Kenma can feel the heat radiating off the red diamond dust as he steps up to the plate, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the collar of his jersey. Adjusting his rather loose grip on the bat he looks up and meets Shouyo’s gaze from his position on the mound.
His eyes are hungry.
Kenma holds his bat over the plate, a deliberate move to calculate his best course of action. It’s the bottom of the 7th inning of their practice game, Nekoma is leading 6-5, there’s 1 out and Lev is inching off first for the steal. Kenma could bunt but it wouldn’t leave many options for the hungry three-hole cleanup waiting behind him.
Swallowing, he positions his bat, waiting for the pitch. Shouyo winds up, brings his leg high into the air and with a pressure that momentarily forces Kenma to tense, swings his arm completely down. It’s a slider that just makes it into the strike zone on the very corner of the plate that lands solidly in Kageyama’s glove.
The umpire yells strike. Kenma adjusts his grip again as he recognizes this pattern of play. It should be a fastball to the inside.
The moment Shouyo raises his leg, Kenma shifts back half a step. Just as he predicted, Shouyo’s insanely fast inside pitch comes flying towards him.
Kenma swings. The satisfying clang of his bat hitting the pitch rings in his ears as he tosses his bat and runs towards first. The ball lands deep in the center outfield and Kenma has enough time to comfortably stop at second. Lev speeds towards home. Tanaka’s throw isn’t fast enough to stop Lev from scoring.
He winces when he hears the coach yelling that he could have turned that play into a triple but he tunes him out when Kuroo steps up to the plate and bows at the ump.
From his place behind the mound, he can see the muscles in Shouyo’s back twitching in irritation. Shouyo hates when his fastball is hit, partially from the fact that if the opposing batter realizes what it is, it's relatively easy to hit.
Kuroo taps the rim of his helmet and Kenma sighs a little. He hopes Shouyo will recover.
Shouyo winds up. The pitch flies from his hand, a changeup, and Kuroo doesn’t even flinch. With startling accuracy, Kuroo holds out long enough and swings hard enough to hit the changeup into the back-score board.
Kenma sighs again. He jogs to home, glancing back at Shouyo. Kenma’s eyes widen. Shouyo’s wiping the sweat from his eyes and readjusting his cap but otherwise looks unfazed. In fact, he’s grinning.
A shiver runs down Kenma’s spine; he looks away.
The practice game ends in Nekoma’s win. Karasuno wasn’t able to recover from Kuroo’s two-run homer – not that they didn’t desperately try. Kageyama hit a triple when Shouyo was on first which easily brought the pitcher home but Tora struck out the next two batters, leaving Kageyama stranded on third.
Shouyo runs over to Kenma after the game. “Kenma!! Catch some of my tosses!”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Kenma says. His hand trembles slightly as he lifts the water bottle to his lips.
Shouyo pouts as he grabs the front of Kenma’s red jersey. “Why?”
“DON’T SHOW OFF YOUR PITCHES TO THE OTHER TEAM HINATA-BOKE!”
Shouyo winces, glancing over his shoulder at the menacing catcher barrelling towards them.
Kageyama seizes Shouyo by the back of his jersey.
“I wasn’t!” Shouyo whines. “They were all gonna be fastballs!” Shouyo shrugs him off. “It’s not like you were going to catch for me.”
“You’re not the Ace,” Kageyama says simply. He glares at Kenma who merely watches the exchange silently.
Shouyo pushes him away; he whips around and turns that burning gaze back onto Kenma. “Anyways, Kenma, please? Just for a little!” Shouyo clasps his hands in front him in a prayer.
Kenma’s fingers twitch. It’s so hard to say no to Shouyo, with his big eyes and slightly flushed cheeks. The times he has said no to Shouyo flash through Kenma’s memory and he can’t bear to see Shouyo’s face crumble right now.
“After dinner,” Kenma concedes feeling his chest flutter when Shouyo’s smile widens.
“Yay! Later then!” Shouyo’s fingers brush Kenma’s as he runs back over to the Karasuno dugout.
Kenma’s chest squeezes pleasantly.
Kuroo whistles. “You’ve got it bad for Chibi-chan.”
Kenma hides his blush by pulling the rim of his cap over his eyes. “I do not.”
It’s a pain to catch for Shouyo. The ball often breaks strangely at the plate if he isn’t throwing his absurdly fast pitch. And although it maxes out around 150 km/hr, his tiny stature certainly doesn’t look like he could throw as fast and as close to the chest as he can.
Shouyo winds up and the pitch breaks sharply at the plate. Kenma’s eyes widen and he thrusts his glove to the left. The ball hits the tip of his catcher’s mitt and bounces off.
“Ah! Sorry!” Shouyo calls as he collects a new ball from the box.
Kenma hunches down wearily, his muscles twitching and aching. “One more.”
Shouyo pouts momentarily but smiles before he lifts his leg. His eyes darken and a shiver goes down Kenma’s spine. Shouyo looks every bit like the gluttonous crow his team is likened to.
Despite having pitched all nine innings, Shouyo throws the perfect fastball into Kenma’s waiting glove.
“You’ve developed some control,” Kenma says.
Shouyo grins. “Kageyama was getting tired of moving his glove when my pitches went wild so I’ve had to improve.” He squeezes his glove tightly between his hands. “Besides! If my pitch ended up anywhere near the middle of the plate, it would get hit deep into the center field and I hate giving away hits like that.”
Kenma picks up the last of the discarded balls, eyeing Shouyo over his shoulder.
“You mean like today?”
Shouyo’s eyes go wide like saucers. Kenma dumps the balls into the box.
“You were able to hit that because Kageyama’s pattern was too predictable,” Shouyo grumbles, his expression souring. “That’s why we have to get better.”
Slowly, Kenma brushes his knuckles against Shouyo’s jaw. The pitcher relaxes immediately and catches Kenma’s hand before he would have pulled away.
“You are getting better Shouyo,” Kenma says softly. “Every time we play it’s like I’m choosing a harder difficulty in my favourite game.” He leans in and presses a kiss to the corner of Shouyo’s mouth. “And I can’t see a limit to your potential.”
There’s something charming about the way Shouyo throws his glove down to fling his arms around Kenma’s neck. Although Kenma isn’t much taller than Shouyo; Shouyo fits nicely in his arms.
Kenma buries his nose in Shouyo’s hair. At times like this, they aren’t baseball players on rival teams but simply boys in love. Shouyo’s arms are tight around Kenma’s neck.
“Come on Shouyo, it’s getting late,” Kenma says after a long period of silence.
Pressing his face hard against Kenma’s chest, he utters a muffled “don’t wanna” and curls his fingers into Kenma’s shirt.
Kenma laughs a little and gently peels Shouyo off. “Until lights out,” Kenma promises.
Shouyo seizes his hand. “Okay, okay as long as we cuddle,” Shouyo says as he leads them towards the team rooms.
True to his word, the moment they enter the Nekoma room, manoeuver over the sea of tangled limbs to Kenma’s futon, Shouyo curls up in Kenma’s lap. Kenma bites the inside of his cheek to stop his smile as he rests his chin on Shouyo’s shoulder.
Playing with Shouyo’s calloused fingers should be on Kenma’s list of things he secretly enjoys but probably shouldn't. “Has your nail polish completely chipped off?”
Shouyo hums while inspecting his nails. “I think so. Ugh Kageyama will get on my case the moment he notices.”
Kenma reaches into his bag to fish for his bottle of clear nail polish. “Here,” he says once he finds it, “let me do it for you.”
The tune Shouyo’s humming goes noticeably more upbeat as he obliges, letting Kenma briefly thread their fingers together before he applies a generous coating to each nail. While the polish dries Shouyo’s hands are out of commission and he is truly at the mercy of Kenma.
Although, Kenma merely winds his arms tighter around Shouyo’s waist and presses his nose into the junction between Shouyo’s neck and shoulder.
Giggling softly, Shouyo gingerly picks up a wayward ball to finger the stitches. Shouyo smells like soap with a hint of leather. It’s comfortable.
Kenma’s eyelids droop. It’s so nice having Shouyo in my arms.
“Kenma?” Shouyo whispers.
He hums his reply.
“Thank you,” Shouyo says, “for everything.”
A smile pulls at Kenma’s mouth. Shouyo’s thanking him? If anything, Kenma should be thanking him. If he had never met Shouyo he would never practice as hard as he does now. (As in, not skipping practice or only doing the bare minimum.) If he had never met Shouyo, he wouldn’t be as motivated to make it to Koshien and to make the Battle at the Garbage Dump happen.
If he had never met Shouyo, he wouldn’t be in love and happier than he’s ever been in his life.
“I love you,” Kenma says, instead of any of the other things running through his mind. Kenma lifts his head at the same moment Shouyo tilts his head back to brush their noses together.
“Does that mean you’ll catch for me tomorrow?” Shouyo asks innocently. At the scandalized expression on Kenma’s face, Shouyo laughs. “Sorry, bad joke. I love you too.”
It doesn’t come as a surprise when Kuroo breaks them apart thirty minutes later by reminding Shouyo he should probably return to the Karasuno room before the coaches do a head count. Shouyo takes an aggressively long time to leave, kissing Kenma with more kisses than the rest of Nekoma ever wanted to witness. When he does finally leave, Kenma watches him saunter off, taking Kenma’s heart with him.
“You’ve got it bad for Chibi-chan,” Kuroo says, again, leaning against the door frame with a smirk curling his lips.
This time, Kenma laughs quietly and turns to Kuroo with a small smile. “Yeah. Yeah I do.”