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The Strong One

Chapter Text

“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 Mihashi’s crying had just been replaced by a look of stupor, as if he hadn’t quite heard what Abe said.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.

Chapter Text

No matter what other people thought, Mihashi was not an idiot. He certainly wasn’t the brightest bulb of the pack and at times he was clumsy, but that actually worked to his advantage here. When Abe had claimed he ran his arm into something, Mihashi knew from personal experience that his arm did not look like it just ran into something. What it actually looked like, Mihashi had no idea.

There was something else Mihashi knew, though; Abe never lied without a good reason. Mihashi just kind of figured it was some weird rash that Abe was feeling self conscious about and decided it was better to accept his excuse than force the issue.

That didn’t prevent him from watching Abe from then on. If Abe knew Mihashi was watching him closer, he never let on. Mihashi learned and confirmed a few things in the few weeks he spent tracking his catcher.

The first and most obvious was that Abe yelled at everyone, not just him. It was something Mihashi had never really thought about before, but taking a step back to see everything made it clear. He almost laughed as he recalled Abe blowing out Mizutani’s eardrums for staring off into the dugout during fielding practice. The rest of the team had to hold him back from throwing a ball straight at his head.

The next thing Mihashi noticed, this one much subtler, was that Abe didn’t talk much with the rest of the team. Not that he was a loner by any means, but just that he didn’t get close to people. Mihashi would see him hold conversations, but it didn’t look like he started many of them himself. It fit him, Mihashi supposed, but it also felt rather lonely. Not that Mihashi started many conversations himself, but he was always bombarded by questions from other people, like Tajima or Abe. Actually, the only person Abe ever seemed to start conversations with on his own was Mihashi…

Which led to Mihashi’s third observation: Abe always looked away from him when they weren’t talking. It was a simple thing, Mihashi would be observing Abe, Abe would notice, look up, and then abruptly look away. Had this always been the case? Mihashi didn’t remember this happening before, but he wasn’t staring at Abe as much before either. Maybe Abe was starting to think Mihashi was creepy and disliked him. But that wasn’t true because Abe acted normal in their other interactions.

And during these few weeks’ time, Mihashi never saw the redness on his arm again. Oh he tried even though they were in long sleeves because it was getting colder. Sneaking close during changing and other things Mihashi knew were creepy but felt completely justified. He was even beginning to think that he had imagined it and that whole scene had never happened, but he could still remember the feeling he had as he held Abe’s arm and declared that he would take them to the Koshien. He felt his cheeks flare up a bit and decided to get back to the rest of the team; he had spent long enough cooling down in the shower.

They had just finished a practice game against Tosei, which they had just barely won with 8 points to 7, Hanai hitting double in the last inning to send Izumi and Suyama home. They made some mistakes in the early game, which let up a few runs, when Tosei had been able to read their pitching lead, but Abe and Mihashi were able to talk it over and come up with a new strategy. After that, they had been able to hold them down well and their team racked up the runs. All in all, it was a pretty good practice game, Mihashi thought.

Arriving at the dugout, his eyes immediately went to find his catcher; they usually discussed the game afterwards, but could not find him. Sensing his distress, Tajima jogged over.

“Looking for Abe?” he asked, to which Mihashi nodded furiously, “I think he said something about the bathroom.” Usually, Mihashi would just wait for Abe to come back, but something niggled at the back of his brain. Without being able to explain it fully, Mihashi just decided to go and check on him; he’d done creepier things in the past week than following his friend to the bathroom to check on him. His rash could have come back and he might want someone to help him. Okay, well, he probably didn’t want someone to help him, he was far too proud for that, but he might need someone. And if he did, Mihashi wanted to be there to help!

Thanking Tajima, Mihashi took off towards the school. In the background, he could hear someone commenting that Abe and him were awfully close, but he didn’t really mind it. He liked being close to Abe; he finally had a catcher that would give him signs, encourage him to do better, and talk with about baseball. Well, the whole team would talk with him about baseball, but still. More importantly, he had a friend.

Mihashi was a little out of breath after running to the school and walked down the halls to the men’s room, feeling just a little creeped out that the halls were silent. As he came closer to the men’s room, he heard a pounding that made him jump. The halls couldn’t really be haunted like Izumi kept trying to tell him, could they? Shaking his head, he walked to the door and pushed it open. As he did, the pounding abruptly stopped.

“A-Abe?” Mihashi called out, not sure if Abe was still in there or not. It wasn’t until a few seconds had passed that he got an actual response.

“Yeah, I’m here. What’s up?” Abe called back. Mihashi was about to nod and walk outside to wait when something clicked in his head. Abe’s voice sounded funny. Not the usual hoarse from yelling during the game either.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”

“N-Nothing!” Mihashi chirped as he leaned against the wall and waited. Maybe he had imagined it after all. He stood there for all of 30 seconds before he realized that Abe had probably been in there a long time by now. Perhaps he needed help for reasons not relating to a rash and more related to the bathroom…

“Abe?”

“Alright!” Abe opened the bathroom stall then and it didn’t take Tajima to tell Mihashi that something was wrong. It was faint, and if Mihashi hadn’t been looking for it he wouldn’t have seen it, but it looked like there was a tear streak down his catcher’s cheek. All other thoughts about Abe needing help with a rash or bathroom related things flew out of his head; this was something different.

This was a new feeling for Mihashi. Usually, he was the one crying about stuff as others tried to calm him down. Usually, Abe was the one who kept Mihashi’s head on straight. Usually, Mihashi minded his own business and didn’t follow other people to the bathroom. Usually, Mihashi didn’t feel protective of other people. But he did right now.

“Abe!” Mihashi exclaimed as he rushed towards the other boy, no real thoughts of what to do filling his mind, just an overwhelming urge to try and help his friend.

“W-What?”

“You’ve been crying.”

“Wha- No! These aren’t tears. This is just sweat.” Mihashi almost believed him, like he almost believed that he ran his arm into something a few weeks ago. But Mihashi knew tears, and these were definitely them.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Mihashi, I’m not-”

“You are!” Mihashi hadn’t realized he had been looking at the floor until he snapped his head up and looked into Abe’s eyes. They were different than normal. Abe’s eyes always had strength in them, intelligence, and confidence in his actions. But what Mihashi saw more closely reflected what he saw in the mirror; fear and nervousness. He also realized that he had been yelling and a brief thought occurred to him that their roles had reversed for a moment. He would have to be to Abe what Abe usually was to him.

“I know that you lie to me. And that it’s usually to protect or help me, like telling me if I don’t do well I have to l-leave the mound. But now you’re lying to protect yourself. I-I know, because it’s what I usually do. When I do, though, you always tell me not to. That we’re a team and I could tell you anything.”

Mihashi looked up and searched Abe’s eyes again. Now he was seeing confliction arise as Abe’s eyes darted around the room, trying to find solace somewhere, anywhere but at Mihashi. Mihashi stayed where he was, hoping Abe would come to some kind of decision and look at him, but it seemed like the battle was too great. He needed another push.

“Trust me,” Mihashi said as he held out his right palm towards Abe. It was their usual gesture of hand warming, but it was also a sign of trust. And while the sign expanded to the whole team, right now it was just for the two of them. Hesitating a little, Abe put his left hand up to Mihashi’s. Abe’s hand was rather cold, but after a few seconds it began to warm up. Mihashi broke out into a smile, causing Abe to smile a little, too.

“You were crying,” Mihashi tried again. Abe looked away, but he didn’t break the hand contact.

“Yeah, I was.”

“Why?” There was some more hesitation, but Mihashi was a patient person right now. He would wait as long as it took for Abe to tell him what was wrong. He almost laughed to himself thinking that this was how Abe felt most of the time trying to talk to him. Maybe he would be a little more confident from now on knowing what it’s like to be on the other side.

“I-I… I can’t do this right now. I can’t explain it,” Abe confessed, pulling his hand away from Mihashi’s. Before he could put it down all the way though, Mihashi grabbed it again, holding it in place.

“Please, Abe, try.” Again, Mihashi watched as indecision flickered in Abe’s eyes. He was staring resolutely at the ground before he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It seems he came to some sort of decision.

“Look, I was just mad at myself, okay?”

“Mad about what?” Mihashi asked, still not understanding the issue here. Abe made a sort of grunting noise and rolled his eyes and Mihashi could tell he was getting frustrated about something.

“You’re going to say that this is stupid, but I was mad at myself for not doing a good job with the pitching lead in the earlier part of today’s game.”

“But, that’s-”

“Not my fault? Well, I still feel like it is. I knew early on that we were being read, but I didn’t want to admit it. Had I, we might have been able to adjust earlier and not let up as many points.”

“We won,” Mihashi said, relieved that Abe had told him what was troubling him, but not really having a clue as to how to help him.

“Yeah, that’s why I said it was stupid. I just wanted to let off some steam by myself. And we should be getting back to the team now. Let’s go.”

At that, Abe took his hand away from Mihashi, Mihashi had kind of forgotten he was still holding it in their conversation, and began to walk out. There was still something bothering Mihashi, though. Now that he knew the problem, he wanted to do something to help him. Whenever he had trouble with things, people always gave him great advice (or commands in Abe’s case) on what to do. Surely Mihashi could do that, too!

“A-Abe!” Mihashi squeaked, effectively stopping Abe in his tracks and turning around to face Mihashi.

“What is it? Make it quick, we have to get back.” Mihashi nodded at this and then, unsure of what to say, reached out and grabbed Abe’s right hand with his left, mimicking what Abe did when Mihashi needed help at the Mihosi practice game. He couldn’t pinpoint why he used his left hand when he usually held out his right, maybe because this time he was the one trying to help and not the one receiving it. Either way, he had to say something soon because Abe was giving him one of the most confused looks Mihashi has ever seen on him. It was kind of funny, actually.

“Instead of being frustrated by yourself, tell me, and… we can work it out, together,” Mihashi said this slowly, carefully choosing his words, wanting to make sure he got this right. It felt important to him, somehow. It may have been his intuition or a reaction to the fear he saw in Abe’s eyes earlier, Mihashi really didn’t know.

But he could tell as he finished talking that he had said the right words. Abe’s shoulders, which Mihashi didn’t know were tense, relaxed. He was looking at him now instead of avoiding him like earlier. And from there, Mihashi could tell that the fear and nervousness he saw were gone. They were Abe’s regular confident eyes, mixed with something else Mihashi couldn’t identify. Something softer and lighter and warm. Mihashi could feel his own heart get lighter as they let the silence pass between them, the moment just felt so perfect, so right.

“Thanks,” Abe said with a smile. A genuine smile, Mihashi noted, and not a smirk. He should smile like that more often; it would make people a lot less scared of him. Then the moment was gone as Abe reached over and ruffled Mihashi’s hair with his free left hand, “We’re going to get yelled at if we don’t hurry back now.”

Mihashi bobbed his head in agreement and allowed himself to be led out of the bathroom. Yes, led. To Mihashi’s great surprise, Abe had yet to let go of his hand and instead opted to drag him out at a bit of a run. Mihashi just let himself be dragged, lost in the moment they had created together, and then Abe looked back at him and smiled. Yes, Mihashi thought, today was definitely a day of firsts.

Chapter Text

The Strong One

Abe didn’t think he could ever be more grateful for Mihashi. Not that Mihashi was even helping all that much, but just knowing that Abe could at least talk to him about a few things was enough. After games now, the two of them would meet and share their worries about the game in addition to their usual comments, Abe getting mad at Mihashi for telling him that he was upset he let them get even a single run, and Mihashi denying that Abe had done anything wrong or forgiving him when Abe insisted it was his fault.

The rest of the team thought that they were being a little weird, but were overall glad that they had conversations that didn’t end up in explosions. Abe could see Tajima out of the corner of his eye giving him little thumbs up signs, but couldn’t make sense of it. Was Tajima glad that that they were getting along, or something else? It was hard to tell with Tajima; his brain seemed to work in a different dimension.

Also, their getting along had the unexpected side effect that Hanai yelled at Mihashi more, since Abe was usually the one to get angry first and say what they both wanted to. Abe would then take on Tajima’s usual role and explain Hanai’s actions, and Tajima was the one to settle Hanai down. It was a little strange how their roles were shifting, but not necessarily a bad thing. Coach Momoe would just give him an approving nod when Mihashi and him would talk things out without yelling, and he was feeling like he was understanding more and more what a catcher was meant to do.

“Mihashi!” Abe called out as they finished up morning practice and Mihashi ran over, “You’re jumpier than usual, is something wrong?” Mihashi came to a stop in front of him and opened and shut his mouth a few times, eyes darting around, before he came to an answer.

“W-We have a presentation in class today,” Mihashi reminded Abe, who had pushed it to the back of his mind. While in different classes, his and Mihashi’s followed the same curriculum. They had to choose sa topic in Health and Wellness to present on and Abe had chosen nutrition, something baseball had practically made him an expert in after working with Mihashi to make meals before. He wasn’t too concerned about it, but of course Mihashi would be.

“You’ll be fine,” Abe told him, patting him on the shoulder gently so he would actually look at him, “You practiced for it last night, didn’t you?” Mihashi bobbed his head. “When has your mass amounts of practice ever let you down? It’s how you got such good control, it can get you through this, too.”

Abe could tell without checking that Mihashi was calmer than before. His absolute faith in Abe was a little scary at times, but also fulfilling. He held onto it even after knowing how weak Abe could truly be. Patting him on the back, Abe told him to get going so he wouldn’t be late and made his way to his own class.

“You know,” Hanai said as he walked up next to Abe, “You would’ve been screaming at him a few weeks ago before he even started talking.”

“Yeah, I know. It seems you’ve taken on that role now,” Abe chided, letting a small smirk show on his face. Hanai punched him in the arm a little, but chuckled.

“He just infuriates me! You’re even more hot headed than I am, but now you don’t even explode. How’d you do it? What changed?”

Abe just shook his head. Even if he tried, he didn’t think he’d be able to find the words to express what happened. Not that he wanted to anyway; he’d have to admit his weakness to someone else and he wasn’t ready for that yet. Baby steps. Still, Hanai was staring at him, desperate to know something that could help. Losing your cool as the captain all the time can’t be good.

“You just have to hang out with him outside of practice. Become… friends I guess.”

Hanai was giving him the strangest look. One that clearly said, what do you think I am, stupid and wow good advice Einstein. If only Abe had easy access to his cell phone, he would’ve taken a picture, but then the moment passed and they were entering their classroom.

Abe took his seat in class and waited to give his presentation. They wouldn’t go through all of them today, but they were starting at the beginning of the alphabet, at least in his class because his teacher was too unoriginal to think of something else, and that meant he was first.

“Abe, would you come up and present to the class?” Abe nodded and reached into his bag to pull out his note sheet, only to realize it wasn’t in there. His pulse began to quicken and he searched some of the other pockets in his bag before he remembered that he had taken it out of his bag that morning to write some quick notes on it. He must have forgotten to put it back in his hurry to get to practice.

Panic flooded his veins as he could feel the classes’ eyes turn on him, waiting for him. What was he supposed to do? Go on without it? If he asked the teacher, could he present tomorrow? He probably could, but he would also lose points on the assignment. He could feel the color drain from his face, but he quickly reprimanded himself. He would have to deal with the panic later.

Eventually, Abe decided to go on without it. He hadn’t practiced it much, but he did know the topic well and he only had to talk for 5 minutes. Everyone clapped when he finished and the teacher told him to take his seat, commenting that Abe knew the topic so well that he didn’t even need notes. Almost laughing at the teacher’s comment, Abe let his head hit the desk as he cursed himself for forgetting his paper. He was lucky that he knew the material this time, but what if this happened and he didn’t know it? Or it was a report he had to write and turn in? Just because it turned out fine, it did not make everything fine. Already, he could feel the prickle in his arm and he sighed. Great, just great. At least this wasn’t a severe mistake.

“Good presentation,” Hanai commented to him as they made their way to practice after school.

“Thanks, you too.”

“What were you looking for, though? At the beginning of class?” Abe could have punched him. He just had to ask this.

“My notes, but I left them at home.”

“What? But then-”

“Yeah, I just did the presentation without them, wasn’t too hard.”

Abe thought Hanai was going to say something about how stupid it was for Abe to have forgotten his notes, but Hanai didn’t say anything and instead took on an almost pensive look. Abe mentally shrugged it off and walked to practice. If Hanai didn’t want to say anything about it, that was fine with him.

Practice was a little lighter than usual because they had a game tomorrow. Abe reduced Mihashi’s pitch count and told him to take it easy during practice. The last thing he wanted was for Mihashi to overexert himself before the game even started. But that was almost a given with Mihashi so Abe didn’t know why he bothered trying. The kid would still go home and practice on his own when told strictly not to.

Soon enough, practice was over and Abe was in the dugout taking off his catcher’s gear. Mihashi was with him helping him take off his leg gear, even though Abe had insisted that he was perfectly capable of doing it himself, when Abe overhead Hanai talking somewhere to the left and out of his visible range. He seemed to be talking rather quietly, but in the relative quiet Abe could make out what he was saying.

“Mine went okay, too. The teacher told me that I was a little loud, though,” Hanai said.

“I can totally see that,” Tajima commented.

“If only you could give some of that loudness to Mihashi,” Izumi said, “He practically whispered his.”

“Was it bad?” Hanai asked.

“No, it was pretty good. Just quiet.”

“Hm. Oh, yeah! You know how we were allowed to use notes?”

“Yeah, practically everyone used notes,” Tajima said, his voice trailing off.

“Yeah, in my class, too!” Hanai continued, “Anyway, Abe apparently made notes for his, but he forgot them, and ended up doing his presentation without it. Crazy, huh?”

Abe didn’t listen to the rest of the conversation, his knuckles going white as he held his chest pad straps and anger flooding through him. So now they were gossiping about him? No, that wasn’t fair. It was just idle conversation. Hanai wasn’t intending to make fun of him. Their tone was clearly one of, oh and it suddenly rained yesterday, crazy, huh? And not, our teammate is psychotic and likes to hurt himself over stupid things that don’t make sense, crazy, huh?

He thought he could have waited until he was home to do this, but forgetting his notes and judging his friends were pushing him over the edge fast. And it would be harder at home with his parents around. At this time of day, though, the school would be locked… in the team room after everyone had left then. His ability to calmly plan these things scared even him sometimes.

It had been a while since he last felt the urge to do this, he mused. Mihashi had been a great deflector for baseball related things. Mihashi…

Coming back to reality, he realized that Mihashi was staring at him. Abe mentally face palmed, of course Mihashi was staring at him, he just zoned out in the middle of taking off his pads.

“Abe?” Mihashi questioned, looking at him inquisitively.

“Nothing, just got lost in thought about the upcoming game.” Mihashi nodded and together they finished extricating Abe and met with the rest of the team to go over a few strategies for tomorrow’s game. Abe fought against himself throughout the meeting, desperate to not let it show on his face, and gave his input when necessary as he described his pitching lead.

After far too long, the meeting ended and everyone began to leave. Abe was actually one of the first to leave, but instead of going home he double backed to the school. If he had just stayed in the team room, he had no doubt eventually Coach Momoe or someone would just tell him to go home. Like this, he would appear to have gone home already.

Abe waited behind the dugout until he was sure everyone had left. Cautiously, he made his way into it, adrenaline pumping through him. It was the first time he had ever tried to do it like this. He usually waited until he got home and found some opportunity, but recently his mother had quit going to nutrition classes because the teacher had changed and she hated her… she was home more often now. So this was plan B.

Doing a quick check out of habit, Abe determined there was no one around. Taking a deep breath, he let his defenses down and the monster came rushing in. All the voices in his head telling him that he was an idiot for forgetting his paper, that he was a terrible person for thinking ill of his friends. They even brought up how he lied to Hanai that morning. He should just tell everyone the truth. Let the world see what a monster he really is. Wouldn’t that be great? Abe could almost see the vicious smile, the one that might even be on his face right now from the way he felt.

And then he began hitting his arm again, faster and harder with each hit. It was never enough pain and it never hurt less. He always felt himself holding back, but the monster always pushed him to do more. He vaguely remembered that it was possible to bite through your own finger, but self-preservation would never allow you to do it under normal circumstances. And slowly but surely, he was whittling away at that part. Maybe he’d take off his finger one day.

As he was reaching numbness in his left arm, he suddenly became aware that someone was calling his name. Was he imagining it? Were the voices taking on new tones? No, this felt all too real and sounded too familiar. Tearing his gaze away from his arm, he looked up to see who was calling him.

Mihashi.

“Abe, Abe!” The cries bordered on hysterical as Mihashi vaulted the dugout wall, an act that had Abe been in his right state of mind he would surely have killed him for, and then ran over to pry Abe’s arms apart. Abe noted in a moment of clarity that Mihashi was crying.

“Mihashi, what are you-”

“I-I followed you,” Mihashi confessed, “You were acting… different. I wasn’t going to say anything because you promised to tell me if it was important, but then you didn’t go home.”

“Mihashi, I-”

“I was going to just w-watch,” Mihashi continued, cutting Abe off, “I thought you just wanted a safe place to c-c-cry. I didn’t… I couldn’t… I… I had to do something when I s-saw y-y-you… you…” Mihashi trailed off as his tears increased in their torrent down his face. Abe could tell Mihashi wanted to say so much more, but seemed at a loss of how to say it. Which was good, because if he was talking then eventually he would start asking questions. Like what the heck was Abe doing out here in the dark punching his arm? There was no way with how Mihashi ran towards him that he hadn’t seen what happened.

As Mihashi’s tears fell, Abe’s shame increased. He thought he could hide at least this part, the part that really made him a monster. He thought he would be sneaky enough that no one would find him out here. He thought no one cared enough to find him, and certainly not enough to cry for him. But here he was, Mihashi holding both of his hands in a vice grip.

Abe had never been happier to be wrong about something.

“Mihashi,” Abe started, finally deciding he should do something to stop his tears, “I explained to you before that I get mad at myself right?” Mihashi nodded. “I didn’t tell you everything then. I didn’t want to… admit this. But when I get mad at myself, like I explained before, I… hurt myself,” Abe said this last part hanging his head down.

“Why?” Mihashi whispered. Abe shook his head, derisive laughter coming from his throat. Mihashi was so innocent, too innocent. Abe actually felt bad that he had to shatter his world like this. That now Mihashi knew not only that his… hero? Mentor? Whatever Abe was to him was not just weak, but also a monster.

“I wish I knew. It’s just… what I started doing one day. And it works so I haven’t stopped.”

“It works?”

“Yeah. I can deal with situations at the time because I can always do this later to make up for my mistakes.”

“But, doesn’t it… hurt?” Mihashi asked and Abe saw his eyes drift to the redness on his left arm. He could see light bulbs going off in Mihashi’s head as he connected the dots.

“Yeah, it hurts. But that’s the point. It wouldn’t be making up for my mistakes if it didn’t hurt.”

Lost in thought, Mihashi let go of Abe’s arms absently. Abe sighed in relief until he saw Mihashi imitate what Abe had been doing, hitting his arm, albeit with no force behind it.

“Stop that!” Abe yelled softly, pulling his arms apart in the same manner Mihashi just had.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Mihashi whispered.

“Of course you wouldn’t. Normal people don’t do this. I’m just a monster.”

“No! You’re not-”

“Yes! Yes I am! Why else would I do this? And continue doing this? I-I can’t stop Mihashi. I’ve tried, promised myself every time that it would be the last. But I always fall back into it. It’s like… something overcomes my right hand and I can’t stop it. I-I’m not strong enough to stop on my own.”

Abe felt drained after having to explain all of that. It was never his intention to tell Mihashi; he was surprised that he didn’t vehemently deny it despite the evidence. Maybe he wanted to tell someone all along but didn’t know how. Kept his walls up to protect himself, even as the ground beneath him disappeared.

Looking up, he took a good look at Mihashi. His eyes were a little puffy and probably red from crying for him. He was staring listlessly at the ground, his arms limp in Abe’s hands. Was he about to fall asleep? If so, he could wake him up later and tell him that everything was just a dream. Abe’s hopes were dashed when Mihashi snapped back up and removed his arms from Abe’s grasp.

“I-I know!” Mihashi declared. Blinking stupidly for a second, Abe was going to ask him what, before his right hand was grabbed by Mihashi’s left, but not in the usual temperature adjusting gesture. Mihashi laced his fingers between Abe’s and squeezed his hand.

“If you can’t stop your right hand,” Mihashi started, locking eyes with Abe, “then I will. You can tell me, and then I can stop it like this.”

Abe didn’t know how Mihashi could be so brave or so good like this. He just continued to find his own naïve way to solve all of Abe’s problems. If he was feeling sad, Mihashi would give him positive feelings. If his right hand was possessed, Mihashi just had to hold it. It all seemed so simple when it’s put like that.

“What if I still hit my arm, but this time with your hand?” Abe asked before he could stop himself.

“Then… at least I can help share your pain.”

Abe couldn’t help it at that point. He cried. They weren’t even the manly kind of tears he would shed when they lost a tournament game. They were the tears of a little boy overcome by feelings he couldn’t quite name yet. But Abe was older than that and could put a name to them: tenderness, he thought, was the closest to naming it he could get. A warm and gentle feeling that radiated not sympathy but empathy.

Mihashi had faced his demons before with the help of the team. He was probably the one person on the team that could relate on some level to Abe and speak the words he needed to hear.

“Abe! You’re crying!” Mihashi exclaimed, a little alarmed.

“Yeah, some idiot made me so happy that I started crying.” Mihashi blinked rapidly for a few seconds until it dawned on him that Abe meant him. At which point he made a fweehee kind of noise and his face went into stupid happy mode. This was usually when Abe got mad at him, but he was too peaceful right now.

“Okay, okay, we have a game tomorrow, remember?” Mihashi bobbed his head in agreement before it came to a sudden halt.

“A-Abe!”

“Yeah?”

“Make sure to tell me when your right hand…” Mihashi trailed off at the end.

“Yeah, I will,” Abe assured him, “Oh and Mihashi?” Abe waited until Mihashi met his eyes before he continued on with a smile, “Thanks.”

Mihashi smiled back at him and Abe pulled him to his feet and they left the dugout. As they walked to their bikes, Abe remembered his thoughts this morning. And he didn’t think he could be more grateful. Oh how completely wrong he was.

Chapter Text

Mihashi just might be the happiest he’s ever been. He didn’t want to admit it, though, because things usually went terribly wrong for people who thought that, but he couldn’t help it. They were doing well in the fall tournament, having reached round four after a close game with Musashino Daichi last week. He was talking with his teammates more, actually having conversations with people that weren’t Tajima and Abe. His grades were… not the greatest but still a lot better than they usually were! And he finally figured out what Abe had been hiding from him.

It was a terrible secret, sure, but Mihashi was so happy to be included in it. The trust that he had always given Abe was being reciprocated back to him now. It made all of their small conversations so much more meaningful, knowing that Abe trusted him enough to keep that. He replayed that night over and over in his head, usually skipping over the bad part at the beginning and going straight to Abe’s smile at the end when he said, “Thanks.”

Mihashi’s eyes still followed Abe on the field like before, but now it was different. He wasn’t trying to find clues to unlock a secret anymore, it was just a simple curiosity to see what else there was to him. If he was hiding something as big as that, what else could he be hiding? Maybe he had a secret love for cute things no one else knew. Okay… maybe that was stretching it, but still. Mihashi couldn’t help it. He just wanted to know more about him.

“Mihashi!” a voice interrupted his thoughts, and, thinking it was Abe, Mihashi went right into panic mode. But no, it was his math teacher, Mr. Takado. Which was infinitely worse.

“I understand you’re on the baseball team and you practice for long hours, but that is no excuse for sleeping in class.” Mihashi was too terrified to trust his voice to speak coherent words and just nodded emphatically. The teacher looked furious at first, but his temper seemed to die down as he took in how scared Mihashi was.

“Just try to stay awake, okay?”

“Yes!” Mihashi chirped, finding his voice after realizing that no detention was going to follow this. The rest of the class just laughed and the teacher moved on to the next topic, finding the area of a cone. Mihashi was about to relax again when a hand clapped his back. Almost jumping out of his seat, he turned to find Tajima grinning at him.

“Dude, I’ve been trying to wake you up for the past five minutes. What were you so lost in thought about?”

“Baseball!” Mihashi answered. Tajima just laughed and leaned back in his chair shaking his head. It was partly true at least. Most of his thoughts were about baseball, a few of them just so happened to be concerned with one particular player he recently learned something new about. And again, Mihashi was lost in his own little world.

He managed to stay awake, even if he didn’t pay attention, for the rest of class and came back down to reality when the bell rang for lunch. Immediately, Tajima scooched his desk over and brought out his lunchbox, already chattering away about how he ate half of it while the teachers weren’t looking. Izumi came over to sit across from Tajima and ate his lunch while talking with him. Mihashi nodded along as he took out his own lunch and started eating, but stopped when he saw a commotion going on outside. There was a shorter girl with long hair pulling back on a taller girl with a ponytail who was marching to their classroom. They seemed to debate about something before the taller girl pushed her friend(?) forward to their classroom door. It was then that Mihashi caught her eye and she blushed and tried to hide, despite her friend pushing her forward again.

Racking his brain, Mihashi placed her as someone in his year that showed up to their baseball games with her friends. The taller girl was one of her friends, and others Mihashi recognized as her friends also began to show up. Tajima seemed to have noticed Mihashi’s lack of interest in their conversation, how he could tell the difference Mihashi never knew since he never said anything anyway, and followed his line of sight.

“Ooh, that girl looks like she’s about to confess to someone,” Tajima leaned in and whispered.

“What?” Izumi responded before he looked and saw the shorter girl, too, “Don’t girls usually wait until after school for this kind of thing?”

“Maybe, but she has a group of friends to help her out. I wonder who the lucky guy is.”

As they debated this, the taller girl came in, a little exasperated if Mihashi was reading her expression right, and marched over to where they were sitting. Past her, Mihashi could see the shorter girl trying to hide behind the door frame unsuccessfully due to her friends constantly pushing her into view.

“You,” the taller girl pointed at Mihashi, “my friend wants to talk with you for a second. Is that okay with you?” Both Tajima and Izumi gave Mihashi an incredulous look and Mihashi shook his head rapidly at them; he didn’t know her either.

“Is that a no…?” the girl asked. Looking up at her, she strangely reminded him of Abe. How she was pushy but also trying to wait patiently for an answer; it almost made him laugh. If Tajima was right and this was a confession, Mihashi should at least meet with her friend. His mom always told him to be nice to girls after all.

“I-I’ll meet with her,” Mihashi answered and he could see his friends’ jaws drop to the floor.

“Great! If you’ll follow me then.” Mihashi nodded to her, got up and followed her out the door. He noticed the girl who talked to him giving a hand sign, most likely a thumbs up, to her other friends in the hallway. It was around this time that Mihashi also noticed everyone else in the classroom was staring at him intently. It was a little unsettling, but it was nothing compared to the pressure he felt being on the mound in a game.

As Mihashi went in the hallway, he could finally see the girl that was trying to hide before up close. She was rather short as he thought, but her hair was long and reached her back. Her face was also lit up a bright red. Not knowing what to do next, Mihashi was about to introduce himself when he felt a nudge from the girl he was talking to before and she pointed down the hall.

“Uh, er, you, uh,” Mihashi attempted as he tried to ask her what she was pointing for, but failing miserably.

“Go down there to talk!” she practically yelled at him in a harsh whisper and Mihashi jumped before he ran down the hallway. She was definitely a clone of Abe, Mihashi decided. And not the Abe of right now, but the one he met when he first joined the team. When they couldn’t even hold a proper conversation with each other. Mihashi was about to lose himself in his thoughts when a small hand tapped him on the shoulder.

“Thank you for coming to talk to me!” the girl said quickly and with a small bow. Mihashi on reflex bowed back and the two of them hit their heads together. Rubbing their heads, Mihashi looked at the girl in front of him. Her face had turned even redder and she looked to be on the edge of tears. Knowing what that felt like, Mihashi tried to calm her down.

“Ah, no problem!” The girl jerked up to meet his eyes and she seemed to gain her courage back.

“I’m Kunisaki Mayu, in class 3. I know I just dragged you out here, but it’s my birthday today and my friends decided to help me out ‘cause I’m really shy about this sort of thing usually, actually they practically forced me, but um, what I wanted to say was… I like you!”

Even if Mihashi knew that this is what it was going to be about, it was still a shock for him. He’s never met the girl before, not personally at least, and he was the last person on the team he would pick to go out with. Tajima had all the charisma on the team and was great at batting, Hanai was the captain and also one of their best batters, Abe was the glue of the team and their strategist. Wouldn’t one of them be better?

“Me?” Mihashi almost squeaked in response.

“Y-Yes!” the girl declared nodding, “I know you’re very shy, something I’m familiar with myself, but you also have the courage to stand on the mound in front of all those people. And my cousin on the team, Nishihro, tells me that you practice twice as hard as everyone else. I guess I just really like how passionate you are to go after your dream, despite being shy like me. Sorry, I talk fast when I get nervous.”

Mihashi never thought about that before. He just loved to pitch. Still, it was… kind of nice to hear someone say these things. He was usually engrossed in thoughts about how much everyone must hate him that he never thought about his good points. Well, that was until Abe constantly pointed it out to him to boost his confidence. Even now, most of his conversations with Abe usually have him telling Mihashi how great of a pitcher he is somewhere in them. He was always looking out for him like that.

“Um, Mihashi?” the girl asked and Mihashi nodded to show he was listening, “what’s your response?”

Mihashi blinked at her for a few seconds. He doesn’t remember her asking him a question. She introduced herself, said that she liked him, and then started talking about his good points. No, there was no question here. What else was he supposed to respond to? He must be missing something. This wasn’t a new feeling to him, he often felt like he was missing something in regular conversations, but this seemed important. Like when Abe was hiding something from him. He wouldn’t give up yet.

“Response to?”

“My confession. I’m asking if you like me, too,” she clarified. Oh. Ohhhhhh. He could feel her staring at him, waiting for his answer, but he knew instinctively that he wouldn’t give her the one she wanted. She wanted him to say that he liked her back, but he knew that wasn’t true. She was a very nice girl, he could tell by the way she waited for him patiently to respond, and she had good friends and good people always had good friends. But that wasn’t the kind of like she was looking for. She wanted the kind of like that is reserved for someone that you can open your heart to and love unconditionally. Or so he’s heard.

“I-I think you’re nice…” Mihashi started, his voice nearly cracking at the end before it just trailed off.

“But you don’t like me like that,” the girl finished for him with a sad smile. Mihashi nodded in agreement, looking at the ground. “That’s okay, I just wanted to be able to say my feelings out loud and see if I had a chance. At least I can move on now.” Mihashi nodded again, and then looked up just in time to see her wipe away a few tears. “Thanks for listening.”

Just like that, she took off down the hallway where her friends converged on her to help her and Mihashi walked back to the classroom to eat his lunch feeling incredibly drained. He answered Tajima’s endless questions and tried not to be conscious of everyone staring at him in disbelief. Mihashi had never really given falling in love a thought; he was too absorbed in baseball to ever care. He just figured he’d fall in love one day and get married and have kids like his mom and dad, but it was never a concrete thought. Now, though, he began to consider it.

He spent the greater part of classes that day trying to picture himself when he was older, but could only get as far as college before he started thinking about what baseball would be like in college. At practice, word had gotten around that a girl confessed to him and he became the center of attention as everyone was dying to know everything about what happened. Luckily enough, Tajima seemed perfectly content to tell the story on his behalf, making up what Mihashi was feeling at the time and exaggerating everything.

“And then he grasped her hands and told her, ‘I’m sorry, but baseball is my only love right now,’ and she told him that she’d wait for him, forever if she had to,” Tajima told the story with Izumi as the girl stand in. Izumi played along and everyone laughed or stared at Mihashi in disbelief until Hanai jumped up.

“Okay, enough talking about Mihashi’s love life, let’s get to practice!” Hanai announced, and everyone groaned but got ready to go.

“Aw, Hanai’s just jealous,” Tajima teased.

“Wha! No, I’m not!” Hanai denied, pushing Tajima away. Tajima just laughed and made his way to the field.

Practice proceeded normally at first. They did some infielding practice as people took turns at different positions, moved on to bunting, and things were great until they started doing some passing drills. For this, they were in three lines and the first person in each line ran out and had to pass the ball between them as they ran down the field. The only problem with this was that it allowed some room to talk as they waited in line to go.

As Mihashi reached the end with his group of three and turned around, he saw Hanai and Abe start arguing with each other. He continued passing the ball, but his eyes were focused on the pair of them as they got closer together and Mihashi could hear them yelling. Then, much to Mihashi’s surprise, Hanai pushed Abe away from him and Abe retaliated by shoving him to the ground. At this point, they had stopped passing the ball and everyone converged on the pair as Suyama held Abe back and Tajima stopped Hanai.

“That was too much Abe!” Tajima said as Mihashi jogged up to join the back of the line, “and Hanai, you definitely went too far. Don’t talk about a teammate like that.” Mihashi watched Abe as his eyes darted over to Mihashi briefly before looking back at Tajima. It was only a split second, but Mihashi could see how frustrated he was. That, and his right hand kept opening and closing in a fist.

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry I pushed you,” Abe apologized in a normal tone.

“Well, I was running my mouth off, too,” Hanai confessed, not that Mihashi knew what they had been arguing about. It must have been something serious for Abe to get that mad. “Why don’t we all take a quick break and then come back to this.”

As Mihashi was going to the dugout with the rest of the team, he noticed that Abe was not with them. Looking around, he saw him by the fence and heading to the school. Mihashi’s blood went cold as he recognized now what was happening. That fight must have set off an emotional trigger. He was going to hurt himself like before. And then he would cry afterwards about how he thought that it would never end.

Mihashi was about to run over to him when he stopped. Didn’t Abe say that he would tell Mihashi if he felt like that? They made a promise together that they would talk to each other about things. Maybe he just had to go to the bathroom for normal reasons. But maybe he desperately needed help right now. Mihashi didn’t know what to do, so he just stood there, watching. He was unable to go forward and confront Abe, but unwilling to look away.

Abe stopped, too, right at the gate to leave. He turned around to check something and his eyes met with Mihashi’s. Neither of them broke contact. He couldn’t see his eyes from here the way he could when they stood right in front of each other, so he could only guess at his thoughts and feelings. Instead, Mihashi tried to convey what he couldn’t do and couldn’t say through looks alone. That he didn’t want Abe to hurt himself. That he wanted him to trust him, confide in him. That his hand was always available to hold if needed. That maybe he would open up his heart to him.

Abe looked away first and ran a hand through his hair, and even though Mihashi couldn’t hear it, he knew he must be sighing. And then he came back to the dugout, sat down and had some water. Mihashi sighed in relief and went to get some water himself. Abe must be alright after all, or he was waiting until after practice when he had more time. Mihashi would just have to wait and see.

So absorbed in his own thoughts about the day’s events, Mihashi only came back down to reality when practice had ended. Mihashi followed everyone into the team room and changed out of his baseball uniform and into his school uniform. He took a little more time with this than usual, wanting to hang back and check on Abe without being too obvious. Abe must have had some kind of similar thinking because they were the last two in the team room.

Mihashi kept sending Abe quick glances over his shoulder as he tried to time packing his stuff away so that they would be done at the same time. Eventually, Abe just tossed his bag on the ground and turned to face his pitcher.

“You’ve been staring at me this whole time, what’s up?” Abe asked and the scathing tone reminded Mihashi of their conversations when they first met. Reflexively, Mihashi retreated to that time and began to fumble his words as his eyes darted around the room, avoiding eye contact.

“Y-you had a… fight… Hanai… earlier,” Mihashi mumbled.

“Yeah, I did but we resolved it,” Abe said as he went to pick up his bag and leave. Mihashi almost cried out “No!” because he had more that he wanted to say, wanted to know. Instead, his hand just kind of reached out lamely and his mouth opened and closed rapidly.

“You okay?” Abe asked, noticing Mihashi’s strange behavior.

“What did you… fight about?” Mihashi answered with his own question. Not that it was really an answer, but Abe seemed to have accepted it, even if he rolled his eyes. He stared at Mihashi for a few seconds as he thought about responding before he just sighed and gave in.

“You, actually. Tajima was teasing Hanai about how you got confessed to and he didn’t. So Hanai started shooting his mouth off saying bad things about you ‘cause he was really just jealous and couldn’t handle the teasing. I called him out on it, he got defensive, we started arguing and it just kind of escalated from there.”

“Bad things about me?”

“Yeah, like things that weren’t even true anymore. So it just kind of pissed me off and I overreacted,” Abe finished and gathered up his bag to leave. Mihashi was a little (maybe more than a little) happy that Abe got angry for him, but Mihashi wasn’t done yet. He still hadn’t asked the most important question.

“Are you okay?” he asked as Abe was heading out, causing the catcher to stop and turn around.

“Yeah, I’m not hurt or anything,” Abe replied. Mihashi didn’t know if Abe was trying to avoid the question or if he truly didn’t know what Mihashi meant, which wouldn’t be the first time. He would have to be clearer with his question.

“No, I ah mean… not physically… but, emotionally?” Mihashi ventured as he tried to find the right words. The meaning must have hit Abe this time because he didn’t move or say anything for a solid five seconds. He just stood there, staring at Mihashi and Mihashi could almost see the gears turning in his head as he tried to come up with a response. What eventually came out was pure bullshit.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said quickly and turned to leave, almost at a run.

“You’re lying!” Mihashi called out and Abe spun on his heel and charged at Mihashi, pushing him against the lockers.

“Shut up! I’m fine, I will be fine, just leave me alone,” he yelled right in Mihashi’s face. But this wasn’t the usual yelling, the kind where Mihashi did something stupid and Abe was angry at him. This was the defensive kind, probably the one Hanai showed earlier. He could feel the frustration and anger radiating off of Abe, and it would normally make Mihashi curl in on himself and cry. But Mihashi wasn’t scared of this one at all. His friend needed help.

“You’re not fine!” Mihashi yelled back. Abe glared at him and Mihashi could see how much pain he was in, how hard he was trying to fight against himself. Abe was breathing hard, like he had just finished running a marathon and his eyes were wild. Mihashi wanted to reach out and help him, but he didn’t know what to say, what to do. And then Abe just let him go.

“I don’t want to be dependent on you,” Abe muttered as he tried leaving again. But Mihashi wanted Abe to be dependent on him, to let him in so he could help. He just knew that if he let Abe walk out of here, all the trust they had developed, the moments they had shared until now would be gone. This was his last chance and he had to fight for it.

“Abe!” Mihashi called out and grabbed his hand. Immediately, he felt Abe yank his hand away roughly, which in turn caused Mihashi to lose his balance and fall. He must have hit his arm on the bench as he fell because he could feel the pain in his arm. He looked at it quickly to see if he was bleeding, but there was no sign. It was probably bruised, though, judging from how much it hurt.

He looked up to see Abe staring at him wide eyed and his breathing got even more ragged than before. He looked like he was having a panic attack. Mihashi watched as he swayed on his feet a little and brought his left arm up to stare at it. And then Abe fell against the wall and down into a sitting position, still staring at his left arm, as his right arm was in a fist at his side and shaking. There were no tears, but he could see Abe falling into despair as the world looked like it was closing in on him.

Mihashi could almost hear the thoughts Abe had; his own thoughts from being at Mihoshi came back to him. The ones that told him he was a bad pitcher and no team would ever want him. That he deserved his arm being broken in retribution for taking the ace’s spot. And when he thought he would never pitch again, Abe had saved him. Gave him confidence and constantly reminded him that he was a great pitcher.

But Abe couldn’t do that for himself because the voices hurting him were his own. How do you stop someone from hurting themselves? He could forcefully stop him now, but unless Abe wanted help, it would just continue on later. And what if Mihashi tried to help him and Abe rejected his help? Mihashi wouldn’t be able to handle it. But what could he say to get Abe to open up to him?

Lost in his own thoughts, Mihashi almost missed his sign. It was the chance he had been working so hard to create and it happened in half a second and just above a whisper. Abe had stopped looking at his arm and his eyes focused on Mihashi. The still shaking right hand raised up and slowly uncurled itself. And Mihashi listened as Abe said the last words he had expected to hear.

“Help me, Ren.”

Mihashi flew to him so fast that he was sure he set a record somewhere. Abe had just done two things for the first time since Mihashi had met him. He asked for help with something and called him by his given name. It was enough to short circuit Mihashi’s brain and let everything else be done on instinct. He no longer hesitated on doing anything, wondering if it was the right thing or not and just acted. So Mihashi was only vaguely aware that he grabbed Abe’s right hand with his left, or that he had put his free arm around Abe’s neck and pulled him to his shoulder protectively. Abe reciprocated the feelings and wrapped his left arm around Mihashi’s back.

If Mihashi had been thinking straight, he might have thought it was funny that their roles had completely reversed now. He also might have thought about how awkward the situation was or that they could be interrupted at any time by a teammate. But neither of the two seemed to care. They were completely lost in the moment, wrapped up in the warm feelings of trust and compassion.

Mihashi did notice a few things, though. Like how warm Abe’s breath was as it breathed out on his neck. And how Abe’s heartbeat slowed down so their heartbeats were almost in sync with each other. And how soft his hair was as Mihashi was absently petting his head to calm him down. And how tightly Abe’s hand gripped Mihashi’s, holding onto it for dear life. It was these simple thoughts that swirled around him, and he just let them flow, not wanting to move and ruin this moment. (I suggest a 10 second pause and just let the good feelings wash over you :D)

Mihashi didn’t know how long they stayed like that, but eventually Abe pulled back and his face was flush with embarrassment. Mihashi laughed at him just a little bit. It felt a little strange because he didn’t laugh that often, but he also didn’t see Abe blush like that very often, if ever.

“Shut up,” Abe said half-heartedly.

“Feeling better now?” Mihashi asked as he stopped laughing. Abe nodded, muttering something about how Mihashi shouldn’t have laughed at him, which just caused Mihashi to laugh again. Abe gave up trying to be mad at him and just smirked instead. Mihashi’s laughter eventually turned into a small smile as he thought about the day’s events again. How everything had started because that girl plucked up her courage to confess to him. How distressed Abe was as he slowly closed in on himself. How Mihashi fought to get Abe to talk to him. And then how happy Mihashi was when Abe called him Ren and how much he wanted Abe to say his name again, though not quite like that. More like when they were holding each other close as they were before. Mihashi’s face turned red as he recalled their situation and suddenly understood why Abe had felt embarrassed.

Then he was called back to reality when he saw Abe stop smiling and his expression turned a little more serious as he started to say something.

“Mihashi, I just want to say that-” Abe started but Mihashi cut him off with a finger to his lips as he shook his head. Abe stared at him for a second, perplexed. Mihashi smiled because he looked kind of cute like that.

“I know. And you’re welcome,” Mihashi answered Abe’s unsaid words and continued to smile at him. Abe smiled too, but then it progressively turned into a smirk as he ruffled Mihashi’s hair. He didn’t say anything, though; there were no more words to say right now. Mihashi just sat there on the ground next to Abe as he enjoyed the feeling of his hair being played with. Eventually, Abe’s hand slowed until he was almost petting Mihashi and the smirk faded back into the smile it was. It was then, as Mihashi looked at Abe and saw how open his heart was to him, that Mihashi realized something.

If he was ever going to choose someone to open his heart to and love unconditionally, it was going to be this person.

Chapter Text

Tajima liked his life. He knew how to appreciate the small things and be grateful for what he had. He had a loving, albeit large, family that supported him in whatever he did. His baseball team was great; they were all extremely motivated and willing to work hard to get to Koushien. Sometimes he wished that his grades were better, but he had long since accepted the fact that he was never going to be that good at academics unless he cut down on baseball. And he was never going to cut down on baseball. When all else failed in his life, he knew that he would always have this sport to fall back on. Even if he never made it to the pros, a thought he never entertained for long, the lessons he learned from it about always fighting for your dream were valuable enough.

There was, however, something missing from his life.

Tajima couldn’t place what he was missing though. He only got little inklings of a feeling that he was missing something every once in a while. And while sometimes it made sense, it also seemed to be over the most absurd of things, too.

He first became aware of it in middle school. Tajima wasn’t sure what year or even what season it was, just that he was coming back to the dugout after getting some water, when the conversation topic made him pause. Always having good senses for reading the atmosphere, he knew that this was something he would rather listen to than be a part of or interrupt.

“Oh man, I still have goosebumps from that hit.”

“Yeah, the one Tajima made in the 7th inning? Me too!”

“I mean, there’s a reason he’s the cleanup.”

“Yeah, but there’s the cleanup and then there’s what Tajima can do. And he does it so effortlessly!”

“I know! Man, he’s going to have a great baseball career in high school.”

“Forget high school, he’s going all the way to the pros.”

“With natural talent like that, what team wouldn’t want him?”

“Oh hey, did you hear about the new player on the Tigers? From America!”

Tajima waited a couple of seconds for the new topic to start up and then made his entrance seamlessly. It was a meaningless conversation, one that no one but him remembers. But for some reason, this moment always stuck in his mind as the one that he first realized he was missing something.

He thought it would go away in high school, when he was surrounded by older players that he could learn from, but he ended up on the one team in the league with only freshmen players. And, being the best batter, he was expected to lead them. Not that he cared too much; he loved all the attention. And being the youngest child he never got a chance to be a mentor to anyone, that is, until he found Mihashi who basically became his little brother.

Still, he could not help but feel that something was missing.

It was a few months ago when he felt the feeling getting stronger. He usually didn’t think about it too much when he played baseball since he was so absorbed in getting better to notice, but things had been shifting on the team. It was practically imperceptible to everyone, but he noticed that Abe seemed to be avoiding Mihashi recently. It wasn’t in any obvious way, just that he looked away when Mihashi saw him. Normally, Tajima wouldn’t have cared so much, but Abe and Mihashi comprised the team’s battery, and if they were falling apart, the team would suffer for it.

So, it happened one day after a practice game against Tosei. It had been a tough game, but they pulled through in the end thanks to a home run from Hanai. Tajima had noticed that Hanai was getting better and better, mostly trying to catch up to him. What Hanai didn’t realize was that he was already better than Tajima in some aspects. But Coach Momoe seemed determined to let Hanai think Tajima was better so he would try harder and Tajima decided he should play along.

It was in this mindset that Tajima spotted Mihashi looking very lost in the dugout. His eyes were scanning the area quickly, searching for something. Always willing to help a friend, and knowing what Mihashi was looking for, Tajima jogged over to him.

“Looking for Abe?” he asked, to which Mihashi nodded furiously, “I think he said something about the bathroom.”

Mihashi bowed his head as a quick thank you and took off. Tajima watched him go, noting the look of concern written all over his face. Was Abe in some kind of trouble? Was that why he refused to meet Mihashi’s eyes? Tajima shrugged off the thought as he saw Izumi walk over.

“They’re awfully close, aren’t they? Going to the bathroom together like girls.”

“I don’t think that was it,” Tajima countered, although he wasn’t very sure why he was bringing this up.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know, Mihashi looked off.”

“He always looks off. I’ve never seen him have a normal expression on his face. It’s always terrified, crying, or the one he has when he’s pitching.”

“I think he was a duck in his past life,” Tajima declared, effectively ending the conversation as he went to the fountain to cool off. He hadn’t really expected Izumi, or anyone else on the team, to notice that something was off. Thinking back on it, though, the pitching lead at the beginning of the game today was read. Maybe Abe was feeling down because of that? But they won the game in the end anyway…

“AH! I can’t take it anymore!” Tajima yelled in frustration and stormed off to find the battery. If Abe was feeling down about the game earlier today, the last thing Tajima wanted was for him to blow up at Mihashi. He could just see Mihashi trying to help Abe only to get angry yelling instead. He was walking down the hall that led to the bathroom and stopped when he heard someone yell.

But it wasn’t Abe yelling, that was Mihashi. Curious now more than anything else, Tajima snuck up next to the door and put his ear to it to listen in as Mihashi continued speaking.

“I know that you lie to me. And that it’s usually to protect or help me, like telling me if I don’t do well I have to l-leave the mound. But now you’re lying to protect yourself. I-I know, because it’s what I usually do. When I do, though, you always tell me not to. That we’re a team and I could tell you anything… Trust me.”

Tajima suddenly felt like he was intruding on a private moment. Far be it from the scenario he thought he was going to run into, it looked like Mihashi was the one getting upset at Abe for… lying about something? Tajima missed the beginning and was therefore out of the loop. Should he just walk away now? But as he was about to, Mihashi spoke up again and what he said stopped Tajima in his tracks.

“You were crying.” No way, Abe was crying?

“Yeah, I was.” And then he just admitted to it?! Maybe they were a lot closer than Tajima gave them credit for.

“Why?” Mihashi asked imploringly. Tajima also couldn’t wait to hear the reason. It was like one of the shows his mom always watches, but infinitely better because it was real life. No, scolded himself, it’s not right to think of your friends that way. Even still, Tajima was glued to the door.

“I-I… I can’t do this right now. I can’t explain it,” Abe confessed.

“Please, Abe, try.” Tajima found himself agreeing with Mihashi, almost nodding his head in response.

“Look, I was just mad at myself, okay?”

“Mad about what?” Mihashi asked, but Tajima already knew the answer. He was mad about the game earlier on. Was that enough to make him cry, though?

“You’re going to say that this is stupid, but I was mad at myself for not doing a good job with the pitching lead in the earlier part of today’s game.”

“But, that’s-”

“Not my fault? Well, I still feel like it is. I knew early on that we were being read, but I didn’t want to admit it. Had I, we might have been able to adjust earlier and not let up as many points.” Tajima found himself agreeing with Abe on that point. Learning of that earlier would have been better, but Tajima knew how hard it was to do that. Being the backup catcher, coming up with a pitching lead was hard, and coming up with a good pitching lead was even harder. How Abe managed to do it effortlessly amazed him to no end.

“We won,” Mihashi said, breaking Tajima away from his thoughts.

“Yeah, that’s why I said it was stupid. I just wanted to let off some steam by myself. And we should be getting back to the team now. Let’s go.” Taking this as his signal to get out of there and hearing footsteps approaching the door, Tajima made to leave. He was slowly backing up when he heard Mihashi call out again.

“A-Abe!” Damn it, Tajima couldn’t leave now. Not when the conversation wasn’t finished. He would have to find a place to hide though. Thinking fast, he moved to the other side of the door so he could hide around the corner.

“What is it? Make it quick, we have to get back.”

“Instead of being frustrated by yourself, tell me, and… we can work it out, together,” Mihashi said.

“Thanks,” Abe replied and Tajima almost didn’t hear it. Moving as fast as he could, Tajima hid himself away in a side corridor and waited until he heard their footsteps go down the hall and fade. As he leaned against the wall, going over how much the battery was coming together and trusting each other, the feeling that he was missing something grew stronger.

Tajima teased Abe endlessly after that without ever telling him why he was. It was just random things like giving him a thumbs up sign to show him that he supported him or commenting on how well he was getting along with Mihashi. He would have teased Mihashi as well, but he didn’t think it would have been very effective.

As the weeks went by, Tajima followed the two of them more often though. They discussed the game on their own, huddled together before or after the meeting with everyone else. No one else besides Hanai seemed to think much of it, attributing it to the battery having their own things to discuss, but Tajima thought it had more to do with how Abe broke down that one time. Was there something he wasn’t telling anyone? Perhaps he wanted to go pro, so he was harder on himself for mistakes like that. Tajima had seen kids like that even in middle school, thinking they had to be perfect. Usually, they had parents egging them on, though, and neither Abe’s dad nor his mom acted like that.

Still, Tajima was a curious individual and could not leave well enough alone. He never said anything to either of them, but he kept on eye out for them in case he needed to step in and help. So, when Abe doubled back to the school after practice one time, and then Mihashi double backed after him, Tajima knew he would have to follow them as well. To be fair, Tajima realized what he was doing was a little creepy; he just didn’t seem to care. He felt compelled to know what was going on between them, even if he was too afraid to ask them directly.

He eventually found them by the baseball field, Abe having just snuck into the dugout for some reason and Mihashi hiding behind the team room. Tajima positioned himself behind the other dugout, and was just in time to see Mihashi vault into the dugout after Abe. Being too far away to hear them, Tajima could only watch the scenes unfold before him.

The first thing he noticed was Mihashi holding Abe’s arms and crying. Did Abe try to hit Mihashi? No, Abe didn’t look angry, he was more… defensive? Shocked? It reminded Tajima of a frightened animal, but then why the heck was Mihashi crying? As Tajima watched, Abe composed himself and began to calm Mihashi down. And then Abe was… laughing? Tajima officially had no idea what was going on. Mihashi was crying, Abe was scared, then laughing, and now he was back to scared/dejected animal. Looking around for a second, Tajima tried to see if there was a way to get closer, but the only option was to cross the field, which wasn’t really an option for stealthiness.

After scanning the area, Tajima looked up to find Abe panicking over something Mihashi did because he was now the one holding Mihashi’s arms. Damn it, Tajima missed something again. If only he could hear what they were saying, but noooo, he just had to pick this side of the baseball field. And then Abe was shaking his head and staring at the ground. They seemed to be arguing over something, but Tajima had no idea what it was about. Was it baseball related? Could even be girl related, though Tajima didn’t think either of them had a girlfriend. If they had, surely the team would have found out one way or another.

Lost in his thoughts, Tajima almost missed it. Without any warning, Mihashi pulled his arms out of Abe’s grasp and then grabbed Abe’s right hand and… did he just lace their fingers together? Squinting through the dark, Tajima confirmed that yes, they were indeed holding hands intimately. And they just sat there like that for a few minutes, Abe apparently wiping away some tears at some point, before they took off.

But Tajima couldn’t get the image out of his mind. He only moved so far as to lean against the dugout wall and slide down to a sitting position. He just could not get over… the familiarity they had. It wasn’t even like the intimacy between lovers, it was something different. Bromance, maybe? But even that seemed too shallow of a word. It was such a level of trust that Tajima couldn’t comprehend. As if they had been incomplete people before, and by having that person with them it made them whole. That sense of comfort and belonging, Tajima had never experienced it before. And with a crash, he realized what he was missing in his life.

Tajima had no one to love.

Yes, he could say that baseball was his love and it was true. He had many different foods, games, places and other tangible objects that he loved. But they couldn’t love him back. Yes, he could say he loved his parents and they loved him and that was true. He loved his grandfather very much and his grandfather thought the world of him. But his parents and grandfather also loved his brothers and sisters the same way.

There was no relationship in his life uniquely his.

Tajima had many friends on the baseball team, both in high school and middle school. They could hang out and play games, look at adult magazines together, and be the very best of friends. And he liked them all very much, but it was nowhere near the kind of relationship he just saw between Mihashi and Abe. From what Tajima could see and what he knew already, it looked like they could trust each other with not just the good things in their lives, but the ugly ones as well. And it hurt Tajima, to know he didn’t share anything even close to that with anyone.

He was alone.

Tajima wasn’t sure how long he sat against the wall of the dugout, drowning in the torrent that was these thoughts. He had never felt so negative like this, never seriously considered anything was missing from his life. He had that feeling before, surely, but it was never prominent and it certainly never hurt him as much as this realization did. But now that he had thought it, he couldn’t unthink it, couldn’t pretend his life was perfect anymore, and couldn’t get over just how lonely he felt.

At some point though, Tajima picked himself off the ground and walked home. They had a game tomorrow after all, and he was expected to lead the team in batting. To smile and make inappropriate jokes. To be overconfident and reckless, yet totally in control. And he would do it, for the sake of the team. He was after all, one of the strong ones.

Chapter Text

Mihashi was nervous. This wasn’t a new feeling for him to have, as he got nervous quite easily, but usually he had someone there to push him forward. Whether it was Coach Momoe dragging him into the baseball team, Tajima getting him to talk with people, or Abe telling him to watch his health, Mihashi never had to take the first step by himself. So this was a new experience for him in that way.

Gulping down his nervousness, he raised his phone to send a message to Abe asking if he could go over today to get help with math homework. It was a trivial thing, he knew, and something that most people had no problem doing. To Mihashi, though, it was an insurmountable task. His brain was already providing reasons why this was a terrible idea. Abe could think him too arrogant, or annoying and he might have to respond yes while being terribly polite because he really doesn’t want Mihashi to go over but doesn’t want to say no and lose their friendship even if Mihashi going over there is such an imposition to him and then Abe starts to dislike him…

But even as he had those thoughts, he was pretty sure they weren’t even true. Abe had been fully trusting of Mihashi recently and they talked a lot in school and out of school even in random text conversations (another hurdle Mihashi had gotten over a few weeks earlier). Ever since a few months ago when Abe had admitted he had a problem and Mihashi began to help him, things had been great between them. Furthermore, these past few weeks since Abe broke down in the locker room have drawn them closer than ever. So he was able to push the nagging fear behind him and hit send.

Flopping back on his bed because it was still early and Mihashi wasn’t completely awake yet, he began to drift off back to sleep. He knew that he shouldn’t, his mom said breakfast was going to be ready soon, but he couldn’t help it. He just felt at peace right now. His thoughts circled back to Abe, and how he’d realized that he liked him a little while ago. The feeling had only been growing since he first realized it, now a heavy lump in his chest. But it was warm. It reminded Mihashi of a little egg, a new life, growing there in his chest. It got bigger and bigger each day as he filled it up with his thoughts. To hold hands, but not like they’ve done in the past, but to hold tenderly, longingly, lovingly even. To look into his eyes and see the warmth reciprocated there, a small smile on his lips. Lips that looked so sweet, so soft, so juicy, so tantalizing… what it would be like to kiss them, to press his own lips to his and-

And then his phone buzzed. Almost jumping off the bed in shock, Mihashi calmed himself down and opened his phone to find “Sure, come over after 12.” Mihashi felt his cheeks flare up after the thoughts he just had as he connected the words on his screen with the object of his thoughts, and he desperately tried to push them away. It took him a minute to do so, but he was eventually able to calm himself down enough to look at his phone again without feeling guilty. It wouldn’t be right to reply to his friend with those kinds of thoughts, which only made him turn red again. Crap.

Calming himself down for real this time, Mihashi texted back a quick okay and jumped off his bed to go downstairs and eat breakfast, pushing his provocative thoughts to the back of his mind. He tried hard not to just wolf down his food in eagerness, his mom was admonishing his poor eating habits, too, but it was hard to slow down. He had only been over to Abe’s house when he had broken his leg several months ago (wow it had been a long time) and it wasn’t exactly a happy time. They had had a nice conversation then and got a lot of the issues they had at the time out in the open, but it was marred by the fact that Abe wouldn’t be playing baseball.

It was funny, Mihashi thought, how close he had felt to Abe then and how he thought they couldn’t be closer. He had assumed that was the closest they would ever get, but it doesn’t even compare to the level of trust they have now. He didn’t think it would get any better than that, but it did. And even then, it still wasn’t close enough. Mihashi shook his head at the thought and raced upstairs to get ready.

Mihashi arrived at Abe’s house a little earlier than noon. He was standing in front of the door, ready to knock, when he heard people yelling inside. Instantly, Mihashi was thrown into a state of panic. He didn’t recognize the voices, but because one was male and the other was female and they both sounded older, Mihashi assumed it was Abe’s parents. So his parents were arguing? Mihashi stood there for a minute trying to think about what to do before he ultimately decided to go in anyway. Standing out here listening to them fight seemed kind of rude, and maybe with a guest in the house they wouldn’t yell?

Mihashi rang the doorbell and both voices quieted down, so Mihashi rang it again so they could hear it, (which was actually kind of hard for him, ringing it twice. Still seemed kind of rude, but he really didn’t think they heard the first one.) A few seconds later, Mrs. Abe opened the door with a smile as she straightened out her hair and caught her breath a little bit.

“Oh hello, Ren, Takaya said you’d be coming over in a little bit. He’s upstairs in his room,” she informed him and moved aside to let him in. Mihashi gave a jerky nod, still a little tense, and entered the household. It was as he remembered it, clean and orderly, with various baseball paraphernalia scattered around the walls. He quickly took off his shoes and laid them next to what he thought were Abe’s and with another nod, left to go upstairs.

It was only when he was upstairs did he realize that he’d never actually been in Abe’s room and had no idea where it was. Looking at the doors, none of them gave any indication of belonging to Abe, they were all just blank. Mihashi was about to start knocking on doors when Abe opened one and stuck his head out.

“What’re you waiting out there for? Come on in.” Letting out a small sigh that disaster number two in the past few minutes was averted, Mihashi followed Abe in and sat at the table in the middle of the room, mimicking Abe as he pulled out his notebook to get started on math.

“What are you having trouble with?” Abe asked as he took Mihashi’s assignment and looked it over.

“Uh, um, I can’t think of the next step for the proof…” Mihashi answered. They were doing geometry in math right now, coming up with formal proofs, and Mihashi had no clue what was going on with it.

“Yeah, I see that. Give me a second.” Mihashi nodded and watched as Abe riffled through his notes. Mihashi’s thoughts strayed to the argument that Abe’s parents were having downstairs, but he hesitated on whether to ask about it. He may have known Abe for a while now, but he still knew very little about his family dynamics. Maybe it was normal in this family to yell to work out their problems. Abe didn’t look too concerned about it. Mihashi figured that if it was important enough, Abe would tell him.

Soon enough, Abe was explaining to Mihashi how you formulate the steps for a proof by looking at where you want to go and seeing which formulas contained the right pre and post conditions necessary. Mihashi soon saw that it was mostly like a puzzle game, and from there could figure out how to do it. He would occasionally ask Abe to explain one of the formulas to him, maybe more than occasionally, but still. Abe was patient with him and answered all of his questions; had this been a few months ago, Mihashi never would have thought it possible. But here they were, the proof staring him in the face.

The proof was literally staring him in the face, Abe’s eyes watching him almost curiously. Mihashi began to look around nervously, wondering if he missed something important or if Abe said something and Mihashi just didn’t notice it.

“Calm down,” Abe said in an airy tone, almost laughing even, “you were just spacing out for a second.”

“Oh, uh, sorry, I…”

“There’s no need to apologize, spacing out isn’t a crime, y’know.” Mihashi knew that, but he still felt bad. When he spaced out, Mihashi usually missed parts of a conversation and then got left behind in it. This happened a lot in middle school, but since he came to high school, people usually pulled him out of his thoughts if he was going to miss something important or funny. It had been a while since he just let his thoughts roam.

Mihashi watched as Abe shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips, before a knock came at the door.

“Coming!” Abe called got up to open the door, revealing his mother there with a tray of onigiri.

“You’ve been up here studying your brains out for so long, I thought I might as well make something for you and Ren,” she explained, handing the tray over to Abe. Mihashi saw Abe wince when he put the tray on his arms, and he immediately became concerned. Apparently, his mother did as well.

“Are you okay? Did you hurt your arm?” Mrs. Abe asked sympathetically, reaching out to take the tray back. Abe pulled away and his expression quickly morphed into a glower.

“I’m fine mom, just bumped it this morning.”

“Ooh, you need to stop being so rough. Why can’t I have any girls, they wouldn’t be so rough. We could go shopping together, share shoes…” Mrs. Abe trailed off as she left down the hall, lamenting her lack of daughters. Mihashi saw Abe roll his eyes at his mother’s antic and set the tray down on the table before sitting down himself.

“You hurt your arm?” Mihashi asked, being careful not to be accusatory. After all, it was entirely possible that Abe really did just bump his arm. It was just that given Abe’s track record so far, it was much more likely that it was done on purpose.

“Yeah I…” and here Abe paused to look at Mihashi. He could see the conflict in his eyes, confirming what Mihashi already suspected. Abe didn’t even have to continue on anymore, but he did anyway. “I did it this morning… on purpose.”

“What happened?” Again, Abe hesitated, his gaze lowering to the ground, staring at it intently. Mihashi waited for Abe to gather his thoughts. When Abe finally started speaking, his usual strength was absent from his voice, it took on a more… resigned tone.

“My dad was mad that I invited you over. There’s a game on today that he wanted to watch with me, but inviting you over apparently ruined his plans. So he said you couldn’t come over, I said that he was being stupid, he got mad and yelled, well talked loudly, more, and then I just… left. So then, my mom comes in to defend me and they start arguing over it and other things, and… yeah. I came up here and I just couldn’t help it,” Abe finished off with a small shrug, as if that explained everything.

Mihashi wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Automatically, his first thoughts were that he was at fault here for inviting himself over and reprimanding himself for being so assertive when he’s not used to it. If he hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t have argued and then maybe Abe… maybe Abe wouldn’t have hurt himself.

“Stop blaming yourself, it’s not your fault.” Mihashi opened his mouth to protest when Abe glared at him. “It’s not your fault,” Abe said more slowly and forcefully this time. “It’s just the way my dad gets. Once he has an idea in his head, he’s pretty set on it. I forgot that he wanted to watch the game with me and invited you over. I should’ve remembered that and told you to come later. So don’t worry about it.”

Abe finished what he said with a smile, but Mihashi wasn’t fooled. It wasn’t a happy smile, it didn’t reach his eyes. He was just trying to be strong again and hide how he felt behind the mask. Mihashi was tempted to just go along with it, but there was a bigger problem here. One that he just couldn’t let go of.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Mihashi asked, his friend reflexively recoiling away. Abe had promised Mihashi a while ago that if he ever felt like this, he would call Mihashi who would help him calm down. Mihashi watched as Abe fidgeted and rolled his head to look around the room, tapped his fingers on his leg, and bit at his lip. Mihashi tried to read the emotions he saw on Abe’s face because clearly he was being very emotional right now, but he couldn’t pick them out. There were too many there, shifting and sliding over each other as if Abe couldn’t decide on what emotion to choose. Eventually he huffed and scowled at Mihashi.

“I just didn’t, okay?” was the eventual answer. Mihashi shook his head, knowing that there had to be something, some kind of reason. Did he not trust Mihashi anymore? That seemed like the most logical answer. It had been a while since they talked about anything that wasn’t baseball or school. Maybe the bond they had had faded and Abe pulled away without Mihashi realizing it.

“Do you not trust me anymore?” Mihashi asked, his voice subdued. Immediately, Abe spun around to face him, surprise written all over his face.

“What?! No! It’s not that, it’s just…” Abe trailed off, frustrated.

“Just what?” Mihashi prompted.

“I just, didn’t think to call you. After it happened, all I could think about was how stupid I was for forgetting about my promise with my dad and how foolish I was. And then I just hid up here and did it. Calling you didn’t even cross my mind.”

Mihashi’s mouth formed a little “o” as he processed what Abe said. This, Mihashi thought, might be worse than if Abe didn’t trust him. At least then, Mihashi could work on earning the trust back. With this, Mihashi wasn’t even considered in his thought process. It was like Abe was indifferent to him, which hurt Mihashi more than he wanted to admit. It also raised another troubling idea.

“This wasn’t the first time, was it?” Mihashi asked.

“No, it wasn’t. When you’re not around and I get that urge, I’ve never thought about calling you. It’s passed through my thoughts as a consideration, I guess, but it never sticks long enough to act on it. It’s only when you’re right there that I remember to talk to you about it.”

Mihashi didn’t know how to react to this. He felt relieved at first because Abe still seemed to trust him, but he knew that there was still a problem here. Should he be mad at Abe for hiding this from him? Disappointed that Abe wasn’t strong enough to ask Mihashi for help? Sad that Abe looked so hopeless about his situation? Frustrated because he knew that there wasn’t anything that he could do to help?

And then Mihashi realized something with a sudden moment of clarity. It was something that he should have been able to figure out long ago, he supposed, but he never thought about it. It wasn’t until he came here and it was thrust his in face that he acknowledged it. And it worried him greatly now that he was conscious of it.

Abe’s parents had no idea that he hurt himself the way he did.

As Mihashi realized this, he also became aware that Abe was staring at him, waiting for his response. Right, Abe had just told him something big and would expect Mihashi to say something now. Mihashi didn’t want to accuse Abe outright of not telling his parents, so he asked something that would confirm it subtly.

“Why won’t you tell your parents?” Mihashi saw Abe’s flash to surprise briefly before he immediately became defensive, already seeing where Mihashi was going.

“You can’t tell them,” Abe replied, his tone harsh and his voice quiet.

“Why not?”

“’Cause.”

“That’s not a reason,” Mihashi pressed.

“Urgh!” Abe growled as he put his head on the table and clasped his hands behind his head, looking like he was squeezing his head between his forearms. Mihashi watched him for a few seconds before he continued. “You just can’t,” he ground out through his teeth as he came up to a sitting position, “My dad wouldn’t understand and my mom… I don’t want her to think she failed or something. ‘Cause she’s done an amazing job, dealing with my dad and raising me and my brother.”

“Oh, does your brother know?” Mihashi asked. He had totally forgotten Abe had a brother.

“No, I don’t want him to worry or develop the habit himself.” That made sense, Mihashi himself was tempted to try out Abe’s method one time when he had a test coming up. In the end, he knew how much he hated it when Abe did it, and recognized that Abe would feel that way if he did it. Abe, though, didn’t seem to care that he worried Mihashi like this. Or maybe he did… is that why he was hesitant to tell him in the beginning? So Mihashi wouldn’t worry all the time? And if Mihashi told Abe’s mother…

“Ok. I understand. I won’t tell your family,” Mihashi found himself agreeing.

“Thanks, Mihashi. Do you want some onigiri then?” Abe gestured to the tray on the table, already picking up one to eat.

“But,” Mihashi continued, knowing Abe would be against this, but he had to say it anyway, “I think you should get help.”

Abe froze in mid bite, scowling at Mihashi, but Mihashi wouldn’t back down. Normally, he would. Normally, Mihashi would cower away and nod meekly, accepting the onigiri. Normally, Mihashi would never be this brave and confront someone like this. But this wasn’t normal. Abe had a serious problem, somewhere, that he needed to fix. And as much as Mihashi hated it, the only thing he could do was put a Band-Aid on the open wound. He could only ever react to Abe panicking, never prevent it. Mihashi had thought he was making progress and that Abe was slowly learning not to panic as much, but that wasn’t true at all. He was still panicking and breaking down, it had just become that Mihashi sometimes put Abe back together for him.

Mihashi would never be the solution to the problem.

Abe needed someone that was trained to help people like him, and the best thing Mihashi could do was to convince him that was true.

“I won’t.”

“Why?”

“It’s not that bad, it only happens every once in a while.”

“It is that bad.”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.”

“It costs money I don’t have.”

“Then go to the school.”

“They’ll tell my parents.”

“They won’t.”

“They’ll tell coach.”

“They won’t.”

“I won’t be able to play baseball, anymore.”

“Abe, you’re not-”

“I just don’t want to go, okay?!” Abe nearly screamed as he slammed his fist on the table, knocking over their homework and the tray of onigiri in the process.

Throughout their banter, Abe had been looking down, making up excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t go. Now, though, Abe was looking up at him and Mihashi could see the fear in his eyes. All the blood was gone from his face, his breathing was shallow and rapid, and his lips were pressed in a thin line. The thought of getting help terrified him for some reason.

“Abe,” Mihashi started, not sure how to continue with his thoughts.

“Just stop. Maybe one day I’ll get help, but not now. I just… can’t. Please,” Abe said and Mihashi saw the fight drain out of him, leaving him vulnerable. His emotions were all over the place, unable to settle down on being angry, afraid, or depressed. Nothing Mihashi said would get through to him right now, so he let it go.

Instead, Mihashi reached over and grabbed Abe’s hand, rubbing small circles on the back of it in a soothing manner. He could feel Abe’s eyes on him, but he didn’t want to look up right now. If he did, he might give away the feelings he had been keeping guarded. Abe didn’t need that right now on top of everything else. Abe needed a good friend right now, not a love interest. Maybe when Abe was more stable, Mihashi would tell him. Until then, he would keep this warm feeling inside and let it grow little by little. He would be the perfect best friend and keep Abe’s secrets for him and put him back together when he broke; it was all he could do for him right now.

Chapter Text

Abe awoke from his dreams with a start, nearly falling out of his bed. His eyes scanned the ceiling as he oriented himself to his surroundings. Recognizing that he was in his own bed, he flopped back down and turned to check his alarm clock. 5:07. 3 hours of sleep. He was getting worse. What was even more frustrating for Abe was that he couldn’t even remember his dreams anymore. They felt tense and constricting and he’s been waking up at odd hours unexpectedly, but the second he leaves the dream world, he’s already forgotten what the dream was about. All he’s left with is a vague sense of drowning. Of reaching for something ahead of him, but never grasping it.

These dreams weren’t new to him, but ever since Mihashi confronted him about going to counseling less than two weeks ago, they have been increasing in frequency. He was mostly hiding from Mihashi, too, now certain that his friend would press him more to get help. Abe knew he should, really, he did understand it would help, but the thought terrified him. The thought that the school counselor would be forced to tell his parents, that his teammates would see him going there, that he couldn’t afford going to one on his own. Most of all, though, he didn’t want to admit it was real. If he went to counseling, it meant he had a problem. That he was weak. And hell if he was ever going to admit that! He was the strong one.

Knowing that going back to sleep was no longer an option, Abe got up and got dressed. He killed time reading a book on baseball pitching form; Mihashi was currently working on trying to adjust his form to pitch better. Abe may not be talking to him as much as before, but he was still Mihashi’s catcher. He would shoot himself in the foot before letting his team down because of his personal problems. They didn’t need that. They needed him to keep their pitcher in line and he was going to do that no matter what.

The day passed by in a blur for him, lost as he was in his thoughts and struggling to stay awake in class. They had practice after school, but the intensity had dropped down since they lost to Senda a few days ago. It was a grueling game, but they had played to the best of their ability. Abe suspected Mihashi still blamed himself for it, trying to change his form in the middle of a tournament wasn’t the best idea, but in the end it was the best for him. As much as Abe wanted Mihashi’s form to stay the same, Mihashi had to fix it if he wanted to progress further. It just meant taking a small step back right now.

“Abe Takaya,” the biology teacher called his name out. Abe blinked himself back into reality and saw that the teacher was standing over him holding a paper in his hands. “Your test, Mr. Abe.”

“Oh, yes, thank you,” Abe replied as he took the test. If he remembered correctly, which he was trusting less and less lately, this was the test the day after the Senda game. They had stayed late going over things to work on and Abe had little time to study for the test. Biology was one of his better subjects so he didn’t worry about it, but then during the test he had an anxiety attack. Nothing he had studied had been on there and he quickly realized he didn’t know a lot of it. The fear seeped back in now as he turned the test over to see his grade. Maybe it would be a low 70? Even somewhere in the 60’s would be good at this point.

56.

It was officially the worst he had done on any test that he could remember. His fingers started trembling as he held the paper. He could feel the color drain from his face, his throat constricting on him, a heavy weight settling in his chest. He was having another attack, right here. He closed his eyes to try and block out the sensation and get air into his lungs, but was ultimately brought back when Hanai spoke to him.

“Hey, Abe. How’d you do?” Abe stared at him for a second before the urge to laugh came over him; the question was absurd. He had done the worst he could ever remember doing, but no big deal, how’d you do? Looking up, he saw Hanai looking at him, a quizzical expression on his face. Abe inwardly groaned, but outwardly fixed an expression of exasperation on his face. He could only hope that it would stick there long enough to get him through this conversation.

“Not good,” he admitted. Lying was only going to make him feel worse in the long run, he knew.

“Oh, how bad?”

“Bad.” Hanai leaned over to look at the paper, but Abe pulled it away from him. Hanai could draw his own conclusions as to what bad was; Abe didn’t want to give him the concrete knowledge. He then quickly shoved the paper in his backpack, intent on leaving as soon as the bell rung.

“What’d you do that for?” Hanai asked, still looking confused. Abe shook his head in response.

“It’s just really bad, and I didn’t want to look at it too much before lunch,” Abe eventually said, hoping the mention of lunch would divert Hanai’s attention.

“Ah, I know that feeling. Cheer up, we still have the final in this class to make up for it.”

Abe was about to respond that the final couldn’t really make up for the midterm when the bell rang. Seeing his exit chance, he all but bolted out of the classroom. He strode down the hall, intent on finding a mostly empty bathroom to clear his anxiety away, when he remembered what Mihashi had said. That he should try and look for him even when it wasn’t convenient. Abe warred with himself on what to do. What if he looked for him and couldn’t find him? Not only would he miss lunch, but he’d be even more stressed out than before. But if he didn’t go look, it was as if he wasn’t even trying to get better, to listen to his friend. And he did want to listen to him. In the end, he decided that he’d go to the classroom and if Mihashi wasn’t there, then he’d head to the bathroom by himself. It was a good compromise.

Arriving at Mihashi’s classroom in record time, he stuck his head in the door and scanned the room. Mihashi wasn’t there. Abe felt his chest tighten and his breathing rate increase. Not here, he told himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tajima watching him. He quickly realized that Tajima would want to talk to him, being the outgoing person that he was, so he purposefully looked away and rushed back into the hallway.

Abe could feel the panic rising in him as he located a bathroom on the level above him. He looked under the stalls to make sure they were empty and then locked himself in the nearest one, unable to stand it any longer. The emotions hit him like tidal waves. All the panic and fear he felt about the test, bubbling up in him. Regretting that he didn’t study more for it. Angry with himself that he had studied the wrong things for it. Shamed that this was one of his worst test scores, in a subject he was good at even. Fear of what his father would say. Terrified that he had disappointed him. And then depressed because he knew that he had.

Abe unleashed all of this onto his arm, as if he could blame it for everything that had happened. As if punching it would get him a better test grade. As if it could absorb all his negative emotions. It could not. Abe continued until his arm was so numb that only his eyes watching him hit his arm told him that it was even happening. But it wasn’t enough. He felt calmer now, but still terrified of what would happen when he got home.

Somehow, Abe made it back to the classroom and pulled through the rest of the day. He mechanically bowed as the last bell rang and he followed Hanai to the baseball field on autopilot. When he opened the door to the team room, his eyes automatically scanned for Mihashi who looked up at him as he walked in. They locked eyes for less than a second before Abe looked away. The guilt of this afternoon ate at him, a little voice in the back of his head saying that he should have tried harder to find his friend. Now he had to go about hiding it. Just one more thing to add to the ever growing list of things he regretted.

“Hey,” Abe greeted Mihashi as he stood next to him to get his stuff out of his locker. Mihashi nodded stiffly in response, causing Abe to let out a harsh chuckle. “You don’t have to be so tense,” Abe chided, easing into the familiarity of it.

“Sorry,” Mihashi apologized, head downturned.

“Don’t be,” Abe said as he ruffled Mihashi’s hair and went back to his locker. Abe felt the tension he’d had all afternoon slip away as he fell into taking care of Mihashi mode. It was an easy role for him to play, the protector, even if he felt like doing anything but. It gave him some semblance of normalcy.

That familiarity carried him through practice, enabling him to interact with Mihashi more than he had been the past week. Abe told him about some of the things he’d read in his book and they worked on stabilizing his form more. He could tell by the way that Mihashi lit up that he had been worried. Maybe he thought that it was his fault that Abe had been avoiding him this past week. Which wasn’t true at all and he’d have to talk to him about it soon to find out. Right now, though, he wanted to enjoy this peaceful feeling he had where everything felt right with the world.

But then practice ended and he was alone again with his thoughts. For a second, he thought about asking Mihashi to come home with him so that he’d be there for the fallout, but he didn’t think Mihashi could handle the yelling. He already got frightened when Abe yelled without meaning to; putting him through what was about to come would be pure torture. No, Abe would have to handle this on his own. He’d done alright most of the time, so he didn’t think this would be that bad.

Abe took a deep breath as he entered his house, already steeling himself for the confrontation. He took off his shoes and put his slippers on before treading down the hallway carefully. His father was in the family room, but there was no sound. Usually, the TV was on, playing some baseball game that was taking place somewhere, but it was off. That, Abe knew from experience, was never a good sign.

“Sit down,” his father said, but it came out sounding more like a command than anything else. Abe hesitantly took a seat on the opposite couch from his father, unconsciously trying to put more distance between them.

“I got a call from your school today. Your biology teacher was worried because of your last test grade. Said you got a 56.” So that’s what happened, Abe realized, the school had informed his father behind his back.

“Dad, I can explain,” Abe started only to be cut off by his father’s loud voice.

“A 56. In biology no less. This is completely unacceptable,” his father continued steamrolling over him, his eyes boring a hole straight through his son.

“I know, I know, dad, I just-”

“Oh, you know do you? If you know, then how did you let this happen?”

“I’ve been trying to explain,” Abe said, rolling his eyes as he prepared to launch into his explanation.

“Don’t give me that look,” his father warned, his voice rising in volume.

“I’m not giving you a look.”

“Yes, you are,” his father loudly insisted. Resisting rolling his eyes now, Abe decided to just continue on with his story, ignoring the way his heart was hammering in his chest.

“We had the Senda game the day before, the one we lost, and we all stayed late to go over stuff-”

“You didn’t study the night before that, knowing that you had a game the day before?” his father asked.

“Well, no, I thought I would have enough time-”

“Clearly you didn’t. And now you get this kind of grade on top of losing that game,” his father declared, as if that solved everything.

Abe felt like the words had slapped him in the face. Of course in hindsight it was obvious to point out these things. It was like his father was telling him what an idiot he was for not realizing such a simple thing in the first place. Abe’s fists clenched at his side as he tried to hold himself together, anger bubbling in him.

“I would have had enough time, but I was studying the wrong material,” Abe ground out through gritted teeth.

“I don’t want to hear your excuses. You should have been able to get a better grade than this.”

“But, I-”

“You’ll never be able to get into college for physical therapy with a grade like this in biology. How could you be so stupid to study the wrong material?”

Abe could feel the anger coursing through him, igniting his nerves and making his hair stand on end. For once, just once in his life, couldn’t his father listen to him without calling him stupid for one reason or another? Deciding he would have to try harder, Abe stood up to face his father down.

“Maybe I was feeling devastated at the time because we just lost an important game so I wasn’t thinking straight!” Abe yelled, hoping that his intentions would get across. He could feel tears pinpricking at the corner of his eyes, threatening to fall down. And then his father stood up.

“Don’t cry, you’re a man. Everyone feels bad after a lost game. Your other teammates didn’t fall apart, did they? So suck it up. You have to do better than this. College is right around the corner and-”

“Shut up!” Abe screamed. He felt triumphant for a moment before he saw his father’s eyes flash in anger. Reflexively, he recoiled and closed in on himself, trying to shut everything out. It was too late, though, he had already said those words and he couldn’t take them back.

“You do not tell your father to shut up. You’re grounded for the next week. And tomorrow you will go to your teacher to see if there’s anything you can do to bring up your grade.” Abe nodded in response, not trusting himself to say anything. Not that he could anyway, his tongue was heavy in his mouth and his throat burned. Abe turned to go to his room when he heard his father again, “And don’t you dare cry. It’s a sign of weakness.”

Abe was sorely tempted to turn right back around again and tell his father that he’d cry if he wanted to, but there was no point. Nothing he could say would ever change his father’s mind. He had tried in the past, but every attempt had ended in his father keeping his opinion the same and Abe storming away frustrated. And then he was yelled at for stomping in the house. He quickly learned it was easier to just give up on it than try and push the point.

So Abe walked, not stomped, upstairs to his room. Instead of going in his room, though, he detoured to the bathroom to wipe his face. Despite his father insisting that he not cry, a few tears had spilled out as he left. Alone in the bathroom, he locked the door on habit and ran a face cloth under warm water. It was as he washed his face that he saw something interesting.

There was a shaving razor sitting on the sink. This wasn’t unusual, it was always there, but for some reason it seemed so interesting right now. Abe picked it up and absently noted that it had five little razors in the head. Each one seemed so small, but he knew that they were really sharp. The more he stared at it, the more his mind numbed to everything but that little razor. It was so much easier to forget about all the unpleasant things in life and concentrate on this curious object in front of him.

As he stared at it, a thought came to his mind. He knew it was sharp enough to cut through hair, but could it cut through skin? Abe had nicked himself before using the razor, but that was only a shallow cut. Would it be possible to go deeper with it? The more he looked at it, the more curious he became until he decided he had to test it out. Looking at his left wrist, it seemed like a good enough spot.

Abe brought the razor down to meet his wrist and pressed it into his skin. He paused for a moment as his breath quickened at the idea of what was going to happen, his palms becoming sweaty. Was he excited for it, nervous? Did he really want to do this? But before he could process it any more, he swiped the razor across his wrist, flinching a little at the pain it caused. He saw the skin tear apart as little red trails formed, but they didn’t seem deep enough to him. This was a sharp razor; he should be able to cut even deeper than that. So he put the razor to his wrist again, applying more pressure than before, and swiped while ignoring the pain he felt. And then did it again.

After the third time, he could taste something metallic in his mouth. It gave him just enough of a stimulus that he paused and looked at his handiwork. His eyes traced the marks on his wrist and watched as the blood pooled and trickled off to the side, threatening to fall to the floor. Abe caught it just in time as he moved his hand into the sink and set the water running over it to wash away the blood. But of course he couldn’t wash it away. As water pushed one layer of blood off his skin, more just took its place.

Abe watched with dead eyes as his blood flowed out his wrist and down the drain.

In a sudden moment of clarity, Abe realized that his blood wouldn’t be able to coagulate while it was under the faucet. Removing it from the warm water of the faucet, the cuts were exposed to the open air and it sent a little sting through Abe. It was that sting that brought the reality of the situation crashing down on him. That he had just slit his wrist open with a shaving razor.

Immediately, a deep sense of shame set in. He couldn’t even pinpoint why he felt that way, but it was definitely the first feeling he recognized. However, his strongest emotion was horror at how numb he felt throughout the whole thing. The simple fact that he was able to do it so calmly unnerved him to the core. What kind of monster was he that he would do this to himself? Not even once, but three times he had done it! Three times he dug into his skin. Abe shuddered and quickly went to get the gauze to stop the bleeding. As he pressed the gauze down, he began to cry. And he hated himself for crying, too. For being weak like that. Men didn’t cry. But even as he hated himself for it, the tears would not stop.

Abe pulled the gauze away after a few minutes and winced at the sight. There were at least half a dozen horizontal lines on his wrist, the ones in the middle deeper and longer than the others. It didn’t look like it was bleeding anymore, so they must not have been that deep after all, but that still left a problem. How was he supposed to hide this? If he bandaged it, it would be obvious that something was there and he didn’t think he could come up with a believable enough excuse for the lines. Leaving it bare increased the possibility of infection, but would be easier to hide with long sleeves. Maybe he could dig up an old watch of his. In the end, concealment outweighed infection and he decided to leave it as it was.

A few days must have passed without Abe knowing because it was suddenly Saturday. He couldn’t even remember a single conversation he’d had since that night. The all-consuming fear that someone might discover that he slit his wrist blocked nearly everything else out. He must have responded correctly in conversations because no one called him out on it or asked if he was alright. That realization didn’t help him much. Did anyone care at all? Would he have to shove the evidence in their face before anyone saw it?

No, Mihashi had seen through him before. When Abe had thought no one cared and was hiding everything so carefully, Mihashi had confronted him and made him see reason. But he had been avoiding Mihashi lately, hadn’t he? When was the last time they had talked? Abe seemed to recall a conversation about correcting his form, but it all seemed so vague, so hazy. He must have talked to him after that, but for the life of him Abe could not recall it.

It was in this trance that Abe walked to baseball practice, the route so familiar to him that it only took a fraction of his attention, letting his mind wander. All he could think about was how no one cared. That everyone was so absorbed in their own lives to worry about anyone else’s. The dreams he had of making it to Koshien, the ones he’d been so sure of and trained like hell for seemed so… insignificant. What was the point of going to the Koshien? Even after all that hard work, they hadn’t made it. Abe had screwed them over by not making Mihashi see reason and stick with his weird form for a little longer. They could try again in a few months, but if they didn’t make it now, why would they make it later? They’d just fail again…

Abe got dressed in the changing room in silence, avoiding Mihashi as best he could. He took special care as he put on his long sleeve shirt that when he took off his watch no one would be able to see his wrist. If he kept the watch on, it obstructed his baseball glove. Mentally psyching himself up, Abe went outside to join everyone at practice. Even though he knew it was in vain.

It was easy for Abe to go through the motions, many of them ingrained in him for years. Catch the pitch, check for runners, throw it back. Watch the pitch, hear the crack, watch the ball soar, follow the throws, catch the pass. Step up to bat, watch the pitch, miss the ball. Readjust, watch the pitch, hit the ball, see it caught, out. Give the sign, watch the pitch, dammit Mihashi was back to his old form a-

“Coach!” someone yelled.

“Is he alright?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

That last one was Mihashi, Abe thought as he opened his eyes. He had closed them? And why did his head hurt? Oh, Mihashi’s pitch must have gone astray since his form shifted. Abe didn’t catch it. He could feel his cheeks flame up a little bit; as a catcher, he really should have been able to catch that. Focusing in now that his vision was clearing up, Abe saw the team huddled around him. His embarrassment only grew worse.

“Tajima, Mihashi, take him to the bench. Get him some water while I get Shige. Everyone else, back to practice,” Momoe said as she assessed Abe’s head. He could feel her hand take off his mask and her hands moved over the back of his head, trying to see if there was any blood. Satisfied that there wasn’t, she turned and ran off to find Mr. Shige to help.

“Alright, everyone, let’s go!” Hanai yelled out, rallying up the team.

“Osu!”

Abe pushed himself up with Tajima and Mihashi supporting him on either side and together the trio marched over to the bench. They set him down gingerly and began to take off his numerous catcher’s pads as he leaned his head back to try and stop the ache he felt. The mask had absorbed most of the impact, but the recoil when he hit the ground still hurt. He was so focused on the pain in his head that he forgot to worry about his little secret until it was too late.

“Abe,” Mihashi squeaked as he let out an involuntary gasp. Abe looked up and saw Mihashi holding Abe’s glove in one hand, the other on his wrist, exposing the scars he had there. Abe yanked it away, but Mihashi had already seen, already understood. Eyes darting to the side, Abe saw that Tajima had seen them, too. That two people now knew his secret. He felt the panic rising up inside him, all the telltale signs of quick breathing and the heavy weight in his chest. He had to go. Now.

“It’s fine,” he said. No one believed him, but with the both of them there, he wouldn’t be able to force his way through without hurting someone.

“It’s not fine,” Mihashi pressed.

“I can’t do this right now, Mihashi.”

“Abe, please, just tell me what’s wrong.”

“No, I-I have to go,” Abe declared as he stood to leave, Tajima and Mihashi standing with him. Abe could feel his rationality slipping. It had already been so fragile to begin with since that day, and this, this was pushing him over the edge.

“You’re hurt,” Mihashi protested.

“I don’t care,” Abe said as he brushed past his teammates, but then Mihashi reached out and grabbed his hand, the left one. Abe winced in pain and slapped his hand away, accidentally hitting Mihashi in the process. Stunned, Abe watched Mihashi fall and hit the bench before impacting the ground with a thud. His brain froze as it tried to process everything. He had hurt Mihashi for what, the fourth time now? How many Goddamn times was he going to go through this before he learned his lesson? How many times did his friend have to suffer while only trying to help before Abe stopped hurting him? How many times could Abe apologize before Mihashi would stop forgiving him? He didn’t want to find out.

So Abe ran. He heard Tajima shout something in the distance, but he didn’t stop to listen. Like a frightened animal, he was only concerned with his flight instincts, prompting him to run as far as he could. He got to the gate before he realized that he didn’t want to go home. And if he went into town like this, surely someone would notice and ask questions and he didn’t feel like trying to pretend everything was fine or tell the truth. The woods were also out of the question; he’d get lost and never make it back. So, where could he go in the school? Not the baseball field, not a classroom… the roof.

Mind made up, Abe raced to the roof and wasn’t surprised to find it open; in a peaceful school like Nishiura, their security for these things was low. Perfect for when people do want to take advantage of it, like him. He shut the door behind him and took a moment to close his eyes and feel the wind around him. He felt so free, until the throbbing in the back of his head came in and yanked him back down. Tired, he leaned against the wall and tried to even out his breathing. When he could breathe again, he opened his eyes and looked around.

The roof was empty, a little dirty from lack of cleaning, and the only noticeable feature was the entryway he came in on. They didn’t even have one of those fences around the edges to prevent people from falling. Or jumping. Not that Abe wanted to jump. No, he didn’t, really, but it did look very interesting…

Abe walked forwards until he was a few steps away from the edge and looked down. It was at least 40 feet until the ground. Idly, he wondered how much it would hurt to fall. Would he die instantly? If he landed wrong, maybe, but otherwise he would probably just be in a lot of pain. Most likely incur some permanent injury that would prevent him from playing baseball ever again. That might be nice. He wouldn’t have to worry about the Koshien anymore; the option would just be permanently gone to him. But that looked like it would really hurt.

“Abe!” a voice called out from behind him. He almost gave himself whiplash with the speed he turned around at. There, at the roof entrance, was none other than his favorite idiotic pitcher. Abe registered the fear marring his usually dopey face, contorting and twisting it into something Abe didn’t want to see. So Abe looked away and his eyes fell back to the ground again, making out all the objects there and if any of them would be a good place to land.

“Abe, come back here!” Mihashi called out again. Abe ignored him and continued staring at the ground.

“Abe, please!”

“Why?” he said quietly, but the wind must have carried his voice because Mihashi responded back.

“Because I don’t want you to jump.”

“Well maybe I do!” Abe shouted as he turned around to face Mihashi. He could see his friend’s eyes widen even more in fear, but Abe couldn’t bring himself to care. Not about him, not about baseball, not about… anything.

“Maybe I’m tired of this. Of hurting you all the time, of screwing everything up, of failing, of never being the best.” All the memories, real and imaginary, of the times his dad had told him that he needed to do better in school, that an A- still wasn’t good enough. Of failing to be Haruna’s catcher so he drove himself into the ground working for it only to have Haruna be the worst pitcher. That last game when Abe let them down and ruined their chances of the Koshien.

“You don’t have to be the best,” Mihashi called out to him, yanking him back to reality. He hadn’t realized it, but he had taken a step close to the edge of the roof. When did he do that? Did he really want to jump? The thought electrified him, adrenaline pumping through him so fast it was making his head spin.

Everything was at war with everything else inside him. His instincts to live, to be free from this pain. The sense of frustration he felt for hurting Mihashi, the longing to be held in his arms again. The fear of the unknown of what death would feel like, the fear of what tomorrow would bring. His footsteps brought him one step farther away from safety.

“I do have to be the best. If I’m not, what’s the point.”

“The point is you tried, you had learned and grew. I’ve made mistakes, but you helped me get past them. Let me help you now!” Mihashi tried to reason. It sounded so good, that he could just go to him and be saved. But then tomorrow, he could lose his restraint again and hurt him. Why hurt his friend when he could hurt himself instead?

“You can’t help.”

“Let me try.”

“You have tried! You’ve been trying, this whole time! And it hasn’t gotten any better. I still hurt myself. I still hurt you. We didn’t make it to the Koshien. I failed that test-”

“I’m fine, Abe! And we can go to Koshien next year. And you can bring your test up.” But Abe shook his head. Mihashi didn’t get it, didn’t understand that Abe couldn’t change. That he would always be this way, always second rate and failing. He tried so hard before, but now, he was just too tired of it all. Maybe he would jump. Maybe that would be for the best. It’d certainly put an end to this cycle of worrying and cease the warring in his head. He stepped up to the edge of the roof.

“Even if I brought my grades up, I still wouldn’t be the best. And if I’m not the best, what’s the point? I’m not number one in the class, on the team, not even in my own family. So really, it wouldn’t matter if I wasn’t here.” Abe turned away from Mihashi and looked down. He could feel the blood pumping in his ears, everything still fighting everything else. He just wanted it all to stop. And if jumping was the only way, so be it.

“You’re number one to me!” Mihashi screamed, his voice cutting through the air like a lance. Abe turned his head back to see him, properly now. Tears streaming down his face, he was walking slowly towards him.

“You’re my number one! Always! Since, since the beginning, and a long time now, you’ve had that place. After you saved me at Mihoshi and, and taught me I wasn’t worthless. When you wouldn’t give up on me and continued to catch. You’re, you’re my most important person! And then I saw you in pain, and I wanted to help and I couldn’t. It hurt me to see you like that, seeing the one I cared for the most struggling so much. So, please, please! I love you and I want you to stay here. If you won’t do it for yourself, please, do it for me. Please don’t go. I love you so much.”

Abe stood there, at the edge of the roof, dumbfounded. All the turmoil blew away in an instant with the clarity of the words just thrown at him. Every thought about feeling worthless and depressed, gone. He could only feel the overwhelming warmth radiating from Mihashi, the pure unadulterated love enveloping him. The adrenaline still buzzed through him and his breathing had yet to slow down, but his mind was clear. He could see the rest of Mihashi as his friend slumped on the roof, still staring at him with pleading eyes.

Abe took a step back and away from the edge. And then he turned around and walked towards the center of the roof where his pitcher was, still bawling his eyes out. Abe could feel himself tremble as the adrenaline wore off and his throat was still scratchy, but at least his mind was clear. As he walked, Mihashi jumped up and met him halfway, throwing his arms around him and burying his head in his shoulder. Abe noticed the tear marks on his shoulder, but didn’t mind them. He was glad to feel anything at the moment.

“Thanks, Ren,” Abe said as he reciprocated the hug. Mihashi nodded in his shoulder and hiccupped a few times, causing Abe to chuckle. Well, as much as he could chuckle when he was still trying to breathe properly.

“I-I was so scared,” Mihashi confessed.

“I know.”

“I-I really thought… I really thought that…”

“I know, but I didn’t. I’m here,” Abe confirmed and Mihashi nodded again. It was then that Abe looked up and saw Tajima standing in the doorway. Panic rose in Abe as his breath hitched before he forced himself to calm down and look. Tajima was pale as a sheet and shaking like leaf. He had been scared, too. Calm enough now, Abe rolled his eyes and motioned for Tajima to come, too. The teen perked up and ran over, joining them in their hug fest.

“I’m glad you’re here, Abe,” Tajima said and Abe could feel the sincerity in his voice. Not that he thought Tajima would want him gone, but usually guys were too manly to admit stuff like that seriously. But Tajima was one of a kind after all.

“Yeah, me, too.”

“Oh, wait a second,” Tajima said as he turned his head around, “Hanai, come join us.”

“I’m coming!” Hanai yelled in a grumble as he came out through the door, too, shuffling his feet and avoiding eye contact.

“Is there anyone else there?” Abe asked, not sure how many people he could handle knowing about this little misadventure. Hanai came over to them, still looking awkward about the whole situation. Abe didn’t mind, it was a pretty awkward situation to be in and Abe normally wasn’t a huggy person either. It was just hard to not be huggy when Mihashi was bawling his eyes out and wrapped around you like a boa constrictor.

“Nah, just us. We were the only ones that followed Mihashi up here. Hanai, join the group hug.”

“…No way.”

“Come on, Hanai~~” Tajima sang.

“You’re not gonna win this one,” Abe pointed out. Abe smirked as Hanai rolled his eyes and gave in to join them. He lasted for all of 5 seconds before he pulled away and Tajima pulled away with him. There was a limit to how much of their pride they could shove aside, even in a situation like this.

“What now?” Tajima asked, directing the question at Abe. That was a good question and one he hadn’t thought about. But right now, the future was looking a whole lot brighter than it did a few minutes ago and it didn’t seem to weigh down on him so much. The only thing weighing down on him was a certain brunet who would not let go. Not that he cared much at the moment.

“I’ll tell coach something and she’ll figure out what to tell the rest of the team. If you guys could not tell anyone, at least not details, I’d appreciate it.” Tajima accepted the answer with a nod and Hanai gave a grunt that was something like he’d be caught dead before telling anyone he joined in this group hug.

“Ren, you can let go now, we have to go back to practice,” Abe gently pried his friend off of him. Mihashi nodded before he looked up at Abe, now registering the fact Abe had called him by his first name. Abe laughed at the surprised confusion written all of his face.

“You can call me Takaya, too, y’know.” Mihashi bobbed his head up and down to show he understood before he looked back at him earnestly.

“Takaya.” It was too much for Abe; he looked away and at the rooftop as a blush crept up his neck. How could Mihashi say it so straightforwardly like that? And now Tajima was laughing at him. Still, it could be worse. He chanced a glance back at the rooftop behind him, the memory of standing there and looking down already feeling like so long ago. Yeah, he agreed, it could be a lot worse.

Chapter Text

Mihashi could not believe the strength of emotions he had gone through in the past hour. First, there was a sense of surrealism when he opened the rooftop door and saw Abe walking to the edge. He almost wanted to laugh because surely this was a dream. But then Abe moved and looked over the edge and the reality of everything came crashing into him. Abe was close to the edge of the roof, emotionally distressed and not thinking straight. Any wrong word or movement could push him too far.

So then Mihashi was determined to get him away from the edge. He tried anything he could think of to convince Abe to come back. He pleaded with him, reasoned with him, begged him, but it only pushed Abe away and closer to the edge. And as Abe got closer, Mihashi became more and more afraid that he would lose him.

There was no comparison to how supremely terrified he was when he saw Abe standing on the curb of the roof looking down. The fear filled his blood and turned his whole body cold even as he was sweating. His vision tunneled, leaving only Abe and the roof edge visible. And he knew that unless he said something convincing right now, that might be the last he ever saw of his friend. That thought was enough for him to get over any mental barrier he had made about not telling Abe how he felt, overrode any fear he had that Abe might reject him or that someone would find out and ridicule him. Blew all those fears away instantly.

He forgot to be careful with his words and said exactly what was on his mind, in his heart, hoping and praying that these words would be enough to convince his friend to stay. At some point, Abe turned to stare at him, but he rambled on and on, laying everything he thought he would never say out to bear. When he had no words left to say, he lost all the strength he had built up and fell to the floor. He could only stare at Abe and silently plead that he would listen to him and accept his words.

And then Abe stepped back.

Mihashi hadn’t even realized that he had been crying until he tried to concentrate on his friend and found the tears in his way. He didn’t bother to wipe them away, new ones were forming anyway, and instead forced his legs to move so he could touch his friend to make sure he was still there. He had been sorely tempted to latch onto Abe’s arm and never let go, or follow him around forever and constantly remind him just how much Mihashi would miss him if he was gone. Because as much as Mihashi thought he loved Abe before, it was nothing compared to how he felt afterwards. He settled for squeezing the life out of him right now.

Mihashi left the roof feeling incredibly thankful. He counted every blessing he had that Abe left the roof walking away and not in some stretcher or a body bag or… No, Abe was okay. Everything was okay. And even though Mihashi would have nightmares about this forever, right now he didn’t want to think of that. He just wanted to be happy that Abe was still there.

He also wasn’t going to think about how he confessed his feelings and would now be waiting for Abe’s response. That could wait, too.

They had met Hamada on the way down the stairs, and he took Hanai and Tajima ahead to round the team up and continue practice. Once the captain arrived, the team would quickly fall into place. Mihashi looked up at Abe from his spot next to him and saw him resolutely staring at the ground, deep in concentration. He was probably worrying about what to say to Coach Momoe.

“A-Takaya,” Mihashi prompted, and Abe looked broke his staring contest with the ground to look up at him. Mihashi couldn’t help it, a small smile came to his face when he saw him looking at him patiently. They had really come so far together in such a short time. “It’ll be okay. Just tell her whatever you want to tell her. She won’t push you to say more if you don’t want to, but she’ll listen to what you have to say without judging.”

Abe’s eyebrows furrowed together, about to say something like there’s no way Mihashi could know that most likely, but then he snapped his mouth shut, stared for a moment and then sighed.

“I know. It’s just… I don’t know where to start.”

“Wherever you want. Perhaps… the beginning?” Mihashi suggested. Abe rolled his eyes, but Mihashi could see a hint of a smile.

“Easy for you to say,” Abe retorted. Mihashi just smiled back, and it only took a moment before Abe smiled, too.

They parted ways when they reached the field, the team already back in the swing of things. Abe went and found Coach Momoe, and the pair left to go talk in the team room. Mihashi was tempted to follow him, still uncomfortable leaving him alone after what just happened, but knew he couldn’t. It wouldn’t help Abe any to always have Mihashi around; it would just soothe Mihashi’s fear that Abe would succumb to another panic attack without him there to help. So Mihashi let him go and threw himself into practice.

Practice passed by in a blur for him, catching and throwing baseballs on automatic. No one on the team minded, and Mihashi realized that everyone was just as preoccupied as he was about how their catcher was doing. He looked at each of their faces and saw that they were on automatic, too, lost in their own thoughts. Of course Abe freaking out and running off would affect them, he thought belatedly. Abe wasn’t just his stone, he was the team’s stone. Yes, he could get angry and a little emotional, but he was the one they went to for advice on baseball usually. He was the one executing their plan and directing them on the field in the middle of the game.

He knew it shouldn’t, but their worry made him happy. It justified all the things he already knew, that the team needed Abe. If only he could see it, too, that they needed him so much. Those weeks when he had broken his leg were awful. They managed somehow, but they all knew that the team was missing one of their important players. The whole team was so relieved when he was fit enough to come back and they could kick butt again.

Mihashi was dragged from his thoughts when Abe and Coach Momoe exited the team room, her arm slung around his shoulder. Mihashi wondered what they talked about, how much Abe had decided to tell her because clearly that arm was meant to comfort, to guide. Even from here it was obvious that he’d been crying, and Mihashi was relieved to know that he hadn’t been crying alone.

As the two of them got closer, Abe smiled up at her and said something, to which Momoe nodded and removed her hand from his shoulder. As Abe approached the field, everyone stopped what they were doing to go see him, knowing instinctively that he had something to say. Abe’s eyes scanned the group, lingering on Mihashi at the end before giving a small smile and taking a deep breath. Mihashi found himself doing the same.

“I’m sorry for interrupting practice, I just needed to get away from everything, but it’s all good now,” Abe said quickly as he bowed forward, trying to get the words out as fast as he could. Mihashi let out the breath he’d been holding, and nearly jumped when everyone else around him did, too.

“You had us really scared, there,” Sakaeguchi said with a nervous laugh, to the nods of everyone else.

“I know,” Abe said simply, but Mihashi could see the panic rising in him. It hit Mihashi then, how awkward this situation must be for him, facing his team after that. He should say or do something to help.

“Abe’s okay now!” Mihashi announced loudly. He internally winced at how loud that came out, but then everyone began to laugh and the awkwardness washed away.

“Gad you’re back, man,” Izumi said after a moment, clapping Abe on the shoulder. After that, everyone began having their own conversations, wanting to say something about the situation and how they felt during it to someone, but Mihashi wasn’t paying attention to that at all. His eyes were glue to the smile on Abe’s face, the panic he saw replaced by the happiness of acceptance.

“Okay, okay, let’s get back to practice everyone!” Hanai commanded loudly, his voice carrying over everyone. They all yelled their agreement and went back to practice. Mihashi and Abe fell into their usual roles and it seemed that everything went back to normal.

But everything was not back to normal, everything was very different.

Mihashi went home that night with way too many thoughts in his head and he knew there was very little chance of him sleeping. He showered and ate dinner normally, and even managed to get his homework done, not that he had that much, before he collapsed on his bed, stared at the ceiling and let his brain go.

He still had so many things he wanted to say to Abe, even after he thought he said everything already. Mostly because he knew that his communication with Abe was usually misconstrued somehow. Maybe Abe misunderstood him earlier when he said he was his number one, maybe he didn’t think of it in the romantic sense that Mihashi did. It was also entirely possible that he would forget what he said earlier or think he was lying or something and relapse tonight.

That fear gripped him hard and Mihashi quickly went and grabbed his phone and opened it up to Abe’s number, but stopped there. He just stared at the number, wondering if he should call or text him. If he did, did that mean he didn’t trust Abe? That he thought Abe was the kind of person he’d have to worry over? Abe wouldn’t like that at all, he liked to be strong. But if Abe did need his help, he really should call him…

Mihashi sat there, staring at his phone as silent tears fell. He had no idea what the right thing to do was. He could do what he thought was the right thing, but if he screwed up it wasn’t his life in jeopardy. The number stared back at him, taunting him, but he was immobile.

And then he got a text from Abe.

“Make sure you get some sleep tonight,” was all it said. Mihashi almost laughed, of course Abe would be worrying about Mihashi just like Mihashi was worrying about him. He didn’t know why he thought any different. Abe has always been looking out for him since they became pitcher and catcher. As his laughter died down, he got another one.

“And thank you.” Mihashi smiled and decided he should text something back so he wrote “Goodnight Abe” before he remembered their conversation and changed it to “Goodnight Takaya.” He pressed send before he could second guess himself, as he was prone to do.

Mihashi leaned back on the bed, closing his eyes before he felt the familiar buzz of his phone under his hand. “Goodnight Ren.” He felt a blush creep up his cheeks and was glad that he was able to do this through the phone so Abe couldn’t see. And then, with a silly and too big grin on his face, Mihashi fell asleep.

The next few weeks passed with a tranquility Mihashi didn’t think was possible. Everything just seemed right to him. Now that Abe finally got most of his issues out into the open, Mihashi didn’t pretend to think that Abe had revealed everything about himself, everyone was entitled to a few secrets after all, but it was a good start. He also knew that bringing things to light didn’t fix them, but acceptance that there was an issue was the first step. And now that Abe had taken the first, step, the others would follow. Or so Mihashi hoped.

So he was really surprised when Abe talked to him out of the blue about it.

“I was thinking of going to counseling,” Abe blurted out. They were at Mihashi’s house, just hanging out because it was still the off season and baseball practice hadn’t quite kicked in yet and they were both bored. Abe had put on some baseball games for a while, but then they moved to just watching re-run movies on TV and they were currently watching some terrible action movie Mihashi forgot the name of when Abe spoke up suddenly.

“Really?” Mihashi asked, quite unsure what to say. They hadn’t talked about anything like that since the rooftop incident. Mihashi was just a little bit curious as to what made him change his mind since he was adamantly against it before.

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t know where or how I’m going to, but I want to. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think this is my best chance to get better,” Abe admitted quickly. Mihashi couldn’t think of anything to say so he just nodded as his brain caught up with everything, so Abe decided to fill the silence. “I was so scared of it before, and I still am. The thought of going terrifies me, but I don’t want to live like this. Afraid of myself and what I’ll do. And if going to counseling can help me, then I have to try it, right?”

At the end of his rant, Abe turned away from the screen to look at Mihashi, his voice shaking just a little bit. Mihashi didn’t have to be close to him to know that Abe’s heart was beating loudly in his chest. He could see the tension in his body, his muscles taught as if braced against an impending attack. But then, his eyes were clear and staring right into Mihashi’s.

Smiling, Mihashi reached over to grab his hands, feeling just a little awkward about it. The tension melted out of Abe at his touch, Abe’s eyes drifting downwards to look at their hands. Mihashi fought the blush rising from his neck to his cheeks and focused back on the conversation they were having.

“It’s… a great idea,” Mihashi confirmed as Abe brought his eyes back up to look at him, those really deep and mesmerizing dark eyes… “Not just the counseling, but… that you want to do something about it. I’m happy… for you.”

“Yeah. Once I realized I didn’t have to live like this, that I could in fact change this part of myself, it was easy to decide to go.” Mihashi nodded, his focus drifting the longer he held his gaze with Abe, the stare growing more and more intense. After a few seconds, Mihashi couldn’t handle it anymore and brought his eyes down to their hands, and quite against his better judgment began to absently rub his thumbs on Abe’s palms.

“I just… needed a push… a reason to want to change. And you gave me that, and I know I’ve said thank you before, and this all seems so repetitive, but I don’t think I can say it enough. Without you, I know it would have taken me a lot longer to realize this, if I ever did. I could have gone a long time like this without-”

“Takaya,” Mihashi said deciding that Abe would ramble about this forever if he let him. Abe never was good with expressing himself in words, heck, neither was Mihashi, but maybe that’s why Mihashi didn’t need him to say anything. He already knew that. He already knew that Abe was incredibly thankful when even his frustration with Mihashi during practice could be tempered by gratitude. That Abe waited for him to say things, no matter how long it took. That Abe came to him when he felt like the world was spinning out of control.

“I know. And you don’t have to… continue to thank me. I… wanted to help you…” Mihashi trailed off, not wanting to bring up the subject of his feelings. That was another thing they hadn’t talked about since the rooftop incident, but Mihashi was glad of that. If they never brought it up again, he was sure he’d be okay with that. He already had a deep bond of trust with Abe; he didn’t need to bring romantic feelings into the mess. Even if he wanted to.

Abe must have picked up on it though, because his face nearly drained of color and his eyes went wide. Mihashi felt himself do the same, picking up on Abe’s nervousness and then adding his own to the fact that he had no idea what Abe was thinking at the moment. He scanned Abe’s face trying desperately to read something there, but he would just have to wait for him to say something. Luckily, he didn’t have to wait long.

“I… I never responded to you, did I?” Abe voiced after a second.

“That’s okay,” Mihashi immediately jumped into the rescue, his voice high and chirpy, “you had a lot on your mind… You were dealing with your own problems… which is good!”

“No, it’s not okay, I should have thought of that and said something earlier. You’ve been in limbo this whole time, wondering what my answer would be…”

“Takaya,” Mihashi said, his own nervousness disappearing as he realized just why Abe was freaking out. Abe was worried about him, that he had hurt him somehow. The thought actually brought a smile to his face. It was his own insecurity that doubted it every time, but time and time again Abe had proved that he cared about Mihashi. How could he be upset when Abe was trying so hard and saying that he cared in so many ways? “I’m fine. I know you weren’t avoiding it, you just had other things on your mind.”

Abe nodded, the color coming back to his face and the anxiety Mihashi saw swelling in him flowing back out. And then Abe gave a short laugh.

“You’re one weird guy, you know that?” Mihashi did in fact know that, but not how it pertained to this instance so he gave Abe a blank look, prompting him to continue. “It’s just, most people would get mad or something, but you comfort me instead.”

After thinking about it for a second, Mihashi laughed a little too. They really were just an odd pair. Mihashi with his inability to communicate usually and general insecurity about himself, and Abe with his temper and self-consciousness, but Mihashi didn’t really care. It worked for them.

“So, would you mind if I gave it some more thought? About what my feelings are… towards you?” Abe asked, shifting slightly in his seat on the couch. Which brought Mihashi’s attention to the fact that they were still holding hands and he immediately let go, nodding his head in answer to Abe’s question.

Just like that, the moment was broken and Mihashi tuned back into the movie they were watching as the main character was dueling the villain. Abe settled back into the couch as well, but Mihashi didn’t think either of them was paying attention to the movie. Abe was too busy trying to sort out his feelings and Mihashi was replaying their conversation in his head.

Mihashi was so proud of Abe for deciding to get help. It couldn’t have been easy, he knew, to change his way of thinking to accept that. But he had, all on his own. Well, Mihashi thought as he stole a sideways glance, mostly on his own.