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"Why not football?" people always ask, or "Why not soccer?" if the interviewer is American.

Eames just shrugs. "I was always better at using my hands." It's the truth, even if it's not the story.

--

"My mum was American," he tells his roommate. It's one of his first weeks in the Minor Leagues, playing for a single-A Baltimore Orioles affiliate. They're still getting to know one another, know the team - it’s better than his university team was, but they're all a long way away from the Majors.

Arthur Wolf, his roommate, is a skinny kid from California drafted out of high school in the 20th round. Shortstop. Doesn't snore. That's about all Eames knows about him. "Yeah?" Arthur asks, as if that's all there is to the story.

"Yeah," Eames says. "Anyway, she taught me how to play catch. And when we moved to Ohio for a few years—"

"Ohio?"

"—on business, shut up, I'm talking. I played Little League while we were here, moved back to England, came back to the states for university, made it onto the team as a walk-on, and the rest is history." He tells the story like he's told it a hundred times before, which he probably has. Not too many Brits playing baseball.

Arthur nods at him, as if to say, Yeah, I know how it is. "I started playing in first grade," he offers, with a rueful little smile. "My dad was the team coach."

Eames adds another item to the list of things he knows about Arthur: Dimples.

--

A few months later, near the end of the season, Eames' attempts to throw a slider low and away result in a slider right down the middle, a three-run home run, and a lost game. "Not everyone can throw a slider," the pitching coach, Pete Browning, tells him the next day, but Eames wants to, so they keep working on it. At one point Browning grabs a catcher's mitt, looking around - none of their actual catchers are available, but Arthur's jogging past and agrees to give it a try.

"If you bean me, you're buying dinner," Arthur jokes, and Eames protests, because his slider's wild, it's guaranteed that Arthur will get hit, but then...

...he doesn't. Oh, Eames is still wild, but Arthur catches the ball every time. He has to leap up to grab one pitch, and lunge for countless others, and scrabble in the dirt for a few, but - he catches. Every. Single. Ball.

Browning is paying more attention to Arthur than he is to Eames, and their manager's wandered over to watch, and he looks at Arthur consideringly. "Kid," he says. "You ever consider bein' a catcher?"

--

If anything, Arthur turns out to be a better catcher than he was a shortstop; he's got a fast arm and a good eye, knows how to work with his pitchers, how to work against the opposing hitters. He convinces Eames to give up on the slider, and Eames reluctantly agrees. Then Browning and Arthur introduce him to the sinker and it's love at first sight.

--

He and Arthur get moved up to Double-A at the same time the next year, and Eames can tell that he pitches better with Arthur behind the plate. But Arthur's still the backup catcher, so more often than not he's pitching to Nash, who's - well, he's good, but he's also been playing in Double-A for a few years, which doesn't bode well for him, either. Nash tends to lose his grip when Eames throws a ball in the dirt.

It doesn't matter much, though, because Eames gets traded mid-way through the season to the White Sox affiliate. He hates being traded, especially now that he has to play in Alabama - and, yeah, he especially hates Alabama. (It's possible he would like it more if Arthur was there, but Arthur's not, and being traded is part of baseball, so he'll have to learn to live with it.)

--

He doesn't see Arthur the rest of that season, but the next season they're both in the International League. He sees Arthur now and then when their teams play each other, and again during the All-Star Game. Eames gets called up in August, pitches a game or two, and gets sent back down. It's not the most illustrious major league debut, but there's nothing - nothing - like it, standing on the pitcher's mound amid the glare of the lights and the roar of the crowd. Everything's so loud that it's as if there's no sound at all, just the sound of his blood rushing in his ears, and the only thing he can see is his catcher, signaling him for a curveball. Even if he never makes it to the majors again, he knows, in that moment, that it was all worth it.

--

In February he gets a spring training invite; in the end of March he makes the team as the fifth starter. They travel to Baltimore to play the Orioles a few weeks into the season; Eames doesn't pitch any of the games, he had a start right before the series opened, but Arthur plays. Eames loves to watch him, feels a pang of jealousy at the way Arthur handles the pitchers. His own catchers are fine, veterans who know how to coax the best performance out of a cocky rookie. But they're not Arthur. Even he can see that one day Arthur's going to be great.

They go out for a beer (or two, or five) after the last game; they're a pair of rookies with about three weeks of playing time between them, so they go completely unrecognized. "Good game today," Eames says. He can be gracious about a loss he had nothing to do with.

Arthur shrugs. "Would've been better if Key hadn't kept shaking me off."

"That's because he doesn't know you yet. I'd never shake you off." Arthur can't take flattery; he flushes a little and glances down so Eames can't see him smile (even though Eames does). Eames tells himself that he's just glad to see an old friend happy, that he'd feel the same about any other old teammate, that there's nothing special about Arthur's smile. He tells himself this because it has to be true.

--

The next time they play the Orioles is at home in Chicago; it’s only a few weeks later and the weather still hasn’t warmed up. It’s only a two game series, and Eames is coming off a loss to Cleveland, which he fully blames on the cold. He’s perfectly happy to sit in the dugout instead of suffering out on the field.

“You don’t like the cold much,” Arthur remarks, when they’re out for drinks after the second game.

“I hate the cold,” Eames declares. “I like Chicago!” he adds hastily, just in case anyone’s listening. “But the bloody winds, the winds are murder.” He’ll be glad when it warms up.

(It turns out that summers in Chicago are murder, too.)

--

He doesn’t see Arthur again until late August, when the White Sox sweep the Orioles in Baltimore. Eames had thought about ringing him up during the All Star Break, see if he wanted to meet up and - do what? No, it was a stupid idea. Arthur probably wanted to spend the days off visiting with his family, like most normal people. Eames spends most of the break sleeping.

But it’s August, and Eames feels slightly guilty (but only slightly; he likes winning). Arthur got a couple hits off of him, anyway. “It’s your curveball,” Arthur says. They’re in Arthur’s flat tonight, lounging at the dining room table. Arthur’s begun to get himself a bit of a fan club in the area, so he tries to avoid the bars. “You do this thing with your elbow when you throw it—” He makes a motion with his right arm, imitating. “Something like that.”

Eames looks at him in dismay. “So I’m tipping my pitches,” he says, and Arthur hastily adds: “Only the one. Just the curveball.”

Only one is still too bloody many, Christ.” Eames’ grip tightens around his beer bottle. “And I suppose you told the rest of your team, then?”

“What? No!” Arthur shakes his head, reaches out to put a hand on Eames’ arm. “Eames, you know I wouldn’t do that to you. You don’t pull that shit on a friend. I might - yeah, I used it to my advantage on my at-bats, but that’s me. I notice these things, especially when it’s you. And now I’m telling you so that you can fix it.”

Eames glances at Arthur’s hand, still on his arm, and Arthur withdraws almost immediately. “You, uh, want another beer?” Arthur asks, standing to go to the kitchen. “Let me get you another beer.”

“No,” he says. “No, I’m fine. Thanks - for telling me. I shouldn’t have said that, I know you wouldn’t tell the team.” He looks up at Arthur, still standing, and grins. “Sit back down, asshole. I won’t bite.”

--

He wants to, though. He wants to bite, to nip, to lick, to suck, to kiss. To never forget the warmth of Arthur’s hand on his arm - but he makes himself forget anyway. This is baseball. There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no gays, either.

--

They don’t see each other again until next season, and it’s good, it’s better that way. They’re just a couple of mates, old friends who get together for drinks every few months. And this is how it goes for another two years until Arthur’s traded to the Dodgers and all of a sudden their teams don’t play each other anymore. Meeting up is no longer an after-series tradition, but something to be worked at.

And Eames, well, Eames is willing to work. The first time the Dodgers are playing the Cubs in Chicago, he takes a deep breath and reaches for the phone. “Arthur? Hi, Arthur, it’s Eames - saw you were in town and - yeah? Yeah, come on over, you know where I live. I’ll put on the kettle.” He hears Arthur laugh on the other end as he hangs up; “put on the kettle” has always been more like “open up the bottle” when it comes to him.

So this is a new tradition: If they’re ever both in the same city at the same time, they have drinks or dinner or drinks and dinner. One of his teammates asks about it once, and Eames just shrugs. “Played together for a bit in the minors - roomed together for awhile. Stayed friends. S’nice to stay in touch, innit?”

Not long after, the teammate sets him up on a date with his cousin or girlfriend or something. Eames is a perfect gentleman on dates, and he almost always calls, almost always goes on a second date, and never, ever goes on a third. “I’m just not one to settle down, I guess,” he shrugs, and somewhere along the line he gets a reputation as a bit of a playboy. It’s not his preferred reputation, but it has its uses.

That said, he never expected Arthur - Arthur! - to try and set him up with a girl. On one hand, it’s good; it meant that he was acting heteronormative enough to fool even those closest to him. On the other hand, it meant that he was acting heteronormative enough that Arthur had no idea. (But that’s good, he tells himself. It makes it easier.)

--

“I’m only in Chicago for a few days,” she tells him on the phone. “There’s an architecture conference, I’m presenting, there are panels to go to, and - I don’t mean to sound like I’m too busy to fit a date into my schedule, only, I kind of am. But maybe Thursday night?”

In Eames’ head, all of Arthur’s friends look like Arthur, tall and sleek and beautiful. Meeting Ariadne comes as a bit of a shock to his mental image, because, though she is quite lovely, she is rather shorter and sharper than he’d expected. Eames quite likes her.

He is enjoying the night enormously until, on the way to the hotel, he almost drives off the road when she asks, “So, don’t take this the wrong way, but, uh, are you gay?”

Ariadne must see the expression of horrified terror - or possibly terrified horror - on his face, because she blurts, “I won’t tell! I promise I won’t tell.”

Jesus Christ,” Eames says, trying to calm his breathing, fingers tight around the steering wheel. “You can’t just - you’ll give a man a heart attack that way!”

“I’m sorry,” she says meekly. They don’t say anything else until they reach her hotel and he follows her up to her room. “Want anything from the minibar?”

Yes, he does; he wants a drink more than anything right now, but he still has to drive home, so he shakes his head. “How did you know?”

“My gaydar is a valuable and finely-tuned piece of equipment,” Ariadne proclaims proudly, a little tipsy from the wine at dinner. “It’s like the Hubble Telescope of gaydars.”

“I’m not sure that even makes sense,” he tells her, looking wistfully at the minibar. He’s silent, and then: “You can’t tell Arthur.”

“I wouldn’t,” she says. “And I won’t. But you should tell him. He’d want to know.”

Eames snorts. “Be that as it may, which I sincerely doubt, I’m not about to be the first man to break out of baseball’s closet.”

“But you could be - you could be like the Jackie Robinson of gay ballplayers! Don’t you think this is something that needs to happen?”

“Yes,” he says. “But it’s not going to be me. No, listen,” he insists, because he can tell she’s about to interrupt him. “Here’s the thing. I love baseball. I love watching it, and more than that I love playing it, and if I were the gay Jackie Robinson I wouldn’t be able to do that. I wouldn’t be a ballplayer anymore; I’d be a spokesman. My every move would be scrutinized; if I had a bad game, it wouldn’t be because my elbow was sore or their hitters were on fire, it would be because I’m gay. He’s gay, that’s why he can’t play baseball. That’s what they would say.”

“But that’s stupid!

“Of course it’s stupid. But just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean it’s not true. If I came out, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the game. That’s all there is to it. And maybe that’s selfish, and maybe that’s cowardly, but baseball is my life. I couldn’t lose it and be happy.”

Ariadne lets out a frustrated sigh, but he can see in her eyes that she understands. “Fine. Well, look, if you’re not going to come out, then do you want me to be your beard?”

Eames laughs hysterically.

--

It takes some doing, but he convinces Ariadne he doesn’t need a beard, that she should live her life without having to worry about his; she fails to convince him to tell Arthur, but promises to keep her mouth shut (“I swear on Frank Lloyd Wright’s grave that I won’t say a word”), and when he gets home he orders flowers to be delivered to her room the next day. “She’s a wonder,” he tells Arthur a few days later when they’re talking on the phone. “Whoever she ends up with will be a lucky man.”

“But it won’t be you, huh?”

“Not my type, I’m afraid,” he says breezily.

Arthur laughs. “Is anyone ever?”

“Mm, not so far,” he says. There’s no answer from the other end, and he adds, “Arthur? Still there?”

“Yeah, I - yeah, sorry, distracted by something on TV. ESPN is showing highlights from your game this afternoon. That was a great play you made covering first.”

It’s the little things, Eames thinks. The things like this that make him wish so hard that things could be different, that he were as brave as Ariadne wants him to be. But even if he were, there’s no guarantee that Arthur would react favorably. (He wants to believe that Arthur would - maybe even reciprocate, in a perfect world - but he can’t let himself think that way.) “Ta,” he says. “I knew all those drills would pay off eventually.”

--

Eames has always liked Chicago, its spirit, its history, its fans. Chicago has always liked him, and he’s played with the White Sox for all five years of his major league career. But Eames is on pace to win 20 games this season, and the team is on pace to win 85, if they’re lucky. His contract is up at the end of the year, and other teams are eyeing him with interest. Part of him wants to stay, but the rest of him itches to move on, to move up. It’s a tired old line, but it’s true: He wants to play for a contender.

In the end, he wins 18 games and the White Sox win 81. The San Francisco Giants lose the World Series, and their GM flat-out tells his agent that, if they’d had Eames, they would’ve won it.

So San Francisco it is, at least for the next five years. He’ll be in the same time zone as Arthur, if at the other end of the state, and this really should not be as much of an incentive as it is. But all other factors aside, Eames finds that he likes San Francisco. It’s welcoming; it’s comfortable; it’s quirky in a way that Chicago isn’t. He decides, on a whim, to buy a house.

“That’s a big commitment,” a reporter says to him, when the news breaks.

He smiles winningly. “San Francisco’s made a big commitment to me. It’s only fair that I reciprocate.”

“That was a great soundbite,” Dom Cobb tells him later. Cobb’s dating a French supermodel and just won his fifth Gold Glove at second base; he knows from good soundbites. “The fans’ll eat it up.”

Eames shrugs. “It’s true.”

“Then they’ll like it even more.”

--

Three weeks before spring training is set to begin, Eames calls Arthur in a panic. “Arthur,” he says. “Arthur, I need you to help me. It’s very important.”

“What - Eames, of course I’ll help you, what’s the matter?”

“Arthur, they’ll expect me to hit. I haven’t swung a bat since university. I’m going to make a fool out of myself unless you help me. Arthur, are you laughing?

“Yes,” Arthur gasps. “Oh my god, I thought there was actually something wrong with you. There is definitely something wrong with you, actually, I can’t believe you scared me like that.”

And that is how Eames ends up spending a week at Arthur’s house in Southern California, re-learning how to hit. Arthur’s probably not the best hitting coach there is, but he trusts Arthur, which is more important. If he makes a fool of himself in front of Arthur, Arthur won’t care; besides, they were roommates for a year. He’s probably embarrassed himself in front of Arthur more times than he can count.

It’s with that thought in mind that Eames says casually, “D’you remember all that commotion last season about Mike Piazza, and that press conference he held about not being gay? What did you think of all that?”

Arthur gives him a sidelong glance, because that question really did come out of nowhere. “I don’t care, it’s nobody’s business if he’s gay or not. God knows he didn’t need to give a press conference about it, though. What makes you bring that up?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing. Heard someone talking about it the other day, I think. Show me that thing again, will you, the trick with your swing?”

Personally, Eames agrees with Arthur: Piazza’s sexuality is nobody’s business but his, and the press conference was overkill. (But secretly he hopes that Piazza really isn’t gay; he doesn’t want the first openly gay ballplayer to be someone with such bad hair.)

--

It was probably inevitable, Eames will think later, but right now he’s too busy kissing Arthur. He hadn’t meant to, but they were drinking - and he doesn’t know how much, which is bad, because he’s forgotten how much or how many, and that means too much - and Arthur was talking about something and looking eminently kissable, and so Eames did.

It was probably inevitable that he would fuck this up eventually, Eames will think later, but right now he’s too busy trying to reach beneath Arthur’s t-shirt to get at the warm skin beneath. Then Arthur makes a noise of protest that rocks Eames out of his drunken haze, and Eames stumbles back. “Fuck,” he says. “Fuck, I am so sorry, Arthur, I am so sorry, I didn’t mean - fuck.”

Arthur’s just staring at him, and Eames can’t think of anything else to say, so he says “I’m sorry,” again, and goes to hide in the guest bedroom where he’s been staying, hoping and dreading that Arthur will follow him.

Arthur doesn’t.

--

The next morning - afternoon, by the time he wakes up - Eames has a pounding headache and his stomach is churning. He forces himself to drink a glass of water, then a bottle of Gatorade, and to eat eggs and sausage and some frozen waffles that he found in Arthur’s freezer. Arthur wanders out about half an hour later and grunts at him as he sits down at the kitchen table. “I feel like shit,” he says. “How much did we drink last night?”

“Too much,” Eames replies. “Listen, Arthur, I—”

“Is that sausage? Did you save me any?”

“There’s more in the refrigerator, I can make some if you want, but—”

“What the hell were we thinking, drinking that much?” Arthur groans. “Shit, my head. Never let me do that again. We didn’t do anything stupid, did we? Because I don’t remember anything after the, uh,” he waves a hand vaguely. “The thing? Was there a bird? Eames, why was there a bird?”

“I don’t remember a bird,” Eames says faintly. “You - you didn’t do anything stupid, no.”

“That’s a relief.” Arthur buries his face in his arms. “Jesus, just kill me now and get it over with. Or make me greasy breakfast foods, which is almost as bad. You better have saved me some Eggos.”

--

Eames never mentions that night again, except once to Ariadne when she calls him later that day in response to the extremely drunk voice message that he doesn’t remember leaving her. “Yeah, you sounded pretty wasted,” she says. “But back to the important thing. You kissed Arthur!” He can’t tell if she’s upset or delighted. “Did he kiss back? What did he say? Eames—”

“Keep your voice down, I’m still at Arthur’s house,” he says, cupping one hand over the mouthpiece of his cellphone. “It was a mistake. We were drunk. He doesn’t remember anything from last night, Ariadne, so as far as I’m concerned it never happened. Please don’t mention it again.”

He can hear a little hitch in her breathing before she replies. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “Eames, I’m so, so sorry.”

“That’s two of us,” he says gently, and ends the call.

--

The Giants and the Dodgers both have Spring Training camps in Arizona, only about thirty miles away from each other, but for the first time in a long while, Eames is too busy to think about that. He has a new team to get to know, new catchers to learn - now, granted, their starting catcher is Benito Santiago, who’s not young anymore but just as good as ever. They get along splendidly, and Benny can coax a good performance out of him like no one since - well, since Arthur. Oh, all his other catchers have been fine, but Eames doesn’t want to disappoint Benny by pitching poorly, so he gives it some extra effort. (He puts extra effort into hitting, too, but stops once he realizes that no one actually expects him to be any good.)

This season, Arthur and Eames barely see each other except when on the field. This season marks Eames’ first All-Star Game appearance - Eames’ first All-Star Game start. Arthur makes the team too, as a reserve; it’s the first time they’ve played on the same team since all the way back in Double A. Not that they actually play together except during practice, but it’s a lot easier than Eames expects it to be. (Of course, Eames expects melodrama, expects Arthur to have recovered his memory of That Night, and none of that happens, and it’s like they’re just two old mates, nothing else. Something inside of Eames relaxes a little.)

The Giants win 100 games; the Dodgers, only 85; but the Giants lose to the Marlins in the NLDS to end their season comparatively early. Eames leads the league in ERA, but finishes second in the Cy Young Award voting to Eric Gagne. But Gagne’s got an advantage, Eames thinks. Gagne’s got Arthur for his catcher.

--

Eames spends a month in England around Christmas - he rarely goes to see his family, so he likes to make the visits count when he does. It’s refreshing. People in San Francisco, in Chicago, they know his face. But no one follows baseball in England. At a pub, he’s as anonymous as anyone else, no one asking for an autograph or trying to take a photo.

Not anonymous enough, though, so when he picks up a guy in a bar, he gives him a fake name just in case the guy tries to google him later. The guy is attractive, the sex is good, Eames is satisfied if not happy. Still, it was nice, remembering how to be anonymous like that, remembering how to interact with men without hiding his sexuality. As far as holidays go, he’s had worse ones.

--

Eames has another new catcher to learn this year, because Benny didn’t get re-signed. Personnel changes are the way of the game, but what Eames wouldn’t do for some consistency behind the plate.

Towards the end of spring training, Cobb says to him, “Hey, you’re friends with Arthur Wolf, right?”

“Yeah,” says Eames, a little wary. “Why?”

“We’re doing a Make-A-Wish fundraiser tonight in Phoenix - me, him, a couple of other guys, I forget. I’ve met him once or twice, but I don’t know him at all, and I’m gonna need someone to make conversation with..”

“You’ll like him. Most people like him. If you’re at a loss for conversation, ask him about the time he dared me to swallow a frog. He can tell that story for hours.”

--

Cobb and Arthur get along like a house on fire, to the point that, the first time the Dodgers and Giants play each other, Arthur invites the both of them out for drinks afterward. Eames is irrationally, absurdly, furiously jealous.

But he shouldn’t be; after all, Arthur is just a friend. They are just three straight men drinking beer together. That’s all this is. There’s nothing to be jealous about. Arthur’s allowed to have other friends, and anyway, Cobb just got engaged.

The second time the three of them are supposed to get drinks together, Eames begs off at the last minute. He sees Cobb practically every day; it’s not that he doesn’t like the man, he just doesn’t necessarily feel like socializing with him. Anyway, he’s pitching tomorrow. An early night is probably best.

“Missed you last night,” Arthur says, when they pass briefly on the field before batting practice. “Feeling okay?”

And he’d never thought - Eames had honestly never thought that Arthur would be concerned about him. “Yeah, I’m feeling fine,” he says, giving him a quick smile. “Thanks.”

He’s feeling more than fine, actually. It isn’t until he strikes out three in a row to end the top of the sixth that he glances at the scoreboard and realizes he hasn’t yet given up a hit.

The crowd realizes it, too; he can tell by the way the murmur rises as he leaves the field. The team realizes it; no one talks to him, no one looks at him in the dugout. It’s superstition, but no one wants to risk being the one to break his concentration.

He walks the first batter in the seventh; the second hits a sac fly to get the running to scoring position. Arthur’s up third, and is frowning at him a little from the on-deck circle. When Arthur steps into the batter’s box, he catches Eames’ eye and makes a short motion with his right elbow and taps two fingers quickly against his bat. To anyone else it probably looks like fidgeting, but Arthur never does anything without a purpose, so clearly this is supposed to be significant. Eames glances at his own elbow, at Arthur’s elbow, at the ball. Shit, he thinks. He’s tipping his curve? He thought he’d fixed that years ago.

Eames nods at Arthur, tries not to think that his catcher - the catcher for the Giants - didn’t notice it first. He throws a sinker inside, and Arthur swings, hits it right to the third baseman, who throws to Cobb at second; double play, inning over. All he needs are six more outs.

And he gets them, too, although he doesn’t know how; the last two innings of the game are a blur. He remembers watching Bonds hit a home run to give him extra run support, and he remembers striking out the last batter and leaping up to punch the air and being surrounded by teammates. There are cameras everywhere, flashbulbs going off and microphones being waved, and Eames doesn’t know what the hell he said in the post-game interview but he hopes it wasn’t stupid.

Between the reporters and the excitement in the clubhouse, he doesn’t make it home until much later than usual, but he risks calling Arthur anyway. “Hey,” Arthur answers the phone. “Congrats!”

“I owe it to you,” Eames says honestly. “You didn’t have to tell me about my curve. I wouldn’t have known. You could’ve not told me, got a hit, won the game.”

There is silence on the other end of the line. “I wanted you to win,” is Arthur’s eventual reply, quieter than before. “I wasn’t even sure you’d understand what I was trying to say, but I knew you could get the no-hitter, and you did. You deserved it.”

Only because of you, Eames thinks. “Arthur—”

“I have to go,” Arthur says abruptly. “Early flight tomorrow. Congrats again.”

“Thanks,” says Eames. “Travel safe.”

--

Tradition after a perfect game is to buy watches or something similar for the entire team. No-hitters don’t have the same tradition, but Eames feels like celebrating, so he buys everyone dinner instead. (He thinks the watches might’ve been cheaper.)

bought dinner 4 the team in no-hit celebration, he emails Arthur. but u contributed to the win 2, so no fair leaving u off. dinner nxt time ur in sf? my treat. He debates sticking an emoticon on the end, but ;-) is too lecherous and :-) is too girly. Better leave it as it is.

Arthur replies the next day: You don’t have to do that. Also, you should learn to use capital letters.

He’s just asking for it, Eames thinks. IS THIS BETTER? ANYWAY LET ME BUY U DINNER. NEW PLACE I WANT 2 TRY, THINK YOUD LIKE IT. OR U CAN COME 2 THE HOUSE & I WILL COOK IF U WANNA AVOID THE PAPARAZZI.

“Paparazzi” might be overstating it, but there’s always some gossip reporter who manages to disrupt things. Eames can almost hear Arthur sighing when he gets the reply, Fine. You make steak, I’ll bring whiskey.

--

They don’t actually get around to dinner until the off-season; and both the Giants’ and Dodgers’ schedules are crazy whenever they play each other - flights out the same night, or at six the next morning - and there’s not enough time around the All-Star Break. (Arthur starts; Eames pitches the fifth inning). So in November, after the Red Sox have, incredibly, won the World Series, Arthur flies up to San Francisco to stay for a few days before Thanksgiving.

“Think you’ll get the Cy Young this year?” Arthur asks idly, helping him clean up from dinner, and Eames laughs.

“Not with the season Clemens had, it’ll be him or Randy Johnson. I never had a chance.” Randy. All these years in the States, and it still makes him laugh. He also can’t say “The Big Unit” with a straight face. “Be surprised if you don’t get a Gold Glove, though,” he adds.

“Maybe,” Arthur says. “It was a good year for a lot of guys. I guess we’ll find out next month.”

Eames can tell he doesn’t want to talk about it, and tries to switch the topic to something besides baseball, but he realizes that there’s not actually anything going on in his life that isn’t related to baseball. “Got a wedding invitation from Cobb last week,” he offers. “It’s going to be on some private island off the coast of France. Very posh.”

“Yeah, I got one too.” Arthur pours himself a glass of whiskey, glancing questioningly at Eames, who shakes his head. “Think you’ll go?”

“Bad form not to, isn’t it?” he says lightly. “Thought I might ask Ariadne to come with me, if you don’t get to her first.”

Arthur looks at him accusingly, settling down in an arm chair. “I thought she wasn’t your type.”

“Oh, not at all, but I enjoy her company. Don’t look at me like that, it’s not that strange; we’ve kept in touch, she and I. If you’re worried about me leading her on, she knows I’m not interested. But if you’re interested in her - just say the word. I’ll happily let you ask her along.”

“I’m not interested in Ariadne,” Arthur says, and Eames thinks he might be lying but he can’t tell about what. “I’m - I’m just surprised, I thought you might go with one of Mal’s supermodel friends.”

Eames plops down on the couch across from him and affects a world-weary sigh. “Let me tell you a secret, Arthur. Supermodels, for all of their charms, are often truly boring conversationalists.”

“And conversation is important to you.”

And he knows he’s got a reputation, but he never thought that Arthur believed he was quite that shallow. “Yes, actually,” he says. “More important than anything else. I couldn’t be with someone I can’t talk to, not for very long.”

“But Ariadne—”

“Ariadne is a wonderful woman and a wonderful friend, and we have no romantic chemistry whatsoever,” he says impatiently. “Arthur, really, what’s this about?”

“Nothing,” Arthur says. “You should see if she wants to go to the wedding. It’d be good to see her again.”

Eames eyes him skeptically, but lets the subject drop. There’s a Godfather marathon on some cable channel that they decide to watch; Arthur moves to the couch to get a better viewing angle. There’s plenty of room on the couch, it must be said; Eames likes a couch big enough for him to lie down on. Thus, after he falls asleep, and, more importantly, when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he is surprised to find Arthur sprawled next to him, his head just touching Eames’ thigh. Eames reaches a hand tentatively to rest on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur doesn’t stir, so Eames leaves his hand there, unmoving, and wills himself back to sleep.

--

“Eames. Hey, Eames, wake up.”

Eames blinks open his eyes to see Arthur leaning over him with an apologetic smile on his face. “I’ve gotta go, Eames, my cab’s out front. Sorry I didn’t wake you up earlier, I overslept.” Arthur grins, and Eames tries not to stare at his dimples. “Comfortable couch you’ve got there.”

“Yeah,” Eames manages blearily. “Sorry, mate. Thought I’d at least drive you to the airport.”

“Don’t worry about it. Thanks for letting me stay - it’s been a good time. Guess I’ll see you at Cobb’s wedding?”

Eames nods, getting to his feet to give Arthur a sleepy pat on the back, and, Jesus, he hates this sometimes. Who decided hugging was unmanly? “Have a safe flight. Hope you’re far away from any crying babies.”

It looks like Arthur’s going to say something else, but the cab honks outside, and so Arthur grabs his bag and heads out the door. “Thanks again!” he yells over his shoulder, and Eames waves back.

Eames slouches back into the house, shuffling to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. (It’s a vile habit, but one he acquired back in Alabama after ordering a cup of tea and being presented with some kind of cold sweet something.) He spies his cellphone on the counter, grabs it, and texts: let me know when u get back 2 la ok? wouldnt want 2 worry haha.

Then he texts Ariadne. think i might be in love w arthur. plz send help.

Ariadne messages him back a few minutes later: you are such an asshole! just tell him already! :P

Clearly Ariadne was not going to be as much help as he hoped. He calls her, because text message arguments are a pain in the thumbs. “I was hoping for some more practical advice, darling,” he says when she picks up the phone.

“I really think he’ll react a lot better than you think he will,” Ariadne tells him. “Give him a little credit.”

“I can’t risk it,” Eames says, because it all comes down to that, doesn’t it? If things went wrong, it would end his friendship with Arthur, end his career in baseball.

She sighs. “So when you say you want advice, what you really mean is, ‘Ariadne, please tell me what I want to hear so that I feel justified in denying myself a chance at happiness.’”

“I’m so glad you understand,” he drawls. “Now, in other news, Cobb is getting married on some private island, it’s bound to be the social event of the season. Care to accompany me?”

“I hope you don’t mean the wedding’s tomorrow or something,” she says cautiously. “Because in that case, no. But otherwise, yes. Is Arthur going to be there?”

Yes, Arthur is going to be there. No, it’s not tomorrow.” He tries not to think about who Arthur might be bringing with him. “Please don’t spend the next six weeks nagging me about him. I’m going to try my best to fall out of love with him by then.”

“Do you actually expect that to work?”

“I’ve been trying for the past eight years at least,” he sighs. “So, no. But it’s worth giving it another try.”

--

The return text from Arthur reads: Back in LA safe and sound. No crying babies to speak of. Thanks for worrying about me.

--

The wedding is as posh as Eames expected, with the reception being held in the honest-to-god ballroom of the island’s gigantic villa, and it makes him glad that he’d bothered to buy himself a new suit. (Discounting a suit he bought about ten years ago and a rental tuxedo he’d never bothered returning, he now owns a total of...one suit.) He doesn’t know much about fashion, but the suit is slate grey and expensive, and he pairs it with a cream-colored shirt and (out of team spirit) a bright orange tie. Ariadne is looking resplendent in a purple dress - plum or aubergine, he doesn’t know, but it suits her.

Then he sees Arthur. Arthur is alone. Arthur is wearing a suit (everyone is wearing a suit, it’s a bloody wedding, but only Arthur is in that particular charcoal windowpane), but more importantly, Arthur is wearing a waistcoat. Not only that, but Arthur somehow manages to not look like a fool in a waistcoat, which is a rare skill indeed. No, he looks...he looks quite good, and also appears to have brought no date. Eames grabs a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and tries not to look like he’s chugging it.

“Eames, Ariadne,” Arthur greets them. “You’re looking lovely.”

“Me or him?” Ariadne jokes.

Arthur smiles, and Eames can’t look away. “Both of you, of course. Although Eames, your tie is hideous.”

“Oi!” he says indignantly. “That’s team colors! You can’t insult Cobb’s team on his wedding day, that’s just bad form!”

“There’s nothing wrong with the San Francisco Giants’ colors,” says Arthur archly. “There is everything wrong with your tie.”

Ariadne starts giggling uncontrollably, and they both look at her with confusion. The exchange wasn’t that funny. “You two,” she says. “Oh my god, the two of you, seriously,” and then dissolves into another fit of laughter. Arthur gently pries the glass of wine out of her hand.

“Maybe you should drink some water,” he says, and Ariadne pokes Arthur in the side, which is worth it to see the discomfited look on his face.

“Give that back, I’m not drunk,” she insists. “Anyway, that tie could be a lot worse! It could be one with baseball caps on it!”

To Eames’ eternal gratitude, a few of his teammates are within earshot, and they immediately leap to the defense of both the color orange and kitschy ties with baseball caps on them. (The argument for the latter is mostly, “Hey, my kid got me one for Father’s Day!”) He’s spared from handling the bulk of the verbal sparring, which leaves him free to watch Arthur, to see him hiding smiles, to see him laugh, to see the triumphant look in his eyes when he knows he’s winning an argument—

Oh, and Cobb and Mal are there, too. She’s as beautiful as she always is, and Cobb looks more relaxed than Eames has ever seen him. He looks happy, younger and more carefree than he ever looks on the field. Eames wishes him the best.

--

The thing about weddings - and this is only something that Eames has come to realize recently - the thing about weddings is that Eames knows he is never going to experience one as anything other than a guest. It’s not that he wants to get married, but it’s just another thing that marks him out as different from the rest of the world.

The party’s begun to die down several hours later when Arthur comes up beside him and hands him a glass of champagne. Eames takes it gratefully; he’s lost track of exactly how much he’s imbibed, but it isn’t enough. “Been abandoned?” Arthur asks, nodding towards Ariadne, who’s flirting with someone on the other side of the room.

“She’s welcome to wander,” Eames says dryly. He does his best to only sip the champagne. “It’s a party, she should enjoy herself. I’d hate for her to be tied to my arm all evening.”

“Why? I think you’re good company.”

Eames grins at him. “Ah, but she’s beautiful and single, and there are so many rich bachelors in this room. No reason why she shouldn’t try to snare one.”

“What about me?”

And Eames has definitely had too much to drink, because before he can stop himself, he says, “Well, darling, I didn’t think rich bachelors were your type.” Arthur starts to reply, so Eames hurriedly cuts him off: “Only joking. I’m sure there’s got to be at least one supermodel who’s caught your eye?” Although, now that Eames thinks of it, he can’t remember the last time Arthur dated anybody, casually or other.

“I think all the supermodels have dates,” Arthur says neutrally. “Well, not that one, but I think Ariadne’s about to change that.” He nods to the man she’s been flirting with. “Pretty sure that’s Robert Fischer - he just did that ad campaign for Burberry?” He looks at Eames questioningly, like Eames should recognize him or something. “Doesn’t matter. He and Mal are good friends.”

“Uh,” says Eames eloquently, because he can’t quite figure what point Arthur is getting at. “Well. Good for Ariadne.” Fischer seems very pretty (and very tall, towering hilariously over Ariadne). He’s not really to Eames’ tastes, but Eames can’t fault those cheekbones.

“What about you? Have your eye on anyone tonight?”

Only on you, Eames wants to say. Only ever on you. “Nah,” he shrugs. “I’m quite happy in my bachelorhood. Bachelordom? Bachelorness?”

“Bachelorhood,” Arthur laughs, but it turns into a yawn at the end. “Guess it’s about time to get some sleep - I don’t want to know what the actual time is, please don’t tell me.”

Eames has to admit that sleep sounds good right about now. “Think it’s safe to leave Ariadne on her own?”

“Oh, yeah,” Arthur says confidently. “She’ll be fine, she does Tae Bo.”

“Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack.”

Eames pretends to stagger then, clutching his chest, and he’s clearly drunker than he thought, because he loses his balance and lands hard on one knee. A look of pure panic crosses Arthur’s face as he crouches down, resting one hand on Eames’ shoulder. “Eames, are you—” But Eames has started laughing, can’t stop himself, even if he knows better. Arthur glares and punches him in the arm (but not his throwing arm; and Eames thinks briefly that Arthur is more considerate than he’ll ever be). “You asshole!

“It was a joke!” he protests. “Ow!”

“It wasn’t funny,” says Arthur, his voice low. “Don’t do that to me, Eames. Don’t do that.”

Eames meets his eyes, startled. “Darling, I didn’t know you cared,” he says, and he means it to sound playful, even flirty, but it comes off as flippant and dismissive.

“Sometimes I wonder why I bother,” Arthur bites out. “God knows you don’t deserve it.” He stands up, deliberately avoiding Eames’ gaze. “I’m going to bed. Good night.”

And Eames wants to follow him, to say I didn’t mean it that way; I didn’t mean to hurt you. But the way things are going, he’d only make things worse.

“Did you two fight?” Ariadne asks, coming up to him. She’s holding her shoes in one hand.

“Only a little. You needn’t worry, pet. Don’t let me distract you from your conquest over there.”

“From my - who, Robert?” She laughs. “Please, Robert is totally gay. Well, bi, if you want to be technical, but he’s definitely only interested in guys these days.”

Eames stares at her. “I am so confused right now,” he confesses. Had Arthur known that, about Robert? Was that what Arthur had been trying to say earlier?

Ariadne pats him on the shoulder. “I’m sure things will get cleared up eventually. C’mon, you need to get some rest.” She guides him out of the ballroom with the intention of guiding him to his room in the villa, but between tiredness and drink, he doesn’t actually remember which one it is. So she leads him to hers instead, forcing him to drink two glasses of water before she lets him go to bed. He barely bothers to take off his shoes.

“It would be easier if you would just tell him,” she says gently, lying next to him and stroking his hair. She’s still in her dress, although he thinks he saw her unhook her bra and throw it off in some corner.

“Or it would be twice as difficult,” he murmurs. “Do you think he hates me?”

“He doesn’t hate you. I don’t think he’ll even stay mad at you for very long.”

“D’you promise?”

She laughs. “I promise. Go to sleep.”

And he does, and she does too. When he wakes the next morning, he’s clutching her hand like a lifeline and both their clothes are wrinkled beyond repair. His head hurts and her breath smells awful, but for a brief moment he thinks that this must be what it feels like to be loved.

--

sry about last nite, he texts to Arthur. shouldnt have said that. i know u care. sry i am such a berk.

When he doesn’t get a reply after a couple of hours, he texts: i hope u know i didnt mean it that way. supposed 2 b a joke. i shld prbly stop joking. im sry.

No reply. i know ur angry at me but at least lets fight it out. didn’t think u were much for the silent treatment.

After another few hours, he texts: look ur not wrong 2 be angry. i deserve it. want u 2 know ur my best friend. definitely dont deserve u.

There is still no reply by the time Eames is getting ready to go to bed, so out of desperation he actually calls Arthur. It goes straight to voicemail. “Arthur, hi,” he says, and clears his throat. “This is Eames. I just. I wanted to say I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that last night. You’ve been a better friend than I could ever ask for. I— I hope you can forgive me eventually. I can’t guarantee that I won’t ever act like a prat again, but I’m going to try. And, since I’m on the phone, I think you were trying to tell me something last night, but I don’t know what it was. I think you were trying to be subtle, but I’m not very good at interpreting subtlety sometimes. You’ve probably noticed that. Anyway, um. I’m sorry. Goodnight.”

--

Eames keeps compulsively checking his phone the next morning, and halfway to the airport Ariadne reaches over, turns it off, and sticks it down her blouse. “I’d love to see how you’re going to explain that to airport security,” he says.

Ariadne looks unrepentant. “Explanations are for people who feel guilty about something.”

Regrets or no, he’s not expecting her to reach into her bra, pull out the phone, and put it on the conveyor belt before stepping through the metal detector, all the while smiling brightly at the security officer. A few travelers stare, but she takes no notice, simply retrieving her bag and the phone. “You get it back when we land in New York,” she says, sticking it back in her bra. “No sooner.”

One of these days, he’s going to stop underestimating her.

--

She’s true to her word, though, and returns the phone to him as the plane is taxiing down the runway. He resists turning it on until he actually disembarks from the plane, and...

...there’s nothing. Ariadne catches him staring at the screen, distraught. “Oh, Eames,” she says sympathetically. “Do you want me to hide the phone again?”

“No, thanks, I think you’ve played ‘hide the phone’ enough for one day. I’m going to have to sterilize it, you realize. I don’t even know how one goes about sterilizing a phone.”

“Soap and water?”

Eames stares at her. She gives him a cheeky smile. “I don’t know why I’m friends with you,” he manages as they walk towards the taxi line.

“Because I’m the only one of your friends who calls you on your bullshit,” she says cheerfully. “Also, I’m the only one who knows you’re—”

“I’ll have you know that’s not actually true,” he says, cutting her off. “You’re just the only one in the United States.”

She gives him a sideways look, like, Yeah, my point still stands. “You wanna come back to mine, watch When Harry Met Sally and get trashed?”

His flight to San Francisco isn’t until tomorrow afternoon; he was going back to Ariadne’s anyway, but this plan sounds significantly better than anything else he could’ve come up with. “Lead the way.”

--

Eames has seen this movie before, but he’s never seen it quite like this. Ariadne quotes the lines as the actors say them, and announces “Drink!” every time Sally orders something complicated or Harry says something fatalistic. Given their relative body mass, Ariadne gets significantly drunker than Eames does.

“Sometimes,” she slurs, snuggling against him on the couch. “Sometimes I feel like I’m in - like 'The Gift of the Magi’ or something. I mean, not really, there’s no hair selling, which is really weird when you think about it, ew. I mean, who would buy someone else’s hair?”

He thinks about it. “The Victorians. Or the Edwardians. It was around then. Go on,” he adds, nudging her shoulder. “’Gift of the Magi?’”

“You and Arthur,” she corrects. “You’re both trying to give each other what you think the other person wants, except then one of you goes and cuts your hair. It’d be so much easier if you’d just talk to each other,” she says plaintively. “Eames, you are standing in the way of your own happiness.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” he agrees, then shifts his weight so he can scoop her up in his arms as he stands. She shrieks and flails, almost elbowing him in the face. “C’mon, pet. Let’s put you to bed.”

“But it’s not New Year’s Eve yet!”

Eames looks at the television, where it, indeed, is not New Year’s Eve yet. “I’ll tell you how it ends,” he says, carrying her into her room and laying her down on her bed. “They finally admit that they’re in love with each other, and they live happily ever after.”

She looks at him solemnly. “As it should be.”

--

Ariadne’s still asleep when Eames leaves for the airport, a combination of jet lag and too much to drink. He scrawls a note on the back of a Chinese food menu: Didn’t want to wake you - hope you’re not too hungover! Thanx for the company. —E

At the airport, he gets stopped for an autograph by a shy twelve-year-old boy who says his name is Matt. He lives in Chicago, but he and his mom are on their way to visit his grandmother. “You were my favorite player,” Matt says as Eames signs his White Sox hat. (Eames keeps a silver sharpie in his pocket for exactly this eventuality - can’t sign in black on a black hat.) “But you signed with the Giants on my birthday.”

“I’m sorry,” says Eames, and he honestly is. “If I’d known, I would’ve pushed it back a day. Except then it would’ve been someone else’s birthday, which isn’t fair to them, either.”

Matt looks like he’s never considered this. “Yeah, well,” he says. “Thank you for the autograph, Mr. Eames.”

--

Eames sleeps the entire flight from New York to San Francisco, dozes through the cab ride (the chartered car ride, fine; he makes millions, he can splurge a little) to his house, and falls immediately into bed once he gets home. He doesn’t wake up until after noon the next day.

It’s a familiar pattern; he does this after every period of extended travel. There’s nothing like a solid 24 hours of sleep to kick jet lag and make him feel like a human being again.

There’d still been no reply from Arthur when he’d left New York, so he hadn’t bothered to turn his phone back on when he got to California. He doesn’t bother this morning/afternoon, either, doesn’t feel like dealing with the world outside. Eames finds solitude to be a rare and welcome thing, and he likes to take advantage of it when he can. He makes a pot of tea and reads for hours.

It isn’t until late that night that Eames finally checks his email, and the last thing he expects to see is a message from Arthur, dated two days ago, evidently sent when Eames was drinking with Ariadne. But expected or not, there it is.

You’re an asshole.

It’s not an auspicious first sentence. Eames gets up from the computer, pours himself a strong drink, sits back down and braces himself.

You’re an asshole. I can’t believe you sent me that many texts. Also, I can’t believe you took your phone to France. That’s why I wasn’t responding, by the way, because I left my phone in California like every other sane person who doesn’t have an international SIM card.

I won’t lie, I was pretty mad. We’ve been friends this long and you pull that ‘didn’t know you cared’ bullshit? There’s no point in me staying mad at you, since you’ve already apologized six times and are obviously aware of what an asshole you were. I’m almost surprised you didn’t send me flowers.

(Eames had considered it, but thought it might have come across a little stalker-y. Also a little gay.)

Look. You’re my best friend too. Let’s try and keep it that way.

- Arthur

P.S. You’re buying drinks the first half of the season, asshole. This is your penance.

All in all, that went better than Eames thought it would.

--

The wedding gets added to the list of things that Eames decides to never talk about again, except in the context of Yes, wasn’t it nice, didn’t Mallorie look lovely. He tries to apologize to Arthur once more in person (“Shut the fuck up and buy me a beer, Eames”), and that’s that. There’s no real awkwardness between them; they even manage to see each other once or twice during spring training.

All signs point to it being an excellent year for Eames. He feels fantastic all through spring training, pitches a complete-game shutout for the home opener, and is generally more on his game than he’s been in his career. Thus, when he starts feeling some soreness in his elbow a few weeks into the season, he shrugs it off and ices his arm for a little bit longer after games.

But it doesn’t go away. He talks to his pitching coach, Stephen Miles, and the trainer, Yusuf Mannan; they adjust his stretching and workout routine, and by all rights that should be the end of it.

But it doesn’t go away. Fine: fifteen-day disabled list. He’s not pleased about it, but something’s obviously not right. Give his arm two weeks to rest, and everything will work itself out.

Except.

Except. Warming up for a rehab start in Double-A, there’s a sudden flare of pain up his right arm, and Eames yells loud enough that he’s pretty sure the hot dog vendors can hear him.

You have a torn ulnar collateral ligament, is what Yusuf actually says to him, but what Eames hears is, You’re out for the rest of the season. You’ll need Tommy John surgery. Your pitching career is over.

No one actually says the last part to him, but the first two are said loud and clear and often. Eames schedules the surgery as soon as possible, flying to fucking Alabama, because that’s where the best surgeon is, and damned if Eames isn’t going to have the best.

He calls his mother the day before the surgery. She makes a token offer to come to America to look after him; he declines.

He doesn’t call Arthur, but Arthur calls him. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” Arthur says. “You know I’d be happy to help you rehab in the off-season.”

“The off-season’s likely to be the next time I’m able to throw,” Eames says with a lightness he doesn’t feel. Feigned nonchalance has been his constant companion since the injury. With everyone else losing it, he can’t afford not to stay in control. “Ta. I’ll let you know. I’ll have to talk with Yusuf and all, but I think we can work something out.”

If Eames were to be honest (which would be never, because Eames is rarely honest with anyone who doesn’t force the truth out of him), he’d say he was terrified. If the surgery goes wrong, he’ll never pitch again; even if the surgery goes right, he may never pitch the same way again. He could end up being just another has-been pitcher, a talented journeyman with an injury-shortened career. He can’t think of anything worse.

--

That fall, the White Sox win the World Series. Eames can’t even watch.

“I want to be happy for them,” he confesses to Arthur over the phone. “It must be a dream come true. But if it weren’t bad enough that I’m not on the team, right now I can’t even play catch.

“Only for a few more weeks,” Arthur soothes. “You have to give your arm enough time to heal.” It isn’t the first time he’s said it, nor the first time Eames has heard it. Eames doesn’t do well when he can’t be active, and on top of that he’s paranoid that he’ll somehow forget how to throw strikes if he doesn’t start throwing again and soon.

“It can bloody well hurry up about it,” Eames grouses. All the doctors say he’s perfectly on schedule, healing-wise, but he doesn’t see any reason he can’t be ahead of schedule.

He can almost hear Arthur rolling his eyes. “You’re just bored and antsy, aren’t you? You should get a dog to keep you company.”

“I should - get a dog? Arthur, that is a terrible idea. A dog is no kind of pet for a single man who travels eight months out of the year. A pet rock, maybe. I think I could take care of a pet rock without killing it.”

“You don’t sound too certain.”

“Well, rocks are highly temperamental creatures, aren’t they? Can’t just lock ‘em in the closet all day; they need light, and air! I don’t know, it might be a bit too much work for me.”

By the end of his rant, they’re both laughing, and Eames has a brief moment of realization: Arthur doesn’t care if he gets a dog or not. Arthur just wanted to distract him, to get him thinking about something happier. Arthur cares.

(Not that Eames ever really doubted that. But now, Eames knows.)

--

It wasn’t that Eames thought that rehab wasn’t going to be hard. It’s just that he didn’t realize it was going to be difficult.

At least Arthur’s there; he held true to his promise and flew out to help with Eames’ rehab. He’s not a doctor or physical therapist, not a pitching coach, but he knows how to push Eames to try a little harder and how to stop Eames when he’s pushing himself too hard. Also, he can drive Eames to appointments.

If anyone thinks it’s a little strange, they don’t say. Hell, Eames thinks it’s a little strange. “Not that I’m not grateful, because I really truly am, but isn’t this going a bit above and beyond the call of duty?”

Arthur fixes him with a look. “I'm pretty much guaranteed a knee or hip surgery at some point in my future,” he says. “You can make it up to me then.”

On one hand, this is true. On the other hand, that doesn’t explain why Arthur is doing this now. “So it’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of deal?” Eames asks lightly.

“If you like,” Arthur allows. “Also, there’s no one else who will tolerate you for extended periods of time.”

Just because Eames’ right arm is injured doesn’t mean he can’t still punch Arthur with his left.

--

There isn’t much to say about Eames’ rehab except that:

He’s healing.

He can tell his arm might even have improved.

For a little while, he gets to see Arthur almost daily.

It’s perhaps the most exquisite torture that could be devised. Close contact with the man he’s in love with, the man who’s helping Eames heal out of the goodness of his heart, the man who is his closest friend in the world. The man who, as he’s made it quite clear, wants nothing more than friendship out of him.

--

Eames tries to be ready for Opening Day, but it’s not to be. His arm isn’t up to speed yet, figuratively and literally, so he starts the season in Double-A. It’s a treat for the fans, to see a major-league player on the roster; he signs some autographs before games, gives pointless interviews after the games. They all ask the same question: When are you rejoining San Francisco? He gives them all the same answer: Before Memorial Day, I hope. He doesn’t mind most sports reporters, but he wishes they could come up with some new questions.

Ariadne comes up from New York for a couple of games; the team’s located in Connecticut, so it’s not the worst train ride ever. “Still significantly cheaper than going to a Yankees game,” she says.

“Or a Mets game,” Eames offers. National League pride, and all that.

Ariadne wrinkles her nose. “You’ve been to Shea Stadium, right? Why would I ever want to go there on purpose?”

And, really, there’s no good answer to that one.

--

They judge him ready to return the week before Memorial Day, a little more than a year after he first felt the soreness in his elbow. It’s not the most inspired of comebacks - six innings pitched, five hits, two earned runs - but they get the win. When he walked out to the mound before the game, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He’ll never forget it.

There’s a voicemail from Arthur waiting for him when he gets home. “Hey, it’s Arthur. Good game tonight. I know, I know - you’ll do better next time. You got too used to minor league hitting, I think it made you complacent. Anyway, congrats on the win. Uh, I’m on the East Coast, so don’t call me back, I’ll be sleeping. Talk to you another time.”

He sends Arthur an email in return: Got ur vm. Im not complacent, im rusty. Get ur facts straight ha ha.

The email doesn’t say “thank you,” but Arthur will know what he means.

--

In the end, it’s hardly a dazzling season, but it’s solidly good. Not fantastic, but above mediocre, and Eames - Eames doesn’t like to settle, but he’ll settle for that, if it means that he can hold on to hope of regaining his old in-game dominance.

Arthur wins another Gold Glove. So does Cobb, but Cobb practically uses them as paperweights at this point. Eames tried to talk him into having them melted down and made into a solid gold garden gnome, but for some reason Cobb thought that would be tacky. (Mal, on the other hand, thought it would be hilarious.)

The day after the awards are announced, Eames rings up Arthur to congratulate him, but when Arthur picks up the phone he sounds distracted. “Eames, hi,” he says. “Can I call you back? I’m, uh, on a date.”

“You didn’t have to answer,” Eames hears himself say.

“I know how you get when I don’t answer your calls,” Arthur laughs. In the background is the sound of conversation and music. “Didn’t want you to go sending a search party.”

“No,” says Eames numbly. “Do enjoy yourself. I shan’t interrupt further.”

--

He can’t bring himself to talk to Arthur about it, so he grills Ariadne for details instead.

“It was just someone one of his teammates set him up with. Some actress, I don’t know! He didn’t even tell me her name, that’s how not-serious he is about this one.”

This one?”

“Well, look, he doesn’t tell me about all of them, but Arthur goes on dates from time to time,” Ariadne says defensively. “I just didn’t think it would do you any good to know that.”

“Yes, it’s obvious you didn’t think,” Eames says acidly.

“Shut the fuck up,” she retorts. “It’s not like you don’t go on sham dates with every pretty girl someone throws at you. Double standard much? Look,” she says, and she’s obviously making an effort to be calm. “Arthur asked me not to mention anything to you. Because he knows that you’d - get protective, and think that they were just using him for his money or his fame or something. So he didn’t want you to know until things ever got serious, and they haven’t.”

“And this one? This actress?”

“It isn’t serious, Eames,” she says.

“Are you lying to me, pet?”

“I’m a horrible liar and you know it,” she sighs. “Just trust me. I promise it’s not serious. You know I never break a promise.”

--

The Giants have a lackluster season the next year, finishing third in the NL West. In a way, the team’s mediocrity makes it easier for him. He shines more in comparison (and he’ll fully admit how vain this sounds, but Eames has pride enough for two people, and it rules him). That said, it is an undeniably better season for him than the previous one was. Even if he doesn’t feel back to form yet, he certainly saw enough headlines saying that he was for him to know that other people believe it. Still, Eames actually gets enough votes to place sixth in the Cy Young voting, much to his surprise. (Arthur wins his third Gold Glove; Cobb doesn’t win this year, but it was an off year for him anyway. Popular opinion blames this on his marriage to Mal and the mid-season birth of his daughter. Intelligent minds point out that Cobb had been dating Mal for five years before they got married and had certainly won enough awards during that time. Popular opinion, Eames thinks, is often wrong but almost always influential.)

It’s easy to break the years into “time spent with Arthur” and “everywhen else,” but that’s not really how it is. It’s “The Season” and “The Off-Season.” There’s the creakiness of spring training, the rush of the games, the too-brief breather of the All-Star Break, and then the letdown of the end of the season (if you’ve got no chance) or the race to the playoffs (if you might still make it). Eames has yet to experience a team who knows that clinching is a foregone conclusion, who knows they’re going to make it and where the only variable is how; he doesn’t know what that feels like, what emotions swim in and around you when the champagne is flying. He wants to.

He knows, intellectually, that players go their whole careers without ever playing for a contender, ever getting a World Series ring, even ever making the shortlist for an award. Plenty of players never make it out of the Minors. He knows, intellectually, that he should be happy with the career he’s had, that he’s made for himself. Other people would give their right arm to have a career like he does.

Out in the real world, there are investment bankers and lawyers who throw themselves into their jobs, leaving nothing of themselves for anyone or anything else. People call them workaholics. But Eames thinks it’s likely that many of these people are very much like him: he has no chance at a love life and little family, not on this side of the pond. Most of his friends are past or current teammates. All he has left is work.

Not that it’s work, not really. It’s his job, certainly, but he has more fun at it than is probably allowed. It’s stress and exertion, to be sure, but it’s not work. He loves it too much for that.

--

This off-season Eames makes sure to keep in shape, to keep his arm limber while not overworking it. It’s a delicate balance, but he had Yusuf draw up a workout plan for him, and he follows it to the letter. (This takes great self-discipline; Eames is not by nature inclined to take direction or follow instructions as written.)

In a fit of boredom, Eames digs a rock out of his backyard, cleans it off, and makes a wig for it out of the remnants of an old Halloween costume (it’s a long, long story). He puts it on his windowsill, snaps a picture of it and emails it to Arthur. Have decided to adopt a pet rock. Thinking of calling it Laertes. Whats ur opinion?

I think you’re insane, Arthur writes back. Also, I think Hamlet is a much more appropriate name for something that sits around and never does anything.

--

By opening day, Eames finally feels back to normal for the first time in almost two years. Unfortunately, the team that had played in the World Series only a few short years ago has fallen apart. By the end of July, they’ve fallen into last place in the division and can’t seem to crawl out. It’s frustrating. Eames knows that, with more run support, he could have won at least five more games.

His contract’s up at the end of the season, and he could easily speak with his agent about signing with another team, but he doesn’t want to. Eames likes San Francisco - the team, the fans, the city. Before they even reach the All-Star Game, he signs another five-year contract with an optional one-year extension. The team has to be realistic; he appreciates that. In five years he’ll be pushing forty, which in baseball years is practically decomposing.

He has high hopes for the next season, and rightly so. The Giants don’t do much better, but they’re able to get him the run support that he needs. He and Arthur both start the All-Star Game, and it’s just two innings of play, but he loves it; even though they were only on the same team for just over a year, Arthur’s still the best catcher he’s ever had the opportunity to play with. He relishes every moment. (The NL still loses the game, but Eames takes no responsibility for that. Bud Selig aside, it’s not like the All-Star Game actually means anything, although it does make for nice bragging rights.)

Eames pitches a complete-game shutout in September - four hits, three walks, twelve strikeouts. It’s not the same rush as his no-hitter was, but it’s damn close. He finishes the season 18-5. All the same, he’s honestly not expecting it when, in December, he wins the Cy Young Award.

It’s undeniably the best moment of his career so far, and he shares his joy in phone conversations with Arthur, with Ariadne - with his mum and with Yusuf and with Miles. But there’s no one in San Francisco who he can take out for a celebratory dinner, no one he can celebrate with in person. For the best moment of his career, it is, he reflects, really rather depressing. That night, Eames pours himself a drink to celebrate. After a moment’s thought, he pours one for Hamlet, too.

Eames often finds himself alone, but for the first time in a long while, he finds himself to be lonely, as well.

--

The Giants have high hopes the next season, with a strong pitching staff that includes Eames, good old Randy Johnson (emphasis on the old, but just as terrifying as he was in his prime, even if Eames can never address him by name for fear of laughing), and a kid named Lincecum who everyone can tell is going to be great. All of the starting nine are healthy; their center fielder is a man named Saito who’s just come over from Japan and is supposed to be the next Ichiro. All of San Francisco is certain: This is their year.

Well. The best-laid plans, and all that. Don’t worry, baseball fans, it all works out in the end.

Here’s the short version: Their catcher tears his ACL early in the season. The Giants acquire Arthur Wolf from the Dodgers.

Here’s the interesting version.

They start pretty much the same. Their catcher tears his ACL trying to beat the throw to second; watching the replays, you can see the exact moment it happens. (Eames tries not to watch the replays. Seeing it once, hearing him yell was bad enough.) Their backup catcher is solid, but he’s also 37 years old, already had one knee replacement, and probably going to retire at the end of the season. He’s not cut out for regular play and they all know it.

There are a number of options, but it isn’t until Cobb casually mentions to their manager, “I hear Arthur Wolf’s looking to leave Los Angeles,” that Arthur becomes one of them. It was something Arthur had mentioned to Cobb and Eames, casually, over drinks; that he was dissatisfied with the team but figured he’d wait out his contract before leaving. No one would have thought there were any problems, not really, but Arthur doesn’t believe in expressing dissatisfaction to the press - it’s unprofessional. Besides, everyone knows that the Dodgers were Arthur’s hometown team growing up, and he’s got a no-trade clause. But Arthur’s been increasingly at odds with the Dodgers’ flashy style of play (the clubhouse arguments between him and Manny Ramirez are becoming infamous), and Arthur’s backup is a guy named Russell Martin who’s too good to stay a backup for long. Cobb’s the de facto team captain, so their manager listens to him and talks to their GM, who talks to the Dodgers’ GM, who talks with Arthur’s agent, and within two days Arthur’s agreed to waive his no-trade clause and is packing his bags for San Francisco.

Eames is on the phone as soon as he hears. “Do you need a place to stay?” he asks.

“They’re putting me up at a hotel until I can find somewhere - I mean, unless you’re offering—?”

“You’ve been to my house, it’s bloody big,” Eames laughs. “There’s plenty of room for you to stay.”

They agree; Arthur will stay with Eames while he gets his bearings in San Francisco. Arthur calls his agent to cancel the hotel arrangements; Eames stocks his liquor cabinet and calls his cleaning service to have someone in ASAP. It doesn’t matter that Arthur’s seen his house a dozen times before. This time, he wants to make a good impression.

When Arthur arrives the next morning, the house is clean, the largest guest bedroom is made up, and there is toilet paper in all the bathrooms. “You really didn’t have to,” Arthur says.

“It’s the least I could do,” says Eames. “Besides, the place was overdue for a spring cleaning.”

Arthur gives him a skeptical look, but he’s had to pack up his entire life in under 48 hours, so he’s probably too exhausted to complain. “I’m going to go nap for a few hours,” he says. “Wake me in enough time to eat before we go to the stadium.”

--

Eames probably could have waited to have the cleaning done, in all honesty; they leave the next day on a road trip: seven games in seven days in three cities. (When they get home, it won’t be much better; it’ll be another seven straight before they get a day off.)

The first game they play together, Eames can feel something’s different right from his first pitch. Arthur’s studied the opposing team’s hitters, he knows where their hotspots are and which ones can’t hit changeups. He trusts Arthur absolutely, and it leads to eight innings pitched, one run, three hits, a walk, six strikeouts. With Arthur behind the plate, Eames feels like he could rule the world.

After that game, a day game, he and Arthur are in Eames’ hotel room, trying to unwind a little before getting on the bus to the airport to board yet another flight. “You know,” Eames says, and he says it as casually as possible, like it’s just occurred to him, like he hasn’t rehearsed this conversation over and over in his head. “If you want, you could just stay with me. In the house, I mean. There’s plenty of room. I mean, you’ll probably want your own place eventually, obviously, you’ve got a shitload of furniture, but - you don’t need to rush your housing search. If you don’t want to, I mean.” (In his mental rehearsal, he was a lot more coherent.)

Arthur looks at him, amused. “That would be great, actually. I’ve barely been in San Francisco, I wouldn’t know where to look. Thanks.”

“Anytime,” says Eames, and wonders what he’s getting himself into.

--

In the end, Eames decides he can’t do it. It’s his own fault for opening his mouth, for extending friendly hospitality maybe a little too far. If it were only a few weeks - but it isn’t, thanks to his own stupid offer. And Arthur’s been too good of a friend for too long. It’s one thing to be lied to by a friend; it’s another to be lied to by the friend you’re living with. Arthur deserves to know, to have all the facts about the situation.

When they arrive home from the road trip, they’re both tired, they both want to go to bed, but Eames suggests a drink beforehand to help them decompress from the travel. He gets them both drinks, and they sit in the living room. Arthur sips at his; Eames drinks his quickly.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Eames says, then walks across the room and pours himself another drink. Never enough liquid courage for this kind of thing, and never enough distance between you and the other person once you’ve started talking.

Arthur looks at him curiously. “Okay?”

“And I know we already talked about you - living here, but this is probably something you should know before you make your final decision.”

He doesn’t really know how to go about this, once he’s started. The thing is, Eames hasn’t actually come out to anybody since he left England. (Ariadne doesn’t count; he hadn’t come out to her so much as she had flung open the closet door and left him no other choice but to exit.) There had been two or three people in university who had known, sort of, but they’d thought he was gay in that homoerotic jock frat boy experimentation kind of way. Not, you know, actually gay.

“I’m gay,” says Eames, maybe a little louder than he meant to. “And on a related note, I’m in love with you. And I have been for years. And if you’re not interested - which is fine, it’s not like I haven’t already been operating under that principle - but if you tell me you’re not interested, then that’s that, I’ll never mention it again. And if you’d rather not stay here - I understand perfectly. There’s not - there’s no reason this has to ruin our friendship. But if, if you’d rather not stay friends, then...I would also understand that. I would be hurt. But I can see why you might also be hurt by me not telling you that I’m gay even though we’ve been friends for fifteen years. I hope you can understand why I didn’t, because, baseball, you know. And I don’t - I don’t want to lose my career because of being gay,” he adds desperately. “I don’t want to lose you - your friendship, either, but whatever you decide, however you feel, don’t tell the team. Or the media. Or anybody, actually. I’m telling you because I trust you, but I’m not ready to be a public figure, I’m not, and, um. Anyway. I thought you should know.” Eames can’t look at him, stares accusingly at his glass and downs it in one gulp. What the hell did he just do?

“You’re gay,” Arthur says, a little wonderingly. “And you’re in love with me?”

Eames winces. “Yes?”

“I never thought,” Arthur says. “I always thought it was just - you being European, or something. Or it was just, you know. Baseball homoeroticism.” He pauses, and Eames looks at him, and he can’t read the look in Arthur’s eyes. “I wish you’d told me sooner.”

“I wasn’t sure how you would react,” Eames admits, and he’s still not sure. “I didn’t want to ruin things.”

“You wouldn’t have ruined things,” Arthur says softly. He puts his glass down on the coffee table, coming over to where Eames is standing. “Eames. Think about it. You really thought I was taking care of you after your surgery because I wanted you to pay me back some day?”

“I’ve always been a little confused by that, to be honest.” He looks at Arthur nervously. “Was that...not the reason?”

Arthur lets out an explosive laugh and that, that expression Eames can read. “You can be so dense sometimes,” Arthur says fondly. “No, Eames. I did it because I love you too, asshole.”

He’s kissing him, then, and it’s worth waiting for; all of it, all the heartache and the fighting and the misunderstandings, they were all worth it because they led to this, and this is actually happening; it isn’t a dream, it isn’t going to end; this is reality, and he hopes it never stops.

--

When they tell Ariadne, she practically cackles with glee. “Finally! I’ve been trying to get you two together for fucking ever.”

“Wait,” says Arthur.

“You knew?” asks Eames.

“Oh my god, you two are the biggest idiots in the entire world,” Ariadne tells them, and Eames is pretty sure he can hear her rolling her eyes. “Of course I knew. You both told me and then made me promise not to tell. I was giving you as many hints as possible! And if you had both listened to me and talked to each other, this would have been resolved like a million years ago.”

They hang up on her, because it’s easier than listening to her gloat about being right.

They debate whether or not to tell the team, but it’s less of a debate than it is a half-hearted discussion. Within five minutes they’ve decided by mutual agreement to keep this to themselves. Even if baseball were ready for its first openly gay player, it’s not ready for two of them, dating each other, on the same team. (Even if that team is San Francisco.) And if one of them comes out, they both have to, really, and the locker room awkwardness would be nigh unbearable. Neither of them is ready to deal with the inevitable pitcher/catcher joke, and to expect only jokes and awkwardness is thinking optimistically: Locker room hostility is a much likelier scenario. Eames doesn’t want to think what it would be like for Arthur on the field, running the risk of getting purposefully spiked by every player trying to slide into home. At least on the pitcher’s mound he’s relatively safe.

One thing is regrettably certain: Arthur has to find his own place to live, even if only for appearances’ sake. He rents a condo not too far from Eames’ house, and when Eames helps him move in, he brings a suitcase of his own clothes along. (Arthur’s already established his own closet at Eames’.)

--

Because everything has changed for him, Eames half-expects for the world to make some acknowledgment of this, to alter or accommodate in turn. But arriving at the stadium the next day, going in to the clubhouse, everything appears the same as it ever was. No one looks at him any differently or treats him any way other than they always have, even though he’s sure there must be a great blinking sign over his head announcing his new-found happiness. He supposes no one can see it because they don’t know there is anything to see.

Arthur is already there when he arrives (he’s almost always one of the first ones there, a habit Eames sees no need to pick up himself), and he nods at Eames before going back to his conversation with Saito. And that’s it, no fireworks going off or anything, just a Hey, how’s it going kind of nod that also says We can do this, there’s nothing you need to worry about, and so Eames goes about his routine with the trust that Arthur’s right.

The road trips end up being more difficult than when they play at home - travel is exhausting, and the close quarters of hotels don’t allow much privacy. They learn to be exceptionally quiet and even more discreet. It’s one thing to be seen leaving the other’s hotel room late at night; another to be seen sneaking out the next morning. The most they can manage is a few stolen hours at a time.

It’s excruciating, in a sense, but at the same time Eames treasures each moment, because it’s so much more than he’d ever thought they’d have. It doesn’t matter how little time they spend together; each brief moment gives him enough to carry him over to the next. For all that they love each other, they also know that their lives aren’t theirs to live as they want to. Any amount of time, no matter how small, will have to be enough.

It is not a satisfying truth, but it doesn’t have to be; reality is rarely satisfying. Nonetheless, it’s a truth that’s acknowledged and accepted. “I wish,” says Arthur once, lying with Eames in bed, but he doesn’t finish the statement.

“I know,” says Eames, and leans over to steal a kiss. “Someday.”

--

Cobb invites the two of them for dinner at his new house out in Sonoma County. It’s strange to see Cobb like this, out of uniform and with his family. Mal’s expecting again, looking lovelier than ever, and Philippa is a terrifying blonde bundle of energy.

They had discussed telling Cobb, before the visit. Arthur was in favor; Eames, against. Arthur trusts Cobb; Eames...doesn’t trust anyone, generally. It’s not that he thinks Cobb would react negatively, but Cobb’s behavior sets examples for the team, and if he starts acting awkwardly, then questions will follow. Besides, sitting in front of Cobb on his couch, holding hands like they’re about to ask permission to get married? No, he’d really rather not.

“Let me tell him after dinner,” Arthur had asked him. “Just me. You don’t have to be in the room. And if things go badly, we can leave.”

Everything in Eames wanted to say No, wanted to say, You can’t, but the smallest part of him said Trust, and so he had swallowed his doubts and nodded. “Just be careful,” he said. “Please.”

Arthur had leaned over and kissed him, gently. “We’ve come this far apart,” he said. “We can go the rest together.”

Eames goes into it with trepidation, but the dinner with the Cobbs is relaxed and easy, no doubt helped by the copious amounts of wine consumed. (Mal had eyed them all with envy. “Morning sickness and no wine,” she’d said sadly. “The worst parts of pregnancy.”) After the meal, Eames volunteers to help Mal clean up; Arthur and Cobb go to sit in the living room. Philippa is playing on the floor with a toy train.

“Arthur looks serious,” Mal says as he helps her clear the table.

He looks at her sharply, tries to cover it up with a sardonically raised eyebrow. “What makes you say that?” He doesn’t know Mallorie well, although he certainly likes her sense of humor; she’s around less than the other wives and girlfriends, which is only to be expected given her own modeling career.

“He had a serious face.” She shrugs. “He kept looking back over his shoulder, like he thought there might be trouble.” Mal takes a dish from him, putting it in the sink to soak. “Do you remember meeting Robert Fischer, at our wedding?”

“I believe he was pointed out to me,” says Eames. “I don’t think I had the pleasure of an introduction.”

“It does not matter. He models with me in Paris. After I came back from the honeymoon, we were at a photo shoot, and he was asking me many questions about our friend in there.” She inclined her head toward the living room. “Robert said he was the handsomest man at the wedding, and wanted to know if I knew his - inclinations.”

“His inclinations,” Eames repeats, keeping his voice steady by great force of will. “And you said?”

“I said that I did not know, because I did not know Arthur well. But I think that if Robert asked me again, I would tell him that Arthur’s interests are otherwise occupied at the moment. No?”

For a moment it feels like he can’t breathe, until he sees that there’s no hostility in her eyes, only challenge, only curiosity. Other than tonight, she couldn’t have observed him and Arthur together anywhere except at her wedding or as part of the team, which leads him to believe that - “We were less subtle than we meant to be, then,” he says.

Mal smiles. “I think Dominic did not notice. I spend my time with a greater variety of people, it makes me more attuned to such things. You should look at him less, if you want to go unnoticed. Or, no, look at him differently. Right now, you linger.”

He never in his wildest dreams expected to be getting advice on this topic from Dom Cobb’s wife. “Duly noted,” he says. “Thank you.”

“Go join them,” says Mal, and it’s less a suggestion than it is an order. “I need to put Philippa to bed.” He does so, but not before contemplating sneaking outside to hide in one of the hedges.

“I have a lot of questions,” Cobb is saying as Eames approaches the living room. “Mostly because it seems there are whole sections of your lives that I know nothing about. But I don’t blame you for keeping quiet.” He pauses. “Thank you for telling me. Your trust means a lot.” Cobb looks up then, sees Eames hovering in the doorway. “Hey, come on in.”

Arthur glances over and smiles at him. He doesn’t say anything, but Eames can read the words in his smile. The conversation is going well, Arthur’s smile says. Cobb’s happy for us. We’re not losing another friend. Eames can trust a smile like that, so he goes and sits next to Arthur as casually as possible, deliberately relaxing his body so as not to show how tense he really is. “Arthur’s told you, then?” he asks, a stupid question, but one that easily leads into conversation.

Cobb nods. “It’ll take some getting used to,” he admits, “but that’s just me needing some time to wrap my head around it. But I gather it’s new for you, too - I mean, the relationship, not the being gay part - unless it is, but that doesn’t seem to be case.” He looks desperately uncomfortable, like he doesn’t want to offend, but doesn’t know how to phrase his questions any other way.

“The being gay part is not new for either of us,” says Arthur, taking pity on him. “But we’ve only been together for a few weeks.” He glances at Eames, half-smiles. “Even coming out to each other was a leap of faith, you know? Neither of us thought the other was gay.”

“Neither did I,” Cobb says. “Neither does anyone on the team, as far as I know, which must make it easier on you - I mean—”

“It does,” says Eames firmly, cutting him off. “We’re not planning on coming out to the team. It’s too much, too soon.”

Cobb is clearly trying to hide his expression of relief. “No, of course. And you have my word, my lips are sealed.” He seems to think of something then, and looks briefly horrified. “And I promise I will never try to set either of you up on dates with any women ever again.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Eames says dryly, and gets up in search of Mal and more wine.

--

On the occasions when one of their teammates does try to set one of them up on a date, Arthur says he’s trying to focus on his career right now, and Eames professes to be bored with casual dating. The excuse works better than Eames thought it would.

Not that it stops either of them from playing matchmaker when Ariadne flies in for a visit. “Think she’d get along well with Tim?” Arthur asks, driving to pick her up at the airport.

Lincecum?” Eames considers it. There’s a bit of an age difference, but Lincecum could learn a lot from an older woman. “I can see it. We’d have to tell him, though. About us.”

Arthur deflates a little bit. “He’s young, though. Open-minded.”

“Young, and with the inclination to making rash decisions,” Eames counters. It could go either way. In the end, they decide to introduce them after tomorrow’s game and see how they get along.

Eames is starting the game, with Arthur behind the plate as always. Ariadne’s installed in box seats to one side of home, and she waves and smiles (Great seats! she calls, giving a thumbs-up), but knows better than to distract them. The media’s noted that the Giants are particularly strong down the middle this year, with Arthur catching, a strong rotation, Cobb at second and Renteria at shortstop, and Saito in center field. Today’s game is no exception: The first pitch is ripped straight to center field - the crowd gasps, but Saito catches it easily just before the warning track. Settle down, Arthur mouths at Eames as the next batter comes to the plate. Eames does his best to oblige, and by the second inning he’s fallen into a comfortable rhythm.

In the top of third inning, Eames strikes out the side; he’s at bat to lead off the bottom of the third and promptly grounds out. (There are some pitchers who make an effort at hitting; Eames is one of them, but his efforts are rarely successful.) In the fourth, Cobb doubles in the first run of the game and gives the Giants the lead. When Eames walks out to the pitcher’s mound in the top of the fifth, he doesn’t look at the scoreboard. He doesn’t need to; he doesn’t want to. It takes twenty-seven outs to win a game - he’s still got fifteen left.

Arthur calls for his fastball, sinker, sinker again. Three-pitch strikeout, and his seventh strikeout so far. The crowd has begun to murmur, and it’s a murmur Eames recognizes easily, though he hasn’t heard it in years. The next batter flies out; the next grounds out to first. As he heads off the field, he sees the other players have already moved away from his spot on the bench, and he jogs to catch up with Arthur as they go into the dugout. Arthur moves to join the other players and Eames barely stops himself from grabbing his arm. “Don’t,” Eames says, trying to keep the pleading note from his voice. “Please. Sit with me.”

Arthur looks at him. “Superstition,” he says gently.

“Fuck superstition,” says Eames. “This isn’t luck, this is you calling the right pitches and me throwing them in the right place. If we do this, everyone’ll give me all the credit, but I can’t do anything out there without you. Please.”

So they flaunt superstition and sit together on the bench, Arthur quietly going over the strategy for the next inning, Eames nodding silently. They both know that Eames doesn’t need to know the plan, not really, but hearing Arthur talk soothes him, keeps him calm, helps him know in his bones that the two of them have this game under control. He goes out there in the sixth inning feeling absolutely on top of his game, and it’s easy to tell - the first batter strikes out looking; the second and third both hit bad pitches into easy outs.

But there are still six more outs to go. Then there are three more outs, and before they go back on the field, Arthur says - well, nothing, not really. His eyes are full of confidence and hope, and his smile says I love you and Let’s do this, but the only words he actually says are, “C’mon, let’s go. Three more.”

The first batter hits a slow roller to third, but the third baseman scoops it up easily and throws him out at first. The crowd is on their feet. The second batter hits a high pop-up; Cobb calls for it, catches it easily, and grins broadly at Eames. The stadium is full of whistling and clapping, cheers of C’mon Eames! and You can do it! filling the air.

One out left. The first pitch is a called strike, the second a foul ball. Eames can’t even hear over the noise of the crowd. Arthur calls for a sinker, and the batter swings, misses, twelve strikeouts in all, and Eames didn’t think the crowd could get any louder, but they do. Holy shit, perfect game! he hears Ariadne cheer, her voice piercing through the rest, and then Arthur’s running at him, along with the rest of the team, and flashbulbs are going off everywhere. Ask anyone, and they’d say that it can’t possibly get better than this, but if, under the crush of ecstatic teammates, Arthur kisses him once, fiercely, it only increases the perfection.

 

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” —Rogers Hornsby