"I hear they signed Sheppard."
Rodney McKay wanted to bang his head against his locker but – hey! Open lockers without doors! – so he resisted. The voice was the Jacksonville Jumpers shortstop Radek Zelenka, who had the inside track with the owner Elizabeth Weir.
Everyone knew Zelenka was sleeping with her, but no one would say it aloud. Zelenka was closed-mouthed when necessary, but Rodney also knew Weir used Zelenka to pass information to the team. On the other hand, it was common knowledge that Zelenka could be trusted to keep ‘team business’ to himself.
Rodney thought through what he knew about Sheppard. He and Sheppard were the same age, and could have started professional baseball about the same time. In reality, Rodney had been recruited right out of high school, while Sheppard had taken a couple of years to play college ball before he signed pro. So, Rodney had been playing pro ball two years longer than Sheppard had.
Sheppard was generally well respected, a good athlete, had a phenomenal memory for batters and generally a fan favorite. And… he was a jinx.
None of the teams Sheppard played for ever did better than second place.
That wasn't an awful thing -- for a team in the cellar of the division. But, right now, the Jumpers were in a hot three-way race for the lead in the National League East. They were currently in third place, but only two games out of first. The Atlanta Braves were a half a game out of first, a position currently held by the Washington Nationals. The New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies were a distant fourth and fifth in the division.
All three teams were hot enough that the team that ended in second was essentially guaranteed a wild card spot in the playoffs. In fact, if the season were to end today, the Jumpers would have the other division wild card. But there was another six weeks to go in the season and the Jumpers had to play both Atlanta and Washington during that time.
"I will see you tomorrow, Rodney?" Teyla Emmagen's gentle voice broke into his musings.
Rodney groaned internally. Teyla was the team’s Trainer and a wizard when it came to conditioning, and she was relentless in keeping players working at their best.
"There's no game tomorrow!" Rodney protested. Tomorrow was a rare non-game day, and tonight had been a double-header to make up for rain dates earlier in the season. He had been the winning pitcher in the first game and had hung around to see how Evan Lorne would do in the second game. It was after midnight and Rodney just wanted some quality mattress time.
"Is two o'clock sufficient?" Teyla asked, raising an eyebrow. He wondered how she did that, he had tried. He only managed to make it look dorky and nowhere as elegant as Teyla did.
Rodney did groan, and rolled his eyes. "Two o'clock," he agreed.
"Have a good night!" she grinned.
Rodney finished straightening his locker, leaving the clubhouse to go out to the parking garage for his car.
Once in his apartment, Rodney looked around, decided that nothing needed to be done desperately at this moment. He went off to bed, having eaten at the ball park between games. He turned on the television to ESPN, turned down the sound so the voices were only a murmur, and fell asleep before he could figure out what sport they were talking about.
The next morning, Rodney woke relatively refreshed. Sleeping on his own – prescription – mattress and until he was slept out was a rare occurrence at this point in the season. He would have laid in bed longer but he had to piss and, now that his brain was functioning enough to process that it was full daylight, he might as well get moving.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs and a toasted bagel. He stocked up on bagels from a bakery down the street; he kept them on hand as a 'treat' so he wouldn't pig out on pizza or something else that would pack on weight.
Rodney knew he had to be extra careful about keeping healthy. At thirty-one, he was one of the 'old guys' on the team and knew he was past the peak of his career. He held on to his starting pitching spot with determination and a work ethic that outstripped the kids that were coming up today. He knew, however, that a bad pitching streak, a few losing games or a sharp uptick in his ERA, and he'd be moved to relief pitching in a heartbeat. The Jumpers had a deep pitching squad at the moment and Rodney was acutely aware of his position in that rotation.
He threw in a load of laundry, although the cleaning service usually kept up with most of it, and decided it was time for a couple of his 'travel suits' to go to the dry cleaners. Rodney still liked to travel in a suit, although even he had dropped the tie, to keep up the image of professional baseball. The requirements for a suit for travel days had been relaxed to "business casual," but the suit let Rodney feel like he was 'on the job' even when traveling.
Back in the locker room shortly before 2 pm, Rodney dressed in workout clothes while he waited for Teyla to appear. He knew she was good at what she did and, if she thought he needed a workout today, on the team's day off, he would work out.
Rodney heard multiple footsteps coming into the locker room. "I think there's an empty locker over here," Teyla was saying to someone.
She came around the corner, following her was Sheppard.
"Yes, I thought there was a locker here," she pointed to the empty locker next to Rodney. "Good afternoon," she greeted him.
"Afternoon," Rodney repeated, focusing on the man in back of her.
He knew Sheppard was close to his age, but he was a couple inches taller, and skinny. What drew Rodney's attention was the shock of messy hair and intelligent hazel eyes that looked back at him with interest.
"Rodney McKay," Teyla introduced them. "John Sheppard."
Rodney reached out and shook Sheppard's hand. It was calloused, yet firm…. And warm…
"Since Coach Caldwell is away today," Teyla went on, and Rodney dropped Sheppard's hand, slightly startled that neither had broken away, "he has asked that I get John settled."
"Sure," Rodney said easily.
"Since you are working out today, Rodney," Teyla looked between them, "perhaps John would like to join you?"
Rodney grinned. "Be nice to the new guy," he said, waggling a finger at Teyla. He turned to John. "When Teyla makes a suggestion like that, it's really a royal command. Ignore her suggestions at your own peril."
Teyla crinkled her eyes at him, but didn't disagree.
"Ah! Got it," Sheppard grinned back. "Sure, I could use a workout to shake out the kinks from traveling."
"Where'd you come in from?" Rodney asked.
"San Fran," Sheppard replied as he swung his bag on the bench in front of the locker.
"Bummer," Rodney agreed. "I hate traveling from the West Coast without some down time in-between."
"I will leave you to get changed," Teyla said. "Come out to the grounds when you are ready." She turned back, "John, bring some catching gear."
"No problem," Sheppard said to her.
"We will get your uniforms set up after we are done," she replied.
Rodney had played games against teams Sheppard was on before, but had never met the man in person. He looked away as Sheppard shimmied out of his jeans and dragged shorts and a t-shirt out of his bag. Living in locker rooms for over twenty years had made Rodney pretty blasé when it came to skin and other people's bodies, but there was something about Sheppard that made him want to look.
"Showers back there, laundry bins just about everywhere – they’re really good about keeping the uniforms in good shape and you'll have a couple sets – extra towels here, and I'll show you the workout room on our way to the field," Rodney gave Sheppard the brief tour. At some point, locker rooms were locker rooms and he knew Sheppard had seen almost as many of them as he had. "The team provides workout uniforms," he waved at John's current outfit. "You won't need to bring your own."
"Good to know," Sheppard replied.
"This way," Rodney picked up his mitt and led the way to the field. He stopped in the dugout. "You can get some equipment here." He waited while Sheppard picked out a mask and a chest guard.
Teyla was at the pitching mound when they got there.
"Do a slow jogging lap around the field as a warm up, then ten minutes of gentle stretching," she directed.
Rodney tossed his mitt on the grass near the mound, and Sheppard did the same with his gear. "I like to start at home base," Rodney admitted. "Just…" he shrugged.
Sheppard gave a smile at that. "I've heard worse!"
Baseball players were as superstitious as any and almost every player had some 'routine' that they went through on a game day and during workouts. Rodney had spent the last ten years with the Jumpers and during that time he had seen a lot of bizarre behaviors, all in the name of winning.
They jogged easily around the field in silence, ending back at home plate. Rodney moved to the grass to do his stretching. "Better on my knees, than doing it on the dirt," he admitted.
"Don't the field guys give you hell for that?" Sheppard asked, joining him.
"When we’re at home, and for basic stretching, nah," he replied. "I'm mostly planting my feet or sitting. Hardly stirs up the grass. Anything more or when we’re away, though, I do in the outfield."
"Good to know," Sheppard replied.
Rodney focused on his own stretching and breathing. Teyla had taught him some yoga moves that helped with his flexibility, and the breathing was a big part of that.
Rodney finished sitting on the ground, legs straight out in front of him and forehead on his knees, counting to one hundred. The counting kept his mind on what he was doing, and it let him sink further into the stretch.
When Rodney looked up, Sheppard was doing something similar, but upright, facing away from Rodney. Rodney found himself looking at Sheppard's ass…
"Ready?" Teyla called, a thread of amusement in her voice.
"Ready!" Rodney agreed, standing up and brushing himself off.
"Ready," Sheppard echoed, straightening.
"Rodney, I'd like to have you throw some pitches to John today," she directed. "Nothing hard and no curve balls, please. Just to see how your arm is doing."
Teyla wasn't a pitching coach. Ellis was the pitching coach for the team, but in the last couple of years, Teyla had been better able to help Rodney with his pitching. The reality that Rodney and Ellis fought each other every step of the way had added to that. Rodney didn't know what Teyla had said to Caldwell in private, but Ellis had pretty much ignored Rodney since. Rodney did his part by participating in any meetings Ellis had, never saying anything negative about the pitching coach, and following directions on the field. But his one-on-one pitching coaching came from Teyla.
Rodney moved to the mound while Sheppard picked up his gear and jogged to the plate. Sheppard easily donned the chest protector and pulled the mask over his head.
"Nothing too hard," Teyla commanded softly from Rodney's right side.
Sheppard got in position behind the plate and wriggled his fingers at Rodney in a generic "inside, slider" signal.
Rodney nodded and went through his wind up, placing the ball not quite where Sheppard had requested it, but close enough.
"Teyla," Sheppard called, standing from his crouch. "Come over here?"
Teyla looked at him in some surprise and nodded. "Yes." She jogged to home plate as Sheppard threw the ball back to Rodney.
The two conferred for a moment and Rodney could see Teyla glance at Rodney. She stepped behind John, where the umpire would stand, and motioned Rodney to throw again. Sheppard signed for that inside slider again.
Rodney threw the ball in about the same not-quite-right place and saw Teyla tip her head for a moment. She must have said "again" to Sheppard because Rodney got the same signal. He threw the ball to the same place.
Teyla put a brief hand on Sheppard's shoulder and came out to the mound.
"You are rotating your hips just a bit too much," Teyla said. "Your throw is good, but it could be more inside if you work to not rotate quite so much." She stood beside him and put her hands on his hips. "Work your way through that throw like you just did," she ordered.
It was awkward as hell, but they had done this enough that Rodney was able to focus on his throwing, rather than on Teyla being plastered up to him. "There!" she said as he was on the forward part of the throw.
Rodney considered where she had stopped him for a moment and thought through the movement needed for the pitch in his head. "Okay," he nodded.
"John," she ordered. "Try it again."
Sheppard threw Rodney the ball, signaled the inside slider and this time the ball went exactly where Rodney had wanted it to go.
"Excellent!" Teyla said. "Again."
Sheppard threw the ball back to Rodney and then… Inside sliders became a couple of high fast balls and then some outside pitches...
"Enough!" Teyla commanded.
Rodney looked around, amazed that he had been able to focus so tightly on Sheppard that he had not been aware of anything else. He hadn't been able to focus like that in years.
"Good workout!" Teyla said. "You did some very nice work, Rodney," she praised. Sheppard came up to them, taking off the mask. "That was a good catch, John," she said.
Sheppard shrugged. "Something I've been wanting to tell McKay for ages. Just..." He shrugged. "Not if it would work against my team."
"Glad we're on the same team, then," Teyla grinned. "One more slow jog around the field to cool down and we're done."
"Okay," Sheppard agreed.
They went back to home plate again and left their equipment, which Rodney saw Teyla pick up.
"That was good," Rodney said. "Thanks."
Sheppard shrugged again. "Just... something you've been doing for a couple of years, so be careful that you don't backslide into it again."
"I'll keep that in mind," Rodney agreed. Muscle memory was hard to fight against, he knew.
Teyla was waiting in the locker room with Chuck, who took care of the uniforms and equipment.
"Chuck will get your uniform size, as well as get you anything else you might need," Teyla said to John. "Don't hesitate to ask."
"Good workout," Rodney said. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Sheppard grinned at him. "Sure."
Rodney showered and changed into his street clothes, Sheppard wasn't there as he left. Rodney figured he was still with Chuck or Teyla, and went off for some dinner.
The next day was an afternoon game, and Rodney only saw Sheppard briefly as he changed for the game. Since Rodney had pitched almost a full game two days ago, he was on another day of rest before he would probably pitch again. But he suited up and did some physical warming up, but no practice pitching. He'd only warm up his arm if there was a chance to go into the game.
Caldwell put Sheppard in as the starting catcher, with Matias – one of the better youngsters, in Rodney’s private opinion – pitching. Matias had been on a hot streak himself, and they easily beat Milwaukee 3-0.
Sheppard was being interviewed in the locker room as Rodney made his way to his own locker. The walk from the bullpen was longer than the walk from home plate.
The interview was the standard "welcome to Jacksonville" – from the reporter -- and "glad to be here" – from Sheppard – sort of routine all the new players went through. There were a couple of sound bites about the game and Sheppard made all the right noises about "hoping to make it to the playoffs" that any of the players would make.
After the reporter left, Rodney said, "Well done."
"Didn't say anything interesting," Sheppard admitted softly.
"No, but it will play well," Rodney informed him. "The local reporters are always eager to talk to the new guys and Caldwell hates it when they screw up and say anything negative. You did good."
Sheppard shot him a small smile. "Thanks."
"Want to get some dinner?" Rodney found himself asking.
Sheppard looked startled for a moment, then pleased and said, "Sure. What did you have in mind?"
"There's a, well, okay, it's a diner near my place that I go to, and no one bothers me," Rodney said. "It's good food and reasonably priced."
"Sounds good," Sheppard agreed. "I'll follow you?"
"Okay," Rodney replied. "Where you staying?"
"Right now, in a Residence Inn," Sheppard answered. "Not too far from here."
"It’s not bad," Rodney said. "That's where they generally put new guys."
"I have my agent looking for an apartment," Sheppard explained. "Hope I’ll be here for a bit, at least through the end of the season, so it's worthwhile looking for a place."
"I can give you some suggestions," Rodney offered.
"Over dinner, then," Sheppard said.
They walked out to the parking garage and Sheppard got into a late model Mustang. Rodney's more practical Prius was just down the row and Rodney pointed, "My car."
"Why am I not surprised?" Sheppard grinned.
"Pot, kettle," Rodney shot back. "There's a funky turn off Main -- Route 5," he explained. "I'll make sure you get through the signal behind me."
"Sounds good," Sheppard promised.
Rodney drove conscious of the dark green car following him. He made sure to signal any turn well ahead of time and, as promised, waiting for Sheppard at the 'funky' turn at a three-way intersection.
"Okay, I never would have found this on my own," Sheppard admitted as he got out of his car. "And that intersection has got to be a nightmare at rush hour." The afternoon game had run long due to a local promotion taking place between each inning, and they were now after the local rush hour.
"Yeah, there's accidents there on a semi-regular basis when someone tries to run the light," Rodney explained.
Dinner turned out to be fun. Sheppard got the burger and fries, while Rodney ate the soup and salad special.
"Can't afford to do this too much," Sheppard admitted, taking a bite of his burger. "But it's been a long couple of days."
"I know what you mean," Rodney agreed. "But the soup's always good here and the salad fresh." Going to somewhere familiar had the added advantage of not having to explain in detail about his citrus allergy; the waitresses did a good job of looking out for him. Rodney always left a good tip, in appreciation.
"Thanks for helping with that pitching," Rodney repeated. "Even Teyla hadn't picked that up."
Sheppard shrugged. "Being behind the plate, it looks different than some of the coaches' see," he replied. "Was glad to have a chance to fix it for you."
"Now I have to make sure you don't get traded, and give my secrets away," Rodney teased.
Sheppard blushed a bit and Rodney found it charming.
"Star Wars or Star Trek?" Sheppard asked, obviously changing the subject. Rodney let it go.
"Star Trek, of course," Rodney replied immediately. "And the reboot has made it interesting, although the original series is always fun."
They relaxed into banter about the various iterations of the franchise and pretty soon the waitress was asking, "Dessert?"
"Not for me," Sheppard replied. "This was great, though."
"It was good," Rodney added. "Thanks!"
"Any friend of Rodney's is welcome any time," she said, leaving the check.
Rodney grabbed the check, and when Sheppard was about to protest, he suggested, "First one's on me. You can buy next time."
"I'd like that," Sheppard admitted.
The Jumpers swept the series with Milwaukee, Atlanta lost a game -- to last place Arizona, of all teams -- but Washington took all but one game of their current series. The Jumpers were now tied with Atlanta for second, both behind Washington by one game.
The Jumpers finished their Sunday afternoon game against Milwaukee, then headed to Washington for a critical three game series -- the last time the teams were scheduled to meet before the end of the season. Because the game was the Monday Night ESPN Game of the Week, the team was traveling Sunday night to have the day in Washington to get ready.
"Ummm.... Sheppard?" Rodney heard Chuck grab Sheppard's attention in the hotel lobby. The plane had been delayed getting out of Jacksonville due to weather along the East coast, and everyone was tired. Sheppard went over to talk to Chuck and Rodney couldn't help but see Sheppard's shoulders tighten as Chuck shrugged somewhat helplessly.
Going over to the two men, Rodney overheard Chuck say, "... there's a convention in the hotel and our room count got fucked up, so I don't have a room for you. I can put you in with Dex and Lorne, if you want, or see if I can get a room in the Marriott next door."
"Okay, that means sleeping on a sucky cot, at best. Dex snores like a trucker and Lorne is the only one who will put up with him," Rodney barged in. "The team doesn't stay in that Marriott for lots of good reasons. Sheppard can stay with me."
Rodney was in a single room; it's been part of his contract from the moment he could get it in there.
Chuck stared at him, which Rodney ignored. He knows he has never offered to share before, but that was none of Chuck's business.
"You sure?" Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck. Rodney has already figured that was John’s 'tell' when he was uncertain but not willing to admit it.
"I'm sure," Rodney said firmly.
"Okay,” Sheppard agreed.
Chuck gave an obvious sigh of relief. Rodney turned to him and pointed, "You owe me one for this!"
Chuck held up his hands and nodded. "You got it! And there's a room open tomorrow night, tonight is the problem."
"Get us an extra key anyway," Rodney ordered. "Bring it up when you have it."
"As soon as I can fight my way to the desk," Chuck agreed. "Should be in less than half an hour."
"Come on, then," Rodney directed Sheppard. "I need to take my shoes off, if nothing else."
Sheppard grinned at him.
Rodney opened the door that let them into the single room. The room with the single, king size bed.
"I hope you don't snore," Rodney said, figuring he’d go for practical. "And I sleep away from the window."
"If I snore, poke me so I roll over. And I can sleep on either side of the bed, so that's okay," Sheppard replied easily.
"I'm gonna hit the shower," Rodney said, kicking his shoes into a corner of the room and wriggling his toes in the carpet for a moment.
"Go ahead," Sheppard agreed. "I'm gonna check email."
Not used to sharing a room meant that Rodney had taken no clothes into the shower with him. He figured Sheppard had seen him in worse in the locker room, and wrapped a towel around his hips.
Sheppard had settled into the 'lounge' chair in the room, in front of the television. Rodney opened his suitcase and dug through it for shorts and a t-shirt. He glanced over to Sheppard as he pulled up the shorts, and thought, maybe, just maybe, he had caught the other man looking. Well, looking back.
"All yours, if you want," Rodney offered.
"Just gonna finish this up," Sheppard replied, typing on the keyboard. He held up a room key. "Chuck brought the key while you were in the shower."
Sheppard closed up his laptop, and grabbed his toiletries and clothes before using the bathroom. Rodney heard the shower run and Sheppard came out in his own boxers and t-shirt.
"I'm going to call it a night," Rodney yawned. "Caldwell's breakfast meetings on the day of a night game are a pain in the ass."
"Hadn't thought of it that way," Sheppard replied. "Guess I'll call it quits, too."
Rodney turned off the light at his side of the bed, leaving the room in darkness. Rodney rolled to one side, facing Sheppard. He couldn't quite see, but he could feel the other man lie tensely on the far side of the bed.
"I don't bite," Rodney said softly.
Sheppard sighed, and the sheets rustled. "Would you kick me out if I admitted I might want you to?"
Rodney grinned to himself, knowing the darkness hid his reaction. "Was kind of hoping you'd be open to... talking about it."
"It's usually been more trouble than it's worth," Sheppard -- no, John admitted.
"I know that," Rodney agreed. "I'm not sure I want to be the gay poster child for major league baseball. I love that football kid that came out, but that takes some major balls to do that."
"I... I was all set to go to the Air Force Academy," John said. "I couldn't do it. Pretend all the time. So I went to Stanford on a baseball scholarship and never looked back."
"Almost went to MIT, full ride," Rodney admitted. "But my little sister was sick, leukemia, and while the health insurance covered the hospital bills, the hospital she needed to be at was five hours away from where we were living. We needed the money so our mother could be with her. When I was recruited by the Tigers out of high school, the money was too good to pass up."
"What did you want to be?" John asked.
"Don't laugh," Rodney warned. "An astrophysicist."
"I wanted to be a pilot," John replied. "The Air Force has all the best rides. My dad, he wanted me to go into the family business, but that was never going to happen."
Rodney thought for a minute. "Wait! You're a Sheppard Industries Sheppard?" Whoa. That was big-money territory. And why didn’t he know that?
More rustling. "Yeah, well, I was never cut out for that," John replied.
"Well, glad you ended up here," Rodney said sincerely.
"I am, too," John replied, almost too soft to hear.
Rodney's alarm rang and, as he woke, he realized he was warm. During the night, he and John had evidently migrated to the middle of the bed. Rodney found himself being the small spoon, John's arm around his waist.
He could tell when John woke enough to realize what he was doing, Rodney put a hand on John's arm to stop the immediate withdrawal. "This was nice," he offered.
A small squeeze was as much of a reply as he was going to get, and John rolled away from him.
"Breakfast in thirty," Rodney said.
"Good, long enough to catch up on some news," John said, turning on the television.
"Coffee," Rodney muttered. He got up, pissed, splashed water on his face and filled the coffee carafe with water while he was in the bathroom. "Thank god this is a real coffee pot. I hate those one-cup-at-a-time monstrosities you find in a lot of places now."
"I can take it or leave it," John replied.
"Heathen!" Rodney shot back, as he poured the water into the coffee maker. He turned it on and went to get dressed.
"What does Caldwell do at breakfast?" John asked. “And why breakfast?”
"Your first road trip, right," Rodney said, not taking his eyes off the brewing coffee. "It's actually nothing special in the end and, breakfast is cheaper than lunch. He announces tonight's starting line-up, and we go through some film about the Washington players. Like us, most of their starting line-up is predictable, we can guess who the starting pitcher might be and he tells us anything that he knows about injuries and so on."
"The rest of the day?" John asked.
"The bus leaves for the ballpark about two, since we’re on ESPN tonight," Rodney replied. "Smaller group things at the park. Ellis has a meeting for all the pitchers, Sumner works through some batting practice, and Teyla will do some conditioning workouts. There will be dinner available at the ballpark, usually a buffet, and then one last meeting before the game."
"So, after breakfast, we're on our own until two?" John clarified.
"Well, breakfast will last until about 10 am, so it’s not all the time in the world. But, sure, what did you have in mind?" Rodney asked warily.
The hand went to the back of the neck again. "I was thinking we could go to the Air and Space Museum?" John offered.
Rodney stared. "The Smithsonian?"
John shrugged. "It's cool. And it's something to do," he grinned. "Just, hotels rooms get old after a while."
Rodney, who had been planning on doing exactly that -- sitting around in his room -- couldn't really disagree. He didn't really have anything he had to do and, well, John looked hopeful.
"Oh, all right," he caved. "But there better be food."
"There's always food of some sort," John promised.
The team meeting went exactly as Rodney had figured. He was scheduled to be the starting pitcher for the Monday night game, and John would be catching. It would be the first time they were officially working together. They grinned at each other at the announcement.
John actually had a car waiting for them outside the hotel. "Easier than taking a taxi," he admitted. "And then when we're done, we can leave when we want without having to call anyone."
The Air and Space Museum was actually fun. It turned out John did know a fair amount about planes and space craft but, in the end, he was just a tourist and wanted to see what there was to see. If they had more time, he threatened -- to Rodney's horror -- to drag Rodney to the Smithsonian Zoo. Or to the Mall to sit on a bench and people watch.
"Wish we had time to go out to Arlington," John said as they watched a tour bus leave the curb. "That would be fun." The ride out to Arlington would make it tight to get back for the team bus and they didn't want to push their luck... too much.
John made sure Rodney got a hamburger at the cafe, and they both had cold drinks before heading back.
At the ball park, they went their separate ways, meeting up briefly at the dinner buffet. Luckily, Caldwell had a strict policy about not letting reporters interview the starters just before a game. Before he knew it, they were standing for the National Anthem.
Then... John was signaling for that same "inside, slider" that he had signaled for when they first met. Rodney nodded and went into his wind-up. It went exactly where he wanted it to. The batter swung, missed, and Rodney watched as John easily caught the ball.
"Strike three!" the ump called.
The crowd erupted and John rocketed out of his crouch to run to the mound. As the shortstop, Zelenka had been closer and reached Rodney first, and then Rodney was surrounded by the entire team. Right behind them, everyone on the bench was streaming onto the field.
Rodney's head cleared, and it finally sunk in. A perfect game! No hits, no runs, no errors. Luckily Dex had hit a home run in the 4th inning, and the Jumpers won the game 1 - 0. Everyone reached in to try to pat Rodney on the back or shake his hand.
Fortunately for Rodney, John and Dex took control of the mob, and herded Rodney to the dugout.
There was a roar from the crowd as they entered the dugout. John pushed Rodney back onto the field to take another bow. Rodney took his cap off and waved at the crowd, turning to take in the entire stadium.
There was a gaggle of reporters waiting for them. John tried to slip out but Rodney grabbed his arm before he could disappear.
"It was a team effort," Rodney told the reporter sincerely. "Sheppard called for some perfect pitches and everyone else was sharp in handling the balls that did get hit." He looked around. "Oh, and thanks to Ronon Dex for hitting that home run!"
Rodney got dragged into the ESPN after game show, given time for only a quick shower.
He hissed at John, "Don't go anywhere!"
"But they only want you!" he protested.
"And they'll keep me here all night if you don't hang around to get me out of here!" Rodney was faintly alarmed.
John considered for a moment. "Okay, let me see what I can do."
Fortunately for Rodney, Caldwell was also requested for the post game analysis.
In some ways, it was interesting to watch the playback of some of the key plays from the game. Being in the middle of it didn't give Rodney the perspective to appreciate some of the field work his team mates had performed around him. Part of it was also that he had focused so closely on the pitches John had been calling for that he really hadn't appreciated what else was going on.
During a break for other scores around the league, Ronon Dex came on to the set and said, "Sheppard says you should go while the going is good. I'll stay for a bit."
Rodney breathed a sigh of relief. "You don't mind?" he had to ask.
"Nah, get out of here," Ronon grinned. "You're entitled to a break by now."
Caldwell gave Rodney a nod as he left, and Rodney was glad to find John waiting outside the studio. "I figure Caldwell thought you and he’d go back to the hotel together, but I got us a taxi out front. Caldwell can share with Ronon."
"Perfect, and thanks!" Rodney breathed.
The taxi driver knew exactly who Rodney and John were, and talked about the game all the way to their hotel. Rodney let the sound wash over him, he was only aware of John sitting next to him, and holding his hand in the darkness of the back seat.
At the hotel, John paid the driver and they headed inside. Chuck was waiting for them.
"Great game, Rodney!" he smiled broadly. He reached into his pocket and handed John a key card.
"Got your room, like I promised," Chuck said. "Room number's on the sleeve."
"Thanks," John said briefly, taking the card.
Rodney had forgotten that John would be getting his own room tonight. He had thought... he didn't know what he thought. He just knew that he didn't want John to leave yet.
"You have to get your stuff," Rodney said. "And now that I've had a chance to breathe, I'm exhausted." He led the way to the elevator, John following in silence.
In the room, John started putting his things in his bag as Rodney dropped down to sit on the edge of the bed.
John looked around briefly, then shrugged. "If you find something that's not yours, hang on to it and I'll get it later."
"Okay," Rodney replied, feeling somewhat helpless.
"Get some sleep," John said with a hand on the door knob.
John stopped at the door. "Come with me tomorrow?" he asked cautiously.
"Where?" Rodney was curious.
That hand went to the back of the neck. At least it wasn't on the door knob anymore, Rodney thought idly.
"Umm... Weir got me into the local children's hospital," John admitted. "No press or anything, but I got some team swag to give away."
"No press is perfect," Rodney smiled. "I'll get that again tonight before the game. Sure, I'll go."
John smiled back at him.
"Now, you better go before Caldwell does one of his random room checks," Rodney made a shoo'ing motion with his hands. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Okay," John said softly. "Good game tonight."
"Yeah, it was!" Rodney had to grin.
John left for his own room.
In the morning, Rodney woke alone in his bed and missed John... okay, missed the snuggling. Not that he would use that exact word aloud. He made coffee and met up with John at breakfast.
"You ready?" John asked as the breakfast meeting finished up. Caldwell had said some nice things about last night's perfect game. John was catching again but Rodney had the night off. And since they were only on local television, the team bus didn't leave for the stadium until 4 pm.
"Sure!" Rodney said.
The same driver was waiting for them, and greeted them both with a smile. "Ms Weir gave me some Jumpers things you can hand out. There's an entire box of things and it looks like a variety."
"Good, thanks," John replied.
"Good game last night," the driver said to them as he negotiated through traffic.
"Glad you enjoyed it," John replied.
Someone must have called ahead, a woman was waiting for them at the hospital door.
"Hi! I'm Nathalie," she shook their hands. "Thanks so much for coming. I know you must have other things you should be doing today, especially after last night's game."
"You watched the game?" Rodney asked.
"I was there last night," she admitted. "It was stunning, watching the two of you work together."
Rodney watched John stutter a 'thanks' to her.
"We have... stuff..." Rodney waved a hand at the box in the driver's hands.
"The kids will love whatever you have," she admitted. "Can you manage it? Want me to get a cart?"
"It's more awkward than heavy," the driver replied. "I got it."
She took them up to the third floor, where there were lots of bright colors and windows. "There's a playroom down here, but some of the kids are restricted to their rooms."
"I'll take the playroom, if you want to take the rooms," John offered.
Rodney shrugged. He's done this sort of thing before, not in a while, but he knew the kids would appreciate a visit from anyone that wasn't a doctor.
In the end, Rodney was exhausted. He had signed baseball caps, balls, casts, and pictures for the kids he talked to. Some of them knew who he was and they talked baseball, while others didn't really know him but were glad for a visitor. About half of the kids had a parent with them, and Rodney included them in the discussion. In most of the rooms, either the kid or the parent had a phone, and Rodney mugged for the camera.
Being cheerful for sick children, a couple even he could see were dying, took an emotional toll. Rodney suspected John did this all the time, and his appreciation for the other man went up even further.
He found John still in the playroom, sitting on the floor, playing tea party with a couple of little girls.
"Join us!" John waved Rodney to join them.
"Ummm..." Rodney hesitated.
John leaned in to stage-whisper to the girls, "Don't mind him, he's shy."
They giggled behind their hands.
"Come on," John batted his eyes dramatically. "We're having tea!"
Rodney couldn't resist and settled down next to John. "Are there crumpets?" he asked seriously. There was more giggling.
The girls finally had to leave for various reasons, and Nathalie came back to check on them.
"Everyone seemed to have fun!" she said. "Thanks so much for coming, I know all the kids appreciated it."
John reached into the box and brought out another baseball cap. He signed and dated it and handed it to Rodney. Rodney signed the cap and handed it back to John.
"Here, this is for you," John said to Nathalie. "You deserve something for helping us."
"Why, thank you!" she grinned. "And the day after your perfect game, that's cool."
"Sorry, we're going to beat your team again tonight," John teased.
"If it's anything like last night's game, I guess it'll be fun, anyways," she said.
They went back to the hotel, the ride quiet. John leaned against Rodney's shoulder, Rodney enjoying the warmth and comfort.
"We have time for a nap, if you want," Rodney offered as they entered the hotel. "The bus doesn't leave for another couple of hours."
"Sounds good," John said.
"Come to my room?" Rodney asked softly.
"Let me get changed," John said. "Be there in ten."
By the time John knocked on his door, Rodney had ordered room service to bring them sandwiches and cold drinks as soon as possible. He kicked off his shoes, and quickly changed to a t-shirt and sweat pants.
"Take a shower, if you want," Rodney pushed John to the bathroom. "Food will be here by the time you wash up and then you'll sleep better."
"Now that you mention it, I am hungry," John admitted. "Thanks."
The food came while John was in the bathroom, and Rodney set the food on the small coffee table in front of the lounge chair. He turned the television on low and poured himself a soda.
John came out and dropped into the chair.
"You do this all the time, don't you?" Rodney made it as much of a statement as a question.
John shrugged as he took a bite of one of the sandwiches. "Something I can do," he said.
"My sister Jeannie had leukemia," Rodney explained. "She was eight, when I was eighteen. The money I could make playing baseball let mom be there with her. Since I was traveling with the team, and dad wasn't around anyway, it made more sense for mom to stay with Jeanne. She was one of the lucky ones, the treatment worked and she has a kid of her own now."
"Do you see her much?" John asked.
"Not as much as I could," Rodney admitted. "But I do go for a couple of weeks in the off season."
"That's good," John said sleepily.
"Get in the bed," Rodney directed. "These chairs aren't even comfortable to sit in, much less to sleep in."
"Make sure you've set an alarm," John warned.
"Already done," Rodney said. "Come on."
Rodney shoved the bed spread to the far side of the bed and they climbed in. Rodney moved close to John, who loosely wrapped himself around Rodney.
"I slept better the other night than I have in a while," John admitted.
"Good," Rodney replied, "Now sleep. You have another game to win tonight."
Before Rodney knew it, it was late September and the division race had come down to the Jumpers and the Washington Nationals. After the Jumpers swept Atlanta in a three game series, Atlanta had lost their momentum and were now two and a half games in back of the Jumpers. The Jumpers were half a game behind Washington at the moment, both teams having four games left in the season.
John and Rodney had drawn the attention of the media -- Rodney had been the winning pitcher in all of the games he had pitched since John had arrived. There was one almost-perfect game, broken up by a solid hit by the opposing team in the seventh inning. The consolation was that the Jumpers still won the game.
The team was on the last day of the West Coast road trip. Rodney was scheduled to pitch the night game, and then the team would be taking a red-eye flight right after the game to go back to Jacksonville.
"Let's watch a movie this afternoon," Rodney suggested to John after the standard breakfast meeting. "I'm dragging already and we just had breakfast."
"You feeling okay?" John asked, concerned.
Rodney shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. Just tired," he said. "It's been a long season."
"It has been," John agreed. "Sure, we can watch a movie. Something on the tv or Netflix?"
"Netflix," Rodney answered.
"I'll get my laptop," John said. "Be to your room in ten."
"Thanks," Rodney said.
Rodney went back to his room and changed into sweats. A tap on the door and he let John into the room. John hung the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.
"I'm just gonna..." Rodney pointed to the bed. "While you set up."
"Sure, what do you want to watch?" John asked, hooking the computer to the television.
"Maybe some old Doctor Who?" Rodney suggested. "The Eccleston ones."
"That'll work," John agreed. He queued up the start of the series and climbed onto the bed next to him. John was warm next to him, he was comfortable and he was going to close his eyes for just a moment...
Rodney woke to find John wrapped around him, breathing lightly. He relaxed into the arms holding him in place. They hadn't really done this since that one night they had shared a room and that nap after the first of a handful of hospital visits. Not that they didn't have the opportunity, but they had resisted.
"I... I want to get to know you better," John had stuttered one afternoon as they wandered through an art museum -- another of John's tourist attractions. "There's something..." he had shrugged, then gone silent for a bit. "I... want to..." he waved a hand between them vaguely. "Just... maybe not yet."
"Okay," Rodney had agreed easily.
John had shot him a grateful look.
Rodney felt John stir behind him.
"We talking about this yet?" Rodney asked.
"Ummm.... no?" John replied sleepily.
"Okay," Rodney answered. "You want room service?"
"Sure," John agreed, not moving away.
At the game, Rodney knew he was struggling from the start. In the fourth inning, there were suddenly two men on base, and no outs. John jogged out to the mound, a worried look on his face.
"You okay?" he asked softly, handing Rodney the ball.
Rodney scuffed a foot in the dirt, then admitted, "No. Don't know what's going on. But... no."
"Do you want to get out?" John asked.
Rodney just nodded as Caldwell came out to the mound.
"McKay?" Caldwell barked. "What's going on?"
"I think he's sick," John offered bluntly.
Caldwell rolled his eyes. "You couldn't have decided that before the game started?" he asked with a sigh. "Can you hold on for one more batter so I can get someone warmed up?"
Rodney took a deep breath. "I can do that," he replied. He knew an extra few minutes would be helpful in getting someone warmed up... straining a pitching arm at this point in the season was to be avoided at all cost.
Caldwell walked back to the bench, and John hesitated for a moment. "We can walk this guy if we have to," he suggested. "He likes the low, inside slider, so if you can keep it outside, at the very least, we can contain him."
"Outside, I can probably do," Rodney knew his grin was faintly wan. "I'm pretty sure I can't focus enough at this point to do anything fancy."
"Okay, then," John took his own deep breath, and that hand started for the back of the neck before it stopped. Rodney suddenly knew what John was about to do. "Don't kill me for this."
John leaned in and gave Rodney a small, chaste kiss. Rodney returned it automatically. Then John grinned. "That should help you focus."
Around them, Rodney could hear the ballpark erupt in noise. Then he looked back at a delighted John and the crowd fell away.
"Okay, one more batter," Rodney nodded with his own grin.
John strolled back to the plate and crouched behind it. The umpire got into position, but the batter stood outside the box. Rodney could see him talking to John, waving in Rodney’s direction, and John shrugged. The batter moved to the plate and took his stance.
John signaled a high, outside fastball, Rodney nodded and threw the ball exactly where he wanted it to go.
"Strike one!" the ump called.
John stood and threw the ball back to Rodney, dropping into his crouch. He signaled another high, outside fast ball.
John stood to throw the ball but held on to it for a moment. He tilted his head in a way that Rodney read as You okay?.
Rodney nodded, with a small grin, and easily caught the ball that John threw back to him.
In his crouch, John signaled for another high, outside fast ball. Rodney shook it off -- he knew the batter would be looking for a third fastball -- and John paused for a moment. The next signal was for the inside slider.
Rodney nodded and stood to throw the ball. He went back to that first day that he threw to John, John correcting that throw for him. Rodney wound up and the ball went nicely inside.
The batter swung and...
Rodney waited for John to walk back to the mound, to give whomever Caldwell had warming up a couple more pitches. Caldwell strolled out, tapping his left arm, signaling for a left handed pitcher.
Caldwell looked between them and sighed. "If McKay's sick, you're stuck with dealing with the media."
John shrugged and said, "We got the batter out, didn't we?"
"You did at that," Caldwell had to admit.
Rodney handed the ball to Caldwell and went to the dugout.
He heard Matias come up to the pitching mound from the bull pen. "What's up?" he asked, looking around at the excited crowd who was giving a standing ovation. Warming up his arm in the bull pen hadn’t given him a chance to see the replay of the kiss on the jumbo-tron.
Caldwell laughed as he followed Rodney back to the dugout.
Teyla was waiting for him, and walked him into the locker room. She guided him to the trainers' room, where there was a cot to lie down on.
"What's wrong?" Teyla asked, getting out a blood pressure cuff.
"I feel like crap," Rodney admitted.
"Nausea? Pain anywhere?" she asked as she strapped the cuff on him and started inflating it.
"Headache, nausea, general achy-ness, I guess," Rodney replied. He let her concentrate as she took the reading.
"Did you eat today?" she asked.
"Breakfast," he said. "Umm... nothing much since. Wasn't hungry."
"Okay, your pressure is normal, let's do some basic things," she said. She reached into the bag and shook out a couple of pills. She got a cup of water. "Tylenol, can't hurt."
Rodney took the pills.
"Okay, hold this under your tongue," she put a thermometer in his mouth and put her hand on his forehead. Her hand felt cool, which made Rodney realize he was sweating.
"Your temp is up," Teyla said. "Let me get you something else to drink. And I need to call Dr. Beckett."
Rodney sighed but didn't disagree. He liked Carson as a human being, but he had the biggest damned needles... He closed his eyes and tried to relax.
Rodney became aware of footsteps coming toward him. He opened his eyes and realized... "Bucket!" he gritted out.
Teyla had a container in front of him, and Carson held him steady as he threw up. He eased back onto the bed, panting slightly.
"I'm going to suspect this is the flu," Carson said. "It's all the classic symptoms, and if I can give you a flu treatment shot now, that should help reduce the time it takes to recover."
"The flu?" Rodney whined. "Really?"
Carson shrugged. "Everyone's worn out at this point in the season and although it's not typical flu season, doesn't mean you can't catch it."
Rodney sighed, and then held himself steady as another bout of nausea crept through him. He didn't quite have to throw up again, but it felt close.
Carson came back into the room with a small tray. He put on gloves and swabbed Rodney's arm.
"Small pinch," he warned.
"Yeah, right!" Rodney replied, weakly. But it really was a small pinch and over quickly.
"We should have caught that in time, so that it doesn't get any worse," Carson said. "Rest, keep drinking fluids and eat light meals as you can."
"How long will this be?" Rodney asked.
"Shouldn't be more than a couple of days," Carson replied. "You should be okay to travel tonight, but I don't want you doing anything until we're ready to leave for the plane."
Since they were flying out right after the game, they were checked out of the hotel and their bags were in the team bus, ready to go to the airport.
"Is he contagious?" Teyla asked with a frown.
"Shouldn't be," Carson decided, "but we'll keep him away from everyone while we can and put a mask on him when we travel, just to be safe."
Rodney made a face, but knew it was for the best.
"I'll give you a mild sleeping pill for the plane," Carson went on. "That will make the trip less strenuous."
"All right," Rodney grumbled, but grateful for the thought.
"I'll come and get you when you need to get ready for the transfer to the airport," Teyla suggested. "Sleep, if you can." She shook out a light blanket and spread it over him.
"Okay," Rodney sighed. He closed his eyes as Teyla turned down the lights.
"Hey!" John said softly.
Rodney opened his eyes to see John's worried face hovering over him. "Hey," he grinned weakly.
"You okay?" John asked, taking his hand.
"Probably not," Rodney admitted.
"Doc take care of you?" John asked.
"Yeah," Rodney replied.
"You need anything?" John asked.
"Don't think so," Rodney said sleepily. "Maybe something to drink?"
"Sure," John said, "hang on."
John came back shortly, and Rodney could see Teyla over his shoulder.
"I don't want you to dehydrate," Teyla said, "but you need to take it easy to start."
"Okay," Rodney agreed. John helped him sit up, easing his legs over the edge of the cot. John handed him a bottle of water and sat next to him.
"Don't want to give you whatever this is," Rodney warned, reluctantly drawn to the heat of John’s body. "Can't have you getting sick."
"I'll take my chances," John said. "Just... want to keep you company."
"How'd the game go?" Rodney asked.
"Matias held it together," John grinned. "Dex hit a triple and Zelenka hit him in. One to nothing."
"Good," Rodney grinned back.
Teyla came into the room at that point. “Ready to go?” she asked briskly. She handed him a stack of clothes. “Change into workout clothes, it’ll be more comfortable to travel in. There’s a car waiting to take you to the airport to meet the team plane.”
“Car?” Rodney was confused. “What about the bus?”
John shifted guiltily. “I did that,” he admitted. “Figured you feel better in a car than in the bus.”
Rodney nudged John’s shoulder. “Thanks,” he said softly.
John helped Rodney change out of his uniform. Teyla came with them in the car, keeping a close eye on Rodney. Rodney was feeling somewhat better, between the shot and the nap, but the threat of the return of the nausea was an undercurrent in his system. A bus would have been horrid.
“Okay, we’re here,” John said, waking Rodney from a light doze.
“Just give me a minute,” Rodney admitted.
“Would you like some water?” Teyla asked.
“No, just need to wake up, I think,” Rodney decided.
John got out of the car, Rodney could hear him speaking to someone. He poked his head in and said, “Weir’s here. You okay to talk to her?”
Rodney nodded and John withdrew.
Elizabeth Weir leaned over, standing at the open door. “How are you?” she asked.
“Almost okay?” It came out more like a question than anything.
“Well, you need to get better soon,” she grinned. “The press is all over the two of you, and John’s not saying much. He says he won’t do an interview until you’re better.”
Rodney groaned. “I think I’m going to be sick for the rest of the season, then.”
She laughed. “When you’re ready, the two of you have my full support.”
Rodney looked at the sincerity in her eyes, surprised and grateful. He could only say, “Thank you.”
“Now, get on that plane so we can all go home,” she laughed.
“Okay, okay,” he grumbled.
Teyla walked by Rodney’s side, while John hovered behind them. Rodney was thankful for the charter flight, keeping them away from the public terminal.
There was some gentle teasing from most of the team as Rodney boarded the plane. Zelenka gave him an obvious ‘thumbs up’ signal, and most of the rest of the team seemed in a good mood. Teyla guided him to an empty row of seats at the back of the plane, where she sat him down and made sure he buckled up. Handing him a blanket and a pillow, she dug into the backpack he hadn’t noticed. “Take this,” she handed him two pills and a bottle of water. “Sleeping pills, courtesy of Dr. Beckett, as promised.”
He took the pills and washed them down with a couple swallows of water.
John dropped into the seat on the end of the row, swinging up the arms between the three seats. He buckled in and leaned over to say, “Go ahead and sleep. I’ll be here.”
The thought of John keeping watch over him was alluring and he closed his eyes.
“Rodney,” John said softly. “Can you wake up for me?”
Rodney struggled to wake.
“We’re here and I have a car for us,” John said. “Can you walk to the car?”
Rodney took some deep breaths and sat up. “Need to go to the bathroom first,” he said.
“Sure, not a problem,” John said. John stood in the aisle, making sure Rodney was steady on his feet. Rodney stood in the miniscule bathroom for a moment before he fumbled with his pants. He splashed water on his face when he washed his hands.
The plane was empty except for John and Teyla – and a flight attendant hovering near the front entrance – as he came out of the bathroom.
“Take your time,” John said.
“Just need to wake up,” Rodney admitted.
“Just stay awake long enough to get home,” John urged.
“Okay,” Rodney agreed, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.
There was another car waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs. He didn’t even have to ask if John had arranged for it, he knew.
Teyla came with them again, holding a soft conversation with John that Rodney ignored.
“We’re here,” John announced. John helped him out of the car and up to his apartment. Teyla followed them up, and the driver brought up their bags.
“Will you be okay?” Teyla asked.
“Yeah,” John said. “I’ll stay and keep an eye on him.”
“Call me if you need anything,” she said, closing the apartment door behind her.
“Come on,” John urged. “Let’s get you to bed.”
“Stay?” Rodney begged.
“Sure,” John said easily.
John hovered as Rodney got changed, used the bathroom and just about fell into the bed. Rodney heard John use the bathroom and waited for him to climb into the bed with him.
“Sleep,” John said gently.
The sun was shining when Rodney woke. The other side of the bed was cold, meaning John was long gone. That was disappointing, but Rodney knew there was a game today and John needed to be at the ballpark.
Rolling over in the bed, stretching some of the kinks out of his body. The shot Beckett had given him yesterday must be working since he didn’t feel any worse. The nausea was gone, only a dull headache kept him from moving too fast.
Needing to use the bathroom, Rodney sat up and was grateful to see Tylenol and a glass of water at the side of the bed. He took the pills and sat still for a moment.
After using the bathroom, he shuffled to the kitchen and was happy to see Teyla reading the local newspaper.
“How are you feeling?” she asked with a smile.
“Better, I think?” he said.
“You interested in some breakfast?” she offered.
“Something light, I think,” he replied.
“I found bagels in your freezer,” she said. “How about a toasted bagel?”
“Coffee?” Rodney asked.
“Do you really think you can handle it?” she asked in response.
Rodney considered, thinking hard about how his stomach felt. “Maybe not,” he admitted.
“You have apple juice,” she said. “How about that?”
“Sure,” he agreed.
“Sit, and I’ll get it for you,” she directed.
It felt odd to sit in his own kitchen while someone else made him breakfast.
He ate half of the bagel and drank the juice. Teyla poured him another glass, which he sipped at.
“I have to leave,” she said. “Will you be okay if I leave you alone?”
“Yeah, I think I’ll be fine,” Rodney replied.
“Don’t hesitate to go back to bed,” Teyla urged. “You’ll be sleepy for another day or so.”
“Good to know,” Rodney acknowledged.
“Dr. Beckett or I will be by later to check on you,” she said.
“You don’t have to do that…” he started, stopping at the look she gave him. “Call ahead so I can let you in,” he warned.
“I will do that,” she promised. “Take care.”
He saw her to the door, locking up. He debated for a moment and decided that maybe a shower would feel good.
Showered and in clean clothes, Rodney felt a million times better. He debated about going back to bed but decided he wanted to stay up for a bit. He poured himself a glass of apple juice and settled in front of the television.
He knew he should have resisted, but he turned on ESPN.
It wasn’t long before the news segment came to last night’s game… and the kiss John had given him. It was obviously getting a lot of play, from the discussion.
”Last night’s Jumper game in San Fran was interesting, for even more than the Jumpers’ win,” Chris McKendry opened the segment.
“It certainly was,” Jay Crawford nodded. “Let’s just go to the clip.”
On the screen, the camera man had zoomed in, probably trying to see if the announcers could figure out what they were talking about. They had cut out the discussion before the kiss, and Rodney could see Caldwell walking away as John leaned in. Rodney could see the surprise and delight on his own face.
“Looks like McKay was as surprised as we were,” Chris offered.
“Maybe, but it’s an interesting way to make a statement about being gay,” Jay said.
“There’s huge discussions on social media since that kiss, the majority of the messages are supportive,” Chris put in.
“The only statement we have is from the Jumpers’ owner Elizabeth Weir, stating that she fully supports her players. But there’s been nothing from McKay or Sheppard as yet,” Jay stated.
“Well, there was a statement from Caldwell after the game that McKay pulled himself from the game, and the team doctor made a brief statement that McKay had been treated for the flu,” Chris reported.
“It’ll be interesting to see what McKay and Sheppard have to say,” Jay said.
“Well, the majority of their fans seem to love them,” Chris offered.
“What about the game?” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Enough about me!”
”The win last night for the Jumpers, combined with the loss by Washington at home, has tied up the race in the National League East,” Jay reported.
“Each team has two more games to play, making it the most interesting race in the league,” Chris said. “It looks like it’ll come down to the last games and the division could actually end in a tie.”
“If the division ends in a tie, there would be a one game playoff,” Jay said. “The rules say that the game has to be held the day after the season ends, and there’s a list of tiebreakers to decide where the game is held. In general, the team with the best record in head to head play gets the home field advantage.”
“At this point, then, the tie breaker game would be held in Jacksonville, since they’ve won one more game in the series than Washington has,” Chris put in.
“And since the two teams aren’t scheduled to meet again, that should be a boost to the Jumpers,” Jay said.
Rodney turned down the sound as the broadcast moved to a discussion about the other divisions.
“Ha! Tied for first!” Rodney crowed. He flicked through the channels looking for something to watch, ending up on a channel that was showing an old Start Trek film. The Wrath of Khan was a classic and Rodney settled back on the couch.
Rodney jumped as the phone rang, waking him up. Blindly reaching for the handset near his head, he mumbled, “Hello?”
“Hey, buddy,” John said. “I’m downstairs, want to let me in?”
“Sure,” Rodney said. “Give me a minute.”
Rodney blinked several times, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He levered himself up, and went to the door to buzz John into the building. “Fourth floor,” he said into the intercom. Oh, wait. John had been here last night, he probably knew that.
Couple minutes later there was a tap on the door, and Rodney opened it to let John in. John was carrying bags that gave off a scent that made Rodney’s mouth water.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” Rodney asked, then realized how that sounded. “Afternoon game, right, sorry, glad you came.”
“We won, if you’re interested. Told Teyla I’d be glad to check on you,” John replied. “How are you?”
He shrugged. “Just woke up, so maybe okay,” Rodney admitted.
“Hungry?” John asked, holding up the bags.
“I brought a variety of things,” John said. “I’m supposed to get you to try to eat.”
“Sure,” Rodney agreed. “Come on, we can sit in the kitchen. Want some coffee?”
“Got any soda?” John asked.
“Umm… apple juice?” Rodney counter-offered.
“That’ll do,” John grinned.
“What did you bring?” Rodney asked.
“Soup and sandwiches, from your diner place,” John said. “And meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Figured that’d be safe if you’re not feeling well.”
“Sounds good,” Rodney agreed. He got out plates, silverware and tore paper towels off a roll.
They ate in companionable silence.
John was fiddling with his spoon and put it down on the table.
“Guess we should talk about this,” John said, not looking up.
“Well, that was a pretty bold move last night,” Rodney said with a grin. “We’re all over ESPN, if not the news.”
“Oh, it’s all over everything,” John rolled his eyes. “All the major news channels picked it up. My agent’s been fielding calls pretty steadily ever since.”
“Guess we should do something then,” Rodney said.
John looked up, eyes guarded. “How far are you willing to go?”
“Well, I’m not quite ready to admit to the world that you’re my perfect soul mate, but, well, I’m willing to admit we’re in a relationship,” Rodney said, hesitantly. “If you want, that is.”
“Relationship is good,” John agreed with a small smile.
“Surprised my agent hasn’t been calling,” Rodney admitted.
“We’re both with Laura Cadman,” John said, more of a statement than a question. When Rodney nodded, John went on, “So I talked her out of bombarding you, and that I’d ask you do the interviews with me.”
“Can we keep it to a minimum?” Rodney asked. “One joint interview?”
“Laura thought maybe the morning show on ESPN?” John offered.
“Hannah Storm and Kevin Negandhi?” Rodney said.
“Figured they’d be sympathetic, but honest,” John replied.
“That’s true,” Rodney agreed. “Go ahead and set it up for tomorrow.”
“You going to be okay by then?” John frowned.
Rodney shrugged. “Should be,” he said. “Mostly sleepy today, but feeling better. But it’s also better to get it done so it doesn’t drag out too long.”
“I can have Laura call Weir, clear it with her?” John suggested.
“That’ll work,” Rodney agreed. He reached out a hand across the table. John looked for a moment and put his hand in Rodney’s.
“I’d love to have some hot, sweaty sex with you, but… honestly, not right now,” Rodney figured it was time to be blunt.
“We could just sleep together tonight,” John squeezed Rodney’s hand gently. “That was nice.”
“You call Laura, and I’ll call Teyla,” Rodney suggested. “She’ll want to see me before we do anything.”
“Good idea,” John said, getting out his phone.
Rodney half listened to John negotiate with Laura Cadman about their interview on ESPN. The local television affiliate would be glad to have them, letting Hannah and Kevin conduct the interview remotely. The Jumpers had a game tomorrow night and flying anywhere for an interview was out of the question.
Teyla was less enthusiastic. “I will be there shortly,” she told Rodney firmly.
It was less than half an hour later when Teyla was at the door. She looked approvingly at the debris from their meal that was still on the table. “How are you? Nausea gone?”
“Feeling better now that I’ve been up for a while, and had some food,” Rodney replied. “Not feeling any nausea. I think the flu, or whatever it was, is gone.”
“I will be the judge of that,” Teyla said firmly.
Teyla took Rodney into his bedroom, put her carry-all on the bed and pulled out a thermometer. “Take off your shirt so I can listen to your chest and hold this under your tongue.” She checked him over thoroughly, taking notes and making him breathe while she listened to his lungs. When she was done, she moved to the hall, calling Beckett. Rodney listened as they discussed his vitals.
When they finished, she reported, “You’re not scheduled to pitch for another 48 hours, so that should be sufficient. You can do your interview in the morning, but then you have to come home and I want you to sleep some more. I’ll check on you again tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Rodney sighed. He knew it was reasonable but he really wanted to go to the ballpark for the game in the evening. Even if he wasn’t scheduled to pitch, he knew the moral support was important.
“And if you are not at the game tomorrow,” Teyla added with a sly grin, “you will not be available to answer questions.”
“Oh, yeah, good point,” Rodney agreed. He hesitated before admitting, “John’s not something I was looking for.”
“Then it is even more special,” Teyla smiled at him. “And now I can ask him to stay, and tell me if you are not feeling better.”
“Oh, sure,” Rodney teased. “Use my boyfriend to spy on me.” As the word boyfriend came out of his mouth, Rodney didn’t know if he wanted to laugh or panic. He suspected there was an odd smile on his face from Teyla’s reaction.
“I will ask John to keep a close eye on you,” she said. “Call if you need anything.”
“Thank you,” Rodney replied.
Rodney dressed, and went out to the living room where she was talking softly with John.
“Don’t worry, I’ll call you if anything happens,” John promised her.
“Then I will say good night,” Teyla said. “You both need to get some sleep.”
Rodney felt himself blushing like a teen-ager at the unintended innuendo. She laughed merrily and closed the door behind her.
“Umm…” Rodney was at a loss of what to say next.
“Okay,” John took a deep breath. “Talked to Laura and she said we shouldn’t have any problems getting what we want. She’ll call back if anything changes, and will have a car here for us in the morning to take us to the station.”
“I could get used to this car thing,” Rodney teased.
John shrugged. “It’ll be early, so they can run us through makeup and such.”
“What do we wear?” Rodney asked.
“I suggested casual clothes to Laura, dress shirts, no ties, sports jackets are easiest,” John replied. “If I were at my place, I’d have more options, but I only have what’s in my suitcase.”
“I have an apartment sized washer and dryer in a closet,” Rodney offered. “In case you want to throw something in.”
“Actually, that would be good,” John replied. “Be nice to have a fresh shirt.”
“I have a service that does the cleaning, including the laundry, once a week,” Rodney admitted. “But it’s nice to be able to do my own laundry when I come back from a road trip the day after they’ve been here.”
“That is bad timing!” John laughed. “You have anything you want me to throw in?”
“I should be all set,” Rodney demurred. “And the service will be here day after tomorrow.”
“Okay,” John replied.
Rodney showed John where the washer and dryer were located. John threw most of the clothing in his travel bag into the washer – he figured he’d have to wash it all at some point and now was as good as anything. He threw the jacket in the dryer for a few minutes to freshen it up.
In the end, crawling into bed together to sleep wasn’t that much different than what they had done before. Only this time, Rodney grabbed John’s hand and wrapped it around him.
The alarm woke Rodney in the morning and John nuzzled the back of his neck and placed a soft kiss behind Rodney’s ear.
The news crew at the local station was cheerful and helpful. It wasn’t long before John and Rodney found themselves seated in a small set with a cameraman and an assistant. The assistant was signaling the countdown… he pointed at them and they could hear Hannah Storm in their ears.
The interview was relatively painless in the end. John let Rodney do most of the talking and Rodney held his hand – under the table – through the entire session. John did explain the kiss on the mound.
“Rodney just looked so… lost. And, honestly, we needed to let Matias warm up. I figured it would distract him from how bad he was feeling, if nothing else.” John gave a helpless smile and Rodney grinned back at him.
“Guys?” Hannah’s voice was amused, and they looked back at the camera.
There were a few more questions, mostly softball questions about how they got together and what their plans for the future was.
“Good luck to both of you!” Kevin Neghandi wrapped up the interview.
The station’s sports reporter was hovering in the hall, and Rodney took pity on him.
“Two minutes,” Rodney warned.
“Two minutes!” he promised.
The camera man got back into position and the reporter dragged a stool into the room. He asked questions not too different than Kevin and Hannah had, but he did ask if they had moved in together.
John blushed but gave a cheeky grin. “We’re still working that part out,” he admitted.
The driver was still there to take them back to Rodney’s apartment. By the time they got there, Laura Cadman had called John, and Teyla was waiting for them.
“You need more food in your apartment,” Teyla chided him. “I brought breakfast, since I assume you do haven’t thought to get anything.”
“You’re a goddess among women!” Rodney sighed.
Teyla had brought eggs, sausage, English muffins and orange juice. She and John worked together in the kitchen and, in a short while, Rodney had a plate of hot food in front of him.
“Eat, then back to bed,” Teyla said. She looked at John. “And you should sleep more, also.”
“Yes, ma’am!” John nodded. “Thanks.”
Rodney had been more exhausted than he thought. He got up once in what he thought was the early afternoon to piss, then crawled back into John’s arms. But he never heard John get up and leave. John left a brief note “gone to the game” on his pillow as Rodney finally woke.
John must have done some grocery shopping while Rodney slept. There was both rye and sourdough bread on the counter, with deli ham, Swiss cheese, a new jar of spicy mustard, and pickles in the fridge. There was also milk, a six pack of diet soda, and cranberry juice. Bemused, Rodney looked through the cabinets to find cereal – “Captain Crunch? Really?” – oatmeal and cookies.
He made a sandwich, put a pickle on this plate and went out to watch the television. He knew the game was on the local cable channel, but decided watching it would raise his blood pressure too much. If he couldn’t be there, he didn’t want to watch. Although, if he thought about it, it wouldn’t be any different than watching from the bull pen.
It was midnight before John got back from the game. Rodney met him at the door and leaned in for a small kiss.
“I could get used to that,” John smiled. “How are you?”
“Better,” Rodney admitted. “Slept all day, and didn’t even hear you moving around.”
“You were out,” John agreed.
“Thanks for the food,” Rodney said.
John shrugged. “Makes it easier if there’s something to work with. You have room for lots of things,” he replied.
“During the season, not here a lot and it goes to waste if I have too much on hand,” Rodney said. “Although it will be different if there’s two of us.”
“I want you here,” Rodney declared. “Or we find a place together. But I want you in my life.”
The hand that started to the back of the neck relaxed, and John smiled. “Here is fine,” he admitted.
“Hey! How’d the game go?” Rodney asked.
“Lorne held it together enough that we won,” John replied. “It was ugly, 7 to 6. And we had to pull it out in extra innings.”
“Any idea how Washington did?” Rodney asked.
“They lost tonight,” John grinned.
“If we both win tomorrow, or both lose, then we’re in a tie,” Rodney said.
“They’re playing Arizona,” John replied. The Arizona Diamondbacks had the worst record in all of Major League Baseball for the season.
“And we’re playing Detroit!” Rodney groused. The good news was that Detroit had already won their division and might sit some of their better players. Tonight’s game would mean nothing to Detroit, but they could serve as a spoiler to the Jumpers.
“Matias is pitching tomorrow, far as I know,” John said. “If there’s a tie-breaker game, there’s a good chance you’ll be pitching.”
Rodney shrugged. “That’s what we do,” he pointed out. “Gotta win tomorrow’s game first.”
“We make a good team,” John said softly.
“Yes, we do!” Rodney leaned in for another kiss.