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The Strong One

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“How many times do I have to tell you you’re a good pitcher before it gets through that thick skull of yours?!” Abe yelled at Mihashi who was now trying to curl in on himself and shrink to the size of a baseball. It wasn’t working that well. They were practicing a new pitch, the cutter, while they had a few days of a break before their next game and Mihashi was getting down heartened at the lack of progress. Abe knew Mihashi was only disappointed because he thought he wasn’t living up to some imaginary expectations he thought Abe had of him, but no matter what he said, nothing would get through.

“But, hard, not, wasting time, practice,” Mihashi mumbled much to Abe’s annoyance. They’ve been on the same team for what, 6 months? 7? Abe had no idea, but a long freaking time. And still the idiot couldn’t speak a proper sentence around him. It drove Abe up a wall, but he would try to handle this peacefully.

“It’s a hard pitch, of course it’ll take time,” Abe lowered his voice to a normal volume, only vaguely aware of the whole team watching them now. Their arguments usually ended in a spectacle for the whole team, adding on to his increasing annoyance.

“I, I should, practice, home more, catch up.”

“Don’t you dare practice at home, you already throw too much as it is.”

“But, I’m still, not, good enough.” And that was the end of Abe’s patience. He had really put up a good fight this time, he thought. It took him a whole 76 seconds before he exploded.

“If that’s how you feel, then quit being a pitcher!”

He knew the second the words left his mouth that he screwed up. Mihashi’s crying had just been replaced by a look of stupor, as if he hadn’t quite heard what Abe said. He wasn’t even crying he was so shocked. Abe could have stepped in right then and apologized. Said he hadn’t meant what he said. Taken it all back. As long as it could be fixed quickly, maybe he could get through it this time. Just as he was about to apologize, though, Tajima interrupted. He was one of the closest to them and rushed over immediately to interfere, Hanai right on his heels.

“That was totally uncalled for, Abe!”

And that’s when he felt it. That familiar urge. Once it started, he couldn’t stop it. He could only pacify it. It made his right hand twitch and he had to close his fist to keep it by his side. Not here, he told himself. He had to take care of this situation first. Afterwards, he promised the monster. I’ll take care of you later. There was still a chance to correct this, even if the monster had already reared its head.

“I-I didn’t mean it, Mihashi,” Abe confessed. Mihashi perked up at that, like a small dog being told it was getting a treat. “You’re our best pitcher, there’s no way I want you to quit. I… want to keep catching for you.”

“Me, me too!” Mihashi jumped up, rejuvenated. It was almost comical how rapidly his emotions changed. He probably didn’t hold on to guilt or grudges. Just lived in the moment. Now, wouldn’t that be nice? Abe ran a hand through his hair, trying to dispel his negative thoughts.

Out of the corner of his eye, Abe saw Hanai and Tajima sigh, and then Hanai yelled at everyone to get back to practice, they’d start batting now. Everyone cheered and started getting the machines out right away. Abe gave a small smirk/smile before his hand twitched again. Right, he still had that to deal with.

“Mihashi,” Abe directed at his pitcher who looked back at him expectantly, “why don’t you join the others at batting practice for a bit, I’ll be right back.”

“Bathroom?” Mihashi asked. Abe almost laughed.

“Uh, yeah. I’ll be right back.” Mihashi gave a quick nod and then went to join the rest of the team while Abe went through the gate and to the school. He found the men’s restroom quickly and did a quick check to make sure he was alone. Satisfied, he locked himself in one of the stalls.

That was when he gave in to the monster, the little voice in his head that reached out and took control of his right hand. And then used it to punch his left arm. This continued until his left arm became numb because it was useless at that point. He wasn’t quite sure when or how it started, but it had become his ritual for calming down. When he screwed up, like hurting Mihashi just now or making an error in a game or failing a test (which was rare), this was how he made up for it. He was usually able to wait until after a game to let the monster loose; breaking down in the middle of a game wouldn’t help him win and he did this so he could continue on with his life.

Once, he had gone even farther, the monster demanding more payment and he had stabbed his arm with a pen. That was when he broke his leg and his promise with Mihashi. He had thought breaking his leg would have been enough, but that wasn’t an intentional injury. Usually, he limited himself to the arm punching thing, though.

This was Abe’s secret. The one thing he was determined to never tell anyone. For all intents and purposes, he was the strong one on the team. And most of the time he was. As long as he didn’t screw up too bad, he could shoulder all the responsibilities he took on as the catcher and Mihashi’s personal manager. He enjoyed the challenge of being the catcher and outsmarting the other team with his lead. No one on the team had to know how frail he actually was, not when he could hide it like this.

Rolling back the sleeve on his left forearm, he took in the redness of his skin. That and the numbness would serve as his reminder that he had hurt his friend and pitcher today. That one small second in a lapse of judgment could cut someone so deep so fast, even if he could fix it after. It very easily could have broken the trust he had worked so hard to build. But Mihashi was a good person and could forgive him for his mistakes and occasional (frequent) outbursts. But even if Mihashi would forgive and forget about it, Abe wouldn’t.

And then came the regret. Always, immediately after giving in to these urges, he resented himself for it. He understood quite well that this was inhuman, to intentionally hurt himself like this, but he saw no other way. Cradling his left arm, he leaned against the bathroom stall and let a small tear fall loose. He shook his head and began mumbling to himself, “Make this stop, please, just make this stop.” Even as he tried, he knew it was useless. He pleaded with the monster every time to let him go. This time, it was just a tear, but other times, when he was sure he was alone, he would break into full on sobs, curling in on himself much like his little pitcher. And he would beg the monster to let him go, for that one to be the last time, but the monster would never leave him.

Mostly because he was the monster.

Remembering he had to get back to his team, Abe rolled his sleeve back down to cover the redness and walked out of the bathroom. In the past, Abe had considered doing something that left a more permanent mark, cutting for instance, but then the others could see it when he changed. And they’d ask questions he wasn’t prepared to answer and suggest things he wasn’t going to do. Besides, nothing he had done wrong so far has warranted that. Every mistake he had made could be remedied so far.

As he rejoined practice, Tajima made some inappropriate comment about him in the bathroom that Abe thoroughly ignored, but caused Hanai to hit him over the back of the head. Abe sighed at the antics of his team and located his pitcher just finishing up a round of batting.

“Mihashi!” Abe called out, causing Mihashi’s head to turn so fast Abe could have sworn he’d have whiplash, “you still have some pitches in your count, do you want to continue with the cutter after practice?” Mihashi nodded his head up and down like a bobblehead on steroids. Abe could feel the sting on his left arm, a little reminder that even though he fixed the situation, it had still happened. And it shouldn’t happen again.

Abe picked up a bat and threw on his helmet and joined the end of the line. No one questioned where he had just been. And why would they? He was the strong one. And the loud and impatient one, but he was working on those. They could never even imagine that he would do something like hurt himself over his mistakes, which was exactly how he wanted it. Even if he knew he wasn’t, others saw him as the strong one, and he would do everything he could to not let them down.

The rest of the day proceeded as normal for him; he told Mihashi to drink more water, watched some tapes of their next opponent with Momokan, Hanai and Shinooka, and then continued work on the cutter with Mihashi.

By the time they were done, everyone else had left and Abe was secretly glad. The redness on his arm was still there and hiding it from one person was much easier than hiding it from the team. He took a few steps away from Mihashi as he stripped off his outer shirt and then undershirt, but stopped when he heard a small cry come from Mihashi. Going into panic mode thinking his pitcher had hurt himself somehow, he turned around to see that in his haste to pull off his shirt, one of the buttons got stuck in his hair and it was hanging off the back of his head like a headdress. Abe couldn’t suppress it, he laughed a little bit.

“Ah, Abe, I-” Mihashi started as he tried to untangle it but ended up creating more of a problem.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming over to help.” Abe quickly found the tangled button and unwound the hair from it safely. Taking the shirt, he went to hand it back to Mihashi, but he seemed preoccupied with… staring at his arm. Abe could have face palmed his hand through his head with the sheer stupidity he had just displayed. Wasn’t there a plan to not let people see his arm? Cause it raised questions? Maybe Mihashi was dense enough-

“A-Abe, is your a-arm okay?” Okay, so even Mihashi could tell something was wrong. Hopefully Abe’s brain could supply a reasonable enough answer in time. He was a smart guy, right?

“Yeah, I just hit it on my way back from the bathroom,” Abe replied, keeping his voice as steady as possible. His brain failed him miserably on the thinking up a good excuse department, but came through on the lying through his teeth part.

“O-Oh, does it hurt?”

“Hm, a little bit,” Abe said truthfully, relieved that Mihashi accepted his hasty lie. He may have been the one who caused it, but that didn’t mean it hurt any less. Actually, it hurt a lot more.

“I-I’ll get the first aid kit!” Mihashi announced, apparently excited he could do something to help Abe and darted out of the locker room to retrieve it. Abe tried to tell him it was fine, but he had already run off. Running a hand through his hair, the negative thoughts drifted back to him. The ones that told him to hurt his arm in the first place. Now the one he hurt was going to help him? What a blessed life he had, having friends like this. Somehow, he had ended up with the weirdest pitcher in the league. The emotional wreck with no self-confidence, but with a burning desire to prove himself and be a help to his team. Or was he projecting his own feelings onto him? Abe had no idea anymore, his head and arm hurt too much.

Mihashi returned with the first aid kit and applied some aloe to Abe’s forearm. Even though he wasn’t as good at reading people as Tajima, he knew that Mihashi was happy right now. That he still wanted to pitch to Abe and they could continue being the battery, even with Abe’s temper the way it was.

“Mihashi,” Abe said to draw his attention, “I know I get angry at times, and I’ve said this many times in the past, but I’m glad you’re our pitcher.” Glancing up to see his reaction, Abe noticed his cheeks flush a little, or were they always like that?, and then he broke out in a big smile.

“I like being the pitcher!” Mihashi exclaimed animatedly, washing away Abe’s negative feelings like a tidal wave. It was this positivity and pure joy for the game that Abe loved so much, one of the many reasons he was thankful he joined this team and not another one. As he was about to pull his arm away, Mihashi held it in place, staring right into Abe’s eyes. Abe gave him a confused look, but didn’t look away, not when Mihashi was this determined about something.

“A-And, as the ace, I’ll definitely take us to Koshien.” Abe couldn’t help it anymore, he smirked and reached his right arm over to ruffle Mihashi’s hair. All these positive emotions were overloading his brain and making him do strange things.

“Of course, you idiot, that’s what it means to be the ace. Now let’s get out of here so we can get some rest before tomorrow’s early practice. Make sure you weigh yourself tomorrow morning and eat a good meal.” Mihashi bobbed his head and let go of Abe’s arm so he could continue changing. And now, because Mihashi had seen his arm, Abe didn’t have to step a few feet away and distance himself. He didn’t have to hide from him this time. Maybe someday he’d have the courage to tell someone about the monster that he was, but right now, he was quite content. It was almost like he had a little Mihashi in his brain with a little sword and shield fighting back the monster for him. The image alone was enough to make him laugh and keep him at peace, at least for a little while.