mihashi had lost count of how many times abe had done this.
it started as something easier for both of them, their hands intertwined to settle just where they were, just how they saw each other, to know that this battery could be more than just something. it became common during meditation, blooming into holding hands at every match to keep their fingers warm and remind themselves you're alright we're alright we're going to make it through today too i promise. mihashi took solace in it every time. he knew abe did too.
it became natural after that to hold hands whenever they needed it. walking home after a long day of practice. during lunch after a bad string of tests. after a practice match so neither of them would get upset. after real matches too, win or lose.
before either of them realized it, they were searching for each other's hands more than baseballs or mitts, as if this was more important. it probably was, now.
if mihashi thinks hard enough, he remembers when it the scale tipped. it's a memory blurred by the darkness of night and the moon streaming through small windows of the room they're sleeping in for training camp that year. mihashi had been exhausted, a long day of criticism for more coaches and pitchers than he knew what to do with. everyone had something to say, some piece of him to pick apart and mihashi was just scrambling to hold it together.
abe went through it too, he knows it, because mihashi can see the way his brow pinches when he thinks too hard about everything.
"you're fine the way you are." abe says so quietly mihashi barely catches it. his head snaps up, and sees that abe's staring down at his hands. "i've told you that before, right?"
"y, yeah." mihashi nods, wonders where abe is going with this as he rubs his thumb over mihashi's knuckles.
abe brings his hand up to his lips, kisses the first one. "i still think that." the second. "what you do is amazing." the third. "don't let what the others say worry you." the fourth. "you're amazing."
mihashi had been too tired to be flustered, too tired to do anything but let the warmth wash over him and smile as abe plants a fifth kiss on his pinky finger.
he stopped counting how many times abe kissed his fingers after that, because abe still does it even now, years later, kissing over callouses and bone with more reverence than mihashi knows what to do with.
he doesn't even know if numbers can go high enough to capture them all.
Chapter 2: in my room against the door
mihashi doesn't know a lot of things about abe, when he thinks about it. he doesn't know when he started playing baseball or what schools he used to go to or if he was excited to have a baby brother when he was a child. but he does know some things about abe, important things like how much he wants to win every match, even practice matches, that he likes soba noodles the most, and that he studies harder than anyone mihashi knows.
studying mihashi was always part of that, his condition, his pitches, even working on not shouting so much and getting better at saying what's on his mind so it makes sense.
recently, it seems to include watching mihashi too.
he didn't notice it at first, but now that he does he can't stop seeing it, can't help but feel the flush crawling up his neck with a slow furling greed. mihashi wonders if abe stares for the same heart fluttering reason mihashi stares at him.
that can't be it, the ever worried voice in his head says.
but what if, says his newfound optimism.
"do you um, do you want to do homework at my house??"
mihashi says the words in a flurried rush, making abe blink at him with wide eyes. mihashi's hands shake with fear.
"sure." abe says, and everything in him calms.
they take the usual route home, not saying much, but mihashi feels abe staring and he can't stop flexing his hands over his handlebars. it's fine, mihashi tells himself, he won't do anything dumb.
abe licks his lips. mihashi gulps.
"your mom isn't home?"
"ah, she'll be home, soon." mihashi nods, grabbing bottles of water off the top shelf so he doesn't stare at abe's face to see his reaction to that.
"let me," abe reaches past and over him into the fridge, his warm wide chest against his back and his self control wavers harder than ever.
it's just a coincidence, he tells himself, abe's just being helpful, it's nothing special.
when he looks over his shoulder, he sees abe's cheeks are red.
the last thread of self control in him snaps, as he grabs abe's sleeve to bring him to his room. abe doesn't protest except to tell him to be careful about the water bottles, and mihashi really, really doesn't care about them anymore.
they step into the room and abe's hands are on his shoulders, mouth open like he wants to say something but mihashi doesn't give him the chance. want and greed have been bolstered by the every long glance abe's ever given him, the blush on his cheeks, the way he licked his lips in the setting sun. he rushes forward and kisses abe, maybe a little too hard and a little too fast because they're stopped up against the door. but abe's hands squeeze tight into his shoulders and he kisses back, just as hungry, and somewhere between them abe's breath rushes out
Chapter 3: on national tv
It feels like a dream - one minute they're playing for their lives, Takaya's head running a mile a minute as he assess the batter's condition and patterns versus Ren's condition, trying to pick the best pitches because that's what they need right now, anything less and their two run lead will be gone in a flash, it's extra innings, it's not a win and he knows more than anything what they need is that win. And in the next moment, there's a ball square in his mitt, the umpire calling it behind him, and the crowd's roars so deafening he almost doesn't hear the announcer.
Ssstrike three! And folks that's it! At the bottom of the ninth we have our winner, the underdogs from Saitama, Nishiura High! After only coming together three years ago as a new team, who knew they could get this far!?--
The world is stock still for only a moment, and then the spell is broken and Ren clears the path from the mound to Koishen's home plate in record time. There's fat crocodile tears welling up in his eyes as he runs right into Abe's open, ready arms, and squeezes him into a hug so tight it hurts. It's as if he needs this much contact to believe this is real, and if he's honest, Abe does too, squeezing Ren's small waist between his arms and hiding his face in his neck as he hides his own tears.
"Takaya, we won."
"Yea, Yeah, we did, we really did."
Their hug doesn't last long because before Abe is ready, the entire team is descending on them, howling and screaming and crying just the same. It's annoying, but understandable from the overwhelming joy of winning, and in a moment of lunacy Takaya realizes it provides good cover. In the mess of their teammates no one else can see them, so without thinking Abe kisses Ren right then and there. He couldn't help himself, not with so much joy and excitement bubbling up in his chest and with Ren tight up against him. It's a relief, it's everything they've worked toward with all the blood, sweat, and tears involved to get them to this hot summer day with the first place trophy.
He feels Ren get jostled in the huddle, enough to break the kiss and Takaya watches his eyelids flutter open, and his sweaty, dirt covered face break into a smile that outshines the sun.
It tastes like victory, and when Ren kisses him with the wooping of their team behind him, he knows he feels it too.