The Game in Front of You
by Synchronik

Tim doesn't actually see Buster go down--he's at the back of the dugout fucking around with Sanchez--but he hears the roar and then the gasp of the crowd, and then Bochy is up and out of the dugout moving faster than Tim has ever seen the old man move. Everyone else is frozen, staring, and Buster is on the ground.

Still on the ground.

This is bad, Tim thinks. This is really bad.

It is really bad.

That first night, after they get the news--Posey's ankle is broken; he's out for the season--Tim calls his dad and cries.

He doesn't mean to, it just sort of happens while he's talking to his dad about what this means for him, for the team, for the rest of the season, which Tim can practically see circling the drain. He's talking about the middle of the lineup, when his throat closes and his eyes start to water.

"Hey, Timmy," his dad says softly. "Don't worry. You're gonna be okay. Don't worry."

He is still worried when he hangs up with his dad, but he does feel better. Until he realizes that Posey's absence means he has to throw to Eli.

Tim loves Eli. Eli's a good guy, funny and decent, and a good player, but Eli doesn't see Tim's pitches. Balls get past him, bounce off the heel of his glove, brush past his shoulder, ricochet off his chest guard. Not everyone's pitches--not Cain's, for example--but Tim's pitches. Last season, Tim had dreaded the days he was up in the rotation and Buster had off, because that meant Eli.

So he's glad when he catches a glimpse of Chris Stewart walking through the clubhouse. He threw to Stew a little during spring training and it went fine. Not spectacularly--there's a reason why Stew's been in the minors most of his career--but Stew can block all Tim's pitches, and has a great arm, and he's not Eli, so the minute the coast is clear, Tim makes a beeline for Righetti's office.

He's not in there. Tim finds him in Bochy's office, the two of them muttering about something in that sort of old guy grumbly way they have when it's just them and no players around.

"Timmy," Boch says, catching sight of him in the doorway. "What do you need, son?"

"I want Stew," Tim says.

Righetti clears his throat. "Well, now, let's not get--"

"I want Stew," Tim repeats.

"There are other considerations for this team besides what you want, son." Boch holds up his hand when Tim opens his mouth to protest. "I hear you. Rags hears you, right Rags?"

Righetti nods. "Right."

"Now get your skinny ass back to the weight room and let us worry about the roster, okay?"

Tim debates saying something else, trying to press his case, but Bochy has his arms folded over his chest in a way that suggests that Tim isn't going to help himself by pushing. "Okay," he says.

"That's my boy."

Tim knows he should be patient now that he's said what he needs to say, but it's hard. Stew isn't ready for the first few games, so Tim has to throw to Eli and take the bite out of his curveball and grit his teeth when the ball squirts past Eli to the backstop. He wins his first game back, but it's sloppy and he doesn't like it.

>>COME BACK, he texts to Buster that first night, from his hotel room in Milwaukee.

>>give him a chance, Buster answers.

Tim almost responds with "fuck u," --actually has it typed out on his phone--before he thinks better of it. Posey's going through enough. He settles for "get well SOON" instead.

"You have to give it time, man," Zito says, folding his legs under him. He's wearing the smallest white shorts that Tim has ever seen--his balls are about a millimeter from busting free--but that's nothing unusual. All of Barry's clothes are too tight or too small.

"I know." Tim flops back on Barry's enormous bed. He's no good at waiting, at giving things time; he never has been. He wants things to happen now.

"So do it," Barry says. "Just breathe and let it go."

Tim rolls his eyes at the ceiling. This is why he and Zito only fucked the one time: Zito's a Zen/yoga/meditation motherfucker whose patience drove Tim crazy, and not in a good way. The sex had been awesome, though.

"Yeah, yeah," he says.

"Hey, Timmy." Barry crawls up onto the bed and draws Tim in until his head is on Barry's shoulder, Barry's fingers trailing though his hair. He hadn't known it until he grew his hair out, but Tim loves the feeling of people touching his hair, stroking it. He closes his eyes. "Just breathe," Barry says, pulling Tim's hand to his stomach as if to demonstrate breathing. "This is gonna work itself out. You'll see."

"Yeah," Tim says again.

But he doesn't begin to feel like he can breathe until Stewart starts subbing in at the end of the week. It's not a perfect solution right away--he spends too much time looking for Bochy's signs, which interferes with Tim's rhythm and he's always calling for the curve when Tim is looking for the changeup--but it's a little better. For the first time since he saw Buster lying face down in the dirt, Tim starts to think that maybe Zito's right and everything will work out.

When he throws to Stew, Tim doesn't have to worry all the time about passed balls, so he starts looking around a little more again, noticing things, like the breeze through his hair, the shadows on the infield, the flash of Stew's fingers between his knees.

One of the things he notices is that Stewart sprints out of the catcher's box after the third out in each inning. The first time he sees it happen, Tim almost laughs out loud. He releases the ball, it hits Stew's glove, and BAM! Stew is gone in a flurry of long legs and gear, almost to the dugout before Tim even gets off the mound.

"Did you see that?" he asks Cain when he gets back to the bench, but Cain just looks at him like he's on the smoke again.

Tim starts watching for Stew's fast break, after that, anticipating it even before he throws the ball, looking forward to it.

And Stew talks a lot. Not off the field, where he's more of a background guy, more like Tim himself, but on the field he's always coming out from behind the plate saying "good pitch, Timmy," or "just like that" or "nice one, baby, nice one." Buster had been mostly silent unless he actually came out to the mound; it had taken a while to get to know him. But Stew is an open book, a chatterbox, always talking to him, always telling him how good he is.

"I like it," Bumgarner says, when Tim brings it up to him. "It stops me from thinkin' too much."

"Yeah," Tim says. He likes it, too, although he's not sure that's the reason why.

Tim has always loved baseball, but he's finding out that he likes the other stuff that goes along with it less and less. The appearances, the promotions, even the fans (which makes him feel like shit because he knows they love him and that's why they're so...intense), it gets overwhelming. They all want so much from him. And not just performance, which he can deliver, which he wants to deliver, but more than that: his time, his energy, his return love.

"I can't," he tells his dad.

The connection is scratchy in the clubhouse, but Tim can hear the disappointment in his father's voice. "Tim, I told you about this two weeks ago and you said--"

"I know what I said!" Tim shouts. A couple of the clubbies turn around, look at him, then turn away quickly. "I'm sorry," Tim mumbles into the phone. "I know what I said, but there's just no way."

The thing is a picnic, a charity benefit for one of the youth homes back in Portland. He wanted to go--underprivileged kids, autographs, church picnic food--but his schedule is all jacked up and he won't have the two days in a row he needs to make the trip.

"Okay." His father sighs. His dad doesn't promise anything to other people anymore-- they learned that lesson the hard way--and Tim's already sent the autographed gear for the raffle. "How are you, son?"

Tim closes his eyes. "I dunno," he says. "I'll be okay."

"Ready for tomorrow?"

Tim's pitching tomorrow, the second game of a homestand against the Padres. It'll be fine, and even if it won't, Tim doesn't want to talk about it. "Yeah," he says. "I'm ready."

His dad hears what he's saying. "All right. I'll call you tomorrow. Love you, Tim."

"Love you, Dad."

He presses "end" on the phone and puts it in his locker. He should go running, but when he runs, he thinks, and he doesn't want to think. He grabs his iPod anyways. Right now, his life is full of shit he doesn't want to do.

But once he gets out into the park, he can't bring himself to do it. He jogs out toward left field, but instead of heading to the upper levels, he heads down into the seats and cuts into a row. He leaves his earbuds in, but turns the music off and folds himself into a seat, propping his feet up on the seat in front of him. He feels like a dick for snapping at his dad, and he feels like an asshole for not going to the charity picnic, and he feels like a slacker for not getting back to Tanya at the management office about the six million things she needs to hear back from him on, and he hasn't updated his Facebook page himself in the last two months, and the fan mail is basically a mountain of failure just waiting to collapse on him. How long? he wonders. How long until I can just play? He ducks his head to his knees and tries to breathe.

"Hey, Tim."

Tim jerks his head up. Stew, in jeans and a t-shirt, his hair sticking up in strange points. He's holding out a cup of something.

"Oh!" Tim pulls his earbuds out and takes the cup. Lemonade. "Thanks."

Stew sits down next to him and puts his feet up, too, sighing happily. "Nice day, huh?"

Tim laughs bitterly. "Sure. It's fucking awesome," he says.

Stew straightens up. "I can go if you want."

Tim sighs, tired of being an asshole. "No, that's okay. It's just...there's so much shit. I expected it, sort of, when I got called up, but. There's just so much. I didn't know there would be so much, you know?"

"Yeah," Stew says. He curls his arm around Tim's shoulders. "You got it, though. You'll be okay."

Tim tips his head to Stew's shoulder. He smells of clean laundry and sunshine, and Tim closes his eyes and tries to forget about everything. "Thanks," he murmurs against Stew's shirt.

"Anytime, baby," Stewart says, his hand cupped around Tim's arm. After a minute, Tim straightens up. He doesn't want to--he wants to sit with his cheek against Stew's shoulder and Stew's hand on his back for maybe the next year and a half--but his life is full of stuff he doesn't want to do. Still, it's a beautiful day, and he's got a career as a professional baseball player and a cup full of lemonade.

"This is really good," he says to Stew, holding up the cup.

"One of the stand ladies makes it for me."

"You've been here for a month and you already know the vendors?"

Stew smiles. "After a few years in Triple A, you learn who the important people are."

"I was in Triple A for a month," Tim says, before he realizes how dickish that sounds, but Stew just laughs.

"Fuck you," he says, squeezing Tim's shoulder. Tim closes his eyes and turns his face up into the sunshine.

They're in Detroit in the middle of an epic rain delay when Vogelsong comes out into the dugout looking shellshocked. At first, Tim thinks it's because of the rain--the storm is a fucking monsoon, and it's entirely possible the game's going to get called--but then Vogey looks at him and says "I'm going to the All-Star Game."

"No way!" Tim says, then bites his tongue. Sometimes he thinks he should just never speak. He gets up and gives Vogelsong a hug. "That's awesome, man."

It is awesome. Vogelsong's career is one of those miracles that almost never happens, a turnaround so significant and surprising that no one, not even Zito, can be pissed about it. He's also a really nice guy, humble and unassuming. And a genius on the mound, who pitches like he's at target practice. All-Star selection couldn't happen to a better guy.

"'s." Vogelsong covers his face with his hand. Tim pats him on the shoulder, hoping that if Vogelsong's going to cry, the cameras aren't on him. No guy wants video of himself crying on television: just ask Brandon Belt.

"That's awesome," Tim says again. A couple of the vets--Rowand, Ross, Tejada--are down at the other end of the dugout and have started heading their way, wondering what's happened that's making Vogelsong, who is pretty much the model of reserved and quiet, have a moment. "He going to Arizona," Tim says as they get closer. When they mob him, slapping him on the back, Tim slips away to find Stew.

He's been doing that a lot more lately, wandering off to find Stew, see what he's doing. Since that day just over a week ago, when Stewart brought him lemonade, Tim's been finding himself craning his neck, twisting around, looking for Stewart, just to see where he is.

This time, he's in the clubhouse, his feet up, reading a book. A lot of guys read--it's an easy way to kill the waiting around time that baseball has so much of--but Stew is one of the few guys who reads actual books, thick ones, that aren't about sports. The one he's holding at the moment is a fat paperback with the title The Historian. It looks like the most boring book in the world, but Stew doesn't even hear him when he walks up.

"Vogey's going to the All Stars," Tim says, bumping Stew's feet with his knee.


"Vogey. Arizona."

Happiness blooms on Stew's face and for a second, they are grinning at each other and Tim feels warm from his head to his feet. "Really?" Stew asks. "Where is he?"

"Dugout." Tim hooks a thumb back towards the door. Of course, Stew would rather congratulate Vogelsong and not sit here and talk to Tim about how awesome it is; that makes perfect sense if you think about it for a minute, which Tim didn't do until just now. He watches Stew go, then picks up the book he left on the chair and opens it to a random page. It's just as boring as he thought it would be.

"So how's it going with Stewart?" his dad asks when Tim calls him from Arizona.

"Pretty good, I guess," Tim says. He wants to say a lot more, about how Stew holds out his glove to calm him down, how he comes out toward the mound to signal the outs, how he leans down to swat Tim on the ass, but that's the one thing he doesn't talk to his dad about: the romance of baseball, the way that one guy can start to feel like home.

His dad knows that he dates guys. Has dated guys. In the past, like, college. They don't talk about who Tim might or might not be dating now, and they don't put a label on it. He's never said "I'm gay," to his father or his brother and they've never asked, explicitly. It's the one secret he has from his father, and it's not really a secret at all.

"I'd like him better if he could hit at all," Tim's dad is saying about Stew. "He's no Buster."

Tim rolls his eyes. "Dad, no one is Buster except Buster. Let go of your mancrush on Posey."

That's one of the things that's so ironic to Tim; it's completely okay to have a crush on a player, the way his dad does on Posey, the way that Crawford does on him, as long as you don't actually want to have sex with them. Hell, Huff and Burrell are practically married, they're so in each others' pockets, but both of them are straight, so it's okay. But the minute you actually want to take off someone's pants--

His dad chuckles; he was one of Posey's most ardent champions last year, when Tim was resisting the switch from Molina. "Your ERA's down with Stew."

"Yeah," Tim says. "It figures. Me and Whitey just don't--"

"No, down compared to last year. With Buster."

Tim blinks. "Really?"

His dad answers with a long-winded explanation of the calculations he's done--his dad likes to do the math himself instead of parroting back the announcers--but Tim hardly hears. His ERA is better with Stew?

They talk for a few minutes more (his dad's considering putting in a deck), but Tim can't stop hearing it in his head. His ERA's better with Stew.

It's sort of unthinkable. Stew's good, Tim loves throwing to him, but Buster is Buster, Rookie of the Year, and Stew is...not.

He finds himself thinking about it in the bullpen when they're warming up before the next game, watching as Stew gets in the crouch, his knees apart, his glove open. Lower, lower, lower, he thinks. It becomes a sort of background music, playing as he faces and sends down batter after batter.

"It's really working tonight," Stew says in the dugout after the tenth strikeout. He takes his mask and helmet off and set them down on the bench. Tim looks up at him and thinks "lower" and a strange shiver runs down his spine. It's wrong, but knowing that Stew improves his pitching makes him hot. Hotter. "On fire," Stew says, like he's reading Tim's mind. "Keep it up." He slaps Tim's shoulder and goes to get a cup of water.

Tim looks after him. He wants to say something about the ERA, about the stuff that he thinks he might be feeling, but he sort of can't: mentioning either one might jinx it. So he just watches Stew walk away.

The next night he's off, which means Stew is off, too, so Tim sacks up and goes to Stew's room right after he changes into street clothes. It's only been an hour or so since the game ended, but most everyone who's out has already gone out, and most everyone who's staying in is already ensconced in their hotel rooms with their families (Cain, Ross, Vogelsong), or their pornography collection (Sandoval, Burrell, Schierholtz). Tim takes a chance that Stewart's not whacking off and knocks on his door.

Stewart answers in his underwear and for a second Tim thinks "shit," but then he realizes that Stew probably wouldn't answer the door if he were jerking off, and the book in his hand doesn't look like a spank mag, but one of Stew's normal boring books.

He's wearing a t-shirt, too, of course, a plain white one that's a little small and stretches across his shoulders.

"Hey, Timmy," Stew says. For a second, Tim is at a loss for words. Stewart's legs extend for miles from his plaid boxers, hairy and slim. Tim's fingers tingle with the desire to touch them.

"Why aren't you wearing pants?" Tim blurts.

"It's hot," Stew says, but for a second Tim thinks he says "I'm hot." He can feel his own face heating up.

"Oh. There's a Mexican place around the corner. Sanchez says it's awesome but he can't go, so, um. Do you want to go?"

Stew holds up his book. "I'm reading."

"Oh, um..." Tim has no response to that.

"Let me put some pants on," Stew says, and Tim feels his heart leap. It's the first time that he's been excited about a guy putting his pants on. He follows Stew into the room, picking up the book as Stew sets it down, flipping through it. Stew pulls a pair of jeans out of a suitcase and goes into the bathroom to change. Tim has to wrestle with his conscience to keep himself from peering around the corner and watching him bend over.

The restaurant is small and scary-looking, but it has an amazing tequila menu and no one seems to recognize them when they walk in, so Tim decides that they should stay. The first sip of tequila is like honey in his throat. He offers it to Stew, who shakes his head. "I'm in tomorrow," he says, and Tim realizes with some surprise that he's probably right. In addition to being Tim's own personal guy now, Stew catches Vogelsong and Madison at least part of the time. Tim wonders how they feel about switching off like that. Maybe he'll ask them.

They sit in silence until the tequila and chips show up. He hasn't spent much time with Stew without the distractions of the game and the other guys hanging around. He hasn't spent much time with him alone. This seems like his chance.

Stew asks him about his family, and Tim hears himself talking and talking. "I don't even know what it's like, not to throw," he says at the end of a long and involved story about his motion. "My dad, it was how we spent time together when I was a kid. It still sort of is." He laughs a little. "How did you learn?"

Stew shrugs. "I played Little League," he says. "And then in junior high, I noticed that baseball players got all the girls."

Tim laughs. "Not at my school," he said. "Lacrosse."

"You played lacrosse? Jesus, anything else?"

"Golf, football, basketball. But I didn't play lacrosse. Or soccer. Soccer's for pussies."

"Yeah, unlike golf," Stew says. "That's not even a sport. What were you in football? Tackle? Defensive back?"

Tim rolls his eyes, grinning into his glass. "Quarterback."

"Of course," Stew says, and when Tim looks up, Stew is smiling right at him.

Tim ends up wasted, staggering out of the restaurant, tripping over the threshhold. He knows he looks like an idiot, a kid who can't hold his liquor, but he'd gotten distracted by Stewart's eyes and Stewart's smile, and had forgotten to keep track of how much he'd had until the second flight was gone and so was he.

He doesn't really regret it, though, when he gets to walk all the way back to the hotel with his arm around Stew's narrow waist, his hand pressing into Stewart's side right above his belt line.

He starts to get dizzy in the hotel, when he has to let go of Stewart to get through the lobby. The elevator is even worse--it's not air conditioned for some reason, and the sweat oozes from his forehead and down the base of his neck. Tim's stomach lurches in time with the shifting floor.

Stew reaches into Tim's back pocket and pulls out his wallet, then his key card, and lets him into his room. Tim goes to the bathroom and wets a washcloth, wiping his face. If he can just hold it until Stew leaves, he should be fine. The washcloth is cool and refreshing and Tim thinks maybe he won't have to throw up at all, maybe this time he'll get off easy.

Stew leans into the bathroom. "How are you doing?" he asks.

Tim opens his mouth to say "I'm fine," but what comes out instead is tequila and partially digested enchiladas.

He wakes up to Stewart's hand on his thigh. Stew's lying on his back, his face turned away, one hand resting on the curve of Tim's leg just under his ass, where Tim's jockstrap would be if he wore one to bed. Tim folds his arm under his cheek and looks at Stew's ear and at the remarkably neat square corner of his hairline.

He's not sure why he's there instead of in his own room. It probably had something to do with the massive amounts of tequila that he consumed. He really should have been more careful about that--he's got to throw a bullpen this afternoon--but he can't really regret it when it means he gets to wake up next to Stewart, even if they are both still wearing all their clothes.

Then he remembers.

"Fuck," he whispers to himself. He tried to kiss Stew. He threw up, then tried to kiss his catcher. He should really stop drinking tequila.

He closes his eyes and tries to remember what exactly happened, but it's lost in the haze. He remembers pressing his mouth against Stew's and it's pretty clear that it didn't get too much farther, but Tim's not sure what else was involved. Stew's hand on his leg seems promising, though, so Tim extends his fingers slightly and brushes them against the bare skin of Stewart's arm.


He curves his hand into the crook of Stewart's elbow, then up over Stew's bicep, using his whole hand, his palm on Stew's smooth skin, and up under the stretched out sleeve of Stewart's t-shirt.

Stewart's breathing doesn't change, so Tim slides his hand down, all the way to Stewart's wrist where it touches Tim's hip, and back up. After the third time, Stewart sighs and withdraws his hand, folding it on his chest. Tim pauses for a second, then strokes his arm again, up the sleeve to Stew's shoulder and down to his elbow. It's going to wake him up, Tim knows. He hopes.

But when Stewart finally does sigh again and open his eyes, Tim thinks he might have made a mistake, because it's obvious from Stew's expression that he's not as happy to see Tim as Tim is to see him.

"Morning," Tim says. He means it to sound nonchalant, but it feels like a clichˇ, like every morning after every bad one night stand Tim's ever heard of. He ducks his head to Stewart's shoulder to hide his face.

"Hey, it's okay," Stew says, and his hand covers Tim's, where it's come to rest on Stew's chest. "No worries. You were drunk."

Tim opens his eyes. Up close, Stewart's eyes are brown, light brown, and beautiful. "I'm not drunk now," he says, and tilts his chin up, ever so slightly until his mouth is almost against Stew's.

Stew freezes. "Tim--" he murmurs, and the motion against Tim's mouth is too much. Tim pushes forward, until it's actually a kiss, a real kiss, and he can feel Stew open his mouth and relax. Tim doesn't separate from him, afraid that if he gives Stew the chance to speak this whole dream will be over, but rolls on top of Stew without breaking contact. He is gratified, thrilled, when Stew's arms come around him, holding him close, one hand curving over his ass possessively.

They kiss and kiss and kiss, Stew squeezing him so tightly sometimes that Tim can hardly breathe. He doesn't mind. Stew's hands slip up under his shirt and down into his jeans and drive him crazy. Why wasn't he drunk enough to take off his clothes? Finally, Tim pulls back, just the smallest bit. "Take this off," he says, tugging at Stew's t-shirt. When Stew nods, Tim leans back, flicking the button on his jeans. He can't believe his good--

Stew jerks away suddenly, the same way that Brian Timmons had jerked away in the tenth grade when his mother came down the basement stairs, the combination of shame and fear so familiar that Tim actually looks around for someone else in the room.

"I can't," Stew says. "I can't do it."

"Oh." Tim wants to argue--his dick, his mouth, his hands all want to argue--but his brain knows that there's no point. He learned that in the tenth grade, after Brian Timmons punched him in the mouth the day after his mom caught them, when Tim had approached him in the parking lot after school and asked if maybe Brian wanted to go over to his house, since his parents were divorced and his dad wouldn't be back from work until after six.

When someone says they "can't" in that awful choked voice, you have to listen to them.

Tim pushes his hair back out of his face.

"Okay," he says, trying not to let the frustration sound in his voice. "I, um...okay."

"It's not you," Stew says, and Tim feels the first flare of anger. They all say that. "It's not you; it's me." "I can't." "I'm not ready." It might even be true, but Tim doesn't give a fuck. He wants someone who is ready, someone who can.

"I'm really sorry," Stew is saying. "It's a long story, but I--"

Tim rolls to his feet, patting his pockets for his room key. It's still in there, thank God. "I know," he says. "You can't. Listen, I'll see you out there, okay?"

Stewart is sitting on the edge of the bed, looking like someone just slapped him across the face. For a second, Tim imagines climbing onto his lap and wrapping his legs around Stewart's waist. He turns to the door.

"See ya," he says, waving over his shoulder. He can't bear to turn around.

His room smells of antiseptic and herbal bleach, like no one has stayed there, ever. It's morning, so there's no point in getting onto bed, so he strips and climbs into the shower instead.

He washes his hair, using most of the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, then uses the rest of the conditioner to jerk off, imagining Stew's hands on his ass, the rough scrape of Stew's beard on his throat. Afterwards, though, wiping spooge and conditioner off the wall with a damp washcloth, Tim just feels depressed.

And he can't find his toothbrush anywhere.

He gets angrier and angrier as the day progresses. What does that even mean? he thinks, spitting sunflower seeds onto the ground during the fourth inning. "I can't." Obviously, Stew could if he wanted to--Tim had felt Stew's hard-on against his thigh, even through his jeans. So it wasn't a matter of "can't" at all, but "don't want to."

But Stew did want to, that was the other thing his hard-on meant.

So he just didn't want to with Tim.

"I'm fuckable, right?" he asks Zito when Zito finally answers the phone. Zeet's become a ghost since going on the DL. He's always busy doing yoga or rehab or meditation or some shit. Tim called him four times in a row before he finally picked up.

Zito laughs, low and deep in his throat. "Hey Timmy. Don't you have a game?"

"I am, right?" Tim asks. Zito knows as well as anyone that Tim wouldn't be calling him during a game where Tim was actually pitching.

"You're the object of desire of fifty thousand people a night, Timmy. What brought this on?"

Tim opens his mouth to spill the whole thing--how Stew looks at him like he's a prize at the carnival, how Stew smiles crookedly at him, how Stew jerked away from him like his skin burned--then shuts it again. He doesn't know why, but for some reason it fees like telling Zito would be a betrayal.

"Nothing," Tim says.

Zito laughs again. "Who turned you down?"

"No one," Tim says. He never should have called Zito, who is all about openness and sharing and Tantric sex. Of course he would want details.

"Okay," Zito says. "But I tell you what, Timmy, anyone who turns you down is missing out. I mean it."

Tim is touched in spite of himself. He hangs up with Zeets and goes back out to the dugout to watch the rest of the game. He feels so much better that he's able to slap Stew's hand in the victory line without flinching at all.

The next day, though, he's upset again. It's bullshit, is why. It would be one thing if Stew didn't like guys. It would be another thing if Stew didn't like him. But it's pretty clear that both of those things are not true, and still, Stewart won't.

It's bullshit.

Rags calls him out of the bullpen after, like, ten throws and sends him to the showers. Whatever. Tim can't care. Stew comes after him like a fucking puppy with his tail between his legs and for an instant Tim wishes that he could hate him. He wishes really hard, but it still doesn't work.

"Leave me alone," he tells Stew before he can even sit down.

"I just want to talk to you--"

"Well, I don't want to talk to you," Tim says, trying to keep his voice down. He wishes he had a baseball so he could throw it at something. "I don't want to talk to you, and I don't want to look at you, and I don't want to throw to you, so just...go away, okay?"

It's all true, but it's maybe a little too harsh--Stew looks like he's about to pass out-- and Tim feels a wave of guilt.

"Hey, I'm sorry," he says, touching Stewart's knee. "Jeez, don't--I'm not going to Boch or anything. I'm just fucking upset, okay?"

"Okay." Stew sighs. "What can I do, man?"

"Just fuck me already," Tim says. He sounds like a whiny kid, but he can't help it. The only thing he wants is right there and it's holding out on him.

Stew freezes.

"Don't," Tim says before Stew can offer up any other bullshit excuses. "I know, you can't. Whatever. Jesus, Stew, who fucked you up so bad that now you have to go and fuck me up?"

"I'm sorry," Stew starts, but Tim holds up his hand. Another non-answer.

"I know. You can't tell me."

"I'm sorry," Stew says again.

"You spend a lot of time apologizing." Tim grabs his gearbag and hooks it over his shoulder. "I hope this guy was fucking worth it."

To Tim's surprise, Stew answers, and the answer is almost worse than Stew's constant refusals to answer.

"He wasn't," Stewart says, his face a mask of misery. "I thought he was, but. He wasn't."

Tim's desperate to touch him, his cheek, his shoulder, something just to say that now he's the one who's sorry for being such a jerk when someone obviously cut Stew deep, but he doesn't. He's afraid that putting his hand on Stew right now will tear them both apart.

"This is fucking awesome," he mutters under his breath. "All right," he says, louder. "Tell Rags I'm fine, I'll be fine. I'll be fine tomorrow."

"You will?" Chris says.

Tim forces a smile, baring his teeth in a way that feels like a joke. "Yes," he says. "Definitely. One hundred percent."

He doesn't know if he's telling the truth or not, but it doesn't matter. This is what he does. He takes what he's given and makes it work. His dad has an expression for it--you gotta play the game in front of you, he used to say, slinging his arm over Tim's shoulders after a tough loss. You can't change what happened in the past, and you can't control what happens in the future. Play the game in front of you.

Tim's an expert at that. His whole life he's been told he doesn't have what it takes. He's not big enough, he's not strong enough, he's not talented enough. The world is finally starting to realize that all those opinions are wrong, that he's better than almost everyone in the world at what he does. It's Doc Halladay and Cliff Lee and him, pretty much, if you don't count Ian Kennedy, which Tim does not. And the only reason he's even breathing this rarified air, having this success, is because he takes whatever weak shit he has and spins it into gold. He plays the game in front of him.

And right now, the game is Chris Stewart.

Tim goes home, to the rental property he calls home, anyways, and lets his dogs out into the fenced-in backyard. He'd gotten the place in part because of its proximity to a dog park, but the first time he'd taken the puppies over there, two high school girls had recognized him and tried to befriend him by scooping up Cy and cuddling him while they chatted him up. Cy had loved it--his dog is a slut and the girls were nice enough once he signed something for them--but the incident had lodged the idea of dognapping in his head, so now he kept the dogs in the backyard.

While the puppies tear around the grass, snorting with joy, Tim sits back on one of the cushioned lounges and pulls his hat down over his eyes. He's just going to chill until he has to go back to the park. He's just going to relax and think obsessively about Chris Stewart until his has to go back to the clubhouse and not touch him and not look at him in the shower and not want to make out with him. No problem.

Someone had fucked Stew up. He'd admitted as much. Someone had burned him, badly, so badly that now he wouldn't hook up with--

It must have been another player.

Tim sits up, pushing his hat back. Cayo, excited by the possibility of a ball, comes over and sniffs his fingers, then wanders away when a ball is not forthcoming.

A player. It has to be. Why else would Stew say no after he'd already said yes, unless there was some other player, some--

--another player on the team?

The thought makes Lincecum sick. Someone else on the roster? He runs through the possibilities in his head. Zito? No. Zito's been on a girl kick for a while, and is talking about getting engaged to one of them. He's a slut, but when he's into someone the way he's into the most recent girl he believes in serial monogamy.

Wilson? No. Wilson talks a good game about tolerance and shit, but Tim would be surprised if he's ever actually been so tolerant as to give a guy a handjob.

Vogelsong? Tim thinks about this one for a long time--Stew and Vogey are close; they threw in Fresno together and have a lot in common--but ultimately rules it out solely based on the fact that Vogelsong's wife terrifies him.

There really aren't any other candidates that Tim's aware of. Crawford is a possibility, but Crawford has a complete schoolboy crush on Tim and was in single A prior to getting called up. It doesn't seem likely. Someone else in the minors, then, someone Tim doesn't know, or doesn't remember?

He goes into the kitchen and calls Emmanuel Burris from his house phone. He's surprised when he gets Burris' voicemail, until he realizes that Burris wouldn't have recognized the house number. He dials again from his cell phone and Emmanuel picks up on the first ring.

"Man, was that you?"

"Yeah, sorry," Tim says.

"I was all 'who the hell did I give my number to?' What's up, man? How're things?"

"Fine, good. You know."

"I saw that game Tuesday. That was some rough shit."

Tim grimaces, thinking about the 2-1 loss. "Don't get me started."

"No way, Timmy, no way," Emmanuel says, laughing a little. "So, what d'you need?"

"It's going to sound a little weird, but I have a question about Stew."

"Stew? How's he doing? I miss that guy."

"He's doing awesome," Tim says. For an instant, Emmanuel? flashes in his mind, but Burris is strictly woman-oriented, if his clubhouse stories are anything to go by. "I was wondering, did he hang with anybody in particular? You know, when he was down there?"

"Stew? Hmmm."

Tim fights the urge to say anything else, to point Burris in one direction or another. He's practically biting his tongue by the time Burris says

"I don't know, man. He studies a lot."

Tim exhales. "So he doesn't hang?"

"I wouldn't say that," Burris says, drawling his words out, thinking. "He's cool and all. It's not like he doesn't hang, he's just...I dunno, you know?"

"Yeah, that's what I figured," Tim says, even though he doesn't know what he figured. "All right. Thanks."

"Everything okay? Stew's all right?"

"Everything's fine," Tim says. "I was just wondering if he'd always had his nose stuck in a book or if that was something new." As a reason to call, it's a pretty bad one, but Burris isn't the suspicious type; that's part of the reason Tim called him in the first place. He chats with Burris a little bit and gets off the phone just in time to watch the dogs try to catch the first fireflies. They're hilarious, snorting and snapping and missing, popping up and down on their little stub legs. Tim sits cross-legged on the tile floor in the open patio doorway and watches them and laughs.

He thinks at first that he will just work his way backwards, calling someone at every team Stew's been at over the years, but that hits a snag right away when he realizes that Stew's last team was San Diego. He can't call anyone in San Diego, even if he knew any of those guys, which he really doesn't.

And it turns out that Stew spent all of 2009 in the minors, and bounced back and forth between the White Sox and the Yankees for a couple of years, and it all gets really complicated really quickly, until Tim just says "fuck it," and decides to call CJ Wilson.

CJ was on the Rangers back when Stew was a regular catcher, and CJ's a pitcher, which means that he'd remember Stew, and although Tim doesn't know him that well, he's been pretty cool when Tim's run into him from time to time.

There's just one problem: Tim doesn't have his number.

CJ Wilson is one of those characters of the game who has a Twitter account that he actually runs himself and responds in person to some of the letters he gets and seems to really engage with fans. The idea of being so...available to people makes Tim's skin crawl. The only time he wants people to pay attention to him is when he's on the field. But he figured CJ would be simple--one tweet, one Facebook message, and he'd be able to find out what he wanted to know.

But CJ's public persona is surprisingly challenging to breach. Tim doesn't have a Twitter account himself, so he can't tweet, and even if he could, he's pretty sure that CJ wouldn't believe that it was actually him. He tries to send a message on Facebook, but CJ doesn't seem to have a Facebook page at all, which makes Tim feel old. CJ has a blog, but it's all pictures and there's no way to email him. And he can't ask any of the guys, because they'll want to know why he wants to talk to a Texas Ranger and he can't tell them.

Finally Tim just gives up and calls his agent. He's got CJ's number within the hour. He texts first.

>>Its Lincecum. Can I talk 2U?

CJ's text back takes less than a second. >>Prove it.

Prove it? How the hell is he supposed to prove it?

>>I K'd U out with a slider last month.

>>fuck u, that was a changeup.

Tim is at a loss. Does that mean Wilson believes him or doesn't believe him. He's not sure. >>Can I call u?

There's a pause. Tim wonders if CJ is just going to ignore him. Finally, the phone buzzes. >>Y not?

Tim dials. The phone rings once, twice, three times--

"Bob's Vegan Pizza," CJ Wilson says.

"It's Tim. Tim Lincecum. Is this--"

"OHMIGOD!" The screech is so loud Tim has to hold the phone away from his ear. "Tim Lincecum! I love you! I can't believe that you are calling me! Timmy Lincecum!"

Jesus, are all Wilsons like this? Tim wonders. "Dude, shut up."

CJ laughs. "Sorry man. What'd you need?"

Tim freezes. The plan seemed to straightforward when he thought of it--call CJ, get the story on Stew--but now his mouth has dried up and his heart is pounding.

"Holy spit!" CJ says. "Are you looking to make a move?"

"No!" Tim blurts. "No. That's not...I'm under contract. No."

"That's a shame," CJ says. "We could use you. You callin' for someone else, then, because I really don't have the juice to make that happen right--"

"No!" Tim says again. "I just, do you know Stewart? Chris Stewart, the catcher? Tall guy?" Brown eyes, long legs? Tim leaves that last part out.


"Chris Stewart," Tim says again. "He was with you guys in 2007?"

"Oh, Stew! Sure. What about him?"

"Um. Do you...I was just wondering." Tim pauses. He doesn't know what he was wondering. CJ Wilson isn't Burris: the "what's he like" story isn't going to fly with him. "He, um, he got sent down back then," Tim blurts. "In Texas. I was, um. Do you know why?"

"Stew's a good guy," CJ says, his voice suddenly clipped and cold.

"I know," Tim says. "He just. I was just wonder--"

"Stew's a good guy, man," CJ repeats. "I won't jam him up."

"No!" Tim says, horrified. "No, Stew's my catcher. I wouldn't do that."

"Posey's your catcher," CJ says.

"No," Tim says. "I mean, yes, sort of, but no. Not right now. Stew, he's my catcher."

CJ sighs and says nothing. The silence from a guy like CJ is more unnerving that it would be from someone else. Tim can practically hear his own heartbeat in his ears. CJ knows something, Tim can feel it.

"CJ," Tim says. "He's my guy, I promise. I just need to know whatever you know."

Finally, CJ sighs again, and the words come out like a breath. "It was Kinsler."

"Huh?" Tim can hardly hear, the blood is rushing so fast to his head. "What?"

"I wasn't there," CJ says. "I just heard secondhand. I don't know anything."

"No, no, of course," Tim says, desperate for every scrap of information. "So, um..."

"Him and Kinsler were...I don't know. I wasn't there, but Texiera said. Anyways. I don't know. And then Stew got sent down and that was that."

"Ian Kinsler." Tim racks his brain but no image of Kinsler appears. He must have faced the guy at some point last season, but he can't recall anything about him.

"You promised," CJ is saying. "You promised you wouldn't screw him over. I shouldn't have told you, man. It's just a rumor. Tim, man, you have to be cool about this. Please."

"I won't," Tim says. His voice sounds like it's coming from somebody else's head. He can hear himself talking, but it's like he's watching a play of himself performing lines. "It's cool, CJ," the actor portraying Tim says. "Don't worry. It's cool." He keeps saying things like that until CJ seems reassured, and the minute he ends the call he's typing, his fingers flying over the keyboard.

>>Can I come up?

He stares at the phone, counting his own breaths--one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. "Please say yes," he says to no one. "Come on, come on, come one."

The phone buzzes in his hand.


Tim bolts up the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator. Stew's just on the floor above him--he checked with the travel secretary when he got in--and he didn't want to run into any one. He doesn't know what he'd say. He skids to a stop at the landing and strolls out into the hallway casually. Stew's door is a couple doors down from the landing, already propped open. Tim knocks gently.

There's no answer.

He thinks about knocking again, but the door is open and knocking is just putting off what he came to do, so he pushes it wide enough to step in and makes sure it's shut behind him. Stew is sitting on the end of the bed in his boxers and a t-shirt, his hands hanging between his knees. He looks like someone told him his dog just got shot, and Tim hates that he's the reason that Stew looks that way.

No, not me, he thinks. Kinsler. And before he can stop himself, he blurts it out.

"I heard about you and Ian Kinsler."

Stew blinks. The rest of him seems frozen. "What?" he whispers.

"I know what happened," Tim says, even though he doesn't really know what happened, even though CJ didn't even really know what happened. He only knows what he thinks happened, and he's suddenly overcome with the fear that he's completely wrong, that Stew got sent down to clear a spot on the roster and for no other reason. "You and Kinsler," he says again.

"Nothing happened," Stew says, but the truth is in the way he says it, abrupt and short and a complete lie. Tim is right; he knows it.

"They busted you, and you got sent down, right?" Tim sits next to Stew on the bed, so close that they're almost touching. He wants to touch Stew. He wants to touch him so much that his hands ache.

"No." Stew bows his head into his hands, and then Tim does touch him, one hand carefully on his shoulder.

"That's why, right?" Tim murmurs, stroking his hand down Stew's back. "That's why."

Stew doesn't say anything for a long time. Then he sighs so hard that for a second Tim's afraid Stew's going to cry. "Yeah," Stew says. "Yes."

Tim hooks his chin over Stew's shoulder, his arm around his waist. "What happened?"

"You're right. We were, um, together. And we got busted, and I got sent down."

"And he didn't," Tim says into Stew's shoulder, but he knows the answer to that. "You still love him?"


"But you were," Tim says. He's surprised by how much it hurts to say that, even though Kinsler was years ago and Tim's pretty sure that Stew's telling the truth.

"Jesus, Timmy."

"You were. And that's why you won' stuff with me. Because of Kinsler."

"It took four years for me to come back, Tim. Four years. I know it sounds stupid to you--"

"No." Tim hugs him, pressing his whole side against Stew. Of all the reasons he thought Stew might be turning him down, "saving his career" is maybe second on the least stupid list, right after "doesn't date guys." "It's the opposite of stupid," he says.

"How'd you find out?" Stew asks.

"Wilson," Tim says, and is surprised when Stew jerks away from him.

"Fuck! Weezy knows? Does everyone know?"

"CJ," Tim says. "CJ Wilson."

Stew rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands. "Oh."

"Hey," Tim murmurs, up close to Stew's ear. "I'm sorry I was so harsh."

Stew turns to look at him.

"I'm sorry," Tim says again. He moves slowly, just to be sure, just to give Stew the chance to back away if he wants to before Tim kisses him carefully, gently. "Sorry."

"I would have said, but. It's not just my thing."

"Yeah." Tim slips under Stew's arm and onto his lap. This, this was what he wanted. Stew's arms fold around his waist, holding him there, anchoring him. He tries not to think about the fact that he's going to get off Stew's lap in one minute and the heartbreak will start all over again. "Just so you know," he whispers in Stew's ear. "I'm beaning Kinsler next time we face him."

Stew laughs, a genuine laugh.

"Right in the head," Tim says, kissing him again. "No one gets to fuck with you."

Stew ducks his head to Tim's shoulder. "I'm really sorry."

Tim stands up, detaching himself from Stew's embrace. It's maybe the hardest thing he's ever done. When Stew reaches for him, hands on his waist, Tim lets himself be pulled back in, touches Stew's hair, his shoulders, when Stew presses his face to Tim's shirt. "I gotta go," Tim says, touching Stew's hair. "We're good, I'm good, but I can't do this if we're know."

"Yeah, of course." Stew releases him, leaning back on the bed.

"Okay, so." Tim wishes he hadn't said anything. If he hadn't said anything, Stew would still be touching him. "See you at the park, okay?"

"Yeah, okay." Stew slaps his knee. "See you."

Tim leaves before he can say anything else, do anything else. He texts Zito from the hallway, and is at his door in less than ten minutes.

"Hey, Timmy," Zito says, opening the door. "What's up?"

"Nothing," Tim says.

"Yeah." Zito smiles knowingly at him. "Nothing turn you down again?"

"Shut up," Tim mutters. "It's complicated."

"You're okay, though, right baby?"

It's the "baby" that does it, pushing Tim over the edge into misery, tears welling up in spite of himself, thinking of all the hours, all the days, he has to wait until this no longer hurts any more.

"Oh, Timmy," Zito says and pulls him in.

He's okay after a minute or two snuffling on Zito's shoulder, and makes it back to his room without telling Zito who "nothing" is or running into anyone else. He falls asleep with his phone next to his pillow hoping that Stew will text him, ask him to come back up to his room, but that doesn't happen. He didn't really expect it to.

It's a bitchy thing to think, but the All-Star Game is boring. It was awesome the first year or two, but this year he knows he's not getting in--Boch pretty much told them all that he wasn't going to put them in unless he actually needed them--and with the National League's pitching staff this year, Tim knows he's not going to be needed. So all there is to do is sit for interviews and wait for the whole ordeal to be over.

He does get to talk to Roy Halladay, though, while they're milling around waiting for the team photo to be taken. Halladay's standing just to his left, messing with the bill of his hat, and for a second, Tim considers not saying anything to him. Halladay makes him feel like a fan.

But they've met before and Halladay isn't a prima donna like Cliff Lee, so Tim clears his throat.

"Hey, Roy, how you been?" he asks.

Halladay looks up. "Hey, Timmy," he says. "Good to see you."

"Good year so far," Tim says. He never knows what to say to Halladay. He wants to sit down knee-to-knee with him and ask him what he does between starts, how he's stayed healthy, how he just keeps getting better year after year after year. He feels like a schoolgirl meeting the lead singer of her favorite band.

"Thanks. Nice job with Texas last fall, by the way. Lee's still pissed about it."

Tim smiles. "He put up a hell of a fight."

"Yeah, well." Halladay smiles. It's the vacant smile of a guy who has nothing to say, the same smile that Tim can feel himself give when he's trapped in an elevator with a fan. He wants to die.

"Good luck the rest of the season," Tim says, just to let Halladay know he's not going to take up too much of his time.

"You too, Timmy," Halladay says. Tim turns around, and, thank god, Vogelsong is there, staring up at the roof of Chase Field like a tourist in New York. Vogelsong is the perfect antidote to feeling like a knob, because he's just so happy to be here that you can't help but be happy with him.

"Have you ever played here when it was open?" Vogelsong asks, when he catches Tim's eye.

Tim shakes his head. "I think I'd melt."

Vogelsong glances around. "I don't like it," he says softly. "Everything sounds weird."

Tim nods. He feels the same way about the enclosed stadiums. It's the difference between a convertible and a car with a sun roof. The sun roof is nice, but it's not the same. He says this to Vogelsong, who points at him.

"Yes!" he tells Tim, groping for his phone. "That's exactly what it's like."

Tim smiles. Maybe he's not a total tool, after all.

The game itself is boring. He sits next to Cain and they make fun of the AL guys under their breath, careful of who's listening. Cain is ineligible, and Tim isn't getting in. Vogey hopes to for the first eight innings, vibrating on the edge of the bench, squeezing a ball in his hands, but when Bochy calls for Heath Bell even Vogelsong knows that his time is over and his first All-Star Game has been spent riding the pine.

"It's okay," he says, when Tim expresses condolences. "I'm just happy to be here." He means it, too, is the nice thing about Vogelsong. He's not just saying that because it's the right thing to say. It would be sickening, if Vogey wasn't such a sweetheart.

The whole Giants contingent goes out for dinner at an old-school place that Boch picks out, the kind with dark paneling on the walls and huge slabs of meat in the place of regular steaks, and Bochy pays. "Well done," he says, raising his glass, and Tim is surprised by the tears that form in his eyes. He pretends to sneeze to cover them up.

"Now let's go back and wrap this turkey up," Wilson says. "Repeat!"

They all drink to that, and Boch orders another three bottles of wine for the table. Afterwards, pleasantly buzzed, and waiting for a cab outside the restaurant, Tim finds himself standing next to Vogey, who's typing away on his phone.

"Who're you talking to?" Tim asks, grabbing for it. It's probably his wife--Vogey's always fucking texting his wife. It's only been two hours since he said goodbye to her at the hotel--wives weren't included in the celebratory dinner, out of respect for Tim and Wilson, who don't have them--but he probably fucking misses her already.

Vogelsong holds the phone up over Tim's head, out of reach. Everyone on the fucking staff is literally a giant except him and Romo and Fontenot. It's infuriating. "Stewart," Vogelsong says.

Tim's heart leaps into his throat. "Tell him I say hi."

Vogey types. "I invited him," he says.


"To come with us." Vogelsong presses "send" with the concentration of a five year old doing a jigsaw puzzle. "He said no."

"Gimme that!" Tim grabs for Vogelsong's phone and manages to snatch it away.

>>V. says he invited you, he sends before he can think the better of it.

A second later, there's a response. >>he did.

Tim hesitates. He's imagining the one hundred things he would like to say to Stew, all the things he would like to do to Stew, the wide king-size bed empty back at his hotel room. >>miss u, he types. He leaves off the "desperately."

>>I miss u guys 2, Stew responds. C U tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Tim types a happy face. Tomorrow. He knows he shouldn't be happy, that nothing is going to happen tomorrow, just like it didn't happen the first time, or the time after they talked about Kinsler, or any of the dozens of times something should have happened after that. Tim knows that he's just getting his hopes up for no reason, but he can't help it: they're already up.

Tim scrolls through Vogey's contact list and finds his wife's number, marked with the icon of a heart. He resists the urge to roll his eyes; there are worse things than to be in love with your wife, like being in love with someone who's heart has been smashed into bits and can't love you back.

>>What R U wearing? he types, and hands the phone back to Vogelsong after pressing send. "You'll thank me later," he says.

"Can I ask you something?" Tim says. They are still in Arizona until morning, when their charter will be ready, and Wilson is fucking around with his suitcase. He's going to the ESPYs tomorrow so no one else on the team has to go, and he's been deciding what to wear for a fucking month. Between his shoes for the All-Star Game (which Tim had to admit were pretty sweet), and his outfit for the ESPYs, it seems like all Wilson talks about anymore is clothes. Sometimes, Tim misses the old Wilson, a little; that Wilson had talked about music and poker and cars.

"Shoot, my little prodigy," Wilson says from inside the closet.

Tim ignores the pet name just like he ignores half of everything Wilson says. That, at least, hasn't changed since Brian became famous.

"What do you do if you can't stop thinking about someone?"

"Someone you like or someone you hate?"

"Someone you like," Tim says. He's lying on his stomach on Brian's hotel bed, propped up on his elbows, his feet up in the air. "Why would I think about someone I hate?"

Brian looks over his shoulder at Tim. "Because you hate them, obviously. Think, Tim."

"Oh. No. Someone I like."

"And this person doesn't like you back?"

Tim ducks his head and pretends to be looking at the ends of his hair. "It's complicated," he mutters.

"Likes you back but is in a relationship with someone else," Wilson says. It scares Tim a little how close Wilson has come to the truth.

"Not exactly," Tim says. "But sort of."

"Have the other person killed." Wilson pulls two suits out of the closet on heavy wooden hangers. "Which one of these should I wear?"

"I said 'not exactly,'" Tim says again. The suit on the hanger on the right is a standard formal tuxedo. It has tails and everything. The suit on the left is made of rubber or something, and has a tuxedo painted on it like a bad t-shirt. The crazy thing about Wilson is that this decision could literally go either way. "Do you have a top hat?"

"Murph's getting me one. And a cane."

"Hmmm." The hat and cane make the decision even harder. It would be just like Wilson to show up in a fucking top hat and tails. Or a rubber suit with a tux painted on it. "So there's no other person I can have killed. Just the person I like saying, basically, no."

"No means no," Wilson says, laying both suits on the bed next to Tim's head.

Tim rolls his eyes. "Not no as in 'I never want to see you again.' No as in 'I really like you but I'm really fucked up.'"

"You love this person, or you just want to fuck him?"

Tim thinks about it for a minute. "I don't know if I would call it love, yet, exactly. But it's definitely not just fucking."

"Definitely fucking, but not just fucking," Wilson says. "Got it."

"The potential for love, for sure though," Tim says. Just saying the word makes him a little dizzy. He and Stew, in love. He's telling Brian the truth--he's not there yet--but he's a lot closer than he thought he was a minute ago.

"And you've said that to him?" Brian is holding the rubber suit up in front of himself in the mirror.

"A while ago. A few weeks ago, but even then not really. He's messed up, like I said."

"Okay." Brian sits down. "Here's the deal: you have to say something. If it's not going to work out, it's not going to work out, but you have to say something. You have to make a pitch. You don't make a pitch, what happens?"

"I walk the guy?"

"What? No, meathead." Wilson raps his knuckles on Tim's head. "If you don't make a pitch nothing happens. There's no game."

"Ow." Tim rubs his head. Wilson's noogies kill.

"So you have to make a pitch."

"And then if it doesn't work out, if he says no, then what?"

Wilson, who is back to admiring himself in the mirror, shrugs. "You win some, you lose some."

Tim presses his chin into his hands. "That's sort of what I'm afraid of."

"I'll make you a deal. If I wear this tomorrow--" he waves the rubber suit at Tim's reflection "--you have to tell whoever that you love him. Or like him. Want to sex him up. Deal?"

Tim squints at the suit. It is really...rubbery. "You have to wear it the whole night," he says, finally. "No showing up in it and changing into something classy."

"When have I ever changed into something classy?" Brian asks. It's a fair question.

"Okay, deal," Tim says. "If you wear that, I will say something."

"Something good. Not just 'hi' or whatever. Something confessional."

"I will confess," Tim agrees. "Deal."

"All right." Brian turns away from the mirror and gives Tim a high five. "Excellent, man. Go get him."

Tim is heading back to his room, humming to himself, when he realizes that he just came out to Brian Wilson.

Tim gets to the hotel in San Diego the early evening, while most of the guys are still at practice. He sits on the edge of the bed and picks at his fingernails, thinking about what he's going to say when Stew gets back, because of course Wilson is going to wear the rubber suit. He's Wilson.

But thinking about it makes him want to tear his hair out with anxiousness, so he calls his dad instead.

They talk about easy stuff, family stuff. His dad went with the composite decking instead of wood so he wouldn't have to stain it and waterproof it every year, and Sean is thinking about going back to school to become a teacher--math--which is a really good idea, actually, and Tim is surprised his brother didn't think of it before. And maybe, his dad says, he could come down on his next off day and they could--

"I'm gay," Tim says.

"Uhh--" his dad says.

"Sorry," Tim says. "Sorry. I didn't mean--I mean, I mean it, I am, I just--"

"Timmy, I know," his dad says, and just hearing him say it like that, like a jacket around his shoulders on a cold day, makes Tim feel okay. "You dated that boy in college, right? That, um..."

He's fishing for a name, but Tim can't give it to him because, really, there were lots of guys in college and he's not sure which one his dad means.

"Jack," his dad says, excited. "You were dating that Jack boy."

"Yep," Tim says. He has no idea who Jack is, but that's not really the point of the conversation. "Sure, Dad."

"So, what brought this on?" his dad asks.

"I don't know," Tim answers. "I just thought, you know. I should say something."

"So you're okay? There's not a reporter or--"

"No!" Tim blurts. He's a little hurt that his dad thinks he would only tell because of a reporter, but since he's twenty-seven years old and this is the first time he's said it, he guesses his dad has the right. "No way, Dad. No reporter."

"You're okay," his dad says. It's still a question.

"I'm okay."

"You want me to come down there? I can be there tomorrow, Timmy."

"No, Dad, I'm okay."

"All right." The silence on the line stretches out between them until Tim doesn't think either of them will ever speak again. He imagines just sitting in silence, his phone pressed to his ear, until Rags comes to get him in the morning.

"Well, this is great," his dad says, finally, and Tim bursts out laughing. They talk for a couple more minutes and then Tim says "I have to go."

There's a long pause. His dad's voice is a little soft. "I love you, Timmy, you know that right?"

Tim smiles at his phone. "I love you, too, Dad," he says.

"Jesus Christ," his dad says. "Are you watching this? What is Brian Wilson wearing?"

Stew isn't wearing pants. Again. Tim darts past him and flips on the television, where Wilson is also not wearing pants in any meaningful sense. The rubber suit is incredibly tight, and makes Wilson look like a sexy sausage.

"I didn't know he dressed to the right," Stew says.

Tim snorts. "I didn't know he wasn't circumcised," he says, and Stew laughs so hard that tears squirt out of his eyes.

"I thought you'd want to see it," he says.

"Great. I won't sleep for a week." Stew's smile is angled and sharp and makes Tim feel warm all over. "How was the All-Star Game?"

Tim waves the question off. He doesn't want to talk about the All-Star Game, but they do anyways for a couple of minutes, just because Tim doesn't know how to go from "how was the All-Star Game" to "I wish you would kiss me." He settles for

"I wish you would have come. I was hoping when Vogey in--"

"You didn't ask him to invite me, did you?" Stew blurts.

"No!" Tim shakes his head. He would have, if he'd thought of it, but he hadn't. "No. I was hoping, though."

"What would I have done in Arizona?" Stew asks.

"Hung with me." Tim socks him lightly in the arm.

"Is that what we're calling it, now?" Stew says, and his smile, his smile. Tim can't help it, he touches Stew's hand.

Stew's reaction is immediate. "Tim. I told you--"

"You can," Tim says. He takes a step forward, sliding his hand up Stew's arm. "I promise I'll never tell anyone unless you want me to. I promise. Please." He's leaning into Stew now, his other hand on Stew's stomach. This is it. "Please."

Tim knows how fast Stew can move--he's seen him dart from behind the bag--but he's still surprised when Stew bends down and scoops him up, hands on his thighs, Stew's face buried in Tim's neck. "This is such a bad idea," he murmurs against Tim's throat.

Tim laughs. "The worst."

Stew throws him down on the bed and lands on top of him, spreading Tim's legs with his thighs. Catchers, Tim thinks dreamily. He barely manages not to say it out loud. Then they're kissing, kissing, kissing, Stew's hands tangling in his hair, sliding under his clothes.

Stew's only wearing underwear and a t-shirt, but it's somehow hotter than him being naked, his t-shirt riding up so that his stomach is bare against Tim's, his boxers inching down his hips. Tim arches his back to get just enough space to peel off his own shirt, and Stew ducks his head and shudders against him.

"Fuck," he mutters against Tim's throat, sounding both embarrassed and happy. "Jesus."

"Oh, hell no," Tim says. "That is not it." He pushes Stew onto his back and slides his now-damp shorts down his legs. Stew's got his hands over his eyes, elbows up in the air, chest heaving.

"Sorry," he says. "It's been awhile."

"Not anymore," Tim says, gliding his hand up Stew's long thigh, following with his tongue. Stew jerks upright, startled, but Tim pushes him back down with a palm on his belly. He's not a tease when it comes to cocksucking, but he makes sure it takes a good long time. Stew's knees rise like mountains on either side of Tim's body, holding him in a valley. He never wants to leave.

Afterwards, while Stew is still shaking and can't form words, Tim pushes himself off the mattress and strips his pants off, hurrying. He's pretty sure that Stew wouldn't take his own and then refuse to let Tim have a turn, but fear is a strange thing and he doesn't want to give it a chance.

He climbs back on the bed and straddles Stew, one knee on either side of his waist. "You okay?" he asks.

Stew laughs up at the ceiling. "Absolutely," he says. His warm hands are running over Tim's legs, cupping his knees and sliding upward, then back down. Knees, up, down. Tim's dick waves, unacknowledged and aching. Tim clenches his fists to keep from touching it. "How are you?" Stew asks, slipping one hand between Tim's legs.

Tim sighs and falls back against Stew's knees, closing his eyes.

Tim isn't sure how it happens, but he ends up humping one of Stewart's solid thighs, panting his name, his hair falling in Stew's face while they kiss. It's messy and slightly dirty-feeling, the way all good sex should be, in Tim's opinion. Stew kisses him and holds him close afterwards, his hands wandering Tim's back, pushing his hair out of the way. "You okay?" he asks.

Tim grins. "Fuck you," he says, and then he's on his back, suddenly, staring up into Stew's face. Stew's body covers him completely--he can't see or feel anything else. "You're so tall," he says. It's the stupidest comment he's ever made, but he can't help himself. It's either stupidity or declarations of love.

"Why does everyone say that?" Stew asks.

"Who's everyone?" Tim asks. It's an idle question, the kind he would ask anybody, and he only realizes what the answer will be after it leaves his mouth.

"Ian," Stew says. There's some banter after that, some back and forth, but Tim's not really thinking about the smartass bullshit that comes out of his mouth. He's thinking about Kinsler, and what a fool he was, and how Stew needs to know that Tim is not Ian Kinsler.

"Stew?" he says. He means to keep his voice light, but he fails, because he can feel Stew tense against him. "I've been thinking about something."


"Kinsler's an idiot. I wouldn't do what he did to you. Even if people found out."

"Timmy." Stew shakes his head. "You say that now, but this kind of thing. It could ruin you."

Tim stretches under Stew's hands. He's already ruined, but not in the way that Stew means. "What? I get less money? People call me a fag? People already call me a fag, Stew," he says.

"It's different when they know it's true," Stew says. A shadow passes over his expression, the remainders of past hurts, and makes Tim reach out for him.

"I wouldn't do it," he says, stroking Stew's ribs. "I wouldn't walk away. Not because of that." Stew mumbles something about how he can't believe someone would do something like that for him, that Tim doesn't understand what he's saying, but Tim does understand. He understands that if people found out, his day-to-day would be a living hell. That there would be interviews, articles, that the fucking internet would explode. That his endorsements would dry up. That arbitration would be less likely to go his way. But he can't control any of that. He can't control anything except what he does right now, and every right now after.

"I wouldn't do it for you," he tells Stew. "I would do it to be happy, though." He kisses him, then looks at him, then kisses him again. "I mean it," he says. "I would do whatever it took."

"You're crazy," Stew murmurs against his mouth.

"You're welcome," Tim says, and smiles.

Kinsler is third in the line-up and for a moment Tim thinks about not beaning him. It was years ago, after all, when Kinsler was young and stupid. And if Kinsler hadn't been such a dick, then Stew wouldn't be where he is now, in San Francisco, behind the plate, catching for Tim. If, if, if. So many contingencies.

In the five weeks since he and Stew became...whatever it is they have become (boyfriends, his mind whispers seductively), Tim's gathered a few more details about what happened between Stew and Kinsler. Not a lot--Stew doesn't like to talk much about it because "it's over" he says, shrugging--but enough. They were walked in on, naked. Stew had some meetings. He didn't hear from Kinsler after, not then, and not now. Then he was sent down.

Sometimes, Tim hates Kinsler vicariously, imagining Stew alone in a hotel room in Texas, hurting. Sometimes, though, he hardly blames him. What would he, Tim, have done in that situation, in his first year, his whole career in the balance? He knows he would ride it out, now, that he would stand up for Stew, for his teammate. But back then? Maybe it wouldn't be so cut and dried.

You can only play the game in front of you, Tim thinks, turning the ball in his glove. Maybe he won't bean Kinsler, won't hold him responsible for the sins of his youth, and Tim and Stew can laugh about it later back at the hotel, how Kinsler's fate was, literally, in the palm--

Kinsler steps out of the batter's box and says something to Stew.

Tim freezes. It's nothing, he can tell by the way that Stew reacts with a careless shrug and doesn't even make a gesture to Tim afterwards. Maybe a hello or something about the weather. Kinsler's knocking dirt off his cleats with his bat while he says it, so maybe his words weren't even directed to Stew specifically, but to the umpire, or to both of them. It doesn't matter. Ian Kinsler does not get to say shit to Chris Stewart. He just doesn't.

Kinsler gets his ass into the box and Stew gets down. Tim stares in for the sign, watching for a reaction from Stew, but there isn't any reaction, just the normal flash of fingers. Even though Tim sees Stew put something down, for maybe the first time in his entire professional career, Tim doesn't actually catch the sign. It doesn't matter. He adjusts the ball in his glove, spinning it until the seams are in the right positions under his fingertips. He taps his toe delicately on the mound, watching Kinsler with his left eye.

Hit this, motherfucker, he thinks.

Then Tim rears back and let the ball fly free.

The End

[ email ] [ Journeyman ] [ fiction ]