He isn't concerned for Mihashi. Really.

He isn't even mildly concerned. Not even a little bit. Honestly.

It's just the fact that the boy is too dumb to take care of himself. It's the fact that if he's tired, or hungry, or dehydrated, he will be unable to pitch, and thus the team will be short an Ace, and that would really be detrimental to their overall performance. It's the fact that, if he's unable to pitch, then Abe will be unable to catch (because Oki and Hanai aren't pitchers, not really, everyone knows this,) and Abe really, really loves to catch.

It's selfish, really, because he isn't concerned for Mihashi at all.

"Is that really all your mother packed? Here; take some of my bento. D-don't cry, you idiot! You just look particularly scrawny, today. If you don't start eating more, you'll stay this way forever. It doesn't bother me, you moro- I am not angry!"

When Mihashi hesitantly begins to pick at Abe's lunch, only to quicken his pace immensely when he realizes 'wow, i-it's delicious!' Abe feels something, sure, but it definitely isn't concern.

For the record, it doesn't feel like falling, either.

Mihashi is his friend.

He hadn't been before. Not really.

He had just been a cry-baby transfer student that happened to have the potential to be one of the greatest pitchers he had ever known. He had been a pawn, to be honest; a puppet whose strings were Abe's and Abe's alone to control.

He had liked Mihashi as a person, but he had not been his friend. He hadn't even considered it.

That's what he told himself, anyway.

But now, with Mihashi staring at him with hopeful , tearful eyes reflecting his years of self-doubt, and fear, and the acceptance of how worthless that he felt, the thought flashes through Abe's mind- crap, he really grew on me didn't he?- and he answers with no hesitation.

"I don't hate you, Mihashi."

He pisses him off to no end, and he really is a dumbass. But Abe does not hate Mihashi.

He kind of likes him, actually.

Mihashi is his friend. But that isn't really anything special.

He does not favor Mihashi over everyone else.

Okay, to be fair, it's understandable why other people might see it that way. After all, Abe isn't really the nicest guy to be around sometimes. He'll admit it- yeah, he can have quite a temper. Yeah, he can be a tad bit overbearing. Yeah, he can be a total dick, whatever.

But he's that way with everyone, Mihashi included. Hell, he's even worse to Mihashi, so it really actually isn't understandable why everyone and their mother seems to think that he has some sort of predisposition for the kid.

Alright, so maybe he gives Mihashi a little bit of leeway. Maybe he's always the first to ask the pitcher how he's feeling, if he wants to eat, or to command him to drink some water because he'll get dehydrated if he doesn't, and Abe really doesn't want him to get sick, he promised he wouldn't. And maybe, just maybe, he'll smile around the kid every once in a while.

But that's just because Mihashi puts up with so much more of his bullshit than everyone else.

It isn't because he feels "richer for the pitcher" (and, "really, Tajima, that was possibly the dumbest thing I have ever heard come out of your mouth, and that in itself is an impressive achievement.")

It isn't because he likes the pitcher any more than anyone else on the team.

And it definitely isn't because Abe actually cares about Mihashi. Don't be stupid.

It's the bottom of the ninth, with a score of 6-4, the opposing team up to bat when it happens.

Mihashi is, as always, pitching perfectly, following Abe's signs to a tee, two outs already established and another one in the making. The batter is set at a 2-2, strike to ball ratio, and is more than eager for another strike as he is a clean-up hitter, capable of scoring a homerun if the placement is desirable (seriously, he's ripped. Mihashi would have a field day with his muscles, and doesn't that just rub Abe in all the wrong ways?)

Regardless, Abe has caught for this batter at least twice today and knows perfectly well that he likes to hit balls on the left, upper edge of the plate because his arms are long, and it's undoubtedly difficult for him to adjust to close-cutting pitches. So, of course, this is what Abe calls for- a shoot, lower right hand corner- and, as always, Mihashi pitches it exactly as it is called.

However, Abe never took into account the fact that this batter is gutsy as Hell and that, even though the pitch in a place awkward to reach, he will by all means reach it if it will help his team (which it will, there's a runner on first and third, and this guy hits hard.) He doesn't take into account the fact that the hitter can very easily injure someone with his swing, and that the trajectory of the ball will be skewered since his opponent is so caught off guard, unable to fly between second and third due to the late impact and instead set to cruise straight forward, a low-sailing meteor hurtling at over 160 kilometers per hour.

He doesn't take any of that into account and the ball is struck. It only takes moments to careen towards the pitcher's mound, and there's no time to duck, or scream, or do anything really before it crashes straight into Mihashi, the mix of rubber and wool and leather making a sickening thunk as it meets with his skull, sending the brunette down, down, down until he is sprawled across the mound, the hit hard enough to make blood drip down the left side of his face onto the dirt below him.

And, suddenly, all of the anxious murmuring and excited cheers and parents proudly proclaiming 'that's my boy. He's great, isn't he?' disperse with a sharp gasp followed by eerie silence. And, suddenly, Abe is away from home plate, hurriedly stumbling towards the other half of his battery, where the coaches and his other teammates and medic with a stretcher are conglomerating because Mihashi's unconscious, he shouldn't be unconscious, this is bad, this is so bad, and he muscles his way through the cluster- because he's my pitcher, and I need to see if he's alright; get out of the way- only to be met with a sight that makes his blood run cold.

Mihashi is lying on the ground, one arm twisted beneath him. He's slightly curled inward and his eyes are shut; if Abe hadn't known any better, than he could have mistaken the pitcher to be asleep. But it isn't the position that Mihashi is in that has his catcher so terrified- it's the small red puddle that's forming beneath his head, sliding down the dirt at an angle, spreading as the seconds tick by. It's how still he is being, not even reacting as the medics gently roll him over and lift him onto the stretcher (because he's always been a deep sleeper but this is too much, entirely too much.)

It's how he looks dead.

So Abe ignores the commotion going on around him, the words of panic and concern (he thinks Mizutani might be hyperventilating, and Hanai looks as though he's been stricken himself), and numbly follows the stretcher as it is led off the field. The match was so far from home- he knows his mom isn't there. He knows Mihashi's parents aren't either. He refuses to leave the pitcher stranded alone. He disregards the command for him to stay back, fixing the physician with the sharpest glare he can muster before protectively arranging himself around the stretcher and its sole occupant. He's too distracted to notice Momoe speaking to the paramedics, telling them that "you won't get him to leave; it's best to just let him travel with Mihashi. They're close," too occupied with checking over his pitcher, staring down the wound from where the ball struck as though he can will the skin to mend itself back together.

While the ambulance is in motion, Abe discovers that the voice that he can hear mumbling phrases of comfort and apprehension is his own. He doesn't know whether to feel frustrated or uneasy. He settles on both.

He later learns that the game was called by Coach Momoe then and there. Without a suitable catcher or pitcher, it would have been pointless to continue. Besides, it had been a practice game.

It didn't even matter.

Mihashi wakes up at one point.

He is a bit disoriented, and rightfully so. It isn't every day someone takes such a hard knock to the head, much less someone of Mihashi's stature, so when the brunette awakens dazed and delirious, Abe doesn't fault him for it.

Instead, he holds back the urge to grip his battery tight and shake him and demand that he never do this again, next time you duck, you idiot, because he understands that, realistically, there was nothing that Mihashi could have really done. Abe could have, on the other hand, done a number of things.

He could have let the guy walk. He could have went for another ball. He could have gone for another type of strike.

Mihashi though, as if sensing Abe's train of thought, gathers enough of his surroundings to reach a shaky hand out and place it onto his catcher's own. Then, with a slight hitch to his voice, he manages to squeak out, "I-I could've s-shook… s'not… Abe's fault," and, "s-sorry… I made y-you… leave," before he's holding back a sob of pain, the throbbing in his head nearly unbearable.

Abe almost loses it then. He's up in an instant, leaning out the door, calling for a nurse.

When he returns to the bed, Mihashi is out cold again. This time, however, it appears as though he's just sleeping.

Abe feels better about this.

However, the relief is mingled with a certain other feeling that Abe really doesn't want to acknowledge, because it has been there for a while now, and he thinks he finally knows what it is, and that really just blows, because it's been dormant for such a long time and now it chooses to rupture.

His life really sucks. But he can't worry about that right now. Mihashi's hurt.

The nurse shows up three minutes late. Abe gripes for three times as long.

Tajima shows up less than thirty minutes later, which is impressive given that the stadium is a good fifty minute walk away. He comes into the room surprisingly subdued, a far step from his usual, brash, live-life-to-the-most-annoying self.

"She called the game," he explains simply when Abe sets a quizzical glare in his direction. "She realized that it was pointless without you guys there. Besides," he continues, "I think she was worried, too. We all were."

Abe doesn't object, simply accepts Tajima's words as a fact and settles himself back beside Mihashi's bed, where he unconsciously brings a hand up to push the pitcher's sweaty bangs away from his bandaged forehead.

Tajima watches on, a wistful look set on his face because, he may be clueless, but even he isn't oblivious to what is going on in the taller boy's mind.

Finally, in his true tactless way, he pops the question.

"What did it feel like?" He doesn't balk at Abe's scowl. "Recognizing your actual emotions. What was it like?"

And Abe wants to deny everything that the student third-baseman is saying, but he knows that he can't do that anymore. He's been running for too long now. Finally, he heaves a wary sigh.

"It was like a line drive to the face."

He doesn't say anything else. He doesn't need to.

Tajima smiles simply, wishes for Mihashi to get better quickly, and warns Abe that the others will be coming eventually before taking his leave.

And Abe brings a hand up to Mihashi's head, running his fingers through the damp hair with a rhythmic, soothing gesture, because he knows now that he is concerned, as much as he may have denied it in the past.

He and Mihashi had really come a long way.