Hopelessly Devoted

An Ookiku Furikabutte Fanfiction

Summary: Fed up with Mihashi and Abe's co-dependence, the team removes Abe as starting catcher for the Nishiura High School Baseball team. What proves to be devastating at first, turns out in the long run to set the two on a track for a long, rewarding relationship that will last for the rest of their lives.

Multi-chapter.

°o°o°o°o°o°

Mihashi Ren was a lot of things, but above all of them, he was good. His intentions were pure, he always thought of his team first, and he never really hated anyone. All he knew was how to love, how to care, and how to be afraid.

He especially cared for Abe Takaya, the person who promised him that he would be an ace. One person of many who would be touched by Mihashi's goodness. But he didn't know how much he would be touched. Not yet.

In the meantime, Abe was busy. Mihashi trusted Abe with his body and soul, and Abe saw fit to repay this by managing it down to the last pitch of the day and the last grain of rice he consumed. What Abe thought was direction necessary for the good of the team and the maintenance of the pitcher was, in practice, a misinterpreted representation of his desire to help his pitcher succeed. It read as controlling, demeaning micro-management.

Mihashi was a simple soul, who, believing that if he obeyed Abe's every directive, felt Abe would continue to like him, and subsequently, he would be successful. Mihashi had wanted so badly to be liked, that he had forgotten what being liked was like, and was totally content with Abe's version of affection. The rest of the team, however, was not so quick to buy it. They all knew how pure Mihashi's heart was, and saw Abe's actions as incredibly insulting to their pitcher. He was dense, for sure, but he was capable of taking care of himself as a pitcher. Unfortunately, bringing it up was impossible due to Mihashi's delicate and defensive nature.

"Damnit, Abe, he doesn't need you to tell him not to get his fingers hit when he's bunting!" Izumi had shouted one day.

Before Abe could react, Mihashi began stammering and tearing up.

"But...Abe-kun...cares...about...me..." he stuttered. "D...don't be...mad...at...A...*sniff*...A...*hic*...Ab..."

At which point, Izumi caught sight of the entirety of the rest of the team making gestures to suggest he abort quickly, lest he upset the pitcher any further. They realized early that reprimanding Abe meant criticising Mihashi for obeying him. At least, that's how he saw it, and so such outbursts were no longer made.

Mihashi was, in a way, selfless but still selfish. His every action was made toward not being hated. In practice, pleasing everyone. In essence, desperately protecting himself.

Abe Takaya had originally planned to use Mihashi as a puppet, but was quickly moved by his purity and innocence when he learned how abused the pitcher had been in middle school. From then on, he decided to devote himself to Mihashi. But he had no idea how to handle someone perpetually generous and fearful. Being trusted was the best feeling Abe had ever had, and knew no other way to repay it than his obsessive, degrading devotion. For high school freshman, this bizarre relationship could pass. But as they grew older, they and those around them became more mature and more aware. And it wouldn't pass for long.

°o°o°o°o°o°

It was a mere year after that fateful, first 100 kilometer-per-hour pitch between Mihashi and Abe, that Hanai spoke up. Loudly.

"Mihashi! You don't need Abe-fucking-Takaya in order to pitch well!"

Every member of the team, including the six new freshman and what was probably the rugby team stretching in left field, fell silent.

"B...but...with...out...A...Abe...kun...I"

"No! No! No! Mihashi! You are the pitcher! YOU do the pitching. It doesn't matter who catches your god-damned perfectly placed pitches. I can not and will not spend another year listening to you degrade yourself. You are our ace and if you want to continue being our ace, you need to act like you're one!"

Even Momoe was too stunned to stop the tirade. Mostly because it was true, but partly because she hadn't expected anyone on the team to grow the balls to say it so soon.

"Hey!" Tajima had shouted, running over to Hanai in a flash of white uniform. He stuck his face in front of Hanai's- which he could now do on account of having grown four or five or a hundred inches over the winter. But before he could continue, Hanai grabbed Tajima's collar and shoved him away, totally unafraid of what was, in reality, a very intimidating clean-up. Keeping Tajima an arm away, he continued.

"What do we have to do, Mihashi? What do we have to say? How do we get it through your head that you are a brilliant pitcher. That you don't need Abe. Abe is not what makes you good. You are."

Mihashi could only tremble in a heap on the mound, much in the way he had a year ago when he revealed that he was only an ace through nepotism. Everyone was so focused on the scene there that no one, save an observant freshman named Satoshi, noticed how insulted Abe had been until he shouted "Fuck you Hanai" as he slammed the gate door closed and stalked off.

The pitcher, now completely catatonic and positive that everyone on the team, nay, in the world, was mad at him, was dragged to the dugout by Hamada and Shino'oka. When they returned to the mound, the discussion was already heated.

"Simple," Hanai said, answering a question they'd missed. "Don't let Abe catch."

"You asshole!" Tajima shouted. "Mihashi is Mihashi, but you can't treat our catcher like that!"

Momoe put her hand on Tajima's shoulder to silence him. She had been the only one on the field (besides the aforementioned Murakami Satoshi, who shared Tajima's unfailing astuteness) who knew that Tajima has not threatened Hanai earlier in defense of Mihashi, but of Abe.

"Hanai. You need to relax. And Tajima is right, you need to admit what you said was unfair to Abe-kun."

"Abe treats him like a five year old!" the captain rebuked.

"Abe," Momoe said, leaning in so only the inner circle of the huddle could hear, "doesn't know how else to show affection." Hanai was immediately taken aback. That was, in his opinion, pretty messed up.

"But what are we going to do about it? Mihashi will never be a confident pitcher if he is so determined that his worth hinges on Abe. We can't stand behind a pitcher like that. What the hell will be do in the big leagues? He can't stipulate in his contract that he will only pitch to Abe."

"That all may be true," the coach said firmly, "and currently, we have no choice but to address it, considering your little display this afternoon. And I will think about it. But right now, you need to go and apologize to Abe-kun. It's not his fault we gave the difficult job of managing Mihashi to someone who wasn't equipped to do it. And you can't talk about him like he isn't an important member of the team."

It was not a testament to Hanai's ability as a captain that the one thing repeating in his head while he walked to the club room to apologize to Abe was "Tajima is right." His complex concerning Tajima had only grown more intense since the third baseman had caught up in height- previously the only thing he could hold, so to say, "above" him. But when he saw Abe, curled and weeping in the corner of the damp three-tatami-wide room, he forgot all about Tajima. It was immediately distressing to see Abe, who was normally stern and composed, actually sobbing over his knees, face wet with tear-streaked dirt, hair wrenched in sweaty fists.

"Abe..." Hanai began, frozen in the doorway.

"What am I going to do?" Abe sobbed. "If he doesn't need me, what am I going to do? How else can I..."

When Abe was done lamenting about how he could possibly go on if Mihashi didn't need him, all Hanai could think of to say was,

"You two are seriously fucked up."

It was true.

Hanai never told anyone what he'd seen that day, and Abe never told anyone that Hanai had never actually apologized.

°o°o°o°o°o°

Mihashi didn't show up to practice the next day, as everyone had expected. They figured it might be better that way, and they could go to his house afterward to explain what they had decided.

"The point is," Hanai said, nervously but with conviction, "we can't have our pitcher continue to think he can only function with Abe as catcher." He paused to look directly at the team member in question. "While Abe is a more than capable catcher- maybe the best I've ever played with," he added, generously, "we know that Mihashi is an amazing pitcher no matter who calls the pitches. We've seen that. But he will not develop into a functioning professional that we can stand behind if we don't make him realize that." Abe was silent, along with everyone else, on the other side of the circle. Hanai took a deep breath and scanned the faces in the ring.

"And that's why," he said, carefully, "for the good of the team and the pitcher that will bring us to Koshien, I recommend that we temporarily retire Abe as starting catcher."

Fortunately for Hanai, Abe was not faster than Tajima or Momoe, who ably tackled him before he could connect his fist with the captain's face.

"You're out of your mind!" he shouted. "You're out of your fucking mind! What kind of captain suggests taking out his senior catcher? I'm not trying to be conceited here, but I'm the best catcher! The team will suffer if I get taken out. You know it! What are you thinking, you piece of shi-"

"Abe!" Momoe warned.

"Mihashi needs me! I've managed to keep him from failing every subject that exists, increased his pitch speed by twelve kilometers per hour, AND kept him at a healthy weight when he loses five kilograms per game. If I'm not his catcher, he is going to self-destruct!"

"No," Hanai said, both determined, and incredibly frightened. "That is exactly why you should not be his catcher. And why you should be his personal manager."

Abe's stomach coiled in on itself.

"He may too absentminded to remember to eat, but he can pitch. Don't think for a second that he needs you to pitch. He needs you to care about him. And you-" he paused, looking around, and leaned in to whisper in the catcher's ear "...you need him even more. I saw you. You're the one who's gonna self-destruct without him."

He leaned back away, raising his voice. "If you really care about him, Abe, you will help teach Mihashi that he is a good pitcher, all on his own."

Abe slowly, vacantly turned to his coach, who, after a silent beat, nodded, sympathetically.

"Shit," he spat quietly, straining to keep emotions in. The world proceeded in slow motion for Abe, as he walked away from the captain through a parting sea of teammates.

"Abe," Tajima spoke up, gaining Abe's attention momentarily. "We have two great freshman catchers. You're right, we are going to hurt a little without you starting. But we're going to do it. We're going to do it for Mihashi. And... for you." Abe turned, unfazed, and continued his march to the dugout. There, he sat with his head in his hands, mind blank, unsure of how he would face Mihashi again.

The team allowed him his space, and no one was as sympathetic as Hanai, who knew that he had just organized and executed the premature removal of their star catcher. Momoe was proud of her team. They were very brave today, and she was astounded that they were organizing in this way, threatening their chances at a championship, in order to correct their friends' personality disorders. She gave Hanai a firm clap on the shoulder to knock him out of his guilty stupor.

"You're a good captain, Hanai-kun," she said. "And you may not believe it right now, but you're an even better friend."

He didn't believe it, actually. He felt like shit.

After a solemn practice (no one was really into it after that skirmish, and the freshmen were mostly totally confused) a handful of representatives- Hanai, Momoe, Tajima, Mizutani, Suyama, Izumi, and Shino'oka- wen't to Mihashi's house to explain the decision. It could have gone worse.

"Mihashi-kun," Momoe said. "Abe is not going to be starting anymore."

His face was wet with tears instantly. "W...what...did...I...do?"

The team heaved a sigh, unanimously wondering if there was anything Mihashi didn't blame himself for.

"You didn't do anything, Mihashi-kun. We're going to give one of the freshman a chance to catch, and Abe-kun is going to focus on being our strategist, and your personal manager."

"M...my? My manager? But...I don't... understand..."

Hanai spoke up, finding it equally insulting that they were dancing around the true intentions.

"Mihashi, remember when I yelled at you yesterday?" Mihashi immediately paralyzed, remembering too well.

"Well, listen. You're gonna learn that Abe isn't what makes you a good pitcher. I feel bad that Abe doesn't get to catch, because he's really good, and he likes to. But we think he needs a little break too."

Mihashi was making annoying, sobbing sounds, and Tajima took his hands in his own.

"It's okay Mihashi," he said brightly, "we're going to go to Koshien no matter what, okay? You're going to take us there."

Mihashi nodded, wiping his eyes on his sleeves.

"A...Abe...*hic*...kun...will...hate...me..."

"No, he won't," Momoe said. "Just keep working hard, okay?"

"It's my fauuuuult!" Mihashi erupted, sobbing. "Abe can't catch- and- it's- because of my personality!"

Everyone turned to Momoe, who shrugged slightly, thinking that they couldn't fix all of his issues in a day.

Tajima squeezed Mihashi's hands. "Mihashi?"

Mihashi looked up at his wide-eyed friend.

"Shut up, okay?"

Mihashi nodded.

Hanai cursed quietly in the background.

When Abe told his parents that he would not be a starter, it could have gone better. His father hollered something about having known that Abe needed to do something about his relationship with his pitcher, but when Abe began crying instead of arguing back, he quickly realized that this was exactly was his son was trying to do. Abe got the kind of hug he hadn't gotten from his father in a long time, and when he went to bed, all he could think about was whether Mihashi was miserable or not.

Around midnight, Abe sent a phone email to Mihashi, and all it said was "I'm sorry."

Mihashi's reply said the exact same thing.

It was enough relief for them to finally fall asleep.

This arrangement, though seemingly traumatizing, would turn out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to them.

°o°o°o°o°o°

End of Chapter 1.

Reviews appreciated. I hope you'll look forward to the next chapter.