by Synchronik

Chris Stewart shows up on a Thursday, driving all night to get to San Francisco in time for the meeting with Bochy and Righetti and Eli Whiteside. He knows why he's been called up--everybody in the free world saw Buster Posey go down--but he doesn't know what the plan is, so he goes into the meeting determined to keep his mouth shut. It's a strategy that he learned in the Yankee farm system. Given what happened in Texas, he wishes he'd learned it before that, but it's worked okay for him since.

"Whitey's gonna take over the day-to-day in Buster's absence," Bochy says, gesturing to Eli. Chris nods, bobbing his head in Eli's direction. He's a good guy, another low profile guy like Chris himself, with just a little more good luck or a little less bad luck, and he looks a pretty stressed out at the moment. Chris can only imagine. "So you're gonna be our back-up guy. You ready for that?"

"Absolutely, yeah," Chris says. He's not. He knows he's not--the Giants have one of the best and most mercurial pitching staffs in all of baseball--but that's not what Bochy needs to hear right now, and since Texas Chris has gotten very good at telling coaches what they need to hear. If he can't pick it up, Bochy'll find out soon enough.

"All right. We'll give you the day today and tomorrow you'll start learning the ropes." Bochy stands and extends his hand over the desk. "Welcome back."

"Thanks," Chris says, trying to convey the depth of his gratitude in the firmness of his handshake. "Thank you."

The next week is the second hardest week of Chris' entire baseball career. He spends hours catching bullpen sessions, doing so much time on his knees that he needs the trainers to rub him down night and morning the first three days. Most of the bullpen is easy--relievers have to be easy to catch or they don't last long--although he takes a little extra time with Javi Lopez, whose sidearm motion is wicked, and with Brian Wilson, who is not hard to catch, but who is so important to the team that Chris wants to make sure he has it right.

The starters are...more challenging. Matty Cain and Ryan Vogelsong are angels with stuff so solid Chris could close his eyes and still find the ball in his glove. Madison Bumgarner is a little harder. His accuracy is good, but his temper is high: even in the bullpen if he misses a couple of throws he starts getting heated and adding things rather than subtracting them. Chris can see that he's going to be making some trips to the mound when MadBum throws.

Jonny Sanchez is a bit of a head case: one bad pitch and he thinks he's going down. Chris is grateful that he spent some of his time down in the minors learning Spanish. And Barry Zito is a head case in a totally different way. He always appears calm--it's part of his Zen/yoga/meditation image--but that makes him even harder to reach when he's getting schooled. Chris can go out to the mound and soothe a guy who's getting worked up, but when the guy insists he isn't getting worked up, he's fine, there's nothing wrong...well, there's not much Chris can do about that. Fortunately, both Righetti and Whiteside understand what he's working with there, and won't hold it against him.

But the real challenge is Lincecum. Tim Lincecum, whose mechanics are so specific and particular and unique that one tweak and the wheels come off the wagon. Lincecum's slow to the plate, which means that Chris is going to be the one responsible for controlling the running game, and Lincecum's deep follow-through means he ends up practically balancing on his nose like a trained seal, so he has to be thrown around, and Lincecum's arm is so fast that Chris sometimes can't even see him release the ball.

And he's the most beautiful thing Chris has ever seen.

Every pitch he throws, even a bad one, is a work of art, a living, breathing model of physics whirling through the air toward him at 95 miles an hour. Stewart's seen some good shit in the minors. Guys coming up, guys coming down, guys just making a pit stop on the DL--Stewart's caught a lot of famous stuff during his time. He caught for the Yankee farm system for fuck's sake. But Lincecum...Lincecum takes his breath away.

"How's it going?" Lincecum asks him after their second or third session. He hasn't said much until this point, but he seems genuinely interested, so Chris gives a genuine answer.

"Okay, I think. I'm starting to get you guys. How're you?"

Lincecum shrugs. It's no secret that he's been one of the most affected by the loss of Posey, at least on the field. They had struggled at first, Chris heard, but by the post- season, Lincecum and Posey had a connection that seemed almost psychic, it was so strong. "You know," he says.

Chris nods. He doesn't know. Unlike Lincecum, unlike Posey, he's never been good enough at his job to have the luxury of being demanding. He's expected to go in any time and catch anyone, whether he knows them or not, likes them or not. He's not an ace, not a starter. He's just a journeyman, just a guy trying to make a living. He bets Vogelsong, who spent four years throwing in Japan, would get it.

But Lincecum won't, so Chris just nods.

"Glad you're here," Lincecum says, tapping him on the back with his glove before heading off toward a clump of pitchers standing at the edge of the field. Chris is so surprised he forgets to say thank you until Lincecum is too far away to hear.

The hardest week of Chris' career was the week they found out about Kinsler. He and Kinsler had been so careful, not sitting near each other, not mentioning each other in interviews. "It's like you're not even on the same team," Ian had joked not three nights earlier, stabbing the air with his fork, splashing italian dressing on Chris' t-shirt. Because they were alone in Chris' room, he took it off. And his pants. For safety.

But he and Ian were on the same team, both literally and metaphorically, a fact that everyone else found out when Travis Metcalf and Tex Texiera strolled into Kinsler's room without knocking and found Ian lying back on the bed with his dick in Chris' mouth.

There must have been games that next week--if he looked back at his stats, Chris knew he would see that he had played--but all he remembers of that time were the meetings. Meetings with management, meetings with coaches, meetings with Metcalf and Texiera to apologize to them for what they had seen (there was no corresponding apology from them, Chris noted, for walking into someone else's room uninvited and then tattling what they saw).

There were no meetings with Ian.

Ian had been moved to another hotel and his alias had been changed and he wasn't answering his phone or his email. Ian had gone silent.

And over the course of that week it became clear to Chris what was happening. One of the players involved in a gay sex scandal was a five-tool player having a breakout year. The other was Chris Stewart. By the end of the week, Chris was on a plane to the Rangers' triple A club in Round Rock, Texas. He hasn't spoken to Kinsler since that night, when their last words to each other were "oh fuck."

Being a catcher is a little like dating: you can go out to eat with almost anyone, but you only have chemistry with certain people. Over the next few days, as Chris moves from bullpen sessions to actual games, he starts feeling it with some of them. Vogelsong, who he caught in triple A and who could be his brother they get along so well. Madison, who seems to respond to Chris' instructions to calm the fuck down and throw the ball, already.

And Lincecum.

He can't pinpoint when it happened, exactly, but he and Lincecum have found a groove. Lincecum feels it, too; he knows because he starts seeing Lincecum smile when he steps off the mound, not every time, not after the bad innings that still rear their ugly heads from time to time, but enough. Lincecum is feeling him, an impression that's cemented when Righetti calls Chris down to the cellar to let him know that he's going to be catching all of Lincecum's games from now on.

"You all right with that?" Righetti asks.

"Sure, yes." Chris nods, but he can hardly breathe; the surge of joy in his chest is pushing out all the air. Being chosen as Lincecum's personal batterymate is about as close to job security as you can get in the majors.

"We're thinking Vogey, too, but let's just play it by ear on that one."

"Whatever you need."

"Stew," Righetti says, his voice slow, and Chris thinks this is it, this is where he brings it up. It's happened before, the conversation warning him not to get too comfortable, that his reputation precedes him. Righetti clears his throat. "I'm sure I don't need to tell you you're doing a heck of a job out there. We're really pleased with the way things are going."

"That's, um. That's, thank you. I really appreciate it."

"We appreciate you, Stewy. Good work."

Chris steps out of the tiny office, pulling the door shut behind him, and stops, bracing himself on the cement wall. He takes one deep breath, then another. Then he goes to find Tim.

It didn't last long, the thing with Ian. Seven weeks, from beginning to end. Seven weeks from the first time Chris knocked on Ian's hotel door with a six pack to the final "oh fuck."

He thought about it all the time right after he got sent down. Seven weeks isn't a long time, but it was enough time to learn how Ian kissed (wet and sort of bad, but enthusiastic), and how strong he was, and how he liked to get off first to take the edge away and then spend an eternity licking Chris' cock until Chris thought his heart would burst from the strain. It was enough time to learn that Ian liked that Chris was taller than he was. Enough time to learn that Ian didn't like bacon, not because he was Jewish, but because his neighbor had a pet pig when he was a kid.

For a while, sweating on the too-short beds in the grimy motel rooms of the minor leagues, Ian was all he could think about. But then Ian didn't call, and didn't email, and didn' anything, and finally Chris had to forget about him and get back to work. He wasn't in the bigs anymore, but he was still a professional baseball player, and that was something.

It's been years now, and Chris doesn't think about Ian much at all anymore, because there's no point in thinking about how someone tastes or touches or feels when they're dead and gone.

Tim is sitting in front of his locker, hair hanging in clumps, his shirt sweated through in large patches.

Chris leans against the locker partition. He's overcome with a wave of gratitude so strong he has to keep his hands shoved in his pockets so he doesn't grab Lincecum in a hug. "Hey, I just talked to Rags."

Tim looks up at him. "Okay," he says. "Good?"

"He says it's you and me for a while. A fixed battery."

"That's great," Tim says, wrapping the cord for his headphones around his iPod. "Awesome, man."

And that's when Chris realizes that it doesn't mean the same thing to Lincecum as it does to him. For Lincecum, he's nothing more than the best of the bad options. He reels in his happiness, pushes it down to regular old professional courtesy. "See you out there," he says.

"Sure." Linceum holds up his hand for a slap. Chris makes sure he gets one. It doesn't matter what it means to Lincecum; it only matters what it means to him.

Once, one time, he and Ian had done something outside of a hotel room. They'd been at home, and Ian had texted him out of the blue one night.


Chris had stared at it for a second, then wrote back.

>>Not that I'm aware of. :) Where and when?

They went to a dive place about a ten minute walk from Chris' apartment, a place where Chris had never been recognized and never seen another member of the team. Ian wore a Diamondbacks hat, and they had mediocre chicken enchiladas and amazing margaritas (on the rocks, of course, because only gringos drank frozen margaritas), and went back to Chris' place after.

Chris had woken up in the middle of the night to piss out the remainder of the tequila. He was stumbling back to bed, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand, when the sight stopped him. Ian, sprawled in the sheets of Chris' king-sized bed, turned toward the window so that all Chris could see was his shoulder and the line of his back outlined in moonlight. Ian. In his bed. Not a hotel bed, not a hotel room. Chris' room.

He slid under the sheet, careful not to jostle the mattress too much, and curled in until he was close enough to feel Ian's body heat. When Ian sighed and rolled back into him, still asleep, Chris had smiled into the dark.

The days go by. Sometimes Chris catches, sometimes he doesn't. He always catches Lincecum, and usually Vogey, and sometimes the other guys. He still can't hit, no matter what Bam Bam tries to show him, but he gets better at working the count, and his bunting is still golden, assuming he has some reason to bunt. He settles in.

And even that feeling is amazing to him. One day at lunch with Vogey, he says something about it.

"I can't believe I'm here."

Vogelsong looks up from his sandwich. "Huh?"

Chris waves a pickle spear around, taking in the whole room. "Here. I can't believe it. It was a while."

Vogelsong smiles. "Tell me about it," he says. "This isn't how it's supposed to happen, you know."

"Yeah, it's supposed to be high school, college, minors for a year, and ta da! You get called up and make a billion dollars and everyone lives happily ever after. So I hear."

Vogelsong smirks. "I think I heard the same thing."

"Can't all be Buster Posey, I guess."

"Or Timmy," Vogelsong answers. "Still...not bad."

Chris puts his pickle down on his plate and leans back in his chair. "Not bad at all," he says. "You been watching video of Colorado?"

Vogelsong has.

One day, Chris finds Tim out in some seats in section 135, down the left field side. He doesn't mean to--he's not looking for him or anything--he's just walking by on his way to see if he can get some homemade lemonade from Bernice, one of the older concession stand ladies, who loves him and will make it for him special, even though the park doesn't open for another hour--when he glances over and there's Lincecum sitting about five rows from the top of the section, his feet up on the back of the seat in front of him, a water bottle dangling from one hand.

On impulse, Chris gets Bernice to make him two lemonades and goes down the aisle. He feels for a second like he did when he was a kid, going to the game with his dad. He doesn't remember the last time he looked at the field from the stands. "Here," he says, holding the plastic cup out, and taking the seat next to Lincecum.

"Oh! Thanks."

Chris sips his lemonade. It's a beautiful day. There's a breeze, and the sun is warm but not hot, and out in the bay one of the big boats is cruising by. On days like this, Chris can't believe his good fortune. His life seems like a dream.

"Nice day," he says.

Lincecum snorts. "Yeah, fuckin' awesome."

"No?" Chris asks.

Lincecum sighs and ducks his head. "I don't know. There's just so much shit, you know? Like on a day-to-day basis. Promotions and merch and email, and my dad keeps calling and wants me to come up on our next day off, and...sorry. This is all bullshit, right?"

"You want I should go?" Chris says. "Leave you alone?"

"Nah." Tim sips out of his cup. "I knew this was part of it," he says. "When I got called up, I knew. I expected it. But that doesn't make it easier, I guess."

"I guess," Chris says. He has no idea. Whatever "this" Lincecum is referring to-- fame and fortune and the demands those things make on someone--Chris has no experience with it. Still, Lincecum looks so miserable that Chris can't help but have sympathy for him. Everyone has problems, even famous, rich, young guys like Lincecum. He hooks an arm around the back of Tim's seat and squeezes his shoulder. "You got it, though. It'll be fine."

Tim leans in, resting his cheek on Chris' shoulder for a second, then straightens up. "This is really good," he says, gesturing with the lemonade. "Thanks."

"Anytime," Chris says.

Since Ian, Chris hasn't dated anyone. It wasn't an intentional decision, like Kinsler put him off men forever or something, it was just something that happened. He's on the road all the time, which pretty much rules out anyone not on the team, and guys on the team?

Chris thinks it's safe to say that he's broken himself of that habit.

While he was in the minors, he fucked guys when he was on the road. No one but the most diligent fans follow the minors, and even the most diligent fans didn't give a fuck about Chris Stewart, so it was no problem to go out to the right bar and find someone who was looking for the same easy thing. Most of them didn't even ask his last name.

But when he got called up, that had to stop. Too risky, when he's on television every other night.

He spends a lot of time in his room reading, instead. The books are another habit he picked up in the minors, at first because everyone in Round Rock had heard why he got sent down and didn't want to associate too much with the faggot. But also because he enjoys it, learning new stuff, stuff that people who don't play baseball know all about, history, and politics, even literature if it's not too deep. So he's reading, sprawled out on the sheets in his underwear, air conditioning on full blast, when someone knocks on the door.

For a second, Chris considers not answering it. The book--Blink by Malcolm Gladwell--is a good one, and Chris isn't interested in leaving it to go out into the scorching Arizona heat and get drunk at a shitty and/or overpriced bar, but he figures he should tell whoever it is in person, since they were nice enough to stop by. Team camaraderie and all that. If you ignore people for too long, they stop asking you.

He pulls on a t-shirt and goes to the door, one finger slid into the pages of his book to keep his place.

It's Lincecum.

"You busy?" he asks.

"I, um." Chris holds up his book.

"Oh." Tim looks at the book like it's covered in germs. "Why aren't you wearing pants?"

"It's hot," Chris says, and waits.

"Oh," Tim says again. "I was thinking about trying out that little Mexican place on the corner--Sanchez says it's amazing--and, do you want to come?"

Chris hesitates. Does he want to go? The answer is "not really." He wants to lie in his underwear and read Malcolm Gladwell in the air conditioning. But he also wants to make this stay in the majors last as long as possible and he's hitting under .200 (as usual) and staying in the ace's good graces never hurt anyone. And Lincecum's a good guy.

"Let me put on some pants," he says.

Lincecum comes in while he roots in his suitcase for pants, instead of waiting in the hallway. "Is this a good book?" he asks, while Chris is in the bathroom making sure his hair isn't too fucked up.

"Yeah." Chris comes out of the bathroom to find that Lincecum's dropped the receipt Chris was using as a bookmark on the floor. "It's about snap judgments and trusting your instincts."

"Cool." Lincecum fans the pages like he's looking for pictures. "Ready?"

They go out the hotel's back exit to avoid the gauntlet of fans in the lobby, and walk the two blocks to the restaurant, which looks like a dive on the outside, but on the inside is freshly painted and clean and has actual Hispanic customers, which is a good sign. Growing up in California, Chris learned that you never want to go to a Mexican restaurant that only has gringos for patrons.

They order way too much food and Tim gets a flight of tequila. Chris, who's probably in the line-up the next day, orders a beer.

"Where's everybody else?" Chris asks when the waiter brings chips and salsa. On the road, Lincecum usually hangs with the other pitchers. They flock together, like exotic birds

Tim shrugs. "Families." Chris nods. Arizona's not that far away from San Francisco by plane, so the wives and girlfriends and kids sometimes make the trip. And Zito, Tim's other best buddy, is on a rehab assignment and isn't traveling with the team at the moment.

"You have a family?" Tim asks.

"A son," Chris says. There was a girl, in college when he was trying to convince himself that he was someone other than he was. She lives out east, with her husband, and Chris sees the kid a couple of times a year and makes sure the money gets there on time. "I don't see him much."

"That sucks."

Chris shrugs. It does, sort of, but it's such an old suck that it doesn't bother him to talk about it. "Life, man."

Tim bobs his head, and downs his first shot of tequila.

Over dinner, Chris hears the abridged version of Lincecum's life story. He knows most of it already from the media coverage--Tim's mom splitting, his brother's broken arm, his storied high school and college career--but he never realized how attached Tim actually is to his family. He'd gotten the impression that Tim's dad was some kind of pushy stage dad, shoving himself into his son's spotlight, but from the way Tim talks, it becomes clear to Chris that as much as Tim's dad is pushing, Tim is pulling.

He is so sheltered, Chris thinks, watching Tim order his second flight of tequila. Tim has spent his entire life in the Pacific Northwest, within driving distance of his dad, with the exception of his travel with the baseball team, where everything he wants or needs is provided for him by guys who get paid to be his dad when his dad isn't around. He's a pampered pet.

He's also a sweetheart. He worries about everything: whether Freddy Sanchez is doing the right thing by postponing surgery on his shoulder, how Vogelsong is doing with the media, how Eli feels since Tim picked Chris as his everyday guy.

"Really?" Chris says, when Tim mentions the last one. He's a little surprised: it had seemed like such a non-issue for Tim when Chris had brought it up.

Tim bobs his head. "He's a good guy, Whitey. I told him 'you're a good guy, Whitey. A real good guy.'"

Chris suppresses a smile. Tim may have had a little too much tequila.

"But here's the thing." Tim leans forward over the table, his eyes blurry and intense. "He doesn't get me," he says in the loudest stage whisper Chris has ever heard. "The balls, zoom, zoom, zoom." Tim darts his fingers around, sketching passed balls in the air.

Chris catches Tim's wrists and holds his hands down on the table, glancing around. "Calm down there, Timmy."

"You get me," Tim whispers. "That's what I said to Boch. 'Stew gets me. I want Stew.' Stew gets me!" he announces to the room. A couple people, including their waiter, look over. Definitely too much to drink.

"Check, please," Chris says.

Chris is gratified to see that Lincecum's room is pretty much exactly the same as his, a standard, nice, upscale hotel room. No suite, no whirlpool tub, no penthouse view, just a room with a bed and a tv and a normal bathroom. He wondered sometimes if, even at this level there were gradations of "major league." He's sure that some of the guys-- Bonds, for example--would have insisted on it, but Tim apparently didn't.

Lincecum is in the bathroom washing his face. He hasn't thrown up yet, although he probably should. Chris wonders if he should offer to hold Lincecum's hair, and smiles to himself.

"How you doing?" he asks, leaning in, hands on the bathroom doorframe. Tim's got his face pressed into a fluffy white towel and makes a noise that could be interpreted as good or bad. "All right, then I'm--" Chris says, and Lincecum throws up.

It's one of the most disgusting things that Chris has ever seen not in a movie, Lincecum yakking up tequila and enchiladas into the hotel sink. He steps back out of splash range and goes for the phone next to the bed.

"Hi, this is room..." Chris checks the phone. "1233. Would it be possible to get housekeeping up here in, like, ten minutes?"

The woman on the phone is agreeable, and Chris hangs up and goes back to the bathroom, grabbing a water out of the minibar as he passes. The sink is nauseating, full of vomit and used towels, and Chris has to look away. Lincecum has moved from the sink to the floor next to the toilet, and has a fresh towel pressed to his mouth. With his hair in his face, he looks like a kid. A really sick kid. "You okay?" Chris asks.

Tim nods. "I think I'm done."

"Housekeeping is coming. A couple minutes." He opens the water and holds it out.

Tim takes it and presses it to his forehead. "Thanks."

Chris pauses for a minute. He wants to go back to his room and get away from the smell of used tequila, but he doesn't feel right walking out and letting Lincecum sit on the floor until the hotel staff gets there. "Come on," he says, finally, holding out his hand.

Tim blinks, slowly.

"Come on," Chris says again.

Tim takes his hand and pulls himself to his feet. "I have to--" He tugs at the hem of his shirt, and Chris notices the splash of vomit on the front.

"Yeah, please," Chris says.

Tim strips off his shirt and finds another one in his bag. On impulse, Chris grabs Tim's toothbrush off the counter before they leave the room.

"I'm really sorry," Tim says as Chris lets him in.

"It's fine," Chris says. "Just don't throw up in my sink. Or anywhere else."

Tim chuckles weakly. "It must be the heat," he says. "I'm normally not like this."

"Uh huh." Chris hands Lincecum the toothbrush. While Tim goes to brush his teeth, Chris sits in the chair in the corner near the windows and props his feet on the bed. He picks up his book and tries to find his place. He's just settled in to a new chapter about heart attack patients, when Tim calls his name.

"Hey, Stew?"

Chris closes his eyes, then closes the book and gets to his feet. "God, save me from ace pitchers," he mutters, before he calls back. "Yeah?"

"Can I use your toothpaste?" He's holding up a tube of Colgate.

"No, man, sorry," Chris says, smiling. "You cannot use my toothpaste."

"Fuck you." Tim smirks at Chris in the mirror. He squeezes paste onto the bristles and brushes with the diligence of someone who has spent a lot of time with dentists. He spits and rinses and spits again, then sets the toothbrush on the counter, flipping his hair out of his face.

"Better?" Chris asks. He's going to tease the fuck out of Lincecum about this the next time they're ahead in a game.

It happens so quickly that Chris doesn't even have time to react, Lincecum's arms around Chris' waist, his mouth on Chris' mouth.

Chris steps back so suddenly that he has to reach out and stop Lincecum from falling. He was on his tiptoes, Chris realizes. His fucking tiptoes.

Tim is still touching him, his hands sliding up Chris' forearms. "Stew," he whispers. "Come on."

"You're drunk," Chris says, fighting off panic.

"No, not really." Tim shakes his head. "Not anymore."

"Yes, really." Chris uses his body to back Tim onto the bed, then steps away again. He has to get out of Tim's reach. That's the first step. Out of Tim's reach. Then he'll be able to think.

"Stew," Tim says again. He catches the seam of Chris' jeans with his fingers.

"You should sleep it off." Chris pushes gently on one of Tim's shoulders, urging him to the mattress, careful to keep himself at a distance.

"I'm not tired," Tim says, but he goes down easily enough, curling his knees, drawing his feet up onto the bed. "Where are you going?"

"Over here." Away from you, he thinks, moving around the end of the bed, back to his chair.

Tim rolls to face him. Chris expects him to say something, but he doesn't. He just looks at Chris with his big solemn eyes until Chris can't look back any more and opens his book. When he glances up again, Tim's eyes are closed.

Chris leans back in the chair and sighs into his hands. Lincecum kissed him. Kissed him.

He was drunk, Chris thinks. It's fine. He'll be embarrassed about it in the morning, or forget or something, and everything will go back to normal. It doesn't mean anything. He didn't mean anything by it. He was just drunk.

The first time Ian kissed him was in Seattle. It had been raining for days--they'd missed two games already and the third one was looking sketchy--and everyone was sick of being inside. Ian had been in Chris room, pacing back and forth in front of the tv, driving Chris crazy with his ranting, like Chris could do anything about the fucking rain. Chris had crossed in front of him to the window to see if it opened--he had an idea that fresh air would be a good thing, even if it was rainy--when Ian grabbed his hand, then his waist, then touched his face.

"Can I?" he murmured, sliding his mouth along Chris' jaw.

"Yeah," Chris said, and that was it. Neither of them was upset when the game was called that day, too, even though it would mean two doubleheaders later in the season.

By the times those games were played, Stewart was in Round Rock, watching on a television at the local dive down the street from his shitty apartment. The Rangers won.

Tim Lincecum is drunk and in his bed. Chris hadn't really thought that through when he told Lincecum to lie down: he had been too focused on getting away from Lincecum's hands. Now, though, he's tired and wants to sleep. For a minute, he considers calling down to the front desk and getting another room, but the hassle and the trouble and the explanations to the travel coordinator seem overwhelming, so he doesn't. Instead, he takes off his jeans and stretches out carefully on the far side of the mattress and turns off the light.

He didn't mean anything by it,Chris thinks, closing his eyes. He's just drunk.

Chris wakes up to someone's hand sliding up his arm. He's on his back, one hand on his chest, and someone is stroking his arm up from the elbow, under the sleeve of his T- shirt to his shoulder, and back down again, over and over again.


He's awake, obviously, curled close, looking at Chris' shoulder, at his hand as it moves.

Chris clears his throat, and Tim's eyes shoot up to his. He doesn't say anything, but his hand moves from Chris' arm to his chest and he presses his face to Chris' shoulder. Chris covers Tim's hand with his own.

"Tim," he says, cautiously. "I don't know what you--"

"I'm not drunk now," Tim murmurs and covers Chris' mouth with his.

He knows he should fight it. He knows he should push Tim away and get some distance between them, get some space for himself. He knows how bad of an idea this is. He has lived this bad idea.

But Tim is so sweet in his arms, his kiss tentative and not at all sloppy, his hair brushing delicately against Chris' cheek. Chris doesn't have it in him to say no, not again, not right now. So he doesn't.

He says yes.

He had been in love with Ian. That hurt to admit for a long time, especially after Ian stopped talking to him. Admitting it made him feel stupid.

Sometimes, he'd imagine being with Ian, not just during the season, but for years, through the game and after, a couple of old bachelors playing golf and doing charity signings and making out on the back patio.

He'd known it was a pipe dream, of course. Not many professional baseball players got the happily ever after, even straight guys. The life was transitory and hard; it ate relationships for breakfast. One of them would get traded (probably him, Chris thought at the time), and that would be the end of it. But they could have the happily ever after now, Chris had thought.

Admitting that he was wrong about that hurt, too.

Tim kisses like he pitches--focused and intense, but unpredictable. Chris loses himself in the sensation of Tim crawling up on him, his weight settling, his hands roaming, his mouth opening against Chris'. Chris slides his fingers under the hem of Tim's soft grey T-shirt and up his back, flattening his palm between Tim's shoulder blades. Tim sighs into his mouth. The feeling is intoxicating, and erases all of the objections and complications from Chris' mind. He can't think with his hands on Lincecum's skin.

"Take this off," Tim murmurs, shoving at Chris' T-shirt, and Chris moves to comply, but when Tim rolls backwards to unzip his jeans, everything comes rushing back. Ian. The meetings. The risk. The pain.

Chris is up and off the bed so fast that he gets light-headed.

"I can't," he blurts, clutching his head. "I'm sorry, Tim. I can't."

Tim is up on his elbows, legs spread, mouth open. Chris wants nothing more than to get back on the bed with him and forget all over again. But he's worked too hard to get back. He can't throw it all away on a pipe dream. Not again.

Not even a dream as tempting as sex with Tim Lincecum.

"Oh," Tim says. "Um...okay." He sits up, digging under the edge of the bed for his shoes.

"I'm really sorry," Chris says again. "There's's a long story. "

"Yeah, okay." Tim stands up. "I get it."

"You don't, though," Chris says. "It's not, this isn't because of you. You're...amazing. But--"

"You can't," Tim says. "I heard you." He brushes by Chris, shoes in his hand. "I'll see you out there, okay?"

"Tim--" Chris said, but Tim's already opening the door. He waves his hand at Chris over his shoulder and leaves.

Chris sits back on the bed, head in his hands. It's the right decision, he thinks, but it still feels like he was hit in the forehead with a baseball.

Their bullpen session the next day is a disaster. Tim's wild, his control almost completely absent, and he's throwing high heat, 95, 96. Chris' hand starts stinging after the fourth pitch. He spends twenty minutes ducking and flinching, trying to avoid getting beaned. Righetti is going out of his mind.

"Timmy!" he shouts, stepping in, hands up. "What the hell is going on, kid?"

Tim shrugs, rolling his shoulders. "Nothing," he says. He's not looking at Rags. He's not looking at anyone.

"The fuck," Righetti says. "Get down."

"What!" Tim looks at him then. "I'm only halfway--"

"Get off the mound," Righetti says again. "You're done for the day."

Tim roars, turning and whipping the ball into outfield, and stomps off the mound. Chris watches the ball go, deep right field, bouncing across the grass.

"What the hell are you waiting for?" Righetti says. Chris turns back to him, bewildered. "Go after him."

"Rags, I--"

"You're his catcher, right? Go fucking catch him." Rags throws his hands up. "Go."

Chris goes.

Lincecum's in the clubhouse, banging things around in his locker.

"Hey," Chris says.

Lincecum doesn't even turn around. "Leave me alone."

"Rags told me to come talk to you, I am. Talking."

Tim sighs and sits down. "I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to see you. I don't want to throw to you."

Tim's words are an icicle to Chris' heart. If Lincecum refuses to work with him, he's done. Vogey can throw to anyone, and the Giants have a couple of other guys in the minors, young guys, who might be able to hit as well as catch. It's a death sentence.

His panic must show on his face, because Lincecum slaps him on the thigh. "Jesus, Stew, don't fuckin' freak out," he says. "I'm not going to Boch or anything, okay? Fuck."

Chris feels his shoulders sag in relief. "What can I do, then?"

Tim glances around. "Fuck me, already," he mutters.

All the spit in Chris' throat dries up. "Tim," he tries to say, but his voice comes out in a dry croak.

Tim rolls his eyes. "I know, you can't. Blah blah blah. If you don't mind me asking, who fucked you up so bad that you have to fuck me up now?"

Chris sighs. "Tim..."

"Lemme guess," Tim says. "You can't tell me."

"I'm sorry."

Tim stands up and hoists his bag over his shoulder. "You spend a lot of time apologizing," he says. "I hope whoever it was, was worth it."

"He wasn't," Chris admits. "I thought so, but...he wasn't."

"Awesome." Tim runs his hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. "Tell Rags I'm fine. I'll be fine. Tomorrow."

"Yeah?" Chris says.

Tim smiles up at him, the fake professional smile that Chris has seen him give to so many reporters. "Yeah," he says. "Definitely. No worries."

"No worries," Chris echoes. He wants to slap Tim on the shoulder the way he would another guy, a guy he hadn't pulled close and kissed. He thinks better of it.

Tim's right; he's fine the next day. He's still a little quiet around Chris, but he chats and smiles at jokes and his pitches are dialed in, so Righetti calms down. In their next game, a home game against San Diego, Lincecum fans eight and walks one and they win 5-3. Two days later, while they're in Los Angeles, Tim texts him.

>>Can I come up? Something 2 say.

Chris considers saying no. He considers ignoring the text and telling Lincecum he didn't see it until too late. He considers a thousand things. Then he answers.


Chris opens the door and sits on the edge of the bed, hands folded between his knees. He's pretty sure he doesn't want to hear whatever it is that Lincecum wants to say. Things are back on track, and Chris wants to keep them that way. He doesn't want to rock the boat. He doesn't want to think, or talk, or feel. He just wants to play.

Tim comes in and shuts the door behind him. He's wearing jeans and sandals and a long sleeved T-shirt that Chris instantly wants to touch.

"Hey," Chris says, trying to sound casual. "What's up?"

"I heard about you and Ian Kinsler."

Chris is sitting down, but he feels the floor drop out beneath him anyway. "I...what?"

Tim swallows. "I know what happened with you and Kinsler. About you..." Tim waves his hands. "You and him."

"Nothing happened," Chris says automatically. He shakes his head.

"They busted you and him fucking and you got sent down," Tim says. "That's what happened, right?"

Chris hunches over, folding his head into his hands. He can hardly breathe. "No. It's not true."

Tim comes and sits next to him on the bed. "That's what you were talking about, isn't it?" he asks. "That's why."

Chris closes his eyes. "Yeah," he breathes into his hands. It's the first time he's admitted it out loud since the meeting in Washington's office four years ago. "Yeah."

"What happened?"

"Just that. We were together, we got busted, I was sent down."

"Not him?"

Chris laughs bitterly. "He's Ian fucking Kinsler. No, not him."

"You still in love with him?"

Chris almost chokes. "No," he says, relieved to realize that he's telling the truth. "No, I'm not."

"But you were."

"Jesus, Tim."

Tim bumps his shoulder against Chris'. "You were," he says.

Chris nods, mute.

"And that's why you won't. Because of Kinsler."

"It took me four years to get back up," Chris says. "I know that sounds stupid to you, but it's my life. I can't give it up again."

"It doesn't sound stupid." Tim rubs Chris' back, his hand warm through the cotton of Chris' shirt. "It sounds...the opposite of stupid."

"How'd you find out?" Chris murmurs.

"I talked to Wilson."

Chris almost chokes. "Weezy? Fuck. Does everyone know?"

Tim shakes his head. "C.J."

"Ahh." Chris sags back into the mattress. C.J. Wilson, who had been a closer for the Rangers in 2007, and had turned into a starter over the last few years. C.J., who had a beautiful sinker, and a decent fastball, and a big mouth.

"Hey," Tim says, and something in his voice makes Chris look over. Tim licks his lips and leans in, pausing for a second before pressing his lips against Chris'. "I'm sorry I got so pissed."

Chris sighs. "I wish I could have said, but, you know. It's not entirely my thing to tell."

"Yeah, definitely." Tim nods. He kisses Chris again, one hand on Chris' knee, then, abruptly, he's on Chris' lap, his arms looped around Chris' neck. Chris holds him close, just for a second, kissing back.

"Just so you know," Tim whispers in his ear. "I'm gonna bean Kinsler the next time I face him."

Chris chuckles. "Perfect. Get him in his throwing arm."

"I'll get him in the head for fucking with you." Tim climbs off his lap and stands between Chris' knees for a minute. Chris wraps his arms around Tim's waist and presses his face against Lincecum's belly.

"I'm really sorry," he says again. He feels Tim's hand in his hair.

"I gotta go," Tim says. "We're good, but I can't do this if, you know."

Chris releases him. "Sure, man. Yeah."

Tim touches his face. "See ya at the park."

"Yep." Chris watches him go. Sometimes it seems like his entire life is made up of closing doors.

Things stay good after that. They win some, they lose a lot less, Chris' batting average creeps toward the .200 mark, and he throws out three more runners, including one at third that erases the potential for a tying run and gives Timmy the room to breathe he needs to close out the game. Tim hugs him for that, in the celebratory line after the game, a professional hug with his face turned away from Chris' neck, but a real hug just the same. Buster says some nice things about him in an article, and so does Vogey, and so does Wilson. He feels like he's stopped being the backup for the backup and has become a member of the team.

And if he happens to jerk off to memories of Lincecum kissing him every single night, well, he doesn't see the harm in it.

Bochy takes what seems like half the team to the All Star Game. The other half scatters to the four corners of the globe, it seems. Chris turns down invitations to Florida (Huff and Burrell), Connecticut (DeRosa), Napa Valley (Crawford), and Arizona (Vogelsong, who says "just come with, man, just to see it" in a way that's really touching but not at all appealing) in favor of staying in his condo and lying out by the pool. He's always been comfortable with being alone, even as a kid, and it's a skill that's served him in good stead over his years as a ballplayer. That ability to be by himself, maybe more than anything else, had saved him in Round Rock.

He spends the mornings out by the pool with an iced coffee and a book, and the afternoons on the living room couch watching game tape to prepare for the upcoming series. The second half of the season is going to be a lot tougher than the first half and he wants to be ready.

He watches the All Star Game, but no one gets in except Panda and Wilson, and the game itself isn't that exciting. He's glad the NL wins, but it just doesn't seem like a big deal. He'll have to ask Vogey if it felt bigger being there. He hopes it did.

He's packing his suitcase for the trip to San Diego, Conan on in the background, when his phone buzzes.

>>r u up?

The man himself, Vogelsong.

>>packing. Congrats on the game. How was it?

>>AWESOME. U shuld have come.

Chris smiles. >>Thx, but no thx.

>>L says you shuld have. He says hi.

Chris pauses. While he's trying to figure out what to type back, his phone vibrates again in his hand.

>>its Tim. V. says he invited u.

Chris has an answer for that. >>he did.

>> :( miss u.

He feels his heart stutter. He doesn't know what that means, that stupid frowny face, and Lincecum's not even using his own phone. He types carefully. >>I miss u guys too. See u tomorrow.

Two seconds later he gets this in response:

>> :)

then nothing. He doesn't sleep for a long time.

The All Stars don't have to make the evening practice in San Diego on Wednesday, so Chris doesn't expect to see any of them until Thursday morning at the park, which is why he is startled by the banging on his hotel room door.

The banging means it's one of the guys, so opens it without bothering to put pants on and Tim shoves past him, running for the television. "You aren't watching it!" he says, groping for the remote. The tv comes on and Tim flips to ESPN, where Wilson is standing on the red carpet talking to some woman in a ballgown. Wilson is wearing...Chris doesn't know how to describe it except that it is very snug and very...revealing.

"Wow," Chris says.

"Right?" Lincecum says.

They watch in horrified silence as Wilson talks about how he's just happy to be there.

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

"I didn't know he wasn't circumcised," Tim says, and Chris snorts surprised laughter through his nose. It hurts, which makes him laugh harder.

"Fuck you," he gasps, rubbing his nose with one hand. They watch until Brian gives way to a female beach volleyball player in a shiny dress that's about two sizes too small, and Tim hits the mute button.

"I just came by to show you that," he says.

"Thanks. I won't sleep for a week." Chris smiles at him.

"No problem." Tim tosses the remote on the bed. "So, um..."

"How was the All Star Game?" Chris asks. It's the first time he's been alone, really alone with Tim since they talked about Ian, and Chris doesn't want it him to go just yet.

"Okay. You know," Tim says. He doesn't seem to realize that no, a lot of guys, including Chris, don't know what it's like to go to the All Star game. "I hate Chase Field with the roof closed. It feels like playing in a fucking gymnasium."

"Better than playing in a sauna," Chris says.

Tim makes a face. "Point. What did you do?"

"Nothing." Chris smiles. "It was awesome."

"I wish I could have done nothing," Tim says. "It's just a lot of sitting around and posing for pictures and people asking stupid questions."

"I saw your interview. 'That's why it's called the All Star Game.' Nice."

"It was a dumb question!" Tim says. "I did get to talk to Halladay, though."

Chris laughs. Tim's adoration of Roy Halladay is well-known in the clubhouse, and only intensified after the post-season last tear. He wants to be Roy Halladay when he grows up. "And how is Roy?"

"Fine. He said he was glad we beat Texas."

"That's nice of him."

Tim nods, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I wish you would have come to Arizona."

"Yeah?" Chris asks.

Tim meets his eyes. "Yeah. I was hoping when V. invited you."

Chris narrows his eyes. "You didn't ask him to in--"

"No," Tim says quickly. "No, man. I was just hoping."

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

Tim shrugs. "Hung out with me."

Chris puts on a joking smirk. Tim is getting dangerously close to saying things that Chris isn't sure he wants said. He's already having a hard enough time not thinking about Tim: he doesn't need any true confessions to make him question his sanity any more than he already is. "Uh huh. Is that what we're calling it now?"

"I don't care what we call it," Tim says. He steps forward, sliding one hand up Chris' forearm to his elbow. "I just want to do it."

"Tim." Chris moves to back away, but he's already up against the wall next to the television armoire, and Tim is crowding into his space. His other hand is on Chris' T- shirt, over his ribs, and Tim's got a dizzy focused expression, like he's had too much to drink. "I told you--"

"You can," Tim says, pressing into him. "I promise I'll never tell anyone. You can. Please."

"This is a bad idea," Chris says, as Tim nuzzles his throat. His hand is on Tim's shoulder. He meant to push him away, but now he finds his fingers curling into Tim's silky hair. "This is such a bad idea."

That's the last thing he says before he kisses Tim.

As far as kisses go, it's pretty epic. He leans down and hooks his hands under the curve of Tim's ass and pulls him up as their lips meet. Tim winds his arms around Chris' neck, and his legs around Chris' hips and holds on, sighing into Chris' mouth.

He's flexible, and pretty light, but Chris can't hold him up forever, so he takes the three steps to the bed and dumps Tim onto it, falling on top of him, landing between his legs. Tim twines around him, grinning.

"How come you never have pants on?" he asks.

"How come you keep barging into my hotel room?" Chris leans down and bites his ear.

Tim arches back and sighs, his hands slipping around Chris' ass. "For this," he says.

Chris comes twice, once on top of Tim, pushing him into the mattress, and once in his mouth, his hand tangled in Tim's hair, trying not to pull.

Tim comes after that, rubbing against Chris' thigh into Chris' curled wet hand, gasping "stew, stew, stew," into his mouth in time with each thrust. He falls against Chris' chest when he's done, breathing hard, his cheek on Chris' breastbone. Chris wipes his messy hand on the sheet, then strokes it down Tim's side, then up and down again. It's been too fucking long, Chris thinks, luxuriating in the feel of bare skin under his palm.

"You all right?" he murmurs and feels Tim smile.

"Fuck you," Tim mutters.

Chris tightens his arms around Tim and rolls until Tim is on his back and Chris is over him, propped on one elbow, grinning down into Tim's answering smile. He kisses that smile two or three times. Tim stretches, sliding his feet down Chris' shins.

"You're so tall," he says.

Chris wrinkles his nose. "Why does everyone say that?"

"Who's 'everyone'?" Tim slips one arm behind his head. It's too much skin for Chris to resist, and he strokes it with the tips of his fingers, from Tim's elbow to the curve of his armpit.

"You. Ian. Everyone else I've ever slept with."

Tim shrugs. "Guys dig tall."

"Don't they dig anything else? My eyes? My hands?"

"You have great hands," Tim murmurs, closing his eyes as Chris slides his hand down Tim's arm and over his chest.

"And my eyes?"

Tim opens one of his own eyes, which are big and green and gorgeous. Chris bets Tim gets compliments on his eyes all the time. "They're brown."

Chris pinches the flesh over Tim's rib, making him squirm. "So?"

"Stick with 'tall.'"

Chris pokes him in the ribs again. Tim giggles and falls silent. Chris noses into his hair and breathes deep. He smells like expensive shampoo, something spicy and without flowers. Chris closes his eyes.



"I've been thinking about something."

Chris pulls back, his eyes wide open again. He was hoping they could skip the talking--and the misery that was bound to come with it--until the morning. Maybe after they did it one more time. "Tim--"

"Wait," Tim says. "Before you say anything, just wait."

Chris waits. He can feel his pulse pounding in his throat. He knows what Lincecum is about to do, and he knows what he's going to have to do in response, and it's going to hurt all over again. It hurts already, and no one's said anything.

"Here's what I think: Ian Kinsler is an idiot."

Chris blinks. This isn't what he expected. "Okay," he says.

"I mean, he had you. He had you, and he just walked away."

"Yeah." Chris sighs. "You don't have to remind me."

"I wouldn't do that." Tim rolls over to face him. "You know, if people found out. I wouldn't walk away."

Chris shakes his head. "You say that now, but you don't know. This kind of thing, it could ruin you."

"So what? So I get less money, fewer endorsements. So people call me a fag. They already call me a fag."

"It's different when they know it's true," Chris mutters.

Tim slides up against him and hooks one arm over Chris' waist. His knees knock into Chris'. "I'm telling you right now, I wouldn't do that," he says.

"What would you do if people found out?" Ian asked, after the second time they had sex.

Chris was face down on the mattress, almost unconscious. He hadn't fucked someone so hard for so long in months. "Huh?"

Ian was sitting up on the edge of the bed, his hair sticking up like a tornado hit him. He looked legitimately worried.

Chris put a hand out and cupped his bare knee. "No one's going to find out, man."

"But if they did. What would you do?"

Chris pushed himself up until he could put an arm around Ian and kiss his shoulder. "Are you gonna tell someone?"

Ian snorted. "Fuck off."

"Neither am I. So don't fucking worry about it, okay?"

Ian seemed to think about it for a minute. "Okay," he said, allowing Chris to draw him back down into the blankets, his cheek on Chris' chest. "You wouldn't bail on me, though, right?"

Chris laughed into Ian's hair. "Don't be an idiot," he said.

Chris has been a professional baseball player his entire adult life, so he knows all about the bullshit guys sling around, the things they say because they think they have to say them: "good at bat," "not your fault, man," "you're an integral part of the team." They don't mean anything. They're lies, dressed in nice clothes.

And he knows that what Tim is saying is probably bullshit, too. It's one thing to declare that you will never leave in the post-sex haze of happiness, and another thing to actually stay when the shit comes down. Maybe Tim doesn't care about money or being called a fag by thousands of angry fans. As long as he has his stuff, Tim won't get sent down, but there are plenty of other things a baseball team can do to make your life miserable that don't involve the minor leagues. And Tim, who has never been anywhere or done anything without someone holding his hand, has no idea how hard it can be.

But the fact that he would think to say it--"I wouldn't walk away"--that means something. No one has ever said that to him before.

He swallows, trying to hide the tangled lump in his throat. "You would do that. For me."

"No," Tim shakes his head. His face is so close that all Chris can see are Tim's open eyes, all he can breathe are Tim's words. "Not for you. I would do it to be happy, though. I would do whatever it took."

Chris sighs into Tim's kiss, closing his eyes and opening his hands. He believes Tim. He probably shouldn't. It's foolish, he knows. And dangerous. And terrifying. And probably a huge mistake.

He does it anyways.

Lincecum Triumphant Over Rangers
Chris Haft, Giants Beat Reporter

In a performance reminiscent of Game 5 of last year's World Series, Tim Lincecum bested C.J. Wilson and the Texas Rangers in interleague play. In eight innings of shut out ball, Lincecum allowed only one man on base, the Rangers' Ian Kinsler, who Lincecum hit with a wild pitch in the first after striking out the first two batters.

Kinsler is only the second person Lincecum has hit this season. The first was Juan Uribe, his former teammate, who he hit twice in the early part of the season. Some attributed the double hit as personal animosity against Uribe, a charge Lincecum denied again last night.

"I don't play like that," Lincecum said when asked about Uribe and Kinsler. "The ball slipped. A good player like Kinsler, you never want to give him a free base on accident."

Fortunately, Lincecum's lapse in control was remedied by Chris Stewart's throw to second when Kinsler attempted to steal. Kinsler's attempt was the fourteenth that Stewart has thwarted this season, making his record the best in the National League.

"I'm just trying to contribute," Stewart said. "My offense isn't the greatest, but if you run on me, I'm coming after you."

"Stew is lights out," Lincecum said. "I had complete faith in that throw."

Stewart was brought up after Buster Posey's season ending injury, and has become Lincecum's personal batterymate.

The End

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