill don't you you asshole?! I guess it's time to show you why you have no right to stake any claim at me!" and Miyuki looked around to his other companion who stood next to a worried looking Haruichi.

"Kuramochi, do me the pleasure to go and get Miyauchi, Ono and even Kariba will you? It's time to teach this bastard his place." and cackling in excitement Mochi indeed dutifully trudged off to go and get said players, recognizing the seriousness in Miyuki's voice as the catchers final straw.

After about five minutes of uncomfortable silence as Miyuki kept detaining the startled pitcher and Haruichi worriedly bit his lip; Mochi returned with the people requested.

The look in Miyuki's eyes made it quite clear that he wouldn't tolerate one word from the pitcher on the promise of certain career death.

Swallowing Furuya noticed the others gathering when Miyuki pushed him towards the indoor training hall motioning the others to follow; who, after being appraised by the shortstop kinda understood, especially when told to bring their gear.

Kariba however looked quite apprehensive, still remembering Furuya's pitch in the game and unsure if Miyuki-senpai really expected him to catch it, the other catcher had failed and hurt himself after all. So swallowing his nerves he followed after them and wondered if there wasn't a small feeling of excitement hidden in his nerves as well.

Arriving, still in complete silence, the catchers quickly changed into their protective gear as Haruichi helped Furuya warm up after a look of Miyuki and awaited Miyuki's orders.

"Let's show you how conceited you really are hmm pitcher-kun. You truly believe only me capable of catching that pitch of yours? Don't make me laugh; even Kariba-kun here is capable of that" and he ignored Kariba's startled look and Mochi's cackle.

"If you'd do the honors Miyauchi-senpai. It's time to show him how things at Seidou are done, that we're a team, not conceited individuals."

Blowing steam through his nose Miyauchi nodded. He might not like Miyuki Kazuya much but in this case he had no qualms helping him, even if it meant listening to his orders.

He walked towards the plate and squatted, holding his mitt up in silent challenge.

Slanting his eyes towards Miyuki, Furuya swallowed and prepared his wind up, and when Miyauchi caught his pitch without much trouble he swallowed.

"That all you got kid? Start taking this serious will ya?" and he again blew steam out of his nose, showing his distaste.

Raising to the challenge called he again wound up and this time released the ball with full power.

This ball was also caught without much trouble and Furuya looked flabbergasted towards the third-year catcher and then to Miyuki who talked to Ono as Miyauchi only snorted with amusement.

Switching catchers, with Ono taking the plate now, Furuya threw an unsure look towards Haruichi who only shrugged with something like pity glinting in his eyes; unable to stop what had long been coming.

Regarding Ono Furuya hurled the ball towards the catcher with full power again after his signal, instinctively starting to take what was happening seriously.

Having a bit more trouble than Miyauchi, Ono still caught the ball with only minor trouble, completely catching the pitcher off-guard.

And when Ono caught his second and third ball with not much trouble as well he knew this wasn't a fluke.

He started to actually tremble with something akin to fear when Ono got switched for Kariba. Until now unwilling to believe a first-year could be of use for him but now starting to wonder.

Everyone noticed the befuddled state the pitcher was in but had no pity. They only hoped it would change something in him and with Miyuki-senpai's tips fresh in mind Kariba took to the plate to drive the final proverbial nail in the pitchers coffin when he too managed to catch it.

He would never say out loud though that without Miyuki-senpai's guiding and the pitchers unconscious holding back he would never have caught it but it served it's purpose as Miyuki predicted and the pitcher looked utterly sick.

Regarding the boy in front of him Miyuki couldn't help himself to say one last thing as he turned to leave with the others minus Haruichi. "As you can see now, it's at least a hundred years too early for you to have me catch your pitches."

Had he turned around he would have seen the tears in the pitcher's eyes upon hearing those words but it was only Mochi who saw them while he shook his head in pity.

Miyuki could really drive his point home sometimes and it was never a pretty thing to behold. It served it's purpose though and in this Mochi would always choose Miyuki's side.

When the other boys left Haruichi faced Furuya, waiting for the other to regain a bit of composure before inquiring about what he was going to do from now on.

Understanding the pink-haired boy's intentions completely, but still feeling utterly overwhelmed he only told him he would turn in for the night to think.

Acting upon his words he too left the training area leaving a hopeful but apprehensive first-year behind.

---

Next day at lunch all Seidou players were treated to a quite hilarious sight as one Sawamura Eijun was trailing after Chris-senpai with ridiculous encouragements after the pitcher noticed the catchers presence.

This all happened, amazingly enough, under the approving looks of one Yuuki Tetsuya and Isashiki Jun. Everyone dutifully ignored the complex relationship these people had and therefore especially refused to think how one Sawamura Eijun would fit in all of that. They rather forewent the assured headache.

It was to no one's surprise however that this appeared to be a source of extreme entertainment for one Miyuki Kazuya, Kuramochi Youichi and Kominato Ryousuke.

That one Takigawa Chris Yuu looked utterly unimpressed only added towards the general hilarity of the situation.

It wasn't however until one Furuya Satoru decided to partake that the proverbial shit really hit the fan with many wondering if someone had been drugging their first-year pitchers.

As Chris seated himself with his break-fast tray, literally heaped with food enough for three; courtesy of Sawamura who convinced the canteen lady that recuperating boys needed lots of nutrition and them indulging him, Furuya sat opposite him.

Ignoring everyone's icy glares he looked towards Chris and held out his hand, cupping a worn scroll.

"I finished everything written here. Do you have another?"

Noticing the state said roll was in Chris only said: "you definitely have been abusing them hmm." and upon receiving nothing but a snore continued.

"Do them twice a week. Training doesn't consist only on strengthening yourself. You also need to learn how to rest and pace yourself."

"Spoken like a true baseball master Chris-senpai" Eijun yelled resulting in another bout of hysterical amusement. Especially when Chris reacted with a "You're disturbing the peace Sawamura. Compose yourself!" and Miyuki's answered "He can't help it with his CWCD (Chris Worship Compulsive Disorder) Chris-senpai" which had Sawamura scurrying and howling in anger towards Miyuki to lecture him on his wrongness.

All in all it made for an entertaining lunch to say the least and everyone went to training in good spirits after their afternoon classes.

There everyone was again in for a big surprise as Furuya appeared to be actually training according to his practice menu and observing the other players in-between breaks.

There was more than one muttered "What's that guy doing here?" or "How on earth does he dare to show his face around here" or "You truly think he takes his training with Chris serious?"

Furuya felt like having lead in his stomach when he observed the players training. Normally he would ignore everyone around him and go off to train on his own but Miyuki-senpai's words yesterday kept haunting him.

He had quite some trouble sleeping and the little sleep he actually got was haunted by his favorite player telling him he wasn't good enough.

Trying to figure out the reason why he decided it would be a good start to observe Miyuki-senpai interacting with the others; especially with Sawamura Eijun to see if he could understand what he lacked.

He did notice that apparently all players had some sort of role to perform while in the field he just didn't grasp what it was specifically. The pitcher and catcher roles were very clear to him but the rest weren't.

He started to understand that not having been fully integrated in a team before resulted in him lacking understanding of the roles of others. They still weren't interesting and he still didn't understand their value but if Miyuki-senpai thought they had them, he would try to see for himself what that value was.

Keenly observing the second-string pitcher, Rei-chan couldn't hide a small satisfied smirk. She heard about Miyuki's outburst and understood immediately that this was what resulted in Furuya's behavior right now.

She didn't know if it was a good thing, but at least it seemed to have made some sort of point to the pitcher.

'I guess he finally starts to look towards himself for what he's lacking. I'm not sure he grasped what Miyuki-kun meant completely but at least it appears he's on the starting line for something new. What's left to do is to understand that he has to accept his current position and start communicating with his catcher.'

She continued to watch the practice, but often side-eyed the boy watching intently until she noticed that instead of watching he actually fell asleep. Sighing she pushed her glasses up and muttered that he still had a looooong way to go before walking off when practice was coming to an end.

Later that night, when Chris returned home, he ran into Miyuki who couldn't help but tease the catcher a bit.

"Hey Chris-senpai back from rehabilitation again?" and at the other's nod continued. "You've got it though huh between Sawamura's worshipping and Furuya ignoring you!"

"It is quite annoying yes." He answered.

"Hehehe. Don't worry too much though. Even though Sawamura is quite the idiot he doesn't mean any harm. He just thinks it's his responsibility to make everyone feel like they're part of the team."

"I just wonder what on earth I did to receive such treatment. I'm sure I haven't met him before."

"I wouldn't sweat on the details Chris-senpai. He is quite peculiar anyway. Just be happy he isn't in love with you! It would have become way too messy then."

Snorting Chris regarded Miyuki, wondering if the other knew the slightly relieved look he wore when saying that, and he didn't meant for the messy part.

"He is quite the troublesome brat. Before he made himself clear I was afraid that Jun would kill him. Before this Jun was actually font of the kid and he kept telling me stories of how I should meet him, but after meeting it was quite the disaster! Now he's back to liking the kid. I really can't keep up with all of it" and he sighed.

Laughing himself Miyuki couldn't help but tease some more.

"Guess you're getting old then Chris-senpai if one kohai is enough to wear you out!"

Startled in surprise at the cheeky remark Chris himself got a Cheshire grin before answering back.

"I suppose you've got energy to spare now that you can't train with your battery partner hmm? So I suppose it's a good thing you've posed yourself as his most fervent servant then with you catering to his every wishes." and laughed heartedly for the first time in months at the sight of Miyuki Kazuya opening and closing his mouth with no retort to his words.

When he finished laughing he regarded Miyuki again but with a hint of seriousness in his voice that got Miyuki's attention right away.

"He is a talented player though but I would advise you to keep working on his growth. What I've heard and seen of his training before his injury tells me he knows how to pace and train himself well but he can achieve much higher. You will also have to make sure that he doesn't spend too much time worrying about others and more about himself."

Nodding Miyuki frowned. "But isn't that what makes it interesting? To help make a pitcher grow? Don't you want any part in that Chris-senpai?"

Smiling self-decrepitating Chris got up and before walking off and regarded Miyuki one last time.

"You're also spilling your energy on the wrong person Miyuki. I don't have the ability to help a pitcher like Sawamura grow. So you will have to do the work yourself mister number one starting catcher."

Looking at his retreating back Miyuki saw Eijun's determined face flashing before him and knew.

"I wouldn't bet your money on that Chris-senpai" he yelled. "I know a very annoying fellow who won't give up until he achieved what he want's and he wants you back as well."

Feeling a strange pang while thinking about Sawamura Chris wondered whether Miyuki was right. The pitcher had something captivating and he got the urge to catch for him whenever he saw his eyes looking at him with a mix of seriousness, determination and adoration. He knew it was a faraway dream for now anyway and filed that away for further analyzation. For now he returned to his room where his lovers were definitely waiting for him already, probably worried about what kept him.

He did have to admit that he felt a tad lighter after meeting a specific pitcher and he was grateful that he had a good influence on Tetsu and Jun as well.

Shaking his head he really wondered about the enigma that was one Sawamura Eijun and what to do about him. His worshipping was strangely flattering but embarrassing as hell, even without Miyuki and Mochi grinning knowingly like lunatics every time they saw them.

Sighing he wondered what the future would hold and just hoped he could live his remaining time at Seidou out in peace.

Chapter Text

As Chris made his way towards the bathroom for his morning ablutions he noticed someone already beat him to it. Coming to a halt he wondered if he still had time to make himself scarce but apparently lady luck wasn't with him today when he heard the tell-tale intake of breathe a split second before an ear-splitting morning greeting.

"Chris-senpai! A very hearty good morning to you! If you hadn't noticed it already but the weather is great today!"

Sighing Chris made his way towards the sink, only nodding at Eijun in acknowledgment hoping the pitcher understood he preferred some quiet in the morning.

Again lady luck appeared to be absent or just wasn't a match towards one excited pitcher as apparently Sawamura wasn't satisfied with his mute response.

"Chris-senpai, I had hoped to find a chance to talk to you today! I was wondering if you could help me create a schedule for my revalidation! Coach wants to talk to me today about that as well and I hope to convince him to let us do that together!"

Halting in the middle of brushing his teeth, Chris turned and regarded the pitcher again and noticed the stubborn look on his face.

He wondered if the other ever thought it to be a touchy subject for him but he doubted he did it to deliberately hurt him. He just couldn't figure out the reason for the other's behavior towards him.

Still having said nothing, only scrutinizing the other boy he noticed the other's patience almost ran out when the look changed towards a defeated one.

Not liking the fact that he was the reason for that specific look, Chris mentally berated himself for constantly searching for the other's hidden motive.

He should know by now that every thought and emotion always clearly expressed itself on his face. Chris even wondered if the boy was capable of holding back or even lying.

The moment Eijun started to turn around and say goodbye, he finally spoke.

"Fine, I guess I could help you out with that but not without the coach's consent. I also have Furuya to consider so don't expect me having a lot of free time."

Suddenly Sawamura's beaming face was directed towards him and Chris was blinded for a sec before his hand was grabbed and shaken vigorously by way of thanks.

"Thank you so much Chris-senpai. I'll let coach and Miyuki know. I'm sure we could work around your schedule and if I have to follow you to the gym I will make sure to be able too! For now have a nice morning."

Suddenly alarmed by the pitchers words, not having expected him joining in the gym or anything near it Chris tried to stop him from leaving.

"Sawamura, wait a sec!"

Turning around after hearing his name Eijun only waved and yelled "Don't worry Chris-senpai, everything will work out fine!"

Trying one last time to clarify some things Chris again yelled "Sawamura stop for a second" but immediately noticed it was futile as the other was already out of hearing range.

Wondering what just happened he only muttered "How on earth can he walk that fast on that foot?" Not realizing that the time he needed to snap out of his surprise was longer than he wished to care for.

Shaking his head he finished his business and went to practice. There was no chance in hell he could catch up with the wounded pitcher anyway, not even knowing were the other disappeared to. He just hoped he could catch him at practice before he spoke with the coach about his plans.

While pulling the elastic band he noticed another troublesome person coming towards him. He apparently was a pitcher magnet this morning as Furuya indeed seemed to have searched him out.

Wondering what it was he wanted he continued his stretches.

He didn't like this one at all but his coach's orders were crystal clear so he tried to put his dislike aside and treat him like he did everyone. The other made it hard though and he felt himself going on full defense hearing the other's remark.

"Considering the fact you're training, I guess you could also catch for me right? You were assigned to me for that purpose weren't you?"

Again opting for the silent treatment, Chris only pulled his brow up while steadily regarding the other boy.

Considering the fact that Furuya was quite the silent guy he too stopped talking and only regarded the other without further talking.

It wasn't until some minutes later he noticed Haruichi standing near them as well, having heard the full exchange, and looking disappointed at him that he considered the thing he just said.

He knew he went wrong somewhere and after a minute he thought he got it when he remembered the lecture he got from Haruichi about requests versus demands.

Clearing his throat he tried again.

"Ahum, I really feel like pitching this morning, are you interested in catching for me?"

Scrutinizing the boy Chris could immediately tell that it wasn't what he wanted to say but considering he took the effort to rephrase that earlier demand, and seeing young Kominato's hopeful look, he considered it enough for now.

"Fine, I guess I could practice a short while with you. Start your warm-up in the meantime and wait till I call for you after I consider you warmed-up properly" not missing a beat in his own exercise.

Looking slightly surprised Furuya thought he now understood a bit better what Haruichi meant when explained the differences between requests and demands. He turned towards the pink-haired boy and when he saw him beaming he nodded, getting a slight blush in return that confused him again.

Shrugging he started his warm-up by running laps around the field. It was one of Chris-senpai's preferred methods as it helped him assess his stamina. Furuya normally didn't mind but when after his tenth lap he still hadn't gotten the okay he got annoyed.

"Are you truly planning to catch for me? If we continue like this there will hardly be any time left to throw a ball!"

"Do you really think a pitcher will always take the mound in tip top condition? If you don't agree with my methods I can happily leave."

Regarding his training partner Furuya narrowed his eyes at him, wondering if the other was joking with him.

He immediately dismissed that thought when he heard him say 'you can stop running now and continue with twenty dashes and after that regular stretches'. He wasn't joking with him, he was toying with him!

His pride was at stake here and he refused to show that catcher his defeat so without comment he did as he said.

Finishing his exercises he noticed Chris-senpai finished his own and donned his mitt.

He walked towards the practice mound, fully ready to start for real now when the other suddenly said:

"Imagine it's the bottom of the ninth and there are two outs with loaded bases. The count is two-three and the danger of a single hit walk-off home run. What would you pitch?"

Shrugging Furuya answered "my regular fastball should be enough here right? No one is capable of hitting it anyway" which earned him a sigh from Chris.

"You do realize that that one ball decides the victor of this game right? Would you still pitch that way if you knew that? There is a reason why it got to that count with you on the mound."

Nodding his confirmation, Chris crouched down at the practice plate.

"Well then, give me your pitch then."

"You're sure you're okay without donning your protective gear?" Furuya asked, not really caring but knowing there wasn't anyone else he could train with if the other got further hurt.

Answering his pitcher Chris nodded and said "I wouldn't worry about me. I don't expect you to throw where I request anyway."

Not caring any further Furuya wound up and threw the ball with all he had, quite satisfied with the sound it made and fully expecting to be praised considering that Chris-senpai said he wouldn't throw where he requested but still caught it.

"Yup, that would have been a sayonara home-run and our loss."

Not expecting that at all Furuya looked at him with astonishment.

"You seriously think someone could hit that?"

"You forgot to ask who the batter was"

"What does it matter?" Furuya asked.

"It matters because the batter was Ted Williams" Chris answered.

Being caught off guard Furuya only stared.

"Why didn't you ask which batter you were going to face when I presented you with that scenario?" Have you forgotten that in that scenario batters already hit your pitch?"

Not knowing what to say Furuya opted to wait before he spoke, somehow knowing this wasn't the end of Chris-senpai's lecture.

"You don't have control and mixed pitch arsenal like Sawamura and you can't pitch curveballs like Tanba or sinkers like Kawakami. So tell me, what's your strong point?"

'My strong point? Until now my speed was my strong point and no one was able to hit it, so what does he mean?'

"I don't get it, until now no one was capable of hitting my pitch so wouldn't that be my strong point?"

"You really think so? I would think deeply and reassess that thought, especially considering you haven't pitched against our first-string batters yet." And Chris walked away, done with his lesson for today leaving a stunned Furuya in his wake who wondered what just happened.

For the first time feeling the full brunt of him being excluded from the team, as he had only Haruichi to talk to, he made his way to find the said pink-haired boy and hoped he could answer the strange question posed to him.

Finally at break time he got a chance to talk to the boy and posed his question.

Looking like he was deep in thought, Haruichi regarded Furuya seriously.

"Hmm, your strong point huh. Normally I would say it's your speed but you said Chris-senpai wasn't convinced by that. So I wonder what else it could be."

Both players hadn't noticed Sawamura coming towards their class as well as he wanted to ask Haruichi for his brother's phone number. He wanted to plan his brother's birthday party and wasn't in the mood to explain to Mochi-nii why he needed it so he thought Haruichi would be his best shot even though they weren't as close.

He also didn't want to ask him while they attended their shared study sessions as the others would find out and maybe spoil the surprise before he was ready.

It was for that reason he overheard the conversation between those two and answered before he could help himself.

"Isn't it your reliability?"

Looking up in surprise both boys startled when they noticed Sawamura standing before them.

Haruichi, trying to forestall any comment from Furuya asked him quickly to clarify his earlier statement.

"Well, if he gets better ball control and more diversity in his pitches he could become one hell of a pitcher to get a hit off, but his batting isn't something to laugh at either. I guess Chris-senpai meant that if you're reliable on more than one front that could be considered your strong point. Being good at only one thing is useless for a team after all."

Regarding the pitcher in front of him Furuya thought about the things he just said. There was just one thing he didn't understand.

"Why do you think Chris-senpai regards a multitude of skills as being someone's strongpoint?"

Surprised Furuya actually talked to him after ignoring him since the start of their Seidou career Eijun still answered dutifully.

"Because if you observe all the players in our team, you'll notice that they have more skills than only the ones they are known for."

Now both looking intrigued towards Eijun, Eijun swallowed and continued. He was suddenly hit with a wave of nostalgia, making it almost impossible not to tear up at the familiarity of it all; although it was Haruichi doing most of the explaining back then.

"Look at Mochi-nii for example, his talent lies in his speed, but it is useless if he can't hit consecutively and get on base. He also needs quite some agility to adapt to catch hit balls at random places and quick thinking to try and get a runner out."

Catching on quickly Haruichi's face lit up in understanding and nodded his agreement.

"I guess I get what you say Eijun-kun. In that light I guess you're right about Furuya-kun's assessment as well" and looked expectantly towards the stoic pitcher.

Understanding what Sawamura said, but not completely sure it was the truth; he opted to run this answer by Chris-senpai first but regardless nodded his thanks towards the other pitcher which got him a proud look from Haruichi and stunned look from Sawamura in return.

With his query finished for the moment, he went back to his seat and immediately fell asleep. All that running in the morning wore him out and he tried to get some of his energy back before training after classes.

After watching the pitcher drop off into dreamland Haruichi and Eijun smiled towards each other in silent amusement when Haruichi remembered that Eijun apparently sought him out for some reason. After quickly posing his question, Eijun answered and got the required information with a knowing smile and a promise to keep it secret.

Eijun knew he could always count on Haruichi! Feeling happy knowing that this at least hadn't changed he made his way back towards his own classroom in hopes of catching Haruno to discuss the latest Kimi ni Todoke chapter.

After class Haruichi and Furuya made their way towards practice together when he remembered something he overheard.

"Did you hear the news regarding the first-string Furuya-kun?"

Furuya shook his head, not really surprising Haruichi, as he sighed and continued anyway.

"At this point the first-string has a total of eighteen players with fierce competition between them. But the Tokyo Summer Regional Tournament allows for twenty players."

As expected this caught Furuya's attention and at his urging gesture once again resumed their one-sided conversation.

"It means Furuya-kun that before summer starts, two members of the second-string have a chance to advance to first-string!"

Noticing the burning aura surrounding him immediately Haruichi chuckled indulgently.

"That means we have to show our best in the upcoming practice matches as they are a great opportunity to show our abilities to the coaches."

"Hmm two players huh. I guess we know who those are don't we Haruichi?"

"It hasn't been decided yet Furuya-kun" Haruichi admonished but noticing it totally fell on deaf ears. He just hoped they would make it to first-string together, he wouldn't know what to do if the other wouldn't make it because of his poor record until now. He could only hope he guessed.

---

After school, Eijun dismissed Miyuki's and Mochi's help telling them he wanted to talk to the coach and they shouldn't wait for him as they had to prepare for training. He hoped to catch Kataoka before he made his way over.

Wondering what he needed the coach for both boys looked at his retreating back questionably and when they regarded each other they both wore the same worried frown on their face.

They knew the opportunity to pry for his reason passed now that he escaped them but they wouldn't let him get away with it. They would get to the bottom of it.

Eijun in the meantime was unaware that his dismissal and subsequent searching for their coach worried the other boys and happily made his way slowly towards the coaches office.

He noticed that Kataoka and Rei-chan threw him pointed looks whenever they saw him, admonishing him to take it easy on penalty of even more laps added to his already set punishment after recovery.

As he reached the office and lifted his hand to knock on the door, said door opened and he looked into the surprised face of Kataoka-kantoku.

"I didn't expect you here Sawamura. Is something the matter?"

Saluting his respect Eijun nodded, dutifully ignoring Kataoka's twitching hands to keep him from hurting himself. Internally he sighed though as he wondered if people thought whether he was made out of glass, unable to do even the most basic things himself.

"Yes Boss!" he said "I was wondering if you had some time to talk about my revalidation schedule."

Having given up on correcting Sawamura on the boss thing, he nonetheless was caught in surprise at the seriousness of the question displayed. It didn't seem to be on a mere whim or to wheedle him into starting to train sooner than was considered safe.

"I suppose you have something specific in mind considering you've sought me out yourself instead of waiting till we notified you after talking with your doctor?" He asked.

"Yes Boss, I understand that I have to wait for doctor's approval but I was wondering if we could talk about it before my next examination so we could also run it by the doctor's to see if he finds any fault in my request!"

Definitely intrigued now Kataoka considered the best course of action. He did have a team waiting for him but they weren't so undisciplined that they couldn't start without him. He only disliked not being able to give Yuuki a heads-up as he was the captain and should know of changes made beforehand.

He regarded the boy in front of him and inwardly sighed at how soft he'd gotten in the short period he'd had the boy on his team if he even slightly considered showing up late.

Regardless, he wasn't planning on leaving the team to start practice on it's own; especially as their time was precious with practice matches during training until the time came to hold them against other teams in combination with their training camp in three weeks and selecting the last first-string players.

Understanding his coach's dilemma and not having meant to cause it Eijun brought the solution himself.

"I didn't mean to talk about it immediately Boss. I only wanted to inquire right now whether or not an appointment could be made in the near future."

Having just arrived at the office herself, Rei-chan overheard most of the conversation and couldn't help but chuckle.

She understood perfectly well that Sawamura wrapped them around his little finger, but unless he misused it she wouldn't say anything to Tesshin.

She found it quite hilarious to see how he squirmed every time after a conversation with Sawamura and couldn't understand the reason why. It seemed he truly didn't find himself capable of acting like a human being nowadays.

Rei-chan always thought that the pressure of showing good results made Tesshin lose sight of what was truly important. Sometimes she wondered what would have happened if Sawamura chose not to attend Seidou or if he wasn't as talented as he was.

Truthfully she didn't want to think too deeply about it. Somewhere she knew if things were different they wouldn't get the result they fought year after year for.

With the pressure of finally showing results that the alumni's and the (vice)president heaped upon his shoulders every single season it wasn't hard to imagine that someone would start to strive only for results and forgetting the people of whom you're trying to get those results from.

Sawamura appears to draw back the old Tesshin again, the one that was hopeful and full of love for baseball, strict but fair and above all a coach invested in his players.

But every new season she got more and more frightened when she noticed participating at Koshien wasn't achieved again and again and Tesshin closing himself off further and further.

She didn't know what to do to stop that downwards spiral and was beyond grateful towards Sawamura that in this short period of time he managed to show her glimpses of that old Tesshin again.

This was also the reason she refused to interfere right now even though Tesshin's discomfort was quite noticeable to her.

She knew he knew she was there and could easily solve this dilemma. But she wanted to see for herself the value's he would uphold as Seidou's coach towards all his players.

It was right at that moment that Sawamura himself offered him the way out and he she had to do her utmost best to keep the next bout of laughter contained, considering even Sawamura himself apparently noticed Tesshin's discomfort. To her that was quite hilarious, and also quite a feat. How he could tell she didn't know but looking at Tesshin's face it told her he noticed too and it made him even more uncomfortable.

Finally answering the boys question he made sure it wouldn't sound as any sort of dismissal as Sawamura himself didn't appear to find it something that needed immediate attention but wanted to treat the request respectfully nonetheless.

"Right now is somewhat difficult Sawamura, as I've had no opportunity to let the captain know I'm late nor do I have a substitute coach available right away."

He knew from the way Rei only observed but didn't interfere that she wouldn't offer to go in his stead and at Sawamura's acknowledging nod continued.

"I would like to talk about this matter right after practice ends though. We can go to my office together then if you agree." and at this Eijun nodded his consent again, not seeing a reason why he would reject the offer seeing as it was sooner than even he had expected.

"Do you request only my presence or should I inform Takashima-sensei and Oota-sensei as well?"

"Uhm" Eijun muttered, slightly caught off guard at the question. He didn't mind Rei-chan but Oota? He wondered how to get out of that snake pit without insulting anyone and started to sweat slightly.

Wondering about what kept Sawamura from answering he looked towards Rei. He didn't think it would be a difficult question to answer.

Taking pity on Sawamura Rei decided it was the right time to interfere, understanding his reluctance to answer immediately.

"Oota-sensei has a tutoring session this evening so unfortunately he can't attend. I do have some free time after practice ends but don't feel pressured to have me attend Sawamura-kun."

Seeing the frown leave Sawamura's face immediately after that announcement she smiled at him encouragingly.

Regarding his coach again, Eijun this time had no trouble at all answering the coach's question.

"I wouldn't mind having Takashima-sensei attending our conversation as well Boss. So if Takashima-sensei agrees I'll take you up on the offer."

Confirming her consent she didn't miss the frown on Tesshin's face when he regarded Sawamura after that little tidbit. She decided here as well that she wouldn't interfere in this matter and that it was between him and Sawamura if he wanted to know the full reason.

When Tesshin regarded her she made it abundantly clear with one look that she wouldn't be his source of information this time and this garnered an even darker look on the latter's face.

Unaware of the sudden tension in his coach's demeanor and the unspoken sudden worry Eijun bid his coaches goodbye for now.

He would show his face at training but sitting and not being allowed to participate would be quite boring so he might just try his luck at the second string today to see if he could find someone to teach how to bunt, as it was one of the very few things he was allowed to do.

Looking at his retreating back, Kataoka promised himself to get to the bottom of both matters Sawamura presented him with.

But first he had a team to coach and as he gestured for Takashima to follow him, he started to make his way towards the field.

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Omake 1: The revenge of one Kuramochi Youichi on one Ogawa Tsunematsu aka Kuramochi's tale of defending Eijun.

Dedicated to Daiyanome

Even as he heard footsteps nearing his dorm room, Mochi refused to interrupt this one particular activity. The only thing he sincerely hoped was that it wasn't Eijun that was coming back already; counting on Miyuki to keep him busy for a while.

At the knock on the door he sighed in relieve and didn't care who else it would be but still curious enough to find out to allow that person to enter.

When the door opened he turned around and a smile formed naturally on his face when he saw it was Ryousuke. Since the retirement of the third years he had to cope with the fact that they couldn't meet up whenever they wanted anymore and that he came looking for him spoke volumes to the shortstop.

Noticing his boyfriends raised eyebrows reminded him of what he was doing and he quickly turned around again.

He wasn't superstitious but he also didn't want to leave even the slightest change that it wouldn't work.

Looking curiously towards Mochi Ryou had a small smile on his face. Thoroughly amused and curious on whom he planned his revenge.

"I do realize it's Halloween You-chan, but who on earth are you trying to curse with that voodoo doll?"

"That stupid Seikou pitcher" Mochi gnarled and at this Ryousuke looked surprised. He actually thought his boyfriend forgot about that person already, never mentioning him again, but apparently he was better in keeping grudges than even he knew.

Looking at the rest of the things clattered on the floor Ryousuke couldn't help but smile. "I see you went all out, hmm?"

"Voodoo doll, photograph and Voodoo ritual candles huh, are you also planning on going to the shrine at the time of the Ox?"*

"If I would I wouldn't tell you Ryou-san, you know it's supposed to be a secret. I wouldn't want that bastard to hurt you as well you know."

Laughing softly at that he sat next down to him and carded his hand through his hair; receiving an instant purr of pleasure.

"I guess that means I can only help you with these things here hmm. I must say even I haven't done this before but it sure as hell looks like fun. I wasn't expecting this to be our main activity if I finally found you tonight though."

Understanding the underlying meaning immediately, Mochi turned bright red. Without looking at his boyfriend he mumbled: "doesn't mean we can't do something else afterwards you know."

Snorting Ryousuke looked at him amused. "Aren't we eager heh. But I guess this time I'm at fault. I just can't get enough of your frustrated face You-chan." And watched with unhidden amusement how the other boy squirmed at his teasing.

"How did you get rid of your little bro? I can't imagine him liking this particular part of your Halloween festivities."

Cackling out loud Mochi recalled Eijun's face when he revealed the items he wanted to use tonight; knowing full well Eijun utterly hated anything related to horror.

"I wasn't hard to get him to leave once I told him I would start to curse him if he didn't make himself scarce. He was actually shaking and screaming why I had to go with the 'darkest' horror theme of all this year and cried on the spot. I told him if he didn't want to participate he should visit Miyuki and stay clear of this place until at least midnight on the threat that I couldn't guarantee him not getting cursed if he came back earlier. I guess he thinks I'm going to make our dorm Halloween tradition so gruesome this year he doesn't want to participate at all and indeed left as if Satan himself was on his heels."

Laughing out loud himself Ryousuke could picture Eijun's reactions perfectly himself.

"Knowing Miyuki he will have a field day with this. I reckon he will put on a horror movie himself now and demand everyone that wants to hang out in his room tonight to watch it in retaliation."

Looking thoughtfully after saying this Ryou added: "Maybe I should visit in a short while to see if I can get some blackmail material on the others. It would be fun seeing them wonder who spread photos of their faces."

"You haven't left that long that they wouldn't recognize your handiwork Ryou-san." Mochi answered, now double happy he wasn't participating in Miyuki's own revenge scheme. Ryousuke proved to have no mercy on him at all, boyfriend or not. He actually seemed to take even more joy at teasing him in private after the public humiliation was over. He never found out how Ryou got hold of all that embarrassing evidence but swore he would find out one day and retaliate!

"Well, don't let me keep you from extracting your revenge You-chan. I guess I can take the candle?" and at Mochi's nod proceeded to take both the candle and some pins.

After a while he looked up from his handiwork to and asked "How many pins do you recon I still need?"

Looking at said candle Mochi paled, Ryousuke had imitated the Seikou-pitchers outline completely with pins in the candle. Everyone who saw that candle would know exactly what that candle was meant for.

The accuracy was what frightened Mochi the most though, as in the middle of the pitcher's needle-outline the words 'you won't ever escape us' were pinned. He felt truly lucky being Ryousuke's boyfriend but realized he didn't want to get on his bad side ever as well! Ever!.

Looking at his own doll, in which random pins and needles were stuck, he almost gave up but braving himself continued and when Ryousuke granted him an approving nod he felt his plan could actually work out better than he first thought: especially when he heard from Ryousuke the next day that the Seikou pitcher was excluded from every official and unofficial practice match for fighting with his teammates for the next month.

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Omake 2: Sometimes having emotions is tiring aka Miyuki may be a bit stunted but is still cute.

Dedicated to Setsuna_5

Walking towards the dormitory Miyuki wondered why he felt so annoyed lately. Everything should have been perfect. Eijun was finally his boyfriend and their training progressed nicely.

He finally got both Mochi and Eijun out of their slump after the third-years left the team and in terms of baseball all was running smoothly for a change.

The only thing troubling him should have been his captain's duties and homework but even those were much more balanced this time around; Mochi's help and the now apparently permanently increased involvement of the coaching staff helped tremendously in that regard.

For that reason it wasn't logical that he felt annoyed whenever Eijun decided to spent time with his old best friend. It wasn't like those two spent an enormous amount of time together and it was rarely during the times he had time off as well but still, Miyuki felt as if that other one was more important than even himself sometimes; he wasn't even allowed any time with them together! He sincerely hated that that was one of the few things that hadn't changed between their old timeline and now.

And if that wasn't enough, if he wasn't with his best buddy, he entertained himself with others! He may not have the same interests as Eijun, that didn't mean he liked being put aside this easily!

Logically speaking he knew Eijun didn't exclude him from anything and was always careful to spend as much free time with him as he could and they both had, but that didn't mean he didn't wish he could monopolize all his time outside of school and baseball instead of sharing it with those others as well!

Because of his character Eijun was well loved and hardly had to even ask to spent time with someone as everyone naturally was drawn towards him. Miyuki himself was the complete opposite, which Eijun knew and he made sure to always come looking for him the second he knew or suspected Miyuki was done with whatever it was he was doing.

In terms of consideration he couldn't have wished for a better boyfriend. Since the moment they came back things went really well unless you count some bumps here and there. But there was no way to achieve happiness if you don't work hard for it and he appreciated their relationship even more now.

Miyuki now also truly appreciated the fact that they knew each other for quite some time now and with everything they've experienced were finally equals in every way.

He couldn't imagine ever falling in love with Eijun if they'd stayed in their old timeline; they had too little time and too many problems between them; resentment towards him from Eijun's side and a feeling of failure from his side.

Those were no conditions to form a proper relationship with, especially since he had only three more months left back then and they hadn't even started to resolve anything (and they wouldn't considering how stuck they were) nor were they particularly close.

He could kick himself silly now when he thought back to those days and thanked every God there was out there that helped them change their reality on his bare knees for this opportunity.

He was still trying to do everything in his power to upkeep the vow he made the day they came back and until now it seemed to work quite well, but he also knew he could never have done it without Eijun.

Sighing now that his thoughts turned to Eijun yet again he wondered about what he should do; this one situation with Eijun really drove him mad.

It's not like he never felt like this before. Every time he saw kids being picked up by their parents or when he came home to an empty house after being roughed up he felt jealous of other kids not being in the same situation or him being in theirs, so it wasn't particularly new to him. And those were just a few examples.

For a while he dealt with his current jealousy as how he dealt with it back then; just ignore it and if you pretend hard enough that it doesn't matter and that you don't need such things it goes away on its own. He knew it works; he survived until now on his own after all.

But meeting Eijun something had fundamentally changed inside of him; in their old timeline he couldn't hang on to it as they continued to drift further and further apart instead of getting closer, but in the new here and now he finally understood that a life without Eijun was impossible. He shone like the sun in his until now bleak world and he didn't want to lose that for anything.

Therefore he would do his utmost best to not show his boyfriend this dark side of him. The desire to monopolize every bit of his time and wish to see that smile only directed at him.

If you keep a person like Eijun caged up he would wither before his very eyes and that was something Miyuki was absolutely unwilling to be the cause off.

Therefore he would accept this part of his boyfriend and appreciate the time they spend together.

But really, if he could just get rid of that tyre and burn all those stupid shoujo manga without incurring Eijun's wrath and tears he would do it. But even he wasn't strong enough to face that current of emotions as of yet, so he just had to suck it up and deal with it.

Sighing Miyuki finally reached room number five and when he stepped inside and saw Mochi's knowing grin he just knew the day he would maybe break that one specific promise was drawing near; especially when his boyfriend was gushing over another story with Jun, not even noticing him entering.

He never promised anyone other than himself after all so no one would know if he broke it; unless Mochi became psychic and seeing his face Miyuki wondered if he indeed possessed that skill.

Really, jealousy was such a tiring thing.

Chapter Text

After everyone assembled to start training, Mochi and Miyuki noticed there was someone missing. Kataoka-kantoku also showed up on the late side and they wondered what happened. They exchanged a worried look but knew there was nothing they could do right now. They just hoped that whatever it was that Eijun wanted to discuss with the coach didn't pull him down.

That was until they've heard a very familiar voice shouting for Toujou and Kanemaru.

"Oy Toujou, Kanemaru! I've you've got time to run like headless chicken you've got time to take some bunt lessons from the amazing Sawamura!"

Snickering, everyone turned to look between their field and the B-grounds to see Sawamura walking towards the second-stringers with purpose in his stride, totally ignoring the second-string coaches, while blurting his demands.

Eijun knew the second-string coaches didn't care much considering they'd spent a lot of time training players like Furuya and Haruichi, people that showed immediate results and had obvious talent and would obviously make great additions to the first-string team. It annoyed the hell out of him considering that both Kanemaru and Toujou were extremely skillful and reliable, even if it didn't show at first glance.

It was at that point that Kataoka shared a look with Rei, now truly convinced that Sawamura had not much respect of their coaching staff, and he really wanted to get to the bottom of the why.

It wasn't like Sawamura to just dismiss people in authority or outright ignoring them. From what he'd heard, the boy was polite and attentive in class and not much of a troublemaker. His grades were more than acceptable as well and the people he came in contact with spoke positively about the boy. And yet, glancing towards one specific player he had to adjust that thought a bit.

The boy definitely had a stubborn streak and wasn't afraid to make his opinion known, but it was always for the betterment of something, therefore hard to dismiss or to take a grudge against.

Kataoka's only concern was his apparently close relationship with Miyuki. He knew if Miyuki and Sawamura would ever get their heads together to plan anything deviously, all hell would break loose; and only the thought itself made a shudder run down his spine already.

He was positively surprised that most of Rei's recruits flocked naturally towards each other and hearing the rumors about Chris, he had a hard time believing that the boy could escape their clutches for much longer as well.

He could do without Rei's knowing shit-eating grin though every time the subject came up.

The woman had a frighteningly good eye for talent and she proved it again with bringing Sawamura in. It was his job now to make sure that all that talent wouldn't go to waste, Chris' injury still a sore point in his heart.

He did wonder sometimes where his current enthusiasm originated from. It felt like a long time ago that he actually felt like having fun on the field and taking more than just a basic interest in his players.

For some reason, the minute Sawamura met Miyuki things had changed. He just couldn't tell why or how.

In the past give or take six weeks he showed more interest, worry and excitement about his players and the games than in the past three years combined and he could even forget about his obligations for a while when Sawamura told the president and vice-president off.

Most of the players showed a dramatic increase of team-spirit and as a result they also produced better results. Kawakami for example surprised him these last two matches and even Kuramochi got more reliable; opting for safe hitting instead of switching however he felt like.

The one who changed most though was Miyuki. It wasn't obvious on first glance but everyone knowing Miyuki just a bit could tell the difference between this and last year. The boy was less sharp, cutting and on edge and instead offered to help out of his own free will and even provided insightful advice for players who were stuck at some point. He was still snarky, private and at times rude but not as cold, unapologetic or closed off.

Over the years Seidou did have their fair share of same-sex couples and he would make a bet any day that Miyuki and Sawamura would end up together. Unfortunately none of the coaching staff wanted to take his bets anymore as he'd won them all. Even Rei didn't see the unconventional relationship between Tetsu, Chris and Jun he noticed right away as she was completely convinced it being Tetsu and Jun only. It resulted in a nice sum of pocket money; something she still hadn't forgiven him for.

Whatever possessed Kuramochi to date Kominato though was something even he didn't want to think too deeply about.

If Miyuki indeed ends up with Sawamura he wondered if he should take on the sex education talk for a change; but maybe he should just let Rei do it instead again. It seemed that the boys got more flustered thought by a woman about this and it was something they could always laugh heartedly about.

For all their proclaimed wisdom and wanting to be treated like adults, they were delightfully childish when it indeed comes to adult matters. Over the years things like these became a good balance for the hormone dictated zoo that Seidou could be.

Overall, it felt like this year could be the year that Seidou produced it's best team as of yet and he was secretly delighted over that since he'd noticed the new atmosphere coming from the players.

If they indeed could get the results he hoped they were capable off, he knew it wasn't only because of Sawamura, as Miyuki seemed to play a role in this as well; maybe not as obvious but the signs were there. He only wondered how on earth they'd managed what they did already. They were a mystery to him and he wondered if he would ever fully get to the bottom of this.

He broke away from his thoughts to the present when he again heard Sawamura shout:

"Whatever do you mean I'm only good at bunting you shitty tanuki? I'll let you know that I had no trouble hitting normal when I was in middle school. You should take your responsibilities as a senpai more serious and actually teach me how to hit hard balls or do you want to be made a bunting example again like before? I have no trouble asking coach!" on which a full scale laughter erupted as Miyuki tried to placate the injured pitcher again.

Just shaking his head at their antics Kataoka called for everyone's attention to get practice started and watched as Sawamura walked towards the other boys, intent on getting his coaching started as well.

Around the end of practice, as Miyuki made his way from the bullpen back towards the field, he noticed someone familiar walking past him.

"Going out again Chris-senpai?"

Turning around as he was addressed Chris nodded affirmatively.

"Well, have a good session then." He wished his senpai and made to walk away.

"Miyuki" Chris said and he turned around again wondering about the reason Chris could have for stopping him.

"Did you know that Sawamura came and asked me to draw up his revalidation program as well?"

Feeling his mouth drop open Miyuki only closed it enough to ask a "He did?" before he dissolved in laughter.

"He is a greedy one isn't he Chris-senpai?"

"Hmm, instead of greedy I wonder about his underlying motive. He appears completely innocent to me but someone can't be that pure right? I feel almost bad that I'm thinking about what the catch could be."

Choking on his saliva when he heard Eijun being referred to as being innocent and pure Miyuki needed some time to catch his bearings again before he could answer.

"Chris-senpai, Sawamura is many things but I wouldn't say 'innocent and pure'. Please refrain from trying to kill me in the future."

Noticing the mirth in the other's eyes Chris had to consider defeat this round. He couldn't tell whether or not the boy was serious or really knew nothing of Sawamura's plans regarding him.

Shoving the whole matter to the back of his head, he excused himself and made his way towards the parking space, unaware of the amused glint in the other's eyes as he watched him walk away.

When Miyuki rejoined the others he noticed that Eijun had apparently joined them sometime during training as he was sitting on his designated chair.

When coach announced the points they would have to work at before their practice games on Sunday, Miyuki agreed with the assessment. He felt quite content with the way things flowed at the moment and looking at Eijun's face the other seemed to agree as well.

His worry returned fully though when coach signaled for Eijun to follow him to his office for their talk and when Rei-chan joined them he really wondered what it all was about.

The look on Eijun's face didn't speak of something troublesome but Kataoka-kantoku's serious mien was what put him on edge.

It was only Mochi's hand on his shoulder that prevented him from walking after them to try and figure out what this was all about.

"We'll wait till he comes back for dinner to grill him Miyuki. Nothing we can do now." And Miyuki nodded, not taking his eyes of Eijun until he couldn't see him anymore before grabbing his stuff and making for the baths.

------------

After arriving at the coaches' office, Rei-chan directed Eijun towards the sofas as Kataoka provided tea.

After everyone was seated Rei-chan started to talk.

"Well then Sawamura-kun, you wanted to talk about your revalidation plans. What do you have in mind?"

Nodding Eijun took his cue.

"I've talked to Chris-senpai this morning to see if he could help me create a revalidation schedule. Considering his condition and knowledge about rebuilding one's strength, pacing and prevention I figured he could help me to get back to the team with minimum time loss but maximum effect."

During his speech Rei's and Kataoka's eyes turned wide.

"Ehm, and how did Chris react to your request?" Rei asked the boy.

Beaming Eijun answered "He said it was fine as long as I had Boss' consent."

Not truly believing their ears the adults shared a surprised look, they knew Chris and they weren't convinced that would be all, but not willing to disregard Sawamura's mysterious appeal to others.

"You're sure that's all he said Sawamura?" Kataoka asked for clarification.

Scrunching his face he thought back to their conversation this morning.

"Well the only other thing was that he didn't have that much free time considering he also had Furuya in his care. So he wouldn't always be available, but I reassured him that I could work with Boss so we could fit it around his schedule. It would also help cut time if I'm allowed by Boss to go to his gym as well"

Still slightly baffled by the pitcher's words Kataoka wanted to make absolutely sure it was truly alright with Chris.

"It's a well thought out solution Sawamura but I will speak with Chris myself first before I consent to anything." Nodding his understanding, not having expected any less, Eijun kept silent as Kataoka continued.

"If after talking to Chris I consent to this plan, we will see which plans he draws up for you and run them by the hospital as well. If they consent I see no reason to not allow you to do so." Noticing the beaming look on the other's face Kataoka knew he had to rein him in fast.

"However, if it should come to light during your hospital check-ups that your improvement stagnated or deteriorated we will stop that arrangement immediately."

Having no problems with that Eijun again voiced his agreeance but couldn't help and add:

"Considering Chris-senpai, I doubt he would do anything that would put me in harm's way so I guess we're safe on that account."

Laughing at the cheek the boy exhibited Rei-chan looked towards Kataoka who she knew was hiding a smile himself.

Having finished what he came for Eijun got up to excuse himself, knowing his coaches were busy and didn't want to intrude more on their time.

Raising their brows both adults looked up in surprise as Sawamura started to thank them for their time.

"You're sure this is all you've wanted to talk to us about Sawamura?" Kataoka managed to ask before the boy even took one step towards the door.

Turning around Eijun looked at them in surprise not understanding the question.

"Uh yes?" he answered, not sure what this was about.

Regarding the boy with a frown on his face, Kataoka wasn't sure how to proceed. Sawamura wasn't the type to hold back if he had a problem with anything so he wondered if he misread the situation somehow.

Seeing the confused look on his face he decided to take the bull by the horns and address it himself. If it was really nothing he at least assured himself some peace of mind.

"I was under the impression that you have something to say about the coaching staff."

Eyes widening in surprise Eijun contemplated the question, not expecting that.

He retook his seat while he pondered the answer to give his coach, happy he wasn't pestered for an immediate reply as the adults kept their silence.

This time it was Rei that threw Tesshin a worried look. It wasn't like Sawamura to take his time to answer a question. She knew the reason for his aversion towards Oota but this seemed like a more calculated and thorough reply than she expected from him.

After a couple of minutes thinking Eijun regarded his coaches again.

"I can't say I fully understand your reason for asking Boss, but I can genuinely say that I have no problems with any of the coaching staff."

Reading between the lines the coach pressed on.

"That would imply that there are others who do face such problems Sawamura and if that is true I would like to know."

Sighing Eijun knew he had to come clean. He did talk with Miyuki about his frustration towards some of the staff but the latter said that wasn't for them to find a solution and that he should just ignore them. He wondered how his coach picked up on it and if he had the courage to ask.

"I don't think my annoyance with them changed much since last time I spoke to you about them Boss."

Now it was Kataoka's turn to look surprised at that reply.

"You mean to say things haven't changed since I've spoken to them?"

Nodding Eijun elaborated.

"You've said you've spoken to them and they did change their behavior yes; but only towards me. It is incredibly frustrating to see that they only put energy in players they regard worthy of first-string."

"And don't get me wrong" he said when he noticed his coach wanted to interrupt. "I don't miss-grudge those players that chance. What irks me is how they choose players they deem worthy for first-string."

Now he had Rei-chan's full attention as well. As adviser for the second-string team she wondered if she missed something important.

Taking a minute to formulate his thoughts again, Eijun gave up. There was no nice or roundabout way to say what would come next.

"They disregard everyone that doesn't show proper talent nor abilities in the first five minutes. Even if someone works very hard or practices his weaknesses they still don't offer any sort of advice nor help, thinking they aren't worthy of their time and effort considering they have players they can get fit for first-string already."

"If Boss didn't hold games, joint practice, observations or whatsoever and Takashima-sensei didn't come to check out players conditions, those players would never get any recognition or promotion towards first-string."

"I don't think the second-string coaches are bad people, but they sure are complacent. They will make sure to give everyone the guidance Boss orders them to give but they will not go a step further for those who seem unfit for first-string in their opinion."

"If any of those players make it to first-string, it won't be because of the coaches there but because of their own perseverance and hard work in conquering their weaknesses and practicing their strengths."

"Seidou's team is big so I understand that Boss doesn't have the time to track every single player's progress and that that's the reason there are several coaches, but if those coaches aren't on one line it makes it unreasonably hard or easy for certain kind of players and that's something I sincerely dislike."

After saying all of this, Eijun decided to stay quiet, knowing they had to process everything he'd said for a couple of minutes if their dumbfounded faces were anything to go by.

"Miyuki-senpai told me to let it be as he was sure you've noticed it yourself after talking to them about the batting thingy so I kept quiet, but while I was sitting out I noticed that actually nothing much changed and it irked me to no end."

"So Miyuki-kun recognises this as well Sawamura-kun?" Rei-chan asked, internally panicking on where they messed up.

"I would say that everyone knows about this Takashima-sensei." the boy answered, startling her even more.

"You mean to say that this is a sentiment shared by all players Sawamura?" Kataoka asked, incredulously.

Shrugging, Eijun nodded yes and he noticed them looking like he confirmed their worst fears.

"I could say they never brought it to your attention because they thought Boss was scary or you wouldn't believe it or something, but I understood that it was because everyone thought it was the way it just was. No one questioned it because Boss and Takashima-sensei seemed to have no problem with it; especially since a lot of them practice outside the field in the nearby park after hours because there's no chance for them to practice on the grounds during the day."

Feeling old all of a sudden Kataoka wondered how deep the problem really ran. He knew players practiced after hours, and he had no problem with it as long as it didn't influence their health or gameplay, but he always thought they stayed on the grounds where they had protection at night.

Hearing that players felt they had to leave the grounds to pursue the training they needed; and more so after regular hours, was a shock to him.

Seeing the stricken face of Rei he knew she hadn't known either even though she had more time to observe those kids than he had. The second-string staff never reported anything of the sort happening but with Sawamura's explanation it made sense.

He knew that the first thing he had to do was to schedule a mandatory full staff meeting, but only after he observed the situation for a couple of days so he could figure out how deep the problems ran and who the perpetrators were.

He would also need to speak to Yuuki about this and see how he could change his coaching schedule for the upcoming days; because if it was indeed as dire as Sawamura said, they would have to take swift action. Things like this were completely unacceptable in Kataoka's eyes and he would not tolerate them to continue if they've proven true and if they lead to the detriment of the players involved.

Sighing, Kataoka regarded the boy in front of him and knew there was one last person they had to talk about. He decided to get this over with as well, considering the mess they had on their hands already one thing more wouldn't add much.

"I thank you for bringing this to our attention Sawamura and rest assured that we will carefully consider everything you've said and take action after we've investigated all of this."

Seeing the boy's face light up with relief, he now fully understood his reluctance to talk about it, as it could easily be perceived as criticism towards him as head coach and therefore a personal affront to his leadership capabilities. He had to work on that as well it seemed. Players shouldn't be afraid of his title when facing such situations and keep quiet because of it.

"There is one last thing I would like to know though" and he internally sighed sadly when he saw the boy's face darken again, wondering what he would ask.

"Is there any particular reason for not wanting Oota-sensei attending this conversation, considering your reluctance when I asked this morning?"

Whatever he expected to happen, he didn't expect Sawamura to burst out laughing. He waited until the boy got his bearings back, noticing the knowing grin Rei wore as well and wondered how much he'd truly missed even though being the head-coach.

"N-no particular reason Boss" Eijun giggled. "But Oota-sensei isn't of much use unless you're Nori-senpai."

Not knowing how to react to that he only pulled his brow in a request to elaborate.

Still shaking with mirth Eijun did.

"Oota-sensei is what I would call a Kawakami-otaku. I doubt he would notice anything going on unless it concerns Nori-senpai Boss." he said and Rei couldn't hold back a snort; especially seeing Tesshin's face upon hearing that unexpected tidbit.

"He also panics about every small thing and his baseball knowledge seems limited at the best of times even being the club president. I would consider Oota-sensei not much more than some comic relief if I'm honest, but that isn't very nice so I won't say it out loud." and at this even Kataoka had to bite his lip in order to prevent himself from laughing out loud. Rei was less successful though and had to turn around while giggling softly.

"Him standing beside you though Boss, especially at games, gives you an even stricter air and underlines your coolness; especially when you manage to glare at him after he once again panics. It makes our opponents shudder every time they see you do it and pray it won't be directed towards them ever. We always thought that would be the reason you've kept him beside you."

And at this point Tesshin knew he lost the fight and had to make Sawamura leave before he lost his composure in front of him completely.

"I thank you for clarifying that as well Sawamura. Just know that Oota-sensei is a valued staff member and if you face problems you can also come to him. He actually is quite knowledgeable and I'll make sure his behavior towards all of you will become more coach-like. For now you're dismissed until I've talked to Chris about your rehabilitation.

Nodding Eijun once again got up and when he reached the door turned around again.

"Thank you for your time Takashima-sensei, Boss. This Sawamura Eijun will strive to help you in any way I can but thank you for taking my words into consideration." and he made a ten degree bow, again ignoring his coaches' twitches at doing so and swiftly walked out before they could reply.

He was happy he got it off his chest although it was an unexpected conversation and he wondered if Miyuki knew it would eventually come up when he told him to let it be for now.

Well, if he wanted to know he would have to ask the tanuki right? So he made his way towards the dorms, hell bent on catching his catcher.

After the door closed behind Eijun, Rei and Kataoka dissolved in full blown laughter but quickly sobered when they remembered the issues the boy brought to their attention.

"A Kawakami-otaku and comic relief huh" Kataoka mumbled and it extracted another giggling fit from Rei.

Pulling herself together she answered "the saddest thing is that Oota is actually one of the most knowledgeable people on the team but from the kids viewpoint I can understand if they don't see it."

Now sighing in earnest they looked at each other and wondered what on earth happened if they needed a boy fresh from middle-school and not even two months on the team, to tell them the shape Seidou's baseball team was in.

Leaning his elbows on his knees, Kataoka regarded Rei as he brought his hands together before his face.

"I believe the things Sawamura brought to our attention will be proven quite quickly so we shouldn't wait too long to schedule a full staff meeting. I will notify Yuuki that he will lead the training tomorrow, but not until training almost starts to limit everyone from knowing we have other plans." and at Rei's agreeance continued.

"We both will go and observe the second-string then and after practice I want to talk to Yuuki about this as well, to see if Sawamura missed anything although from what I've heard so far I hope not. The only question at this point is whether or not we go looking for those kids in the park right now or at a later time as I do not approve of them leaving the grounds."

Humming in thought, Rei as well contemplated what they should do in this situation.

"If we go now, everyone will know it was brought to our attention, and that is undesirable at the moment especially since we want to investigate things first. What I suggest is that you or I go there in secret and guard over them until they themselves return and it allows us to keep an eye out and hear any gossip at the same time."

Agreeing to what she said, he only replied with a "In that case we will go together", ignoring her inquiring look as they prepared to leave for dinner after which they would stalk towards the park as the first part of their investigation.

------

When Eijun returned to his dorm room he didn't expect Kanemaru standing in front of the door, waiting for him.

"Jow Kanemaru, waiting for me?" He asked and the other boy looked up at hearing his name called.

Nodding he elaborated. "I saw you leaving with the coaches and wondered what happened. You didn't get in trouble for helping us right?" he asked uncharacteristically serious.

Blinking in surprise Eijun nodded negatively. "I didn't get in trouble. I was talking to coach about my revalidation schedule. I had some plans for that and wanted to run them by him before my next doctor's appointment."

Kanemaru sighed in relief. He was worried coach would have reprimanded him for disrupting the second-string training, knowing he would be the reason why as he asked him to help them and happy it wasn't so.

Sawamura really was too nice a kid and being the reason for a reprimand wouldn't have sitten well with him.

"Guess you haven't eaten then Wamura. We're on the late side but you still wanna go get a bite?" he asked

"Is it that time already? Damn I really don't want to miss dinner! They have pudding tonight for dessert. Hurry up Kanemaru!" Eijun yelled as he sped up towards the cafeteria, the other boy following while yelling for him to be careful of his injuries and to slow down.

Slightly out of breath they reached cafeteria and when Eijun stepped in everyone looked up as he rushed towards the counter while asking the serving lady if they've left any pudding for him with Kanemaru trying to slow him down, again, and again without much luck.

"Sawamura you idiot. If you don't slow down I'll make sure Kuramochi-senpai will tie you to your chair!"

Gasping in shock Eijun shouted "You wouldn't!" and at the other's threatening look yelled "Kanemaru you traitor!"

"Who's a traitor huh, Wamura! The senpai's would skin me if you injure yourself on my watch so you're the traitor you dumbass!"

"I have no idea what you're talking about but that's no reason to threaten me with Mochi-nii!"

Only then did they notice the other's laughing and howling at their antics as they made quite a scene whilst unbeknown to them, Mochi now stood behind them looking ready to pounce.

They got interrupted by the cafeteria lady as she announced their food trays to be ready and to come and grab them.

Walking towards the counter, Eijun contemplated whether he could carry it in one hand when he startled seeing another pair reaching around him.

"Don't you dare even think about it little bro." was muttered menacingly into his ear and he immediately abandoned his pickup motion as he watched Mochi grabbing said tray and carrying it towards their table, silently ordering him to follow.

Sighing Eijun followed, slightly afraid of getting another lecture about him taking it easy and quite fed up with it when he noticed Miyuki cracking up.

"Oy you bastard what's so funny?" he snarled when he reached him and poked him in his ribs.

"You are Sawamura. You looked like an old married couple when you argued with Kanemaru. It was hilarious" and he laughed even harder when Kanemaru almost dropped his tray on the table while Eijun spluttered expletives at the catcher.

Deciding to ignore said catcher Eijun made to eat when Mochi asked the question that ate at him since this morning.

"So what did Kataoka-kantoku want?"

Blinking in surprise Eijun wondered what was going on. Everyone seemed extremely interested or worried about his visit with the boss and he couldn't figure out why, it wasn't that rare to seek out the Boss for any type of matters was it?

"I wanted to talk about my rehabilitation schedule before we go for my check-up to see if they were acceptable and could get them run by the doctors right away as well. But coach didn't have time before practice so I made an appointment for after training."

Remembering a small tidbit about that conversation, he turned around searching for a specific face and finally saw Jun sitting a couple of tables away.

"Spitz-senpai" he called and Jun turned around, long used to the nickname now and knew any breath he would loose on correcting him wouldn't be worth it.

"Whaddya want" he yelled back.

"Could you let Chris-senpai know that Boss will talk to him about my revalidation schedule? He knows about it but I wanted to let him know I already spoke to Boss."

Looking slightly surprised he nodded and Eijun returned towards is food, ignoring the stunned silence around him as he took his first bites.

Regarding Eijun, Miyuki couldn't contain his curiosity and asked "What does Chris-senpai have to do with your revalidation?" He knew of the plans of course but since Chris didn't elaborate he hoped Eijun would.

Halting between bites Eijun answered "I asked him if he would be willing to draw up a schedule for me and if he'd allow me to train at his gym as well so I could return to the field as quick as possible and considering Chris-senpai's knowledge there is no one better than him to know on what I need to work on to prevent any relapse."

"And he agreed?" Mochi asked, his surprise evident on his face.

"Well he did say he didn't have much time considering he is also training Furuya but he didn't mind much."

Mochi and Miyuki only looked at each other in surprise before they regarded the pitcher again as he mumbled.

"I just wonder what it would take to get him back on the field again?"

"Oy Eijun, that isn't even funny so don't try anything okay?" his brother admonished him sternly. And Eijun heard him but dutifully ignored him as that was his prerogative as his little brother, just like admonishing him was Mochi's prerogative as his older brother.

Miyuki though startled in surprise when he saw Eijun signaling him that they had to talk. Sometimes it was damn handy that they were a battery and could communicate with signs.

Eijun didn't even look at him but talked to Kanemaru about his plans, when he signed to him, he totally forgot that he could have also asked him to deliver the message considering they were roommates.

He hummed, and knew Eijun understood he had gotten the message, when the other nodded and continued to eat his hard fought for pudding.

When he finished his food, Miyuki grabbed his tray, all the way taunting the pitcher to make him get up and follow without raising any suspicion.

After they've successfully stepped out of the door alone, Miyuki instantly dropped the act and regarded Eijun.

"So what is it you want to talk about?" he asked.

"There was another thing I've talked to coach about and I guess you were right again." he replied as they made their way towards the training grounds in hopes of avoiding their teammates if they skipped the known training spots for this conversation.

Saying nothing Miyuki only waited for Eijun to elaborate.

"Apparently coach picked up on me ignoring the second-string coaching staff and wanted to know what it was all about."

Pulling up his eyebrows in surprise was the only sign Eijun got that Miyuki was still listening attentively.

"I tried to be tactful" he said and hearing the amused snort, snapped a "I can be tactful you stupid tanuki" and continued.

"But I guess it was useless in this case. In the end I just told them what we've discussed before and I got the feeling they indeed didn't know anything about it. I'm quite happy you've brought it to my attention as I've hadn't noticed it the first time around. I guess you did know that me ignoring them would draw their attention to it didn't you?"

And Eijun knew he was right when he saw Miyuki's face split into a satisfied expression. He looked like the proverbial cat that ate the canary. His worry about his plans not taking the right route immediately dissolved.

"It really caught me off guard you stupid catcher." he said "But I guess the ball is rolling now. I just wonder why you didn't address it yourself?"

At that Miyuki halted, looking incredulously towards the pitcher.

"Did you really think that if I took that matter to the coaches attention I could have gotten them to look at it seriously? For stuff like this I'm really not the right person Eijun and you should know by now."

Eijun felt himself getting annoyed when he heard how Miyuki brought himself down and wouldn't accept it.

"I wouldn't count too much on those words you've just uttered Miyuki Kazuya. You aren't as bad as you think you are and don't you dare disregard yourself in the solving of these things. I sure as hell couldn't do it without you. I even forgive you for manipulating me to suit your plans in this as they've brought on the expected result so give yourself some credit you stupid catcher."

Stunned to silence Miyuki could only stare at Eijun. Who would have thought that Eijun would ever step up for him even if it was against himself. No one had done so before and he wasn't sure how he should react now.

Noticing his dilemma Eijun decided to ignore it. "I suppose we can conclude that there will be a change soon and if so it should be for the better right? I'm sure it will have a positive effect on the first-string as well even if it isn't noticeable at first."

Nodding Miyuki silently agreed with his assessment "Well it would be nice if it changes soon. But is that all you've wanted to discuss for now?"

Getting a mischievous look in his eyes, Eijun halted before he spoke next.

"Nope, I also wanted to spend some alone time with you. It's been a while hasn't it?" and couldn't hold in a chuckle when he saw Miyuki coming to a complete standstill. He could swear he could see a faint blush on the other's cheeks even if it was currently dark outside.

Chapter Text

After dinner, Kataoka and Rei made their way towards the nearby park to start their first investigation of many, as they didn't know how deep their coaching troubles truly went.

Arriving there after a couple of minutes they looked around but didn't see any players yet and were slightly grateful for that, as now they had time to look for a decent hiding spot.

Contemplating on where the players would hide out for their training they noticed a small area off the main park way which ended in a small square. It was wasn't particularly well lit but enough for a group if they didn't want to attract too much attention but still had decent lighting to examine each other's process.

Nodding, they made their way over and just reached the bushes before they indeed heard people arriving.

Sighing, as somewhere in their hearts they'd hoped it wouldn't be true, they watched the Seidou players arrive. Some were from the second string and some were just regular players.

After about ten minutes it seemed that about fifteen people gathered and started swinging their bats.

It hurt Kataoka seeing them swing rather desperately instead of purposefully. Hearing snippets of their conversations didn't help ease the guilt forming in his gut either.

Things like "Do you think this time we'll make the cut?" or "If we can't practice regular but want to show our skills to Kantoku we'll have to make do with what we can" and "If Sawamura can be unconventional we can be too right, so maybe they'll acknowledge us now?" were like actual punches to his gut.

Realistically speaking he knew he couldn't cater to them all with a club of around a hundred players. But he never meant for any player to feel like they've had to push themselves to the point of despair just to be able to be acknowledged in some form by him.

He leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes as his hands gripped his upper arms so tight he'd have bruises the next day.

Next to him Rei squatted with a sad look on her face as she too understood the heaviness of the situation.

None of the boys spoke of other coaches. The ones who weren't in any string didn't talk about being acknowledged by any other coaches, second or regular, and placed all their hope on impressing Kataoka, as if they didn't see any other way up and Kataoka was the only one deciding their fate in their years of high-school baseball.

It was true that when it came to such matters Kataoka made all end decisions but he couldn't keep track on every single player's growth and performance so that's where the rest of the coaching staff came in.

It's never pleasant to hear that the basics lacked and it's a necessary evil to investigate. It's another thing to actually see some results of that lacking and not knowing where it will stop and how to change it.

They kept their silent vigil over the boys until they returned towards the dorms after two hours of practicing, both silently thinking over the things they've heard as they as well returned.

When they arrived back, Rei knew her companion needed some time to think today's events over and come up with a course of action for the upcoming days. She placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezed it lightly in understanding and made her way towards her own domain.

Not willing to retire just yet, Kataoka went inside his office and moved towards the sofa, leaving the lights off and just sat there contemplating everything that happened and tried to devise a plan of action as the hours ticked by.

---

Miyuki and Eijun though, unbeknownst to them that the coaches would check out Eijun's first claim right away, walked towards the field where they met an unexpected sight.

As Eijun turned red as a beet in embarrassment, Miyuki started to chuckle lightly when they saw Jun pulling Tetsu and Chris towards the storage shed. That in itself wasn't what made Eijun flush in embarrassment though. No it was the state of undress that signaled like a red flag of the activities that those boys were about to partake in.

"My, my isn't this rather cliché Eijun? Guess Jun likes to pursue Shoujo in real life too hmm?" Miyuki snarked, not completely capable of holding back and giggling. "Guess you can ask him now if those places really are as romantic as they're depicted in your manga's right?"

"Shut up you idiot. Let's get out of here, I don't wanna be scarred for life you know." And instantly turned away, hoping he could un-see what he saw.

Laughing at Eijun's discomfort he couldn't resist teasing the boy further. "But I must say, I never imagined Jun being the kind of guy wearing thon..hggmn" and Eijun's hand slapped over his mouth, cutting him off effectively.

"Finish that sentence and I'm gonna kick you were the sun doesn't shine you perverted catcher!" he growled, shrieking as Miyuki licked his fingers in a bid to get him to release him.

Laughing heartedly now Miyuki wiped some stray tears away as Eijun was jumping around cursing and busy wiping his hand on his pants.

"You're sure we shouldn't 'investigate' their activities E-i-j-u-n-kun. It would have more of an educational value than those books you know." and he winked mischievously towards the now gaping pitcher.

"Y-you actually would wouldn't you Miyuki Kazuya" and when he saw the others devious grin he started to chuckle.

"Well it's your life you're risking when you get caught. I can imagine our captain appreciating you volunteering to be his…" and now it was Eijun who couldn't finish his sentence as an unfamiliar hand clamped his mouth shut.

"If the two of you utter even one more word, you won't live to see another day." Jun shouted behind Miyuki.

Seeing it being Tetsu who interrupted Eijun he couldn't pass up on this golden opportunity.

"Oy Sawamura, I wouldn't use the same technique I used on that hand you know, who knows where it's been" and he wiggled his eyebrows to make his point clear.

Hitching a breath Eijun went bright red at the implied reference and after a second Tetsu caught on as well, immediately pulling his hand back as Eijun started to whimper in embarrassment. Jun could only gape and Chris stood stoically to the side while Tetsu didn't know where to look.

"Mi-miyukiii, I've been defiled, now I can never face my future true love again sob. What do I doooo Miyuki? I'm not pure anymore!" and he almost burst into tears, tears shining brightly in his eyes and Tetsu spluttered incoherently trying to unsuccessfully calm the pitcher.

Jun stood frozen in place and Chris looked towards the sky praying for patience. This wasn't how he'd expected their evening to go, he really shouldn't have listened to Jun wanting to act out some stupid manga plot that was supposed to be 'hot and romantic'. It's a total fiasco at this point.

'Of all the people on this team we had to be caught by these two, only Ryousuke would have been worse' he thought and he closed his eyes when he heard Miyuki continue to howl while Sawamura still wailed.

"Oy Sawamura, it isn't like that you know" Jun tried to reason, getting agitated himself in apparent embarrassment. He just knew Chris and Tetsu would flay him for this, but stopped when he got interrupted by another voice.

"Oja, what's going on here? It looks interesting" was said and at hearing that particular voice, three boys froze in place immediately, praying for it not to be so but giving up when Sawamura confirmed their worst fear.

"Oniiii-san-senpai, I've been defiled" Eijun sobbed running towards him after he noticed his brother standing beside him. "Mochi-nii, what should I do now?"

"What on earth are you blabbering about Eijun? What happened?" a worried Mochi asked but when he saw the tears in his brother's eyes his changed towards murder.

When his gaze fell on the still howling catcher he took one menacing step forwards, believing the tanuki was responsible once more for his little brothers distress, but was incapable of reaching him due to Eijun holding onto him like a drowning man.

He opted for another method to get his answers. "Miyuki you bastard, what did you do?" he growled while petting his brothers head in a bid to calm him down.

Before Miyuki could answer though, Eijun cut in. "It wasn't Miyuki Mochi-nii, it was Captain-senpai".

Totally not expecting THAT answer, both Mochi and Ryousuke whipped their heads around in utter surprise towards their captain who at that point in time seemed frozen into a human statue.

Relenting at their burning stares, Tetsu found his motoric capabilities hadn't left him completely after all, brought his hands up in a sign of peace as he started to open his mouth but no sound came out. So much for his other capabilities.

Having had enough Chris finally spoke. "It's a misunderstanding Sawamura. Your virtue is quite safe."

"Oho, can you honestly say that hand was only used in complete innocence today Chris-senpai?" Miyuki teased, throwing even more oil on the fire and loving every second. For once it wasn't him being the source of Eijun's distress; forgetting that he was the instigator for the trio's current predicament with his teasing on purpose of course.

Blushing slightly Chris went silent again and Jun muttered a "you're not helping you bastard" which caused another laughing fit for Miyuki.

Hearing Eijun's breath hitching still, Mochi lost his patience fast and even Ryousuke started to look towards them impatiently; not acquiring his blackmail material fast enough for his liking.

"What the hell is going on here?" Mochi snapped, his patience finally ended. "What's this about a hand?" and this time he straight out confronted Tetsu with his questions, dismissing the rest for the moment. But upon seeing Tetsu turn red, his eyes widened and if Ryousuke hadn't stepped in, Eijun would have landed on the ground with his need to pummel the captain as his face signaled of guilt.

"Mah, Mah, Youichi" Ryou said while holding the pitcher at his good shoulder to steady him as Eijun almost tumbled with Mochi's abrupt movement. "You're going to hurt your brother like that."

At this Mochi quickly looked at Eijun and at seeing him trying to bite back a moan of pain quickly calmed down. He'd never meant for him hurting Eijun ever.

At that point, Miyuki having heard Ryosuke's words, instantly sobered and started to glower towards the shortstop; all teasing instantly forgotten when he saw Eijun's face flash with sudden pain as his shoulder got slightly jostled.

Taken aback at Miyuki's abrupt mood change, Mochi released Eijun on reflex as the catcher came towards them and grabbed Eijun's hand to pull him out of harm's way.

"I think it's time for me and Sawamura to call it a day. We'll see you later." and the took off leaving all of them except Ryousuke thoroughly confused.

The last thing they heard was Sawamura wailing on how he lost his virtue and Miyuki telling him that his future partner would definitely forgive this transgression, effectively calming Sawamura down.

"You're sure?" they heard Sawamura ask and at Miyuki's "Of course as there isn't something to forgive you for" their eyebrows almost left their faces.

As the trio shared baffled looks with Mochi, never hearing something this sweet coming from Miyuki, Ryousuke could only snicker, thinking that people could be really slow sometimes; but declined to elaborate on their surprise as he knew that the both of them were still in denial.

Sensing this to be the most opportune time to leave, Chris quickly grabbed hold of both Jun's as Tetsu's hand and proceeded to drag them away with a hasty goodbye towards the other two.

Mochi just now realizing their escape, narrowed his eyes but was just a second too late to stop them from going.

Utterly confused and still angry Mochi turned towards his lover muttering darkly about not letting them escape and him getting his answers even if it was the last thing he'd do.

Realizing just now that they were once again completely alone, he blushed and looked towards one heavily amused Kominato Ryousuke who knew exactly how to take his mind off of this matter by proceeding to kiss him senselessly. Mochi surrendered without complaint; for now.

---

The following day everything went it's normal way until training began.

As everyone arrived and assembled, they've noticed the absence of one very familiar face.

Turning around they saw Sawamura sitting in his designated chair being teased by one capricious catcher and concluded that this time he appeared not to be the reason for the coach's absence.

Turning around again they saw their captain coming to the front, enlightening them on their coach's absence for today and assigning them their individual practice menus.

Sharing a look, Miyuki and Eijun only shrugged to each other and as Miyuki made his way towards the bullpen his shirt was grabbed in a bid to stop him.

Turning around he saw Eijun looking at him with a pout on his face and when he saw him glancing towards the captain and Jun, he couldn't suppress a chuckle,and patiently waiting for Eijun to speak.

"Neh Miyuki, do you think I could come to the bullpen with you?"

"Oh, and why is that Sa-wa-mu-ra?" Miyuki teased, knowing full well the reason of course.

Hissing as he knew he was being teased, Eijun also knew he had no chance unless he spoke.

"I've been observing this bunch for days now, I think it's time to lend you my support in the bullpen now. These ones can do for a day without my guidance now." and he airily swung his arm to encompass most of the out-field players.

Deciding for once he didn't mind having the excitable pitcher joining him he threw a knowing victorious glance towards Tetsu, Jun and Mochi, looking for all the world like the proverbial cat.

He liked being chosen over everyone else by Eijun, especially when others caused him some form of distress and Miyuki didn't and for that reason sought comfort by him. He liked it a lot.

He'd wondered when his feelings regarding the pitcher started to change. He knew things would change after coming here but he hadn't quite foreseen that that would mean them changing too.

He knew he would become more dependent on Eijun and vice-versa but always thought that would be an inevitable outcome as they were in the same boat and trying to change mostly the same things. He hadn't foreseen getting emotionally invested though.

It's been so long that someone willingly sought out his company for whatever reason, that he felt slightly overwhelmed. And Eijun didn't seem to want anything back except his company itself.

He didn't know what to do with these strange developments as he never before had to deal with them. The only thing he knew was that he truly enjoyed having Eijun around this time even though the other hadn't particularly changed since his 'old' second year, nor did he think he'd changed since coming back. It was a development he hadn't found the answer too yet and it ate at him but not enough to deny himself the joy it brought him, he was selfish enough for that of course.

Him grabbing the chair being his answer, he made to walk towards the bullpen, secretly elated inside when he noticed Eijun's beaming face as he started to follow him. Yes, he would have to ponder this matter further, but not now, later was fine as well.

---

After briefing Yuuki on today's menu and their absence, Kataoka and Rei waited till training was close to starting before making their way towards the B-ground.

Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, they found a secluded spot that still gave them a good overview of the field. They'd decided to check the second-string first before continuing on to the rest.

After an hour they'd confirmed everything Sawamura had been talking about. They both knew they didn't even need to see the other players for more evidence but would have to. If only to underscore they'd investigated everything as transparently as possible if questions were asked.

After finalizing their written notes, they walked to the far side of the B-ground to inspect the last forty something players doing regular conditioning training menu's.

Here they broke from their regular 'observe only' rule and asked the players several questions about their menu's, training input and individually discussed training progress.

Happy having the head-coach watching them, they merrily answered his questions, not noticing his eyes darkening tremendously behind his dark shades.

After about twenty minutes Rei finally noticed Shiba, one of the non-string assigned coaches walk towards them.

He seemed startled upon seeing them, not having expected for them to come over, and wondered what this was about; especially when asked where he'd been until now.

His answer didn't seem to placate Kataoka much and with a short grunt he and Rei excused themselves before retreating towards their office once more to contemplate everything they'd seen and heard and come up with a strategy to annul these matters.

They waited for Yuuki to report back after training to discuss his views on the matter and after they'd spoken to the boy immediately went to execute their plan.

They'd informed Yuuki to make sure all Seidou baseball players assembled tomorrow before the start of training and to wait for them to arrive instead of starting to train immediately.

Next they'd sent every member of the coaching staff an email with mandatory attendance for seven am tomorrow to discuss some 'troubling matters' that had been observed.

Sometimes he hated being head-coach with vigor, things like this made his blood boil and he wanted to punch something. But most of all he wanted to punch himself for not sooner having noticed the state Seidou was in and his role in it.

He really wondered when it was that he stopped caring about the well-being of his players before winning in competitions and he knew that if he ever found his answer he wouldn't like it, knowing how it reflected him.

Sighing he told Rei to call it a day and made his way towards his rooms. He wasn't sure whether or not sleep would elude him tonight but he sure was exhausted.

The next day, all five summoned coaches met at seven am sharp in the coaches room, awaiting the reason for their being here.

Noticing Oota's and Takashima's presence didn't lighten their mood as they wondered what was as important that they'd had the club president and vice-president in attendance too.

A couple of minutes later Kataoka entered with an uncommonly serious look on his face, setting everyone even more on edge.

Without greeting he started the meeting right away.

"It was brought to my notice that apparently my coaching staff isn't doing what they're supposed to do, both in training and guarding our players."

Hearing surprised and incredulous hitches of breath being puffed, he silenced everyone with one glance; not accepting any interruptions until he was done.

"The concerns that were brought to my notice were of such severity that Takashima-san and I decided to investigate them immediately; considering that such accusations could result in unfavorable and nasty situations if left unaddressed."

Looking at everyone he continued, noticing that some people started to show unease on their faces.

"For the past two days, Takashima-san and I investigated every claim made and came to the most shocking conclusion." at this everyone started to shuffle in place in their unease.

"Every single claim made was indeed true and proven with evidence."

Looking around he saw several coaches beginning to sweat and others gulping in fear, wondering if they as well failed or if it was only one or two of them.

"Never in my life have I felt more ashamed than right that moment when concerns addressed to us by a child prove unmistakingly true and believe me when I say that from this day onwards, I will not tolerate for this behavior to continue, from all of us."

Startled in surprise at hearing those words, the coaches were now truly confused as it appeared that Kataoka-kantoku himself did something wrong apparently as well.

"Players feeling the need to train outside of our grounds after official training times? Ignoring players not being deemed good enough after one initial assessment? Refusing to give proper guidance and coaching opportunities for players when they request them and so on?"

"IS THIS THE TYPE OF COACHES YOU WANT TO BE PERCEIVED AS?" he thundered in apparent fury. "AS COACHES THAT FAVOR SPECIFIC PLAYERS OVER OTHERS AND LOSING SIGHT ON WHAT IT IS WE WANT TO TEACH THEM?"

One accusation after the other was addressed, supported by proof, and at the end of it all it had the whole coaching staff feeling down with shame and guilt.

Not allowing them to wallow in it, Kataoka demanded they started right away on thinking on how to resolve these matters with a demand for a second meeting before training starting this afternoon.

After finishing their respective classes or work, they met again to discuss their plan of action and ideas pertaining several issues in regards to themselves and the staff as one. They wrapped up right before training started when they got caught in surprise by Kataoka-kantoku again.

"I called for a full assembly of all players before the start of training today. You will all join me as I address the players in regards to these matters and changes and one more thing. If I hear about any complaints in this nature again and they are proven true, heads will roll."

At that statement everyone quickly voiced their consent and reassurances and they made their way over towards the now waiting players.

Seeing everyone assembled they felt a slight pang of guilt hitting them again when Kataoka-kantoku addressed them all.

"The reason for your assembly is to address some matters that were brought to mine and Takashima-sensei's notice."

At that Miyuki's eyes sought out Eijun's and they looked at each other in utter surprise. Not having expected these matters being addressed this quickly nor getting open feedback about it.

Shifting their attention back towards their coach they wondered what would come next.

"After investigating these matters I addressed them to the whole coaching staff and we came up with a new plan of action regarding our coaching."

At this everyone looked towards them in surprise. Not really understanding what they're on about.

"That means from this day onwards, no player will have to seek refuge in training outside of these facilities, coaches will be reassigned between the second-string and no-string players and open-office times will be introduced as well. Apart from that, every player will get two-weekly evaluation sessions in which your progress can be addressed and requests being made."

At this excitement began to made itself clear in the player ranks but Kataoka's hand motion calmed everyone down again.

"Remember though that we are a team of almost a hundred players with six coaches total. We will do our utmost best to guide and coach you through your three years of high-school baseball but we do need your cooperation in this as well. Therefore use the time granted to you wisely and carefully think over your wishes in regards to your training and we will see how we can help."

"This also means with the reassignment of coaches that your everyday schedule will look somewhat different. These matters mostly concern the second- and no-string players though. I will continue to look after the first-string with Takashima-sensei."

"For now we will keep the player assignment the same, but remember that in the wake of every new tournament things can change. Prepare yourself with that in mind and show us your utmost best."

Seeing his players nod he decided to wrap things up.

"For now, second- and no-string players please return to the B-ground. Your coaches will instruct you further with Takashima-sensei. First-string players, we will continue the game simulation from yesterday in preparation for this Sunday's game. Meeting dismissed."

Everyone immediately broke ranks and started to talk excitedly to each other. The B-ground players especially looked quite excited and wondered how this had happened and if Christmas came early.

When Kataoka stood at his favorite observation spot he got startled when heard a "way to go coach" behind him as Kominato Ryousuke passed him.

Refusing to acknowledge the pink-haired boy he stoically looked over the field but couldn't help wondering about the boys admiring look towards Miyuki; who in return grinned and gave a thumbs up.

As far as he knew it was Sawamura that addressed these matters with him so why would Kominato congratulate Miyuki? It got even more confusing when he saw Sawamura signalling a high five towards the catcher as well.

Standing there slightly confused he wondered if these boys would be the death of him one day. He couldn't keep up.

Noticing Sawamura pointing towards his sling reminded him of another matter he had to address soon.

He made a mental note to invite Chris tomorrow to discuss Sawamura's plans for his revalidation progress before his doctor's appointment in two day's.

Feeling much more accomplished than yesterday, he watched over the boys and knew that when he turned in for the night today at least he wouldn't have trouble finding sleep.

---

Omake

After shepherding Eijun away from the throng of boys, he guided the distraught pitcher towards his dorm-room.

Arriving he opened the door and seeing Masuko-senpai eating his beloved pudding.

When Masuko looked up and noticed Sawamura's tears he quickly got up and moved towards the fridge, taking another pudding out and putting it in Eijun's hands.

Looking at the pudding in wonder, Eijun immediately lit up in apparent happiness and proceeded to sit next to Masuko to sample it in obvious bliss.

Taking his mind of whatever trouble Sawamura faced, Masuko engaged him in a pudding discussion, much to Miyuki's amusement.

Deciding to see where this would lead he sat back and only listened.

After a short while Mochi returned as well and after a quick look at Miyuki deemed it safe enough to set himself next to the catcher.

A couple of minutes later, Miyuki couldn't hold back his laughter when they'd reached the point of comparing baked, steamed and boiled puddings and their properties versus taste and saw the look of utter incomprehension and confusion on Mochi's face.

The shortstop didn't even want to think about why his brother could hold his own in a quite decent discussion about pudding of all things. The workings of the other's mind a total mystery to him.

Attracted by the sound of Miyuki's laughter, Eijun looked around and saw Mochi's face for himself and not able to resist, quickly grabbed his phone to take pictures. It would be great blackmail material if he ever needed something from him or Ryousuke.

After taking his pictures, he decided to ignore the boys for now and continued their discussion where they left off. Masuko made for a great conversation partner.

As their conversation dimmed down with the last hot versus cold pudding argument over, Eijun felt exhaustion catching up with him. He really hated the state he was in and couldn't wait for it to be over.

The other boys noticed immediately and without needing to speak brought the day to a close.

When Miyuki left the only thing he could think of was 'Only you Eijun. Only you could hold an in depth discussion about something as mundane as pudding. Well I guess that's what makes you you then.' and proceeded to walk towards his own room, happy with how the day turned out.

Chapter Text

"Mochi-nii, listen up, I can ditch the sling from Monday onwards, finally! The doctor gave the okay, so that means that I can at last start recuperating as Chris deems appropriate" one Sawamura Eijun exclaimed happily as he pulled Mochi aside from his batting training.

Ignoring the snickering that broke out around them Mochi patted Eijun's head. "Sounds good, so that means just two more days huh?"

Glowing in happiness Eijun nodded enthusiastically and at seeing the boy's obvious joy at reaching the first mile-stone in his recovery process the others couldn't help but feel happy as well.

"Way to go Sawamura; sounds good!" was yelled between congratulations.

Noticing the coach making his way over he excused himself and ran towards him to share the news and ask him about Chris.

When Kataoka noticed the over-excited boy walking towards him he had to bite his tongue to refrain from smiling himself. The boy's happiness was truly infectious and he had a reputation to uphold after all.

He was quite pleased with the result as well as he knew that with these type of injuries the first two weeks were the most important.

He truly hoped Sawamura could finish his revalidation within twelve instead of sixteen weeks but wasn't willing to sacrifice the boy to do so. Therefore he was very pleased the first step happened naturally within the estimated time and no delay occurred.

He had spoken with Chris the other day and although the boy didn't seem overly enthusiastic he didn't voice any discontent either. If he had any reaction at all he seemed resigned, and Kataoka had extracted a promise from the detached boy that should he in any way feel overwhelmed or overworked with the demands of the two pitchers that he would notify them immediately.

He knew Chris already started drafting a suitable training-schedule for Sawamura; the rough version checked by the doctor and Rei notifying him that it was found satisfactory overall but the doctor added some minor revisions.

He and Chris would rework the schedule with the added commentary when he got the chance to look at it later today and when they'd finished he'd allow Sawamura to join Chris in the gym.

For now he refocused on the boy standing in front of him saluting after reaching him.

"Boss! Sawamura Eijun is happy to report that the doctor's visit was satisfactory in terms of healing progress and revalidation plans."

While internally snorting at the boy's language, he only crossed his arms and looked sternly down.

"So I've heard" he said. He didn't want to temper the boy's enthusiasm but he knew that an overly enthusiastic Sawamura was a recipe for disaster. He would immediately go overboard and they could not let that happen.

He therefore looked even sterner at the boy, who finally noticed his coach seriousness.

"Takashima-sensei informed me that there are some revisions to be made to the schedule before I can allow you to start training though. Therefore, until I've had a chance to see for myself the changes the doctor suggested and revised everything with Chris, you won't be allowed near any training machine do you understand Sawamura?"

Swallowing, as he'd expected the coach would let him start immediately he could only nod, knowing there was no way to appease. He had even hoped Kataoka-kantoku would let him ditch the sling earlier as his progress was quite good. He should have known better.

The coach may like him more now and therefore allow him a bit more, he was still as massive stern when it came to injuries.

Eijun had to agree that he got carried away again, something he had sworn to work on, but he was so happy to finally lose the irritating sling he also lost his rationality. He sighed in a rare show of self-deprecation, sourly acknowledging that he still had ways to go.

Taken slightly aback by the now dark look adorning the pitcher's face, Kataoka wondered what happened when Eijun looked up again.

"I apologize Boss, I will follow whatever you deem appropriate, hence Sawamura Eijun will await your revisions and wait patiently for your permission to start training. I acquiesce in understanding of your concerns.

Surprised by the formality and understanding he noticed in the boy's eyes he nodded.

"I'll make sure to revise everything before Monday Sawamura so we'll be able to let you start as soon as possible with as much care as possible. Rushing won't help you get better results; it could set you back or even halt your progress. Heal as much as you can today and tomorrow and from Monday onwards we'll see how to get you started again. You did well up till now."

Not expecting words of praise, Eijun beamed happily again. He excused himself as he had yet to inform Miyuki of today's events.

---

After practice, as Eijun walked with Miyuki and Mochi towards the cafeteria, they noticed three familiar faces waiting for them.

Still happy with today's outcome Eijun even forgot to be embarrassed when he noticed Tetsu, Jun and Chris called out to him.

Miyuki looked towards the trio with noticeable glee, the smirk on his face a clear indicator of him knowing the reason the boy's stopped them, while Mochi in the meantime glared at them; he still hadn't gotten the story out of Eijun as the boy flushed and stuttered so badly every time he addressed it. He had given up; especially since asking Miyuki was useless as well, the guy always erupted in laughter and was therefore unable to clarify what happened.

"Sawamura" Jun said first, biting through the sour apple and when he'd gotten Eijun's attention continued. "We'd like to apologize for the other day."

Turning bright red again after remembering, he could only stammer incoherently. Miyuki's laughter at the whole situation didn't help him much either.

Tetsu, as the 'guilty party' scraped his throat before talking.

"I hope you understand that I didn't mean anything bad with my actions and that I never meant for any discomfort between us to happen."

Noticing that his teasing might have gone a tad too far, Miyuki decided to step in. He may have poked a bit to get some nice reactions but he didn't want it to be detrimental to the team nor his teammates.

"I wouldn't worry about that Tetsu-san, Sawamura may be a tad slow at times but even he knows that nothing happened that could be perceived as questionable."

Taken aback at the serious tone Miyuki used Eijun payed close attention. He didn't understand why completely but if Miyuki used these specific words he knew he had to let it go, so that's what he did.

"I thank you for apologizing but there wasn't anything to apologize for after Miyuki explained the misunderstanding. I just feel embarrassed at how I reacted but didn't mean for you to feel bad about it so I'd like to apologize as well."

Throwing a sideway glance towards Miyuki to gauge his reaction, he inwardly felt relieved when the other blinked in approval. He would get his answers later.

Mochi, still not understanding anything that happened, could only stand there frustrated at all the depthless words being spoken. There was no way to gauge from what was said what happened and it meant he couldn't act at all it was necessary to defend Eijun in any way. It annoyed him greatly.

But seeing the trio sigh in relief, except Chris who looked as stoically as ever, and Miyuki smile towards Eijun who in return smiled as well, he knew this wasn't the moment to address the issue again. He would have to talk to Ryou-san to see if he could give him pointers or if he could find out what happened here without Eijun knowing.

For now they all made their way inside the cafeteria to fetch their dinner trays when Chris addressed Eijun before parting.

"I'll talk tomorrow morning with the coach about your schedule Sawamura. If we reach consensus that means I expect you to follow everything we come up with without complains."

Eijun expected to be informed only after they'd finalized the schedule so he was really happy to know he wouldn't have to wait too long for everything to be drawn up.

"Thank you Chris-senpai, I much appreciate your time and effort in this matter. I will of course follow your orders as I have no interest in endangering my healing process. Please count on me!"

And so it went that after finalizing his schedule on Sunday he was allowed to go with Chris for his first session on Monday evening, not having been allowed to remove his sling until they'd reach the gym facilities to gauge his shoulder and arms condition. They also checked if there were any lingering effects on his sprained ankle. They did trust the doctor but preferred to do a check-up themselves as well.

And so Eijun's first week flew by and he'd almost forgotten that they would play practice matches from this moment on. So when Sunday arrived he was both annoyed and exhilarated to go and watch the games; he had really wanted to play as well.

Both the first- and second-string would play today. He wondered if anything would change. Not for the first-string as he'd never played that one but for the second-string game he wasn't as certain. It was the first time he'd been taken off the mound after all.

Remembering it still ignited both sourness and embarrassment in him.

The first-string appeared to have no trouble with Teito's pitcher and had fun hitting off him with Jun, Masuko and Tetsu all getting on base.

"Way to go Spitz-senpai, Captain-senpai, Pudding-senpai!" was heard to the embarrassment of the Seidou players and hilarity of the Teitou team.

"It seems you grew since the Kantou match!"

"Shut you trap Sawamura! You are the reason for the Kantou loss after all!"

"Haaaah? I wasn't even there Spitz-senpai! You can't expect me to win every match for you can you now?" Eijun retorted, immediately fueling Tanba and Kawakami who seemed a tad lackluster until then.

To drive his point home even deeper he added a cheeky "But it's nice to hear you think you can't win without me though!" and it had Miyuki giggling uncontrollably at the catcher's box when he saw Kawakami's reaction to the pitcher's taunts.

"Well I guess I'm going to give your opponents a fair chance so I'll go and watch the second-string match then! Don't lose now!" Eijun yelled to the amusement of all except the Seidou pitchers and he made his way towards the B-grounds.

"Cheeky little bastard" Jun muttered but he knew they were all relieved that Sawamura was taking his forced non-participation so well. They understood how frustrating it must be to keep watching continuously; especially against other opponents.

"Must be fun having someone like that around" the next Teitou batter said to Miyuki who could only snort and agree before resuming the game.

At the B-grounds the situation seemed to be a tad graver. Komashiro High didn't appear to be impressed having to play against the second-string.

"So Teitou plays their first-stringers and we have to settle for their second-string? Are they underestimating us? They even sent a first-year pitcher out!"

Looking towards the gathered Seidou players they saw it was indeed true.

"They really are looking down on us, you're joking right?" and they looked on until the Seidou team finished their talk on the mound; which appeared to not be a satisfactory one at all.

"You're serious about following my lead? You're joking right?" Ono asked a stone-faced Furuya.

"Yes, just tell me where to throw and I will" he answered.

Looking at the first-year pitcher in skepticism he sighed. 'This can only go wrong' he thought and walked back towards the catcher's box.

Looking at the ball in his hands Furuya understood one thing quite clear. 'If I want to advance in this team to get a chance at Miyuki-senpai it simply that means that I have to show everyone that they can't get a hit off of me. So after this match everyone will acknowledge my value to the team and I'll get my promotion towards the first-string."

Narrowing his eyes, Eijun together with Chris looked at the other pitcher as he prepared for his wind-up.

As he released his ball, the Komashiro batter took one good look, swung and got a solid hit.

Both Chris and Eijun sighed at the same time as Rei-chan couldn't believe her eyes.

Ono in the meantime fumed when he regarded the pitcher.

"What the hell was with you saying you'll throw wherever I want it? Your speed dropped so much even my granny could hit it!"

The Komashiro players in the meantime couldn't contain their joy. "With a pitcher like that it's a game in the pocket!"

"I heard he could throw 150kmh but it seemed those were only rumors." Were things they shouted in glee; their moral instantly back again.

Not understanding what was happening, he continued to throw his balls, which effectively got hit every single time; his condition nowhere near the intrasquad game performance.

Even the spectators wondered what happened after the one throw, full off potential and talent that got him into the second-string team "Are you joking? This guy's a complete fluke, he lost his complete dynamic."

"It appears he can't keep that 'no-hit policy' up at all times hmm."

"Like this he doesn't even qualify as a normal pitcher with the way he's getting hit off today."

As his next throw got hit again, Furuya lost his composure. 'Chris-senpai told me to throw where the mitt is at; I am doing so, so why do I get hit? Since I've started his practice menu I feel like I'm further and further away from my goal! Is he trying to sabotage me?'

Unbeknownst to him, chaos erupted around him as everyone shouted their disapproval; well everyone except Komashiro who appeared to be quite happy with the way things unfolded.

When Ono requested a time-out, the fielders couldn't contain themselves anymore. As Maezono, Nakada and even Haruichi voiced their unhappiness about the games proceedings, Rei-chan stepped in.

"We request a pitcher change. Furuya-kun, get off the mound right now."

Completely flabbergasted he complied as he made his way back towards the benches where he ignored Chris when the latter started to speak to him.

He got up again and after a glare towards Eijun moved to sit somewhere else to contemplate what happened on his own.

Deciding that he saw enough for now, Eijun made his way back towards the A-grounds to see how the rest of the team fared and to forget the unsightly plays that were made in this game: both by him in the past and in the future by Furuya.

He arrived just in time to see Kawakami get a spectacular strike that had the stands reeling.

"Wow, what on earth was that? Has he always been this good? I always thought he was way too meek to be useful!"

"We have to collect his data now as well! He also played a lot in the last two matches. Seidou seems serious about him!"

Hearing all this Miyuki couldn't hide a small grin. Nori really improved himself since Eijun's injury and he knew the words of praise would solidify the pitchers self-esteem even further.

'Well, let them think that Seidou has even more tricks up their sleeves if we can get results like this from earlier deemed uninteresting players. The better the other's get the more Eijun's name will shine when he returns!'

Considering the game-count however he knew they had to substitute Nori fast. The pitcher still didn't have the stamina to last more than five innings without losing in power and it was the sixth already.

So as he noticed his fatigue he called for a pitcher change.

With Tanba playing the last three innings they should be safe from overdoing it.

When Kawakami returned to the dugout, Kataoka had not much to find fault over. The only problem the pitcher seemed to have was his stamina.

"Nice pitching Kawakami, but your stamina continues to be your weak point. From now on, instead of pitching, I want you to take up running with Sawamura for the next two weeks. I still expect you to play in the practice games. We'll see how you fare in them then.

Startled as he didn't expect the whooping that followed those words, Kawakami turned towards its source and saw Sawamura himself being the perpetrator.

"I'm happy to have a running-mate Nori-senpai. Don't worry I'll help you get top grade stamina!"

Chuckling Nori only nodded.

"Make sure to first get your punishment laps out of the way Sawamura. I haven't forgotten." Was all the coach had to add to a wildly nodding Eijun.

"No problems Boss. Whether it's a day running laps or a day running punishment laps; laps are laps and I'm happy with the company" he answered cheekily.

For the sake of preventing an aneurism, Kataoka decided to keep silent. He clearly miscalculated when he set up that punishment and took his defeat gracefully even while seeing the victorious grin Sawamura sported.

"Ka-Kataoka-kantoku, do you really believe it to be wise to have Kawakami running for two weeks instead of training? You did see his progress didn't you?" one heavily flustered Oota asked.

Kataoka really wondered if he heard the "There's the Kawakami-otaku again" phrase or if he thought it, but casting one look at the injured pitcher's face he knew he heard and not thought it.

Trying to refrain from rolling his eyes, as he couldn't fault the boy for saying something he thought at the same time he bit back a snort and answered dutifully; painfully aware of the laughing eyes directed at him.

"While we added a new first-year to the ranks who has plenty of time to play, the same can be said for our second-years. The only ones not having the luxury to come to a stand-still are the third-years Oota-sensei. While training Kawakami now we can lay a better foundation for his upcoming matches, even if that means not performing to his utmost best in the upcoming practice matches. A match isn't always played under ideal circumstances so a player should be able to play under all conditions."

"I do not doubt the devotion all of our players have, be it first, second or third years. The only thing I want to see is who of them has the most devotion in carrying that ace number. It's a heavy task for any player."

"I hope I made myself clear once again?" and he raised his eyebrows towards the now blushing and flustering club president while dutifully ignoring Kawakami's flaming red blush and Sawamura's giggles and snickers as he returned his attention back towards the field.

It appeared that Tanba understood his position as well after his punishment considering the way he was playing. The pressure of Sawamura at first and now Kawakami seemed to have helped to improve his overall play mentality as well; resulting in even sharper curves and increased precision.

"Oy Spitz-senpai, I have returned and what do I see? You're out of work already? You really can't play with me around huh!"

Looking murderously towards the dugout Jun couldn't resist taking the bait.

"Oy Tanba! Let them hit already, you can't expect us to stand like this all day right? Give us something to work with!"

"Hahaha, way to go Eijun, Tanba isn't planning on losing to you!" Mochi yelled back, riling Tanba up even more.

Not one to keep quiet when the chance presents him this sweetly, Ryousuke couldn't keep from adding: "Well, at long last he seems to understand what it means to be the ace hmm. It's only sad it's this late already…"

"It seems Tanba-senpai isn't willing to listen to you Spitz-senpai. I guess that means you stay out of work!" and at the final murderous look on Jun's face Eijun couldn't hold back anymore and erupted in laughter. When he noticed Tanba's red face as well he understood perfectly why Miyuki continued to rile people up; it is a hell lot of fun when you aren't the victim.

Later that night he proceeded to talk to everyone on their game-plays; most of them surprised by his insightful commentary.

And so another week passed swiftly, during training time he would run laps with Nori and he upped his training with Chris a bit, trying to regain the lost flexibility in his shoulder again after those weeks of barely any movement. He bit through his muscle pain, hell bent on returning to the mound as quick as he could.

His hard work didn't go unnoticed and when he appeared downcast or slightly depressed some days, his friends were quick to distract him with fun things that they all could do.

That didn't mean Eijun was always happy with that, especially since Tetsu again found out that he could hold his own in shogi.

Miyuki as well tried to take the pitcher's mind off by proposing to continue their game-calling strategy meetings in private. Jumping at the chance Eijun agreed, so whenever Miyuki had no homework or pre-game strategy meetings with Nabe and Tetsu they would talk about the reasoning behind each call in different situations.

That wasn't to say Eijun always understood immediately but he did get more insight in the type of catcher Miyuki truly was and he had to admit that he liked it.

It was no surprise to him then that the next Sunday arrived incredibly fast and while still feeling sour for having to sit out, he didn't felt useless or detached from his teammates anymore.

He's harbored some secret fear that with him being out for so long, they would come to forget about his usefulness and wonder why he would still be in the first-string. Considering the way his promotion went, it wouldn't be strange to be demoted for not showing results as well after all.

He did like Kataoka-kantoku a lot more this time around but he couldn't trust him or the other coaches fully as of yet.

When he heard the coaches discuss on which players they had their eyes for the first-string, he was immensely relieved hearing they'd still only considered two spots instead of three.

This week's highlight however was when some of the second-string and no-string players talked about their happiness with the changes they'd noticed over the past two weeks. The overall positive moral in the cafeteria also made him feel more at ease with the changes they wrought.

This time it was Asakurakita facing Seidou's second-string and he didn't know what to make of it. It didn't seem any different from the old timeline with Haruichi standing out once again and Maezono's yelling and blundering.

For now Seidou appeared to be winning but one could never know until the end.

Looking to the left he saw the spot where Chris-senpai told him the usefulness of his idiosyncratic pitch was, and it being his strong-point.

He wondered if that was the reason that there was no Chris-senpai nor Furuya practicing there. He told Furuya about his strong-point already after all.

Small things like these made this whole reliving experience so daunting. Certain things seemed to have changed dramatically but other things not at all. And moments where you'd expect big things to change stayed the same while something as little as a training session not being in action unsettled him.

Sighing he refocused on the match in front of him again while wondering what more would change.

---

After his run with Nori-senpai, dinner and bath Eijun still couldn't settle down and evaded Mochi's worried inquiries by taking up a shoujo manga which he pretended to read until the latter finally left.

Getting up he quickly made his way towards the field, his restlessness spurring him on. Getting his hands on some balls he proceeded to throw them lightly against the wall, careful enough to not aggravate his healing process but happy to finally hold one again after weeks without one.

Hearing the dull sound of balls hitting a wall, Kataoka stopped his evening run to try and figure out the reason. He didn't expect anyone still training at this hour.

All thoughts about initiating the annual training camp on hold he looked around him until he saw a lone figure hurling balls gently towards the wall.

"If I'd seen you throw seriously you would have been in grave trouble Sawamura, so I guess I have to praise you for taking it easy."

"Boss!" Eijun exclaimed in surprise. "I didn't expect you here at this time."

"Care to explain your reasoning for being here at this time? Not taking enough rest and continuing to train recklessly could set you back you little idiot!

"I don't believe that Chris authorized this session either, so what's going on?"

Sitting down Eijun sighed.

Looking at the dejected boy in front of him he finally understood.

"I suppose it is hard for a pitcher not being able to hold a ball for this long; especially right at the start of your joining us. But fretting over it won't help you heal faster either Sawamura. Do not doubt your worth to the team now that you're injured. You're helping out in many more ways than only pitching."

"I understand Boss. But sometimes I wonder if there isn't more that I could do. If I manage to make it back before the start of the summer preliminaries I have to wonder about the state of my pitching as it correlates with the estimated healing progress. It also means I can't focus fully on enhancing my batting. It's frustrating to see that the others progress while I'm at a standstill."

"It's like I won't be able to respond to everyone in kind and there are only a few months left before the third-years leave us. But before they retire, even if it's for a short time, I want to help them achieve their dreams."

Biting his lip to keep from laughing Kataoka regarded the downcast look on the pitcher's face. He knew it wasn't funny for the pitcher but he couldn't help but inwardly laugh at the perceived drama the boy faced.

"Honestly, this guy keeps surprising. It looks like he's completely forgotten that he garnered everyone's trust already, whether it being his abilities nor his merit to the team. His time here will be really interesting. I wonder what these three years will bring us."

One had to admire the golden heart the boy carried but it was his task to set him straight on things he had no influence on.

"Throwing half-hearted balls towards a wall isn't the answer Sawamura. Things will unfold as they go and you can't influence everything. I will not allow you to touch any balls until we reach that part in your rehabilitation schedule so until then use the elastic or a towel." and he looked meaningfully towards the boy.

"No balls huh, but wait, what, a towel? You allow me to do shadow pitching?"

"I think your schedule said nothing about training with towels, and as long as you don't overdo it I won't say anything. But the second you do overdo it, I will call it to a halt immediately understood?"

"Yes Boss!" Eijun shouted happily.

"That means a maximum of fifteen simulations Sawamura, just to get the edge off!"

Feeling a bit less happy now he still nodded in consent, understanding perfectly.

"And leave your worries about your pitching and batting progress to us. We do know what we're dealing with. You should only focus on recovering as safely and quickly as you can."

Sighing in relieve he nodded before thanking his coach, it felt like a weight lifted from his shoulders.

Bidding his goodnight he turned and proceeded to clean up his balls as Kataoka resumed his evening run, before returning towards his dorm.

He arrived in the nick of time because not even five minutes later Mochi and Masuko came sauntering in and he knew if he hadn't been there Mochi would have upturned every stone to find him. He'd like to avoid that if possible as it is embarrassing as hell, he'd give his all to avoid such a situation from ever happening again.

This week everything was dominated by the upcoming practice match. It would be one of the last chances to show the coach their worth.

Tension ran high and Eijun was happy he didn't have to go through it again. Although honesty bid to say that last time he'd completely forgotten about it.

Furuya seemed to not having lost his batting edge and Haruichi impressed as usual.

But Eijun noticed more players catching his eye; especially after overhearing the coaches talk.

He hadn't talked about it with Miyuki yet, he didn't want to grant Miyuki a chance to lose Furuya in any unfair way just because he stumbled on information he wouldn't have been privy too otherwise. It wasn't for the sake of the team if Miyuki decided to act on it, after all it would only suit them and if it was every found out the backlash would be harsh.

Watching everyone around him drove home once again that becoming an ace was more than just a number on your back. You've got to carry all hopes and dreams of everyone in the team and try your utmost best to make them come true.

The more he thought about his younger self the more ashamed he became and the more he wanted that type of behavior to never appear again.

His thoughts got interrupted by a large shadow falling over him.

"Sawamura, it's time to go."

Looking up in surprise he saw Chris-senpai standing next to him carrying his bag.

"Chris-senpai! Forgive me I lost track of the time. Give me a minute please so I can put the chair back."

Smiling slightly he waited for Sawamura to be ready before proceeding towards the gym and listening to the other's happy chattering.

At the end of his own session, while trying to get his bearings back, his father appeared. He was glad Sawamura chose to go to the restroom at that point because by the looks of his father's face one of his infamous unsatisfied rants was coming.

Not even having finished that thought his father started.

"Yuu, as a father I probably shouldn't say this but don't you think it would be better to quit school at Seidou?"

"You're almost fully healed but in no condition to be subjected to the Japanese spirit of playing continuously in the scorching heat."

"If you go to America you have a greater chance of playing in accordance to your condition."

"If I could I would pull you from Seidou immediately but I know you have people who you like there, but I'm not sure people like you back you know and think about your future! If you retire like this, what do you have to show for all your time in high-school?"

"I've spoken to some old friends and they'd love to take you in whenever you want!"

Getting up, he ignored his father like all previous times, knowing full well that he couldn't explain his reasoning to his father's satisfaction.

He did catch a glimpse of Sawamura at the door though and felt bad for the boy having to overhear this conversation. He could only hope he wouldn't bring it up in his father's presence.

As if hearing his thought's Sawamura kept indeed quiet and only looked thoughtful.

On their way back from the parking lot towards the dorms they saw Tanba walking towards them.

Excusing himself, as he'd notice Tanba wishing to speak with Chris he thanked Chris for tonight's session. Chris understood that the pitcher would keep quiet and showed his thanks with a small smile.

Looking at the retreating back, Tanba couldn't help but smile. "He became quite the solid rock in a short period of time, I feel quite jealous."

Chris only hummed in agreement.

"While we fought wholeheartedly to get into the starting line-up, he came, saw and conquered but hasn't flaunted it around for one second. It appears he isn't even conscious of the impact he's had on us."

"Tanba" Chris said, urging the other boy to speak of what he really wanted.

Laughing slightly at being found out he divulged his true reason of being here.

"As I always seem to lose control after pitching more than seventy balls, I was wondering if you'd be willing to check my pitching form?"

"I suppose I could yes, It's been a hard battle to stay in the batting line-up this time hmm?"

Nodding Tanba agreed. "How's your shoulder doing by the way? Are you almost recovered? Your father still giving you a hard time?"

"I mean it's thanks to you that I can still pitch because you noticed my injury right away. So my goal is to keep winning match after match to give you more time to recover, so we increase our chances to get you back into the first-string"

Being taken by surprise Chris didn't know how to react immediately. His heart felt warm though because he knew it was Tanba's true wish.

"You off all people should know though. Leaving practice early, not having played in over a year and still not fit? Seidou would never allow for someone like me to retake the field."

Smiling at the abashed look on Tanba's face he couldn't help but add;

"You must have a lot of free time on your hands if you can worry about me. I would think you'd worry more about your own position first!"

"Ow shut-up, and here I am worried about you, you dork! I have absolutely no intention of relinquishing my spot!"

"That's the spirit!" Chris chuckled.

"You haven't answered my question about your father though" Tanba said.

Sighing Chris decided to answer. "My father still has the same viewpoint as ever. These day's I don't even answer him anymore. I feel bad for Sawamura overhearing us this time though."

Raising his eyebrows in surprise Tanba inquired further.

"Sawamura overheard? What did he say?"

"He hasn't said anything about it, he seemed to be deep in thought though" Chris answered him but didn't anticipate what came next.

Tanba burst out into heartfelt laughter; especially when he saw the confused look on Chris' face.

"I would prepare yourself Chris, I'm sure Sawamura is plotting on how he can prove your father wrong. I mean since he's taken an interest in you he managed to get you to participate with all of us a lot more. I can't wait to see what he comes up with!"

"Oy Tanba, that's no laughing matter. I'm not 'in need of rescue' you know! The boy's a true menace in the way he seems capable of worming himself into people's life. Just keep me out of it, I still wonder whatever I did makes him so set on me!"

"I think you're fighting a losing battle Chris. and forgive me but I'm gonna put my money on Sawamura for this! And now let's check my posture alright?" and he made his way towards the field still chuckling about his friends new predicament, not feeling sorry in the slightest. He had to give it to Sawamura though. The boy managed to lighten the complete team up.

Chapter Text

It was finally the first week of June. Eijun tossed and turned around in bed, knowing that if everything went the same, this would be the match against Kokushikan tomorrow, and the last chance to get into the first-string before their training camp of hell begins.

Due to his training schedule with Chris he had to leave practices early as well and didn't always catch the next opponent's name.

He wondered for a while who the coach would pick. He may have heard which players grabbed their interest but that didn't mean anything at all.

Kataoka-kantoku always kept an outlook on the bigger picture; therefore it could mean absolutely nothing as those players are maybe only interesting after the third-years retired.

Last time it was him and Haruichi that made the cut, so he wondered if this time it would be Haruichi and Furuya?

Miyuki kept uncharacteristically quiet about it all and every time he tried to bring it up, the rest of his teammates ignored the question. It was peculiar.

And then there was the matter with Chris. He knew now how stupid he was expecting Chris could make the cut for first-string but that didn't mean he wanted to let the guy stay depressed this time around.

He was pondering Chris situation for a while now. He was annoyed that he still couldn't play nor be his battery-partner for the game.

Eijun realized that with him joining the first-string this early, he'd probably never get a chance in high-school to form a battery with Chris again. He was sad about that but that didn't mean he'd let the boy wallow; he just needed a plan.

But tomorrow was the day of the game already and he still hadn't come up with something decent.

Sighing he decided to call it a day, turning for the last time before finally settling down, unbeknownst of Masuko and Mochi still being awake and feeling worried, wondering if he was in pain.

The next morning everyone went to prepare for the other team to arrive and Eijun dutifully trudged towards the dug-out to oversee it all. Today would be no revalidation with Chris as he had to oversee Furuya's progress.

He wondered if it was Furuya that got to play in a battery with Chris today and truthfully, it did make him feel a tad jealous. But changing things came with sacrifices after all.

Sighing, ignoring the knowing look Kataoka sent him he studiously looked in front of him, watching the rest warm-up.

---

On the other side of the field, Rei and Chris finally found Furuya warming up with Kominato.

As he noticed them, Haruichi nudged Furuya to raise his awareness as well. He wondered what they wanted but took an educated guess that he would find out in a minute anyway.

"Furuya, coach said he'd let you pitch in the game today." Chris said startling both Haruichi as Furuya.

They had ignored the pitcher for the previous ones after his first so this was unexpected. Although Haruichi had to admit that coach seemed to give everyone a fair chance so this wasn't truly unexpected.

"It's your last chance to get into the first-string so do your best so you won't have regrets later on" Rei said.

"It's the last match already hmm?" Haruichi said, a tad melancholy. He really hoped he would be able to play with his brother now as well.

"Yes" Rei-chan nodded "Based on the results today, two people will be chosen to be promoted towards the first-string. Those twenty who've made it there will start quite intensive training until the summer preliminaries.

Noticing the pink-haired boys sudden nerves Chris cut in.

"Don't be nervous. All of you have your short-comings but have trained to overcome them, although some of you could have done much better. You Kominato have been analyzing your weaknesses especially well and tried to make up for them. Just show coach what you're capable off, that's all he asks."

Feeling calmer after hearing his senpai's encouragement Haruichi took a breath. For him the next question felt quite cheeky after all. He knew what this player was capable off, courtesy of his brother.

"You're not going to play Chris-senpai? I know from my brother that you're an excellent player and that your healing progress improved your condition to almost healed. I would love to see the kind of gameplay you bring to the game!"

Slightly stunned, both Rei-chan and Chris looked at the pink-haired boy. Seeing the honesty in his eyes they both could only laugh and shake their heads as they bid their farewell until the start of the game. Furuya ignored most of the exchange of course, to him the only information required was whether he'd got to pitch or not.

Finishing their warm-up, they went to assemble after the call. Their opponents finally arrived.

After welcoming them, the starting line-up was announced and both teams lined up.

It was finally the start of the long awaited game. Everyone was fired up to show the coach why they should make the cut.

Eijun knew Miyuki would be dying of curiosity to find out what happens next but refrained in favor of training. That didn't mean he let Eijun off without a promise to text him the highlights so when things became truly interesting he could make a dash for it to catch the show.

So Eijun sat dutifully with his cellphone, his forced rest coming handy, trying to do a good job for him.


[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]

[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]

It appears that the spectators are quite prejudiced this time around as well, they keep complaining of sending the second-string out against the *insert sarcastic finger gesture* East Tokyo's Kokushikan High *end sarcastic finger gesture.

As if Boss is too stupid to know who we're up against. Sometimes I wonder if they're true alumni's or just wannabe's.



[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]

[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]

And again, now they even complain about everyone looking too 'fierce'. I guess it's easy for them to forget the pressure of wanting to achieve your desired result. Makes you wonder if they ever reached anything they'd wanted. They don't seem like it if they have the time to come over and comment about everything all the time….idiots.

Back at the indoor training facility almost everyone dropped their training equipment simultaneously after hearing one catcher's genuine bout of laughter after checking his phone.

Wondering about the content they curiously advanced on them until Ryousuke grabbed his phone.

"Oh my" he said, snickering evilly himself. "It's quite the refreshing commentary. Please share your new updates as well Miyuki" and proceeded to read them out loud. In the end it had everyone smiling, and if some of them smiled quite evil because they felt the same, no one commented on it.

Back at the field, Eijun continued to watch them all greeting and bowing before they went to their positions when the next line of comments reached his ears.


[ To: Leader-in-Training [Miyuki.K@Yahoo.co.jp]

[ From: Bunt Master [Sawamura.E@Yahoo.co.jp]

Guess Furuya's been bombarded to 'the badly performing kid who has no chance at holding back Kokushika's batting line-up in this important match'. They really doubt Boss' decision making skills.

They even yell that having me injured on the mound would be better than Furuya. Do they really play baseball? Guess them sitting here means they haven't reached very far huh.

Hmm the opponent is quite snuffed as well. Why does everyone underestimate the second-string? Competition there is even fiercer than in first string; can't understand it at all.

"I guess Sawamura is quite enjoying himself over there. I wonder if we should go as well. It should be quite something to get his commentary out loud at everything happening" Shirasu said.

"I do wonder how Furuya-kun pitches" Kawakami added.

This had Miyauchi looking up in alarm. "I'm not sure I want to catch for him though, the guy's a hand full."

Looking at the catcher in surprise, considering Miyauchi rarely spoke negatively about anyone and was always striving to improve himself it caught them off guard.

"I can see where you're coming from" Tanaka and Endou agreed, raising even more eyebrows. "I can't understand how your brother deals with him Ryou-san.

Humming in annoyance, Ryousuke's look told everyone just how unhappy he was with the situation himself. Damn for Haruichi's soft heart. He just couldn't leave him be. It infuriated him.

Noticing his boyfriend's quickly darkening mood, Mochi decided to step in.

"Does that mean we're gonna observe or are we staying? If we continue to stand around, we can just as well go and see for ourselves."

Looking at each other they nodded and moved as one to clean up all their equipment. They just couldn't wait to hear and find out what Sawamura had to say about the match. It was gonna be hilarious and they wouldn't want to miss it for the world if you considered his texts till now.

Eijun in the meantime snorted when he saw Ono trying to be though and demanding. It totally slid of Furuya though. The guy couldn't be bothered even if they'd bombed the place as long as he could continue to pitch.

'I wonder how it must be to have such a one-track mind all the time ' he thought. 'Urgh, don't let Miyuki find out I just thought that. He'd have a field day telling me I'm the same. I really don't think I'm as bad as Furuya though!! I can actually do two things at a time! I'm as good as any woman!'

Yup if Miyuki heard his thoughts now, he sure as hell wouldn't live it down. And speak of the devil, as if summoned he saw the whole first-string making their way towards the A-ground, the tanuki in front. It seemed like hell froze over indeed.

"Ah look at that, my idiot little brother indeed took the best spot. Guess he isn't so much of an idiot after all!"

"You really can't call him an idiot Kuramochi. He may have a one-track mind at times but he's far from stupid!" Shirasu intervened.

Miyuki in the meantime contemplated the catcher on the mound. 'Guess Chris-senpai hasn't recovered fast enough this time as well. I wonder if he'll play. If he does, it's a guaranteed spot for Furuya as he always brings the best out of people. Damn I want to see him play but I don't want Furuya!'

Noticing the dark look sporting Miyuki's face, Ryousuke studied him intently. He wondered what set him off. It wasn't like the catcher normally showed his emotions after all. The only times he did was when he got confronted with two particular pitchers. But where the one made him show only positive emotions, the other turned his facial expressions towards the negative. But why did he look like that while looking at Chris and Ono?

He couldn't be jealous now could he?

Deciding to observe the catcher further to see what would happen, he made quick mental note to not let Miyuki out of his sight until he had some answers today and he switched his view back towards Chris who seemed Miyuki's focus point right now.

Looking around him he noticed the others had seen Chris as well, if their facial expression was anything to go by.

Chris normally looked quite emotionless but he seemed uncharacteristically tense. Jun and Tetsu noticed as well and their worry spoke volumes. Whatever it was that shook Chris, if it was something bad then someone had something coming for them.

Chris in the meantime pondered Kominato Haruichi's words. They did strike a chord deep within him but he knew it was useless to hope. It was even harder than telling Tanba off when a first-year looks at you with nothing but genuine admiration.

Since Sawamura put his focus on him, Chris felt like his world got tilted on its axle. He thought he'd shut all of his feelings and regrets deeply away but the boy managed to bring them out again and with Kominato now addressing it as well he felt uncomfortable.

Even Rei-chan kept a closer eye on him after that. The woman was really sharp.

Taking a deep breath he refocused on the game in front of him where Furuya finally started his wind-up to start the game and sighed when of course the pitch went off course and turned out to be a passed ball.

It was going to be a disaster. It really seemed like the pitcher hadn't listened to a word he said. After the last game he became even more mulish and he understood from Rei-chan that he even accused him of making him worse.

To be honest, he didn't know what to do with the guy anymore. Nothing seemed to penetrate him in regards to improvement. He knew he adored Miyuki above all but such a single minded devotion without ever having played with each other to the point of ignoring all else was only detrimental to everyone involved.

He couldn't blame Ono one second for his befuddlement and passed balls. It was an ugly view nonetheless. Looking around he saw the pained look on Kominato's face as the pitcher self-destructed on the mound and as he looked further he noticed the first-string players watch in total bafflement.

Turning towards his side, Sawamura looked pained towards the dugout ceiling while Kataoka-kantoku stoically followed the proceedings.

Rei-chan only sighed.

The stands got rowdier and rowdier and soon demanded a pitcher change, even Maezono was struck speechless for once.

And Furuya? Furuya kept going like the stoic player he was. He was not even registering the commotion he caused and single-mindedly threw his ball straight down with no chance for Ono to decently catch it. Not once had the ball been inside the strike-zone.

Looking towards the mound, Haruichi could only watch as pitch after pitch failed to deliver. He'd warned Furuya but it appeared the boy had forgotten already. The second he thinks about a chance to impress Miyuki, the guy goes haywire. It was such a shame because he could become a really impressive power pitcher but like this he was less than useless.

Looking towards the dugout he just knew that Furuya blew every chance he had for making first string and it pained him deeply. He really, really liked the guy and when he wasn't caught up in either 'Sawamura' or 'Miyuki' he was quite deep, thoughtful and sweet.

He was at the end of his tether and didn't know what to do or say anymore to get him off his obsessed jealousy. For now all he could do was watch how the guy he liked destroyed any and all hope of reaching the first-string together with every consecutive pitch he threw.

Sighing at the scene in front of her, Rei knew they had to interfere before it became even worse and all players got affected.

Turning towards Tesshin she noticed him realizing it as well. She should have known. She knew Tesshin thought the boy a good pitcher but if you can't make use of them on the field when it counts its worthless, unfortunately this boy showed them he could now put aside his egocentrism for the team.

She just hoped whatever happened next would help to rebuild him into a valuable addition for next year but for now, chances are out. Like this he wouldn't be useable even if the third-years retire because it's a problem of mentality.

Looking towards Chris, Kataoka sighed. "I know you could probably catch his balls but I'm unwilling to sacrifice everything you've gained back on a player that like this is of no use to us. I hope you understand. If things had been different I would have given you a chance to prove yourself but this is not how it should be and with him pitching like he does, you could aggravate your injury. I will not take that risk.

Nodding while clenching his hands tightly Chris couldn't do anything except agree.

Eijun wondered about the underlying meaning Boss' words appeared to have and at that moment inspiration struck. He just knew what to do, now he only had to find a way to execute it.

But he would need the others for his plan.

Looking around he noticed the whole first-string assembled behind the fence and signaled for Miyuki to read his next message. He didn't dare leave Chris out of his sight right now.

Quickly typing it out, he waited for Miyuki to look up confused but nodded in agreement nonetheless.

Having the first phase of his plan down, he concentrated on the rest. Not caring in the slightest how this game would develop further. No his plans for after the game where what were important right now.

Leaning back while keeping one eye on Chris all the time, Eijun began to plan, knowing Miyuki would take care of his part.

Hearing Boss request a pitcher-change got him temporary drawn back towards the game. He really hoped it would be Toujou. He and Kanemaru were doing quite well lately considering their third- and second-year rivals.

It didn't hurt having time on his hands to teach them some of his tricks. He really liked the both of them even more now than back in the days.

A Kanemaru that is truly interested in someone is vastly different than a Kanemaru that has been ordered to keep an eye on you. Toujou was quite the same but his teasing could be on par with Miyuki or even Haruichi sometimes.

It felt incredibly strange that he'd spent more time with Toujou and Kanemaru this time instead of Haruichi and Furuya.

He still felt sore about Haruichi's change after Koshien, but the boy he called his friend is still someone he missed dearly. He just hadn't expected Kanemaru and Toujou to make up for it.

Watching their chance arrive he focused back on the game but when he realized they would win it with a comfortable lead, he went back to planning again, almost missing the end-signal.

After the team's final line-up and thank-you's, Kokushikan made their way back towards the bus; being sent off by everyone. It was then that Eijun made his move.

"Chris-senpai" he yelled, startling the poor boy.

"What is it Sawamura?"

"In the beginning when we had all bases loaded on walks, what would have been your strategy to solve this, preferably without losing any runs? I talk with Miyuki all the time about game-calling but considering his mind is quite devious I wonder if I could have your view on it as well before I compare it with Miyuki's? To see if there are any differences? It would help me immensely if you would!"

Looking at the boy in front of him he wondered what he was planning. He'd noticed the contemplative look on his face and the fact that wherever he went, Sawamura went as well.

Slanting a look towards Miyuki, he noticed a well-known knowing smirk gracing his lips. It appeared he knew what the pitcher was up to. It shouldn't surprise him really.

Sighing he regarded the big-eyed pitcher again, seeing no reason not to answer.

"Well, considering we were in quite a pinch I guess I would have……" and he continued to explain.

After a couple of minutes he noticed Sawamura's glazed gaze and Miyuki's howling and wondered why.

"Chris-senpai, this idiot needs more than just words you know. At least draw it out or something because he won't understand otherwise. He became much better but he is more of a hands-on approach kind of guy, not the studious one." Miyuki gaffed trying to catch his breath.

Looking down he noticed he hadn't brought his bag; it would still be lying in the dugout. He really didn't want to stoop to child's level and draw with sticks in the earth though so he contemplated how he could make him understand.

At this point Miyuki made sure the whole first-string assembled as per Eijun's request, finally having understood what it was the boy was trying to do.

Apparently Ryou-san caught on as well as he brought the desired solution.

"Ah, well why don't we show you then Eijun-chan. Since we haven't spent much time training we could simulate it for you if you'd like?

At this the others perked up in interest, not ones to forfeit a chance at playing ball and it seemed interesting enough.

"Would you really simulate what happens between Miyuki's and Chris-senpai's game calls senpai? That would be so awesome!" and he bounced on his feet, unable to hide his excitement as everything came together nicely.

To make it fair though they would form two teams and every team would act out the next simulation, this way everyone got a chance at play.

But Eijun wasn't happy with that completely as it meant that Chris could still not play if Miyuki and Miyauchi would be catching for their respective teams. Therefore he added another rule.

"But that means that whoever is simulating a situation has to 'coach' and the other catchers catch. Like if Miyuki say's in this situation I would do this, either Chris-senpai or Steam-senpai catch according to who's next, and if Chris-senpai coaches his ideas either Miyuki-senpai or Steam-senpai catch!"

"Oy Sawamura, Chris can't play in games you know, you do know he's injured right, are you planning on hurting him further?!" Jun yelled furiously.

Turning around to face the angry boy, Eijun regarded him uncharacteristically cold.

"I would not have expected such words from you Isashiki-senpai. You like no other should know the progress Chris-senpai made while recovering and that it would be absolutely no problem to play an unpressured, slow-paced game simulation. Treating Chris-senpai like a porcelain doll after everything he's done to try and make a comeback is beyond rude and uncalled for. You are disregarding everything Chris-senpai worked so hard for.

Having everyone slack-jawed staring at him, they couldn't fathom what just happened. Even Miyuki and Ryou-san where dumbfounded at the anger showing in every fiber of Eijun's body.

Jun in the meantime looked like he'd been slapped silly; especially when both Tetsu and Chris refused to look towards him. They'd tried to tell him many times that playing for a bit would not be detrimental to his condition but Jun didn't want to risk it.

He understood now that it only resulted in Chris withdrawing even further because after that Chris seemed to leave practice even earlier, missing out on all practice games.

Swallowing thickly he wondered when it happened that it actually hurt more being called Isashiki-senpai than being annoyed at being called Spitz-senpai.

He could see Chris clenching his fist. He would refrain from agreeing to the opportunity Sawamura presented him with if it was his wish but he couldn't do it. He couldn't take a chance of Chris withdrawing of them even further so he had to give in.

It didn't mean that he wouldn't keep a close eye on his condition but he just couldn't take this chance away because he was afraid of them never being able to play ever again.

As the atmosphere turned nervous, everyone waiting on how Jun would react, Jun visibly pulled himself together.

"I apologize Sawamura. Chris is indeed capable enough to know his limits so I'll trust he'll stop whenever he feels it's necessary. I shouldn't have said what I've said to you. I know you would never hurt another player and I'm ashamed I implied such while you got hurt for us as well."

Nodding, Eijun turned around to regard Chris-senpai again who at this point looked a bit flabbergasted.

"Would you be willing to agree to those conditions Chris-senpai?" he still asked for clarification.

Smiling truly for the first time in what seemed like forever; Chris reached out and ruffled the pitcher's hair. "I guess it can't hurt if it teaches my kohai how it should be done hmm." and proceeded to walk towards his bag. He still dragged his stuff with him, unable to part with it when they'd played practice games.

Seeing Chris walk away, the other's let out the breath they'd held in relieve.

They'd seen Sawamura getting angry before but cold disdain was something completely else. They knew for sure now to never get on Sawamura's bad side. He was worse than Miyuki even it seemed.

No one dared to look in Jun's direction, knowing everyone would need a moment to compose themselves after such a take-down and they proceeded to walk towards the grounds as well.

Picking up the required equipment they gathered around to listen to any further instructions.

As if sensing something fun happening, Nabe appeared beside Fumiya to find out what was going on; knowing the shortstop / third base coach would be the one to give the most accurate answer.

After his explanation was done he rubbed his hands in utter glee, wondering how much valuable data he could gather from this. Grabbing a chair he sat beside Sawamura to watch the proceedings.

He got even more excited seeing Chris-senpai reappear in his catcher gear, finally attaining data on him as well. It would be a spectacular evening.

As Eijun had asked Chris first they decided to start with him as well, with Miyuki as the catcher, instructed to do what Chris would have done. This was done so the catchers could learn from the other's perspective as well; quite smart actually Nabe had to concede.

Miyauchi decided to only participate this time and if it indeed brought out results, he knew for sure they would do it again. It was also to prevent to drag everything out too long.

Getting into position, everyone got excited for things to start. It was a long time since everyone played together after all.

After about an hour, after Miyuki told Sawamura to take charge to see what would happen with everything he'd learned, the coaches arrived wondering what they were doing.

Watching the proceedings they went slack-jawed when they saw Chris playing with Sawamura's instructions as Miyuki and Nabe kept a close eye on the proceedings.

Even Oota didn't stutter but was for once silently in awe when he saw Kawakami executing a perfect pick-off with Yuuki on Kuramochi of all people to prevent him from stealing next base; which got Sawamura howling in glee at his brother who looked annoyed beyond words while the rest snickered merrily.

What shocked them the most though was the look of utter fun Chris currently sported on his face while complementing Kawakami.

It got even more amazing when Tanba, under Chris' guidance with Miyauchi as catcher got Yuuki out on three strikes.

But when they simulated everyone having to bunt to advance the next runner (both teams) and ten out of eighteen players did so without batting an eyelash they truly wondered what they missed in the evenings when the players practiced alone.

One thing was for sure, they would definitely incorporate these simulations in future training. Who would have guessed training each other on each other's viewpoint gave an even broader frame of mind to play with?

They guessed correctly that Watanabe-kun would be having a field-day.

But watching the players they too seemed to enjoy the proceedings; especially since having different pitcher's called for different strategies and viewpoints. They wondered what would happen if Sawamura's pitching was added to the mix.

They watched for a while longer until Sawamura called it a day. It seemed he noticed Chris getting tired as well with all of them agreeing without a complaint.

The coaches had to hand it to them, the kids seemed to know what they were doing and he was right to trust them. But that wouldn't mean they'd stop keeping an eye on them though.

"I suppose if you hadn't promoted Sawamura to first-string yet, you'd do it now without a second thought right Kataoka-kantoku?" Oota said and he too had to laugh when all he got was a grin in answer.

"I've observed the boy for the past couple of weeks and I have to say, he has the strange ability to make everything feel right. But it seems Miyuki-kun also plays a role in that." He explained further.

Looking at their colleague with raised eyebrows, they wondered about his change of heart and his for once accurate observation.

When he noticed their slightly surprised looks he couldn't hide a small wry smile himself. He knew what they thought and it was apparent it wasn't exactly positive. He too had come to the conclusion that his behavior was less than stellar even before the dressing down they'd all got. That didn't mean he liked it though and he swore to improve himself as well.

He just hoped they would start to notice it as well.

Having seen enough, Kataoka turned towards the others.

"Gather everyone around; we're going to hold a meeting in half an hour.

"Eh? Does that mean you've decided who gets into the first-string already?"

"Indeed, if we want a chance at summer going well, we can't waste time in deciding who will make the first-string or not. Go inform them."

"Alright" both Rei and Oota answered him, wondering what was going through his head right now before they walked off to inform everyone.

Within thirty minutes they had everyone assembled and tension roared; everyone knew what this meant.

As Kataoka addressed everyone, Miyuki couldn't help but hope while Eijun hated it as much as the first time around even if he was already sure of his spot.

"You're here because I'm going to name the two people that made it into the first-string today. The decision is based on your results from your practice, practice matches and attitude. The ones who make it into the first-string will be representing the whole team and school. For the ones that didn't make the cut, please keep supporting your team members until we've reached our goals."

Shaking slightly with nerves, all the players currently not in first-string wondered who it would be. On one thing they'd all agree though, even Haruichi with pain in his heart, they wouldn't take a promotion of Furuya without complaint. No matter his results with either Chris-senpai or Miyuki or Miyauchi.

Clearing his throat Kataoka continued.

"The last two members to join the first-string are: first-year Kominato Haruichi and another first-year Toujou Hideaki. That's it."

Looking towards each other in shock, Eijun and Miyuki couldn't believe their ears.

Everyone secretly knew Haruichi was too good to stay in the second-string but not many had thought Toujou an option.

But looking back, Toujou was an incredible all-rounder. Things would really start to change now that this happened.

The only one standing stock still, full of disbelieve, was Furuya and it pained Haruichi greatly. The boy had truly believed he'd finally reached his goal and instead of him he had gotten it. He wondered what it would mean for them now. He wasn't sure.

"These new players will be added to the other eighteen on the summer roster. From tomorrow onwards they will start practicing with the first-string. For now everyone except the third-years who weren't chosen are dismissed."

Walking away brought those familiar feelings back again. Looking at Chris Eijun could only feel sad about it.

Miyuki, understanding him perfectly as usual, wrapped his arm around his shoulder as they walked out; no need for words as they knew there were none.

Before succumbing to his sad mood though he knew he had someone to congratulate as well, with a new determination solid in his mind he picked himself together; he knew everything would be alright with Chris from now on.

Chapter Text

As everyone left the building to give the third years some privacy with Kataoka-kantoku, one player stood there in shock himself.

Everyone ignored the second-string pitcher, relieved he wasn't chosen after all except for one pink-haired boy.

Walking towards him he couldn't hide the malicious grin forming on his lips, feeling like justice interfered quite nicely.

"Well, well, I guess Kami-sama does help out at times hmm." Ryou-san said when he reached him.

Looking up after hearing someone talk to him he flinched when he saw exactly who it was.

He also noticed the look of utter glee and knew he was in for it.

Staying silent, he just hoped the other boy would give up quickly or that Haruichi would interfere but not seeing the small pink-haired boy he knew his chances were slim.

"Oh if you're looking for Haruichi you can look for a looooong time. I made sure that he got occupied. It's not hard while feeling happy to be chosen for first-string of course; he won't notice you gone for quite some time."

He looked at the other boy in apprehension, not sure why now of all times he would seek him out after pointedly ignoring him until now.

He also wondered how two brothers could be so different. Whereas Haruichi was the sweetest guy he ever met, his brother seemed the devil himself. He didn't care much for the older one of the Kominato brothers but he felt like there was more to be seen than could be now.

Regarding the still silent boy, Ryousuke noticed the small signs that betrayed his unease for being talked at. He didn't know why exactly but he would bet his next game that it was because of him.

He purposefully ignored him after that canteen disaster, laying his plans down carefully and the end result couldn't have been sweeter if he'd say so himself.

Stepping in close he noticed the other boy flinch when he addressed him in a quiet voice.

"You didn't really think we'd allow you to play with us big-guys did you?"

Hearing that, Furuya's eyes widened in shock as he whipped his head down to look at Ryousuke; not sure if he heard correctly what he implied

"You mean you've got something to do with me not being chosen?"

"Who knows hmm? Whether or not I had something to do with it is quite secondary to the fact that you dared to cross me. And I do not take such things lightly."

"I don't think I understand."

"Oh Furuya-kun, there are a lot of things you don't understand all-right. But that didn't hold you back alienating everyone around you. It was great fun watching you dig your grave deeper and deeper; I was pleased to notice you didn't need much help from me; it gave me some quiet time to appreciate it all. But it does feel good landing the killing blow I must confess."

"H-how?" the pitcher asked, feeling his stomach plummet, understanding perfectly well that the pink-haired boy had apparently something to do with him not being chosen tonight.

"Oho, that's a good question now isn't it?" Ryousuke said and watched the other boy finally squirm in unease. 'Well then, let's find how you like being in Sawamura's position and me in yours.'

'You know, for one we don't need you. And since Miyuki has a talented and dedicated partner already there is no need for a second-rate player like you now isn't there?"

Ignoring the shock on the other's face he pressed on, reveling in finally driving the point home.

He may detest the guy but Haruichi was quite enamored with him so he had a precarious balance to work with. He couldn't alienate him completely but he had to open his eyes. And no one said he had to go nicely about it.

"But you know, you forgot one important thing. Miyuki is not the team you see and we as a team decided we don't need someone like you. We acquired an excellent player already and you would only detract from that. Miyuki isn't interested in sloppy seconds either you know, you never qualified."

Flinching for real now at hearing the viciousness of the words addressed to him in that cold, amused tone Furuya couldn't stop the shaking of his body. He knew without a doubt that the words were chosen deliberately, as they were variations of his own words while talking to or about Sawamura.

He also noticed another thing. They didn't appeared to be as alone as he thought they were as slowly more and more first-string players gathered around Ryousuke.

The only ones missing appeared to be Sawamura, Miyuki, Toujou and Haruichi.

"You know, being so focused on Miyuki that you forgot the rest was your down-fall Furuya-kun."

"No way in hell would we ever entrust our three years of playing to someone like you. You'd have ruined Seidou within a season and that's something we will never tolerate."

"We have therefore, with the exception of Miyuki and Sawamura as they were kept in the dark, petitioned unanimously towards the coach that we have no need for a player like you; regardless how well you can pitch. You haven't enriched anything on the team except yourself. Now we decided in return to not enrich ourselves with the likes of you."

"Coach didn't like it much but what can one do if the whole team threatens to resign if they have to work with you hmm. I hope you feel proud of everything you've accomplished Furuya-kun because this is the reward you reaped."

After that final statement everyone nodded in silence and walked away; leaving one utterly emotionally shattered pitcher behind without a care in the world.

There was just one thought running through his mind this whole time and that was that it was indeed a very dangerous thing to cross one Kominato Ryousuke.

As he watched them walk away, united in their quest to alienate him as he had them he finally understood and broke down unaware of a pair of shaded eyes regarding him, wondering if the boy had enough courage to pick himself up and repair the damage he did in the upcoming year of if he would falter and give up completely. Only time would tell. The only thing he'd feel sad about was that his pitching could have been an asset to the team, but he couldn't ignore a team unwilling to work with someone on justified grounds.

Sighing he made his way back towards the coaches room wondering about what this year may have in store for them yet. It was quite a year already after all. 'The only thing I'm truly looking forward to would be our training camp now that Sawamura can participate at least partially. Let's evaluate how far these boys can go.'

---

In the meantime when Kataoka-kantoku asked everyone to leave Miyuki walked towards Eijun who looked both delighted and sad.

He knew the pitcher always took it hard when the selection process came around and this time didn't seem to be an exception.

As he drew his arm around his shoulder, a silent message of understanding, he noticed a new resolve forming in Eijun's eyes.

But even then he was startled when Eijun addressed him with the words he'd used against him.

"After this the only thing left to do is to indeed move forward right Miyuki? From now one we'll have to fight till the end. You, me and everyone else."

"That will never change Eijun. The only thing that has changed is that this time we can fight together from the beginning. You're not getting cold feet are you?"

Snorting he pinched the hand dangling from his shoulder lightly. "Sounds like you're the one getting cold feet here catcher-kun."

Chuckling at that he shook his head. The only thing I would be apprehensive about would be your extreme lack of propriety Eijun. Please don't go hitting referees again alright? "

"Haaaaah? That happened one time! One time only you stupid tanuki, don't keep bringing it up!"

Chuckling at the boys antics, happy that he got his mind off of the selection they walked towards the two new first-string players, intent on congratulating them.

Miyuki also noticed that for all the indignation he'd caused Eijun, Eijun hadn't attempted to dislodge his arm.

He was quite curious about that because back then the other wouldn't have lost a single thought about showing him physically as well how unhappy he was with him. He couldn't say he minded but that was something for inspection on a later date. For now he enjoyed their companionship.

"You do realize what comes after this don't you Eijun?"

Looking at him from hooded eyes, Eijun nodded in apprehension.

"How could I ever forget the hell Boss names his training camp" he countered.

"I even have to participate. You know, I was really unhappy not being able to train with you all but now I really wish I could sit at the sidelines for a bit more. But nooooo, the second I don't want to, the doctors declare me fit enough to at least partially participate. The universe is really against me Miyukiiii!" he muttered.

Laughing at the boy's troubles he softly petted his shoulder in silent support.

"I'm sure you're going to be fine. I think coach wants to at least get a basic idea on where you stand in terms of conditioning. It's only six short weeks until the start of the summer qualifiers after all, even though we won't play until the second week."

"Officially you wouldn't be cleared until the fourth round at all since your twelve to sixteen final recovery weeks start then, but we all hope we can get you back around your eleventh week without compromising your health."

"You've investigated this quite thoroughly haven't you?" Eijun asked, not really surprised.

"Well I am your catcher aren't I?" the other boy countered.

Looking a bit miffed Eijun couldn't help but blurt a "Is that the only reason?" towards the now startled catcher.

Not really understanding Eijun's question he looked at him incomprehensively.

Sighing Eijun knew Miyuki was emotionally stunted even though he seemed to have opened up a bit around him, but sometimes it really drove him up the walls. The boy's walls were so high and thick he wondered if he'd ever break through to find the real Miyuki Kazuya.

"Is the only reason you've investigated my schedule so thorough because you're my catcher?" he clarified

Miyuki knew Eijun was waiting for a specific answer right there and then but didn't understand what the boy wanted to hear. His lapse in answering therefore didn't go unnoticed and Eijun's sigh caused him a pang of regret. But why he didn't understand either.

"I thought we'd finally reached the stage of at least being friends Miyuki Kazuya. Or am I the only one living with that notion? You for one are at least more than 'just my catcher' you stupid tanuki."

At hearing Eijun's words Miyuki's eyes opened almost comically wide and if it wasn't such a serious thing Eijun would have laughed.

"Friend? You consider yourself my friend Eijun?" Miyuki asked in a soft voice as if he couldn't believe his ears.

"Yes Miyuki Kazuya, I consider you a friend you stupid catcher" he answered in a soft voice as well.

After a few minutes of silence, Eijun saw Miyuki coming to some sort of conclusion.

"I've never had a friend, I'm not sure I'd make a good friend. Are you sure?"

Understanding there and then what it cost Miyuki to admit that and also admit that out loud he knew he had to tread carefully. He'd always known that the boy's emotional state was really fragile. How he'd noticed he couldn't tell but observing him for two years tells you something after all.

"I'm quite sure you stupid catcher. I'll decide who I declare a friend and believe me, you are one, snark and all! And now Miyuki Kazuya, let us congratulate Harucchi and Toujou alright?" and proceeded to drag a stunned catcher towards the other two boys.

Miyuki though acted on autopilot during their talk with the new first-stringers while trying to wrap his head around what just happened.

People just didn't want to be friends with him. He was anti-social, rude and bitter and he could cut you with words whenever he pleased so why on earth would Eijun consider him a friend?

He could understand teammate, battery partner and fellow conspirator but friend?

The likes of him didn't deserve a friend. He'd understood that really quickly when his mother left him and his father and his (old) teammates made it quite clear that he was not someone they appreciated and so he was always alone. So how come that Eijun did?

How on earth did Eijun come to the conclusion that he'd make a good friend?

Emotions he hadn't felt in forever surged and Miyuki didn't know what to do with them. The only thing he knew was that he had to escape the boy next to him. He was dangerous.

And as if knowing his thoughts exactly, Eijun grabbed his arm tightly and hurriedly bid the other two boys goodnight while dragging a shaking Miyuki with him.

Looking at the catcher worryingly, Eijun wondered what got him so extremely off-kilter. Reaching the dug-out he proceeded to sit him down and faced him, trying to find a way to get him to talk.

"You know, with the way you're behaving one would think you didn't want to be my friend you know." He finally said.

Looking up like a deer caught in the headlights Miyuki shook his head in denial.

"No, no, no, that's not it. You'll make an awesome friend to everyone you deem worthy so that's not it."

Frowning at that choice of words Eijun thought them over until it hit him and he stared at the distressed boy with his mouth agape.

"Are you telling me that I do not deem you worthy or that you do not deem yourself worthy of being my friend?"

Seeing the last bit of color also leaving Miyuki's face he knew he hit bulls-eye. Now it was just finding out which part distressed him more and considering it was Miyuki he was talking to he could take quite an educated guess.

"Considering I already told you I think of you as a friend I can't imagine it being that and who on earth cares about worth. I just consider you a friend whether you have worth or not as long as you're you. I would guess that you yourself have trouble considering yourself worthy of being my friend hmm?" He inquired and the panicked look showing in his eyes told him everything he needed to know.

Sighing he took a minute to contemplate how to proceed knowing Miyuki would not be forthcoming as he was on his way to contract either a huge panic attack or hyperventilation.

He had never seen the so normally competent and apparent confident catcher like this but he knew that if he played his cards right, he'd finally get a chance at the real Miyuki Kazuya. He just wondered why the notion of friend got him so off-kilter, it didn't seem like him at all. One would think he'd never had a….and at that a light-bulb went off in his head as pity rose just as fast.

Thinking back he never saw Miyuki being particularly close with anybody. He joked and talked with Mochi but that seemed as close as he'd ever been with someone and Eijun seriously doubted Miyuki saw Mochi as a friend. More like a close teammate and as such behavior didn't develop in just a short time he could deduce that he'd probably never had a friend before high-school either; or at least no lasting ones.

He did see his pathetically short contact-list stored in his phone after all. Back then he didn't think much about it but it would explain a lot.

Apparently Miyuki had convinced himself of the notion that he was not the type of guy to have friends. He could understand that with his personality supported by his extreme talent it would be hard but would there be no one in all those years that could see past that? That was just utterly sad.

Rubbing his forehead Eijun felt a headache rise because of the willpower it cost him to keep his tears at bay.

In front of him sat a boy who apparently never had a serious friend in his life and the notion of getting one send him into pandemonium; unable to comprehend that someone would care about him enough to offer such a thing.

Who on earth was the real Miyuki Kazuya? What made him the boy he was today? There was just one thing Eijun knew and that was that he wanted to find out even if it was the last thing he did.

He liked the way he and Miyuki interacted since coming back and he got more and more of a soft-spot for the other boy. He also knew there was more to his feelings than he was comfortable admitting to himself so he'd let that hornets' nest rest for now. But this he couldn't ignore. This was something that tore at him and he couldn't watch it any longer.

Scrambling his wits together, as he knew he would need every working brain cell he possessed at the moment he took a deep breath and plunged into the emotional vortex that was Miyuki Kazuya.

"Well then Miyuki Kazuya, what makes you think you wouldn't be friend material?" and at that question he finally caught the other boy's full attention and Eijun cocked an eyebrow as if being decidedly unimpressed with the other's breakdown.

"I mean you are snarky, witty, to a certain extent rude, I guess after some consideration not too fond of social-interaction but you can't tell me that's all right?"

"I mean next to those traits are also the ones that show how extremely intelligent you are, how talented, loyal to whatever cause catches your interest and understanding when someone else is hurt or needs help."

"So tell me, what on earth concerning yourself do you deem 'unworthy'?"

Opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of the water Miyuki couldn't believe his ears.

Loyal? Understanding? Did Eijun hit his head somewhere before talking to him?

He knew he was talented alright but no one except maybe a coach ever found that something positive and being able to spot people in need was good? Even if he couldn't act on it? He did act with Eijun yes but that was Eijun. He also notified the coach of Chris but that was all! He didn't care for others really! Nabe was a splendid example of that!

"O-oy E-Eijun, did you hit your head before talking to me?"

"No?"

"I mean are you sure you're talking about me?"

"Yes?"

"I-I…"

"I think you should just give up thinking about this Miyuki Kazuya since I've deemed you my friend already, there is nothing you can do to change that. The only thing I want to know is if you feel the same?"

Swallowing Miyuki tried to get something resembling wits and control back but he utterly failed. He could only stare in those golden eyes full of patience and understanding and for the first time in forever decided to take a leap of faith; ignoring all the consequence as he understood a long time ago already that if he couldn't trust someone like Eijun, there was no one in this universe he could ever trust.

"Yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes."

"Yes what, you tanuki?"

"Yes, I see you as my friend."

Seeing those golden eyes blink was his saving because if he'd seen the light shining in his eyes before he wouldn't for the life of him have been capable of answering him since the happiness he saw there took his breath away.

Eijun was truly happy being his friend and being considered as such. Miyuki was dumbfounded.

"What do friends do?" he asked for good measure. He didn't want to fail this as that look was something he could get addicted to and hoped he could achieve again.

Eijun ignored the pang of pity surging for this lonely boy again and answered without losing a beat.

"The same as we always do. Hang out, have fun, plan stuff, talk about everything and nothing and help each other out."

Blinking in surprise Miyuki nodded.

"I guess I can do that."

Ignoring that last part, as it was just too sad hearing him say that, Eijun wanted to steer this conversation to safer grounds.

"Well, having that out of the way, what should we do about training camp? I mean do we inform Harucchi and Toujou or shall we wait and see?"

Seeing the familiar smirk gracing Miyuki's face, but not before he saw relief and gratefulness shine in his eyes, Eijun chuckled darkly. He knew the answer to that of course. He was just happy he took up running already so he didn't have to worry about his stamina on that front.

Walking back they made some friendly bets about trouble people would face. It was great joy to possess some pre-knowledge but one could not be a hundred percent certain that everything would be the same after all and it was great fun betting on that slight change.

He just hoped he wouldn't lose his whole allowance on Pocari-sweat as Miyuki had the uncanny ability to be right most of the time.

"What has you two looking so happy hmm" was said from behind them and they stopped to address the person throwing his question at them.

"Mochi-nii!" Eijun said, happy seeing his big bro.

Chuckling, having caught himself enough to pretend everything was the same, Miyuki answered.

"Just betting on everyone's performance during Training Camp from Hell"

"Oho" was heard next to them and turning they saw Ryousuke overhearing them as well.

"You sure you want to bet against Sawamura Miyuki? He did watch us for weeks now so I guess he has some inkling of our capabilities hmm?" he said and chuckled when Miyuki turned a contemplative look towards Eijun who in turn looked as innocent as possible.

"You know Ryou-san, there is indeed some truth in your words. Eijun, I think there some bets I'd like to reconsider you know."

"Nope can do you tanuki. Take your losses like a man!" he said while blinking at Ryousuke. He understood the merit of making fun of Miyuki quite well and if it helped saving his allowance, well who was he to complain about getting some outside help!

"But what are you two doing here?"

"Actually I was in search for you! It's been a while since we've had some time together you know so I was wondering if you'd wanna spent some time playing?" Mochi answered.

Knowing Miyuki could use some alone time to comprehend what happened today Eijun didn't mind except for…

"If Onii-san doesn't mind its fine by me Mochi-nii!" he therefore said.

Smiling in appreciation Ryousuke shook his head in acquiesce and signaled for them to proceed.

Blushing slightly, Mochi bid Ryousuke goodnight as Eijun did the same with Miyuki and they made their way towards their room.

Looking at their retreating backs both Miyuki and Ryousuke shared the same fond look while watching Eijun talk enthusiastically and Mochi nodding or sighing at his antics.

They caught each other's eye and couldn't help but chuckle before they too made their way towards their respective rooms.

Miyuki thought he would have a hard time getting to sleep but the second he entered his room and sat on his bed, a wave of tiredness swept over him and he fell asleep before he even knew what happened.

He didn't even notice his roommates astonishment when he saw the clock signaling for nine thirty pm and their catcher fast asleep. Miracles never cease to happen.

---

In room number five in the meantime a racing showdown took place between Eijun and Masuko while Mochi almost died of laughter at seeing them fail.

When he saw Eijun's face after the first-string announcement Mochi got worried and he was slightly annoyed that Miyuki got to him first but let it rest as they made to follow Ryousuke and wanted to keep those two out of it.

He wasn't proud of it but he and Ryou-san saw them walk towards the bull-pen after dealing with Furuya.

And when he noticed Miyuki's face they decided to follow them and he understood something else must have happened.

Overhearing their conversation wasn't what they'd planned on but once they did they couldn't just leave it.

It would have shocked Miyuki if he knew how Mochi's thoughts mirrored Eijun's for the most part. And both he and Ryousuke couldn't help feeling some sort of pity for the boy but also anger towards themselves. They never knew Miyuki felt lonely and it stung that Eijun found out after such a short while, while they knew him for over a year already.

After those two walked back towards the dormitory he and Ryou-san stayed behind a bit longer to not alert them to their presence. He couldn't imagine Miyuki appreciating that much; especially after his emotional display.

It was then that Mochi caught the sentiment of everyone on the team perfectly when he said:

"You know Ryou-san, it is strange how much changed with the addition of Sawamura to the team, but the chemistry between him and Miyuki, that's out of this world. Therefore we can't ignore that Miyuki had quite a bit to do with it as well. I just wonder what it is that makes those two so different that they can show us the parts we have to work on without losing ourselves, instead making us stronger."

"I more and more dread the day that we have to say goodbye to this team after summer. It was frightful before but right now it becomes terrifying."

"In a short couple of months those two became our pillar as Miyuki seems to be the only one capable of reigning Eijun in, but the opposite seems to be true as well. I haven't had so much fun playing baseball as in these past three months and I wish it never had to end."

"It therefore irks me that although they've helped us so much without them realizing we have ignored Miyuki's situation. You and I both knew he had no close friends but we didn't truly offer to be ones either. I feel extremely selfish now, they give and we take and we should right that. It's time that we too take responsibility of making this team the best Seidou has ever seen and not only with just our skills."

"As Eijun showed us time and time again, having the skills is nice, but being friends or at least teammates who appreciate each other is worth just as much. It also helps to bring out the best in everyone."

Nodding his consent in Mochi's assessment of the situation Ryousuke thought everything over.

"I suppose we could gather everyone around and discuss it since this is broader than just the first-string. And seeing how those two achieved things within the second- and no-string it has to include everybody."

"Let's gather the first-string soon to brainstorm and see what we can come up with. With Tetsu being the captain he can relay everything we come up with."

"But I wouldn't advice to spring our friendship on Miyuki now Youichi. He wouldn't appreciate it. The only thing we've learned is that Miyuki Kazuya is indeed a person worth befriending and we should do just that. We're conscious of it now so let's go from there."

Nodding he took Ryousuke's hand in his own and made to follow the other boy's. When they'd reached them he understood that Eijun was looking for a way to gently give Miyuki the time he needed without being obvious in dismissing him.

The fact that Eijun knew how to act subtle was a shock to Mochi but seeing Ryousuke's knowing smirk it appeared to be something he did more often.

They didn't need words when they interrupted and it was their pleasure to help them out from the shadows because those two taught them that you don't need recognition for a job well done as long as you know it's a job well done.

And so he had no trouble in wiping the floor with his little bro while playing games and stealing pudding knowing full well the next week would be hell. One would take what one could get after all.

Chapter Text

The next day everyone on the team felt slightly down following the final member selection for this summer. It was always though knowing that only a select few could make the cut. No one kept hard feelings towards those people, but knowing you or the one you hoped for didn't make it was still disappointing and therefore the overall mood was mellow.

Luckily it was a school day so there was at least some distraction and no one from the first-string ever acted as if they were above the rest of them. It was therefore a great relief that someone like Furuya, who had the obvious talent, still didn't make the cut and it made them feel a bit better.

"It must feel quite unsatisfying knowing your shoulder hasn't healed yet and the one that was appointed to you also didn't make it huh" Tanba said to Chris who looked quite sheepish.

"I suppose you could say that but I don't regret him not making first-string. I don't think he would have been an asset at this point. I do regret that my shoulder takes a little more time to heal though but I'm thankful coach didn't pull me out of that pick-up game. It was great fun."

As he too remembered Tanba's face adopted a fond smile. "Sawamura does seem to have an air of magic around him doesn't he?" and at Chris' chuckle turned serious once again.

"We will make sure to make this a long summer Chris, so don't you dare to give up and help us from the sidelines. I really want to form a battery with you before our time is up!"

"I guess we still have the retirement game later this year" Chris replied laughing outright now and shaking his head as he made to walk back to his classroom leaving Tanba behind with a contemplative look; wondering why people were so interested in playing with him after showing them nothing and giving them the cold shoulder these past two years.

Mochi in the meantime was still a bit worried about Miyuki, but with Ryousuke's advice fresh in mind knew he couldn't change his behavior that drastically without Miyuki noticing.

He didn't want for the other boy to clamp up before he even got the chance to loosen him up so for now he would act just as usual and wait for the right moment to come around.

"Oy Miyuki, what on earth has your undivided attention, especially at lunch!"

"It's the score book from our Kokushi match."

"Goodness you really love surveying those huh."

"Well, it IS part of my job. If not for me those poor pitchers would fail miserably now wouldn't they!" Miyuki snickered.

Understanding him perfectly Mochi had to laugh as well.

"Well, I can't imagine you mean Eijun with that statement. He's actually scarily capable of reading your leads. I shudder to think what would happen if he gets back to training with all the knowledge he acquired after watching us for these past weeks."

"Not only watching, I can't remember how often he haunted me and since a couple of days Chris as well to further deepen our reasoning for specific game calls. He keeps us up at night if this continues!"

"I almost feel bad for you Miyuki but you have to try a bit harder before I really pity you!" Mochi replied while thinking 'And it's not like you have a problem with accepting his company now do you!' Be happy I like you otherwise I'd give you hell for annoying my little bro so often!'

"Well, you-know-what will start soon so we can see for ourselves how much he's grown. Although we will have to work on his batting still, it's a shame that got interrupted."

"That whole game was a shame Miyuki. I really hope we've got a chance to face them again, we'll destroy them! Even now Eijun still has at least seven weeks of recovery left, and that is only if he manages it before the second round. I'm scared to think of it taking him the full sixteen weeks instead of twelve."

At this Miyuki looked grim as well as they both knew that Kataoka-kantoku would take no chance with a player's health ever again after Chris; especially if he knows about it.

Seeing the dark look on Miyuki's face, Mochi decided a lighter topic was necessary as both of them still got instantaneously furious thinking about Seikou and their pitcher.

"Well at least he can up his training now. You should have seen him when coach gave the okay. He almost undid all his hard work and gave coach an aneurism when he went for his tire and started a full throttle run, swinging arms and all!"

"Wahaha, yeah he never learns does he!" Miyuki replied fondly, a soft look on his face. "I do wonder though how our firsties are going to hold up in you-know-what!" and with that his trademark sneaky grin showed, showing Mochi that everything was right again in the world.

As he remembered Eijun's happiness when he was told they would up his training he got worried again.

"Well before that we have to make sure he doesn't overdo it. It's like having a five year old around you know. Give him one finger and he takes it all, no regards for his own limits!"

Nodding in understanding Miyuki knew exactly what he meant. Even now Eijun still felt like he had to be perfect at everything so he wouldn't drag down the team. He was happy that others took notice of this as well though and he knew they would be able to make him feel secure enough that not everything depends on him but on them together.

Thinking back, this would have been unimaginable. No one would have looked strangely or reacted like they were overly worried for Eijun when he got into one of his insecure moods.

But now everyone took notice and understood the reason perfectly and took action to take his mind of off it.

Whether Eijun noticed it, Miyuki wasn't completely sure but he appreciated it a lot.

No one better than he understood the fights Eijun had to weather alone and he felt guiltier and guiltier about it whenever he thought back. Therefore he was extremely happy that Eijun managed to reach out to everyone and in return people helped him too whenever needed.

He was still a bit insecure about this whole friends business (hear Eijun's sarcastic thinking complete with eye-roll; and you looking out for me all the time isn't what friends are about of course, you're really terrible at this aren't you! Maybe you should take another school course for this!) but for now he decided to follow Eijun's advice and continue how he was doing before. It was enough for Eijun apparently. He would think about the rest when it came up.

Seeing the downpour outside he sighed and hearing that sigh Mochi followed Miyuki's line of sight out of the windows.

Realizing why Miyuki sighed his eyes grew wide as well as one plus one made two.

"Eijun's going to overdo it again and still run huh." He sighed as well, shaking his head in defeat seeing the confirmative nod.

"We'll there's nothing for it then. Guess we have to make sure he doesn't overdo it then."

Dropping his head on the table Miyuki muttered: "I guess we could ask Chris to help as well and subject both of us on another 'why do you make this call differently from him' round."

Snickering loudly, Mochi could only shake his head at Miyuki as the bell rang to signal the end of their break. Maybe he did start to feel a bit of pity for Miyuki after all. Eijun was like a mosquito when he smells blood and was unwilling to let it pass.

After class, Miyuki and Mochi hurried down towards the first year classrooms to hopefully intercept Eijun before he was able to run off.

Apparently luck was on their side as Kanemaru kept him back demanding to tell him his plans for the day.

Nodding, Mochi went off in search of Chris; hoping he could help them out in keeping Eijun out of trouble when Miyuki made his presence known to the rest.

"Oy Sawamura, come with me for a bit!"

Caught in surprise, Eijun turned around and beamed at him, catching him off guard.

"Miyuki! Is there anything you need from me? I was planning on running today!"

"Just follow me okay" he replied, rolling his eyes, not even deeming those plans answer worthy.

Looking at each other Kanemaru and Toujou, who caught up with them, shared a grin, understanding that Miyuki was trying to change Sawamura's plans without him even noticing.

Sharing a look they decided to follow, unwilling to let this opportunity pass.

Toujou secretly thought that if Miyuki would engage Sawamura in another pitching lesson he wouldn't want to miss it for the world as he hadn't given up being a pitcher yet, even though coach made it clear he only chose him for his versatile gameplay.

As they walked towards indoor training room, Eijun got a pensive look on his face. He was starting to catch on and when he noticed Mochi waiting with Chris he turned an instant lobster red.

Apparently he was overdoing it again and the others noticed. Shaking his head he wondered why he never noticed whenever he flew of the handle and lost hold of himself.

Eijun knew that pacing and patience was an important part of recovery and gameplay but he just couldn't help himself.

Groaning he could only shake his head at himself and when the other's started to laugh he huffed a sigh but in the end he couldn't help but chuckle as well.

"Even though I myself know best that I'm not ready yet, I still went and did it again huh." He said in self-mockery.

"We were right Mochi, he indeed was planning to run in the rain again." Miyuki said, unable to refrain from teasing Eijun a bit more.

Rolling his eyes Mochi could only glare at Eijun while Chris only shook his head "It sure seems like it. Mochi explained already Miyuki. I guess I'll sacrifice myself for the cause as well"

"Well I'm ever so grateful Chris-senpai" Miyuki answered with a flourish as Eijun managed to notch the color of his face even further up.

Getting a grip on himself, Eijun took a deep breath and shouted "GOOD DAY TO YOU CHIS-SENPAI, I'M PLEASED TO WORK TOGETHER WITH YOU AGAIN'

Rolling his eyes, being used to this now even though Chris looked on in obvious confusion, still not understanding what it was that made Eijun hero-worship him so, Miyuki couldn't help but tease: "Well you were certainly much colder towards me Sawamura. I'm hurt."

At this Eijun turned around. He didn't want for Miyuki to feel insecure with him; especially after their conversation yesterday.

Noticing the worried look Miyuki's eyes gentled considerably, even as he flicked Eijun's forehead. "Don't worry, it was a joke" he whispered and at the relieved look he got in return he couldn't help but feel warmth rising inside him.

Deciding to ignore Eijun's strange behavior, Chris took the floor.

"Sawamura, how often do we have to tell you that baseball is the kind of sport that starts with the pitcher and that a pitcher's good condition is invaluable to the team? That means you have a huge responsibility because if your condition isn't good, the infielders and basemen will fall behind as well; pace yourself!!"

Looking thoroughly chastised Eijun could only nod. He knew this, but he still had to work on his impulse control!

Trying not to laugh at Eijun's contrite lost puppy look, everyone looked up or away, biting their cheeks not to smile.

After getting himself somewhat back in control Mochi regarded his little brother with a fond look.

"Well you should be happy little bro that we're here then as this is a team sport and it's not team play or only individual responsibility. You don't play alone after all."

Looking at everyone around him and noticing their agreement with Mochi's words, Eijun started to beam. He truly was lucky being part of THIS Seidou, where a person's weakness wasn't seen upon as something to push blame upon but as something to work on as a team.

"You're such a handful little bro" Mochi chuckled, relieved that Eijun appeared more like himself again. A contrite look really didn't suit their ray of sunshine.

Clearing his throat, Chris demanded everyone's attention again.

"For now Sawamura we will start with your physio exercises followed by the next game calling strategy talk and we finish with your last batch of exercises before we retire for the day alright?"

"It's fine by me Chris-senpai, but is that okay for you as well? Don't you have your own training to consider?" Eijun asked a tad worried, he didn't want to keep Chris from advancing himself.

Chris couldn't help but look in wonder at Eijun. How this kid could make him feel so appreciated was a mystery to him. He still couldn't believe how much difference this kid had made in his life and still barely asked anything in return.

Shaking his head he couldn't help but share a smile with Miyuki who as well looked at Sawamura in fond exasperation; unable to believe that people this selfless truly exist.

"Don't worry about me Sawamura and don't misunderstand. I haven't given up becoming a player in the slightest but for now the team is what's important. And we are both part of that team. So for now be good and let's get started, I can imagine that Toujou can't wait for this session either" and at that nobody could hold back their laughter as they all knew that Toujou used every opportunity available to stalk Eijun whenever he got a hunch that another strategy session was due.

But truth to be told, Toujou took their teasing in stride, as it was the truth of course as he made for the bats with Kanemaru to start their own training before they'd assemble again.

Sitting down, knowing that Chris was a much better help assisting Eijun with his exercises, Miyuki enjoyed listening to their banter, silently chuckling whenever Chris lost the argument

"Well then Chris-senpai, please take care of me from now onwards as well!"

"You've got Miyuki for that Sawamura, and remember, from tomorrow onwards your life is gonna be hell!"

"That wasn't nice Chris-senpai. I need you both!"

"Greedy aren't you?"

"Of course! I want only the best!"

"In that case you shouldn't work with me."

"How dare you talk about yourself like that Chris-senpai, you're almost worse than Miyuki is!"

"I'm not sure I appreciate being compared to him you know."

"Then don't talk about yourself like that!"

"Since when did this conversation turn into you lecturing me instead of me lecturing you?"

"That happened the moment you bad-mouthed yourself!"

"That was a rhetorical question Sawamura."

"Then don't voice it aloud if you don't want an answer!"

"I give up, let's start alright?"

"YES SIR!"

"Don't yell"

"YES SIR"

"I give up"

"Huh?"

Having watched as well, Mochi walked back towards Miyuki, intent on getting the other to help him with his batting and no one noticed the shadow of Tanba being cast in the door, listening to their banter, slightly jealous of them having Chris undivided attention.

He couldn't help feeling like this after all he first lost Chris to Tetsu and Jun and all he had left was their occasional talks about the game. It seemed that with Chris returning to the team he'd even lost that as Chris and his conversation this morning wasn't nearly as animated as his conversation with Sawamura.

He didn't blame Sawamura, the guy had something about you that you couldn't get mad at, but it hurt nonetheless.

He also knew that he'd probably lose his ace number to Sawamura before soon and all of this combined made him feel furious.

Gathering his thoughts he went in search of Miyauchi, unwilling to let go of his position in the team so easily. At the very least he could try to delay the inevitable.

---

The next day shone bright and clear and Eijun swallowed when he remembered why he didn't fancy getting up early for once.

It was finally the second week of June, a week only the Boss could enjoy as he finally gets the chance to kill all of them again.

Sighing, knowing there was no way to delay the inevitable, he got and prepared for Training camp from Hell.

When he returned towards the dorm after his morning ablutions, Mochi and Masuko had risen as well, looking slightly worse for wear.

But upon seeing Eijun, Mochi got a devious grin, still thinking Eijun wouldn't know what awaited him.

Before Mochi could get even one word out, Eijun raised his hand towards Mochi's face to stop him from speaking his thoughts out loud.

"Safe whatever energy you're going to put into trying to hide the fact that this week is going to be unpleasant for practice Mochi-nii. Let's waste none! God knows Boss loves to torture on occasion."

As they looked at each other in obvious surprise Mochi and Masuko only shrugged. By now used to Eijun's sometimes random but accurate comments about their coach and they made their way towards the cafeteria in silence.

Arriving, it appeared that only the first years, minus Eijun, didn't know what was upon them as they chattered happily without a concern in the world with the senpai looking on in obvious delight.

After breakfast they made their way towards the fields, wondering how long it would take the firsties before they'd lose their breakfast. Bets where flying but for some reason no one dared to place a bet on Eijun. He surprised them too often by now.

Even impaired he seemed to be able to keep up quite well and by now everyone knew that when it came to running, whether it's base running, runs to increase stamina or for punishment, no one could come even close to his stamina.

After assembling, Kataoka-kantoku divided everyone into either fielding- or batting practice.

Sighing, Eijun knew he couldn't do much until this evening when all running drills started. He didn't think Boss ever deviated from his killing menu.

Therefore he went towards fielding practice himself. He was finally rid of his sling but still on strict orders to not overdo it. Therefore he was only allowed to take it off for morning practice.

Probably because the coaching staff was afraid he'd jar it when doing base drills later.

A while later he noticed Toujou doing a great job with base covers. He was still restricted from throwing but maybe he could at least catch some.

Watching from the sidelines Chris and Maezono saw Eijun's forlorn face, wondering how to fit his restrictions into practice.

Taking pity on him Chris decided to take charge.

"Kawakami, you can go ahead towards the bull-pen. Toujou, I would like for you to practice in different fielding positions, you seem to have a knack for them and I'd like to see how versatile you are. Sawamura, you're going to catch outfield balls. It shouldn't restrict your shoulder too much. But don't you dare throw them back! Let's see how your eye - ball coordination fares over longer distances."

Happy being able to at least participate even if it was partly he jogged towards the outfield to take his position.

"Oy Miyuki, Kominato junior, let's get some real game simulation in with Tanba pitching a few. Try to hit them towards outfield."

Hearing the obvious challenge, Miyuki could only grin at Chris. Apparently they still thought that he wasn't capable of hitting without any runners or even hitting long. We'll no time like today to show them.

After a couple of ad-bats Haruichi got a quite comfortable feeling hitting Tanba's balls. The pitcher maybe didn't intent it but he was a bit predictable.

Gripping his bat long once more he got in position and hit the ball with all he got; making it fly towards the back screen.

As everyone traced the ball's trajectory, wondering if a first-year got the first home-run of the camp achievement, only Jun appeared to notice one dark haired outfielder running towards the ball.

"Sawamura, let it be, it's going out!" But it appeared to be in vain as the boy didn't drop in speed in the slightest.

He made to run after him when he saw the wall coming in close towards Sawamura, intent on killing him if he dared to collide with it.

What happened next didn't make him feel any less murderous though.

Having reached the backscreen, Eijun jumped against the wall, reaching out and caught the ball before landing gracefully on his feet without jarring himself too much; only then noticing everyone's mouth hanging open in surprise and Jun coming towards him like a bull seeing a red flag.

He quickly looked towards the bull-pen, noticing the Boss pointedly ignoring him. He just hoped he wouldn't get an earful later.

"Sa-wa-mu-ra!" Yun grumbled after finally reaching him "Do you have a dead wish?"

Looking at him in surprise Eijun failed to understand the other's anger.

"Pardon?" he said.

Bristling even harder, Jun grabbed the ball out of Eijun's hand and held it close to his face.

"What do you imagine would have happened if you'd hit the back screen or even landed wrong hah?"

Swallowing, Eijun knew he had a point.

"I guess I wasn't thinking again Spitz-senpai" he said in a small voice.

"Don't-do-that-again!" Jun muttered before throwing the ball back towards the mound and walking back towards his spot.

"But for the record Sawamura, that was one hell of a catch. I guess you have some talent for the outfield!"

Being caught in surprise, Eijun could only smile at Jun, who in turn turned crimson seeing that look directed at him.

"Thank you very much for your kind words Spitz-senpai! I appreciate them!"

"Yeah, yeah, now focus before Miyuki and Mochi get to you!"

"That won't help me focus Spitz-senpai! That's just cruel!"

"As long as it keeps you from doing stupid things I really don't care Sawamura."

"You've got to protect me Spitz-senpai, as outfield buddies it's our duties to protect each other!"

"No can do!"

"Senpai!!!"

"Sawamura, if you don't focus I'm gonna pull you out of outfield and have you watch the rest practicing" Chris yelled, trying to get everyone back into focus again.

"Chris-senpai, not you too!"

Rolling his eyes Chris decided to ignore the loudmouthed pitcher for now and focus on Mochi and Miyuki who looked like they still couldn't believe their eyes.

Truth be told, Eijun's catch caught everyone in surprise and in all honesty, it was an amazing catch.

But it didn't help any that said pitcher seemed intent on delaying his recovery without even knowing he did.

So much for thinking the outfield would be a safe place to have him practice. The kid always managed to surprise them.

Chris noticed the coach also having same line of thoughts. He wondered if there is someone on this earth that could rein Sawamura in and turned white when he saw Miyuki and Mochi glaring towards him.

As if it was his fault Sawamura would go for an almost impossible to catch ball.

Sighing, he looked towards the sky, wondering what on earth he'd gotten himself into.

The worst thing was that Sawamura actually listened to him.

Turning an even whiter shade he realized he'd answered his own question. Groaning he could only shake his head, he didn't want to be the one able to rein Sawamura in.

Looking back towards Miyuki he got an idea. Maybe he could get Miyuki to take that roll. He seemed interested enough in the kid.

Having calmed his slight internal crisis he refocused, intent on getting this part of practice over with, hopefully without any casualties.

After a short break, which gave Mochi and Miyuki plenty time to chew Eijun out, while Haruichi appeared to still be annoyed for him having thwarted his home-run chance, Eijun was happy to continue; no matter how good those onigiri tasted

After pole and base running, they finally concluded with their last twenty laps around the field. Seeing Toujou's and Haruichi's face, Eijun could only ruefully think back to his own first Training Camp from Hell, knowing it was about to get even worse in the upcoming days.

Thankfully he'd kept up practice since he'd come back and he was almost, except for his arm, back into the shape he was at the end of second year. All thanks to having the opportunity to train more adequately as he knew what he had to do.

His injury made his progress somewhat slower but it gave him the chance to train his stamina nonetheless so not all was lost.

He only wondered how he'd fare the rest of the week. He really needed to come up with something to do during morning training. Maybe he should talk to coach whether he could switch his off campus physio exercises in the morning instead evening.

For now though he'd go take a bath before rolling into bed, knowing he'd need all the sleep he could get if he wanted to survive this week.

Chapter Text

Omake

The evening of the first day: Bath time

When he heard his name being called, Eijun turned around and saw Miyuki heading towards him with eyes like storm-clouds. He knew it was coming but he'd hoped he could have avoided it altogether and escaped before the other boy noticed him gone.

Turning around again, he picked up his pace, hoping Miyuki would get the hint and leave him be, but of course that wasn't meant to be; the Gods are cruel at times.

"If you dare to take one more step Sawamura Eijun I'll make sure it's the last one you're gonna take for a while when I'm done talking to coach about today!" Miyuki bristled with righteous fury.

Gulping, Eijun froze on the stop knowing full well Miyuki would follow up on his words if pushed far enough. He really hoped what happened hadn't ruined their budding friendship, with Miyuki thinking he'd be too much trouble; especially when it comes to something Miyuki cares about.

And when Miyuki Kazuya finally cared about something, come hell and high water, he'd defend it like a mother-hen perceiving a threat towards her chicks.

Although Eijun wasn't sure he was happy being compared to a chick; he wasn't that frail but he knew Miyuki was worried as well underneath all that anger and that's what made him decide to listen to the other boy and wait for him to catch up.

Keeping his mouth shut, something he learned quite well when dealing with an overzealous Miyuki, he waited and wondered where this was going to but unwilling to start he only looked at Miyuki when the latter finally stood next to him.

Taking one step closer, so he was almost in Eijun's face Miyuki hissed at him.

"You just had to go and catch that ball hadn't you!"

"Well it was my assigned job you know" Eijun replied at once daring and meek, his shoulders hunching slightly and looking at Miyuki throughout his bangs.

Not buying that answer, as the look in Eijun's eyes spoke of silent mirth as well, Miyuki growled even harder.

"Oh and only someone as stupid as you would go for such a ball when it is a sure home-run now wouldn't they? WHILE HURT!" he yelled.

Slightly taken aback, not having expected Miyuki to yell ever, Eijun knew he had to act fast.

"Well, I knew I could make it and since you're teaching me about reading ball trajectories for batting I figured it would be a solid catch. Therefore I didn't worry about the injury."

Getting even redder in the face, Eijun started to sweat. He hadn't expected for Miyuki to take it this bad.

"So you're saying it's my fault?"

"Of-course not! I just made use of your teaching"

"So you are saying this is my fault?"

"Uhm…maybe?"

"Maybe?"

"……yesss…?"

"…"

"What on earth do you wanna hear you stupid tanuki, I lost you somewhere!" Eijun exclaimed frustrated.

Looking at the frustrated boy with a look between anger and slight amusement Miyuki couldn't help but sigh as he drew his hand through his hair.

"You are telling me, you, Sawamura Eijun, that I, Miyuki Kazuya, have to buy you, Sawamura Eijun, orange-flavored Ramune instead of you, Sawamura Eijun, buying me, Miyuki Kazuya, Pocari Sweat because I, Miyuki Kazuya, taught you, Sawamura Eijun, how to read ball trajectories so YOU, SAWAMURA EIJUN, could go and catch that freaking home-run and make ME, MIYUKI KAZUYA, lose our bet?"

"Uhm yes?" Eijun said, not sure what else to say to that clear assessment of the situation.

"I hope you drown during your bath" Miyuki replied, turning towards his dorm-room unable to cope with this any longer.

Looking shocked Eijun could only wail. "That's a mean thing to say Miyuki Kazuya! There is nothing wrong with orange-flavored Ramune!"

But Miyuki closed the dorm behind him already hell bent on ignoring the pitcher for the rest of the night, unable to cope with the loss of his Pocari Sweat over that foul-tasting-death-by-sugar concoction Eijun dared to declare as a nice drink. How dare that twerp for turning his teachings against him. He'd get him back tomorrow for sure and make him buy double in retaliation. Every yen spent on that drink was one too much of course.

Meanwhile, a dejected Eijun made his way towards his room to gather his bathing utensils, sad that he hadn't gotten that precious bottle of extreme goodness yet.

---

Beginning of the regular chapter

---

2nd day of Training Camp, 6:00 AM.

After surviving his bath, against the wishes of a certain catcher, the whole of Seidou's first-string assembled together for practice.

Today they started with batting practice. A sore point still for one serious ruffled catcher; he still refused to graciously give into his loss and hand over Eijun's hard-earned prize.

Eijun knew he'd had to act fast before Miyuki turned everything around again and he'd end up with nothing and Miyuki with double, so he made his way towards Mochi with big puppy eyes in who were glossy with suppressed tears because of the unfairness of it all while dragging his bat behind him.

When he stood next to Mochi, the whole of Seidou noticed Eijun's dejected posture and wondered what happened while one catcher felt a chill running up his spine.

One look at Eijun and Mochi stopped his practice immediately, worried about what happened to get the normally bouncy and happy pitcher like this.

After listening to Eijun he turned murderous eyes to where he last saw their shitty catcher while patting Eijun's head, promising to set the catcher straight and not to worry before he walked off in search of one Miyuki Kazuya.

Looking up again, he met Ryou-san's eyes and couldn't hide a small merry grin, which got answered in turn with thumbs up from Ryousuke who could always appreciate a good round of manipulation.

Deciding to stay out of anything that Ryousuke approved off, the rest turned towards their training again, worrying about what on earth those two were up too or got them to agree to such a degree.

Even Harucchi had to gulp when seeing his brother complimenting someone else this openly. Sawamura was still a slight sore spot for the prodigal batter but he knew the blame wasn't Sawamura's.

He really liked Furuya and couldn't understand why the other pitcher was so full of disdain and dislike towards Sawamura, so much so that it was to his own detriment.

Whenever there was no mention or threat from said player, Furuya was a really nice person to be around. He was quiet and while appearing dumb, perceived more than people gave him credit for.

Sighing he turned towards the B-grounds hoping to catch a glance of said boy but knew there wasn't much chance as Furuya wasn't coping with losing out on a first-string spot very well.

He felt slightly guilty for acquiring that spot himself while at the same time feeling incredibly happy being able to stand on the same field as his brother.

That said brother appeared to have taken a liking to Sawamura instead of Furuya made his feelings even more conflicted. He wondered if there was ever a chance for him to show them Furuya's true character and strengths but knew it was in Furuya's hands; he could only help pave a new path but Furuya had to work on his own issues himself first. He could only be there for him to guide him towards the right path.

Until then, since he didn't want Furuya to believe he'd betrayed him, he couldn't spent more time or do more things with Sawamura unfortunately, although the boy seemed really nice and a good friend to have.

But he was none too grateful for him catching his home-run yesterday, who in their right mind would go after such a ball while injured?!

But truth to be told, it appeared to be what made Sawamura so dear to everyone. He'd do everything in his power to help his team out and advance them towards even better plays. It certainly is thrilling to stand on the same field with the pitcher and wait for what amazing play would follow next.

Even though he hadn't had many opportunities to show-case his pitching, by looking at him one could easily tell that he wasn't a greenhorn either and that he would certainly be capable of leading a team through rough times.

He also didn't feel like a regular first-year and he was glad that he chose to follow his brother to Seidou; it certainly was a place where you meet amazing people and can help you to grow to great heights.

Stealing one last glance towards his brother's direction he was startled when their eyes met. Steeling his own gaze he grabbed his bat again and started to swing. He'd never let Sawamura catch any of his hits ever again!

Miyuki in the meantime made a beeline for the vending machines the second he saw Mochi's shoulders turning stiff and knew he was in deep shit.

Trying to forestall another lecture by an overprotective brother he grabbed the bottle and stealthily made his way back towards the field; hoping to avoid anyone witnessing his disgrace.

But just like Eijun the night before, the Gods had other plans and decided to take some revenge against the recalcitrant catcher and he knew he was caught pants down when he heard Rei-chan's voice behind him.

"Miyuki-kun, what are you doing?"

Turning around, he felt his stomach plummet even more, because next to Rei was Kataoka-kantoku who didn't appear amused at all.

"Eto…I was getting Sawamura a drink?" he replied

"Is that a question or an answer Miyuki-kun?" Rei chuckled, amused at how befuddled the boy seemed.

Both Kataoka and Rei knew exactly what the boy was doing, as they've overheard his conversation with Sawamura yesterday and when they saw Kuramochi in pursuit of said catcher they didn't even need to see the bottle of Ramune he was painstakingly trying to hide to know Miyuki was trying to avoid trouble at all costs.

Kataoka as well had to hide a grin. He hadn't ever seen Miyuki this relaxed and was relieved that he as well could get into mischief. It was much better than his old overly serious acidic personality and he had started to mesh with the team really well.

But he still had to learn to take his losses gracefully it appeared and decided to intervene before Kuramochi had a chance to herald everyone with his over-protective brotherly love.

Somedays Kataoka wondered whether he'd coached a baseball team or a zoo. Sawamura really shook them all up and he wouldn't like it any other way; even though situations like this exasperated him at times.

Noticing Rei enjoying the kid's obvious discomfort he sighed and addressed him.

"Considering it's for Sawamura, and throwing a fit, I suppose you get that back to him as soon as possible." And when he noticed Miyuki's relieved look and Kuramochi in earshot added:

"But in the future, please pay up for your losses sooner and with more grace Miyuki; Sawamura is enough to handle when being his own self, you don't have to add to it." And at seeing the catcher turning crimson, knowing exactly that he'd overheard them, he couldn't hide his grin anymore; especially when the kid nodded and almost ran towards the field in a hurry to leave them and Kuramochi's cackling laughter behind.

Accepting Kuramochi's nod with his usual stoic look, after getting hold of his facial expressions again, as it wouldn't do to show him going soft for too long, he made his way towards the B-grounds for his now regular inspection.

Chuckling at her boys' antics Rei as well nodded her goodbye towards Kuramochi as she followed Kataoka.

Not being able to contain his merriment at Miyuki's discomfort he couldn't wait to tell Eijun and Ryou-san of this.

Still cackling he too started walking and arrived back at the field and arrived soon enough to see Miyuki handing Eijun his long-desired orange flavored Ramune, of which the whole team was made witness when Eijun happily exclaimed over Miyuki finally admitting his win.

Knowing he lost, Miyuki only shook his head while praying for his day to turn slightly better, it was after all only 06:30AM and he didn't know if he could live this day down if it stayed like this.

Picking his bat back up, he saw Eijun having found his new victim *ahum* target in Ono for some bunting practice.

He really wondered why Ono looked so happy, Eijun was a slave driver whenever it came to him teaching others to bunt; and as if on cue, Eijun's "it's in the hips" could be heard, causing him to chuckle.

A short while later, Tetsu signaled for everyone to put their equipment away and to head off for breakfast to Eijun's relief.

He still hadn't gotten the time to ask coach if he could go for his physio and it made him bored out of his mind. At least he could participate after classes.

Unfazed by his breakfast tray he started to dig in, having continued that practice over winter at home, he too chuckled seeing Toujou's and Haruichi's face and Kanemaru's overseer attitude while the other's looked at him in surprise except for Miyuki.

Looking over towards Sawamura, Kanemaru decided he didn't need much overseeing and focused his attention towards the other first-years. He'd gather that the others would make sure for Sawamura to eat it all and if not be alerted by their taunts and teasing.

"You know Toujou" he said "You really brought this upon yourself. You just had to go and leave me behind so congratulations on making first-string. To celebrate I shall give you some of my food to eat as well!"

Looking thoroughly scared now Toujou looked around him for help but knew immediately it was in vain as they were all laughing around him.

"Are you trying to kill me Shinji?" he asked

"What are you talking about; I'm showing you that I have no hard feelings whatsoever!"

"Don't joke like that Shinji, you don't even smile when you say that! How can I believe it's genuine?!"

"Well it appears we don't train you enough as you don't seem tired huh…What do you think Tetsu, should we increase their amount of training this afternoon?"

"Oh, you're including me in that Spitz-senpai? You've got something planned I can participate in as well that you're going to oversee?"

Being caught in his own trap, as Jun really didn't want to have any more on his plate knowing what was to come, he looked towards Tetsu for help.

Tetsu, sharing a meaningful glance with Chris, meanwhile totally ignored him while happily stirring his natto and letting his lover bury himself in his own hole. He'd console him afterwards. Maybe this'll help to stop his 'talking before thinking' streak after babysitting the firsties.

Noticing he was stuck, he quickly back paddled by commenting that two out of three looked like they could use a nap, seeing they'd be unable to move after eating so much, much to the merriment of the others and he, for once, ignored all the catcalling.

Back in class, Kanemaru was surprised at seeing Sawamura still being attentive in class. He may not participate in batting practice, but he knew he easily made up for it in running and his physio regiment with Chris, who sure as hell didn't go easy on him.

He really wondered how he still found the time to do his homework, study for mock-tests and even help them out with his notes for their study sessions. And if he was right, they would even get less time for all of that during this week. He was really happy to have accepted his offer of a study group back at the start of term, otherwise he'd worried about his grades constantly.

He and Toujou weren't bad students but their grades where pretty average back in junior high with their practicing at all. But right now they belonged to the top of their class and whenever he asked Sawamura about it he only muttered about Miyuki harping on him for good study habits and no pressure in training his friends.

He and Toujou sometimes wondered how far back those two knew each other to know something intimate like that about each other and what with no training friends. It sometimes seemed Sawamura did anything but!

The kid was really mysterious at times but he had to admit that he liked him. Unlike Furuya he hadn't boasted about his position even once and he worked just as hard as the rest of them.

He was glad he had received the chance to observe and learn from him. He was sure it would help him grow and attain his goal of making first-string, after all with his help he easily made it into the second-string, something he hadn't believed at first when first coming here and noticing everyone's skill-level .

He also didn't begrudge Toujou's ascending into first-string already; he knew he worked hard for it and even if it wasn't in his most favorite position Toujou took it in stride, knowing he was of more value where he was placed now than on the mound. That didn't mean he gave up on him becoming a star pitcher for Seidou as well!

Grinning, Kanemaru felt exhilarated being surrounded by so many great players and couldn't wait to become someone to add to the team as well.

Turning his attention back towards his teacher, he couldn't wait to see how their practice made them even stronger after this week was over.

---

Classes were finally over and all of Seidou made their way back towards the grounds to start afternoon practice which once again consisted of mainly fielding practice.

Eijun finally found a moment to talk to coach about his morning routine but was flat-out refused as no physio would be willing to start attending patients at 6:00AM and should follow his routine with Chris during that time. He did promise to see if he could find a more suitable practice menu for after that, understanding his frustration of only watching when other's batted.

Satisfied he made his way back towards Chris who was in charge of fielding again to get his assignment.

Toujou in the meantime impressed even the senpai with his clean throws and steady catches and when they noticed it didn't appeared to be flukes, made several worry about their position as well.

It seemed that few where safe of their position after the first years joined and it was especially that fact that rattled everyone awake and into action to better themselves over and over again.

It was at that particular time that Kataoka oversaw the field and actually liked what he saw. He knew practice this week would be brutal but necessary if they wanted to be ready for summer.

But unlike other years, this time it appeared that everyone took it in stride and the third-years appeared to even enjoy themselves.

The overall atmosphere was one of exhilaration and accomplishment and the team appeared to get together really well.

And with team he didn't mean just the first-string but all players currently attending Seidou. While having to make some tough and hard decisions it payed off in the end and it seemed that for the first time in a long while, he truly enjoyed coaching again.

It finally felt like the team that Sakaki-kantoku left behind again and it thrilled him. He was still in doubt about what to do with Oota-sensei, as one cannot just fire the club-president and he didn't appear to know himself what to do. He was apparently still self-reflecting and since Kataoka himself did some soul-searching these past few weeks, it didn't cripple him into barely showing his face and as he warned everyone at their last coaching assembly; if you can't add to the team, you aren't in the right place.

'I guess I'll have to talk this over with Rei and see if she knows of a solution to this problem considering she is his vice-president. But it's something for after this week because those kids will drive me to exhaustion as well before the week has passed and I can't handle someone who's going to be over emotional at seeing his favorite player getting exhausted to the bone. What was it Sawamura called him again? Ah yes, a Kawakami-otaku. Well at least that part hasn't changed.'

He snorted when he saw Oota fussing over Kawakami in the bull-pen, to both Miyauchi's and Chris annoyance and Miyuki's disgust.

It was amazing thought that people where capable of reading Miyuki's facial expressions as he seemed to have more than one thought after last year.

Yes, Miyuki seemed to grow as well, even though his growth was more on the 'human' side and it was a good look on him Kataoka decided.

On the other side, Chris observed Toujou's progress as well with Eijun awaiting his turn.

"I suppose that Toujou is one of those players who're really suited to play baseball."

Shooting his senpai a sunny smile, catching Chris once again off-guard, wondering why he deserved that one, Eijun agreed.

"He is damn good while playing outfield. Compared to him I've still got a lot to learn but I won't let him take over my pitcher spot!"

Shaking his head in fond exasperation he admired how selfless Sawamura truly was. As if anyone on this team could come even close to his skill in pitching. Truth be told, even Tanba, while being their ace, couldn't come close. And while both Tanba and Kawakami improved since Sawamura showed his talent in those two games, it was barely enough to even breach the heights he could reach when coached right.

And everyone on the team knew exactly the gold they'd hit with Sawamura but no one could begrudge him anything because of his personality and honest to God disposition.

Hell even Chris himself could barely believe that he was actually back being a part of the team and for that he would be forever grateful and would do anything he could to help Sawamura just as he helped him.

Without him he would have lost the things that mattered most in his life; baseball and Tetsu and Jun. For he knew their relationship suffered dearly under his depression and it got to a point where he worried he would lose that as well.

But now, barely two short weeks later, his life took a turn and he felt alive once again with his relationship in much happier waters.

He also knew that both Tetsu and Jun would therefore always have a soft-spot for Sawamura even though they were sad not being the ones to help him in the end.

But sometimes it takes someone that isn't close to you to show you the way out as people close to you often tend to be too soft towards you and miss delivering the necessary kick to the ass to get you back on track and Sawamura did it masterfully.

In hindsight Chris was very happy that the proverbial kick was a very soft and enjoyable one and gave him the opportunity to openly confess to all his bottled up emotions and frustrations to Jun and Tetsu who welcomed his mental breakdown with open arms.

Even his revalidation went much better, to everyone's surprise, now that he felt freer and lighter.

Deciding that he tortured Sawamura enough for one day by making him watch, he shared a nod with Kataoka-kantoku.

Considering his progress they decided, after consulting his physiotherapist that they would slowly start him on pitching again.

Well, the emphasis on slowly and the pitching would actually be tossing (underhanded, upwards, downwards etcetera.) and by no means actual pitching.

Sawamura would have to make do for now. Already imagining Sawamura's reaction towards this news, he made sure to have a head start before calling out to him and telling him their change of plans.

Even he couldn't suppress a grin at the pitchers exclaim of utter happiness, catching everyone off-guard when they saw them walking towards the bull-pen.

Understanding, they all started smile as well, happy to see that sunny smile finally at practice as well.

Chapter Text

Eijun excitedly walked after Chris, after all he wasn't allowed to touch a ball in weeks and he'd really missed it.

He already felt the withdrawal symptoms hitting him hard.

He never expected to go this long without throwing or even holding a baseball.

Boss and his therapist made it very clear early on that he wasn't allowed to even hold one, unless supervised, because the temptation to throw would be too big for him considering his impulsiveness.

Until now he kept his promise since with Mochi-nii, Onii-san and Miyuki as his wardens he wouldn't have gotten a chance to throw anyway.

And if by chance he could have escaped them someone else would have noticed for sure and reported it.

All in all, breaking that promise just wasn't worth it and if they decided he was allowed to start throwing now, he was happy he kept it.

"You're really sure you're letting me pitch Chris-senpai?" Eijun asked, wanting to be a hundred percent sure that this wasn't an elaborate prank of some kind.

Noticing the pitcher's face change from happiness to slightly apprehensive Chris wondered what happened. As far as he knew he'd never pull a joke on someone like that, but after quickly considering the kid's associates at Seidou maybe he too would make sure.

Unbeknownst, Kataoka had followed them and immediately understood what went through the pitcher's head

"Considering your behavior and progress, I talked to your therapist and we've decided to start you up on light throwing again." he answered instead of Chris.

Startled, Eijun could only exclaim a loud "BOSS!" before his words sunk in and flashed him a happy smile.

Nodding in answer, Kataoka continued.

"You are still in a precarious state however, so understand that we'll monitor you very closely and if we say stop, you will immediately do so understood Sawamura? I don't care if you're in the middle of a throwing motion or not, you'll drop the ball right away!"

Unhappy about the caution still prevalent in his play but understanding the reasons perfectly Eijun had no choice but to agree.

Miyuki, who'd heard and seen everything, was proud of the boy. He knew what it cost Eijun to hold back on the thing he loved most, especially after all his previous struggles where he fought all alone.

He would have to ask Eijun which way he preferred later though, because all the hovering couldn't be pleasant as well in his opinion.

Deciding on not letting his previous feelings of jealousy come between them again, especially now that Eijun was actually HIS battery partner and responsibility, he walked towards them to see how he could help out as well.

He knew he needed to change his own ways, since his blindness towards Eijun's growth proved detrimental in the end to Furuya as well, and he wanted to avoid that scenario from ever happening again at all costs. He vowed to himself to follow Eijun closely after returning after all.

And it wasn't as if Chris was free now, since Furuya was still, even now, his responsibility.

With that firmly planted inside his mind he made his presence known to the others.

"Kataoka-kantoku, Chris-senpai, considering his restrictions, what do you think is a feasible menu for this overexcited, stubborn and over-confident newbie?"

He really had to keep in his laughter at seeing the outrage on Eijun's face at those words, and decided to show his 'normal' snarky grin.

But internally he had to confess to himself that it became harder and harder to produce said snark.

But he still owed him for the Ramune humiliation after all and he didn't change THAT drastically of course, or at least he didn't have to show he did.

And let's be honest here, there is no greater fun than riling Eijun up. He always responds so beautifully. It would be a shame to lose these reactions as they were golden in his book.

When Eijun noticed Kataoka and Chris trying to keep their laughter in as well, he only muttered unhappily about over-annoying and overbearing catchers who were worse than any brother-hen or mother-hen could ever be.

And when he noticed that everyone heard that, he turned bright red at the mirth shining through three pair of eyes; as even shades couldn't hide this level of amusement.

Taking slight pity on him Miyuki carefully put his arm around Eijun while saying:

"Well I would like to say that it's the burden of being a battery partner, but I guess it's truly the burden of being MY battery partner" and caught everyone off-guard by saying those words. They'd never thought Miyuki would own up to his character flaws after all (or even recognizing them).

"And truthfully, I don't want it to end before it even started, therefore: Welcome to our battery, partner!" And THEN did something Eijun truly never expected Miyuki to ever do on top of those words: he held out his hand.

Miyuki, the trickster, the joker, the bastard, the one who rarely takes anyone or anything seriously, offered his full support, all his effort and knowledge, to Eijun. It was mindboggling.

Even Kataoka-kantoku and Chris looked surprised at Miyuki's gesture and shared an intrigued look while Miyuki awaited Eijun's reaction.

He was slightly nervous but he knew that he had to do this and it was the only answer he came up with after thinking about everything that changed and happened to him these last eight months.

He was waiting for a good opportunity to tell Eijun that he really did trust him and believed they could do it, and decided that now was as good as any time, since no time is as good as the present; and he'd really lose his nerve otherwise if it would drag on too long.

Eijun in the meanwhile could only smile softly, remembering the very first time he ever formed a battery with Miyuki. He knew he finally caught up to him and with this Miyuki was telling him.

He so knew that his catching up was maybe not in terms of having become a genius or in terms of absolute knowledge, but it was apparently enough to be finally, finally acknowledged as a worthy other half by Miyuki's standards.

It made him feel surprisingly humble and emotional.

He ran after this person for so long, he never noticed Miyuki starting to acknowledge him or what it actually was that finally tilted the scale in his favor.

He may not know how to feel about it right now, but one thing he knew for sure, he'd never let this opportunity escape, and grabbed the other's hand as steadfast and hard as he possibly could while beaming at the other boy and hoped Miyuki understood his silence.

Miyuki luckily did understand him perfectly and he was happy that this ordeal was over with and they could from now one really work towards their future together. There was nothing standing in the way to become Seidou's dream battery now!

Eijun may not be a perfect pitcher yet, but his willingness to work hard, learn new things, his growth potential and hunger for learning and understanding only rivaled his abilities to make the impossible possible, his steadfast reliability, stubbornness and willingness to support.

He came far in those almost three years.

And Miyuki knew they could shake the baseball world up together now.

Smirking he couldn't help but wonder about Mei's reaction after Eijun could finally show everyone his pitching again. They would cause a riot! And Miyuki was already looking forward to that moment.

Chris in the meantime felt an uncharacteristic pang of loss.

He wondered why this moment felt monumental and why he felt slightly shut out. He never before had a chance to solely train or form a battery with Sawamura anyway, so why did Miyuki's declaration shake him so much?

He would have to think about it later but for now they needed to get back towards training.

Miyuki realizing this need as well, or maybe because he felt uncomfortable with the level of emotion present, cleared his throat and looked expectantly towards Chris and Kataoka-kantoku who until now had remained silent, amused by the teen-angst playing out in front of him.

When he'd tell Rei about this he was sure she'd have a field day with it and would want to start new bets again. Ah well, he'd made sure she'd lose those as well, so it'll be no hardship to accept them.

In that regard, Rei was too much like Miyuki. They had the tendency to underestimate their opponents but at least Miyuki appeared to be learning; or maybe not if he thinks back to this morning's fiasco.

Ah well, teen-angst was such a pleasure to witness if one isn't part of it, but he was willing to put a stop on it right now for everyone's sake.

"You can get Sawamura's updated menu from Chris, Miyuki. I've only decided yesterday evening that we'd change his menu after we noticed Sawamura being the only one not gaining anything from this camp."

Nodding in understanding Miyuki waited for the rest he knew would follow and felt relieved he hadn't been kept out of the loop on purpose.

"We'll try and see how it goes now and if I'm certain it doesn't injure him further or sets him back we'll add this after his round of physio exercises in the morning. That is of course only if Sawamura follows your and Chris' instructions to a T."

And after those words, three pairs of stern eyes looked at Eijun meaningfully and he swallowed, suddenly nervous.

"If I decide to add it to his menu, you'll take turns with Chris for the rest of the camp supervising him. With that, your own training won't suffer either."

Chris and Miyuki nodded towards each other, knowing this way it was fair to all the parties involved, not noticing Kataoka's eye roll and slight twitching of lips while Eijun was too busy comprehending all that had happened until now.

Yes, Rei was going to love this.

If he hadn't known that Chris was more than happy with Yuuki and Isashiki he would have added 'love triangle possibility' to their bets. But now it was only two dogs - catchers - fighting for the attention of one bone - pitcher - and it was amusing as hell.

Especially since said bone didn't notice a thing. He did wonder who'd be the husband and who'd be the wife in that battery though since both were so unpredictable and surprising.

Hmm, maybe he should wait a bit more and trying to figure it out before he'd suggest a bet about that to Rei, he did want to win after all.

"For now let's start with some easy tossing so you'll get the feeling of holding a ball back." he announced and they walked the final meters towards the bullpen, ignoring but not disregarding, the surprised looks from Kawakami and Ono and the calculating looks from Tanba and Miyauchi.

"Compared to using the towel to stabilize your pitching again, you should get the feeling back sooner with a real ball. Just remember while it would be best to have a ball with you at all times, you're still prohibited!" And he crossed his arms to show his seriousness.

He almost had to smile again when he saw the rebellious look flash up in the pitcher's eyes for a second before he resigned to his faith. 'Children' he thought.

It did seem unfair but the boy seriously lacked self-preservation the second he'd set his mind towards a goal and it fell to him to save him from himself.

Well, he knew that before he even considered coaching so he didn't mind playing the bad guy at all. After all he never wanted a 'Chris-situation' ever again and if it meant being strict or 'mean' so be it. He also had a reputation to uphold and let's not forget that his age still worked against him, seeing a lot of coaches dismissing him when they met him; regardless of their achievements, he couldn't be seen as 'soft and cuddly'.

"Make sure, that with every ball you throw, you recall the feeling you get from pitching a good ball, a bad ball, a newly learned one and even one you wish to throw but never could while facing pitcher's and situations your catchers provide you with. And even if it seems useless to do so while only tossing, you'll learn to focus your mind on possibilities and scenarios and you'll be able to regain all your feelings at will, which will help you in all kinds of situations."

"The tossing is only for your muscles, but the truly important thing right now is preparing yourself mentally as well. So that when the time comes, you can confidently stand on the mound again, stronger than ever."

"Well, it will make our discussions about game-calling more interesting with a ball in play." Eijun answered.

"So I guess you're killing two birds with one stone huh Boss." And he grinned, amused that the boss always seemed to know about everything and combined it cleverly.

He also understood now why they told him to drop the ball immediately whenever they'd say 'stop'. If he gets too into it, he'd easily forget his restrictions after all.

Seeing Miyuki's wink, he figured those two got that right away, and he rolled his eyes in answer. He couldn't help needing at least some more clarification before the quarter dropped and refused to take the bait, eager to start under the watchful eyes of his company.

After half an hour, Kataoka called it a day and decided they'd try it out again the next morning with Miyuki supervising.

They were actually positively surprised they'd had to stop him only twice, but knew it would be more often after they'd up the training time and he healed further. For now though they were all satisfied and joined the rest for the last part of training.

Eijun knew he'd be cornered by Mochi the second they were done but wanted to talk to Miyuki about what happened as well.

But as he'd hung out with Miyuki the last two days, he just couldn't tell Mochi no. It almost seemed Miyuki calculated all of this in so he could escape Eijun and wouldn't have to talk.

It was sooo Miyuki to drop a line like that and then tactfully disappear.

Sighing he wondered how he could solve this dilemma when surprisingly Tetsu offered the solution by asking Miyuki to talk strategy for the upcoming games in his room and his chance flew out of the window as Eijun knew exactly what this 'strategy meeting' consisted off and wisely kept his mouth shut. Compared to playing team-slave again, he'd prefer Mochi's company any time. He would get Miyuki tomorrow and make sure the catcher' wouldn't get a chance to run away then.

Arriving back at the main field, where Rei had taken over for Kataoka-kantoku, the team knew something had fundamentally changed as they saw Sawamura silently radiating happiness and Miyuki's content look.

Finishing their base running and laps they called it a day and Eijun was dragged of by Mochi, who demanded a full recount of whatever happened to make him so happy while Ryousuke trudged after them, amused.

His amusement turned into annoyance quite quickly though when he saw Haruichi meeting up with that pest Furuya again.

He couldn't for the life of him understand what Haruichi saw in that kid and hoped he'd get over his infatuation quickly; otherwise he'd have to take some drastic measures himself.

Glancing once more towards those two, he shrugged it off in favor of hearing Eijun's explanation as well. He'd have enough time to plan Furuya's demise anyway.

As they passed the vending machines Mochi stopped to grab a couple of drinks, so they wouldn't have to go out while talking, and ushered them into the room; bathing could wait after all.

Slightly disgusted, Eijun and Ryousuke looked at each other and teamed up by grabbing all of the bathing stuff lying about. Ryousuke not caring to get his own, he would use Youichi's stuff and they dragged the shortstop towards the baths.

Squeaky clean, they returned to the room to finally sate Mochi's curiosity. By now he seemed ready to explode from holding himself back.

As Eijun talked both Mochi and Ryousuke where caught in surprise at Miyuki's behavior.

They hadn't thought the catcher was capable of such a grand gesture in such a short time; considering the state he was in just a couple of nights ago when Eijun declared his worth as a friend and now he went and announced Eijun as his equal.

It was a title he didn't even grant to that Narumiya fellow, although they even had a history together and came closest to something resembling a friend to Miyuki.

Mochi had to pinch himself because for Miyuki this felt almost like declaring his love or devoting his life to Eijun, since baseball practically was his life and everything and he wondered if the catcher himself even knew what his words and actions meant; Eijun definitely did NOT.

They both shared a knowing look, hell bent on watching this play out in time. Mochi was happy he'd planned to befriend Miyuki before this revelation and the things he'd overheard; otherwise he'd never believed the catcher capable of doing this without it being an elaborate joke and would have done something he'd probably came to regret; even if it was in Eijun's defense.

They got interrupted by a knock on the door. As Eijun got up to answer the door, Mochi appeared to still be deep in thought, a deep line creasing his forehead.

"Ah Sawamura, do you maybe have notes from our English assignment at hand? I don't understand all of it." The voice of Kanemaru said, effectively pulling Mochi out of his frozen state.

He turned around and noticed that not only Kanemaru but also Toujou, Haruichi and even Furuya showed up. Apparently they intended to ask Eijun to have a study-group tonight, and wondered if Eijun would join or otherwise borrow them his notes.

Noticing Eijun looking at him, unsure of what to do, he waved for him to go. He'd need some time to process all that he'd heard anyway and he could do that better without his little brother running around.

And, Eijun hadn't done anything wrong after all, so no need to worry him by keeping him back and it also gave him some alone-time with Ryou-san, knowing Masuko got dragged of by Tetsu to Miyuki's room and probably wouldn't come back again tonight.

As Eijun grabbed his stuff and went out after saying goodbye to Onii-san, Mochi sighed.

Dragging Mochi towards him, Ryousuke found a more comfortable way to sit before pulling him into his lap and putting his arms around him.

Mochi leaned his head back on Ryou-san's shoulder, enjoying the closeness and quiet after a busy day.

"What's eating you You-chan?" Ryousuke asked.

Shifting slightly and closing his eyes Mochi answered.

"I feel even more ashamed now after hearing Miyuki's reaction to Eijun's declaration. I've never expected for Miyuki to be capable of such a gesture. It feels as if we just took Miyuki for granted for the skills he had, and tolerated his character because of it. Not one of us took the time or effort to get to know him or even look further than his snark and sneer. And here Eijun comes and shows us how truly pathetic we really are in regards to each other."

"And if Miyuki wasn't enough, look at what he did with Chris-senpai or the second- and no-stringers. In just two month's Ryou-san, that boy changed so much with nothing more than human decency. I feel like such a failure and unworthy being a brother to such an awesome kid."

"At the beginning I felt really flattered to be called a big brother. After the incident with that asshole of a Seikou pitcher I felt protective and worried but now I feel downright humbled."

"Is it always this complicated and conflicted being the big brother Ryou-san?" Mochi asked a tad apprehensive while looking at his lovers smiling face.

Laughing softly Ryousuke couldn't help himself and pecked his love on the lips. He looked so adorable right now, all worried and tired but willing to lean on him and ask for his advice.

To Ryousuke there was nothing as beautiful as someone who was willing to acknowledge his faults and trying to learn from them. And if that person was his lover who was willing to trust and share his troubles he just couldn't resist and fall even deeper in love.

For all his outward appearance and boisterous personality, Youichi really was a soft and caring guy and when you've gained his loyalty, would go through heaven and hell for you.

And now that concern applied to Eijun as well, and all that came with him.

Still smiling softly, he pulled Youichi even closer before he answered.

"I have to admit that Haruichi's personality is nothing like Eijun's, but he wasn't less trouble. I can't remember how often I had to fight or protect him. Eijun at least appears to be capable of fighting his own battles when necessary but I can conclude that all little brothers cause us trouble and worries I guess and that it's a cross you'll have to bear now as well."

"You know I shared your view on Miyuki the first time around as well and that's why we try and change our ways right. It doesn't do you good to keep dwelling on the negative points and should focus on how to solve it instead."

"And considering being an unworthy big brother, I wouldn't let Eijun hear you say that. I think you'd get an earful then so I'll pretend I haven't heard you say anything as a trade-off for leaning on me" and chuckled when he felt Youichi stiffen at that last statement before releasing a relieved breath.

If Eijun ever got wind of it, he would nag him forever with examples of why he was damn worthy of that title and how unwilling he'd be to give him up after adopting him after all.

Feeling relieved after having unloaded his emotional baggage, Mochi felt fatigue catching up with him and before he realized it, fell asleep in Ryousuke's arms; who in turn didn't seem to mind at all and reveled in the feeling of being trusted so unconditionally.

Back in Haruichi's room Eijun couldn't focus on his assignment though, as he kept worrying about the look on Mochi's face after he left.

He decided to call it an early night, having finished everything quickly, and go and check up on his big bro. He'd make sure he wasn't interrupting anything but the feeling gnawed at him and he didn't like that one bit.

He wasn't sure what had caused that look to appear on Mochi's face and he wanted to find out and if possible get rid of it. He was sure it wasn't something he said per se but he knew he was somehow the cause of it and he never wanted to be a source of unhappiness for his big bro.

It may have started as a joke, but now he couldn't think of Mochi not being his big brother anymore. He even told his parents that they'd have a third son, next to Miyuki, even though this one did have a family of his own that he even liked. Well they could just adopt those too, he didn't see the problem.

Sneaking towards the door as silent as he could he peeked through the window and couldn't help but melt at the scene before him.

He took out his phone and sneaked a couple of shots before quickly diving out of sight, as Ryousuke started to stir; as if a sixth sense told him someone was up to no good.

After keeping his crouched stance for a minute or two, Eijun deemed it save enough to softly knock and enter, and he melted again.

Upon hearing the soft know, Ryousuke knew it could only be Eijun, as Masuko wouldn't have known he'd be here so he didn't say anything as he waited for him to enter as to not wake Youichi.

He had to hide a grin when he noticed the puppy-eyed look Eijun gave them and instead looked inquiring towards him. He had barely been gone for forty-five minutes after all.

Shrugging in apology, Eijun only pointed towards Mochi and threw Ryousuke a worried look.

At this Ryousuke couldn't hide his smile anymore, those two were too much alike it appeared and he signaled for Eijun to sit next to him so they could speak softly.

"You won't have to worry about your brother Ei-chan. He realized some things about himself he wasn't happy about but it isn't something you should trouble yourself over. We've talked about it and its okay now."

Looking at his brothers sleeping face, Eijun contemplated those words before speaking again.

He couldn't put his finger on it, but knew for sure it had to do with something about Miyuki and what he, Eijun, said.

Noticing that Eijun wasn't convinced with such a shallow answer he grinned again.

How anyone could think this boy unobservant or stupid was beyond him. Sometimes he was too smart for his own good. Knowing that Youichi wouldn't be grateful, but not seeing another way out of this as Eijun would detect a lie or diversion from a mile away, he decided to grace him with at least part of the truth.

"Your brother felt ashamed of his behavior towards Miyuki last year and since a while tries to better himself. But today Miyuki surpassed all his expectations and for that he felt even worse, he hadn't thought Miyuki capable of doing so. From one came another and in the end he even doubted he'd be good enough as your brother."

Eijun hadn't felt his mouth drop open as far as it did now in a while. Shaking his head in exasperation he wondered how Mochi ever came to such a conclusion. He knew there was more to it but that it wasn't important if Ryousuke didn't tell him.

He shared an exasperated look with Ryousuke, almost willing to shake his stupid brother awake and tell him off for thinking even one second that he'd be not good enough.

The sheer incredulity of that thought flabbergasted Eijun and he would set it straight first thing in the morning. For now he'd let him sleep since he knew that all the sleep one could get this week was precious.

Ryousuke, having followed Eijun's facial expressions, could hedge a good guess on Eijun's reaction and plan of action and didn't pity Youichi one bit.

He was surprised though when Eijun pulled Mochi's blanket and pillow from the bed and dragged the mattress from the now unoccupied third bed and put them next to Ryousuke so he didn't have to let go of Mochi while lying them down.

Grateful that Eijun understood his desire to not leave or wake Youichi, he lied them down carefully as Eijun threw the blanket over them, before lying down himself.

The kid really was a keeper in his book, and if Eijun decided on Miyuki and finally takes action one day, he would give them his blessing without a thought. He couldn't wish for a better brother in law after all. He just had to make sure he didn't end up with Furuya as the other.

As Eijun signaled that he'd turn off the lights, Ryousuke nodded and cuddled Youichi closer still before following him to dreamland.

Chapter Text

After a night of blissful sleep, Mochi tried to turn around so he could snooze a bit more, since he hadn't heard the alarm yet he thought he was safe from training for a little while longer.

Trying was the keyword here, as he noticed soon that something kept him from fulfilling this desire.

Still groggy he looked down and wondered why there was an arm draped around him, as it definitely wasn't his. He knew for sure that it wasn't Eijun's either as he could hear the other mumbling in his sleep further away.

He couldn't imagine it being Ryou-san, since he'd never stayed the night when another one was in the room and it didn't sound anything like Masuko.

Swallowing tightly as he woke up fully, he turned his head around and was met with pink.

Sighing in relief, he hadn't cheated on Ryousuke after all, or what Ryousuke would perceive as cheating, and sleeping with another certainly met that criteria, he slumped back down.

Looking around more closely, he noticed he wasn't in his own bed but on the floor.

He turned an instant crimson red when he realized that he probably fell asleep in Ryou-san's arms yesterday. God that's embarrassing. Especially since Eijun was witness to this. He just hoped he'd survive the teasing he was sure would erupt from this.

He was never this defenseless! How did he not notice being put to bed, he wasn't a kid anymore after all!

Groaning slightly in defeat he felt the body behind him shift slightly and he held his breath, Ryousuke didn't wake up.

As his breath escaped, he looked over to Eijun and almost got a heart attack as he saw one eye peek at him from under the covers; it looked murderous.

Forget losing his breath, he couldn't breathe for the life of him now! He sat up abruptly, the wrath of disturbing Ryousuke the lesser of two evils when he was confronted with such a look and fumbled around for an explanation.

"This isn't what it seems Ei-chan, I can definitely explain!"

Lifting his head from the matrass, so he could fully look at Mochi, Eijun only pulled up one eyebrow.

Being graced by two murderous eyes, Mochi swallowed and wondered why it was always him.

As if having Ryousuke at his back, releasing a murderous aura for waking him so abruptly and definitely sporting a most evil grin wasn't enough; his brother's mood was even worse.

What he didn't know though was that Ryousuke was having the time of his life seeing Mochi so distressed first thing in the morning by his little bro's behavior.

He wouldn't have thought Eijun could pull such a look off right after waking and it was hilarious.

He shared a quick grin and thumbs up with the other boy; Mochi too distracted trying to figure out what got Eijun so angry to notice.

It was the silence that got to Mochi more than anything. A silent Eijun meant he means business.

He just couldn't for the life of him figure out what about him pissed his brother off.

Swallowing, giving up floundering about for an excuse or reason, he shifted into seiza right in front of Eijun's bed; hoping it would placate Eijun and save him from whatever he apparently did in that short time he saw him.

He couldn't for the life of him imagine it being the sleeping with Ryou-san and Ryousuke promised he wouldn't share their conversation. Although, there was nothing in there either that should have gotten Eijun this angry, it was about himself after all. He really hoped it wasn't a prank, although at this point he almost hoped for it. The alternative seemed worse. It was NOT a good way of starting his day, which he was at least sure off.

Clearing his throat he chanced a glance upwards and seeing the look unchanged, quickly lowered his head again.

"I am waiting still for that explanation Mochi-nii" Eijun finally said, voice steady and cold.

Looking at his boyfriend, Ryousuke had to bite his cheek from laughing out loud. Instead he grabbed the blanked to pull around himself so he could cover his grin if Mochi dared to look at him. Eijun was good! He was definitely going to enjoy the show.

Mochi meanwhile started to tremble, he had no clue what this was about and wondered if saying so would help his cause.

Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves he squeaked a very unmanly: "I have no clue about the thing I should explain. Could you tell me why you're so angry so I can explain properly?"

"Oho, you think there is a proper explanation for this matter?" Eijun replied taking a slight sadistic pleasure seeing the flinch that went through his brother's body.

Yup he finally truly understood Miyuki's and Ryousuke's fun in crawling under people's skin; daring them to try and do something this stupid ever again. From experience he knew it was a great deterrent for exhibiting such stupid behavior ever again and he was glad he wasn't on the receiving end for once. Being the initiator was much more fun.

"Then tell me Onii-san, how my brother, my own chosen brother, dares to believe himself unworthy of me and therefore trying to end our familial ties? Do you have any thoughts on this matter?"

His shoulders uncontrollably shaking with mirth, Ryousuke had to watch the ceiling in order for him not to laugh out loud as he replied to Eijun.

"Hmm, I'm not sure; I don't believe being a brother is something as cheap as being labeled as being worthy or unworthy. Either you are one or you're not, whether by choice or birth." He answered, pretending to be thoughtful on the matter.

Continuing, as he saw Mochi trembling even harder he couldn't help but add: "I do agree that by labeling oneself unworthy it would be a cheap way to end such a relationship and it gives way to cowardly run away from the responsibility instead of taking responsibility for one's action and change themselves into someone 'worthy' in their words hmm".

And after that he had to give up and he grabbed the discarded pillow so he could bury his face to smother the giggles that threatened to get out.

At this point, Eijun himself had trouble not to laugh himself, especially as he saw Mochi's face turn a pretty lobster red while gaping like a fish, trying to find a way out of this conversation.

"Well then Mochi-nii, as I agree with Onii-san, what's your explanation on this matter hmm?" he asked, avoiding looking towards Ryousuke, so he wouldn't ruin it all. Mochi really deserved this. After all, Eijun had been kind enough to let him sleep peacefully!

Mochi meanwhile died. He knew by what Eijun told him that he wasn't privy to the whole conversation but since he fell asleep like that guessed that something happened and probably harassed Ryou-san for details.

He was happy Ryousuke hadn't told him everything because he wasn't sure if he'd survive THAT particular conversation if Eijun ever found out. This was bad enough. As rarely defensive of himself as Eijun was, he was damn defensive about Miyuki and he just knew that if he knew the true extend of his behavior towards Miyuki, being grilled would be the least of his problems.

He was secretly proud and happy though that Eijun thought enough of him to call him out on his worries. He may not like the way it's been done, but hey, you couldn't blame him for that. Eijun finally came up for himself and even if it was about him, it made him proud.

Now the only thing left to do was trying to find a way out, preferably quickly, so he wouldn't have to escape by the skin of his teeth.

Looking up, but avoiding looking right into Eijun's eyes so he wouldn't get frozen in place again, he tried to explain.

"Well, considering all that happened and how I reacted, I suppose I felt inept on how to handle things. And I was afraid I failed you because of it."

Daring another quick glance, he noticed Eijun listening attentively.

"I guess that thought spiraled out of control making me dysfunctional and therefore worthless as a brother-figure."

"I felt like I was always one step behind, and unable to prevent things from happening to you. I guess I wanted to be as good as Ryousuke or Tetsu but had to admit I wasn't." Sighing now, he combed his hand through his hair, trying to order his thoughts.

"From there it just spiraled out of control until Ryou-san kicked my sorry behind yesterday. I just wonder how you heard it" he muttered that last part to himself, as he knew Ryousuke had promised him not to say something, not realizing the other two still heard.

It wasn't normal for Mochi to openly share his feelings after all and they were a bit surprised he actually answered truthfully. Maybe there was hope for him after all.

Eijun was also not planning on giving Ryousuke away, considering he was the one that barged in and couldn't let it go, knowing that was the only reason Ryousuke relented.

"I can easily answer that last part Mochi-nii. You looked so miserable yesterday that I was worried when I left with the others. As I couldn't focus on homework I came back early and heard you through the door. I really should have kicked you then you know!" he replied, accepting Ryousuke's grateful smile but now on to the good part: castigating his brother for his inane thoughts.

"So all this was because you were afraid you would be ineffective and should have the same skills, right of the bat, pun intended, like Captain-senpai and Onii-san? Aren't you a tad full of yourself?"

Hearing those words laid out so clearly, Mochi wondered if a hole would be kind enough to open underneath him. He'd been really stupid indeed. In all of his misery and worrying he had forgotten that little fact; both of his examples have been brothers for years. Having grown up with their siblings of course they'd have more experience.

He even said so himself! So how did it happen that he lost track of that fact after all?

Shaking his head at himself in exasperation Mochi could only agree.

"You're right" he said, startling both other boys "I really did lose sight of myself there huh. God I'm ridiculous." And still shaking his head he looked towards the ceiling; hoping that if a hole wouldn't open maybe lightning would strike him in mercy. He was beyond embarrassed.

He couldn't fathom how he failed to put what he did into baseball into real life as well: practice makes perfect. They lived, breathed and radiated this fact at Seidou after all so how on earth did he forget it when it mattered most?

Groaning he regarded his little bro again, taken aback by the now amused expression expressed in those big golden eyes.

"Glad to hear you find yourself ridiculous as well" Eijun said and at this Ryousuke couldn't hold back anymore; he started to laugh out loud into his pillow, trying his best to smother his voice as best as he could.

Turning the red in his face up a notch, Mochi wondered if he'd ever live this down when Eijun spoke once again.

"And now on to the reason's I think of why you are an incredible brother, so you never forget this day ever again Mochi-nii" Eijun started and Mochi internally groaned…he knew this would happen, and he hadn't even breakfast yet! Sighing he switched into a more comfortable sitting position, knowing he had to wait out this particular storm.

---

To say that breakfast on the third day of training-camp was uneventful would be a big bold lie. At the end, everyone knew the exact reason why Sawamura was raving at his brother, while said brother took all of it in stride.

They had to admire Mochi's patience and self-esteem; Sawamura was truly on a roll here.

Only the face of the elder Kominato was more intriguing than Kuramochi's; he was chuckling all through Sawamura's lecture and even agreeing with him. They had never seen Kominato Ryousuke this genuinely amused before; it was a sight to behold.

But like clock-work, everyone got up at the same time - heading out to the training field with the exception of the younger Kominato and Toujou; they were still on their second bowl of rice being guarded by an unmoving guardian-human called Kanemaru.

As all, even the two firsties, finally gathered on the field, training took off once again.

Morning practice showed the first signs of change already but they were truly noticeable during afternoon practice and Nabe took great care documenting these next to Chris. The only one surprising them once again was Sawamura. But they would be truly surprised if he wouldn't surprise them anymore they guessed as they looked back towards Haruichi who finally seemed to struggle.

"What's the matter? Training just started and you can't run anymore?" was heard from the field as the pink-haired boy kneeled on the ground, struggling to get up.

"Guess the difference in skill is starting to show right Chris-senpai?" Nabe commented, noticing that Kuramochi and Ryousuke noticed also as Chris nodded his agreement as he saw Ryousuke walking towards his younger brother. He hadn't expected differently after all.

"You can rest if you're tired you know, but beware, there are many others who can replace you within seconds." Ryousuke taunted Haruichi, knowing full well that the other's pride wouldn't let him give up amongst his teammates shouts of "Let me hear your voice!" and "Show some spirit!"

"I have absolutely no qualms of subbing you out if you can't handle it little bro." and like he predicted, Haruichi got up again.

"Don't worry bro, I'm perfectly fine."

"Well in that case you should wipe that look of fatigue off your face stupid."

"I will!" Haruichi replied and got into position again, hell bent on showing his brother he was up to the task, come hell or high water.

Toujou in the meantime fared no better; he started to wonder why he thought it was such an honor to be placed in first-string. Especially since his rice really wanted to leave his stomach once again! But he would never give up! He was here to become the ace after all, even though he hadn't practiced pitching at all this week.

The only one still in good spirits was Eijun himself. He pitched a bit again this morning and he felt like he went to heaven. It was such bliss to be able to finally hold a ball again and throw it towards home.

It was particularly sweet after his victory over Mochi-nii and he felt like his day couldn't get any better without jinxing it.

He wasn't even jealous of Tanba and Kawakami who, in turn, got practice time with Miyuki, knowing Miyuki would help him out again tomorrow. Yes, today all was well and when he rounded the last corner of their joint running, even had energy to spare and looked with mirth at Haruichi and Toujou, who were barely alive while sharing a knowing smirk with Miyuki.

"You're a monster Eijun-kun" Toujou said after noticing the other boy standing there, barely out of breath. And Eijun? Eijun could only laugh, remembering he thought the same of his senpai back in the days as he walked towards the small assembly next to Boss.

"Tomorrow's practice will start at the same time again. So make sure that for the ones not staying here you pack up and head straight home! To the others, don't be late just because you have less travel time! He looked meaningfully towards Miyuki at that.

And of course, Miyuki wouldn't be Miyuki if he didn't answer with a cheeky grin that caused a tick right under coach's eye as he signaled for Miyuki, Miyauchi and Chris to follow.

"Tell me, how the first-years are this year considering their fatigue should probably hit its peak soon right?" he demanded after they reached his office.

Chris, being the less tired person, answered him.

"Yes, as per your instructions we're training them the same as everyone with the exception of Sawamura of course. But it's almost time to slow down their pace and let them do some specified training. Well, again with Sawamura as the exception as he seems to keep up remarkably well. His morning program isn't lighter than the other first-years but his stamina is commendable. I wonder if we should keep things like this for him as they are." and looked at his coach for guidance.

"I agree with your assessment for the younger Kominato and Toujou, but for Sawamura things will stay the same; especially with him starting on pitching again. Stay after Chris so I can give you the new training menu's for those first-years" and with this done turned to Miyauchi.

"How are Tanba and Kawakami?"

"In top condition coach!" he replied "they are both working on some new stuff as well."

"Make sure they pace themselves properly. I understand their renewed drive since Sawamura joined but the road ahead is still long and the time for Sawamura to join almost equally as long. Therefore don't train them too hard!"

"Yes coach!" Miyauchi answered, slightly uncomfortable with coach's rightful assessment of the other's pitcher's drive. One glance at Miyuki showed him the other catcher caught on to the same line of thoughts, but with a slight frown as if he was trying to figure something out.

He didn't need to know that Miyuki was actually thinking on how he could help Eijun into top-form even sooner as he didn't dare think they'd make the prelims with only Tanba and Kawakami; regardless of how much they trained. It was a precarious balance he tried to maintain as he knew for sure that this time; coach would notice it right away if he tried something new with Eijun and if he'd approve was a different matter altogether.

Hearing coach talk again, he switched his attention back towards his coach's words.

"For the last Saturday and Sunday of this camp, like always, three practice matches will commence."

It goes without saying that both Kawakami and Tanba will pitch for the match on Saturday but I'm still considering the matches on Sunday. Depending on their condition one of them gets more matches but I want to see Toujou in action as well. I'm not sure of his consistent role within the team yet."

"Sawamura is out of the question of course, but I want him around and warmed up, within reason, anyway. The atmosphere should help heighten his senses as well those of our rivals."

"We don't want to show the other teams the extent of his injuries; it could get our opponents the edge they think they need if they think he won't be usable. Sawamura's plays in those two games did become the talk of town after all and his reputation grew even more after the Seikou game. I want to ride the momentum of that buzz and show them that Seidou is once again a force to be reckoned with, regardless of the outcome of these matches."

"As always, I don't care if we win or lose, what I want to asses is the spirit and fighting spirit our players possess while tired to the extreme."

Nodding their understanding, they said their goodbye's to the coach and made for the baths. Contemplating their coach's words; wondering which hidden motive lied behind them.

After grabbing their bathing stuff, they entered the baths and saw a hysterically laughing Eijun trying to keep both Haruichi and Toujou from drowning themselves over and over.

It appeared that in the end he solved the problem by securing ropes around their upper body which he fastened to the shower faucets. Where on earth he acquired those ropes was anyone's guess at first but after they came closer, saw that he made them by knotting all the bathrobe belts together. Well they had to hand it to the guy: a hundred points for creativity weren't undeserved.

After all the drama of the last few days, this evening ended nice and quiet to everyone's relief.

The next morning saw Eijun happily throwing to Miyuki after his mandatory physio exercises before they all went off to class again.

After school they all assembled again for another evening of practice with Toujou and Haruichi slowly wondering if the end of this week would ever come. They had even more trouble than yesterday even though they'd gotten informed of their new menu for the afternoon timeslot which appeared to be less demanding.

It did hurt their pride though. Especially after they heard the other players talk about Sawamura still having the same menu and wondering what kind of stamina he possessed.

The object of their slight jealousy looked quite unhappy himself and as they followed his line of sight they noticed Miyuki.

They wondered if Miyuki did something to irk the injured pitcher again until they saw that he wasn't staring at Miyuki as much but to Kawakami who was his battery partner for today.

Shaking their heads they both wondered how dense someone could be but shrugged it off. Those two had to figure things out for themselves and if they couldn't; well then they were obviously not meant for each other.

Miyuki in the meantime slightly enjoyed catching for Kawakami as the latter improved a bit over the last month; courtesy of Eijun.

Having a rival close on your trail appeared to still be the best method of growth it seemed and he gladly took advantage of it. Although, glancing towards Tanba, they were still far from Eijun's stability and that was how he liked it best. He wanted Eijun as the ace after all!

"Oh nice pitch Kawakami!" he said after a nicely controlled ball.

Looking at his catcher in surprise, Kawakami blushed.

"It's really weird being praised by you" he said. "It feels like you're planning something!"

Laughing Miyuki threw the ball back.

"Why should I plot something only because of a nicely thrown ball? With pitches like this you would give batters a hard time you know. And since you're a sidearm pitcher, we really have to make use of ball placements with stable control. You should have even more confidence Kawakami, especially after those last games you've played!"

And at this, Kawakami could only smile happily before throwing once again. He was glad that Miyuki acknowledged his hard work. He knew a daring pitcher like Sawamura was his favorite type, but being regarded with the same kind of professionalism was really nice.

He couldn't put his finger on it, but Miyuki changed and he liked working with him more and more.

This fact and his first time desire to really fight for the ace position made him work harder than he ever did at Seidou.

Looking over to Miyuki in between throws, Miyauchi followed Miyuki's conversation closely. He could see the fun Kawakami started to have while pitching. A real change from last year and it also showed in his pitching quality.

He knew Tanba was still unstable and it showed. This time it seemed Tanba took on Kawakami's mantle of feeling unbalanced with Sawamura on his heels and Kawakami growing fast.

It must put tremendous pressure on the third-year for reclaiming his ace position and Miyauchi hoped he was up for the task.

He was happy his lover was doing so well though. He told him often enough to be less self-conscious and show the world of what exactly he was made off and it seemed he finally found the starting point to do just that.

"Tanba's balls are so-so" He said to Miyuki, awaiting the other's opinion; knowing that nothing passed Miyuki by.

"Well, normally I would say he could be tired, but as a third-year he should have better stamina than others" Miyuki replied truthfully.

Nodding, Miyauchi blew off some steam through his nose. It was a harsh but accurate assessment.

"Well, at least I can still feel his spirit behind every pitched ball." He answered back. "We really have to get these two even higher, as we have no alternatives at this point" he assessed.

If they truly wanted to reach the summer tournament, they needed these two for as long as Sawamura needed to recover.

It was sad but even Miyauchi knew that without Sawamura in their line-up, even if those two trained like this daily they would not win. Sawamura was just that good and he cursed the day they had to face that Seikou pitcher.

As much as he liked Kawakami and respected Tanba; he wanted to win in summer, even if it meant giving up the fight for the starting catcher position to Miyuki.

Miyuki in return stayed silent; eerily conscious of the other catcher's thoughts and unable to reply.

Back at the field, Eijun found himself once again practicing his fielding. As he wasn't allowed to throw back full-throttle, his teammates accommodated him when he made a slow toss to whichever position required and changed the game accordingly.

'Damn I really want to pitch for real soon! I hate it that everyone has to accommodate their training to my needs. I should be the one helping them!" and quickly ran to cover for second when Ryousuke had to step away.

As the ball came for him, he grabbed it and unconsciously threw it back with everything he got; his emotion's getting the better of him, to everyone's obvious surprise.

Feeling the slight sting in his shoulder though promised nothing good and when he heard the Boss behind him he knew he was sooo dead.

"I guess that's the end of your ball handling today and tomorrow Sawamura" was all Boss said before walking off, leaving an exasperated Chris in his wake.

It was a beautifully thrown ball, and it showed them once again why they needed Sawamura, but not while injured and they all looked at him exasperated as well as he made his way towards the dugout, blushing heavily.

'I really need to learn some impulse control but for now I should go and find Chris so he can check on my shoulder. I guess this reminds me to really take it easy huh." Eijun internally chastised and he sighed as he made his way towards a waiting Chris. 'I just hope Mochi nor Miyuki will comment on it. I really did it by accident, but being protective as they are, I guess I'm in for it; especially with Mochi seeing this as a great opportunity for payback. Aaargh why did I have to think unnecessary thoughts while practicing?'

After his shoulder was checked and the heating pad in place, he was allowed to continue with the joint part of practice and ran alongside everyone with both Mochi and Miyuki taunting him for his stupidity.

Taking it all in stride he said nothing off it and after bidding everyone goodnight made his way towards the baths in hopes of getting the last tingles out of his injured muscles.

Seeing him go, Miyuki asked Mochi to follow him, as his slumped shoulder told him more than he cared for.

He wanted to follow Eijun himself but had to talk to Tanba first. So after Mochi agreed he went in search of the other pitcher and locating him inside the bullpen.

"You know you don't have to hide anything do you Tanba? We know you've been practicing in secret and I guess you're trying to master a forkball right?" He said, sitting next to him; ignoring the other's startled look.

"With your height it could become an effective weapon and I think it's a good choice, but, no matter how amazing a lone ball is for it to be effective for you, you have to mix it in with your fastballs to make it a true breaking ball. Don't forget that please."

Looking at Miyuki in surprise, Tanba regarded the catcher seriously trying to figure out the things he didn't say.

He was still upset that Miyuki chose Sawamura as the pitcher to acknowledge; especially after Chris as well acknowledged that twerp.

He didn't hate Sawamura and he recognized the talent the boy possessed but it made him feel insecure. And now having Miyuki giving him tips and recognition felt alien. He knew he lagged behind and therefore he tried his best to catch up but he just couldn't give up on the ace number and knew, since he never got along with Miyuki, couldn't reach it with him.

And therefore he had to fight himself, even if Miyauchi told him to discuss his pitching dilemmas with Miyuki too. It should be for the team, but Tanba himself wanted to be egoistic as well and claim the ace position without a doubt in everyone's mind.

That's why he can't accept Miyuki's words as encouragement, knowing that the other pitcher only waited for his rivals return. He knew he was unfair but that was how he felt.

And with this in his mind, he got up and walked away. But not before some parting words.

"You can think whatever you want of my behavior or pitching but the one I believe in is only myself and so it shall stay.

Sighing, Miyuki got up as well to report his failure to Miyauchi. He just hoped that Tanba's desire for the mound would not backfire spectacularly, as Miyuki learned the hard way that having a big ego and being egoistic could bring whole teams down.

But well, it was his job to lead his pitchers and it was a job cut out for him. He just had to make sure Tanba comes around as well. At least he could never be as obstinate as Furuya after all.

And with this he too called it a night and made his way back towards his room.

Chapter Text

After his bath, Miyuki made his way back towards his room when he was waylaid by no other than Furuya.

Not in the mood to deal with this in the slightest, he wondered if he could make his escape before the pitcher noticed him but luck wasn't on his side as at that moment, Furuya looked up and straightened his posture.

Sighing, Miyuki wondered why it was always him and especially after that disastrous talk with Tanba.

"Miyu.." But before Furuya could finish his greeting, he got hit on his back none too gently and as he turned around he immediately swallowed whatever he wanted to say next upon seeing who it was that interrupted him.

"Oho, what's a second-string pitcher wanting from our first-string catcher hmm?" Ryousuke hummed with a voice colder than Hokkaido winters.

Miyuki himself got startled as well upon seeing the pink-haired boy. He hadn't noticed him but he was secretly relieved. He was in no mood to cater to Furuya's whims or demands.

Swallowing visibly and feeling slightly uneasy Furuya decided to answer still "I-I-ju-just wanted to request a moment of Miyuki-senpai's time to check my pitching" he mumbled, surprising both the catcher and second-baseman.

Where on earth did this guy find his guts? He appeared to be even more stubborn than the average mule they both thought while trading an exasperated look.

Contemplating the boy in front of him, Ryousuke got an idea and his grin told both Miyuki and Furuya that whatever it was, it wouldn't be fun.

Furuya in the meantime cursed his luck. Off all people to run into him when he wanted to request pitching advice from Miyuki-senpai, it had to be Haruichi's older brother. He still didn't understand why the other disliked him and unlike Haruichi, this guy was a total ass and definitely unlikable in return in his opinion.

He really liked Haruichi but if a relationship meant he had to take his brother into the equation, he didn't think he found Haruichi worth all that much. But for now he knew he lost and had to find a way to escape quickly.

But before he could come up with a decent excuse, Ryousuke started to speak again.

"Well Furuya-kun, you came at the exact right time as Miyuki here was on his way towards us anyway."

Looking at Ryousuke in surprise but understanding his words and their hidden meaning, Miyuki's face morphed into one of glee; especially when Ryousuke indeed led them towards his room.

"Haha, that sounds interesting Ryou-san, I suppose if Furuya-kun here is energetic enough to request some extra pitching time, he can handle THAT without problem heh." And they shared a devilish smile between the two of them.

"Well, it's true that the second-string doesn't practice as hard as we do during this week, but one would think that being a first-year, even Furuya-kun, should have had plenty opportunities to pitch during the day and before bath-time, so his energy should be depleted by now. Well, the more luck for us huh."

Furuya in the meantime felt insulted. The second-string catchers just didn't have what it took to catch his balls but all his coaches forbid him to request for Miyuki during training with the excuse that he was the first-string catcher. Well, they hadn't forbidden him to request him after official practice-time was over so here he was. He just didn't feel like progressing at all and hoped he could show Miyuki-senpai once again what he missed out on.

Even Chris-senpai only nagged at him for his control, and he couldn't understand for the world why Miyuki-senpai held him in such high regard; he didn't even catch for him seriously.

As the door opened, Furuya noticed many of the first-stringers assembled within Miyuki-senpai's room.

Wondering if they did him a favor after all by bringing him here so he could mingle with the other first-stringers, he started to get excited. That was until Ryousuke opened his mouth:

"Well Furuya-kun, since you've got this much energy left you won't mind serving these guys right? It's so troublesome for you dear senpai to deal with and since you'd like to spent time with him you don't mind helping him right? It's also a nice team-building activity; you could learn something from it." Ryousuke snickered as Miyuki had to look towards the wall.

Ryousuke knew he couldn't take it too far, as bullying wasn't what he liked, but this guy infuriated him and after learning what kind of guy Miyuki truly was, he just couldn't let the guy hanging anymore.

He also knew that the other's wouldn't request anything too troublesome or annoying but it would be a good way to show Furuya that at this moment, his status wasn't what he thought it was at all. And if this didn't help, he would go and talk to the coach; even if it meant he'd had to suggest a transfer. They really couldn't risk this guy turning out to be a stalker or only able to work with Miyuki while wreaking havoc everywhere else.

He wondered how they got to this point at all, but it seemed that even Eijun couldn't effectuate miracles all the time. In fact, it seemed that even Eijun avoided him whenever he could and that was strange; since Eijun always acted normal towards Furuya, no matter the level of infuriation he received.

On the other hand, instead of a transfer they should let him train with Miyuki once, only to show him that Miyuki was miles ahead of him. They could always talk about transferring afterwards or just make it clear that they wouldn't accept playing with such a guy ever.

He knew for sure that that was how both the now third-years, second-years and even first-years thought.

Contemplating on his next plan of action, he heard the demands for juice and massages flying already.

Furuya's only luck was that Eijun was playing Tetsu in shogi already, so he was safe from that.

How on earth Eijun could look like he enjoyed himself while facing against Tetsu was a miracle more people pondered about if their expressions where anything to go by.

Shaking his head he noticed Mochi playing with Nakada and Jun occupied with Furuya while Masuko slept on as Miyuki made a mad dash for his own pillow and whispered to Eijun that he would bunk in Masuko's bed.

Ignoring Jun's complains about the massage he received, he too turned towards the door again in search of Nabe. He needed someone who could think analytically and without too much emotion involved. Having an inkling of a plan, he made his way towards Nabe's room to see if they could come up with a decent plan of action to free Miyuki once and for all of that pest. Apparently, not making first-string wasn't enough.

After talking with Nabe, both he and Nabe made their way towards the coaches office, hoping to catch Kataoka before he retired.

Seeing the lights still on in the office, they knocked and were greeted by not only Kataoka but Rei-chan and Oota as well; apparently they'd held a meeting themselves and their eyebrows rose in question upon seeing the odd duo.

After listening to them in silence, with Oota almost fainting right on the spot for their daring proposal, Rei-chan and Kataoka could only look at them contemplatively.

"You know this plan could backfire spectacularly right?" Rei-chan said.

They couldn't do anything but nod in agreement as both knew what the risk of this plan was. But it was also the only way they could think of to change the status quo as ignoring him, putting him in second-string and denying him access to Miyuki didn't work.

"Yes, but we need to show him that he isn't as good a player as he thinks he is, and if we want all of our players being able to focus without interruption, we need to show him when it 'matters', so that means in a game setting. And the only game that is safe enough to perform such a stunt would be this Saturday." Nabe answered Rei who in turn looked a bit worried now.

"So you propose to let him play in the practice match on Saturday? You do realize that it could turn us into the laughing stock against Osaka Kiryuu right? The boy has had no training whatsoever with Miyuki."

"Well" Ryousuke interrupted "that's the whole point. He thinks he doesn't have to practice with Miyuki to show all of us how great a player he is and how deserving of the ace number. So why don't we give him what he asks for? He wants this battery, so let's give him his battery. The one we should pity will be Miyuki, because he will not understand and even has to work with the guy without warning."

"You do realize that this plan is totally unreasonable don't you?" Rei-chan asked one final time, wondering why Tesshin hadn't said anything yet. 'He couldn't be crazy enough to contemplate this seriously could he?' she thought and as she looked at him her eyes widened in surprise at seeing his calculating look.

And for the first time the coach spoke up.

"Is this only your opinion or is it the opinion of the whole team? I do not fancy my chances nor reputation for a whim or plot of revenge because you dislike a team member." He inquired sternly.

Knowing Ryousuke's reputation, Nabe knew it was him who had to answer this one.

"After observing this past month and especially after the roster announcement I can honestly say that while we haven't discussed this plan with the whole team, they do think the same and would take this gamble without thinking twice if it is for the benefit our teammate."

Turning towards the window Kataoka knew he should not act upon such a selfish plan. On the other hand, he did warn the Furuya boy of the consequences if he ever stepped out of line and apparently he did one too many times for the team to ignore.

It's also peculiar that it appears to be a team-request and not an egotistical whim and they were honestly concerned about Miyuki.

He heard from Chris as well that Furuya didn't train with him seriously, thinking him to be not worthy of his catches, and his observations and talks with the second-string coaches solidified that picture.

The worst part was that the boy could grow to become a really great pitcher but his bull-headed personality combined with his mule-headed stubbornness made him extremely unpopular and hard to work with.

The only one appearing to get along with him was the younger Kominato but even he couldn't get him to change his ways it seemed.

But he also knew he couldn't let this one go without informing them of all the consequences. He wasn't one for destroying opportunities after all and no 'victory' would be sweet without a prize or struggle.

"If I agree to this hair-brained plan, you do know I cannot add him to the roster for summer. But if he does well, he will be added to the first-string after summer is over. Do you want to risk that and leave your teammates with a player they maybe don't like or are able to work with? Because I will add him if he shows promise and this will be a legacy you leave behind Kominato and for you a responsibility to manage Watanabe."

Looking at the coach determinately, they also considered this option, they nodded. Yes they understood the consequences of their desperate plan but felt the need to add their own two cents to the argument.

"Well, if he got better on his own and he fits into the team around that time, you would have added him anyway coach. But what worries me more is if he doesn't perform up to par and the troubles that could come from that."

Hiding his smile as that was indeed his plan (leave it to Watanabe and Kominato to figure out his way of thinking) he nodded gravely but knew he had to show he had everyone's back as well, because in the end he was the head-coach and had to make it possible for all of them to get an equal chance.

"If he indeed under-performs, I will once again talk to him and make clear once and for all that if he doesn't change his behavior he'll be presented with two choices; transfer or no opportunity to play unless he changes his ways drastically. But mind, in the end its Furuya's and his families decision and Furuya does know of the consequences if he steps out of line again and I will not shame to take responsibility and contact his family over this matter. But that is only if I deem it necessary to do so, understood?"

Sighing with relief, they nodded. Happy they got this matter off their chest. They only hoped Miyuki would forgive them; they didn't dare think about Sawamura's reaction though.

Seeing their pained look, Kataoka crossed his arms, silently telling them to talk.

"Well" Ryousuke drawled "Forget Miyuki, I don't wanna think about the revenge Sawamura will extract on us if he ever finds out who set this up." And at this Kataoka couldn't help himself and had to chuckle while Rei laughed full out and even Oota chuckled.

"I suppose that's one of the consequences you'll have to live with if the time ever comes Kominato, I won't interfere with that." He answered in the end, clearly amused by now, as Sawamura's lectures were infamous.

Still looking slightly worried, Nabe and Ryousuke said their goodbye's and made their way towards their rooms. Talking softly on the way back, unaware of both Mochi and Eijun following them worriedly after they saw Ryousuke leave the room without so much as a hello - goodbye, they discussed the last details of their plan with Mochi signaling for Eijun to follow him silently.

"Goodness gracious, I think they went and done it now." Mochi said while still feeling slightly dumbfounded at what they found out. "Let's keep the fact that we actually listened in and coach noticing us a secret okay?" he pleaded with his little brother, not up to getting his ears washed by Ryou-san as well after Eijun's lecture.

"Forget keeping this a secret; after this is over Saturday I'm gonna 'kill' Nabe and Onii-san!" Eijun exclaimed.

Looking worriedly over to his brother, as he looked dead serious, he managed a nervous: "You know, I understand your feelings, but I do prefer my boyfriend alive you know." And taking a step backwards at seeing the pointed look Eijun threw him.

"And I don't prefer Miyuki alive as well?" he asked sarcastically? "He's gonna get a heart attack the second he hears!"

"Yes, well, do you think we should warn him?"

"How much I resent saying so, I don't think we should otherwise he'll try to find ways beforehand to make it possible to work with Furuya so Seidou's rep wouldn't suffer. The guy lives for the team and his plays after all. It's better to throw him in the deep but I don't have to like it one bit!"

Sighing, Mochi knew Eijun's words were true but he as well didn't like it one bit. He just hoped it didn't backfire spectacularly indeed because he dreaded having Furuya on the team next year wreaking havoc everywhere.

"You think we should inform the others?"

"You think they can keep it a secret? Or will perform differently if they knew beforehand? Because if yes it defeats their purpose I guess." Eijun said.

"I'm just happy I don't have to play. I'm not even sure I can make myself watch that game!" he sighed and Mochi understood perfectly. He did wonder after all if he wouldn't unconsciously try to make better plays to show their team can do well even under duress. Maybe he should request a substitution for himself as well when Furuya gets called in, claiming a pulling muscle or such so he wouldn't endanger the plan and to keep Eijun company while they fretted.

Sighing he said: "I guess we won't tell anyone then, I'm thinking about requesting a substitution as well as I know I want to make up for our pitcher if it goes wrong."

Shaking their heads tiredly, they wondered why it all turned to hell in just one day. And it appeared to be such a good day for once. But no, at Seidou, nothing ever went like how it should.

Walking into their room, they both saw Miyuki's sleeping form on the bed and could only shake their heads in pity. Well, they would be here for him if he needed them or not, so he wouldn't have to suffer for too long. For now they needed their rest for the last day of training camp and immediately went to bed, but sleep was long in coming.

---

The next morning, training commenced as regular and Mochi and Eijun had an unspoken agreement of not mentioning the previous evening's happenings to each other. Best ignore it until they had to face it.

And if the previous days appeared to be brutal, Eijun knew today would take the cake. If he remembered anything, it was his training camps and Boss' love of killing them on the last day.

He instantly reacted to Chris' voice when he demanded another toss and got startled when he heard Jun scream his enthusiasm.

He should know by now how loud the guy could get, but at times it still surprised him; especially when Tetsu (of course) but surprisingly Masuko followed suit.

After Chris helped him through his exercises he was banned from his morning tosses but it looked like Chris and coach decided to make up for his lack doubly today, having his physicians consent. He also had to run double to make up for his stupidity and he could honestly say that even he felt tired at this point.

It was no wonder that when he glanced towards the field and noticed a huddled Haruichi, he winced and felt a twinge of pity for the boy. Especially since he knew Ryou-san found sadistic pleasure in showing off their differences.

But having no time to spare to look at the others anymore, as Chris demanded his attention once again, he turned his attention back towards his own slave-driver who now demanded another set of leg exercises with the excuse of while being incapable with ones arms, shouldn't withhold training one's legs. No matter how much he adored him, sometimes he hated this Chris; he was much stricter than the 'old' one.

On the other side of the field, the coaches observed the progress made.

"Well, as one would expect from our third-years, their voices are still strong!" Oota commented. "One wouldn't believe it being the fifth day already when hearing them!"

Looking at him in slight disgust, Rei answered after pushing her glasses up.

"Well, one could believe that losing out on Koshien once again would be motivation enough to do well, or it could be that they don't want to be beaten by a first-year!" she said and they all looked towards the side where Sawamura appeared to be happily doing his exercises without breaking a sweat, knowing full well his stamina-menu was as brutal as the other's regular menu.

Swallowing Oota kept his mouth. As much as he tried, he didn't seem to be able to keep his mouth shut or at least, say something not obvious and looked out towards the field once again, hoping to get a glance of Kawakami in the bullpen.

Katoaka in the meantime ignored the two and grabbed a bat. It was time to spice things up.

"Substitution" he said startling the players on the field with his loud yell.

"I'm gonna do the hitting from now on therefore, first-year Kominato, move to the side and take a break. The rest of you lot, tell me now if you've got the guts or not!"

"Oh does that mean I can participate Boss?!" Eijun yelled, getting chuckles from all sides.

"Of course not Sawamura, go back and work with Chris!" he answered barely able to refrain from rolling his eyes. The kid would be the death of him and he ignored the pouty look he got in return.

It did help the overall morale though and one could speculate if that was why he did it as all catcalled that they wouldn't be outdone by an invalid on any given day resulting in a pouty, annoyed mess of a boy demanding harsher training from Chris to show them all! To no avail of course.

The only one not laughing was Haruichi after Ryousuke informed him of the reason of why he should take a break and he demurely walked towards the side to watch what would happen next.

"I'll be hitting a lot over so make sure you catch them all, even if you die!" Kataoka yelled and Eijun muttered about the unfairness of it all to an unsympathetic Chris.

And three grueling hours later, after some second-stringers being ordered to turn on the lights in-between, everyone looked on with equal amounts of terror and respect at the first-stringers and Sawamura encouraging them from the sidelines without taking break.

Even the dead tired coach had to crack a smile hearing Sawamura's words as all players once again staggered to their feet without further ado, requesting another ball being hit towards them.

"Okay you lot but it's gonna be the last one so keep yourself focused till the end!"

"Yes Boss" Eijun yelled to the hilarity of them all as he once again took up his cheering till coach signaled for the end.

"Bow towards the field and get yourself some rest!" he said and they all heartily agreed.

Now, with training officially over, they all surrounded Sawamura to congratulating him with winning their first ever cheerleading award for his support to Eijun's obvious embarrassment; but he took it in stride. It was the only way he could help them right now after all.

He met up with Mochi after throwing a last glance to where Miyuki was. He knew he had to avoid the catcher tonight or he would spill the beans and he felt mightily guilty about it.

Mochi, understanding his dilemma, challenged him to a Mario kart match in front of everyone so no one would notice anything strange and Miyuki wouldn't think they'd avoid him and all of them muttering in wonder about Mochi's stamina; they knew Sawamura's after all.

It was also around that declaration that Masuko decided that it would be safer to sleep in Miyuki's room once more, lest he be kept awake (as if that was possible) by his roommates antics, ensuring them a peaceful quiet evening and they wouldn't have to tell anyone they didn't play for real and went to bed early, it's none of their business after all.

---

The next morning dawned nice and clear but for one shortstop and one pitcher it incited a nervousness they weren't used to feeling before a match.

It didn't help when they noticed the ever relaxed and cool expressions on Nabe and Ryou-sans faces either.

All too soon it was time to assemble and they trudged towards the field where Osaka Kiryu High's coach was waiting already with Kataoka-kantoku, wishing them all a good game but was surprised upon noticing Haruichi, Eijun and Toujou in the line.

"Are you sure you'll have a good game with first-years as starters?" he asked a tad baffled.

"Well, positions in a team will have to be set after some experimentation to create the best line-up, but I wouldn't have dreamed of facing first-years as opponents. Does that mean I have to assume that your first-years this year have unlimited potential or are they your secret weapons you try to keep silent about?" but after receiving no reaction whatsoever of the Seidou coach, he gave up on his prying.

"Well, whatever, we will like always enjoy our game and do our best." and walked back towards his side of the field; used to the Seidou coaches antics by now.

While Seidou's starting line-up didn't show anything strange; four players knew it wouldn't stay like that forever.

Eijun sneaked up towards their opponent's bench to investigate any strategies he could overhear but was waylaid by another player who heard of his two games and wanted to know if he'd play today as well.

Doing as coach told him; Eijun waylaid them into thinking he wasn't injured and only 'saved as a secret weapon', never mind he truly was, he started talking about the greatness that were his senpai, throwing the other player completely off as he couldn't understand who Sawamura was talking about at all.

After all, Sawamura forgot that not everyone knew his senpai as well as he did and gave the poor player a crash-course on who was who.

"So you see this is our line-up!

Spitz-senpai is our center fielder

Onii-san our second baseman

Mochi-nii our shortstop

Pudding-senpai our third baseman

Captain-senpai is our first baseman

And I-can't-remember-your-name-for-the-life-of-me-senpai is our right fielder (just don't tell him I still can't remember it!)

Angry-face senpai is our left fielder

And you should know about Miyuki Kazuya who is our catcher!

And last but not least we have Tanba-senpai as our pitcher.

Makes sense right?" he beamed and the poor Kiryu High player just nodded, not sure anymore if this person was who his coach meant to look out for; he seemed like a true oddball.

For Seidou it was exciting to face a team that reached Koshien multiple times and regarded as the most powerful team in the nation, but they wouldn't give up for anything in the world.

Even though they were fatigued they gave their best but they noticed soon that Kiryu would obliterate them if nothing changed.

It seemed like Tanba's solitary training hurt him more than he imagined and Kataoka-kantoku was unamused.

Miyuki could only sigh and shared a quick look with Miyauchi, having feared this result, but even they didn't expect to lose this many points so quickly.

It even got to Eijun, as he was unaware of their current pitcher's extra-curricular activities.

He had enough stress already, knowing about what was to come without seeing a pitcher fall apart on the mound added to that.

Even a spectacular double-play by Mochi-nii and Onii-san couldn't hide Tanba's bad performance. All it was was postponement of execution.

As everyone made their way back towards the dugout, Miyuki couldn't help but take a dig at Tanba, knowing full well that this situation could have been avoided.

"Well Tanba-kun, considering your condition today, I hope we can manage to keep them below ten runs!"

And while the pitcher heard him loud and clear, he decided to ignore him. He himself knew his performance just now was abysmal even for post-training-camp standards.

"Don't worry Miyuki, I won't let them score even once from now on" he swore quietly to himself but Miyuki heard him regardless.

'We'll see' he thought ´ but I wonder if coach's patience runs up faster than your promise will, he still has Kawakami after all. He may have told us he doesn't mind about the score but that doesn't mean you can ruin it with your bullheadedness as well.'

"Oy Miyuki, why on earth are you smiling during an abysmal performance like this?! You should think ahead about what this means for the rest of the game! It hurts to watch!"

"Why on earth are you angry at me while you yourself were yelling at him to sub him with you because even you could do a better job right now?"

"Aargh you're right! But this is killing me!" Eijun yelled, unable to keep his frustrations and nerves under control.

It gathered him a surprised look from Miyuki, who wondered what bothered his pitcher, and a calculating look from Kataoka who knew exactly what ate at the pitcher.

Turning his frustration towards a new target, Eijun challenged Tanba for a substitution if the other pitcher didn't regain himself. But if fell on deaf ears as Tanba pointedly ignored the first-year while the other's looked at him in fond exasperation, knowing full well what kind of idle thread it was.

It did unsettle the Kiryu bench though, as they've never saw Seidou tolerating someone speaking like that towards a senpai and wondered if more was behind it.

But they had no time to contemplate this mystery any further as it was their turn defending.

It seemed that Seidou really didn't have its day, as one after the other got tagged out; their fatigue noticeable to all with the exception of Tetsu who as the only one managed to score for them.

"Ah well, even though they are quite unique players; if they are exhausted even the best of players will fail. Well, that's lucky for us as we can use this opportunity to boost our moral even higher."

But it wasn't until the fourth inning that things would change drastically.

At this point, Tanba had fallen completely apart and Kataoka had had enough. Initially he'd intended for Furuya to enter in the eight or maybe ninth inning, but he couldn't let Tanba's behavior go unpunished and he refused to sacrifice Kawakami to follow up on this and then getting it ruined again by probably Furuya. Kawakami deserves his moment to shine so he would go last after all.

Looking at Rei, he nodded and Rei swallowed. They already had people leaving the stands and she knew that if this game didn't turn around, Tesshin would face some hard criticism from the Alumni. She hoped he knew what he was doing after all.

Kataoka stepped forward and it got everyone on high alert because it seemed unusual for him to take specific action during a training match where they were briefed on their roles and number of innings already.

"I WANT NO COMMENTS OR BACKTALKING UNTIL THE MATCH IS OVER, IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS SEEK ME OUT AFTERWARDS, UNTIL THEN, YOU'LL CARY OUT YOUR SPECIFIC ROLE TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITIES UNDERSTOOD?" he yelled and it surprised them all, since they hadn't seen their coach this serious in a while. It also meant something was about to happen that they wouldn't like very much and it put them on edge.

"PLAYER SUBSTITUTION, TANBA WILL BE SWITCHED FOR FURUYA!"

And this got their attention already in the midst of a yell of uproar.

Furuya himself couldn't believe his luck: he could finally show the entire team that he did belong on the mound for them and form a battery with his beloved Miyuki.

Miyuki in the meantime turned a pasty white and only Eijun's shouting and Mochi's yelling kept him from fainting.

How on earth did coach imagine this would go? He never caught for this guy (well not here) and it would throw this game to the dogs.

Never mind the fact that with this, Furuya's demands on him would increase a thousand fold and don't forget that this felt like all his fears would come true and Eijun would get subbed for Furuya once again.

Why did Eijun have to injure himself? He didn't want to relive the hell that was their first Seidou experience.

Wobbling on his hunches Miyuki said there, deaf to everything around him and his teammates followed Mochi's aghast look and got instantly worried seeing their catcher so out of it.

Not sure he was up for this; Miyuki finally got up and turned towards the dugout to request being subbed when Mochi beat him to it.

Mochi, unable to follow through after all seeing Miyuki like that, knew he couldn't ruin it by playing his best in order to safe Miyuki.

He threw a baleful look towards his boyfriend but Kataoka refused to sub him out.

Kataoka also told Miyuki in silence that he too wouldn't be subbed and should warm up with his new pitcher.

Trembling with anger, the team vowed revenge on anyone, even the coach if he was the perpetrator, if this meant Furuya would become a steady addition to the team.

They knew they were safe for summer, but for nothing in the world would they leave a legacy like him behind. No one deserved that.

"I'm not sure what you are planning coach, but Furuya is far from useful at this stage" Chris said after contemplating the reason behind his coach's decision of substitution but coming up empty on the why.

"I don't expect him to be useful Chris, but keep an eye on him anyway. Not all is how it seems. Though I believe that this could be the first time I'll have a full riot on my hands. It's something you have to experience once in your life I suppose" he said, ignoring Rei's stricken look watching Miyuki pulling himself together and warming up with Furuya.

He also ignored the Kiryu coach, who at this point looked at him like he lost even the last marbles of his intelligence or thought they were insulting them by sending lousy players onto the field. Well he couldn't blame him completely for thinking like that.

After warming up, Furuya got ready while Miyuki, still trembling, crouched at home plate, praying to all deities who were willing to listen to end this torture soon.

Nabe in the meantime searched out Ryousuke and when their eyes met, shared a determined look conveying their conviction in their plan and nodded. Come hell and high water they would see this through and end the threat to Miyuki and subsequently the team, once and for all.

Eijun in the meantime traded looks of horror with Mochi after Mochi's sub was denied.

He couldn't look towards Miyuki, lest he run to the guy to take his place and end it, injured shoulder or not.

Eijun knew exactly what would go through Miyuki's head and even if the others thought his horror was for having to play with Furuya after all he said and done and playing a horrible game, they couldn't be more wrong.

It was also why he had hoped Onii-san and Nabe would have consulted him. He had thought they'd trusted him enough to consult with him about stuff regarding Miyuki as they were close now and everyone knew it! But apparently, this newfound behavior of, dare he say it, protectiveness? meant they wanted to take action of their own.

Eijun could pull out his hair in frustration and hoped that this torture session would end quickly. In the meantime he would hound Miyauchi in warming up for the event that Miyuki just had enough and spared Furuya a hateful glance.

It was that one glance that caught Kataoka more off-guard than anything else and everyone who looked at Sawamura at that moment as well.

They've never before saw Sawamura looking at someone with anything worse than annoyance or anger and definitely not this look of disgust.

It didn't seem to be fueled by jealousy either but rather an unadulterated look of utter disgust.

If Sawamura was their gauge in determining 'stuff' it seemed that this was his way of telling them that he was certainly not impressed with how things went and it made them wonder what on earth happened between the two of them that they'd missed.

As they umpire called to play, Furuya prepared to throw.

'Well, it's time to show them all, I won't give the mound to anyone else ever again. It's time to shine and Miyuki-senpai will be my partner from this moment on! Finally!'

As the ball hurled towards Miyuki's mitt, Furuya congratulated himself on his first strike, but soon looked in horror when the Kiryu batter made contact and hurled the ball over the backscreen, securing a home-run. This was not how it was meant to go.

There was nothing the fielders could have done and Miyuki stood by in agony, watching it all play out helplessly.

And it didn't get any better. Ball after ball got either hit, or was so far out of reach for Miyuki that he got more passed balls in this one inning than in his whole career as a catcher.

Loosing another three runs it was clear to all that none of the batters would hit on high balls and unfortunately for Miyuki, those seemed the only balls Furuya was capable of throwing.

Furuya in the meantime wondered why his balls didn't seem to have any speed and blamed the grueling training camp for his lousy pitching even though the second-string's menu was lighter.

Never mind the fact that he wasn't used to pitching with a catcher nor did he have the required control necessary to pitch towards were Miyuki was signaling, while Miyuki knew fully well the limitations of his pitching from the first time around.

But while *that* Furuya was willing to at least try and listen, *this* one bulldozered on and on without regarding his signals at all. Well, how could he not, he never had to read his signals nor did he know what they meant.

Shaking his head in exasperation he wondered if this inning would ever end, as for now it seemed they would face the whole batting line-up maybe twice if nothing changed soon.

And his thoughts seemed to be prophetic as once again, they had a walk on balls.

Kiryu in the meantime had the time of their lives and treated the new Seidou pitcher as a hitting machine.

"Well lads, make sure you hit to your heart's content. No need to hold back. Let's score until they break and tremble in fear of our power!"

"Yes coach!" they all yelled, in complete agreement with their coach as it seemed Seidou was willing to throw this game away.

'Kataoka, don't blame me if your supposed 'secret weapon' breaks down after our pummeling.' Matsumoto-kantoku thought at seeing the first-year pitcher in action.

Inside the Seidou dugout, the atmosphere was grim.

Even though Oota kept his mouth shut for once it was clear to all that fatigue wasn't the only factor catering towards this horrendous score.

The only thing they wondered is whether the pitcher himself understood this as well.

But they had to conclude it wasn't so when he even failed to catch a ball landing practically at his feet while glaring at the hitter for daring to hit towards that spot.

Until that moment, they'd lost another eleven runs on top of Tanba's and they knew this game was unsalvageable and should have been called. But since it was a practice game it would run for the whole nine innings.

Osaka Kiryu had obviously no problems with this as they got some nice practice out of it but they wondered about the wisdom in such a game for Seidou.

"Kataoka is an extreme coach, if he doesn't stop this soon that pitcher is going to get destroyed. I wonder what he's up to. But what wonders me even more is that none of the fielders offer a shred of encouragement towards their pitcher and their concern doesn't seem directed at him either. I really pity this pitcher. He stands completely alone regardless of his teammate's efforts and amazing plays."

"Miyuki-senpai, time-out please" Furuya asked and all were waiting on what would happen now. Not daring to believe the pitcher himself would give up.

"Miyuki-senpai, why do you signal to spots easy to hit? Don't you want to take this seriously?" Furuya asked with anger evident in his voice.

Flabbergasted Miyuki didn't know how to react until his own anger and frustration took over.

"Now listen here you conceited son of a bitch, don't you dare tell me how to do my job if you can't even throw a ball straight or where I actually request for it to go. I don't give a shit about your so-called high-speed balls right now since your pitching is utter crap and I as well as the fielders are doing everything we can to keep the count down without a single shred of effort on your side so screw you and search for the answer inside yourself asshole." And with that he turned towards the dug-out.

"If you don't sub me out right now coach, I won't catch another ball. I've had enough." Miyuki declared, awaiting his coach's reply.

Hearing Miyuki's words and contemplating the statistics, Chris couldn't help but sigh while telling his coach the state of their current predicament.

"As we thought, Kiryu's lineup versus Furuya's unstable control is a disaster for us and they refuse to swing unless there is at least a strike and now with Miyuki refusing to catch for him any further the count will only go up. We haven't even finished the inning yet while we are on the second rotation of their line-up."

"How many pitches did Furuya throw until now?"

"Well, we are on thirty three pitches and two outs and the inning hasn't even ended yet."

"I guess there is nothing to it then; we'll have him 'play' this inning out and then sub him for Kawakami. You sure you don't want to finish this inning and continue with Kawakami?" Kataoka asked looking at Miyuki.

Looking up in surprise, Chris wondered why Kataoka-kantoku sounded so laconic about this whole situation. He really wondered what this was truly about.

The only positive thing he saw in all of this was Furuya's look of horror after he noticed that pitch after pitch got either hit or were even uncatchable for someone of Miyuki's caliber. Something they all warned him about.

But even as Miyuki looked like he was performing a strange form of ballet, trying to reach for balls far out of the zone, refusing to let them pass, (he looked hilariously like a fish out of the water.) Chris wondered if he'd have muscle pain tomorrow looking at all the poses he had to strike.

He had to agree with Sawamura wholeheartedly though as the pitcher once again fumed his "How can I keep quiet and watch this massacre! This is embarrassing! Even like this I can do a better job than that!"

"I'm sorry coach, but I do not want to catch even one more ball for him, I've had enough; especially after getting a dressing down I did not deserve!"

"In that case we'll substitute you for Miyauchi so go cool down and Miyuki, good job!" Kataoka said, ignoring his catcher's look of surprise.

On the field, everyone witnessed Miyuki's rare outburst and as he didn't keep his voice down, could hear what it was about as well and agreed with him wholeheartedly.

Miyauchi, prepared after Eijun's forth sight, made his way towards home after Kataoka announced a change in players once again. He prayed they'd get this last out quickly so he could work with a real catcher and try to salvage what could be salvaged of this game.

Osaka Kiryu in the meantime didn't know what to think of this anymore. They felt like they treaded into an alternate reality and wondered about Seidou's stability in the long run if this was what they were facing.

The fielders too were intent on getting that last out, knowing that Kataoka-kantoku wouldn't drag this out longer and Ryousuke smirked to himself. It went exactly like they'd planned.

In the end it was Jun who got the last runner out at home, therefore preventing another run scored by the opposing team by throwing full power towards Miyauchi; who miraculously caught it without trouble.

"DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE" was heard long after the ball was caught and everyone looked in admiration towards Jun.

"Darnation Spitz-senpai! That was sooooo cool!" Eijun yelled, breaking the stupor and making everyone laugh in relief that this was finally over.

"Yeah Jun, that was amazing!"

"No I dare say it was excellent!"

"Even his voice-addition was great!" another yelled and once again Eijun brought normalcy back by being his silly self.

"Well, then, let's start the true match now and get some points back! From now on we count on you Kawakami!" Tetsu said, hurting both Tanba and Furuya even more.

From that point forward, the match turned truly enjoyable with both Osaka Kiryu and Seidou playing their best, almost forgetting the first five innings ever existed.

Looking towards Miyuki, Eijun decided he was almost back to normal after his rant to Furuya. In the end it appeared to be a blessing in disguise. That wouldn't stop him from talking to him though, but for now it could wait as he watched Kawakami play expertly, making up for their abysmal performance. He even enjoyed himself and was the first to shout and clap when it was Kawakami that scored a homerun off of their opposing team; cementing their revenge.

All in all they were still slaughtered, but they made their statement from the sixth inning as well and now it was time to reflect.

Furuya though appeared to have finally realized something and tried to slink away but got no chance as Kataoka-kantoku called out for him to meet right away, even before the team assembly.

Overhearing this, both Nabe and Ryousuke congratulated each other on a job well done, as it was clear to everyone now that Furuya was no option. They only wondered what the true outcome would be and couldn't wait for the meeting to start.

But first, they had to say their goodbye's to Osaka Kiryu and after that they would see what would happen next. For now they were relieved their plan didn't backfire, the rest was for another time.

Chapter Text

Assembling at the Kiryu bus, all players said their heartfelt goodbyes. The Kiryu players complimented them on a job well done from the sixth inning onwards.

"Aren't you guys still having your training camp? It was a weird match I tell you. But from the sixth onwards we had a lot of fun!"

"Aaargh don't you dare judge us for the first five innings! We still can't believe we allowed the match to end like this! Next time we meet you'll get to experience the real us!" Jun yelled at them, still frustrated with it all.

"Well, we couldn't wish for more!" the Kiryu players agreed wholeheartedly.

"Hey you." was directed towards Jun, who looked up in surprise when the Kiryu pitcher addressed him.

"What?" He growled, uncomfortable.

"Even though those first two pitchers were lousy today, I wonder about that loudmouth. You guys must respect him a lot to be influenced by him like you were today. I wonder why you haven't sent him out today. Is he truly injured like they say?"

"What Sawamura is or is not is of no interest to you. Just know that next time he'll show you what pitching really means" Jun replied proudly to the surprise and also now worry of their opponents.

"Well, continue to work hard, we'll do so too" Tachi replied, taken aback at seeing everyone from Seidou smile as they looked at the pitcher in question who was hovering around the Seidou catcher and he quickly retreated to the bus.

The coaches meanwhile said their own goodbyes.

"It was an intriguing match today Kataoka-san" the Kiryu coach genuinely said.

"It gave us some great practice opportunities but I can't say I envy you. Overall your players are great but some seem to miss the necessary teamspirit. Although that loud fellow seems intriguing. Especially since everyone appears to be influenced by him. I wonder why you haven't played him. But Kawakami really improved didn't he? Compared to last year it's amazing. I'm really curious on whom you're going to center your team this year."

Without giving anything away, Kataoka only nodded. "You're flattering me and we benefitted too from your plays. Our pitchers have a lot of work in front of them still so we'll focus on that first."

Laughing at Kataoka once again nonsensical answer the Kiryu coach couldn't help but concede defeat. His prying fell on deaf ears. "Aren't you the strict coach?!" he therefore chuckled good naturedly.

"Well, whatever the future and your schemes may bring, this match gave my players a nice boost. I hope to face you guys at Koshien!" And he walked towards the bus, leaving the coaching staff slightly befuddled behind, wondering what it was exactly the other coach saw in their players and chances.

As the bus drove off, Kataoka's demeanour turned harsh once again as he signalled for Furuya to follow him. He told Chris to make sure the pitcher wouldn't run off.

To the others he only said: "Clean everything including yourselves up and stay assembled in the cafeteria after dinner." He walked away with a slightly scared pitcher and the rest of the coaching staff following.

Wondering what this could be about everyone made to clean up quickly before heading to the baths.

Eijun especially was slightly out as he'd gotten no real chance to talk to Miyuki except ask him if he was okay when they said their goodbyes.

And now with coaches orders, he had to wait even longer before he could talk to him because everyone would head to the baths at roughly the same time so there was no chance for privacy until after the meeting.

Grumbling slightly at the unfairness of it all, he missed the concerned looks his teammates threw him as most hadn't forgotten the look Eijun threw the other pitcher and watched him intently after the other was called away by the coach.

They all thought that this was the reason for his sour look and, Mochi being the only one knowing better couldn't say anything, hurried to reassure the grumpy pitcher.

"I wouldn't worry about Furuya Sawamura" Shirasu said getting a confused look in return.

Seeing that Masuko decided to speak as well. "He won't get a regular spot after such a performance Sawamura-chan, so you're safe."

Looking utterly confused now, but unable to be rude to his senpai who clearly tried to cheer him up, even though they seemed to get the reason why wrong he only mumbled a "T-thank you guys."

Seeing the other needed even more reassurance, Tetsu joined the reassurance-club.

"We wouldn't accept him anyway Sawamura so just stay the way you are and take your time.

Blinking, wondering what the hell it was he missed, he looked at his captain, who had an unusual serious expression on his face.

"T-THANK YOU CAPTAIN-SENPAI!" Eijun blurted out, trying to ignore Onii-san, Mochi and Miyuki as they tried to not burst into laughter, all knowing it was Miyuki that was on his mind and not Furuya and the others totally misunderstanding with Eijun too nice to tell them they were wrong.

But they failed when Jun shouted in glee and hit Eijun's back when the latter answered his boyfriend sincerely and Eijun made a fast escape towards his dorm room after that.

Unhurried they followed the poor pitcher and warmly teased him about the misunderstanding after they caught on inside the bath.

Especially Jun and Tetsu's expression of a job well done would be forever engraved in their minds next to a utterly bewildered Eijun.

As they made their way to dinner, they wondered how Furuya's talk went as they hadn't seen the other pitcher yet; even though they took their time cleaning the grounds.

As they assembled after dinner like they were told, Furuya was still missing and their curiosity hit it's peak.

It was seven p.m. when the coaching staff finally arrived telling them the program for tomorrow first.

"As we have two matches tomorrow, the pitcher for the first one will be Kawakami." Kataoka announced and an excited Nori replying affirmatively.

"As for the second game. After your dismal performance today, I'll make my final decision after the first game to see whether or not you'll be the starter Tanba. Kawakami will play in this one regardless as well." coach said, effectively punishing Tanba for his bad performance and complimenting Nori for the opposite feat.

"Y-yes coach" Tanba replied, blushing in embarrassment and avoiding everyone's eyes.

Looking at everyone Kataoka sighed, he didn't like what he had to announce right now as he felt it was a personal failure such a situation ever occurred. Rationally he knew that not everyone could fit into a team, and with a hundred players there was always bound to be a couple that just couldn't fit in. That didn't mean he liked it though, especially since this year seemed so much better than the previous ones.

"Concluding this, there is another matter I'd like to address."

Instantly he captured everyone's undivided attention because of the seriousness displayed in his voice and demeanor.

"As of this evening Furuya has left the team to transfer to another school. We've spoken with him and his family and we came to the conclusion that, as to not hurt his future career, this would be the most favorable outcome."

Hearing this, many people started to shift into their seats from excitement hearing the news but coaches next words killed any happiness.

"I am ashamed to admit that we could not create a place where someone like Furuya could flourish as well and I take it as a personal failure to do so. In a team there will always be players that won't match completely or whose chemistry is unfavorable. But even for such players chances should not be thrown away and we should, with everything in our power, try to find the place they can fit in."

"After talking to his family, I believe we found this place and we immediately called the other school's baseball coach, who agreed to take him on. That means that as of Monday, Furuya will transfer as to not hurt his start in the other team any further and will clear out his dorm-room tomorrow. We ask of you to not harass or annoy him, but offer help if you feel you genuinely can do so."

He once again looked at everyone and saw some faces showing befuddlement, relief and even happiness. He knew he couldn't blame them but it was the way the world worked. Furuya himself hadn't tried to fit into the team himself after all so he couldn't blame anyone being happy.

He would have to keep an eye on the younger Kominato though as he seemed on the verge of tears with a look of bewilderment sporting his face.

Fortunately, more people appeared to have noticed, and not the least his brother so he estimated that for now he could leave it be. If the boy would still be down after a while he would take action. For now he told Rei quietly to keep an eye on the boy and to notify him if she saw the need for it.

Relieved that everything was done for now, he excused themselves with warnings of taking it easy tonight, and they made their way towards the teachers lounge so he could recapture his conversation with the recalcitrant pitcher.

Until the end the pitcher fought tooth and nail against their and his family's decision. Even after the kid's grandfather showed up telling him the same and demanding a transfer out of Seidou as he noticed during practice that he could never flourish here with such behavior; it was exhausting.

They all hoped he would indeed clear out his dorm before tomorrow afternoon when his grandfather would come pick him up. They decided that Rei would oversee this, as Oota himself acknowledged that the other would probably waltz right over him.

Happy that this day was finally over, they couldn't wait for Monday so everything would be as usual once again. They all could do with less drama in their lives to be fair, unless it was the amusing sort of course!

At the Seidou dorm however, peace would be a little later in coming as Mochi dragged Ryousuke off and Eijun finally got his chance to grab Miyuki and made a dash towards the now empty dugout; dragging the surprised catcher along with him.

As Mochi finally reached the far end of the B-grounds, he let go of Ryosuke's arm. Taking a deep breath, he walked a couple of steps forward before turning around to face his boyfriend with a serious look.

"What you did today tethered on the edge of acceptable Ryou-san, regardless of your intentions." he said, surprising the pink-haired boy.

"I'm not sure what you're talking about Youichi" he replied.

Swallowing and closing his eyes, Mochi addressed him once again.

"Don't start lying or using your subvertuge against me, Ryou-san. Both Eijun and I heard you talk to the coaching staff with Nabe about Furuya. And let me tell you, we weren't pleased in the least."

Shifting uncomfortably, never having guessed this scenario, Ryousuke wondered on how to continue and knew he had to do some serious damage control when Youichi shook off his hand.

He also knew that his 'normal' way of dealing with situations like this would hurt their relationship even more. What was even worse, he would wager a good deal of his pocket money that Eijun too would make sure to seek him out to announce his dissatisfaction.

Sighing he placed his hands in his pockets before squatting down.

"I would never have guessed you finding out Youichi. Nabe and I did promise each other to keep it silent as we knew that we wouldn't garner friends with such a crude course of action."

"I only found out because we saw you looking worried and both Eijun and I wanted to know what happened. We were initially confused when you visited Nabe and wrongly thought that since Nabe was involved it couldn't be bad."

Sighing once more Ryousuke sat down, staring up at Mochi.

"Still, I hadn't intended for you to find out or worry or get angry. But what is done is done and I wouldn't have changed the plan even if you'd told me you knew earlier. It was necessary for more reasons than one and in the end it worked out. I won't apologize for that Youichi."

Knowing he would not be able to change his lovers mind, and his words where the truth, Mochi swallowed. He didn't like it but he knew Ryousuke spoke the truth. Before they became an item he already knew that Ryousuke could at times be cruel or crude if the situation asked for it.

But that didn't mean he didn't hate it when his boyfriend purposefully acted out the 'bad guy' role to achieve whatever had to be achieved.

On the other hand, truth be told, at times Ryousuke thoroughly enjoyed playing the bad guy and Mochi wanted to make sure which was the role Ryousuke chose to play this time.

"So you're telling me that your foremost reasoning wasn't one of revenge for him slighting you?" he therefore asked; hoping he was right.

Smirking now, Ryousuke looked up with a mischievous look before answering truthfully.

"However much I liked this side effect, it indeed was not my primary motivator. In the end the team's importance weighed out any slight against me. That this solution killed two birds with one stone in the end was a pleasant side effect." he said exasperating Mochi for he guessed as much already.

"And I suppose that Nabe too acted out of the goodness of his heart for the team?" Mochi asked sarcastically.

Blinking at him, still with that infuriating mischievous look, Ryousuke snorted.

"If you truly believe our innocent Nabe to be so altruistic, you have one coming Youichi."

Being caught off guard, Mochi's eyebrows rose as an incredulous look made his way onto his face after hearing those words.

"Our dear Nabe got slighted on more than one occasion by Furuya for being 'of no value since data gathering didn't add to the team's success' or 'having passion and putting in hard work would never result in him gaining recognition.' Furuya was worse than you can imagine my dearest and we needed him and his poisonous mouth out of here."

"Kataoka-kantoku doesn't even know half of what went on, or maybe he did considering he didn't put up much resistance against our plan and his apology today felt double-layered as well to us. You could also explain it as a failure to rein him in and let him ruin our bonds with the team and each other effectively making it impossible to make him fit in. It was intriguing."

Stunned into silence, Mochi needed a moment to take all of this in.

He wondered how much more he'd missed about his teammates and if he'd really been so unobservant about things like this going on under his nose.

He also wondered how Ryousuke and Sawamura almost always knew that something was going on and found ways to act on them. Hell even Miyuki interfered more often than him.

Sighing he put it on his evergrowing 'have to work at' list and regarded his boyfriend anew.

"I can get your reasoning, but I still don't agree with your course of action. Hell you and Nabe owe Miyuki one hell of an apology!!"

"I don't care if it was for the greater good, to use someone like that was unheard off and since your whole plan amounted on Miyuki's asquience, it could have been shot to tatters if he'd been a lesser person. It could have destroyed him if Furuya made the team and you know it!"

"I DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST BETWEEN THEM OR HOW IT CAME ABOUT, BUT MIYUKI'S RELUCTANCE AND EIJUN'S DISTASTE OF FURUYA HAD MORE ABOUT IT THAN JUST INSTANT DISLIKE AND YOU KNEW IT!!! At this point Mochi was so frustrated that he shouted that last part.

Darnation but Ryousuke could have ruined all their hard work in befriending Miyuki and trying to garner his trust.

He was fuming so hard he missed the proud look Ryousuke shot his lover.

"So you want me to confess to Miyuki and incur his wrath? Aren't you in the least afraid on my behalf?" he jokingly asked Mochi.

"N-o-j-o-k-e-s-R-y-o-u-s-a-n" Mochi bit out and for this he got a chuckle from his now amused boyfriend.

"Considering I don't want to end on your 'I-treat-you-like-you-don't-exist-because-you've-slighted-me' list I shall acquiesce and apologize first thing in the morning."

They both knew it was an idle threat but it made Mochi feel better nonetheless to have gotten that promise from Ryou-san. It wasn't easy to get him to admit to his mistakes after all.

Taking whatever victory he could, he nodded in acceptance and started to walk back towards the dorm; happy to leave this day behind him.

It appeared that Ryousuke had other plans however as his arm was caught and he got pulled against the other's chest.

"I didn't say it wouldn't be for a prize Youichi" Ryousuke muttered while swallowing Youichi's desperate groan with a heated kiss.

---

On the other side of the grounds, more specifically the A-Grounds dugout, a completely different conversation took place.

Here it was a desperate Miyuki who tried to fend off an overly worried Eijun to the hilarity of anyone who would have observed this spectacle.

It was even more hilarious since Eijun couldn't tell Miyuki he knew about the plan at all since he didn't want to be disloyal and betray Ryousuke or Nabe who he held in high regard.

And because of that reasoning for an outsider it would look as if a very worried wife tried consoling her husband who was unsuspecting of whatever it would have been that should have shaken him so.

"Oy Miyuki are you okay? How dare coach to put you on the spot like that. And how dare Furuya accept it! Aargh I'm so mad! But are you sure you're okay? I mean you've shouted at Furuya and demanded a sub but you can't tell me there isn't more right?" Eijun blabbered so quickly that Miyuki couldn't keep up.

Miyuki had to laugh though when he saw the disheveled look the pitcher currently wore as he paced from left to right combing his hands through his hair.

"This is no laughing matter Miyuki! I knew something bad would happen and see! I was right again! For a second I was really afraid you'd flashback back towards then but then you seemed to regain yourself. Damn I wish I could have taken your place!"

Laughing even harder now, Miyuki looked at the other boy with fond exasperation.

"I think we would have lost even more runs if that scenario would have come about Eijun" he answered good-naturedly.

"Don't you dare making this a smaller matter than it is Miyuki Kazuya!" Eijun shouted, waving his finger warningly into the other's face.

Catching said finger teasingly into his mouth, Miyuki bit it, garnering a surprised squeak from Eijun and unexpected reaction from his own body. Therefore he let the finger escape quickly again while furiously trying to find a way out of this at once uncomfortable situation.

"A-hem, at least I've got your attention now. I-am-fine-you-know!" he said, punctuating every word for emphasis.

Still slightly dazed, Eijun wondered what it was they argued about and hearing those words it came back to him full force.

"What do you mean you're alright?! How can you be alright after being put on the spot like that?"

"Eijun" Miyuki said warningly, catching the other's attention.

"It was by no means fun and for a second I did indeed have a flash-back, but believe me, I am fine. I guess telling him off felt quite liberating. I know it wasn't completely fair to heap everything on this Furuya, but it felt good to put all my frustrations about him, past and new, into that rant. So stop worrying."

Looking at him with big eyes, who were rapidly filling with water, Miyuki panicked, wondering what on earth the other was thinking but froze upon hearing the other's words.

"I don't blame you for that rant, but I hate it that you've been put on the spot like that and I really wish I could have protected you from it. You didn't deserve this Miyuki and it hurts me that it hurt you at that time. I really wish I could have taken your place you know." Eijun said in a small voice, tears now silently dripping along his cheeks.

Not sure how to react to this, as all of this was completely new to him; Miyuki knew one thing for certain. These tears were for him. Genuinely for him and it undid him. This boy, this pure boy who took so much upon his shoulders to make it all right. The boy he once disregarded but who fought and still fights for him cried for his pain. It was mind boggling.

With a shaking hand he reached out and gently wiped the tears away.

"Stop crying you baka" he said quietly and unbeknown to him, infinitely gentle.

"I didn't like it no, but I survived and in the end it all worked out. I'm really fine now!"

But upon hearing those words Eijun cried even harder.

"You shouldn't have to survive stuff like this" he sobbed "You should finally have some fun without all of those responsibilities and Furuya wasn't yours! It's so unfair!"

Chuckling now Miyuki fished around and finally found an unused handkerchief which he held out to Eijun so he could blow his nose.

"You know I should be the one crying here" he jokingly said, trying to lighten up the others mood.

"It's because you never cry so others have to do it for you!" Eijun replied with the cutest of pouts; stealing Miyuki's breath away.

"Ah well, as long as I have you I won't have to worry about that, don't I?" he finally replied.

Blinking at him, Eijun fully zoomed in on the other's face and a small smile escaped him. He really wondered how much longer it would take the other before he understood but he counted this as a small victory nonetheless.

Relieved that the other truly seemed alright, his tears stopped and he made good use of the offered handkerchief; resulting in a good natured chuckle from Miyuki.

Upon hearing some shouting they both turned towards where they heard the sound but saw no one.

"Um, that did sound like Mochi's voice right?" Miyuki tentatively asked, not sure he ever heard such anger in said voice.

Nodding in agreement, with a hard expression that caught Miyuki off-guard, Eijun only said "I guess something or someone pissed Mochi-nii off royally, it's quite a feat."

Not sure how to explain the look with the almost humorous words, Miyuki decided that there had to be more to this whole situation than he primarily thought; Eijun's reaction too was way too extreme for a spur of the moment decision the coach came up with.

He also knew that Eijun wouldn't tell, or he would have already, but if Mochi was involved it did shine a different light on today's happenings. Because the only one Miyuki could imagine Mochi getting completely furious with would be either Eijun or Ryousuke and since Eijun was here it had to be Ryousuke and Eijun didn't seem angry at Mochi.

After all this time being on the same team with Mochi he knew that only people close to him could incur Mochi's wrath. Other's would be treated with cool disdain or everlasting teasing.

Frowning he wondered what he'd missed and whether he should try to talk to Mochi about it. But hearing his obvious anger, he wondered about the wisdom of such a plan as he didn't want Mochi furious with him as well.

Asking Ryou-san himself was something he had to think deeply about, as he never knew whether he'd get an honest answer or not. Ryosuke's answers were often riddles that created even more questions rather than answers after all.

Sighing, he wondered whether he'd ever get to the bottom of this, but also if he really needed to know. Deciding that for now he was good, he refocused on Eijun who was watching him intently; as if waiting for something.

Pulling up his brow in question, Eijun grinned at him, and he saw that the other boy knew he figured something out, but that he would stay silent.

Nodding he smiled and followed Eijun when the latter made his way towards the vending machines; buying him his beloved Pocari Sweat as if apologizing for keeping quiet.

He patted Eijun's head to let him know he didn't mind but figured out that there was more to it than he initially thought but would let it rest for now.

Hearing the sigh of relief next to him told him it was the right course of action and made him happy. He was still new to all of this but he knew that when he decided that he trusted Eijun that there would be times he had to do so unquestionably.

He was happy he indeed could and it made him relieved that he wasn't totally pants at this friends thing.

He just had to ponder his strange reactions of today with the others he kept in the furthest recess of his mind soon because it became apparent that something was going on with him and it worried him.

He could only hope it wasn't something bad or that would ruin his friendship with Eijun.

But sitting on the bench, matey side by side sipping their drinks, all seemed right in the world and finally the stress of the day completely left both boys.

They even didn't mind when they saw Mochi, indeed with Ryousuke - confirming Miyuki's suspicions even further- coming towards them but as they didn't stop considering Mochi's ruffled state, they only waved at the other two and once again fell into a tranquil state of mind.

It was also because of this relaxed state they failed to notice Haruichi sneaking behind them with tears flowing down his face and Furuya looking at them with burning eyes.

Luckily Haruichi, although hurt, still had the presence of mind to kick the other hard in the shins to refrain him from calling out; ignoring the other's angry look and dragging him towards his own room where he said his last ever goodbye to the black-haired boy he loved but who rejected him today because of his brother.

It wouldn't take long for Ryousuke to hear about this from Masuko, who had the unfortunate role of messenger after he overheard the two boys conversation; fueling Ryosuke's distaste for the pitcher even more but making him act a little softer towards his baby brother for a while.

All in all, many of the Seidou players were happy that the last day of training camp finally dawned as it was one hell of a ride, from tomorrow onwards they would prepare for summer as a team united.

But first they had to fight today's opponents to the best of their abilities and no one would have guessed that today would mark the day they'd meet their strongest rival.

And it wasn't the strongest team in their block, it was one individual person, emerging from said team. Nothing could have closed Seidou's ranks quicker and tighter after the happenings of today and it strengthened the Seidou team once and for all, creating a force to be reckoned with.

Chapter Text

See summary

Chapter Text

*Conversation between Furuya, Furuya's grandfather and the coaching staff. See chapter 29 for reference*

While trailing after his coach and the rest of the coaching staff, Furuya felt himself getting smaller and smaller with each step he took, until they finally reached their destination.

He really wondered why he was the only one being taken apart; he at least expected Miyuki-senpai to join them since the latter didn't appear to perform up to par as well.

And how dare he talk to him like that after not being able to catch his balls or securing strikes.

Dread gave space to anger and anger to stubborn blindness as he silently replayed today's game in his mind.

Before anyone could utter a word a knock resounded through the room.

Wondering who it was that dared disturb them, Rei-chan opened the door.

As she mentally connected the dots, she invited said person in, knowing it could either help them out or create more trouble.

She really wondered what Tesshin was thinking when he agreed to this wager. She still believed the trouble this created could very easily spin out of control and wondered once again how to best perform damage control.

Sighing mentally she turned back to Tesshin, awaiting his next move; for now she would keep quiet and see where things were headed next.

"Grandfather" a surprised Furuya muttered.

Furuya wondered why he was here. He knew his grandfather checked up on him from time to time on his parents' request, but he still didn't expect him today and especially, in this situation.

"Satoru" his grandfather greeted him. "Care to tell me what it was you were thinking while standing on the mound?" He started without preamble.

Looking up in surprise, Furuya was momentarily caught off-guard. "I just wanted to prove to everyone that I would be the right choice for playing with Miyuki-senpai and also being worthy of playing in the First-string".

Sighing, his grandfather shared a look with Kataoka-kantoku. With that one look, he conveyed his complete and utter exasperation with his grandson's delusions.

"And what do you think now after the game?" he asked, hoping against hope the other would have seen what the rest had.

Blinking, Furuya wondered what his grandfather meant with that statement. It should have been clear for everyone what happened.

"Well, considering I've been playing in the Second-string still, the First-stringers don't take me seriously at all. I know Miyauchi-senpai can't catch my balls, but Miyuki-senpai's refusal to play his best really disappoints me. Since he holds Chris-senpai in such high regard, I wonder if he did it on purpose as to not make Chris-senpai lose face."

Finishing his statement he looked contemplatively towards the ball he still held tight in his hand, missing the gob smacked looks on everyone's faces.

Even Oota was speechless for once; for the life of him he couldn't come up with anything to say, stupid or not.

For the first time he started to understand the delusions Kataoka-kantoku and Takashima-san had to deal with in regards to this player. Even he wasn't this thick and he knew he still had a lot to discover about how his own behavior influenced current relations within Seidou. He hoped to God that he at least ranked higher in Kataoka's mind on his 'You're-stupid-but-for-now-I'll-indulge-you-unless-you-don't-change-your-ways-asap' list than Furuya.

A long silence permeated the room but it didn't seem to faze the boy.

Oota wondered if he saw their silence as acknowledgment of thinking over the truth in his words.

Seeing Takashima's pinched look towards the ceiling, Furuya-ojii-san's look of pity and Kataoka-kantoku's stoned chiseled features, he grabbed all the courage he had left and opened his mouth; for once hoping he would say the right thing.

"So if we are to understand you correctly Furuya-kun, you believe that since you are in our Second-string and training under Chris, this puts you at disadvantage in regards to Miyuki and he, since he is a First-stringer, tells you this by not playing up to his 'normal' standard?"

After seeing the boy's confirming nod he exploded.

"I sincerely hope you don't truly believe what you say because right now, you dishonored Miyuki in the most grievous way; and not only Miyuki but everyone here at Seidou."

"Today's results, apart from Tanba's bad performance, rest solely on your shoulders. From the beginning you refused to train with anybody except Miyuki. Your reticence in doing so destroyed the little control you possessed and resulted in no valuable teamwork experience to date."

"You expect Miyuki to play his best, but you haven't done your best even once since you've entered Seidou; instead you've alienated everyone around you and even though you've been warned multiple times, you've ignored us all and thought you knew best. And your 'I know best' mentality resulted in today's massacre. It was definitely not Miyuki's nor Miyauchi's fault as they did their best to work with that they had. And that 'work' was far below sub-par and it was you who made it so."

"These boys work themselves to the bone, day in and out, to achieve results while all you do is complaining about Chris, Sawamura and Miyuki. Tell us Furuya-kun, what did you really offer Seidou in the time you've been here?" Oota asked, ignoring everyone's surprised looks. He'd deal with any consequences later.

Stunned into silence, Furuya couldn't answer.

"I suppose your silence speaks for itself doesn't it Furuya-kun?" Oota asked, hitting the nail even deeper.

"Since you've entered, as a promising youth I might add, you've added nothing in terms of pitching or plays. We shall ignore interactions with the team for now, since we as coaches aren't happy how that turned out either and the blame isn't solely on you. But looking at you from a purely statistical -or team value- view, you haven't added anything. This is nothing new in a team as big as Seidou, as not everyone can shine. But compared to them, you haven't even tried; except if it was for your own convenience. And now you tell us it's because of other's you haven't been playing well today? Have you even considered the warnings you've been given in the past? Did you even understand them?"

It appeared that Oota of all people, finally had gotten through to the other boy as Furuya turned redder and redder the longer he heard him speak.

Maybe because everyone disregarded Oota as stupid, awkward or useless in terms of coaching, his assessment of Furuya made his current state so much clearer.

Rei-chan opened her mouth as if to say something, but a quick cut-motion of Tesshin's hand refrained her from doing so.

Tesshin nodded towards Furuya and Rei understood. It seemed the boy was on the verge of tears, truly contemplating everything that has been said and finally understanding, at least partly, his situation.

Furuya's grandfather in the meantime watched his grandson with a hard glint in his eye. He knew this moment would arrive sooner or later, since this was a recurring problem Satoru had since his early childhood, and one he and his son and daughter-in-law dreaded.

The second Satoru announced his desire to join Seidou in Tokyo because of a catcher named Miyuki Kazuya, ringed all their alarm bells and they prayed it wouldn't turn out like this.

Since he was young, Satoru always obsessed about things he perceived as 'his' and this behavior made it difficult to befriend others or if the object was 'someone', to keep that person around; since many found his unwavering devotion unsettling.

They really hoped that in a big team like Seidou, Satoru would finally be able to fit in; especially considering the abundance of different characters that would reside under one roof or participate daily together.

Furuya-ojii-san used his status as grandfather to keep track of Satoru's growth at Seidou, and noticing the magic that Sawamura-kid flung around, finally allowed hope to enter his heart for his grandson.

But it seemed that it was once again not meant to be. Because just a couple of training-session's later, he noticed that even someone like Sawamura appeared not to be able to work his magic on someone so bull-headed as his grandson; especially after getting and achieving what Satoru perceived as 'his'.

"Satoru" he finally said, waiting till he caught his grandson's eyes. "Do you remember what we've told you when we agreed to let you enroll into Seidou?"

He ignored the panic showing on his grandsons face. "I understand the coaches gave you a similar warning?" and he waited till he'd gotten a reluctant nod, wanting him to understand the gravity of the situation completely.

"Since you've been young, we've talked about this behavioral issue and the pitfalls it creates. We had hoped that the help we'd gotten you would have helped you here at Seidou, to avoid such a situation once again, but apparently it has failed."

Panicking for real now, Furuya tried to stop his grandfather's next words, knowing full well what they entailed: "Grandfather…" but halted immediately when his grandfather raised his hand.

"For the first time, we haven't requested regular updates on your progress from your coaches, firmly believing you'd finally grown enough to not needing us supervising all the time. But even though I haven't requested status reports or visited every training, even then I could see that once again you couldn't or didn't want to, I don't know, avoid that pitfall.

"Today's match was a complete disgrace from your part, and if this is what you've hoped to achieve at Seidou, I'm thoroughly disappointed."

"Before I came here, I've spoken to your parents and an old friend of mine and for once we give you no choice. You will transfer to a different school. One you won't have any preconceived notions about nor anyone to obsess over and will once again get the help you apparently still need. And don't worry; they won't judge you for it, as it will be kept confidential."

"Until now we haven't made good on our threats in the past, an oversight on our part, but no more Satoru. This decision is final. As of Monday you'll transfer and if your coach is willing, I'd like to finalize the papers today."

Completely horrified now, and finally having the severity of the situation sinking in; Furuya started to cry in earnest. This was not how he wanted this to go at all. He knew his behavior pitfalls, but he hadn't even noticed he'd fallen into one before even entering Seidou.

Having everything laid bare before him like this was a very bitter pill to swallow. He also understood now that Kataoka-kantoku gave him the necessary warnings to change his ways and make him see, as his psychologist told him, that he'd already fallen in deep and should become aware; and he hadn't.

He didn't agree with this ultimatum, but knew he had no choice. Kataoka-kantoku had made it clear to him that if he didn't change, a next transgression would have consequences and he didn't think coach would stick up for him now.

Not knowing how to release all of his tension and frustration over everything that happened in the last thirty minutes, he could only stand there and cry as Kataoka-kantoku indeed agreed to finalize everything by tonight.

He startled as his name was called and looked towards his now apparently ex-coach in question.

"Furuya, you may not believe so now, nor may you find any comfort in my words right now, but know that we do not do this to punish you."

"You have a long road ahead of you and you could become one of the greatest pitchers of Japan, but for that to become true, you need something else than what we here can offer you."

"Start anew and conquer the nation with a team that fits you like a glove, but above all, like everyone you must work hard to achieve this. See this as a pivotal moment on your road to baseball greatness and treat it as a stepping stone to achieve a better you."

"And when we finally meet again, we'll meet you head on as rivals we'll respect and will fight to defeat with you with everything we've got!"

Tipping his head in gratefully, Furuya-ojii-san understood the full value of Kataoka-kantoku's words. He also knew it would be a while before Satoru understood them fully for the gift they were, seeing his grandson's bewildered face.

He smiled at the head coach, having a short flash-back to his own past, where someone encouraged him with almost the same words after having stumbled.

Knowing Kataoka still had to talk to the team and together with Takashima-san would finalize Furuya's transfer, Oota took it upon himself to guide a still befuddled Furuya towards the baths, missing his fellow coaches assessing gazes.

"I guess that Sawamura-boy's magic reaches far doesn't it?" Furuya-ojii-san remarked apparently out of the blue, startling the other two.

Tipping his cap in recognition, Kataoka, with twinkling eyes answered: "And you're much more observant than one would give you credit for Furuya-san" causing the other man to snort.

"One would have to be blind not to notice the changes I've seen these past months. But maybe I'm biased since I hoped that his magic would touch my grandson too, or maybe your alumni are truly too blind not having played in such a long time…" and with that he left the office, leaving two bemused coaches to follow behind him.

They wondered, even now that Furuya would leave, if they couldn't find a way to get him on board; he was sharp and observant and his insights could be of great value if he surmised this much from only watching them train occasionally.

It was food for thought for another day though, considering what still lay before them. It seemed to Kataoka that he indeed would not find many quiet moments this years and internally grumbled lovingly (although he would deny this to his dying breath if asked) about Sawamura becoming the death of him.

---

Last day of training camp

Arriving at the canteen for breakfast both Mochi and Eijun wondered, or more like, dreaded the way Ryou-san would apologize.

Mochi contemplated not for the first time, his wisdom in dating someone whose motivation he couldn't understand half of the time, but at the same time knew he wouldn't give Ryou up for anything in the world.

He just hoped that one day he'd finally fully understand his pink-haired lover as to reduce his blood pressure and imminent heart attacks.

Eijun on the other hand still had a bone to pick with his Onii-san. He brooded all night on a suitable punishment for him and Nabe but until now hadn't found a satisfying way. For now he decided to give him some payback and make him believe he'd be safe, meanwhile coming up with a plan.

Unfortunately, when they finally spotted both Miyuki and Ryousuke, the latter was sporting a look of murder while surreptitiously doting on his younger brother. Looking a bit more closely, they noticed Haruichi looked like shit, with Masuko fidgeting next to him appearing to want to be anywhere, except with the Kominato's.

Pinching his nose, Mochi wondered what on earth could have happened so shortly after the last drama and even Eijun looked like he'd had enough for the day already.

Miyuki on the other hand was munching his breakfast happily, threatening both Toujou and Kanemaru with more rice.

Happy that nothing was wrong in that corner of their Seidou Soap-Opera, both Mochi and Eijun decided to uncharacteristically ignore everything around them and getting their breakfast. It was too early to start another drama before they had anything solid in their stomachs.

Both Miyuki and Ryou-san looked surprised when the two of them went off to a quiet table, ignoring everyone and except for Eijun's hearty "GOOD MORNING EVERYONE" stayed silent as the grave, as they shuffled their food inside their mouths.

Noticing their unusual behavior, everyone looked towards the two boys wondering what was up and they couldn't contain their surprise when it was Sawamura that cut Ryousuke off of all people.

"You-ch…" Ryousuke started but was startled into silence when Eijun signaled for him to stop.

"To early Onii-san, first food, then more drama, give us some short-lived peace please" causing the whole canteen to chuckle. Even Haruichi couldn't help himself and chuckled, earning Eijun even more 'brother point's' from Ryousuke.

"You're one to talk about peace Sawamura!" Jun yelled, causing all of them to laugh even more. "You create more drama than all of us together!" and many nodded in fond agreement, but worried slightly when Eijun didn't react.

Downing the last of his food, Eijun took his tray back and yelled "Haruichi, make sure that from now on you always come to our study sessions. Make sure I won't have to hunt you down, I don't want trouble with Onii-san" and left, leaving behind a flabbergasted bunch.

Worried they collectively looked towards Mochi who ignored them all and made his way over to Haruichi, patting him encouragingly on the shoulder and hauled Masuko along for some bunting warm-up before today's game; knowing Eijun was probably hunting Chris down already, seeing him missing at breakfast.

Ryousuke meanwhile blinked, just as confused by their behavior as the rest, but grateful they'd gotten Haruichi to relax and even smile again. He caught Miyuki's eyes and shrugged in answer to the questioning look in the others. He didn't know the answer either.

Slightly confused, everyone cleaned up and made their way towards the field in preparation for the double-header today starting with the Seidou-Inashiro match.

For once, Miyuki didn't dread playing a well-known team, considering it was a practice match.

He did want to win off-course, it was a matter of pride, but knowing Inashiro, they wouldn't even play their best, making any victory he'd achieve feel less. He only wondered if they'd see Mei today like last time.

He wondered if that was what was behind Eijun's strange behavior this morning but discarded that thought just as quickly. Eijun was totally uninterested in Mei this time around it seemed; not having mentioned the other boy once; knowing they'd probably meet him today.

Following behind the rest, he made his way towards the coach, listening to his plans for today and gracefully giving up his place for Miyauchi for the first game; while Tanba's mood soured when he heard it would be Kawakami playing all nine innings, knowing it being his punishment.

He sometimes hated coach for always remembering everything.

But even though Kawakami improved himself immensely these past months, the effect of their brutal training camp eventually showed. He'd lasted longer than many expected though; even keeping Inashiro's count down for a pretty long time.

But during the eight inning he started to crack having lost five runs; attracting totally unnecessary commentary from the stands; heaping even more pressure upon him.

"Has Inashiro finally woken up or did Seidou fall asleep now? This half inning turned the complete game around!"

"I don't think Seidou can mount a comeback with only three outs!"

"And yesterday they've lost with a big margin as well! You'd wonder about the state of Seidou!"

"I guess facing one of Tokyo's top three, who've prevented anyone from reaching Koshien these past five years, are still a number too big for Seidou. I guess we can say goodbye to Koshien again this year!"

Annoyed with the audience's commentary, knowing full well how hard Kawakami worked, Eijun couldn't hold back any more.

"Boss! Kawakami is running out of steam, your training camp is way too brutal! Just sent me out there to give the guy a break!!"

Feeling his lips twitch involuntary, Kataoka could only look at him with fond exasperation.

"Sawamura, don't make me send you away with Chris to work your lower body some more so you won't have any more delusions" causing all of them to snicker.

"I could even throw with my feet if I have to Boss!" Eijun yelled, pouting at being denied once again. He hated his injury, just five more weeks!

"Sawamura-chan, come with us for a minute" was the last thing he heard before being dragged away by Masuko while Mochi chastised him all the way to their new destination.

"Pudding-senpai! Please, have mercy!" Eijun yelled. He didn't want to leave the field like this. Miyuki would have a field day.

"Mochi-nii" he tried to beg, but to no avail, only increasing his lecture.

"Stupid little brother, he knows Kawakami is on the verge of collapsing. But he also needs to test if he's able to hold out until the end under any circumstances!"

"I know Mochi-niiiiiii" Eijun whined "But I don't like seeing him like that! He grew a lot but I want to be able to support him toooooo!"

Looking at each other, Masuko had to turn around as to not betray himself by showing Eijun his smiling face.

Rolling his eyes, as Mochi had some trouble as well hiding his smile he said "While playing with your feet? That's a lot of confidence you've got there!"

"Well, they aren't using their starters are they?! So I should be able to pull it off you know!" Eijun pouted some more.

Desperately trying to keep his face serious, Mochi looked towards Masuko for help but knew it was useless when he saw the other's shaking shoulders.

Clearing his throat, he wondered how he'd gotten dragged into such a ridiculous conversation and seeing more people laughing and snickering he knew they'd been followed to once again hear Eijun in action.

"So, if you are indeed capable of doing so. Why would we give that trait away to their scouts while it is still spring training? You did notice we didn't use our starters either right?"

Wondering why everyone had their backs turned towards them, Eijun replied.

"Well yes, we do need to measure each other up. But, but, Kawakami is still too timid! I want to show him there is nothing to fear even by doing unorthodox pitching! Boss is already confident in his abilities I'm sure and if he increases his stamina even more he'd be able to play a full game without trouble. So I don't want to let all that fall apart, he needs more confidence in himself!" Eijun wailed.

"Sawamura-chan, no one could beat you in unorthodox playing." Masuko said, finally able to join the conversation again to the hilarity of everyone listening.

"But I think you can trust Miyauchi to know what to do in a situation like this. He as well knows his pitchers as well as Miyuki" and with that he nodded towards the field, right in time for all to see how Miyauchi literally grabbed their pitcher by the balls.

"Well, I guess someone else as well knows how to make unorthodox game-plays" Miyuki's dawdling voice announced, causing them all to erupt in peals of laughter, amplified by Kawakami's panicked "Where the hell do you think you're touching!"

Observing Kawakami's predicament and Miyauchi's hands-on encouragement, Eijun knew it would be all-right. Still, he didn't like it one bit and he sighed when he felt Miyuki's hand on his shoulder squeezing him in understanding and encouragement.

Because of his injury, Boss had no choice except for Tanba to play in the second game since Toujou wouldn't be able to throw a whole game. But it was surprising nonetheless that Toujou would get a chance to play in a practice game as a pitcher anyway.

A lot had changed, much for the better, but he could have done without having to experience a lot of it at the sidelines.

Miyauchi's confidence in his abilities and game calling increased as well and if he'd continue like this he could even start to give Miyuki a run for his money.

Eijun would always prefer Miyuki, but he was curious how a game with Miyauchi would play out. Maybe he'd get a chance after he recovered, who knows he thought as he got pulled back into reality by the fielders encouragement towards their pitcher.

Deciding he'd brooded enough, he made his way back, intent on cheering till the end and proving to Inashiro that they'd be a foe to be reckoned with.

After the game's conclusion, everyone cleaned up, preparing for the Inashiro-Shuuhoku game when a well-known voice made its presence known, making everyone turn around. At least it was well-known to Eijun and Miyuki.

"Hey trash-can-duty-guy, will that Sawamura-guy pitch today?"

Looking at him impassively, Eijun wondered when the world turned upside down. He only played in two games, how would Narumiya know about him already?

"I heard he's a freshman with one hell of an irregular pitch, I want to see for myself if he can hold a candle to me, being left handed and all" he continued.

'Well that answers that question' Eijun thought 'I guess it´s me being left-handed that did it'.

"You just want to know whether or not he's a threat don't you?" Narumiya's companion asked.

"What on earth are you saying Masa-san! Stop joking" Mei yelled, incensed. "I just want to see what he's capable off!"

Rolling his eyes, unable to believe he'd at one time been afraid stiff of facing this pitcher again, Eijun answered him, recapturing their attention.

"He won't be playing today."

"Eh! Really? And I was soooo looking forward to it. I heard he was a monster against Yokohama high!"

"Uh I guess" Eijun replied, wondering how long he could keep this up. It was embarrassing hearing himself described like that and hearing his teammate's chuckle.

"Well that proves it! He's a monster!"

"Could you refrain from yelling?" Eijun asked exasperated. He really wanted to finish this conversation asap knowing both Miyuki and Onii-san where looking towards him with glee shining in their eyes. But luck wasn't on his side this time, and again it seemed as if Narumiya just didn't know when to quit.

"Is he resting? Or are the rumors about him being injured true? Or is Seidou keeping him as a secret weapon? Darn this sucks! Give me at least some info man!"

'Argh just shut up blondie, Boss would kill me if I said anything untoward and you've provided enough entertainment to my two greatest nemeses already! Don't make me lose my temper and betray anything!'

"I wouldn't worry too much about Sawamura, you'll know the second you'll face him!" Eijun told him with a hard glint in his eyes. This time he wouldn't let Inashiro get away with the trophy.

Noticing Sawamura's cold demeanor immediately put everyone on high alert, with Miyuki interfering before a startled Mei could react.

"Ah Mei, still fishing for easy information hmm" he taunted, directing Mei's attention towards himself, giving Mochi a chance to drag Eijun away.

"Kazuya, you're still as blunt as ever huh?" Mei sighed.

Ignoring the jibe he continued to distract the other till he was certain Eijun would be out of the way. "I guess you're gonna be the starting pitcher this round?"

"Of course! And you're gonna play as well?"

Nodding Miyuki saw no harm in admitting that, but he didn't expect Mei's next words nor hard expression at all, having dropped all his masks after not getting what he was after.

"I do hope they pair you with something better than that last loser you'd gotten. Damn, but it was painful to watch seeing you play with someone so obviously incompetent yesterday. Or was it you not being able to lead him properly? Have your skills dropped as well after refusing my offer Kazuya?"

"I guess if your coach is willing to use players like him in these practice matches, I can't imagine the level of that Sawamura-fellow they talk about, a lucky game notwithstanding. And they dare to say he could become a threat to me. Even if he plays a bit better than that fellow from yesterday it still proves that Seidou's level really dropped huh?"

"And considering your performance yesterday I guess there is nothing for us to worry about. In the end you, Kazuya, really chose the losing side."

Blinking, Miyuki wondered what set Mei off. He continued to stare at him with an indulgent smile all through his rant, ignoring the obvious jibes towards his person. The only reaction Mei did garner was when he was badmouthing Eijun, he wouldn't forgive that.

But before he could open his mouth to retaliate something pink entered his peripheral vision; freezing everyone in their tracks when they noticed the murder written across Ryousuke's face.

"Oho, we've got a jealous little worm amidst us haven't we? It seems to me you're hard up for our Miyuki aren't you little wormy? I would suggest you keep your claws to yourself if you don't want to be mauled by something far scarier." He grinned at an obviously terrified Mei.

"You know little wormy, we at Seidou, don't forgive badmouthing our teammates easily. If you've got something to show, show it on the field, or are you afraid you'd lose if we'd have our Sawamura-Miyuki battery facing you? And therefore you try to heap your insecurity on our Miyuki? But you know, you aren't worthy of facing those two yet, so run along to the safety of your team while you still can, little worm, until it's time we crush you once and for all."

And with that he put his arm around Miyuki's shoulder, while the rest of the team assembled around them, still smiling at a now puce faced Mei who hadn't expected such a comeback since Kazuya always had been a loner.

Not knowing how to react, seeing nothing but hostile faces, Masatoshi was the one coming to his rescue.

"Let's go Mei, this guy is not one to trifle with." And with that he turned around expecting Mei to follow. But when he noticed Mei didn't, he turned around again and wondered why. It was then that he noticed something even scarier than that pink-haired fellow and a team sporting angry faces.

It was the look on face of the kid they'd spoken to first.

He was rooted on the spot, even though the kids' attention wasn't even on him, and he felt a trickle of sweat running down his back. He didn't want to know what Mei was experiencing having that look directed at him completely.

"You sure have a big mouth blondie for someone being played like a fiddle by Miyuki last year hmm?" Eijun said, moving towards him and bending so he could speak directly into the blonde's ear.

"Make sure you're prepared because you're going down, and you will go down hard little worm" Eijun whispered, revealing he heard Ryou's defense quite clear, leaving Mei speechless and wondering who on earth this kid was.

Finally able to move his limbs, he turned and walked away, dragging Masatoshi with him. He'd deny it till his dying breath but this Seidou scared the hell out of him.

Seeing them leave, Miyuki wondered what on earth just happened while staring at the backs of his teammates.

He blinked, but no, they didn't disappear. They were still standing in front of him.

He threw a questioning glance towards Mochi, wondering how Eijun managed to come back, but only got a pair of slumped shoulders and an eye-roll in return, signaling Mochi's exasperation.

Mochi sometimes wondered whether his little bro had supersonic hearing or just an inborn sense of whenever something went on in which he needed to interfere.

But nothing had prepared him to hear such vitriol coming from their blonde opponent. He was very proud of Ryousuke though. 'I guess I'll cut him some slack, I think this was better than any apology he'd manage anyway.' He thought with fond exasperation.

Eijun and the rest of the team watched until the two weren't in their sight anymore before they turned around to assess any damage done to their catcher.

But except for a slightly bewildered look he seemed okay and they laughed when they saw him opening and closing his mouth without being able to say anything.

In the end it was Shirasu that brought matters back to normal.

"Well Sawamura, at least you haven't betrayed anything to our opponent. Coach will be proud when he hears" Releasing all of their tension when Eijun turned bright red and spluttered.

"And it must have been so hard when he was praising you and calling you a monster!" Jun said, adding insult to injury.

"SPITZ-SENPAI!" Eijun wailed, "That's mean!" causing all of them to chuckle.

"You did well though Sawamura" Tetsu said, causing Eijun to beam at him, which in turn made their normally stoic captain blush slightly.

"THANK YOU CAPTAIN-SENPAI, I STRIVE TO DO MY BEST!"

"Yes, yes, we know you do Sawamura, but could you enlighten me why you are screaming like a banshee?" Boss asked, having turned up unexpectedly, momentarily catching Eijun by surprise.

"Cau-cause I didn't betray your secret battle plans Boss!!" he said to the hilarity of all.

Looking at his pitcher like he'd lost some marbles, Kataoka wondered what on earth happened now. He noticed everyone standing around Miyuki like a fort needing protection and hearing Sawamura spouting nonsense proved his suspicions that something was going on when three quarters of his team didn't show up for the final part of cleaning.

Pulling his brow he inquired further "My secret battle plans?" and was met with an enthusiastically nodding Sawamura.

Blinking he looked towards the others in hope they could clarify for him.

Clearing his throat Tetsu made to answer his coach.

"We had a run in with Inashiro's Narumiya and Harada. They were inquiring about a 'Sawamura they'd heard about' and didn't realize it was actually Sawamura they were talking to. Sawamura didn't let on and they left none the wiser."

Understanding there was more to the story, but also understanding he wouldn't hear more about it now, he nodded in acknowledgement of the part he did get told.

"That was indeed an almost heroic effort on your part Sawamura." He teased "Well done, but I don't understand what you've got to do with my so called battle-plans?" he further teased and enjoyed seeing the pitcher turn bright red, squirming with embarrassment.

"Ah, well, you see, uhmm…" Eijun mumbled to the hilarity of all and especially Kataoka and he decided to give the kid a break.

"Well, battle-plan matters aside, you should head for the canteen for lunch. We still have a game to play" And with that he dismissed them to Eijun's obvious relief, which was clear as day for everyone to see.

Boss really could be cruel when he wanted to be, Eijun thought fondly. He really liked this Boss a lot more, but not enough to incur his wrath for real.

Ah well, after hearing Onii-san's words in defense of Miyuki he kinda lost it and he hoped boss would never hear of him threatening another player. Well he didn't threaten him with bodily harm, but still, it wasn't something people expected him to do, nor did he particularly like it.

He'd rather keep his battles on the field but he couldn't let such a personal jibe against Miyuki slide. And theoretically, he still kept his threat on the field. Sighing he wondered when life became this complicated. But still, he wouldn't change it for the world this time.

He just hoped there would be a day soon that would have no drama; it was starting to get tiring. But knowing his teammates, sooner or later something would pop up. Conveniently forgetting himself in that little dialogue, being Seidou's biggest troublemaker.

He heard the other's following behind him and heard their muttered promises of utter defeat to Inashiro in the qualifiers this time. They wouldn't stumble over the pitcher this time! They had something else to fight for except a possible ticket to Koshien. They had to defend their teammates as well. And nothing united the new Seidou more than teammates they had to defend.

Not even the fear they had from last year's shut-down by that same pitcher could stop them now to conquer their opponent. And no one doubted they would meet. Ace or not, Narumiya and Inashiro where going down whenever they'd face off.

After dinner they made their way towards the field once again to watch Inashiro's game against Shuuhoku, watching how they managed to quiet Shuuhoku's line-up, learning whatever they could by observing closely.

"Well, it seems he finally caught himself again. Maybe we should send Kominato out before we play against them in official matches" Jun mumbled.

"I think Sawamura would generate a greater reaction now Jun. You did see how white the punk turned after Sawamura whispered to him right? I wonder what he said to garner such a reaction." Tetsu answered, genuinely curious how Sawamura managed to get the Inashiro ace so out of it.

He glanced towards Sawamura who was seated between Toujou and Kanemaru and looking decidedly unimpressed while giving both of them an assessment of the thrown pitches.

"Hmm still the same pattern huh, a slider, splitter, 4-seam combo. He really is unimaginative." Eijun muttered to the utter surprise of Kanemaru and Toujou who were looking at him with their mouths dropped.

"Aw come on you guys, it's not like this is all he's got. You don't think for one second that he shows' his full repertoire and ability here right?" causing Miyauchi behind him to chuckle.

"You know that only makes him more frightening right Sawamura?" he said.

Looking back Eijun shrugged. "You think? Doesn't that make it more of a pleasure to crush him?" he asked back, catching the catcher off-guard.

"Well" Kawakami answered "he does have breaking balls with horizontal and vertical movement and a powerful fastball. He is what you could describe as a prototypical pitcher you know. Someone you really hate to face."

Assessing the other pitcher, Eijun was happy to see no self-doubt shining through, only genuine worry for a difficult opponent to beat and he turned back towards the game.

"Oh, he's going for a change-up now right Miyuki? See that look on his face? Betrays him every time" Eijun called out, catching them all off-guard, especially the coaching staff, wondering where Eijun learned this as Miyuki agreed.

Meanwhile Narumiya was feeling like his old self again, basking in the attention bestowed on him while requesting his new pitch.

'You see, everyone is looking at me. Stunned by my perfection. As if someone like that Sawamura guy who played two games could stay on the same stage as me! I'm the one that brings shock to players' faces and I love it! Let's shock them even more and show everyone why I'm called the Prince of the capital!'

Ignoring his catcher's obvious irritation, still demanding this pitch, he knew he won when Masa changed position.

'Keep a close eye on me folks, I'll show you how behind you all truly are against yours truly!'

And he cheered when it was indeed successful, until he felt eyes upon him, even more piercing than his coaches icy glance and as he turned he wished he hadn't as he looked straight into unimpressed golden eyes.

Turning around, more willing to face his coach's ire than that golden gaze, he wondered about the wisdom of his actions after coach tells him he's getting subbed.

"Eh? You're subbing me?" He couldn't believe it!

Turning he walked angrily towards Masa, once again unsettled but unable to lose that feeling during the game now once again.

Watching Narumiya argue with his coach, Eijun commented quite dryly: "Well we can add a change of velocity to his arsenal now as well, right Kawakami-senpai?" causing the others to drop their mouth in incredulity.

When Mei reached Masa, telling him the unfairness of being subbed, Masa showed him absolutely no pity.

"You deserve it by consciously throwing that pitch in order to show Seidou your supremacy. You're not wrong for wanting to show off your skills, especially after that incident and your hard work to dominate Koshien. But you need to learn when the time and place are suitable to do so. And you could do with a little humbling. Don't worry, we'll keep getting stronger, Seidou is no match for us."

Looking towards Seidou, Mei could only agree. At least they'd made it to Koshien. Seidou didn't and that alone proved who the superior party truly is here.

They were getting slightly worried though by the looks they were getting in return.

It appeared as if Seidou wasn't surprised nor impressed in the least after seeing that pitch. If anything, they looked fired up to go against them.

"Well Sawamura-kun, what do you think?" a slightly cheered Haruichi asked, seemingly having caught himself somewhat after the previous game and their upcoming challenge.

"Hmm, you mean facing him in a pitcher's battle?" he asked and seeing the other's nod turned his attention back towards their opponents bench.

"Should be interesting" he answered, making the other's smile with his casual comment.

Sawamura was by no means someone who shied away from some healthy self-reflection nor bragging. But he normally only did so to encourage others. When asked directly he could be quite humble.

Only Miyuki off course could recall a time where this was completely different, hammering home once again how much had changed and how much of Sawamura's old habits and behavior was due to him.

Frowning in self-contemplation, Miyuki got startled out of his reminiscing by Haruichi.

"Well that means I have to work even harder to help you out when the time comes." Causing the other's to agree as to not be left behind.

But as the other's fought for the top-spot of being perceived the one who'd make a change in their games against Inashiro, one player silently fumed.

"Oy Miyuki, let's warm-up"

Startled, Miyuki turned around, noticing Tanba standing behind him.

For Tanba it felt like everyone dismissed him already and it irked him to no end. He knew he made mistakes, coach having driven home that little tidbit. But that didn't mean he liked being pushed aside by an injured pitcher in future games.

"It's easier to spot whether I'm in good condition if we head towards the bullpen right?" he continued, ignoring Miyuki's startled look.

"It'll make it easier for you too when you know on which pitches you can call." And with that he made his way towards the bullpen, knowing Miyuki would follow him.

Glancing towards Eijun, Miyuki could only shrug seeing the other's thoughtful glance. He was still a bit overwhelmed by everyone's defense of him and wondered whether this was Tanba's way of letting him know they were still a team; even if they didn't always agree with or like each other.

Shrugging off any unnecessary thoughts, his focus needed to be on his pitcher and the game after all, he walked after the recalcitrant pitcher whilst internally snickering of his luck to have such a diverse pitcher range to work with; especially now that he didn't have to worry about Furuya anymore.

Watching both of them leave, Eijun still carried a contemplative look on his face to the surprise of Toujou and Kanemaru, who wondered what it was that was on the pitcher's mind.

"What are you thinking about Ei-chan" Toujou asked.

"Hmm?" Eijun mumbled, not yet fully emerged from his musings causing Kanemaru to grumble about people who ignore their surroundings in favor of their own devious plans.

"Lol Kanemaru, no devious plans here" Eijun finally reacts, amused by the other's obvious fear of him getting into something else again.

"I was only wondering about why Tanba seems to really dislike me, I mean I can understand his dislike of Miyuki; he can be vexing at the best of times, but I wonder why I get the same glares."

Glancing at each other, both Kanemaru and Toujou wondered how to answer that particular musing, knowing full well it was just ordinary jealousy, when Chris came to their rescue.

"I wouldn't worry about it Sawamura, it's not like he dislikes you for you. Just ignore it, he's being childish."

Blinking Eijun looked towards Chris, filing the information away for careful consideration at a later time before answering with a hearty "YES CHRIS-SENPAI" causing Chris to flinch at the volume.

"You'll cause me to go deaf one of these days Sawamura"

"YES CHRIS-SENPAI"

"Just say my name normally okay?"

"YES CHRIS-SENPAI"

"I give up"

"NOOOOOO CHRIS-SENPAI, YOU SHOULD NEVER GIVE UP, YOU'RE FINALLY BACK!"

"…"

"I would advise you to stop wasting your breath Chris-senpai", Mochi snickered.

Agreeing Chris nodded. "I can see the wisdom of your words, now let's get this game underway shall we" and quickly escaped before Sawamura could do more harm to his poor ears as everyone else assembled to watch the game or head towards the dugout to play.

After a little while it was clear that they had at least this game in the pocket if it continued on like this.

"It seems Tanba finally found a nice rhythm hmm" Kusunoki mumbled.

"Yeah Miyuki looks pleased" Eijun answered causing everyone to look towards their catcher.

"How on earth can you tell he looks pleased Sawamura? He looks the same as always!" Higasa asked, wondering what he'd missed.

"Well, he doesn't take long to throw the ball back right. This means that Tanba doesn't need extra time between pitches to keep going and therefore pleasing Miyuki, because he can keep a steady rhythm up." He answered. "Apart from getting his outs on requested pitches of course.

"You've found out all of this about Miyuki during your stay here at Seidou?" Kusunoki asked, completely baffled. They played for over a year with this catcher but never determined any special ticks or things that could set him off or please him.

"How on earth do you do it? I mean we noticed you notice a lot, but finding these little quirks in such a short amount of time is ridiculous." Kanemaru answered.

Swallowing Eijun wondered how he could get himself out of this one. He hadn't expected people to think too deeply about his knowledge of everything Seidou.

"Well, isn't it obvious for everyone to see when you see the same people play all the time?" he countered, knowing it took him a hell lot of a time longer, but not sure how else to explain.

"Isn't that how coach too determines who's good, who needs extra training etcetera, it's not like it's something special right?"

Looking flabbergasted at their injured pitcher they all wondered when it would finally happen that Sawamura stopped surprising them.

Yes they always looked at the games, but apparently their 'looking' and Sawamura's 'observing' where two completely different things; driving home once again their need to be more conscious of the things going on around them cause it could help a great deal in the future.

They all focused back towards the field when the "STRIKE THREE, OUT" erupted over the field amidst calls of "NICE PITCHING", "THAT WAS NASTY" and "THAT WAS AWESOME TANBA!"

On the field, Miyuki indeed had a nice time.

'Well, it seems Tanba finally found his good condition again. His control is sharper than ever, even on his curveballs. Let's see how we can surprise our next batter, I guess he prefers off-speed balls, well, let's show him right Tanba? Nothing to lose here!"

And grinned in victory when the "DOUBLE PLAY" was called.

Walking back he noticed Inashiro's players looking towards him and he grinned cheekily at them before entering the dugout and listening to the statistics.

"43 pitches in five innings and regaining more and more of his form during the game" Rei-chan said, happy things were looking up again for their pitcher.

"Nice pitching" Chris complimented Tanba while reminiscing of his change of heart.

'I guess you finally understood that for you to become your best, you need Miyuki or was it Inashiro that motivated you? Whatever the reason, it seems you're finally growing as a pitcher again Tanba!"

Chris couldn't help but feel happy for his friend. Tanba wasn't a bad guy at all, but his pride could be his downfall and it seemed like the other realized that for himself now, considering that whatever the reason, this was the first time he'd asked Miyuki for help himself.

Glancing at Miyauchi he noticed the other's contemplative look while looking at Tanba as well.

That was until Miyuki informed Tanba of his intended use of the splitter from the next inning forward.

Chuckling Chris then knew exactly what Miyauchi thought.

'You thought Miyuki wouldn't see any need in showing off Tanba's splitter hmm. But Miyuki never does something without a reason Miyauchi. There are things even I can still learn from him and it does all of us well to remember that Miyuki is truly a character to be reckoned with. It's just sad that we don't have much time left to truly learn about Miyuki's strengths and motivations and instead wasted so much time. Genius or not, he definitely has more to offer than only his game-calling.

"Well, considering that a complete game performance is one of today's goals and you haven't thrown many pitches, we can control how the game will flow from the next inning on. They're going to be our true key to assure victory." Miyuki told them.

"Oho, doesn't that sound motivational coming from you" Jun teased Miyuki good-naturedly, causing everyone in the dugout to snicker.

"And here I was thinking you didn't want to call upon the splitter cause you were scared it would pass by you" Tanba mumbled, slightly red-faced and trying to save face.

"Huh?" Miyuki ask, wondering what it was that set all of them off.

Wanting to change the atmosphere Tanba issued his own challenge towards Miyuki.

"If you think you can catch it, call for it" causing Miyuki to grin deviously and accepting the thrown glove without another word as they made their way back onto the field; intent on making this a solely uncomfortable experience for Shuuhoku.

Back at the stands, Inashiro too continued to observe the game, although Mei was bored out of his mind.

"Masa-saaan! This is boring. We know they can hit, but is there even one chance I get to see this Sawamura fellow?" he whined.

"You're still hung on that?"

"Ah come one Masa-san! We know Seidou's strategy. Even though they pretend their pitchers are their weak point, both Kawakami and Tanba are pretty good."

"Well, then stop underestimating them and focus on the match. You are still intent on beating them in summer right?"

"Yeah, but Tanba, although he has a variety of pitches will only self-destruct before the end. It's hard as a pitcher to watch that!"

"Oho he's glaring at you, guess he heard you!"

"Urgh"

"Stop hiding, you're telling them you're weak"

"Masa-saaaaaan" Mei once again whined but this time it was ignored by Harada who noticed a change in Miyuki's game-calling and wondered if what he just saw was indeed correct.

"Holy shit" Mei whistled. "That looked like a combination between a fastball and a sinker. That bastard had an ace up his sleeve too huh. Who would have guessed he could throw a splitter."

"That's why I tell you over and over again to stop underestimating our opponents!" Masa chided him. "Players who are truly intent on reaching Koshien shall strive to improve them self as if their lives depend on it. And if we don't take them seriously it's going to be us who are returning home empty handed!"

"I guess" Mei mumbled looking back towards the field, waiting for the teams to change sides.

Back in the dugout the atmosphere was elated after watching Tanba's steady pitching.

"Well it seems that pairing him up with Miyuki does have a positive effect considering how nice Tanba performed right now." Oota said.

"Well, it seems that even though he faced some bumps, his condition towards the Summer Tournament is steadily improving." Chris answered but the only ones not impressed where Rei-chan and Kataoka-kantoku who knew that there was one hurdle Tanba still had to overcome to truly evolve into a steady to call upon player.

'If he doesn't overcome the fact that he continually loses points whenever he gets hit, his condition doesn't matter much. We'll still have to see if he is capable of overcoming his greatest weakness.' Rei-chan mused knowing Tesshin thought exactly the same when she saw him observing said pitcher.

Handing Miyuki a towel, Tanba found it a good moment to address his wishes for the rest of the game.

"Miyuki, please call for pitches that center around the forkball for the next three innings"

"Eh?" Miyuki said surprised, accepting the towel gratefully. "You do know that that pitch already had its maximum effect right? I think it would be more prudent to stop showing our true qualities in front of Inashiro" while internally mulling over the pitchers request.

'Nor do I want you to continue pitching it since your speed drops during the second half of a game and this will sap your grip-strength even faster!'

"I think it would be a safer option to center your pitching around your fast- and curveballs and use your forkball as bait to get batters to swing."

"No" Tanba cut him off ignoring the immediate temperature drop his words caused.

"Considering I won't have many more practice games in which I can practice my forkball I want to pitch as many as I can right now."

Not sure how to react to that, Miyuki was saved when Kataoka-kantoku spoke up for the first time.

"Tell me Tanba, are those the words spoken as a pitcher pitching for a team or were these the words of a self-conceited pitcher? Tell me, which one is it?" catching Tanba completely off-guard.

"If that was your self-conceited way of pushing your own whishes before the teams, I refuse to even consider you becoming the ace." Kataoka-kantoku said, freezing everyone in their tracks, knowing their coach was dead serious.

Regathering his wits, Tanba prepared to answer his coach truthfully, knowing it would be the only chance he'd get to make him understand his reasoning.

"I think it's a bit of both coach. I know there are many moments in which I either slow- or break down towards the end of a game. And I also know Miyuki takes all of that into the equation before he decides on which pitch to call. But, I will never stand confidently on the mound if I cannot overcome this one weakness of mine! So I request this course to strive to become the true ace of this team and there isn't more I can say about it than I already have." He concluded surprising everyone in the dugout with his motivation.

"Well, if that's how you want it, I guess I'll have to help you out hmm?" Miyuki said. "It's not like I hate gutsy guys with a firm resolution." Causing everyone to laugh and break the tension, knowing exactly who he was referring to.

"Well" Jun added "If the opponent starts treating you like a batting machine, it's on your own head…..literally: you'll have to go bald!"

"Ooh, nice idea Jun" Ryou-san agreed.

"Indeed" Tetsu also said.

"Well, we could make him grow his hair out like a pretty girl as well!" Mochi snickered.

"Hmm, let's raise the stakes a bit more" Chris finally added, causing all of them, except Tanba, to look at him with big expectation written across their faces.

"One run, he'll shave his head, two runs he'll have to shave his eyebrows too…..let's note that down."

"Oh lol Chris-senpai, that totally rocks!" was heard and everyone lost it when he continued with a "Three runs means he'll grow long hair"

Even Kataoka couldn't hide a small smile at everyone's teasing.

"Well, these are all pretty words Tanba, but first we'll need to see whether you can make them true or not. Show us how serious you are." And with that he signaled for Tanba to head into the batter's box while everyone in the stands wondered what took so long.

And with that, Tanba made his way towards the batter's box under an array of friendly catcalls, snorting to himself that it seemed like his teammates thought he wouldn't be able to hit.

'As if I'd give up here. I want to play much more baseball and taste many more victories! I've put too much into the game to call it quits here. All of my hard work is only for one goal! I want to stand on the mound of Koshien!'

And with that he readied his bat; intent on hitting whatever it was that came his way.

Before swinging however, he noticed the odd trajectory of the ball, and Tanba quickly sidestepped, narrowly dodging the out of control missile, getting a first strike on a passed ball.

Turning back, he noticed the panicked look on the pitcher's face and knew it was a genuine mistake; especially when the opponent called for a time-out and profusely apologized.

Still, it did rattle him and even though the pitcher didn't throw anything special after that, as he had to recover his momentum as well, he struck out.

Returning towards the dugout, he knew coach wouldn't be happy. Even though it wasn't on the mound, he still lost his composure. And that, after he'd declared he wanted to fight his weakness head-on, he still failed to regain himself after that first pitch.

Even more frustrated than before he watched the others bat before they had to change sides again and noticing Miyuki's assessing look didn't help matters either.

And like Mei predicted, in the end Tanba broke down once again. But compared to other times he at least knew it himself and he fought till the very end finally ending the game on a slightly disappointed note.

The change was felt through the stands as well and with the game finally over, Mei called for everyone to leave.

'Well, like I've said. He's still too uncertain of himself. One little thing and it rattles him until he can't control it anymore. Seidou truly is pitiful. And in the end, I didn't get to see that Sawamura guy in action at all….che, I'll guess I'll have to meet you head on when we meet then, mysterious Sawamura-kun.' And with that he too turned to leave, intent on beating Seidou the next time they'd meet without mercy.

Chapter Text

The Monday after the Training Camp from Hell dawned grey and rainy. It also described everyone's mood perfectly.

Especially the third-years seemed to be in a dark contemplative mood after Tanba's breakdown from yesterday.

Well, there was also a positive note to the day. They had one less person to worry about from today onwards. After morning assembly they collectively said their goodbye's to Furuya on demand of Kataoka-kantoku.

It felt slightly awkward since said boy had made himself completely scarce yesterday, not watching the games either. And they rather saw him go than stay anyway, so it wasn't a typically sad goodbye; nor one with many well wishes.

Furuya, being the silent stoic person he was, didn't say anything either, ignoring everything around him, looking pissed. Haruichi was being silenced by Ryousuke before the former could even open his mouth. So it turned into more of a wake kind of feeling than the goodbye of a 'precious' teammate.

But that wasn't what had everyone on edge. No that was Tanba's refusal to talk to anyone. They understood him needing time yesterday evening to process everything that happened, so they left him to it. But it seemed like he still blamed himself even though everyone knew that you can't change things to suit you overnight.

"It's one thing after the other huh?" Jun mumbled.

Understanding Jun's sentiment, Ryousuke said what was on everyone's mind. "Yeah and today's also the day of the ballots".

Nodding Jun added "Uhuh, Tetsu and the president already went. I guess it's finally starting, this last summer of ours!"

"Yes, it will be interesting to see who'll make it onto the roster" Ryousuke said; bringing their worry for Tanba back to the forefront.

Not sure what to say further, everyone turned to stare out of the window. Slightly uncomfortable with the future changing decisions that today held.

---

Meanwhile in the teacher's lounge, a contemplative Takashima-sensei was busy discussing the summer roster with Kataoka-kantoku.

Well discussing was a nice word for this morning's proceedings. It was more like Rei talked while Tesshin indulged her by listening.

"You know that even though he didn't perform his best Tesshin, Tanba's influence over his teammates is greater than we expected; especially with them mainly relying on him these past years. And if he doesn't change his mentality, it will unduly influence the rest of them. You've seen how worried they are." And stopped talking when the door opened, revealing Oota and Tetsu.

"The games have been assigned" Oota announced, immediately capturing everyone's attention.

Thanking Tetsu, the coaching staff bowed over the ballot results to see if they needed to make any changes to their first picks for the summer roster.

Debating for a while longer, they decided to go with it for now, but to hold off on the final decision little while longer. This, so they could evaluate if the player's they chose would continue to keep the current level, or if they'd show progress after the Training Camps tiredness left them.

Seeing that the downpour hadn't let up at all, but expecting everyone to assemble anyway considering the ballot results, they made their way towards the indoor training hall to announce the upcoming games.

Satisfied at finding everyone, except Tanba, present, Kataoka handed over the results.

While watching the others assemble into groups immediately, both Eijun and Miyuki stayed back a little while glancing at each other; wondering if anything had changed.

Slightly apprehensive they went to take a look and sighed in relieve when they found their opponent's hadn't changed.

"Well, it looks like a nice batch of schools huh Miyuki?" Eijun announced.

"It does look like a relaxed grouping indeed Eijun-kun" Haruichi answered in Miyuki's stead, able to finally talk to Sawamura without having to be afraid of slighting someone.

"Hmm, considering Tokyo's been split into east and west, I imagine some other blocks are harder than ours yes" Miyuki spoke.

"So, just six matches until Koshien; can't wait!" Eijun yelled, garnering everyone's attention.

"Aren't you positive Sawamura!" Chris said, not sure of how to take Eijun's comment.

"OF COURSE CHRIS-SENPAI! SUMMER CAN'T BE LONG ENOUGH!"

"You do know we have to face Inashiro before Koshien right? And that is without naming Ichidai, Akusen or Sensen High School!" Chris tried to temper him, ignoring his loudness.

"What about it?" Eijun asked, unusually serious. "It's not like they're unbeatable? Being afraid of them won't help us. We just have to waltz right over them! And with Nabe's support I don't see why we couldn't."

"Oy Eijun-kun! I'm not that special!" a red faced Nabe spluttered, trying to get him to stop talking.

"You're joking right?" Miyuki asked, knowing Nabe's scouting abilities full well. Very appreciative of the fact that he thought about using them early this time around and now, having one of the best databases he could ever wish for, featuring themselves and their opponents.

Shaking off their melancholy, knowing they had to face forward if they wanted any chance at summer, the third years pulled themselves together to both Eijun's and Miyuki's delight.

"Yes, Watanabe-kun must indeed be joking" Tetsu joined, mortifying poor Nabe completely but as captain he couldn't stay silent. They'd used a lot of data from Nabe in their earlier games after all, and not giving credit where credit was due wouldn't do.

Silently coming in from behind, Ryousuke almost gave Nabe a heart attack when he slung his arm around his shoulder and said "Give up Nabe-kun, your data saved us many a time. You won't win against them."

"AND RIGHT THEY ARE DATA-SENPAI!" Eijun concluded, causing everyone to laugh at Nabe who decided to just stop arguing so he could save himself some further humiliation.

"If you say so Eijun-kun, everyone" he mumbled while stepping backwards to get out of their line of sight, to a safer spot where he could fall back into obscurity once again. But internally elated at being able to bring something of value to the team as well.

Miyuki had to hand it to Eijun, he really knew how to pull everyone back on track again by giving them a new united goal. Unbeknownst to them Nabe witnessed their exchange from the beginning and filed it away for later. He found their interaction very intriguing and just knew more was at work than just a 'normal' battery partnership.

Those two worked much more behind the scenes than everyone seemed to notice and he wondered why and how he'd be able to help.

"That's right, and we still have to pay Inashiro back!" Jun yelled, catching Kataoka's immediate attention. It seemed he would get his answer without asking for it after all.

"Eh why's that?" Haruichi asked unaware of the reason as he was kept out of the loop by Ryousuke yesterday.

"Well, because we have to show them that we don't appreciate them bad mouthing our genius catcher!" Jun yelled again amidst everyone's nods and the coaching staff's raised eyebrows.

"Don't forget him putting down Sawamura without even having him seen in action" Tetsu added, garnering even more furious nods.

Blinking Miyuki just stood there open mouthed, wondering what just happened. It wasn't as if Mei hadn't said anything like that before to him after his rejection.

Well, thinking back he guessed no one was ever around to hear. He did agree with the unacceptable remarks towards Eijun though.

Eijun meanwhile smiled indulgently. He didn't mind Blondies words to him much, but he agreed with their assessment of needing revenge for Miyuki's sake. He also refused to interrupt, knowing it would bring everyone closer together still if they had a common enemy to fight.

"How dare they ridicule our newly formed killer battery?!" Masuko added to the surprise of everyone; but underscoring the coaching staff's sentiment as well. Especially when remembering that Eijun and Miyuki hadn't much chance of playing in a battery until now. But apparently they were seen like one already by everyone else regardless, and they wondered when that happened. It seemed the results they had garnered stuck to everyone, and was unrelated to the number of games played.

Kataoka knew this second that they truly couldn't get around a Sawamura-Miyuki main-battery anymore for summer. He would have a riot at his hands if he decided different and it could be a solution to the Tanba problem.

But still, there were some more technicalities to work out before he could announce any far reaching decision's on the summer line-up, even if it seemed Kawakami and Miyauchi were agreeing with everyone else.

Sighing, Tesshin just knew this was another blow to Tanba's fragile state of mind if his stricken look was anything to go by. Apparently he finally found the courage to show up the moment those words were uttered.

Closing his eyes and massaging his fore-head he sighed and mulled over possible ways to get the other back on track as well. They did need him for summer after all, considering Sawamura's current state and who knew how fast he could return.

"It's great seeing everyone on the same track, but before we talk about any 'killer battery' we need to get Sawamura back in shape and final decisions on the summer's roster haven't been made yet. We don't even know if he'll make it for the preliminaries." and with these words effectively silenced everyone simultaneously.

"I do feel hesitant to tell you all this, but we have to take into account all possible scenario's and worst case scenario, Sawamura could miss quite a few games." Ignoring everyone's stealthy glances towards an unimpressed Sawamura Eijun, who actually dared to roll his eyes at him.

"This decision was made with the team's best interest at heart and not as a lone individual. Considering past results and everyone's sentiment, Sawamura Eijun will get a spot on the summer roster, but before he comes back I hope everyone will fight together united and with the team's best interest at heart; even if it takes the whole preliminaries."

Snorting, Eijun shook his head at everyone when he noticed their at once forlorn and determined expressions; but reserving his 'I'm slightly annoyed with you look' for Kataoka-kantoku alone, for daring to suggest he wouldn't be ready to take the mound at any given time.

"Thanks Boss, but I think you'll find me ready whenever you need me so please stop talking as if you want to keep me in the cheerleading squad."

Clearly remembering that stubborn look on Eijun's face from old times, Miyuki snorted. He knew Eijun would see coach's words as a personal challenge and mentally sighed; he knew he'd have to stop the pitcher at every turn now from overworking himself. His mental to do list reaching full capacity of possible ways on how to do so; concluding he would definitely need help, catching Chris-senpai's' eye.

"Well, you do make an acceptable cheerleader Sawamura. I heard the manager's had gotten requests from the brass band already to introduce you to them." Kataoka countered, not in the slightest deterred by the stubborn rebuke the injured pitcher laid at his feet.

Blinking, Eijun knew he lost this round. It seemed coach was fully set on him recovering completely before he'd be allowed back; mentally calculating the time he had left while ignoring everyone's laughter. He would be damned if he had to sit out on all games.

Looking towards Miyuki he swallowed abruptly at seeing the sickeningly sweet smile directed at him; promising murder. It seemed he'd been found out already and stealing a glance towards Chris, it seemed Miyuki managed to inform him already as well. He opted for obliviousness and avoided any glances towards Mochi-nii or Onii-san; ignorance is bliss right? and is because of that completely oblivious of everyone's calculating looks in his direction.

Smiling secretly behind her hand, Rei-chan knew Tesshin had gotten what he wanted. Tanba looked slightly relieved at not being shut out beforehand, a chance for the roster still open and the team rallied protectively behind their injured pitcher, willing to fight for even the slightest chance of him returning to the mound.

The only game-breaker was said pitcher himself, but one look towards Miyuki and they knew he had THAT situation already firmly in hand if Sawamura's stricken look was anything to go by.

She really needed to up her bet inlay. It seemed that Sawamura was deeper in Miyuki's pocket than they'd previously thought. Thinking it was only the other way around.

Well, it was an overall win-win situation. If Sawamura managed to return early or in time, and produced satisfying results, they could switch him into games and if it took longer, everyone would fight even harder to make that happen. One couldn't wish for a better game mentality to start with in a tournament in which one is the challenger.

"This of course means that there is a chance that both Kawakami and Tanba will participate in more and lengthier matches." Kataoka spoke again "Therefore I hope that all of you will do your best to help them out as well." Swallowing, Tanba knew it was mostly for him since Kawakami had already stepped up his game tremendously from the previous year.

Although he was heartened by everyone's supportive "YEAH" he knew he had to show results soon, both for his own peace of mind and for the confidence everyone had in him these past years. He really wanted to repay everyone for their support and show them the pitching he himself was most proud off.

Glancing towards Miyauchi and Miyuki he knew he needed to swallow his pride and ask Miyuki seriously for guidance as well; he refuses to let his high school career end like yesterday's game.

Sighing, Eijun contemplated on what to do. He knew coach would keep him out of the tournament if he would be convinced he hadn't healed completely. He was still undecided if he found this 'maternal smothering' any better to the old 'You aren't reliable enough'. Both kept him from playing after all.

Well, the positive thing was that he wasn't barred from the tournament; even having been granted a spot. Knowing that with eighteen players the roster was tight already, it was a high risk to have someone on board of which you didn't know whether or not you could make use of.

Therefore he wasn't afraid he didn't have the coach's trust this time. But he hadn't counted on Boss mother henning him to this level, it threw a spanner in his plans; especially since Miyuki caught on and prevented any escape or excuse route early on.

Throwing an annoyed glance towards his catcher, he sniffed when he was met with twinkling eyes full of amusement at his predicament. He just knew that Miyuki stayed away from him on purpose at the moment so he wouldn't get a chance to get away with anything under his catcher's watchful gaze, never mind trying to find an accomplice without Miyuki stopping it from the get go.

Mulling everything over in his head once again, he still failed to notice everyone's watchful gaze on his person; all wondering what he would do next. They all knew what an injury could do to a player with Chris their living example and vowed to stop Eijun from further hurting himself or slow down his recovery even further.

They managed to pry Eijun's revalidation plan out of Chris and coach and knew if Sawamura didn't aggravate his injury, he could be back as early as their opening game or any game after that. Of course they refrained from telling Sawamura so, as to avoid him trying to heal even faster in a misplaced bid to help them out sooner.

They were lucky they were seeded and could start from the second round onwards. That's not to say that the early games would be free rides, but it did mean they still had five more weeks to get him back towards participating; two planned for medium training and the last three with regular training.

Three weeks till coach announces the player roster and four till the opening of the Tournament. Watching Miyuki keeping Sawamura in check with only his facial expression was hilarious and everyone wondered how their pitcher could be so on top of everything while being completely oblivious when that same scrutiny was directed at himself.

They also assessed Nori and Tanba. If you'd look towards last season's results they knew the wins would be very hard fought, but Kawakami really surprised them this year. If it really took Sawamura longer to return, they knew they could count on Nori; but not indefinitely. Nori himself knew best that his stamina wasn't up to a full nine innings yet, not even talking about consecutive games.

Tanba was as always an unsure factor. If he had a great day, no one could match him, but if he had an off-day it would be going down-hill really fast, putting extra pressure on the in- and outfield.

They knew Tanba realized so himself, but without the old third-year pitcher it would be imperative that he performed steadily in the upcoming games. It wasn't that they didn't trust either Tanba or Nori; it was just that the two games Sawamura did participate in, showed them what presence a true (ace) pitcher really had. And since then, Sawamura's presence hadn't diminished in the slightest; even off the mound and injured, and also upping everyone's level and moral in the meantime too.

They knew they all hoped Sawamura would receive the ace number, however small that chance may be, realizing full well that with how little he played it would be nearly impossible to defend for coach. But they couldn't be blamed for hoping now could they? They all were pulled from their musing when Chris decided to step in.

"It seems you finally understand your options and limitations then Sawamura? I guess it's going to be fine then and you won't be stupid enough to go off on your own right?" and waited for the gnashing to end as he turned towards Miyuki. It seemed he struck a nerve.

"Miyuki, it seems you were right once again. Well, now that we know we can work on it so let's get him prepared for summer shall we?" and smiled slightly at Miyuki's "Yeah, yeah, babysitting it is" but laughing out loud at Sawamura's affronted look.

"We'll meet again tomorrow morning, and Sawamura, no, no training today. Take a rest; we'll make sure you'll be able to participate in summer so trust in us too." And with those parting words Chris collected Jun and Tetsu, hell bent on a quiet evening now that he'd dealt with Sawamura. Considering they wouldn't have many quiet moments anymore when the tournament started he was adamant on grabbing the ones he could get. And a down pour just made for a perfect excuse for a different kind of 'dirty and sweaty training session'.

Casting a sideways glance towards Miyuki, Eijun wondered whether or not he was annoyed enough to ignore him for the evening or if he should grab him for some alone time.

Unfortunately the decision was made for him when everyone declared their assembly in Miyuki's room for some games and fun; intent on dragging him along to keep an eye on him.

It seemed he had to talk to Chris and Miyuki later. It wasn't that he didn't trust them to help him heal, it was just that he wasn't used to receiving such help without some major breakdown happening first or him having to struggle through it himself until someone deemed it necessary to help him.

It was an alien notion to him that he garnered the sincere concern of everyone without even having to fall apart or make himself known.

And it wasn't that he never felt insecure, no matter how the other's perceived him here. But his insecurity was nothing on his fear of everything falling apart once again.

He knew he had to let go of some of his old frustrations and pain, and though he worked through most of them, they still snuck up on him sometimes.

Turning around he looked at Boss; who still quietly observed him. Smiling slightly he nodded at him and saw him relax minutely before Boss too turned around, leaving them to their own devices; trusting Sawamura to not do anything stupid.

He startled when an arm was swung around him and a warm forehead pressed into his. "You know you can lean on me when it gets too much right?" Miyuki whispered, causing Eijun to tear up. "It's what friends are for after all" the catcher sweetly teased him further, trying to help him get a grip on his warring emotions.

He'd seen Eijun battle them on and off since yesterday morning, waiting for a chance to intervene; knowing he'd hit his limit soon.

"You're mean Miyuki Kazuya" Eijun hiccupped, trying to hold back his tears. He felt drained suddenly and didn't know how to act right now.

"How so?" Miyuki asked, noticing the other's left them alone, giving him a chance to sort their pitcher out, with a warning glance from Mochi to not aggravate him further.

"Because you know me too well"

"Ah, since I've thwarted your gloriously stupid plan of insecurity induced over-training?"

"You couldn't have said that any nicer?" Eijun asked with a pout.

"I could have called you gloriously stupid" Miyuki countered.

"Point taken" Eijun conceded, smiling slightly.

"Ready to tell me what's going on or do you want me to keep guessing?" Miyuki asked, wondering if Eijun would finally tell him.

Leaning against Miyuki, wondering why they didn't have any benches in the indoor training room he sighed.

"It's not one thing per se; I guess it's an accumulation of everything that happened lately. And I do feel guilty for not being able to change Furuya you know. I keep wondering if we did the right thing or that this killed all his chances. And with how sad Harucchi is, it makes it even harder. My injury does make me feel useless at times, but I think the strangest part is everyone trying to help me out without me even having to ask for it. And I don't mean Mochi-nii dragging me off everywhere to keep my head occupied enough to not worry or Masuko-senpai giving me pudding without me having to steal it. I mean people I haven't even known existed within the team come up to me to talk to me ask me for tips and tricks or just chat with me without yelling to keep quiet."

"They sit with me at games and cheer or drag me off to practice with them. Did you notice my tire is actually getting cleaned every time I use it? I mean who on earth waits for me to be done with my evening runs and then secretly clean my tire?" Eijun asked completely baffled.

Dragging Eijun in more closely, Miyuki couldn't help but laugh softly at the other's obvious bafflement.

"So in conclusion you are overwhelmed with all the changes you and I have wrought and unsure how to handle them?" he asked, smiling again at the other's nod.

"Why don't you just undergo it and stop analyzing every single consequence our changes wrought?" Miyuki asked, sincerely interested in the other's answer.

Looking up, Eijun blinked in surprise. "But wouldn't everything get out of our control if we don't carefully monitor what happens whenever we change something?" he asked.

Rolling his eyes in fond exasperation Miyuki lightly pinched Eijun's cheek before answering.

"Eijun, everything has already spun out of our control. We can only ride the waves and steer things whenever we think they aren't going in the right direction. The fact that Furuya left will make everything uncertain for the future anyway and we have no possible way of knowing what that change will bring. We can only do our best, keeping in mind what we definitely don't want to happen, and keep moving forward to the best of our abilities. Trying to stay on top of everything will drive you crazy, so stop wanting to control it all, just be you, and just do what you always do whenever it needs to be done. It'll be enough."

Having shared his burden, and having Miyuki catch him, Eijun felt relieved and he didn't realize he was crying until Miyuki gently wiped his tears away with a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. Of course the guy would have a clean handkerchief ready for whenever he needed it, the control freak, Eijun thought.

It proved once again that he'd better leave the control part up to Miyuki as he was really unsuited for it.

Relaxing and now fully leaning against Miyuki, Eijun felt like a weight fell from his shoulders; grounding him once again. He knew it was thanks to Miyuki and he wondered if he'd kiss him now, he'd scare him away.

The decision was taken from him when Miyuki pulled him even closer, hugging him and leaning his head on his; giving him the comfort he'd obviously needed even though it cost him a great deal of courage to do so. With him being completely unfamiliar with anything related to skin ship.

Smiling happily Eijun knew they would get there sooner or later but for now he was content. Miyuki saved him once again from himself and the future was an adventure ready to be taken. Tomorrow would be a new day.

Chapter Text

As if the weather was tantamount to everyone's new mind-set, the next day dawned sunny and clear with some fluffy white clouds gently drifting above them.

It seemed like everyone's worry was slightly put to rest after yesterday's meeting and it didn't hurt that a new flame was lit in everyone's heart too.

They were also happy to notice that Sawamura seemed more like his old self again. Whatever magic Miyuki pulled, it seemed to have worked and the progressing haunted look that took over their pitcher's eyes these past days had finally diminished.

He also seemed more relaxed and less concerned doing his work-out routine with Chris today. More than anything else, this put them at ease as they were, until that point, still slightly worried that Sawamura would overdo it even with everyone warning him.

Watching him follow Chris' instructions made them smile as they noticed Sawamura's slight disgruntled expression at the easiness of the task; especially since it was good-natured grumbling instead of his earlier 'it feels like this is holding me back and I don't appreciate it' grumbling.

But what amused them even more was Chris' unrepentant look, clearly telling Sawamura he wouldn't relent even if he kept it up, or worse, make him do it for even longer.

"Stop complaining Sawamura, there is nothing wrong with going back to the basics" Chris finally spoke, rolling his eyes at the unhappy mumbling sprouted towards him.

"I know Chris-senpai, but I don't like the fact you have to lower yourself to watch over me while doing such boring training. You could spent this time much better and train yourself. This lowly servant is undeserving of your attention!" Eijun sighed, genuinely distressed that he made his favourite senpai halt his own training to get him in shape for summer.

Not sure how to react to that, and not for the first time wondering what on earth it was that made Sawamura put him on a pedestal as high as Mount Fuji, Chris looked around for some much needed help.

He really was incapable of dealing with a worshipping Sawamura. He'd rather the other rebelled at his proposed training schedule than his apparent 'sacrifice' of his own training time.

Noticing the others laughing outright at his predicament, he knew he had to deal with it himself. Especially when he saw the tell-tale flash of Nabe's camera catching his obvious discomfort while Sawamura's expression turned completely solemn as he didn't give a reply.

Even Tetsu and Jun didn't feel generous enough to interfere it seemed, seeing them leaning against each other with Jun grinning in obvious amusement and Tetsu, having crossed his arms, fighting to hide the smile that wanted to come out so obviously. He wondered if he had to show those two once again who the boss was as it seemed they hadn't learned their lesson yet yesterday. Well, practice makes perfect after all and he would make good use of that saying.

But for now he would have to hurry though; seeing that Sawamura's eyes were filling with tears and if he didn't hurry would result in him not being able to get rid of an overly apologetic kohai for the rest of the day and therefore no chance for some 'private practice' tonight.

"Sawamura" Chris started to talk, desperately searching for the right words to stop the water works in the making; ignoring Sawamura's pleading eyes looking up at him in distress.

"Coach and I know what we are doing and there is no need to worry for my personal training. I can promise you that you won't hold me back as we've come up with an alternative plan for me. So please focus on your training now so you are fully prepared for summer." 'And so I can focus on making a different kind of training schedule while you are nicely occupied' he internally promised himself while throwing his boyfriends a sweet smile which put them on edge immediately.

Glancing at each other, both Jun and Tetsu couldn't hide a small grin though; mission accomplished it seemed. It was another thing they had Sawamura to thank for. Since he pulled Chris back, their love live had taken on a new dimension and they loved it. Even if it meant having Chris think he was the one in charge. If that was what it took to get him to fully let go, they would gladly let him think so.

It seemed some of Sawamura's traits could come in handy, and being sneaky or roundabout about something had its value indeed. They really had to thank Nabe for pointing that out; it made them understand and appreciate the workings of both Miyuki and Sawamura that much more and they were more than willing to help those two whenever the situation called for it, even if they didn't get what their end game was.

'Speaking of Sawamura' , they both thought simultaneously, turning back towards their boyfriend and said pitcher, and started laughing out loud, unable to hold it in.

One could really confuse him with an overly happy dog now. The only thing missing was a happily wagging tail and perked ears seeing how he beamed at Chris; who in turn rolled his eyes and told him to go back doing his sets.

"After this we'll do some light tube and dumbbell exercises Sawamura, but we'll leave any dexterity exercises for next week."

"YES CHRIS-SENPAI" Eijun shouted, completely back to his happy self now that his worry for interrupting Chris-senpai's own training was put to rest.

"Just finish this and then join the throw and catch practice please" Chris said, ignoring the shouting while rubbing his head exasperated. Really, what on earth did he do to gather such enthusiasm and how could he get him to taper it down. Glancing at Miyuki told him the answer already though; 'no chance in hell' was clearly displayed in that shit-eating grin of his as if he was psychic.

"But absolutely NO throwing Sawamura" he once again reminded the now happy pitcher.

"OF COURSE CHRIS-SENPAI, I WOULD NOT DARE GOING AGAINST YOUR INSTRUCTIONS!" Eijun shouted put out. How dare Chris-senpai think he would do something to set back Chris-senpai's teachings! Happily ignoring the times he did so anyway.

Giving up for the final time, Chris chuckled, clearly remembering when said pitcher indeed did so but had to concede that he didn't do it on purpose. Chris finally admitted to himself that where Sawamura was concerned he utterly lost and was better of just going with the flow. He wouldn't be able to deter him anyway.

Shaking his head he kept watch over the last set of training exercises before sending him to the others, keen on observing if these set's would have made a difference in his body's handling of catches now that he was obviously relaxed. Yes, going back to the basics wasn't a bad idea and he had glanced towards Kataoka-kantoku who told him to re-incorporate them.

Smiling he wondered if Sawamura would ever find out how many people were secretly more concerned about him than they'd let on.

Looking towards Miyuki, Chris wondered if the catcher even understood the fact that people could be worried about him too.

It was slightly adorable to see how oblivious Miyuki could be outside of baseball. It was even more apparent when put next to someone like Sawamura.

But Chris had to admit that while Miyuki seemed to adapt to Sawamura's quirks and moods quite well he wondered when Miyuki would see the light concerning Sawamura's feelings for him.

He refused to get involved in that particular subject though, so he would never mention the bet everyone in the First-string had concerning their relationship status; he didn't want to die young after all. Miyuki's repercussions would be dire indeed if he found out others found out before him and had the gall to bet on his obliviousness. No, when irked, Miyuki could give Ryousuke a run for his money. He'd rather stay safe.

Nodding to himself, Chris remembered one important part though as he wasn't sure about Sawamura's academical progress.

"Sawamura, don't forget to study as well, as there are tests coming up so one more reason to not overwork yourself!"

"YES CHRIS-SENPAI. THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION ONCE AGAIN!" Eijun shouted back, touched that Chris-senpai had his best interest at heart.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about in that regard Chris-senpai" Kanemaru answered, having overheard the last part of their conversation.

"His grades are pretty good and we do have regular study sessions. I doubt he'd endanger his participation by failing now."

"Well, that's reassuring to know." Chris thanked Kanemaru, glad he didn't have to worry about his grades as well as recovery.

"He doesn't always seem like it, but he's oddly smart" Kanemaru mused, remembering all the times Eijun helped them out with questions, not knowing it was Eijun's second time going through it; and with not having to shoulder a whole amateur team he had actual time to study.

Watching the pitcher for a little while longer, Kanemaru excused himself to get some extra bunting practice in.

He really wanted to make the First-string as soon as possible as well, therefore he couldn't afford much time to dilly-dally or contemplate the complexity that was Sawamura Eijun. That was a lost cause anyway; he'd rather spent his time doing something that would actually achieve results and went off in search of Toujou, now that training at the Second-string was over and he had free time.

Overlooking the field, Kataoka-kantoku noticed the stealthy looks being cast towards the mound if no one thought anyone was looking.

It once again underlined the importance of a true ace for Seidou.

Sighing he wondered what to do. As he couldn't assess Sawamura's condition yet it would be too big a risk to make him the ace right now. But giving the ace number to Tanba or Kawakami was also risky.

Comparing the pitcher's data, it would be a match between Tanba and Kawakami, since Sawamura had only two games to show.

But when considered moral, it was Sawamura who was far above all pitchers, even getting Kawakami to gain confidence and step up his game-play tremendously.

There is also the option of choosing an ace for the Summer Qualifiers and then, if they managed to reach Koshien, to change it again since they could technically change an ace before every big tournament. But that would seem very unfair to the ace for the qualifier games.

Mulling over what to do, even with three more weeks to go and having some things he decided he first wanted to talk with his players before making a final decision.

"Takashima, could you please call Yuuki, Miyuki and Kawakami?"

Blinking, Rei wondered what it was that Tesshin came up with now, but did as requested without asking anything.

Oota on the other hand kept wondering why Kataoka-kantoku requested those three specific players. As of late he tried to make sense of Kataoka-kantoku's decisions by mulling over the why's and what's, slowly understanding a lot more about some of the decisions the head coach made and his own obliviousness.

He felt really good when after his blow-up at Furuya, Takashima-sensei complemented him and Kataoka nodded at him approvingly. It felt like his first step towards a better him. And instead of voicing his question's out loud, knowing now he would get his answers if he kept quiet instead of babbling like a lost baboon, he mulled about possible reasons.

He knew it would probably take him a little while longer to understand said reasons after the meeting, but he finally felt confident he would get there in the future instead of always feeling out of the loop. And, if he didn't get them even after contemplating them, he could then ask for clarification without having to feel stupid for doing so.

Waiting for a couple of minutes more, Takashima came back with the requested players. He beckoned them to follow him slightly away from the rest.

Squatting down, Kataoka wondered how best to voice his reasons for calling them o