Abe woke up the next day to a pillow being shoved in his face. He heard Mihashi and Tajima laughing as they smothered him. It took him a moment to react, but when Abe's mind finally connected with his body he started flailing under the attack, trying to grasp anything he could. He yelled at the two co-conspirators, but it just came out as a muffled yelp as both Mihashi and Tajima effectively sandwiched his face between the pillow and his futon.

"Ha-ha, serves you right," he heard Tajima tell him. "Next time you're at a sleepover, don't snore like a chainsaw."

Tajima got in one more laugh before Abe reached his arm as far as he could and got a piece of the loudmouth's ankle. One tug and the taller boy was easily able to flip the little pillow miscreant and smother him for a change. Breathing hard from almost being suffocated, Abe tried his best to squash the little pervert as quickly as possible. The only problem was that he had completely forgotten about the other person in the room.

Months ago Mihashi would have been absolutely petrified by the idea of roughhousing with Abe, but they had grown as both teammates and friends. Sure, the catcher could still be terrified into submission from time to time, but the two of them also had a lot of trust for one another now. Abe didn't yell nearly as much, Mihashi rarely cowered like he used to, and both of them had genuinely started to form a very close friendship.

Abe had just about gotten Tajima to cry uncle when he was hit by a pillow from behind, followed by the lithe, stringy pitcher jumping on his back in an attempt to wrestle him to the ground. There was no use fighting both of them, because it was a losing battle. Even though Mihashi wasn't strong enough to force Abe down completely, he was wiry and quick. Tajima used the distraction to writhe from beneath Abe and help the pitcher tackle their opponent. Slowly the pile of three boys wrapped around each other toppled to the floor.

"And they take The Chainsaw down, down, down!" Tajima shouted as he hit the futon like it was a wrestling mat. "The match goes to the dynamic wrestling duo of Mihashi and Tajima."

Abe could barely move because he was effectively pinned face first onto his futon. Tajima's ass was settled square on his shoulders and neck, and Mihashi kept the bulk of his weight on Abe's hips. The two boys gave each other congratulatory high fives and Abe growled at both of them to get the hell off.

There was a quick giggle from the two other boys and then they made a mad dash downstairs. Abe was left to stew in his own grumpiness before he wandered to the bathroom, took a piss, and then headed downstairs to investigate the great smelling aroma wafting from the kitchen. Mrs. Tajima always made good snacks when Abe came over, so he was looking forward to a meal. Abe knew how addicted Tajima was to food in general, so his mother had to be a good cook.

"Wait for your friend," Mrs. Tajima scolded as she swatted a piece of toast out of her son's hands. Tajima pouted and longingly looked at his plate of food. That alone made Abe take his sweet, sweet time sitting down next to Mihashi. On the other side of the pitcher was Tajima's older brother and on the end of the table was Tajima's father. They all said thanks for the food and dug in.

The only problem with eating was that there was relatively little conversation going on. No one really wanted to let Mrs. Tajima's delicious cooking get cold, so other than a few sporadic questions from Tajima's mom herself, no one talked. Abe was left alone with his thoughts for most of the meal and he found himself remembering what had happened the previous night. Honestly, Tajima had to be out of his ever-loving mind, that's all. Mihashi didn't act like he had a crush on Abe. He acted like all of Abe's friends, just with more stuttering and blushing, but Mihashi did that with everyone. The kid always seemed to be flushing for some reason or another. It was something the pitcher used for all kinds of occasions, whether it was a happy, sad, frustrating event or otherwise.

"Would you like the last one?" Mihashi asked holding up the last slice of toast.

Abe glared at him, and right on cue Mihashi's face seemed to redden into a light shade of scarlet. "No, I'm not the one who hasn't been able to gain any weight," Abe reminded his friend. "You really need to put on a few pounds if you ever hope to add any muscle to those scrawny arms of yours."

"I-I have scrawny arms?" Mihashi repeated, looking embarrassed as he touched his bicep.

"Just eat the stupid toast," Abe said as he also passed the butter dish to Mihashi. He made a mental note to remind Chiyo to fix Mihashi a protein shake to go with the rice balls she fed everyone at practice. Perhaps dragging Mihashi to the weight room with Abe when he rehabilitated his knee would also be a wise idea. Doing a little bit of weight lifting would probably assist in bulking the guy up.

"I'm s-scrawny," Mihashi said again in that completely downtrodden way he always mumbled everything that really got to him. He nibbled on the piece of toast Abe had insisted he take unenthusiastically.

Abe sighed. The kid really took things way too hard. What Abe had said was just an observation, and it was something that they could easily remedy if Mihashi agreed to a little hard work. Hard work was something Mihashi never refused. It was the most admirable thing about the guy. He never quit and he worked more than anyone else on the team, usually too much.

"Hey," Abe said, snapping Mihashi out of his funk. Abe saw as the other boy looked up at him trembling, and it just ate at him. No matter what he said Abe always felt like a dick when he gave Mihashi any kind of constructive criticism. He was always fixing things that shouldn't have needed to be fixed. "I was thinking that you should come with me to the weight room tomorrow. We can start you on a workout regimen if you want."

It was almost as if Abe had wrapped winning Koshien in Christmas and gave it to Mihashi. The kid looked like he was going to burst at the seams from happiness. Mihashi vigorously nodded at the suggestion and Abe went back to enjoying his food and trying to ignore last night. At least now he was almost positive that Tajima had been completely and utterly wrong in his assumption about Mihashi's feelings. Mihashi was just a strange duck, and that had nothing to do with any kind of crush at all.

"I'm gonna come with you guys," Tajima announced between bites. "I think doing some extra weighted squats and some leg press exercises would help me too. And even if it doesn't help with catching it'll probably help with my stealing bases. Loose, limber, and lean—it's what the ladies love."

"Really, Yuuichiro, that's not necessary at the table," Tajima's mom scolded, shaking her head at her son.

Abe had to actually bite his tongue as to not explain to Mrs. Tajima that this was actually the toned down version of Tajima, and that she should hear what he says during practice. The truth was that Tajima knew more perverted things than the old man who owned that very questionable video store a couple blocks down, the one with the back room selection that minors weren't allowed access to. Tajima also had the strangest affinity for getting naked. If it weren't for baseball, Abe had no doubt that the guy would be a deviant of some sort.

Abe thanked Mrs. Tajima for both the meal and her generosity, and then went back upstairs to change out of the pajamas Abe had borrowed. They were Tajima's brother's clothes. Abe would have used some of Tajima's, but the batter's build was quite a bit smaller than his own. Mihashi, on the other hand, was a couple centimeters taller than Tajima, but his slim build allowed him to borrow clothes directly from their teammate. That didn't work for Abe. He tried on one of Tajima's shirts last night and had his two friends in stitches. It had been quite tight on him, therefore he didn't even bother trying on pants.

Abe was heading home for the day, so he decided to just put yesterday's clothes back on for now. In one smooth motion he tugged the borrowed shirt over his head and tossed it into a hamper located at the end of the bed. Next he shrugged the loose fitting pants off of his hips and kicked them into the hamper as well. He didn't even notice that the door to the bedroom was open, let alone that he had an audience.

Mihashi silently stood and observed as Abe changed, and it wasn't until Abe was tugging his own shirt back over his head that he noticed the other boy was watching him. It was a little weird, but Mihashi was always a little weird. "You need something, man?" Abe asked as he reached for his pants. Mihashi's eyes immediately focused on the floor and he shook his head.

"No, just have to change too. I'm making sure no one walks in," he explained quietly.

"Well then just come in and close the door. I'm sure Tajima's mom doesn't have x-ray vision," Abe suggested, but as usual there was a tinge of annoyance in his voice. Mihashi might have been a friend, but the guy came really, really close to driving Abe nuts most days.

Mihashi shuffled inside and closed the door. He looked at Abe for a second and then turned back to the door and pushed the lock as well. Abe could have sworn the air in the room seemed to grow dense, making it hard to breathe. Why had Mihashi locked the door? Abe leaned down and picked up his pants off the floor, and despite the fact his brain was almost screaming at him to finish getting dressed he ended up watching Mihashi instead.

The t-shirt Mihashi had been wearing didn't fit him perfectly; it was a little too snug. That made it a bit more difficult to wriggle out of than his normal clothes. A little bit of wrestling with the shirt and Mihashi's face and tawny hair finally reappeared, along with his long and lean, naked torso.

Now it was Mihashi's turn to catch his friend staring. Abe averted his eyes almost immediately, choosing to look at the ground for a few seconds before his gaze moved back up to Mihashi. Abe's friend wasn't as scrawny as Abe had made him out to be. Mihashi was lithe, and a bit on the small side for a pitcher, but his chest was well toned and his abs were cut nicely, something Abe never really took notice of before. It looked like he was actually working on a well-toned six pack, not an easy feat, but pitching did require a person's core muscles to be strong, Abe told himself.

The whole situation was a becoming a little unnerving, but it got even stranger when Mihashi moved to remove his pants. This was because Mihashi and Abe's gazes were focused on one another. As Mihashi hooked his fingers in the elastic of the pants Abe's eyes flickered down periodically to glance at the pitcher's hips, particularly at the jutting hipbones that proved just how cut Mihashi was.

Abe swallowed hard. What the hell? Was Mihashi doing this on purpose? He tried not to glance at the other boy again, but he just couldn't make himself look away. Abe felt if he turned away just because he was embarrassed then it might actually mean something. It would prove that this wasn't just some random thing. Mihashi bent down and picked up his shirt. He tugged it on quickly, and then his socks and pants followed suit. Abe realized that he was still clutching his own pants in his hands, so he also quickly finished getting dressed.

There was a loud knocking at the door and Abe nearly jumped out of his skin. "Hey, let me in jerks," Tajima called from the hallway. "It's not nice to lock the host out of his own room."

Abe shook his head and made his way to the locked door even though Mihashi was much closer to it. Abe needed a distraction and unlocking the door was the perfect excuse. Abe couldn't stand another minute of awkward tension.

"Let me in!" Tajima called again from the other side.

Abe undid the lock and opened the door. "You are so impatient," he growled at the hyperactive freckled boy.

Abe expected some kind of smartass answer, but instead he was greeted with Tajima carefully taking in the surroundings of his room. Abe wasn't sure exactly what the guy was looking for, not until Tajima's eyes kept darting back and forth from Mihashi to Abe. Then the catcher realized exactly what Tajima assumed happened, and honestly, he wasn't sure it was really that far off the mark. Whatever it had been was weird, and not normal, and definitely something that wasn't within the realm of typical friendships. Mihashi had been so deliberate with his actions, almost like he had been testing Abe or something. The worst part was Abe had the distinct feeling that he played right into it. For the first time he actually considered that Tajima might have been right about Mihashi's feelings.

It finally came full circle. Abe felt the anger bubbling in the pit of his stomach. He was really angry at how Tajima planted those ideas in his head. He wouldn't have ever considered Mihashi liking him before Tajima mentioned it. And the worst of it was this was probably just all his imagination. Mihashi wasn't flirting, and he most certainly didn't like Abe like that. This weird situation was just a figment of Abe's overactive imagination. It all boiled down to suggestion, and without Tajima's meddling there would not have been a single thought about anyone liking anyone. Frankly, it pissed Abe off.

"I'm going home," Abe announced as he grabbed his school bag and coat.

"Okay, see you tomorrow," Tajima said casually to his highly disgruntled friend. "Remember the weight training," he mentioned as a reminder just before Abe was about to leave the room.

Abe just grunted his confirmation, anything to get him the hell out there faster.

"Wait," Mihashi called to Abe right before the catcher could slip out. Abe stood and tapped his foot impatiently and realized, much to his chagrin, that Mihashi was leaving too. "I'll walk with you," Mihashi said quietly as he also picked up his bag and coat and joined Abe, staying right at his side, but not looking at him at all.

This caused Tajima to laugh a little. "Mmm-hmm," he said and then turned to his leaving guests. "Have a safe walk home," he told Mihashi and Abe with a devilish smirk.

Abe wanted to reply, "You asshole," but settled on, "Yeah, whatever," instead.

The two boys thanked Mrs. Tajima and then went to go get their shoes which were sitting by the door in the entranceway. Tajima's mom looked almost sad to see her two houseguests leaving. She reminded them that they needed to come over again soon. After putting on their shoes and coats, Abe and Mihashi gave a couple of waves and then made their way out to the street. It was pretty chilly out, and there were even a few errant snowflakes falling, but for the most part it was just a really grey, dreary day. Their trip together would last about half of the distance, and then they would part ways to finish the trip to their own houses. Abe was grateful for that. He couldn't take much more of the awkward silence that lingered between them.

"Tajima has soccer practice tomorrow too," Mihashi piped up. "Do you think he'll have the energy to do extra training?"

Tajima not have enough energy? Abe almost laughed. The kid was like the energizer bunny or something. "He'll be fine," Abe reassured Mihashi.

"Our practice is going to be pretty light coach said," Mihashi said happily. Maybe I'll work a little more on perfecting my windup after we finish."

Abe shrugged. As long as Mihashi didn't throw above his daily allowance he didn't really care. He'd seen a lot of improvement in the pitcher's control with the windup since he decided to add to his pitch. It also helped that Mihashi seemed to be going through a little bit of a growth spurt. It was slow enough that it wasn't causing that much havoc on his control, and the additional height would eventually help with leverage. Abe himself had grown at least three centimeters since the summer tournament. He kept tabs on it because it made his injury uncomfortable. Scar tissue tended to cause pain during growth since it didn't stretch as well as healthy muscle and tissue did. Abe absentmindedly rubbed his knee.

"Is…is it bothering you?" Mihashi asked. His eyes brimmed with his usual worry.

"Is what bothering me?" Abe asked, not really realizing what Mihashi was asking about.

"Your knee? Does the weather make it hurt?"

Well, there was the normal tenderness, but that was just because everything seemed to make Abe's knee ache—the weather, growing, practicing, etc. "Naw, it's fine," he reassured his friend.

Mihashi's brows scrunched a bit as he glanced down at Abe's knee. "I…I…" he started, but couldn't quite come up with the words. A few moments of silence and then an unusual determination settled onto Mihashi's face. "You always help me out Abe," he finally told Abe, "N-now I want to help you too. It'll be easier if you have a training partner, right?"

There were a few exercises and stretches Abe did for physical therapy that required another person, and Shun was getting sick of having Abe ask him every other day for help with them. Perhaps training with Mihashi would be beneficial to both of them. "Alright, yeah, I suppose having you help me too would be a good thing."

The prospect of assisting Abe seemed to overjoy Mihashi. He clenched his fists tight and pulled them to his chest. Abe was just about to ask what the hell he was doing when Mihashi threw his hands in the air and excitedly yelled, "Yeah! We'll get stronger together!"

The only thing Abe could think of doing, other than turning around and walking in the other direction while pretending he didn't know the strange kid shouting enthusiastically in the street, was to sigh and tell Mihashi the one thing that had been nagging at him all morning. "You are really weird."

It was amazing how quickly Mihashi could go from fired up to completely deflated. "I'm not weird," he murmured as he slouched and pouted.

Abe slapped the kid on the back in a supportive way, like he did after a disappointing play. It helped a little as Mihashi looked up at him expectantly. Abe rolled his eyes and reaffirmed his earlier statement. "Yes, you are, but that's okay. I don't mind."

In just as strange of a display as the first one, Mihashi's hands shot back into the air and he hollered, "Abe doesn't care that I'm weird," with a goofy grin on his face.

Well, maybe Abe cared a little.

Abe spent the rest of his Sunday morning being an absolute lazy bum. It had been a long, long time since he hadn't done anything on a Sunday. Usually there was a list of chores for him to do, or rehabilitation therapy, or just hanging out with the guys. Today he relaxed and enjoyed doing nothing. Shun came in and asked for help with some of his homework around lunchtime, and Abe's dad bugged him to watch a couple of sports games on TV, but for the most part Abe didn't do a damned thing. It was great. It also left him with a lot of time to think.

"What's wrong with you?" Shun asked as he flopped on the couch next to his big brother. "Shouldn't you be studying for finals?"

"Already did with the team yesterday. I'm good," Abe said as he flipped to a different channel. Abe wasn't the smartest guy on the team, but he certainly wasn't the dumbest. That honor was left to Tajima and Mihashi. Speaking of…Abe let out a sigh and then got up to use the phone. He dialed a number he knew by heart.

"Mihashi residence," came the reply from the other end. It was very obviously Mihashi's nervous voice.

"Did you finish your homework?" Abe asked.

"A-Abe?" Mihashi asked, his voice shrinking to a whimper.

"Yeah, did you finish the homework that we went over yesterday during the study group?" Abe asked. He hated to nag Mihashi, but it wouldn't do if their star pitcher flunked all his finals.

"Well…you see…" Mihashi began and gave a nervous gulp.

This was just one more reason why Abe couldn't leave the kid to his own devices. If he did they'd be pitcher-less. "What do you still have left?" he asked, praying that it wasn't English homework. It was the one class that Abe really didn't like much, and though he made it through the material okay, it wasn't something he felt comfortable tutoring someone else in.

"Math," Mihashi said. There was a bit of background noise that sounded like the rustling of papers. "And a little bit of literature homework, but I should be okay with that. I just have to finish reading the assignment and fill out the questions the teacher gave us."

Good, that didn't sound all that bad. "Can you get the math finished on your own too?" Abe asked.

"Um, maybe?" Mihashi replied weakly.

It was definitely more of a question than an answer, so he sighed and grumbled before suggesting that Mihashi come over to let Abe help him. This actually made the other boy happy and Abe could tell Mihashi was probably grinning like an idiot into the phone.

"Yeah, you can eat dinner here too. Mom is making something, she's been in the kitchen all day" Abe informed his teammate. "If you want to, I mean. Is your mom home today?"

Mihashi's voice got a little sad. "No, she's still working on that big project in her office. She had to go in all day yesterday and part of today."

Abe was relieved. He knew that when Mihashi made his own meals he sometimes forwent vegetables and good nutrition in lieu of whatever was easiest. It wasn't that Mihashi wasn't a good cook, because the guy was actually quite adept in a kitchen, but he just didn't seem to think about things like that. "Okay, then it'll be good for you to have a hot meal. I'll see you soon." With that Abe hung up the phone.

"Mom, Mihashi is coming over," he shouted as he went back to the couch to finish watching the game. She, like Mrs. Tajima, enjoyed having company.

Mrs. Abe came out of the kitchen wearing an apron. She smiled prettily at her son and handed him a small pastry. "Taste that," she said. "It's a new recipe I got from a friend." Abe ate it and gave her a thumbs up. "Is Mihashi staying for dinner too?"

Abe nodded and swallowed the desert his mother had given him. He wasn't completely keen on sweet things, but the little puff had been pretty tasty. "Yeah, his mom had to work today."

Mrs. Abe's eyes widened. "On a Sunday? Oh my," she said as she patted her son on the head and made her way back into the kitchen. "I'll be sure to make something extra tasty just for him."

Abe thought about it for a minute. He appreciated his mother a lot. It must have been really difficult for Mihashi to deal with having his own mom gone as often as she was. All these working mothers were a new trend among Japan's working force, but Abe thought it would still feel weird not to have someone at home most of the time. What if you needed help and there wasn't anyone there? Tajima had gone through something like that and it affected his school choice. He could have probably joined any of the big-name high school teams, but one unusual family incident made him decide to stay close to home. Did it make Mihashi sad to be alone like that all the time?

The doorbell rang and pulled Abe out of his thoughts. He got up to answer it, and as expected, Mihashi was waiting on the other side, clutching his schoolbag to his chest. "I brought a calculator," he chimed as Abe motioned for him to come inside.

"I have a calculator you could have used, moron," Abe said. "Just get in here."

Mihashi pulled off his shoes and set them onto the mat next to Abe's. He tugged off his coat and brushed a few snowflakes from his hair. "Do you need a towel?" Abe asked as he reached for a couple of snow clumps Mihashi had missed and gently knocked them off of his friend.

"N-no, I don't think so," Mihashi said and blushed really hard. His eyes watched Abe's hand carefully as the other boy finally retracted his arm and let Mihashi inside.

"You remember Shun, right?" Abe asked as he motioned toward his little brother.

"Good to see you again," Mihashi said with a smile.

It didn't take long for Shun to recognize who Mihashi was. Though he had been much more enamored with the team's cleanup batter, Tajima, the younger baseball player was also very impressed by the pitcher who worked with his big brother. He scrambled off the couch and rushed over to the older boys. It wasn't until Abe reached out and practically grabbed his brother by the collar that he was wrangled to a stop.

"I don't think so," Abe said, his tone clearly a warning to his younger sibling. "Mihashi came over here to study, not be buddy-buddy with the likes of your annoying ass."

Shun brows drew tightly together, just like Abe's did when he was angry. "Don't treat me like a little kid," the middleschooler growled at his older brother. Abe poked his bother in the chest and told him to scram, but Shun bristled at the gesture and began some posturing of his own.

The siblings' argument was broken up by Mihashi laughing. It was a nice, warm sound. The smile on his face was serene and he said very matter-of-factly, "It must be nice to have a brother."

That's right, Mihashi was an only child, Abe remembered. So he really was all alone when his parents worked.

"Trust me, most days it isn't," Shun complained. There was no fooling Mihashi though, he could tell that both of the Abe boys were close with one another.

Instead of perpetuating the argument, Abe rustled his brother's hair and half-smiled at him. "We gotta study, but you can hang out with us when we're done. You can chat Mihashi's ear off then."

This seemed to appease the younger Abe and he scurried back over to the couch. Abe turned to Mihashi and motioned to his room. "We can study in there."

It all felt innocent enough to Abe, but when they got inside his room Mihashi took a seat on the floor and pulled his math book out of his bag and onto his lap. When Abe shut the door Mihashi's face bloomed into a blush which covered everything from the bridge of his nose to the tips of his ears.

"Y-you okay there?" Abe asked as he chuckled nervously. He watched as Mihashi barely nodded and then opened up his textbook. Thinking quickly, Abe asked if Mihashi wanted some tea and snacks. The pitcher seemed to like that idea and nodded a little more enthusiastically this time, but the blush didn't disappear.

Abe escaped to the kitchen and got a few of the puff pastries and some hot tea. He came back with the tray of goodies and found Mihashi staring off into nowhere. What Tajima had said started nagging Abe again. Was this what it was like when someone had a crush on you? Abe gulped down the dry feeling in his mouth. He didn't know how to react to someone having a crush on him, let alone a guy, especially a guy who was also a teammate and friend.

"Here," he said gruffly as he pushed a cup of tea into Mihashi's hands.

Mihashi smiled and pulled the cup close to his body. "Nice and warm," he said as he let the warmth soak into his fingers. He smelled the tea and took the tiniest of sips, but it appeared to still be too hot to drink.

"Do you want any cream?" Abe offered as he held out the creamer. Mihashi declined it, but did take one of the pastries sitting on the serving platter Abe's mother had given him.

Mihashi practically beamed at him. "It's really g-good," the other boy exclaimed nervously.

Abe nodded and took one for himself, "Yeah, my mom made them," and then he just watched as Mihashi finished his first and took another. After finishing the second pastry Mihashi sipped at his tea casually, like he hadn't a care in the world. He'd even adopted the far off gaze that was so familiar that everyone on the team knew. It signaled when Mihashi had temporarily checked out. "You came here to study, right?" Abe asked as he picked up the forgotten math book on the floor. "What are you having trouble with?"

Mihashi's blinked his eyes and Abe's tone seemed to set off another round of embarrassed blushes, but he reached over and flipped the book to a particular set of formulas. "I'm not really getting how to do these."

Luckily Abe thought that those problems were fairly simple and he scooted over to Mihashi and started explaining. It took a lot of patience, and inordinate amount of examples, and even a few vague threats to get the process through Mihashi's head. Soon Abe's teammate was humming and working through the last of his homework as Abe flipped through a sports magazine.

At last Mihashi announced, "I'm done," and closed his book.

"Shun will be happy about that. I heard him stalking us outside the door earlier. Dinner will be ready soon too," Abe said as he set down the magazine he had been thumbing through and stood up. Mihashi repacked his school bag and Abe offered him a hand to help him up.

Misinterpreting the gesture, something Mihashi often did, he began looking suspiciously back and forth between Abe's hand and his own. Out of habit he offered up his pitching hand and waited for the lecture. Abe reached for it, still not understanding that Mihashi didn't get his motives. Mihashi scrunched his eyes closed when Abe took the hand in his, and just before Abe was going to pull, he realized how cold and clammy Mihashi's hand was.

"I know, I know. It's just that I…"

"What are you talking about?" Abe interrupted as he gently urged Mihashi to his feet. "I was helping you up, moron." But he couldn't get the feeling of Mihashi's hand out of his head. It signaled that Mihashi was nervous and tense. Sure, studying wasn't exactly a relaxing experience, especially for Mihashi, but it shouldn't have been something that set him off like that. It was then the realization struck him, and it made Abe's breath catch in his lungs. What if Mihashi was nervous being around him because he liked Abe? Abe always got nervous when he was around girls he liked, so it would be safe to assume that Mihashi would react the same way with someone he liked.

"Abe? Are you okay?" Mihashi asked as he reached for Abe's shoulder.

"Whoa, man, whoa," Abe said as he put up his arms defensively. He didn't know what else to do in a situation like this. "I think you have the wrong idea."

Mihashi blinked, and he couldn't hide the blank confusion on his face. "Abe?"

"I'm not into that," Abe told his friend flatly. "I'm not into guys."

Now Mihashi's expression changed from confused to absolutely, positively lost. "Abe, what are you talking about?" he finally asked. His voice sounded so timid and he was blushing harder than ever.

"It's obvious you like me," Abe informed Mihashi. The words almost edged on accusing, and Mihashi didn't understand.

Shaking his head almost violently, Mihashi finally stopped and dropped his hands to his sides. His fingers nervously balled in the material of his pants. "You're my friend, Abe. We're friends,"

Abe didn't know whether or not to believe Mihashi, so he gave the other boy a scrutinizing look and asked, "So you don't like me like that?"

Mihashi averted his eyes and shook his head slowly and said, "I don't," but the way he said it made Abe think that it wasn't completely true. A glare and a growl from Abe had Mihashi amending himself seconds later, "I don't think I do, Abe. I n-never even thought of that b-before Tajima said something."

Abe made a mental note to thank that little shit personally for all the drama he had caused. Tajima was the root of all the problems they were having, because without him there wouldn't have been any awkwardness or confusion about Abe's and Mihashi's relationship at all.

"I never considered it before y-yesterday," Mihashi mumbled, breaking Abe out of his thoughts. "B-but…"

There shouldn't have been a "but" there, Abe thought as he took a step back from Mihashi. It should be a simple, "I don't like you, Abe," or "I don't like guys either, Abe," but with all the stuttering and blushing there had to be something Mihashi was hiding from him. How would they work together if it turned out that Tajima's meddling made Mihashi realize he did like Abe. Hell, how would they work together even if it didn't? All this obviously affected them and their friendship, otherwise Abe would feel like his heart was in his throat or that he wanted to scream until his voice was hoarse.

"But what?" Abe finally asked, because it was apparent Mihashi wasn't going to continue without permission.

"I've never really liked anyone," Mihashi admitted. "S-some girls are really cute, but…" and with this Mihashi's blush deepened and he began poking his fingers together nervously like some girls did. "I've never had feelings for a classmate or a female friend. I guess that's why I've been going over and over what Tajima said. Maybe this is what it's like to have feelings for someone, because you mean a lot to me."

Abe had to mentally settle himself. He tried to convince himself that Tajima had just completely confused the kid, and it wasn't exactly a difficult feat to do considering it was Mihashi who he'd done a number on. A cup of pudding could perplex Mihashi given the right circumstances. Abe took a deep breath and as calmly as he possibly could, told Mihashi, "Tajima is full of shit."

Mihashi didn't seem like he really believed that. Abe noticed how every time Mihashi almost looked him in the eye, the pitcher would quickly avert his gaze, until he finally just squeezed his eyes closed and mumbled, the words coming out lumped and jumbled together. "Ithoughtaboutwhatit…would be like…t-t-to…kiss you."

'Kiss you,' were the only words that really stuck out of that mess, and they made Abe's eyes grow wide. He was pretty sure this was his worst nightmare.

"I didn't think I would ever like a guy like that. Never in a thousand years, but…"

Mihashi looked like he was going to pass out from the exertion of the last admission alone. He still couldn't look at Abe, and now he appeared as if he was going to cry too. It was almost as bad as when the two of them had first met, like none of the past year's happenings had occurred, like their friendship hadn't gotten past that point of nervous conversation and mistrust. Dammit, they trusted one another a lot now, and Mihashi meant the world to Abe, no matter how much the guy pissed him off.

Mihashi, in an unusually brave act for the timid boy, finally confessed. "I don't know how I feel, Abe. I'm really confused. I might, but I don't know what I'm supposed to think or feel, and now you're mad and hate me," and with those words a tear slipped down Mihashi's cheek and it almost broke Abe's heart. He'd hurt Mihashi, and he never meant to do that.

"I don't hate you," Abe quickly interjected. "Even if you did like me I wouldn't hate you." Abe had to fight back the urge to walk up to Mihashi and comfort him like he had in the past by slinging an arm around his shoulder or reaching for his hand. He didn't want to give the wrong impression, but he didn't want to be a jerk either. If Mihashi honestly believed Abe hated him because of Abe's reactions, there was something wrong with that.

The two of them remained in awkward silence until Mihashi finally nodded his head and said, "Okay."

"Idiot," Abe said, not able to stop his normal banter with Mihashi. He also didn't realize he had taken a step toward his friend and reached out to run his thumb over a tear-stained cheek. It was just what they did, and it was so natural that Abe could only hold back for so long before their normal interactions just weaseled their way in. Mihashi blinked as Abe's fingers grazed his cheek and when Abe realized what he did he froze in place.

What the hell he was doing? Abe pulled his hand away as quickly as possible and tried to pretend it didn't happen, but it had. Mihashi decided the best response would be to glue his eyes on his feet and refuse to look at Abe again. What was happening? What the hell? He noticed that tears were slowly dripping down Mihashi's cheeks again.

Abe cleared his throat and tried to yell at Mihashi, because that was what he always did in situations where Mihashi got all teary-eyed and submissive, but the words came out without any of his normal gusto. "Don't…don't cry, moron," he said softly, and he had to force his hand not to reach out and wipe the dampness from the pitcher's cheeks.

Mihashi took a deep breath and fiddled with the hem of his sweater until he finally found the courage to tell Abe, "This is what confuses me."

Abe couldn't think of anything else to say other than, "I know."

Abe hated to admit it, because it shouldn't have, but the whole situation confused him too. This wasn't what his relationship with Haruna was like, or any of the other pitchers he'd worked with. Abe also never reacted to other friends the way he did with Mihashi. He and Mihashi had a very unique friendship. Abe always had an undeniably strong need to protect the kid, and Mihashi always pushed his buttons in a way that made Abe want to strangle and hug him all at the same time. Mihashi made him a better catcher, and he obviously made Mihashi a better pitcher. Their friendship was undoubtedly strange, but it was still something deeply rooted in both of them.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door as Abe's mom let them know dinner was ready. Both boys nearly jumped out of their skin from the interruption. Abe let his mom know they were on their way and was grateful that something finally broke the tension in the room. The moment, as weird as it had been, was over. Mihashi placed his schoolbag by the bedroom door and wiped the last remnants of tears from his face. He patted his stomach and announced, almost like none of the last few minutes had happened, "I'm starving."

Even in the face of a friendship-ruining crisis Mihashi's stomach would not be denied. Abe stared mutely at his friend for a moment, and realized, much to his disdain, that Tajima might have been right. Mihashi teetered out of the room and left Abe standing alone with his thoughts. The only thing on Abe's mind was, "What is happening between us?"