"Last one!" Abe said, and set.
Mihashi wound up and let fly. It felt good. It felt really good. And the sound the ball made when it hit Abe's mitt, it was crisp and sharp and - hearing it felt good, too! Mihashi couldn't help but open his mouth in that excited diamond, his almost-smile. He was going to, to tell Abe today. He had to be sure that Abe didn't think he wasn't, he wasn't happy or that he didn't like pitching for him or that this thing they had was anything other than the best thing that had ever happened to him.
"Nice ball!" Abe called, grinning as he stood up from his crouch.
This was the best thing that had ever happened to Mihashi, and that's what made him so afraid to say the wrong thing, but today, he was feeling good and he was so determined and he -- he trotted a few steps forward, closing the gap between himself and Abe.
"Do you feel any fatigue from the day before yesterday?" Abe asked with a smile, his voice bright as he checked in on his stupid, frustrating, weird-and-confusing and (okay, okay, totally adorable pitcher - shut up, it's not like he could use that defense when he was arguing with his dad the night before, or ... even to himself, really, because WHY did he think this weird noodly spaz was so -- so damned endearing) and -- well, okay, it was because Mihashi worked so hard and poured himself into it so much that if Abe didn't check-in Mihashi really might run himself out to the point of collapse trying to do well for the team. For me, Abe couldn't help but think.
Mihashi shook his head furiously, shoulders hitching up as he curled his pitching hand into his glove. "I don't," he stammered, "d-don't feel any!"
Abe suppressed a chuckle at the stupidly hopeful puppy-dog look on Mihashi's face and the way his eyes shone. "All right!" He said, shifting his weight to one side and smiling his dry, subtle smile. "Your balls are coming out nicely, and you're in good condition," Abe said with a purring edge in his voice, indulgent (selfish, so he could soak up the way Mihashi blossomed under praise). "But listen," he continued, forcing his voice back to stern enthusiasm, "The other team has three pitchers. Don't wear yourself out trying to keep pace with them. You're the only ace we have, remember!"
Mihashi shivered, shifting up onto his tiptoes and looking like he'd practically burst with pleasure over that one word - ace - before he nodded and promised, "I won't overdo it!"
Abe couldn't keep from smiling again, just a little at the edges. It felt good to have Mihashi respond to him like that, like he was rising to meet him.
"I-I'm!" Mihashi started, practically beaming, "I'm in good shape today, too!"
Abe felt his chest swell with, yeah, that was definitely pride, listening to Mihashi speak highly of himself. He was growing so quickly, and Abe couldn't help from giving him another verbal pat on the head. "Yeah! It feels good to catch for you," he said honestly, and then ducked his head and turned to leave, so Mihashi wouldn't see just how broad that dry smile of his was getting. Abe wondered sometimes at how Mihashi could simultaneously be so frustrating and make him feel so happy.
Mihashi was still scared sometimes, still nervous about making Abe hate him or about disappointing him, but he was going to tell him today, he'd decided, and he didn't want Abe to leave yet. Sometimes it felt so good just to play catch-ball together, to be a battery, to be a unit working together and Mihashi didn't want to give it up, this feeling of closeness that made his heart swell along with his confidence. "It's --" he blurted, "It's all because of Abe-kun!"
Abe stopped, turning to look back at Mihashi with a look of surprise and bewilderment and he looks so happy, putting his heart out there and saying something for once -- wait, heart? But before Abe could say or even think anything else, Mihashi was plowing ahead.
Mihashi was determined to make Abe understand how much he valued him, his company, his companionship, his advice, his help, his sometimes-terrifying him-ness, all of it, and so he continued. "E-everything! The pitch count, the stretching, the onigiri, I'm --"
Mihashi glanced away, cheeks flushing, "I can do any of those things alone, so -- it's all because of Abe-kun, that I'm in good condition, that I'm -- that I -- it's all thanks to you!"
Mihashi's brows were creased in the middle like he was worried and embarrassed and afraid, but that diamond-shaped mouth of his was still wide and smiling as he forced his voice right over anything else Abe could've done to interrupt, "So, because, because of Abe-kun, I -- I want to win!"
Mihashi shrugged up his shoulders and seemed to snuggle into himself, squeezing his eyes shut before saying that amazing phrase, that he'd never have had the nerve to admit before, that he could only be brave enough to say because Abe was there to support him and make it come true. "I want to win!"
Abe felt his face break, his eyebrows scrunching up at the center in a subtle imitation of Mihashi's own expression, felt his jaw go slack and his mouth curve into a bewildered, delighted smile. All that pressure, that tension in Mihashi's hunched shoulders and close-hugging arms and trembling body welled up like a wave in Abe's chest and in that moment Mihashi's dumb face was the most beautiful thing Abe had ever seen, and that stupid nasal stammery voice was the most perfect thing he had ever heard. Abe stormed across the grass between them, making Mihashi cringe in surprise at the sudden, aggressive intrusion into his personal space and Abe buried his hands, mitt and all, in Mihashi's hair. Abe looked him straight in the eye, hope and pride and excitement and delight and affection clear as day on Abe's face, before he made a choked sound and ruffled Mihashi's hair as hard as he could.
Mihashi gave a little laugh-yelp in surprise and ducked into Abe's touch, grinning and giggling in spite of how fast his heart was going because this felt so good to be close and familiar and physical. "You understood!" Abe was laughing, delighted and tingling down to his toes at the way Mihashi leaned into him, like an affectionate cat getting its ears ruffled. Whatever his dad had been talking about before, in that moment, Abe felt like he and Mihashi just got it.
"I understand!" Mihashi blurted back in an excited whine, his eyes bright and warm and flecked with gold from the sunlight and holding Abe's gaze with something like absolute adoration. Abe saw that reverent, timid admiration and it hit him that with those eyes like stars and that mouth with those pink lips and that face with its hopeful expression and deep blush Mihashi was absolutely fucking gorgeous sometimes.
They were on the pitch, with people in the stands watching them prepare, but Abe realized that there was something he wanted to do that he couldn't just do right this minute and -- and Mihashi ducked under his arm, leaning into that one-armed hug and nuzzled his face into Abe's shoulder. "You understand?" Abe asked again, his voice softer and hitched a little with nervous excitement, as he rested his chin on top of Mihashi's head.
"I understand," Mihashi said again, wrapping his arm around Abe's waist to return the hug, red to his ears and grinning.
Abe could feel his cheeks getting hot as he glanced up and back over his shoulder, before tugging Mihashi back into the dugout, passed their teammates and into the changing room. Mihashi gave a little nervous giggle as they passed Tajima, but nobody followed them as Abe dragged Mihashi around a corner by the water fountains and in one swift motion shoved him up against the wall.
For once in his life Mihashi was trembling, but not with fear or shame or embarrassment. He arched up instinctively, stretching on his tip-toes and clutching the sides of Abe's chestgear. Abe hadn't processed entirely what it was that he was doing (aside from that it was exactly what he wanted to do in that moment, consequences be damned) until his mouth was on Mihashi's and he swallowed the little whimpering gasp Mihashi made when their mouths opened into the kiss. It was deep and intense and amazing, sweet-tasting and hot and Mihashi's tongue was small and soft and timid and fucking delicious. Abe made a low groaning sound in the back of his throat as his knee slid between Mihashi's thighs. Mihashi trembled between Abe and the wall and hung on, one arm sliding up over Abe's shoulder and into the hair at the nape of his neck. This was amazing.
Mihashi had thought, tentatively, about what it might feel like to absolutely know that Abe didn't hate him, that they had something between them that was special, because it felt that way, ever since they'd held hands at Mihoshi that day. He had thought about ways to show Abe how much he cared about what Abe thought and what Abe did for him but he'd never thought that it would be so simple. So natural. So easy.
Mihashi sucked gently, eagerly on the tip of Abe's tongue, overwhelmed and wanting more at the same time. He squeezed his thighs together around Abe's knee, trembling at the pressure and the way it made Abe press in closer to him, hips pinning Mihashi to the wall.
A noise outside and Hanai's voice broke them apart, breathing heavily and staring at each other for a long moment, without any words and without, for once, needing any. Abe couldn't help being amazed at himself, for kissing his pitcher when he hadn't even really realized he'd wanted to until today. He was amazed at what he'd done, he was amazed at how Mihashi had tasted and felt under his hands and against his body, was amazed at how brightly Mihashi's eyes shown even in the darkened locker room below the dugout, was amazed at how pink kisses made Mihashi's lips.
Abe started to say something but Mihashi smiled a shy, wobbly smile and swallowed a laugh of delight and shook his head, because they understood and they were a battery and words were for strangers to get to know each other with.
"Guys?" Hanai called again, "Do I need to come down there? It's time!"
"We're coming," Abe snarled, glaring at the stairwell and a little surprised at how angry he sounded, even as he (reluctantly) pulled away from Mihashi so the other boy could head for the stairs. Mihashi scrambled out of the locker room and into the dugout practically shaking with supressed energy - happiness, Abe realized with pleasant surprise.
Up in the dugout with the rest of the team, just before starting the game, Mihashi - cheeks flushed and eyes sharp - looked straight at Abe like nobody else in the world was there and said softly, "L-let's -- go, win."
Abe gave him that amazed, delighted, soft-eyed smitten look again for just a moment, before narrowing his eyes and giving Mihashi a wolfish smile. "Let's," he agreed.
They had a lot more to not-say to each other, but... they could work on that kind of communication after the game - after, Abe told himself, I give my ace another win.