Not the Prettiest Game
by Synchronik

II. April 2011: Fresno, California

A lot of the guys live together in Fresno, but they're mostly younger guys, guys who've never played in the show, so he and Chris settle for apartments in the same shitty building down the street from the park. It's popular with ballplayers because the furniture is decent and the landlord will let you buy out your lease for minimal cash and not make a big deal out of it. Chris gets an apartment on the fourth floor that has a little balcony that looks out over the parking lot of the grocery store next door, so they end up there on the night before Opening Day, sitting in folding chairs and watching the world go by.

"You nervous?" Chris asks.

Ryan's squeezing a ball in his hands, shifting it from one hand to another, rolling it off his fingers. He's pitching tomorrow, his first Opening Day in the states, ever, even if it's just for the Fresno Grizzlies. "Nah," he says.

Chris grins. "No, you don't look nervous." He's got his feet up on the railing of the balcony, his legs stretched out in front of him. He's not taller than Ryan, but sprawled out like this, Chris's legs look ten miles long. Ryan wants to run his hand up Chris's thigh and under the edge of his shorts, but the balcony is in view of the parking lot and the grocery store next door, so he doesn't.

"I'm not," he says. "Just...I wish it would be over already. Like, this is us, tomorrow. After the game."

"Deal," Chris says. "I'll meet you here."

Ryan laughs. "You'll drive me here, dick. You nervous?"

Chris shrugs. "Not yet. I'll be nervous tomorrow."

"You're really not," Ryan says. He's a little amazed. Not that it's a huge thing--opening for Fresno--but it's still Opening Day. It's still the beginning of baseball, 2011.

Chris smiles, his brilliant crooked smile. "I told you. Tomorrow."

"You're unbelievable." He stands up and claps his hand over Chris's shoulder, squeezing gently. He wants Chris to stand up and wrap his arms around Ryan's waist and pin him against the rough stucco of the apartment building, store. He sighs. "I gotta unpack so I have something to wear tomorrow."

"Okay." Chris tips his head back. "You coming back, or you want to be alone to start your yoga routine or light some incense or something?"

"Fuck off," Ryan says, laughing. It happens before he realizes it; he leans down and kisses Chris's smiling mouth. Ryan feels Chris pause against him, and then his lips are open and his tongue, tentative and gentle, touches Ryan's briefly before he pulls away. "I, um, I--" Ryan stammers.

"So I'll see you later?" Chris says.

"Sure. Um...sure," Ryan says.

"Awesome." Chris turns back to the parking lot. In the yellow orange sun of early evening, he looks like a painting of a perfect summer. Ryan leaves before he does anything else stupid.

It's cute how flustered Ryan gets by the stupidest things. Like, no, maybe kissing him out on the balcony wasn't the greatest idea and they shouldn't make a habit of it, but it was sweet and no one seemed to see and it certainly wasn't any reason to apologize, which is what Ryan does when he comes back over, pizza in hand.

"It's cool," Chris says.

"I just wasn't, I don't know. I'll be careful, promise. I'm really--"

"Hey," Chris says, "does your wife know?"

Ryan blinks. "I don't talk to her very often, so I haven't--"

"No, not about me. About you."

"Oh!" Ryan squints. "I think so," he says. "I did stuff, you know, like this, when I was in college and I think I told her. So...probably?"

"You didn't do anything while you were married?"

"That's cheating," Ryan says. "Why? Did you?"

"Maybe that's why you made it the extra year," Chris says. He feels shitty about it, still, and somehow Ryan's reaction only makes that worse. "Didn't you want to?"

"Sure, some." Ryan shrugs. "But we were married."

Chris sighs. "Yeah. I guess you should have married my wife and I should have married yours."

"I guess," Ryan says. He looks upset at the way the conversation has turned. Chris drops the paper plates he's holding on the counter and sidles up to Ryan, inching his fingers under the hem of Ryan's t-shirt.

"But you're not married now, right?" he asks, pressing his hand flat against Ryan's stomach. He leans in, mouthing Ryan's throat high up, just under his ear. Ryan shivers and sighs simultaneously.

"No," he breathes. "Not at the, uhh." His head tips back as Chris nibbles on his neck. He's so easy. Chris loves that.

They walk in from the outfield together, in perfect step. Ryan practically vibrates with nervous energy, but Chris feels strangely calm, like nothing can possibly go wrong. He expected to be nervous today, just a little, normal pre-game jitters, but he's not. He's just...happy.

"You good?" he asks Ryan as they step down into the dugout.

"Perfect," Ryan says. Chris swats him on the butt as he passes, just because he can.

Ryan dominates for six innings, and they end up winning, 11-1, which is a little embarrassing but in a good "sorry we slaughtered your asses" way. The young guys go out after, but Ryan demurs, checking his answer by glancing over at Chris, who is packing his gear bag without looking up.

"We could have gone," Chris says, once they're in the car.

"You want to?" Ryan asks. "I didn't think you--"

"Not really," Chris says.

They order Mexican food and while they're waiting for it to come, Chris opens them beers and goes out on the patio, standing at the railing. "Hey," he calls. "C'mere."

Ryan goes, standing next to him. Beneath them, people get in and out of their cars, carrying bags, talking on phones, jingling their keys. In the dark above the parking lot, Ryan feels like an invisible god.

"This is what you wanted, right?" Chris asks. "Yesterday?"

Ryan nods. "Yeah," he says. This is it, exactly what he wants. A win, and a beautiful night, and Chris.

"Then why do you look like you just licked a lemon? What's up, man?"

Ryan blinks. He hadn't realized he was so easy to read. "It's nothing," he says, "Not really."

"Fuck that," Chris says. "Just say it. I can't believe that you're getting all secretive on my ass after a day like today. Save that contemplative shit for days we lose, Ry. C'mon."

Ryan swigs his beer. He's pretty sure he's just creating trouble, but Chris asked. "I don't know. This is just easy."

Chris laughs. "Yeah, that's awful," he says. "You want it to be hard?" His smirk is lopsided and charming.

"Fuck off," Ryan says. "You know what I mean."

Chris nods and sips his beer. "I do."

"And, I don't know. Doesn't it worry you? A little?"

"Nope." Chris shakes his head. "It'll get hard soon enough, I think. Things always do."

Ryan leans on the railing. The black top still radiates heat, the last from a hot day. The thought that things might get hard between him and Chris makes him sad. Or maybe it's just the smell of exhaust from the parking lot. Ryan isn't sure. He wishes he hadn't said anything.

"Hey," Chris says. He bumps Ryan's hand with his beer bottle. "We should go in. I think it's about to get hard." He lifts an eyebrow at his shorts.

Despite himself, Ryan laughs.

Ryan's got a hundred stupid ringtones for his phone, a different one for everyone--his mother, his ex-wife, every single guy on the team--so it's a bit of a surprise when, after they've been in Fresno about two weeks, Ryan's phone starts buzzing with the factory-issued synthesizer tones. They're on the couch, kissing, Ryan sitting on his lap, but Chris isn't even hard, yet, so he doesn't mind when Ryan leans over him and picks up the phone, making a puzzled face at it.

"Hello?" Ryan says.

Chris watches as Ryan's face cycles through confusion to surprise to joy to anxiety. He says things like "yes, absolutely," and "tomorrow, sure," and Chris realizes about a minute into it that something big is happening--Ryan is getting called up.

Ryan presses the button on the phone and sets it down on the end table.

"Congratulations," Chris says, and kisses him.

"They want me tomorrow," Ryan says. "Zito hurt himself fielding."

"You starting?"

Ryan shakes his head. "They don't know. Tomorrow."

"Congratulations," Chris says again.

For the first time since the phone rang, Ryan looks at Chris, really looks at him, and Chris knows that they're thinking the same thing. "Thanks," Ryan says. Then he leans down and hooks his arms around Chris's neck and kisses him slowly.

Before the phone rang, they had been goofing off, kissing during the commercials of SportsCenter, talking about how Neil Everett was hot, but probably lousy in bed, but Ryan's kisses are more serious, now, heavy and slow, his hands flat against Chris's shoulders. Chris strains up into them, arching his back, lifting his chin. Finally, desperate, he tips to the side, dumping Ryan onto the couch cushions and climbing on top of him. Ryan's arms never leave his neck.

They kiss slowly, Chris's hands winding their way under Ryan's clothes, loosening, unfastening, seeking out warm skin. "God," Ryan murmurs against his mouth. "You're so fucking good at this."

Chris isn't sure that he's any better at this than anyone else, but he's not about to argue when Ryan's squirming underneath him, his erection pressed into Chris's stomach. He braces himself on the couch cushions, nudging Ryan's face to the side and licks along his jaw. Ryan gasps, his arms tensing around Chris's neck. "oh," he sighs.

He's wearing a button down--purple plaid--and Chris isn't even sure where one finds such an ugly shirt, but it has large buttons that are easy to open with one hand, which Chris does, unbuttoning and following with his mouth on the newly bare skin while his fingers slide even lower and Ryan's chest heaves.

Once Ryan's shirt is wholly unbuttoned, Chris moves on to the jeans, raising his eyes to watch while his hand works at the stiff denim. Ryan's got his head back, his breath harsh in his throat, the purple shirt sliding open to reveal one nipple. His legs are spread and his mouth is open and his chest is flushed with blood. Chris pries the button on Ryan's jeans open and eases the zipper down over the bulge of Ryan's erection, making it last because Ryan whimpers a little bit, just a little, as he feels the pressure ease.

"uh, yeah," he sighs, when Chris tugs the jeans down an inch. "yeah."

Chris cups his hand over Ryan's dick, feeling the hardness through the soft cotton of his underwear. Ryan pulses his hips, searching for friction. There's already a wet spot, dark grey on the light grey of his boxer briefs, and when Chris traces it with a single finger, Ryan groans.

Chris stands up, suddenly. "Come on," he says, holding out his hand. Ryan stares up at him dizzily. "Get up," Chris says. He's being a little rough, he knows, but he wants to do this right, not half-assed on the couch. If this is going to be the last time he gets to fuck Ryan Vogelsong, he wants to do it right.

Ryan takes his hand and pulls himself up, into Chris's embrace. He's unsteady on his feet, maybe from his cock, maybe from the pants that are hobbling him at the thigh, but his kiss isn't unsteady at all.

Ryan shucks his pants as they walk, hanging on to Chris's arm like a date on a swaying ship. Once they're in the bedroom, though, he leans into Chris, pushing him gently to the mattress, looming over him. "Let me," he whispers, kissing Chris until he's lying down.

"Yeah, okay," Chris murmurs, reaching for the hem of his shirt.

"Let me," Ryan whispers again, urgently, shoving Chris's hand away.

Chris lies back, and Ryan's hands are there, gliding over his skin, under his clothes, pushing his shirt up until it bunches under Chris's arms, kissing Chris's breastbone, then down to his stomach, his bellybutton, the waistband of his jeans.

"I hate these fucking pants," Ryan says, propping himself on his elbows and tugging at the buttons. Chris laughs and doesn't help except to lift his hips once Ryan gets the buttons undone and drags his pants off his feet.

Then he's on top of Chris, pressed chest to chest, belly to belly, nose to nose, his mouth hot and wet against Chris's, his hands pulling Chris's wrists above his head. "Keep them here," he murmurs, patting them.

It's not that Ryan's not aggressive during sex--there have been plenty of times where Ryan has grabbed Chris or tossed him around or shoved him to the couch and fucked him. It's part of what Chris likes about fucking guys in general and Ryan in particular. But this slow and concentrated seduction is aggressive in a way that Ryan's never been before. He moves like he's in molasses, every caress, every kiss firm and gentle at the same time, making Chris's skin tingle. By the time that Ryan has his hand in Chris's boxers, and his tongue in Chris's ear, it's a struggle to keep his arms above his head, to keep from touching back.

But Ryan doesn't want it, so Chris doesn't do it. Instead, he strains against his clothes and arches his back and sighs whenever it feels like Ryan's about to take some of them off.

"You're so fucking..." Ryan says, biting a path along his neck. Fucking what, Chris wonders, but before he can say anything, all coherent thought is driven out of his head by Ryan's fingers, big and blunt and a little rough, sliding along the inside of his thigh and pressing into him.

"God, Ry, please," Chris says, lifting his hips, wanting more. The waistband of his shorts is cutting into his stomach, but he can hardly feel it. All he knows is Ryan's hands.

Ryan pulls back and then Chris's shorts are gone--finally gone--and Ryan's hands are on him, stroking his thighs, hooking under his knee, tilting his hips. Ryan leans in, still holding Chris's knee, settling against him. His free hand trails over Chris's tricep, strokes through Chris's hair, touches Chris's bottom lip, then he kisses him, slowly, and pushes inside.

Chris groans, swallowing Ryan's voice.

They've fucked a dozen times, a hundred, but this is like nothing he's ever felt before, Ryan rocking into him, kissing him, whimpering into his mouth. They sweat together and it's enough, combined with the heavy rhythmic pressure of Ryan's stomach against his, to make Chris's erection ache, but not enough to get him off.

"Chris, oh god," Ryan gasps, his hips hitching faster.

Chris has a flash of panic--that Ryan's gone to his own space, forgotten about him--but Ryan hasn't. His hand circles Chris's wet dick and strokes in time with his thrusts and Chris can't help it, can't hold it back any more; he grabs Ryan's face and kisses him and comes and comes and comes.

Afterwards, Ryan falls asleep on him, his pitching arm heavy over Chris's waist, his damp mouth open against Chris's ribs. He loves to sleep close, sharing heat, and keeps the bedroom air conditioning so high that Chris has made him fork over twenty bucks for the bill. Chris lies on his back, his arm around Ryan's shoulders, his thumb stroking idly between Ryan's shoulder blades. Ryan's weight and warmth is a comfortable presence against him, but he can't sleep.

This is a good thing, he thinks up into the dark. He doesn't believe it, but he wants to.

Ryan means to sneak out while Chris is still asleep and he almost makes it, but he forgets his phone on the nightstand and when he goes back into the bedroom, Chris sighs and wakes up.

"You leavin'?" he asks.

Ryan sits down on the edge of the bed. "Yeah, in just a minute."

"'kay." Chris shifts as if he's going to get up.

"No, hey." Ryan pushes him back down, one hand on his shoulder. "Go back to sleep." He doesn't know what he'll do if he has to try to say goodbye to Chris in the fucking parking lot.

Chris falls back to the mattress, hooking his arm around Ryan's waist and resting his cheek on Ryan thigh. Ryan pats his hair. He wants desperately to pull off his shirt and climb back into bed with Chris, but he wants this chance at the show just as much, so he detaches gently, sliding out of Chris's grip.

"Okay," he says, crouching next to the mattress. He rubs between Chris's shoulder blades. He leans in and kisses him, high on the neck just under his ear. Chris smells like clean sweat and shaving cream, and smiles when Ryan licks him. "I'll call you when I get there, yeah."

"mmm," Chris mumbles, already half asleep. "Drife saff."

Ryan rests against Chris's neck for a second more, then stands up and leaves the room in a single motion, back stiff to prevent himself from looking back. He grabs his duffel bag and leaves, pulling the door shut behind him, twisting the knob to make sure it's locked. His apartment is already packed, so he hurries down the stairs and tosses the bag into the backseat, with his other suitcase. He turns on the car and adjusts the radio from the sports channel to the country music station--he can't listen to the opinions of the shock jocks this early in the morning--and pulls out of the parking lot, heading for the highway. He doesn't look into the rearview mirror until he's ten miles down the road. There's nothing there.

Chris goes out on his balcony after the game with a cold beer. It was a shitty game--he hit nothing and neither did the rest of the team--and all he wants to do is sit and watch the cars come and go at the grocery store and forget the whole thing ever happened, but he can't relax. He keeps shifting in the lawn chair, struggling to get comfortable, glancing back over his shoulder, then he realizes.

He's waiting for Ryan to show up.

He's twitching at every sound because he's waiting for his door to open and Ryan to come in, practicing Spanish on his iPod. "Four years learning Japanese," he said to Chris once. "For what?"

"Better sushi?" Chris had said at the time, and Ryan had knocked him upside the head, then kissed him, mumbling something in Japanese. Chris didn't know what he said--he could have been ordering more sake, for all Chris knew--but he'd liked the sound of Ryan's voice shaping words he couldn't understand. It felt like a secret language between them.

"Stop it," he tells himself. It's just something he's going to have to get used to all over again, being alone. There's a lot of ways in which his life will be easier without Ryan Vogelsong in it every minute. It's not all bad--he can have the whole bed to himself, and maybe some of his t-shirts will shrink a little so that they fit him again, and he can delete the country music stations off his car radio pre-sets. Chris sips his beer and tries to come up with a list of all the things he's going to enjoy about it. He gets as far as "fewer dirty dishes" when he phone rings.

He leaps for it with something like relief.

The first night, Ryan stays at Matt Cain's condo at the insistence of Matt's little blond wife, Chelsea. "If you don't mind," Cain says to him in the clubhouse. "She'll have my head if I don't bring you home."

"Um..." Ryan says, but he doesn't know how to turn down such a nice invitation without sounding like a dick. "Okay."

"Good man." Cain slaps him on the shoulder. "How you feeling?"

Ryan shrugs. "I...I don't know," he admits.

Cain smiles. "Perfect," he says.

"Ryan, honey, how are you?" Chelsea Cain asks when he follows Matt into their living room. He's met her once, maybe twice, before, at team events, but before he can even say hello, she grabs him and hugs him, squeezing him tight. It's so sweet, Ryan can hardly breathe.

She's made dinner, too, real lasagna from scratch, and salad, and a pie--apple, of course--that she reheats in the oven while he and Matt sit in the living room with their feet up.

"She doesn't get to host many parties," Matt says apologetically.

"No, this is great," Ryan says. He means it. The whole scene reminds him of his own past life as a family man, although that had involved a lot more shouting and a lot less homemade lasagna. "It's really nice of you."

"No problem, man. We didn't want you to be on your own the first night."

Ryan blinks. "We?"

"The guys," Matt says. "The 'pen."

"Oh," Ryan says. He's absurdly touched. He's spent years in baseball and this is maybe the nicest thing that someone's done for him.

"Sure, man," Matt says, his face lighting up when Chelsea comes in with pie and milk on a tray.

"It's like the Brady Bunch," Ryan whispers into the phone when he's finally alone in Chelsea Cain's perfectly appointed guest room. "Only with less kids."

Chris laughs. "Yeah?"

"She made pie," Ryan says.

"Shit. I wish I got called up," Chris says. "I didn't know there'd be pie."

Ryan chuckles. "We go to Colorado tomorrow," he says.

"Yeah, I looked."

Ryan sighs. "This is weird," he murmurs. He's sitting on the edge of the queen bed, on a bedspread covered in flowers, but that's not what's weird. The weird part is that Chris isn't in it. He's going to sleep alone for the first time in--he does the math in his head--over a month.

"Yeah," Chris says. "Yeah."

They hang up shortly after that and Ryan gets into bed. Through the door, he can hear the sounds of movement that are the Cains getting ready for bed--the rumble of Cainer's voice, the higher pitch of Chelsea, the faucet on then off, the pad of footsteps down the hall. He turns off the light and gets under the flowered bedspread, setting his phone down on the night table. He doesn't think he'll sleep much, but five minutes later, Ryan's unconscious, his arms curled tight around a flowered throw pillow.

Ryan's not a starter--he's been called up in relief--so he gets to sit in the bullpen with the rest of the relievers. "Ooh!" Romo says, jumping up when Ryan walks in to the clubhouse. "Does Vogey have to carry the backpack?" He holds out the pink Hello Kitty backpack that has been his responsibility since the beginning of the season. Ryan actually reaches for it, but Cain smacks Romo upside the head.

"You're kidding, right?" he says. "He was called up in 2000."

Romo, irrepressible, shrugs and takes the bag back. "Dude, you're old," he says. "What'd'you want for snacks?"

"Um...Skittles?" Ryan says. He's a little shocked that Cain knows when he was called up, and also a little shocked that it was that long ago. It doesn't feel that long ago.

Romo pats the bag happily. "Got you covered, old man."

The bullpen at Coors Field is actually beautiful, green and landscaped and gorgeous. The guys sit in padded folding chairs, rocking back on two legs, tossing candy and seeds into their mouths and talking about nothing.

"How's Fresno?" Affeldt asks during the third. Ryan glances over, but Affeldt seems like he's asking in a genuine way, not a mean way.

"Good," Ryan says. "It was only a couple of weeks, but it was going good."

"Where you staying?" Affeldt asks.

"Um, that place on Merced, by the Food Maxx."

"That's a decent place, right?" Affeldt asks. "Willy, you stayed on Merced, right? When you were in Fresno?"

"Dude, I loved that place," Wilson says, leaning so far backwards in his chair that Ryan thinks he's going to tip over and crack his skull on the Rockies' manicured lawn. "There was a tamale truck that parked--BAM!--right in the parking lot of the grocery store. I ate there every fucking day. Is that still there?"

"Um, I don't know," Ryan says. He never noticed a tamale truck, and suddenly that feels like a personal failing.

"I miss those tamales," Wilson says, dreamily. "They gave me the shits, but they were worth it."

Ryan isn't sure what to say to that, so he tries to watch the game. Tim's pitching, and the offense is on fire, so it would be an interesting game if Ryan could see anything, but the bullpens are in right field, the worst possible location in Ryan's opinion, so he finds his attention drifting, his mind wandering to Chris and what he might be doing at the moment. Playing, Ryan thinks, but it's strange to imagine Chris playing without him there to witness it. He's planning how he's going to look up the play-by-play of the Grizzlies game when he gets back to the hotel, when someone says his name.


It's Gardener, the bullpen coach, holding the phone in one hand. "Get greased," he says. "You're going in."

Ryan stands up. Through the fence he can see the scoreboard over the third base stands. Bottom of the eighth, two outs, one on. Tim's in trouble, but the score is 8-1, which is too large of a lead to waste Wilson on.

"Uh oh," Wilson says, as Ryan stands up. "He's coming for my job. Vogey's a closer!"

Ryan throws his warmup pitches. He's nervous, but not much; his stuff is there. By the time he jogs out, Tim has walked a guy, so there are two runners, one in scoring position, but that's okay. Ryan's not worried. Buster joins him on the mound, with Righetti.

"You ready?" Righetti asks.

Ryan nods. "Yep. Yessir."

"We're looking for contact," Righetti says. "Fastball the fuck outta these guys, yeah?" He glances over at Buster, who nods.

"Get it done, Vogey," Righetti says, patting him on the arm and heading in.

"No worries, man," Buster says, slapping him on the ass. "Easy as pie."

Ryan nods, not saying anything. He doesn't need to say anything. He just needs to throw.

He gets the Rockies on a diet of fastballs, just like Righetti asked for, throwing in a couple of sliders for fun at the end. Tim hugs him in the line, bouncing up on the balls of his feet, looking like a kid in his gigantic black hoodie, tapping Ryan on the back, saying "fuck yeah, dude. Fuck yeah!" in his ear.

Tim's still jazzed in the clubhouse, hopping around as people shower and change. He had a great game--six and a third of no-hit ball, and ten strikeouts--and the energy coming off of him is infectious. Ryan finds himself grinning at the guy, enjoying his answering smile.

"Ryan Vogelsong, closer!" Brian Wilson roars, engulfing him in a bear hug.

"Yeah, and he did it without your drama," Lincecum says, slapping them both on the shoulder.

"You mean my flair," Wilson says. "Seriously, though." He grabs Ryan by the shoulders and stares into his face. Behind the beard, beneath the brim of his black cap, Wilson's eyes are sincere. "Nice work, man."

"Thanks," Ryan says. "Thanks, man."

"Now, kiss!" Romo says. He doesn't duck in time to get away from the swipe of Wilson's paw and, in the resulting scuffle, Ryan's pretty sure no one notices him blushing.

Ryan's just hung up with Chris, the phone still in his hand, when there's a knock at his hotel door. He peers through the peep hole. Lincecum.

Ryan opens the door. "Hey, Timmy."

"Vogey!" Tim says. His smile is blurry and fond, and that's how Ryan knows that he's drunk.

"What's up?" he asks.

Tim glances over his shoulder at the empty hallway. "Can I come in?" he whispers.

"Yeah, sure." Ryan steps back. Tim brushes by him, smelling of cologne and secondhand smoke.

"I just wanted to say, you know, good game," Tim says.

Ryan smiles. Lincecum is cool to come by and say something, but Ryan was just doing his job, which is what he tells Tim. "Thanks, though."

"Can I ask you something?" Tim says, sitting on the bed, hands folded between his knees. Ryan hesitates. He's not sure he likes the abrupt change in Timmy's demeanor. That, combined with the alcohol...he wonders suddenly how the whole thing with Zito started.

"Sure," he says, sitting in the chair at the desk, grateful that he's wearing sweats and a t-shirt.

"You ever have someone that you like?" Tim asks, looking at his hands. "Really like?"

That seems like an easy enough question. "Of course," Ryan says. "I was married for a while."

"Really?" Tim says, but it's not a question. When he looks at Ryan, his eyes are red from more than just alcohol. "How did you leave all the time? How do you handle the leaving?"

Ryan sighs. He doesn't have an answer to that.

The phone rings while he's having breakfast, a San Francisco area code, but Chris doesn't recognize the number. He presses the button. "Yellow."

"Hi, um, Chris?"

"Yeah?" The voice, he knows that voice--

"It's Tim. Vogey said I could call you."

"Tim, hi." Chris drops his spoon back into the bowl. Lincecum. "What's up?"

There's silence at the other end, but when Chris checks the screen, the call is still live. "Timmy?"

"Yeah," Tim says.

"What's going on, man?"

"I just." Another sigh. "Vogey said I should call you, that you would know what to say."

Chris squeezes his eyes shut, pressing a knuckle into the bridge of his nose. He's got a sinking feeling that Lincecum isn't calling to talk to him about his curve ball. "You gotta tell me what's going on, first."

"I miss him," Lincecum says, so fast and low that Chris can barely hear the words.

Of course, Chris thinks. He's going to kill Ryan. "Why wouldn't you miss him?"

"It's really bad, Stew," Tim says.

"Oh," Chris says. He's going to boil Ryan in oil. "Well, um. So. How were things going? You know, before?"

"Okay," Tim says. "You remember we, um...sort of broke up at the end of Spring Training. I mean, not 'broke up' obviously, because it's not like we were...anyway. You know."

"mmhmm," Chris said. Or maybe he should tar and feather Ryan. They still do that in Texas, Chris believes.

"But lately, he was coming around, I think. He spent the night two days ago."

"Okay!" Chris says. He does not want to know the ins and outs of Lincecum's sex life. Ever. "Have you called him?"

"I can't," Lincecum says. "That's one of the... we don't call. It's just, like, we see each other, whenever."

"That's the most fucked up thing I've ever heard," Chris blurts before he can stop himself. "Call him."

"Dude, I don't--"

"Fine," Chris says. Or maybe he will have Ryan drawn and quartered--Chris doesn't know exactly what that is, but it seems like the appropriate punishment for having to talk to a Cy Young winner about his boy troubles. "Don't call him. You're the one who asked me for advice."

"You really think I should call him."

"All I'm saying is that if I hurt myself and got sent to fuckin' single A, I would be glad if my...someone fucking called me."

"Would you call Vogey?" Tim asks.

For a second, Chris can hardly breathe. He's going to punch Ryan, in the face, hard, the next time he sees him.

"Yes," he tells Lincecum. "Yes, of course."

"Okay," Tim says.

Chris waits, but that seems to be all Lincecum has to say. "All right. Did you need anything else, man?"

"Thanks," Tim says. "I can't really call my dad about this, so, thanks."

His dad. Chris is two years older than Lincecum and five years younger than Ryan and somehow he is the one who's the dad. "No problem," he says.

"You're a catcher," Ryan says, when Chris gets him on the phone.

"What the fuck does that have to do with anything?" Chris asks.

"I dunno," Ryan says. "It seemed like you would know what to say. What'd you tell him?"

"I told him to call."

"What! No! Why'd you tell him to call?"

"Why not?" Chris demands. First Ryan sics a love-crazed righty on him and now he's getting pissy about the advice? "What else was I supposed to say?"

Ryan sighs. "I don't know. We were just all sort of hoping that you would say don't call."

"Well, maybe next time tell me that," Chris says, trying not to sound hurt that in the fucking week and a half that Ryan's been in the show there's somehow an "us" that doesn't include him.

"I know," Ryan says. "Sorry. I meant to."

"It's alright," Chris says. " are things?"

"Fine," Ryan says. "You know. It's just strange going from starting to relief. It's such a different job."

"The close went good," Chris says.

"I don't like it," Ryan says. "It's too much pressure on every pitch. I like more room to work a guy."

"Don't let Wilson hear you say that," Chris says.

Ryan laughs and then falls silent. There's nothing but air between them, expanding and expanding into empty space. This is how it ends, Chris thinks. The silence will just keep growing until one of them walks away.

"I miss you," Ryan says suddenly, his voice low.

Chris presses his lips together, unable to speak for a second without embarrassing himself. "Yeah." He coughs. "Yeah. He asked if I would call you. Lincecum. If you were hurt."

"Oh," Ryan says.

"Did you say something to him? About, you know..."

"No," Ryan says. "I told him to call you, that was it."

"It just sounded like, you know, he knew."

"Um..." Ryan says. "Maybe I talk about you a little."

"What's a 'little'?"

Ryan sighs. Chris can tell just from the sigh that his eyes are closed. "What's a 'little,' Ry?"

"Um, Huff calls you my boyfriend," Ryan mutters. "He wants to be invited to the wedding."

Chris snickers. He wonders if maybe he should be upset, but it's nothing that hasn't been said to Huff about him and Burrell, who the team gave matching lingerie as a gag gift for winning the Series last year. "Tell him he can be one of my groomsman."

Ryan laughs. "So that's why," he says.

"Why what?"

"Why you told Tim to call Zeets. 'Cause he asked what you would do."

"Oh. Yeah, pretty much. I mean, wouldn't you call me?"

"Well. I guess that's okay then." Chris can hear the smile in his voice.

"You guess," he prods. "You suppose it would be alright if I called you. You'd be okay with that?"

"Shut up," Ryan says, and now Chris can hear his grin. "There's a difference between you and him, you know."

"What's that?" Chris asks.

"You're not some psycho pitcher, for one," Ryan says.

Chris's smile is so hard it almost hurts. "True," he says.

The guy is short and wearing a t-shirt that is maybe a size too small, but that he makes look good. Chris isn't sure, at first, that the guy is actually hitting on him--since Ryan left he's been nothing but horny, and he thinks for a minute that he might be making it up--but then the guy squeezes his elbow, subtly, and heads for the men's room without glancing back.

They're at a bar, him and Burriss and Ishikawa and Gillaspie, no place special, just a place with a band and alcohol and plenty of people who do not know who they are, and wouldn't care if they did.

Chris hadn't planned on coming out at all, but Travis had stopped by his locker while he was pulling on his shirt and mentioned it. "Come on, Stew," he'd said. "You haven't hung with us since we got here."

It was true. He and Ryan had gone out maybe once with the team, and since Ryan's departure, he hadn't gone at all, preferring instead to go home and wait for Ryan to call him and tell him what happened that day, what perks major league guys got that triple A guys could only imagine and envy.

So he had texted Ryan--out w/ishi. Talk 2U 2morrow--and changed his shirt and gone, and now, three beers later, some guy was walking him to the men's room. Ironic, Chris supposed; before Ryan, he hadn't gotten laid in months. It was the stink of the unavailable.

If he is unavailable.

He can't do anything in the men's room anyway, not with the guys here, but does he want to follow, to go into the bathroom and slip the short guy his number for later? He and Ryan aren't exclusive, he doesn't think. He doesn't know. They haven't talked about it. And Ryan's gone for the foreseeable future--Zito's out for at least a month, maybe more--and there's no guarantee that when he comes back (if he comes back), he'll want Chris as anything more than a friend. This whole thing could be a fling, a spring training romance, a break between Ryan's first and second marriages, a blip.

And the guy is hot, blond and muscled, and probably really flexible, and it's not like Ryan would know anyways. Who would tell him?

You would, Chris thinks, and realizes it's true. Ryan' wife cheated on him and fucked him up. He and Chris might not be exclusive, but that doesn't mean that Chris is going to lie to him.

He sighs and takes another swig of his beer. He catches the glance of the blond t-shirt guy as he comes back down the hall from the bathroom and shrugs apologetically. The guy scowls at him and heads for the other end of the bar.

"So, um," Chris says, and Ryan hears it in his voice, knows with sudden clairvoyance what he's about to say.

"You want to see other people," he says. He looks at the clock in the clubhouse, like it's going to make it better to know what time it is when Stewart decides to break his heart.

"Not exactly," Chris says.

Six days, Ryan thinks. Six days since I saw him. "I don't know what that means," he says.

"It's, um. Someone sort of...we were out last night and someone sort of--"

A surge of jealously rises in Ryan's chest. He was hit on, that's what Chris is trying to say. Someone hit on him. "Who?" he demands.

"No one," Chris says. "Some guy in the bathroom."

"Did you fuck him?"

"Did I--what?"

"Look, I don't have time for this bullshit," Ryan says. "If you want to fuck him, if you already fucked him, whatever. I don't own you, so...have a nice life." He hits end on the phone and shoves it into his pocket. When he turns around, Wilson's standing there, a towel over his head. Between that and the beard, he looks like a terrifying monk, the kind that knows jujitsu.

"Trouble?" he asks.

"No," Ryan says. His heart hurts in his chest, but he can't tell whether that's from what Chris said or the fact that Wilson was listening. His pocket starts ringing--"Brown Eyed Girl," the song he'd picked for Chris when he left Fresno.

Wilson lifts an eyebrow. "You gonna get that?"

Ryan pulls the phone out and hits "ignore." "Forget it."

"Hey," Wilson says. When Ryan looks up, Wilson's expression is serious, his blue eyes intent. "You don't wanna talk, that's cool," he says. "You keep your shit to yourself. I can respect that. But you're in the bullpen now, man. I don't know how it was for you before, but up here? We're family. So, you need something, you say something, okay?"

Ryan nods, squeezing the phone in his hand.

"Okay," Wilson says. "You need anything?"

"No." Ryan shakes his head. "I'm good. Or, you know, not good. But I'm alright."

"Alright." Wilson claps him on the shoulder. "See ya later." He walks away, just as "Brown Eyed Girl" starts up again.

Chris calls four more times before Ryan turns his phone off and leaves it in his locker to go work out and then practice. He's in the bullpen, but he was just in a couple days ago and there have been rumors about him starting in the next couple of days, so he's probably not going in. He had meant to tell Chris about it, but...

At least I'm up here, Ryan thinks, picking at his fingernails. At least I'm up here and I won't have to see him every day.

And how sad is it, he wonders, that he's been called up to the majors for the first time in four years and that's what he's grateful for?

They lose in extra innings, and Ryan goes back to the extended stay hotel room that the club got for him until he can find an apartment. He sets his phone on the counter and makes a sandwich and doesn't look at it.

It rings again while he's watching Sports Center. Brown-Eyed-Girl.

Ryan sighs and picks it up. "Hey."

"Fuck you, you asshole! You fucking hung up on me before a game? What the fuck was that?"

"Sorry," Ryan says. He's a little surprised to find that he is sorry, not for hanging up, but for making Chris angry and for whatever it was they had that they don't have now. He misses it already.

"You should be," Chris says, but he's not quite yelling anymore. "I played for shit."

"You lose?"

"No. Not for lack of trying, though."

"Well...sorry. I'm gonna go."

"Ry, wait. What's going on? Are you okay?"

Ryan coughs out a laugh. "You're kidding, right? Chris--"

"Are you dumping me?"

"What? You're the one who's fucking guys in bars, so--"

"I didn't fuck him!" Chris shouts. "He hit on me, and I didn't know what to say, like, if I should say I was seeing some--I didn't know what you would want me to say, so I called you. What do you want me to say, Ryan?"

Ryan presses his fingers into the corners of his eyes. "I...Chris," he says, and then he can't say any more.

"I guess we've gotten to the hard part," Chris says, softly.

Ryan sighs. "Yeah, I guess."

"I'd come up, if I could," Chris says. "What do you want me to say, Ry?"

Ryan wraps one arm around his own waist and squeezes. "Would you say no?" It comes out like a whisper. Ryan can hardly hear it himself, and he doesn't want to say it again. It's too much, he's asking too much.

"Yeah, of course," Chris says. "Of course."

They're getting on the plane to Salt Lake City when Chris's phone rings. He's in the aisle behind Kroon, trying not to bang people in the head with his bag, so he lets it go to voicemail. He shoves his bag into the overhead and folds into his seat, fishing his phone out of his pocket as he sits. Ryan.

Chris glances around, but everyone's busy with their own shit, bags and seatbelts and electronic devices. He presses answer.

"Hey," he says when Ryan picks up. "I'm on the plane. What's going on?"

"I'm in," Ryan says. He sounds like someone's hit him in the head with a bat. "I'm starting tomorrow."

"Holy shit," Chris says. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"No," Ryan says. "No."

"Ryan, that's fucking amazing, that's..." He doesn't know what else to say, beyond "amazing" again. Ryan is getting his shot. "Baby, that's incredible."

The flight attendant pauses in front of Chris's row, smiling politely at him. Chris nods at her.

"I gotta go," he tells Ryan. "What's your start time?"

"Get-away game," Ryan says. "One-oh-five."

The flight attendant's smile has turned stiff. "Call me when you're done tonight," Chris says.

"I will."

"Okay, um. Take care," Ryan says.

"You, too." Chris turns off his phone. "Sorry," he says. The flight attendant smiles again and moves on to the other guys. Chris catches Kroon's eye across the aisle. "Vogelsong's starting tomorrow."

"No way, man!" Kroon says. The news zips from seat to seat, until the whole plane is buzzing with it, Vogey, one of their guys, starting tomorrow. Chris sits back in his seat and closes his eyes and smiles.

Ryan calls around ten, which means midnight Pittsburgh time. "Shouldn't you be asleep?" Chris asks, muting the television.

"I can't," Ryan says. "I'm freaking out."

Chris laughs. "Just chill," he says. "You'll be fine."

"Uh huh," Ryan says, but he doesn't sound convinced. This is the worst part of long distance, Chris thinks. If he were there, he would pull Ryan down to the bed and soothe him, but on the phone, there's not much he can--

"What are you wearing?" he says.

"What?" Ryan asks. He sounds distracted.

"What. Are. You. Wearing."

"Chris, come on," Ryan says. "I'm about to have a heart at--"

"I'm wearing boxers and a t-shirt. Not very sexy, but it's your t-shirt, I think." The t-shirt is loose around the shoulders, so it either one of Ryan's t-shirts or Ryan stretched it out. And that thought, of Ryan in this very shirt, the cotton tight around his shoulders, makes Chris's dick twitch.


"Is it warm there?" Chris asks. "It's warm here."

"It's, um--"

Chris leans back against the headboard, stretching his legs out, running his hand up the inside of his thigh. "Ryan, what are you wearing?"

"Shorts and, um, shoes."

"No shirt, Ry? Where's your shirt?"

"I was running," Ryan says, his voice dreamy.

Chris closes his eyes. Ryan, sweaty and shirtless, alone in his hotel room in Pittsburgh. "Take them off," he says.

"Chris," Ryan says, but Chris can hear the rustle of movement that means that Ryan's stripping. He slides his hand into his shorts.

"Get on the bed," he tells Ryan. More movement, then Ryan's breath sighing in his ear.

"I wish I were there," he says. "I would make you lie down on the mattress and I would rub you all over." He imagines it, Ryan's back stretched in front of him, his hands sliding over the muscles along his spine, over his tight ass, down his powerful legs.

"Yeah?" Ryan breathes.

Chris's dick is already hard, bumping against the restraint of his boxer shorts and his fist. "I would fuck you so hard," he says, wishing that there was a way to describe what he wants to do to Ryan, to pile the hotel pillows under his stomach and slip into him, folding himself over Ryan's back, biting at the nape of his neck.

"I...I have to...I pitch tomorrow," Ryan gasps.

"Doesn't matter," Chris says. His cock feels huge and hot in his hand. When was the last time he jerked off? Yesterday? Three days ago? A week? He doesn't remember, but however long ago it was, it was too long. "I'll let you be on top if you want," he says, and then he's imagining that, Ryan straddling him, his erection rubbing against Chris's stomach, as he arches his back.

"Yeah," Ryan says. "Yeah. And I would kiss you, during." His words are ragged gasps. "I would tongue you, oh, oh God."

Ryan's breath is fast and desperate. He's not making noise like he usually does, but Chris can tell that he's close. "Are you gonna come?" he murmurs.

"Uhh," Ryan says.

"Spread your legs," Chris says, spreading his own as wide as his shorts will allow. He should have taken them off when he told Ryan, but it's too late now, he's too far gone.

"Chris," Ryan pants. "Chris, chris, chris, chris."

"C'mon, baby," Chris says, he can hardly move his hand fast enough, the friction, the heat, the cotton rubbing against the head of his cock.

"Chris, god, chris," Ryan says, and then Chris doesn't hear anything for a second because he's coming himself, soaking his shorts.

After a minute of breathing in each other's ears, Chris hears Ryan laugh, a low happy chuckle. "You're a fucking lunatic," he says.

"You love it."

"Shit, yeah," Ryan says. "'Take off your shorts.'" He laughs again.

Shoulda taken my own advice, Chris thinks, looking at the mess of his boxer shorts. It's disgusting and hot at the same time. "Least I could do, man," Chris says. "Get some sleep, okay?"

"Yeah," Ryan says. He sounds sleepy. Or, at least he doesn't sound freaked out any more. "Okay."

"And good luck tomorrow. I'm proud of you."

There's a moment of silence, then Chris hears Ryan's throat click, once, wetly. "Thanks, man. Talk to you soon."

"You know it," Chris says. "Night."

It's Salt Lake City, so the chances of finding a bar open on a Thursday morning, let alone one that's playing the Pittsburgh-San Francisco game are pretty slim. But Darren Ford has an MLBtv subscription and is willing to let Chris use his login, so Chris puts a Do Not Disturb sign on the door of his hotel room and signs in five minutes before the game is supposed to begin.

Ryan starts rough--after two quick outs, he walks a guy and then there's a double and boom, just like that, Pittsburgh is ahead.

"C'mon," Chris mutters. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon."

The inning ends on the next hitter, so it's not horrible, but the flash of Ryan's face before the feed cuts to commercial makes Chris's heart drop. If he loses this game... Chris thinks, wondering if there's some way he can get out to Pittsburgh without fucking his own career up irrevocably.

But Ryan settles down after that, starts throwing the darts that Chris is used to. His fastball starts moving in and out like it's supposed to, and his change-up is a curved arrow. Chris settles back onto the bed, head pillowed on his arms, and watches Ryan work.

It's beautiful. He's watched tape of Ryan, of course, hours and hours of it, but that's different. That's work. Watching like this, with the announcers and the close ups and Ryan's squint in for a sign that Chris isn't flashing...

It's joy.

He watches until the sixth, until Ryan gets pulled. The Giants are up 5-2 when it happens, and Ryan goes back to congratulations in the dugout. Chris watches as the other guys go up to Ryan, slap his back, hug him, say things that Chris can't make out. When Ryan settles in at the top of the dugout to watch Affeldt close the inning, the camera cuts away from him and Chris realizes that he's half an hour late for the park.

"You're late, Stewart," Coach Masterson says as Chris comes running in, his bag banging against his hip.

"Sorry!" he says, dropping the bag and yanking his shirt over his head. "Sorry!"

The rest of the players are already warming up, sitting in a clump on the crisp and nearly dead grass. Chris jogs out to meet them, taking up a seat on the periphery.

"So," Ford asks. "How's our boy?"

"Up 5-2 in the top of the sixth," Chris says, and feels inordinately proud when Ford says "sweet shit, man" and then tells Burriss and Edelfsen, like Chris had anything to do with it.

They win that night, 5-4, and Chris feels like he's flying. He throws out one of the Utah Bees at second so fast that it feels like he started the throw before the guy even left the base, and the bus ride back to the hotel is like a cruise on a cloud.

It's too late to call when he gets in, especially because Ryan's still on the east coast-- they play the Nats on Friday--but he calls anyways. He can't not call.

Ryan answers on the fourth ring, just as Chris is about to give up.


"You were so good today."

"Hey!" Ryan's voice is sleepy and pleased at the same time. "You saw?"

"On the computer," he says, making a note to get his own MLBtv subscription. "You looked great."

"Ehh, I was shaky out there," Ryan says.

"Just in the first, man. You locked it in. Career high in strikeouts."

"You know my career high in strikeouts?" Ryan asks.

"The announcer," Chris admits.

"Ahh," Ryan says, his words turning into a yawn. Chris has heard that yawn a hundred times, felt Ryan stretching next to him, arms up over his head.

"I'll let you go," Chris says. The ache in his chest is sudden and awful. He almost wishes he hadn't called.

"I'll call you tomorrow," Ryan murmurs.

"Yeah, okay." Chris says and hangs up before he says anything he might regret.

The show is great.

For the most part, it's great.

The hotels are top notch, and the gear, and the food is fantastic. The guys are nice, too, especially now that he's a veteran, and the owner of an ERA under 2.0. It's everything his last trip to the bigs wasn't, and everything he wanted it to be. And he's grateful for it, really grateful, so much that sometimes he can't even express how much he appreciates what's happened to him this year. He sounds like an idiot when reporters ask him about it, but he doesn't care; he's grateful that there are even reporters asking him anything.

But sometimes, alone in his hotel room, Ryan will lie on his back on the high-end mattress and curl his arm around a pillow and think about Chris's weight against him, Chris's voice in his ear.

He watches Ryan every chance he gets, going back to archived games on his computer, when he has to miss them live. Watching Ryan on television, Chris develops a new sympathy for his ex-wife and the other wives and girlfriends he's met over the years. The guys complain about them, sometimes, even the guys who aren't cheating on them, about how they call all the time and want to come along on road trips and text constantly. "It's like, okay," Chris remembers hearing Chris Denorfia saying last year as they were making the final run to the playoffs (a run they would ultimately lose to the Giants, which Chris thinks is both ironic and awesome, now that he's ostensibly a Giant). "I miss you, too," Denorfia had said, imitating his end of a phone call with his imaginary girlfriend. "But can you stop fucking calling me all the time? I'm trying to work!" The clubhouse had erupted in knowing laughter, Chris's included. He'd had that very same conversation with his wife a hundred times, about how she was making unreasonable demands on his time and she needed to chill because he had to focus.

Now, though, watching the games, Chris feels bad for all of those conversations. Not that he was wrong, necessarily, but now he knows what it's like to watch the person you're with (the person you love?) succeed or fail in close up and not be able to talk to him. He takes to leaving his phone in the bathroom so that he doesn't text Ryan constantly while he's watching the games, even if he's watching after the game is over. But he wants to. Seeing Ryan on the screen, even just in flashes in the dugout, makes his fingers itch and his heart sink. Ryan is out there, on television, announcers saying his name. What could he possibly want with Chris? What could Chris possibly offer?

Once, after a tough loss, watching Ryan pitch to the Mets, he's so desolate that he calls his ex.


"Hey Annie, it's me."

"I know who it is. What's up?"

"I, um..." but that's all he's got. What's he supposed to tell her, that he's dating a baseball player for the first time and now he gets it, now he understands those late night calls and how she would sometimes cry on the phone? That he's sorry he didn't care more, before? "How're things?"

Her sigh is short and annoyed. "They're fine. Did you want to talk to Jason, because he's at my mom's."

"No," he says, and then realizes how that sounds, like he doesn't want to talk to his own son. "I mean, yeah, I would, but it's okay. I'll talk to him later."

"Okay. Bye Chris."

"Wait!" Chris blurts.

"Yeah?" she says. He can imagine her standing in their old apartment, one hand on her hip, her eyebrows lifted in annoyance. She hasn't lived in that apartment for years. She has a house on a quiet street a few blocks from her mother. Chris has never seen it.

"It's just. I'm sorry about things," he says. "You know, about how things happened."

"Jesus," Annie says. "I'm seeing someone, okay?"

For a second he doesn't understand what she means, then he gets it. "Oh, um--"

"Thanks for calling," she says, and her voice is a little softer now. "Thanks, you know, for the apology. That's nice of you. But ... anyway, I've gotta go."

"Okay," Chris says. "Bye."

She hangs up without saying goodbye. Chris sets the phone down on the cushion next to him and watches Ryan strike a guy out with a strike just off the outside corner, pure paint. After a minute, he gets up and puts the phone in the bathroom.

Chris's phone rings in the middle of the night, the normal ringtone but the only person who calls him this late is Ryan, so he rolls over and answers it.

"Hey, baby."

"Hey, um, is this Chris Stewart?" The voice is male and young and formal and strangely familiar.

"Yeah, yes. Um, yes." Chris sits straight up in bed, pulling the sheet over his lap. ""Who's this?"

"Chris, this is Paul Yount from the Giants front office. We'd like you to come to San Francisco tomorrow."

For a second, Chris doesn't understand the words. They're English, he knows they're English, but they do not make sense.


"What? Yes! I--yes, I can be there by, um, ten."

"Be here at eight," Paul Yount says, and hangs up.

End, Part II

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