Notes: Sorry I'm such a raging bitch, apparently. I forgot to post this. Have had this part since I started posting here... but my subconscious appears to hate doing nice things. So, here it is like a year late or so.

Chapter Three: The Beginning

Abe knew how it was going to go.

First, he would say he was sorry. Mihashi would act like he had no idea what the apology was for. Abe would get frustrated, but he would explain that he hadn't meant to avoid the pitcher. He would say something sappy and determined about being a better catcher. Mihashi might tear up a little if he had really been distressed, or he would just stand there with his eyes on his shoes. Either way, he would blurt out an apology for being overly sensitive. Or for something else. Mihashi always found something about himself to criticize.

Then Abe would get frustrated again. He would grit his teeth so as not to cause another fight. He would bow in an effort to control his temper.

And finally—as finally as the last home run of Koushien—he would look at Mihashi and there would be that smile.

The first time Abe had really apologized, Mihashi had smiled. Ever since then, even a simple 'sorry' Mihashi's smile would reappear. It was weird, innocent, and cute all at once. That smile made Abe forget all his anger. It was impossible to be angry when he looked at you like that. That first time, even Shun had noticed it.

Honestly, the apologizing, the frustration—all that was fine. It was the smile that was going to screw everything up. Because Abe wasn't sure it wouldn't dredge up thoughts of Haruna's bare fingers touching Mihashi's. Calloused pitchers' fingers sliding along each other could be overwhelming if you weren't careful.

Momokan had them batting and running all that afternoon. That meant less time spent trying to talk to Mihashi about baseball when his mind was flushed with Code Red nervousness. This was fine with Abe. He wanted to put off the apology until the last moment.

And if that smile messed him up, he wanted no one there to see it.

The night fell on them suddenly. The team had been concentrating on balls and bats, bases and mounds for so long that the dark was almost a surprise. As they left the field, their sweaters were light against the dark grass. Yellow street lights shone on hair briefly before the team walked out towards the bike lot. Suyama was holding both arms up in the air, explaining something to an attentive Mizutani. Nishihiro was leaning against Izumi. In the dugout, Shinooka was visible in the single light, and her face looked strangely old. She was holding the tray that she had used for onigiri and looking at Momokan who was explaining something to her.

It was cold now. Winter was coming. You could smell it sometimes—sharp and smoky. It might have to do with everyone turning on their heaters, but it could just as easily be the perfume the season wore.

Abe shrugged off a shiver.

"Cold?" Hanai was stretching his arms behind his neck.


"Me, too." The captain adjusted his stocking cap. He coughed once before saying, "Hey, look, if you're going to talk to Mihashi, do it tonight."

Abe felt a flush run up his cheeks. "Why does everyone know more about our battery than I do?" His voice was low, but the tone was embarrassed rather than irritated.

"Oh…" To Abe's satisfaction, Hanai sounded as uncomfortable as he was. "Uh, well, Tajima told me you were having problems."

"Great." Abe reached up and scratched behind an ear. "Yeah, I know. I was just going to wait until we got to the bikes and everyone headed out. I didn't want to do it in front of the team."

Hanai cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Yeah, okay. Sorry."

They walked in silence, watching as Tajima split off from the group with a cheerful wave and a few hand slaps. The rest of them talked loudly in the dark with the exception of Mihashi who seemed to huddle into himself.

"Is it that obvious?" Abe said after a while. At Hanai's puzzled expression he amended, "Is it that obvious that something's wrong?'

The team's captain nodded. "It's like… well, if the rest of your body is healthy and then you stub your toe—you notice that."

Abe snorted. "We're toes, huh." He grinned a little, and a streetlight caught the curve of his cheek. "What does that make you, a head?"

Hanai laughed. "And Nishihiro and Oki are the arms."

"Suyama and Sakaeguchi are the legs."

"Mizutani is the stomach."

"Izumi is the lungs."

"Tajima is the di-" Hanai stopped suddenly. Abe could almost feel his blush. "Uh, the heart," he said quickly.

Abe let this pass, as they had reached the lot where their bikes stood like lonely cattle in a field too large for them. Pools of yellow from the streetlights illuminated their fragile frames. His stomach clenched up. This was stupid. As long as they stood in the dark outside the light, maybe that smile wouldn't do anything. If he couldn't see it, he couldn't feel its impact. "Mihashi!" he called. Hanai shot him a sympathetic look.

Mihashi froze.

Abe sighed. "We have to talk," he said and he put his hand on Mihashi's shoulder. Hanai gave them both a wave as he circled around them to find his bike. He thought of Mihashi's arms in his dream—how it had been summer in his mind. With the sweater over his shirt, Abe felt like his pitcher didn't even exist under his fingers. There was something solid under the weave, but it didn't feel right.

The pitcher looked like he wanted to pass out or run away.

Abe hated Code Red.

The good night calls of their teammates sounded around them. Abe waved distractedly as they left. Mihashi looked over his shoulder as if he hoped someone would stay with them. The bike lot was empty except for them as the rest of the team wheeled out towards the road. Most of the students and teachers who rode bikes had left earlier that day. It almost felt colder thinking they were alone.

"Mihashi, I'm sorry." Abe felt his neck grow hot. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "It's my fault that I haven't been a good—that we haven't worked well together lately. I've been distracted, and I've ignored you."

Mihashi's eyes widened. "A-A-Abe-kun, I didn't me-"

"No, you're not going to apologize!" Abe said forcefully. "It's not your fault. You didn't do anything wrong!"

"B-but I could have just… ignored… it…." Mihashi cringed a little. But, remarkably, he actually looked straight at Abe instead of over his shoulder, down at the floor, away to the left. "I'm sorry… too."

"It was my fault. I shouldn't have …uh… gotten distracted." Abe put his hands in his pockets. They felt awkward. Like he should have a catchers' mitt, or still rest one hand on Mihashi's shoulder. He wasn't angry. This was weird. He was usually angry at Mihashi for shouldering a burden that wasn't his by this point. But he wasn't. He dropped a short bow. "I'll do better, I promise."

"M-me, too!"

When Abe straightened, Mihashi was smiling.

It didn't happen often. Not even now. It was like looking straight at the sun and getting blinded by how white, how hot, how far and how near it is all at the same time. It was the kind of smile that should have made you see blue spots when you looked away.

Abe felt hot in the radiance of this sun. Hot hot hot… He felt stupid. He had no words for this. Maybe this was Mihashi Code Gold.

"Abe-kun?" Mihashi was looking at him and that smile had almost disappeared into a sunset of the mouth.

Stupidity trickled from Abe's brain into his body. He reached out and drew Mihashi into a hug. His sweater felt softer now—as if it had undergone a change since the last time he had touched it. There was hot breath on his shoulder. A small gasp came from his pitcher, but just as soon, Mihashi was quiet.

It felt different from his dream. Not just because of the incoming winter. Not just because he was touching sweater instead of skin. It was different because here, Abe felt dumb. He felt self-conscious and uncertain. Abe hated himself for it. But he'd needed this. He had needed to hold onto that smile.

Then Mihashi moved.

Abe was barely aware of it at first. He almost started when he noticed Mihashi's hands on his sweater, clutching the cloth. There was a pull of fabric, and he could feel Mihashi's hands all over even though they never really moved.

"Abe-kun?" was breathed into his shoulder.

Parts of Abe woke, hungry. He was dizzy. He clung to Mihashi's back.

And then there was something, the softest movement he'd ever felt, as Mihashi pressed ever so slightly nearer to him.

Abe thought he was going to die.

He heard someone talking and found it was himself saying, "I'm sorry," over and over. To shut himself up, to shut up his desires, he leaned to the side and buried his face in Mihashi's hair. It smelled like the shampoo the team shared in the locker room.

Then Abe had to perform a complicated duck and catch to kiss Mihashi's forehead.

When Mihashi turned his face in surprise, Abe kissed his mouth, too.

It was nothing like the dream.

Mihashi's lips were slightly chapped. They were cold. They were firm. But more importantly, they were real.

It was a short kiss, mostly because Abe had never kissed anyone before. And partly because even though no one was there, this was outside and he was going to get hard if he didn't stop. And just a tiny bit because this was Mihashi. As much as Abe had wanted this, he didn't want it at the same time. Mihashi was infuriating and gorgeous and ridiculous and so… stupidly amazing.

Then he let go of his hold.

The pitcher looked dazed. In fact, he looked like Abe felt. For the first time off the field, Abe thought, their reactions were the same. For the first time, they were together. Really together.

Without a word, he stretched out a hand and took Mihashi's. It was warm. It was warm. His own was cold.

They looked at each other, startled.

Then there was that smile again—breaking like dawn. It started at the edges and slowly rose over all of Mihashi's face. It was in his mouth, the mouth that Abe suddenly loved. It was in his cheeks, rounded from happiness. It was in his light eyes, shining.

Abe was delirious.

"Miha-" he said, and then stopped. His face was on fire. Where his fingers met Mihashi's, his hand was on fire. His heart was on fire.

Mihashi smiled at him in the light of the streetlamps. He looked… secure. Not confident maybe, but secure.


"Ren," Abe began.