It's very hot today, in a dusty, dry sort of way with lots of warm wind, and Momoko-san's training is perhaps twice as hellish as usual. Still, the team has a good practice. They haven't had very many training matches recently, but their foundations at least are leagues beyond how they started off a year ago. And lately Mihashi's fastballs – his true fastballs, not his signature "fastballs" – have been getting far more controllable. Not quite at his true control level, but certainly impressive enough for a high-schooler.

Abe and Mihashi work on them for a while today, and it's a satisfying practice. Abe does start off with a fizzing feeling in his stomach and his fingers too warm in his mitt, but after the first few pitches that too becomes on par with the heat, soreness in his legs, and occasional flies: nothing more than distractions to be brushed aside. It's comforting to sink into statistics and physical facts for a few hours, especially in the face of what awaits him once evening practice ends.

Still, comforting or not, the practice is exhausting, especially with the heat, and it's not even really due to nervousness that Abe slips away from the others once they are released. He's just too disgustingly overheated and needs to get a drink and dunk his head in the cool water fountain before he can face the mildewed, humid changing room showers.

He had thought he'd snuck away unnoticed, but right as Abe's beginning to relax and cool off, Tajima speaks directly into his ear, "Are you being a bully again, Abe?"

The resulting jump of shock slams Abe's forehead painfully into the tap, so he's got a legitimate reason for the thunderous expression he's sporting when he stands up. Not that he probably wouldn't have one anyway – it seriously irritates him when he's called a bully.

"What?" Abe snarls, rubbing at his temple. Tajima grins, completely unthreatened.

"You know: Mihashi! He called me up crying yesterday, saying he couldn't hang out with me today like we'd planned because you were making him study." Tajima shudders exaggeratedly, before slipping around Abe and sticking his own head under the water briefly. He pulls it out and shakes it like a dog, water spraying everywhere. "Study! How could you?"

Abe blinks. He feels oddly lightheaded and like slumping under the weight of his own idiocy at the same time. So this was why Mihashi originally said no…!

"Uh, sorry," he says, and shuts off the tap. "I didn't mean to… Well, it wasn't anything important, was it?"

Tajima shakes his head, and they begin to walk back to the changing room together. "Just a movie. But why do you have to make him study? You that mean?"

The look on Tajima's face suggests that Abe is the worst kind of monster there is. Abe doesn't really take any notice. "He's got an English test coming up, right? He can't fail that."

Silence falls after that, and they make it almost to the club room doors before Tajima abruptly turns to meet Abe's eyes, a sharp smile spread across his face. "You know," he says, "I'm in Mihashi's class too. Aren't you worried about me failing the English exam as well?"

It's a perfectly logical question. Tajima's a sports genius, but that's as far as his prodigy goes, and he's extremely weak in academics, though it's more a lack of effort than true idiocy; probably about exactly at the same level as Mihashi. The English test, from what Abe gathers, isn't a hugely crucial grade, but it's important enough and if he claims that Mihashi really needs to study for it, then by all rights he should have confronted Tajima about it too.

Abe has already stopped walking. They are so close to their destination; he can hear laughter and shouts drifting out from the clubroom door. But Tajima's standing in front of him, grin fading into a serious stare and waiting for an answer that just isn't coming

"Ah – You made Hanai promise to help you, didn't you? Last time."

There's a very long pause.

Then Tajima grins wider than ever, and laughs out, "That's right!" He bursts ahead into the changing room and the sounds of pandemonium within instantly double. Abe follows, but slowly, to give the hot panic he feels time to subside.

It's just about gone for good when he opens the door and is confronted with Mihashi half-dressed, wobbling about in search of deodorant and giggling at whatever Tajima has already managed to do (it seems Mizutani is buried under a pile of old laundry). Instantly, the warmth rushes back through Abe, his heartbeat pulsing just under his skin until he feels like he's still running laps.

Really, this is getting ridiculous. It's just as well he's ending it tonight.


Luckily, Abe doesn't run into any family members on the way up to his room. Not that he hates the idea of Mihashi meeting them or anything, but he does suspect that his mom would be somewhat embarrassing, and she probably would keep popping in with snacks and stuff every ten minutes. Obviously, Abe's plan requires a certain amount of privacy, and he really doesn't want to have to put it off again. He feels like doing so would only end up making a big deal out of this …crush, which he doesn't want at all. If there was any way to get it out of the way and then never deal with it again, Abe would do so without hesitation; but it doesn't seem like that's possible.

Since it seems like he's the first one home, Abe makes sure to wave Mihashi in first and then tuck his guest's shoes into the corner. It's not exactly a trick that will fool anyone paying attention to the entryway, but he doubts anyone will so if all works out no one will be any the wiser about his friend coming over.

Once they are inside, Abe grabs a few carefully chosen snacks, for use as studying incentives that won't interfere with his pitcher's metabolism, and then leads Mihashi straight up into his bedroom. He sets down a small collapsible table on the floor and they get to work, because the studying really should be taken care of and it might be too awkward after what he plans.

And it isn't like Abe has suddenly gotten stupider, but he did make a slight mistake in choosing this sort of location. Because, after all, that bed is the one in which he's been having those dreams. That desk chair is where he sent the text message, and where he daydreamed about something actually quite like this moment, because Mihashi's got enough questions right to earn some chips and he's stuttering out badly-accented English, his lips dusted with crumbs which would probably transfer over to Abe's if he were to kiss Mihashi…

He's both relieved that Mihashi takes forever to teach, because it delays the moment of truth, and impatient to get to the part of the evening where kissing is actually a possibility. Because nothing less than a kiss is going to be understood by Mihashi, and even then, Abe expects to have to be patient and explain himself several times.

So when Abe finally manages to guide Mihashi through the relatively simple test prep he's prepared, it's no surprise that they've been working for three hours already. Likewise, Abe had correctly predicted the uncertainty now swimming around in his stomach and flickering through his fingers. It's not that he honestly expects a negative response; but Mihashi shocked him with a 'no' once already this week, and Abe's found that this issue matters a lot to him – so he's unsure. Nervous.

Well, it's perfectly normal to be nervous when telling someone you like them. Not always rational, but normal nonetheless, and Abe is still a pretty regular teenage boy when you get right down to it. If he weren't, then why would this infatuation have started the way it did? The dreams are hardly romantic, after all – but then again, Abe has never really thought himself the type to bother with time-wasting romance, so this way of doing things is quite appropriate.

In the end, if he wants to avoid time-wasting and humiliation, the best thing to do would be to just leap right into this without trying to be delicate about it. So thinks Abe as he reaches across the table to close Mihashi's English textbook, and seeing as Mihashi has just swallowed his latest mouthful of chips, he goes ahead and does the deed before any complications arise.

The kiss is nothing special. Well, it's Abe's first kiss, so probably he shouldn't be thinking that it's pretty average after all – but he's had much better dreams than this and the edge of the table digging into his abdomen is uncomfortably distracting. More importantly though, and likely the reason the kiss is so lackluster, Mihashi is utterly frozen.

Abe sticks around for a few seconds, with his lips pressed against Mihashi's and the table digging into his stomach. He never closed his eyes but Mihashi's stunned expression holds no clues so he stares over the pitcher's shoulder instead, at the opposite wall. He's actually relieved that this kiss is so dull, because now he'll easily be able to act unaffected throughout the coming exchange. Abe doesn't like showing when he is invested in things, and he does it far too often with Mihashi on the diamond anyway.

Two more seconds: then Abe pulls away, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He begins to clear the table, putting empty chip bags in the trashcan and Mihashi's books and notes into his backpack. Then he puts the small table itself away and returns to Mihashi.

"Oi," Abe orders. "Snap out of it."

And Mihashi, responding so well to Abe's commands as usual, does. In an instant, he goes from unnatural stillness to unnatural motion, quaking and shaking and stuttering and blushing much more deeply than usual. "A-A-A-Ab-be-kun!"

Abe winces at the way his name has been butchered. "Yes?"

"Wh-wh-what was that?" Mihashi asks, voice cracking on the last word.

"A kiss," Abe states bluntly, irritated that his boldness has caused his own cheeks to tinge a little pink. If only Mihashi were just a bit less dense. "I told you already, didn't I? I like you."

Mihashi struggles to speak, then his torso sort of weaves drunkenly through the air until it hits the ground. Abe wonders if he's fainted. He has almost resolved to poke Mihashi awake, when a teary voice drifts up to him, muffled due to the way Mihashi's pressing his face into the floor.

"Why w-would you-? Abe is… incredible, m-much too – "

It didn't occur to Abe until this exact moment that perhaps the reason he likes Mihashi is really just some unconscious narcissist desire to be praised all the time. The thought's a little disgusting, and he decides not to pursue it. Instead, he sighs tiredly and pulls Mihashi up from the floor.

It's getting harder to act nonchalant now, because his fingers are shaking, his face heating, and Abe is certain that a second kiss would be much less boring than before. But it's not the time yet. First he's got to convince Mihashi that this is a good idea. Abe remains silent for a moment, trying to figure out the best way to do so.

"Look," he eventually says, sitting down in front of Mihashi. He'd meet his pitcher's eyes, but that's difficult enough in a normal situation, the way Mihashi wobbles; impossible now. "You've been distracting me during practice. So I'm doing something about it. Do you have a problem with that?"

Mihashi whimpers. Abe clenches his fist, sets his shoulders, and tries not to take that in the worst possible way. "Well, do you?" he demands.

Horrified, Mihashi whips his head from side to side. Almost immediately, a discomfiting softening feeling begins to assault Abe, like melted butter running through his veins. He finds himself smiling, relaxing, swaying towards Mihashi.

"Good," Abe says, and he means it.

Then he reaches out and tugs Mihashi closer by the collar of his shirt, bends his head down slowly, and kisses him again. Mihashi's hands flailing around in the corner of his vision are distracting, so he closes his eyes. Abe focuses on the kiss, because though Mihashi freezes for a moment at first, he's already started to relax a bit so this kiss is much better than the first one.

Abe's swallows, then very carefully moves his lips. A pause, then Mihashi's lips start to move too, and cold fingers just touch Abe's hot ones, before jerking away. This makes Abe yank back and scowl, and he opens his eyes to snatch Mihashi's hand out of the air.

He grips Mihashi's fingers tightly, glares pointedly at Mihashi, and then goes ahead and permits himself to reach up and tangle his other hand into Mihashi's hair to hold his head still. Abe is just about to kiss Mihashi again, when the pitcher blurs into motion – darting forward, lips touching Abe's hesitantly.

Abe clenches both hands at that, briefly crushing Mihashi's fingers and halting the pitcher's instinctual retreat, but forces himself to relax a bit. It's very difficult, because he can't quite hear anything over his heartbeat, and isn't really aware of anything but Mihashi.

"Yeah," he mutters, eyes dropping closed of their own accord this time, and kisses Mihashi again. "You're getting it."

He has nowhere near the amount of patience necessary to wait for a verbal reply to that – but the way Mihashi is (awkwardly, fumblingly, yes, but nonetheless) kissing back is answer enough.


Fifteen minutes later, the alarm on Abe's phone goes off. The shrill ringing jerks him out of his pleasant trance, fingers slipping out from under the collar of Mihashi's shirt. He's breathing a little heavily, and can't quite sum up the energy to either lift his eyelids up from half-mast or suppress his pleased grin. In fact, the latter only grows wider when, after turning off the alarm, he turns his gaze back to Mihashi.

It's only to be expected that Mihashi be tousled after their activities; however, the pitcher is always tousled. His lack of composure isn't really very interesting since he's never possessed it before. In that sense, Abe is far more affected.

But Mihashi's mouth is a little red, and despite the wetness at the corners of his eyes, his lips are actually trembling into an upward curve. More interestingly, he's gone totally slack. The ridiculous tension that always courses throughout him is just gone, replaced by a strangely compelling relaxation. He seems loose-limbed and somehow taller, for all that he's sitting on the floor, and once the first few minutes had gone past and the shock had perhaps died down a bit, Mihashi had proved surprisingly unrestrained.

Of course, the alarm snapped Mihashi out of whatever haze he was in, and his nervousness is rapidly returning. That's okay; it puts them back on familiar ground for the end of the evening.

"That means it's time for you to go home, before it gets too late," Abe says, as though nothing has just happened. "Don't practice any more tonight."

Mihashi automatically nods in response to Abe's narrowed eyes, and begins fumbling towards his bag with shaking fingers.

"G-goodnight, Abe-kun," He says in almost a whisper, then heads for the door. Abe follows, and just before they pass through the threshold, holds out a hand to block Mihashi.

"Hey," he mutters. "Don't tell anyone about this, okay. And…" the next few words are really difficult to spit out, and make him blush, but Abe figures that with Mihashi's personality, he'll have to repeat himself a lot on this point so decides to get used to saying it: "I really do like you."

Mihashi reels back – not in disgust, that much is clear, but in some weird physical manifestation of his overwhelmed emotions. That's okay. Abe opens the door and gets out of his room before any reply is necessary.

He sees Mihashi out into the street in silence after that, but it's not really awkward. Well, considering that Mihashi is involved, anyway. They wave goodbye, and then Abe heads back inside without doing anything like watching Mihashi until he turns the corner or kissing him goodbye. The idea never really even occurs to him; instead he's already thinking about his homework. With the Mihashi distraction resolved for now, his focus has been regained.

Still, though, when he goes to sleep his dreams reflect what's really on his mind, and Abe wakes up the next morning already deciding to make studying with Mihashi a regular thing.

His heart's a bit overactive, and he feels oddly queasy when proposing the idea to his pitcher over lunch, but he's not actually worried. After all, he already knows Mihashi is going to agree – blush, stutter, even twitch about until Tajima shoots what might be a suspicious glance at Abe – but agree in the end, lips curving into the smallest smile.

Abe can't help it.

He smiles back.