A/N: Love this fandom and thought I'd give it a shot.
Feedback: Yes, please. Gimme what you got.
It starts with a dare and is soon followed by a loudly pronounced expletive.
Abe follows the trajectory of the ball and comes across a figure with nice legs - shapely and slender. When he looks up a little further, he sees a girl gripping her wrist as a foul ball drops from her hand.
"Fuck," he echoes a few moments after hearing her say it.
Ruri Mihashi is nothing if not surprising.
Then he's off and sprinting up the bleachers to see the damage for himself. Not even the catcher's gear slows him down as he climbs upward at a fast pace. The helmet and mask come off hastily, falling somewhere behind him. A few of his teammates look on in surprise at the path of dust left in his speedy wake.
"Let me see," he says.
When he finally gets to her, the sun is bearing down too harshly for him to make a proper diagnosis, so he leads her to the dugout instead.
"Follow me," he tells her.
He keeps up an internal monologue of swearing as they head down the bleachers.
"Show me your hand," he orders when they're under the shade of a tin roof. The diffused light makes it easier to see than the glaring sunlight.
"I'm really OK," she insists with a frown as he cradles her hand in his palm and carefully prods her with his fingers for an examination.
Holding her hand isn't the same as Ren's, whose calluses and tough skin are indicators of all his hard work, never mind the clammy palms. Or any of his other teammates, for that matter.
No, they're nothing alike.
Beside them, afternoon practice is still going on, despite Ren's unnecessary guilty cries and the ensuing weeping. No matter how badly he'd swung, it's the first proper hit he's made at bat and she's destroyed his confidence. Tajima is entertaining the rest of his teammates by exaggerating Abe's movements in the dugout as a grotesque melodrama in pantomime.
Ruri's barely suppressing a wince from accidentally having a foul ball smack into her knuckles without the protection of a glove. Abe doesn't try to move her fingers, knowing it would hurt from the impact she just sustained. That, and the fact that her hand, smaller than his, is not quite as delicate as it looks.
She's a tough girl, he knows that much.
"We need to put ice on it," he tells her.
She is stunned at the casual use of the word "we" rolling off his tongue and stares up at him in surprise. He studies the lines of her hand and doesn't see the look she gives him.
"Come on," he presses, but sounds nowhere near as annoyed as he does with Ren. "Before it swells up and looks like this."
He holds up his mitt.
"Right," she nods.
Apparently, Tajima heard him, because the next thing out of his mouth isn't good at all.
"That's not the only thing that will swell up. Am I right?" Tajima asks, holding up a hand for a high five. No one dares respond to it.
Everyone knows the punchline before he even begins to point to his crotch. At this, Abe turns a cold stare in his teammate's direction as he takes her other hand to help her up. She follows beside him. But he manages to flip Tajima off behind her back. Loud laughter follows them as they enter the clubhouse. Her snickering is not too far behind.
"He's so gross," Ruri moans in disgust, shaking her head with disbelief.
He smirks at her laughter and proceeds to dig around the freezer for anything cold. At least she has a sense of humor, he thinks. Which is nice. For a girl, that is. Most would have started throwing a fit by crying and made the entire team feel like a bunch of jerks. Some cubes pop off when he twists a tray and he drops them into a small plastic bag.
He's surprisingly domestic for being such a star player on the team, which amuses her greatly.
When the ice bag comes into contact with soft skin, she flinches at the sharp drop in temperature. The continual hot rush of blood pulsing in her fingertips feels like a misplaced second heartbeat. It hurts like hell.
"Better?" he asks.
He shifts the ice inside the bag to try to cover most of her hand. She squirms in her chair a bit as she bites on her lip to push down a yelp.
"Mm, yes," she says.
He watches her coolly, trying to hide his curiosity.
"What made you want to catch it?" he asks.
There is no trace of annoyance in his voice, she notes with some relief.
She stops digging her heels into her floor and looks up at him. Dark eyes regard her steadily, taking in her dry eyes despite having reddened cheeks and the haphazard way her hair is tied. He can only imagine the pain and she's not indicating anything that would have him guess that's close to crying about it.
"Seemed like a good idea at the time," she offers sheepishly.
But then she went and ruined Ren's concentration with that stunt and he was probably still bawling over it like a baby. It was going to take all he had to calm him down. All this just before a big game, too. Great.
"You can blame it on my stupid classmate, Taniguchi," she mutters, interrupting his internal tirade. "I know I do."
His serious eyes raise to meet hers without asking the question aloud. So she huffs, more in irritation than from her injury.
"He said I throw like a girl," Ruri goes on, clearly insulted as her good hand fists and falls forcefully on the table. "Which is true, because duh, I am a girl, but he said it like such a jackass and I guess I was out to prove him wrong and then..."
She trails off, suddenly out of steam.
"Then, this happened," she finishes lamely.
She gestures to her hand with a nod of her head. His eyes narrow slightly, taking in her convoluted explanation. She doodles a wayward design on the table top with a finger.
"So, I wanted to show him how much I throw like a girl," she growls before her voice unexpectedly drops into a meeker tone. "And I needed to something to chuck at him."
Without meaning to be, he is taken aback.
Fingertips brush over his hand in apology. His gaze reaches her mournful stare as her hand withdraws. She's actually pouting. But unlike Ren, it doesn't have that pathetic quality of appearing like a kicked puppy. He hesitates to even think it, but it's actually cute on her, even if it's not a playful gesture. His bad mood dissolves rather easily.
"Sorry," she tells him. "I didn't mean to ruin your practice session."
The ice gradually melts into frosty water as the condensation leaks over her fingers in thin rivulets. It soaks into the paper towel set under her hand.
Her blood flow slows down, no longer beating painfully in her fingertips. Wiggling her hand, she looks down to see she can't really feel it anymore. The sound of crinkling plastic is the only sound in the room.
"It's OK," he finds himself saying. "As long as you are."
And I really hope you are, he thinks.
A small frown creases on his forehead after those words.
She lights up by hearing that and grins at him. Without thinking, her uninjured hand reaches over to him and squeezes his fingers. He stares at her hand, which she moves away slowly. Her touch lingers on for a moment longer, though he kind of doesn't mind it since she's warm.
He remembers Ren again.
"Can you do something for me?" he asks.
A sweet smile appears.
He's rather pleased to see her reaction.
"Mihashi is a bit," he hesitates, trying to find the right word. "Temperamental. He's probably beating himself up about this right now."
He signals the field with a nod to the side.
"But it was an accident," she clarifies. "And so not his fault."
Ruri frowns, clearly puzzled.
"I hear ya, loud and clear on that, but he's kind of dense," he explains. "So that's why I'm asking if you would help me cheer him up a little. What do you say?"
She nods and he catches the glint of understanding in her eyes.
"Sure, why not?" she shrugs.
Outside, the heat of the late afternoon greets them in the sunlight. Tajima is resorting to making silly faces as they near a distraught pitcher. Abe just about shakes his head as the rest of his teammates are scratching their heads, wondering what to do. Honestly, Mihashi is just like a petulant child. Although instead of making insane demands or pitching a hissy fit like a primadona, he just wallows in excessive pity.
The boys make way for the girl to reach him with Abe right behind her. Her hair has come undone from that messy pony tail and is falling over her shoulders as she walks.
"Hey," she starts with a friendly smile.
Ren starts off with another fresh round of hysterical sobs. More shocked than offended, her eyes widen. She looks around, getting shrugs from just about everyone. She sighs quietly in response.
Abe makes an effort to remember how they're related. Ah, yes, they're cousins. He frowns, contemplating the two.
Her presence suddenly has a few of them inspired by ideas of dating.
"What do you think would happen if a girl ever breaks up with him?" someone wonders a bit too loudly. "Might be worse than this."
She kneels beside Ren. And then smacks him on the back so hard that he nearly topples over. It makes him stop crying.
"Don't tell me you're PMS-ing?" she says, half-scolding, half-mocking.
Ren's vision is blurred from too many tears when his watery gaze levels with her.
"Wha-?" he starts, frowning and looking so lost it's almost painful.
Her simple grin nearly has him in tears again. He sniffs as his eyes fill up again. Abe takes a deep breath, trying to control another outburst that's threatening to come out.
"I'm fine," Ruri assures her cousin, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "See?"
She holds out her injured hand, closing her fingers over her palm once before waving it at him. The sleeves of his shirt comes up to his face to try to clear his eyes. Her cold palm presses against his overheated forehead, brushing back sweat soaked hair from his face. It soothes him from the heaviness of his guilt and the oppressive heat.
"Doesn't it give you a headache to cry that much?" she asks without any sting and gently combs back drenched hair with her good hand.
He nods, just barely. Abe's eyebrow raises slightly, thinking how Ren got all the luck sometimes, even if he didn't realize it.
"Then stop it, silly," she breaks it to him gently, much like when they were children.
She refrains from calling him Ren-Ren, which Abe appreciates on the pitcher's behalf. And besides, making the entire team giggle is unseemly.
Too fast for her to notice, Ren tackles her into a hug as he keeps on crying. The entire team watches on in horror.
"Hey!" she shrieks as she falls to the ground.
Her arm comically raises as her back hits the uneven ground before it settles beside her.
One of the clouds floating above them looks like a misshapen bunny, she thinks as her hair splays around her in a messy halo. His face is on the crook of her neck, hot breath sticking uncomfortably on her skin. Oki and Izumi scramble to get him off her. Sakaeguchi is the first to reach her, strong hands gripping her arms to haul her up to her feet. She fails to see the dark blush on the boy who's helping her stand. An incredulous chuckle escapes her as she straightens up.
Boys, she thinks, scoffing internally.
Ren is being held up by Oki and Izumi tightening their fingers around his arms to prevent any more unexpected movements. She chooses to stay behind Tajima's arm instead. He leers at her, although she doesn't see it at first. When Ruri finally is made aware of it, she frowns and takes two steps away from him and hides behind Sakaeguchi, who blushes.
"I'm so sorry," Ren groans, sobbing.
She raises an eyebrow, giving the nearest guy a look that clearly asks: are you kidding me? Hanai merely nods at her in response that says: seriously, yes.
"Dude, it's no biggie," she tells Mihashi with a nervous smile. "Shit happens. That's a guarantee. But don't let it get you down."
Ruri sticks her tongue out a him. Abe refrains from rolling his eyes at her childish display. But it seems to do the trick as Ren's sobs finally stop and gradually turn into the occasional sniff.
"Shake on it?" she asks, offering her hand.
Oki and Izumi let him go. Wiping his eyes, he merely nods meekly and takes her hand, shaking it vigorously for a long minute.
Abe sees the way she bites her lip. She struggles not to make grimace when he releases her. She quickly stashes her hand behind her back to shake off the pain and purposefully lets her hair obscure her face for a moment as her jaw tightens. And then she lifts her face to reassure Ren with an easy smile that must have taken quite the effort. Like Sakaeguchi, he turns beet red.
She's good, Abe thinks.
"Alright, everyone!" Momoe's shout breaks up the moment. "Time to put up all the equipment. Let's get moving!"
The boys just about stand at attention at the sound of their coach's voice. They scatter in different directions to get their chores done. Before he can reach her for a quick thanks for being a good sport, Abe is intercepted by Tajima, who gently takes her other hand. Her outstretched arm is at his face. It's a complete reversal from the jackass act he was putting on earlier. Abe doesn't like the look of it.
"I hope to see your pretty face cheering for me at the next game," Tajima murmurs smoothly, pressing his lips against her fingers.
A deep scarlet invades her cheeks as she stands near the batter's box without being able to move. Of all the times Tajima's ever flirted with girls and failed miserably, this is the one that actually responds with something other than a slap, kick or expletive.
Abe is no longer amused.
"Tajima!" he calls out. "Coach needs you to help picking up the balls."
The outfielder directs a silly grin at the girl before letting go to move past the catcher.
"On it," he says, breaking into a jog to catch up with the rest of the team.
Abe is left awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck as he nears her.
"Weird," he hears her mumble.
Dark pink is still showing on her face. She's attempting to keep a straight expression and barely reigns in an amused grin. Abe is still beside her and she doesn't quite see him since her hair is acting like a dark curtain, shading her eyes from his slightly hopeful, curious stare.
"You need more ice," he pipes up.
Ruri turns to her side to look at him, looking a little confused.
"Your hand still hurts, right? It's still kind of swollen."
It's not much of a question he's posing. It's an outright observation his sharp eyes have caught from her attempt at making peace with Mihashi. She nods, unsure of what to say.
"Come on," he leads her to the clubhouse again, this time letting himself touch her by laying his hand right between her shoulder blades momentarily.
The sun is highlighting a little bit of red on her hair, he notes distractedly. But maybe it's the exhaustion after all. Or the fact that sweat has stung his eyes for him to see properly. For being injured, tackled and hit on, she's taking it awfully well. He makes a mental note to make her point out her classmate at another time so that he (or one of his teammates) can send a flyball in that direction during a game. Or practice, whichever came first.