Actions

Work Header

We Are The Kids (You Never Can Kill)

Chapter Text

Abe Takaya listens to the sounds of bats hitting hard balls and he thinks about how it’s probably his favorite sound on this earth.

Regret hits him again, at this point familiar to him as breathing.

So close, he thinks, like he’s been thinking for weeks now. They had been so close to reaching the numbers they needed for a full baseball team. They were just one person away.

Who was he kidding? They might have just needed one more body, but it took more than nine people to make a successful team.

They needed a pitcher. An Ace pitcher. Oki was making do, but it was clear he didn’t really want to be on the mound (and Abe had his fill of pitchers who didn’t want to be on the mound). And in an ideal world, they’d also have an awesome fourth batter. (Hanai was good, but too cocky. Too assured of his own talents without much to challenge him).

Abe sighs and kicks at the dirt. He knew when he came to Nishiura that it was a gamble. It was probably time to admit that he’d gambled and lost.

*

“That kid is back,” Sakaeguchi remarks, holding his hands above his eyes to protect against the glare from the sun.

“What kid?” Mizutani asks, following Sakaeguchi’s gaze.

“You know, that one that always watches our practice.”

“Oh, yeah. Him. I wonder what school he goes to?”

Abe is only dimly paying attention. He’s noticed the kid before, but since he wasn’t a Nishiura student, Abe immediately dismissed him from thought.

“He must really like baseball,” Mizutani says. “If he’s so desperate he likes watching us play.”

“Hey—isn’t—isn’t he wearing a Nishiura uniform today?” Sakaeguchi asks.

Abe whips his head in the direction of the fence where the kid always stands. He is wearing a Nishiura uniform.

Part of him wants to run over there, grab the kid, drag him to the field and ask him to join the team right then and there. If they only had nine people…

He shakes his head, once again reminding himself that even if they had nine people, it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t have an Ace pitcher.

The kid seems to notice everyone watching. He looks poised to flee.

Momoe catches him. Literally. She comes up from behind the boy and grabs him by the shoulders. They exchange only a few words before she forcibly drags him in field.

“We have a pitcher!” she exclaims.

This causes an instant flurry of excitement. Even Abe’s heart starts beating faster in anticipation but he tries to squash that down. Don’t get your hopes up, he tells himself. You don’t have a pitcher yet.

The kid is tugging out Momoe’s grasp in futile movements, like a butterfly caught in a spider’s web. There’s a frantic look on his face that moves beyond desperation and into genuine fear. Abe has never seen someone more terrified to be on a baseball field.

Disappointment finally replaces hope. Damn. I really want a pitcher.

The boy stops struggling against Momoe’s hold. “…No…good…”

“What was that?” Momoe prompts.

“I’m … not good. My... pitch is…slow.” He keeps his gaze down, very decidedly not looking at anyone. And yet somehow Abe gets the feeling the boy was talking to him, so he takes the chance—any pitcher would be better than no pitcher at all.

“How about we just do some practice pitches?” he suggests. “Just so we can gauge what you need to work on.”

The boy still doesn’t look at Abe. Instead, he looks at the mound. The mound Abe had spent a summer making with his own two hands, wondering what kind of pitcher would play on it (only to have his hopes dashed, no pitcher, no one at all). The boy looks at the mound the same way some guys might gaze wistfully at a movie star.

That decides it. Abe tosses the kid a ball. “No hurt in trying. Show us what you can do.”

*

The ball hits his glove square in the middle—Abe didn’t have to move at all. It surprises him so much that he moves from an outside shoot to an inside one just on instinct. The ball hits his glove in the middle again.

And again. And again. And again.

Abe gets up and runs, his heart thumping fast again. It doesn’t feel real—he wonders if he’s dreaming. The kid is amazing.

“Why kind of pitches do you have?” he demands.

As the kid slowly motions four breaking pitches, Abe’s heart skips a beat entirely. This guy. I could do anything with a guy like this. We could win it all.

Abe is pretty sure he’s never wanted something so badly in his life as much as he wants this guy for a pitcher.

“You’re a Nishiura student, right? What class are you in? Why didn’t you join the club at the start of the school year?”

The kid nods his head, then shakes it vigorously.

“What does that even mean?” Abe demands.

“I’m… enrolled. But I don’t…come.”

“What?!” Abe yells, causing the boy to crouch down and cover his head. “You have to come! And join our club! And be our pitcher!” Just his luck—the best pitcher he’s ever seen is apparently some hikikkomori.

The kid looks up at “pitcher” and Abe catches sight of golden eyes. Then the kid ducks his head again, making Abe think that maybe he hallucinated them.

“Uh, guys?” Izumi starts.

“Your control is amazing,” Abe bursts out. “With me as your catcher, you could be the best pitcher in the league!”

The kid shakes his head again and starts crying.

Abe takes a step back. “Did I say something mean?”

“Abe,” Izumi says, his voice a little strangled. “I’m pretty sure this is Mihashi Ren.”

“So?” Abe says. The name means nothing to him. When Momoe stiffens Abe looks back at her and realizes the name does mean something to her. The Nishiura team seems split between those who recognize the name and those who, like Abe, are left in the dark.

Oh,” Momoe says, her voice hitching. It’s like the wind has been knocked out of her. The normally confident, grinning coach is awash with something akin to guilt and tenderness.

“Is he some sort of TV star or something?” Hanai says impatiently. He grabs the boy by the shoulders and forcibly picks him up from the ground. “Do you want to play or don’t you? You come watch our practice all the time! You’re obviously not a complete shut-in! If you’re a Nishiura student, come be our pitcher!”

The boy looks increasingly terrified at each one of Hanai’s shouted words.

Suddenly, Hanai goes lurching forward, as something kicks him in the back. This new force grabs Mihashi by the hand and pulls him out of the group in a whirlwind of movement. A new boy stands protectively in front of Mihashi, glaring death at everyone.

“Don’t bully Mihashi! Anyone who picks on Mihashi has to deal with me!”

The new boy growls in emphasis. The sound sends shivers down Abe’s spine. It’s not a human sound.

The new boy is short—shorter even than Mihashi. With short-cut hair and freckles across his face, he looks like the kid next door, not a threat.

Except he also has pointed wolf-like ears and an angry cat-like tail whipping around, with claws extended from his hands.

Chiyo shrieks, dropping her clip board. Momoe’s dog barks, then shrinks back when the boy growls back.

Abe stares and stares and stares.

*

They’re at some sort of standstill, no one wanting to make any sudden movements when the dog-cat-boy still looks poised to attack.

Mihashi makes the first movement, tugging on the animal boy’s arm and shaking his head. “Not…bullying.”

The boy’s claws detract and he cocks his head to the side as he looks at Mihashi. “Oh! They weren’t bullying you?” he turns back to the team and addresses Hanai, “I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions.”

“…Pitcher…” Mihashi chirps quietly, eyes fixed to the ground.

“They want you for a pitcher? That’s great, Mihashi!” The boy slaps his friend on the back. “You should play! You deserve to practice somewhere besides your backyard.”

Mihashi shakes his head vigorously.

The dog-cat-boy approaches Momoe (a few of the closest take an involuntary step back, but Momoe holds her ground), “Hey, hey, can I practice with you? I’m really, really good, I promise!”

Momoe strikes a considering pose with a gleam in her eye that anyone who knows her would recognize and instantly back away. “If you’re as good as all that, you can join the team.”

“Really?” the boy says, dog ears pricking forward.

“But you have to come to class. Both of you.”

“Awww,” the boy whines. “I don’t want to.”

“Who are you?” Hanai blurts out. He’s still rubbing his back from where the boy hit him earlier.

“Tajima,” he says. “Tajima Yuuichirou.”

Abe jerks at the name—Tajima Yuuichirou had played in the senior leagues. He was really good, if Abe was remembering correctly. But then he’d disappeared from the leagues for some reason…

It couldn’t be the same Tajima. Abe’s pretty sure he would remember rumors of a dog-cat-boy playing in the league. Also, was anyone going to ask about the dog ears? Abe was tempted to think it was some bizarre cosplay fetish, except the animal appendages are too realistic.

“Why don’t you practice with us for today?” Momoe wheedles. “Then we’ll see about joining the team.”

Abe hones in on Mihashi again. Yes. Practice with us. Be our pitcher. We need you. I need you.

Mihashi lifts his gaze again, meeting Abe’s eyes. Gold eyes stare mutely at him. A moment passes with just them staring at each other. Abe feels like he’s on the brink of some communication other than words.

“No,” Tajima says abruptly, interrupting the moment. He grabs Mihashi’s hand. “It couldn’t ever work.”

He pivots, kicking up dirt as he does so, and pulls Mihashi with him. They exit before anyone even has the chance to process how to stop.

“Dude, is anyone going to mention the tail? I wasn’t the only who saw that, right?” Sakaeguchi asks.

Suyama hits him on the back of the head. “Idiot. That was Mihashi Ren. You know. The boy who was kidnapped two years ago.”

*

It all comes crashing down on Abe.

Mihashi Ren went missing in Gunma, but his parents had lived in Saitama, so there was a lot of coverage in the local newspapers.

Abe’s father had sat both his sons down and explained to them what happened and he’d warned them about strangers. At the time, Abe didn’t think too much about it. It hadn’t seemed real. Kidnapping was something that happened on the television, not to anyone he knew.

There had been some resurgence in the news a couple months ago about the rescue of some abducted children. There’d been some really crazy rumors, too outlandish to give any credence to so Abe hadn’t.

Now he thinks about gold eyes and the animal boy, and he thinks maybe he should have paid more attention.

*

Abe’s not an idiot. He knows the lines between “impossible” and “possible” are no longer clear in the world he lives in. The world shifted four years ago when superpowered children escaped the lab they were created in.

But all of that seems so far removed from the world he lives in that it still seems like the stuff of science fiction. Teiko started featuring in the news not that long ago with even crazier information. Now they were saying actual human children had been abducted and experimented on; but even with actual news footage supporting this as fact, it still seemed like something very far away from Abe’s lived experience. Of course he’d heard about it—but it wasn’t something he ever actively tried to learn more about.

“Mihashi Ren is in my class,” Izumi admits. “So is Tajima Yuuichirou. The teacher always calls out their names, but they’re never there. That’s how I knew who they were.”

“I’m surprised they’re even enrolled in high school,” Suyama says. “I mean, if I’d been through all that? I’d probably never leave my house again.”

“Well, clearly they don’t,” Sakaeguchi points out. “Except to watch our practice. Poor kid. I wouldn’t have stared so much if I knew who he was. I hope he comes back tomorrow.”

Not good enough, Abe thinks. It’s not good enough to just have him come back and watch. They need a pitcher. They need that pitcher. And he’s a Nishiura student. Abe would be the worst kind of idiot if he let this chance slip away.

No matter what, he needs to convince Mihashi Ren to come pitch for them.

*

“You want Mihashi,” Momoe says, calling him after practice to talk to him in private.

“Of course I do!” Abe blurts out. “His control is amazing! If we had him—”

“I agree,” Momoe interrupts. “I think it would be good for everyone if he joined our club. Both of them. But Abe-kun, this isn’t the normal situation, you understand? Those kids—if even half of what they say on the news is true about what was going on in the Teiko labs, then they’ve both been through unimaginable horror.”

Abe thinks he probably should do some research about what they say about Teiko.

All of the sudden, Momoe grabs his hand in hers. “Do you want a pitcher?”

“Yes, I do!” Abe says, flustered into honesty by this woman grabbing his hand.

“Then go to him! Go do to him what I’m doing right now and convince him that he belongs with us.”

She wanted him to… hold Mihashi’s hand?

“Do you understand?” she demands.

“Yes!” Abe says, again responding automatically.

“Good. Take care of him, Abe-kun. He needs you.” She stares at him directly in the eyes just long enough for it to be uncomfortable before releasing him.

*

Abe goes home after practice and looks up Teiko.

It is quite possibly the worst thing he’s ever read in his life.

If even half of what they say on the news is true…then they’ve both been through unimaginable horror.

No, Momokan. Abe thinks. Half is too much. If even a tenth of this is true, it’s already too much.

*

Abe feels older just having read about Teiko online. He feels like it’s already too much for him. He spends a fitful night wracked with dreams about the horrors he read about and when he wakes up all he can think about is how much worse it must have been to live it.

The task Momoe put in front of him—go to Mihashi—seems too much for him. It would be easier to pretend he’d never met the boy.

But when he thinks about the ball hitting the center of his glove, over and over again, without him ever moving an inch, he positively aches for how much he wants this boy to pitch for him.

He heaves a giant sigh and gets ready for school.

*

“He didn’t come back,” Sakaeguchi says during practice, his shoulders slumping.

Abe looks over to the fence where the boy usually stands. It looks incredibly empty with no one there watching.

Momoe stares at Abe.

I know, he thinks. I know.

*

He gets Mihashi’s address from Shiga-sensei. Abe thinks teachers probably shouldn’t be handing out student addresses so easily, but he suspects Momoe must have talked to him. Shiga was a little too enthusiastic about giving Abe the address.

“I’m glad you’re going over there,” Shiga had praised. “You must convince Mihashi-kun to come to school.”

Abe is a little resentful of all the adults pushing this task on him. “I don’t think I’m the best one for this. Sakaeguchi, maybe—or Izumi.” Someone more friendly, Abe thinks.

“Nonsense. A catcher and a pitcher are supposed to be one body and one mind, isn’t that right? It has to be you.”

So Abe bikes to Mihashi’s house and thinks about how he’s probably the absolute worst person to approach a traumatized boy.

One body, one mind, huh? When has that ever been true?

*

A gentle but tired looking woman answers the door. She’s visibly taken aback at the sight of Abe—whoever it was she expected at her door it clearly wasn’t him. “Hello? Can I help you?”

Abe swallows. “My name is Abe Takaya. I’m a student at Nishiura. I’m here to see Mihashi?”

“Oh!” She says, looking excited for a split second, but then her face falls. “Are you—a friend of Ren’s?”

“We met at baseball practice,” Abe hedges. It is technically true, even if it’s deliberately misleading.

“Oh, baseball, of course! Please, come in,” she opens the door wider for him. “Would you like some tea? Water?”

“No, thank you. I was hoping to talk to Mihashi for a few minutes.”

A guarded look crosses her face and Abe reminds himself that almost three years ago she lost her son. Just because she got him back again doesn’t mean she’s ready to trust so easily.

“Ren is—Ren isn’t like other boys,” she says apologetically (and Jesus fuck, Abe feels like the worst person in the world, making this woman apologize for her traumatized son). “He doesn’t… do too well, around other people. You probably heard about it…”

“Yeah,” Abe says, feeling like a jerk and really wishing he could back out of this. (Pitcher, he reminds himself. Pitcher with perfect ball control.) “I just thought, maybe—”

he has no idea what he’s even saying, “Maybe he’d like to play baseball with us?”

Are you an idiot? He curses himself. How lame can you get? ‘I just thought your son who was abducted and experimented on by mad scientists might want to play baseball?’ That’s the best you could come up with?

But Mihashi’s mom breaks out into a smile like the sun just came out. “How kind! I bet he would like that! He’s out back practicing by himself. You can try to talk to him, but please don’t take it personally if he doesn’t talk back to you. He’s really not good around people anymore.”

*

Abe finds Mihashi out back, doing exactly what his mom said he’d be doing—practicing his pitches.

Someone made Mihashi a pitching grid—a three by three grid, confirming Abe’s suspicions about Mihashi after their brief pitch exchange the other day. Mihashi has a nine-square strike area. That’s something very few professional pitchers can manage.

He watches Mihashi pitch, entranced. The ball hits the upper left corner. Then the upper middle. Then the upper right. Abe watches as Mihashi systematically hits every square in order. Abe’s throat goes dry. He can barely believe what he’s seeing.

That’s incredible, he thinks.

Mihashi drops the ball and whirls to where Abe is standing. He flaps around like a startled bird—Abe wouldn’t be surprised if he actually took off flying.

“I’m Abe Takaya,” he introduces himself quickly. “We met yesterday? I’m just here—”

The kid ducks down again, holding his hands to his ears.

Great Takaya, he yells at himself some more. You made things worse. What was Momokan and Shiga thinking? Izumi should be here, or Sakaeguchi or Oki or anyone but you. This will never work.

Mihashi looks like he’s trying to hide himself in his shirt, like a turtle or snail.

Abe says the first thing that comes to mind.

“Can you hit the left middle corner?”

Mihashi blinks at him, gold eyes fixed on Abe. The smaller boy unfurls and stands up again, fixed on his practice board. He throws the ball and hits the left middle corner.

“Now the bottom right,” Abe orders.

Mihashi hits the bottom right. Abe barks out a few more directions and Mihashi hits every one.

I want this pitcher! Abe howls to himself. Mihashi jumps like someone just put ice cubes down his back and then stares at Abe, head titled.

“You’re amazing,” Abe says, because what pitcher doesn’t like praise? He walks forward and grabs Mihashi’s hand, like Momoe instructed. “Come be our pitcher! As long as you do as I tell you, I can make you into a true Ace!”

Mihashi’s eyes widen but then he shakes his head. “…Impossible…”

“Why is it impossible?” Abe demands, making the boy cringe some more. Abe curses himself and says, “You want to pitch, don’t you?”

He can feel Mihashi’s hand—it’s calloused all over. He must have practiced endlessly for his hands to get like this. Abe grips the hand tighter.

“I love… pitching,” Mihashi says. “But I’m… no good. You’ll… hate me… like... Mihoshi…”

Mihashi’s middle school? What did they have to do with this?

“And…school…” Mihashi continues. But he doesn’t say anything after that, so Abe has no idea what he means.

“Look, I’m not a mind-reader,” Abe says, fed up. This pronouncement sends a flinch down Mihashi’s entire body and the other boy tugs away like he’s trying to escape. Abe holds on tighter. “I can’t understand you if you don’t talk to me. You have the best control of any pitcher I’ve seen! I like you. Not just as a pitcher, but as a person! I want to form a battery with you!”

Mihashi’s hand finally warms and he grips onto Abe. “I like Abe-kun, too!”

Abe looks away, feeling embarrassed. “So you’ll come to school? And join our club?”

Mihashi glances away, looking like he wants to run.

He was abducted, Abe reminds himself. He was missing for almost two years and who knows what happened to him. It’s hardly surprising the kid wouldn’t want to go out in public.

“I’ll keep you safe,” Abe promises suddenly. “No matter what, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Mihashi meets his gaze. The two stare at each other for a very long time. It really should be more awkward, considering they’re still holding hands. But all Abe can think about is, I will makes this guy the best pitcher in Japan, I’ll keep him safe, we’ll win everything, I’ll make sure he never regrets it, I’ll protect him, he’ll be our pitcher.

“OK,” Mihashi says. “I’ll…come.”

“You will? You promise? That’s great!” Pitcher, Abe thinks. We have a pitcher. Finally. A good pitcher.

*

On the way home, Abe feels successful and excited but also apprehensive.

He hadn’t just looked up Teiko last night, he’d read up on Mihashi’s abduction from Gunma over two years ago.

Abe’s not sure what to think about the fact that in all of Mihashi’s pictures from that time, the boy’s eyes had been hazel.

Chapter Text

Mihashi holds his phone like a security blanket. He sends out the text: I might go to school today.

The reply is instantaneous, like it always is.

That’s great, Ren! You should!

Mihashi takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. They want me to play baseball. I can be a pitcher again.

But that’s amazing?!?! That’s the best thing ever!! I’m so happy for you!!

Mihashi clutches the phone to his chest. It is a good thing. Then his phone beeps again, indicating he has another message.

Are you going to be OK?

Mihashi gulps, wondering the same thing.

*

Now that he has a pitcher, Abe is going to do everything he can to keep him. He goes to school the next day determined to begin creating his battery.

But when he gets to the school grounds the first thing he notices is the crowd of people huddled around something at the front and he immediately has a sinking feeling that he knows what’s going on. He drops his bike and rushes over there, forcibly pushing his way through the crow.

Sakaeguchi is there at the center, hovering over the huddled figure of Abe’s new pitcher. “What’s happening?” Abe demands.

“I don’t know!” Sakaeguchi exclaims, “He just collapsed!”

“Well, back off, won’t you?” he shouts at the crowd of onlookers—some who are concerned, others who are clearly just curious. “Give him some space!” When no one moves it pisses him off. “Christ, people, don’t you have something better to do? Get out of here!”

He hates onlookers—curious and concerned alike, because it’s just a bunch of people who make things worse by not doing anything.

“Hey, Mihashi,” he says, turning back, but the pitcher is already looking at him as the crowd disperses. Good, Abe thinks. His focus should be on me. “Are you OK?”

Mihashi just blinks at him and looks around, then he slowly gets to his feet, brushing dirt off his pants.

Pitchers are weird, Abe reminds himself, even as Mihashi cringes beside him. Pitchers are weird, and this one might be weirder than most, but he’s my pitcher and that’s all that matters.

“If someone hassles you, just yell at them. Or come to me and I’ll yell at them for you. Got it?”

Mihashi nods in large emphatic movements. “Y-yes, Abe-kun.”

*

Tajima and Mihashi slip easily into the team during practice, as if they’d always be there. Oki looks near tears when Mihashi takes the mound—he’s so happy he doesn’t have to pitch anymore it vaguely irritates Abe for all the work he’d put into trying to form a functioning battery with him.

But it doesn’t matter anymore. Now, there’s Mihashi, and Mihashi pitches where Abe tells him (exactly where Abe tells him. Every time).

He can’t wait until they start playing official games.

*

“Eh? We can’t play in official games,” Tajima says, sounding surprised by Momoe’s suggestion.

“What?” Abe bursts out. He’s not alone with his reaction.

“Why the hell not?” Hanai demands. “Isn’t that why you joined the team?”

“I joined to play baseball,” Tajima replies easily. “And because Mihashi wanted to. But we can’t play in games. I’m pretty sure we’re not allowed.”

Not all—” Abe bites back his exclamation when Tajima removes his baseball cap. It’s not that he forgot the boy’s… enhancements. He just… didn’t think it should matter.

“They ruled not that long ago that mutants could play in official games,” Momoe explains gently. “The tests revealed that you don’t have physical advantages unreasonable to athletes your age.”

I know. And I don’t. I was good at baseball before the—well, before. But anyway, we’re not like the Generation Projects. And we strictly promised we’d keep a low profile when we returned to our families. Isn’t that right, Mihashi?”

Mihashi nods his head frantically. Although he shifts, agitated, like he wants to weigh in but won’t. Not for the first time, Abe wishes Mihashi would just speak his mind.

“Promised the military, you mean?” Momoe guesses.

Mihashi nodes again and Tajima says, “Yup.”

“That is difficult,” Momoe acknowledges.

Abe shares a glance with Hanai. They’ve been around Momoe long enough to recognize when she’s scheming something. When Momoe has her mind set on something, little things like the Japanese Special Defense Force are a non-issue.

*

Mihashi checks his phone often, usually before and after practice. Sometimes during, like now, if they’re on a water break. Abe assumes it must be from his parents (he could hardly blame them for being extra vigilant) until Mihashi looks at his phone and makes a “meep” sound.

“T-Tajima-kun!” Mihashi flails around like a chicken, scampering and tripping in his rush.

Abe catches Mihashi by the elbow. “Idiot! Be careful! You’re going to hurt yourself!”

Mihashi blinks at him then nods. Abe releases Mihashi’s elbow when Tajima comes bounding over.

“Mihashi?”

“K-Kas—” Mihashi waves his phone at Tajima who grips Mihashi’s hand (making Abe wince—he trusts Tajima not to hurt Mihashi, he does, but the boy does have claws and it would be too easy to accidentally cut Mihashi’s hand).

“He’s coming here? Now?” Tajima’s wolf ears flatten against his head, something Abe’s never seen before. “Maybe we should make a run for it? We could be in my place in seconds flat, and he’d never know…”

Who’s coming here?” Abe says, alarmed.

“But—want—” Mihashi sends a pleading glance at Tajima.

“Sure, it’d be nice to see him, but not here,” Tajima says urgently. “Come on, we can still—oh, too late.”

Abe follows Tajima’s gaze and sees a man and woman in military uniforms approaching. Abe thinks about the conversation yesterday and he feels a spike of apprehension.

Except Mihashi doesn’t look frightened at the sight of the soldiers. Instead, he looks excited, squirming where he stands like an eager puppy.

“Ren-kun! Yuu-kun! Long time no see!” the woman waves.

There isn’t much chance two soldiers would walk onto their baseball field and not disrupt practice. Oki and Sakaeguchi both look like they might pass out at any second. Even Hanai seems nervous.

When they’re close enough Mihashi bounds over to them with a dopey expression. If he had a tail, it would be wagging. (Tajima’s tail is flicking back and forth in short, agitated movements. His ears are pricked forward; every inch of him is on the alert.)

“Ren-kun! You’re looking well!” the man says. He has dark brown eyes and thick eyebrows but gives off the impression of someone who smiles a lot. He also looks very familiar, although Abe can’t place him right away.

“How are you doing?” the man asks.

“F-fine!” Mihashi chirps.

“Are you here to stop us from playing baseball?” Tajima demands. He has that same look he did when Abe first saw him—when Tajima thought Mihashi was being bullied.

The man’s face sobers. “No, Yuu-kun. I think it’s a good idea for the two of you to play baseball.”

And then Tajima does the strangest thing. He flicks his eyes to Mihashi. Mihashi nods his head. (But why? Why would Tajima look at Mihashi? Tajima doesn’t follow Mihashi’s lead on anything. Mihashi is the one who always follows Tajima). It doesn’t make sense.

“Yuu-kun, I wouldn’t lie to you,” the man says gently. “We’re only here to check up on you, and talk to your coach. I think it’s great that you’re coming to school.”

Tajima considers this and then shrugs, finally relaxing. “OK. Come on, Mihashi, I want to practice catching.” He tugs Mihashi away and the two soldiers take that as their cue to head towards Momoe, who has been watching respectfully from a distance.

*

“Who is he?” Abe asks Mihashi during stretches. The soldiers have been talking to Momoe for a really long time.

“He…”

Abe waits. And waits.

“…saved…”

Abe reminds himself to be patient.

“…us…”

It takes Abe awhile to realize Mihashi finished his sentence. Then it takes him even longer to process it. “He saved you? You mean—” then it clicks. “That was Kasamatsu Youji!”

He doesn’t mean to say that as loudly as he does, but when Mihashi ducks his head and several of their teammates turn away from their own stretches to stare at them, Abe realizes he sounded a lot more forceful than intended.

Mihashi nods. “He and…Sakurai-san. They…led the… rescue.”

“Why do you think they’re here?” Abe asks.

Mihashi visibly struggles with his reply. Abe wishes it wasn’t so damned difficult to have a conversation with this guy.

“…Checking?” Mihashi offers.

“What? What does that even mean?”

Mihashi ducks his head and Abe realizes he was once again louder than he meant to be.

He really wishes it was easier to communicate with him.

*

Abe knows about the JSDF mission that had exposed the second Teiko facility. He knows it was to rescue two abducted kids—a mutant and a normal human boy—but that they ended up rescuing a lot of missing children in the process. He knows Sergeant Kasamatsu Youji and Sergeant Sakurai Michiru led the mission.

He wishes he knew what they were doing here now.

When he spots them bidding Momoe good-bye he wishes he could ask her about the conversation. But considering no one on the team has yet to work up the courage to ask Momoe how old she is or what her first name is, he resigns himself to not learning anything now.

He thinks he’s just being paranoid when the man starts walking towards him (obviously he’s not walking towards him. He’s just walking towards Abe’s direction. There’s no reason why a military Sergeant would want to talk to him—)

“You’re Abe-kun, correct? The catcher?”

“Er. Yes,” Abe says.

“Your coach told me you’ve bee working with Ren-kun. She said you were the one that convinced him to come to school.”

“I guess,” Abe says, wondering where this was going.

“Thank you,” Youji says.

Abe waits for his life to start making sense.

“I’ve been worried about those two for awhile now. I really want them to be happy. I can’t help but feel we failed them.”

“Failed them?” Abe repeats, startled. “But you saved them. Mihashi said so.”

Youji grimaces. “We don’t deserve that credit. We don’t deserve his forgiveness.”

Abe’s not sure what kind of face he’s making, but it must be bad because when Youji sees him he claps his hand on Abe’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Abe-kun. Please forget I said anything. Ren-kun and Yuu-kun—they’re very special. They’re the only ones who came back. I just want what’s best for them.”

“What do you mean the only ones? You rescued tons of kids. I read about it online.”

The man drops his hand. “We were able to remove a lot of those kids from a terrible situation. But we didn’t rescue them.” The Sergeant seems to debate something for a minute before saying, “They don’t remember who they were before Teiko. Out of the two dozen kids we took out of that place, only Mihashi Ren and Tajima Yuuichiro were able to remember anything about their lives before they were taken. The others never did.”

Abe’s throat feels very dry and it’s difficult to swallow. “Why are you telling me this?”

“It’s unfair to you, I know. But in my experience—these kids need someone their own age rooting for them. Someone who will ground them in this world. I guess I’m hoping that will be you.”

Abe didn’t sign up for this. He just wanted a pitcher.

The man stares at him for a few minutes. Then he says, “I’m sorry.”

He turns to leave but then pause. “Abe-kun?”

“Yes?”

“What do you think about Ren-kun?”

Abe feels slightly awkward by the question. “He’s a great pitcher.”

“What do you think about when you’re around him?”

What does he think about? “Baseball, mostly.”

The man nods, considering. “Try to be happy when you’re around him.”

And on that truly bizarre bit of advice, the soldier finally leaves.

*

Mihashi is texting on his phone again. For the first time, Abe really wonders who it is that’s on the other line. So he asks.

Mihashi blinks at him. Abe reins in his temper as the minutes tick past.

“…Friend?”

“A friend of yours?” Abe says, and then he winces at how surprised he sounded. But, well. It’s mean but it is surprising that Mihashi has a friend he texts. “Someone from middle school?” Mihashi shakes his head so hard he gets dizzy and loses his balance. “From elementary school?” Mihashi shakes his head again, this time less forceful.

Abe gives up. He doesn’t need to know.

The only thing that matters is the fact that they have the go ahead to use Mihashi and Tajima in official games.

No.

The only thing that matters it the fact that Nishiura now has a full baseball team and they can play in official games.

*

They win. Tajima keeps his hat on and tucks his tail under his shirt and no one ever makes a big deal about the fact that he’s part animal. Sometimes the other team recognizes the name Mihashi Ren but most often they don’t.

They only have to deal with reporters once, after their second game. News that the rescued Teiko children were playing baseball was too good to pass up. Abe tensed, ready to fight someone.

Momoe went to them, all smiles and innocence, looking like a harmless schoolgirl instead of the skull crushing coach that she is.

Abe would have given anything to know what she said to those people and their cameras, but they shuffled off, shame-faced, and never came back again.

Abe never does get a handle on how to communicate with Mihashi. Sometimes it seems like the only person who can is Tajima, who can hear whole sentences in Mihashi’s stilted cut-off words.

Sometimes it irritates Abe that the only texts Mihashi never seems to answer are his.

But they’re fine. They work well together. That’s what’s important.

*

“Do you have any friends?” his father asks him. “If you think things are fine between you and Mihashi then your other friendships can’t be very good.”

Abe bristles and fumes at this. “I have his trust.”

It sounds like a brag even to his own ears. And maybe it is a brag. He has a pitcher who trusts him completely—isn’t that what every catcher strives to have?

And what does his father know, anyway? Does he really think he could do better with this weird, slightly broken pitcher who can’t talk to anyone?

*

“Abe sure nags a lot,” he overhears Izumi say. “He’s so bossy.”

“I’m so glad I’m not a pitcher,” Tajima heaves a dramatic shudder.

Abe is seriously tired of everyone having an opinion about his relationship with Mihashi.

*

When they lose their first official game and Abe injures his leg the thing that stands out the most is the fact that Mihashi told him it was going to happen.

*

Mihashi was a mess, all that day. Crying and agitated beyond belief.

“Would you calm down?” Abe yells, giving Mihashi a double noogie in punishment. “We’re not going to win if you keep acting like this.”

“Abe-kun…injured.”

“What?” Abe exploded.

“Abe-kun…will get… injured,” Mihashi said, the sheer effort it took to get all the words out making him pant. He stared directly into Abe’s eyes (something he almost never did) and gripped onto Abe’s shirt and started crying again. “We…shouldn’t play…”

“Are you an idiot?” Abe yelled, making Mihashi quake. “Are you kidding me right now? I already promised I’m not going to get hurt, remember? And we went over this after the Tousei game, right? You can’t hesitate just because you think I might get hurt.”

 “But Abe-kun…Abe-kun…”

Abe ground his fists against Mihashi’s skull one more time for emphasis. “Nothing’s going to happen to me, got it? Just do what I tell you and everything is going to be fine.”

He wants to call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, or a coincidence. But once Mihashi got on the field, he played the way he always did. He pitched where Abe told him to, he didn’t hesitate with his throws back home and his control didn’t slip up once despite his earlier agitation.

Mihashi did everything right. Abe did everything right. It was just a freak accident that could have happened to anyone.

He’s so mad at himself for so many different reasons.

But mostly, Abe can’t help but think about all the ways he failed Mihashi.

*

When he texts Mihashi, we need to talk, it doesn’t exactly surprise him that Mihashi doesn’t text back, although it still hurts somewhat, considering he knows for a fact Mihashi regularly checks his phone for messages.

When Mihashi comes to his house with Sakaeguchi and Tajima in tow, Abe waits for his chance to talk to the other boy in private. He gets his opportunity when Sakaeguchi leaves early and Shun takes Tajima to the yard to watch his swing. (Shun is a big fan of Tajima’s skills and his animalistic qualities. Abe’s pretty sure his little brother thinks Tajima is the coolest person in the world. This would bother him, as an older brother, if he didn’t grudgingly admit that Tajima is, in fact, cooler than him.)

“I’m sorry,” Abe says, before Mihashi has a chance to talk. “I promised I wouldn’t get injured and I did.”

He thinks about all the reckless promises he’s made Mihashi. I won’t get injured for three years. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll make you a true Ace. Who is he to make any kind of promise?

You just liked being relied on, a dark part of himself whispers. You liked how dependent he was on you, maybe Haruna was right about you, you really just like being in control.

It is somewhat depressing to realize your own ugly flaws and not know how to change them.

“It was… my fault,” Mihashi says. “For being so… pathetic. I had to… rely on Abe-kun…for everything. But Tajima-kun…relied on me. During the game. It was nice. I want Abe-kun to rely on me too!”

Like a battery should. “We’ll get stronger together.”

“Right!” Mihashi chirps.

And then he smiles.

Abe stops breathing for a second and he realizes that’s the first time he’s ever seen Mihashi smile.

*

“Mihashi,” he says after awhile, “Did you know I was going to get hurt?”

Mihashi sobers quickly and Abe hates how easy it is for Mihashi to lose his smile. Mihashi nods his head but then shakes it.

Abe sighs. Back to this. Mihashi cringes and Abe thinks he really should have a better handle on talking to Mihashi by now. “I’m not mad, OK? I just want to know.”

“I….dreamt it,” Mihashi says, a stricken look on his face. “And…sometimes my dreams are…true. But I don’t…always know which are…real. I wasn’t…positive.”

Abe feels like there’s no way Mihashi is saying what Abe thinks he’s saying.

“Are you telling me you dream the future?!”

Mihashi curls up and hides his head in his knees. A very small voice says, “…only sometimes.”

“Why didn’t you—”

Because you didn’t let him tell you, says that nasty voice in the back of his mind that sounds a lot like Haruna. He tried to warn you and you wouldn’t listen.

So for the second time that night he says, “I’m sorry. I should have listened. Next time you dream something you think will come true, tell me, OK? And we’ll figure something out.”

Mihashi nods, peeking up at Abe through his hands.

Abe thinks he should probably have more trouble with the whole prophetic dreams thing. But Tajima has extendable claws and can smell barbeque cooking literally from miles away. It only now occurs to Abe that he never really thought too hard about what Teiko changed about Mihashi.

Chapter Text

It would have been impossible to forget about what happened to Tajima and Mihashi. Abe and the rest of the Nishiura team is confronted with the aftermath every day in the locker rooms (and every time Tajima feels like stripping, which if often).

Abe told himself not to stare, but it was difficult. Mihashi had a straight cut down his chest, like a surgery scar, and S1-761 tattooed above his right collarbone in bold, stark letters. Tajima has a matching one proclaiming S5-184B. Tajima has scars over his chest—not like Mihashi’s neat, surgical one, but jagged lines and cuts like he’s been clawed and bitten by wild beasts.

The scars are there, out in the open, and neither boy makes much effort to hide them but there’s an impenetrable wall around them nonetheless. They don’t seem self-conscious about their scars, but through some unanimous, undiscussed reason, no one in Nishiura ever asks for details.

*

Abe feels like maybe he should tell the team that Mihashi occasionally dreams the future. At the very least, he wishes he could discuss it with someone. He doesn’t realize just how badly he wants to talk about Mihashi with someone until he realizes that he doesn’t actually have anyone to talk to.

Don’t you have any friends? His father asked.

Abe’s beginning to realize that maybe he doesn’t.

*

It feels a little bit like losing when he finally breaks down and decides to talk to Tajima.

It shouldn’t feel that way. Abe’s willing to admit that it’s irrational. But the first time he sees Tajima start as catcher for Mihashi something churns in his gut—a mixture of jealousy and frustration and anger at himself.

In large baseball clubs, it’s not uncommon to have multiple pitchers and catchers, so at any given moment a battery will change. But Abe knows that even in those larger clubs, a catcher will often have one pitcher he prefers to work with and vice versa. Abe tried explaining to Shun once—the relationship between pitcher and catcher was something people who played other positions couldn’t understand. Yes, you had to trust the whole team to work properly, but if the battery didn’t function right the whole game could fall apart. It was more intense than any other partnership in the world.

(His mom told him he couldn’t say that until he was married. Or, more to the point, until he so much as dated someone. Abe said even if he was dating someone, he would still have to know his pitcher better than his girlfriend. His pitcher would have to come first. His mom told him this was probably why he’d never had a girlfriend.)

Mihashi is his pitcher. Abe is one thousand percent sure that he is the best catcher for Mihashi’s skills.

And yet, even though he knows he’s the starting catcher, even though he knows as soon as his leg recovers he will go back to being the starting catcher, he feels somewhat threatened by the fact that Tajima and Mihashi do actually work well together.

*

So asking Tajima about Mihashi feels a little bit like losing. It’s like admitting that Tajima knows Mihashi better than him. (And of course that’s true. Of course Tajima has a closer relationship to Mihashi than Abe does. The two spend all their time together. It’s not just that they’re in the same class—Tajima usually goes home with Mihashi after practice, or Mihashi goes over to Tajima’s. The two are inseparable. Tajima, Abe notes, never has any difficulty understanding Mihashi. Going to Tajima for advice isn’t losing because Abe has already lost.)

Tajima is Mihashi’s friend. Abe isn’t. And that’s fine—Mihashi is so irritating sometimes Abe doesn’t want to have the same relationship with Mihashi that Tajima does.

But he will not cede his position as Mihashi’s catcher to anyone.

Which is why he finally works up the nerve to talk to Tajima one day during practice, while ostensibly giving the other boy advice on his catching form.

“So,” Abe starts, feeling incredibly awkward. “So, about Mihashi.”

“Yeah?” Tajima asks, his ears pricking forward.

“And his whole…dreaming the future thing…”

Tajima cocks his head to the side, “Mihashi can dream the future?”

Abe stares at him in a befuddled stupor. “Can’t he?” he explodes, suddenly doubting everything.

“It makes sense,” Tajima says. “Wow, that’s awesome.”

“Shouldn’t you know that?” Abe demands.

“Why?” Tajima asks, staring at Abe in uncharacteristic seriousness.

“Well, you’re—and you were, you know. There. I figured you know all about Mihashi.”

“Oh, I never met Mihashi while we were in Teiko,” Tajima says easily. “We didn’t meet until after we were rescued, in the JSDF base.”

Abe frowns. “But—”

“I was in the Beast unit,” Tajima explains. “In the soldier division. Mihashi and the other S-Ones and S-Sevens were kept separate.”

Abe has temporarily forgotten how to process information. He just stares dumbly at Tajima for a few seconds.

Tajima gets up from his crouched position. “You know, Abe, if you have a question about Mihashi you should probably just ask him. He’d probably tell you anything.”

“No, he wouldn’t!” Abe says indignantly. “Mihashi can barely answer me when I ask him how much he weighs. I asked him about what he ate once and he completely froze—and he likes talking about food! Mihashi doesn’t talk to me about anything!”

Tajima doesn’t say anything to that. After awhile, Abe realizes he doesn’t have to. Abe thinks about what he said and how awful it sounds.

Why did I ever think my relationship with Mihashi was fine? Abe wonders, appalled.

*

Abe doesn’t feel like his catcher position is at risk (he doesn’t) but he does feel like his battery relationship needs work.

It starts slowly during their training camp. He knows Momoe is throwing them together on purpose, and he tries to meet Mihashi halfway on a lot of things. Cooking together seems to help.

“Do you ever get the feeling that all pitchers are complete nutters?” a catcher from one of the other teams asks.

“Yes,” is Abe’s immediate and unequivocal reply.

“My pitcher—he’s so hung up on forming a battery with one of our senpai—it’s like I never had a chance, you know? You’re lucky you’re the starting catcher.”

Is he lucky? Abe wonders if maybe Mihashi would prefer working with Tajima after all. They seem to understand each other a lot better.

*

He doesn’t need Shiga to tell him to sit next to Mihashi on the bus anymore. On the way back from the training camp Mihashi whispers, “Abe-kun can’t get injured again.”

“I won’t,” Abe whispers back. “Not because I promised you this time. I won’t get injured again.” He’s not sure how he can be so sure. It’s not like he can guarantee he won’t get hurt again. But he hates this desperate feeling; he hates not being able to play, he hates watching someone else be Mihashi’s pitcher, he hates seeing Mihashi on that field without him. Through sheer willpower, he’s not going to let this happen to him ever again.

When Hanai turns around and tells Mihashi to announce his request to the bus, Abe wonders why he feels embarrassed. It’s not like they were talking about anything private; so it’s not like Hanai was listening in or anything. The captain’s right—this is something the whole team should hear. Nishiura is too small a team to risk anyone being injured.

Still. The moment in the dark, talking to Mihashi, it had felt like it was just the two of them. Mihashi has a way of occupying all of Abe’s thoughts. When Mihashi is around, Abe tends to forget anyone else even exists.

*

The first day Abe can catch for Mihashi again feels like some terrible weight has been lifted from his shoulders. It feels like the start of something new. They can be a battery again—the right way this time.

When he sees Mihashi talking to Tajima as a closed unit—the two of them huddled together like they’re plotting something, Abe starts striding towards them without thinking. Tajima and Mihashi don’t need to plan together anymore. It’s Abe’s job to call the lead—

“—just tell him ‘no,’” Tajima says, making Abe freeze for a second, heart thumping.

Mihashi whips his head back and forth.

“Come on, Ren! You don’t have to go! It’s super lame, anyway! Him coming straight here, without warning—it’s like he wants to force you to go. If it wasn’t so shady, he would have told you ahead of time himself.”

“But, Yuu-kun…”

Too much of this conversation makes Abe sick with cold. He’ll put aside his own indefinable reaction to Ren and Yuu-kun and concentrate on the important part. “What’s going on? Who is coming? What does he want with Mihashi?”

The two turn to stare at him in eerie synchronization. Neither of them look surprised to see Abe (it would have been impossible to sneak up on Tajima, with his hearing and sense of smell. And Mihashi…Mihashi just always seemed aware of the people around him). They look back at each other, having a silent exchange that Abe resents at the same time it makes him feel incredibly lonely. Sometimes it’s like they don’t need words to communicate.

Mihashi looks down at his hands and only then Abe notices the cell phone he’s holding.

“Kasamatsu-san… is coming…”

“The JSDF guy?” Abe blinks. Then, filling in the blanks of that conversation he overheard, he narrows his eyes in suspicion. “And he wants to take you somewhere?”

“He…” But Mihashi doesn’t get to finish that sentence because Tajima lets out a low growl that makes Abe jump. He hasn’t heard Tajima growl since that first day. He’d forgotten how unsettling the sound was.

“Yuu-kun, that’s a bit rude,” a man calls from behind them. Abe turns to see Kasamatsu Youji walking towards them.

“You can’t take Mihashi,” Tajima says. “Find some other way. He shouldn’t have to help you.”

The man stops in his tracks, shock passing across his face. “How did you—?”

“Friend…told me…” Mihashi says.

Youji narrows in on the phone. “Ah. You know, just because you friend is dating someone whose father regularly hacks military files, doesn’t mean he should be poking his head in military business.”

Abe, once again, wonders who Mihashi texts.

Youji sighs, and scratches the back of his head. “One of them woke up, Ren-kun. We can’t get through to her.”

“You should have told us you were coming,” Tajima insists.

Youji nods. “Yes, you’re right. I should have. I’m sorry. Ren-kun, you don’t have to come. I just thought—”

“I’ll help!”

Mihashi’s sudden outburst causes everyone to stare at him.

Mihashi’s cheeks are red; flustered from the effort it took to raise his voice. “I want…to…help.”

“It’s OK, Ren-kun,” Youji says gently. “You don’t have to force yourself. I know how difficult it will be for you. I really only wanted to ask your advice, anyway.”

“It’ll…be fine. If—” Mihashi looks at Abe then his eyes dark quickly away. “If Abe-kun…comes. I’ll be…fine.”

Then everyone looks at Abe.

“Er,” Abe says.

“Is that so?” Youji says, looking at Abe in a considering way that Abe doesn’t like at all. “Is he like Furi-kun, then?”

Mihashi shakes his head. “Abe-kun is…loud.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Abe shouts. He has no idea what’s going on.

“I’m not entirely sure how that helps, but if it works, it works. Hey, kid, how would you like to go to Tokyo?”

“What, you mean now?

“Sure,” Youji says. “Why not?”

“We have baseball practice! And my parents—I can’t just—”

“Please, Abe-kun.”

Abe’s voice dies as he looks at Mihashi. He has this irrational thought that he wouldn’t deny Mihashi anything, not when he was looking at him like that.

“Yeah, OK. We should tell Momokan, though. And call our parents.”

*

Tajima doesn’t go with them. He just shakes his head and says, “It wouldn’t be a good idea.” Then he stares at Abe for a full minute, unblinking. Tajima is shorter and thinner than he is, but Abe is pretty sure Tajima could kick his ass without breaking a sweat.

“Don’t let anything happen to Mihashi,” Tajima orders abruptly.

Abe feels a surge of anger. “I would never let anything to happen.” He doesn’t need Tajima to tell him to take care of his pitcher.

*

Abe feels like perhaps his parents should have been a little more concerned about his sudden request to travel to Tokyo escorted by the military for unknown reasons.

His mother’s exact words were, “Oh, that’s nice, do you think you’ll be home in time for dinner?”

To which Abe had replied, “Uh, I don’t know, hold on,” he turned to Youji, “My mom wants to know if I’ll be home in time for dinner.”

Youji hummed and said, “Probably not. We’ll get you something to eat.”

He put the phone back to his mouth. “Probably not. They’ll feed me.”

“OK. I won’t make your portion then. Take care!”

Momoe had been more concerned than Abe Misae. For a long time, she’d looked at both their faces, searching for some kind of answer, and whatever she found there seemed to satisfy her. “Alright. The two of you take care of each other.”

She’d grabbed Abe by the wrist when Mihashi stepped off to have a private conversation with Tajima. “Are you sure about this, Abe-kun? Once you enter that world, there’s no going back.”

You pushed me in this world, he thought, a tad resentfully. Momoe and Shiga were the ones who made Mihashi his responsibility.

But his resentment was fleeting. Maybe they’d given him the initial shove but no one was making him chase after Mihashi now.

“I’m sure,” Abe replies.

He first went to Mihashi because he wanted a pitcher. He follows Mihashi now because he wants to understand his pitcher better.

*

Because this trip is for the sake of his battery, he’s not actually all that concerned with where they’re going or what they’re doing. Mihashi has the same intensely resolved expression he gets when he’s standing on the mound, so Abe trusts that this is important.

Plus, he gets to ride in a helicopter. That’s pretty cool. He spends most of the trip to Tokyo staring out the window in ecstatic wonder.

It’s only when they land on the JSDF base that Abe’s curiosity finally starts kicking in.

“So… what exactly is going on?” Abe asks.

Mihashi’s eyes move back and forth from Abe to Youji, his agitated silence familiar to Abe as his own breathing patterns. He’s gotten better about patience, waiting out the silence for an answer.

Youji also seems to be looking at Mihashi for some sort of verification. The man’s eyes flick towards Abe and finally he clears his throat and says, “As you know, Abe-kun, the SDF rescued some children a few months ago. Some of them had families to return to—people who would look after them. But a few of them were never identified, so we placed them in a military-run rehabilitation center. That’s where we are now.”

“But—” Abe thinks about what it would mean to be rescued from a horrible place only to have no where to go. He looks back to Mihashi unconsciously; the pitcher is looking to the ground.

“Some of them aren’t doing so well,” Youji says, his voice painfully gentle. “We thought having Mihashi here might help.”

You can’t take Mihashi. Find some other way. He shouldn’t have to help you.

The memory of Tajima’s anger surfaces and Abe feels like he understands why now. “There’s nothing you can do so you brought Mihashi to do your work for you.”

Youji winces. “That’s accurate, but harsh. You’re kind of intense, kid.”

“That’s bullshit!” Abe shouts, stopping in his tracks. “Mihashi’s been through enough, he shouldn’t have to—”

“I want to!”

The force of the shout derails all of Abe’s thoughts. He’s never heard Mihashi be so loud. Mihashi gripping his fists to his side and stares straight at Abe. “I want to help.”

“Mihashi…” Abe starts. He walks up to the other boy. “Let me see your hand.”

Mihashi raises his hand automatically and places his palm against his. Mihashi’s hand is warm—he’s not nervous. This is something he decided to do for himself.

“Are you going to be OK?” Abe asks.

Mihashi nods.

Abe hesitates. “What do you want me to do?”

“Just…be close,” Mihashi says.

They stand there for a few seconds. Abe feels utterly useless. This is worse than when he hurt his leg. There’s no version of himself that can help Mihashi now.

Youji clears his throat. “If, err, you boys are done?”

Abe startles, dropping his hand to his side. Mihashi moves to catch up with Youji.

*

A lot of the soldiers smile at Mihashi when he walks past. And Abe can’t help but notice that most of them double take before smiling, like they’re surprised to see him.

They stop in front of a room with a large window. It looks like a hospital center, with beds lined up along either side of the wall.

Mihashi takes in a deep breath. “Abe-kun should…wait here. With… Kasamatsu-san.”

“What?” Abe bursts out. “But you said I should stay with you! You can’t go in there on your own.”

“Abe-kun…should stay here,” Mihashi insists.

“But—”

Youji puts his hand on Abe’s shoulder. “You and me should stay here, kid.”

Abe isn’t paying any attention to the man. His whole attention is on Mihashi. Mihashi smiles at him in that tentative but beautiful way.

Abe lets him go.

*

“So…” Youji says as they both stare through the window. “So you and Ren-kun, huh?”

“What?” Abe tears his eyes away from the window to stare at the man. “What about me and Mihashi?”

“The two of you. It’s cute. You’re kind of intense, he’s kind of timid, but you balance out well.”

Abe continues to stare at the man in mounting horror. “What the hell? I mean. Seriously. What the hell?

“You’re not dating?”

“No!” Abe is pretty sure he’s never shouted so loud in his life. “What the hell?”

“You were holding hands,” Youji points out.

“That is a legitimate sports strategy!” Abe sputters.

“Oh. Right. Sports. Funny, my son plays basketball and I’ve never seen him hold hands with anyone but his boyfriend.”

“My math teacher taught us that!”

“Right, right.”   

Abe glares at him. “You are a terrible adult.”

“You’re not the first kid to tell me that,” Youji says cheerfully.

Abe lets this one go because Mihashi approaches the corner of the room where a young girl sits in the corner, clutching her ears.

Mihashi approaches the girl cautiously. Not in a fearful way, more like the way someone might approach an injured bird. He kneels down when he’s about two feet away from her. The girl clutches her ears and shuts her eyes.

“I’m Mihashi,” Mihashi introduces in soft tones. “Mihashi Ren.”

“You’re not,” the girl says. “You’re S1-761. Gold Eyes, Green Heart.  I’m S7-185.”

“Not anymore. We’re out. We’re OK.”

“No! That’s a lie!”

The room starts to rattle. The objects on the desks start shaking and toppling over. Abe would think it was an earthquake, except only things in that room are moving.

“We’re…home now,” Mihashi says. He doesn’t bat an eye at the rattling room. All his attention is focused solely on the girl. “We’re safe now.”

“We’re not, we’re not,” the girl sobs. “We’re trash. We’re just trash. We have no where to go. No one wants us—”

“That’s not true!” Mihashi says. He leans forward and grabs the girl’s hands in his. Her eyes fly open. Even from his vantage point, Abe can see she has one gold eye and one green eye.

“I like you,” Mihashi says. “We’re not worthless.

Tears and snot drip from the girl’s face. “It was my fault, it was all my fault. I’m the worst.”

Mihashi shakes his head. “Not. Our. Fault. This was… done to us. We’re not worthless. We have… value.”

The girls sobs once then flings herself on Mihashi. Abe lets out a startled shout, moving forward, until he realizes the girl isn’t attacking Mihashi, she’s just sobbing in his lap. Mihashi strokes her hair, murmuring something Abe is too far away to hear.

“Come on,” a hand claps him on the shoulder. Kasamatsu Youji steers him away from the glass. “We should go get something.”

“But—”

“Let them have a moment together,” Youji says firmly. “She won’t hurt him.”

Abe sends one last glance over his shoulder. Mihashi is smiling—his small, complicated smile—and stroking the hair of the girl who has her arms around his waist and her head in his lap.

*

Abe has seen Mihashi’s strength on the field. He doesn’t ever fall apart, like some pitchers do. He doesn’t let his mistakes weigh him down, he’s quick to recover, he sticks to the mound and fights an entire game no matter what.

Mihashi cringes and flinches and never speaks up, and these are all things that drive Abe nuts. But he’s also strong and resolved and willing to do whatever it takes to improve.

Seeing him in that room wasn’t exactly seeing an unknown version of Mihashi. But it did make Abe realize that the Mihashi he had first met really had gotten stronger and not just in baseball.

*

Abe sits with Youji in some kind of cafeteria, only half-heartedly picking at his dinner. He doesn’t actually have any appetite, but he knows that as a growing athlete it’s his responsibility to stay well nourished so every now and then he shoves in a mouthful of curry and chews, not really tasting anything at all.

He didn’t have to be here. He didn’t do anything for Mihashi.

He’s not sure he’s ever done anything for Mihashi.

“They really were experimented on, weren’t they?” he says finally, dropping his spoon.

Youji looks up from his own meal. “You had doubts?”

“No,” Abe scowls. “I just—it doesn’t always seem real to me. Are Mihashi and Tajima really the only ones to recover?”

Youji puts down his own spoon and regards Abe. “Technically, Ren-kun was the only one to recover on his own. I don’t think Yuu-kun could have, if Ren-kun hadn’t helped him.”

“What?” Abe exclaims, because that makes no sense.

“Ren-kun is a remarkable young man. He’s suffered unimaginable horrors and he still cares about others. He’s amazing.”

“I know that!” Abe snaps automatically. His own instinctive reaction startles him somewhat, but then he tells himself, well, why shouldn’t he be proud of his pitcher? Mihashi is amazing.

“He hasn’t told you about his time there, has he?”

Abe’s scowl deepens.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Abe-kun, what is your relationship to Ren-kun?”

“I’m his catcher,” Abe says hotly.

“Yes, I know that. I meant, are you his friend?”

“You obviously don’t know,” Abe says, clenching his fists under the table. “I’m his catcher. That’s the most important relationship I have. No one is more concerned about Mihashi than me. No one else could ever come close.”

The silence that follows is one of the most awkward experiences in Abe’s life. He feels his own cheeks growing red. Idiot, he tells himself, stop acting like you just confessed your love.

Kasamatsu Youji doesn’t treat his words as frivolous. Abe isn’t used to adults treating him seriously if it’s not baseball related. The man seems like he’s thinking about what Abe said and finally remarks, “Last time I told you more than I should have and you resented it.”

“I didn’t—”

“You did. And you were right, too. I shouldn’t have put that on a boy your age.”

Abe flushes and wants to protest, but he had resented it.

“Do you feel the same way now?”

“I’m here aren’t I?” Abe yells. A few people in the cafeteria turn to stare at him.

“Alright. Then what do you want to know?”

Abe swallows and looks down at his half-eaten curry. It seems like he’s getting carte-blanche permission to ask whatever he wants. But should he? If he does have questions, shouldn’t he ask Mihashi?”

“I won’t tell you anything I don’t think Ren-kun would want you to know.”

Abe relaxes. He finds the limitation reassuring. “Then—what did they do to him?”

“The children were split in two different groups, as far as I can tell. The solider units were genetically spliced with the DNA of animals in order to receive enhanced fighting abilities. Mihashi’s case is a little different. You know about the Miracles, correct?”

Abe nods. The original Teiko experiments all had impressive supernatural abilities.

“The children like Ren-kun, were meant to be like them, to have powers like theirs. The process didn’t work as well as it did with the soldiers, as far as I can tell.”

Youji drums his fingers on the table as Abe processes this.

“What you need to know, Abe-kun, is that the children were conditioned to accept what happened to them as their fault. Teiko targeted runaways, orphans, children they thought no one would miss.”

“Mihashi didn’t run away,” Abe protests. “He was abducted. I remember the news reports.”

“They made a few mistakes,” Youji allows. “Once they were there, I understand it was standard practice to ask the children’s permission at first before experimenting on them.”

“What?” Abe exclaims. “Who would say yes to that?”

“Think about it, Abe-kun. If you were young, and someone offered you the chance to be better, stronger, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Well—” Abe stops. He thinks about who he was in middle school. If someone had offered him a quick fix, he would have pounced on it in a heartbeat. “Why would they do that? Why bother asking permission?”

“A psychological tactic. So that when the children disobeyed, they could say, ‘But this is what you wanted. You did this to yourself.’”

“That’s horrible.” Abe says the words on instinct, but he winces at what an understatement it is. There aren’t words to describe how awful that is and trying to find the right words only undervalues the true horror.

“The children were all brainwashed by professionals to accept what was done to them. Their personalities and identities were erased. It is not surprising only two came back. We are extremely fortunate to have even those two.”

There’s an undercurrent to his voice—pain and regret—and Abe remembers the way he said, We were able to remove a lot of those kids from a terrible situation. But we didn’t rescue them. This man has his own regrets.

“You did save them, you know,” Abe says. “You saved Mihashi.” He has the sudden urge to say thank you, but it’s not his place to thank him for Mihashi.

“They wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for us. We should have tried harder to hunt the rest of Teiko after the first children escaped. The fact that we didn’t—what happened to those kids is always going to stay with me.”

Abe thinks there isn’t anything he can say to this man to change his mind. He feels bad enough for his own sake. Abe thinks about all the times he thought Mihashi weak-willed, and feels a truly incredible amount of self-loathing.

“He wanted you here,” Youji says gently, as if guessing what Abe is thinking. “He wanted you here because he felt you made a difference. You are helping that boy, Abe-kun. I wouldn’t have told you all this if I thought otherwise.”

Instead of making him feel better, this only makes Abe feel resentful. Because what does this man know about him and Mihashi?

“We should get back,” Youji announces. “It’s time to get you boys home.”

*

Mihashi is waiting for them when they return. He immediately heads to Abe’s side.

“Are you hurt anywhere?” Abe demands on instinct. Mihashi shakes his head. “Have you eaten?” Mihashi nods. “Did you eat enough?” Mihashi nods again.

Youji watches the exchange with a faintly amused expression that only pisses Abe off further.

“Her name is...Mari. Hoshizou Mari. She’s…American.”

“American?” Youji repeats in surprise.

“From…San Francisco.”

“No wonder we couldn’t find any information about her in our systems. I’ll confer with our FBI contacts. Thank you, Ren-kun.”

Mihashi keeps his eyes to the ground and his body positioned towards Abe. “She doesn’t…have a family. She was a… foster kid. And then…she ran away.”

“I see,” Youji says gravely. “Then we’ll make sure she ends up somewhere she’ll like. Don’t worry, Ren-kun. We’ll take care of her.”

Mihashi smiles shyly at the man even as he edges closer to Abe.

“Thank you, Ren-kun,” Youji repeats. “And thank you, Abe-kun. We’ve had enough of your time. I promised your coach and your parents I wouldn’t keep you too late. And I’m not risking making your coach angry.”

*

They don’t take the helicopter home, which Abe finds slightly disappointing, but he’s also relieved. In the quiet of the car ride home, Abe has time to process his thoughts.

Mihashi sleeps with his head against the car door, with a serenity about him that Abe envies in this moment. He stares at Mihashi for a long time before he starts to feel like a voyeur and shifts his gaze to out the window. The passing headlights around them are hypnotic and slowly, Abe closes his eyes and drifts to sleep.

*

He wakes when the car door slams shut.  He jolts awake, only then realizing that the car has come to a stop. Mihashi shifts away, rubbing his eyes, and somehow they’d both drifted towards each other in their sleep. Abe looks around to distract himself from his own embarrassment.

“Ren-kun, I went to your place first,” Youji says.

Mihashi nods, unbuckling, and sleepily getting out of the car.

“Wait,” Abe says, unbuckling and following Mihashi.

Mihashi blinks at him, awake now and expectant.

I’m proud of you, Abe wants to say, but that seems too presumptuous. I’m glad I met you. I’m sorry you went through that, I wish I could do more for you. I’m sorry we don’t have a better relationship.

“Mihashi,” Abe says, struggling. “You know I don’t hate you, right?”

Mihashi’s eyes are very wide. Abe wishes he was a more eloquent person.

But then Mihashi says, “I know.”

Abe can’t process this at first. He just stares at Mihashi.

“Abe-kun is the one who cares about me the most.”

Abe continues to stare. Then Mihashi’s parents appear in the doorway, and Mihashi scampers to meet them. Abe turns back to the car and ignores, the way Youji looks pointedly at him. In the silent carried back to Abe’s house, Abe pretends he’s not embarrassed and ignores the way his heart sped up whenever he thinks about Mihashi.

Chapter Text

The second time they have a training camp, Abe spends a truly impressive amount of time thinking about Mihashi. No, perhaps that’s not right. He always thinks about Mihashi. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he has a different awareness of Mihashi. Everything that Mihashi does is catalogued and analyzed at a later date. When he cringes, when he responds, when he smiles, when he has nothing but silence to offer. Abe feels like if he can just crack the code to Mihashi’s reactions he’ll always know what he’s supposed to say.

*

Abe usually sleeps next to Mihashi during the training camp, as a result from Shiga’s earlier insistence that proximity would result in “being one mind and one body” and now is mostly just a habit.

It’s never been a problem before—sleeping next to Mihashi. Sleep has never been a problem before. Momoe’s training sessions wipe him out and Abe usually hits the floor in immediate oblivion and doesn’t wake until morning.

But now, for whatever reasons, he can’t sleep.

Mihashi looks smaller, when he sleeps. Not significantly shorter or thinner or anything like that. More like he’s about to fade away. He looks more vulnerable when he sleeps. Mihashi curls into a small ball like he expects to be hit.

Stop thinking about it, Abe chides. But even then he realized that what he means is, “Stop thinking about Mihashi.” It’s late, he’ll have to wake up early, he has no idea why he keeps thinking about Mihashi and it needs to stop.

A whimper derails Abe’s thoughts. He glances back to Mihashi, who whimpers again. The boy looks like he’s in pain. Abe completely freezes, even his breath momentarily ceases; he is caught, suspended in indecision, about what he’s supposed to do next.

His mind, unlike his body, races in a fast paced whirl too hectic to fully process: he’s dreaming, he’s having a nightmare, of course he has nightmares, how often does he have nightmares? Have I just never noticed before? Do I sleep through his nightmares? What do I do now? Do I wake him?

He moves on instinct, his hand hovering a second over Mihashi’s body, then he descends and grabs Mihashi’s hand in his. Mihashi still twitches and whimpers and Abe debates shaking him. Mihashi, he thinks, Mihashi, I’m sorry, please wake up.

All of the sudden Mihashi’s eyes fly open, and he’s face to face with Abe.

Abe, who is holding Mihashi’s hand.

He flushes, feeling mildly like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t have been, but he doesn’t let go. “Were you having a nightmare?” he whispers.

Mihashi nods, curling his hand so that he can squeeze Abe’s hand in return.

Abe hesitates. “...Was it about Teiko?”

Mihashi nods again, his eyes fixated on Abe’s face.

Abe thinks about all the things he doesn’t know how to say.

You’re OK. I’m here.

You’re not there anymore. You’ll never be there again.

I’m going to keep you safe.

I won’t let you get hurt again.

I’m here. I’m always here.

Mihashi grips Abe’s hand tighter and closes his eyes and sighs. He moves his body inward slightly, so now he’s half on Abe’s mat and half on his. The room, like all the rooms they rent during training sessions, isn’t quite big enough for all of them so everyone’s mat is more or less on top of each other’s anyway. Everyone in Nishiura has learned to sleep very still, but it’s not unusual to find someone taking up more than their fair share of space. (Mizutani and Tajima are the worst offenders—Mizutani sprawls and Tajima kicks and both of them are usually relegated to the corners of rooms facing a wall).

Abe knows that when you’re sharing such a small space with such a large group of people, sometimes bodies end up pressed against other bodies. But when he edges closer to Mihashi he blushes and feels like this is breaking some kind of unspoken rule. But Mihashi nestles in closer too, so he doesn’t regret it.

*

He wakes up in the morning to the weight of a stare.

He becomes aware of Mihashi first—somewhere in the course of the night his arm wrapped around Mihashi’s waist and Mihashi ended up pressed against his body, tucked under his chin.

He pulls away—slowly, so as not to wake up Mihashi, but blushing, like he’s doing something he shouldn’t.

When he turns he notices Tajima crouched at his feet, staring at him, head tilted to his side, ears pricked forward, cat tail swishing from side to side.

The two of them stare at each other in silence; Abe flushed and defiant, like he’s been caught doing something illicit but damned if he’s going to apologize for it; Tajima silent and still like a cat, staring at him with distinctly feline judgment.

The spell breaks when Tajima bounds away.

Abe has fully extricated himself from Mihashi by the time the rest of the team starts to wake up.

*

He spends a fair amount of energy waiting for—something. For Tajima to say something, for someone on the team to mention the fact that he spent last night effectively cuddling Mihashi.

When no one actually says anything Abe is—further confused about his feelings. Relieved? But that implies he feels like he got away with something, which means he thought he did something wrong to begin with and he hadn’t. He was comforting a friend. He would have done the same thing for anyone! Well, no. He probably wouldn’t. But anyone would have done it for Mihashi because Mihashi was… he needed comfort, more than other people, it was just—

His own thought process exhausts him. He wonders if this is how Mihashi feels all the time. After a few days pass without change, Abe resolves to put the whole weird thing past him. It’s not worth thinking about.

*

And probably Abe would have gone a long time without ever thinking about it again, if he hadn’t forgotten his school bag in the locker rooms one night.

He’s exhausted—like he usually is after Momoe’s training—and he’s about ten minutes into his bike ride home when he realizes he forgot his bag; he genuinely tempted for two minutes to just carry on the rest of the way and leave his bag there. But he remembers how his mom had recently lectured him about being more careful with his things, so he groans and turns back to fetch it.

The lights are still on, which surprises him, and there’s still a bike out front which means someone hasn’t gone home yet. It had better not be Mihashi, Abe thinks to himself as he enters the locker room. If Mihashi is over-practicing, Abe is going—

He rounds a corner.

It turns out there’s not one person still inside, but two.

Abe freezes in place and stares.

*

All told, it probably only takes about three seconds for Abe’s brain to process what he is seeing. But it feels like he was frozen for eternity in perplexed wonder where he genuinely did not understand what he had walked in on.

What he does see, but does not immediately compute, is Tajima’s legs wrapped around Hanai’s waist. Both of them are shirtless; Tajima is backed up against a wall as Hanai supports him. The two of them are groaning and panting and moving with incredible urgency. The last thing Abe’s brain finally process is the fact that the two of them are sucking at each other’s skin and mouths with intense fervor.

In the span of three frozen, dumbfounded seconds, Abe’s brain finally does catch up with what he’s seeing and supplies him with the vital information that Tajima and Hanai are making out in the locker rooms and Abe comes up with the appropriate response.

That is to say, he shouts, “Holy shit,” flails his arms backwards and trips over his own schoolbag.

Hanai and Tajima spring apart so fast it’s practically teleportation. In the span of half a second there’s ten feet of space between them and Abe would be tempted to think he hallucinated the whole scenario except for the fact that they’re both still shirtless.

“Abe!” Hanai exclaims, looking panicked and desperate. “This isn’t—” he passes one frantic look from Abe to Tajima and then he just runs. He bolts past Abe and into the night, still shirtless.

Tajima growls—that dangerous inhuman sound that sends shivers down Abe’s spine and in this situation, makes him genuinely fear for his life. But Tajima isn’t looking at Abe; his attention is fixated on Hanai’s retreating back, with the same intensity Abe has seen in cats right before they pounce, and then he leaps—

—bounding straight over Abe’s head and chasing after Hanai at high speed.

Abe, processing the complete inability to think of anything better to do, remains on the ground for a good long while.

*

Abe’s not sure how to act around Hanai the next day in school. The best plan, he decides, is to pretend he never saw anything. He’s sure both Hanai and Tajima would agree that’s the best course of action. He’s just going to pretend nothing is different and then everything will go back to normal and Hanai will eventually stop blushing when he glances on Abe’s direction and everything will be—

“Abe?”

Abe freezes, unjustly resenting the fact that Hanai was approaching him during lunch, thus violating Abe’s best intentions of pretending he hadn’t seen anything.

“Errr,” Abe says, intelligently.

“Can I talk to you outside for a second?” Hanai is still red in the face, but he’s meeting Abe’s gaze square on now.

“We don’t have to,” Abe says quickly. “I mean, it’s not necessary. I’m not—you know I wouldn’t say anything, right?”

“Yeah,” Hanai says, to Abe’s relief. “But… please?”

Abe begins to panic again. He doesn’t know what to do with Hanai sounding like that—desperate and needy. This is something Abe doesn’t know how to handle—Hanai needs a confidant, someone who would know what to say. Like Suyama, or maybe Mizutani—

Don’t you have any friends?

Abe remembers what his father asked, so long ago now, and also that when he’d wanted someone to talk to about Mihashi, he couldn’t figure out what he could ask.

He nods once. “Yeah, OK. Let’s go somewhere private.”

*

They end up behind the basketball gym; both because it’s a remote location but also because it’s the last place anyone on the team might be during lunch.

As they walked to their new location, Abe steeled himself in mental preparation to be a Supportive Friend Who Listened. It’s not something he’s ever had to do before, but he makes a mental list of reminders on proper behavior, as compiled by his interactions with Mihashi and Oki. 1) Don’t shout. 2) Let him finish talking. 3) Don’t shout.

All of his preparation does very little good when they sit down and Hanai spends five minutes not saying anything at all.

Maybe Abe is supposed to speak first. Abe resents this a little, but he is a Supportive Friend Who Listens so he makes a quick list of all the points he feels like he should reassure Hanai about.

1 )I won’t tell anyone you make out with Tajima.

2) It’s totally fine that you make out with Tajima, I don’t judge.

3) I mean it, I have a gay uncle, he and his partner have been together for ten years and we go to baseball games.

4) I think you guys are cute together.

5) Just don’t let it affect the game.

6) But I still support you.

7) But seriously, don’t break up, we need our captain and clean-up hitters.

8) Also, I’ll fight anyone who doesn’t support the two of you.

9) So did you watch the Bears game last night?

What he eventually does say is, “So… you and Tajima, huh?”

Hanai winces and Abe immediately backtracks, wondering how he’s already said the wrong thing and prepares to launch into his, “I’m a supportive friend” list but then Hanai says, “I’m not sure what we are.”

Abe derails, staring at Hanai with his mouth still half open from his efforts to speak.

“I mean, I don’t know if we’re dating, or whatever.”

“Right,” Abe says, uneasily. This is not in his prepared scenario for Supportive Friend.

“He just—sorta jumped on me one day, and we just started, I don’t know, fooling around I guess.”

“Sure,” Abe offers.

“And I don’t—I don’t know if it means anything. I don’t even know what it means for me. Do you think this means I’m gay?”

“Well,” Abe says.

“Right,” Hanai says, putting his head in his hands. “Right, of course it does, it definitely does, straight people don’t just make out with their teammates.”

“Well,” Abe says again.

“But, like, what if it doesn’t mean that? I mean, it just feels really good to kiss Tajima, but I don’t think I’d enjoy kissing any teammate. I definitely wouldn’t kiss you. That’d be gross.”

“Yeah,” Abe agrees automatically. “Definitely.” Although belatedly he feels, irrationally, a little insulted.

“So that just means I’m gay for Tajima, right? But what if he’s not gay for me?

Abe sticks with saying, “Well,” again. He’s getting a lot of traction with that “well” and he sees no reason to stop now.

But Hanai is actually looking at him expectantly, like he’s waiting for the rest of that sentence, and Abe feels a little put on the spot. “Well, Tajima’s never tried to make out with me.”

“Right,” Hanai exclaims, looking relieved, so Abe figures he must have said the right thing. “I’m like, 95% certain he’s not making out with anyone else. That probably means we’re dating right?”

“Er,” Abe says. “Sure?”

Hanai buries his face in his hands again. “Ahh! Why does this have to be so hard? It shouldn’t be this complicated. How is it like for you and Mihashi?”

Abe’s brain shorts out for a few seconds. When normal functions resume he just says, “Wait, what?”

“You and Mihashi,” Hanai says, a tad impatiently. “I guess it’s probably easier, since you have the battery thing going for you, but I gotta figure Mihashi’s got to be pretty hard to deal with sometimes, yeah? Does that ever strain your relationship?”

“…As a battery?” Abe clarifies.

“As boyfriends,” Hanai says, like it should be obvious.

Abe jumps to his feet, “Whoa, I’m not dating Mihashi!”

Hanai pulls him back down, “Be quiet will you? Someone could hear you!”

I’m not dating Mihashi,” Abe hisses violently. “Why would you think that?”

“Seriously? Everyone thinks that!”

“What?” Abe yelps.

“Dude, you guys were spooning during training camp.”

“We were not spooning,” Abe sputters. But since he was, admittedly, cuddling with Mihashi during training camp, he figures he can’t exactly beleaguer the point. “He was having a bad dream, OK? I was just—helping. Like, how Shiga-sensei says about building camaraderie, and all that.”

“Yeah,” Hanai says doubtfully. “Do you ever get the feeling it’s a little weird how often he tells us to hold hands and sleep in each other’s beds?”

“Well, now I do,” Abe says.

It doesn’t help that he remembers the way the stupid military guy had smirked at him. “Does everyone really think I’m dating Mihashi?”

“Uh,” Hanai says. “No?”

That was probably the least convincing “no” Abe has ever heard in his life.

They sit there for a couple extremely uncomfortable minutes not saying anything at all.

“So you and Mihashi really—”

No,” Abe says emphatically.

“Oh,” Hanai looks straight ahead and not at Abe when adds, “Do you want to?”

“Of course n—” Abe stops. He can’t finish the sentence. He’s not sure exactly why he can’t. “I’ve never thought of him like that,” Abe finishes, awkwardly.

“Yeah,” Hanai says. “I hadn’t thought about Tajima either until he jumped me.”

Abe is very deliberately not thinking about that too hard. “Do you want to date Tajima?”

“I just want my life to make sense again.”

Yeah. Abe could definitely relate to that.

*

He doesn’t think about his conversation with Hanai for the rest of the day. When he’s at practice, it’s easy to focus solely on baseball. All other thoughts don’t matter.

But when he’s home, and in bed, and really should be sleeping, his mind is caught in a whirlwind of disorganized memory that keeps him awake.

Do you want to?

What is your relationship to Ren-kun?

I know Abe-kun cares about me the most.

He rolls to his side, burying his head under the blankets and spends a few seconds feeling oddly comforted by the increasing levels of suffocation he’s experiencing. Maybe if he just smothers himself in his bed then anything will make sense again.

Do you want to?

*

That night, he dreams.

He dreams about Mihashi. At first, he dreams about Mihashi in a cage. He dreams about faceless men cutting Mihashi open, sticking needles in him. He dreams about Mihashi alone and scared and crying. Abe wakes up three times in the course of the night, desperately trying to save Mihashi from something he’s already been saved from.

The third time he wakes up he just lies in the dark rationalizing with himself. He has no idea what Mihashi’s abduction was like. He doesn’t know that Mihashi was kept in a cage, or anything. And he reminds himself that Mihashi is here, alive and well and playing baseball. He reaches for his cell phone to text Mihashi just to make sure of this fact but then he reminds himself that 1) Mihashi is asleep and won’t text back and 2) Mihashi never texts him back anyway.

He’s fine, Abe tells himself. He’s fine. He got out of there.

Eventually, he falls asleep again.

He still dreams about Mihashi.

*

He dreams that they’re together playing baseball. Every place Abe calls for, Mihashi throws with perfect accuracy. They’re pitching a perfect game at koshien, they win, they’re hugging each other.

And then they’re kissing in Abe’s bed. They’re shirtless and Abe runs his hands down Mihashi’s back and Mihashi strokes at Abe’s chest and neck and Abe sucks at Mihashi’s neck and Mihashi cries out, “Taka.” Mihashi’s body is so close to his, it’s like they really are one body one mind and Mihashi is still saying his name, “Taka, Taka.

*

Abe wakes up.

His alarm is going off and he can hear his mom making breakfast and Shun already thumping around the house, but even still it takes him a few seconds to orient himself to what’s happening.

Holy shit, he thinks. Because his body is hot and aching for Mihashi and just—fuck—he doesn’t know what to do with any of this.

*

Abe spends the entire day not meeting anyone’s gaze. He has some vague paranoid fear that if someone looks at him they’ll be able to tell that he had erotic dreams about his pitcher last night. It certainly didn’t help that his father had asked him, “So, Takaya, did you sleep well last night?” over breakfast, like he knew, because his dad never asked him that and there was definitely some jeer in his voice and Abe just muttered some response that even now he has no idea what he said.

He definitely doesn’t look at Hanai, because he’s sure Hanai will know somehow, and he’s not ready to have any sort of conversation about this.

For the first time in his life, Abe debates skipping baseball practice.

*

His love baseball wins over his potential embarrassment so he does go to practice after all. He can do this. He can be normal. He can totally be normal. He can just play baseball and think about baseball and he never has to think about last night ever again—

“Abe…kun?”

Abe turns to see Mihashi standing behind him, holding his catcher’s gear. And of course, of course, the first thing Abe thinks about is last night. He thinks about the way it felt to have Mihashi underneath him, moaning “Taka” over and over again, and how it felt to kiss Mihashi’s neck.

Mihashi drops Abe’s catcher’s gear, making a strangled noise. The boy is inexplicably bright red, redder than Abe has ever seen him, and fuck it, it really is like Mihashi read his mind—

“I didn’t mean to!” Mihashi yelps.

It feels, a bit, like someone has broken Abe into a thousand pieces and then rearranged him in a more cohesive but still broken fashion.

Did you just read my mind?”

*

He waits for Mihashi to deny it. To shake his head in that wordless but vehement way of his. But Mihashi only starts backing up, looking panicked.

Abe advances, grabbing Mihashi by the arm. “Can you read my mind?” he demands. He can’t believe that he’s asking this question in a serious way but Mihashi still hasn’t denied it.

“Hey! What are you doing to Mihashi?”

Tajima shouts—and then he’s there, grabbing onto Abe and slamming him against the locker with more force than you’d expect from the small clean-up hitter.

“Can Mihashi read minds?” Abe asks angrily, ignoring the threat to his life for once. The team is starting to pile in, but Abe ignores them too.

Tajima lets go of Abe’s shirt collar, his tail swishing behind him his anger visibly fading from his face.

“No way,” Mizutani laughs. But he stops laughing when no one says anything. Tajima’s eyes fall to Mihashi and that’s enough confirmation for Abe, really.

“Are you kidding me?!” Abe explodes.

“S-sorry,” Mihashi says. “I’m sorry!” Mihashi pushes his way through the Nishiura team, running fast.

“It’s not his fault!” Tajima yells, shoving Abe again. “He can’t help what they did to him!”

“You should have told me,” Abe cries, clenching his fists uselessly at his side. “Someone should have told me.”

Tajima sets his jaw in stubborn defiance, like Abe’s concerns don’t matter in this situation at all.

“Wait, Mihashi can’t actually read minds, right?” Sakaeguchi clarifies. “That’s not actually what we’re saying, right?”

No one says anything. Abe pushes his way through the crowd. He really doesn’t want to be here anymore.

*

“Abe-kun.”
Abe turns at the sound of his coach’s voice. She has a desperate look on her face. He keeps his hands clenched to his side; he’s worried she’ll grab his hands again and make him forget he’s angry.

“Did you know?” He’s surprised by the sound of his own voice. For once, he’s not shouting. His voice is even, detached.

Momoe stops walking. “Yes. Sergeant Kasamatsu and Sergeant Sakurai explained it when they first came. Abe—”

He turns to leave. He doesn’t want to hear it.

“Abe, he needs you. He needs you.

“I don’t care,” Abe says, and he continues to walk away.

 

Chapter Text

“You’re home early. Did something happen?”

Abe’s not sure what he mumbled to his mother—he just heads straight to his bedroom and crawls under the blankets and wishes he could die.

*

Everything. He keeps fixating on that. Mihashi must have known everything. Every little thought he ever had. Every time he thought about Mihashi, every time he criticized Mihashi—

I know Abe-kun cares about me the most.

And, oh God, he must actually know that. He must know for a fact that Abe thinks about him so much. And the stupid dream—

—How was he supposed to ever face Mihashi again? Abe is so embarrassed he literally wishes a hole would open up in the earth and swallow him. He can’t ever go to school again. He’s just going to live in his room and never come out. This is how his promising high school baseball career comes to an end; not with a sports injury but utter humiliation.

*

His mother is remarkably unsympathetic to his pain.

“Of course you’re going to school, young man. And baseball practice. You made a promise to your team and that nice young lady who coaches you. I did not raise a son who can’t keep his word.”

“Mom, you don’t understand,” Abe says. She has already prodded him awake, prodded him into dressing, and is now in the process of prodding him into eating breakfast. Misae can be very forceful when she wants. “I can’t—Mihashi—”

“What about Ren-kun?”

Abe flails. “He reads minds!”

“So? What exactly are you thinking that’s so secretive anyway?”

Abe stares at her, slack-jawed. He’d wailed, “he reads minds” because he honestly couldn’t think of anything better to say, but he didn’t actually think his mother would believe him. Also, there’s no way in hell he’s answering that question.

“Why aren’t you more surprised?” he asks, suspiciously.

“About Ren-kun’s mind-reading? Mihashi-san told all the mothers about it ages ago. That poor woman, I can’t imagine what it must be like for her. Losing her son for two years. And what those monsters did to him! Taking his eyes and giving him new ones like he was some sort of doll. I’m so glad they’re in jail now. I’m tempted to go down there and give them a piece of my mind.”

“What did you say?” Abe says, dazed.

“I said I want to go there—”

“No, before that.” He feels like he had to have misheard. Or at least, that he’s fundamentally misunderstanding something. “They… took his eyes?”

Misae puts her hand to her mouth, “Didn’t you know?”

“They—” Abe can’t even repeat the sentence.

“Oh, Taka. You saw his pictures when he was younger, didn’t you? You know he wasn’t born with gold eyes.”

“Yeah, but—” He’d always tried not to think too hard about it. He just assumed the scientists must have done something to change his eye color, not—

“They took his heart too, although I can’t imagine what they were thinking, really. Taka, is it so bad that he heard your thoughts? Mihashi-san has been so happy that he’s been coming to school and playing baseball again. Apparently, he couldn’t even leave the house when he first got back. I can’t imagine what it must be like, hearing everyone’s thoughts all the time. Can you?”

Abe swallows and looks down at his barely touched food.

He needs you.

I don’t care.

That’s never been true, though, has it?

Abe pushes his chair back and gets up. “I’m going to school.”

“Taka, you barely ate anything!”

But he’s already out the door.

*

He is still not fully ready to talk to his teammates yet, so he avoids making eye contact with them. He feels like this is something he and Mihashi should figure out first, before Abe apologies for disrupting practice yesterday.

Only Mihashi isn’t around. Abe goes to Mihashi’s classroom at lunch only to be told by five different people (none of them on the baseball team; Abe feels like he should probably think about what it means that everyone in Mihashi’s class can take one look at him and assume he’s here for Mihashi) that Mihashi never came to class today. Tajima, Izumi and Hamada all look at Abe from across the room, but they don’t try to stop him when he immediately departs.

Abe is not sure what to do with himself if Mihashi isn’t around. He still doesn’t know how to feel about anything.

*

After a long debate with himself, Abe goes to practice. He doesn’t want to skip out again, and he vows to find Mihashi right after.

He still doesn’t want to talk to anyone else on the team about it before he can talk to Mihashi (about whatever it is) so he purposefully trails in five minutes late.

“—weird, OK? I don’t want to hold it against him, I know it’s not his fault, but you can’t blame us for being a little uncomfortable around a mind reader, OK?” Mizutani says. Abe freezes, without really understanding why. He just really doesn’t want to walk in on this conversation. “Especially since you said Mihashi can’t ever turn it off.”

“But he can control it better,” Tajima insists. “Like I said, he doesn’t listen to everyone’s minds, he hasn’t pretty much ever since he started coming to school. The only mind he ever hears now is Abe’s.”

Abe’s heart starts beating faster, louder. He’s surprised no one else can hear it.

“How does that work?” Izumi asks.

“Mihashi said Abe’s thoughts are really loud, so they drown out everyone else’s, like a white noise machine! That’s the only reason he can come out in public. If Abe’s not around everyone’s thought come in all at once and he completely shuts down. So he hasn’t been spying on everyone.”

“Just Abe,” Hanai points out.

“Well, who cares about that?!” Tajima bursts out.

“Abe might,” Izumi says dryly.

“They’re supposed to be one mind anyway, right? Abe signed up for this!”

“Yeah, but I don’t think he knew it would be literal,” Sakaeguchi says.

Abe pulls back. It occurs to him that Tajima probably can hear his heartbeat—there’s no way the relief catcher doesn’t know Abe is there.

“Mihashi is a mess without Abe around,” Tajima growls out. “You never saw him before—he just stayed hidden in his room all day. The thoughts are too overwhelming. You guys are the ones who wanted him for a pitcher; are you really going to whine now about the one you got?”

“I’m not,” Oki says quickly. “I don’t care if he can read my mind, I want him here.”

Various forms of assent—in varying degrees of enthusiasm—all murmur the same thing.

Abe walks back out again.

*

If Abe-kun comes, I’ll be fine.

That’s why Mihashi needed him to come to the hospital with him. That’s why all the doctors and soldiers seemed so surprised to see Mihashi walking around to begin with—they must have seen him when he was still like that girl, huddling on the floor with hands to his ears.

He needs you.

I don’t care.

A dog barks, catching Abe’s thoughts. He turns to see Momoe standing there; her face unreadable.

“I’m going to get Mihashi,” he tells her.

She remains standing there, inscrutable with her expression. Then she bursts out in a wide smile. “Don’t come back until you have him.”

Abe nods and takes off at a fast pace to get his bike.

*

Abe knocks politely on Mihashi’s door and waits for about two minutes before he remembers that Mihashi’s parents both work and they probably aren’t around to let him in. Then he pounds on the door more furiously.

MIHASHI, he thinks as loud as he can. MIHASHI I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE AND THAT YOU CAN HEAR ME. He waits for half a beat before adding, I’M NOT MAD JUST LET ME IN WE NEED TO TALK.

Just enough time passes for Abe to start contemplating some truly drastic measures—breaking the door down, throwing a rock through a window, calling Tajima and enlisting his aid—before the door finally opens, one tiny crack. Abe stares at it for a second, confused, because it doesn’t look like anyone is there, but then he sees the tiny silhouette of Mihashi’s shadow.

“Mihashi?” Abe says as he steps closer.

Mihashi peers out from the door, still mostly hidden, as he quails under Abe’s gaze.

This irritates Abe, a lot, because he feels like the bad guy here and he’s not and also Mihashi shouldn’t be afraid of him. He reminds himself not to be angry and then reminds himself that Mihashi can read his thoughts and oh fuck, this is complicated—

“S-sorry,” Mihashi says, somehow managing to open the door wider while shrinking away from Abe at the same time. “Come on.”

Abe does, wishing he was better at this.

*

They’re in Mihashi’s room and no one has spoken.

Finally, Abe grips both his knees and lowers his head, “I’m sorry I freaked out. I didn’t mean—I just didn’t mean it, OK?”

Mihashi shakes his head furiously. “It’s not—Abe-kun’s fault! I should have—told you.”

Yeah, you should have, Abe thinks. And then he slams his forehead to his hands as Mihashi shrinks from him. “Can you—turn it off? At all?”

Mihashi shakes his head sadly. “I can’t… control it at all. I hear… everything. But Abe-kun… I could always just focus on you. And…it was…nice.”

Abe flushes. He doesn’t have to worry about Mihashi hearing his thoughts because right now he doesn’t have any single coherent thought in his brain. “Because I’m ‘loud?’ Do my thoughts really drown everyone else out?”

Mihashi nods, looking miserable.

“And what’s your range?” Mihashi doesn’t answer right away so Abe presses on, “Look, I’m trying to understand it. I’m trying to understand you. But I can’t read your mind, Mihashi. You have to talk to me.”

Mihashi nods again and takes in a deep breath. He meets Abe’s gaze for the first time since he got here, looking at him straight on.

“Not far. Usually only…three feet. If I’m in a crowd it’s…messy. I get…feedback. It hurts.”

“OK,” Abe says, processing this.

“But…”

“But?” Abe prompts when Mihashi doesn’t immediately continue.

Mihashi blushes and looks away again. “But Abe-kun is…an exception. I hear you… all the time.”

“What does—” Abe stops.

Mihashi blushes and looks away again. “If Abe-kun is…near… I hear Abe-kun.”

“How near? Three feet?” Mihashi shakes his head. “More? Ten feet? Twenty? Come on, give me a range.”

“At least…a baseball field…”

Abe waits a beat before exclaiming, “You can hear me from across a baseball field?” Mihashi shrinks and Abe sputters, “At least?”

“It’s…nice,” Mihashi says again. He sounds utterly wretched, and he sends a begging look at Abe that Abe can’t fully understand. “I could…go to school. Because of you.”

It takes Abe a minute to process this. Of course, they aren’t in the same class. All things considered, they don’t actually spend all that much time together. But Mihashi seems to be saying it doesn’t matter. If Abe is at school, Mihashi can hear his thoughts, even from his own class. That meant Mihashi was always listening to Abe’s thoughts.

“Is that—really better?” he asks, still feeling numb from all this new information. “Is hearing me all the time really any better than hearing everyone else’s?”

Yes!” Mihashi shouts, startling Abe. Mihashi reaches forward but stops his hands mid-movement, clenching them to his sides instead. “I can’t… without Abe-kun I can’t…

“What about when you’re home?”

Mihashi struggles with his answer. “My parents aren’t… too bad. And I can… always go to my room.”

“Christ,” Abe says, rubbing his forehead. “I can’t—Mihashi, I can’t be with you forever.”

Mihashi flinches. “I know. Just… three years. Just in high school. But maybe…after that I’ll have figured out…something else.”

“Right,” Abe says, brightening. “That’s right! That’s plenty of time! We’ll figure out how to get your power in control by then.”

Mihashi peers at Abe, uncertain. “You don’t…mind?”

For once, Abe can actually follow Mihashi’s question. “You mean, the fact that you’re reading my mind all the time? I’m not a huge fan of it, but…”

But what? But clearly this had been going on for awhile and it didn’t matter then. But it was Mihashi. Somehow, Abe didn’t mind it as much if it was Mihashi as he might if it was oh, Tajima, or anyone else on the team.

They’re supposed to be one mind, right?

“We’ll work on it,” Abe says finally. “We’ll have to establish some boundaries, but—” Abe shrugs. “I want you to be my pitcher, Mihashi. That’s the one thing that has never changed. If this is what it takes to keep you coming to school, then that’s what it takes.”

“But Mihashi—” he sees that Mihashi has once again glanced away so he reaches over and cups Mihashi’s cheeks, tilting him forward so he can look straight into his eyes. “You have to talk to me about everything. You know everything about me. If we’re going to work as a battery, I need to know just as much about you, OK?”

Mihashi’s eyes widen. He doesn’t look particularly enthusiastic about the prospect but he nods in Abe’s hands.

“OK, Abe-kun.”

“Good,” Abe says, letting go and pulling back. Abe’s still not sure what he’s feeling. He’s not even sure what he should be feeling in this situation. What exactly is the standard protocol when you find out someone can read your every thought?

“Just because I have to ask—” Abe starts, ignoring the way Mihashi tenses again “—is there anything else you’re keeping from me?”

Mihashi blinks at him and it’s frustrating that there’s still this much misunderstanding between them. Mihashi can read his mind, can’t he? “About Teiko. Premonitions, mind reading—is there anything else you can do?”

Mihashi ducks his head. Then he nods, almost mournfully.

“Gold Eyes, Green Heart,” Mihashi says.

Abe tries to remember where else he heard that phrase. He dimly thinks about the girl in the hospital.

They took his heart too.

Mihashi flinches as Abe remembers his mom’s words from this morning.

“That’s what they did to you, right?” Abe says, his voice uncharacteristically low. “They took out your eyes and your heart and replaced it with someone else’s?”

“One of the Generations,” the voice is barely more than a whisper. “They asked me if I wanted to understand people better. If I wanted to be better. I said yes.”

They asked permission first, Youji had explained.

“It wasn’t your fault. You know that, right?”

Mihashi doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move, either.

“Mihashi, this wasn’t your fault. The stuff they did—none of it should have happened.”

“Would—” Mihashi looks at his bedroom wall, his floor, his window, everywhere but Abe. “Would Abe-kun…like me better?”

Abe feels awash in his own helplessness. Better than what? Mihashi still isn’t looking at him.

“Better… you mean if you weren’t reading my mind all the time?”

Mihashi nods, wrapping his arms around himself.

“Mihashi,” Abe says, a tad desperately. “I’m sure I would have liked any version of you.”

Mihashi lifts up his head and then smiles shyly.

“I’m—” Abe says, then swallows and lets out a breath. “I’m sorry it was me. I mean, it would have been better if it was one of the other guys, right? Who you heard all the time? Would it help if I tried to be quieter—”

“No!” Mihashi shouts again. “Abe-kun is the best! It has to be Abe-kun!”

And finally it’s Abe’s turn to look away, embarrassed. Not just by Mihashi’s words, but also at how happy it makes him feel to hear him say it.

*

Later, when he’s almost back to his house, he will remember all the things they didn’t talk about.

Namely, the dream.

He stops in his tracks as it comes flooding back, losing all capability for motion.

He had an erotic dream about Mihashi and Mihashi knew.

He does not have the capacity to process either of these things.

So as he starts moving again he just vows never to think about it again.

*

And everything should be back to normal after that. Abe thinks that now, everything should be fine. All the secrets have been aired; it’s time to start working as a team again.

Except then Coach arranges a practice game with Mihoshi.

*

When she announces this, cheerfully declaring it was only with the First Years and thus, “Everyone who hated you, Mihashi!” Abe doesn’t have to be a mindreader to know this isn’t a good thing. Mihashi grows increasingly pale and jittery; he looks like he’s about to puke at any moment. When Mihashi runs off Abe is pretty sure that’s what he’s doing.

He knows better than to question a coach’s orders in public, but he makes a point of tracking Momoe down after practice.

“Coach, why?” he asks. “Why do this to Mihashi?”

She doesn’t dismiss the question. “I’m doing this for Mihashi,” she replies. “Abe-kun, what do you know about Mihashi’s time there?”

“Only what he told us—that he wouldn’t give up the mound and they hated him for it. Said it was because of favoritism, since his grandfather owned the school.” Abe snorts at the memory. “He must have had a terrible catcher.”

Abe knows he’s a very skilled catcher—this isn’t arrogance, just a realistic assessment of his own skill. It’s a point of pride for him that he is able to make the best use from Mihashi’s skill. But even the most rudimentary catcher should have at least realized that Mihashi’s nine-area strike zone was exceptional. For a catcher to dismiss that accomplishment must mean he was an idiot.

“I happen to agree,” Momoe says mildly. “Although, I tend to blame the coach. That kind of conflict amongst the team should have been noticed and resolved before it ever became a problem. Nonetheless, I think Mihoshi is something that still weighs heavily on Mihashi-kun. I think it’s an unresolved issue for him, and playing against his old team will give him closure.”

“But he’s been fine,” Abe protests. “We’ve been functioning as a team for awhile. Why bring up this need for closure now?

“For two reasons,” Momoe says thoughtfully. “First, because while we have been a team for awhile, Mihashi-kun’s abilities have just come to light. I think it’s important that we do something in order to strengthen the bonds we have as a team.”

Abe opens his mouth to protest this necessity but Momoe gives him a pointed look so he just scowls instead. Alright, so things have been a little off since the whole team found out Mihashi could read their minds, but it’s nothing a little time couldn’t resolve! Probably.

“Second, because we won’t ever be able to face Teiko.”

This reason causes all of Abe’s thoughts to crash and he blinks at Momoe for a few seconds, unable to compute further.

“Mihashi-kun will never be able to face the people who abducted him, hurt him,” Momoe says softly. “And I’m not sure it’s a good idea for him to do that anyway. But he can face Mihoshi, he can battle Mihoshi. And I think that’s something that needs to happen. For him.”

Later, Abe wonders how she knew. For a long time now, but especially post-mind-reading reveal, Abe’s wished he could enact some terrible vengeance upon the people who hurt Mihashi. Only to feel completely helpless and impotent as he realizes that’s not something he’s ever going to be able to do.

But maybe it’s not so surprising she figured that out.

Maybe she wishes for the same thing.

*

He finds Mihashi hiding behind the bleachers, huddled in a crouched position.

“Are you…OK?” he asks lamely.

Mihashi peers up at him while still quaking. “They…hate me…”

“So who cares what they think?” Abe shouts. “We like you! You led our win against Tousei, against a whole bunch of really strong guys, right? Everyone at Nishiura knows how great you are.”

“They were…right to hate me,” Mihashi says, grimacing. “I was…selfish.”

Abe bites back the automatic response that all pitchers are selfish. Mihashi, no doubt, hears the thought anyway, but he can at least not say it. Besides, Abe had held a grudge against Haruna for his selfishness when he got off the mound; if given the choice between a pitcher who selfishly abandons his teammates and a pitcher who selfishly sticks to the mound, Abe will take the one who stays on the mound every time.

Mihashi unfurls from his crouched position, slowly getting to his feet and staring at Abe.

“Abe-kun…wants to win?”

“You’re damn right I want to win against them!” Abe shouts without meaning to; Mihashi flinches at the yelling but edges towards Abe anyway.

“So… I should win for Abe-kun?”

Abe is slowly realizing that just because Mihashi flinches when he shouts, it doesn’t mean that Mihashi is scared of him. And maybe their communication isn’t smooth, but they are communicating, and that’s something.

“You should win for Nishiura.

And Mihashi smiles, shy but happy, and Abe ignores the way his heart flutters.

“And Abe-kun…will catch?”

“Of course I’m going to catch!” Abe shouts. “You think I’m going to leave an important game to Tajima if I can help it? Jeez, the kinds of things that go on in your head.”

Mihashi is still smiling, which is all Abe cares about, even as he thinks he probably should work on shouting less.

*

“Don’t you want Mihashi?” Momoe addresses the team before the Mihoshi game.

“I do!” Abe declares, ignoring the very sardonic looks he is getting from a few of his teammates.

“Do you want to keep your Ace?” Momoe demands. This receives more enthusiastic support from the rest of the team. “Then go out and win!”

*

Abe doesn’t know what to expect regarding Mihashi’s old team but he quickly learns two things.

The Mihoshi team, on a whole, seems to have a lot of anger and resentment towards Mihashi; more so than Abe thinks is reasonably justified, considering Mihashi was really only their pitcher for a year before his abduction. He thinks, given the circumstances, it’s rather unfair to still hold a grudge about what Mihashi was like as their pitcher more than two and a half years later.

Second, Abe does not like the way Mihashi looks at his old team. At all.

It’s like he still wants to go back and play with them and that leaves Abe with a sick feeling in his stomach and the fervent desire to win at all costs.

*

After the win (which was far too close for Abe’s comfort) Abe figures out a little bit why Mihoshi seems to have such resentment towards their former pitcher.

“We didn’t drive you away,” the catcher says angrily, glaring resolutely at Mihashi. “What happened to you wasn’t our fault, no matter what the news said.”

“I never…blamed you,” Mihashi says, keeping his eyes low to the ground.

And then Mihoshi’s pitcher says what Abe’s been dreading all along:

“Come back to Mihoshi, Ren! We’ll be a team again!”

*

Tell them ‘No,’ Abe thinks very loudly. Hurry up and tell them No!

He’s not even thinking about the fact that Mihashi can actually hear his command, but he does feel like this point needs to be emphasized. You’re our pitcher, so just tell them ‘No.’

“I want to stay at Nishiura,” Mihashi says.

“How can I pick up the Ace number you threw away?” Kanou demands.

“I didn’t throw it away. Mihoshi’s Ace has always been you, Kanou-kun.”

“Come on,” Kanou pleads. “Aren’t you lonely? You should come back with us.”

“I’m not,” Mihashi says, to Abe’s relief. And Mihashi unconsciously glances back to Abe before continuing, “I’m not lonely here.”  

And the look on their faces makes Abe feel very smug.

“You’ve changed a lot, Ren,” Kanou says. “It’s a good change, though.”

Abe abruptly stops feeling smug when Mihashi says, “Bye, Shu-chan.”

(Mihashi, Abe has noticed, uses nicknames very liberally. Yuu-kun, Shu-chan, Hama-chan. Every time he does it’s a reminder that he’s still “Abe-kun.”)

*

“That was sloppy, Mihashi,” Sakaeguchi teases. “Shouldn’t you have known he was going to hit a home run off of that throw? Can’t you read his mind?”

“I can’t!” Mihashi insists. “Not that far away!”

“So what am I thinking now?” Mizutani asks.

“You don’t need to be a mindreader to know what you’re thinking,” Izumi says, rolling his eyes and then very pointedly looks at Chiyo, causing a few people to laugh and elbow Mizutani in the ribs when he blushes.

“I can’t with Abe-kun—” Mihashi breaks off, and the team laughs.

Momoe was right, Abe realizes. This game was good for the team. And for Mihashi.

*

Abe doesn’t exactly plan on talking to Mihashi after everything is put away, but he finds himself tracking Mihashi down anyway.

He’s in the middle of a conversation with Tajima when Abe finds him. Tajima breaks off when Abe approaches and he smiles his stupid mysterious Tajima smile and slaps Mihashi on the back. “See you later, Ren!”

“You don’t need to leave on my account,” Abe says, which causes Mihashi to jump and whirl around, startled at Abe’s sudden appearance. Tajima laughs as he walks away and Abe’s too busy yelling at Mihashi to say good-bye. “How can you be startled?! Don’t you hear me coming?” He is only slightly bitter that his approach is something that causes Mihashi to jump.

“I hear Abe-kun…all the time,” Mihashi says, glancing away.

“Right. I guess it’s hard to gauge difference then.” He scratches the back of his head. He knows why he’s here, he’s trying to verify that Mihashi meant it when he said he wanted to stay at Nishiura, and he wasn’t just saying what Abe told him to say, in his thoughts. But he’s not sure how to go about asking something like that. And he’s really hoping Mihashi will just hear this train of thought and speak first so Abe doesn’t have to continue this anguished pondering of polite phrasing.

Mihashi does speak first.

“I wasn’t abducted.”

*

There is a very long unnatural silence as Abe stares dumbly at Mihashi.

Mihashi isn’t looking at Abe, he stares resolutely to the side. “I did run away.”

Abe opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He remembers the news reports; he remembers how long it took for the news to even acknowledge Mihashi’s missing case as an abduction. Everyone said he’d run away, due to bullying, but it was his parents who insisted over and over again that Mihashi would never do that.

“And then Teiko…said I could be an Ace. They said I could…understand people better. I would know…what they felt about me. And I …went with them—”

Mihashi breaks off at the impact of Abe’s body, as Abe throws his arms around Mihashi and hugs him so tight, it’s crushing. “It wasn’t your fault,” Abe says into Mihashi’s neck. “It wasn’t your fault.”

It wasn’t your fault, you just wanted to be better, we all want to be better, we all make mistakes and we all do things we regret and we all break and it wasn’t you’re fault, you tried, you did your best, you survived, you’re brilliant, you’re the strongest person I know and you should never, ever forget that.

Mihashi is crying now, and Abe is too because he’s just never been good at keeping his tears in check and Abe just keeps thinking over and over again, you matter, you’re so important, I’m so glad I met you. I’m glad I met you.

*

“Have I…changed?” Mihashi says, clinging onto Abe’s back with boney fingers. “Am I…better now?”

And for once, Abe knows exactly what Mihashi is asking.

“You won’t run away again, Mihashi. You’re our Ace, our true Ace.”

“But…how can Abe-kun be sure?”

Abe pulls back—he doesn’t let go, he keeps his hands on Mihashi’s shoulders and looks him square in the eye and says, “Because you’re not different. We’re different. You’re not alone anymore, Mihashi.”

And you won’t be, ever again.

Mihashi blinks back his tears and then buries his face in Abe’s chest. Abe instinctively puts his arms around Mihashi again, and rests his head on top of Mihashi’s.

They stay like that for a very long time.

Chapter Text

Although Abe wouldn’t consciously think about this until later, he eventually realizes that his reconciliation with Haruna probably wouldn’t have happened except for Mihashi. Not only because Mihashi is the driving force behind every time Abe interacts with Haruna, (he doesn’t get why Mihashi idolizes the man—it is a constant source of agony, and it makes Abe swear to himself that he will introduce Mihashi to other pitchers, better pitchers, who can serve as his ideal) but also because Abe thinks that by knowing Mihashi, he has come to understand Haruna better.

Or rather, he hadn’t ever considered what circumstance Haruna could have had until he’d met Mihashi. Or maybe that wasn’t it either. Maybe it was just that he would have never entertained the possibility that his judgment could be wrong about a person before he met Mihashi.

And even if he does tend to think Mihashi has incredibly low standards for what he deems to be “a good person,” Abe is also willing to admit that if anyone could know what a bad person was, it would be Mihashi.

All of this still does nothing to change how unsettling he finds Mihashi patting down Haruna’s muscles.

*

It is not, Abe reasons, just that Mihashi seems to find nothing wrong with asking someone he barely knows if he can touch his muscles. It is also unsettling as hell that Haruna seems to find nothing wrong with letting someone he barely knows touch his muscles.

Haruna, in fact, seems a little too flattered that someone would ask. As if that was a normal thing for someone to do.

He tells himself that wanting to drag Mihashi away from Haruna’s back is the only normal response anyone would have with such weird behavior.

*

“I thought you were going to ask him for the secret to a fast pitch?” Abe asks.

“I did!” Mihashi chirps.

When?” Abe gapes.

“It’s in the wind-up.”

There is a very distinct possibility that Abe is never going to understand how Mihashi’s mind works.

*

“Well, of course he was asking about how to be a fast pitcher.” Haruna says over the phone. “That’s why I let him touch my muscles.”

Abe gapes and shouts angrily. “Oh you did not understand that!”

“Sure, I did, it was easy,” Haruna says, incredulously. “The kid’s scrawny, you can’t deny that. He needs to work on building up his muscle if he ever wants to improve.”

“Don’t tell him things like that,” Abe snaps. “And stop telling him weird things about his pitch!”

“I’m trying to help. And for God’s sake, Takaya, the next time he has a question about what I meant, let him call me. You’re so overprotective!”

“I am not!” Abe shouts.

And oh God, it galls more than he can say. What if Haruna actually can understand Mihashi better than Abe? Abe is ready to give up on life, if that’s true.

“I’m not saying I don’t get it,” Haruna says, his voice shifting in a way that Abe doesn’t immediately recognize. “Hell, I can’t even blame you. If he was my kouhai, I’m sure I’d be overprotective too—” Abe snorts at the idea of Haruna as a considerate senpai, which Haruna ignores, “—after what he’s been through, I think he needs some looking after. But he’s never going to be a better player if you keep mothering him.”

“I’m not mothering him!” Abe yells. Then he sighs. “I’m surprised you know about—that.”

“It was international news,” Haruna says loftily. Abe waits a beat and Haruna adds, “OK, Akimaru had to tell me who he was, but I know plenty of things, Takaya!”

“Well, stop. This is something you don’t understand.” There’s a warning growl in Abe’s threat, he resents the hell out of Haruna even trying to butt in where he doesn’t belong. He doesn’t know Mihashi, or what he’s been through.

“Probably not,” Haruna agrees, surprising Abe. “But I do understand baseball. Any idiot can see that kid wants to improve himself. Why should you, or me, for that matter, get in the way of that?”

Abe falls silent as he wonders if it really is that easy. If everything Abe has worried about really boils down to Mihashi as a baseball player, all other factors unimportant.

“He sure is a cutie, though, Takaya, I’m so impressed with your taste. I have no idea what he sees in your grumpy ass, but he could do a lot worse—”

Abe hangs up on him. There’s no way in hell he’s having that discussion with Haruna.

*

“What do you mean you guys aren’t dating?” Hanai exclaims.

“Would you quiet down,” Abe hisses. “We went through this already.”

“Yeah, but I thought now—” Hanai trails off and Abe turns away when he feels his skin heating up.

This started with Hanai asking, “Is it weird having Mihashi read your mind all the time? I mean, now that you’re dating—” which Abe had thought unfair for many reasons, largely because he already went through this with Hanai already and really, they should be past this.

(Also, Abe can’t help but remember the last time he and Hanai had talked like this; he’d had some very confusing dreams that lead to some very uncomfortable revelations. If this happens again, hand to God, he is going to strangle Hanai.)

“Well, you should be dating!” Hanai shouts.

“Would you shut up, someone can hear you,” Abe says, resisting the urge to throttle Hanai right then and there.

“Oh, don’t stop on my account. You should be dating Mihashi, everyone on the team thinks so.”

Abe and Hanai freeze and slowly turn to where Izumi stands, sipping orange juice. Izumi looks remarkably nonchalant, considering the inner turmoil he has just cast upon his captain and catcher.

“You—” Abe starts. “The team—what?”

Izumi looks at him quizzically. “We’ve been discussing your dating life for months now. You didn’t think you were being discreet, did you? You and Mihashi are the worst kept secret in Nishiura, besides possibly Hanai and Tajima.”

What?” Hanai yelps. “What are you—there’s not anything—”

“Oh good lord,” Izumi says, horror dawning. “You didn’t think you were a secret, did you?” Hanai just stares at Izumi. Izumi has a very long-suffering expression. “OK, fun fact: when a bunch of dudes all change and shower in the same locker rooms, it is really, really obvious when two of those dudes start showing up with hickies everywhere. The obvious conclusion was dating or you both had the same secret girlfriend.”

Hanai is so red-faced Abe is genuinely concerned for his captain’s health.

“Also, you regularly have scratches on your back,” Izumi continues, not helping matters at all. Hanai buries his face in his hands and looks like he wants to die.

“I’m, er, not actually dating Mihashi,” Abe feels the need to say, if only to divert some of the attention away form Hanai, who might keel over at any moment.

Izumi’s eyes fix on Abe and Abe already regrets his humanitarian impulse. He should have left Hanai out there alone for the bus.

“Yeah,” Izumi says. “I know. Why aren’t you?”

And Abe doesn’t even have an answer to that.

*

On the one hand, it is reassuring to think that if he did start dating his pitcher, he has the support of his whole team.

On the other hand, it is very strange that everyone came to the conclusion that he should be dating Mihashi except for him and Mihashi.

*

This thing with Mihashi, it’s complicated. And messy. And for god’s sake, Mihashi is reading his mind, all the time, and anyway, he’s not even sure if they’d be good for each other, Abe has been told by many people that he shouts too much, he’s too overprotective, too controlling and Mihashi—

—still calls him by his last name. So. The whole dating issue probably isn’t on the table.

Probably no where near the table.
*

And there is, of course, the fact that Mihashi can read his mind. Is reading his mind. There is that.

So, obviously, this means that Mihashi probably knows, OK?

He knows about Abe’s dreams, he knows about Abe’s concerns, he knows that dating has been suggested as a possibility, but he hasn’t said anything.

Which, really, can only mean that he doesn’t want anything to happen.

*

He’s also not sure he wants it to happen. Dating seems like an awful lot of work. Dating Mihashi, even more so.

And like, if it came down to it, he’d rather win at koshien than date anybody, and he’s fairly certain that if that’s the mentality someone has, then they probably shouldn’t be dating anyone.

At least, that’s probably what his mom would say.

Not that he’s going to ask her.

*

“It’s just not a good idea.”

“Good God, Abe, that took forever for you to say. What the hell were you thinking about? Did you brain short or something?”

“Shut up, Izumi,” Abe says. “Also, you broke Hanai. I’m holding you responsible if he’s not fixed by the time practice starts.”

*

He spends a lot of time wishing there was someone who was some sort of expert on complicated personal affairs that he could talk to about Mihashi and maybe figure things out.

No one is more surprised than him when he actually meets someone.

*

Mihashi gets a text message just as practice starts winding down and he makes an excited hiccupping sound. Tajima whips his head and says, “He’s here?

Tajima isn’t anywhere near Mihashi at this point, he can’t even see Mihashi has his phone out. A few things finally start falling into place and Abe exclaims, “Holy fuck, Tajima, you read minds too?”

“What?” Hanai yelps, and the rest of the team all look towards them.

“Only Mihashi’s, and only sometimes,” Tajima says dismissively. “Mihashi, is he really coming here? Now?” Mihashi nods, but doesn’t look up from his phone.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Hanai says.

“It wasn’t important,” Tajima says, rolling his eyes. “It strictly works on Mihashi sometimes. They’re both coming here? Erk. I’m not sure I want to see 0102 again.”

“That’s not his name,” Mihashi says, putting his phone away.

“And who’s coming this time?” Abe demands, associating a particular kind of anxiety with people who show up to talk to Tajima and Mihashi. “Someone from the JSDF again?”

Mihashi shakes his head. He looks…excited. In fact, Abe’s only ever seen him look this excited before dinner.

“My friend!” Mihashi chirps.

“Your texting buddy?” Abe clarifies.

Mihashi nods, wiggling with excitement. Abe is…not pleased with how this makes him feel. Largely because he is not sure how this does make him feel except that it is an extraordinary uncomfortable sensation.

“We have practice,” Abe points out.

“Practice is almost over,” Mizutani says.

“Yeah, but, we should all go home and rest.” He says “all” but he’s looking at Mihashi when he says it.

Mihashi droops slightly, instantly making Abe feel bad.

“Hey, quick question,” Sakaeguchi says. “Is your friend coming in a limo?”

Everyone instantly looks to where Sakaeguchi is pointing, and sure enough, there is a black stretch limo pulling up to the side of the field.

Whoa,” Mizutani says. “I’ve only ever seen those on TV!”

“It’s so…shiny,” Oki marvels.

And yes, practice was pretty much over, but any hopes of finishing out the remainder of practice are dashed as the team darts over to see what the arrival of this limousine heralds.

Abe, eventually, follows them.

*

Abe isn’t sure quite who (or what) he expects to get out of that limousine: the Prime Minister, maybe, or a movie star or minor celebrity. Someone really fancy, at any rate—but the person who does climb out of the limo is, well, a bit of a let down.

The boy who comes out of the limo is incredibly ordinary in every way. He doesn’t look much older than Abe, he’s still wearing his school uniform (and it isn’t even some fancy prep academy) and he has only average looks. There is literally nothing about him that would set him apart from any of Abe’s classmates.

“Furi-kun!”

Except, perhaps, that Mihashi wouldn’t have yelled so joyfully at the sight of just anyone. Mihashi wouldn’t run over to just any of Abe’s classmates, and Mihashi certainly wouldn’t throw his arms around—well. Anyone. Abe has never seen Mihashi exuberantly embrace anyone besides his parents before.

And this boy, whoever he is, laughs and hugs Mihashi back and it all just brings back that feeling that Abe isn’t sure how to define but is now positive that it is extremely unpleasant and he hates it.

“Oh man,” the newcomer says, “You’re looking great! Hi, Tajima!”      

“Hey, Furihata,” Tajima says, grinning. “Where’s 0102?”

“Tajima,” Furihata chides.

“Sorry,” Tajima rolls his eyes. “Akashi?”

“He’s in the car,” Furihata says, and his arm is still around Mihashi’s shoulders. Abe fixates on that as incredibly unnecessary. “He said he’d come out later. Is this your team, Mihashi?”

Mihashi nods emphatically. “My team!”

“Hi!” Furihata says. “I’m Furihata Kouki. I’m sorry for interrupting your practice!”

“Is this your limo?” Hanai exclaims.

“Oh, God no,” Furihata says. “I was just tagging along. It’s super cool, right? It has its own soda bar inside!”

The team makes suitably impressed sounds.

Mihashi tugs on Furihata’s arm and pulls him towards Abe. “This is—Abe-kun!”

“Oh!” Furihata says, smiling. He holds out his hand. “You’re Abe! I’ve heard so much about you!”

Abe shakes his hand with extreme reluctance. “Nice to meet you.” He stops before adding, I’ve heard absolutely nothing about you.

“You’re Furihata—” Suyama startles. “Oh, so you met Mihashi…”

The sentence dies, and Furihata’s smile sort of droops and then returns, now a more fragile reproduction of his first. “Yeah. I was really lucky, though. Anyway, I really didn’t mean to stop your practice. I’d actually really like to watch you, is that OK?”

“Of course it is!” Momoe booms, coming out of nowhere. “Come on, boys! There’s still light out! If you have time to stand around I can always double your regime.”

A lot of the team, Mihashi and Tajima included, instantly return to their positions on this field, with almost comical swiftness.

It takes Abe a few moments to start moving.

Furihata Kouki. Abe remembers the name now.

He was one of the kids who got abducted a few months ago. It was only when they rescued him that they were able to rescue Mihashi and Tajima, and all the other children who had been taken by Teiko.

*

Abe takes his time cleaning up, and then changing, in part because he no longer knows how to act around Furihata Kouki. A part of him also really doesn’t want Mihashi near his thoughts right now, even if that’s kind of a moot issue.

“When he comes out of the locker rooms there is another newcomer talking to Mihashi and Tajima—this time someone utterly mistakable. Even if the cherry red hair and red eyes didn’t make him stand out, Akashi Seijuurou has an exceptionally commanding presence that quells even Abe’s innate chafing against authority.

For a lot of different reasons, Abe feels like he can’t intrude. He gets his bike to just go home, but by the time he starts heading out, Akashi has turned away from the group and tracked Abe down.

“You are Abe Takaya, correct?” Akashi says, in a way that isn’t even really a question because it is clear that he is very certain of his answer.

“Yeah,” Abe says.

Akashi doesn’t introduce himself, but then again, he doesn’t need to. “Mihashi says your thoughts drown out everyone else’s. That is an interesting skill.”

“I, er, think it just means I’m loud,” Abe says, confused.

“Would you be willing to test this theory?”

“What do you mean?”

“You accompanied Sergeant Kasamatsu to the medical rehabilitation center recently, did you not?”

Again, this isn’t a question; Abe couldn’t deny it even if he wanted to.

“Yeah, briefly. I didn’t see much,” he defends, although he’s not sure what it is he’s trying to defend.

“You saw the state of the S-Ones and the S-Sevens. They were predominately the children we were able to rescue from the second Teiko, but they are the ones we have been able to help the least.”

Abe wonders, briefly, how he can so easily say “we rescued” when Akashi Seijuurou, had, in fact, been the other abducted boy that had prompted the national search. He had been, by all accounts, just as much a prisoner as Mihashi.

“The telepathic abilities are proving the most debilitating. If we could find a way where they could focus on one person instead of everyone, it might make significant strides towards their recovery.”

Abe’s brain eventually catches up with what is being said. “Whoa, wait. I mean, I don’t even think I’m doing anything. It’s all Mihashi.”

“Very likely,” Akashi says easily. “But further inquiry into how it works between the two of you might be helpful. Would you consider helping?”

“Sure, if I can,” Abe says. And then he wonders why he agreed so easily—this doesn’t sound at all like something he wants to do. “I mean, if it doesn’t interfere with baseball practice, games and school.”

“Naturally,” Akashi says. “It would take no more than a couple hours of your time, I imagine.”

Abe still feels a little uncertain about his own instinctive need to obey this man. It strikes him as very unusual.

“It would be an invaluable help, Abe-kun. Many people are looking forward to the recovery of these children.”

Abe’s eyes instinctively draw towards Mihashi. Mihashi is laughing now, something he so rarely does, and Tajima is hanging onto his neck, howling at whatever it was that was so funny.

Furihata is laughing too, and the three of them together look like any other trip of high school boys. You wouldn’t think something bad had ever happened to them.

When he turns back towards Akashi, Abe thinks that here is someone who could never be misunderstood as “just another high school boy.” And he’s not. He’s not human, Abe realizes. He’s one of the Miracles—the original Teiko human experiments.

“Why are you talking to me like this?” Abe asks.

“I heard about you from Kasamatsu-san, and I thought the aid you provide Mihashi-kun would be useful.”

Akashi seems to measure him with his unnerving red gaze and then says, “My adopted father and the research division at the SDF have been looking into what Teiko did, trying to understand their work,” Akashi explains, saving Abe from having to speak further. “One of the interesting things they’ve discovered is that Teiko built it’s lab around the idea that every human being possesses a limited psychic ability.”

“What? That’s ridiculous,” Abe says.

“That is what I thought as well but, as it happens, at least .07% of the population tests with an unusual resistance to one of the Miracles’ built in psychic power. Not true immunity, which is almost unheard of, but a natural resistance that provides a natural kind of defense mechanism. It’s something that would occur in nature over hundreds of years of evolution. Animals develop resistant traits to confuse predators. The human ability to resist psychic interference lends itself to the theory that once upon a time, such resistance was necessary to survival.”

“That is beyond absurd,” Abe says.

“Perhaps. But if you recall, belief in magic was once a world wide historical phenomenon. In almost every ancient culture, such things like miracles and magic were accepted an easily as scientific fact. I would not rule out any theories just yet.”

“So what does that have to do with me? I’m not resistant. If anything, I’m the opposite.”

“Yes, indeed,” Akashi says, thoughtful in a way that Abe definitely doesn’t like. “Right now, it is more like Mihashi-kun has latched onto you like a parasite might—”

Mihashi isn’t a parasite,” Abe snarls.

Abe doesn’t seem fazed by Abe’s outburst, “Then perhaps it is more symbiotic. At any rate, it would be interesting to see if such a thing could be replicated for the other S-Ones. That is why I am talking to you.”

Abe glances back at Mihashi and Akashi follows his gaze. After a few seconds pass, Akashi’s eyes grow hard.

“GL-G192,” Akashi says. The string of letters and numbers mean nothing to Abe.

"What?"

“GL-G192,” Akashi repeats, looking back to Abe. “That’s who is inside of your friends. The ninety-second Gold One Project, in Generation Laurel. I met her a few times. She was nice, in a way that was very uncommon in Teiko. She was very protective of her Generation, and was kind to the younger Generations. Her precognitive abilities only manifested in dreams, and so she was deemed a failure. They scrapped her, saved her parts, and then put her in your friends. She deserved better than that.”

Abe, slowly processing what it is that Akashi is telling him, starts to feel like he might hurl. “Why are you telling me this?”

 “Because what happened to your friends was a tragedy, but it was not only their tragedy. I think sometimes that is forgotten.”

“I don’t—” Abe isn’t even sure where he was going with that sentence. Since the moment he first heard about Mihashi’s eyes, and his heart, he never once thought too much about who they first belonged to, or how the Miracles might feel about that.

“I don’t understand any of this,” he confesses. “I don’t understand Mihashi.

And this isn’t what he meant to say, but once it is said he realizes that pretty much encompasses everything he’s been feeling since he first met the other boy. He doesn’t understand Mihashi.

“Do you care about him?”

Abe’s instinctive reaction is to bristle and deny it—but Akashi hadn’t said like or love, he’d said care. And even though it’s definitely none of Akashi’s business, Abe finds himself replying, “Of course I do.” Then, as if to backtrack, he adds, “Everyone here does.”

Abe looks back to where Mihashi, Tajima and Furihata are. Mihashi is blushing now, and Abe would give everything to be able to hear what they’re talking about. Furihata looks slightly flushed too, only Tajima looks unfazed, laughing and goading both of them. And finally, finally Abe let’s himself think the word: he’s jealous. Mihashi looks at Furihata in a way that makes Abe incredibly jealous. They text all the time. There’s a genuine possibility that the reason Mihashi never remarked about Abe’s dream was because Mihashi was already interested in someone else.

“Do you think—” Abe starts, feeling thoroughly wretched. “Do you think they’re dating—”

“Absolutely not,” Akashi replies instantly.

“But how would you know?”

I would know.

“But—” Abe finally notices how disgruntled and possessive Akashi looks and it takes him another minute but finally it clicks and he says, “Oh.”

Akashi relaxes and then says, “It should be noted that I do not believe this kind of bond would have happened if there were not intense feelings on both ends, which perhaps does speak more to a symbiotic kind of relationship. You must have been thinking about Mihashi-kun a lot, and Mihashi-kun must have really wanted to hear your thoughts in particular. He is likely thinking a lot about you, too.”

It is somewhat even more embarrassing to hear that from a stranger. But maybe because it is coming from a stranger, Abe actually listens.
*

They don’t stay long, but by the time Akashi and Furihata climb into the ridiculously long limo, it’s already night out and Tajima heads out, leaving Abe, once again, alone with Mihashi.

“So…” Abe says. “So, Furihata—you met him—” he winces, and decides not to ask after all.

But Mihashi just nods. “He…was kept with us. He’s…quiet. So I like…being around him.”

“Quiet?” Abe says, a tad resentful.

“I can’t hear him,” Mihashi explains. “Furi-kun is… immune.”

“What? But—” Not a true immunity, which is almost unheard of—that did, imply, after all, that it wasn’t completely unheard of, that slick bastard. “Well, that’s nice,” Abe grumbles. “What’s Akashi do anyway?”

“He… has to be obeyed. That’s why… Tajima-kun doesn’t like being near him.”

Abe bites back his curse. Well, that certainly explained why he’d been unnaturally eager to agree to Akashi’s request.

“Abe-kun…doesn’t have to go help them,” Mihashi says softly, sounding unhappy for some reason.

Abe shrugs. “As long as it doesn’t get in the way of baseball, I don’t mind helping.” Those kids had been like Mihashi. Worse than Mihashi. They needed someone to help them.

“Akashi-san,” Mihashi starts, picking at his shirt, and looking down. “He Ordered us all to…live. It was his last…Order. I… think about that sometimes. And…how much I still…want to obey that command.”

Abe swallows; the lump in his throat is painful and he has to look away before he starts crying again.

“I don’t forget,” Mihashi says.

“What?” Abe says, turning back to see Mihashi staring straight at him.

“I don’t forget about GL-G192. Neither does Yuu-kun.”

“No,” Abe says softly. “I won’t either from now on.”

Mihashi nods and then he blushes, looking away again. “Also, I don’t like Furi-kun. Not… that way. I never have.”

“Jesus, Mihashi,” Abe says, hiding his face in his hands.

“Abe-kun said to tell everything,” Mihashi points out, “Since Abe-kun can hear me, it’s only fair—”

“Yes, I know, I know what I said,” Abe says, completely hiding his face now.

“Sometimes I dream about Abe-kun, too.”

Abe drops his hands and snaps his head up abruptly, only to see Mihashi’s beet red face. “What did you just say?”

Mihashi, impossibly, grows only redder. “Bye, Abe-kun!” he says, jumping on his bike peddling away.

“Wait, what did you just—come back here!”

But Mihashi is gone, leaving a very red-faced Abe behind, with way too many things to think about.

Chapter Text

The day he was rescued, S1-761 was pretty sure he was going to die. At first, all he heard were the explosions; he could feel the aftershocks throughout the infrastructure, and he thought it was an earthquake. The scientists were panicking, and then they started talking about destroying evidence, and he could hear it in their minds, loud like a megaphone, he was evidence, they were going to destroy him.

And then the Miracles were there, the Successes, the people he could never be, and the thoughts was so loud it was deafening:

They butchered us, they butchered us and stitched us into children, us, that’s us—

The sheer horror in those thoughts, the tragedy, the grief made his situation all the more clear.

When the soldiers finally came to get him, he was in so much pain, he was screaming. The sheer volume of thoughts his rescuers had almost killed him before they could even save him.

*

The soldiers didn’t understand what was wrong with him, not at first. They didn’t understand why all the S-Ones were in such agony.

Finally, they had to do what Teiko did, and seal them all up in a separate, insulated room, so the thoughts of the outside world would not hurt them.

*

Furihata Kouki came almost every day, after his own recovery. Shot and stitched up again, the boy visited S1-761 and he was the only one who could stay in that room for extended periods of time without causing damage. His mind was a glorious silent void. He brought S1-761 a baseball and a name: Mihashi Ren.

One of the soldiers set up a pitching grid for him, and in all his spare moments he would go there, and he would pitch, over and over again, and slowly, slowly, slowly, he started remembering who Mihashi Ren was.

*

When he can finally see his parents without pain, he builds his identity even more through the memories that exist within their minds. He can read their joy, their grief, their love, and he finds himself there.

But he also reads their triumph, I knew he wouldn’t runaway, they think.  I knew something terrible must have happened to him.

And it makes him feel guilty, and it makes him hate himself, and it makes him vow never to tell anyone the truth.

*

The Beast finds him in the middle of the night, and once again, he’s sure he will die.

The S-Ones were kept isolated, but of course he knew about the Beast Unit, he could read their minds and it was always ANGERHUNGERKILLFIGHT and it terrified him. To this day, he is still frightened of dogs because they remind him of the fierce hungry instincts of the Beast Unit.

But the Beast that tracks him down doesn’t fight him, doesn’t try to kill him. He isn’t even angry, but the tremendous amount of grief he reads in the Beast’s mind makes him physically sick—the others are gone, the others are dead, I’m alone, I’m alone, where are they, why can’t I find them, why am I so alone, who are you, why are you family, family, my family, my pack—

And it takes awhile, but he finally pieces together what happened. The S5’s were spliced with Blues and animals, built for speed, and organized in packs. They were each combined with the body part of the same Gold, to create a psychic bond between their pack.

S5-184B lost his pack but found Mihashi—who had the eyes of the same Gold his family did.

For S5-184B, it’s a bond that means he’s not alone in this new world.

For Mihashi, it’s a bond that means there’s one person on this earth who will always be able to understand what he tries to communicate.

For both of them, it’s a bond deeper than their own kin, and it means they can forge a place together, one that isn’t Teiko, and they’re not who they were before, it’s not the same world they lived in before, but it’s a world they can live in all the same.  

*

He doesn’t think he could ever have baseball again.

Sometimes, just the fact that he can pitch for Nishiura feels like a dream too precious to be real.

He knew he wasn’t dreaming Nishiura, though. His dreams are never so kind.

*

And Abe.

Abe doesn’t seem real. But he never questioned Abe’s presence either.

Abe was promised to him by Akashi Seijuurou.

*

The Red Miracle visited him only once on the base. His thoughts were organized, neat, like metal boxes. It was not painful to hear his thoughts, but he was frightening.

“What was done to you should never have happened,” Akashi said. “But you are not to blame. You are not a monster.”

Every statement Akashi made was like a command, there was no room to doubt anything he said.

“If there is one thing I have learned in my time away from Teiko, it is that everyone is capable of being loved.”

He didn’t feel unloved, he knew his parents loved him, he could hear their love, but what did that matter? He tried to explain what he was feeling, a task that never became easier, even after he could hear what people were thinking. Maybe especially after that.

“I…can’t,” he said. “I can’t…go out. People… hurt.”

Akashi Seijuurou also had a Gold inside him, so perhaps he could understand better than anyone what he had undergone.

Akashi said, “Someday, you will meet someone who makes living easier.”

And, ah, that is what he was trying to express. Living, just the sheer effort to keep living, it was the most difficult thing in the world. Living was hard, a fact made worse by the fact that everyone else knew how to get up, go outside, talk to people, do what needed to be done, and no one could ever explain to him why he had such a hard time doing what everyone else could.

Akashi Seijuurou promised him that he would meet someone who could make doing all of that easier. Mihashi couldn’t imagine how that could possibly be true, but he hoped nonetheless.

*

And he met Abe, and I like you, not just as a pitcher, but as a person, and I will make you a true Ace, and Abe, and Abe, and Abe.

Abe never says one thing but thinks another. Abe is not a patient person but he tries. Abe never has any uncomfortable thoughts about women; he never keeps his feelings hidden. If he doesn’t like a person, he says so. Abe is singular minded about his goals, he thinks well of his comrades, he’s never envious or petty and he thinks about Mihashi all the time.

There has never been a mind like Abe’s, a mind that doesn’t hurt; a mind that Mihashi doesn’t mind hearing, a mind so free of uncertainty, self-doubt, ill-will, or malice. He doesn’t even have any secrets, like so many people do—he is honest, inside and out.

Mihashi wants to speed the rest of his life listening to Abe’s thoughts and being Abe’s pitcher.

But he can’t. He only has three years.

“Look Ren, you can’t depend on Abe so much,” Tajima told him, sometime while Abe was recovering from his leg injury.

“I know,” Mihashi said.

“Not just in baseball, I mean.”

“I know.”

“It’s not good for either of you.”

And that was so difficult to believe. He knew it wasn’t good to have all that pressure on his catcher, he knew that. But life before Abe was nothing but locked rooms. He might have left Teiko but he never left his cage; but Abe gives him that freedom, Abe makes living easy. How could Tajima say it wasn’t good for him?

*

And he wants. It scares him how much he wants.

But he’s always been a greedy person. His love for the mound was all-consuming, and that desire made everyone in Mihoshi hate him.

How could he dare want anything else?

How could he risk loving anything else?

His love only ever hurts those around him.

*

“Just go up to him and kiss him,” Tajima said. “Easy. I mean, you know he wouldn’t say no, so what’s the problem?”

“I c-couldn’t!” Mihashi sputtered.

“But you can ask him out, yeah?” Furihata said. “You should, Mihashi!”

And these were his friends; the people who had gone through the same hell he had; the people he trusts; the people who understand him.

“I couldn’t,” Mihashi said again.

“But just think how awesome dating would be!” Furihata reasoned.

“And the sex!” Tajima offered.

Mihashi knew he was blushing bright red because how could he not remember Abe’s dream, even if it was the first time it ever felt like he was violating Abe’s privacy, which made him a terrible person.

“That’s not—I couldn’t—we—” Mihashi didn’t even know what he was trying to say.

“Fooling around with someone else is amazing! Way better than masturbating. Sex is amazing, tell him, Furi!”

“What? I haven’t—! Oh my God, Tajima,” And at least Furihata was now blushing as badly as Mihashi, that was something.

“Whaaat?” Tajima exclaimed. “You and 0102 have been dating forever now!”

“It’s only been a month!” Furihata said, indignant.

“That’s plenty of time! What are you waiting for?”

And Mihashi felt bad, but he was glad they weren’t talking about him anymore.

He has already had more happiness than he could have ever dreamed possible.

It seems far too dangerous to hope for more.

*

Tajima’s house is somehow simultaneously everything Abe would have expected and also completely different than how he imagined. It is loud, and chaotic, and brimming with people who all care about baseball, and that’s exactly what Abe thought the Tajima household would be like.

But there’s also something incredibly comfortable about the atmosphere, and Abe wasn’t expecting that. There is something very warm about all the people; you can tell that everyone deeply loves one another. And they all adore Mihashi, and they’re all very excited to meet Abe and Izumi.

Having everyone call out Ren, Ren, as if he was another member of the Tajima clan only solidifies the sense that they must see Mihashi a lot. But when Izumi insists, “Call me Kousuke,” Abe has the chance to say, “Call me Takaya, or Taka,” and think very hard in Mihashi’s direction, You can, too.

Not for the first time, Abe wishes this wasn’t a one-way communication system. So much of his life would be easier if he could just read Mihashi’s mind back.

*

It’s only after they’ve been there for a couple hours that Abe starts to wonder how Tajima ever ended up in Teiko.

Runaways and orphans, Youji had said. People no one would miss. But Tajima clearly wasn’t an orphan, and Abe can’t picture him ever running away either…

“He didn’t!” Mihashi says suddenly, startling Abe out of his thoughts.

It takes Abe longer than it really should have for him to realize Mihashi is responding to his thoughts.

“Stop that!” he says, indignant.

“S-sorry,” Mihashi says, abashed.

Tajima glances back at him and then says, “Oh, were you wondering about me in Teiko? I didn’t run away. I was sorta an accident.”

“An accident?” Izumi repeats.

Tajima nods. “One day my great-grandpa collapsed, and everyone took him to the hospital. They forgot to tell me, though! I came home and everyone was gone! That was super scary. And I went to look for them, and eh, one way or another I ended up getting taken by a Collector.”

Abe shudders at the word. There’s probably more to that story, but Abe isn’t going to press.

“What I don’t understand is why there weren’t any abduction reports when you went missing,” Izumi says. “I remember Mihashi’s case, but…”

“We thought he was dead,” Tajima’s mother says, coming up from behind them, carrying a tray of onigiri.

“When they realized I still had a family they faked my death,” Tajima says. “I guess they learned from their mess up with Ren.”

“It’s so crazy,” Izumi says. “I’m sorry. It just still doesn’t seem real sometimes. I can even believe that kind of evil exists in our world.”      

“There’s a lot of evil in the world,” Abe says darkly.

A moment of silence passes and then a quiet voice tentatively offers:

“There’s… a lot of good, too.”

Everyone stares at Mihashi, who is looking at the ground, drawing idle circles in the dirt with his finger.

And Abe doesn’t have to be a mindreader to know what everyone is thinking, because he’s thinking the same thing. If someone like Mihashi, who has gone through what Mihashi has gone through, can still say that, then it must be true.

*

Abe leaves Tajima’s house with the strange sense that he’s feeling something entirely new and unnameable. Not just new to him, although he’s sure he’s never felt this way before, but like maybe he’s feeling something no one else in the world has ever felt before, because he doesn’t think the words exist that could describe it.

He feels hopeful but also sad at the same time, with a kind of restlessness and frustration that something isn’t finished, but also strangely more sure that everything is gong to be OK.

Abe has never felt so much all at once and it’s overwhelming. He wants to sit down and stare at nothing, just to prolong having to face people again. He’s not sure what it is he’s feeling, but he knows that if he goes home and talks to his parents or Shun, then the moment will disappear, and he’ll never be able to understand what it was he was feeling. Maybe he’ll even forgot that he felt it, and that would be awful.

So he does sit. He finds an empty playground and sits on a swing, just as the sun starts to retreat entirely.

And he spends a lot of time just staring out at the night; the shadows forming through the monkey bars and the lamplight that flickers on and off as moths bump against the glass. He hears footsteps and somehow just knows who it is without looking.

“You shouldn’t be wondering around at night, idiot,” Abe says, although there’s no real heat to the reprimand since he’s out wandering around at night.

Mihashi sits on the swing next to him, undeterred by Abe’s comment.

“Aren’t your parents worried?” Abe asks.

“They know… I’m with Abe-kun,” Mihashi says.

Throwing his last vestige of pride out the window Abe says, “You know, you really can just call me Taka.”

Mihashi isn’t quite looking at him when he says, “Abe-kun is…special. It wouldn’t… be right.”

“What does that mean?” Abe says. And he can’t tell if he’s angry or pleased by that statement.

“Abe-kun is…everything.” Mihashi says this in a pleading way, like he’s desperate, only Abe doesn’t know for what.

“You—” Abe says, and then looks away, back out at the shadows and lights of the evening. “You think too well of me.”

He’s realizing, slowly, his own pettiness. Haruna’s accusations that he came to Nishiura so he wouldn’t have any senpai, that he doesn’t like being told what to do, that he’s too controlling—they’re not just Haruna being Haruna. Abe enjoyed having Mihashi depend on him and that wasn’t helping either of them.

“I… liked having you tell me what to do,” Mihashi confesses, because of course he hears everything Abe is thinking. “That wasn’t…fair to you.”

“I just—I think you deserve someone better, Mihashi,” Abe says. “I wish it was someone else you heard all the time instead of me. Not for my sake, but for yours. Someone nicer—”

“No!” Mihashi says, and he gets off the swing and looks at Abe square on. “It wasn’t Abe-kun. It wasn’t ever Abe-kun. It was me.”

Absolutely nothing about that sentence makes sense. Mihashi’s struggles—Abe can see how much Mihashi struggles with the words. He keeps silent simply because he knows Mihashi is trying his best to make sure he is understood.

“I…wanted…to…hear…Abe-kun,” Mihashi says, taking in deep gulps of air between every word, gripping his heart like it pains him. “I wanted to hear Abe-kun, so I did.”

And finally, Abe starts to piece everything together. “You mean, it’s not because I’m loud? You just…really wanted to hear me?”

Saying that feels too egotistical, but Mihashi nods, shamefaced.

Abe feels like something was just confessed. Something deeper than what was just said. The moment is electrically charged with all the things that neither of them are saying.

I actually like being the person you hear, Abe thinks.

Mihashi doesn’t respond to that. Instead, he says, “I’m going to Tokyo.”          

For some reason, this doesn’t seem as completely out of nowhere as it should. It almost makes a certain logical sense.

“Are you going to visit your friend?” Abe asks. Mihashi nods his head. “Do you want me to come with you?”

Mihashi shakes his head. “No…I want to see…if I can.”

Abe actually bites his tongue to keep himself from speaking. When Mihashi wanted to add more speed to his pitch, Abe had done everything he could to convince the boy that he shouldn’t. He’d thought he knew what was best for Mihashi.

He is slowly trying to learn from past mistakes. He knows Mihashi is trying to see if he can function in public without Abe around, and even though it terrifies Abe about what might happen to Mihashi when he tests this theory, he can hardly be the one to tell him, ‘No.’

“OK,” Abe says. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The look Mihashi gives him is one of pure relief. “Just…be here when I come back.”

“Mihashi,” Abe say, feeling a twinge of desperation. “I’ll always be here for you.”

When Mihashi smiles at him it feels like a reward.

*

Mihashi’s parents didn’t want him to go by himself, but they understood. Tajima had been very unhappy, but he didn’t insist on going either. Tajima’s mind was almost as easy to latch onto as Abe’s. If Tajima had come, it would have just been another crutch.

The train ride is painful for many reasons, but Mihashi gets through it by thinking about Abe. Abe isn’t here with him, but just concentrating on his catcher is enough to drown out everyone else’s thoughts.

Furihata is waiting for him at the train station, a welcome relief. He introduces Mihashi to two of his basketball friends, Fukuda and Kawahara, and they eat together at a Maji Burger.

He knows Furihata’s friends are curious, but they don’t ask questions. They’re good people, and Mihashi likes them.

He spends the night at Furihata’s house, and by the end of the day he’s shaking and sick.

“Mihashi,” Furihata says, unhappy, “You don’t have to push yourself like this.”

“I do,” Mihashi says, gasping for air. “I can’t…rely on Abe-kun forever.”

“Yeah, but—” Furihata starts.

“I’ll be f-fine,” Mihashi says, trying to relax.

He doesn’t like going out and hearing everyone’s thoughts. Living is just as hard as it’s always been.

But he can do this. He can go out and come back again. And when he returns to Saitama, Abe will be waiting for him.

“What do you want to do tomorrow?” Furihata asks, changing the subject.

And there is something very specific that Mihashi wants to do tomorrow. There is someone he wants to meet. He didn’t tell this plan to Furihata before visiting, he didn’t tell this plan to anyone. But he’s determined, so he tells Furihata now.

“Oh, Mihashi,” Furihata exclaims, instantly understanding Mihashi’s request. “I don’t think—this isn’t something you have to do, you get that, right?”

Mihashi disagrees. This is something he has to do. It’s something he should do. “I want to,” he says, stubbornly. “Can’t we?”

“I don’t know,” Furihata says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t really know him all that well. It might be awkward.”

“Please?” Mihashi presses.

Furihata sighs. “Yeah, OK. There’s someone I can text. I’ll see if it can happen.”
“Thanks,” Mihashi says, relieved, but also terrified at the same time.

*

When the lights are out, and they’re trying to sleep, but they’re both awake, Furihata whispers in the dark, “I get nightmares sometimes. Sometimes I dream I’m still there.”

“I do, too,” Mihashi confesses.

“And it’s weird, but when I wake up, I’m just so happy. I’m glad it was a dream and I’m not there.”

“Yeah,” Mihashi says in the dark, and he thinks about Abe’s I’m here and how that comforts him in his most panicked moments. “I’m happy, too.”

*

“Do you still want to do this?” Furihata asks in the morning.

Mihashi nods, even though he’s terrified.

“OK,” Furihata says. “I talked to my friend, who talked to him, and he said it’s OK.”

Mihashi looks out Furihata’s kitchen window and he thinks that he has to go out there again, he has to face the flood of people, and he’s already dreading how awful it’s going to be. He takes in a deep breath and says, “OK, thanks.”

*

It is awful, just like he knew it would be. But he goes out anyway, even though it hurts. Furihata doesn’t say anything; sensing maybe that it takes all Mihashi has just to move forward.

They meet at a basketball court, because it seems only fair to meet somewhere the others would enjoy. Furihata immediately steps to the side with the grey-eyed boy who accompanied the person Mihashi wanted to meet, leaving Mihashi alone with the tall green-haired boy who is having trouble looking at him.

Mihashi is terrified, naturally. It’s not just that Midorima Shintarou is ridiculously tall, and athletic, and very imposing with his green hair and green eyes. It’s not even because the first and only time Mihashi had ever seen Midorima it was the day the Miracles stormed the second Teiko, freeing Mihashi from his captors. Or that the last time Mihashi had seen Midorima, the Miracle was slamming a Teiko scientist against a wall, using only the power of his mind. The most terrifying aspect of this encounter is the fact that Mihashi doesn’t know how to apologize.

But he tries.

“I’m sorry,” Mihashi says, wringing his hands. “I’m sorry. I—”

Midorima quells him with a look and Mihashi shrinks, flinching.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Midorima says.

Mihashi knows this isn’t true. If there was a living Gold, he would apologize to the Gold. As it is, he has to apologize to this Green if he ever hopes to put what happened behind him.

“We’re—you know—I’m—in—” Mihashi starts the sentence a dozen different ways.

“If you mean, do I know you have GM-7282’s heart, then yes, I do. I saw your file.”

Mihashi cringes and says, “I’m sorry.” Because GM-7282 had been this man’s twin, his brother.

“Don’t be. You are not the one who murdered 7282, nor are you the one who cut him open and preserved his parts.”

“But—” Mihashi says, his hands fluttering like nervous birds, as he tries to get his point across. “I’m sorry I’m alive and they aren’t. I mean. I’m glad. I’m glad I’m alive. But—”

“But it would have been nice if the other Generations had lived too,” Midorima says, pushing up his glasses. “Yes. We think a lot about that, the other Miracles and I. Sometimes, we feel very guilty that we are alive. I do not think we will ever stop feeling that way. As shocking as it was to realize what the scientists were doing with the Projects they murdered, I, at least, find it somewhat comforting. The other Projects never made it out of Teiko, but you did. It is, perhaps, overly sentimental, but I like to think the other Projects live on in the children like you. The children Teiko didn’t get the chance to kill. It is a small comfort, but one I take nonetheless.”

He pats Mihashi on the head then—tentatively, awkwardly, and very quickly—his hand leaving Mihashi’s head before Mihashi can even process what’s happening. “You do not have to be sorry that you are alive. Live for yourself, and live for those who didn’t make it. That’s what I do.”

Live. That’s still the only memory of Teiko Mihashi ever cherished. The order to live.

“Thank you,” he says, in a very quiet voice.

*

“Did you have a good talk with Midorima?” Furihata asks. “I must admit, he still kind of intimidates me sometimes.”

“He’s a good person!” Mihashi says, feeling lighter. “Thanks for arranging it.”

“That was all Takao, to be honest,” Furihata admits.

“Your friend?”

“Er, yeah. We’re in the same club, I guess.”

“Club?” Mihashi asks. “But you…go to different schools?”

“Ha, yeah, different sort of club. You’re not eligible to join, but maybe Abe-kun will sometime,” Furihata teases.

Mihashi doesn’t quite understand it, but he blushes anyway.

*

On the train ride back to Saitama, Mihashi feels pleased. It’s still painful to hear everyone’s thoughts; it’s still difficult to interact with strangers. But he can do it.

When Akashi had said he would meet someone who would make living easier, he didn’t mean that living would ever be easy. It’s still not. But he can do it, he can, and that’s what matters.

He closes his eyes, and he knows he’s falling asleep.

He hopes that if he dreams, he’ll dream about Abe.

*

He does dream about Abe.

But it isn’t a nice dream; it’s the worst kind of nightmare.

He wakes up screaming.

*

Abe spends all day worrying about Mihashi. He thinks so much about Mihashi, he’s positive Mihashi must be able to hear him, all the way in Tokyo.

“Abe, if you’re so worried, just call him,” Hanai says. Abe went to Hanai’s house to study, hopefully to keep his mind off Mihashi, but it’s not working.

“How did you—” Abe says.

Hanai rolls his eyes. “You don’t have to be a mindreader to guess. You’re thinking so loud I swear I can hear you. Just call him already.”

“I can’t do that! He’s trying to prove he doesn’t need me! I’d only be getting in the way.” Saying it out loud like that is actually profoundly depressing.

“So, in your own way, you’re trying to prove something too,” Hanai places a comforting hand on Abe’s shoulder. “Hang in there, man.”

Abe scowls and shrugs off Hanai’s hand.

*

On his way home, he is still thinking about Mihashi.

He thinks about Mihashi so much that he doesn’t see the car coming.

*

He doesn’t see the car careening out of control, he doesn’t know the car breaks are broken, and he doesn’t realize people are shouting. He only becomes aware of the car when it’s right in front of him and he freezes, like the proverbial deer. He has just enough time to think, I’m going to die. He doesn’t close his eyes or anything like that, but he braces for the impact.

Because he doesn’t close his eyes, he’s very confused when he goes flying back, because he’s pretty sure the car didn’t hit him. He didn’t feel the impact, anyway, and yet he’s flying anyway, and lands against something soft and tumbles to the ground.

The “something soft” is Mihashi, who wraps his arms and legs around Abe from behind, like a tiny octopus clinging to Abe’s back.

“Mihashi—?” Abe says.

Mihashi’s eyes are green now, with a sort of glowing sheen, and that’s very strange. Abe glances back to where the car has spun into a telephone pole, the driver coming out, holding her head, as people come rushing to see if she’s OK.

“Kid? Were you hit?” a bystander asks.

“N-no,” Abe says, tugging out of Mihashi’s desperate grasp so he can see the other boy. “Mihashi?”

Mihashi only steps in again, to hold onto Abe from the front, just as clingy as before.

“You’re OK, you’re OK, I made it in time,” Mihashi says, over and over again in Abe’s ear like a mantra.

“Mihashi,” Abe says, hugging Mihashi back. The other boy is scaring him because it’s like he’s not aware of his surroundings at all and can’t hear Abe’s voice. “Mihashi, I’m OK. Mihashi. Ren.

Mihashi peers up at Abe finally, the green in his eyes fading back to his usual gold.

“You’re telekinetic?” Abe exclaims. “And you didn’t tell me?”

“I did tell you?” Mihashi says, tilting his head.

Abe gapes. “When?

“Gold Eyes, Green Heart,” Mihashi says.

“How was I supposed—! Ahh! Never mind,” he hugs Mihashi close again. I made it in time. Abe’s heart beats furiously against his chest, as reality finally catches up with him.

Mihashi must have had a premonition. And then he…

“You saved me,” Abe marvels. “You saved my life.”

“I’m glad,” Mihashi says, and then he bursts into tears and starts bawling loudly.

*

“Stop that,” Abe says, fussing, “Stop crying. I’m fine, see?” He gets up, pulling Mihashi with him.

“I’m glad,” Mihashi hiccups. “I’m glad I’m like this. For the first time.” And then he sobs louder. “I’m so happy, Taka.

And Abe gets it. Mihashi is happy he has powers, for the first time in his life, and being happy about that confuses him.

Then the rest of what he said catches up with him.

Taka.

And Jesus Christ, he really, really wants to kiss Mihashi now.

Mihashi stops crying abruptly. He hiccups once and peers up at Abe.

Abe thinks, fuck it, and he cups Mihashi’s cheeks and pulls him in for a kiss.

To his delight, Mihashi kisses back, desperate and just as forceful as Abe. Abe has never kissed anyone before, he has no idea if he’s even doing it right, but he thinks it’s perfect, like their battery; Abe and Mihashi fit together.

Someone is telling them that they should take Abe to a hospital, just in case, and Abe could cheerfully murder the man for interrupting the moment.

When they break the kiss Mihashi is bright red and he mumbles, “We can again. And again.”

“Yeah,” Abe says, feeling dizzy. “We can.”

*

They both have a few scrapes from when they fell to the ground, but they manage to slip away without a hospital visit.

Abe knows he has to get home because his parents will be panicking that he isn’t home by now. And Mihashi should get home to his parents, because they’re probably panicking too. He presses a few more kisses against Mihashi’s lips, not wanting to leave just yet.

Mihashi kisses back in a quick flurry and leans in against Abe’s chest, as if he’s listening to Abe’s heart.

“Taka,” Mihashi says, “I’m free.”

Abe understands, as if he could hear Mihashi’s thoughts. “Yeah. You are. You really are.”

It’s like Mihashi couldn’t believe in his own freedom this entire time, and he can finally accept that he’s not in a cage anymore.

And Abe, Abe feels like he’s been freed too, although he’s not sure from what.

“Taka we—we still—” Mihashi says.

And again, Abe can follow the train of thought, and he marvels over this fact. “It’s OK, Ren. I know there still a lot of things we have to work on, but we’ll figure it out. We have all the time in the world.”

Mihashi smiles, bright as the sun, and Abe feels like he’s been on a very long journey just to lead him here.