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Koume thought that the sound of bat connecting with hardball could be one of the most wonderful things one could hear. It was the sound that said that maybe, just maybe, Akiko-san's plan wasn't as crazy as they all thought it was. The sound could also be one of the most terrifying. It was the sound of Curtland-sensei during fielding drills, and the promise of more running if no one could catch well that day. The sound of the batter from Fujimi Secondary connecting with Akiko-san's pitch wasn't wonderful or terrifying. It was horrible, and made even more horrible because Akiko-san had wanted to try out a new pitch. The pitch she threw, however, wasn't a new pitch at all, just one of her straight ones.

"Did it curve?" Koume knew that she had to hold out a little hope so that Akiko-san didn't think her efforts were in vain.

"No, not at all," said the batter from Fujimi Secondary. Koume heard and felt Akiko-san's glove slip and fall on the path more than she saw it. Akiko-san followed her glove, now on her knees. The batter thanked them for the game and left. He sounded and acted like one of the boys from Sakashita Primary.

Koume took off her mask and walked to Akiko-san. She was still kneeling, but kept her head high and shoulders straight. Akiko-san could keep her moods to herself better than any other person Koume knew. As her catcher and as her friend, however, Koume needed to read and understand Akiko-san, and right now Akiko-san needed someone to be close.

Koume knelt down in front of Akiko-san and wrapped her arms around her. She rested her head against Akiko-san's and waited. Koume felt Akiko-san shift her body to move into the embrace. Akiko-san put a hand on Koume's neck and the another at her waist and pulled herself closer. Akiko-san's fingertips weren't as soft as they had been before. Koume figured that they all must have calluses now, but Akiko-san's fingers... would be always be Akiko-san's, soft or not.

Koume took a breath and pulled away from Akiko-san. She ignored that the breath had been a little shaky. She had to make Akiko-san feel better, and this had always worked with Koume herself when she had been a little girl... She pulled away at Akiko-san's mask, parted her bangs, and kissed her on the forehead.

"Koume," Akiko-san said. Her voice was soft but didn't waver, and even had the steel Koume heard whenever Akiko-san was firm in her decision to do something. "You're not my mother." She pulled away from Koume a bit. She looked even more resolute than she sounded. "Pitcher and catcher are supposed to be like husband and wife." Akiko-san leaned in and softly kissed her on the lips.

Koume felt herself grow red and warm. There was a yelling in her head, somewhere, that they shouldn't be doing this. That this was all wrong. The yelling told her that she should stand up, go away, and not have anything to do with Akiko-san again. To think of her parents and to think of Saburo-san. But there was another feeling, the tender warmth that told Koume that this was the best thing to do. She was Akiko-san's catcher, and they were supposed to be united in purpose, so she wouldn't run. Running would be like... like acting Meiji in the Taisho era.

Kissing Akiko-san back was easy, as was catching another pitched kiss. Pitching her own kisses and having Akiko-san catch them was easy, too. Knowing when the two of them should stop kissing proved to be more difficult.