On the first day of their second week as sophomores, Kanou comes to morning practice with clenched fists and a miserable expression on his perfect face.
Hatake rushes to his side, because Kanou is the centre of his universe and should never, ever be unhappy, ever. And one day, Kanou is going to realise just how much Hatake cares for him, and they’ll move in together and never be separated ever again and everything will be perfect.
Miyagawa rushes to Kanou’s side, too, but that’s because he’s kind of an idiot copycat and spends half his life aping Hatake.
“What happened?” Hatake asks, as gently as he can manage, and crouches down beside Kanou.
“Nothing,” Kanou replies, and walks away.
Hatake gives him a few minutes to calm down, then catches up to him and asks again. He doesn’t want Kanou to ever think that he isn’t special, that he’s not worth worrying about.
“Seriously, what happened?”
“Go away, Hatake.”
Their interactions continue in more or less the same vein through the morning practice, morning classes, lunch, and well into the afternoon classes. Eventually, when Hatake follows Kanou to the bathroom for the third time – hey, he could slip and hurt himself or something in his fragile state – Kanou gives in.
“Fine,” he mutters, elbowing Hatake aside. “But don’t tell anyone. And don’t freak out, okay?”
“Okay,” Hatake says, happily. Kanou is trusting him. This is important, because they’re almost definitely going to get married one day.
Kanou drags him into an empty hallway and checks over both shoulders. Kanou is, like, weirdly private. Hatake doesn’t understand it, but he respects it. He respects everything about Kanou. Because Kanou is fantastic.
“It’s Mihashi,” Kanou admits, glaring at the floor. “He called me last night. He wanted to tell me how happy he is, because apparently he’s…he’s…dating his stupid catcher.”
And then Kanou kind of sags against the wall, and looks small and bereft and Hatake has no idea what to do.
First he tries pointing out how that is excellent news, because only a loser like the Nishiura catcher deserved to spend the rest of their life with stupid fucking Mihashi. But that kind of makes Kanou get wet-eyed and slam his fist against the wall.
So then Hatake tries reminding Kanou that he is the best pitcher in Japan and shouldn’t worry about ugly nepotism-getting dickheads. But then Kanou kind of sinks to the floor and his shoulders start shaking, so Hatake knows that it’s bad, Kanou is feeling really awful, and he has to do something to fix all of this.
So he offers to break Mihashi’s arm.
Then he offers to break both of Mihashi’s arms.
Then he hesitantly offers to break Mihashi’s catcher.
When nothing works, and Kanou seems to be looking for something to throw, Hatake eventually gives up and resorts to the only Kanou-mollifying technique that ever seems to work.
He goes to the classroom next door.
“I’m trying to study,” Oda complains, as Hatake drags him out by his elbow.
“Kanou’s upset,” Hatake tells him, morosely, and Oda shuts up.
“Fuck off,” Kanou snarls, as soon as Hatake peeks into the hall. And it hurts Hatake when he talks like that, but even the closest of batteries fight sometimes. Oda told him so, and Oda knows everything about everything, so it must be true. Just because they fight doesn’t mean anything.
“You okay?” Oda asks, quietly. Everything he says is languid and slow. Hatake wonders what it must be like to be so…unemotional. He doesn’t think he’d like it. He wants to adore Kanou forever.
“Oh, it’s you,” Kanou says, getting to his feet. “I’m fine. I’m sorry Hatake bothered you.”
Oda pats him on the head, just once. If Hatake tried that, Kanou would gnaw his hand off. But Oda tends to get away with things by virtue of being huge and tall and incredibly, incredibly cool.
“Okay,” he says, easily. “Wasn’t questioning whether you were fine. S’okay to be fine and have problems sometimes, you know. Nobody’s going to call you weak. Especially not you.”
“I know,” Kanou says, angrily, but a little less angrily than before. Oda is kind of magic. Hatake thinks maybe his relaxed attitude is a little bit contagious.
“Good,” Oda says, slinging an arm around Hatake’s neck. “Come on, you two, let’s go back to class. Kanou, you know my extension if you ever do want to talk.”
And that’s the end of that. Kanou doesn’t speak to Hatake for the rest of class, though, and Hatake grits his teeth and doesn’t protest.
When Kanou gets home, he waits half an hour before calling Oda.
He doesn’t really like Oda as a person. He’s just one of those tall, handsome guys who gets all the attention just by existing. Even batting and throwing aren’t difficult for him, but Kanou has to work hard at everything, and it just isn’t fair. He hates Oda, a little bit, but Oda is a decent teammate and gives pretty sensible advice and he’s the only person in the entire baseball team who can be trusted to keep a secret, so Kanou calls him and explains the whole awful fucking situation again.
And God. It’s just. It’s hard to think about. He always thought that one day he’d square things with Mihashi. He thought it had been enough when Nishiura beat them in the practice game. He’d thought, what with the phone-calls and the ‘Shu-chan’ and the way Kanou believed in him from the very beginning, that maybe he still had a chance.
Stupid, smug, dopey-eyed Ade.
“It’s Abe,” Oda corrects him, gently. “And you do realise Mihashi isn’t married to the guy, right? Just because they’re dating now doesn’t mean they’ll work out in the long run.”
“But he could have chosen me,” Kanou reasons. “He could have, and he didn’t.”
He would never, ever say something like this to Hatake. Hatake keeps Kanou’s secrets, too, but in a way he isn’t trustworthy at all. He’s bullish and overbearing and he tries to control Kanou’s life and he hurt Mihashi.
“That’s true,” Oda rumbles. “But you can’t go blaming Mihashi for not knowing how you feel. If they break up, then you’ll have your chance.”
Kanou knows that. He knows, he knows, he knows. God, Oda is no fucking use.
“If,” he says, bitterly. “If.”
“Listen, you’re our pitcher now, right? Isn’t there anything else that you want, other than Mihashi? Do you want to go pro? Do you want to even get to Koshien? ”
“That’s the stupidest fucking question I’ve ever heard,” Kanou snarls, and hangs up on him.
That evening, Hatake goes to visit Kanou, because he’s no stranger to apologising to his gorgeous pitcher, and also because there’s the off chance that Mihashi might be visiting his cousin and then Hatake could kill him and fix all of Kanou’s problems. Miyagawa walks part of the way with him, but then Hatake sends him away because he doesn’t want there to be any witnesses.
When he arrives, though, Mihashi isn’t around. Maybe that’s best for Kanou’s delicate state of mind.
“I’m sorry about today,” he says, as respectfully as possible.
“Please get out of my house,” Kanou replies, and kicks him.
The next day Mihashi sends Kanou a message about how he’d really like Kanou to meet up with Abe, so that his ‘two best friends could get to know each other’.
Kanou texts back that he’s busy. Then he goes to delete Mihashi’s message, but he can’t.
It’s from Mihashi.
Everything sucks. Kanou flunks his homework, fails miserably at batting practice, and can’t seem to get a ball in the fucking strike zone to save his fucking life. He ignores everyone for an entire week. Hatake fawns over him like some sort of mother hen. The rest of the team tiptoes around on eggshells. Oda treats him like a normal person, though. Probably because he’s too dense and too new to the team to understand the social dynamics.
Kanou only ignores him for half a day. He needs someone to listen to him talk about Mihashi, after all.
The next week, they have a practice game. And because Kanou is amazing, they win. Hatake is absolutely convinced that Kanou is always the reason they win. And if they lose, it’s because the other team cheated. Or because Yoshi sucks. Or – if Hatake applies his own special brand of bitter logic – because of Mihashi, somehow.
Hatake manages to get Miyagawa to go away by promising to walk home with him later, and he sits with Kanou and Oda in reasonably companionable silence.
Oda is a good supplement, both to their team and to Hatake’s all-consuming love of Kanou. He always keeps the conversation moving nicely, and prevents things from getting all awkward and Mihashi-focused. Plus, when Oda is around, Kanou kicks him less. And that’s good. Hatake doesn’t want Kanou to get into the habit of kicking him, because that will make things painful once Kanou gets over Mihashi and falls for Hatake and they become joined-at-the-hip soulmates.
Hatake really fucking hates Mihashi. Good pitcher or not, Mihashi takes everything away from him. But still, he has Kanou now. All those extra hours, all that effort, all those bruises from trying to catch the super-deep forkball, they were all worth it.
Kanou is worth everything.
Kanou sucks on his bright orange ice-block and sighs.
“I don’t even know why I talk to you two about it,” he says, waving one hand in the air. “Neither of you understand how I feel about Mihashi. It’s not just some thing that’s going to go away.”
“In case you weren’t aware,” Oda tells him, politely. “You are being a jerk.”
“No he isn’t,” Hatake yells, horrified.
Oda is supposed to be fucking helping him with this. He’s supposed to be supporting Kanou and making sure Kanou feels safe and loved and wonderful, just like he should always feel, all the time. Everyone else in the team understands how important this is, but Oda is just being fucking obnoxious today.
Probably he thinks he’s top shit because there were a bunch of girls in the stands who asked him to sign their shirts. Well, whatever. There were probably even more girls here to see Kanou, they just had the decency to leave early. Kanou lives next to a girl, and is therefore infinitely more manly than Oda, who lives in the dorms. Not that Hatake wants Kanou to hook up with a girl, but the point of the matter is that Oda is being disrespectful and quite frankly Hatake expected better from him.
“No one is saying it’s just ‘some thing that’s going to go away’,” Oda clarifies, unhelpfully. “But you implied neither of us are capable of loving someone. That’s…kind of harsh, Kanou.”
Kanou sits up and rounds on Oda, eyes glittering.
“Keep your sanctimonious opinions to yourself, Kansai,” he says, darkly. “You might be a good ball-player, but I am getting really sick of you.”
“Sick of me?” Oda asks, sounding infuriatingly calm and not at all devastated. Being disliked by Kanou is like the end of the world. He’s really not striking the proper tone. Maybe including him in the watertight Kanou-Hatake friendship was a huge mistake.
“Yes,” Kanou says, curtly, gesturing with his iced lolly. “You’ve got everything. If I were tall, and popular, and perfect, and oh-so-sensible, and practically famous, I bet everyone would love me, too.”
It’s such a weird thing to say. It’s stupid and childish, because everyone on the team does love Kanou. Hatake told them all, right at the very beginning. He thinks he possibly even threatened to break fingers and toes if they didn’t love Kanou enough. And even without threats, Kanou’s innate adorableness and amazing attitude and sheer tenacity means he always has plenty of admirers. Hatake cannot comprehend why he’s competing with a giant loser from Kansai.
Then again, Kanou does like to compete with utter losers. That much has been proven.
Oda spears Kanou with a bland-yet-calculating look.
“I would argue that you are popular,” he says, slowly. “I can’t help with fame or perceived sensibility, though, and I doubt I’d even be able to define ‘perfect’. But I can help with the height thing, if you want.”
Kanou blinks at him, looking as taken-aback as Hatake feels. Oda saps people’s emotional outbursts, but not usually so effectively.
“What?” Kanou says, carefully. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
On Saturday, the whole team goes to the movies. Their coach recommends that they bond out-of-school, and half the boys are living in dormitories, anyway, so it’s not as if they have anything better to do.
“We won’t be able to do this once we’re pros,” Kadota jokes. “Everyone will recognise us and we’ll be mobbed.”
“We won’t be all together once we’re pros,” Hatake reminds him, soberly.
Miyagawa shoulder-checks him.
“Don’t worry about that,” he says, warmly. “That’s a long way away.”
At that moment, Hatake seems to realise that Kanou is in the building.
“Hey,” he says, brushing Miyagawa aside. “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”
“I’m here,” Kanou grumbles. He still doesn’t fucking want to talk about things. He just wants to watch a fucking movie. He wants to spend an hour not having to deal with Hatake or Mihashi or thinking about stupid, stupid, stupid Abe Takaya.
“You didn’t bring Ruri?” Yoshi asks, sounding disappointed.
“Seriously, Yoshi, with those observational skills, you should be a detective,” Kanou tells him.
Hatake elbows him in the ribs, and Kanou kind of hates it. He hates that Hatake makes such an effort to be familiar with him. He doesn’t want Hatake. He doesn’t want anyone.
Except Mihashi. Everything could have been perfect, if he’d just…if he’d just…
Kanou could have made him happy. Kanou could have helped him, supported him, gotten him back to the Mihashi he knew, who didn’t stutter or fumble or bow his head in fear. Now Mihashi’s taken up with a guy he’s terrified of, and there’s nothing Kanou can do about it.
The world just isn’t fair. Mihashi is the better pitcher. All Kanou ever wanted to do was be with him.
“That’s because last time, you guys harassed her until she had to go and hide behind Oda,” Hatake tells Yoshi, flicking him behind the ear.
“I’m not a tree, you know,” Oda says, diffidently.
“I didn’t harass her,” Yoshi protests, his cheeks turning pink. “I just…wanted to talk to her.”
“You all wanted to talk to her at once,” Hatake points out.
“I didn’t,” Miyagawa points out, but nobody really listens to him. Miyagawa is kind of gentle and quiet, but gets into a lot of trouble because he does everything Hatake tells him to. Kanou tries to keep an eye on him. He’d hate for Hatake to start bullying someone else.
It’s all your fault. If you’d just believed in him, if you’d just led him properly. If you’d just LISTENED TO ME.
Mihashi would never have left. He’d never have met the Nishiura catcher. Everything would have been okay.
“Come on,” Hatake says, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go, you guys.”
The cinema is on the top floor of an enormous shopping mall. They’ve got quite a walk before they arrive. Kanou turns to Oda.
“You really going to do this?” he asks, doubtfully.
“I offered, didn’t I?” Oda returns. As the others amble off he crouches low on the ground, next to Kanou’s feet.
Oda’s gotten even taller since last year. Kanou hates the way he towers over everyone. It’s good for batting, good for baseball, he just wishes he didn’t have to know guys like Oda in real life.
“How am I even supposed to do this?” Kanou mutters. It’s childish and stupid, and he really ought to end this whole thing now.
“Just stand in front of me,” Oda tells him.
Kanou does, and thinks that he definitely wouldn’t trust Hatake in this position. Hatake would probably drop him on his head. Actually, he’s not sure he trusts Oda, and this is definitely a bad idea, and maybe he’ll end up in hospital or dead and he’ll never even see Mihashi again and he should definitely not go through with this.
Three seconds later, Oda is on his feet and Kanou is sitting on his fucking shoulders, and suddenly all the other mall-goers seem really short and this is the best fucking idea anyone has ever had.
“You okay up there?” Oda asks, his massive hands closing around Kanou’s ankles. “You’re not going to fall?”
“Definitely not,” Kanou assures him.
Oda kind of jogs to catch up with the others, and everybody gets out of his way. Nobody runs into Kanou, or pats him on the head, or tries to walk straight through him because he’s small. Everybody stares at them, though, because teenage boys don’t usually carry each other around.
Kanou waves back at them cheerfully.
Being tall is awesome.
“If you drop him,” Hatake declares, “I will beat you to a pulp.”
He really hopes Oda doesn’t drop Kanou, because he thinks his heart might just stop completely if Kanou ever got seriously injured. Also, Oda is huge and could probably knock the stuffing out of him in a fight.
Kanou seems happy, though. It must suck to be short, and have trouble seeing over counters and things, but Kanou is just so cute the way he is. Privately, Hatake hopes he never gets taller. He doesn’t want to marry someone taller than he is; that would be weird. But he’d do it, for Kanou. He’d marry Kanou even if Kanou got to Oda’s height, because Kanou is the love of his life.
Hatake isn’t gay. He’s not attracted to other men. It’s just that Kanou is so special that he overrides Hatake’s natural programming. Hatake is pretty sure that everyone is a little bit in love with Kanou. Except for stupid, blind Mihashi. And Oda, who has arrow-like straightness.
“Hey Hatake,” Kanou calls. “You’re going bald on top!”
“I am not!” Hatake says, indignantly, pressing a hand to his scalp just in case.
“I can see eeeeverything!” Kanou says, gleefully, hugging the top of Oda’s head. “You have no secrets from me!”
“You’re like an extra metre off the ground,” Miyagawa points out, grumpily. “You’re not standing on top of a lighthouse, Kanou.”
“Thank you,” Oda murmurs. Hatake wonders if he gets compared to inanimate objects a lot. That must get annoying. Serves him right for upsetting Kanou, though.
He seems to be redeeming himself today, which is good. Hatake might even forgive him.
“You could have felt tall if you’d brought Ruri,” Yoshi whines, loudly. “She’s shorter than all of us.”
“And cuter,” Hiiragi adds, even more loudly.
“Okay, everyone is staring at us,” Kanou tells them. “Can we go inside, now?
“This movie had better be about baseball,” Kadota announces.
“It had better be about girls,” Yoshi corrects.
“You’d better come down from there, Kanou,” he says, tiredly. “You’ll bump your head on the fittings, otherwise.”
It would have been so much better if it had been just the two of them, seeing a movie, together. But Kanou almost never goes out with him unless someone else comes along.
Clearly it’s just a phase he’s going through. One day, one day he will acknowledge Hatake and everything will be good and true and right with the world.
Kanou’s been in love with that fucking little Mihashi for a long time, though, and sometimes. Sometimes Hatake worries.
He worries all the time, actually.
Oda kneels down and puts one hand above his head.
“Take it,” he advises. “I don’t want you to fall.”
“I won’t fall,” Kanou informs him, primly, but he takes it anyway. Oda has a really strong grip. If he wanted to, he could probably be a pretty decent pitcher in his own right. Kanou wouldn’t stand a chance.
Maybe things would be equal then. Maybe he’d be squashed out of play, the same way Mihashi was squashed out of the team.
And that’s it. He’s back at floor level, and all his problems and bad feelings are right here where he left them.
“Come on,” he mutters. “Let’s go.”
In class, Hatake always sits next to Kanou. Miyagawa always sits next to him, but that’s just because he’s an annoying copycat loner. Not that Hatake is a loner, because Hatake has Kanou, and Kanou is worth like a million other friends.
The thing is.
The thing is that Kanou isn’t pitching to full capacity. And that’s…that’s terrible. He obviously still isn’t happy. And Hatake isn’t sure what to do, or what to say. He could involve Oda, but he doesn’t trust Oda not to call Kanou a jerk and make everything worse again.
Kanou is humming to himself, tunelessly, and doodling a stick-figure in the margins of his notebook. The stick-figure looks suspiciously like Mihashi.
Sometimes, Hatake feels absolutely helpless. Like there’s nothing he can do for Kanou. And fuck, no, that can’t happen. He’s cared about Kanou for as long as he can remember. Kanou is his pitcher; his person.
He has to work this out, somehow.
A few nights later, Mihashi calls him again.
“Shu-chan,” he says, and he still has that frightened, explosive way of talking, like every syllable is simultaneously difficult to form and eager to escape. “I-I-I’ve been thinking. We should. M-mihoshi. An-another practice game!”
Kanou used to be the only person at school who could translate his semi-coherent babble. But according to Ruri, most of his team can understand him now.
“I’m sorry,” he says, politely. “We’re really busy at the minute.”
“Oh,” Mihashi says, reading the rejection for what it is, and Kanou had forgotten how damn perceptive he was. “O-okay.”
Fuck. Kanou hadn’t meant to upset him.
“Tell your coach to call our coach,” he suggests, quickly. “Maybe they can arrange something. I don’t know.”
Damnit. He doesn’t want to play against Mihashi’s stupid new team. And he doesn’t want to meet Mihashi’s stupid boyfriend. Why is this so difficult for Mihashi to understand?
‘You can’t go blaming Mihashi for not knowing how you feel.’
And now it’s too late.
“Oh! Yeah, ma-maybe,” Mihashi says, his voice perking up a little.
“I’ve got to go,” Kanou tells him, gruffly.
“Okay,” Mihashi says. “IstillwantyoutomeetAbeoneday. Bye.”
Kanou hangs up and storms out to the garden. He snatches one of his baseballs from under the stair and resolves to do nothing but throw forkballs until he feels better.
An hour later, his arm hurts, and his expensive custom-made pitching target is sporting several fresh new scratches, and he still doesn’t feel better.
He doesn’t fucking want to. He can’t be the bigger man in all of this. He’s not…he’s not fucking Oda. He just wants to go back and be young and enthusiastic about baseball and with Mihashi. He’d trade Hatake in for Mihashi in a heartbeat, and maybe that’s a terrible thing.
Kanou isn’t a good person. He’s a fair person, but he’s not a good person. He only ever said Mihashi was better because Mihashi. Was. Better.
His forkballs suck. He’s slipping. The coach has had words with him. They won the practice game, but not by much. He doesn’t care.
He can’t stop feeling bad. He eats dinner and doesn’t speak with his family. Mihashi was all of his good feelings. Mihashi and pitching. But Mihashi is so intrinsically linked to pitching that now he can’t separate the two of them. Now nothing is good.
Kanou reaches for his phone and dials Oda’s extension.
“Can we go for a walk?”
“It’s nine o’clock at night.”
“I know. Can we go for a walk?”
“This sounds suspiciously like ‘can you carry me again’,” Oda says, lazily.
“I want to be tall again,” Kanou clarifies, and he really shouldn’t have to explain this much. The giant dickhead knows what he’s talking about.
“I’ll meet you at the library in fifteen minutes,” Oda tells him, and Kanou feels strangely relieved.
“So, what happened?” Oda asks, ambling along the street, more or less in the direction of the nearest ice-cream shop. “Is this about Mihashi, or Hatake, or something else?”
Kanou huffs into the cool night-air.
“Mihashi. When is it ever about Hatake?”
“I’ve noticed that.”
“The way it’s never about Hatake,” Oda says, languidly. “Isn’t he your closest friend?”
Kanou stumbles over his reply, because he doesn’t have a closest friend. Ruri is his friend-of-convenience, and Mihashi is his idol, and Hatake is his person-who-is-always-there, and Oda is the one who solves his problems. He’s split the role of ‘best friend’ into four different people.
“Kind of,” he replies, evasively. “He’s kind of bossy, and annoying.”
“Mm,” Oda says. “Okay. Tell me about Mihashi, then.”
Kanou feels a little better, because this is exactly what he wants to do. He wants to talk about Mihashi, sitting up here on Oda’s shoulders, where everything is below him and he doesn’t feel so overwhelmed and alone.
“He keeps wanting me to meet his new boyfriend,” he says, and his voice comes out a whole lot pettier and less-manly than he intended.
Oh well. It’s only Oda. Kanou has cried in front of him before, and gotten away with it. Oda never has to try to appear masculine. He just is. Kanou hates him for that, as well. He has quite a long list of things he hates about Oda, but up here, he doesn’t really care. Oda is kind of inert. He has his hands on Kanou’s calves, and Kanou feels warm enough and safe enough.
“I’m not surprised. That means he values your friendship.”
Kanou groans and knocks his forehead against the back of Oda’s head.
“I know that,” he grumbles. “But how can I tell him I don’t want to meet the bastard if I can’t tell him how I feel?”
Kanou hates talking about his feelings. Especially to Oda, who probably doesn’t have feelings ever because he is so cool and suave and tall.
Kanou is tall right now, too, and it’s the only thing keeping his brain from exploding.
“Tell him you’ll meet Abe when you’re ready,” Oda suggests.
And for a smart, sensible, advice-giving guy, that is really useless advice. Super useless. Kanou kind of wants to kick him, only he doesn’t.
“Right,” he says, dejectedly. “Whatever.”
Oda buys him ice-cream and carries him home, though, and Kanou feels ever-so-slightly better.
The next day, Kanou’s accuracy has ever-so-slightly improved. Hatake notices because he spends his whole life cataloguing everything that Kanou does, to the tiniest measurable degree.
Good. Maybe soon he’ll get over Mihashi and finally, finally, finally choose Hatake and everything will be as it ought to be.
Kanou spends all of their lunch period talking with Oda, which is annoying. He’s supposed to make things better for Hatake, not take over completely.
Maybe Kansai guys don’t understand the deep, meaningful sacredness of the pitcher-catcher relationship. And anyway, Kanou like hated Oda the other week, and now they’re friends or something. So clearly this is just a phase-type-thing, and Kanou will get sick of him and realise that Hatake is his only and best friend in the universe and that will be almost as good as getting married. Almost.
But maybe Hatake needs to be careful. Maybe he should, like, make an extra-special-concerted effort to try and help Kanou get over stupid idiot Mihashi and get his life back together. But who can he possibly turn to if Oda is going to be useless and unhelpful? The team is kind of unintuitive and useless and there’s nobody else who knows Kanou really well, except for idiot stupid idiotface Mihashi, and…
Well, okay. There’s her.