August 2007

I was telling Hal that I wanted to write a long, porny, J2 AU, and she said, "sports story." At least she beta'ed it for me, too.

"Don't tell me about the world. Not today. It's springtime and they're knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball." - Pete Hamill

And It's a Whole New Ball Game

by Kest

The guy's old and lined and the uniform hangs on his tiny frame. "Padalecki?"

Jared shields his eyes over the brim of his hat and nods. Jared thinks he's the third base coach, and you'd think he'd know this shit, ready for the opportunity, but it happened so fast he barely had time to fantasize before the call came.

"When'd you get in?"

"An hour ago," Jared says, but the coach is already scanning players spread out over the field, tossing balls and practicing swings in groups of three and four.

"Ackles," he calls, and the guy catching for Sturgis -- Jared recognizes the pitcher at least, which he should since he's first in the rotation and makes eight million a year -- comes over.

"Yeah," Ackles says, and gives Jared a brief once over.

"Warm up Padalecki then we'll take him over to the mound, see what he's got." And just as quickly as he came into it, Jared's out of his radar again, just another green pitcher called up by the organization to squeak through the tail end of a dismal season.

"Jared," Jared says to the catcher, as the coach walks away. Ackles squints up at him and doesn't say anything. "Uh, my name," Jared says.

"Yeah, I got that," Ackles says, and Jared can't tell if he's laughing at him or just doesn't give a shit. He heads for an unclaimed patch of green and Jared follows, glad that everyone is completely uninterested in his presence and he can work through his nerves without all those eyes on him.

Ackles doesn't say anything else, just tosses Jared a ball and crouches into catching stance. Jared walks the yardage away, fingering the ball. He's been doing this since he was seven, never thought a ball would feel weird in his hand, but it's like the weight's all wrong; it feels small and foreign and his fingers slip a little when he grips it.

The first pitch he sends over is a shaky lob. Jared sees the raised eyebrow even behind Ackles' mask, but Ackles just throws it back and doesn't say anything. Jared grips the ball in his glove. He's been playing double-A since high school, for christ's sake, and maybe this is a huge step up, but it's still just a step.

The next one is better. They go at it about ten minutes, then Ackles stands up with the ball, pushes back his mask, and comes over. Jared's been trying to place him, figures he'd know if he was a starter, but at least he caught like he knew what he was doing. Then again, even the batboys could've caught what he was throwing.

"Where'd you come up from?" Ackles asks. The mask's left a red indentation on his forehead.

"Bowie," Jared answers.

"Pretty short drive from here." Jared doesn't know what to say to that so he just watches the ball as Ackles tosses it back and forth between his glove and his hand.

Ackles squints at the sun, scans the field like he's looking for something or someone; his eyes come back to Jared's abruptly. "Jared, my grandmother's got a speedier fastball than you."

Jared flushes. Ackles is looking at him, question in his eyes but no particular derision, just like he's trying to determine what the hell kind of ball they played in Bowie.

"Nerves, I guess."

"Yeah?" Ackles asks, and again Jared can't tell if he's laughing at him. "Nothing to be nervous about." He tosses Jared the ball. "Though if you fuck up on the mound at least it's not far back home, right?"

He walks back and crouches again, holds his glove up as if to say, come on, send some shit over.

So Jared turns it on, the first one cracking into Ackles' glove like it was tethered there. He knows it was over 90, and he grins a little when Ackles shakes out his glove hand and tosses the ball back.

A few more like that then the third base coach is calling his name. "Gettin' there, Padalecki," Ackles says under his breath as they walk over to the mound, and then the third base coach is introducing Jared to the guy next to him, who's just as lined and grey-streaked and stooped, but his eyes move over Jared sharply.

"Sid, pitching coach," is how he's introduced, and Jared holds out his hand. Sid has a strong, wiry handshake, and he doesn't let go of Jared's hand right away but turns it over to look at his palm, examining his grip, and Jared feels a little like a horse on display. Sid doesn't say anything about what he sees in Jared's hand when he lets it go and waves Ackles over to home plate. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-two," Jared says.

"First time up?" he says, and Jared nods. "Just send over a few softies first, then I want a run-through of what you've got." He walks off to stand with the third base coach about halfway to home plate.

Left alone on the mound, Jared looks down at Ackles, who's got his mask back on and glove in position. It's the same distance he's used to but it seems miles longer to home plate, and Jared just fools with the ball in his glove until he sees Ackles give him a little thumbs up sign, which makes him feel better.

He does well, not as great as at the end of the warm-up, but Sid doesn't seem pissed or disappointed or anything when he comes over. The rest of the guys head into the locker room, but Sid keeps him up on the mound, checking out his grip on the ball and moving fingers around, muttering a little to himself as he has Jared try out a new grip in the wind-up that doesn't feel too bad.

By the time Sid lets him go Jared realizes Ackles has gone, and he's not in the locker room, either, so he can't even thank him. There are only a few guys left and they nod at Jared when he stashes his glove and uniform back in the locker with his street clothes. A couple even introduce themselves, names he knows and follows and never figured on meeting in person, but they seem like regular guys, nice, even, and when he leaves the locker room for the bright pavement of the parking lot, he thinks, yeah, he can do this.


He's got seventeen messages on his cell phone when he checks into the hotel room they put him up in even though his apartment is less than an hour away. Mostly the guys from Bowie, just quick calls telling him to watch his nuts and they hope they won't see him again anytime soon; a couple from his agent already planning out contract renegotiations. One from Sandy which makes him smile, because not every girlfriend would be so cool with him being on the road half the season but Sandy just takes it in stride. A message from Chad to tell him they're out of beer and to pick some up, because Chad has no clue what goes on in his life.

The last one's from his dad, and he calls him back first. His mom picks up and he can hear the happiness in her voice, all sunshine and relief that he hasn't been whittling away his life in the minors after all, and Jared doesn't even have to say anything, she just carries the conversation with a tally of all the relatives she's talked to in the last six hours. Finally she hands the phone to his dad, and he just says, "Jared," like all the pride he's ever felt in his own life just got passed down to his son.

Jared knows this is a Big Deal for him, because his dad played ball, second base for Houston, and he's been dreaming about this since Jared shot up in the ninth grade and just kept growing. It's not like it's not a big deal for Jared, too, because he's wanted this, planned his life around it, but it's not every day you get to make your parents this thoroughly happy and Jared revels in it a little.

When he hangs up with them he doesn't feel like talking to anyone else. The hotel room's nice and right across from the ballpark. He's got a view of the harbor, even. He watches people walk by, in and around the shops and along the water like brightly colored ants. He feels weird in his skin, like he's just stepped into this huge yawning world he knows nothing about, which he has, and it scares him a little, because it's not about him anymore. It's about everyone who wants things from him, for him.

When he picks up his phone, Sandy answers with, "Hey, baby," all warm and happy and nothing weird in her voice because he's in the big leagues now, whatever that means. She doesn't even hesitate when he says he doesn't want to talk about it, just wants to hear about her day and the sound of her voice.


Even without checking the scoreboard Jared knows they're losing; the crowd's restless, half the seats empty, and the relief pitchers are slumped on the bench waiting for the desperation subs.

He's got the bullpen door cracked to see what he can, which is about half the field. Ackles comes over to watch with him. Jared snuck a look at the name on his locker before warm-ups, but he's never heard of Jensen Ackles.

"You know you don't have to actually watch the games," Jensen says, and Jared figures by now he's just teasing.

"Don't you want to win?"

Jensen shrugs. "Half the team's overweight, all of them are overpaid, and the owner's a fuckwad. Losing's the one thing we do well."

Jared can't tell if he's serious. He turns back to the game. Namoff, the shortstop, is up. He takes two strikes on weak-ass fastballs then pops a curveball to right field, out of Jared's line of vision. "How long have you been with the club?"

"Traded from St. Louis last year."

Jared wonders if that's why the other players seem to avoid Jensen in the locker room, if he's still got that new guy smell, though they've been nice enough to Jared so far. They're polite to Jensen, just not friendly, though Jensen hasn't struck Jared as the world's most outgoing guy, either.

"So what, you're just here for all the green pitchers that come through?"

"Someone's gotta teach you how to throw a ball." Jensen whistles low when Moreno sends a grounder to third that squeaks through, then adds, "Caught for Gutierrez before he blew out his shoulder. Which is why you're here, by the way."

Jared rolls his shoulder in sympathy. Sid's got some freak radar for when Jared's slacking off, his voice like a bullhorn whenever Jared takes anything off his pitches.

The third baseman pops up with two runners stranded, and the crowd's restlessness picks up in the changeover. People stream out to get food, more beer, beat the traffic home.

He glances at Jensen. "Where're you from?"

"Dallas," Jensen says, and Jared grins.

"No shit. San Antonio."

A smile tugs at the corners of Jensen's mouth. "I kind of figured you for Texas."

"Yeah?" Jared's grin turns on himself, and he ducks his head. "So where's your accent?"

"Hell, I've been traded so much I don't know where I'm from," Jensen answers, but he doesn't sound bitter, just stating a fact.

"Where before St. Louis?"

Jensen cocks his head as if tallying it up. "Detroit, and before that Minnesota for a couple of years. Started out drafted by L.A. after a year at Arizona State."

"Shit," Jared says, because you have to either really suck or be a diva princess to be traded that often. "You trying to hit every team before you're thirty?"

That earns him a laugh. "Yeah, something like that."

Jensen's called over by Sid to warm up a reliever for the next inning, and Jared watches the game. Pomeroy's looking shaky up on the mound, pitches off the mark, then he throws an absolute gopher to the DH, who sends it out of the park.

They end up losing by six. The crowd boos as it trickles out of the stands.

"Welcome to the big leagues," Jensen says, clapping him on the shoulder as they head across the field.


They've got a seven day road trip, three-game series at Kansas City then Toronto for another three. Sid wants to work on his curveball so they fly to Kansas City a day after the rest of the team, and Jared wishes he'd known Sid was a nervous flyer because as fearless as Sid is when he's telling Jared everything he's doing wrong, the guy has a deathgrip on Jared's forearm the entire three-hour flight.

They get to the hotel -- all glass and marble and soft leather couches, like Buicks to Porsches from sleeping on the road in double-A -- and Sid checks them in. There are a couple of guys in the lounge and Jared returns their waves, shoulders the jibes he still gets 'cause he's green and is probably gaping like a wahoo at the surroundings.

They're all harmless, though, and they won today. Everyone's in a good mood.

Sid comes back. "Hotel's booked. Some orthodontist convention," he says, like he can't figure out why orthodontists would want to have conventions. "I gotta put you in with one of the guys."

"Sure," Jared says, surprised Sid thinks it might be an issue. He's always bunked with roommates on the road, knows most of the guys prefer it.

"Most everyone's settled," Sid says. "Okay if I put you in with Ackles?"

"That's fine," Jared says, and wonders if Jensen's a slob or a secret asshole that no one else is rooming with him.

Sid looks a little relieved. He hands Jared a keycard and gives him the room number. Jared shoulders his bag, waves off the bellhop, and heads for the elevator.

Jensen's not a slob, at least not in hotel rooms. He's reading a book when Jared comes in and dumps his stuff on the other bed, returns Jared's "Hey" amiably enough.

"Heard we won today," Jared says.

"Yeah. Sealy got a sweet one in the fourth, two men on. And K.C.'s pitcher went completely bugfuck when Gomez plowed one an inch from his nose, had to be pulled off the mound. Kinda funny, really."

"What time's tomorrow's game?"

"Practice at ten, game starts at one." Jensen turns back to his book.

Jared sits on the bed, fingers the TV remote but thinks it might be rude while Jensen's reading. Back in Bowie he used to bunk with the shortstop, small guy who was great half the time and erupted in spit-filled rages the rest; they put Jared in with him because even Hejduk would think twice about taking him on. He only blew up once on the road, took a bat to the TV before Jared got it out of his hands, and all that because it was emitting some kind of whine that interrupted his magazine reading.

Jared doesn't think Jensen's the type to go batshit over something like that, but it's not like he knows for sure. He grabs his coat. "I'm heading down to the lounge, see what the guys are up to. You in?"

"Nah," Jensen says. He looks up as Jared opens the door. "Curfew's midnight. And they will kick your ass back to Bowie if you miss it."

"Yeah, thanks," Jared says. He pauses in the doorway. "Kinda sweet you're all worried about me," he says, and grins at Jensen's startled laugh before it's cut off by the door.

Jared finds a group of guys down at the lounge, Gomez and Konopka and Soumare, and it turns out they're heading for some place Soumare knows across town. They're cool with him tagging along, Gomez buys him a beer and doesn't believe that he's legal until Jared produces a driver's license, then they all rib him for being so freaking earnest about it. Jared's having a good time, the guys are great, and he doesn't get the stares the rest of them do because in this world he's still a non-entity and he's cool with that for now.

Then Konopka almost gets into a fight with some monstrous biker guy who has, like, ten tattoos and probably a knife, but they all pull him off and stuff him into the cab before he can do more than scream back some obscenities.

On the ride home, Gomez turns to him and says, "You rooming with Ackles?" At Jared's nod, he spits to the side and ignores the cab driver's glare. "Better watch your ass," he says, and Soumare laughs from the front seat.

Before Jared can ask what the hell that's about, they're back at the hotel and Gomez and Soumare are heaving a drunk Konopka up to his room.

The lights are off when he opens the door to his room. He tries to be quiet -- he's only had a couple of drinks and it takes a lot more than that to get him drunk, but the curtains are drawn and the room's like a freaking cave. He trips over the desk in the corner and it rocks back, hitting the wall.

A light comes on over the far bed. Jensen's looking at him sleepily. "You smell like the butt-end of an ashtray."

"I feel like one," Jared says and collapses back on the bed. He's not drunk but he's buzzing, and it feels good to lie down. "Konopka nearly took out this biker dude who had a freaking knife."

Jensen rubs at his eyes. "You gotta watch out for Darryl, he can be a mean motherfucker when he drinks."

"Yeah, no kidding." Jared finally moves, grabs a t-shirt and clean boxers from his bag and starts stripping off smoke-saturated clothes that he tosses in the chair next to the desk. He finds his toothbrush and heads for the bathroom, splashes his face and brushes his teeth, hair smelling like smoke but he's too tired for a shower. When he gets back, Jensen's left the light on but is rolled on his side like he's sleeping.

Jared pulls back the comforter and yanks sheets from the edges of the bed; even in hotels like this the beds are too small. "Jensen," he tests, and gets a grunt in return. "What's up with you and the other guys?"

He doesn't think Jensen's going to answer, but then Jensen says, "What do you mean?"

"You know, the way they don't talk to you. And Cahill gives you some weird freaking looks in the locker room. What, did some buddy of theirs get traded when you came in?"

He hears a slow exhalation from Jensen, but by the time Jensen turns over he's got a look on his face that seems practiced. "Some shit went down in St. Louis I'm still getting fallout from."

"A year later?" Jared says skeptically.

"It's a tight-knit group, Jared. Players talk." Jared waits for him to elaborate, but Jensen just reaches up to flick off the light.

Jared unfolds himself into the bed, pushes the comforter down to his feet and wraps himself in sheets that smell like too much detergent.

"Night, Jensen," he says, but if Jensen answers he doesn't hear it.


They lose the next day, K.C. turning it on because they're two back in the wild card and the game actually means something to them. Jared hasn't done anything more than a little warm-up, another session with Sid, but he's dripping from the day's humidity and takes a shower in the locker room with the rest of the guys. He's standing at his locker, Jensen a few lockers down, when Cahill walks by Jensen and mutters faggot under his breath.

Jared looks over and Jensen's just standing there, putting his stuff away like he hadn't heard, but there's a bright spot on his cheek like a red wine stain.

By the time Jared's changed, Jensen's already left. He gets back to the hotel and Jensen's not in the room, either, so he unloads his stuff and turns on the TV, waiting, not sure if he should be out looking for him or something, if Cahill was just being an asshole.

He waits in the room for an hour then heads down to the lobby. Jensen's at the hotel bar with Chris, the team's starting catcher, and after a second's hesitation Jared walks over.

Chris gives him a little nod when he sits down. Jensen glances over, drinks from his glass of beer. "Hey, Jared," he says. "You know Chris?"

Jared holds out his hand and Chris slides off the bar stool to take it. "Hey, man," Jared says. "Don't think we were ever introduced."

"I'm about to talk Jen into dinner," Chris says. "You joining?"

Jared glances at Jensen, who shrugs. "Sure," Jared says.

The end up at the hotel restaurant, a little too white-tablecloth for Jared's comfort, but they get a table in back and Chris orders a bottle of wine. Jared drinks it even though he doesn't even like wine, but it's worth it to hear the shit Chris comes up with for conversation, every sentence beginning with, "So I was at this bar," or "I was with this girl in Savannah," or "There was this alligator." Jared's laughing and even Jensen's cracked a smile, and it doesn't matter that the food costs more than his per diem and is crappy to boot.

"So I hear you're gettin' a start in Toronto," Chris says to him, and Jared just stares. "About time I got a day off."

"Are you serious?" Sid hasn't said anything to him, but like most of the old guys he's weird about shit like that, all superstition and jinxes and playing close to the vest. The rest of what Chris said sinks in, and he looks at Jensen. "Does that mean...?"

"Yeah, guess so," Jensen says, but Jared can tell he's pleased to get back in the starting roster, if only for a game.

Chris takes off after dinner, says he's got an ass to kick at air hockey in the hotel game room, but the restaurant's only half full so Jared and Jensen stick around to finish off the rest of the second bottle of wine.

Jared wonders if Jensen's drunk enough that he can ask, or if he's just going to get his ass handed to him. He takes the plunge. "So what happened in St. Louis?"

Jensen looks at him over his glass, doesn't shift away from the question. "Blew the first baseman in the locker room after a game," he says.

"Shit," Jared says, not entirely surprised after Cahill's little outburst, but he didn't expect Jensen to admit it so baldly. He doesn't know if it's the wine, but he suddenly busts out laughing. "Are you fucking serious?"

Jensen's not laughing, but a grin tugs at his mouth. "Yeah."

"So what, did someone walk in on you or something?"

"Nah, he got cold feet after, told a couple of his buddies that I'd jumped him."

"Jesus," Jared says, shaking his head. "Smooth, Ackles."

"Yeah, well." Jensen looks away and finishes off the wine in his glass. "Pretty soon they were talking trade, so it's not like they could do anything else to me."

"Still, that's pretty shitty."

Jensen splits the rest of the wine in the bottle between their glasses. "Jared, that's Major League baseball."

Jensen insists on paying the check even though Jared knows he doesn't make much more than him, possibly even less since he has a pretty sweet developmental contract. Jensen says something about getting it out of Chris later. They go up to the room and Jared can't pretend it's not a little weird, hates himself for feeling weird, but the wine's wearing off and his roommate likes to blow guys in locker rooms.

"So this is going to be weird for you, right?" Jensen says, pretty much picking the words from Jared's head.

"No," Jared says, and Jensen gives him a look of tolerant disbelief. "It's not going to be weird," he says, and he makes himself mean it, because Jensen's probably the one friend he's got here and he's a decent guy, and he certainly doesn't deserve any extra shit from Jared.

"Yeah, okay," Jensen says, running a hand through his hair like he's already regretting saying anything. Then Jared calls bathroom dibs and he just says, "Hell, no," and beats him to the door.


Sid tells him after breakfast, and Jared thinks it's funny that Sid is the nervous one, but he's seen how Sid acts with the other pitchers, like they were his kids, so he doesn't mind being the one offering reassurance.

"I'm sending you and Ackles early, want you to get comfortable in the place. Check in with the stadium tomorrow. They should let you have the field for an hour or so." Sid looks like he's already rethinking the start, so Jared jumps in to say he's fine, his arm feels good, he's ready, and finally Sid lets him go with a promise that Jared will check in with him once the rest of the team gets there.

When he gets back to the room, Jensen's already packed. "Is there some secret code I don't know?" Jared asks.

Jensen tosses Jared's bag to him. "Sid likes to think he's being mysterious, but he's pretty predictable."

Jared's not nervous, that won't happen until game day, but he's pretty much wrapped up in his head, thinking about the start. Jensen must sense it because he gives him space, listens to his iPod as they wait in the airport lounge for their plane to get in. Jared drums his fingers on the armrest until Jensen grabs Jared's hand pointedly.

"Sorry," Jared says, and rubs his hands on his jeans to work out the jitters. He tries to read a magazine someone's left on the seat over, but it's like the most inane shit ever and out of date. "Do you remember your first start?"

Jensen pulls his earphones out and Jared can hear the twang of some indie faux rock. "What?"

"Your first start, do you remember?"

"I'm not, like, ancient or senile or anything."

"So how was it?"

Jensen sighs a little, and Jared can see he's thinking about being stuck babysitting the next couple of days. "L.A.'s catcher tore his ACL in the off-season so they called me up before the season started. I guess it was easier because I'd gotten to know the guys pretty well in spring training, but yeah, I was nervous, I guess. Caught a good game but my hitting was for shit. I didn't get my first one until about ten games in."

At least Jared won't have to bat against Toronto. "How'd the rest of the year go?"

"I batted like two-ten or something dismal, maybe fifty RBIs. They liked me all right, though. Did a pretty good stint in L.A. until they brought in some hotshot catcher, and, well."

Jensen just sort of trails off. Jared thinks maybe Jensen's trading history isn't the most reassuring model to focus on, considering Jared hasn't really made it on one team, yet.

At the stadium the next day for practice, he's pretty sure he won't get that far. Everything he throws is either two feet off the mark or slower than Atari pinball. Jensen lets him work it out, doesn't say anything, but after twenty minutes he comes over, exasperation all over his face.

"Jared, relax. Stop trying to push it. You know what you're doing up there, just freaking do it."

"Yeah, I know," Jared says, and he doesn't know what the hell's wrong with him, except he keeps picturing the expressions on the guys' faces if he fucks up and this huge stadium filled with people who are going to be rooting for him to fail.

"Stop," Jensen says. "Get out of your head, man."

Jared sighs and flexes his glove, wipes his forehead with the back of his hat. "You're not going to start talking about chakras and breathing through eyelids, are you?"

"I'm not going to feel up your nuts if that's what you're asking."

Jared grins. "Yeah, you're no Susan Sarandon."

"Didn't know you dug old chicks, Jay." Jensen tosses him the ball and starts walking back to the plate.

"I do when they look like Susan Sarandon," Jared calls after him, but Jensen just shakes his head and pulls down his mask and punches his glove when he squats down.

Jared gets about ten good pitches out of the morning, enough that Jensen calls it a day. He takes Jared to this place he knows for lunch, just a hole in the wall near the stadium but the burgers are the size of his head and the cheese fries almost make Jared get religion.

"My dad played for Houston," Jared says in response to whatever question Jensen just asked, he's not sure now because the cheese fries are that good. "So we went to games and stuff, met the other players, but he was never a big name and he was out by the time I was nine. So I guess I never really got much of a complex about being his kid."

"Is he cool about all this?" Jensen asks. "'Cause man, that's some serious pressure."

"Yeah, he's cool. Avid, but he lays off when my mom gets on him." Jared takes a bite of his burger. "You close to your parents?"

Jensen shrugs and snags one of Jared's cheese fries. "Pretty much. I mean, they're not thrilled by the whole gay thing, but we don't really talk about it. They're cool with everything else. My sister started school last year and she sends me these long-ass emails like I'm her diary, all college drama and whether or not she should try pot or have sex with this dweeb in her poli-sci class until I'm ready to fly out there and off the poor guy."

Jared thinks about Megan, who's been her own personal force of nature since she turned thirteen. "Yeah, I know what you mean." He eats another cheese fry. "Did you catch in Little League?"

Jensen shakes his head. "Not until high school. I was this seriously tiny dude -- " he glares when Jared starts laughing, " -- and they stuck me in the outfield until I finally hit a growth spurt."

"How traumatizing for you," Jared says, and Jensen throws the last cheese fry at him.

He realizes he hasn't even thought about the game in the last hour, and even forgives Jensen for wasting the last cheese fry.

The rest of the team's at the hotel when they get back. Jared checks in with Sid, who seems to have come to terms with letting his new pitcher out into the cold hard world and just tells Jared to get an early night.

Jensen's in the bathroom when he gets back to the room. Jared lies down on the bed and stares at the ceiling, wondering if sleep is a possibility or a pipe dream. The bathroom door opens, and Jensen's leaning in the doorway.

"Couple of things," Jensen says. "First thing is, no one's going to be shocked if you fuck up. It's pretty much expected. There's nothing riding on this game, we sure as hell aren't making the playoffs, and they just want to give you some experience to take into the off-season. And it's not like they're not going to give you a second chance, and a third, to prove you can do it."

"Oddly, that's not making me feel at all better," Jared says, and Jensen's teeth flash in a grin.

"Yeah, I know. Shut up. The second thing is, you're not going to fuck up. You're a good pitcher. You have the potential to be fucking awesome. If you go out there and do your thing, no way are you fucking up."

He turns out the light and gets into bed.

"Man, you deserve a medal for that speech," Jared says, and it's like he can feel Jensen's grin.


He gets the win. It's not at all a sure thing until the fifth, when Cahill of all people lands one in the left bleachers for three runs in. Jared gives up seven hits in the first three innings, two for runs, but he catches his stride in the fourth, Jensen signaling pitches like he's hooked into the batters' heads, and it's all strikes and grounders until Sid sends in the closer in the ninth.

The guys rib him even more if possible, all look at the next Greg Maddux and keep it up, pretty boy. Jared can't stop grinning. He shakes Jensen's hand like they just closed a deal, and Jensen's grinning, too, because he had a nice hit to start off the fifth and was one of the guys Cahill brought home.

He's riding high all the way to the hotel. He calls his dad in the bus, but it's too loud to hold any kind of conversation, so he just gives him a quick recap of the game even though his dad watched it on satellite. His dad tells him he's proud, that he looked good up there, and Jared can't put into words how that makes him feel, so he just says bye and that he'll call him later.

Back in the hotel room, he can't sit still. He finally drives Jensen out of the room when he asks for the third time if Jensen thought his curveball might have been a little off, maybe he should start working on that.

He calls Chad.

"Dude, where the fuck are you? You've been gone for, like, weeks."

"Toronto," Jared says. "Man, I left you a note. It's on the fridge."

There's a long pause, then he hears the creak of the linoleum floor as Chad goes into the kitchen, the whisper of paper as Chad pulls his note from the fridge door. "Yeah, okay. Jesus. What the fuck, Jared. Are you moving out now? Because this is the shittiest time of the year to find a new roommate."

"I'm not moving out. Chad, I got the win."

Chad sighs. "You know I don't know shit about baseball."

"Yeah, I know, that's why I love you."

"Yeah, fuck you, too," Chad says, and hangs up.

Jared closes his phone. A minute later, he's calling Sandy.

"I got the win," he says, and there's a short pause.

"Jared, that's great. Really great." And she sounds happy for him, but there's something off in her voice, and she can't seem to think of anything to add other than really great.

"Everything okay?" he asks, distracted for a second when Jensen opens the door to the room; Jared tries to gesture that it's okay, but Jensen must see something in his face because he just ducks back out.

"Yeah. Things are good."

"Uh-huh," Jared says, but he's thinking, what the fuck. Girls weren't supposed to dump you after you made it big.

"I think maybe we should talk when you get back," she says.

"Sure, we can do that," Jared says, but he knows they won't. Sandy's the easiest girl he's ever gone out with, and apparently break up with, in large part because they don't do things like that.

There's a long silence, then Sandy says, "Bye, Jared."

Jared turns his phone off completely.

He finds Jensen down in the hotel lounge. Jensen's got his glasses on and he's doing the crossword, and Jared wonders how it's possible that a professional ball player can look so much like a geek. He slides down on the couch next to him. "I don't understand women."

"Man, who does," Jensen says. He glances at Jared and chews on the end of his pencil, then puts the pencil down and sort of pats Jared on the head, like something Jared's mom would do.

"Dude," Jared says. He rubs at his eyes.

"Yeah, I know," Jensen says.


They close out the season at home. Jared gets another win and a no-decision when the closer breaks down against Boston, but management's happy, his agent's freaking ecstatic, and Sid pulls him aside after the last game and tells him to keep working in the off-season and that he'll see him in spring training.

The parking lot's almost deserted when Jared leaves the locker room. He sees Jensen across the lot, about to get into his car, and Jared gives a little wave to tell him to hold up and walks over. Jensen shuts the car door and leans against it.

"Man, wow," Jared says, running a hand through his hair and wishing he knew what to say. "Thanks. I mean, I know that's kind of inadequate and all, but thanks."

Jensen shakes his head. "Forget it," he says, and Jared can tells he's a little embarrassed. "They bringing you back next year?"

"Yeah, looks like. We'll see what they end up doing with my contract."

"You have a good agent?"

Jared thinks about Mia, who can be a pain in the ass but she generally looks out for him. "Yeah, pretty good."

Jensen nods and looks out over the parking lot, hands in his pockets as he leans against the car.

"You have far to go?" Jared asks.

"I live in the city, so, no. You heading back to Bowie?"

Jared nods. Jensen looks like he's ready to get out of there, fingering his car keys, so Jared says, "So give me your number at least, we can get together in the off-season."

Jensen looks surprised, but he says, "Yeah, okay." He takes Jared's phone and programs his number in, then hands it back. "I kinda suck at this whole good-bye thing, so I'm just gonna get going."

Jared grins. "Yeah, sounds good. See you," and Jensen nods and gets into his car.

Jared drives back to Bowie with the window down; he doesn't feel deflated, exactly, just a little sorry the season's over, and the blast of air through the window is grounding. When he gets back to the apartment, Chad looks up from the couch.

"Man, you couldn't even pick up a pizza?"

Jared throws the phone at him to call delivery.


He gives it a week before calling Jensen. "Man, the post-season sucks."

"Tell me about it," Jensen says, with feeling.

Jensen knows a good place for seafood, so he gives Jared directions to meet him at his place; he lives across the harbor from the stadium, all red brick townhouses and restaurants and gourmet kitchen shops on hill-stretched streets overlooking the water. There's only street parking and the streets are packed, and Jared ends up driving around the block for ten minutes before someone finally pulls out.

Jensen's place is nice, and it's the only one on the block that doesn't have flower pots in the window. Jensen answers the door in jeans and a faded zip-necked pullover. He's got a couple days worth of stubble and is wearing this beat-up baseball cap, not even a team hat but something you'd get from the Gap or Abercrombie or something.

"Man, you look like shit," Jared says, and he gets one of Jensen's startled laughs.

"Yeah, my neighbor's dog's been yapping under my window every morning the last week. I've been sleeping for shit."

"Your neighbor has a dog?" Jared says, and Jensen catches the look in his eye.

"I'm not going to introduce you to the fucking dog, Jared." He grabs his keys and wallet from the table next to the front door and locks it behind them.

The place is just down the street, and it turns out it's this seafood market that takes up most of a block. It's packed, crowds congregating around vendors and in the aisles, and Jared shoulders past them as he follows Jensen down to the end. The smell of fish is everywhere, but it's fresh fish, and smells kind of like the beach.

Jensen picks up a couple of bottles of beer from a vendor then leads Jared to a seafood bar set up in the corner, where they get a pound of steamed shrimp and some sushi.

"Man, they put this shit on everything," Jensen bitches, scraping off the seasoning that comes on the shrimp. Jared kind of likes it. His hands are covered in it, but he just licks it off and wipes them on a huge stack of napkins.

"You been catching any games?"

"Saw Boston put the low-down on Anaheim last night, and man, that was a sweet catch at the end." Jensen drinks his beer. "But mostly it just pisses me off to be watching and not playing, so not so much."

"Been doing anything else?"

Jensen shrugs. "Just frying my brain in front of the TV and not thinking about baseball. You?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Jared says. "Chad invited the girls from downstairs up, and they don't even like him, because no one likes Chad, but it turned into this big thing with people and beer and crap everywhere, and someone puked in my bed, no kidding."

"Thanks for the play-by-play, Jay," Jensen says, but already he looks more relaxed and less like a vivarin addict.

Jensen's got Syriana and Mystic River and some foreign thing out on DVD, so they head back to his place after finishing off the shrimp. Jared votes for Mystic River because he's already seen Syriana and he's not that into subtitles, though when he reads the description of the foreign film he kind of regrets his choice, since it seems to be all about French chicks making out.

Halfway through the movie, Jensen falls asleep. He's curled up in the corner of the couch, knees pulled up and his head on the armrest, and his hat's pushed back to reveal hair flattened in all kinds of crazy angles. Jared carefully lifts it the rest of the way off and puts it on the coffee table.

He takes their empty beer bottles into the kitchen. Jensen's got a nice place, narrow with an exposed brick wall and hardwood floors, and he's ridiculously tidy. The kitchen looks like he doesn't even use it. Jared washes out the bottles and leaves them on the counter next to the sink.

When he gets back, Jensen wakes up a little. "What'd I miss?" he says, confused and sleepy.

"All the stuff where they join the Jim Rose circus," Jared says, and Jensen blinks. "Go back to sleep, man. I'm just gonna hang and finish the movie," he says, because he is actually interested in how it turns out.

Jensen falls back asleep in the middle of nodding. Jared watches the movie, wonders how it is that Sean Penn is fucking cool in everything, because you'd think the guy would have a couple of dud films. He turns the TV off when it's over and leaves Jensen a note on a pad of paper he finds in the kitchen, tells him that the IMAX theater is showing something on deep sea expeditions and he'll pick him up tomorrow at two.

Chad's out when he gets back to the apartment. There's a game still going on and Jared watches it for a while, but Jensen's right, it does sort of piss him off not to be out there, so he turns it off in the seventh inning when Boston goes up by three.


The deep sea thing is awesome, and it takes Jared a few minutes to adjust to the world above water when they get out. They end up walking along the harbor; it's a nice day, cool, and lots of other people are out walking around.

"Okay, biggest influence," Jensen says.

"Baseball?" Jared asks. Jensen gives him a yeah, dumbass look, so Jared thinks. "Player or coach?"

"Either," Jensen says.

"Okay, but you're totally going to get the wrong idea." Jensen raises an eyebrow. "My older brother played in high school so we'd go to his games, and one of the pitchers on his team -- I don't know, he always had this look like he was completely focused but not there at the same time, you know? Like pitching opened up this whole other world for him and he was addicted to it. In a good way, not a heroin way. And it made me think that pitching might be worth trying to be good at, like there was something more there than just throwing a ball for someone to hit."

Jensen's quiet a moment. "Aw, Jared, you had a boy crush."

Jared laughs and ducks his head. "Whatever, man. I said you'd get the wrong idea. So, my turn to mock your lame-ass story."

"I was just gonna say Lou Whitaker and Sandy Alomar. I didn't know you were going to get all deep on me."

"Asshole," Jared says, and Jensen gives him a push, but they're not close enough to the water, and besides, Jared's got four inches on him.

After a bit they head back to Jared's car. Chad's making him double-date with the girls downstairs, who still don't like Chad so Jared's not sure how he talked them into that.

"So, Chris has this thing tomorrow night," Jensen says. "His band's playing over in Canton."

"Chris has a band? Seriously?"

"Yeah, just something he fucks around with in the off-season." Jensen rubs the back of his head, looks out over the water like he's suddenly uncertain. "You in?"

"Is he any good?" Jared asks, and Jensen laughs.

"Good enough for your lame taste in music. I'm heading out around nine, so just come over."

"Sure, yeah," Jared says, and Jensen gives him a little wave as he walks back to his townhouse.

The double-date's okay; it turns out the girls follow baseball, which is how Chad got them to go out with them. It's not terrible, even when they're going on at the restaurant about watching him the end of the season, and some people hear them and look over and act like they recognize him, too, even though they probably don't have a clue.

Jared thinks this is exactly the kind of benefit he should be able to enjoy, but he never really gets past embarrassment.

The one he seems to be paired up with is Kristen, and she's sweet with caramel-colored hair. He walks her to her door, which is obviously her rommate's door as well, but Chad ditched them at the stairs because he thinks women actually like that kind of behavior.

"Sorry we sort of fangirled you all night," Kristen says, as Jenna slips past them into the apartment.

"Yeah, I'm really struggling with the hero worship," Jared teases, and she smiles. She's standing there awkwardly, so he kisses her on the cheek and says goodnight, and wonders why he didn't get her number at least.

"Man, I thought she'd put out for you, big baseball player and all," Chad says when he gets upstairs. "Did you even try?"

"Maybe I'm not an asshole," Jared says, and Chad rolls his eyes.


It turns out Chris's band is pretty good, though not really Jared's type of music. He makes conversation with Jensen for a bit, but he can see Jensen's really into the band so he just drinks his beer and checks out the place. They're in the one bar in Canton that hasn't gone trendy, though there are some college kids mixed in with the good old boys and the bar has Blue Moon on tap, so it's probably just a matter of time.

Chris comes over after the set and slings an arm around Jensen. He's sweaty, satiated, and Jared wonders if music and catching go together somehow, if Chris keeps them separate in his head or if it's all seasonal.

"Boys, you hangin' out?" Chris says. "'Cause we're heading across the street to the club."

Jensen looks like he's about to pass, so Jared kicks him under the table. "Jensen, come on."

The club's tiny and upstairs from this dive bar that's packed with twenty-somethings watching a boxing match. It's hot up there, music blaring and wall to wall people and a rickety wooden dance floor that hasn't dissuaded anyone from getting out there, but that's probably because there's nowhere else to stand.

It's absolutely Jared's type of music, and he'd get out there if he didn't look like such a moron when he danced.

"Dude, it's Fergie," Jensen says. He leans back against an empty patch of bar and drinks the beer Chris handed him before he disappeared. Jared drinks his like water, it's that hot up there.

"You are a serious snob," Jared says, and he has to shout above the music.

"And that's bad?" Jensen says, also shouting.

They can't hold a conversation, so Jared just drinks his beer and watches the people out on the dance floor. Video screens are flashing along the walls, not even music videos but weird shit, all abstract and probably deeply meaningful, except like Jensen said, it's Fergie.

A girl comes over to Jensen, who ducks his head to hear what she's saying. Jared can't hear them but he's kind of curious what Jensen does in those situations, because it's not like Jensen is ugly. And who knows, maybe he dates girls, too. But Jensen's just talking to her, nodding every once in a while at whatever she's saying. Then she pulls him out to the dance floor and Jared catches the look on Jensen's face, deer in the headlights before he follows her, and then Jared starts cracking up because man, he thought he looked bad on a dance floor.

"Fuck off," Jensen says when he gets back, sweat-soaked and disgruntled, but Jared can't stop laughing.

"Man, why would you even do that to yourself?"

"Seriously, can we get out of here now?" Jensen says, and Jared can tell he's pissed. Jared's just wishing he thought to pull his camera phone out, because that had been priceless.

Jensen's quiet on the ride back to his place. They're almost there when Jensen's eyes flick over. "What," he says, and Jared realizes he's been staring at him the last few minutes.

"Sorry," Jared says, and looks back at the window. He's buzzing, the beer hitting him harder than expected, but he really pounded that last one. "Can I hang at your place a couple hours? I probably shouldn't be driving."

"You can crash if you want," Jensen says. "There's a bed in the other bedroom."

"Yeah, sounds good. Thanks."

They get inside and Jensen throws his keys in the direction of the coffee table. "Just, you know, make yourself at home and all that. I'm gonna shower."

Jensen disappears upstairs and Jared searches for and finds the remote. He catches the recap of the game on ESPN, St. Louis closing out L.A., then wanders into the kitchen on the tail end of realizing he's ravenous.

He finds a half-full carton of chinese that smells all right, a jar of peanut butter, which throws him because he'd never known anyone to keep peanut butter in the fridge; cheese that's not wrapped in individual slices, but Jared grabs it anyway, and an open can of peach slices. There's bread on the counter and a bag of tomatoes, so Jared gets out a plate and starts piling food on.

Jensen comes into the kitchen smelling like soap. He's wearing frayed sweatpants and a t-shirt, and he eyes Jared's mini-feast.

"You don't mind, do you?" Jared asks, and Jensen shakes his head.

"No, man, course not. Just that -- Jesus, Jared. Eclectic food tastes much?"

Jared laughs and puts the plate in the middle of the small table pushed up against the kitchen wall. "I'll even share," he says, and Jensen takes the other chair.

Peanut butter from the fridge is hard to spread, and Jared mangles a bread slice before rolling it up and eating it with some cheese. Jensen looks a little grossed out, but he picks at the chinese food and eats some tomato slices.

"You play Fantasy Football?" Jared asks.


Jared gives him the rundown of his team, what his trade options are, how half of them are injured and he's playing with, like, eight guys, and he lists the stat categories for each of them.

"What the hell, man."

"I know, I'm dead last in the league," Jared says, and he's just finished swallowing a cheese slice when Jensen shifts forward and puts his hand on the side of Jared's chair, leans in and kisses him. Jared's mouth is open so he gets a lot of Jensen's lips and the tip of Jensen's tongue flicking the inside of his mouth, and Jared grips the edge of the table when Jensen's lips move over his bottom lip and tug a little.

When Jensen pulls back his eyes are this fucking deep dark green and his lips are red when he wets them, and Jared's completely out of his depth. Talk about coming out of left field.

"Um," he says.

"Yeah, wow," Jensen says. "Sorry." He doesn't look sorry at all.

"So this," Jared attempts, "that was just a, a fluke or something? Or -- " and he breaks off, because he's reeling a little, and he's not sure he wants it to be a fluke. He can still feel Jensen's lips on his and fuck, it's Jensen, who's really fucking hot, but more than that Jared likes him, thinks he's one of the coolest guys he knows, dancing ability aside. But it all feels so wide open, like he's dangling over the ocean without a foothold.

"Hey, it's cool," Jensen says, and he sounds disappointed, maybe a little frustrated, but he just rubs the back of his neck and stares at a piece of wall over the table. "Look, I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

Jared nods and kicks himself for being a goddamned idiot. He cleans up after Jensen goes upstairs, then catches a few hours of sleep on the couch. He wakes up a little before dawn and drives back to Bowie in the dark with his eyes still dry from sleep.


Chad's a pretty good guy to hang out with for not thinking about things, because Chad spends most of his non-working hours watching porn or playing Tekken Tag Tournament, which for Chad are pretty much the same thing. Five hours of getting his ass kicked and a case of beer later, Jared breaks down and tells him everything, but Chad just says, "So wait, is fucking guys like a baseball thing?" before going back to the game.

"We're not fucking," Jared says, but his mind's already gone there. He thinks about Jensen's hand on his cock, Jensen sucking him off, what Jensen looks like after sex. He shifts a little on the couch. "Fuck."

"He go down on you?" Chad asks.

"Do you have any life at all?" Jared says, like he wasn't just imagining it.

Chad's not helping, so Jared loses the next game and goes back to his room, screws around on the computer, opens up the new Sports Illustrated but it's all about either baseball or football and he's losing at both right now.

He picks up the phone and calls Jensen.

"Dude, my living room's been invaded by a hornet the size of a cow."

Jared pauses to regroup. "Did you try shooing it out the door?"

"I'm not a moron, so yes. But this fucking bee is, because it has no idea where salvation lies. Fuck."

"He get you?"

"No, just circling in for the kill." There's a loud thwack and a beat of silence. "Okay, that's just gross," Jensen says, and Jared bites back a laugh. He plays with the pen on his desk, scrawls a few doodles in the margins of the football league standings he printed out the other day.

"I'm sorry for taking off this morning," he says. Jensen clears his throat before answering.

"I shouldn't have, you know."

"No, it's okay," Jared says. "I mean." He puts down the pen, pulls at the back of his hair, stares at the wall. Jensen's not making this easy. "Do you want to catch a movie tomorrow or something?"

There's a pause. "Are you asking me on a date?" Jensen says, and Jared suspects he's laughing at him.

"Fuck, man," Jared says, helpless, and now Jensen really is laughing.

"Yeah, sure," he says. "Just pick me up, and, you know, bring flowers or something."

"Man, you suck," Jared says. "I'll pick you up at eight," he adds, and Jensen's still laughing when he hangs up.

Jensen accepts the can of bee-killer spray Jared hands him when he picks him up, makes a crack about cheap gifts, but Jared figures he's getting off easy, all things considered. Still, it does feel ridiculously like a date, and he doesn't know what to do with his hands when they're sitting in the movie theater. He can't get comfortable, keeps moving around in the seat, and Jensen leans over.

"Dude, chill out," he says, and Jared glares at him.

"You think this is hilarious," he says.

"Yeah, little bit," Jensen says. He shifts in his seat and his knee brushes up against Jared's, and it's a small thing but Jared feels it down to his dick. Then Jensen's leaning over again. "You want to get out of here?" he asks.

"Fuck, yes," Jared says, and they make it out the side exit.

They're on the highway back to the city when Jensen says, "Just so you know, I absolutely put out on the first date."

"Man, you're never letting that go," Jared says, but he's already thinking about what that entails, and he's not nervous, exactly, just feels like he has no real idea what he's getting into. But when they get back to the house, Jensen just eyes him a little, and maybe Jared looks panicked or something because he heads for the kitchen.

"You want a beer?"

"Yeah," Jared says, a little relieved. Jensen brings back a couple of bottles and sits next to him on the couch. They drink their beers and Jensen's not saying anything, and Jared realizes Jensen's waiting because it's his move now.

So Jared puts down his beer, slides his arm down the back of the couch and leans over, doesn't know what kind of kiss it's going to be but it comes out slow, a first-date kiss with a little tongue and a lot of lips, easing into Jensen's mouth and taking his time to work the right angle to go in deeper. It's hot, or at least Jared thinks it is, and the pace is killing him, and Jensen's eyes are a little glassy when Jared pulls back.

"Um," Jensen says, and wets his lips.

"Yeah?" Jared says, feeling like a kid asking if his drawing's any good.

"Yeah," Jensen says, and slides his hand along Jared's thigh up to his hip. Jared's stomach jumps when Jensen runs his hand under his shirt and thumbs the curve of his ribs. They're in no position for the kind of kissing Jared wants to do, but then Jensen hooks his leg over Jared's until he's practically in Jared's lap, and it's hot like Jared didn't think even sex could be.

"Fuck," Jared breathes, and shifts a little. He can feel the press of Jensen's dick on his thigh and he finds Jensen's hips to pull him closer, hands slipping on Jensen's jeans but it's enough to rock him forward a little, and just Jesus.

"Yeah," Jensen agrees. His hands are working on Jared's fly and he's kissing him at the same time. He's got Jared's cock in his hand and Jared's head rolls back, eyes closing, because Christ, yes, it's really fucking good. Jensen's at his throat, scraping teeth down his skin as he rubs the head of Jared's cock with his thumb then down along the length, and it's so much better than Jared's fantasy of it that it doesn't take much more than Jensen pressing down hard before he's coming, hips bucking into Jensen's grip.

"Jesus Christ," Jared says. Jensen laughs a little into his neck, and licks the underside of his jaw.

"You coming upstairs?" he asks.

"Hell, yes," Jared says.

It's not until they're in Jensen's room that Jared starts to feel weird. Kissing and a hand job on the sofa is one thing, but Jensen's bed is, like, intimate, and Jared has no clue what he should be doing. Jensen seems cool with it; he's busy sucking the hollow of Jared's throat, and it's great, but Jared figures he needs to start pulling his weight.

So he ventures down Jensen's hip and brushes over his stomach, and Jensen's making encouraging noises so he closes his hand around Jensen's cock and strokes down, and he knows it's rough but Jensen just pushes into it. Jensen has no problem showing Jared exactly where he wants him to put his hand, Jared's fingers stroking over his balls, pressing down between them, and Jared's cool with the direction at first then decides to go off script, scrapes his thumbnail under the ridge of Jensen's cock.

"Fuck yes," Jensen swears, and bucks up under him. He comes in a stream of muttered obscenities, and Jared would laugh if he wasn't so distracted.

Jensen's got his arm slung over Jared's waist, and he's rolled up against him like he's settling in for the night. "Dude, you're a cuddler."

"Fuck off," Jensen mutters.

Jared finds that hilarious, and he's laughing even after Jensen jabs him in the ribs.


Jared takes to gay sex like he would a new pitch, because there's the mechanics of it, sure, but mostly it's about feel, getting familiar with how it's done and making the connection between his brain and the plate. He goes down on Jensen in the shower, and it's like neural connections start forming in his head encoding the taste of a guy's dick, how it stretches his mouth and throat until he's almost gagging, the smell and weight of it.

Jensen lets him fuck him a few nights after, and it's the most awkward Jared's ever been with sex. But then Jensen pushes down on him and his ass is squeezing Jared's cock until he can't breathe, and he pulls Jensen up by the waist and mouths along the ridge of his back, tastes sweat as he reaches for Jensen's cock and it's easier this way, more like jacking off, and Jensen seems to appreciate it too because he's spilling over Jared's hand with a cut-off groan.

The sex is great, but it's more than that. Jensen's moody and he has weird habits, like the peanut butter in the fridge thing, and the way he won't say Roy Campanella's name out loud, ever, because he thinks it invokes his spirit and you didn't do that in vain. And yeah, everyone in baseball had their quirks, but it wasn't a quirk with Jensen, just his weird way of living in the world.

And he's all about marathon makeout sessions in front of the TV. Jared's never felt so gay and fifteen but he fucking loves it, could kiss Jensen for hours, and when Jensen falls asleep in the middle of one he thinks it's kind of cute, though it's days before he lets Jensen forget it.

Jared goes out to play with Jensen's neighbor's dog over the short fence between the yards. Jensen's standing in the back doorway, mutters, "Christ," but when Jared glances over he's got this look in his eye like Jared surprises him, like he can't figure him out, and Jared thinks that's weird enough that he talks him into coming out to play with the dog, too.

They're screwing around in bed when Jensen slides a finger in his ass, and Jared twitches a little, but Jensen mouths his dick and spreads lube on his fingers, slides two in and Jared tries to relax, wants this to be something he's okay with but he's not at all sure. "It's okay," Jensen murmurs, and he thumbs the back of Jared's balls and brushes his prostate, jerks Jared off while his fingers stroke in and out of his ass.

Jensen rolls the condom over his dick and eases in slowly. "Fuck, Jared," he says, and he feels huge. Jensen braces himself on his elbows, and Jared's pretty sure this isn't going to work, because already it hurts like hell.

Jensen kisses him, makes the kiss slow and dirty until Jared's breathing hard and pushing into him. Jensen slides in, the burn of it easing off, and he's saying, "It's okay, you're good, you're fucking amazing, Jared," and he keeps up the litany until Jared hooks his legs behind Jensen's ass to bring him in hard, because it's so fucking good.


Mia calls while they're watching the third game of the Series, because Jared's never missed a Series yet.

"Look, they really want you, Jared. And they made an offer, but I think it's low, so I'm going to bump it up and go back to them. And D.C.'s interested, too, and I know you don't want to switch leagues, but we can use it. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Jared says, and they talk through what Mia's going back with. When he hangs up, Jensen glances at him.

"Agent?" he asks, and Jared tosses his phone on the coffee table.

"I feel like fucking market meat. Tell me you're not going through this."

Jensen shrugs and turns back to the TV. "I had a one-year contract." Jared looks at him until Jensen glances over, irritated. "What?"

"You're not back next year?" And Jared doesn't know why he just assumed he would be, except that, oh right, Jensen never said otherwise.

"Yeah maybe, if they renew the contract. There are other clubs. Or maybe I'll just get the hell out, work at Sears."

"It's not funny. I mean, were you going to tell me that you don't know where you're going to fucking be next year?"

"Jared," Jensen says. "What's your issue with this?"

Jared flounders, because he thinks it should be obvious, and the fact that it's not obvious throws him off. "Do you really think it wouldn't matter? Because that's kind of fucked up."

Jensen rubs the back of his neck. "I don't think that."

"Then what the hell?"

"Can we not talk about this?" Jensen says, and Jared looks at him and doesn't push it. They finish watching the game, but Jared has no idea who ends up winning.

The next night Jensen meets him at the door with his keys and wallet. "You play pool?" he says, and Jared nods, a little startled, but he follows Jensen down the street to a bar that looks like it hasn't been cleaned since 1982, two pool tables in the back and a haze of smoke over everything.

Jensen starts in on the bottles right away, and Jared nurses his because Jensen's pounding them back like it's fruit juice; he's in a mood, talks to Jared over the pool table when they're playing doubles with a couple of guys, but there's something off and Jared's never seen him so…assholish, like he's pissed at Jared or the world or god knows what, and it makes him a little mean. Jared goes to the bathroom and when he comes out, Jensen's in one of the guys' faces and they're trading shit about something to do with the fucking pool game, shouting, and Jared sees Jensen pull back to take a swing before he gets there and grabs his arm.

The guy backs off, not wanting to take on both of them, and Jensen shakes off Jared's arm. "Get off."

"Jensen, what the fuck," Jared says, and he's been bewildered the whole night but now he's just pissed.

"For Christ's sake, Jared," Jensen says, and shoulders his way out of the bar.

Jared follows, still pissed but a little worried, too, because this is beyond any fallout from last night. He catches up with him at the house, and Jensen doesn't even look at him, just sits on the couch and rubs his hands down his face.

"Okay, you've officially weirded me out," Jared says, but Jensen just stares ahead.

"Man, what are you still doing here, Jay."

Jared stands inside the door uncertainly, closes it and sits on the couch next to him. "Did something happen? Because this is kind of fucked up, and I don't know what the hell is going on."

"Nothing's happened," Jensen says, like Jared's an idiot for asking. "I don't know what you think's gonna come out of this, but come on, Jared, wise up."

Jared stares at him, amazed. "What comes out of us fucking? Because it's kind of working for me."

"You're also twenty-two years old and getting your first big break, and you don't fuck with that, Jay, I'm serious. Maybe you think it's gonna be okay with Major League baseball and everyone who watches it that we're fucking, but you're not stupid so I know you know it doesn't work that way."

And yeah, Jared's not, but this is still a dumb conversation. "I could blow my arm out next week and never play again."

"Yeah, well, no sense making it harder on yourself than it already is," Jensen says, and Jared knows he's thinking about Cahill in the locker room.

"I don't know what to tell you," Jared says, and he hates the stupid, utter inadequacy of that, but it's not like he can change the mind of baseball, or the media, or the freaking baseball commissioner. "But I'm not taking off, okay? Even though you were a complete prick back there," he adds, and Jensen cracks a smile.

"Yeah," Jensen says. "Okay."


Jensen calls the next night and Jared can tell he's kind of sorry about things, so he comes over and Jensen's all over him when he gets there, pushes him up against the front door and works the fly of his jeans open, and it doesn't take much more than that to get Jared hard. Jensen sucks him down, throat tight around the head of his cock, and Jared curls his fingers through Jensen's short hair and comes hard and fast.

They make it upstairs later and Jared fucks him, slow and sweet until Jensen's clawing at him at the end, hips twisting down on his cock, and Jared knows he's going to have bruises on his arms. He draws it out as much as he can until Jensen says he's going to fucking kill him if he doesn't finish it, and Jared makes him pay for that a little before bringing him off.

He sprawls out like a rag doll on Jensen's bed, sweat still sticking to his forehead. Jensen's eyes are closed and he's relaxed like he only is when he's sleeping or right after sex, eyelids weighted and his mouth turned down a little. He opens his eyes and he's still relaxed, but he also looks a little like he's facing down a runner from third with the ball in his glove.

"I'm taking off for Dallas tomorrow."

Jared blinks at the ceiling, because they'd just spent two hours fucking and Jensen hadn't said it like he was inviting him along. "Okay, um. For how long?"

"I don't know. Couple of weeks." Jensen wedges a pillow under his head. "You need to start thinking about your contract," he says, and Jared blows out his breath, exasperated, because he doesn't see how they're back to this, and he's not sure he even cares about the fucking contract. "I know you don't want to hear it, but you need to get it done and it needs to be good, and you've got a small window right now to make sure that happens before they forget what you did for them at the end of the season or something gets out to fuck it up."

"What does that have to do with you going to Dallas?" he asks, and Jensen doesn't answer right away.

"I think we should give it a break for a while, let things settle."

"Christ," Jared says, because that's not at all what he wants, but a part of him tells him Jensen's not wrong, either, and that the rest of the world isn't going to see things their way. "Okay," he says, and Jensen relaxes a little. "What time's your flight?"

"Eleven," Jensen says.

"You need a ride to the airport?" he asks, and Jensen just looks at him.

"Jared," he says, but Jared doesn't want to hear it. He rolls over until his head's buried between Jensen's head and his shoulder, breathing through Jensen's skin and sweat and thinking sex is just like Jensen catching for him or hanging out on the road or pigging out on Jensen's food, like it's all part of the same package, except he knows that's not how it works.


Jensen doesn't call, and when Jared's cell phone does finally ring it's his mom. She's telling him about running into the mother of one of his high school teammates, and Marc's doing fine, just graduated college and is working at a grocery store or something, and Jared's wondering what she'd say if he told her about Jensen, except that Mom, I'm fucking a guy isn't something he'd ever say to his mother.

He even calls Sid, who seems glad to hear from him. Jared says yes when Sid invites him over for lunch, because Sid sounds bored and lonely and Jared doesn't have anything else to do. Sid has a small house right outside the city in a neighborhood that actually has old guys sitting on benches in front of storefronts watching people walk by.

His house smells like peeling wallpaper and age. He's got pictures everywhere, mostly pitchers he worked with and other ballplayers and coaches, some of the old ballpark before they tore it down. There's a sunroom off the back he makes Jared sit down in while he brings out lunch, and it turns out Sid is a pretty good cook.

"You been working your arm?" Sid asks, and Jared ducks his head, because he's been working out some but not really.

"Yeah, a little," he says.

"Better none than too much," Sid says, and Jared still can't get anything past him.

Jared's not sure why he's here except that Sid lives baseball and has a million stories to tell, but he's not one of those oldtimers who can't get past how great the game used to be, because Sid likes how it's changed, too, the better equipment, greater safety concerns, keener competition. He knows its faults but he still thinks the game's worth it, that change is more good than not.

Jared thanks Sid for the lunch and calls Mia on the drive home.

"Jared, great, I'm glad you called because we're making progress." She runs down the current offer, and Jared nods into the phone and makes the appropriate noises until she finally winds down.

"You think you could come down here?" he asks, and there's a brief pause.

"Of course, Jared, we should meet up," she says, and he knows the last thing she wants to do is fly down here to hold some rookie pitcher's hand for a contract that's not a tenth of her bigger clients, but she's a good agent and knows how to fake it.

They set up a day and time, and Jared names one of the restaurants in the harbor because he can't think of anywhere else. He closes his phone and tosses it on the seat, drives back to Bowie and sleeps for what feels like a week.


Mia's tiny with thick black hair, and the few times Jared's met her in person she's always been smart and funny and eats more than Jared, but now she's just staring at him in horror.

"Tell me you're kidding," she says, and he can see panic setting in. "Jared, if I told them you'd play for them just because you love the fucking game we'd be in better bargaining position than if I go back to them with this."

It takes another hour and two martinis before he wears her down, and he can see she's thinking about fobbing him off on another agent, so he talks her out of that, too. She's really not happy, though, and when Jared calls a cab to take her back to the airport she pauses before getting in.

"You have contingency plans, right? For when this blows up in your face and you're serving fries to drunk teenagers?"

"Come on, there's always Applebee's," he says, but she just gets in the cab like she's already wasted enough time humoring stupid athletes.

Back at the apartment he thinks about calling Jensen, even though Jensen hasn't called, but the ball's in both their courts with no place to hit it, not yet, so he talks Chad into watching something other than porn and hangs out for a few hours. He wonders when the stupidity of what he just did will hit him, because he just feels weirdly calm.

Mia calls a few nights after that, and she sounds so tired and frayed that Jared pictures her in her office with bloodshot eyes and a jumbo mug of coffee. "They came down on bonuses but we can still work with it, and they're fine as long as there's no media announcements or flaunting during the season."

Jared blinks. "What the hell does that mean?"

"I don't know, Jared, maybe they just don't want you to stick your tongue down some guy's throat in the post-game interview, okay? Come on, this is a lot better than I thought we'd get."

"Just a sec," Jared says, and he puts the phone down on his desk. He stares at the wall for a few seconds, considers his options, but the flaunting thing is just bullshit. He gets back on the line. "Tell them no conditions."

"God damn it, Jared."

"Mia, seriously, get some sleep, you're gonna have a breakdown at the office," he says, and instead of more swearing he just gets silence.

"You owe me huge for this, Jared," she says, and rings off.

When she calls back a few nights later, she still sounds tired. "Look, they want to talk to you. And normally I'd tell them to blow themselves, but I think it's a good idea."

"Yeah, okay," Jared says, not entirely surprised, but not looking forward to it, either. "When?"

"Tomorrow at two at the front office. I'll pick you up, okay?"

Jared's never been in the front office before, and he's glad there's an assistant there to meet them. She leads them down long endless hallways and doors that all look the same, and there's no one he knows from the organization behind the one she opens, just three guys in suits. One of them stands up and shakes Jared's hand.

"Thanks for coming down, Jared," he says, and pulls out chairs for him and Mia. They all sit down and go through a round of introductions that Jared doesn't remember any of, and Jared feels like he'd rather be closing out a one-run game against the league's top hitter than talking with these guys.

"We really like what you did at the end of the season," the guy in the blue suit says. "We want to make this work."

"I'd like that, too," Jared says.

Another one speaks up. His suit is grey. "You understand that there's a certain kind of attention that the organization, and baseball, would rather avoid."

"What, like another steroids scandal?" Jared says, and Mia winces next to him.

"Like that," grey suit agrees. "Most of our support comes from the family sector, and we'd like to keep it that way."

"There are all kinds of families," Jared says, but then Mia steps in.

"I think it can be agreed that we're all here for the interests of baseball. Jared's not trying to endanger that, we just want reassurance that his contract can't be terminated for a personal preference."

The guy who first shook Jared's hand nods. "And we're willing to ensure that, with a few conditions."

"No," Jared says. "I'm not going to sign anything that says I'm okay sneaking around, like being in a relationship with someone violates some morality clause."

"Jared, what we're asking isn't unreasonable." It's the third one talking now, as if they all have to have their turn. "We employ similar clauses for recovering drug addicts, those with prior records -- "

"I'm not a fucking drug addict," Jared says, and Mia puts a hand on his arm.

"I think our own position is clear," she says. "You asked for this meeting, but so far I haven't heard anything to change that."

The first one taps his pen on the table and ignores Mia. "We're just asking you to reconsider, Jared. We think you have a great future here, and I wouldn't want anything to stand in the way of that."

"That's enough," Mia says. She pushes back her chair. "I could easily consider that a threat to my client's prospects. What we're asking for is highly reasonable in this day and age, and the sport would do well to get with that. You have what we're asking for, and that hasn't changed. We'll wait to hear from you."

Mia's got short legs, but Jared has to step out to keep up with her as she leads the way down the garage where her rental car is parked. He can tell she's furious. She gets in the car and slams the door. "Assholes," she mutters.

"God, Mia, you were fabulous in there," Jared says, but she just shakes her head and starts the car.

"I never should have agreed to that meeting." She pulls out of the garage and almost runs down a trailer truck getting on the highway.

"It's okay," Jared says. "It seemed like a good idea. And now we know where they stand, right?"

Mia doesn't say anything, just flies by cars on the highway. "I love this business, Jared, seriously," she says, when they're almost to Jared's. "Even with the assholes. But sometimes I fucking hate this sport."

She pulls up to the curb outside Jared's apartment. "You know it's not about the money, right?" Jared says, hand on the door. "I know that's not fair, since it's your commission."

"I just hope you're having the best sex of your life right now, because that could be all you get from this deal," she says, and Jared tries not to think about the fact that he's not having any at the moment. "I'll let you know what I hear back," she says, and Jared nods and gets out of the car. He watches her pull back out onto the street.

She doesn't call the next night, or the next, and Jared's already figuring that he's screwed. He even asks Chad what it's like working at Applebee's, but Chad just shakes his head and says, "Fuck, man."

When Mia finally calls, she's too tired to hide her surprise. "I'm faxing it over to you. I guess you made an impression. There are a few clauses, but they're all standard, and I think it's good, Jared. Not as good as we could have done if you weren't a fucking idiot, but workable."

The contract's already coming through his fax machine, and Jared waits for the pages to finish, finds the clauses Mia's talking about and they all seem fine. "Okay," he says, and Mia blows out a long breath.

"I need a drink."

"Yeah, well, I owe you five," Jared says. "Seriously, Mia. Thanks."

"Thank me at the ESPYs," she says, and hangs up.

Jared leans back in his chair, runs a hand through his hair. He's tired without even realizing it, a bone-deep exhaustion pressing him into the chair, but he opens up a browser window on the computer and starts checking out flights to Dallas.


Jensen's parents live in this tree-shaded residential neighborhood in the Dallas suburbs that makes Jared think of paper boys and street hockey. He's standing outside the house, halfway across the front yard because it turns out the Ackles are having some sort of cookout in the back, and he's never felt so dumb as flying out here without even checking that it would be all right.

An older woman spots him, and Jared suspects it's Jensen's mom. She comes over, smiling and curious like maybe he's some cousin she just doesn't remember, and when Jared tells her his name and that he's a teammate of Jensen's, she smiles.

"Of course, Jensen's talked about you," she says, and she insists he come in the backyard with her so she can track down her son.

Jared stands uncomfortably as Jensen's mom heads over to the grill that Jensen's manning. Jensen twists around, shields his eyes against the sun with a spatula, and Jared wishes he could read the expression on his face when Jensen spots him.

"Hey," Jensen says, when he comes over. It's awkward, but he doesn't look unhappy to see him.

"Man, Jensen, I didn't know you'd be having stuff going on."

Jensen shakes his head. "It's nothing, just an excuse for my mom to be social. You want to go in?"

The inside of the house is dark and cool, and there are a couple of people in the kitchen as Jared follows Jensen up the stairs and down a hall to what must be his room. It's a cross between how Jensen must have left it when he headed to college and a workspace for his mom, unless Jensen had a sewing machine in high school.

Jensen sits down on the bed. "What's up?"

"I signed my contract."

"Get a good deal?" Jensen asks, and suddenly Jared's nervous. He wonders why he ever thought such a lame gesture would somehow solve everything or if he's just being the naïve kid Jensen probably thinks he is.

"Pretty good. The money's decent, and the bonuses are good. I had it written into the contract that they couldn't terminate it for me being in a public relationship with another guy."

Jensen goes still. "They signed that?" he asks, and Jared nods. "Wow," Jensen says, but Jared can't tell what he's thinking.

"So, you know," Jared says, but he's already hit the ball over to Jensen and there's nothing to add to what he's already said.

Jensen's not saying anything, so Jared goes over to the shelf of baseball trophies and pictures of tiny Jensen in his Little League uniform, and in some ways it's such a kid's room. He tries to imagine Jensen growing up here, playing on teams the same way Jared did, and there must have been a time when Jensen loved the game.

"I wasn't kidding when I said I was thinking about getting out," Jensen says, like he's reading Jared's mind. "I know there are some good guys in baseball, but I swear, Jared, I don't know who they are anymore. And I think that's great that you got them to sign that." Jensen pauses. "That took a lot of guts. But you know I'm a fucking cynic about this game, and you don't need that weighing you down."

"It's not," Jared says. "Weighing me down."

"Jared -- "

"Look, I know that putting that in my contract isn't going to suddenly make baseball gay-friendly or mean that I won't get traded around the league because no one wants a fag in their locker room. But people deal with shit all the time. I just want you to come back."

Jensen rubs his face. "Just -- give me a couple of days, okay?"

"Yeah," Jared says. "Okay."

He falls asleep on the flight home. When he picks up his car at the airport he drives to Jensen's instead of his apartment, because he knows where Jensen keeps his extra key. Maybe it's a privacy violation or something, but Jared doesn't care. He falls asleep on Jensen's couch, doesn't wake up until the morning, when the front door opens and Jensen's there with his bag slung over his shoulder.

"Hey," Jensen says, and that's all Jared needs.

Because yeah, sometimes you win.