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Abe opened his eyes to a throbbing pain along his left side and the hum-and-click of the oscillating fan. The whir of the fan woke him. It took Abe a few moments to figure out where he was - in the sitting room downstairs in his parents’ house instead of upstairs on his futon in his room. For a moment he wasn’t sure why he wasn’t upstairs and started to shift his weight. A sharp jolt crackled along his leg, accenting the persistent dull throb that he was only just noticing. His leg felt heavy and separate from him, both numb and too sensitive at once. Abe groaned.

His vision was blurry from sleep and the residual effects of the painkillers he’d taken before he’d fallen asleep. The bottle of CC Lemon next to him was nearly empty. He’d told his dad that vitamin C wouldn’t help the torn cartilage around his knee heal any faster and gotten a stern look for his trouble. Don’t upset your mother, his dad had said.

Abe felt around to his left. His father had wanted him to tough through it as much as he could, rather than go through the trouble of withdrawal once the prescription for those pills ran out, but his mother had wanted him to be able to medicate his pain without too much trouble. Their compromise was a sake cup with a few pills in it at a time, that they refilled once in the morning and once before bed, rationing them out so they were available but not quite so tempting. Sometimes Abe was just irritated they didn’t trust his judgment, but other times - late at night when he was alone in the dark with the ache of his leg and absolutely no desire to think about his broken promises - he was glad the supply was limited. The medication didn’t necessarily take all his pain away, but it certainly made him care less that he was hurting, and after a tough loss it was a welcome break from his regretful thoughts.

He held the little cup of pills, and sighed. Broken promises didn’t hurt quite so much anymore - not so sharply anyway - since the guys had been to visit. Since Mihashi had heard his apology. No, that’s not right either - since Mihashi had smiled. Abe felt something warm unfurl in his chest. The throbbing in his knee was becoming more insistent. Abe growled and took one pill with the last of the CC Lemon.

Mihashi, exasperating as he could be, had surprised him with all of it - the smile, his strength when Abe was terrified and shaking and unable to stand, his bravery on the mound without his regular catcher, his new interest in helping Abe to make the lead. It made Abe wish even more intensely that he hadn’t been so careless in making promises.

Abe closed his eyes, sighing and shifting his weight as he tried to make his leg more comfortable. After a few moments of blanket-rustling he settled down, relaxing against his pillows as best he could. Mihashi had seemed almost like a normal guy at dinner, happy and excited even though they'd lost. Even though Abe had messed things up. Almost absently Abe brought his hand up under his shirt, lightly scratching at his belly. There was a tingling sensation along his skin - the first sign that the medicine was hitting his system - and a little something else that he couldn't quite place that felt like someone was untying all those knots in the muscle of his leg.

In the dark, half-thinking about the way Mihashi's face had lit up, his fingers felt almost unfamiliar over the skin of his stomach. Broad finger-tips and the callouses of his palm reminded Abe of that time in the shrubs behind Mihoshi Gakuen, trying to imagine all the work that went into toughening up the skin on Mihashi's pitching hand. It felt good, pressing the not-quite-roughness of his calloused palm against the inside of his hip to soothe the upward-creeping ache from his knee. It felt good, drawing the pads of his fingers over the thickening trail of hair on his stomach. It felt good to think about the way Mihashi's eyes had crinkled shut and his cheeks got red when he smiled, and how different it was from the way his eyes crinkled and his face flushed when he cried.

Abe let his hand creep down and to the left, rubbing out knots of tension in his thighs through his sleep-pants. The contrast of firm muscle under soft jersey-cotton was satisfying in a way Abe couldn't explain - the texture and sensation seemed to spread all along him, like it was moving through his system with the painkillers, locking into chemical receptors in his brain and forcing him to relax and just drift. His fingers moved across his hip, along the flat (if hairy) base of his stomach, just above the drawstring waist of his pants. It felt good, floating along in that hazy area between pain relief and drowsiness.

When his thumb drew along the line of his dick, even through two layers of cotton, Abe exhaled in a short sharp burst. Mihashi and baseball shifted in Abe's mind, sliding closer and then further from the front of his thoughts, woven in with the sensations of the medicine, his aching leg, his guilt, and the wickedly pleasant feel of his hand on his dick. He let his vision un-focus, making the ceiling of the sitting room look almost like the one in that tiny room they'd all slept in at training camp. He could remember the fluttering sound of Mihashi's night-time breathing. He could remember the feel of Mihashi's calloused palm and fingers, and he was just relaxed enough not to think about what it might mean that through his pants, he could almost jumble up the memory and the sensation of his own hand.

Through the cloth, Abe cupped himself, exploring the shape of his slowly-hardening cock. His breath hitched. He slid his hand down, palm open, with a deliberate pressure that made his toes curl in his socks. Abe struggled to swallow a groan, remembering the close quarters in training camp - almost able to feel the residual heat on either side of him. He bit down on a breathy groan, and palmed the shaft of his dick until it had woken up completely.

Abe's other hand was still trailing lazily over his belly, enjoying the texture of his own hair and skin, remembering from the locker room how smooth Mihashi's skin looked. All of Mihashi, really, looked small and smooth and soft. He didn't look like he should be able to throw 9 innings, didn't look like he had any stamina at all. He didn't look like he could stand firm about anything, until he was on the mound - but he was tougher than anybody Abe'd ever known. All contradictions, Abe heard float through his mind, even as he was untying his drawstring and sliding his fingers under the fabric. He had to work the waistband of his boxer-briefs down with his thumbs, sucking in air once his dick was free.

He just couldn't stop thinking about his pitcher - his pitcher. The grip Abe took on his dick was tentative at first, gentle and a little unsure. His hands weren't calloused in the same places as Mihashi's, but the heel and crown of his left palm were rough from catching and in his dream-like state of relaxation it was close enough. Abe worked himself with a slowly increasing pace, like the rhythm of catch-ball as Mihashi built his confidence before a game. He was tingly, sensitive from the medicine, and it didn't take long.

When Abe came he went completely still, tense and quiet for a long moment before he shuddered and sighed. Relaxation swept him up, moving from his neck down his shoulders and along through his thighs, and his mind drifted. Mihashi's smile had felt like that - sudden and intense, sun-warm and radiant and infectious, moving through Abe and knocking the tension out of him. He was asleep before he realized it, sinking down into unconsciousness on a lazy stream of pleasant thoughts, medication and brain chemistry. He dreamed of the field, and the satisfying feel and sound of a ball hitting the mitt exactly where he called for it.

Abe was clean when he woke up, which raised some problematic questions about whether it was his mother or his father who had found him that morning, but that was a crisis that would have to wait. He could hear Shun babbling excitedly outside, but couldn't make out any words in the stream of happy noise. There was this strange sort of half-chirping sound that occasionally broke through, but Abe couldn't identify it until someone opened the side door.

"R-really, it's, it's not -- it's nothing that, that, that anybody couldn't learn," Mihashi -- good morning, that's awkward -- was trying to say. Funny, he seemed more coherent whenever Abe listened to him to talk to someone else. A pang of discomfort made Abe wince as he sat up, but how much of it was his leg and how much of it was residual embarrassment about the night before wasn't something he was ready to consider. Shun was in the middle of asking about the spin on the seams when Abe heard himself break in.

"It isn't!" Abe said, his voice a little thick from sleep and medicine and a wavering emotion he didn't recognize himself, "It isn't something just anyone can do, Shun."

Shun gave a whistle of surprise. "You look like a chestnut shell," he said, pointing at his brother's hair. Mihashi gasped and turned both pale and pink at the same time, nervous laughter squeezing out past his attempts to keep quiet.

"He does, doesn't he?" Shun said, voice a little too loud from the encouragement.

"He doesn't," Abe growled, feeling his ears burn as he raked a hand through his hair. "And I'm being serious, you little snake. Which pitches did he show you?"

Mihashi's shoulders quivered, but he stood firm. "S-slider."
"And the curve," Shun said. "Practically twelve-to-six, the arc it has, makes it feel like it's there all of a sudden even though it's slow."

"Besides, I know not anybody can pitch," Shun added, folding his arms over his chest in the exact same way he'd been doing since he was four and started proclaiming that he was not a baby! Abe sighed.

"I know you know," Abe said, and jerked his thumb at Mihashi. "It's this idiot who needs to hear it."

Abe gave Mihashi a look that was warm, if subtle, and watched another of those rare smiles begin to blossom on his face, unfolding like it was some precious thing in delicate wrapping.

"I didn't, d-didn't for...get," Mihashi hesitated, and Shun turned on his heel toward the kitchen, calling for their mom to make some eggs.

"Didn't forget it all," Mihashi said.

Abe reminded himself to be patient and waited.

After a few moments of goldfish-style mouth-flapping, Mihashi pulled a pair of notebooks from his bag, one blue and one yellow, and he made quite a show of handing the blue one over to Abe. "S-since we're, we're, s-stronger together, and and we're -- I -- for the, the ..."

"The lead," Abe said, almost under his breath, as he flipped through the pages of the book. Most of them, unsurprisingly, were empty, but the first few pages were full of statistics about the teams they'd played together: what pitches their battery had thrown, the lead Abe had called, which pitches had been hit or swung on, and in some few places, hesitantly noted down in wavering pencil, were Mihashi's thoughts from the mound about certain pitches and certain hitters - his pitcher's intuition. Mihashi had never been very good with the statistics the way most people learned them - batting averages on on-base percentages and number-crunching - but he knew his pitching. Because he worked so damn hard.

Abe's leg was aching, but that didn't matter because his chest felt hot and tight and full. "You're," Abe started, gripping the edges of the notebook, but Mihashi nodded.

"W-we, we're working hard," Mihashi said, his voice this fragile wisp of sound that didn't show how strong he was. "Together! A-and, I --"

Abe watched Mihashi chew on his lower lip. "I like working together," he said.

No qualifiers, no explanation.

For a little while the rush was enough to make the ache in Abe's leg feel far away, and it seemed like their language barrier wasn't anything more than the distance from the mound to Abe's mitt.