20. Missing You
Mihashi calls him sometimes, but Abe knows him more through television screens and sports magazines now.
That dope had somehow managed to throw himself into a world of success and ability once high-school had ended and had only seemed to continue upwards. There were even rumors about the light-haired pitcher was going to America to play there. But he knows that Mihahsi loves his team at the moment and doesn't feel the need to go anywhere. He had a good catcher, a good team that backs him up and supports him; just like Abe did all those years ago. It seems forever that he's been crouching behind that plate, but it hadn't even been a full decade.
Abe watches his old friend even at work, where his office allows him ability for privacy. There he looks over papers and writes; in the corner of his desk there is a small TV that he turns on for games.
His eyes dart from stuffy text to his lanky past-teammate, who has grown tall. His shoulders are wider, and he has more freckles from being constantly outside. Rather than his jittery persona, he has become eerily calm and quiet, quite the opposite to when Abe had to deal with him.
He wonders if he was simply unable to change him, but he knows that professional teams have much more resources.
Abe puts down his papers and glasses and watches; he wonders where he went wrong.
Was it how he never allowed his knee to fully recover, making him grimace when it rains and it freezes up? A man of not even thirty and he's already shuffling his walk on occasion, it was pathetic really.
Was it how he got too involved in school smarts and become disenchanted with the sport that he used to love so much? In this job he had pay to buy a house and sustain a family; he stuck to a hole in the wall and instant noodles.
Or was it how he had fallen for Mihashi and had become afraid of taking the next step?
On Saturdays Abe runs, and it is then when he sees Mihashi for the first time, in person, in years.
For some reason, even after his parents had moved away to a more relaxing house in the country once his younger brother went to college, Abe stayed in the same neighborhood he had grown up in. Sometimes he sees Tajima, who has become a school teacher, or Hajima, who has become a lawyer like himself. He sees their faces among others, but doesn't give much account to them. A wave and a smile from across the road or in his car, but they aren't nearly as close as they were all those years ago; back when they had wanted to be older.
But when he sees Mihashi on that old pictcher's mound at their school that closed down a few years ago, his lungs shutter and he has to stop running.
His hand reaches up towards the fence, but that slight sound isn't enough to catch the pitcher's attention.
Abe watches him.
He watches his form and how he has become able to command his nine-part format even more. He's wearing a short-sleeved shirt and Abe can see the crafted, lithe muscles stretch and pull as he releases the ball. When Mihashi finally runs out of them, he begins walking with the bucket to pick them up; it's then that he sees Abe's looming persona.
If Mihashi had been younger, he would have jumped.
But now he just smiles, and for a moment Abe sees that youth the pixels on the television screen can't convey.
He says his name loud and proud, and Abe sighs before walking around to meet him half-way.
The dark-haired young man half expects the pitcher to tackle him into a hug, but that is not the case. Mihashi does hug him, but it is gentle and Abe realizes in chagrin that Mihashi is now a good few inches taller than him; he wraps his arms around Abe's shoulders rather than neck.
Silently, they move to sit in the dug-out, where it seems weeds have sprung up and a small family of squirrels have made it their home.
"How have you been?" Mihashi asks first, and so the conversation begins.
Abe is surprised at how easy it is to fit back into their regular routine, even if Mihashi's habits aren't to such a high degree. But it's good to see he still fidgets and stutters on occasion; they don't show these things on TV either. Their voices are deeper, and so are the things they talk about. Mihashi explains how he might be traded, and Abe explains how his firm is expanding. They both smile graciously at each other, and Abe wonders if Mihashi pities him. But it doesn't seem like that, rather, he's interested in what Abe has been doing with his capable brain.
He tells him that if his catcher had half his ability the team would be number one; Abe reminds him that number four in the standings isn't horrible either.
"I just got the hand of this new pitch," Mihashi says as he stands, arms raising up and showing a flash of midriff.
"Because you don't have enough already," Abe snarks, and Mihashi chuckles for a moment.
Abe still can't get over how his voice is just as deep as his now, that his shoulders are broader and that his face doesn't have as much baby fat anymore.
"Care to be my catcher once again?" he asks with a smile that is crooked and shaky; his true smile.
Soon they are out on the mound and behind the plate, Abe not worrying about a mask and using Mihashi's glove. He grins over at him and that's the last thing Abe contemplates before that baseball hits his glove like a canon.
Mihashi yells in worry, and Abe sits up in discomfort as he feels his tailbone throbbing.
"Are you alright?"
Mihashi asks as he crouches down to his fallen level.
Abe looks up and feels his face flush in pure embarrassment.
"This isn't my life anymore!" he snarls as he stands and throws the glove down on the plate; "I can't do this anymore! You know that; why did you come back?"
And suddenly all that nostalgic talk just minutes before seems empty; Abe should have kept running even if it hurt.
"I'm sorry, I just..."
He can't finish, but he maintains eye-contact.
"I've had enough," Abe whispers as he stands up, hands tightened to fists as his side.
Mihashi stumbles up as well and attempts to follow him with a step, but Abe stops him with a hand on his chest.
"Stop Mihashi. You have to stop," he says, even though he can feel the heat through the thin layer of Mihashi's shirt and can feel his fast heartbeat race up his veins.
Abe glances back just as he's about to turn at the rusted fence and that idiot is still standing on home plate, not even having the courtesy to pull down his hat to hide his tears.
And even though he misses him, his pride doesn't allow him to sprint back.
Or maybe it isn't his pride at all, but the knowledge that he will only pull Mihashi down with him to the level of mediocrity.
Abe can't sleep well anymore.
At night he twists and turns, the blankets tangling in his limbs and between his sweaty palms. Some nights he watches the moon rise and dim the stars with it's overbearing light; in the morning it sets and the sun comes up to remind him that he has responsibilities. He tries to take sleeping pills, but they only give him vivid nightmares and jolt him awake, only to be sucked back in to start the process. Abe contemplates seeing a doctor, but until then he just waits until he will be too tired to fall asleep.
It is for this reason why he hears the soft knock on his door.
Moving his blank face from the ceiling to his digital clock that blinks a bright red 2:17 AM, Abe wonders if he's now hearing things.
But then it is again - a soft rapping of knuckles. This time it seemed a little stronger.
Getting up, not even bothering to put a shirt on, he meanders solely in his pajama pants to the door of his apartment. Maybe it was just a mistake, and that someone was looking for another down the hall or on another floor. There were some sketchy people, but that was what allowed the rent to be so low.
Yet when Abe opens the door, looking out with half-opened eyes, he sees that it is Mihashi who is standing there.
His hair is in disarray like senior year, when he had denied to cut it because Abe commented on how it looked kinda cool in the sun. Abe really wanted to say that with the sun behind him it looked like he had a halo; but that was too cheesy even to tell to a gushy teenage girl. His clothes are normal, the long sleeved shirt is old and tattered around the cuffs and one of the buttons near his neck is gone, leaving a nice angle of his collarbone. His hands are in his jean pockets, but Abe can see the twitching of his fingers against the course material.
Mihashi's face is a different story; his eyes are red and almost empty.
Abe stands there, unable to think of anything to say, before Mihashi invites himself in by stepping into his apartment.
The dark-haired twenty-odd year old naturally takes steps back in defense, allowing Mihashi to close the door before turning to him.
"I want to say... a lot," he tries to speak, "But I don't know if you'll hear me, Abe."
The one being addressed narrows his eyes; he's dropped the suffix again.
Mihashi can't say anymore as he's suddenly right there Abe, hands on the sides of his face, blocking his ears. But Abe can still hear something - he can still hear his hammering heart.
"What are you doing?" he finally gets out, although it sounds muted because of Mihashi's pressing hands.
The pitcher doesn't answer with words; Mihashi kisses Abe.
Abe wakes up with an arm around him the next morning.
He feels the warm body behind him, and feels the tickle of breath against the nap of his neck; despite the heat he shivers.
Despite how it brings another shiver, Abe can remember last night with clarity. He can remember the searing kisses and the, at first awkward, touches and grabs. Abe can remember the way Mihashi's calloused fingers had felt on his skin and the way it had made him finally feel alive.
Abe remembers finally being able to say Mihashi's name out loud in the form of a strangled cry.
Feeling Mihashi's arm around his bare torso tighten even more, Abe decides to twist so he can face him.
But it seems that the professional pitcher is already awake, as his bright eyes are trained on Abe right when he turns around. Feeling a little self-conscious and still entirely sober, Abe places his head on the pillow (not Mihashi's pitching arm; never that arm) and finally looks up to him.
"I l-love you."
His voice is soft, and Abe doesn't have much time to think before he's being pulled against his chest where he both hears and feels Mihashi's erratic heartbeat. This makes Abe unable to hold back returning the statement.
"I love you, too."
And even though Abe is scared stiff about what is going to happen next in both their lives and how this will work out, he's finally willing to fight for something.
Mihashi pulls his head back, and Abe sees that he's crying again.
"You idiot," Abe laughs as he reaches up and whips his tears away.
AN: This totally got away from me. I was going to stop it at least twice, but then it just kept going mostly because I just wanted a happy ending to the end of my collection :) Yes, that's right, that's all folks! Hope you enjoyed the reads, now time to go write for other series!