Chapter 1: Sleepless night.
It was the fourth time that the video was playing. He was analyzing every little detail,every little sign that could explain to him how they managed to lost. And there was always one thing that stood out: that dead ball right on Shirakawa's helmet. Normally, he would have called for a time and check on Sawamura's condition. If he had done it, the mood of the team wouldn't have been broken, Sawamura would have been able to switch gears in his head... and their senpais would...
He was munching nervously on his thumb, completely exhausted, but yet he couldn't go to sleep, he had yet to finish the menu for the pitchers. His goggles still on his face -his glasses were somewhere in his room, forgotten- he was now absentmindedly looking at the screen, lost in his thoughts.
1 week had passed since the final against Inashiro, but he still wasn't mentally past it. He had been named captain and cleanup hitter, and he had to manage the new team. Honestly he would be lying if he said he hadn't except the coach to choose him as the new captain, but it was still shocking to him, because he had to take after Tetsu-san, their unwavering pillar.
He needed to work harder than ever in order to not waste everyone's efforts. He needed to...
“You need to stop looking at this freakin' video, Miyuki.”
Miyuki snapped out of his thoughts to be greeted by the sight of his green-haired vice captain.
Kuramochi didn't look pleased at all. Maybe because it was past midnight and they were supposed to sleep. The catcher put on his usual grin and looked up at him. Kuramochi didn't buy it one bit.
“I'm damn serious. This thing kept you awake almost every night for the past week. It's useless at this point to watch it, you're only losing precious sleep time.”
“It wasn't like I could sleep either way, so...”
“So what? You're punishing yourself or something like that? It was the whole team's fault and you know it...”
“It helps me keep my head on my shoulders, though.” he replicated almost immediately. “I can say the same thing to you Kuramochi, why aren't you asleep?”, Miyuki said, with his trademark grin.
“Don't try to change the subject, we're talking about you asshole!”
“ Eh~ You're worrying about me?” the smirk still in place.
Kuramochi was glaring at him, frustrated. That guy couldn't be honest with others or himself for once?
He sighed. There was no point in getting angry at him. Miyuki was automatically shutting himself off from him, because he didn't want to deal with any kind of crappy emotions he was feeling right now. In fact, if the shortstop wasn't sleeping yet, was because he was indeed worrying for his captain. But that idiot kept on pushing him and the team for the past week, trying to deal with the issue by himself. Like he always did. He could fool the others by his words, his cocky attitude, but his movements were betraying him. He wasn't as sharp as he was before the match last week, and he was dozing off from time to time. Even if he was the Miyuki Kazuya, he was nonetheless a human being, and every human has a breaking point. And the most likely to notice that, was Kuramochi.
The latter stood straight in front of where Miyuki was sitting and said:
“Yeah, I'm worried about you. So what? I can't?”
The smirk on his face had been wiped off. Miyuki was taken aback. He didn't expect his friend to be that straight forward with him.
As expected, Miyuki wasn't quite able to deal with such honest words, so Kuramochi left it here. It was too late now to begin such a conversation. Kuramochi put a hand on his friend's shoulder and looked straight at him.
“If you're not in your bed in the next ten minutes, I'm gonna drag you to it myself. And I'm fucking serious.”
A little smile spread on Miyuki's face.
“Got it, Mom;”
“Tch! Good night, you asshole captain.”
Miyuki looked at him as he walked to the door, the smile still on his face. It faded right after Kuramochi stepped out of the room. He let out a long, exhausted sigh and turned the TV off.
Crap. He didn't finish the pitchers' menu.
Well... He'd rather be killed by Kuramochi than the Coach, for not finising his duty as a catcher, so screw it all. He picked up the notebooks and headed to his room: he was going to finish his work in bed, so Kuramochi wouldn't be able to complain about the fact that he didn't do as he was told.
With a final yawn, he switched the lights off, and let the darkness hide his emotionless face.
“Kuramochi-senpai! Cheetah-sama! Are you awake?” shouted Sawamura, in the dorm room number 5.
“Shut your mouth, moron, of course I am. It's already past 6:AM, I'm already dressed.”
“Ah! That's not fair!” said Sawamura, straightening himself from his bottom bunk so that he can be face to face with his senpai.
“I said shut your trap!” growled Kuramochi, head chopping his kouhai.
Tch. What a crappy night. He did get some sleep, but he was still tired. He didn't stop thinking about the team's situation and all the burden that has been put on Miyuki's already loaded shoulders. Leading the pitchers was already a hard task, but he was now the fourth batter and the captain; so he had to watch over the entire team. Without forgetting his own training. Among all the other high school teams in Japan, they were only him and Harada-san from Inashiro to held all these key positions of a team. Maybe it's because the burden on Miyuki would be bigger than ever, that Kataoka kantoku appointed both Kuramochi and Zono to be his vice-captains.
Either way, the bastard is straining himself and he had to do something about that. For starting, he was going to watch over him during practice, analyzing his behavior, because the last thing they all wanted was to see him collapse on the field.
“Bip... Bip...Bip...Bi... crash!!”
Groaning, Miyuki threw the first thing he could put his hand on ( a baseball) at his alarm and broke it in the process. He cursed at it, and propped himself on his elbows. Great, a headache was showing the tip of its nose. He quickly got out of his bed and put on his uniform. He needed to swallow some coffee and fast, if he didn't want the headache to spread even more. Perhaps he should had taken Kuramochi's advice and go to sleep early, but work is more important, especially when it comes to his pitchers.
While walking towards the refectory, he tried to put on a more decent face but it was all in vain because as soon as he entered the refectory, he was greeted by a:
“You look like shit!”
A cracked laughter erupted from his lungs, half-genuine.
“Well, well, good morning to you too, Kuramochi-kun. You don't look so bad yourself.”
“Can't you speak to someone without sarcasms, asshole? Did you sleep?”
“.... I tried my best though.”
“So you didn't.”
Kuramochi sat besides Miyuki, watching him gulping his second cup of coffee. An awkward silence passed between them; Miyuki didn't know what to say while Kuramochi was boiling to say every thoughts that were banging in his head. He didn't had the chance because the first years, as always, came at their table to ate breakfast together.
They didn't talk to each other until the end of the training, principally because they were busy as ever, and the three pitchers were going through their own evolutions and problems; they needed as much time as they can have to train, and the only one able to gave them all of that was Miyuki.
The latter was, in appearance, perfect in everything he did: guiding perfectly Furuya and Sawamura, pushing on the right buttons to make them work hard but not too much, giving confidence to Nori... and with the two first-years, it was quite the deal to pace them.
The new team was slowly finding its mark, having lost most of the batting power was firing up the first and second years who were fighting to be in the roster. And yet, Miyuki was still having remorse, and they were pulling him back.
While thinking, Kuramochi was batting close to the bullpen so he could watch how Miyuki was doing. Well... he still looked like shit even though it was past 5:PM. But he was smoothly hiding the dark circles under his eyes with his goggles, and was wearing his helmet almost all the time, so the others didn't notice at all. What a great freaking actor he was...
Kuramochi was so deep in thought, he didn't notice that Nori was looking at him with concerned eyes.
“Ahem... Kuramochi? You look like you're going to shoot lasers from your eyes, are you alright?”
“Ah! What the... ah, it's just you Nori...”
The sidearm pitcher was looking at him, understanding the source of the other's concern.
“Actually, I thought it was my imagination but... You also noticed, right? That Miyuki is a little bit acting strange... more like trying to hide something from us?”
Surprised, Kuramochi turned his full attention to Nori. So he did notice something was off too?
Kuramochi dropped his bat on the ground and scooted closer to the pitcher in order to speak less louder.
“Yeah, the final has been a great shock for all of us, but I think it carved way deeper in Miyuki's mind.”
“And he's not the kind of person to talk about his problems, so he will not come to us of his own...”
added sadly the smaller one.
“Honestly, I thought time would be the best cure for him, but it's already been a week since then, and he's still as silent as he was on day one, so...”
“Do you think he would hear us, if we come and talk to him about it?” Nori asked, hopefully.
“Nope. Sorry, but that idiot is the kind of guy that deals with his problems when they are already to the point of no return.” Kuramochi said, while shaking his head.
“Eh?” A wide-eyed Nori was staring at him.
“That is to say, if he is sick, he would take care of himself just after collapsing and burning with a high fever. I hate that self-destructing part of him.”
Nori seemed to understand, a sad smile on his face.
“Yeah, I guess you're right. It would be better if just one person could talk to him.”
“Don't worry, I'm on it.”
Nori let out a little chuckle. Kuramochi was always complaining about Miyuki; how he has a twisted personality, how sarcastic he is, self-centered... but he deeply care for him. They're always together by the way.
“Either way, go practice in the bullpen Nori. Go make sure the first-years don't kidnap Miyuki after practice to pitch some more.” the shortstop sighed, scratching the back of his head.
“Yeah, count on me!”
He turned away, picked up his bat and continued his training.
If that idiot is also watching the video again tonight, he was so going to beat some sense into him.
6:PM. The evening training was finally over, but everyone was going to train on their own in the covered ground, like every night. Some of them were cleaning up the equipment, and the others like Haruichi and Zono were already doing their batting.
Furuya was already bathing, so it left just Sawamura to annoy Miyuki.
“Come on, Miyuki-senpai! I need to practice more on my change-up if I don't want to forget it!” Sawamura pleaded to his captain.
“We just finish practice, can't you let me breathe for a second?,” Miyuki smiled.
“I can't afford to loose my concentration!! Let's go!”
“Aye, aye, I got it, but 10 throws and then you go wash yourself, okay?” Miyuki sighed.
“Roger!” the younger one smiled happily.
“If you keep on asking for more, I'm gonna drown you in your bath, Sawamura!” Kuramochi yelled, from the other part of the ground.
“I'll be good! Spare me, leg ghost!”
Miyuki smiled. Honestly, he wanted to rest to make his headache shut up, but it was his duty, and the change-up was a new important weapon that he needed to polish more. So they headed to the second cover ground, to train in a more quiet atmosphere. While Sawamura was babbling frantically, the catcher swallowed down some dry medecine.
“Remember, 10 throws, alright?”
Sawamura put himself on position and Miyuki crouched, putting on his catcher mitt. The southpaw threw the first ball. Outside and low.
“Looking good. Next one, inside course!”
Second ball. Third. Fourth. When the eighth one came, Miyuki felt a wave of nausea running through him and his sight went blurry for a split second; he didn't see the ball coming his way but it went a little out of course and whizzed past his head, cutting him in the process. He stumbled a little backwards, feeling the blood dripping from his forehead to his chin. Strangely, it didn't hurt that much. A little stinging, that was all.
On the other hand, Sawamura panicked instantly, believing that he completely missed his throw, and came running to his captain's side.
“Miyuki-senpai!! Are you alright? I'm so sorry! I thought I threw it right but it hit you inside! I...”
“ Calm down idiot! It's not your fault, I wasn't fully focused either, and it's just a scratch. Don't sweat it.” Miyuki smiled, reassuringly.
“But, there is quite some blood...”
“Little wounds on the head can bleed a lot but it's not that bad. Don't worry.”
Sawawmura nodded, still a little on edge and helped his captain to get on his feet.
“Oi, what's the ruckus in here... Miyuki?!”
Hearing Sawamura's huge voice, Kuramochi came to check on them, to find his friend bleeding from the face, drops falling on the ground. He rushed to their side in all his cheetah glory and punched Sawamura on the head, lightly.
“What did you do, moron?!”
“Kuramochi, it wasn't his fault, I wasn't 100% focused and it's just a scratch.”
Head locking Sawamura, Kuramochi turned his attention on the other. He was really losing his focus then... was it because of the fatigue of today or...
“I'm going to patch it up, so don't kill Sawamura!”
“I'm going with you, wait.” Kuramochi said, releasing his poor kouhai.
“I can do it alone, you know. Are you my mom or what?” Miyuki teased.
“You will need to take off your glasses to clean it, and you will be almost blind without them, so I'm coming.”
“... Oh my god, you really are my mom.”
“Quit bitching, you are dripping blood everywhere!”
Kuramochi pushed the other on the back lightly to tell him to start walking. The two headed to Miyuki's room, saying good night to Sawamura. (Kuramochi said to be prepared because when he will come back, there's going to be some sparring. )
Sawamura just stayed here, thinking.
“Those two were that close to each other before?”
Miyuki was sitting on his bed, while Kuramochi went fetching up the first aid kit. He was wiping the blood out of his head, but it kept flowing, staining his white and green shirt, so he pressed the towel on his wound instead, to make the blood stop. He winced because of the pain (which he had underestimated) which was doubled by his persistent headache, but he kept on pushing, because he didn't want to feel more dizzy than he was now.
The door opened to let Kuramochi enter the room with the first aid kit.
“Lucky that they were nobody in the nurse room, because they would have asked why I was taking that.”
Kuramochi came to Miyuki, crouched before him and started to rummaged through the kit to find some disinfectant. He took it and soaked a compress of it. He put the bottle of disinfectant down and scooted closer to Miyuki. While the other was still pressing his wound with his now bloodied towel, Kuramochi took off his glasses and tossed them on the bed. (“Oi, watch out”)
“Let me see your cut.”
Miyuki put his arm down, and Kuramochi winced a little at the look of it.
“Don't you need stitches for that?”
“For something like this? It wasn't like it was Furuya's straight ball, I don't need stitches. The blood stopped either way.” Miyuki said, looking the other way.
“I don't see it well... Stop fidgeting, will ya?”
Miyuki wasn't used to be taken care of, so he was always moving his head here and there, making it harder for the shortstop to see.
So he took a hold of Miyuki's face, cupping his cheeks, and turning his head to the side so that he can see the cut closer. It made Miyuki stop moving, and blushing a little in the process (he didn't notice that Kuramochi was also a little red), startled a little by the sudden contact, and Kuramochi started to clean his cut. Surpringly, the green-haired was incredibly careful and gentle, wiping the blood that dried a little, and cleaning neatly his face. He was practicing his batting as hard as everyone else, and yet his hands were really soft on his cheeks. He dropped the used compress in the dustbin, and took a sticking-plaster that was about the size of the cut and stuck it on Kazuya's forehead. He smoothed it with the palm of his head, and straightened up.
“There. All done, captain.”
“Thanks, I didn't know you had such motherly instincts in you!”
“Well, you being a reckless bastard and Zono being... Zono, I needed to be more responsible for the sake of this team!”
“ I thought it was me the mom of this team,” Miyuki laughed, while rubbing is temples.
He cringed a little, and it didn't go unnoticed for Kura's sharp eyes.
“How are you feeling?” he asked
“My head's killing me. I just wanna go to sleep.”
“Take your bath first. You're still dirty from practice and the hot water should help for your headache.”
Miyuki patted the bed for his glasses, put them on and grudgingly stood up. He swayed a little but he took support on the bunk beds.
“Okay, either way I'm full of sweat so I can't sleep like that. Hey, can you get me a towel, mom?”
“Yeah, su... Who the hell are you calling “mom”?!”
Tomorrow morning, in class, 10:PM.
They were in the middle of their japanese lesson, when Kuramochi was beginning to hear small snoring from behind him. Face-palming internally, he slowly turned himself to see the other's desk: Miyuki's head was resting on his right hand and he was struggling to keep himself straight, eyes half-closed and glasses askew on his face. He would have laugh at him if Miyuki didn't have those huge dark, purplish circles under his eyes. He didn't look relaxed at all yesterday after their bath, and Kuramochi supposed he didn't get more than three hours of sleep.
The class ended with a completely asleep Miyuki on his desk, drool all over his sleeve. He was lucky the teacher didn't see him, for he was half-hiding behind Kura's back.
Everyone was starting to gather their things and go get lunch and he was still asleep. Pinching the bridge of his nose from frustration, Kuramochi flicked the catcher's forehead hard enough to make him wake up. Miyuki groaned in pain, and made a face at the sight of his drool-drenched sleeve. He rubbed his eyes, and looked up sleepily at his friend.
“Ouch... is class finally over?”
“Yeah, and you sleep through it, idiot! Choose the right time to sleep dammit! You're going to collapse on the field if you don't fucking sleep properly, you know!” He scolded him, angrily.
“I know that but, but if I can't sleep I can't help it. I wanna sleep too, you know but...”
Kuramochi's anger just washed away, replaced by surprise and genuine concern; the other looked, for just a split-second, lost, hollow eyes which lose their bright amber color, covered with shadows, disheveled hair and those freakin' dark circles... were they growing every time he looked at them? It was the first time he saw such a vulnerable look on his best friend's face.
Kuramochi leaned toward him to put a hand on his shoulder, but the other smoothly dodged it, by getting up of his chair. He quickly picked up his bag and put on his usual mask, which had crumbled for a second.
“Sorry, it's nothing, I'm fine. I'm gonna get back my rhythm soon enough. Let's go grab lunch!”
His fake smile was tugging painfully at Kura's heart. Miyuki was needlessly holding his emotions even though Kuramochi was dying of hearing the other's honest thoughts. He sighed, if they were alone he would have pushed a little further but they were in class, so the only thing he could do right now was watching over him and stick to his side.
They got out of class to grab some lunch, and while they went to line up to buy their sandwiches, they found their former vice-captain and captain already lining up. Jun's loud voice was ringing in the corridors, in contrast with Tetsu's calm one. As soon as Jun spotted them, a large smile appeared on his face.
“Yo, vice-captain and captain! How is it doing for you two?!” Jun greeted them, sliding an arm around each of Kura's and Miyuki's neck.
“You're close, so don't shout in our ears please, Jun-san!” Kuramochi complained happily.
“And you, Miyuki? You look like a zombie, already tired of being a captain!?” Jun teased.
“Well, I'll be glad to handle the team if it weren't for the first-years baka combi! If I look like a zombie, it's all their fault! Come and kick their butt for us, please!” Miyuki laughed, his usual sarcastic laugh erupted from his lungs.
They began to talk about the team, and how the new team was forming its own shape during their waiting time in the queue. When they got themselves their lunch, Jun monopolized Kuramochi, giving him “great vice-captain advice from Jun-sama”, so Miyuki was left alone with Tetsu.
“So? How are you doing?” Tetsu asked.
“Eh? Well, the team is going not so bad like we said, but...”
“I wasn't talking about the team, I was talking about yourself.” Tetsu corrected him, right away.
The former captain was looking at him, straight in the eyes, pure gold piercing through his soul, giving the visceral impression he was reading him like an open book. Even if it was Tetsu-san, being watched like that was making Miyuki really nervous. He forced himself to smile, and scratched the back of his head.
“Hum..well, honestly, I have a lot of doubts of how guiding the team, and the weight of the defeat is still clearly present, but...hesitating won't do anything, so I think I'm just going to do like usual. I'll have to straighten my batting as well if I want to be a fourth batter like you and...”
“I recommended you as the captain, you know?”
“Eh? Why?” asked a wide-eyed Miyuki.
“Because the team will grow stronger if you are the captain. That's what I believe and what I told the coach. You don't have to bear the burden of every single member of the team, that's physically impossible. Just pull them forward with your play.”
Just pull them forward with your play.
Tetsu smiled, remembering the words Kataoka kantoku said to him, now communicating them to the new captain. Tetsu put a wise hand on Miyuki's shoulder, and smiled again, more soflty, at his confused kouhai.
“Be strong. For the team. For yourself. Don't show it on your face when you're struggling, because it will weaken the team. I believe in you.”
Miyuki just stood there, stunned by the words Tetsu-san just gave him, and he smiled too. It was a bittersweet sensation: having his senpai comforting him and encouraging him was really reassuring, but it just put more stress on his shoulders.
Answering to the expectations. With what he just listened to, he couldn't for the life of him betray Tetsu-san and everyone's expectations. He used to think back in middle school that baseball was just fun, but... it was his experience as a catcher.
Not as a captain.
And it was fucking scary.
Maybe I wouldn't be able to do it.
“Yes. I'll do my best.”
Satisfied with the answer, Tetsu walked away to rejoin with Jun. He shook his hand goodbye and said one more thing:
“Oh, and do something about those bags under your eyes. Some ice could help for your forehead too.”
The catcher stiffened: he did saw the sticking-plaster that was hidden under his messy bangs after all. Tetsu-san's keen eyes couldn't be fooled. He sneered and passed a hand through his hair, and touched his forehead. It was actually a little swollen.
“Tch... I can't compete with you Tetsu-san.”
“So? How was the idiot doing? It didn't take a genius to see that he was freaking exhausted.” said Jun, who had smoothly been looking at them, while talking to Kuramochi.
“Well, he's confused. It can't be helped, everything happened so fast. He hardly recovered from the final, and now he is the captain, fourth batter, adding all of this to his catcher duties... Even Miyuki will be disturbed. It's going to be a difficult path, but I have faith in them. They are all strong, reliable kouhai after all.” he smiled.
“That idiot must be taking all the burden on him!! And I heard that they were all in low spirits, they need to cheer up if they don't want their senpai to scold them!”
“You say that, but I know you're worried about them too, Jun.”
“Tch! Who wouldn't be? It's greatly our fault that they're all depressed, so it's up to us to do something, no?”
“Yeah. But if the captain isn't doing well, the team will never find its mark. Miyuki has to put himself back together first.”
“I think there's going to be no problem about that.”
Tetsu threw him a puzzled look which Jun answered with his trademark grin.
“You said it yourself. All of our kouhai are reliable, aren't they?”
Like always, the covered ground was full after the afternoon training. When Miyuki arrived after putting back his catcher gear in the equipment room, he found Sawamura and Kuramochi playing catch ball. When the pitcher spotted him, he dashed toward him to stop centimeters away from his face.
“Miyuki-senpai! How was your day? Didn't you have some headaches or anything else? Does it hurt? I, Sawamura Eijun, will provide you ice if you feel any discomfort in...”
“Shut it for a moment! I'm fine, you idiot, instead it's you who are making me have a headache by talking this close to my ears!”
“I'm being nice, you know! You should learn to accept the sympathy of other people once in a time!”
“I can't.” he grinned.
“ And why is that??”
“Because he's a jackass.” Kuramochi answered at his place.
“I'm not complimenting you.”
“Well, well it looks quite alive in there. We heard you were all depressed, but it might be wrong.”
The three of them looked up from their little quarrel to the doors of the ground. Kuramochi's face lit up.
“Master!” Sawamura's attention completely pass from his captain to Chris-senpai in a instant. “How have you been? It's been a long time!”
“Not that much I think.” Chris smiled.
“Oi, and you are ignoring me?” Ryo complained. “I'm gonna have to punish you.” he added, pulling hard on Sawamura's ear, with his sadistic smile.
“Ouch! I'm sorry, Onii-san!”
The others came one after the other to greet their senpai, and thanked them for coming check on them. Chris asked how the pitchers were doing, especially Sawamura.
“Well, his pitches are slowly getting better, but he has to work on his control, as well as on his form. The only thing that isn't going better, is his foolishness!” Miyuki answered, wide grin on his face.
“Oi! Over there! Stop sprouting nonsense to Chris-senpai about me!”
“Ah, I wanted to ask, what were you screaming about when we arrived, Eijun?” Ryosuke asked.
“Ah, yesterday night during the after training, I accidentally hit Miyuki-senpai on the head while I was throwing.”
The grin on Miyuki's face vanished away in a instant, replaced by a cold sweat, and a churning feeling in his stomach when the two third-years gave him one hell of a piercing look.
I'm so damned.
If it was Tetsu-san or Jun-san, he could have made up an excuse like he was a little bit tired, the course of the ball surprised him and he couldn't have been able to catch it, and pray for them to believe it... but it was those two... 0% of chance to lie without being busted.
“Is that so? And when you saw that the course of the ball was different from what you asked, you couldn't catch it?” Ryo interrogated, sly eyes eating at Miyuki.
Holy shit. Kominato Ryosuke was the only one who can scare the shit out of you with a glare even though his eyes weren't open.
“Well it took me by surprise because he was doing great so far, that's all Ryo-san.”
“Does it hurt anymore?”
Chris interrupted them when Ryosuke was about to go further into the questioning. He lightly lift Miyuki's bangs to have a look at it. He frowned a little.
“The gauze is a little worn up, and it's swelling a little out of it. You will need to change it.”
“I was going to do so after the bath but...”
“Change it now. I am going with you.”
“Eh? I'm fine, why would you want to...”
Chris put his arm around Miyuki's shoulders, to prevent him to move away from him, and looked straight at him.
“Because I want to talk to you.”
Miyuki swallowed hard.
There! It was the senpai's turn in this chapter, next is going to be more centered around Kazuya, Chris and Kura!
Hope you enjoy it and let me hear your impressions in the comments please!
“If I had to ask you, do you think you're suited to be the captain?”
The two fellow catchers were at the vending machines in the dorms. A fresh, clean sticking-plaster was resting on Miyuki's forehead and he was also pressing an ice bag to it, to stop the swelling and it was a huge relief to his never-ending headache. Miyuki was resting against the wall, thinking about what Chris-senpai just asked him, and he couldn't help to let out a chuckle.
“I know that I have the leading abilities required but for the rest... Yeah! I'm not suited for it I think!” he laughed bitterly, taking a sip of his coffee can.
Chris was looking at him from the bench he was sitting on, and smiled. Well... he wasn't surprised by this kind of answer. When most of the other baseball players would be honored and would think that they deserved it, Miyuki saw it as just a burden to balance with the others he had already on his shoulders, and he didn't fully understand why he has been chosen to fill the position.
“If I had to be honest, I thought it would be Kuramochi or Shirasu. They're way more suited than I am and they can interact easily with all the members of the team.”
“Because you can't do it?”
“Well, I hardly talk with anyone except with my pitchers and Yoi...” Miyuki stopped himself when he was about to say the first name of his best friend, blushing a little.
“It's because you don't want to, not because you're not able to.”
Miyuki scratched the back of his head, not able to answer that one, and sighed tiredly, feeling more and more uncomfortable of the attention his mentor was giving him.
“In the end, what is it that you wanted to talk to me about, senpai?”
Trying to talk his way out by changing subjects. As expected, his kouhai wasn't disappointing him. He decided to play his game for now.
“I just wanted to know why you were a little different during practice. I judged it important because it was Sawamura and Furuya of all people who told me that you were acting a little bit strange...”
Miyuki stopped drinking, stopping his can centimeters from his lips. Those two... they didn't say a thing during practice and they weren't the type to hold back what they wanted to say (more like they will shout right in front of his face). And now Chris was telling him that they noticed he was a little strange? For him, he was acting like usual.
“Well it isn't like they had solid proof of that. Sawamura just said that you were quieter and nicer than usual, and that it was “weird”, and Furuya just nodded, adding that he didn't had the same feelings as usual when he was pitching to you.”
Miyuki giggled at that. Those two were really acting according to their instincts, weren't they? He gulped down the rest of his coffee and shot it to the trash bin.
“Maybe I'm a little stressed out about being captain and all, and they unconsciously felt it through their pitching? It's not that big of a deal, you know.” he smiled, emptily.
“I don't think they felt it just through their pitching.”
“What do you mean?”
Chris sighed deeply, and ruefully. He stood up from his bench and faced Miyuki to flick him on the forehead, lightly.
“Your face. It's your face that I'm talking about. Honestly, even if they didn't told me anything, I would have noticed just by taking a quick look at your face.”
“Ouch. I'm hurt, senpai. I ain't looking that bad, ain't I?” he pretended to be hurt, clutching his shirt dramatically even though he damn well knew how he looked like right now, but Chris just shot him back a serious look.
“I'm fine, really. It's true that I have a lot on my mind these times and that it keeps me awake at night, but it has just been a week since I'm the new captain, so I think it's normal.”
“So you think it's normal to build up stress and close yourself from the others? You're going back to your bad habits as I can see.”
Miyuki silently balled up his fist, and averted his gaze. He didn't want to think back at the events that occurred during his first year. Chris' injury. And because of that, the position of starting catcher fell upon him. Even though he was wishing for it, he didn't want to have it this way. He wanted to fight for it, fair and square, and testing himself against Chris.
The emotions that he had experienced at that time were the worst of his baseball life. He didn't care about the others senpai holding a grudge against him at that time, but he felt like he didn't deserved it, to crouch in the catcher box instead of his mentor... and it just spoiled all the fun.
And it was quite right that what he was feeling right now was painfully similar to what happened last year. Now that he was captain, he had the feeling that he has been stripped of all the fun and joy that he used to felt while playing. He had to shoulder more responsibilities, and he wasn't able to feel the joy of seeing his pitchers improve anymore. He was already thinking of something else, not letting his mind rest. Maybe that is why the two pitchers found him different...
He quickly put those troublesome thoughts in the back of his mind, and put himself together.
“Well, what can I do, senpai? I'm not the type of guy to talk easily to the others, nor am I the type to show my weaknesses...”
“You don't know how to rely on people, that's why you can't talk to them. Being the captain doesn't mean that you have to shoulder everything alone. What you need now, is to figure it out with everyone else.”
Figure it out with everybody? Easier said than done. He was more the action type that the word type.
“But right now, you need to figure out what's wrong with you. I'm not blaming you for being confused, it's perfectly normal. But, don't lock yourself up in your shell like you used to, it will bring you no good.”
Chris was genuinely concerned about him. Such a quiet and unresponsive Miyuki was unusual and it would mean that he was (again) overthinking about something.
“Or something else is on your mind? Like what you might have done wrong during the final last week?”
The way Miyuki's eyes twitched and his lips tightened just confirmed it for him. Guilt, huh? For Miyuki, it might be the worse feeling of all.
“Telling you that it wasn't your fault won't do anything, knowing you it would just add salt to your wounds. Try to stop overthinking everything.”
“Pff, why everyone thinks that I'm overthinking everything?”
“Because you do.” Chris smiled, softly.
Miyuki pushed his glasses nervously and thanked Chris-senpai silently for not asking what was exactly on his mind. His shell? Did he really looked like the type of guy to shut himself off everyone? He was a loner, no doubt about it, but he did the minimal effort to communicate with everyone, and he would lie if he said he hadn't some precious bonds with the team.
He hid himself under the shadows of his glasses, and was processing everything Chris-senpai told him. Before figuring everything out with everyone, he had to figure out what was wrong with him... Rely on people...not burden everything on his shoulders...
How was he supposed to do that when all his life he took care of everything? Nobody to rely on and having nobody but himself to help him. That was expecting from him the sharp opposite of everything he had done until now. When normal people will find it normal to help and to be helped, Miyuki find it more difficult to share his burden with anyone. He trusted his teammates, but only on the field. But trust them his feelings was... he would rather not. His stomach twisted at all these thoughts and he felt a bit of nausea coursed across his body.
God, he was overthinking again.
“Miyuki? You're alright? Your face suddenly turned white.”
“Ah it's okay, I'm fine! It's like you said Chris-senpai, I'm just overthinking!” Miyuki said quickly, waving his hands to dismiss his senpai's concern. “And I need to take the new pitcher menu to the coach's office so that he can approve it, so I'm going to go. Thank you very much for taking the time to see us!”
Chris still had some things to say, but saying them right now wouldn't be helpful. So he just ruffled Miyuki's hair and said good night, making a mental note of coming back soon with the other third-years to check again on the team's condition.
He couldn't help himself to turn around and see Miyuki's silhouette slowly fading away; something was really off about him, and he couldn't get rid of that bad feeling.
His thoughts still in a mess, Miyuki dashed to his room to take the new pitcher menu (finished two days ago, in the middle of the night :')) and dashed again to the coach's office because he took more time than he thought talking with Chris-senpai. He arrived in front of the office and stopped. He fixed back his bangs, making sure that they were correctly hiding his sticking-plaster, but when he was about to open the door, he suddenly heard Ota-buchou's loud voice erupting from the inside.
“You gave a letter of resignation to the principal?! Are you serious coach?”
A cold sweat spread through Miyuki's body at the speed of light. Resignation? Kataoka kantoku? Why? His hand was trembling over the door knob as he kept on listening silently.
“I'm going to take the lead of the team until the fall tournament, and then the school will hire a new coach. I wasn't able to take them to Koushien and with the departure of the third-years, the team needs a new way of training.”
“Are you saying that it was your fault that the team lost? It's not...”
The rest of the conversation didn't reach Miyuki's ears as he was just too flabbergasted. His brain was in shock but it was also thinking, too fast, as what could have triggered such a decision from the coach. As expected, it could only be their fault. They were at one out from Koushien... the thin line was simply and only their inefficiency. His inefficiency as the key player of the team.
He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood and let out a forced laugh.
The coach was going to leave them.
Kazuya... How do I put this? The doctors did what they could but your mom isn't with us anymore...
He slapped himself hard as soon as the bad memories rose to the surface and waited for the adults to finish their conversation.
He had to do something for the trembling of his hands before knocking on the door. He waited 10 good minutes to reach an acceptable condition, took a deep breath, put back his usual mask on place and knocked.
“It's Miyuki. I came to deliver the picther menu.” he announced himself.
As expected, Rei-chan and Ota-buchou were a little bit startled but didn't show it longer.
“Oh Miyuki-kun, it's you... Thank you and good work. Sorry for making you do it.” Rei thanked him, taking the papers and handed them to the coach.
“It's fine, it was fun to make it for a change. Sawamura and Furuya are so predictable and I know Nori since my first year, so it was kind of easy to prepare.”
“As always, you pay a lot of attention to them, don't you? Even though you rarely express your feelings to them... You'll be able to understand them even more if you speak to them wholeheartedly, you know.” Rei told him in her sweet voice.
“Ahaha! There you go again with that Rei-chan! If I do that they'll get ahead of themselves! Especially Sawamura.” he added, sneering. “Well, I have yet to take my bath, so I'll be taking my leave.” he said, bowing to his professors
As he was about to turn around, the coach called him.
“It's a good job, as expected of you.”
“Thank you very much.”
He bowed a second time, and left the room still with the look of his coach burnt in the back of his mind. That glare that could mean anything and could rattle even a stone to the depths of their beings. And to tell that that amazing person was going to stop being their coach...
...As if he could forgive that.
He stopped midway in is way back to his room, and breathed out. If they won the fall tournament, they would guarantee themselves a place to Koushien. And if they did that, the coach couldn't possibly let them down. And they would also get their revenge against Inashiro so that their senpai could graduate without remorse...
“I'll do it, got no choice anyway! I got no choice... It's going to be harsh but honestly I don't care. Catcher. Fourth batter. Captain. Key player. All of them. Even if I don't enjoy myself this year, or even if my body takes a blow, I'll do all of them perfectly. Tetsu-san told me to be strong for the team. Chris-senpai told me to find what is wrong with me. I'm just too hesitant, that is all.”
He just needed to stop thinking about himself. Just thinking about the team's interest and well-being and everything will be alright.
A strange, relaxed smile settled on his lips as he headed towards the common bath.
The second-years were coming out of the bath, clouds of steam escaping through the open door. Miyuki, who was with Kuramochi and the others, caught his half-naked reflection in one of the many mirrors of the bath. Did he loose a little bit of muscle mass or was it his imagination? He didn't had the time to dwell on it because Kuramochi call out to him:
“Hey, Miyuki! Did you do your English homework?”
“Not yet, why?”
“Don't you mind if we do it together? I suck at english and Rei-chan would kill me if I fuck it up.” Kura said, with a terrified expression.
“She's pretty hard on that, that's for sure, and we don't want you to get killed.” Miyuki giggled.
“Yeah sure, gonna fetch up my things and I will come. Can you send Sawamura to another room, please? Don't wanna have him around me during work time.”
“Already told him to go annoy Zono and Haruichi, yaha!”
“Oh, come on 'Mochi! That one's easy!” the brunette complained.
“Raaah, it's just in one ear, out the other. The other one was good enough, so can we stop there? My game console is calling me~” Kuramochi whined like a kid.
“Who was it that call for my help in the first place? Geez... you're such a kid sometimes.”
“And you're a kid everytime.” the other replied back, already turning on his console and taking a joystick.
In fact, Kuramochi had no intention of doing his homework; he just needed a good excuse to make sure that Miyuki was with him tonight, got assured that he gets a good night rest and if something was bothering him at night, he should be able to do something about it. The idiot would rather die than to admit it, but when the third-years and everyone else came crushing into his room for the night, he was sleeping with that calm and comforted smile that nobody saw yet, apart him. Sleeping with someone else should be of a help to help him relax then.
Kuramochi looked at him settling beside him and handed him a joystick. It had been a long time since they played Street Fighter together.
“Do I have a say in this?”
“Nope. You cheated last time and I still have to beat the shit out of you for that, yahaa!”
“How the hell can I cheat at Street Fighter?! You're just pissed because you got beat, that's all!”
After a few rounds where they kept yelling at each other, Miyuki began to yawned tiredly and whined to Kuramochi:
“I'm tired, can you craddle me to sleep Mom?” Miyuki joked childishly, throwing himself like a sheet on Kuramochi's back.
“What did I do to God to deserve a captain like you?” Kuramochi complained. “Get down!”
“No, don't wanna, I'm tired and your back's warm.” the other said, half-asleep, cheek pressed on Kuramochi's shoulder.
Kuramochi stood up, still with the catcher on his back and dumped him unceremoniously on his bed.
“Ouch! What a horrible mother you are!”
“Shuddup. I'm too tired for all this bullshit so give me some space.” Kuramochi sighed, slipping himself under the sheets, ignoring the fact that his heart wanted to rip out of his chest.
The bed was for one person, but the two managed to settle comfortably, and probably forget the fact that they were other beds in the room.
Kuramcochi took a glance at Miyuki. He was indeed fast asleep when someone was with him, and relaxed. Being himself a light sleeper he will know immediately if Miyuki's awake.
So, after making sure that he was asleep, Kuramochi scooted closer and kissed the cheek of the boy he loved deeply and whispers.
“Good night Kazuya.”
There! This chapter is a little longer and I really hope you liked it! I poured my heart in this!
Chapter 4: Chapter 4.
New chapter! took me a while to write it but enjoy~~
Two weeks later~
The team was slowly, but surely, clicking into place.
The regulars were appointed, and Haruichi and Toujou were doing a great job, as Ryosuke and Jun's successors. They have a lot of similarities especially Toujou, being a replica of Jun, as ex-pitcher and thus, having a strong shoulder, really appreciated in his center position. Haruichi was as always a little genius, manipulating his bat at his will perfectly, but he had some more work to do if he wanted to be perfectly in sync with Kuramochi.
The keystone combo didn't lose its explosive speed, and three of the old regulars were still there: in the outfield, the right-fielder Shirasu, and in the infield, catcher and shortstop, Miyuki and Kuramochi. Zono was their new n°3, first baseman, and he was providing great efforts as the 5th batter. (even though his stance was still too stiff). Asou, Higasa and Kanemaru were fighting as hard as the others in order not to lose their positions and the team was silently burning with fighting spirit.
They were all preparing for the practice match that will happen in three days.
As for the case of coach Kataoka's resignation, he didn't let out a word to the team, he probably didn't want anyone to freak out or be out of focus. Apart of the quiet determination, the mood was quite the same as it was before the finals.
In the bullpen, the pace had accelerated a little: the three pitchers wanted to do a lot of new things, and they hadn't much time to do it all, so Miyuki decided to compact it a bit: while he was catching for one, the other two were net-slowing or warming their shoulders with Ono or Kariba.
Sawamura was improving, but as always, he needed to improve more his control; he was giving too much four balls. Furuya wasn't the same as before concerning his stamina, but he wasn't able to last a whole game yet, which was problematic for an ace. Regarding Kawakami, his control couldn't be more perfect and he was very stable in his pitching, but he was still too tensed during certain pinches, and he lose his calm too quickly. And they were still working on his sinkers.
“Miyuki-senpai. I finished my thirty throws in the net.” Furuya announced himself, entering the bullpen.
“Okay. Sawamura, change with Furuya, and remember: the ball real low and your leg real high, right?”
“Understood! Don't take your time Furuya, last time you threw 10 more balls to the captain!” Sawamura shouted, right in Furuya's ear.
“Nori! Go and practice your sliders with Ono! When I'm finished with Sawamura, we're gonna take back on your sinkers!” Miyuki yelled to Nori, who was still shadow pitching.
“Oh, got it!”
“Miyuki-senpai, I'm going to throw.”
“Furuya, too fast! And freaking turn your aura down!” Sawamura shouted from where he was.
All of the evening practices were like this since two weeks, a system of relaying that Miyuki created based on his pitchers individual needs, and except for Furuya time to time, the picthers weren't participating in the field practice anymore. Miyuki needed them to polish their pitches as regularly as they could. However, being the catcher, he was participating actively at the field practice, and his voice could be heard to the bullpen, where the pitchers were keeping on their job.
“Ball second! Get two!” he ordered to Haruichi.
Haruichi swiftly caught the ball the coach send flying to the ground and threw it on second base where Kuramochi was running, caught it in mid-air and sent it back to Miyuki.
While they were waiting in the row for their turn, Toujou and Kanemaru chatted a bit.
“Don't you think that the pace sped up? Not much, but enough to feel it?” Toujou asked to his blonde friend.
“Yeah you're right, little by little, Miyuki-senpai has been increasing the tempo. The guys in the bullpen too, they had been relaying their turns with him, it's incredibly fast and they don't seem to be tired of it.” Kanemaru answered, genuinely amazed by his captain.
On his position at first base, Kuramochi could hear their little conversation before they got back to running again. It was true that their captain was taking his responsibilities very seriously, and the team was following his pace very naturally. Not surprising, he was the key player of the team since his first year.
But the shortstop knew better; it was just another way to drown himself into work to forget that he had to deal with his own problems. Proof is, he was still falling asleep in class. (how did he managed to not get seen AND having good grades??) And something about his behavior had definitely changed, and he couldn't put his finger on it.
Kind of... obsession?
What do I like in his bastard?
Oh shut up, brain!
More than that, the bastard had almost stopped on being sarcastic. He was always in serious mode during practice and wasn't even teasing Sawamura anymore. Proof is, he couldn't hear the first-year shouting “MIYUKI KAZUYA!” from the bullpen. And Miyuki not being sarcastic... wasn't him anymore. Just a shadow of him.
“Eeh... Isn't he acting like a good captain?”
From where the spectators and journalists could watch the practices, Ryousuke was contemplating his kouhai with Chris, Tetsu and Jun.
“He's maintaining a damn good pace between the ground and the bullpen, isn't he?” Jun boasted, louldy. “Everyone seems pretty pumped up too, ne Tetsu?”
“Yes. They have a friendly match in three days, and it would be their first match as the new team, so they must be itching to show their skills to the coach.” Tetsu smiled, as proud as a big brother who is watching his little siblings.
“By the way, it was Ryousuke who told us to meet here, right?” Jun asked.
“Oh, yeah.” Ryosuke was showing off a sly smile, and giggled a little.
“I was thinking that it was finally time to play the matchmaker.' he said while watching his partner stealing a base.
“Ah?” Jun was at a loss of words.
“Aaaaah...” the others seemed to understand.
“Ah?? You lost me there, Ryo! And why are you nodding over there?! Explain!”
“Eh? Don't tell me you didn't notice, Jun? Even though it's so obvious?”
Jun stared dumbfounded at Ryousuke, raising an eyebrow.
“Miyuki and Kuramochi...” Tetsu started.
“...are obviously in love with each other.” Chris finished.
“Even the oh so dense Tetsu busted it when they were still first years, how did you do to not notice, Jun?” Ryosuke softly laughed. “You're really a spitz.”
“Ahh!? How did you all knew?? Even Tetsu, you say?”
“Yes.” Tetsu looked at him with a serious face, while making a piece sign.
“Don't mess with me Tetsu!”
“Pretty much all of us noticed it, but we choose to do nothing, hoping they would get together themselves, but they are really not aware of each other's feelings, even though they're always together. It's really saddening, being the two members the most insightful of the team.” Chris added, shaking his head negatively.
“All of us??”
“Except you Jun.”
Ryosuke just let Jun shouted on the other two for not let him in the secret, and kept on watching his kouhai. He swiftly looked at Miyuki's side...well, talking to that Miyuki would be useless. He could let him to Tetsu and Chris if need be, and directed again his gaze to Kuramochi. The most likely to confess first would be him, but he will need a trigger to do it.
Ryosuke let out a scary chuckle, that made the others scoot away from him, sweat dropping.
The chime rang in the corridors of the second-years' floor. Kuramochi had managed to buy his yakisoba bread in time, before it went out and was rushing back towards his class.
“Phew... thanks my legs...”
“I really don't understand why that kind of bread is so popular.” came a voice behind him.
“Ah? Because it's delicious, you idio... Oh, Ryo-san!! You startled me!” Kuramochi corrected himself in time, and smiled widely to his mentor.
“It's been a little while. How is it doing?”
“I'm good, thank you for asking! And you Ryo-san, how are your studies doing?” He asked taking a sip of his Pocari sweat he had.
“Regarding this, you don't have to worry, I'm the top of my class. Putting that aside, I wanted yo ask you something.”
He was going to enjoy this.
“What is it?” Kuramochi was listening, still drinking his Pocari.
“When do you plan on confessing to Miyuki?”
There it goes. The Pocari that Kuramochi had been drinking soon found its way out, the cheetah spewing and chocking on it, turning a bright red all over his face. His shirt was drenched, and he just asked with a little voice:
“How... how did you knew it, Ryo-san?”
Oh. He's not even going to deny it. Ryosuke couldn't help a fond smile to grow on his face, and he just patted Kuramochi's shoulder, saying:
“Please, all of us noticed during your first year. Well, except Jun.”
Kuramochi had the impression of overheating. Dammit, was is that obvious??
Ryosuke purposely chose to not tell Kuramochi that Miyuki was probably also in love with him. No need to confuse the kid more. And while Kuramochi was showing really blatant signs, Miyuki had been really discreet about it. Perhaps he was still denying it to himself. Last year, it was Chris who confirmed to them that Miyuki had the same feelings for the shortstop, being the senpai that spent the most time with him, so he knows how to notice the little details.
“So? Did you actually planned on confessing, or were you planning to let things stay the way they are?” Ryosuke asked again, handing him the face towel he always had in his bag.
He watched the other dry his shirt and face, his reddened cheeks still present. He seemed in turmoil, hesitating to explain it all to his mentor. Romantic feelings weren't that easy to talk about, especially to an upperclassman.
The poor kid. He never saw him that quiet. Ryosuke giggled a little, and scooted closer to the shortstop, gently hitting his shoulder with his own and giving him a reassuring look.
The first name effect worked because Kuramochi's eyes widen and he got all of his kouhai's attention right now.
“Relax. It's me okay? I'm not going to judge you or anyhting, you know. It's completely normal for guys our age.”
Kuramochi didn't notice that he was holding his breath, so he let himself breath deeply and smiled at his mentor.
“I wanted to confess, but there was the finals and then... I didn't have time for that.”
“Hmm. And you thought that confessing right now wouldn't be efficient?”
“You really saw everything through and through, Ryo-san,” Kuramochi laughed, rubbing his neck nervously. “It's not just the situation, but Miyuki himself. The idiot's been straining himself lately, speeding of the pace of the practices just to forget about his own problems...”
“It's true that I never saw him that serious. Usually, he would tease Eijun and the others, but not a word that isn't about practice leaves his mouth, right?
“Yes. I need to do something about him, before thinking about my feelings.”
“Do you have an idea already?”
“I have to make him realize that he's not at the top of his game. If he messes up or produces bad results on the upcoming scrimmage, I will threw it to his face. And I know he will do at least one blunder. Can't really explain it, but I just have a bad vibe.”
“Love doesn't need a reason, ne?”
“Sorry, sorry, it just slipped out... But for someone like him who swears only by statistics, he will be forced to take some time to reflect on himself. Speaking of the devil, where's he?”
“The usual, I think. In class, eating while reviewing all the data he collected the day before about his pitchers, or new opponents information... or sleeping.” he added, almost reluctantly, remembering the tired face of the catcher.
“Go back in class then, and wake him up if that's the case. Don't let him on his own too long, I'm serious. ...Actually, back in middle school I was a little like him, I didn't want anyone to know when I was feeling down, so I kept on training by myself and ended up hurting my ankle on a stupidly dangerous play I shouldn't have done.”
Ryosuke was looking straight at him, eyes open, letting his kouhai see his golden-pink eyes for the first time. They were a shade darker than Haruichi's and more sharp-shaped. Normally, Kuramochi would have been thrilled to see them, but right now he was only feeling respect for his senpai, who was surely telling him things that he didn't like to talk about, in order to help him understand his own situation.
“Just do what you feel is good to do Kuramochi. Your instinct won't betray you. And don't stress it out; even though we retired, we're still here always watching out for you all.”
A sweet warmth coated Kuramochi's chest, and he was feeling more at ease. It was stress-relieving to know that the third-years were still here, showing their faces at practice from time to time and meeting them in the hallways.
Ryosuke was right. If he started overthinking too, it would be hellish.
Only one overworked boy at a time, please.
When he returned in class, Miyuki's seat was empty. He asked Ono where he could have went, and the other catcher said that Miyuki went to the toilet a couple of minutes ago.
He was doubling over the toilet bowl, giving back everything he had eaten 30 minutes earlier. He was gripping the toilet so hard that his knuckles were turning white, and his face had lost all colors. Sweat was pouring from his forehead, sliding to his chin, falling on the cold floor.
He finished throwing up and he rested his back against the wall of the cabin, trying to get a hold of his breath. Thank God no one was there in the first place, because they would have seen him burst into the toilet room with a horrified expression on his face, hands clutched on his belly. Trying to breathe in and out, Miyuki was fighting against the pain, his stomach sending him acid waves throughout his body.
Like hell he was going to let that kind of stupid stuff make him stop practice. Some stomach medicine will do just fine, he couldn't afford to skip training. He tried to stand up on his own, but the support of the wall was needed if he wanted to stay upright. He tottered to the sink and splashed some fresh water on his face. The water washed away the sweat, and the foundation Miyuki was using to hide his wound-like black circles under his eyes.
As hard as he had tried during these two weeks, getting more than three hours of sleep per night had revealed itself impossible. And he wasn't off his game to the point of not noticing a couple of sharp eyes watching him like hawks, like Shirasu, Nabe and even Nori... In order to not worry them anymore, he had been gradually covering his face of foundation to make them think that his circles were disappearing little by little, hence he was gaining sleep hours, even though they were carved in his skin like he had been burnt.
He never thought he would have to use his old make-up again... Fortunately, he found two whole tubs of foundation and concealer at the bottom of his square's drawer the other day, that will last him a couple of days more. He searched for them in his pockets, and he began what had become his every day routine.
He was about to smooth the concealer under his violet-rimmed eyes, when the mirror reflected to him a very unpleasant sight; a droplet of crimson blood was rolling from the corner of his mouth down his chin, and kept on rolling on his throat. Miyuki watched it terrified, but got a hold of himself and cleaned the blood before it could stain his shirt and leave evidence.
He didn't want to believe it, but the metallic taste on his tongue forced him to accept that something was wrong with him. Physically.
However, mentally, it was another thing. It was like a little voice in the depth of his mind was saying that he was alright, that it wasn't something a good night's rest couldn't heal... if he will take some medicine, he will feel better. The very voice that accompanied his empty childhood.
So, robotically and with accustomed fingers, he skillfully applied the concealer under his eyes, covering them like he covers his doubts and insecurities.
A layer on his cheeks and a layer on his growing anxiety.
When he finished, he took a look at his face in the mirror and tried to smile. He let a disabused sigh escaped his lips; he looked like a freaking made-up kit, but he didn't care much since the others stopped worrying about him. He would rather die than become a hindrance to his team and his beloved sport.
Don't show it on your face when you're struggling, because it will weaken the team.
He got all of his emotions under control, which still took him a few minutes, swallowed his dry medicine, readjusted his tie and headed back slowly to his classroom, smirk back in place with a cold sweat sliding disgustingly on his back.
The time for afternoon practice came really fast, and everyone was already training indoors.
There were players who practiced their batting, playing catch-ball and of course, the batteries were also practicing; it was Sawamura's turn, and Miyuki wanted him to realize that he already pitched a crossfire ball, the one that misses barely the batter's chest.
“Eh? I already threw one??”
“Are you seriously telling me that you threw one without knowing what it was?” Miyuki asked, dumbfounded.
“Ah? No, no, no, of course not! The fireball is my specialty since very long and...”
“Yes, yes that Kuroko fighter!”
“Wrong again, you monkey! Throw it again, if you manage to hone it enough for it to become a weapon, it will be an essential part of your repertoire!”
Sawamura puts himself again in position, asking himself strangely why Miyuki-senpai seemed more strict than usual. Normally, he would already be complaining that he was taking too much of his time, that he was too loud even the night, and that he couldn't take care of Nori or Furuya. However, it was the contrary this time, working Sawamura to the core, picking on every detail he could find.
“The course was weak!”
“Warning to the meatballs!”
“The ball was too high!”
Furuya was waiting for his turn and the mood was electric among them as it was usually more happy-go-lucky the evening.
The stares were gathering around the batteries, and how Miyuki was swiftly and very quickly changing Sawamura and Furuya every ten throws. The two pitchers were starting to breathe heavily and the captain didn't slowed down the pace for another ten solid minutes.
“Miyuki is going full throttle, don't you think?”
“Yeah, he isn't fooling around anymore like he used to do now that he became captain.”
Playing catch-ball with Haruichi not far from here, Kuramochi's senses were telling him otherwise... he was definitely rushing the after-practice but why? The bad feeling he was having for weeks was tingling like crazy, itching him from the inside. He wanted to say something, asking what was bothering him... or just grabbing his shoulders and scream to him to let the team in, to let him in.
His thoughts were interrupted when he saw that Miyuki had put an end to the throwing session, more to the satisfaction of the two kouhais, for once. He bid them good night, letting out a “don't die by drowning in the bath!” to relax them, and grabbed a bat before leaving.
'Yosh, he is heading to our usual place on the hill.'
Your instinct won't betray you.
He also bid good night to his new keystone-combo partner, and followed the glasses boy five minutes later.
During those five minutes, Miyuki had locked himself up in the toilets, again, breathing deeply and slowly, trying to calm the jerky beating of his heart, going wild.
“Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn...”
He was cursing again and again and again under his breath, spreading cold water on his face and neck, completely oblivious to his make-up being washed away, revealing his enormous circles. He couldn't go to sleep right now as he didn't complete his swings count for the day. The fourth batter couldn't afford to have a low batting rate, especially when he was also the captain.
What the hell are you doing Kazuya? You're tired? It hurts? Don't be such a sissy, slap yourself a few times and it's gonna pass. You've got a ton of things to do before you can collapse...
“I know. Just shut up. I don't want you to come back anymore.”
Then get a hold of yourself. Or I'm gonna do it for ya.
His dark self was bubbling up, crawling from deep of his guts.
Miyuki grabbed his wrist, and pressed hard on that famous pressure point that Sawamura was bragging about. His wrists were itching, as he remembered his self-destructive habits from middle school. School he didn't have good memories from. He had done so much effort from there to get rid of that horrifying voice and he wasn't going to let her destroy everything. Even thought he agreed with her...
His body was screaming for sleep, but he slapped himself a few times and grabbed his bat.
Kuramochi didn't see him on the top of the hill where they swing together every night, so he decided to wait for him as he maybe forget something in his room or was in the toilets.
This time, he wasn't going to let it pass like it was nothing, he gave too much time to this asshole to acknowledge he wasn't going good. At least, he was sleeping better than before but...
Quiet footsteps were brushing against the grass behind him and he didn't bother to look to know who it was. The footsteps stopped a little far from him and he could have swear the catcher held his breath for a few seconds.
Tilting his head to the side, Kuramochi wondered why Miyuki just made a sound as if he had been caught red-handed in something.
“What's wrong, Miyu...!”
The catcher was there, standing really embarassed, scratching the back of his head... with what looked like two huge splotches of black under his eyes.
“What the...? Did a bear gave you two black eyes or what??” the shortstop yelled, very surprised.
“Ah, no it's just that...”
The brunette stepped back, seriously considering escaping with all his strength, but before he could do a move, Kuramochi had his grip on his arm, and seized his chin between his fingers, forcing him to look at him straight in the eyes.
Splotches of what looked like orange marks were smearing his cheeks here and there, and when he looked closely, the circles under his eyes weren't bruises but indeed dark circles...
As everything was clicking into place, instead of feeling angry he just felt like he should have seen it coming. Not disappointed. Just sad.
“I know that you hate people to be worried about you, but you just broke into a whole new level man.” he laughed bitterly, readjusting his grip on the catcher's shoulders, and resting his forehead on the other's chest.
Miyuki had expected him to get mad, and yell at him for being irresponsible, so he was a little surprised and it made him more embarrassed and a little bit ashamed, being aware that Kuramochi really cared about him. So he might as well be honest and at least tell him why.
“I managed to get some solid sleep these days I'm not lying, but my circles didn't want to disappear, that's all... well it was my fault from the beginning but... all of your and everyone's preoccupied stares vanished so I continued to conceal them. So... can you...”
“...not tell anything to everyone else?”
“Yeah until they get better.”
The wind got a little stronger, which made Miyuki's bangs fluttered lightly, making his face more visible to Kuramochi. The latter sneered a little; even with horrible dark circles under his eyes that looked like burns, and his face that looked like an orange which had lost his colors, he managed to look stunningly beautiful, under the starry sky.
“At one condition. That you sit your ass down on the grass and that you talk to me. Explain to me why you're pushing yourself like that, just... freaking talk to me.”
It was really un-Kuramochi like. He was practically begging for him to talk. Well, of course he will ask for something like that, they almost didn't exchange words during the last week, except for practice and homework, even though they were always with each other.
But that was where, unlike any other normal people, Miyuki didn't know what to say. As if it was normal for him to struggle through everything.
“What do you want me to talk about? I'm pushing myself because I have to meet everyone's expectations as the captain, that's it.” he answered, stretching his arms on the fresh grass.
“And you're thinking that you can meet all of them alone? We're a team you know.”
“I know that but in order to function at the best of our abilities, we have to give the best of ourselves... or we won't be able to go to Koushien, don't you think?”
“I agree with that, but to make it to Koushien, we're going to need everyone's strength, and having our captain out of service will be a damn blow to the team.” Kuramochi said, very calmly while sitting next to him on the grass.
Miyuki smiled a bit. To believe that Mochi and Chris-senpai were thinking the same thing about him.
“I'm completely in service and I won't collapse. Maybe I'm sleep-deprived, but I don't understand why you're so worried about me.”
“I'm worried because you can't take care of yourself or even figure out that's something's wrong with you. Just looking at your face should convince you! Even the two idiots noticed that you were acting differently.”
“I'm just taking my responsibilities more seriously than ever, that's all."
“You're really a pig head, you know that! You should better take it easy and rest for the next scrimmage, or I'm really gonna pin you to your bed.”
Miyuki laughed genuinely at this one. He understood what Kuramochi was saying, but it wasn't so bad of an experience for him, as he was used to this kind of life; he was the type of guy to not sleep much anyways, and his teammates from middle school put him through some pretty twisted shit, than even himself won't do to his worst ennemy.
“And I'm not feeling that down, you know Mochi, I'm used of being sleep-deprived, it's just a little worse than usual.”
“Don't give me that bullshit, you look like you got burned by a red-hot iron.”
“What should I do then? The fall tournament is coming faster than we think and we can't afford to slow down.”
“I'm not asking you to slow down your pace, or doing less training. I'm not going easy on myself either.”
Kuramochi let out a huge sigh of exasperation, and flicked Miyuki's forehead hard.
“Ouch, what was that for?”
He poked his forehead twice to make him understand.
“I'm talking of whatever is boiling inside there, idiot.” he said, more tenderly, getting for good that Miyuki was really selfless and clueless about himself, only thinking about his team and his duties.
“You're stressing too much things, most of them, I'm sure, being irrelevant. Chris-senpai must have already told you that you're always overthinking everything, maybe an after-effect of being a catcher, but you're worse than the others for sure.”
“Well, I can't go against my nature, as twisted and bizarre as it is.”Miyuki grumbled, pouting a little.
“Hyaha! It's sure not gonna cure itself overnight. For the time being, you just need to rest physically. And now that I can't trust you to do something so simple, I'm gonna sleep with you.”
“Hmm~ Isn't it an excuse to cuddle with me, Mochi-kun?”
“Shut up and be grateful, I'm doing this for your sake, you reckless bastard!”
They began their batting session in a lighter mood, like always, and it was so much easier to just insult and mock each other than talking about serious things.
But, despite that, Miyuki would only be able to stop himself or understand what Kuramochi and Chris told him after what would happen to him after what will become a fateful scrimmage.
Chapter 5: A crack in the arrow.
Here comes the long-awaited chapter! thank you so much for the wait and I hope you enjoy this key-chapter! and also thanks for the reviews~
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
D-Day: Scrimmage against Kiryuu High School, Osaka Representative.
In Miyuki’s room, there was quite the people snoring on futons, sprawled all over the room.
You had Nori and Shirasu, neatly sleeping next to each other, not a wrinkle visible on their blankets, Sawamura_ quite the opposite_ who had managed to sleep with his head on Haruichi’s soft stomach and his feet on his pillow, which was next to the head of Furuya, gently fidgeting in his sleep. Toujou and Kanemaru were occupying the second twin beds of the room, and finally, Zono and Asou were tangled messily in each other in a laughable position, the game joysticks still in their hands and kicking each other unconsciously from times to times.
From an outsider’s point of view, upon seeing this scene, anyone would be touched by the friendship and warmth radiating from those young boys living their dream together, to the point of squeezing themselves in a single room. Furthermore, they would adopt even softer expressions when they would feel the special feeling the two last teens present in the room gave, sharing the same bed, in the right corner of the room. Sheltered under their blankets, the green-haired one was sleeping soundly with an arm thrown protectively over the brunette’s torso, who was sleeping facing the wall as to give as much space he could to his friend.
Yet, this heart-warming scene would bring a sense of worry as soon as the sight would set upon the brunette’s face.
He had been wide awake for a solid hour, debating on whether he should or not get up, fearing that he might wake Kuramochi up from his peaceful slumber and fearing even more a potential questionning on why he was awake at this hour.
Yesterday night, he had organized a reviewing session about Kiryuu’s play style and batting forces with the main roster, which he had successfully maintained serious and professional for an hour and a half or so. Obviously, everyone’s concentration didn’t last any longer, slipping from Miyuki’s explanation to Mochi’s game station, still plugged in the catcher’s tv.
As we can imagine, the night ended in laughter, friendly teasing, sparring and blazing games of Street Fighter, punctuating by loud voices, exasperated scolding and the cheetah’s trademark laugh.
Watching them fondly, their captain had fought he was actually going to have a non-interrupted good night’s sleep thanks to this light and warm mood and Kuramochi, who had made his duty since their conversation two days ago to stick with him, and keep his mind occupied when they had free time, since he realized Miyuki didn’t want to talk much about what he was feeling.
He also started to think that he could manage to be on his top game for this afternoon’s scrimmage, his mental state had bettered a little thanks to Kuramochi’s constant presence, arousing feelings he didn’t quite know from the depths of his chest. And it was because of said feelings that guilt was stirring in him, rocking his feelings back and forth. Miyuki moved a little closer to the wall, sticking his fingers on the cold wall, trying to spread its freshness to his stomach, slightly burning him.
Nothing is wrong, Kazuya.
The aforementioned guilt was coming from the fact that he hadn’t been totally honest to his vice-captain regarding his physical condition the past two days; he was indeed sleeping more but it wasn’t healing, just a source of anxiety as he was alone with his mind, and (of course) he hadn’t lingered on details when they talked, being very good_ who he was kidding a master_ to deflect the attention from him and to just make it gravitate around him. Being careful not to touch the most sensible parts.
And Kuramochi was really busy by making him sleep properly (his top priority) to heal his insomnia as well his own vice-captain’s and high school student’s duties to discern the oh so tiny signs of discomfort on Miyuki’s face. Those newly-find feelings for the shortstop that he had yet to precisely identify were pressing further into him the urge to make him stop worrying about him. He wasn’t just a valuable teammate and friend now… he was more than that, a presence he wouldn’t bear to lose or not having in his life on a regular basis… that’s why he had to protect his well-being by showing good signs of vitality.
Even though he wanted to puke almost all the time...Yet, the jersey N°6’s efforts and energy were making him feel right enough to forget his own destructive behaviour, and were one of the few precious things that could put a genuine smile on his face.
Even though his facial muscles were crying from the effort, not used to it.
He shifted quietly in the bed, just enough to be able to see the other’s sleepy face; it was one of the rare times he could enjoy seeing a fully-relaxed Kuramochi (usually wearing his yankee style frown, with the eyebrows lifted), whit his bangs brushing his forehead in a soft motion, moving slightly against the fluffy pillow at his every move.
He observes quietly, thinking of the many ways this very face would scrunch, harden, soften, grin, get angry or laugh during the day. Always so observant, watching from afar with hawk-like eyes and only talking when he thinks it’s fit to raise his voice. Or just screaming his head off at the stupid things their teammates could do, always motivated by his large, hidden kindness. He would rather die to say this all out loud though.
As his responsibilities never felt more real and heavy, Miyuki decided in second thought to get off the bed, like a ninja as he was passing his muscled, but nevertheless thinner body over the shortstop’s one, propping himself on his hands and bringing his legs in front of his chest, to finally set his feet on the floor. As he was putting his slippers on and standing, a sudden, powerful wave of dizziness fell upon him, half-knocking him out. Letting out a moan of surprise, he staggered and fell on his knees.
Shoot, he wasn’t expecting this. Exasperated, he lifted a hand and clapped it against his forehead, rubbing it frustratingly, fighting an umpteenth battle with his body which was seriously making him crazy. That was what pissed him off… even though he had decided to take it all alone_which he had ALWAYS did_ his body had chosen this very moment to start failing on him, screwing with him.
Animated by a brusque fit of anger against his own damn body, he stood abruptly, swiftly avoiding to walk on the bodies of his teammates and step on the scattered futons, in a graceful manner that would have been impressive after his dizzy spell if he didn’t had a scary-worrying expression on his face. He lashed on the knob of his drawer, pulling on it harshly to get to his medicine. Abandoned boxes of sleeping pills he had took to ease his insomnia the past couple of weeks to not avail were rolling back and forth from the harsh pull of the drawer.
Resting a hand on his stomach, he wondered for a split-second if he should skip on coffee this morning, for the sake of his abused tummy.
“I’d rather not, for my mind’s sake passes first,” a breathless, twitchy laugh escaping him as he swallowed a couple of dry headache pills, not counting the exact number. A gesture more compulsive than necessary.
Just for this day. He had to get his shit together for just one more day and then he will be allowed to relax. He had never lose a battle with his body, uncontested champion of his demons, and it wasn’t going to begin this day.
Today, he was going to lead his team to victory against one of the powerhouses of Osaka, known for their batting style, and they were going to show them the new Seidou High School Baseball team, their accumulated efforts and thorough training’s results would explode on the field like they usually do so well. Imagining the exact positions of his players, the fluidity of their movements, the well-oiled systems that were his batteries, the flashes of the keystone combo moving as fast as lightning and throwing balls back to his plate, striking the runner out mercilessly. He was soaking in those familiar scenes inside of his head, almost in a desperate way to keep his mind afloat, from drifting away further in the darkest layers of his mind.
Some stirring and shifting of sheets made their way up to his ears, and he straightened immediately from his slouching position and cleared his throat.
“Hey twisted captain *yawn* all right there? We’ve got some time to spare yet, it’s only 5:AM you know?” Kuramochi asked, in a hushed voice.
Meaning he had been standing there uselessly for about 30 minutes. Great.
“Yeah I know, just Sawamura who made me wake up early because of one of his stupidly loud snores.” he explained, adjusting his glasses and smiling to him.
Even if his brain was still fogged up by remaining sleep, the cheetah’s senses were sharp enough to detect a fake smile when he saw one. And boy…that one, adding to the fact that it was 100% platinum fake, wasn’t one of the usual faux smiles the genius usually knitted all over his pretty face… no this was obviously saying
There is nothing wrong, don’t bother digging further please.
Sharp as an arrow, a counter-attack.
“We should hurry and use the bathroom when we still have the chance.”
Not letting the time to talk.
“I’m really excited for this afternoon, aren’t you? Those types of teams are really worth the game when you get to destroy them at their top capacity! Or is it my twisted personality that surges out?”
The catcher was already out of the room and still rambling about the match, which made Kuramochi feel a pang of panic swelling inside him.
The shortstop had launched his hand around Miyuki’s wrist like a grippet, out of utter panic at the sudden ramble of words the catcher had begun to vomit
“What’s wrong with you right now?” Kuramochi asked in a hurry, trying to keep the volume of his voice as down as he could to not wake the guys next door. His grip on the other’s wrist tightened for a moment then he let his hand slide up to his shoulder in a more tender movement, brushing his neck a little, sending shivers down Miyuki’s spine.
“You’re kinda of making me worry now, what’s got into you?” he didn’t even bother to hide the pulsing fear that had travelled through him for a second when he saw his captain taking great strides out of the room, as if he had wanted to run. Away from him.
“I’m merely excited that’s all. Sorry, did I scare you? Hahaha, of course it’s not like me to talk like that! Don’t worry, I’m a little tired but I’m plenty ready!”
Scrutinizing the bottom of his eyes, Kuramochi kept his grip on him and they spent a whole minute just looking at each other, the shortstop trying to detect only an ounce of dissimulation, fear, lie… anything that could show him the true thoughts that were, without a shadow of a doubt, clashing inside that head of his.
His chocolate-amber eyes were a little dull, clouded but showing the tiniest bit of emotion that he was trying to conceal, and that it was enough for Kura to understand that his captain was apprehending the events of this afternoon.
In spite of him, Miyuki leaned a little into the touch, when Kuramochi’s hand passed from his shoulder to his cheek and rubbing his thumb a little under his eye, to ease the tension he had felt under the shuddering skin. The green-haired teen took a step forward, reducing the small distance between them like he was being pulled like a magnet to the catcher, fighting against the exponential desire to kiss him right here right now, his ocular muscle twitching a bit from the effort. Satisfying his need wasn’t what was important. Right now, he just wanted to hear it directly from Miyuki’s mouth. That he was scared. Simple as that.
Even though he knew he wouldn’t get anything completely honest from this guy at the moment; The shortstop closed his eyes, sighed and let his hand go a little higher to pat Miyuki’s bed hair smoothing a little the edges of the bangs.
“You know I ain’t buying that right? Just know that I’m here, okay?”
The other’s eyes perked up, expecting him to pry further to get an answer out of him, accentuating the guilt he was feeling and the part of him that wanted to confide in his best friend.
“My hair’s gonna get impossible to comb you know,” he dead panned, trying to make the mood a little less serious between them.
But Kuramochi wanted him to remember this particular moment, when he just acknowledged the fact that he was hiding something from him and he was okay with that, only if he would talk to him about it some other time. Usually, he would have been more insistent, his angry self and Miyuki would have used that breach to just let out his annoying laugh and switching subjects.
But at this moment, there was a dead serious atmosphere between them, but at the same time an infinite tenderness conveyed by Kuramochi’s touch, yearning and barely restraining himself to touch more, to feel more, to penetrate inside his head.
The catcher couldn’t bring himself to do more than to advert his gaze a little and nodded. By doing that, he was also acknowledging that something important was bothering him, thus letting Kuramochi getting closer.
Didn’t he just said to himself that he had to keep him from knowing the real him?
“Let’s get clean before the storm known as Sawamura falls on us!” said the cheetah gently grabbing his elbow and started walking.
Thankful for this quick change of subject, Miyuki made his way towards the bathroom as well, alongside Kuramochi who still had a grip on him, but at a safe distance. Like he wanted to hide from the sun in fear of reaching for it.
Noon, Lunchtime pause.
They were in front of the soccer field after their PE class, still in their green tracksuit, the usual second-year gang in front of their lunch. All of the second-year groups had a same-subject test after lunch so they decided to meet after their respective home-room, to make each other revise the key dates at the last minute.
“Hey focus over there Zono! When was the Independence of America? Come on, it’s basic knowledge,” Kuramochi was on the verge of exploding, having made thee other vice-captain learn the vital dates for a full ten minutes span, and not a single one of them had entered his thick skull.
“I’m trying, I swear! Hum… er… 4th of Ju...ne?… 1677! I’m right ain’t I!”
“You got the wrong month and the date is jumbled.” Nori dead panned, munching on his chopsticks.
“I think that’s more of a talent at this point.” Shirasu added, a little amused smile on his composed face.
“Oi, over there! Stop roasting me so casually!” Zono screamed in embarrassment, ears a bright red.
“You nincompoop, I’m done with your shit, go and annoy someone else.” the shortstop flung the notes at Zono’s head and let himself fall on the chair he was sitting in, sighing deeply.
“What am I gonna do?? The test is an hour, and I ain’t ready at all!”
In a really Zono-like fashion, he started to panic, fidgeting with his notes when a hand appeared in front of him like it was asking for the notes.
“Pass them to me. I’ll make sure you know them by heart before the test.”
The four boys looked at their captain in awe, expecting him to follow Kura’s harsh remark by telling something sarcastic. However, not an ounce of mockery was present when he spoke those words, dripping of seriousness and help so much that Zono only nodded and handed him the notes. A small smile spread across his face as he took into account the dates that were already carved in his memory.
“Yeah, I totally understand why you got a little confused when trying to learn these… There are a lot of 6’s and 7’s in the dates so you end up mixing the numbers. Let’s start from the beginning, okay?” in an unexpected captain-like tone, Miyuki was flipping through the pages.
Out of surprise, the first baseman ended up nodding again, repeating the dates in the way his captain was teaching him.
At a safe distance, Nori and Shirasu had found their places around Kuramochi, sending glances from time to time at the two others.
“What’s got into him? I’m not sure but he’s been different lately, more quiet and calm.” the right fielder inquired, kindly concerned about his friend.
“Did you get him to open up a little or not?” the sidearm pitcher asked also a bit worried, cross-legged on his chair.
Actually, the cheetah was quite dazed too. In their logical flow of things, he had expected Miyuki to close himself off everyone a little bit more, not getting involved in any trivial chats and talking to only give directives and important informations. Yet, there he was, kindly teaching memory techniques to their dense vice-captain to learn easily, with infinite patience (because God knows you needed a good chunk of it with him), patience he didn’t know their captain had, the hesitation and concealed panic from this morning all but disappeared somewhere. So effortlessly that it was scary.
“You know, I’m a little lost like you guys. I’m almost all the time with him and I’m pretty sure I got him quite relaxed these couple of days but the sleep he gained but… I know he’s hiding something other than just passing insomnia. To answer your question Nori, we talked a couple of days ago and he’s really adamant about his position as the captain and serious as hell, that’s why he’s giving this different aura (I suppose).” Kuramochi took upon himself to respect his promise with Miyuki and no telling a soul about his “make-up and foundation” story. For once, he agreed with the bastard as it was pointless to worry the others about it at this point.
But on a personal point, he was starting to feel a little restless; the foreign impression of not fully understand Miyuki wasn’t new to him, but it just got more pronounced as he was starting to feel the brunette slowly trying to loosen up their closeness. Since this morning, Miyuki hadn’t even tried to look at him in the eyes once, always adverting his gaze and strangely sheltering himself for a long time each time he went to the toilet. Something definitely happened when he reached out for him this morning… he put his finger directly on something and he didn’t knew what that thing was precisely.
Although he was evolving just in front of him, he could feel a glass wall Miyuki had barely established between them this morning.
Surrounded by his classmates, he was till able to draw a smile on his sharp face; this glass wall was, despite all the catcher’s efforts, really thin and he could see just fine through it. He wasn’t the type to easily give up on what he had set his eyes on, let alone someone he cared for so much.
And the brunette wasn’t an idiot either, he knew that that half-assed restriction was going to break at some point.
4:00 PM; Last Training before the Match against Kiryuu.
The atmosphere was more exhilarated than usual, at the prospect of playing against a powerful team and without nothing official at stake was freeing; the best chance to test the abilities of the new team in areal game, if they were holding their ground solidly enough.
Knock practice was over, and they were doing field practice with a pre-game state of mind. In other words, balls were flying absolutely everywhere and an overwhelming concentration was required. Half of the regular players were not present here, as some of the second-years stayed a bit more longer in class to finish their test and those who arrived on the field hurriedly prepare themselves to join the warm-up.
This little agitation created a quite messy but friendly mood welcome by the most nervous players to help ease their nerves, small groups were forming here and there waiting for their turn to do field practice.
Dragging Maezono behind him who was literally beaming from nailing his test, the shortstop was speeding towards the grounds, half putting on his jacket. He had hesitated a bit with the dates and forced his memory to kick it up a notch to finish as soon as possible. Reason one: because it was just a pain in the ass to just line up some random dates and facts. Reason two: because their captain left with 30 freaking minutes in advance. Spotting the brunette in his catcher box, he decided to wait for the session to finish so that he could check on his state before the match.
In the midst of field practice, concentration was heightening and errors were forbidden. From catcher to first, from first to second, and from second to catcher again. Voices shouting and cheering from everywhere that would normally set him in the mood, but he only perceived them as a buzzing sound, standing and squatting again, watching their movements with a faded look. Gosh, his stomach hurts and it was starting to get on his nerves…
A ball came flying from second, startling him but his reflexes made his body move automatically and he caught it with ease, but the sudden and unplanned by his brain upwards movement made his stomach feel as he had fallen with an elevator.
He quickly squatted again to quell the acidic waves, and cursed for an umpteenth time his body, drawing short breaths and thanking whatever deity there was up there for this practice being only field, because if it had been knock the Coach would have been besides him and at this very moment, he would have been forced to the infirmary. One thing that he didn’t expected though was the speed of his teammates to rotate and the ball was already flying towards him again.
Pushing his discomfort away, he tried to stand up but in his hurry he put too much weight on his left leg and felt a sudden cramp paralysing his thigh muscle. He let a pained expression flashed for a split second on his face and braced himself for the impact. However, it didn’t came; instead someone pushed him out of the way and cushioned his head during the fall. He wished the ball had hit his head instead because his back hit the ground hard enough for a hot, bubbling liquid to be felt at the bottom of his throat. Panic began to manifest itself a little.
“Miyuki, are you okay?!” someone asked from the outfield.
“Kuramochi, nice save!”
As he slowly opened his eyes, he was met with small, sharp green eyes. Of course, who could have catch the slightest scrunch of pain on his face and be that fast to pus him out of danger, all the while securing his fall. And to boot this oh-so dramatic moment, a pearl of crimson blood dropped from his mouth and lost itself in his neck and hair, increasing his rising panic by slowly sliding from his lips and on his cheek.
An excuse. He needed one right now as he was analysing Kuramochi’s reaction to the blood. The shortstop was still hovering him, on his four limbs over him and himself, back flat on the ground and nowhere to run.
“Did you cut your lip?”
Good. He didn’t look shocked or whatever. Quickly wiping the liquid off of his face and pushing his stomachache much farther, he hurriedly took the line he was handed:
“Yeah I think I did when we fall. Thanks by the way, as expected of our cheetah!” his voice had recovered a solid enough tone to prevent the greenette to notice the turmoil within him. The former’s gaze was unbreakable, fixed on his captain.
Zono and Haruichi came to check up on him, but he dismissed their worry with a wave of his hand and a pretty smile, preventing them to ask more by going to the toilet to wash his face.
He took off his chest protector, put it carefully in the dugout and did his utmost not to rush himself into the nearest cabin. He couldn’t believe he was gradually losing control over his own body. Little sicknesses, colds, fevers or even minor injuries didn’t stop him from playing his dear baseball. Hell, even huge family problems didn’t faze him enough to the point of making him unfocused, or even lose the need to play, so why wasn’t he able to participate correctly in the training? Moreover, an important practice before a game that will assure and comfort the team in its new formation.
His first match as the captain.
And with all this at stake, he still tottered on his legs, his stomach burned and the clamminess didn’t leave his hands. In the unlighted toilet, all he could hear was the sound of the water running, filling uselessly the sink and disappearing forever.
He splashed a bit of water on his face, just enough for his make-up not to be washed away and to give him a fresher appearance.
Breathing in and out, he felt an anger he didn’t know he could muster against himself, but it wasn’t the time to yield to self-hated and punishment. A sudden fit of coughing surprised him and he doubled over a little under the force of it. Great, just what he needed to make him throw up, but he resisted and pushed the palm of his hand on his belly hard. With his back to the door, bend over, a hand on his mouth almost gagging and the other on his stomach a few hours before a crucial match… he couldn’t be more pathetic.
At least, he wasn’t sweating abnormally and still had faith in his mask. One more day couldn’t kill him, he was keeping this pace for a moment now.
Get a grip Kazuya, seriously…
“So, how much time do you plan on keeping up this bullshit again? ‘Cause I’m starting to feel edgy over here.”
He straightened immediately and ignored the way his heart jump-scared and sent cold blood all throughout his body.
“What are you talking about?”
Kuramochi was standing on the threshold of the door, putting his leg on the other side so that he was blocking any way out. Playing dumb, huh? That time he wasn’t playing his game.
“Don’t bullshit me, cap. You clearly didn’t have any cuts on your face when we fell because I protected your head just fine. You just weren’t able to find a suitable excuse so I humoured so you would be able to get away with the others, but you’re not getting away with me. The only reason is that you spit it and I’m pretty sure you didn’t bite your tongue either.”
No reaction. Miyuki still had his back turned on him, and pushed his glasses back in place.
“So tell me what I wanted to hear for weeks… tell me that you’re not okay.”
Jaw tightened and nails digging into the skin of his palms, the brunette suddenly turned towards the shortstop and spit from frustration:
“I’m telling you, I’m fine! No big deal, so why won’t you just drop it already?!”
He could feel his body vibrating and his mind was ordering him to shut the hell up, to get his act together before Kuramochi could dig any deeper. Limit the damage. However, the cheetah didn’t need his captain to say anything for him to see the many breaches he had successfully slashed in the other’s walls this morning, and he was positive he has broken a good numbers of them. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be standing there, watching the guy he loves on the verge of a mental breakdown.
Yet, as expected, Miyuki swallowed it all back and managed to stop the shuddering of his body to a bearable level. However, at this point he couldn’t fool anyone, let alone himself.
“Do I really need to tell you why you’re not okay?… I know, I know we’re about to do a super important game for us ad that you’re surely feeling your responsibilities on your shoulders more than ever but… you can’t just go all the way and pray for it to just pass if you don’t listen to your body!”
He walked towards the brunette while talking, light facing darkness, with so much composed determination in his step that Miyuki couldn’t help but to step backwards; The greenette took advantage of it and seized the brunette’s shoulders to push him on the wall, completely sealing his way out.
“Let go. I’m not putting with that shit right now.” Miyuki could feel the anger and discomfort rising in him.
“What shit? That’s my line you know! We all gave you time to get back on your feet! Everyone was worried about your silence even though you managed to hide the worst! We all wanted you to open up, even just a little, so we let you have your space. But you know what? Time’s up.”
“What did you do to yourself to make you throw up blood?”
“You don’t think you’re exaggerating a little? A bit of stress can’t make me throw up blood, I juts bit my tongue a little!”
“Honestly… I can’t say that I’m not affected by what’s been happening the past few weeks, but you know more than anyone that I’m not the type to easily crumble under pressure. I can hold my ground just fine.”
“Oh, so you think that barely sleeping 4 hours a night, a reduced appetite and an unusually huge consummation of coffee is ‘holding your ground just fine’? You couldn’t even keep up with the speed of the ball earlier when it would have been a piece of cake before!”
“I’m really not going into detail ‘cause you know them damn well. But bluntly put… I don’t thin you’re fully up for the match.”
Those words made the brunette’s eyes widened from shock and his lungs constricted. He knew that he wasn’t completely true to the other, and guilt was one of the main emotions clashing within him but he couldn’t stand other people telling him that he was not up to something.
“The only one aware of my limits is myself, and you know that I’m not going to back down. Our very first match since the organization of the new team! Since we were appointed captain and vice-captain! I mean, it’s completely normal that I push myself a little too hard, no?”
Normal. That was the problem. He was sure Chris-senpai spoke to the other catcher about it, about how his inhuman tolerance to any kind of pain, this reckless behaviour that accepts every slap in the face and kick in the ribs as it was the daily like of any random person.
He tightened his grip on the brunette’s shoulders, struggling against the urge of shake him out of his cage of a mind.
But Kuramochi wasn’t going to back down either. At least, he will get it out of Miyuki’s mouth today.
“Getting you to sit into the dugout is impossible, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re not fully yourself. Why… won’t you be honest to yourself sometimes? You know you can’t freakin’ fool yourself anymore, so why won’t you admit it?”
“’Cause I’m the freakin’ CAPTAIN that’s why! The key of the defence! The catcher! The 4th batter! And if I show any weakness, the team will suffer and that’s the last thing I want!”
The tight grip on Miyuki’s shoulders slipped, its owner a little under the shock and letting his rain soak on those words.
Tears of frustration were stubbornly refusing to slide on the cheeks, reddened by the anger, eyes clouded but firmly looking at Kuramochi. The greenette had already dig deeper, roughly knew what was happening in this head of his… but he couldn’t bear him knowing al of it.
Rubbing harshly his eyes, leaving red spots under them, he passed Kuramochi to go back to the field but obviously the other didn’t let him do so.
He grabbed on the brunette’s upper arm, easily grabbing the whole of it which surprised him for a second but was met with nervous pulling.
“We’ve got the match in a couple of hours, not now!”
“Like hell I’ll let you go back on the ground like nothing happened!”
Kuramochi pulled again on the brunette’s arm to make him crash onto his chest but put too much strength in his hurry of not letting the other go which resulted in the catcher to lose his balance and fall backwards, dragging Kuramochi with him.
They ended up on the floor, resuming their position from earlier but in a mingle of limbs, bumping chest to chest.
In a spurt of energy, Miyuki tried to move his way out of under Kuramochi’s body, yet his movements were still a little sluggish from their fall (which made his stomach expressed his discontent again) and the cheetah grabbed his wrists firmly in his hands and pinned him to the ground, rendering Miyuki defenceless under him.
This time, the greenette took the time to observe his captain’s silhouette; how could he have passed on such simple signs? To an outsider’s view, Miyuki had a normal, slightly muscled build, so nothing would shock the eye, but when you knew how the catcher looked before- developed chest and quite imposing thighs- you would automatically start to worry and wonder how he could have lost this muscle mass in that short span of time.
But the wrenching part was his face; the remnants of his usual mask still lingered on his stubborn features, but his eyes were brewing with many emotions, the walls leaking and cracking under the weight they were trying to hold still ad his mouth twitching from the unspoken words he was forcefully trying not to shout.
“What are you trying to make me do, for God’s sake?”
“Trying to make you realize that what you’re doing is stupid and that it is okay to rely on us.”
Thump, thump, thump, thump….
There he goes, saying things Chris-senpai again. It was much more easy to say than done for him. His inner turmoil was starting to taint his reason but the hard and cold ground against his collarbone was helping to cool his way too heated senses.
Limit the damage. Persuade him you’re alright just for the moment. You’re making a fool of yourself.
Thump, thump… thump.
Kuramochi noticed the way his eyes were reverting to their fake aspect and how his heartbeat slowed down. That was quite an impressive ability he had here if he had to think objectively, but it was just in his way at the moment. Anyway, a shitty excuse in-coming 3...2...1:
“Talking about right now is pointless you know. I’ll talk to you after the match if it can reassure you a bit but only after the match will end, so cut me some slack.”
Not even trying to come up with one, huh? He sighed deeply internally. Well, he wasn’t going to let him choose anymore.
“And giving you the chance to think of an excuse? Certainly not.”
The shortstop closed the distance between them, basically lying on top of him and kissed his lips. If he didn’t want to open up, he just had to make him understand by force right? Understand his own selflessness, and more importantly, how much he cared about him.
Settling his wrists in only one of his hand, he secured his other hand on the brunette’s hip, and kissed rough and impatiently, but letting a certain worry and care show through it and letting his own emotions take over. It was quite chaste and quick because he only pressed his lips against his. As for Miyuki, he only registered what had happened when the cheetah broke the kiss, pushing back his own emotional turmoil to focus on his only one again.
“I hope it rebooted your brain and erased all of the nasty viruses in it, ‘cause I will surely come and hear what piss-poor excuse you’ll have to feed me after the game, so you better survive through it!”
On those wise words, Kuramochi stood back up, making his body slide slowly off the brunette’s one all the while grabbing him under the armpits and settling him straight on his feet.
For a few seconds, they were both red (Kuramochi more embarrassed and Miyuki really confused), feeling like hot water was boiling in their skull, but the greenette cleared his throat first, not forgetting why he followed him in the toilet in the first place.
It was only a matter of time now, but he had successfully broken into shards that ridiculous glass wall.
About the brunette, he was still standing stupidly in the middle of the dark toilet, kind of stunned by what had just happened, putting his fingertips on his lips in a haze and processing what the hell Kuramochi wanted to achieve.
Well, if his goal was to confuse him to the point of not feeling his stomach hurt at all then he succeeded. He could still feel the taste of his lips on his own, angry but emotional, just like his personality.
As he was feeling confused, he was also feeling apologetic as he was aware of his own stubbornness. But this self-reflection itself didn’t want to let go of this stubbornness as it was one of the only things that hold the character of Miyuki Kazuya in one piece. Yet, he had just lost one of those few things; his protective wall. He could probably restore it enough to appear normal to everybody else, but he undoubtedly lost it forever with Kuramochi… letting him go deeper didn’t sound too bad but only for his heart… ‘cause he didn’t want him to realize how broken he was inside and distance himself from him. He couldn’t bear to endangered what they had right now.
Unconsciously rubbing his belly, he was slightly stuck between his want of leaning on the cheetah and his need of strength, covering his weaknesses of thick layers of bravado, sass and irony.
But what mattered right now wasn’t what he wanted, but what he needed to do as the captain of this team.
He guessed he could still try to talk his way out after the game, try to just go back to their normal days where he could still be near Kuramochi like nothing else was important, when he didn’t have this much responsibilities. Just being near him would be more than sufficient.
Fingertips still on his lips.
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump…
Yeah right, who do you think you’re kidding man?
In that state of half-confused, half-determined, he managed to spend the first three innings of the match sufficiently aware of his opponent to put on a good game, his natural talent and wit backing him up when he needed.
As always, Furuya wasn’t quite pacing himself and kept on throwing his heavy, alive pitches. Every single one he caught felt like a shockwave was spreading throughout his body, deep inside his marrow, a feeling he never experienced once before. But pushing that aside, he didn’t have any problems catching the pitches, so overall everything was good. No dizzy spells when he stood up from his box, and threw back the ball. He could still prevent steals by throwing his white arrow to first base. It was as if his stomach had been numbed by the warm kiss they had shared earlier, and that the lack of pain was enabling his brain to function at full capacity, freed from the part that had always been busy with pain for the couple past weeks.
It gave him courage and the force he needed to drag himself through the first innings but of course, it was just a placebo. They were drinking water and talking strategy just before the beginning of the fourth inning and he was feeling himself covered in sweat, especially his face and a creepy sensation to have it on fire and his chest cold and clammy.
“As usual, we have difficulty hitting Tachi’s balls!”
“And his smile is creeping me out...”
“But we’re doing good, aren’t we?”
Indeed, the ace of Kiryuu was still as good as ever and his pitches were heaver than in their first scrimmage, he definitely got better himself. If Miyuki could still maintain his own condition and pace their two hotheads pitchers, they should be fine. Starting with Furuya, who did a good start in the third inning.
“Got a way to keep Furuya’s head in the game?”
Kuramochi was beside him, shoulder to shoulder. They didn’t breathe a word of what happened earlier, being professionals and focused on what lies ahead of them. Despite that, the brunette could feel that his gaze was focused on his stance, probably checking if he was showing any signs of exhaustion.
“Yeah, I just gotta be extra careful when he throws a little wide concerning his speed and avoid four balls at all cost. He’s being more concerned about them since he received the ace number. Always looking at it the cocky brat.”
He sneered a little when he sneaked a peek at Furuya, asking to Haruichi if his number was well-centered on his back. The cheetah could feel that the genius was focused into the game, his sarcastic sign showing a little as a proof and he wasn’t showing any worrying sign. He could feel a certain pleasure to see Furuya and the others evolving so well on the filed emanating from him, not mentioning that Nori did a great job to test the waters on the first two innings and not conceding a single point.
“Well, if you don’t let yourself be swallowed by the pressure we will be good, right?”, he laughed, bumping his shoulder playfully at the other.
“Yeah right, that’ll please you too much so I definitely won’t.” the brunette cockily responded.
They flashed each other a grin full of teeth, before running to their positions, defending. Fortunately, the familiar flow of the game could always bring them closer and they enjoyed teasing each other’s performance, especially when the fail big time. However, they could still feel a hollow place that will only be filled once they talk once and for all.
Crouching again in his catcher box and watching the greenette giving advice to the infielders, Miyuki was finding himself thinking he could speak the truth to him, and not a half-assed excuse like he had planned to do. But the fear of showing him his pathetic side and disappoint him was still lingering in his head.
Focus, focus, focus…
Their second batter was on now, standing ready and Furuya stood relaxed with a calm strength in his eyes.
First pitch. A curve to the inside, fast and heavy a strike. The batter swung at it in time but couldn’t quite keep up because of the overwhelming sense of wild that emanating from the ball.
Good if they could strike him out with the same rhythm they would be just fine…
As soon as he thought about that, Furuya threw quite wide and to the outside as the ball required should have been inside. Hoho… he was starting to get ahead of himself and lose control of his speed.
Miyuki told him to concentrate his pitches lower so as to gain more control, but as expected, it was hard for the first year to catch up to his good level when he made a mistake in the first place, which caused the batter to win a four ball. Furuya’s pace had been perfect in the third inning and it was impossible for him yet to maintain a perfect rhythm; sooner or later he was going to get out of gears.
But it was a bit too soon to Miyuki’s liking, so he tried to restrain him in all the ways he could, but the Hokkaido boy needed a little more time. He managed to get two strikes on the 3rd batter, but the last ball he threw was a little too high, and as part of the clean-up, the batter didn’t miss it. He managed to keep him at first base thanks to the keystone combo, but they couldn’t stop the runner from going to third base.
Letting them get the first run of the match is always a risk of losing the pace of the game and a burden on the pitcher’s mind, so the brunette became very wary of the runner on his left, who looked like he would run head-on even on a grounder.
Not to mention their 4th batter was now standing in the batter box.
Like hell I’ll let you.
The captain raised his arm in the sign of a close-up defence; the shortstop, first, second and third basemen moved forward, to prevent any inner balls of going further.
As a response to the changes, Furuya seemed less fidgeting and scored a strike on his first pitch. No signs of running from the guy on the left nor on first base.
However, everything went horribly quick after this.
Once again, Furuya threw a little too high and the batter didn’t miss it; it didn’t went too far thanks to Haruichi, who caught it swiftly but the third base runner didn’t lose a millisecond either and he started running as soon as the batter made contact with the ball. As the second baser runner went out thanks to Haruichi throwing to third base, the situation remained dire as the runner got closer.
Kanemaru threw it back to Zono to get the 4th batter running to first also out, and the first baseman threw the ball with all his might to his captain.
Miyuki was dead-focused on the direction of the ball in order not to lose it when it would be his turn to play, causing his peripheral vision to narrow. And when he got up to catch the ball, he turned back to touch-out the runner, who was sliding his way back home.
Unluckily, the moment the brunette turned around and lowered his waist to bring his glove on the plate, perhaps due to the speed of the sliding, the runner’s foot got dangerously close to Miyuki’s hip and knocked the goggled catcher right between his chest gear and his hip; that is to say, a full-force kick right into his stomach.
Assaulted by blurring pain, his vision sickly clouded and he fell backwards hard, but didn’t let go of the ball, which turned out to be vital as he clearly heard the umpire shout OUT, before the buzzing in his ears overwhelmed his senses.
He didn’t heard any of the shouts of his teammates, nor the Coach or Rei-chan rushing their way towards him. He just felt once again the burning liquid rising up in his throat, only this time it didn’t stop and he puked an enormous amount of crimson blood, sticking to his throat and torso as it slid in his clothes. He felt a huge bump swelling on his ribs and stomach as well as the huge bruise the shock will leave on him, but if it was only that, he could have managed to hide and it would have healed in a couple of days afterwards.
The thing he couldn’t hide though was the puddle of blood lying beside his head, and his constricted, unstoppable fits of bloody coughs that added to the dramatic of the situation.
He could hear some kind of voices above him, worried and frenzy ones, panicked and screaming too. Somebody secured him in their arms, and placed is head on the side in order not to choke on the blood he was throwing up, and regarding the size of them, it was definitely Kataoka kantoku.
He started wheezing and breathe rapidly as the blood in his throat clogged inside and didn’t let enough air pass. Between the burning hot pain exceeding any kind of pain he ever experienced in his life and the raw impact stamped on his ribs, he could make out the sense of the words everyone was shouting: the coach ordering a stretcher and calling an ambulance, Sawamura and Zono’s loud voices screaming to him to keep it together and keep his eyes open, but the most importantly, the man who was cupping his cheeks and keeping his forehead against his own, looking straight at him with indescribable pain in the green eyes and muttering the same words like a mantra to keep him conscious.
“Kazuya, Kazuya stay with me! Don’t you dare sleep, everything will be alright I promise, you just nee to keep your eyes open.”
On the contrary, as much as he heard those words from the boy he loves so much, he was starting to feel numb, the pain itself was starting to fade as well as the adrenaline of the match leaving only fatigue in its wake, making him fall into a slumber he couldn’t resist, falling deep in dark waters.
Alarmed by his slowing breathing and fluttering eyelids, Kuramochi felt a sharp pang of panic that pained him to his very core and he shot out of is position, straight on his knees and tapping the brunette’s cheek to keep him awake.
“Hey, hey Kazuya! Look at me please, look at me!”
Mouth agape with blood coating his face and throat, Miyuki could feel that the greenette was trying his darnest to to keep him conscious along with the coach’s help, who was firmly holding him and calling his name in an unlikely worried face… but it wasn’t enough to battle the heavy and absolute need of rest he was feeling.
He blacked out.
I know, I'm making him suffer a lot, but don't worry; the more angst, the more fluff! healing will come guys, as well as the senpais's support! keep looking forward to this story and see you next time!