A/N at end of chapter! Enjoy

"Normal" – Dialog

"Italics" - thoughts

Chapter 7

Abe's nerves were fried. He honestly didn't know how much more he could take before he just started to scream and throw everything within reach. Either that or he would just storm out of the room. Pain momentarily shot through his temple, ensuring the formation of a throbbing headache soon to come. He glanced to his right, where the source of his anxiety and frustration sat. Abe couldn't help clenching his fists, irritated beyond reason, as he watched Mihashi slowly push food around on his plate, staring mindlessly with glazed-over eyes.

Abe was already on edge after walking Mihashi home, confused and worried about whatever was causing Mihashi to jump at anything that moved. But that quickly escaladed to extreme displeasure as he watched Mihashi's mother sprint out of the house, tears cascading down her face, visibly shaking, and hug Mihashi as if her life depended on it. Muffled words of "Why didn't you tell me where you were?" and "I was so worried, Ren. So worried" drifted out from the tight embrace like nails on a chalkboard. Of course Mihashi wouldn't have told his mother he was leaving the house. In fact, knowing Mihashi, he probably left after being ordered to stay in bed and rest.

Abe couldn't stop staring at the orange-haired boy, his own meal barely touched in consequence. "How could Mihashi be so selfish? Doesn't he know we care about him? That his team depends on him and his well-being? Why would he hide this from us? From me! Does he think he's protecting us? Making me guess how he could have possibly acquired those injuries? Who would do this…who would possibly do this to him?"

The thoughts circled endlessly, resulting only in more confusion and frustration. There were so many questions with only speculations as answers. The situation was clearly outside of Abe's grasp, making him feel off-balanced and irritated. Mihashi's mother, who had insisted she had eaten dinner earlier, was constantly popping her head into the dinning room to check if either of them needed anything. But it was obvious she was just as worried about Mihashi as he was, if not more. Evidently, Mihashi hadn't even told his own mother the source of his injuries, judging by her level of concern.

Dinner passed in silence. It was only broken when Mihashi, who had begun nodding off, accidently lost hold of his chopsticks, which clattered loudly on the ground.

Ok, enough of this.

"Mrs. Mihashi?" Abe called, knowing she was watching from just around the corner. His own voice felt rough and loud in the quiet room. "Do you have any pain pills for him? Four or five ibuprofen wouldn't hurt. I think he's eaten enough, so his stomach should be able to handle it. Also, I want to change his bandages before he goes to bed."

"Ah! Yes, of course!" Abe could already hear her rummaging quickly around the kitchen before appearing with some pain relief medicine and a glass of water.

Mihashi, clearly exhausted, simply popped the pills in his mouth and downed them with a sip of water, his movements slow and lethargic.

Abe pushed his chair back, moving to crouch by Mihashi's side. Almost on reflex, he pushed the hair back on Mihashi's forehead, quickly noting that the small pitcher was still feverish. He frowned, knowing that rest would be the best thing right now.

"Hey," Abe spoke quietly. "Come on, time for bed. I need to check your bandages too. I don't want anything to get infected."

Mihashi just nodded, too tired to argue or insist otherwise. Abe couldn't stop the sense of dread creeping in. He carefully helped Mihashi stand up, noticing him twitch briefly in pain as his stomach muscles stretched, and slowly walked him to his room and deposited him on his bed. Abe walked into the adjacent bathroom and found a plethora of bandages and wraps left there from when, he assumed, Mrs. Mihashi had attempted to aide her injured son earlier. Abe gathered whatever he could find, as well as locating a clean washcloth from the closet and wetting it down with warm water, before moving back to into the bedroom.

"Hey, don't fall asleep on me yet," Abe mumbled softly before crouching down in front of the dozing boy. "Come on, shirt off. The sooner this is done the sooner you can go to bed."

Mihashi blinked slowly, refusing to meet Abe's eyes, his face still flushed with fever. Like earlier, Mihashi's hands trembled as he tried to unbutton the large school uniform shirt Abe had lent him. Mihashi's ruined shirt had already been handed off to Mrs. Mihashi, who had cringed upon seeing it and quickly disappeared into the laundry room to try and scrub the bloodstains out. Being a mother of a son in sports, Abe was confident that Mrs. Mihashi would have the shirt good as new by the following morning.

Taking a deep sigh and refusing to let his embarrassment surface, Abe lightly grabbed Mihashi's hands, effectively halting their miserable attempt. He tried not to think about how Mihashi's ice-cold hands made his heart sink and his stomach drop. He tried not to dwell on how hurt Mihashi was, both in body and in mind. He tried but failed in swallowing the rage that was boiling inside him at the thought of whoever did this to his pitcher. And again, the dread of Mihashi never recovering from this threatened to fill and consume him.

"Let me."

Mihashi briefly glanced up at his catcher as Abe released his hands and started to unbutton his uniform. With the shirt carefully pushed off, Abe mechanically unwrapped previous bandages. His reaction to the darkening bruises, which were scattered across Mihashi's chest, wasn't quite as strong as earlier that day but it still made him cringe. Mentally taking note of any improvement or worsening, Abe gently cleaned the wounds and applied an antibacterial cream before wrapping them up with clean bandages. Once he was finished, Abe let his hand fall and rest on Mihashi's uninjured shoulder, noticing how the warmth from his hand seemed to spread over the cool, soft skin beneath it. Before he could stop himself, Abe's hand delicately swept down the length of Mihashi's arm, halting at the first set of bandages near his hand. He noticed a fresh burst of goose bumps erupting on Mihashi's skin where his hand had been and a slight shudder from his teammate's body. Abe watched as a light blush spread across Mihashi's neck and chest and he felt the urge to test if the blushing skin felt as warm as it looked.

"….A-Abe?" Mihashi croaked out, questioning doe-eyes staring right at Abe.

Abe felt his face flush and he quickly stood up. He glared at his traitorous hand and wondered where the hell that had come from, gritting his teeth in frustration. He obviously needed space from the young pitcher; his protective tendencies were clearly clouding his judgment.

"You need sleep to help you heal. Go to bed. It's late and I should go home-" Abe's rant quickly got cut off when he felt a trembling hand wrap tightly around his wrist.

"Don't! P-please! …Please…d-don't go…Abe…" Mihashi desperately cried, his body shaking as tears threatened to spill over once again. Fear was etched into his face and he clung to Abe like a lifeline. Abe felt his heart clench painfully.

"…Mihashi..."

Almost on reflex, Abe dropped to his knees and pulled Mihashi into a one-armed hug, unwilling to make Mihashi loosen his grip. Abe buried his face in the crook of Mihashi's neck, taking a deep breath as he felt silent tears roll down Mihashi's face.

"It's alright. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. I'm here. Please don't cry," Abe murmured, trying to calm the injured pitcher. Abe gently rubbed circles on Mihashi's naked back, feeling skin and bone tremble under his hand. He wanted nothing more than to wrap Mihashi up and shield him from any harm, to never allow anything like this to happen again. Eventually, the tremors stilled and Mihashi's breathing evened out. Mihashi was starting to doze off, resting his head against Abe's.

"Hey," Abe said softly in an effort not to scare the tired boy. "You need to finish getting ready for bed. I'll go and tell your mom I'm staying over, ok?"

He felt Mihashi shift and finally let go of his wrist, which suddenly felt cold in the night air.

"I'll be right back," Abe said, standing up and heading out the door, afraid that he would be unable to leave by looking back at Mihashi's broken face. He found Mrs. Mihashi sitting in the kitchen nursing a cup of tea, lost in her own thoughts. He heard a washing machine tumbling in the next room.

Abe cleared his throat in an effort to get her attention.

"Oh!" Mrs. Mihashi banged her knee into the table, resulting in a few spilled drops of tea. "Oh! Sorry! I didn't hear you come in. How's Ren? Does he need anything?"

"Just rest at the moment. I changed his bandages, but now he needs sleep. He really shouldn't go to school tomorrow..."

"I told him not to go! Just to rest…just to rest. Why did he leave today?" Mrs. Mihashi exclaimed tumbling back into her own lost thoughts, a pained expression lining her face.

"Sometimes Mihashi's passion for baseball outweighs his intelligence," Abe supplied. "Has…has Mihashi told you anything about what happened?"

Mrs. Mihashi silently shook her head confirming Abe's suspicion.

"I'll find who did this to him! I will find them and make them pay for the pain they're causing him!" he suddenly exclaimed, hands unconsciously tightening in fists.

Mrs. Mihashi's face snapped up, her eyes locking with his own. Although they were filled with surprise at his outburst, he could see the trust she had in him to take care of her son. "I know."

Abe nodded back to her. "Um…is it alright if I stay over for the night?" He didn't add that he didn't want Mihashi to be alone during the night but Mrs. Mihashi sent him a knowing look nonetheless.

"Of course. Why don't you quick call your mother so she's not worried about where you are and I'll fetch some extra blankets."

Abe called his mom, making the excuse that practice went to late and that it would be easier and safer to stay over at Mihashi's place for the night. Now wasn't the time to spill the truth. It would only cause his mom to worry insensately when she had no way to help at the moment. His mother seemed concerned but didn't ask questions, instead reminding him to say please and thank you and to text her when he got to school the next morning.

Mrs. Mihashi returned with several blankets and a pillow. Abe thanked her, grabbed the blankets, and they both made their way back to Mihashi's room. Mihashi had shifted up the bed and was apparently drifting off to sleep before hearing Abe and his mother walk through the door. Mihashi's tired eyes snapped open, body flinching before realizing who they were.

Putting on a brave face, Mrs. Mihashi smiled sadly before cooing softly at Mihashi, carefully brushing her hands over his bruise-stained chest and placing a glass of water by his bed. After checking to make sure his bandages were secure for the night, she pulled his sheets up to cover his body and petted his hair tenderly.

"Go to sleep, Ren," she whispered before turning to Abe. "Alright, there should be an extra futon in the closet. You can sleep on that, if that's alright."

Abe nodded, helping her retrieve the mat and spreading his blankets out. Mrs. Mihashi said goodnight, kissing Mihashi on the forehead before quietly exiting the room. Abe walked over to where Mihashi lay, noticing the dark bags forming under his half-lidded eyes.

"I'm staying the night. I'll be right over there if you need anything so go to sleep. Your body needs rest." Abe impulsively placed his hand over Mihashi's forehead, his hand cool against the heat emanating from the smaller boy. He heard Mihashi give a small sigh at the touch before reaching out and grabbing Abe's other hand. Unlike earlier, Mihashi's hand felt warm, pleasing Abe more than it should have.

"A-abe…stay…" Mihashi mumbled softly, too tired to say more but stubbornly refusing to shut his eyes.

Abe sat down on the bed, continuing to hold the pitcher's calloused hand in his own. His other hand slid from Mihashi's forehead and caressed the soft orange hair that stood defiantly on top of the pitchers head. Abe watched as Mihashi's eyes slowly closed under his ministrations, unable to stay awake now that he finally felt safe after the long, exhausting day. Abe continued stroking the soft hair, not wanting to break the peaceful moment. He felt a warm rush of pride sweep through his body watching Mihashi fully relaxed and resting, knowing that his pitcher trusted him enough to watch over him.

Slowly, Mihashi's breaths grew deeper, signaling that he had finally drifted off into a deep sleep. Abe sighed a breath of relief.

"I'll watch over you. I won't let anyone hurt you again. You're my pitcher and I'll take care of you." Abe silently vowed before leaning down and placing his lips to Mihashi's heated forehead. It wasn't so much a kiss but a pledge. "Keep your eyes on me. Only me. Listen to me, trust me, and follow my signs and I swear we'll be the best battery baseball has ever seen."

Abe sat back up. He felt a wave of heat splash across his face and his hands shake from the intimate promise he gave. But Abe believed every word of it. He knew Mihashi's hidden power, his focus, accuracy, and determination, and he knew that together they could do anything. Although their team was new and their battery was young, Abe had faith they could make it.

"But I need you," Abe whispered, gently cupping the pitcher's face. "So no more talking about leaving, yeah?"

Abe glanced down at his futon on the floor, an anxiety building at the thought of leaving Mihashi's side. He couldn't bring himself to leave his injured pitcher. After making sure Mihashi was still asleep, Abe carefully pried apart their hands. He quickly unbuttoned his own school uniform, leaving him in his white undershirt, and chucked off his uniform pants, not wanting them to wrinkle while he slept. Abe slipped underneath the light covers and settled in comfortably next to the sleeping boy. Reaching out, Abe grabbed Mihashi's hand, willing it to stay warm throughout the night. Now that he was lying down, Abe quickly felt the stress from the day leave his body, causing exhaustion to seep out of every pore. His eyes felt heavy as he glanced once more at his pitcher. Abe squeezed his hand briefly.

"We're in this together," Abe mumbled sleepily, his eyes finally closing as he felt the edges of sleep creeping in. "Goodnight, Ace."

A/N: Honestly, if it weren't for readers like you, I would probably still be sitting on this chapter. Your reviews (plus a spark of inspiration) caused me to recapture this piece. I know I update randomly but I want to thank you, both to readers new and old. Of course, I need to thank my best friend Liann, who readers over my work and gives me the positive feedback that I crave to keep writing. Hope you enjoyed the chapter :)