by Synchronik

There's something wrong with Tim. Buster doesn't say that, he can't say that, but even with the win in New York, even with the extra day of rest, the evidence is as clear as Tim's 8.20 ERA: something is wrong.

Buster can think of only two times Tim has performed this badly for this long in the past. The first was August, 2010, when Bochy made Tim switch from Bengie Molina to Buster himself. That had been...that had been bad. Buster, sitting on the exercise bike in the Reds training room (he hates the bike--god, how he fucking hates the bike, but he can ride it without putting stress on the Ankle and that's the most important thing), grimaces to himself just thinking about it.

Tim had hated him, back then.

It showed in every heater left high over the plate, in every wild pitch to the backstop, in every pursed expression Tim gave when Buster walked out to the mound. Hatred.

Then he stopped--out of necessity mostly, Buster thinks--and then they won the division and then Tim started to actually like him, to believe in him. And his ERA went down and his velocity went up and they won the World Series.

That was the first time.

The second time was June of last year. After the Ankle. When they weren't really talking because neither of them knew what to say to one another about what had happened, either on the field or off of it.

"miss u" Tim had texted once, at 3:42 one morning in early June, and Buster, awake, staring blankly at the television, his foot on a cushion in front of him, had looked at those words for a long time, his vision blurry from painkillers and unshed tears.

Tim had recovered from that, too, although a little more gradually, easing into a battery with Chris Stewart that seemed to--

Buster stops peddling.

Chris Stewart. Stew.

Buster doesn't know the guy well--they'd only played together in spring training, last year and this one, and then Stew got traded on the last day, practically at the last minute, to the Yankees for a minor league prospect and...

...Tim hasn't been the same since.

Buster's not stupid. He's pretty sure that Tim wasn't fucking the backup catcher last year. Stew is married, with two little kids, and, although that didn't make a difference for Buster, he thinks he would have known if Stewart was also hetero-flexible and open to banging teammates.

But just because Tim wasn't fucking Chris Stewart doesn't mean he isn't affected by his absence. All last year, Stewart was the guy out there, calling Tim's pitches, coming out to the mound, working with him on the game plans. And now he's gone. And so is Tim's command.

"You're jealous," Kristin says when Buster calls her from his hotel room, still wet from his post-game shower. He was hoping to just have a warm sweet phone call with his wife, but then she started asking about how Tim looked in New York and saying things about how he was too thin and then next thing he knew he was telling her about Chris Stewart getting traded.

"That's not true," he answers, before he even thinks about it.

"Honey, please." Kristin snorts. "Your boyfriend's mopin' around and you're wondering if the last girl was better in bed than you are."

"They didn't sleep together," he says, too loud even in his own ears.

Kristin chuckles. "His loss. Buster, honey, I'm gonna tell you something that is gonna freak you out. You ready?"

"Sure." Buster takes a deep breath, resting his hand on his bare knee. "Shoot."

"You should ask him."

"That's it?" he says. "That's your big advice? Ask him?"

"It's not like you thought of it," she says, and Buster has to admit she has a point, but it's strangely hard to do when Tim shows up at his door at midnight wearing a polo shirt that looks like it would fit a fifth grader, his newly shorter hair hanging in his eyes.

"This cool?" he asks. "I figured 'cause Zito's tomorrow..."

Zito tomorrow means Sanchez catches tomorrow, but even if it didn't, it's still cool, which is what Buster tells him as he lets him in.

"I was gonna text you, but..." Tim drifts off again, his eyes focused on something past Buster's shoulder, his lips pressed together.

This is it, Buster says, but he doesn't ask how Tim is doing, what he thinks might be wrong with him, whether or not he misses Chris Stewart. Instead, he reaches out and puts his hand on Tim's narrow narrow waist and urges him in close with the tips of his fingers. Tim comes easily, leaning in, his head fitting neatly into the crook where Buster's bare shoulder connects with his neck, his breath warm and damp on Buster's skin. Tim's hands come up and curl around the back of Buster's arms.

This is how it happens, over and over again, his hands reaching for Tim, pulling him in, almost as if Tim needs the encouragement to come to him. His strokes his fingers up and down the smooth skin of Tim's back, warming him. Tim hums deep in his throat.

They stand there for a minute, breathing together, saying nothing, going nowhere.

"You're not wearing a shirt," Tim murmurs after a while.

Buster laughs. He slips both hands under the hem of Tim's polo onto the warm skin of his back. Tim stands still as Buster glides his hands up the bumps of Tim's ribs, lifting his shirt up and over his head.

When it's gone, Buster can see, really see, how much weight Tim has lost. He looks strong, muscle ridges over his shoulders and along his ribs, but he also looks thin like a racing dog. His belt is on the smallest hole and still hangs off his hips a little, the waistband of his jeans practically folded in on itself accordion style where the fabric gathers together. Buster puts his hands on Tim's hips and thinks they might be smaller than Kristin's are, even though she is small herself. Before he knows what he's going to say, he speaks:

"Do you miss Stewart?"

Tim sighs against his neck. "huh?"

"Stewart," Buster says again. "Do you miss him?"

"I guess," Tim says, a verbal shrug.

"It just seems like, maybe..." Buster starts, but then he doesn't have any way to complete the sentence. "Like maybe you're fucked up? Like maybe you're pining for Chris Stewart? Like maybe you're broken and you need to be fixed." Those are all wrong. He bites his lip instead.

"Like maybe I miss Stew?" Tim leans back out of Buster's embrace far enough to look him in the eye. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Buster shakes his head. "I don't know. You're just, the last time you had trouble like this was before, when, the Ankle...and the time before that was when I came up. So...I just thought, I dunno."

"What would you do if I said yes?" Tim asks, his eyes solemn.

"What?" Buster freezes. He hadn't gotten this far. Stew is gone, off to the Yankees on the other side of the world, never to be seen again unless they make it to the post- season, so if that is what's wrong with Tim...then it's just going to keep being wrong. He can't fix it. "I--um--"

Tim laughs, really laughs, hanging off Buster's neck like a hook. His shoulder blades bounce under Buster's hand. "Posey, man, you're the best."

"I...what did I?"

Tim tosses his head back, his smile wide and goofy, his eyes blurry with tears of mirth. He seems completely happy and at ease for the first time in a week. "You're trying to fix me."

"No, I'm not, I--"

"You are," Tim says, and then his mouth is warm and open on Buster's, like Buster's done something that deserves a reward.

The End

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