We've finally made it to the last chapter, and no, for the last time, I don't own Oofuri!
Thanks to everyone that stayed with the story from chapter one, and even those that joined mid-way through or might just be discovering it now. I do read over the reviews, and constructive criticism is important to me, so if you spot anything that needs editing or that I can improve upon, I welcome that just as much as I welcome the lovely reviews I've received so far!
I actually wrote this chapter before a couple of the others, but then realized that it would make a great ending chapter, so I saved it for last.
Summary: They aren't sure what the future will bring, but the one thing they do know is that they want to walk that road together.
For once, it was just the two of them.
Takaya Abe and Ren Mihashi stood outside in the early evening after doing some jogging together to keep in shape between practicing. Since Momoe and Takaya agreed that Ren shouldn't throw more than he was supposed to, what with the spring tournament approaching, this was a better way to keep the pitcher from going stir crazy.
As well as for the catcher, who still disliked having to have sat out for a couple weeks due to his injury during the summer.
Now, they were paused at an overlook on the hill that contained a couple of benches and a railing to prevent people from falling or jumping.
Though, Takaya figured that the only one crazy enough to try to jump from that height would have been Tajima…or someone that wanted to kill themselves.
It wasn't too far down, but someone could definitely get hurt if they weren't prepared for the landing.
Takaya leaned on the railing with his arms and just admired the view. He hadn't always given much thought to high places, but ever since their visit to Koshien, and being so high up in the hotel to be able to see the view from up there, he had to admit that he enjoyed it.
The sun was now going down, which cast hues of red, yellow, orange, and even some pastel purples across the sky.
Ren lopped over to where Takaya stood, and took a spot next to him. "Uwaa…"
Takaya nearly chuckled at the pitcher's assessment of the sunset. "Agreed."
The catcher still didn't understand "Mihashi speak" 100% of the time, but he was a lot better at it than before. Then again, maybe that was because both of them knew that there was something more than friendship between them, now.
Both were still a little scared to put it into words, as they had realized the mutual attraction sometime after the fall tournament, but had mostly denied it as being anything more than friendship.
Now, however, it was difficult and almost impossible to ignore.
However, neither had said a word to the other. Yet, Takaya knew that Ren felt something other than gratefulness and respect towards him that he believed was on a level above friendship. Meanwhile, Ren understood that Takaya, in his own way of being clumsy with emotions, cared for him with a deeper meaning than just the catcher taking care of the pitcher, or the two being friends.
"We didn't get a spring invitational to Koshien," Takaya stated abruptly. He hadn't been sure how to start the conversation, but felt safer when it started off on the topic of baseball.
Ren nodded. "Y-yea…"
Takaya glanced at the pitcher. "Upset?"
Ren considered that for a second, then shook his head. "N-no. Not really…"
"Me, neither. I guess earning a spot in the spring invitationals is sort of earning it, but it would feel more of an accomplishment to get there after a long battle."
This time, Ren nodded fervently in agreement. "I…think so…too! I'd rather…have to earn it…than get…a free pass."
"Yep." Takaya had come to realize that Ren's stammering and disjointed speech was something that would probably be with him for the rest of his life, and might have even been there when the guy was younger. The only difference was, that now, it wasn't because he thought that he was a loser with no pitching talent.
Things had changed.
Slowly but surely, they had changed.
Come spring, Takaya even wondered what sort of first years would join them, since all of them would be entering into their second year…
Ren glanced over when the other chuckled. "Eh?"
Takaya grinned. "Can you imagine what the hype would have been if a newly established team of ten people, all first years, with a female coach, made it into Koshien on their first attempt?"
Ren blinked a couple of times, then quietly laughed the more he thought about it.
"It's better we didn't make it in last year. There would have been more pressure on us if we had, what with the circumstances," Takaya said.
"B-but…we'll…definitely go!" Ren declared.
Takaya stared at the pitcher a moment, then grinned and gave him a nod. "Definitely. And we'll win."
The two grinned at each other.
It was a gesture that they never would have been able to do almost a year ago when the team first came to existence. In fact, it was something that Takaya didn't even think he would ever be able to do with the pitcher.
Even now, it surprised him at how natural it was to just hold a conversation with the pitcher, when in the past, all conversations failed miserably.
Takaya wondered about that. Maybe I was just trying too hard, then. I said I was doing my best…maybe I was overdoing it. I just had to back off a little, and that seemed to work better…patience has never been a strong point of mine, but I learned it.
"W-we…came a long way. Since…last April…"
For a moment, Takaya was surprised that the pitcher had the same thoughts as him, but then, decided that he shouldn't be surprised. There were times when he'd seen the expression on Mihashi's face that meant that the pitcher's thoughts had mirrored his own at times.
Oddly enough, it wasn't as eerie or uncomfortable as either thought it would have been.
"Yea." Takaya stared back out at the view. I thought nothing would change, back then. I was mistaken in many ways…foolish and stupid. I didn't respect Mihashi enough, even though I talked about trust.
Ren, too, harbored thoughts of the first meeting. I was glad…when I had Abe-kun on my side. I had left everything up to him, and thought that was what I should be doing. But when he was injured, I realized…that it wasn't right. We were…doing it wrong. We were…a battery…but not a battery.
Takaya seemed to mirror the thoughts. I often felt we weren't communicating on some fundamental level, but couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what it was. Shaking off signs…it was like having a conversation with each other despite the distance from the mound to the plate. The first time it happened with us, it was amazing. Not a dummy sign, but a real shake-off…something broke, then, but it wasn't bad.
Ren glanced sidelong at the catcher. When…I started to…shake off the signs…Abe-kun…didn't get angry. Actually…it was like…something clicked. After that…we were able to talk more easily. After that…things changed, but not in a bad way.
Takaya smirked to himself. I was so foolish back then, it's almost painful to recall those times. Especially right now, where there's something more than just a battery relationship between us…something more than just friends. I don't understand it, and I doubt I ever will.
Ren, too, wondered about that feeling. It's more…than Abe-kun being an anchor. It's more…than trust, friendship, and being a battery. I've never felt…this way before. I don't understand it…and I'm still a little scared to…to say something about it. I wonder…if Abe-kun…feels the same…
The two glanced at each other, then looked away, slightly flustered, at having spoken at the same time.
"Ah, you can go ahead." Takaya managed to quell the redness in his cheeks, though not entirely.
Ren gulped, then stammered around for a few moments. Unlike the catcher, his face hadn't lost its red tinge.
Takaya sighed. Some things will never change, I guess. "I'll…"
"I…like Abe-kun! More than…more than…just a battery. And friends…but I don't…really understand it…but I wanted…I wanted to say it!" Ren blurted out.
Takaya stared at the pitcher, wide eyed.
Ren looked away and gulped. I went too far! We never talked about these sort of feelings…and I don't even know…what he wanted to say to me…! What if…what if he rejects me completely, now? As a pitcher, too…
Tears filled the pitcher's eyes, and he turned away. I got ahead of myself…!
However, before he could run off, a hand reached out and grabbed his own.
Ren started, and spun around in surprise. He knew his own hand would be cold, but didn't expect the catcher's to be slightly cool as well.
He wasn't the only one that was nervous, it meant.
If he had been able to bring himself to look at Takaya's face, he would have seen it past the stoic mask the catcher usually had up.
"Mihashi…" Takaya had no clue what to say or do, but he at least knew that if he let the pitcher run away, something bad would happen. "I…don't really understand it, either. I think I do understand how you feel, though. I think I might feel the same way. I'm not sure what it is…it's more than just a battery, more than just friends. Right?"
Ren nodded haltingly, though also slightly confused.
It was almost painful, how clumsy they were at identifying their own emotions, and expressing them.
Takaya gently squeezed the pitcher's hand. "Remember when I sprained my knee? I apologized after that…and we both agreed to work hard and do our best."
Ren, again, nodded, now able to at least glance up at the catcher now and then. No rejection…Abe-kun is…talking with me…
"I…want to apologize again. When you shook off my sign for the first time, I realized just where our problem was. Communication…all I did was yell, and I can never seem to express myself right…" Takaya was slightly mortified at the tears of frustration that threatened to spill.
Ren was surprised when he saw the strange glistening of Takaya's eyes that were highlighted by the lampposts that were coming on to combat the darkness.
"I don't even know if you'll understand what I'm saying. I know you're not stupid, don't get me wrong. It's me, not you. But I…"
It was so easy to say before the game with Mihoshi Academy…so why couldn't he say it, now?
Perhaps because it held a different meaning, and both of them knew it. Back then, when the pitcher had replied with an "I like Abe-kun, too!", it had been a little weird, but it didn't really mean anything special.
This time, however…
Takaya took a deep breath, then let it out and decided to get it over with. "I…like you. Differently from when we first met. Differently from when I said it before the practice game against Mihoshi. I can't explain it any further…only that it's, well, different. And if I could go back…I'd change what I said then, and how I acted towards you…that I constantly scared you…"
Ren shook his head so rapidly that it was a wonder he didn't get whiplash. "N-no! It's…fine…"
"It's not fine! I…thought of Haruna so much when dealing with you, even though you two are worlds apart…"
"But…" Ren interrupted, "It's…fine…to remember. We don't…have to…forget. Don't have to…start over. If…if things hadn't been like that, then…I…don't know…if I'd feel like this…right now."
Honestly, Ren had no clue what he was talking about. Like Takaya, he didn't exactly know what he was feeling, only that it was something strong. He also knew that Takaya understood that, and obviously felt the same strong feeling.
It was mutual, which gave the pitcher confidence.
Takaya looked a tad surprised at first, then softened his expression. "Yea. You're right. It's no good to erase the past, huh? We should learn from it and not do it again."
"Y-yea!" Ren beamed.
The first time Ren had smiled like that, it had startled Takaya.
This time, however, it made him feel…oddly warm and fuzzy inside.
It was then when Takaya noted that they were still holding hands, and that Ren's was warm.
Likewise, when Ren saw Takaya's eyes flicker to their intertwined hands, he realized that Takaya's hand had warmed considerably.
The two looked at each other, and for the first time in a long time, were able to hold each other's gaze.
Then, both smiled and looked back at the colors painted in the sky, which had, by now, turned to more pastel colors since the sun had almost completely set.
Takaya gently squeezed the hand that was still in his. Not forget anything…not erase anything…just remember it, and learn from it. Then, move forward. I don't understand right now, but maybe some day, I will. Whatever it is, what we have is special, and goes above and beyond a battery; above and beyond friendship. I think…I'm finally okay with that.
Ren smiled as he felt the squeeze, then squeezed back. Abe-kun…was there the entire time. Even when he was injured, he was there. I was afraid back then, and he shouted a lot more…we shouldn't forget that, so it doesn't get repeated. And…he…agrees. There's also…this feeling. This feeling, that I've never felt before…but I like it. And I know…that Abe-kun feels the same. The past…is to learn from and not repeat. The present…is where we are…right now.
Thoughts were mirrored, and both inadvertently ended up thinking the same thing.
Who knows where the future will go…but wherever it is, I want it to be with the person whose hand I'm holding. That, I can say for certain.