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The Emotional Emancipation of Mihashi Ren

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Ren knew he was selfish, refusing to give up the mound despite everyone wishing he would, but they didn’t understand! He couldn’t, he loved baseball! And he worked hard to try and be a good ace for the team. He wasn’t just on the team because of nepotism, he wasn’t! He would prove that to them, he swore he would after the first time he had heard one of the outfielders mention it to the others when he thought that Ren had already left.

He practiced and practiced for the sport, refining his control, and trying to do the same to his fastballs, but none of that even seemed to matter to any of them. It never did, but he hoped that it was just because they never noticed that he was working on it. That was okay though! He didn’t mind, really! It was probably better that way, because now he could surprise all of his team when he got better!

He just wished that he could improve before they realized just how useless he currently was, forcing all of those great players to continuously carry his dead weight. He really was awful.

~~~~

Recently, things had been getting worse for him at Mihoshi, and while he was making progress little by little, that didn’t even seem to make any type of impact! They still were losing most of their games, and while some players were getting disheartened by that, Ren just comforted himself with the fact that they still had most of the season left.

Not that they seemed to realize that, their effort to win the games soon dwindling until they were hardly even playing. But that was okay! He knew that once all the agitation from the recent, rather brutal, defeat they got served from a nearby middle school simmered down they’ll bring their A game again.

Unfortunately, until then he was stuck being “accidentally” shoved by his classmates for losing another match and eating lunch alone in either a bathroom or abandoned janitor closet that was dusty enough to leave dark gray smudges on his uniform and to make his mother shove allergy medicine down his throat when he came home still sneezing.

It would all work itself out though, right?

~~~~

Everything was getting worse, nobody except him would try anymore. Hatake, his catcher, wouldn’t even give him the signs anymore! He refused to work with him at all, instead choosing to work with Kanou during practice, leaving him to pitch at one of the nets and hope that he was still making improvements on his techniques

Everything was falling apart slowly, and the worst part? It was all his fault.

~~~~

It was halfway through the season when it happened, the tensions finally boiling over.
They lost another game, the second one that week, and once again it was all his fault. His pitches were too slow, like they always were, and the batters were able to hit them with practically no effort. They lost 0-7, and coach was furious, giving them a lecture that sent Ren into tears with an embarrassing speed.

And yet, that wasn’t even the worst of it, that honor came after the coach stormed out of the locker room. He can’t even really remembered what exactly happened, one minute he was changing out of his dirty uniform and the next he was shoved back into the lockers with a force that sent the back of his head smacking into the locker above his. He remembers his vision blurring in and out of focus and then sharp pain blooming over his ribs and stomach until it was all just one big ache. He thinks he passed out soon after what he believes was another punch connected with his temple.

When he woke up, he was crumpled on the ground and felt as if he’d been hit by a bus, the artificial lighting sending dull throbs to his already pulsing headache. When he stumbled his way home that night he went straight to bed, not bothering to wake his mother.

The next morning he woke up to his mother freaking out over him, and when she asked what happened he made up a story about being mugged, but only when they found he had no money on him they decided to rough him up in retaliation. He didn’t return to school until the next week when he finally convinced his mom that he was okay, only thing is, the whole time he was convincing her, it almost felt like he was trying to convince himself too.

~~~~

Ren didn’t know what to do anymore, it’s been about a week since he returned to school and it had been...different. Things went on like they normally did, no one mentioned what had happened. He was conflicted on whether that was a good thing or not. It was almost as if nothing had ever happened, like no lines had been crossed, and that would’ve of been fine... except that it had happened, a line he previously didn’t even know existed had been crossed.

Some part of him, some deep, mostly buried side to him wanted to be angry at them, wanted to yell and scream until they understood that it was not okay, that he was not okay.

It was horrible, and he didn’t know what bothered him more, the fact that it happened or the fact that he let it, still is letting it, happen.

~~~~

Hatake hit him again today, and somehow, with just one punch that he had a sickening familiarity too it he knew, he knew without question that it was Hatake who attacked him last too.

Ren doesn’t even know what he did, he was just making his way to the janitor closet that was quickly becoming a constant in his life and then Hatake, flanked by Kanou and a centerfielder he barely knows, was in his face knocking the food he nabbed from the cafeteria to the floor.

“Y’know Mihashi, I’m getting real sick of you,” Hatake had growled. “You never know when to quit do you?“ He glared, a weak, almost crazed chuckle escaping him. “It almost as if you like getting hurt.”

“I—“ Ren had tried to choke out, too freaked out to string together a coherent sentence—“What, no—“

“H-h-huh? W-wh-w-what?” Hatake mocked his stutter. “God, you’re annoying, you can’t even talk right,” He had scoffed. “Why do we even put up with you? Oh, that’s right, we don’t have a choice, you’ll probably just go running to good ol’ grandfather won’t you?”

At this point Ren was already crying, unable to help himself.

“Look at him, blubbering like a baby!” The outfielder, Hiiragi he thinks, crowed.

It wasn’t long until the blows started, Hatake and Hiiragi taking turns testing who get the biggest reaction out of him, whether through punches, kicks or insults.

The whole time Kanou just stood there, his face blank, and for some reason that hurt the most, because while the others where hitting him, he thought that Kanou was his friend. And the realization that he wasn’t did more damage than any fist ever could.

“Don’t even bother coming to practice,” Hatake spat out once they finished, leaving his trembling body beaten black and blue as they turned to leave, the lunch period over. “You’ve caused enough trouble for today anyway,” Ren heard him mutter as he went to his next class.

Ren didn’t bother going to any of his own afternoon classes, choosing instead to struggle to his feet and stumble home while he pondered just how he was going to explain the fresh bruises he certainly didn’t have this morning to his mother.

Once home, he made up his mind, not wanting to worry his mother even more, he snuck into her bathroom and stole a little bit of her makeup to cover the more noticeable marks and the ones on his face, the rest he could pass as him being clumsy or from a rough practice.

It was fine, he was fine, it would all be okay... it had to be, he had to be.

~~~~

If you asked him at the beginning of the season what his favorite thing in the world is Ren would’ve of said baseball, no hesitation at all, just baseball.
Now though, over halfway through season, if you asked that very same question he would hesitate for at least a minute, debate internally for an acceptable answer (maybe cooking with his mom because that was always fun? Or perhaps sleeping because then he didn’t have to think anymore?) He would do this before inevitably give up and say what he always used to share with conviction, but now only replied with a resigned “...baseball”.

And he hated that it has changed, because he loved the sport, still loves it! He relishes in the feeling that hearing the ref call out a “strike!” loud and clear gives him (no matter that he hasn’t received such a thrill since Hatake stopped giving him the signs, because “if your really such a great pitcher, why do you even need them, Mihashi?”). But all of that wasn’t enough to drive away all of the the bad connotations his team slowly started to decorate the words baseball, and even pitcher, with, both meant pain, hidden bruises and cruel remarks regarding just about every part of him, those words meant lying to everyone who just wanted to help, because dammit, he still couldn’t give up the mound.

His stubbornness might have got him into this mess, and it might be the last thing tethering him to it, but don’t let it be said it wasn’t a worthy opponent. His stubbornness was the only thing giving him the strength to get back up after grueling practices that are only made worse by the mottled canvas of purple, blue and reddish brown that is now his skin. His stubbornness is what kept him hoping that everything will be just fine, it will get better with time.

Sometimes, Ren wishes he wasn’t so stubborn, that he could just walk away, he’d probably be better off that way.

~~~~

“Dammit, Mihashi, can’t you just take the fucking hint!” Kanou screamed at him, his hands clutching his shirt collar tight enough for his knuckles to turn a stark white. “Do you think I like seeing them treat you like this, huh?! If you just quit they’d back off, don’t you realize that your just making it worse?!” He continued to yell, shaking Ren violently.

“Kanou, please stop—“ Ren managed to stammer out through the jarring motions the reserve pitcher was putting him through.

“Do you understand that?!” Kanou cut him off before he could finish. “You could just quit! It would be that easy!” He was turning almost hysterical trying to get his point across.

“Kanou—“ Ren tried again.

“No! Do you even get it?! Things are only going to get worse! Why are you refusing to see this! Do you know what they’re going to do to you if you keep this up?!” The taller boy continued to scream at Ren, his eyes wild and frantic.

“Kanou, what are you talking abou—“ Ren was trying to keep calm, despite the tears that were welling up at seeing his former friend in such a state.

“He’s going to break your arm, Mihashi! Since you won’t stop pitching, he’s going to make sure you can’t!” The reserve pitcher screamed, shocking Ren into silence. “If Hatake even knew I was warning you about this he’d probably break mine too! Please, Mihashi, just quit now, while you can, please!”

Ren didn’t know what to say, even as Kanou stopped shaking him, instead choosing to let his tears silently run down his face. He sunk to his knees the moment the other boy let go of his shirt, he doesn’t remember how long sat there on his knees crying. Knowing that everything has finally came to a head, and knowing what he had to to.

That night, he came clean to his mother, let her hold him while she sobbed, promising that she’d help him, that they’d find a better school, that everything would be okay. And while he’d been telling himself that it’d be okay since the beginning, somehow it was different, more meaningful when his mother said it.

The next morning, he got to school earlier than normal and tracked down his coach to tell him that he was quitting. It was painful to both his heart and pride to do so, but he knew it was what he had to do.

He spent the rest of the school year as a ghost, drifting between his classes and going unnoticed by his classmates. He had to remind himself everyday that it was better this way.

His old teammates never did bother him again, except for baleful glares directed his way in passing. But it was alright, next year would be different, new year, new school, and a new people.

How bad could it be?