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In retrospect, the entire thing is Blip Sanders’ fault.

A bunch of the team’s come out to celebrate taking a series against Pittsburgh, with Ginny getting the last win. There are more people here than there were to celebrate Ginny’s first win with the team, and Mike’s choosing to take it as progress. Also as a sign that he’s still capable of shaming his teammates into behaving.

The whole time Mike’s there, he’s keeping an eye out for Ginny. It’s a habit he can’t shake, his eyes sliding over to her almost before he can think about it, his ears tuned to pick up every word she says, every time she bursts out laughing.

Mike’s almost got himself convinced it's just that he’s overprotective of his pitcher. Almost.

The point is that whenever they go out, Mike’s watching out for Ginny. So tonight, it means he notices that Ginny’s having a couple more drinks than she normally would, that she's staying cooped up with Blip in their private booth rather than tearing it up on the dance floor to--whatever fucking song is playing right now, Mike doesn't even know. Is it Bieber?

Out of curiosity, Mike makes his way over to their booth. Whatever Blip and Ginny are talking about, they're deeply involved in it, talking to each other intently as they scan the crowd, looking for--what?

They’re so involved in this, in fact, that they almost don’t clock Mike’s approach until he’s in the booth with them. “What about that one?” Blip asks, pointing at some guy at the bar with his beer bottle.

Mike glances over--it’s a hipster-looking dude wearing flannel with his hair slicked to the side.

“Ew, no,” Ginny says, wrinkling her nose.

“What about the hipster guy?” Mike asks as he slides into the empty space next to Ginny. Both of them look incredibly startled to see Mike there, which just pricks his curiosity up even more. “No, really,” Mike says, amused at the deer-in-headlights look Ginny’s giving him now. “What’s with the hipster guy, why do we care about him?”

“We don’t,” Ginny blurts out.

“Nope, just asking for Ginny’s opinion on him,” Blip says at the exact same time, and it’s the glare Ginny immediately shoots his way that really gets Mike’s attention.

Giving them both his best shit-eating grin, Mike asks next, “And what do you think about him, rookie?”

“Nothing,” Ginny says at first, trying to keep a straight face, but eventually she breaks, wrinkling her nose as she adds, “His hair just looks like an oil slick. If I were to go out with him, I’d just call him Snape all night.”

Blip cracks up at this, and Mike’s laughing even as he asks, “Why the hell would you go out with that dude?”

“She wouldn’t,” Blip says, distracted--he’s scanning the crowd again, and adds casually, “We’re trying to find a dude she would date.”

Mike’s ears prick up at this, but the real giveaway is Ginny hissing, “Blip.”

“Rookie,” Mike says slowly, “--are you trying to find a date out of this bar full of mooks?”

Ginny looks one good push away from banging her head on the table, to be honest. Mike casually clocks the number of drinks she’s had and compares them to what he knows of Ginny’s tolerance--she’s probably buzzed but no more than that, while Blip is definitely drunk. He’s also a chatty drunk, as Mike knows all too well.

“Not a real date,” Ginny finally hisses, exasperated, waving her hand in front of her for emphasis. “It’s just a hypothetical.”

“Trying to figure out what her type is,” Blip adds, helpfully as far as Mike’s concerned, although he leans back in his seat at the glare Ginny sends his way.

Okay, then. Mike rolls his eyes and takes a drink from his own bottle, saying, “Look, just cut out the middleman here, Baker-- tell us what your last boyfriend was like, and we can take it from there.”

Mike hasn’t been part of a bigger needle-scratch moment since the last Thanksgiving he spent at his in-laws. Blip quickly becomes fascinated by his own drink, and Ginny--Ginny just goes stiff, staring straight ahead like the question--like she never--

“Holy shit,” Mike says blankly. Ginny’s mouth goes tense and Mike knows he needs to shut up, he knows, but-- “Holy fucking shit, Baker, have you never--”

“And I’m out,” Ginny snaps, leaping to her feet with more grace than should be possible given how long they’ve been at this bar. “Move,” she snaps at poor Blip, who immediately gets his legs out of her way, shaking his head as she strides out of the booth without looking back at either one of them.

As Mike stares at her retreating back, Blip says thoughtfully, looking at his drink, “I can’t tell which one of us screwed that up more--me or you.”

“Don’t worry,” Mike says in a grim voice, getting to his own feet. “It was definitely me.”

It takes hardly any time to find Ginny sulking outside the bar, and Mike sighs as soon as he catches sight of her. “Baker. Will you come back inside?”

Ginny glares at him from where she’s leaning up against the brick wall. “No.”

“It’s not that big a deal,” Mike tries next, and then his mouth runs ahead of his brain and he blurts out, “Okay, but did you just have a lot of one-night stands in the minors or--”

Ginny’s lips thin. “Mike.”

“Because that would be fine,” Mike quickly adds. “If you had. Or, uh, hadn’t.” He tries to keep his mouth shut, but the words come out of his mouth despite his best instincts. “So have you?”

The silence stretches out--and Ginny’s scowling furiously, but she still doesn’t say anything. And she keeps on not saying anything, until the truth comes down on Mike’s head like a pile of bricks.

“Oh my God,” Mike says, his brain crashing. “How. How is this even possible?”

It’s too dark to tell if Ginny’s blushing, but the look on her face gives it away. She scowls up at him, and then hisses out, “Fine. Fine. When you’re a girl who only ever gets to care about baseball and pitching, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to fucking date, especially when the only guys you meet are your teammates and therefore off-limits.” She gestures at Mike for this last part, the part about teammates and off-limits, and Mike’s brain just glitches, just for a second before he brings himself back under control.

“Okay,” he says, but Ginny’s not even hearing it anymore, she’s off in full rant mode now.

“--so you keep waiting, and playing baseball, until finally you’re twenty-three and you’ve made it to the majors but in the meantime, you’ve turned into a robot in cleats--”

Mike’s eyes widen in horror at this, at the words and the way Ginny’s voice wobbles as she says them, and without thinking he reaches out for her shoulder.

“Ginny, hey don’t--”

She doesn’t actually shrug off his touch, but she squares her jaw as she stares up at him, face set. “So that is how it’s possible, Lawson. Now that we’ve established how much of a freak I am, can I go home please?”

“Jesus, Ginny, just hang on a second,” Mike says, holding onto her shoulders with both hands now. She purses her lips but doesn’t pull away, and Mike knows he’s only got a few seconds to pull together a speech good enough to get him out of the giant fucking hole he’s dug.

Good thing he’s been getting so much practice at it lately.

“Okay, first--it’s not that weird,” he says, and at the skeptical look she gives him, Mike insists, “It isn’t! Have you heard about some of the freaky shit our teammates get up to in their bedrooms? Not to make it weird, but the things Stubbs will confess to when he’s drunk would make a porn star blush. So you’re a little picky. So what?”

Ginny’s eyebrows are still up, but the tension around her mouth is finally starting to ease, just a little.

“You’ll work it out,” Mike says, shrugging his shoulders, making a show of looking as casual as he can. “Not a big deal.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see some of the bar’s customers coming outside for some air, maybe a smoke. They haven’t caught sight of him and Ginny yet, but all it takes is one moment and someone’s iPhone and this’ll be up on TMZ in seconds.

Not that they’re doing anything, obviously. He’s just...touching her.

As nonchalantly as possible, Mike pulls back, letting his hands drop from her shoulders and stuffing them into his pockets. “Okay?”

Ginny’s mouth twists, but she finally concedes, “Yeah, okay.” She squints up at him, and asks next, “And you’re not going to say anything about this?”

“Baker,” Mike says. “Come the fuck on. You really think I’d do that?” He’s not sure what he’ll do if she says yes, if she really thinks he’d--

Except Ginny’s rolling her eyes now, admitting reluctantly, “No, I don’t. I should, because I don’t think you know the meaning of the word discretion...but I don’t.” She looks up at him through her eyelashes, face growing serious. “Thanks.”

Jesus Christ, but she’s beautiful. Mike doesn’t let himself reflect on it often--he’ll never stop noticing it otherwise--but sometimes it is just impossible to ignore how goddamn beautiful she is.

Mike looks away from Ginny, clearing his throat. “No problem, Baker.” He glances over at the bar, and pulls a face. “Although we’ve gotta lift up the pool of candidates you’re looking at, rookie. This place just isn’t going to cut it.”

When he looks back at Ginny, Mike’s relieved to see that she’s looking amused now, folding her arms over her chest as she asks, “Oh, is that so?”

“Yeah,” Mike says, gently leading her back inside with a careful hand on her back. “Don’t worry, though--I’m a hell of a wingman.”

She twists around to stare at him, but doesn't actually move to shake off his hand. “Wingman--what the hell, Mike, no.”

“It’ll be great, rookie,” Mike tells her, but he’s not even focusing on what he’s saying, he’s just enjoying the way that he and Ginny have fallen back into their usual rhythm again, that push-pull that’s as natural as anything. “You’ll be beating them back with a stick.”

“I don’t know where you got the idea I wanted to become a pick-up artist, but I can promise you I don’t,” Ginny says.

“Come on, Baker,” Mike says. “We’ll turn you into the biggest player in San Diego. Or, does it count as being a player if you’re a girl? Should we refer to you as a diva instead?”

The narrow-eyed glare Ginny’s giving him now is easily the funniest sight he’s seen all night. Mike keeps up the teasing for the rest of the evening, wraps it up by sees Ginny off safely to her hotel room, and it's not until he’s safe in his room that he collapses on the bed, ignoring the twinge in his left knee, and staring blankly at the white walls of his room, trying his damnedest not to think of anything. Not the way Ginny’s face looked outside the bar, neon lights hitting the curve of her cheek. Not how easily she let him into her personal space, how for just a second it had almost seemed like she’d relaxed into his touch--

No. He’s not fucking doing this. Not ever, but especially not tonight.

It’s all right, it’s fine. Ginny trusts him, they’re all good, and someday she’ll find a guy who’ll--

But that is a rabbit hole Mike is never ever going to trip into, thinking about the hypothetical guy that Ginny’ll date someday, that she’ll call late at night when she’s on a road trip with the team, the guy she’ll bring home for the holidays, the guy that’ll fly out to cheer her on during away games and she’ll run over to kiss once she’s out of the locker room.

Mike’s not thinking about how much he’ll hate that guy, whoever he ends up being. That’s future Mike’s problem. Mike’s current problem right now is his aching knee and the fact that he hasn’t fucking fallen asleep yet, and he’s in the lineup for tomorrow, for Christ’s sake.

So he closes his eyes, and waits to fall asleep.

Mike's left waiting for a long time that night.

*

Outside of Mike’s head, the issue doesn’t actually come up again until they’re out on the road to play the Cubs. Evelyn Sanders has come out for the trip as well, along with some of the other wives and girlfriends, and when Mike comes downstairs for his hotel breakfast, it’s to the sight of Ginny with her usual gargantuan breakfast in front of her, looking dubious as Blip and Evelyn chatter to her from across the table.

Mike raises an eyebrow, and goes over to investigate. “Hey,” he says, pulling up a chair next to Ginny. Ginny immediately makes room for him at the table, and Mike snatches a piece of her hash browns, ignoring both her glare and her slap to his thieving hand. Chewing on his purloined food, Mike asks the table, “So what are you guys talking about?”

“Nothing,” Blip and Evelyn say in unison, with the guiltiest looks on their faces.

Mike slowly raises his eyebrows at them, before turning to Ginny for an explanation. She rolls her eyes and tells him, “They want to take me out tonight.”

“Wait, why is that--” Ginny gives him a look, and Mike gets it. “Ohhh.”

Evelyn looks between the two of them, and then asks, clearly surprised, “Wait, do you--”

“He knows,” Bliip explains a little, wincing a little. “I...might not have been as discreet as I should’ve been.”

“Blip!” Evelyn snaps at him, hitting him in the arm.

“In his defense, Ginny’s also got a horrible poker face,” Mike says.

“It’s cool, Ginny says with a shrug, looking fairly relaxed given the subject matter.

Evelyn gives her a skeptical glance, and then turns that look on Mike. “Is is now.”

“Hey, I’m a respectful guy,” Mike insists, lounging in his seat. Next to him, Ginny snorts, and now both Blip and Evelyn are giving him unimpressed looks. It’s a little freaky how both their faces are doing the same thing right now. If Mike pulled out a ruler, he’s convinced both their eyebrows would be up by the exact same angle.

“They always like this?” Mike asks Ginny in an undertone.

“Yes,” Ginny confirms matter-of-factly, before taking a big gulp of her orange juice. “Guys, it’s fine, you can ease up. Mike’s good.”

Mike doesn’t quite preen as Evelyn and Blip follow Ginny’s lead and ease up with the pointed looks, but he does grin. Sitting back even further in his seat, he asks the table at large, “So where are we going out tonight.”

Hand to God, Mike has no idea why that is the thing that’s got everyone staring at him, Ginny included. Eyebrow cocked, Ginny swallows her food and asks, “I’m sorry, we?”

“What?” Mike asks. “Baker, I told you, you want me out there as your wingman. You’re not going to leave it to those two, are you?” he adds, jerking his thumb in Blip and Evelyn’s direction.

“Excuse you, but what’s wrong with us?” Blip asks indignantly.

“Nothing, other than the fact that you’ve been married for forever,” Mike shoots back, and turns back to Ginny. “Baker,” he says, “--trust me when I say you want a dude who actually remembers what it’s like to date coming with you tonight.”

Ginny looks incredibly dubious about this, which is just insulting, honestly. “You know I’m not actually looking to find anyone tonight, right?” she says, skepticism written all over her. “Last thing I need is some dude putting me on blast on Twitter or Instagram or whatever.”

“We’re just having you dip your toes in,” Evelyn reassures her, voice soothing. “Have you feel things out.”

Mike doesn’t take his eyes off Ginny’s face. “Ginny,” he says, pitching his voice a little lower. “Come on. You want me there for this.”

Ginny’s face shifts, doing--something that Mike can’t read, and then she looks away quickly, sipping at her orange juice. “Yeah, okay,” she says into her glass, fast enough that it takes Mike a second to parse that she’s said yes.

“Wait, really?” he says, because as confident as Mike is in his abilities to persuade people into doing what’s best, he actually hadn’t expected her to give in that fast. He’d expected to have to do a lot more wheedling and teasing, honestly.

Ginny shrugs, her attention firmly fixed now on demolishing her giant plate of food. “I mean, it’s going to be a boring night, but if you’re sure you wanna come--”

“And I do,” Mike agrees.

“--then yeah, okay, you can tag along.”

“Wise decision, Baker,” Mike says, pleased. At the look Evelyn’s giving him, Mike just smiles even more broadly at her. “This’ll be great, trust me.”

“Uh huh,” Evelyn says, and really--Mike’s done nothing to deserve this level of skepticism. At least not this week.

*

They’ve only been in the bar for fifteen minutes and Mike already knows he’s made a terrible mistake.

He's seen Ginny dolled up before. He's seen the footage of her on Kimmel, he knows what it looks like when Ginny decides to go all out, with the designer dresses and tall heels. And she looks gorgeous like that--not that Mike has any business noticing, beyond acknowledging it as a simple fact.

And yet somehow, seeing Ginny out tonight wearing a beat-up leather jacket and simple gray t-shirt, her hair pulled back as usual--Mike still can't stop staring at the V-shape of her neckline, which is totally modest by any rational standards but still shows off her collarbones, the hollow at the base of her throat. She's lounging in the booth next to Mike, her leg just barely touching his as she idly scans the crowd and makes conversation, and Mike--

Mike has to look away before he starts fantasizing what it would be like to put his hand on her skin, to just rest his thumb against the divot there between her collarbones, feel that soft skin against his hand.

Jesus fucking Christ, he's got to stop this. So Mike tears his eyes away from her to stare out at the crowd, but that only makes his mood worse--like he’s supposed to look at any of these jackasses tonight and think they could possibly deserve her.

“Ooh, what about that guy in the striped shirt on the dance floor?” Evelyn asks, cutting into Mike’s thoughts. “He’s got moves.”

“Eh,” Ginny says, looking unimpressed. “He’s so skinny, though.” Her leg accidentally brushes against Mike’s under the table yet again, and Mike wills himself to act fucking normal.

“Okay, so you’re into guys with more muscle, got it,” Blip says.

Ginny looks awkward at this, saying, “I don’t know, I just--maybe?”

“Dude’s a beanpole,” Mike agrees. “We can do better than that.”

“I got it,” Blip says. “Tall black guy on your right, dark green shirt, goatee. Now that’s a good-looking man right there.”

They all obligingly look over, and Mike can feel his face turning into a scowl. Goddammit, that guy is good-looking.

Ginny makes an approving noise, and Mike abruptly says, “Yeah, but I don’t know about that goatee.”

Everyone turns to stare at him. “And just what,” Blip demands, his own goatee framing his frown exceedingly well, “--is wrong with goatees?”

“Nothing!” Mike quickly says. “Just, you know--his goatee makes him look like a villain from a soap opera or something.” Ginny laughs at this, and Mike points his thumb her way. “See, Baker gets it.”

Evelyn, however, is giving him the eye again. “You got a lot of nerve talking about anyone’s facial hair with that mountain man beard of yours, Mike.”

“Hey,” Mike says, gesturing at his own face. “I make this work. ”

Ginny breaks out into giggles at this, her dimple peeking out as her shoulders shake from mirth.

“Come on, look at that man,” Blip insists. “Ginny, go ahead and tell me one thing wrong with him.”

Ginny shrugs. “He's good-looking, yeah.”

“Scale of one to ten,” Mike asks her.

Ginny pulls a face, thinking it over. “Seven, I guess?”

“There you go,” Mike says, smug. “Can't approve anyone higher than a nine.”

“Than a nine--baby, is this man serious?” Blip demands, turning to his wife in disbelief.

“Of course I'm serious,” Mike retorts. He's on his second beer and had done a shot with Blip earlier, which is maybe why he continues by gesturing pointedly at Ginny and saying next, “This girl is a solid ten and a half, and you want her to be considering sevens?”

He only realizes what he's just said when Ginny’s eyebrows fly halfway up her forehead. Mike waits it out, refusing to blush, but all Ginny asks is, “What's with the half?”

“I'm sorry?” Mike asks, taking a long pull off his beer bottle.

“You said ten and a half, what's with the extra half-point.”

“Screwball puts you over the top,” Mike explains.

Ginny pauses at this, and then nods. “I can accept that.” Mike feels his own eyebrow going up at that, and Ginny flashes him a smile, her face lighting up, and just for that one second, Mike can forget where they are, what they're doing, and most importantly what he can't do--and he can just be there, in that moment, enjoying the sight of her smiling at something he's said.

Meanwhile, though, Blip’s muttering, “Best looking man we've seen tonight and they say he’s a seven.” He turns back to Ginny. “Do you really have a thing against facial hair?”

“I like beards fine,” Ginny says, and then adds quickly, “Or goatees, or guys that are clean-shaven.” She waves her hand dismissively before grabbing her drink. “Whatever, it’s all good.”

“That’s not even a little bit helpful in narrowing it down,” Blip says, exasperated.

“Okay,” Evelyn declares, getting to her feet. “I'm getting us another round. And when I come back, I'm finding you--” she points at Ginny, “--a damn ten in this bar tonight.”

“I’m coming with you,” Blip declares, shaking his head at Ginny and Mike as he heads off to the bar with Evelyn.

Once they’re out of the booth and making their way through the crowd, Mike asks Ginny in an undertone, “You doing okay? It’s not weird for you or anything?”

Ginny is clearly amused at this. “I’ve got nine million microphones in my face on a daily basis, Mike. Nothing can be weird after that.”

“Fair point,” Mike concedes. He sits back in his seat, sipping at his beer, watching the crowd. Jesus, even for Chicago, these are some low pickings tonight. “Why is it,” he asks out loud, “--that every man in this place looks like they’ve got a Chicago Bears tattoo on their chest?”

Ginny cracks up at this. “Oh my God, Mike,” she says between snorts, covering her face with her hand, “--what, what are you even--”

“Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong,” Mike insists, even as he feels an answering smile steal across his face, purely in response to her laughter. “One or two of them probably even have Jay Cutler’s ugly mug permanently tattooed on them, the poor bastards.”

Ginny just dissolves into giggles at this, slumping in her seat as she clutches her side, laughing gleefully. As she slumps over, she’s pressed against Mike’s side for just a moment, all that warmth pressed against him--and Mike leans into it, just for a moment. Sitting this close, Mike can smell the faint perfume of the shampoo she uses--he can’t pinpoint the smell, but it smells warm and sweet.

She finally settles down and opens her eyes, looking right at him, without making a single move to sit up, to get out of his personal space--or even to just shift far enough so that they’re not touching. Instead she looks up at him with those dark eyes and says, softly, “Hey, Mike--thanks for coming out with us tonight.”

Mike preens at this, but has to point out, “I invited myself.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ginny says, her face still soft and amused. “Thanks anyway.”

Mike shrugs. “No problem,” he says, even if his throat’s suddenly feeling a little dry. He swallows and turns away from her, taking another swig of his beer, and Ginny sighs a little and sits upright--and just in the nick of time too, because Blip and Evelyn are making their way back to the booth now.

“All right,” Evelyn says, sounding smug as she slides back into her seat. “Ginny, I found you a ten that nobody--” she sends a pointed look Mike’s way, “--can argue with.”

She points dramatically at a dark-haired white guy sitting with his friends at a table to their left. Mike bites back a curse as he looks the guy over, and Ginny lets out a low whistle.

“Wow,” she says.

Evelyn looks very pleased, and why shouldn’t she be, she just found a guy that looks like a fucking supermodel, pouty lips and all. “Right?”

Blip’s watching him now, looking positively smug, and he asks, “Not even you could knock this one, Lawson. My wife’s got good taste.”

“Oh I know,” Evelyn says as she links her arm through Blip’s, but Mike’s not paying attention, Mike’s scowling at the guy who got Ginny--Ginny!--to wolf-whistle, and when he glances over and sees Ginny still looking at the guy, an appreciative look on his face--he maybe sort of snaps a little.

“I think he looks like he cries in bed,” Mike says firmly, and has the pleasure of the entire goddamn table gawking at him for it.

“Oh my God,” Ginny says, while Blip exclaims, “Lawson, what is wrong with you?”

“He’s attractive, fine, I’ll admit it,” Mike says, holding his hands up. “I’m just also saying that is definitely the look of a man who starts sobbing during sex.”

Evelyn’s got her arms folded now, and she asks Mike, “And what’s wrong with a man showing some emotion?”

“Showing emo--Evelyn, you can’t tell me you want a man openly weeping all over you when he’s supposed to be showing you a good time--”

“Okay, that’s it,” Ginny declares, cutting in. “I’m calling timeout. Mike, can I talk to you for a second?” She’s getting up to her feet now, with a look on her face that says Mike’s going to be following her lead if he knows what’s good for him.

Mike’s made some dumb decisions in his life, but ignoring that look won’t be one of them. “Excuse me, guys, rookie’s calling.”

Ginny leads them through the thick crowd, not once bothering to look back behind her to see if he’s keeping up. She makes no sign of noticing the double-takes and second looks directed her way, the whispers of “holy shit, is that Ginny Baker?”

She just keeps walking until she finally finds a semi-secluded part of the bar, away from the speakers and the lights and the crowd. Once there, she wheels around to face Mike, eyebrow cocked, repeating in a tone of disbelief, “Cries during sex?”

Mike shrugs, doing his best not to defensively cross his arms over his chest. “I stand by that assessment. Did you see that man’s face?”

“Oh, I saw it. It was a good face, Mike. No hint of tears anywhere that I could see.” Mike doesn’t even know what he’s doing with his facial expressions at this point, but whatever it is, it’s enough that Ginny’s eyebrow is going even higher up now, as she asks, “Mike, what are you doing?”

“Nothing,” Mike insists, then ruins whatever plausible deniability he had going by immediately adding, “Besides, I thought you were enjoying me doing that whole bit earlier.”

“I did,” Ginny easily confesses. “But that’s because I’m a jerk who thinks it’s funny when you wind Blip up.”

“There’s a little vein that starts pulsing in his forehead, it’s great,” Mike agrees, and Ginny smiles--but only for a second. Then her expression grows serious again, and she purses her lips before finally speaking.

“You know I’m not going home with any of those guys tonight, right?” she says, slowly. “Not even the one that looks like a supermodel.”

“I know,” Mike agrees, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “But--” He clamps his mouth shut, but it’s too late, Ginny’s eyebrows are flickering upwards again as she prods him, “Yeah?”

Goddammit. He cannot do this, he absolutely can’t-- “But you could someday,” he says. “Right? I mean, that was the whole point of tonight, letting you dip your toes in, letting you see the possibilities.”

“Yeah,” Ginny says, still watching him, with a wary expression on her face.

"And that's what you want," Mike says. "Right?"

Ginny lets out a soft huff of a laugh, but without any humor in it. "What I want is--" She shuts her mouth with a snap, but the words come bursting out anyway less than a second later, as she finally lets go and vents. "I want to stop feeling like a freak, even for just a second. I want to--to have something simple, something that I don't have to second-guess and examine--" She stops again, before squaring her shoulders as she looks Mike directly in the face.

"And yeah,” she says, more quietly, “I'd like to be able to pick up a guy in a bar without worrying if it's going to end up on TMZ the next morning."

“You should have that, if you want it,” Mike says slowly. He makes an abortive move to touch her, to--but he holds back, keeping his hand at his side. “You should have anything you want.”

It’s too much, too revealing, and Ginny’s lips part as he says it. “Anything?” she repeats, in a quieter voice, and it’s got to be Mike’s imagination, it has to be, but God, the way she’s watching him right now--

“And if you’re looking for a guy who doesn’t have a Jay Cutler tattoo, and who won’t go blabbing to TMZ in the morning,” Mike says, hardly believing he’s saying the words out loud, “--then I’m available.”

Honestly, Mike has no idea how she’ll respond. Absolutely anything seems plausible, from her laughing in his face to her punching him in outrage--but instead, Ginny stares up at him for one heart-stopping second before she says, carefully, “So what--this is a pity thing?”

“Fuck no,” Mike says, because whether she says yes or no, his position on this should be clear. “Baker, look at yourself and then take a look around this place. You are literally the hottest option I could go home with tonight.” Ginny lets out a small snort at this, and Mike barrells on, saying next, “I won’t be calling TMZ in the morning, and just for the record? I would make it good.” Ginny’s eyes widen at this, and Mike promises, his mouth going dry at the thought of it, “You wouldn’t be leaving that bed until you’ve come at least twice.”

“Twice, huh?” Ginny says, and she’s doing a pretty good job of sounding cool as she says it, but Mike’s watching her, he sees the way she’s staring at his mouth right now.

“At least,” Mike promises her, and he’s really not intending for his voice to drop so low as he says it. Okay, he mostly doesn’t intend for it to happen.

Ginny bites at her lip, the indecision written all over her face clear as anything for one long moment--and then she takes a long breath. “Okay, then.”

Mike blinks. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” Ginny says, lifting her chin. “Let’s do it. See if you can back up that mouth.”

Mike grins and steps a little closer, because he can, because she’s the most beautiful thing he’s seen all night and for once, he doesn’t have to pretend otherwise. “Ginny,” he says, because that’s an opening he can’t pass up. “I’ll put my mouth anywhere you want me to.”

Ginny’s eyes go wide at this. “Okay, so we’d better leave now,” she says faintly, not tearing her gaze away from his mouth.

Mike’s grin only gets wider at this. “Fine by me.” He keeps a hand resting on her shoulder blade as they make their way back to their booth, feeling the warmth of her body sinking into his palm.

Jesus Christ, this is happening.

Mike does his best to keep up a poker face as they walk back up to Blip and Evelyn, but he lets Ginny do the talking. She keeps it pretty plausible too, smiling ruefully as she says, “Hey guys, listen, this has been great, but I think I’m going to go back to the hotel, just crash for the night.”

“Oh, Ginny,” Evelyn says. “Look, if you want us to back off or--”

“We can totally do that,” Blip says, giving Ginny that big-brother look he’s so good at.

“Guys, it’s okay,” Ginny says, sounding patient and relaxed and not at all like she’s about to ditch her friends so she can take Mike back to her hotel room, so he can--

Mike drags his head out of that fantasy, just in time to hear Ginny say, “This was fun, even with Lawson’s weird commentary. But I’m tired, I need to get some rest.”

“What about you?” Blip asks, nodding at Mike.

“Knees hurt,” Mike says, keeping it short and simple. “I’ll go back with Ginny to the hotel, you guys stay out, enjoy your night.”

Blip looks pretty accepting of this idea, but Evelyn--Evelyn’s staring straight at Mike, mouth pursed like she’s this close to figuring out what’s really happening here.

Mike holds her gaze, and tries to look as innocent as he can.

It must work, because she says, slowly, “Okay, You guys have a good night. Take it easy.”

Ginny gives them a sunny smile. “We will.”

Then they go through a round of hugs and back-pats, with Blip pulling Mike aside and earnestly telling him to make sure to see Ginny to her door. “Oh, I promise,” Mike says, keeping his face as blank as possible.

Once Ginny and Evelyn have finished hugging it out, Evelyn turns to Mike with a smile, but her gaze is sharp. “Have a good night,” Mike says, quickly.

“You too,” Evelyn says. “Get some rest, Mike.”

“I intend to,” Mike lies, smiling.

*

Neither one of them talk very much for the short car ride back to the hotel. Ginny only breaks the silence once, asking as she stares straight ahead, “After tonight--we go back to just being teammates. Right?”

“Right,” Mike agrees. It makes sense, it’s the right call--it’s the only call. And if he’s going to do this, if they’re doing this, then it’s got to be on her terms. “Okay. In the morning, we’re teammates.”

Ginny looks at him and nods, determined and nervous in equal measure, but still looking at him with that steady gaze of hers. Mike’s looking back at her, and before he can think twice--or talk himself out of it--he reaches out and touches her collarbone, lightly sweeping along it with the pad of his thumb.

Ginny goes very still. With how close he’s sitting to her, it’s impossible for Mike to miss the way her breathing speeds up at his touch. If he just moves his thumb just a little bit, he’d be able to feel her pulse, tell how fast her heart’s beating.

God, but her skin is so soft. “Okay?” Mike asks carefully, and Ginny gives him a tiny nod, her eyes wide--but she’s also tipping her head back, allowing him better access.

Mike keeps his touch slow and light, just tracing her collarbones with his finger, letting his thumb rest in the hollow of her throat. Ginny’s watching him the whole time, wide-eyed and still, her lips parted--and Mike takes a deep breath, and lets his hand move up, until his thumb is dragging along Ginny’s full lower lip, feeling her hot breath coming in little pants against his skin.

Right when Mike’s on the verge of breaking, that’s when Ginny lets her tongue flicker out to taste the pad of his thumb, and Mike groans out, “Jesus.”

He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to kiss her in this car, no matter if there was a divider up between them and the driver, but it’s getting harder and harder to remember why when he’s touching her like this, and she’s looking at him like that.

But then Ginny startles and pulls away. “We’re here,” she says, just as the car pulls up in front of the hotel. Mike jerks his hand back from her, right in time for the driver to pull down the divider and say in a cheerful voice, “Here you go, guys.”

Mike has no idea how much he ends up tipping the guy--he blindly takes bills out of his hand and just hands them over, but from the way the driver calls out after them, “Have a good night!” he thinks it was a decent tip.

They keep their hands to themselves for the entire elevator ride, for the long walk to her hotel room. Right up until the last second, Mike’s almost expecting that something will go wrong--that another one of their teammates will appear, that someone will walk by and take a picture, that Ginny’ll look at him and change her mind--

But then she’s opening the door and walking through, clearly expecting him to follow, and he’s walking inside and--there he is. There they are.

Her room has the exact same layout that his does. Mike takes a long breath before he turns around to face her, asking, “Okay, how do you--”

But Ginny’s already got a good idea how of she wants this night to go, that’s made crystal clear when she steps right up to him and kisses him on the mouth, leaning up into it, her mouth so sweet and soft against his, and Mike only freezes for a second before he gives himself up to it, wrapping an arm around her waist as he kisses her for all he’s worth.

It escalates from there, until he’s groaning into her mouth as she presses herself against his chest, and without thinking Mike backs her up until her back’s to the wall and he’s crowding her in, his hands running along her body, mapping out every curve, and then somehow one of his hands is slipping underneath her shirt and he’s touching her bare skin.

Over the roaring in his own head, Mike realizes that Ginny’s muttering, “Please,” over and over again against his mouth as she tries to hook a leg over his hip, drag him in even closer. “Come on, just--”

“I’ve got you,” Mike promises, pressing feverish kisses to her mouth, her jaw, her throat. “Relax, I’ve got you.”

Holding his breath as he does it, Mike lets his hand move to the front of her jeans, thumbing the button open with a practiced motion, dragging the zipper down. Ginny’s got her eyes closed now, breathing harshly as Mike slips his hand in past her underwear, bitching back a curse as he starts to touch her, as he realizes how wet she is already.

“Fuck,” he curses into the curve of her neck, his thumb rubbing at her clit. His own cock’s hard and aching in his jeans, but that can wait, that can wait when he’s got Ginny clutching at his arms, nails sharp as they dig in through the thin material of his shirt. Oh God, they’re still fully clothed and he’s fingering her up against a wall, he’s got Ginny gasping against his mouth as he presses the tip of his middle finger inside of her, his mind breaking at how tight she is, just from that.

“Here, let me--” Mike mumbles, moving back so he can drag her jeans down past her hips, and thank God, Ginny gets it, shimmying her hips to help him move the pants down. Her underwear is purple and cotton, and Mike grins a little before Ginny drags him in by the shirt, pulling him into another kiss, shamelessly licking into his mouth.

Groaning, Mike gets back to it, slowly sliding his finger into her, pulling back just far enough so he can watch her responses, see how she reacts to this.

Her eyes closed tight, Ginny pushes down on his hand, clenching around his finger even as she says through gritted teeth, “You know I’ve gotten myself off before, right? I’m not gonna--gonna break.”

“Jesus, don’t put those images in my head, I’m trying to fucking last here,” Mike says even as the image of Ginny lying back in her bed, patiently getting herself off with her own hand buried between her legs--

He groans and kisses her again, swallowing up her moans as he keeps that same steady rhythm, fucking her shallowly with his finger while he still keeps rubbing her clit with his thumb. She’s so slick and hot against his hand that soon he ups it to two fingers, Ginny taking a harsh breath as he does. “Shh, I got you,” Mike murmurs to her, slowing down so she can get used to it.

“I know,” Ginny breathes out, opening her eyes to look at him. “I know that.”

Mike stares at her for a long second, then lets himself rest his forehead against hers, closing his own eyes before he gets back to the task at hand.

And soon Ginny’s moaning as she rocks her hips forward against his hand, riding his fingers and clutching at him with her tight grip, and all the while she’s making those soft noises that just has Mike kissing her even harder, trying to swallow them up.

Finally, Ginny goes very still, shuddering as she comes, mouth open on a silent cry as she clenches around his fingers. Mike watches her face for all of it, barely breathing as she comes back to herself, blinking up at him, clearly dazed.

“Good?” he asks her, and Ginny stares at him like he’s speaking a foreign language.

“Holy shit,” she pants, and pulls him in for a kiss, which is a pretty good answer on its own.

Still kissing her, Mike asks breathlessly against her mouth, “You, uh, you want to pause it here or--”

Ginny pulls back to look at him, her eyes narrowing. She then deliberately looks down at where Mike’s erection is pressing into her hip, and Mike can feel his face getting hot. “Hell no,” Ginny says. She pushes him away, but only far enough so that she can finally shuck off her shoes and socks, kick her jeans off to the side.

She raises an eyebrow at the sight of him standing shock-still in front of her. “Well?”

Mike doesn’t need to be told twice. He strips as quickly as possible, hands going clumsy as he watches Ginny matter-of-factly undress, pulling her shirt over her head, unhooking her bra with one hand.

And then she’s standing naked in front of him, all gorgeous brown skin and lean long limbs and-- “Oh my fucking God,” Mike says, his brain freezing, and Ginny laughs a little at him, teeth flashing white in her face.

“Try to keep up, huh?” she asks as she saunters backwards to the bed, teasing and relaxed and so damn beautiful it makes him ache, looking at her.

Mike can’t remember the last time he took his clothes off so fast. By the time he’s completely undressed though, Ginny’s watching him from where she’s lying down on the bed, looking openly appreciative--and only a little nervous.

Mike feels as though he’s moving at half-speed as he approaches the bed. “You know we don’t have to--”

“Yes, I know, Mike,” Ginny says, rolling her eyes a little. She grows serious as he finally settles his weight on top of the bed, bracing himself with one arm. “I want to.”

She sounds utterly confident, and something in Mike unwinds at that, and he leans down to kiss her softly, gently--the kind of kiss they haven’t had tonight yet. “I know. We’re taking this slow though, okay?”

Ginny grins up at him, dimple peeking out. “Yeah, okay.”

And they do--they make out on top of the sheets for what feels like an eternity, and Mike gets to take his time and explore every inch of her body. That’s how he works out that Ginny can only handle direct stimulation to her nipples for only so long--a shame, because he really likes licking them but he can move on--and that she actually likes the feeling of his beard scraping against her skin. “It’s softer than I thought it would be,” she whispers as he’s trailing kisses down her abdomen, but when he looks up at her, she’s biting her lip like she didn’t mean to say it out loud.

“Glad to hear it doesn’t feel like steel wool,” he jokes, winking up at her before returning to business.

It’s not one-sided either, as Ginny makes a point of touching Mike with a single-minded focus he finds both endearing and oddly hot--God help him the next time she’s on the pitcher’s mound and staring ahead with that laser focus, though. Not that Mike’s letting himself think about that. Or about anything that’s not happening in the next five minutes.

Mike comes closest to losing his control when she’s jerking him off though, watching him with that serious, thoughtful gaze, rubbing her thumb over the head of his cock until he’s gritting his teeth and finally having to say, “Okay, enough, I’m about to lose it.”

“Yeah?” Ginny asks, grinning, and he just has to roll them over in the bed so he can kiss her. It’s practically a requirement when you’re faced with that kind of smile.

But finally, Mike’s got the condom rolled on, and he’s bracing himself above Ginny, slowly pushing into her, biting back curses as he tries not to go too fast, too hard. Ginny’s eyes are squeezed shut, her mouth pressed tight, and when Mike finally bottoms out, she flinches just a little, a whimper escaping her mouth.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Mike breathes out, kissing her mouth.

“It’s okay,” Ginny says in a tight voice, eyes still closed. “Just--just don’t move yet?”

“Of course not,” Mike pants out, and he holds himself still as Ginny breathes and tries to adjust. After a moment, she starts to squirm a little, and Mike grunts at the feeling--and then she rubs at her clit, and he groans and drops his head against her shoulder.

“Mike,” Ginny says, laughter in her breathless voice, “Mike, what--”

“You’re gonna kill me tonight,” he mumbles. “Jesus, just--give a man some warning--”

She’s laughing at him for this, and somehow this gets him laughing, and he can’t remember the last time he laughed with a woman during sex. And somehow this is the trick, and she eventually sighs and tells him it’s okay, he can move. And he still takes it slow, shuddering with every thrust and it’s still a little awkward, but it’s good, Christ but it’s so unbelievably good.

And then he’s falling into a rhythm, and Ginny’s moving with him, the two of them falling into sync as he fucks into her and she rubs herself, her breathing coming faster and faster until she’s coming again for the second time, clenching so tightly around his cock that he loses the rhythm entirely and just thrusts roughly into her, once, twice, three times before coming with a muttered curse against the soft skin of her neck.

It takes Mike a while to come back to himself, a little more before he can gather the brain cells to pull himself out and off of her, tying off the condom and flinging it at the direction of the trash can.

When he turns back to look at Ginny, she’s got a hand thrown up over her head and is breathing heavily, eyes squeezed shut, a sheen of sweat on her skin. “Hey,” Mike says, and waits until she wearily looks over at him. Once she’s looking, he gives her his widest grin. “Told you.”

She groans and smacks his arm. “Smug is not a good look on you.”

“Uh, that’s the biggest lie you’ve ever said to me,” Mike says.

Ginny scoffs but doesn’t argue the point any further, which Mike’s willing to take as a victory. They both fall silent after that, catching their breath, and the silence is--oddly comfortable, given what they’ve just done. What they’ll be facing in the morning.

Just as Mike’s working up the nerve to ask what she wants to do now, Ginny speaks. “You can’t spend the night.”

“I know,” Mike says, making sure to keep any hint of defensiveness out of his voice. She doesn’t deserve that, him getting weird and defensive, expecting anything more from her than she’s prepared to give. “Do you want me to leave?’

Ginny’s face twists. “It feels weird to just kick you out, though,” she says, and Mike speaks Baker well enough to know that means she doesn’t want him to leave just yet, but she doesn’t know how to ask.

“I could stay for a little while,” he offers, and Ginny’s face eases, and he knows he’s said the right thing.

The fact that it’s also what he wants to do is just a bonus.

It’s far less awkward than it should be--Mike leans in for another kiss, which leads to them sleepily making out until Ginny finally yawns and settles in against his shoulder, too sleepy and relaxed to feel tense anymore. “This was really good,” she mumbles, half-asleep.

“Yeah,” Mike agrees, tracing circles into her skin with his free hand. “It was.’

She’s asleep not five minutes after that, dead to the world. Mike looks at her for a second, at the curves of her face, the sight of her body wrapped in the hotel’s cream-colored sheets--and then he slips out of the bed, moving as slowly as possible so as not to disturb her.

He gets dressed on auto-pilot, a strange sort of numb feeling spreading through his stomach as he pulls on his clothes. Once he’s dressed, he sneaks one last, long look at her, sleeping peacefully in the bed, her body curved around the empty space where he used to be.

Mike doesn’t look back as he slips through the door, closing it carefully behind him, hearing the hotel’s door lock click as it finally shuts.

The hallway is empty, and his own room is a corridor away. Mike walks as quickly and quietly as he can, trying hard not to think about her back in that room, what they’d just done, what they’ll have to put behind them.

He’d agreed to it, after all. One night of sex--of really good, passionate sex--and they go back to normal the next morning. Or their version of normal, anyway, where he’s the wisecracking catcher with bad knees in the twilight of his career, and she--she’ll be Ginny Baker again, rookie, media sensation, trailblazer--and the girl Mike’ll still want, even when he shouldn’t.

God fucking dammit. Mike’s been accused of having no sense of self-preservation before, by his coaches, his trainers, his now ex-wife, and his accountant on one memorable occasion--but he’s never proven it to be true on so spectacular a level before.

But even as Mike’s thinking it, he’s still not regretting anything they’ve done. Not when he remembers the way Ginny had looked at him in that car ride back to the hotel, the way she’d kissed him in her room, what it had felt like to touch her, taste her. To know that she trusted him that damn much.

And now it’s over, and Mike has to find a way to be okay with that. He has to.

Once Mike’s in his hotel room, he methodically strips off all his clothes and kicks them to a corner of the room. He then takes a long shower, hot water beating down on him, and then goes on to brush his teeth and climb into his bed, alone.

The sheets of his bed are cool as he slides beneath them, no extra body warmth to be found. Mike pushes back both the disappointment and the sense-memory of Ginny resting against him, lies back against his cool pillow, and waits for sleep to arrive.

He’s waiting for a long time.