„There is no way Abe is going to make the first move!", Youichirou Tajima claimed and folded his arms in front of his chest, grinning at the others knowingly. The others, being Izumi, Sakaeguchi, Hanai and Mizutani at this moment, exchanged doubtful looks. The freckled boy huffed. "No, seriously guys! I bet it's gonna be Mihashi."
"No way." Hanai muttered, "But anyways, we shouldn't be talking like that. We can't bet over someone's personal happiness."
"We can!", Tajima disagreed, "Well, at least a bit. Not for money. I'm sure they'll somehow end up together anyway... It's the perfect opportunity after all."
The Captain gave him suspicious look but didn't say anything else.
"So the bet is on?", Izumi asked excitedly, "What's the wager then?"
There was a thoughtful silence among the boys for about a minute.
"Well, I guess we'll have to do it the old fashioned way; the losers owe the winners a favour.", Tajima, obviously the leading head in the questionable bet, suggested, or rather, stated. "Now who thinks that Abe is going to make the first move?"
Hanai, Izumi and Mizutani raised their hands. Sakaeguchi appeared to have been convinced by Tajimas certainty.
"Alright then!" Tajima nodded, the bet was settled.
The little conversation took place outside the cottage at the sea they stayed at. Momokan had decided a little excursion would boost the team spirit, event though it was only February and a little too cold to practice. Now the rest of the team, including coach Momo and Shinooka, left the cottage, while the aforementioned part of the team had waited for them outside. "Okay, everyone ready?", Coach Momoe asked cheerful. The team replied with a loud "Yeeees!"
Tajima caught a quick glance at Mihashi and Abe, the two of them were walking silently side by side. Mihashi's eyes were directed towards the ground and he was shaking slightly, as per usual. Abe just stared ahead, face perfectly neutral. For a stranger, it might have looked like they didn't even like each other. But Tajima believed to know better.
It was late afternoon and as they made their way towards the village, where they would have dinner in a little restaurant, it already started to get dark. Momokan, who was walking ahead, kept talking about how beautiful the landscape was or explaining some unimportant historical facts about the village. Izumi tried to make her stop by yawning blatantly, but his efforts were in vain.
They were crossing a small forest, bordered by a line of hills that rose to a rather big cliff on each side. They drew closer as the path went on until there was only a mere cleft between the rocks, a meter wide at some parts. Now Coach Momoe stopped. "Seems like we have to take another way.", Abe said, but their coach shook her head. "Each of you will pass this trail. Alone.", she announced. "I brought a candle for everyone. The path is about a 600meters long. It'll get wider and brighter towards the end, don't worry. You'll start in gaps of ten minutes and gather on the other side!"
"Is that supposed to be some sort of test of courage?" Mizutani asked, raising his brows.
Momokan grinned. "Well of course it is! Now who wants to go first?"
The boys and Shinooka looked at each other uncomfortably. None of them wanted to admit that they were actually scared to go alone, except for Mihashi, who was shaking heavily now and didn't even bother trying to hide it. Eventually Hanai cleared his throat."Well, as I am the Capatain..."
"He's totally trying to impress you." Izumi whispered into Tajima's ear and snickered. Hanai shot him a dreadful look. Although he only had a vague idea of what Izumi said. "He's not.", the freckled boy objected unsmilingly.
"Alright!" Coach Momo handed him a candle, lightened it and looked at him expectantly. Taking a deep breath, the captain disappeared between the stone walls and within a few seconds the light of the candle was not visible anymore.
"He so is." Izumi smiled. "More than any of us". Tajima rolled his eyes, but a smile tugged on his lips anyway.
"I'm going next.", he announced, instead of answering Izumi.
One after the other the boys disappeared in the darkness. Shinooka and Coach Momoe would cross the cliff together at the end.
Mihashi watched terrified as the group became smaller. He didn't really want to walk the path all by himself, but he was determined not to be the odd one out again.
He was the last to enter the crevice anyway. Momokan smiled at him encouragingly as she handed him his candle. He tried his best to smile back.
At first his steps were steady as he stepped into the darkness, but as soon as any daylight was out of sight he started to shake violently again. It was cold and humid between the stones and every single of his steps resounded from the the walls, sounding as if he wasn't walking alone at all. It wasn't a comfortable thought, however.
Holding his breath, Mihashi stopped and hold onto the rocks for support. But the echoing steps didn't stop, and it was too soon for Momokan and Shinooka to follow him. "It's gonna be okay." He whispered to himslef, making believe that it could be some animal above him, on the crest. Or maybe it was in fact the one of the other team members, and the sound was reverberating all the way through the crevice.
He carefully took a step forward and almost died of a heart attack when someone appeared behind a corner of the cliff. Luckily, Mihashi was too shocked to actually scream, because it turned out to be only Abe, who covered Mihashi's mouth in a quick movement. Just in case he'd find his voice again. "Shhht. I've waited for you.", the catcher whispered, carefully removing his hand.
Mahishi stared at him with something in between awe and amazement. "But why?", her whispered back. Abe's cheeks coloured faintly, but it was probably too dark for Mihashi to notice it anyway.
"Well", he cleared his throat. "We should be going before Coach Momoe and Shinooka catch up with us..."
Although that wasn't really an answer to his question Mihashi nodded and followed Abe as he walked back into the direction he just came from. They had barely walked a few meters when the path narrowed and forced the two boys to walk closer together, causing the back of their hands to brush slightly. Abe twitched. Mihashi looked at him nervously. Their hands touched again, a little longer this time and Mihashi stretched his fingers and pushed them between Abe's. The taller boy shivered and looked down at Mihashi. "Sorry.", the pitcher squeaked and drew his hand back, but Abe quickly grabbed his wrist. "It's okay", he said, looking at his feet. "You can hold... you know... Only if you want to of course!"
Mihashi bit his lip. "I really tried to do it on my own this time. I didn't want to be a burden to Abe-kun anymore." "I don- you're not.", Abe replied quietly, after some hesitation. "That's just how you are. And honestly, as much as you annoy me sometimes, I wouldn't have you any other way." Offering a small smile, a real one, not one of his usual creepy attempts, he lightly squeezed Mihashi's hand. It was surprisingly warm. Even though it was dark and scary, he didn't seem to be as stressed as he used to be all the time.
They walked on in silence. Mihashi felt Abe's thumb stroking soothingly over the back of his hand and he wasn't scared one bit anymore. To tell the truth, he didn't pay much attention to the darkness and the crevice. He needed all his willpower to stay calm and keep on walking because the sensation, the very thought of Abe holding his hand, was almost too much to bear. He stopped abruptly, so Abe had to stop as well, almost dropping his candle. He looked at the pitched confused. Mihashi freed his trembling hand from Abe's grip and stroke it up his arm up to the catcher's neck. His other hand wrapped itself around Abe's neck as well, letting go of the candle in the process.
The flame quickly died on the ground. Pulling the taller boy slightly downwards, Mihashi pushed himself up to his toes and brought his lips over Abe's.
It was only a short, chaste kiss and the catcher had no time to react. When his brain finally caught up with the occurring events, Mihashi had already backed off, but his hands were still resting on Abe's shoulders. His big, green eyes scanned the other boy's face for any reaction. His whole face was visibly red and Abe realized that his cheeks felt hot too.
"Mihashi...", he breathed, not sure what to say. Mihashi on the other hand seemed determined not to speak or move again until Abe showed any sign of either disgust or approve. The catcher drew in a shaky breath and closed his eyes. It was fine. Not, better than that. This was what he wanted, probably all along.
"Do that again.", he finally whispered. The hands on his shoulders gently cupped his face and he could feel them tremble. This time Abe lowered his head on his own accord, meeting Mihashi's slightly parted lips with his. The kiss was clumsy and awkward at first, since neither of them had kissed anyone before, but they eventually figured out how to get it right. Abe placed his unoccupied hand on the small of Mihashi's back and pulled him closer. His other hand – the left one – hung loosely over Mihashi's shoulder, trying not to set them on fire or anything. Mihashi never stopped shaking during the kiss and when he finally pulled back, he had to hold on to Abe's T-shirt for support.
"I like you.", he blurted out and, shocked by the words that left his lips, clasped his hand over his mouth.
"Well, after you kissed me, I would have been disappointed if you didn't.", Abe replied, grinning faintly.
They had to hurry on their way through the crevice in order not to get caught by Coach Momoe, but of course the others would notice that it took them longer than anyone else to cross the cliff, and of that they would leave it together, too. Abe let go of Mihashi's hand before they stepped outside but the looks the others gave them made it clear that the rest of the team had more than a vague idea of what had happened. But no one asked anything or made any comments at that time.
"So... What happened between you and Abe in the cave?", Tajima asked bluntly when they sat in the restaurant an the waiter had brought their food. He didn't speak very loudly and the establishment was crowded, so none of the other seemed to have heard him. Only Mihashi and Abe looked at him shocked and blushed furiously.
The pitcher looked at Abe as if asking for permission to talk. "W-well...", Mihashi stuttered, " We just... A-Abe kun waited for me, and-"
"Are you going out and if you do who made the first move?", Izumi interjected, getting impatient. Both Abe and Mihashi looked at him slack-jawed while Tajima and Izumi looked at them in anticipation. Finally Abe nodded towards Mihashi and muttered: "He did." Immediately, Tajima jumped to his feet. "Victory!"
The others looked up confused – and, in Momokan's case, slightly annoyed. Only Sakaeguchi's head turned towards Mihashi. "So we won?"
"Won what?", Abe asked sharply. The vice captain grinned nervously and looked at Tajima for help. The freckled boy grinned apologetically at Abe, the turned to Mihashi and ruffled his hair. "Well done champ!"
Mihashi made his bird face and opened and closed his mouth repeatedly without saying anything. Abe looked like he was ready to kill.
"Congratulations", Oki yelled from the other side of the table.
Mihashi looked at his catcher, blinking nervously, "Are we...?"
"He asks if you're actually going out.", Sakaeguchi translated before Abe had a chance to ask or even yell. Although this time, it probably wasn't even necessary. Abe looked firmly into Mihashi's eyes. "If you want to, we are."
Mihashi's face exploded into a big smile. "I want to.", he whispered , barely audible. Abe reached out over the table to touch his trembling hand, but then hesitated to look at the rest of the team, which had become silent.
All eyes were on him and he hastily drew his hand back, his face reaching a dangerous degree of redness now. The whole team bust out laughing. Shinooka giggled, covering her mouth with her hand in a girly manner.
Izumi was bubbling over with laughter and had to turn away from the table so his face wouldn't accidentally meet his plate.
Tajima almost choked on a shrimp and coughed violently, tears filling his eyes, but couldn't stop laughing anyway. Abe glared, but was too speechless to yell.
They took a different, much shorter way home. After a long day full of sea air, the boys had become very quiet, only a yawn was heard from time to time. Coach Momoe lead the group, Abe and Mihashi made the tail light of it, walking a few meters behind the others and holding hands. Sakaeguchi and Tajima walked ahead of them, whispering conspiratorially all the time. The others didn't pay much attention, assuming they probably just panned what they would request for their won bet. And they did, kind of.
"That's so annoying!", Tajima moaned, voice quiet. "Now we've won and I still can't make Hanai do what want." Sakaeguchi knit his brows.
"And why is that?"
"Because it's stupid. And unfair And not how I want it to happen."
The vice captain looked even more confused. Then realization visibly struck him. "You were gonna ask him out!", he detected. Tajima gave him a no-shit-Sherlock kind of look and shrugged.
"I heard what he said about Abe and Mihashi earlier, that was okay with them being together, but he could never imagine going out with any of us... I thought it was a good plan before but now I think it's a little below the waistband." It seemed like with this the conversation was over for the freckled boy. Sakaeguchi, being his usual nice and caring self, eyed him sympathetically but feared there wasn't anything he could say to make Tajima feel better.
Even after they arrived in the cottage, changed into their pyjamas and made themselves comfortable in their sleeping bags Tajima still seemed to be absent and lost in his own thoughts. To his relief, the others seem to tired to notice.
The next day happened to be the last day of the trip. Their Coach hadn't made any plans for the day and the boys were free to do what ever they wanted to.
The went out to the beach or to the village in little groups, buying souvenirs and taking photos.
The infield captain turned around at the sound of his name. "Hanai?" He found the bald boy approaching him and rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. He gave Abe and Mihashi a sign that they could already go ahead – they would probably appreciate some time alone anyway. - and looked at his teammate expectantly.
Hanai cleared his throat and nervously avoided Sakaeguchi's eyes. "Is there anything up with Tajima?", he asked in what probably should sound like casual tone, "He seemed a bit... tensed yeasterday." Tensed was probably the wrong word. "Awfully quiet" or "not like himself at all" seemed more accurate, but Hanai refused to admit that he was worried by Tajima's odd behaviour.
A pained look appeared on the smaller boys face but it was gone only a split second later it was gone and replaced by a small smile. "It would be stupid to deny that there's something up with him, wouldn't it?"
Hanai nodded slowly.
"Well then.", Sakaeguchi sighed. "I don't think that's something I should tell you. You could go and ask him though. I hear him talking to coach Momoe. He said he didn't feel well and wanted to stay at the cottage..."
He flashed his captain an encouraging grin and hurried after Abe and Mihashi.
Hanai frowned. Now he was, except for Tajima, the only one left at the cottage. Everyone else was already gone and it would make no sense to run after them. So he might as well go and ask Tajima what was up with him. But probably it was just non of his business? Maybe Tajima wouldn't want to talk about it? Well, he would definitely say so, if that was the case. Before he could chicken out he rather marched than walked up to the cottage.
A knock at the door. Tajima winced at the sound and almost dropped his Playboy. For once, he wasn't even looking at the women but only read the articles. He didn't even realise what exactly he was reading, he just wanted a distraction from his thoughts.
The door opened and revealed an embarrassed looking Hanai. Tajima swallowed and faked a smile. "Hanai! Have the others gone without you?"
"Very funny.", the captain muttered. "I'm here to find what has been bothering you since yesterday."
"Nothing.", the freckled boy replied immediately. He pretended to start reading again, but soon found Hanai's face in front of his. "Don't lie.", Hanai ground out and grabbed Tajima's shoulder, to prevent him from backing off. "You haven't spoken a word to anyone since we left the restaurant last night and now you're obviously trying to avoid us. So don't give me that crap, just tell me what's going on!"
Much to his dismay, he didn't have an aura half as threatening as Abe and Tajima just smiled bitterly.
"I'm sure you don't want to hear it.", he hissed, "Don't worry, I'll get over it." They glared at each other for a few seconds, until Hanai looked away, blushing. He simply wasn't good at this, talking about problems, dealing with emotions. But he felt like it was his duty as a Captain to find out what bothered his teammate. Tajima on the other hand looked away and pretended to ignore him. Normally Hanai would have had it at this point, but his everlasting ambition to keep up with the talented cleanup hitter wouldn't let him give up now. At least this time he wouldn't cave in.
"Tajima." He tightened the grip on the smaller boys shoulder a little. "You will tell me what's wrong with you. I don't care if it'll make me feel uncomfortable, or what ever may be the reason you think I don't want to hear it, but fact is, I do want to hear it."
Tajima gave a snort of laugh. "Okay. Fine!" He raised his hands in defeat. "But don't pretend I didn't warn you."
Hesitating for a brief moment he looked into Hanai's eyes. They were fixed on him and didn't show only the slightest sign of uncertainty. Tajima sighed.
"I was going to make you go on a date with me. You know, as a prize for the bet. But I realised, it would be quite unfair to force you to do something that would probably disgust you. Because you are the straightest person I've ever seen. You probably want to marry your first big love and have children and buy a little home at the countryside. I don't even know. You just don't want to go on a date with a guy." He shrugged and gave a quiet, humourless laugh. "It's no big deal. I'm just a bit annoyed with myself for getting so excited over the idea. So would you be so kind and leave me alone now, so I can calm down and don't have to embarrass myself any further?"
Hanai just started at him for a second longer, mouth agape and cheeks bright red. Then he jumped up to his feed abruptly. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't think.. that was... you know...", he stuttered, stumbling backwards. "I know.", Tajima said.
Hanai felt like it was better to comply with his demand and left the room. The past minutes, the whole conversation felt surreal to him. Absentmindedly he pulled out his cell phone and looked through his contacts. The blood was rushing through his ears and Hanai could barely hear the dial tone. Finally, someone picket up. "Sakaeguchi?", the captain asked nervously. "Where are you?"
"I went to the beach with Abe and Mihashi... Shall we wait for you?"
The whole way through the forest to the beach was a blur in Hanai's memory. The conversation with Tajima replayed in his head over and over again until he wasn't sure sure which parts really happened and which were made up by his subconsciousness.
"You knew it.", was everything he said when he met Sakaeguchi and the others. The brown haired boy nodded weakly. He knew it. Hanai shook is head. "I never though he... well... does he actually like me?"
Abe frowned and Mihashi turned his head from one side to the other, desperately – and to tell the truth, not very authentically – pretending he didn't listen to the rather private conversation. Sakaeguchi smiled sadly and shrugged. "I'm not really sure.", he admitted. "But I suppose he does."
Hanai swallowed. All this time he had watched the shorter boy more than closely, following his every move on the mound and also keeping an eye on him in school or during practise, and yet, he had never even considered the possibility that he was something more than just a teammate to Tajima. They probably weren't even close friends.
He had always assumed Tajima liked girls. It was a very plausible assumption, considering the amount of naked girls he looked at in his stupid porno magazines. Then again, as far as Hanai knew Tajima had never shown any genuine interest in a girl. But he had always thought Tajima just wasn't interested in a relationship. If he happened to like someone, Hanai expected him walk straight up to them and force them to go out with him.
Finally, Sakaeguchi's voice brought him back to reality. "I hope you were careful with him, even though..."
"Even though what?", the captain inquired. Suddenly he felt like there was a puzzle piece missing, like there was something everyone else knew, except for him.
"Well, what you said about how you wouldn't want to date anther guy...", the brown haired boy explained hesitant. "Tajima told me. That's why he didn't want to ask you."
Tajima spent the whole afternoon alone at the cottage, hoping none of the others would ever return. And if they had to, maybe Hanai could be the last to return so he could pretend to be asleep and didn't have to talk to him. But of course life couldn't grant him this wish. Hanai, Sakaeguchi, Mihashi and Abe were the first to return. Tajima ignored them. He knew Sakaeguchi would understand, he could explain it to Mihashi later and he didn't care about Abe anyway. But Hanai ruined this plan as well.
"I need to talk to you.", he announced and grabbed the shorter boy's wrist. Before he could even protest Tajima was pulled to his feet and dragged across the room. He made a mental note to sue Sakaeguchi, who did nothing but watch them curiously, for failure to assist a person in danger.
They stopped somewhere a little off the beaten track. Hanai placed Tajima with his back against tree. Tajima glared at him but found himself unable to escape with Hanai's hands positioned on either side of his head. "What is it.", he grumbled.
Hanai took a deep breath, raised his head and looked the shorter boy straight in the eye. "Would you like to go and see a movie with me sometime? I'll treat you."
Jaw dropped, browns risen dangerously close to his hairline and eyes as big and round as plates, Tajima stared at the taller boy. "What.", was everything he managed to get out. Hanai sighed and scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
"What I said about, you know, how I couldn't imagine to go out with someone from the team..."
Tajima nodded. He remembered very well.
"I meant it.", Hanai continued, "I couldn't imagine dating another guy. I still can't. But with you, I wouldn't mind to give it a try..."
"I don't need your pity.", Tajima straightened out. His voice was quiet and he very much tried to maintain his composure, to not get any hopes about this. Hanai shook his head and placed his second hand on the tree again. Tajima saw him bite his lower lip, like he often did when he was struggling to find the right words. The shorter boy forced himself to wait.
"It's not pity. I want it.", he finally said, voice barely above a whisper. "And I wish I hadn't said anything that made you change your mind about asking me, because if you had just asked me, I probably would have said yes. And on top of that, I hate to see you moping "
Tajima's eyes couldn't possibly get any bigger and he had to try very hard to fight back the smile that was tugging at his lips. This couldn't be real, could it?
The taller boy looked at him hopefully. Carefully he reached out his hand and gently touched the back of Tajima's hand. Tajima winced at the soft touch and finally couldn't fight his grin back anymore.
"I fear you might regret this later!", he said, shaking his head. Hanai smile back at him.
"So, are they going out now?" Izumis questioned, observing Hanai and Tajima from their classroom window. The two of them stood right below the window, yet Izumi couldn't understand a word they said.
"Well, they went on a few dates." Sakaeguchi announced, proud to be optimally informed.
Mizutani chuckled. "Well, if you ask me it was kinda-" He was interrupted by the buzz of cell phone. The three boys looked around to localise the sound. Izumin was the first to notice it was Sakaeguchi's cell phone, lying on the table behind him. We was about to hand it over to it's owner, when he caught a glimpse of the display.
"One new messgae. Wait, who is Kashima?"