This is my first story posted on this site. Hope you enjoy; please don't be too harsh :)

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Ōkiku Furikabutte or any of the characters.

Like Ripples in the Pond

-*-

The second he saw the woman with the big smile and even bigger breasts in the uniform identical to his own, Abe Takaya knew something was wrong. It wasn't her presence that caught him off guard; he may have been 30 minutes early to the Musashino First game, but she was the coach. No, it was the frantic waving of her arms and the twitching of her endless braids that made him nervous.

Either Mihashi was crying again, or Abe was in a lot of trouble.

"You're early," Momoe commented once the boy reached the dugout.

She seemed happy, and he couldn't remember doing anything to piss anyone off. This ruled out the possibility of anger directed towards him. That meant… Abe sighed.

"I wanted to throw around a bit with Mihashi before the game. He seemed so tense after practice yesterday." Abe shrugged and set his bag on the bench.

His mind instantly flashed to Haruna and his arrogance. His old pitcher wouldn't be tense in the slightest. He would merely conserve any drop of energy he had, then leave the mound before his count reached 80. It was selfish, really; the future was the kids only priority. However, Abe practically snarled at the nostalgia threatening to expand in his chest.

I can't get like this again, Abe thought. So I believed in the chemistry that was there and he didn't. It obviously wasn't meant to be. I looked up to the guy, but so what? He is probably still as big of a jerk as he was in junior high…

And yet…

"ABE, ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?" Momoe had grabbed a bat and now held it over his head menacingly.

"Whoa, Coach! I'm sorry!"

She sighed and dropped the bat. "I said, good luck with that. Mihashi mumbled some nonsense about his pitching, then ran that way." She cocked her thumb behind her shoulder. Her smile had faltered but her eyes were sparkling.

"Coach? You don't seem too upset."

Momoe looked at the freshman and grabbed his hand, much like she had the first night to make him realize what a real catcher is. "I have faith in you, Abe," she murmured. Then she quickly released him and sprung for the brown bag on the bench he had come to know. "Do you want some oran--"

"NO! I mean, no thanks, I think I'll go find Mihashi!" Abe grinned and ran behind the dugout.

"Mihashi Ren and Abe Takaya." The proud coach of Nishiuru High School turned to look at the jersey number two fade into the distance. "What an oddly refreshing connection they have. Definitely ace players." With that, she smiled and anticipated the arrival of her team.

---

After five minutes of following some path to seemingly nowhere, the light sound of humming reached Abe's ears. He tensed; was he interrupting something private? The high-pitched notes were scattered, almost worried. He walked around a bend and, sure enough, Mihashi was in sight.

The boy was sitting at the shore of a body of water; by its size and tranquility, Abe guessed it was a pond. The red "1" of his jersey stood out proudly, unlike his attitude towards the ace number. His orange hair was even messier than usual, which was a typical sign that Mihashi didn't sleep the night before. His body was shaking characteristically as he continued his own little solo.

Abe tentatively reached out and placed a hand on Mihashi's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Mihashi jumped and shook his head violently. "A-Abe," he crooned in that way that always had Abe's heart pounding ever so slightly. It never ceased to amaze him how much he meant to the freshman already. He sat at his side.

"What are you doing out here by yourself? I told you, I wanted to practice!" Abe's hands formed fists, but he restrained himself from mashing Mihashi's head with them.

"Sorry, Abe." The voice was filled with that pathetic sadness that stirred a weird feeling in Abe. I guess this kid means a lot to me too, he realized. "I guess.. I g-guess I got lo-lost?"

"WHAT IS THE POINT IN LYING TO ME?" Abe yelled. "If you have something to say…" Abe looked into his friends eyes. "…just say it." He let his voice soften at the last words, and he felt his hand grip at Mihashi's. "What's bothering you?"

The redhead looked away and stuttered out something that sounded suspiciously like, "I can't." Abe sighed and released his hand.

"I just don't get you." His fingers scanned the ground and found a rock, which he chucked into the pond. It skipped a bit before sinking into the water.

Abe continued to throw pebbles while they sat in awkward silence. Finally, Mihashi spoke up, startling the boy.

"What did you say?" Abe demanded.

Mihashi's eyes shifted and a nervous grin broke out on his face. "N-nothing!"

Abe's anger anticipated the vocal escape, but he kept his voice in control. "I want to hear, Mihashi."

The timid boy hung his head in shame and watched his hands as he spoke. "I said, the ripples bother me."

Abe's eyes widened in surprised. Ripples? Is this kid even more stupid than I thought?

"I can stop throwing rocks, if you want…" Abe squinted at Mihashi and placed the back of his hand at his forehead. "Do you have a fever? You haven't been overworking yourself again… HOW MUCH DO YOU WEIGH?"

Mihashi shook his head and looked at Abe. "I-I'm fine, Abe. I just don't like the ripples." He looked out to the pond and sighed. "They start out so s-strong, and know exactly where they are going. They're not alone in their journey, either. Some ripples are on the same path, and others obscure it. Each one influences the other, either largely or in a small way."

Abe stared at Mihashi blankly as he continued. "But eventually, the individual ripples separate from each other. They're still going in the same direction, but there's a growing distance, until they finally d-disappear." The boy now looked away from the water and directly into Abe's eyes. "I don't like being a ripple."

Abe's mouth lifted ever so slightly. Wow, I never knew how damn insightful this kid was. "You don't have to be one, Mihashi. You can go off to the pros and make a huge name for yourself. You won't have to fade; isn't that your plan? Isn't that the team's ultimate goal?"

Mihashi frowned to the ground. "But, without you, A-Abe, I would be nothing. I've told you, your signs are the reason for my pitching. I won't make it to the Major League. Once we're done with high school, I'll p-probably suck again."

"We all run the risk of failure, Mihashi." Why is he so worried about this all of a sudden?

"Not Haruna," Mihashi replied instantly.

Abe's heart stopped. Haruna. So this is what this is about… Our obvious chemistry…

"Mihashi." The boy didn't lift his head. "Dammit, look at me!" Mihashi's head snapped up and he shook slightly. "Haruna was an amazing pitcher, there's no doubt about it. But he was also a complete asshole. He may be destined for the pros, but that doesn't make him better than you."

"Y-Yeah, okay," Mihashi sighed, but the shaking had become more violent, and his head was drooping. Tears were falling onto the sand steadily.

"I loved Haruna," Abe blurted.

Mihoshi's eyes bulged as the other boy's cheeks darkened.

Dammit, why am I blushing? Why did I say something like that? But…

"It's true," Abe muttered. He looked at Mihashi. "I just realized it, but it's true. I loved my pitcher."

Mihashi's tears flowed more freely. "L-love…?"

Abe cupped Mihashi's cheek softly. I hope this doesn't scare the kid away, but here it goes…

"But I love you more. You are my new ace. You are not comparable to Haruna in any way."

I only said it to comfort him… but why is my heart pounding so hard at my own words? Could it… could it be true? Do I love Mihashi? Abe looked at the suddenly hyper side of Mihashi; his mouth had formed that characteristic diamond and his eyes squinted. His body was shaking again, but back and forth in increasing excitement. His voice had gone up an octave and he was chanting, "Abe loves me!"

I… I love Mihashi. This kid I just met… I barely know him… he annoys the shit out of me with his misguided insecurities… but…

Abe leaned in, and Mihashi's eyes widened. The two boys hesitantly inched their mouths closer and closer, until…

Mihashi's watched beeped obnoxiously, signifying time to be 12:00.

"OH SHIT, THE GAME STARTS IN LESS THAN TEN MINUTES AND WE NEVER PRACTICED!" Abe jumped up onto his feet.

The redhead completely fell over, with worry etched on his face, the pink diamond returning; classic Mihashi. Abe laughed lightly and extended a hand to his now more-than-friend.

Mihashi's eyes widened once again as he stared at the hand. His eyes shifted erratically, not knowing what to do with the innocent body part. He fell over once again in confusion.

Abe laughed. "Just grab it!" When Mihashi took the hand, Abe couldn't stop the butterflies from fluttering.

Oh shit, I am NOT turning into a pansy, am I?!

They ran towards the field, hand-in-hand. They may only be ripples in the pond, but they would always have each other.