Author's note: before beginning, I'd like to acknowledge my debt to thatreevesgirl, whose story "Matchmakers and Misunderstandings" served as significant inspiration. I am very taken with it, actually, and it got me asking myself what Abe and Mihashi's relationship would look like, some time after they'd started hooking up. This is not intended as a continuation of that story, nor are my characterizations especially like hers. But if you've read that story before reading this, the association is probably pretty obvious. And if you haven't, you should. It's really good.

. + .

his soul, bright shining and pure

"C-can I..."

"Hmm?" Abe looked up from the magazine he'd been paging through. Sure enough, there was Mihashi kneeling nearby, looking both hopeful and abashed at the same time, a nice trick if ever Abe saw one. The guy was a born fidgeter, kind of swaying slowly as he clasped his hands together.

Supervising Mihashi's homework sessions was always an exercise in managing an array of frustrations, because Mihashi was never more of an ace than when he wanted to distract himself from studying. Case in point: having hit the approximate ten minute mark in his studies, Mihashi usually looked for some kind of distraction which he liked to think of as an "earned break," at least fifty minutes earlier than he really was entitled to take one according to Abe's set rules (one break per hour, maximum). Abe had already waved Mihashi off on this technicality a few times earlier, but now over an hour had passed, and it was clear that Mihashi intended to collect.

Abe met Mihashi's pleading gaze with a level stare.

Taking this to mean that he had permission to proceed, Mihashi shuffled a handful of papers that were laying out on the kotatsu, clutching at them as he shakily picked them up and held them out to Abe. "S-see? I did a lot?"

Dutifully, Abe took the homework he'd been offered, looking over the answers critically. It was about halfway done, and none of the answers appeared to be way off base; he'd check it over later in more detail just to be sure. After a few moments, he nodded. Good enough. "Okay," he said.

In deep relief, Mihashi exhaled, an exaggerated gesture (although for him, it was no more exaggerated than his norm). He followed with a wavering smile; a grin really, or maybe a kind of grimace... in any case, a sign which held an all-too-clear meaning. With a shaky hand, Mihashi reached out, placing trembling fingertips on Abe's knee.

It was all Abe could do to keep from rolling his eyes. Mihashi always went through this song-and-dance, never mind the fact that they'd been fooling around pretty solidly for the last month or so. Still, he couldn't help but feel his heart race a bit faster, a skittering nervous response of his own he could never quite keep under control.

The fact that it always went like this also made it so it always felt kinda new, which was actually pretty nice.

"So... so. So?" Mihashi began collecting his thoughts. "C-can I?"

"You don't need to ask for permission, you know." Abe couldn't keep the irritability from his voice altogether, although he'd been working on his volume and so this came out kind of tight, and gruff, but quiet.

"I know," Mihashi answered slowly, "...but." Abe felt the brush of Mihashi's fingers stroke his knee, the one which had been hurt last year. Mihashi swallowed, hard, and after a moment so did Abe. This was just so damned awkward.

Probably Abe should just take charge, because he at least knew how to be forceful. But the last time he'd tried, it had left Mihashi in a quivering heap of nerves which rendered him useless for doing anything else for the rest of the night, and it had even affected his next day's practice too, which was an unforgivable lapse of judgement on his own part. Managing Mihashi's nerves was the hardest part of managing Mihashi in general, and experience had taught Abe to proceed cautiously, not knowing which landmine of emotional vulnerability he might trigger if he weren't careful. So he waited.

Trembling still, Mihashi reached up to touch the side of Abe's face. Abe leaned back, resting his weight on his wrists, keeping his back straight while inclining his neck forward so that he could keep an eye on all Mihashi was doing. This wasn't easy for him, either, since Mihashi was a guy, but he tried not to dwell on that.

Mihashi's weakness was deceptive: when he wanted to, he could summon a surprising level of backbone, and that was what he did now. Shy, but not backing down, he kind of crawled over Abe until he was leaning over him, and he took a moment to stare at Abe in a way which was characteristically freakish. Mihashi had changed a lot from how he was back in the beginning, when he would break off into tears at the least provocation, but that didn't mean he'd shed his essential weirdness. Another thing Abe had to just resign himself to, but that was okay because Mihashi's little moments never embarrassed him, they merely annoyed him, and being annoyed had never been a particular turn-off in Abe's book.

Now Mihashi was swallowing again, a large gulping noise. With careful precision, he placed a kiss on Abe's lips. A very light one.

"A-Abe-kun is amazing..." Mihashi mumbled, and Abe felt himself flush even as he smiled slightly at this bit of praise.

Somehow it never got old.

It was also quite self-serving, if you really thought about it. Mihashi was praising Abe for being discerning enough to like him. Obviously Mihashi didn't really see things that way, but that was what it amounted to, and there was a carefully hidden core of ego in all of Mihashi's self-abasement which was seriously amusing. Not to mention, fairly alluring.

Abe refrained from pointing it out. It would probably come off as an insult or something.

Truthfully, it was refreshing. There had been a time when Abe was convinced that Mihashi could never believe in himself, not without borrowing self-confidence from others. And although Abe treasured Mihashi's trust and faith in him, a true ace needed to believe in himself. Ever since they'd agreed to combine their powers, Abe promised himself to keep this first and foremost in his mind. Letting Mihashi have his way sometimes, no matter how he meandered and hesitated, was definitely a part of that process.

And he had to admit: he liked it, too.

So he simply smiled, and Mihashi slowly deepened the kiss.

In return, Abe closed his eyes and allowed himself to be pressed back until he was lying flat on the floor. "Mmm... relaxing," he said, getting into the spirit of the thing, calming himself down by imagining the team meditation sessions, those cool clear mornings of summer when the whole group would sit in a circle, and sometimes he would hold Mihashi's hand...

"It's okay?" Mihashi asked, checking in way before it was really necessary to do so.

"Yes," Abe responded, gritting his teeth and going for the most pleasant tone he had.

"You don't mind?"


"... can I keep going?"

Argh. Seriously. Abe twitched a little. "Yes."

Somewhere in the back of his head, Abe envisioned Coach Momoe grinning, pathologically intense, giving him the "good job" thumbs up. She probably would approve of all this weird bonding, and even more she would be happy with Abe's restraint. None of their teammates knew all that was going on between he and Mihashi, of course, including her, but everyone had noticed how much more natural their relationship had been recently, and strangely enough he was praised for it even more than Mihashi. As if he'd been the root cause of their problems all along, which was clearly a ridiculous notion.

But whatever; they could believe what they wanted, and if everyone thought that Abe holding himself back was some kind of major turning point, who was he to argue with that? He twitched a little, again. It didn't bother him, really. Not at all.


Abe opened his eyes, stifling a sigh.

Stalling out was just a part of the process, so he shouldn't sigh. Just a part of the process.

"Keep going," he said, and if he sounded a bit strained, it was only because he was turned on. Right? That had to be right.

Buuuut.... apparently that was not good enough, because Mihashi backed off. Not all the way, but he definitely pulled back a little, gazing down at him worriedly. "S-s-sometimes I..." Mihashi swallowed. "Feel." Blinked, twice. "I'm." A worried frown. "Bothering you?"

No, this was what bothered him! This! "No, it's really fine," he said, as smoothly as he could. Abe reached up, and ran his fingers through Mihashi's hair. The level of reassurance Mihashi needed was always unreal, so he shouldn't be surprised. He probably shouldn't ask, either, but... "Why?"

"You never..." Mihashi tried to smile at him; the smile was a spectacular failure. "... kiss back."

Outrageous! "Wrong!"

"But I always s-start..."

Yes, this was true, but it was only because Mihashi had so many problems when Abe tried. Pointing this out would only make things worse, though, so he took a calming breath.

The issue here, clearly, was that they were using words to mediate their interaction, and words were not a place where their interests collided very often. Abe pulled Mihashi down and gave him a thorough kiss, and it was good, good enough to make him get hard. He hoped that Mihashi felt that, because it certainly wasn't something he could fake. "You see?" he said, after a minute or so of this. "I like you."

"Abe-kun likes me..." Mihashi said, melting.

"I really like you." Abe looked off to the side. He hated being backed into a corner like this, but it pleased him too. He had no idea why.

Mihashi lit up, like a high firecracker or something. "I like you too!" At the very least, like he was high.

They were back in business. The kissing commenced properly this time, with Mihashi acting in accordance with his known aptitude for emotional abandon. This was not the same thing as pure physical abandon; Mihashi stuttered and balked too much for that. But it was abandon all the same, because it was like he just couldn't hold his feelings back: not his sadness, not his guilt, not his hesitations, not his pride.

Not his happiness. Not his joy.

Not anything.

Slowly, but passionately, Mihashi moved off from Abe's lips, kissing down along his chin, then under it, and then down the side of his neck. Nice. This was a lot more like it. Abe kept his mouth shut, holding back on any encouraging (or discouraging) commentary.

When they eventually did go all the way... Abe clenched his hands into fists, flushing a bit more. When that happened, it would obviously have to be Mihashi on top. Just because it seriously couldn't happen any other way.

He had no idea why he liked this either.

Abe shifted a little, his body heavy under Mihashi's, readjusting himself slightly so he could get more comfortable. So good. He would just lie back, and enjoy himself, and Mihashi would continue with his biting little kisses, sucking at the side of his neck, a little harder and harder each time as he moved down towards his collarbone, pushing Abe's tee shirt down a bit so he could really get in there.

A little harder, a little more. Harder, and more...

"Oh no..."

Mihashi sounded horrified, and scrambled off Abe in a moment, panting.

Abe opened one eye, looking over to where Mihashi was inexplicably cringing, halfway across the room. It was like he'd teleported. "How did you get over there so fast?" he said, probably coming off as sullen even though he was mostly just confused. There was no way he'd done anything wrong!


Look... where? Abe tilted his head back, as far as he could. Nothing but wall behind him. He then looked from side to side. Nothing alarming there, either. Abe sat up. "What?"

Mihashi was pointing at him, finger shaking, mouth open wide. "Y-y-you--"

What? No, seriously... what? Abe kind of wished that Tajima were around to interpret. Or, at the very least, that Hanai were around to serve as witness. How could anyone be possibly held responsible for blowing up in pissed off anger when someone pulled this kind of shit? Didn't matter that it was Mihashi, world-class flake. How unfair was it that Mihashi could do all these amazing stunts of unintentional callousness and get off scot-free? It was simply lucky that Abe had a soft spot in his heart for this moron, because... because!

Abe pointed back, a singular stabbing gesture. "Make sense!" he commanded.

As if that would work. But at least he could try?




"What? Really?" Abe's irritation vanished, replaced with grudging fascination. A hickey? He'd never even seen one of those before, let alone had one. He looked down briefly, unhelpfully, and then stood. After dusting himself off, he walked over to look in the mirror over Mihashi's dresser, angling his chin up and to the side, touching his neck with his fingertips as he examined himself in the mirror.

There was a small, coin-shaped red mark just above his collarbone. "It's just a bruise," he said critically, after he'd thoroughly checked it out.

As expected, Mihashi was freaking out over nothing.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!"

Turning his back to the mirror, he frowned down at Mihashi, who was still cowering off in the corner, bowing several times in apology while still kneeling on the floor.

"Stop that," he said. "I used to get worse from Haruna all the time."

"Haruna-san?" Mihashi looked up, lips quivering and tears welling up at the corner of his eyes.

"Baseball bruises," Abe clarified, putting his hands on his hips. "This is nothing compared to those."


"But nothing."

"No... but... I mean... it's not... just..." Mihashi was forcing himself, his face turning red as he pressured himself to finish his thought.

Abe clenched his jaw impatiently, but after a moment he went over to Mihashi, going down on one knee. Wordlessly, he held out his right hand. He really was getting better at this, he reflected, as Mihashi grabbed the offered hand as if Abe were throwing him a lifeline. There was a little sniffling, but not nearly to the degree Abe used to see, and with only minor difficulty, Mihashi continued.

"It's... people... can tell. It's... different. O-obvious."

Hmm. Abe supposed this might be true. The hickey was definitely rounder than most bruises, and redder, and the location... well, probably the location alone gave it away. He'd never gotten a baseball hit to the throat, which was just as well since that would probably have killed him. "Ah," he said finally. "Still, who cares?" He certainly didn't. "I'll just cover it up."

Mihashi looked around a little, doing his "eh? eh?" routine, before pointing at himself. "I-I do?"

Ahh. There was no stifling his sigh this time, as Abe dropped his head down nervelessly, as if all the ligaments in his body had been cut. It was a choice between utter surrender or absolute rage, and the later was highly unlikely to end in anything other than renewed alienation, a compromise of their sacred trust.

Wasn't this a familiar problem? It wasn't quite the same as that one time near the end of their first match with Tosei, when Mihashi hesitated before throwing the ball back to home base, worried that Abe would get hurt.

It wasn't the same, but it was close.

That had almost cost them the game, that hesitation, but at least now there was no game on the line.

Sometimes he wondered. Mihashi wasn't a coward, not really. There was always some reason he pulled back, maybe because he wanted to save face for his team, or because he was terrified of his own selfishness. It had taken Abe a while to really get this, but he got it now. So sometimes he wondered. Wasn't it Mihashi who was the one always looking for an out, calling for a halt to their illicit shenanigans the way he always paused and second guessed and what have you? Wasn't all that nonsense simply code for something else?

"Stupid," Abe said at last. Not in an angry way, just... frustrated.

"Eheh..." Mihashi laughed a little, nervously. "Sorry."

Abe rubbed at the spot on his neck absently. "Where did you learn about hickeys, anyway?" he asked, thoughts going elsewhere.

That whole detour had cost precious break time minutes, and so they'd fallen somewhat behind on the count... probably no way to make up for it, either, not without kick-starting an ill-advised, tactically aggressive strategy.

Maybe he could improvise, but he'd already taken a big risk when he pulled Mihashi in for that kiss... and that had probably only worked since Mihashi basically asked him to do it. Abe looked over to the kotatsu, where both his and Mihashi's phones were. First, he should check the time...

As he turned to crawl over there, he pulled his hand back expecting Mihashi to release it easily... but instead, Mihashi was holding on really tightly. "Eh?" he said, turning back to look at his pitcher.

"T-tajima- k-kun..." Mihashi's face had turned red, answering Abe's question at last.

"Oh." That made sense. Tajima was always sharing his porn with Mihashi, and so it stood to reason that he'd looked upon Mihashi as some kind of comrade of perversion. Was there a topic that Tajima wouldn't bring up, if given the opportunity? Abe turned around once more, hoping that this was settled. He cared a lot less about Mihashi's porn habits than Mihashi seemed to assume. Caring about the time, however...

But Mihashi just tightened his grip.

"I-it was a long time... ago... I promise... really... b-before you..."

Jeez, wouldn't he just let go already? Abe looked back once more, pasting a smile on his face. With his free hand, he waved it off. "Fine, fine." See, he could totally be lighthearted!

"You... don't mind?"

"Do you think I really care about what you two talk about?"

"Talk?" Mihashi gave him a confused, lost little look. Finally, finally, he let go of Abe's hand.

Abe went over and picked up his phone, flipping it open. Quarter past eight. "Five more minutes," he announced.

Mihashi was still off in his corner, but when Abe called out the time he stood up slowly and walked over, sitting down next to him. Seemed he couldn't look Abe in the eye... perhaps he felt guilty that he'd left Abe with a hard on without planning in the time to take care of it? Considering Mihashi's speed, five minutes just wasn't enough. "Don't worry," Abe said reassuringly, shrugging. "I'll jerk off later when I get home."

This reassurance was met with wide eyes. "Um..."

"Your homework comes first," Abe added. Honestly, Mihashi should know this by now!

Now Mihashi blinked, several times, but it appeared that he came to some kind of internal decision, and amazingly, he stopped moving around for once, becoming... nearly calm. And then, surprisingly, he smiled, a slow warm smile. It was a really nice smile, one which made Abe feel warm inside too. "I still have a few minutes, though..."

Abe nodded. It always satisfied him when Mihashi understood him. "Don't start anything you can't finish," he said, a little piously, but also kind of smug. Without direct stimulation, he wasn't all that hard any more, but he was still more turned on than he'd like to be, and if Mihashi went for anything too interesting, Abe might forget all about the time, and that would completely break the break-time rules.

"Okay." Mihashi reached up to touch the side of Abe's neck, brushing over the mark he'd accidentally made. "D-do you want me to do anything... in particular?"

Options? Abe grinned, in real pleasure. He always liked options.

There was a timer app on his phone, so he opened it up and set it for three minutes... and then, in a moment of generosity, reconsidered and pushed it back all the way to four. Timer set, he held the phone up so that Mihashi could see. "Let's do a timed challenge."


Yes. Abe could see that Mihashi was feeling a bit faint; probably still worked up in self-recrimination over the damn hickey as if it had been something that could actually damage him. Bah. Anyhow. In a way, at this moment Mihashi was like any opponent he might come up against in the box. Separating out intentions from goals, there were specific ways to defeat this particular player... Mihashi needed to get over his stupid guilt so he could study properly, otherwise this entire evening would have been a waste.

Give him an easy victory, was the conclusion he'd come to in his mind.

So, something that would be fun, that was a bit challenging but not hard... "I want you to find my one ticklish spot."


"I don't have one?" Abe smirked. "That's just what I want everyone to think. This is an important secret, so don't go blabbing to Izumi. I'll give you one hint: it's not under my arms." He held his phone off to the side, thumb hovering over the timer's start button. "Ready?"

Mihashi looked down, and then up, and then down again, looking at the floor. Mute, he nodded once.

"Go." Abe punched the button, and dropped the phone.

For a long moment, Mihashi just stared at him, shaking and perplexed, but all Abe did was get into position, a nice crouch similar to his normal catcher's pose. Mihashi took a stiff, swift breath and straightened, eyes darting around bashfully, his gaze appearing to land at several obvious target zones, as well as a few not so obvious. This wasn't just a pause for no reason; Mihashi was thinking, and Abe approved.

First stop, Mihashi went for his feet; an expected opening gambit, and completely wrong. Before he finished reaching for them Abe just shook his head, saying "not there." Mihashi looked up into Abe's eyes after that as if weighing the truthfulness of this assertion, but before it could piss Abe off that he was being doubted Mihashi just nodded, in seeming acceptance. Gingerly, Mihashi curled his finger into the standard attack position. Next he went for the neck, but that wasn't it either, and Abe shook his head once again.

"It's not..." Mihashi angled his gaze lower, and blushed. "Around here?" He cupped his fingers between Abe's legs, patting upward.

"You wish."

"How about...?" Mihashi pressed his hands to Abe's sides, just above the hips, and did something with his fingers which was similar to a tickle, and yet amazingly not one.


"Mmm?" It looked like Mihashi was getting into this, as he became thoughtful before moving his hands forward, over the front of Abe's belly. "M-maybe here?"

"Come on. No way."

Finally Mihashi reached around to his back, patting the area around his lower back. "Here?"

"Almost." Abe smiled. "You gonna go for it?"

Of course he was. Mihashi went for it, and started a slow tickle, gently scritching up his back and stopping at the right place when Abe shivered. There. Right in the middle. "Tch--" He tried to hold it in, because he hated being tickled, really, but this was for Mihashi so he didn't try all that hard.

"There?" Mihashi asked, almost coy.

"T-there." Abe broke down in helpless laughter.

. + .

When it was time for Abe-kun to leave, Mihashi felt sad.

Not very sad, not too sad. Just... sad.

It was in this forlorn state that he stood to the side near his front door, watching as Abe-kun pulled on his shoes and finished bundling up. As usual Abe-kun was giving out his final instructions for the night, and so Mihashi tried to listen closely, even though it was hard to listen when he felt sad. The next day was a school day, so Abe-kun would be off in class while Mihashi went to his own. Afterwards they would meet up to work out for a while, maintaining fitness during the final lingering days of winter, but after that Abe-kun wasn't going to be around like he had been today, since he had his own life and things to do and couldn't be around every minute just to make sure Mihashi didn't screw up.

A whole day with only a little bit of the time spent with Abe-kun.

It would be okay. Mihashi enjoyed spending time with Tajima-kun and Hama-chan and Izumi-kun, too. Because of Abe-kun, he was a lot more friendly with everyone. He wasn't worried.

But he still felt sad.

"... don't forget to take a break after third period, and bring a snack. An apple would be good. Any fruit or vegetable would be fine, but no candy, okay? You'll be having most of your protein at lunch, so it's important that you mix in some other food types-- healthy food types-- the rest of the day. Oh, after that you have your math class, right? If you have any questions don't be afraid to call up Nishihiro, I checked and he should be free tomorrow evening, so if you are in a real pinch, just go over to his place." Abe-kun stopped and gave Mihashi a dubious look. "Maybe I'll have him call you, just in case."

"N-no, it's fine. I'll call him..."

"Call him no matter what. You don't have to go over there if you think you can handle it, but it would be good to have him go over the basic ideas with you, just to be safe. Will you do that?"

Mihashi nodded vigorously. Absolutely, absolutely he would do that. If Abe-kun wanted him to, he absolutely would call Nishihiro-kun.

Abe-kun stood up, pulling on his hat. He appeared ready to go. "I think that's all," he said, sounding pretty satisfied with himself. "Did you get all that?"

He did indeed. "Y-yes!"

It was not strange for Abe-kun to look at him hard, like he was doing now, because sometimes Mihashi was such a liar. It wasn't intentional the way he sometimes lied, because the idea of disappointing Abe-kun was crushing, paralyzing, and so sometimes untruths fell from his lips, despite trying so hard to be the good person Abe-kun wanted him to be. Right now, though, he wasn't lying, so he made sure to sound extra earnest as he shook his head up and down rapidly. "Yes! S-snacks and apples and... math. And, Nishihiro-kun..."

"Right." Abe-kun gave him that beautiful smile of his. Abe-kun was so beautiful. "So I'll get going, then."

"W-wait!" Mihashi held up his hand, urging Abe-kun to halt. "Just a min.. second."

And without seeing whether Abe-kun was waiting, trusting that he would, Mihashi spun around and sprinted back to his room, digging into his closet to find his extra scarf. He couldn't help but notice that Abe-kun didn't have one, and today especially he would need one. It was not the best scarf, but it was a good one, and it would keep Abe-kun warm, and, and... covered.

Upon his return he held out the scarf, holding it forth with both hands. "Please. For you?"

There was a tense moment as Abe-kun looked at the scarf, expression carefully blank. Mihashi knew that look, and blanched. The scales were out, and his goodness was being weighed.

After looking at the scarf for a really long time, Abe-kun looked up at Mihashi. "Thanks," he said, and he didn't sound the least bit mad.

Thank goodness.

As Abe-kun wrapped the scarf around his neck, Mihashi exhaled sharply. He could feel much more at ease, now, knowing that Abe-kun would make it home without being subjected to unwelcome scrutiny. But would Abe-kun just take it off the moment he got home? He might, he just didn't seem to care about some things, and it baffled Mihashi, a little, because some of those things were matters of consequence. It wasn't like Abe-kun was thoughtless, the way Mihashi was, and his indifference to convention was simply because his soul was so bright, shining, and pure... but. It was dangerous, wasn't it? The way Abe-kun didn't watch out... didn't care?

Nothing could make him deathly afraid more than this.

Mihashi watched in continued worry as Abe-kun walked out the door, and then waved. He stood at the threshold with the door open, and watched until Abe-kun turned the corner, going to the side of the house where he'd parked his bike. It was cold out; Mihashi held his hands up before his mouth, breathing warmth into them.

He watched until Abe-kun was gone. And he watched until after he was gone, too.

If only Abe-kun knew.

For instance, there was that whole thing about Tajima-kun. Abe-kun didn't pursue it, because naturally Abe-kun was not concerned with such things and so he didn't even notice. It wasn't even all that bad a thing, the story about the hickey; he and Tajima-kun had been good friends for such a long time now, and so that one day they had just been fooling around, being silly. It didn't mean anything. But it would be hard to explain, and it was so tempting to just lie. Abe-kun saved him from having to confront this dire test of character, because Mihashi wasn't so sure that he'd pass. Depending on Abe-kun was wonderful, but doing so too much had a dangerous side, because Abe-kun didn't protect himself properly.

In some very curious way, Abe-kun was sometimes surprisingly blind.

It made him sad.

Up in the sky the stars were shining, bright and pure. Behind the stars the night was dark.

I don't want to hurt you, Abe Takaya-kun, I don't want to break you.

Don't let me break you.