The ball ricochets off the bat and into Buster's mask before he can even blink, let alone flinch. For a second, the world goes gray, and then everything comes back into focus and Buster checks the field. Foul ball. No one's moving.
Buster lifts the mask and rubs his eyes.
"You alright, kid?" The ump, leaning down, his eyes concerned behind his own mask. Umps always get it.
"Yeah." Buster digs his thumb into the corner of his eye. He's not. His face is numb and his jaw already aches. But there's one out and a man on first and Maddy's finally got some heat on the mound, and Buster's not going to kill the momentum waiting for Whiteside to get suited up. "I'm good," he says. "Let's go."
He's dropping the sign to Bumgarner when he sees a flicker of motion over at first. Huff, touching his belt, then his thigh, then his belt again. Runner's gonna go.
Sonofabitch, Buster thinks. He doesn't blame the kid--he'd go, too, if the opposing catcher just got dinged in the head--but it's still a pain in the ass. He signs Maddy, and then the ball's in his glove and he's up and throwing to second.
Bumgarner strikes out the batter easy and Buster's getting the signal that he's done before he's even to the dugout steps.
"Just precautionary," Boch says, slapping him on the shoulder as he goes by. Buster nods. He knows. And even if it weren't, he wouldn't care. His head's killing him.
There's a barrage of people after that: players, coaches, trainers, all wanting to see how he's doing, if he's okay. He will be, is the verdict, which he passes on to Kristen as soon as he gets a chance to call her. "You sure, sweets?" she says, and her voice is like a warm blanket curling around his shoulders. He closes his eyes.
"Yeah," he says. "I'm off tomorrow, too. It'll be fine."
As he hangs up, his phone dings. Text. COMING UP, K?
Y, Buster answers and opens the door of the hotel room, leaving it ajar and going to lie on the bed. Tim has been spending a lot of time in his room, these last few road trips. Buster's not sure how his room became the default when Tim has an equally nice hotel room of his very own on these road trips, but somehow it did. They make out sometimes--"taking it slow" Tim calls it--but mostly they just hang out, watching crappy television and talking about unimportant things.
Buster thinks that's a little funny. Most of the guys he's been with (which makes it sound like a hundred, but it's really more like a dozen. At most. Probably) have been fast. Not exactly "wam, bam, thank you, man," but once everyone understands what's going down it...goes down.
But he and Tim have been on the same page for a month, now, and haven't got past second base. Like the rest of the line-up, Buster thinks and chuckles to himself.
"What's so funny?"
Buster opens his eyes. Lincecum, in soft cotton pants and a long-sleeved shirt and one of his stupid knit hats, like he's about to go join a jam band. Buster smiles at him.
"No?" Tim crawls up on to the bed, his knees on either side of Buster's thighs, his hands pressed into the mattress next to Buster's head. "You look like shit, man," he says.
Buster laughs again, even though it makes his head hurt. "I got hit in the face with a baseball," he says. "You do that and we can talk."
"Facemask," Tim says. "You got hit in the facemask."
"Fuck you," Buster says affectionately, and closes his eyes. It's an invitation, and Tim recognizes it right away, leaning down and brushing his mouth gently along Buster's cheekbone to his ear.
"You alright?" Tim whispers. His breath sends a shiver down Buster's spine.
He feels Tim smile against his cheek, then the gentle pressure of Tim's teeth on his earlobe. "Excellent."
Tim's tongue is warm and wet and slides down Buster's neck in one smooth motion like Tim's gliding down a hill. Then Tim settles back--Buster feels his weight shift--and the next thing he knows, Tim's hands are on his belt.
"Hey!" Buster yelps, sitting up. He regrets it immediately: it feels like someone jabbed a fork into his left eye.
"What?" Tim asks. He hasn't taken his hands off Buster's belt.
Buster doesn't know what to say. Stop? No, he doesn't want Tim to stop. "Nothing," he says. "You just surprised me is all."
Tim rolls his eyes. "Lie down."
Buster lies back down. He resists the urge to throw an arm over his eyes. His belt is off in a second, and his pants are open, and Tim is sliding down his body, pushing his shirt up and his briefs down (not enough, Buster thinks, wiggling), and Tim's tongue is on his stomach, below his belly button and moving lower in hot wet circles.
Buster won't remember the next fifteen minutes with any coherence later. He knows that Tim moves gently, slowly, until Buster's thighs are trembling and his cock feels like it's ten feet long. Tim seems to barely touch him, but somehow he's everywhere, his mouth, the tips of his fingers. Buster holds his breath so long, waiting, anticipating, that he gets light-headed.
And then Tim curls his hand and his tongue around Buster's cock and Buster can't help it, he's shouting--"oh, Tim, ohmygod, Tim, fuck, Tim"--and it seems to last forever, his back arched, legs shaking, eyes screwed closed.
When he opens them--when he can finally breathe again--Tim is lying on his side next to Buster's hip, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He's still wearing the stupid hat. He stops when he sees Buster looking at him. "Feel better?"
Buster groans. He cannot answer that question. He flips Tim off instead.
"That's the last get-well-soon blow job I ever give you, man." Tim slides up until he's lying next to Buster on the pillow, his eyes opening and closing slowly. He's just given Buster the blowjob of his life and now he's dozing off. Unbelievable.
"You're unbelievable," Buster says. He means it both ways.
Tim smiles with his eyes shut. Although he's close, they're not actually touching until Tim reaches out blindly and puts his hand squarely on Buster's where it rests on his chest. His fingers curl loosely into Buster's. Buster squeezes back. His headache is gone.