A/N: So. I did this today. It's only about two years late. Maybe longer. And I don't plan on abandoning it. I'll try to update quicker next time~! Hope ya'll enjoy (if anyone's still wanting to read it).

Abe's inherited a lot from his dad. Like his dark hair and everyone says he has his father's nose. Even their scowls are similar. Abe-sama's is a little deeper, but he's got almost a hundred years of practice over his son. Abe'll catch up one day.

He's also not as great as Abe-sama is when it comes to ignoring his mother. But it's still a life time of practice between them.

Middle school's hard enough without the Seniors and therapy. His body aches and his mind's all kind of messed up- which is the derogatory interpretation of all the politically correct garbage his therapist feeds him. Those are Abe-sama's words, but Abe's nothing if not a product of his upbringing.

He feels justified to laze around Sunday mornings with his dad on the couch while trying to get the feeling back in his limbs. There's a pitcher with a hard throw and Abe's proud to say the bruises only hurt when he touches them now. Still, he's more sore than he likes admitting.

Therapy breaks him a little more than Haruna can ever hope to. That hour every week, sitting in the silence of his own failure makes him reflect on how stupid he's been his whole life. Trusting someone. Honestly. When Abe talks, he tries to say things about his parents. Or school work. Or the weather. But when he does, she goads him on; Mrs. Shimazaki's only interested in his visual hallucinations.

"When we can talk about it, we can figure out why you're having them," she tells Abe simply, because he's honestly stunting his own growth by picking strings out of her upholstery for an hour rather than from his mind.

Abe gets his stubbornness from Abe-sama, too.

But now that he's in the Seniors- actually playing for the Seniors- his hour of quiet time is a lot less mandatory than it used to be. His mom still drives him after practice, but if he whines long enough he gets to go home early and watch the game with his dad.

Abe's the only one of the two who looks up from their bonding time when the doorbell rings.

"I got it!" Abe-san yells from the kitchen, ducking for her purse.

Abe isn't surprised when he recognizes the red and white checkered uniform, or the man inside it. He winks when he notices Abe's gaze and the boy shrugs back. Because how do people react to that kind of treatment anyway?

He's young, but wide in the shoulders and around the face. Not fat, just... wide. And almost always happy. He's got crazy hair that's as dark as Abe's, but he scowls less than anyone the kid knows. Whenever Abe answers the door the older guy ruffles his hair while asking, "How's school going, kiddo?" in that big booming voice of his, but it doesn't set Abe on edge.

His mom lingers in the doorway longer than necessary, but Abe's probably the only one who notices. Or cares. He figures that's because he's the only one who notices a single red string slacking in the doorway.

"Pizza, boys!" Abe-san sings, suddenly pleasant and warm as she sets the heated box on the coffee table for the "boys" who aren't her youngest son. Shun's still growing, he can't eat pizza.

"Again?" Abe-sama makes a sound of disgust. Abe says nothing about strings, even though the thought does hit him over the head once or twice.

Truth is, Abe likes the pizza guy. Just not as much as his mother does. He's not sure if he gets that from her or not.

When Abe could see over the glare of the sun he became very certain of two things:

1. They were going to lose every game this season.

2. Their new pitcher was a paranoid schizophrenic.

Abe was calling it now before Izumi and Tajima started the betting pool. He'd researched this stuff back in middle school. He'd been having a schizophrenic break down, supposedly. Mrs. Shimazaki didn't need to say it out loud, but he figured she was always writing the signs down in her stupid little book.

The blond was twitchy. And nervous. Like a coup was going to be formed at any minute, The Nishiura Revolution of 2012. He didn't look Abe in the eyes. He didn't look at Momo-kan- who he'd known for a good week or something.

And his fears probably reflected exactly what Abe was thinking, Hopeless.

Momo-kan didn't seem to care what she'd done to the poor boy's already shaky mental state and slaps a very rough hand on his shoulder. "This is our new pitcher," Momo-kan introduced him. "His name's Mihashi and he's a transfer from Mihoshi in Gunma!"

Abe never really understood, or planned to in the future, why Momo-kan did everything with such enthusiasm. Maybe she had a distant cousin in Vanna White. Or she smokes crack behind the dugout, because honestly there's no way someone can say, "I spent my life's savings and sacrificed hours of my work in order to put together this crack team of freshman who can't catch pop flies-Mizutani- and now we're replacing our pitcher with some potential for this creature who's below ostriches on the food chain," with the sunniest smile ever.

It's like a goddamn super power.

Abe remained silent. He could protest. He could yell- storm off the field like a five-year-old with a temper tantrum. Which is what he'd like to do, but he's already committed himself to Koshien. That gorgeous, beautiful pipe dream.

They'll just have to hope for next year and a freshman with an arm like a Greek God.

Abe watched as Momo-kan surveyed the field, trying his hardest to ignore the twitching in his peripheral vision (and the one starting in his right eye). She smiled back at Abe, "I'll catch you up on the new changes later, but for now, " she slapped Mihashi on the back hard enough to send the blond tumbling into the dugout, catching himself just short of going over a bench, "you two need to get more acquainted." She waved good bye to the new battery and Abe welcomed his migraine with more than enough dignity.

The sun was just about sunk by the time Abe lost his patience. For a new guy who wheedle his way onto the pitcher's mound a couple of weeks into the season, Mihashi's not all that willing to talk.

When Abe asked, "Where's Mihoshi Academy?" he was answered with what sounded like a really depressed squawk.

When he wondered, "Why did you transfer?" he earned a wholehearted flail.

When he offered, "Let's work on some signs, okay? We can use the ones you're used to," the guy cried. Cried.

Who the hell cried in high school?

"Uhm, sorry, man." Abe wasn't sure how comforting he could be. Usually at this point the girl had run off to lick her wounds with the rest of hyenas at the school. But Mihashi wasn't a girl. Not physically. Was he supposed to pat him on the back? Give him candy? Pat his head?

He settled on not doing anything.

"N-no. It's... Not your fault," Mihashi told him, still looking off to the side and not at his face. It was starting to piss Abe off. The stupid stuttering in his already quivering voice wasn't helping Abe's desire to slap the poor kid upside the head. It was acting as a very potent fuel if nothing else.

"Then why are you crying?"

"'C-Cause..." Mihashi whimpered, his voice falling short of an explanation. Abe tried to listen to the muttering, but he wasn't even sure if the sentence was still intelligible.

"Because why?" Abe pressed harder. Mihashi squeaked again.

"Don't have any!" He blurted out quickly. The blond stared down at his own hands, working out a few universal signs that Abe recognized: 2 Outs. 3 Balls; 1 Strike. "I-I don't think my catcher liked... me... very much..."

Can't imagine why. Abe rolled his eyes.

"H-he wanted Kanou to play. ...Not me. But... I wanted. To be the Ace. S-so I couldn't... give up the mound."

Couldn't give up the mound. Abe watched Mihashi. As he twitched in place. How his eyes fled everywhere around the dugout, but not towards Abe. He could see Mihashi take him in in his peripheral, but that was probably the closest he would come for a while. He noticed how Mihashi's breathing looked more like the poor kid was having an asthma attack.

The guy was a bundle of nerves ready to break at any minute.

Yet he was choosing to be the center of the whole game. He wanted the stress of being a pitcher. He wanted it enough to stand up to his teammate to keep it.

Like a spoiled brat. Yet, "I like that." Mihashi jumped so Abe continued: "I mean that you want to pitch. That you won't give up the mound." Several images of Haruna's back sprung to mind. "I wouldn't trust a pitcher who would."

Mihashi's eyes grew several sizes that moment. He was still working on the signs with his fingers, over and over again. Some, Abe concluded when he didn't recognize them himself, were probably one's he'd observed between his last catcher and this Kanou guy. That… Abe could respect it, while also feeling it was the most pathetic thing ever.

"I'll teach you some signs, then," Abe said helpfully. "You can change them if you can't remember them."

He could still hear Mihashi thinking, Hopeless.

Abe would just have to ignore him for the rest of the season, outside the batting cage and practice.

He leaned his head into his balled fist, still watching Mihashi sign away. The blond's hands bothered him. They were smooth on the back, but calloused and bruised on his palms. They weren't the hands of a hoity toity player who threw 80 pitches a game. They were working hands, that played. And played hard. He could work with that. Maybe. Was that bothering him? He wasn't sure… Maybe it was just Mihashi in general.

Abe's leg began to bounce in annoyance. "Mihashi. Are you listening to me?"

That achieved the (almost) desired effect. Mihashi nodded to Abe's neckline, his fingers going slack on his practice sweats.

Abe sighed, resigned. "Let's work on some signs. We'll start pitching in the morning."

Working with Mihashi was a lot less hellish than talking to Mihashi. The guy watched Abe's fingers like a starved dog watched meat. The blond mimicked him one after the other. He recited each of them in his own, bumbling, way when Abe asked him to review. Mihashi was nothing if not determined to work hard, despite any of his own shortcomings. It was slightly heartwarming in a way.

"Let me just say one thing," Abe lowered his voice, knowing the intimidation would work on Mihashi's nerves. "I hate pitcher's who shake off my signs. When I sign, you pitch." His warning had the desired effect: Mihashi "Eeped!" in the affirmative, nodding his understanding. Abe leaned back, pleased. As pleased as he could be with a ragtag team of freshman who couldn't play baseball, and Tajima who could but was not Abe's favorite person outside of the fact.

Seconds later, Momoe called the boys onto the field for a post practice wrap up.

"Great job as always, Tajima," Momoe complimented their star player. "You still need to work on concentrating, Mizutani. Oki… You're doing well at first base!

"Which reminds me. Now that we're settling into our new positions, I've decided to schedule a practice game," Momo-kan's disposition took a completely sinister turn, "against Mihoshi Academy!"

Abe had never heard a human squeal like a dog before, but Mihashi had it down to an artform.

"He says he's got nine strike zones," Sakaeguchi was gushing to Abe as they entered the convenience store together. "Even Tajima says that's impressive. Tajima."

There's a difference between the truth and what a pitcher says, Abe kept that part to himself as the sandy haired baseman ran to meet up with his boyfriend over by the frozen drinks. Abe's mind flashed to a particular individual with scary eyes and a throw that could kill a small animal on impact. The chips he'd unconsciously picked up popped open under the force of his fist. Abe sighed as he took out his wallet to pay for them. This was totally he who shalt not be mentioned's fault. Completely.

"$1.60." Abe handed over a single five dollar bill and took his change. He said his goodnights to Sakaeguchi and nodded at Suyama who acknowledged him back on his way out the store. Sakaeguchi was leaning against the doors, talking animatedly while the shortstop reached for a drink. Abe could barely see the red string between them.

The catcher had just finished unlocking his bike when he felt Tajima jump onto his back (read: Tajima attacked him). The shorter one laughed while Abe scowled back at the shorter player. "The hell is your problem, Tajima?"

The meep from behind him caught Abe off guard a bit.

"Don't worry about him, Mihashi!" Tajima walked back to his small group of friends. Abe shouldn't have been surprised that Tajima would have been nice enough to include Mihashi in his daily shenanigan's, but he never would have thought the blond would follow through. But he seemed to have no problem now looking over Tajima's face. Granted, he still looked scared shitless.

Tajima threw an arm over the blond's shoulders. "Abe's just got a dildo up his butt. Right, Izumi?" Tajima turned to his slightly taller friend for approval.

"A stick." Izumi corrected him, but Abe didn't appreciate the downgrade in size. Especially not when Izumi snorted, blatantly.

"Let's go get snacks!" Tajima declared quickly, grabbing Mihashi's hand and dragging the sap inside behind him. Mihashi gapes at him as Tajima dragged him past the bike rack. It was a slightly disturbing look, one a chicken gave as it was led to slaughter. Abe would have laughed if it weren't true.

Izumi followed shortly behind them, shrugging at the catcher. Abe didn't watch him go. He kicked the bike stand gently and just almost hopped on board when he looked inside instead.

Mihashi looked petrified as he watched Tajima load a small cart to spilling point. Izumi was removing items from the cart as the third baseman worked, picking up anything that landed in the wake of Hurricane Tajima.

Abe didn't want to be friends with them. He was fine with his acquaintanceship with Sakaeguchi and the head tilt of acknowledgement he had going on with Suyama. And he loved his snarky relationship with Hanai. Hanai was fun.

But he would be lying if he said it didn't bother him that Mihashi fit in almost sort of perfectly with the obnoxious duo bent on destroying Abe's life. Mihashi- who just an hour ago was crying on a bench and stuttering through a dialogue with his catcher without once looking him in the eyes. The same guy he was watching laughing (it probably sounded like a chirp) as Tajima spilled a whole tube of Pringles on the floor that even Izumi wasn't willing to clean up. (Was that actually laughing? It looked like it for Mihashi. Not that Abe really knew what "Mihashi" stuff looked like. He just met the guy).

How did someone like Mihashi get to fit in (sort of easily)? Mihashi bugged him. It wasn't a strange occurrence. Abe was certain that Mihashi annoyed a great deal of people. All the time. And a great deal of people annoyed Abe. Like Mihashi.

It was just something on the edge of his mind. And it was recent. But it'd been on his mind for the last hour- a quiet haunting he couldn't quite grasp. The second he'd seen Tajima's fingers slip through the blond's and Abe felt like he'd been missing something important. And he just couldn't-

Abe could see Mihashi's hand in his head. As he slid it through his hair. When he fidgeted with his shirt. Made signs for outs and fouls. When Tajima grabbed his hand not ten minutes ago. And now, with Mihashi making stupid clapping motions with his hand while Tajima rainbowed sugar from an open fundip packet into his mouth (like he needed the damn sugar).

Mihashi's hands were a creamy white and rough from throwing fastballs every summer...

And white. Just creamy, white skin unblemished by red.

Mihashi doesn't have a thread.