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Walk A Mile (With You Beside Me)

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Ginny Baker had known uncertainty in her life on more than one occasion. She’d known the ups and downs and the trials and tribulations that came with being special, unique, different than most. She’d known the pressures that came along with the career choice she’d made, the fame and infamy from it. So why now, now, was there even the smallest hint of nervousness and carefulness as the elevator she shared came to a stop two floors below her own? Maybe it was because of the occupants that shared the tight space with her.

Listening to the ding, watching the doors come slowly apart, Ginny let her eyes fall on the elderly couple who moved to make their exit. Their easy smiles and nods were genuine, just as their “Good evening” and “Nice night”.

She nodded back as her fingers pressed into her clutch purse. It was instinctual to take the step back. And maybe it was instinctual on his part to…

Mike Lawson’s hand found the small of her back for all of a second before it slipped away.

“Same to you.” His voice was friendly, a smile certain to have been on his face from behind her.

“Good night.” The words fell from Ginny’s lips out of common courtesy and in spite of the uneasiness travelling through her.

Her eyes followed the couple off of the elevator, saw them head off to the right before the ding of the elevator sounded and the doors slid quietly back together.

Ginny took in a deep but silent breath, her chest expanding as her lungs filled with air. The smoothness of the ride didn’t help the anxious feelings. Neither did the silent ascension up one floor and then…

“I don’t think they knew who you were, Ginny.”

Mike’s voice was a deep rumble from behind her. There wasn’t a hint of teasing, but maybe a sense of knowing.

“I-”

“Or me, for that matter,” he continued, not letting her cut in.

Ginny turned swiftly around, just in time to see the slow and calm tilt of Mike’s head, his eyes taking their time as they crossed over first her face and then squinting while traveling lower.

Did he know what she was thinking? Or maybe he just thought that he knew. Because she hadn’t really expected to be mauled every single time she walked into the hotel on her way to her room. It hadn’t been a normal occurrence, had it?

“Didn’t seem like it,” she agreed with him.

Their baseball player status didn’t mean everything to everyone. If someone saw them together, it didn’t foreshadow conspicuous thoughts of why the Padres’ veteran catcher and rookie pitcher were dressed in evening clothes and riding an elevator to an awaiting hotel room at such a late hour. And it certainly hadn’t meant anything to the couple who had just left them.

Mike’s eyes met Ginny’s for all of a second. And even in that quick connection, it sent some electric current to shoot through her entire body. In that second, which seemed to last for much much longer, she was filled with memories of the moment of the first time she came face to face with the man. There had been a nervousness and excitement that she should have expected. But in this second, in this moment, the nervousness and excitement was almost completely different.

His eyes had met her for all of a second, slanted, yet warm. And then he was looking past her, glancing behind her.

Ginny was slow to turn back around. She glanced up to watch the elevator tick from one floor to the next. Almost home…

She let the hand that held on to her clutch fall to her side, letting whatever unease that had settled inside of her dissipate.

Just as the elevator made its way to another smooth stop, Mike’s hand settled at the small of her back once more. This time, it stayed there as he moved to stand beside her.

Ginny’s lips turn involuntarily up into a smile.

It had been a choice made mutually by them: this thing between them was not something to be publicized. It wasn’t for the team to know, it wasn’t for the press to gossip and share, it wasn’t for the fans to romanticize. What this was, what this had always been, was a chance to see what those sparks had truly been. It was a chance to see, to be honest, about the relationship that had started out as teammates which turned into true friendship, and then eventually something more.

And it was with those thoughts that Ginny sank into the feel of having Mike’s protective hand spreading wide over the small of her back. Her eyes blinked down on the floor for a quick moment. Once. Twice. Then she looked back up at him, finding the slow turn of his head toward her.

His eyes on her sent a shiver through her spine that she was sure he had felt. Maybe it was the classic stoneface-give-nothing look that instantly turned into a softer version and read of something much deeper.

“Are you good?”

“I’m good.” The words left her mouth on the heels of Mike’s question, a short nod putting emphasis to it.

The fingers on her back danced a little bit just as the elevator doors slid apart.

“Good.” Mike’s eyes were still on her, giving another bit of squint. “I was hoping that the night ended just as well as it began.” The hand on her back navigated her off of the elevator with him right behind. “And that meant no panic attacks at just the sight of someone seeing us together.”

Ginny’s mouth quirked up into a smile as she moved, her eyes rolling at whatever attempt of a joke he’d made. She didn’t know; was she supposed to be more offended by the panic attack remark or the source of said attack? But, even as she moved slowly and with strong steps down the hallway, there was a new sense of ease that she could also acknowledge. And it had come from the man behind her.

Mike’s hand fell away from her back. With a quick glance behind her, Ginny saw the way that he slipped both hands into his pockets as a small smile of his own appeared on his face.

Mike Lawson…

His poster had been on her wall. He’d been a figure in her life for so many years, with her believing him to be this one thing: not only a hero amongst the sports world, but someone that she could one day emulate, even in her own way.

Then she had become his teammate, his partner. That’s when she’d learned so much more about the man, had learned that she really hadn’t had that much of a clue.

Now… Now, she was learning something new about him, learning a completely new side of the man. Not that she was surprised, because complexity could be his middle name. No, she wasn’t surprised by another face of Mike Lawson. She really liked getting to see, getting to know, all the sides that made up the man.

Whatever had come over her before in that elevator, whatever had caused her to be nervous (yet nowhere near panic attack status) seemed to melt away. Good.

Good.

The fingers on her purse tightened just as she held her head up. Her steps across the quiet hallway floor were strong. For just a second, she turned to look behind her, only catching a hint of Mike for a fraction of that time. But that split second put a smile on her face, because in that split second, she had been able to internalize so much of the man.

With her door in front of her, Ginny fumbled around in the small clutch for her key. Grasping it between her fingers and pulling it out, she took very particular care in slipping it into the lock.

“Was I…”

Mike’s voice was a rumble behind her. She watched him step from behind her, his fingers raising before falling down to his side. His eyes were trained on her door, his chin lifting just so in acknowledgement.

Ginny’s brows drew together.

“No.” She shook her head, laughing a little. “No. I can open my own door.”

“Right.” Mike’s sidestep brought him closer to her, his body almost near enough to bump against hers. “Yeah.” He blinked at the door twice before he turned his squinted gaze on her.

It was new, this thing between them. And wasn’t that so very interesting…

Was it conformity? Was it Mike trying to figure out the politics of how to act the part of the gentlemen when he walked her to her door? Because for all the great things Mike Lawson was sometimes he lived in his own world, with his own rules, and courtesy all but flew out the window,

Ginny… didn’t hate that. It could be annoying… sometimes. But it was Mike. And sometimes it only took a dawning to realize the propriety he might have missed, only to stumble his way through into righting… not a wrong, but an oversight.

Ginny took in a small breath and held it as she flung her body around to completely face him. Her back hit against her door and her eyes opened wide on the man in front of her.

I had a good time.

No, that didn’t sound right even in her head. That generic opening wasn’t good enough.

Still, the way Mike stepped even closer to her, the way he brought his fingers up slowly towards a random loose curl in her hair, simply brushing across it…

The moment didn’t call for generality. If the slight tension in her body meant anything, it was that this wasn’t supposed to end in generality.

“See? Another date without any mishaps.” It was Mike who had spoken first, his words that deep rumble, but somehow softer than normal.

Ginny was close to rolling her eyes again, but her smirk was involuntary and unstoppable.

“No press hounding us on the streets during our walk, only a stray fan here or there during dinner asking for a selfie, and complete privacy when we were at the bar,” Mike ticked off, sounding pretty smug and only a hint of teasing in his voice. “We even made it back here with nothing more than a mere thought of what was going on in the old- and, Baker, that is what old truly looks like-” Mike couldn’t stop his grin after that, and Ginny also found it amusing in spite of herself. “Minds of the couple riding an elevator with us as I bring you home.”

Ginny lifted her chin, her lips parting slightly. Her gaze slid off to the side, focusing somewhere that wasn’t Mike Lawson.

“You’re right,” she conceded as easily as she could. Because he was right. “No one saw us together and immediately questioned why the much loved and appreciated Padres catcher was out with the celebrated and adored Padres rookie pitcher.”

“Nope.”

Ginny turned her attention back to him at that, coming in contact with that still smug face. The other fingers joined the one that had coiled her curl around to frame one side of her face.

Thank God for the off-season, because she knew herself. Dealing with feelings, these undeniable and unfamiliar feelings, while she was trying to focus on being a rookie pitcher for the Padres, in the major leagues, just would have been nearly impossible. She’d had rules for reasons. She’d lived by a set of rules, a set of morals, for so much of her life. And there had been parts of Mike, parts of what he could have been in her life, that hadn’t fit in with those rules and those morals.

At least… Ginny had believed.

Some rules were meant to be broken, though. Some rules deserved addendums, deserved to be overruled at looked at again.

There had been sparks, there had been feelings. And it had nothing to do with what she’d thought she’d known prior to meeting him. It had been the ever-growing friendship, the ability to let someone in and to be let in like no one else. It had been the connection that was not only mental, but emotional… and physical. There was a great attraction, and when that attraction came on all those levels, how was she supposed to stop it? How was she supposed to deny it?

“Now,” Mike whispered as he moved even closer. He glanced off to either side, looking up and down the hallway. “I’m not sure about a neighbor who just might open their door or come off the elevator behind us while we’re standing here in front of your door.” Mike turned quickly back to her, meeting her eyes. “This just might be the start of a question or two.”

His continued teasing didn’t making her nervous, just made her laugh. Shaking her head, and having Mike drag his fingers through even more of her hair, she eyed him conspicuously.

“Is that your way of getting an invite inside?” she asked quietly, and she wasn’t quite sure if it sounded hopeful to her own ears.

Mike was slow to give a single shake of his head. “That would be another nope, Baker.”

She wasn’t surprised. So she chose to let go of any of that hope she’d had, with absolutely no sadness on the side. It was already late…

Ginny lifted her chin in a short nod. “See you for an early workout in the morning?” Before she got his confirmation, she slipped away and turned. Her hand found the doorknob and, with a firm grasp on it, she twisted it until the door gave way.

“See you in the morning,” Mike agreed.

Her body pressed into the door, opening it wide as she took a step inside.

But not really, because she twisted back around to face the man that she was with.

Whatever words that had been on the tip of his tongue when her back was to him seemed to disappear, his once open mouth closing and being replaced by just a small lift of his lips.

“So this thing- us- and keeping it a secret for a while,” Ginny blurted out, “is a good thing. And I know sometimes it may look like I’m wary of it to the point where it’s not worth it or what I want.”

“Never said that,” Mike reminded her, his smile just fractionally wider. He turned his head from one side to the other.

“Ever thought it?” Ginny shot back, her eyebrows raising from the dare.

The space that she’d created was diminished as Mike took a step that brought him to stand in the threshold and directly in front of her.

“Believe me, I get it. Our lives are our own. We don’t owe it to others to let them in and gawk while we’re figuring things out for ourselves. Ginny, I get it.” His eyes were on the move again, taking a quick glance behind him before he settled back on her. “So are you going to kiss me goodnight or what?”

Mike Lawson… He was confident. Cocky. Self-assured. And Ginny didn’t absolutely hate that, even when it was directed at her.

She could have pushed further, could have made them stand at her door and hash out their predicament even though he had summed it up pretty well. But what would be the point of that, especially when all she wanted to do was what he’d asked her about?

There was a smile lifting her lips even as she watched those blue eyes take a slow inventory of what seemed like every detail of her face.

There’d been a time when she really hadn’t been sure about the beard, hadn’t been sure if he had been one-hundred percent wrong and she really did dislike it. She’d learned over time that… he’d been one-hundred percent right.

Ginny’s hands came up to either bearded cheek, her fingers slipping over the softness, yet ruggedness.

“I knew you loved the beard.” Seemingly reading her mind, Mike’s quiet murmur came on the heels of his arm wrapping itself around her back.

There might have been time for a quick comeback, but honestly…

She liked the feel of being in his arms just as much as she liked holding him in hers. Ginny felt the heaviness of her eyelids as she moved even closer, her lips seeking his. She caught glimpses of blue eyes and strong nose and hints of pink cheeks that soon disappeared under that beard that was kind of growing on her…

Ginny’s eyes closed the instant Mike’s lips came in contact with hers. The arm around her waist tightened, bringing her even closer to him. And as he deepened the kiss, taking over the lead, Ginny felt the tug on her womb that was becoming all too common when it came to physical contact with the man.

It was a firm kiss, one that mirrored the firmness on his hold on her. It was a familiar kiss; in the span of some six weeks, it seemed as if he had mastered that part of her. It was a slow kiss, one that evoked something that she wasn’t sure she was ready for. And yet…

Ginny fingertips grazed over Mike’s cheeks, down his neck, and smoothed their way around until they met at his nape. His mouth slanted across hers, encouraging her to follow where he led. So, she did.

If he’d pressed into her, if he’d taken a step forward, encouraging her to take one back, if he’d made the move to come into her hotel room, Ginny probably would have followed there, too. But he hadn’t. Instead, Mike pulled back from her, coming back to place a quick and quiet kiss to her lips.

Her eyelids still felt heavy, but she forced her eyes open. Ginny dragged her hands from behind Mike’s head, dragging down around his neck and finally his chest.

“Good night.” She took a small step backwards, creating space between them.

The corners of Mike’s eyes crinkled as he looked at her. His thoughts were his own because that crinkle was all that he gave.

“Eight o’clock?” Ginny asked in a whisper.

This time, there was a small nod of Mike’s head. “Eight o’clock.” He took a step back of his own. “Good night, Ginny.”

She took a small bite at the inside of her lip as she watched his eventual turn and exit from just inside her room. She smiled at his back, but kept her sigh to herself.

Mike looked first to the right, then to the left, and back once more.

Ginny tilted her head in curiosity.

“Coast is clear,” Mike said confidentially, glancing back at her even as he moved into the hallway.

She huffed out a small laugh, rolled her eyes upward, and gave a quick nod. Of course.

“Thanks for checking,” Ginny called out to him.

Mike threw a hand up without turning back to look at her. Ginny could only imagine the shit-eating smirk that was presently across his face.

She huffed out a sigh this time, closing her hand on the door and letting it swing shut without another thought. But she couldn’t hold back her own smile from spreading widely from ear to ear. Ginny crossed her arms over her chest and pressed a shoulder into the door, listening to it click shut with finality.

It wasn’t only the closing remark Mike had left her with. It wasn’t only the breathtaking kiss he’d just laid on her. It wasn’t only the way her name sounded so good coming from his mouth. No. No, because it was so much more than all of that.

Ginny took in a small shuddered breath. Her head fell against the door and she twisted around until her back laid against it as well.

Yeah, life could change in just a blink of the eye. She knew that. Still… she hadn’t expected Mike Lawson. She hadn’t expected fan status to turn into teammate status and eventual friend-status. Even with that spark that had been undeniable, she hadn’t expected all of that to turn into… this. Even when this wasn’t necessarily defined, it was something.

Ginny rubbed her fingers over her opposite arm, lightly brushing over the skin there.

Six weeks.

So it was undefinable at this point! It didn’t matter. She was riding a wave. Together, they were riding a wave. And… it didn’t have to be defined. Ginny was going to enjoy it. She was going to enjoy the direction they were headed in. And, maybe one day, letting the world in their secret wouldn’t sound like a bad thing at all.

****

Mike swiped his thumb over his lip twice as he swung around in the elevator. He slammed that same thumb into the elevator button, commanding it to take him back down into the lobby.

His tongue flicked out onto the corner of his mouth, still tasting Ginny there. He peeked out the diminishing space between the doors, searching out the room that he’d just left.

He imagined her tearing off the dress and stripping out of the shoes that had brought her to his height as soon as she’d closed the door, ready to be as comfortable as possible. He hadn’t seen her do it, but knowing Ginny, he could imagine.

Eight o’clock in the morning wouldn’t be here nearly soon enough. Her scent, which still clung to him, wouldn’t be fresh for some ten hours. At least at that point, he would be able to marvel over the gorgeous body that he’d just been holding.

Ten hours…

Mike looked down at his wristwatch. His lips pressed together firmly.

As the elevator dinged to a stop, he already knew he’d be calling her once he’d made it home. It felt like a night to fall asleep with Ginny in his ear.

Chapter Text

Real friends weren’t always easy to come by. Living life in the spotlight made it even more difficult than other circumstances.

Blip Sanders was a real friend. Too real a friend to lose over pigheadedness that could be doled out on either side. That didn’t mean it was always easy to forgive and forget, but the real part of the equation made it a necessity.

Mike could admit it. He’d gotten all up in his own head, had decided to freeze everyone out because there was no way that anyone could have understood what he was going through. That had included his best friend, whom he’d brushed out effortlessly and let believe whatever he’d like about the choices he saw Mike making. He couldn’t help it. He could regret the aftermath, but it was damn near impossible to regret it when he was in the eye of the storm.

There had been a moment where he’d lost the team. That had started with losing Blip, first losing his trust and everything else soon followed. So Mike knew his part of the rift; he could own up to it like the man he knew he was. He believed that to be true of Blip, too. Which was why their brief goodbyes before the Sanders’ clan jetted off to Florida was much needed and much welcomed. It had opened the door wide for them both to have everything ready to be straightened out when Blip returned from vacation.

It had also left a much needed availability for some quality time to happen between Mike and Ginny…

Mike lifted his chilled bottle of beer to his lips at an effort to keep thoughts of Ginny from entering his mind. His eyes scanned across the pool table, taking in the easy shot that Blip was now setting up and sure to knock down.

He was mid-sip when Blip looked up at him from his poised position over the table.

“Have you been in touch with Ginny lately?” Blip’s gaze slipped back to the corner pocket as he took and sunk the easy shot.

Mike’s eyebrow lifted about a millimeter, somewhat caught off guard by the sudden question.

“A lot of the team is out of town,” Blip continued, slowly straightening up and moving to the other side of the table. “I know Ginny’s stuck around because of that stint of her rehab time.” This time Blip looked Mike right in the eye, even though he probably missed the hint of unease coming from his friend and teammate. The cue pressed into the floor and he wrapped his hand just under the tip. “You haven’t gone all hermit crab, have you? Have you seen her?”

“Have I been in touch with Ginny?” Mike asked back.

Blip’s chin lifted slowly in the air. “Yeah, that’s basically what I asked you.” His eyes took a quick assessment of Mike’s before his attention turned back to the game. “I thought that would be an easier topic than bringing up how you were feeling about strapping up for your last season.”

That last part had left Blip’s mouth a little unevenly, but Mike understood. In an alternate world, it might have been easier for him to talk about and accept his impending retirement.

It hadn’t been an easy decision on his part, putting the truth out there in the public. Mike Lawson had one more season as a Major League Baseball player. And it was going to be with the Padres. It was the team he’d started off his career with. It was going to be the team that he’d end his career with.

Mike had watched his body deteriorate. He had watched as the age gap between him and the newest crop of players had grown even more. He had realized… a lot of things. And for a lot of reasons… Mike only had one more season in him.

“So, have you seen her?”

Blip’s easy conversational tone wasn’t laced with intrigue. He wasn’t trying to delve deep and trap Mike into spilling the truth. Blip didn’t know what had happened in the time he’d been out of town. He didn’t know about Mike and Ginny.

“Um, yeah.” Mike cleared his groggy-sounding throat , . His brows snapped sharply together even as he brought his bottle to his mouth once more for a quick sip. “Yeah, I’ve talked to her.” He gave a quick, hard nod.

The cue tip knocked gently against the number eight ball, which headed off into the desired direction of some other ball.

“Okay,” Blip said slowly. He looked back at Mike before dipping his chin just a bit. “How is she doing?”

Right. Blip was concerned about Ginny’s well-being.

“Baker’s good,” Mike assured him easily enough. “She’s… in good spirits.” He took in a deep breath as he tipped his beer at his friend. “She’s working hard and looking forward to both her time off and a chance to get to spring training when the time comes.”

Blip gave a slow nod, his lips pressing together firmly.

It was the way Blip was looking at him that made Mike take another quick sip. He remembered his friend’s ability to quickly sum up a situation with little information to go on. In fact, it had been a similar scenario when Blip had come to learn about Mike and Amelia. A brief web of a few words from him here and connecting some ideas from there…

“You know her,” Mike continued, feeling the need to find an ending to the already brief conversation. “She’s good.” He moved then, closer to the pool table. “Hey, what are you waiting for?” Deflection could be a good thing, he realized as he tipped his chin at Blip. “Are we playing or what?”

That was all it took to get Blip to lean over the table, pool stick slipping between his fingers and size up another shot.

“We’re playing,” Blip assured him in a quiet murmur. He glanced up from the shot that knocked the eight ball hard into its target. “We were also just catching up. Right?”

Mike turned his focus on the pool table, watching the number four ball roll dangerously close to the side pocket, yet hang precariously there without falling in.

He took a final swig from the bottle before placing it next to Blip’s beer on the table behind him.

“All caught up.” The words were a bit gruff leaving his mouth, but he hoped it put a stop to the conversation. At least for now.

Mike also ignored the way Blip’s gaze tracked his own as he made his way towards his pool stick.

It was probably more so the ringing of Blip’s phone that caused a non-response from him.

A break was a break, and Mike wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, he took stock of what was laid out in front of him on the pool table. He was sure that Blip’s misjudgment was going to work out in his favor, seeing the placement of the eight ball before him.

The pool stick slipped easily through his fingers as he steadied his shot.

“That’s… Ev.”

The curious tone in Blip’s voiced forced Mike to glance back up

Blip’s phone disappeared into his pocket as a small sigh left from between his lips.

“What?” Mike asked.

He gave a single shake of his head. “She said she’s pulling up right now.”

Mike lifted a single brow. “Yeah?”

“And she said to come out and help her with the bags.”

Mike’s grin was instant. “I take it that these aren’t grocery bags.” He pulled back from the table, placing his pool stick to lay across it.

“I doubt it.” Blip enclosed his hand over fist. “Man, when the wife doesn’t even try to hide the purchases she’s made, I think that means the husband has lost any credibility he once had.” He dipped his head as he pathway towards the door. “Mike, are you going to help?”

“You mean she has the boys with her, and she still need you and me to grab an afternoon worth of shopping?” Mike smirked at his own tease, turning around and following his friend out of the room. “Just think. Maybe she brought something home for you, too.”

Blip’s answer came in a huff of air. There was a stiffening in his shoulders, one shoulder blade shifting and then the other. Suddenly, his steps became even quicker, making their trip to the front of the house all the more quicker.

Mike stayed close behind, only briefly taking stock of each room they passed. If he was honest with himself, and he could be honest with himself, he’d missed being there. Not because Blip and his family had been away, but because he had let them have that fallout even to begin with.

He felt the sudden scowl overtaking his features. Shaking his head, he let the bad blood roll off his back, taking into account none of that mattered. Not anymore.

In front of Mike, Blip grabbed onto the front door and muttered something low under his breath. It might have even been a curse, or a prayer, before the doors opened to the bright sun of the mid-day.

Where were his sunglasses? There was no use patting his pockets. Instead, Mike treaded behind Blip, finally catching a glimpse of the car parked in the driveway through squinted eyes.

The driver’s side door came open first, Evelyn springing out in no time flat.

“Hey, babe!”

Just as her door was shutting close and Blip was returning her greeting, both back doors opened up, followed by a twin coming out on either side.

“Everything’s in the trunk.”

Blip threw a cautious glance back towards Mike as he moved across the span of the yard.

“Mike, I didn’t know you were here, too,” Evelyn added.

“Yep, I’m here.” Mike offered up a quick salute, crossing in the opposite direction of Blip towards the trunk.

“Then… this is a bit of a reunion,” Evelyn said, sounding a bit curious.

Mike saw the way Blip gripped her by the shoulders. He was sure he would have also been witness to a kiss as well, except he was distracted. Distracted by…

The front passenger door slowly opened, the tinted windows revealing nothing. But it was the Converse-covered foot and loose-legged jeans that almost halted him in his tracks.

“Ginny, hey.”

Instead of almost reaching for his sunglasses, Mike fought the urge to dig in his pocket for his phone. Had she attempted to text him and let him know that she was with Evelyn? Did she know that he was spending part of the day with Blip? Maybe she hadn’t known that they would be there at the house.

“Blip.” Ginny swung around, only meeting Mike’s gaze for a split second. She sent a laugh echoing across the hood of the car as she looked at the couple near the trunk and opposite of her. “I missed you guys. I’m glad you’re back.”

The fact that the couple was already in the trunk made it easier for her to grab onto the car door and swing around to face Mike. Ginny’s gaze landed on him, giving him a look that read of her own confusion.

It wasn’t going to be today. Blip and Ev were not going to find out about whatever was going on between Mike and Ginny, that he was sure of.

Mike took in a deep breath and placed his hands at his hips. His chin tilted in Ginny’s direction before he moved again, making his way towards the car.

“Baker.” It sounded gruff, but normal. “Good to see you.” And for a second, while no one else was looking, the facade fell away. He took just that moment to appreciate the woman in front of him. His eyes fell on the perfectly messy high ponytail that was made up of spiraling curls. He took in the arch of her brow and the high cheekbones. His eyes fell on her lips, and it was almost a struggle to move on beyond there. So maybe he stayed for just a little while longer.

“Hey, Mike.”

Ginny’s hand moved along the top of the door, sliding across as she moved to eventually shut it behind her. Those same fingers went to swipe at a loose curl that had made its way out of the ponytail and across her face.

Mike blinked the facade back into place. His own hand came to smooth down the front of his beard. It was with great concentration that he kept his mind off the idea of Ginny touching him right there as he offered her an easy grin that she would then roll her eyes at. No, he wouldn’t think about that.

What he hadn’t been able to stop himself from doing was walking towards her. Mike caught the laughing smile on Ev’s face and the wide eyes that Blip laid on the open trunk.

Ginny had turned in the same direction, but hadn’t made any progress towards helping with the packages that were there waiting to be taken into the house.

Mike had done his best to ignore the many thoughts of the woman that were flooding his mind, but once he’d caught her scent when he stood behind her...

“I didn’t know you were going to be here.” Ginny’s explanation was a quiet whisper as she turned her attention toward the other couple.

He was close to her; close enough to hear the whisper clearly. Mike let his eyes travel the length of her once and then twice.

“And I didn’t know you’d be dropping in with Ev after what must have been a good hour worth of shopping,” Mike murmured from behind her. It would have been easy to show his own discomfort, but there really wasn’t any time for that. “Are you good?”

Ginny swung around at that.

Mike glanced back at the trunk, seeing Blip come slowly out with his hands full. It was Ginny’s voice that pulled him back.

“Do you mean if Ev and Blip have just thrown us both a curveball that they don’t even realize?” she asked lightly, pushing up to stand on her toes as she crossed her arms over her chest.

Mike eyes squinted as he gave an innocent enough shrug. “Yeah.” And then he let his gaze roam across her face, sizing up the situation. “That’s what I mean.”

Ginny took in a small breath. Her head nodded as she glanced over towards the other people around her.

“Then yeah.” The cross of her arms visibly tightened over her chest. ”Yeah, I’m good.”

Mike couldn’t help but give her another once-over from head to toe.

“Okay.” Simple. Easy. But he couldn’t leave it at that. “Missed me?” he asked, raising a single brow.

Maybe it caught her off guard, taking in the wide eyes that she laid on him.

“I missed you,” he admitted, offering an amused smile along with his truth. He planted one foot firmly into the ground, placing most of his weight there as he leaned in closer towards her.

Ginny cocked her head to the side, seemingly taking a moment to think that over. Her hand came up, closing into a fist. The punch landed softly right in his gut.

“I missed you.” Her sudden smile was brief before she turned back around, heading for the Ev, Blip, and the trunk.

“Come on in, you two.”

Mike looked up and offered his amused smile to Ev, her eyes bright and curious as she took a firm grip to the four bags’ straps and sprang forward.

“Right behind you.”

 

****

 

He was sure it hadn’t been that long. A minute. Maybe two. But the silence in the room seemed to stretch on forever. Whose fault was that?

Mike stood beside the hospital bed, arms folded and chin nearly to his chest. His eyes were on her. Ginny, sitting up with the sheet hanging just at her waist, let her fingers run across her injured shoulder. But she had been silent, not offering a single word in those quiet moments.

He didn’t know if she’d want to hear the words, but he was even less sure on how to approach the situation. Was unsure what she was ready to hear.

“It could have been a lot worse, Baker,” Mike went ahead and said, the words leaving on a sigh. Which was the truth. In all honesty, he had been scared nearly shitless when he saw her laying out on the field.

Now that he’d broken the silence, there was a physical change in her. From underneath the sheet, her feet twitched, pulling away from one another and then coming back. There was a small jerk of her right knee that was barely noticeable, but telling. Or maybe it was the way her cheek sunk in as she possibly bit at the inside of it.

“My year is over,” Ginny reminded him. The quiet murmur brought her gaze up to slowly find him.

It wasn’t pity that she was searching for; it was understanding that she needed from him. It was realization of what this injury truly encompassed.

“But not your career.” Mike held his arms even tighter over his chest and planted his toes deeper into the floor, running a quick inventory of her.

In two days, Ginny’s doctors hadn’t come up with a definitive timeframe for her recovery, but what they had done was assure her that a full recovery was in her near-future. So she had been right: her season was over. But it wasn’t the end of Ginny Baker, pro-baseball player. It wasn’t the end of Ginsanity. It wasn’t the end of her time with the Padres.

Maybe he should have said all of those words. Maybe they could have been part of one his epic speeches. Instead, Mike found himself looking into those sad and defeatist eyes across from him. That wasn’t Ginny. Ginny wasn’t a defeatist.

“Do you realize how bad this could have been?” Mike asked her, his voice gruff and stern. “Do you realize that people, a lot of people, weren’t sure if you were going to ever pick up a ball again?”

“With good reason,” Ginny shot back, a small fire being lit in her eyes.

Mike stepped closer to the bed, dropping his arms to his sides.

“You didn’t lose the game, Baker,” he reminded her quietly. Knees feeling strong enough to do so, he sunk down until he could look right into her face, no more than a foot separating his nose from hers. “You are coming back, and are going to be just as strong as you were.”

Ginny blinked at him, her fingers moving up and cupping over her shoulder.

“I think it’s a lot easier to say the words from that side of the bed.” Her muttered response came on the heels of her gripping more firmly on her shoulder and turning away from him.

Mike took a moment to look at her, to watch the set of her jaw and the stiffness of her shoulders that had nothing to do with her injury. He watched the small rise and fall of her chest as she kept her breaths even and measured.

He stood to full height before taking a step back. Then he bent back down to stare just as he had, but only from a greater distance, increasing the view he had of her.

“Baker…”

Mike’s pause had nothing to do with waiting for her to look at him. He’d paused, allowing himself to come to terms with what what about to come out of his mouth.

“I’ve never known you to be a quitter.” He leaned in closer, finding the edge of the mattress and gripping tight. “That’s because never in your life have you been a quitter.” His eyebrows drew together tighter at the fact that he saw another twitch in her jaw. “So an injury that has been proven to not be career-ending isn’t going to be the reason you give excuse after excuse for this crap attitude.”

Ginny’s swift turn and determine set of her mouth wasn’t surprising, She finally dropped her hand away from her shoulder, her other shoulder rotating in a slow and small circle.

She was too strong for this attitude, for this take on a setback. That was something he knew, something he knew that she knew.

“You’re not giving up on yourself, Baker,” Mike told her, turning his head and letting his gaze take in the new angle of her face. “You’ve surpassed any and all expectations this team and this league set for you. And before you are done, you are going to surpass any and all expectations you’ve set for yourself.”

Ginny had never been the one to pity herself. She had always been strong. She had always held her head up, done exactly what she needed to do. If it took a little encouragement from Mike to remind her of that, remind her of who she was and what she was, if it helped, then he was all for it.

With a solemn face and hands laying unmoving in her lap, she looked on the verge of responding. But…

Mike felt the involuntary swallow as his hand came to grip even tighter on the mattress right next to her.

“Ginny Baker, you amaze me.” It shouldn’t have been more than just a statement of the truth, a statement that she deserved to know and to hear. But in all honesty, the sentiment in Mike’s voice might have betrayed him.

Did he move? Of course not.

Did Ginny respond? It was with a blink of her eyes followed up with another blink. She turned away from him again, offering her profile just as both knees came up from under the sheets and then fell back into place on the bed

Maybe it had meant more to him than just what he’d voiced. Maybe he knew that maybe she knew that, too.

There wasn’t someone there to interrupt them this time. There wasn’t anyone coming in to break up the moment. There wasn’t a ringing phone coming from his pocket, breaking the spell that had encompassed just the two of them.

The truth was that Ginny Baker did amaze him. She did blow him away. And it wasn’t just on the baseball field or in the clubhouse. It was in life, in the reality of the real world.

There was a part of Mike that didn’t want to dream up the image of that night . It came to him anyway… But just for a moment.

Mike watched the simultaneous flick of Ginny’s foot and her hand forming a fist.

“I’m not giving up on myself,” she told him, confidence lacing her voice. She took that moment to turn and give him her full attention.

There was something he could have read on her face. He could have taken into account the way her fingers wrinkled and smoothed over the sheets. He didn’t. He listened to her declaration.

“This doesn’t define me,” Ginny added, her face the picture of determination.

Mike shook his head. “This doesn’t define you.”

This time, Ginny nodded. There was at least one layer of hardness that peeled away from her in that moment.

Mike found himself holding his breath. He let his grip lessen and then pushed himself off the mattress. He stood straight up and took two steps this time away from her bed.

Ginny watched him, but was silent as she let her gaze wash over him.

He lifted a shoulder in a shrug even as his hand came up to rub roughly over his beard.

“Sounds like another checkmark in the winning column for a speech well done,” Mike commented, adding a small smile for good measure.

Her delayed huff of laughter was accompanied by a roll of her eyes before turning away.

“Another one of Mike’s inspirational speeches for the win,” Ginny murmured, looking despondent once more. She let her back fall heavily against the headboard. She looked up at him again. “I’m going to be okay.”

Mike didn’t stop himself. His arms opened up as he went to her once more.

“You’re going to be okay.” Being careful of her injury, his arms wrapped her good shoulder and around her back instead of the injured one. “You’re going to heal and be back, Baker.”

Ginny was more tentative, more careful, as she slipped her arm around him.

“Thanks, Mike.”

There had been a hint of a question in her voice, but he ignored that in sake of feeling her tighten her hold on him.

“I’m only telling you the truth.”

They weren’t going to be able to stay like that. They weren’t going to stay in this embrace, with fingers circling across her back and her arm holding him there firmly. But, for a few more seconds at least, he was going to ignore that fact.

“Ginny…”

He’d almost kissed her that night. Almost. He hadn’t forgotten about it. Awkwardness had washed over both of them the following day, but he hadn’t forgotten about it. She hadn’t either, had she? Even when she said they wouldn’t talk about it unless she chose to bring it up…

So, no, he wouldn’t admit what was on his mind. Couldn’t.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Mike finally told her. His hands fell flat against her back as he began to slip away. The two seconds that she gripped him tighter so that he didn’t go far… gripped at him somewhere down deep.

“Thanks for being a good friend, Mike.” Ginny let him go with that. “I mean that.”

With space between them again, he was able to see the sincerity of her words all over her. Her hands sat laced together in her lap, her lips stayed pursed together, and her eyes were wide open and clear.

Mike gave her a strong nod of his head before his hand brushed quickly across his beard.

“Always, Baker.” It was gruff, but appropriate. “Always.”

 

****

 

“Ev!”

Ginny’s cry had been a quiet one, but the warning was clear even at a distance.

Mike looked up from from his seat on the couch to find both women huddled together, shoulder to shoulder, as they crossed into the living room. Knowing Evelyn… Well, knowing Evelyn, it only made him wonder what they had been up to.

He only made out Ginny’s I don’t before her voice lowered to an actual whisper. Mike could admit to being curious. It was probably because of the way Ginny shoved her hand the pocket of her hoodie, the way her steps were just a little quicker than Ev’s, the way her eyes cast downward.

“Should we even ask?” Blip asked.

Twisting around towards Blip, who sat crouched on the edge of his seat on the couch with his hands wringing in his lap, Mike saw a similar curiosity cross his face.

“Don’t ask.”

“Yes.”

Mike’s lips lifted in a smile of amusement. Instead of looking up to find what both Ginny and Ev thought of their simultaneous yet contradicting answers to Blip’s question, he pressed his back heavily against the couch.

“Okay, but… but four things that you should’ve kept in mind.” Apparently, Ev was winning this round…

Mike matched Blip’s position, leaning forward and clasping his hands together. His eyes lifted even as his brows drew together.

“Young. Handsome.” Evelyn paused, maybe to let those sink in for dramatic effect for what was to come, he wasn’t sure. “ Billionaire .”

Mike gnashed down on his inner cheek. He wasn’t surprised that this was the conversation that Ev had brought up while she and Ginny were alone, or the fact that Ginny had tried to squash it before they’d made it to the living room.

“And last, but certainly not least, he was completely into you, Ginny.”

“So you’re trying to figure out why things didn’t work out for her and the tech billionaire,” Blip said slowly. “And Ginny’s not giving up the goods.”

“Not giving up the goods for anyone, apparently,” Ev mused.

Ginny’s lips were pursed as she stood stock still, both hands now shoved into her hoodie. She gave a firm and slow shake of her head at Blip.

“Noah filled, and nearly flooded, that hospital room with roses,” Ev reminded them all.

Mike remembered that day, visiting Ginny. A room filled with yellow roses. Hm, right color; wrong flower...  He hadn’t been surprised by the sight. What he had been surprised by was Ginny’s reaction.

“What I would like you to keep in mind,” Ginny started slowly, nodding her head, “is that I had a lot more important things on my mind those days. And it had nothing to do with the man who would have liked to show me the entire world and take me away from what is important to me.”

She hadn’t looked at him. She hadn’t looked at Mike the entire time she had walked out into the living room.

“So… maybe that will put an end to this conversation?” Ginny asked lightly, a flicker of sarcasm in her tone. “Noah is out of the picture. And I’m going to be ready to get back into the game come spring training.”

There was a pit of something stirring in Mike’s gut. He thought that it might be pride, noting Ginny’s strength. Or maybe it was a pride borne from something else; something that could be tied to male bravado. She’d turned the billionaire tech-boy away, off to lick his wounds. But she’d turned to Mike, had leaned on him during a difficult time and let him be there for her. She’d explored other avenues, leading them to… where they now were.

Mike kept his huff of amusement to himself.

Ev took in a deep breath and held it for the briefest of moments. “Of course, seeing you healthy and on the mend is the most important thing.”

Her words were sincere. Ginny’s declaration seemed to be enough for Ev, even leaving her resigned to the outcome.

“So if I can’t live out the hot romance and sex life of a single person from you, then…”

Several beats passed in silence before Mike caught on. His wide eyes lifted towards the waiting Evelyn as he pressed his hands into either knee.

“Who? Me?”

“Mike’s right,” Blip cut in slowly. He threw his thumb out in Mike’s direction. “I think you’re headed into territory your deprived and starved thoughts don’t realize.”

Evelyn shared a look between both men. A hand slipped to her hip and she her head tilted just slightly.

“It would be like going from deprived to depraved, is that it?” she asked lightly, seemingly weighing the good and the bad of that.

Mike closed his eyes  and dipped his chin to fall to his chest even as his shoulders began to shake in amusement. But…

He wasn’t shocked or even aghast by Ev’s voiced thoughts. That period of time between being married to Rachel and (secretly) dating Ginny…

Ginny…

Although she’d had the willpower, the wherewithal, to not even glance his way while Ev had questioned her about Noah, he wasn’t able to do the same. Maybe it was because in that time span, there was a story that could’ve been told, filled with this woman or that woman, or… Amelia.

She still hadn’t looked at him; instead, her arms were crossed over her chest and she seemed to be supporting most of her weight on one foot while only the heel of her other Converse touched the floor. The cheek closest to him was hallowed as if she was having a moment of biting down on the inside like he had once done

“Sorry to disappoint, Ev,” Mike apologize, swinging his gaze to her, “but I have nothing to report.” He leaned back on the couch. “You can take that however you want to, though.” He offered her up a quick smile.

Her answer was a stiff stare as her hand fell from her hip to lay at her side.

She was going to let it go. Not quite satisfied with the response on either side, but she was going to let it go. At least, Mike had believed that.

“Come on, Ev.” Blip reached his hand out for her, beckoning her to come to him. “You have to look on the bright side.” When she was close enough to grab, he did just that, pulling her to sit on the couch between himself and Mike. “Ginny ended her dry spell before the injury. And Mike?”

Mike leaned back farther, looking past Evelyn to get a good glance at his friend next to her

Blip gave an enthusiastic nod of his head. “You know what? It’s probably best to leave his escapades alone for now.” His tip his chin up until his gaze settled on the ceiling. “The boys are in the house and it’s still early in the day.” Turning back to his wife, he stopped whatever she was going to say by the kiss he planted on her lips.

Mike threw his shoulder up and huffed out a small breath. His attention turned, finding Ginny still some feet away from the rest of them.

Her eyes were on him this time. He saw the deep rise and eventual fall of her chest, signally the deep but silent breath she’d taken in and released. She stuffed her hand even deeper into the hoodie’s pocket, a portion of her arms disappearing as well.

Mike took a second to only look at her, trying to read her as best as possible. What he was able to surmise from it all was… this was sure to be one hell of a night.

Chapter Text

There were reasons why they hadn't told anyone. For a brief moment, as the Uber pulled up to the curb that was about a three-minute walk from Mike’s house, each and every single reason why did a quick fly-by through Ginny’s mind.

Ginny Baker had a code. Not one that had been pressed upon her, but one that she had pressed upon herself: she didn’t mix professional with personal. There had been a good reason for that. Trevor was example one and the only example she needed. Add the almost-tragic hack of old photos to that, and what more needed to be said?

She felt a tingle that started in her fingertips and automatically closed her hand into a fist. It wasn’t enough to be the first and only female baseball player. She had to deal with the leering and jeering from her supposed peers, the arrogance and the hurt male pride of those in the same locker room, and the assumptions of those men as to why she was who she was. (Bitch was a term she’d heard on the rarest of occasions, but she hated it all the same.)

That was all Minor League. The concerns had moved over to the Majors with her. And then she had met Mike Lawson…

All Ginny’s morals hadn’t flown out the window when she met him. It had been this gradual thing. This undeniable thing. This connection that came to mean a lot to her. A connection that had let her guard slip down at such a vulnerable time. Admiration for an idol became admiration of a teacher, followed by a begrudging true friendship and then… something else altogether.

Mike Lawson.

And yet… caution and concern was still embedded in her.

That’s what the Uber represented: caution. That’s what an evening with Blip and Ev, not only her best friends, but Mike’s best friends, had represented: concern. They didn’t know. They couldn’t know. Not yet.

Why?

Mike was Ginny’s little secret…The future Hall of Famer, Mike Lawson, was her secret.

The instant Trevor entered her mind for the second time in a matter of short minutes, the moment his half-truths, easy smile, and inability to grasp his misunderstandings...

She flexed her fingers, all five of them extending to their full length. Then she gripped at the car door handle with all of her might. Glancing over at her driver, she took in a small breath as she pushed the door open.

Two different scenarios. Two different men. Two different places in her life.

“Thanks.” As the word left Ginny’s mouth, she caught the generic feel it had. Peering closer and tilting her head, she amended herself. “Thanks for the ride.”

The Uber driver gave a short nod as he looked over his shoulder. “Not a problem, Ms. Baker.” He was quick to throw his arm around the headrest of the passenger seat. “Have a good night.”

Ginny’s hand slipped over to her bag that sat on the other side of her. With another small inhalation of breath, she pulled the door open as she slid over to make her way out of the car. Stepping out into the cool night air, she made a mental note to leave a good review for her experience. Soon enough, she was closing the door behind her and watching as the car pulled away.

A three minute walk.

She was no more than three minutes away from walking into Mike’s house and into his arms.

The fact that a warmth settled throughout Ginny’s chest, and not the anxiety that had been there earlier, made her feel even more grateful. Because there was a reason why she was less than three minutes from being with Mike. There was a reason why she’d stepped over her bruised heart and into Mike’s arms. There was a reason why everything wrong with her past relationship didn’t have to negatively impact her present and future relationship… with Mike.

Ginny pulled at the neck of her hoodie, stretching the material until it felt comfortable against her skin. Her gaze settled on the path in front of her, her back as straight and strong as each of her steps.

Potential mini self-crisis: averted. And… all on her own.

****

If Ginny had to make a guess on what she’d find on the other side of the door, it would have been either a knowing smile and appreciative eyes landing on her or that patented nonchalant ease that always spoke of calm but revealed none of his thoughts. Ginny wasn’t privy to either one of those greetings.

Mike stepped back and away from the door, letting it swing wide open. He acknowledged her with a lift of his chin before heavily padding across the floor.

She was missing something. Ginny’s shoulders hunched over as her brows sharply drew together. Closing the door behind her, Ginny assumed that she was missing something.

“Hello to you, too,” she said slowly. She hadn’t meant for confusion to be laced through her greeting, but it was undoubtedly there.

Mike twisted back around to face her. His teeth were sunk into his bottom lip and his brows rose high on his forehead. The look he gave her still didn’t read everything-a-okay Mike, but a fraction of annoyance seemed to slip away.

“Hello, Gin,” he finally offered quietly.

Although it wasn’t completely cantankerous, neither was it the sweet caress that her name had a tendency of eliciting from him when they were alone.

Ginny brought her fingers up to rub gently at her nose. Her gaze shifted over the squared shoulders and antsy movements of his hands slipping down his waist and over his hips.

“What’s wrong?” There was no point in prolonging her curiosity, no point in beating around the bush. The way Mike rolled his lips in and the way his grip tightened on his hips- instead of tightening around her, she might as well add- made her more than a little curious.

Mike’s hand shot out just as he shook his head. “Forget it.” The dismissive words still held a tinge of annoyance, which matched the lowered brow and tense mouth. “Want a beer?” He turned again, his head shaking once more as he continued his way across the room.

“I’d rather have the truth,” Ginny answered lightly. She tilted her head as her arms folded over her chest. Her steps were a lot smaller than his, and a lot slower, but she followed those broad shoulders and strong back from one side of the room to the other. “Mike, what’s up?”

She heard the short inhalation of breath and took note of the way his shoulders slightly lifted. She imagined what the scowl of his face must have looked like even as his head shook one more time.

Ginny’s arms loosened around her chest, but her steps quickened just a bit.

The visible tick in Mike’s neck gave her pause. It made her evaluate not only his silent present, but what she had witnessed when they were last together. It hadn’t been that long since they’d both left from the Sanders’ home, Mike only minutes before Ginny’s Uber arrived.

Perhaps the hush-mouthed man of mystery act hadn’t been for the benefit of Blip and Evelyn. Maybe it hadn’t been only his way to make sure he didn’t give anything away about them.

From what she could discern from what she had walked in to, and forgetting the surprise to them both, Mike had seemed to have had a pretty good day with Blip. When she had reached the house, he had handled the situation fairly well, even taking those brief moments to tease and taunt along with her. It stayed that way… Hadn’t it?

Ginny was no more than a foot away from Mike, watching his back as he made his way toward the kitchen.

A few hours as a foursome as the twins could be heard upstairs playing. A simple and rushed dinner to accommodate everything, where no one question the fact that Mike and Ginny sat next to each other. Easy and light conversation that was such a necessity after the intensity of the end of their season. So… what had happened? What had she missed? Maybe the front he’d needed to put up wasn’t only for the benefit of their secret, but something else as well.

“Mike?” Ginny stopped herself from rolling her eyes. He did that sometimes, didn’t he? He kept things in, chose not to share, feeling as if she wouldn’t understand. It hadn’t happened in a while, but she remembered.

Mike stopped abruptly. His turn was slow. When she was able to see his face, it was still a bit of mystery there.

His hand came up to his face, taking hold of his beard and dragging his fingers through it. The seconds seemed to tick away with him watching her, thinking, debating, before his question finally came.

“Do you think I’m a good guy?” Mike’s eyes peered on her, waiting.

Okay… Where had that come from?

“Do I think you’re a good guy?” she repeated. Ginny took a step toward him, her shoulders hunching in and her weight placed on that front leg.

Mike’s eyes squinted and shook his head in disbelief. “Yeah.”

Supposedly, it was an easy question that she shouldn’t have need to take much time in answering, based on the look if his face. And it did have an easy answer.

“Yes, Mike, I think you’re a good guy,” Ginny finally answered, a laugh almost escaping her at the same time.

His head lifted all of a half-inch at that. “Professionally?” was his next question.

Ginny stood up tall and tried to not frown at that one. “Professionally, yes.”

“Personally?” he asked in the same tick of time.

She lost her posture and melted just a little. Her smile was small because she was unsure where this was coming from. Then she nodded. “Personally, yes. I think you’re a good guy.”

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

“Good captain?” Mike’s face scrunched up at the question.

Ginny blinked at that. “Great captain.”

“Okay, that’s professional,” he murmured, staring at her. “Personal. I was married.”

Yeah, that was personal.

“I know, Mike,” Ginny said slowly, albeit confusedly.

“I’ve been around for a while,” Mike continued. “A lot of what you knew about me came from the professional, and for the longest time. That’s,” he said, eyes pinpointing on parts of her face, “changing now.”

Did it make her blush? Maybe it had a burning effect across her body.

“What do you think?” The inhalation of breath was quick and hard as his hands seemed to dig into his sides. “Really, Gin, what do you think?” He raised a single brow and the toes of his shoes grounded into the floor.

Ginny felt a pit begin to form in deep in her belly, but she tried her best to ignore it. He was getting at something, and she thought she knew what it was…

“About you… and your personal life?” she asked, the question sounding odd to even her own ears.

“About-”

“The women?” she couldn’t stop herself from cutting in to ask.

Why had that elicited the tense strain of his lips and the barely, yet noticeable, tightening of his hands on his hips?

For a good chunk of time, Mike had been single. He was a single Major League Baseball player. So would anyone believe that he was supposed to play the part of some sanctified recluse who ignored the numerous women who threw themselves at him? Ginny didn’t believe so….

She shook her head as a scowl took over her features. “I don’t care about what you did in the past.” Immediately, the more recent past came to mind…

“Rachel?” Mike asked, toes digging deeper into the floor. His hand left his hips so that his arms could cross over his chest.

Ex-wife…

Ginny knew about the lingering feelings that Mike had had for her. She knew the fact that Rachel was the last woman he’d been with. Not only was she the last woman that he’d been with, but that hook-up had come on the heels of a realization…

But Mike… was over her… now… It was almost difficult to not think that as a question rather than a statement. Ginny did her best.

Unbeknownst to her, the seconds between Mike’s simple enough question and her response were ticking away. Focusing wide eyes on him, she saw the attempt at relaxing his mouth and the conscious effort to not grip his arms too tightly.

“She was your wife,” Ginny finally offered slowly, thinking quickly and trying to choose each word carefully.

Mike gave a single shake of his head. “Not good enough, Baker,” he said curtly out one side of his mouth, eyes glaring on her.

Baker.

Ginny tilted her head and gave him a quick once-over. There was so much agitation building up inside him. Or maybe it was already built up, and she was about to see the volcano erupt any minute now.

She offered up a mirthless smile. “How much thought did you want me to give to a marriage that is over, Mike?” Her head tilted in the opposite direction.

Ginny never considered herself to be the overly jealous type. He hadn’t given her a reason to worry about Rachel, no matter how they had left things.

There was a deep but quiet rumble coming from Mike’s throat.

“Amelia?” The name his mouth peculiarly, his eyes darted across her face.

Maybe that took a little more concerted effort on Ginny’s part.

“My issues with that relationship had nothing to do with the two of you as individual people,” she said slowly, checking each word before she let them slip out. Ginny thought over her statement, making sure that it was the truth. When she was satisfied that it was, she nodded her head. “That was about both of your roles in my life. That was about a trust issue that comes from me. When I confide in one, I hated not being able to have that confidence go both ways.”

Okay, the Mike/Amelia topic was not one of her favorite things in the world. But she’d been honest: it had nothing to do with the relationship. Amelia’s attraction to Mike wasn’t out of leftfield.

The loosening grip of Mike’s arms and the gradual way they fell to his sides, was a sign that maybe he was accepting of her answer. His gaze fell away from her, looking off to the side.

Ginny felt some of the tension wash away from her. She felt her body release tension that she had tried to ignore was building up in her.

What had come over him anyway?

“Is this… about us?” she asked, her confusion coming through more than her curiosity. “Are you asking me about my thoughts on your past… because of us?”

Mike turned to give her his full attention once more.

“I mean… why are you so bent out of shape?” she asked, wanting to know. She took in a deep breath as her hand fell across her chest. “Were you the one with the rule that said no dating ball players? Because I thought that was my own personal demon to deal with.”

The squint of Mike’s eyes was automatic. It was followed by a quick blink of his eyes as he took a step back.

She hadn’t meant it in… whatever way he must have taken, based on the way he was looking at her. Damn, sometimes her mouth got her in trouble...

“I just don’t get it,” Ginny continued, her brows lifting. “What’s got you so on edge because Ev and Blip mentioned that you spent time making random female fans happy by giving them the time of day since you ended things with Rachel?”

She hadn’t meant it as a personal attack. Maybe Mike didn’t know that... Maybe he read her all wrong. With the humorless smile lifting the corners of his lips even as his head dipped toward the floor, it felt to her as if their signals were somehow crossed.

“Listen, I don’t need to hear about the bevy of beauties who have slipped in and out of your bed, if that’s what you think,” she assured him, huffing out a much-needed laugh.

Mike’s head came up, his gaze settling on hers. There was a hard stare there, an attempt at trying to convey some silent message to her over her laugh.

“And at this point- this point, Gin- I don’t need to hear it either.” His words didn’t only have a finality to them, but there was so much more.

Maybe she should have understood that by the underline he’d put there. Or maybe it was the stark stare that came with it.

Things were different. Now, things were different.

Ginny felt the slight uptick of her heartbeat and a hint of a tingle at the tips of all ten fingers. Things were different because… of her. Because of them.

Oh.

Oh…

A simple and routine conversation with Blip and Evelyn… was not so simple and routine anymore. Not this time. Because they didn’t know. They didn’t know…

Mike was making her nervous again. Ginny felt the warm moisture starting to gather in her palms while simultaneously feeling her mouth go dry. What had happened to that beer he’d offered earlier?

“Looks like we’re not talking about them then,” she murmured. Ginny’s head dipped just as she moved, eventually passing by him and finally continuing her trek towards the kitchen.

Their roles changed, she noted as she heard his hard steps following behind.

Ginny’s fingers came up to her ear, first cupping and then gently tugging at it. She felt the fierce pull of her brows into a frown as she consciously made sure her steps weren’t too quick.

Which scenario was better? Was it having Mike placing her in line with the rest of his relationships, featuring any and all iterations of that, or was it having Mike get bent out of shape all on his own about having to even think of Ginny as being lumped in with everyone the rest?

She had her own baggage to deal with. Hadn’t she just reminded herself of that while on her way here to be with him? Of course.

Regretting it even as she did it, Ginny swung around to face Mike.

Having been right on her heels, the turn brought her up close and personal with him.

She remembered when that panic attack had been averted… What had happened to that idea of not needing a definition to… this? To them?

“I don’t care about your past, Mike!” Ginny hadn’t shouted it, but it was more forceful than probably need be. Her hands flew down between them, her fingers flexing widely.

How did he do it?

Mike tilted his head just so, his lips pursing and his eyes wandering across her face. Silent.

Trevor had been on her mind. Her own failures had been on her mind. The fact that she had opened herself up only once before, and enough people knew how that story ended.

Apparently, Mike was dealing with his own demons, his own doubts. But that’s where they diverged from each other.

“I don’t care about the past,” Ginny said again, a lot quieter this time, much more serene. But there was a reason for that, wasn’t there?

As long as she focused on her and her own insecurities, there was less room to focus on Mike’s. There was less time to focus on the meaning in-between the words.

Six weeks wasn’t a very long time...

“What?” It was a combination of the silence and the stare he’d given her that continue to give Ginny pause. “You don’t believe me?”

But, again, it was more than that.

Finally, the facade that had kept him close yet still and silent began to break.

Mike took in a small breath, his eyes reaching skyward as his hand stretched out towards her and the rest of his body followed. His fingers tangled with hers until they final fit perfectly together.

“This isn’t a repeat of the past,” he murmured.

Ginny watched Mike as his head dipped to watch the coupling of their hands.The tingle that started in her fingers quickly spread throughout her body at the feel of his skin over hers. How had this been the first time they had touched in what seemed like quite a long time?

“You mean yours or mine?” Ginny couldn’t help herself from asking.

Mike glanced back up at her .

“It’s not a repeat of either,” he answered gruffly, his fingers spreading hers apart farther and farther. His tone, words, and look on his face left no room for misunderstanding.

Ginny’s deep intake of breath was involuntary, the meaning behind it unclear. She tilted her head and took just a second to look at him.

He wasn’t saying it in hopes he was changing her mind or convincing her of something she knew was wrong. Mike… wasn’t Trevor. And Ginny wasn’t… Rachel, or Amelia, or… anyone else. He was Mike. Ginny was… Ginny.

“Is that why you’re upset?” she asked, her chin lifting in his direction.

She didn’t expect his response. She didn’t expect for his fingers to tighten around her as he pulled her closer to him. Maybe that was why her eyes didn’t close immediately. Maybe that was why she has an extra second or two to see his gaze settle on hers before…

Damn. It was something deeper, something more. Even as Mike’s lips reached hers, Ginny couldn’t dismiss the niggling feeling that there was more. And then… it became just a little bit easier. Easier to let Trevor leave her mind once more. Easier to let the present outweigh the past. As Mike’s other hand found the hem of her hoodie, pulling her closer as he closed the gap with his own step closer…

This was their present.

Ginny let that last bit go, tried hard to let it all go for at least a little while, at the feel of his kiss. Sometimes… sometimes it was really easy to lose herself in his arms, in his kiss.

Mike stepped closer, forcing Ginny to take a step back. The hand on her hoodie became an arm around her back, pulling her back to him and holding close.

Ginny brought her hands up to rest at his chest, letting her fingers clutch into the fabric of his shirt. But…

He had a past…

Mike had a past. One that had him spinning in circles with doubt.

She had a past…

Ginny had a past. One that had had her spinning, questioning, wondering.

Had their doubts just collided? Maybe. But maybe she was the only one to know that.

“Mike?” Ginny balled her hands into fists at his chest, pressing him back and creating a much-needed space between them.

“What?” he murmured. Just as he was about to dip back in for another breathtaking kiss, he paused to look at her. “What?” Then he let her go, broadening the space between them.

She had a lot on her mind. Too much on her mind to be muddled and mixed with the physical of them together.

She didn’t had to voice the thought.

Mike took a step back. His arms came to fold in front of him, taking in a small breath and letting it out slowly.

It had been possible; tonight could have been the night.

The air was somehow different, leaving Ginny to match his position, her arms folding in front of her.

“Want that beer now? Mike asked in a mutter.

Ginny was quick to nod her head. “Yeah, sounds great.”

Lips pursed, eyes low, Mike returned the nod. There was a definite thought that crossed his mind, but it was his own.

He led the way. The tension that was left in the air was something altogether different as she followed.

Chapter Text

He was a real fuck-up sometimes…

Admitting it was half the battle, right?

Mike couldn’t muster up a laugh, only a grim set up lips and lowered eyes. He got into his head too much sometimes. He had done it with Ginny. He’d let fears, be them realistic or not, control him. He’d attacked her, needing answers to cryptic questions. And what had it done? It ruined what could have been a good night. Mike tried not to think about how a fun evening of pretending at the Sanders’ home could have led to some real fun in the bedroom. But nope. Not even close. Nowhere near close enough.

There had been a barrier, some kind of invisible wall, that had sprang up between them. But it was all at his doing, really. Now, more than half a day after the fact, Mike regretted his standoffish ways, regretted his foul temperament that he hadn’t been wise enough to keep to himself. What Mike regretted most was having that foul mood rub off on Ginny, making her question him in a different light as he drilled into her.

Total. Fuck. Up.

He knew it when she canceled on him that morning. A simple text had greeted him after he’d rolled to the side of his bed, head bent low and face nearly hitting his chest, shoulders slumped yet surprisingly loose. Can’t make it to the gym. Catch up later??

Mike had squinted his eyes on the text before dropping the phone on the bed beside him. And when that one simple text had been the whole of the conversation between them for the rest of the day, he was able to multiply his fuck-up tenfold.

He’d realized before the significant role Ginny had come to hold in his life. Mike wouldn’t have gone as far as saying absence made the heart grow fonder. What this absence had caused… was some major time to think, to reflect, on how he’d approached the issues going on in his own head.

He couldn’t help the fact that he’d gotten perturbed by the slap in the face of his reality. Evelyn had done just that. And right in front of Ginny. She had reminded him of the man he was, the man that was easily perceived. Yeah, he’d had long withstanding relationships. Hell, he’d been married. (The fact that Rachel was also the last person he’d slept made dismissing that fact all the easier.) He was entitled, wasn’t he, to reap the benefits of celebrity, good looks, and great charm? Honestly, (honestly?) no one had. Not Blip. Not Ev. Not Ginny. So why…

She wasn’t supposed to look at him in that light. Six weeks in… to this thing, Ginny wasn’t supposed to look at him in that light. It was… different… with her. She was different. They were different. And he’d needed her to realize that. He’d needed to know that she realized that. So what had he done?

Fucked up, right?

Of course.

Mike took in a small breath, his fingers absently toying with a petal of one of the golden poppies that made up the small bouquet. He felt the instant tilt of his head and ignored the raise of his eyebrows. Yeah, the billionaire boy had filled her hospital with flowers, roses even. But they were nowhere near her favorite. Mike knew Ginny’s favorite flower. And even though it made a simple bouquet, even though the flowers looked extra delicate and insignificant in his grasp, it was a token that he wished she’d take to heart.

Mike blinked his eyes, his lips pursing and his head giving a single shake.

A complete and total fuck up if there ever was one…

 

****

 

Ginny looked down at her phone and scrolled through the library of songs. One of them had to have the right lyrics and right beat to sum of her day. The ding of the elevator brought her eyes up just as she slipped the phone in the pocket of her sweatpants. She hadn’t expected the elevator to reach her as quickly as it had.

That wasn’t the only surprise awaiting her…

The doors of the elevator crept apart. There was only one passenger inside, and the surprise seemed to be not only hers, but his as well.

To ignore the leap her heart just did, or to follow it and fall into his arms? That was the question. And the answer was… acknowledge the leap and... move on.

Ginny’s eyes fell on the flowers leaning at an awkward position in Mike’s hand right in front of him.

Mike looked past her, his gaze focused on something behind her.

She took in a small breath, seemingly the first to recover from the surprise the other had given them.

“Are those for me?” she asked, sounding quite normal.

California golden poppies. The bouquet was made up a variety of shades of deep yellows and bright oranges. They were pretty, even in the lopsided position Mike held them in.

It had been probably close to twenty-four hours since she’d seen him, and he’d brought her flowers.

The elevator doors started to come together, forcing Mike to move. Ginny took a step back, waiting for him to join her in the hallway.

“Yeah, these are for you.” He looked at her then, finally meeting her eyes as he shifted his body until he settled into a position that was comfortable.

He didn’t offer them, but Ginny claimed her present, taking them from his hands and into her own. Lifting them closer to her nose so that she could take in their scent, she turned around, heading back in the direction she’d come from.

“You were leaving,” Mike said, stating the obvious.

Ginny turned back around. He’d taken maybe two steps, and the one he was on now was slow but wide.

“And now you’re here,” she reminded him with an easy enough shrug. “I was going to get some air. It’s not a big deal.” After she saw the slow nod, she turned back around, confident he’d follow.

She held the flowers up close again, taking another sniff of the fresh flowers. She dug her other hand into her pocket, removing the key to her room.

She felt him when he came up behind her, could feel the heat of his body and the presence of Mike Lawson radiating off him.

“Speaking of…” Ginny refused to be flustered. Confusion was fine; being flustered was not.

“What am I doing here?” Mike asked quietly.

Ginny turned around to face him, finding him closing the door behind him.

“Just in case you were wondering, I threw in a couple of twists and turns.” He lifted his chin towards her. “I think it worked. No one noticed me making my way up.”

Oh.

Ginny smirked at his sarcasm, but that was where she left the remark.

“I didn’t know you were coming.” She tilted her head. “If I did, then maybe you wouldn’t have almost missed me.”

“Instead, I would have.. just missed you?” he asked curiously.

Ginny’s empty hand came up to her hip in question as she watched him slip his own hands in his pocket.

“Why would you say that?”

Mike looked passed her again, a blank look left on his face, before he took a few more steps to close the gap between them. “I haven’t heard from you all day.”

Ginny brought the bouquet of flowers back up to her nose, taking in another breath of the aromatic scent. She had a small vase sitting on the coffee table that they could go into...

She moved towards the coffee table, setting her eyes on vase.

“You didn’t get my-”

“Your early morning text about missing our gym time?” Mike cut in.

Still moving, Ginny glanced over her shoulder at him. He was still right behind her.

“Oh.” Mike’s hand came out of his pockets and he stood stock still after whatever thought had popped into his head. “Semantics, maybe?”

Ginny huffed out a small laugh. With the coffee table in sight, she shook her head and dropped the flowers into the almost too small opening of the vase.

“Angry much?” she murmured quietly. After arranging the flowers as much as possible, she moved over to the couch and took a seat.

She glanced up at him, not finding the miffed demeanor she thought she would. Instead, he looked contrite, apologetic. Okay, maybe he wasn’t angry much, but she was feeling confused much.

“Mike, what’s up?” Ginny felt the frown tug her eyebrows lower as she leaned forward, her wide-spread fingers gripping at her knees.

Silence from his stretched out for a few seconds. Then, it was a simultaneous action of pursing his lips, folding his arms over his chest, and planting his feet into the floor some shoulder-length apart.

“I thought maybe the flowers would say it all,” he finally got out thickly.

Her eyes tracked the path back to the bouquet. Golden poppies. Her favorite. And Mike… had known that.

The corner of Ginny’s mouth lifted at that thought. I haven’t heard from you all day.

That corner of her mouth lifted even higher this time… before she found herself frowning. Her hands pressed firmly into her knees and her shoulders rounded. Then her hands were moving, sliding back up her thighs.

The sound of hard-soled shoes hitting the wood floor brought her sight back on him.

And there went her heart again, thumping in her ears. Ginny watched as Mike took a seat on the couch on the opposite end of her own. Hunched over, fingers laced together and held between his open legs, he dropped his head and turned towards her.

Ginny inhaled a small breath as she took in the rawness of his face.

“Thank you for the flowers, Mike,” she told him gently. “They’re my favorite, you know.”

His eyes darted across her face. “Yeah, I know.”

The silence that followed stretched out, almost uncomfortably. But his eyes stayed on her. Those fingers latched and unlatched, over and over.

Ginny was aware of every breath she took as she kept her gaze on him as well.

“I’m not upset with you.”

“I’m sorry about last night.”

Wasn’t it surprising how they’d both spoken at the same time? I’m sorry about last night.

Mike lifted his chin again, this time as he leaned back in his seat.

“Why are you apologizing?”

“You must’ve been upset.”

Again, both viewpoints came out at the same time. At least they had each heard the other one. Only…

“No more upset than you were.”

“For being a total fuck up.” And when Ginny paused, it gave Mike a chance to add “Well that’s what I’m apologizing for.”

Ginny held up her hand, her lashes fluttering as she shook her head. “All we’ve done is talk over each other,” she pointed out as a deep frown crossed over her face. She turned her body in his direction, placing a folded leg on the couch. “Stop.”

Mike took that time to turn as well. His hands detached from one another and he turned his body to match her again.

Last night… It had been on her mind, that was true. His doubts. Her own doubts. What he wanted…

“See?” Mike pointed a finger at her, leaning in towards her as he did it.

It had Ginny raising a brow and shifting back just a little. “See what?” But she knew. She had taken too much time to think, to possibly dwell.

“That’s why you were avoiding me,” Mike surmised, his gaze intense for a flicker of a second before a guard replaced it.

Ginny pursed her lips and slowly shook her head. “I had a lot on my mind, is all.”

“Stuff I put there.” he said, voicing his belief.

“And you’ve been having thoughts about stuff that I probably put there,” she shot back. Ginny watched as Mike threw a hand to rub into his beard. “Listen, Mike. I know you had a lot going on. And so did I,” she added truthfully, scooting closer towards him. “That doesn’t change… It didn’t change…” It didn’t change how she felt about him. If that time alone had proven anything, it was that.

Ginny reached out her fingertips across the small space that separated them. How had she not touched him yet? How had she kept the self-control? Her fingers reached his hand, letting them slip over his as they rested on his knee.

“Are you saying that the fact that I’m a moody bastard who lashes out sometimes isn’t worthy of flowers as way of apology?” he asked with a mutter, his hand turning so that he could take hold of hers.

Ginny’s eyes traveled towards that physical connection. “Probably justifiable of a missed workout date and some hours apart,” she answered, being both teasing and honest. “But, no, you won’t have to bribe me with a bouquet of my favorite flowers.”

His hand tightened on hers

“Good. I wasn’t quite ready to give this up yet.”                                                                                                                                                            

She’d made good use of her day away from him. She hadn’t been ready to be around him after the night they’d had. But her doubts, and knowing he had his own doubts, hadn’t stopped her from missing him. They hadn’t made her want to give up on them either.

“You were right, Mike,” she told him, meeting him eye to eye. “This isn’t a repeat of the past. Not yours or mine.”

His hand tightened on hers. “Neither one of us wants that.”

“So how do we makes ourselves remember that?” she asked, knowing they were both capable of having days that would put either one of them in that mindset again.

“Keep doing this,” was Mike’s answer. It was firm and said with conviction.

Ginny tilted her head. “Keep doing… ‘this’?”

“I’m a moody bastard, I know,” he told her again. “And I know you are someone who lets her thoughts rip when the time comes for it.”

The back of Ginny’s hand came up to meet her mouth, her teeth gnashing at her skin to keep herself from asking.

“I might fly off the handle sometimes,” he continued matter-of-factly. “And I’ve seen you in your moments. But this is something different.”

Ginny tilted her head in question. “Us. We’re a work in progress. Individually.” Her hand smoothed over her leg from knee to thigh. “And together.”

“You want me, that’s what you meant earlier, right?” His knee gave a small twitch. “I want you. No matter about the past. Or maybe because of the past. I want you.”

Because he’d said it…

“I want you. I want us to see where this goes.”

Something altogether different flickered across his face, in his eyes.

“I come with a past, too,” he continued.

This time, Ginny gave a wobbly nod of her head. “And that’s fine , Mike. Even if it means you getting into your own head sometimes… I get it.”

Did he believe her this time? When she’d said it last night, she had meant it. She had also needed that break that she’d offered them today. And maybe he had too.

Maybe that’s why he gave a simple nod of his head. Maybe that’s why he was able to lean closer towards her, why he was able to extend his hand until he’d reached the back of her head.

There was a lightness that she was filled with, a slight flutter to her heart, a tiny smile on her face.

Mike placed a kiss on her temple, his beard tickling at her cheek.

Ginny held onto his arm, keeping him close.

“I’m glad I didn’t miss you, Mike,” she assured him softly. “I’m happy your pride didn’t get in the way of you coming over here and bringing me the flowers.”

“I guess that could’ve been a close call, huh?” he muttered back, sarcasm dripping from every word.

Ginny tightened her hold on him when he would have slipped away again.

“Mike.”

No matter what the ups and downs had been so far, they were individual issues, individual problems. When it was them, when it was Ginny and Mike , they were solid. Friendship, fun, feelings, genuinity. When she wasn’t looking over her shoulder to make sure that no one was looking at them as if there was something there to see, when they weren’t hiding from those who knew them both, when they weren’t feeling the pressures of their own pasts… Ginny and Mike were solid. Friendship, fun, feelings, genuinity…

Ginny ran the tip of her tongue over her lip as he pulled an inch or so away from her. She wanted…

She wanted to kiss him. A meeting of the minds had made that possible. She’d made him feel more secure, less worried about what she’d been thinking and feeling. He’d done something similar for her, easing her mind on what had been troubling him. And now… now she needed something much closer than what she currently had.

Pulling back, Mike gave her a curious look.

God! This time, Ginny’s lips rolled in, pressing firmly together. She watched as he disengaged from her, the way his back finally came to rest against the couch, the quiet curiosity on his face.

“I missed you.” There was no need for a prompt from him for Ginny to share that declaration. Yeah, it was she who had taken the step back, forcing the separation that was needed . But… she’d missed him.

It felt good to say. So maybe it felt just as good to hear…

Mike took her by the hand, pulling her forward. She went willingly, only giving a cursory thought to the flutter of her heart and the heat beginning to radiate in her belly.

“I missed you, Ginny.” Brought up on both her knees, chest to chest, the words sounded just as good as she thought they would. “But you knew that, right?”

Ginny huffed out a little laugh, followed by a short nod of her head. “I knew that.” Her shoulder lifted in a small shrug. “It’s still good to hear.”

Mike’s eyes left hers. Instead, they settled lower. It was his hand that moved again, grabbing her at the waist and pulling her closer.

Her lips pressed together again. This time, she understood her unconsciousness. And this time, closing her eyes, she followed through with what her mind and body was asking for. Ginny brought her lips to his, angling her head and breathing him in before her mouth opened on his.

She really had missed him. She really had been glad that he’d ended the silence that she had put between them. And she was really happy about the way his hand grabbed hold on the waistband of her sweatpants and brought her closer yet. How close could she be? Well, if she followed his lead...

Ginny draped her leg over lap, finding a new seat that was better than any she’d known. And  her soft kiss, her exploratory kiss, became all the hotter when one of Mike’s hands slipped around the back of her neck and the other toyed at that waistband

He wasn’t going to ask… He wasn’t going to ask if she was sure, if she was ready. He wasn’t going to ask if they should stop, if this was going somewhere where they wouldn’t be able to turn back from if she changed her mind later. And for that, Ginny was happy.

Six weeks was a long time. Was Mike’s thoughts aligned with her own? Possibly, because...

The hand cupping her neck was gentle, matching his kiss. It was gently urging for her to give more, to lose herself in him. It was… a complete contrast to the strong urging of his other hand. His fingers had disappeared under her waistband, digging wide and finding the inside of her panties.

“Mike.” His name left her mouth on a gasp, trapped between them. She couldn’t quite force her eyes open, couldn’t quite bring herself to face what she would have encountered if she did.

His answer came way of slowing down the kiss, his lips opening wide over hers, the pressuring lessening around her neck. The hand inside her panties didn’t seem to have the same reaction to the way she’d called out his name. Instead, those rough fingers were twisting and turning, making their way farther and farther… There was no apology for the intrusion, no apology for the sheer need.

Mike.

This was Mike.

Ginny let her fingertips carefully glide over the skin of his arm. Following the path he’d taken, her hand wrapped around his wrist.

Pressing closer in for his kiss, loving the complete contrast and delicateness of it, she left her hand there and opened her legs wider. Scooting closer, changing the angle of how she sat on his lap, she offered better access to him, to his fingers, to his hand. And then she was gasping into his mouth as he took full advantage of her offering, slipping one finger inside of her and then two.

Mike’s audible moan was all of a second. His hand on her neck caressed her gently, silently urging for more from her.

Ginny loved the way he kissed her. She loved the quiet passion. And it was passion. He kissed her in a way that always left her heart racing, in a way that always left her wanting more. But this time…. This time, it took more more brain power to kiss him back, to lose herself there.

Mike’s hand stayed at her neck to guide her, keeping her close. Good thing, because it was really difficult to not concentrate on the feel of his fingers sliding inside of her, only to slide out and then back again. It was difficult to not concentrate on the way his thumb swiped over the sensitive nub in inconsistent intervals.

Her back arched at its own volition. Mike’s rumble was now a groan, and Ginny knew the cause of it…

Her concentration slipped from the hand that was deep and insistent in her pants. Instead, she made the conscious decision back her ass on the hard bulge that was pressing up against her. After taking a second, after sighing against Mike’s lips, Ginny rotated her hips, spread her thighs even wider, and grinded down on him.

“Fuck.” With the quiet muttered curse slipping out, Mike pulled back just a little. “Do that again.”

Ginny’s hand tightened its hold on his wrist as she tried not to visibly pout over the distraction she’d caused.

“Just-”

It was all she got out before his forehead dropped against hers and his fingers pushed and curved back inside her.

“Fu…” Ginny’s own curse didn’t quite make it out of her body, but there was a whimper that had to have been written all over her face. Instead, she took in a hissed breath and grinded again on Mike’s hardness.

Whatever attempt to seal their lips together in a kiss failed them both. Open mouths, angling and attempting, never had the chance to make contact. The room was silent, except for the sound of broken interval hisses of breath and quiet sighs and the sound of each stroke of Mike’s fingers inside Ginny.

He could make her come. Just like this. With his hand down her pants and them both fully clothed, with just the slow swivel of her hips, Mike could make her come…

“You got me acting like a damn teenager,” Mike finally muttered breathlessly. It didn’t stop him from increasing the speed of each stroke, all three fingers hitting some particular spot that made her gasp in instant pleasure. “Bedroom?” His forehead left hers. “Naked?”

But his fingers…

Ginny gripped tighter around his wrist as she attempted to force her eyes open, her lips parting as she took in as much air as possible.

Mike’s head was tilted, his eyelids low and covering more than half his eyes. Other than that, there was a solemness to his face, a patience that was so Mike.

She shifted her body again. No, she hadn’t imagined that bulging evidence of his desire for her. And she knew he could feel the desire she had for him coating three of his fingers at that very moment.

“Bedroom,” Ginny murmured, nodding her head slowly, “sounds great. And naked seems like the only way to go.”

“Music to my ears,” he answered back.

She tried not to pout at the feel of his fingers slipping out of her. She even released his wrist and let him go. And she wasn’t even offended when he gently pushed her off of his lap.

Ginny had known steadier legs than what she found herself standing on in that moment. She took one shaky step and then another one before Mike’s hand found her waist.

She… wanted this. She wanted all of this. She wanted to know what it was like to be with Mike. to feel what it was like to be with Mike. There wasn’t a reason to doubt, a reason to second guess the fact that she’d once had rules of her own that kept her personal life from her private life. There wasn’t a reason to-

Ginny took a firm hold of the hand on her waist as she twisted around in his arm.

She loved the calm features, the tilt of his head, the squinty eyes, and the pursed lips…

Ginny’s hand slipped over his on her waist as her other arm wrapped itself around his neck. Mike stepped in closer, an almost-invisible lift of the corners of his mouth into a smile. More peace… Her own eyes closed as she reached for his kiss, keeping them even closer.

She wanted… all of this. And he wanted this, too.

Those were good conscious thoughts to have as she lead them to her bedroom.

 

****

 

No modesty required...

It hadn’t taken long for every stitch of clothing to fall off of Mike Lawson. It hadn’t take much time to move on to Ginny, to show her that the insistence didn’t stop only a room away. It hadn’t taken long for her to find out that, if she was an all-willing participant, he was more than ready and willing to show her what weeks and months of pent-up passion could equate to…

And Ginny Baker was an all-willing participant when it came to Mike Lawson.

 

****

 

It started as a slow, tantalizing, and almost teasing pace. Ginny gripped the edge of the mattress with both hands. Her eyes squeezed shut and she only let the tiniest of whimpers escape her as she turned her head to the side. And then…

“God, Mike!”

Her entire body was a giant nerve ending as he snapped his hips into her again.

His chest bumped into her back, his fingers slipping and then gripping into her hair. With a good hold on it, and it was a good hold that made her body tremble, she lost the weight of his body on hers.  

The next time his hips snapped into her, it was anything but a slow or teasing pace. Each tip-to-hilt stroke was a full attempt to chase after an orgasm.

“Oh God.” Ginny’s cheek pressed against the pillow in front of her as he hit on a particularly sweet spot, leaving her an almost-trembling mess. And it didn’t stop. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.”

Oh God. With her hair wrapped around his fingers, her back arched, her ass angled… the words were now her mantra.

“I… God… I- can’t. I can’t.” Ginny’s stammer was her truth. She met each powerful thrust with one of her own.

“Just… like that,” Mike instructed in a low whisper. His hand gripped at her hair again while his other hand pressed deeply into her hip. “Damn, Gin. Just like that.”

And then it was only her, setting the pace, controlling the pace, giving just as much as she was receiving…

Ginny’s eyes opened and instantly rolled back. With a light pressure into her hip, she pressed even deeper back against him, her hips circling and-

“Just like that, Gin.”

But…

“Mike, I’m-” Her eyes flew wide open, her fingers flexed on the edge of the bed, and she cried out his name one more time as her body wracked from the strongest orgasms she’d had yet.

He kept up the pace, taking firm hold of her hip and riding out her trembling orgasm with a constant drive into her. And maybe not just for her…

“Gin,” Mike huffed her name, “wait.”

She wanted to. Honestly she did. Her knees collapsed from underneath her.

“Scoot up some,” he told her, his hand curving around her ass and pushing her in the right direction.

She did it, moving the pillow to the head of the bed with her.

“Change positions,” she said.

“Yeah, change of positions.”

He directed her to lay on her side. He was behind her in that same moment, matching her position and urging her to raise her bent knee in the air. She wasn’t sore, she knew that. That fact, and the fact that he was on the edge of a certain orgasm himself, encouraged her to be as agreeable as she was.

Ginny felt his fingers first, an attempt to make sure she was still ready for him. Sensitivity to his touch had her arching her back bumping into him.

Mike grumbled out a breath before pushing half his length inside her. Pulling almost out again, his hand gripped on the inside of her thigh, positioning himself better before-

“God, Mike!”

His answer was a grunt and setting a similar pace as before, driving into her. His hand pushed her thigh farther apart before leaving her to keep her legs open. His hand slipped over her bare mound, find her clit and massaging it two of his fingers.

Ginny’s head thrashed back, knowing full well that it was possible that she would come with him, but knowing she would have been fine without her body falling apart so soon after the last time.

“Again?”

The speed of his fingers matched that of his pounding hips, the sound of slapping flesh being the final push she needed.

“Fuck.”

It was a long and slow grunt that came with the pulsing release into the condom Mike wore. Ginny’s own orgasm was nowhere near that of the prior one, but it felt good to have come with him, to know that he wanted her to come with him.

“God.”

Mike’s answer was a shuddered Fuck . He was slow to pull out of her, Ginny aware of every single inch she lost. But he was quick to rid himself and the bed of the condom. She heard the drop in the wastepaper basket before he was diving back over to her.

Ginny felt her own whole-body shudder, which brought on a need to hug her pillow close to her. Having something to hold on to was like holding on to her world.

She felt Mike’s fingertips glide their way over her. First, at her waist, traveling up her side, and then over her arm until it reached her shoulder. His lips came to settle on her cheek, his beard tickling ever part of her that it came in contact.

Sensory overload…

Ginny knocked her shoulder into Mike’s, her face instantly producing a scowl. When his answer was a kiss dropped on her ear, bringing another tremor over her entire body, she brought her hand around to swat him away.

“Mm, third time was the charm?” he asked in a quiet murmur, finally getting the picture. His body left the curve of hers, creating a rush of cool air that was possibly needed, yet not completely wanted.

She felt the slight tremors continue to wrack her body. They were smaller now, and hopefully that signaled she was finally coming down from the high she was on.

Ginny gave up on trying to have any control of her body, feeling limp and lazy as she turned over and let her back fall into the mattress. There was a sigh on her lips and her eyes closed on their own volition.

“I think…” What just happened? What had she just experienced? She inhaled a shallow breath suddenly. “I think we’re…”

“What?” Mike asked curiously after another short pause. The bed moved under the weight of his body as he resettled into the spot beside her. A dead arm dropped and laid across her middle, trapping her there, making her body shudder again. “Is that going to happen every damn time? Because the trembling is sexy and ego-boosting as fuck.”

Ego-boosting. “Shut up,” she muttered, a smile already formed on her face.

Ginny eyes fluttered open and she turned her head towards him. Mike’s cheek laid on his pillow. His eyes were squinting across at her and the steady rhythm of the rise and fall of his chest was noticeable.

The way he looked- content, sated, even pleased with himself… It sent a small tingle through Ginny

“I think… we’re completely sexually compatible,” she finally got out in a murmur.

Those blue eyes widened on her, a twinkle clearly there. His arm tightened its hold over her stomach. “Yeah?” Mike murmured back. “Think so?” This time, his cheek came off the pillow and he looked directly at her.

Ginny took in a deep breath as she closed her eyes. Sated. Those tremors were leaving her, letting her enjoy the afterglow. Body as limp and relaxed, digging into the mattress, she didn’t mind the gloating tone that was unmistakable.

“Yeah, I think so,” she answered teasingly, mentally rolling her eyes. And feeling almost normal again, she could tease. She brought a hand up to lay across the arm over her middle. That simple interaction of damp skin to damp skin brought another kind of tingle, a deeper tingle, that caused her knee to hike up and her leg to fall away from the other one.

Mike was silent for a moment, with only a miniscule movement of his arm over her. Finally, a gruff “I think so, too,” filled the otherwise quiet room. “Hm… Good thing. Right?”

Why?

Ginny let her leg fall back to the bed, feeling her toes instantly clench into a curl. Only one eye opened, taking in the half of Mike’s face that could be seen now that he way lying on the pillow again.

She’d broken rules, she’d broken her own rules, to be with him. She’d been careful, and she’d been cautious, almost to a fault. But what she and Mike shared…

“Yeah.” Ginny opened both eyes and her head nodded vigorously. “Yeah. Totally.” And then she felt a flutter in her heart and an ache deep in her belly.

Mike’s arm across her middle began to shift, dragging away until it crawled back and tightened his hold on her.

He’d asked because…

Ginny didn’t want to let her mind go there. Because, honestly, he could have been thinking any number of things, couldn’t he? His own thoughts didn’t have to be on where this step had brought them. He wasn’t necessarily wondering how rules were changing just because…

She liked the way he held her… God, her mind was all over the place! But she did! And that was a better thought to have in her head than some of the other thoughts…

“I wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t a good thing,” Ginny finally murmured, taking a firm grasp on his arm again. There was a need to bring some levity in the moment, to slow down the intensity in the room, to have something to laugh about. “I mean, I’m sure you’ve had you fair share of nights with younger women, but you gotta realize this was my first… tryst with someone… who is… post their twenties?” Yes, by the end it had become a question as she tripped over her words. Or more so over the way to phrase it in a nice way.

“Ah!” Mike’s brows lifted high on his forehead. There was a deep groan that escaped him as he began to twist over from his stomach and onto his back.

“Was that out of pain and discomfort… or just a scowl at me?” Ginny couldn’t help herself from asking curiously.

A short laugh came next, even as Mike threw those squinty eyes on her again. One knee came up and he planted a foot in the mattress to help push himself up on the bed.

“Funny, Baker,” he muttered lightly. “Real funny.”

Ginny didn’t mind the change in name that time. There was a sense of familiarity to it, a sense of comfort.  It left a small  smile on her face as she tried not to regret the absence of his skin directly on hers after he’d moved.

And again her mind was trying to keep up with a million thoughts. She wasn’t supposed to be marveling over every muscle she was privy to at the different angle...before the single sheet covered his lower half.

“Are you even more surprised I haven’t rolled over and fallen asleep yet?” Mike pondered, dropping his leg heavily onto the mattress. “You know, being the old man that I am?” He offered a small smile down at her.

Ginny’s own smile grew, and her hands came together so that she could twist her fingers together.

“Let’s just say I wouldn’t have been surprised,” she offered teasingly. Ginny shook her head, her laugh filling the room as she watched him adjust his pillow against the head of the bed and rest his back there. “I’m only joking, Mike.” He was increasing the distance between them, and she tried to ignore the need to feel him again. “So…” She blinked her eyes up at him, watching as his hand ran across his beard. “Younger women? Your thing or not?”

Mike tilted his chin down at her, pausing mid-stroke of his beard.

“Not always, no,” he finally answered. “But… you know that.”

Because she knew about his marriage and she knew about his relationship with Amelia.

Ginny turned away for a moment, taking that time to pull herself up into a matching sitting position beside him.

Hair falling around her face, her fingers weaved through her roots until her face was clear. She loved the surprise of Mike leaning over her, dropping his lips to her shoulder to place a kiss and his beard tickling her arm.

His kiss was soft, lingering. She controlled the urge to mold her hand to his head, keeping him there longer.

Skin to skin…

Ginny dropped her hand into her lap. “Okay, not your first… younger one.”

“Hm,” he murmured in agreement.

“How about the interracial thing?” she asked in rushed curiosity.

“Okay, well this wouldn’t fit the category of ‘first time for everything’ either.” Mike looked directly up at her after the murmured answer, a single blink of his eyes meeting hers before the wonder set in. “Surprised?”

Was she?

Ginny lifted her opposite shoulder in a quick shrug. “No.”

Mike slipped back then, his arms slowly moving to cross over his chest. His chin nearly his his chest again as he harrumphed in response.

“This is one that we both already knew the answer to when it comes to you, huh?” Those arms loosened just a bit before he offered up a single brow in her direction.

Yes, he already knew the answer to that one. Noah.

“Okay, so the interracial thing isn’t… a thing.”

“But the age thing is?” he asked quickly.

Ginny felt her entire body stiffen, but probably not for the reasons Mike would have thought, if he’d noticed. Unmoving limbs, but racing mind…

“This doesn’t feel like… one of those fling scenarios.” She hadn’t meant for it to come out as a whisper, but it had. She hadn’t meant for it to convey more feelings than what the moment should have been, but she feared she had failed there, too. “At least, it doesn’t feel like that to me. So…” That same shoulder came up in a shrug. “So… no.” Her face scrunched up in a frown. “The age difference isn’t a thing.”

There was a tick of silence, followed by another and another. And then Mike was moving back down to lay on the bed, the mattress groaning with every inch. After a single tick of him being supposedly comfortable in that position, he twisted around to look up at her. His arm bent at his elbow, which planted firmly into the mattress, and he held his cheek in the palm of his hand.

“What?” Ginny was sure it sounded wary as she tried not to squirm. What was he thinking? Her answers had been truthful. And she thought that the conversation they were having was one they should have been having after what they’d just shared. So…

Those blue eyes were on her, his chin tilting at her once more. From underneath the sheet, his leg swept behind him, tightening the hold it had on both of them.

“I was just wondering,” Mike started.

“Oh no.” There was a teasing quality in those words he’d just said, making Ginny roll her eyes even before he said more.

“Was it different than what you imagined?” he asked, the facade of seriousness completely gone. “I mean, after all that time with me on your wall-”

“So now I must have been fantasizing about you?” Ginny asked, aghast. She couldn’t bite back her laughter at the nerve he had.

“You did some fantasizing,” Mike reacted with an all-knowing smirk.

There was a pillow. Somewhere close by, there was a pillow… Ginny turned her head to look behind her and then turned in the other direction, hoping for a better angle. Her hands gripped behind her as she lifted, finding herself half-sitting on it. Gripping it tight, she flung the pillow in Mike’s direction, turning to see it hit him square in the chest.

“I did some fantasizing, huh?” She couldn’t help but join in with his laughter as he gripped one corner of her pillow.

“Honesty looks good on you, Baker,” he told her, yanking the pillow closer to him.

“God!” Ginny gave the pillow another good shove. Then she was moving, letting the sheet slip away and finally throwing a leg over him. “God, Mike! Shut up about the damn poster!” She sat atop him and gave the pillow one more good shove before tossing it off to the other side of the bed.

She loved his laugh. Whatever little annoyance she had with him seemed to disappear as she saw the bared teeth, listened to his laugh, and felt his hands find her waist.

And then he sobered up. “Sorry.” He shook his head. “And now I’m fantasizing about the last time I heard you call out ‘God, Mike!’” The hands on her waist began to slip as his chest rumbled with laughter.

It literally made her growl. “I could go back for the pillow, I hope you know!”

The rumble only got deeper before Mike’s chest rose high from a deep breath.

God! Finding herself watching him, and enjoying it beyond words… There was a chance she could be in trouble with this one…

Taking hold of her hair and holding it at the nape of her neck, Ginny leaned over him. Mike’s hands gripped even more firmly on her waist, holding her steady before his head came off the pillow. Their lips met in a simple smack. And one smack became two and then three. Ginny forgoed the hold she had on her hair, letting her hand slip behind Mike’s head to pull him even closer.

The way his mouth opened on hers could have been enough to stoke another fire in her. But once she combined that with the way his hands caressed over her, starting with her waist and working his way to her back, pulling her closer...

She tried not to moan. She tried really really hard to not moan.

“Mike, you can’t be ready-”

“More old man jokes?”

Ginny would have laughed, but she found herself hoping that the hand that was now gripping her thigh would continue to move forward, to find that spot that was becoming heightened with sensitivity all over again.

She shook her head before planting a solid and firm kiss on his lips. Then she pull back, sitting up so that she could see all of him.

Desire reflected from his eyes as he offered her a small twist of his lips.

“It’s getting late,” Ginny reminded him.

“It is.” One hand left her leg so that he could throw his arm to lay under his head.

She could feel the strong beat of her heart pulsing in her ears. He wasn’t going to make presumptions. He wasn’t going to ask. Instinctively, she knew that it was supposed to be her.

“Are you staying the night?” That had sounded neutral, right? She thought that it had. He’d never stayed the night. So it could be a night of a few firsts...

“You asking me to?” There was another squint of his eyes as he adjusted his arm underneath his head.

Give and take… She was more than willing.

“Stay the night,” Ginny whispered, lifting her chin and trying to keep her smile in her eyes and not on her lips.

He gave her a simple lift of his shoulder. “I’m staying.”

 

Chapter Text

Ginny didn’t know if it was the music pumping throughout the club, the care in which she’d taken in dressing up and dressing out, or if was the group of guys occupying the booth and surrounding area. It was probably a combination of it all that was putting a grin on her face.

Whose idea was it to get as many Padres as possible all together on a Saturday night during the long offseason? Ginny didn’t have a clear and concise answer to that, but she was happy to be a part of it. Offseason meant quite the disbursement, she’d found out. Mike was one of the rare ones, not having done much of any traveling. Even Blip and the family had been gone for weeks. But with the planned regrouping of her team, so many of them were now together.

Sonny was the first to notice her out of the group as she made her way to the booth.

“Ginny Baker, hey!” he practically shouted, hands firmly placed on the table and half-standing from his seat to greet her.

“In the flesh,” she added, her chin dipping down in a nod. And even as the table  of about a third of her entire team whooped and hollered, she couldn’t stop her eyes from settling of Mike Lawson. But only for a second. And in that second, she saw the glint in his eyes and the miniscule lift of his chin in acknowledgement.

“Took your butt long enough to show up,” was Blip’s response with a smile that reached his eyes.

Her mouth fell open in a facade of surprise. “Apparently you’ve all forgotten the care and time it takes to come out looking this good,” Ginny teased. Her gaze fell on a particular teammate and she lifted her chin towards him. “Javanes, back me up on this one.”

The good-natured chuckles ran across the booth, with a few finger-points in Javanes’ direction.

“Backing up our good captain, is that it?” Javanes asked teasingly enough. He was the first one to stand and open his arms to Ginny. “But you’re right. They just don’t know, Baker.”

He hugged her tight, and the camaraderie of being teammates enveloped her. She didn’t know if she would be the last one to join their group or not, bringing the total to seven. Beside Sonny and Javanes, Voorhies, Salvamini, and Robles joined Mike and Blip, bringing their total up to eight.

Javanes let his hand slip across her right shoulder, which brought Ginny’s attention back onto him.

“How’s the injury?” he asked, true concern lacing his voice. “It’s been a minute, but we’ve all been thinking about you. And hoping…” He nodded his head at the old injury.

Ginny stepped back and offered a shake of her head. “No, no. I’m good,” she assured him. And, looking across the table, realized she had assured the group as a whole. “Everything’s been going fine. I’m good.”

The concern that she has witnessed on Javanes’ face could be seen on the guys, followed by relief at her words.

“I mean, I’m sure a few more phone calls or even a few tweets at me from some of my teammates could have eased the pain, but-” Ginny’s hand came to cover her mouth, keeping her smile hidden as the moans and groans crossed over the table. “Hey, we’re here now, right?”

“And, no, she is not trying to lay a guilt trip on you sorry losers,” Blip chimed in, running a pointed finger across the span of the table.

Ginny placed an arm across her middle, gripping loosely at her waist while she gave a noncommittal tilt of head. Blip was doing an excellent job on his own, all without her.

“Hey, she was left in capable hands, right?” Sonny asked, eyes wide on those around him, looking for support for his own argument. “Blip? Mike?”

Ginny’s breath caught before she could do anything about it. She let herself look from Blip and the to Mike.

“Well, that’s true,” she amended. “And if you were around- if any of you would have been around… I’m sure you would’ve done the same.”

There was a smattering of agreed murmurs and sounds coming from their group. And it filled Ginny with a warmth, in spite of the conversation. This was her team, and it felt more than good to be back to it, even if only in this capacity for now.

“Okay, okay!” Ginny lifted both her hands up in the air, palms out at all the guys. “So who is going to move their butt and let me squeeze in?” She couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her as the table seemed to part as everyone was quick to actually move their butts. “Simple enough then.” Ginny moved around one side of the table so that she could make her way towards the opening that would put her between Javanes and Voorhies. “So while I’m in your good graces, who is buying another round of drinks?”

 

****

 

She’d needed this! God, she hadn’t known how much she needed this! Ginny was many things, and one of those things was a baseball player. She had a unique position, being the only female on the team, but she wouldn’t have changed it for anything.

It had taken time for everyone around her to adjust to the ideals that went along with it. Yeah, she was used to that fact. And it had taken long enough. It hadn’t been an easy start with the Padres and her teammates. But that was months ago. And now… Now…

How many times had she found her hand cupping over her mouth to hold in the laughs and the giggles in just the hour or so they had all been together? She couldn’t remember. How many stories had they shared of the last season? How many stories and strategies had come up, along with the hopes, of the new season? How many side conversations had been shared over some questionable players and trades? It was all too many to count.

What could have possibly made the night any better?

Ginny lifted her eyes just in time to see what it was that had caught her attention. Mike stood from his seat that was three spaces away from her own.

Was it really necessary for them to have kept separated throughout the night? Who knew? And who the hell even know which one of them had initiated the rule to stay away from the other one?

Ginny turned her attention back to the conversation that she had been a part of with Salvamini and Sonny, a smile forming on her face even as she took a small bite of her lip. Waiting a short moment, she finally opened her mouth, but continued to pause.

“I’ll be right back,” she finally got out.

There was a curious look on Sonny’s face and a lift of chin in acknowledgement from Salvamini. Without giving either one of them a chance to comment further, she was out of her seat in that same second.

Ginny’s hand found its way to slip across her lower back as she moved.

Mike…

He hadn’t made it far, but it was easy to tell that he was making his way over to the bar. Filing through the throng of patrons of the club, Ginny kept an inconspicuous pace, following her catcher and her…

She was drawn to his broad shoulders, and she attempted to keep her mind free of thoughts of what it was like to have her arms wrapped around them. Her fisted hand came up to press firmly against her upper lip and nose, her eyes dipping just a bit to look at his back before coming back to his shoulders.

Ginny felt the form of another smile. She quickened her steps once he’d found a spot at the bar, not sitting, but leaning against it.

“Are you signalling for another round, or is this all for you?” she asked just loudly enough that he would be able to hear her.

Mike turned around to give her his full attention. Those blue eyes of his took full advantage of having her up close and personal as she leaned against the open seat beside where he stood.

“How many have you had?” he asked before he flicked his tongue out to lick his lips.

Ginny offered up a noncommittal shrug. “Definitely not enough yet,” she assured him. “It’s still early.” And then she was biting her lip as a deep-rooted joy washed over her body. She chose not to move in any closer, but she nodded her head. “I’m glad we did this. As in all of us, as a team, coming together.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you meant,” he said gruffly. Mike took another moment to look her up and down. On his way back up, the glint in his eye was unmistakable.

Ginny felt the purse of her lips and she gave her head a single shake. “What are you thinking?” she asked, even when she thought she had an idea.

Mike’s eyebrows drew together and that bearded chin lifted all of an inch. “Just wondering if I had the chance to share with you how beautiful you look tonight is all.”

Ginny bit the inside of her lip this time, suppressing any outward reaction to that.

“I don’t… No, Mike.” She shook her head, feigning an attempt at real thought at that. “Nope, I don’t think you’ve had the chance to share that with me.”

He moved closer to her, his eyes roaming towards the direction in which they’d just come and left their friends.

“You look damned beautiful tonight, Ginny,” he rumbled deeply close to her ear.

He was in a good mood. The night was having a similar effect on him that it was having on her. When the sudden ambush of having them both spend an impromptu evening with the Sanders, it had left them both unsettled. This atmosphere was different. Amongst so many of their teammates, their friend, it hadn’t been an issue.

“You’re looking pretty good yourself,” she told him, hitching a shoulder. Her hand came up and she let her fingers slip over the material at the hem of his shirt.

“Like that, huh?”

“What? Did you wear this for me?” Ginny asked, a smile lighting up her entire face. It was one of her favorite button-downs that he wore. A beautiful blue that brought out his eyes whenever he wore it.

“Totally did it for you,” Mike answered, grinning back. He took a spot next to her, leaning against the bar beside her.

Thought so or I had a feeling could have fallen from her mouth. But, instead, looking at him, standing next to him, something else came out instead.

“What is it going to take for me to get you to dance with me?” she asked slowly. It was her turn to let her gaze slip away, making a path towards the dancefloor on the other side of the club.

Mike’s chuckle brought her attention back to him. The look he gave her was one of disbelief before he turned his attention back to the bar.

“That’s a definite no, Baker.” He turned to her again, his face coming a few inches closer for effect. “No way. Another round with the guys? Yeah, sure. But on that floor?” He shook his head. “No freaking way.”

And then he turned away, two fingers coming up in an attempt to get some service from the bartender.

“No freaking way, huh?” she asked, amused anyway by his dismissal.

“No freaking way,” he repeated, just as firmly as before.

It only put another smile on her face, it only made her love this night just a little bit more. Ginny looked over her shoulder at the bartender when he came up to Mike. She caught her lip with her teeth before sweeping her gaze across where their table sat.

Hm, she had a feeling the night had a chance of being all the more fun.



****



Robles’ hand came dangerously close to Ginny’s midriff. It wasn’t some slow, pull-your-partner-in-close song filling the bar, yet maybe something close to that was pumping through the space between his ears.

Fuck. Mike huffed out a laugh, drowned out by the atmosphere. Catching Ginny’s eyes, he watched the O her lips formed and the way she grabbed on to their teammate, letting him finally reach his goal of touching.

This time, Mike tilted his head and his eyebrow lifted curiously at her. She was enjoying this, wasn’t she? She was purposefully attempting to make him jealous.

Was he jealous? Hm… Watching the woman who had slipped out of his be just that morning while she swayed her hips into Robles? No, he wasn’t jealous… What he was was amused by the apparent lack of consciousness on Ginny’s part. eHer enjoyment of teasing Mike had left her unable to discern the messiness of Robles as he danced with her.

Mike picked up the bottle of beer that was sitting in front of him. His lips ran across the rim for one complete revolution before he took a sip. It turned into a long sip, as he tore his eyes away from the sheer pleasure that was happening on the dancefloor.

“Man, are you sure you’re ready to give this all up?”

Blip’s question was full of doubt as he leaned in towards him.

A distraction from Ginny’s games was all he needed. Lifting another eyebrow, Mike gave Blip a once-over glance.

“You know, this all comes with the game,” Blip reminded him.

Without feeling the need to elaborate, Mike slapped a firm hand onto the table in front of him. “I guess I’m ready to give this all up,” he told Blip easily. “Is that your way of admitted you’re going to miss me?” His lips lifted involuntarily at the thought.

Mike didn’t relish in his bouts and arguments with Blip. Whenever they came about, sure, it was probably Mike’s fault. It probably had something to do with a mood Mike was currently in, brooding over something that no one else around him would understand. And the last fight hadn’t even been the worst of them all.

That all being said… Blip was his best friend. He was someone who’d been there through a lot of it. Different circumstances, but as close to a brother he’d ever had. Or would ever have.

So maybe that was why his smile grew even more.

“What, miss the greatest stories ever told of long ago, by the man who was there to bare witness to it all?” Blip asked incredulously. He hunched over, his elbows sliding across the table in Mike’s direction.

“Old man jokes,” Mike sighed listlessly. “They never get old.”

“And you tell some of the best ones,” Blip added quietly.

“Hey, at least I’m doing it the right way,” Mike offered, taking in a deep breath as he squared his shoulders and pressed himself back until he was up against the cushion of his seat. “Everyone knows. It’s all out in the open. This is Mike Lawson’s last season. Last season of the game.”

“Gotta love that third-person reference of yourself,” Blip mused, grinning straight at him. “Let the celebration begin.” He leaned farther onto the table, his head turning so he was looking directly at Mike.

Mike swiped his hand across the table, swooping up his bottle once more.

“Let the damn celebration begin,” he agreed.

It was Blip’s turn to huff out a laugh. He followed Mike’s lead by picking up his own longneck.

“What a fucking season to be Team Padres.” Blip glanced up at him.

Mike felt the purse of his lips in question, but didn’t give any more reaction than that.

“To bare witness to Mike Lawson’s farewell season and the comeback of Ginny Baker, former first female rookie of the Major League.”

That last bit drew Mike’s gaze back.over to the dancefloor. Ginny and Robles hadn’t made it far from where he’d lost sight of them. Only now, the look of sheer happiness was plastered across Robles’ face as Ginny flipped her head back and made contact with his shoulder.

She was enjoying herself. He just wondered which was more enjoyable: the act of dancing or the act of teasing.

Mike sniffed in air through his nose as his tongue ran over the front of his teeth.

“I gotta agree with you on that one, Blip,” he murmured just loud enough for Blip to hear. “What a season to be on Team Padres.”

Mike couldn’t help the huff of laughter that escaped him once again.

 

****

 

Mike was fresh out the shower, a towel wrapped low over his hips, when he entered his bedroom. Wiping away a slow stream of water running down his face, he watched Ginny drop her stuffed backpack into the lone chair in the room.

“Good night?” he asked in a murmur. His hands moved down his face, stroking at the wetness of his beard.

“A lot of fun,” Ginny assured him with an easy smile. “What about you? Did you have a good night?” She was arm-deep into her bag, coming out with pajamas, or what constituted as pajamas when she spent the night at his place. The blue nightshirt reached her mid-thigh, but was cut high on the sides, almost revealing the hem of her panties. The ones she pulled out from her bag were a sinful red.

Those panties, as simplistic as they were, brought him back to her question.

“It was a good night,” Mike told her with a quick shrug. He tugged on the knot in the front of the -towel, which was better than the alternative destination for his hand. “It was good to see the guys. It’s always good to see the guys in-between seasons.”

Honestly, the conversation wasn’t doing much to deter his thoughts of the tiny panties that were now slung over her shoulder and on top of her pajamas. Hm, was she going to go braless? He immediately imagined his hand cupping one of those firm breasts as she settled her body into his for the night.

“I think so, too,” Ginny agreed on a sigh. There was a light that entered her eyes in that moment, just as her hips twisted side to side. “So… you’re not upset with me about all the teasing?”

Mike’s mouth slacked open in question. He watched the raise of her shoulders and the way she bit down on her lower lip.

“Teasing, huh?” His hand planted on that knot, grabbing at it tightly.

“You wouldn’t dance with me!” she blurted out on a chuckle.

“But Robles had no problem fulfilling your needs, huh?” Mike raised his chin as both hands moved to his hips.

He caught her eyes slipping down to watch the movement of his hands before they came back to his.

“And, surprisingly, he was a really fun dancer,” Ginny taunted. She moved then, stepping away from the backpack and the chair. Her hand clasped over her shoulder, holding her nightclothes close.

“Maybe you should be careful, Gin.” Mike tracked her steps, watching the way her hips gently swayed with each step.

“Mm, why is that?” she asked, her head tilting.

It wasn’t until she stood right in front of him that he offered her an easy smile.

“He has a crush on you,” he informed her just as easily.

Now it was her turn to drop her mouth open. Two ticks passed in silence before…

“Really?” But how surprised can she be?

“Um… yeah, Baker.” Mike laughed at the blank stare she offered him. “So maybe you set out to tease and taunt me, but what you probably succeeded even more in was giving Robles some false hope.”

Her lips formed a pout as she blinked up at him.

There was another laugh bubbling out of him. Mike shook his head and grasped her by the hem of her shirt.

‘Good job, Gin.” He planted a quick and smacking kiss there on her mouth. “You probably gave him all the hope he could stand for the rest of the off-season.” Pulling back from her, his chest puffed out in amusement.

Ginny’s face scrunched up and her arms came to cross over her chest. After a second to process it all, she nodded her head.

“The dance was worth it,” she finally said, sounding resolute. “Even if it didn’t make you as uneasy as I’d thought.” Her eyes widened and a smile spread across her face. Uncrossing her arms, a hand came to rest on top of her night clothes. She moved closer and placed her own smooching kiss onto his lips. “I’m jumping into the shower.”

Mike’s hand was quick to place a quick swat across her backside when she passed by him.

“Okay, Baker.”

She threw a smile over her shoulder on her way towards the door. A hand came to swipe across the area he’d touched.

“See ya,” she whispered.

A single brow lifted at he watched her continue her way out the door.

“Soon?”

Ginny nodded. “Really soon.”

And then she was out of his bedroom. But it wouldn’t be for long, because she was on her way to his bathroom. And when she was done in there, after she’d washed away the night they’d just had with some of the team, she would be back. Back in his bedroom. Back in his bed. Right beside him.

Mike huffed out a laugh of pure amusement. His fingers went back to the knot in his towel. Taking a long look out the door at one more glance at the woman walking easily away from him. He unwrapped the towel from his hips, flinging it effortlessly into a laundry basket not too far away.

Grabbing his underwear left out on his dresser, he tilted his head in thought. If only she’d been ten minutes earlier…

His head came up, coming in contact with his reflection in the mirror. His smile still tugged at his lips, and he knew why… God, he loved when she spent the night!

 

****

 

Head laying on the pillow beside him, Ginny’s face was full of expression as she recapped her night for him. Her hands reached out between them, as animated as ever with every word she spoke. Her ankle had the tendency to lock with his, or sometimes her foot rubbed sensually against his. Other times, he locked those long legs to his, keeping more of her close for longer periods of time. But, no matter the amount of contact there was, it was still always there. Always...

“I don’t know, Mike,” Ginny said, shaking her head while sounding in awe. This time, her fingers grasped his right there in between their bodies. “I don’t know what it is, but-”

“It’s a family,” Mike cut in matter-of-factly, knowing exactly where she was going with it. “For better or worse... it’s a family.”

She brought her chin up, her eyes widening with a look of complete understanding.

“I feel it.” Then her eyes were closing. “Maybe not so much then.”

“During the season?” Mike asked in a murmur. “That’s because any and everything was coming at you from all directions. Not the most routine of seasons, Gin.”

Her bare toes traveled the from ankle to knee just then, a smile overtaking her face. ‘Don’t I know it.”

Mike tightened his fingers around hers. “And now you’re one season in. A Padre for life.”

The comment earned a huff of laughter. “Well, we’ll have to see about that.”

“Still not going anywhere.” With all the confidence in the world, Mike’s lips pursed at his own words.

The amusement that had just been clear to see seemed to disappear, leaving in its place something solemn. It was now her fingers grasping firmly at his.

“What?” Mike asked slowly, not able to read her thoughts.

Ginny dug the side of her head into her pillow and her fingers smoothed across his this time.

“Almost losing you to another team was… difficult to process,” she said quietly. “But… losing you altogether from the game…”

“Altogether?” he asked, squinting his eyes.

“On the field and broadcasting are two different worlds,” she reminded him with a single shake of her head. “So, yeah, losing you altogether from the game is going to be difficult to come to terms with.”

Mike took a moment to take her all in, from head to toe, and then back again.

“I don’t think you have to worry too much,” he assured her quietly. “Like we already pointed out, the Padres are a family.” His shoulder came up in a hard shrug, maybe giving off more emotion to the thought than he’d meant. “And I’m a career-long Padre with not much else to show for it, besides that fact. So take it from me, Gin. It could be a lot worse.”

Based on the small roll of her shoulder inward, the snugness of her foot clamped at his angle, and inhalation of breath through her nose… there was something going on in that head of hers.

“What?” he finally asked as the silence from her stretched out. “What is it?”

Ginny was reluctant to share at first, giving a single shake of her head and pulling her hand back from his.

“Do you… really feel like that?” Her face was a complete scowl in that same second. “That the Padres is all you have?”

Was it true? For the most part…

“If it is, then how are you doing with all the thoughts of this upcoming season being your last?” Ginny asked, somewhat switching topics.

Hand now empty, Mike moved to hook his pillow with his arm. Adjusting his position as he lay on the bed, his hand up to hold his cheek. As he made those movements, his mind was racing. But the thoughts were a continuous loop of the same thing.

Ginny lay there, waiting patiently for his response. Her own hand came to tuck underneath her chin and her eyes stayed wide on him.

Mike found himself blinking, once, twice, three times. “It’s about that time,” he finally answered. “I’m a veteran catcher, Gin, with Hall of Fame written all over me. And… it’s time for me to start listening to these knees of mine.”

Ginny offered a small smile as her hand came to brush across his knee that was closest to her.

“Not to mention my back,” Mike murmured, straightening it or added measure.

She drew in closer, taking her hand from his knee and wrapping her arm around his back. Her smile grew and her eyes were a warm brown.

Mike shook his head. “Believe me, I’ve put a lot of thought in the decision. And… it’s time.” Because that’s what it all boiled down to. He’d was on the tail end of his career, having gotten almost everything he could have ever expected to get from it.

“It’s that ‘Padre for life’ mentality then?” she asked.

His shoulder came up. “Padre for life, family for life, realization of when it’s time to hang up the cleats.”

There had been times when that hadn’t been the easiest thought. But right now, and he didn’t know why, he felt a lot at peace with the fact. In fact… he didn’t even want to think about why he felt so at peace with it.

Ginny’s fingers were gentle as the circled across his skin. “Then I’m glad I’m get to be a part of it then. At least for the last two seasons.”

“Gonna get me that ring, Baker?” Mike mused lightly. With her leaning in closer to caress as much of his back as she could, she was also in a great position to be nuzzled. His nose found her shoulder, pressing there and moving along to her neck.

“I’m damn sure going to try,” she whispered, sounding fierce in his ear.

Mike felt a rumble of laughter erupt in his belly. “Well, I’m damn sure going to try, too.”

Ginny’s hand flattened across the middle of his back, scooting closer towards him. Her foot slipped between his legs, locking there and diminishing the space between them even more.

He could only stay away from temptation for so long… Mike slipped a hand between the warmth of her legs, taking a firm hold on her thigh.

Somehow they’d found themselves in some sort of cocoon, wrapped up in each other and the sheets covering them tightly. Placing another kiss on her neck,finding amusement in the way squirmed at the evident tickle from a whisker or two, Mike couldn’t find a negative consequence. And then…

“They don’t know, right?” Ginny’s voice was a quiet whisper.

“Who… doesn’t know… what?” Curiosity laced his voice as he looked up at her.

It was her leg’s turn to squirm, his hand being pressed tightly between his thighs.

“The guys?” Mike surmised. His brows furrowed  and his head tilted. “About us?”

“The guys,” Ginny said, giving a single nod of her head.

Mike let his fingers slip to the back of her thigh and then slip up even higher. “Even with your amazing tactics at teasing me tonight… I don’t think either one of us was too transparent,” he answered slowly and carefully. His eyes tracked a path across her face, seeing the amused curiosity there. “I know your rule, Ginny,” he assured her. “I know it was a rule you set up going into the game. And I know you didn’t go into this thing, between us, blindly.”

The rise of her chest was indicative of the deep breath she took in.

“I think it’s good to be on the same page on that one,” Ginny said firmly. “Seeing so many of the guys had me thinking-”

“How are you possibly going to keep your hands to yourself in front of them when the season starts?” Mike teased, a grin covering his face.

Her face scrunched up in annoyance and she ran short nails across his back in way of punishment.

“Those weren’t my exact thoughts,” Ginny assured him. “But-”

“Hey, it’s going to be a big year for you professionally.”

“A big year for you, too, like we just talked about,” she added.

His hand was moving again, choosing to cup her ass and pressing her closer to his middle.

“Right. We both have some significant crap coming up,” he agreed. “And I don’t feel compelled to have this casting a shadow over all of that.”

Ginny’s fingers found her hair, digging deep and sifting through it easily.

“So sneaking around seems like the best route to go?” she asked openly.

And Mike felt stuck between a rock and a hard place, trapped and tricked.

“Why do I feel like no matter what I say, it’s going to be wrong?” he muttered, staring right at her.

Ginny offered up a smile. “That’s not what I was trying to get at,” she assured him. She shook her head. “Either way, it’s a lot to think about.” She shrugged. “But not something that has to be focused on right now.”

Mike felt the squint of his eyes at a thought. “Blip and Ev and two damn intuitive people, too.”

Ginny blurted out a laugh at his voiced thought. “It’s crazy how intuitive they are. And our closest people at that…” Ginny started to roll over at that, her leg leaving the confines of his so that she could rest on her back.

He wasn’t ready to let her go, his arm coming around to lay across her stomach.

“So… if it gets to that point,” Mike said slowly.

“The first people we tell are Ev and Blip,” Ginny finished for him. Her hand covered his arm as she flipped again, presenting her back and molding her body into his. “He doesn’t…” She twisted her head to look back at him. “Have a key to your place, does he? Because those are the kind of perks I can see the two of you having with one another.”

His eyes got squinty again. “No, Blip does not have a key to the house.”

“Okay, well that’s one potential crisis averted.” Ginny smiled before she turned back around to face the opposite direction.

Mike bit back a comment for as long as he could,  but the self-satisfied sigh coming out of Ginny as she bounced into a comfortable position had it slipping out.

“Smartass.”

Her hand slapped across her mouth, muffling that horsey laugh of hers. “Geez, Mike.”

"‘Geez, Mike .’” He couldn’t stop himself from mimicking her either.

Ginny laughed again, but her “Shut up,” was as stern as she could make it. “And go to sleep.” She flopped a bit more, her foot finding his and wrapping around his ankle.

Mike found himself sighing and dropping his head on the pillow so that his nose grazed her shoulder blade. His hand made that trip upwards, filling his palm with her bare breast, her nipple perking up between his middle and ring finger.

“Luckily, this is becoming one of my favorite ways to fall asleep,” he murmured into her skin.

Ginny’s foot ran across his leg. “Mine too.”

Mike closed his eyes, let his hand gently squeeze at the breast he held, and then sighed. If Ginny knew how relaxed he’d instantly become, he was sure there would have been an old man joke for him. A low grunt escaped him, nuzzling his nose against her again. He was probably asleep within moments...

Chapter Text

If he was honest with himself…

Mike couldn’t regret the way he’d chosen to live his life or the way he’d played hard throughout every game in his career. So how could he complain about the consequences for it? How could he complain about how twinges in his knees, or particularly today his left knee, as the treadmill had him running a pace of more than eight mile an hour? Honestly… Well, in all honesty, he couldn’t. What he could do, what he shouldn’t do, was…

The treadmill beside his was empty. The gym wasn’t empty, but for all intents and purposes, it could have been. Because Ginny wasn’t there with him. It didn’t stop him from imagining her right there.

She had this tunnel vision focus when she worked out. How many times had she reminded Mike that the biological differences between not only her and him, not only her and her teammates, but also her and the entire roster of Major League Baseball, was often seen as a disadvantage? She had to work hard to be taken seriously. And she had always worked that hard to be taken serious.

So… although she had been a distraction for him plenty of times… Like now, right now, because it was that laser-focus that had her strong arms pumping in perfect unison with her strong legs that his mind had conjured up. The eight miles per hour that she would be running would look effortless for the young and apt athlete. That alone was enough to have Mike panting for reasons other than matching her speed. But it would be the focus on a particular drop of sweat travelling across her body, dipping into the crevasse of her cleavage...

Shit.

Another twinge of pain rain up Mike’s knee, pulling his thoughts away from Ginny for at least a second. It wasn’t enough to cause him to slow down as he chose to work through the pain. There wasn’t too many moments where he let himself give into pain when Ginny was around, and the fact that she wasn’t there now wasn’t going to lessen his resolve. In fact, the thought of her probably had something to do with spurring him on.

Ginny…

Mike grimaced, his brows drawing downward, his lips pursing, and a quiet grunt that no one heard but him.

If she’d been there, if she hadn’t canceled on their workout, she wouldn’t have even looked at him then. The thought turned the grimace on his face into a smile. Ginny would have missed the slight hiccup, thankfully. No amount of taunting, no amount of teasing, would have distracted her. And wasn’t that sexy as hell?

The twinge of pain disappeared as quickly as it had come, thank God. Mike dropped his head, a low growl emanating from his throat as his own sweat drip-dropped down his face, his chest, his back.

Fuck.

Mike wasn’t halfway through his routine. He wasn’t halfway through his time on the treadmill, he realized. And what was his mind busy with? Ginny fucking Baker. It he wasn’t working hard to keep his breathing in check, he would’ve huffed out a laugh. Fuck if she didn’t keep his mind occupied enough as it was.

So why, with that realization, was his first thought of that wide and toothy smile smirking right at him?

There was a part of him that was annoyed to the point of refusing to analyze the reasons as to why she was clearly on his mind. There was another part of him that silently accepted it for what it was, a part of him that understood but chose not to outwardly acknowledge it for more than the face value.

Resigned with both parts of him, resigned to the fact that he had a workout to get through, Mike bit out one more curse. Ginny might’ve not been there, but he had work to accomplish.

 

****

 

“You didn’t take it easy just because I wasn’t there, did you?” Ginny’s quiet voice on the other end of the phone didn’t take away from the teasing.

Mike’s hand tightened over his own phone as he pressed it closer against him. He leaned heavily against the gym bag over his shoulder, which was held up against a now-empty corner of wall near the exit.

He tucked the small wad of chewing gum between him gums and cheek and out of his way with his tongue before throwing back, “Big words for someone who wasn’t here at all. And, hell no, I didn’t take it easy,” he added, a smile forming on his face as he listened to her laugh. Leaning into the wall securely, one foot crossed over the other one easily. “It was a good day.”

“Well, it probably helped to not have my ass there to stare at,” Ginny muttered happily.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Mike muttered back honestly, his free arm crossing over his chest and a quick brow lifting at the thought. There was a reason she had been on his mind for a lot of his workout.

“Mm… sounds like you missed me?” she asked lightly.

How in the hell had it come out as a question?

“You just trying to get me to say it, Baker?” Mike wondered, his chin dipping down to meet his chest as he arm tightened once more around himself.

“Well, if you don’t-”

“I missed that perfect pear-shaped ass of yours,” he cut in, being once again honest with her. “Happy now?” he asked, his head nodding in acknowledgement of what he’d admitted.

“Yeah…” Ginny answered slowly. “I’m happy,” she added, sounding as much.

Unlike her, although teasing may have been the cause of it, Mike didn’t need to hear the words in that moment. Just as she’d known, he knew the truth as well.

“Long day, right?” he asked with a sigh, His head came up then, his eyes squinting as he surveyed the gym.

“Yeah, a long day,” Ginny confirmed on a sigh much like his. “And after taking care of some business, I also have those plans with Ev later today. So… it won’t be until tonight that I’d have the chance to catch up with you.”

“Right.” Mike took in a small breath, his chest heaving slightly as he pe pressed even more firmly into the wall. “Then get off the phone and get to,” he muttered quickly. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Talk to you later, Lawson,” she said back with a laugh.

It put a smile on his face as he pulled the phone away from his ear and disconnected the call. It was then slipped into the back pocket of his jeans.

Flicking the chewing gum from one side of his mouth to the other, Mike hefted his gym bag over his shoulder. The knot in right along the edge of the shoulder blade had been effectively and thoroughly knocked out by the masseuse, making the task all the easier. Still, he rotated his neck from one side to the other, stretching and appreciating the feeling. His sunglasses slipped down the bridge of his nose as he let his gaze survey the exit and the way the bright sun shone through the glass windows and doors.

Mike felt… good. Energized. Even without Ginny at his side, he’d taken advantage of his gym time. Maybe it was just what he’d needed, he realized.

Pressing a forearm into the glass door, he was hit by the early morning heat. But that sun already beating down on his was just another positive.

The already-blazing sun beating down on him reminded him of the glasses sitting on top of his head. He grabbed at them, letting them fall into place with a little push of his fingers as the gum in his mouth found its way on the other side of his mouth again. It was only the buzzing vibration coming from inside his pocket that made him pause.

It was a short buzz, so Mike wasn’t surprised by a text message popping up once he flipped and turned the phone in a fluid motion. No, that wasn’t what had him cocking his head while his eyes darted across the entire phone screen.

He wasn’t expecting it to be her. Not that they were on bad terms. After everything that they’d been through together, the ups and downs and everything in between, it rarely had them on bad terms. It was just…

Mike inhaled a deep and involuntary breath through his nose just as he swiped his free hand across his forehead. He noticed then that the text had had him stopped dead in his tracks. Sweeping his gaze across the half-filled parking lot, he took a sidestep that was unnecessary since no one was around him. Pulling himself off to the side, he looked back down at the phone.

Hi Mike.

That was simple enough, right?

Mike pushed the gum up with his tongue, leaving it between his front teeth. His eyes widened at the thought of the prospect before him, then blinking twice on the phone. He let his thumb swipe across the screen, opening up the message before…

How you doing Rachel?

Leaving it at that, Mike hefted the gym bag once more. There was a part of him that could have stayed right there, waiting for her answer. There was a greater part of him that was over the surprise. It was that part of him that had him moving and on the hunt for his car.

I’m fine. How about you?

The text hadn’t taken long to come in. And with an easy question like the one she shot back, it hadn’t taken him long to answer either.

Real good.

And then he was curious once more, which had he stopping once again in his tracks.

They were civil with one another. They were more than just civil with one another. Even if the last time they’d seen each other was soon after that fateful and one-time hookup. It was… something that didn’t seem to mean that much, right? Mike had been pretty clear on what her expectations were.

Okay, I’ll bite. What’s up?

He’d sent it less than a second before her text came in.

I’m glad to hear that. Are you busy?

It was followed by her response to his question.

I’m in town. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. Thought I’d check in on you.

Mike took a moment to re-read the last two messages. It was only then that he ran his hand over his beard and he let one foot follow the other as he continued his trek into the parking lot..

Text messages. Yeah, he’d read each and every single word. Even more than once. It was just that intent wasn’t always easily interpreted.

They’d left on solid ground. This wasn’t Rachel suggesting anything torrid, even if she’d mentioned she was in town. And, for some reason, he wasn’t in the mindset to go and make the snap judgement call that this was her attempt at getting him back.

I’m good. And I’m free to talk.

Good.

It wasn’t much longer after that confirmation text came in before Mike’s phone was vibrating again, with Rachel’s call coming through.

 

****

 

There had been many thoughts rolling around Mike’s mind during the three and a half hours between that first text message from Rachel and sitting across from her at the small restaurant of her choice. None of those thoughts had made him want to miss this meeting.

There was a lot of history between them. Rachel had been a part of his life, a part of him, for so many years. And even after the marriage, even after she cheated on him and his attempt at reconciliation and everything in between… Rachel was a part of his life.

That was probably the reason of ease on his soul. Because this could have been awkward. Maybe this should’ve been awkward.

The truth of the matter was that… for everything they’d been through- everything he’d said, everything she’d done- there wasn’t a bone in his body that wasn’t over their past. For good or for bad, for when he wasn’t playing the part of the conceited asshole, he could realize and acknowledge the friendship and bond they’d had. And it hadn’t disappeared completely either. Probably never would.

Honestly, and he was finally honest with himself, there were reasons for everything that transpired between them. Because they had never been meant to be anything more than this: friends. Good friends. Confidante in some instances, too. But…

Mike let his arm glide across the table. His hand reaching and taking hold of the glass of water next to his plate that hel his burger and fries. His tongue came out to wet his bottom lip even as his squinted eyes focused on the plate across from him.

Kale chicken caesar salad.

His chin lifted all of an inch before he noticed and could stop himself.

“What?”

Rachel’s question sounded curious. And as Mike looked up at her. He saw the way she leaned closer into the table.

“Didn’t say anything,” he reminded her, his shoulder lifting in a shrug.

“Maybe…you didn’t have to?” was her questioning response.

“Then… what?” he tossed back at her. He matched her position, leaning his body into the table.

There was a brief moment, maybe five or six seconds, where they stayed in that staring contest.

Rachel was the first to break, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth as she slipped back just so.

It was at that moment that Mike grabbed up the water glass, lifting it and taking a sip. He couldn’t help but look back at her plate again.

It wasn’t anything. It hadn’t been anything. Not really. It was just that…

Why had Ginny come to mind so clearly?

If Ginny was there, it wouldn’t have been a kale chicken caesar salad sitting across from his burger and fries. There would have been something more closely related to his own calorie-loaded lunch. And there was something completely sexy about that fact.

“Okay, Mike,” Rachel drawled out, grabbing his attention once more. “You look… happy.”

This time, there wasn’t a question in the statement, but something about the way she said it made him curious.

“I look happy?” he asked, thinking over the words as he said them.

Rachel gave a sound and firm nod.

“You look happy,” she repeated easily. “Genuinely happy.”

Mike felt the way his lips twisted just as he closed his arms over his chest.

“Is that a trick or something?” he asked, the words leaving his mouth slowly.

“No,” she assured him with a laugh.

Mike watched Rachel shake his head before she picked up the almost-forgotten fork. Her first bite was a small one, first dipping the chicken into a heavy area of dressing.

“Okay,” he huffed. His arms fell away from his chest, but he slouched more comfortably in his seat, his left leg coming out from under the table and stretching out. “I look happy.”

Rachel smile behind her hand and finished her small bite before she said anything.

“It can’t be because of me,” she noted easily. She shook her head again, her red waves shifting just slightly. “This looks like… something bigger than that, something substantial.”

Something substantial…

You look happy…

And, okay, as far as stages in life were concerned, he had to agree with her: Mike Lawson was a happy man. The reasons for that happiness crossed his mind, with Ginny Baker sitting right on top of that list. He instantly froze at the thought, but shook it off immediately.

“You were... maybe expecting something different?” Mike asked in a murmur. He eyed his plate, moved his hand over towards it, and pinched two of the steak fries before shoving them into his mouth and swooping them down. They shifted on her as he leaned back into the table before whispering conspiratorially, “It’s the off-season, Rachel. There’s usually less gossip to go around during this point of the year, right?” His gaze dropped onto his plate again, picking up a couple more fries and filling his mouth.

Mike didn’t see, but heard the clinking of silverware as Rachel went back into her own plate.

“Same sarcasm, I see,” she noted.

Mike’s single brow lifted at that comment.

“But…” she added.

He looked back up at her that time, falling back against his chair and extending his leg once more.

Okay, was it reporter or ex-wife nosiness going on with her at that moment?

“There’s been changes in my life since the last time we were together,” Mike murmured. His shoulders were quick to hunch, probably adding emphasis to the scowl he felt on his face. “I’m at a good place.” His hand came up swiftly, waving across his face. “Glad it’s so noticeable right here.”

Rachel rested her fork on her plate. She took that moment to adjust herself in her seating, a smile still planted on her face as her back hit the chair.

“You look good,” she finally said, sounding completely firn. Her own hand fell out in between them over the table. “Be it off-season or something else, it’s good to see.”

See, sometimes it could be easy with Rachel.

“Maybe I took your advice,” Mike said, the words falling from his mouth. He tilted his head just so as he watched her intently.

She looked confused, her fingers falling to the edge of the table and hold there. “My advice?”

When she’d said it that night, when she had been a sounding board for all his fucked up thoughts and pain, he’d appreciated it more than she probably even realized. And when he was able to actually take her advice.

“Maybe I took some time to figure out what I really wanted,” he clarified, recalling that pivotal conversation they’d had once upon a time.

At a time, and it felt a hell of a lot longer than it had actually been, Mike had thought what he’d wanted was Rachel. He’d thought that what he’d needed in his life was… that old like. Or the old life that could have been, or maybe should’ve been. Because in all honesty, in all honesty, what he had with Rachel hadn’t been the perfect marriage. A friendship? Yeah, she would probably always be a friend of his, and a good one at that. But… she had been right that night. There wasn’t a future for the two of them when it came to something more. The divorce had been the only realistic choice for either of them

Every single feature on her face froze, a look of wonder there. Her fingers gripping at the table were the first to go, dragging away until her hands disappeared under the table. And then it was with a blink of her eyes and the corners of her mouth curving up that showed any reaction.

“I’m sure it took a lot for you to commit to the decision to make this upcoming season your last,” Rachel said softly, the belief of those were mirrored in the way her shoulders caved in.

“Retirement?” It came out as a question. Maybe it shouldn’t have come out as a question. “Yeah. Yeah.” Something was caught in Mike’s throat, causing him to clear it, but not too loudly. His eyes darted across the table as his closed fist came up to cover his mouth. She’d told him to figure out what he really wanted… “Phase one not has a expiration date.” His eyes grew a little wider as they settled on her while his hands disappeared under the table before tangling together. Figuring out what he really wanted in life had been an important step to getting out of a negative space. And yeah, retirement was a part of it, but it wasn’t the whole. And maybe Rachel had dismissed that part of the pivotal conversation that had once included her.

Rachel lifted a single shoulder slowly, looking almost cautious. “The seeds of retirement had been planted for a while though,” she reminded him. She leaned over to one side, her attention being caught by something behind him.

Before Mike had a chance to turn to see what it was, she asked, “So how’s your back been doing?”

The question produced a tight smile on Mike’s face and a squeeze of his fingers together. “I’m retiring after one more season. What does that tell you?” He brought a hand back out from underneath the table and let his fingers reach over towards his  plate, grabbing up another couple of fries. He looked at Rachel’s plate that had been untouched for more than a minute now, and another smile came across his face for a whole new reason.

“That it’s still not at a hundred percent,” Rachel answered.

Mike’s shrug was a bit rougher than hers had been.

“One more season,” he reminded her gruffly. “And then-”

“And then phase two.”

The way she’d said it had Mike tilted his head just so at her, his eyebrows falling low over his eyes.

Rachel offered up a simple smile as she sat up just a little bit straighter. “So you figured it out.” She let her hand wave out in front of him. “You figure out what you really wanted that will make you happy.”

Mike’s smile matched hers in simplicity, but his first thought was of Ginny. When Rachel had told him that he needed to figure out what he really wanted, it was because she felt he had been rushing back to her and the life he thought he wanted in that moment. When Mike thought about what he really wanted in life, it wasn’t just about his career. As he had told Rachel on more than one occasion, what he wanted extended far past career goals…

He’d found something much more than career. And… he was happy. Ginny… made him happy…

“What?” Rachel asked with a tiny laugh.

That question and her laugh brought Mike back to the present, having slipped away in his own head for a moment too long.

“Mike, what?” she asked again, sounding wondrous this time.

Mike quickly gave a shake of his head,glancing down at his plate and going back in for another fry or two. His initial answer was a low grunt without anything to follow.

“Unless… unless there’s something… something more?” And it was another question.

Mike looked up at her from under lowered lashes.

“Oh damn, Rachel,” he muttered at her. “Don’t go all journalistic reporter on me, okay?”

His command didn’t put an end to the curious glint in her eyes or the wonder that he knew was swirling around in that head of hers. But, he could give her credit. Instead of asking whatever certain question that was on the tip of her tongue, Rachel picked up her underused fork and stabbed at a piece of grilled chicken from her plate.

Mike felt the prickling at the corners of his mouth, a smile attempting to form.

“I’m just thinking…”

“Shit,” Mike muttered, rolling his eyes, “that didn’t last long.”

“That maybe ESPN or Fox Sports haven’t reached out to you just yet on the future of Mike Lawson’s broadcasting career,” Rachel continued, apparently unperturbed by his mouth. “Maybe this aura of happiness has to do with something else.”

Mike went in for his half-eaten burger, hefting it up in his hand and readily into his mouth for a generous bite.

“Ending your playing career wasn’t the only thing you thought you wanted,” she said quietly, sounding as if she was voicing the thoughts as they went through her head. “That was something you wanted, along with…” She paused there, maybe for good reason.

“I assumed we had a tacit agreement to not mention that,” Mike said, the rest of the burger dropping to the plate. Instead of looking at his ex-wife, he searched out the napkin that was beside his lunch.

“Over me?” Rachel asked.

Based on her tone, it was meant as a joke. Mike glanced up at her as he ran the napkin across his face.

“What you always wanted, right?” he threw back, his voice low and even. “Moved on and over you.”

Rachel huffed out a small laugh, her eyes travelling the whole of his face before sliding off to the side and behind him.

“Now don’t go all to pieces and start regretting what could have been,” Mike muttered at her jokingly. Because no matter what was no running through that brain of hers, he knew clear as day it had nothing to do with that. She had been there first. Mike was the one that had taken the longest to understand that it was over, and for good reason.

“You look happy, Mike.”

The genuinity of that statement radiated out from her.

Mike gave a brief nod of his head at that. “Well… Like I said.” And for now… he returned her smile with one of his own.

Later… Later, he would wonder why it couldn’t have stayed just like that. But then he would remember that Rachel was his ex-wife. He would remember that it was not always easy to leave that journalistic thought process for far too long.

Later, he would wonder why happy couldn’t just be happy . Later, he would wonder why it was so easy to doubt what he’d thought he’d known for a long time.

Chapter Text

God, Mike should’ve been there…

Running away from the shore and back onto the beach, running away from a outright laughing set of twin boys and their mother. And Mike had been her first thought… God!

But Mike couldn’t have been there. Really, he shouldn’t have been there. He was best friends with Blip, but that had never necessarily put Mike at all the family gatherings. And this was one of those family gatherings, with the entire Sanders crew, with Ginny in toe, out at La Jolla Shores, enjoying the sand and the surf. Also, there had been the randomness of what she would consider paparazzo, a lone photographer that had set up camp for at least five minutes, snapping pictures of Ginny in her one-piece bathing suit that wasn’t anything special.

So… no, Mike shouldn’t have been there. That didn’t mean he was far from her mind. It didn’t mean Ginny didn’t wish he was there.

She glanced back towards the water for just a second, catching a glimpse of seeing… Gabe, she believed, diving down and disappearing from her sight. There was another smile on her face as she turned her sights forward, finding where Blip sat with all of their personal belongings farther up on the beach. Her hair was matted to her head and face; she smoothed it all back with her fingers as she tiptoed up the beach.

So it seemed as if her cancelled gym date with Mike wasn’t all in vain. The three hours she’d spent sweating, swimming, and chasing after the boys had burned off many of the calories she would have in the gym. But it wasn’t the same, was it?

Ginny gave a sparing look at Blip, who tipped his chin at her while lifting the sunglasses to the top of his head. He had been keeper of all electronics while she and the rest of his family had been in the water. But now… Now, Ginny had a strong urge to catch up with the man she hadn’t talked to since earlier that morning. A phone call that seemed like so long ago.

“Hey,” she greeted Blip, plopping down onto her knees on her beach towel.

“Hey, Gin,” he greeted her back, leaning over three spots to look at her. “Are you staying up here for a while?”

Her hands were already in her bag, searching out and finding her phone in its hidden pocket.

“Oh, yeah,” she told him. “If you want to go out there and enjoy the boys and Ev…”

Blip dropped the sunglasses back down over the bridge of his nose. “No, I’m fine for now. Thanks for checking in, though.” He grinned at her before gliding back to his own towel.

Ginny rolled her eyes at him, her mouth turned up in a knowing smirk. But she couldn’t blame him, He’d been out with the boys even more than Ev had been. And if Blip was enjoying his break on the beach, then so be it.

But… it didn’t stop her need to check in. Which is why pushed her bag away after grabbing her phone. She twisted back around on her knees before falling down to sit on her blanket. She glanced back at Blip, happy to find him not paying any attention to her. And if Blip wasn’t going to pay any attention to her, she wasn’t going to pay any attention to him…

Ginny slid and scrolled her way through her phone, making her way to Mike’s text messages. Pulling them up, she fell down on her back, holding the phone up as she swiped away.

Okay, so it’s a pretty nice day for the beach. Even with the random paps.

She hadn’t expected for it to take long to get a response from him. But maybe that was wishful thinking. She missed Mike. God, she missed him!

Taking advantage of Ginny Baker in a bikini, huh? Damn, I haven’t even had the privilege.

Well neither have they! I’m not in a bikini.

Really?

Really

Maybe I need photographic proof of that.

Then just wait until the picture shows up in some magazine or some website.

Still a tease

It’s a lot of fun!

Mike, I miss you.

Is that another attempt at teasing?

Do you feel teased?

I feel like you’re teasing me.

LOL

Blip’s right next to me. I didn’t want much. Just wanted to check in and let you know I was thinking about you.

Well don’t tell him I said hi.

I won’t. Talk to you later.

Talk to you later.

I miss you too.

For a second, just for a tick of a second, Ginny was sad that he hadn’t said it back. Although he’d said it earlier that day in their last conversation. He’d told her that he missed her when she had to cancel their gym time. And then he had said Talk to you later. For the length of time it had taken for him to type out and send his last text, there had been a second where she’d wished he’d said it. And then he did: I miss you too.

Damn that flutter of her heart. Damn that smile she’d had no control over that was still plastered over her face.

This was different. Her relationship with Mike was different from any relationship she’d ever had. She knew that.

Phone gripped tightly in her hand, Ginny brought her forearm up to cover her face, to hide the smile that no one but her had noticed. Her right knee came up, and she planted the heel of her foot into the beach blanket and into the sand, pushing herself up just a little.

I miss you.

The words were easy to say, weren’t they? And she believed there was a reason for that. A reason that had settled heavy in her heart, feeling like a weight of honesty and truthfulness that couldn’t be denied.

Ginny Baker loved Mike Lawson…

With all of her heart. With all of her soul. Ginny Baker loved Mike Lawson.

There had been a time when she had idolized the persona, had envied the man who was living out his dreams in a way that had felt limited to her. Those times had changed. Time had shifted and pushed and pulled and designed… Somehow… In some way… they had come together…

Ginny’s forearm tightened across her face, her chin tilting up and her teeth sinking into her bottom lip. There was more than a heaviness to her heart. There was now a tingle traveling across her entire body, and she tried to not let it unnerve her. What would be the point of being unnerved?

Ha!

And what was so amusing? It was the fact that no one knew. It was the fact that, for so many reasons, her relationship was a secret. A secret from her friends, her family, her teammates, from the world- cue the photos that would, in some way, hit the internet of her in her bathing suit while enjoying an easy day. There were reasons for every single decision she had made. But…

God!

She banished the thought of Mike’s hand settling on her lower back as they walked into a room together. A simple act that he’d done plenty of times when they were alone, but something he wouldn’t dare do if they were in public. Not only because of his own conscious, but for her own as well.

Ginny hadn’t… God! She dropped her knee as she rolled over onto her stomach, her hands linking together so that she could rest her cheek there, turned away from Blip.

She hadn’t gone into thinking she would ever feel this way about Mike. Yeah, she went into with an open mind, having acknowledged the spark and tie between them. She just hadn’t let the thought of love enter her mind. And now… Now, here she was, the thought running through her mind nonstop.

Ginny Baker loved Mike Lawson.

Her sigh of contentment almost made her giggle. Instead, she closed her eyes, crossed one ankle over the other, and settled her cheek once again over her folded hands.

 

****

 

“Ginny, you might as well stay for dinner,” Evelyn suggested while picking up her phone, and no doubt getting ready to place a call-in order to the aforementioned meal even though they were in her kitchen.

Ginny glanced down at her own phone in her hand before she pocketed in her pants. Her shoulders rounded in a shrug while her face scrunched into a scowl.

“I have plans tonight,” she told her, as way of an apology. “And, plus, I’ve been the adopted member of the Sanders clan for long enough today.”

The day at the beach hadn’t been an all day event, but with the business she had taken care of earlier, it had turned out to be just as long a day that she had predicted. Having already spent nearly a half hour at the Sanders’ home since the drive from the beach, Ginny figured she had given just about all she could for the day.

“But I was thinking Chinese,” Ev said flatly, as if there was no way Ginny could pass up on the shrimp fried rice.

A single brow lifted as a smirk covered Ginny’s face and her hands found her hips. She pointed the toe of her sandal and planted her foot in front of her.

“I mean…” And then she was laughing. “Sorry, but I can’t.” She lifted a shoulder again. “My car should be here in about twenty minute.”

“So what are your plans then?” Ev asked. Her smile was just as curious as her eyes as she held the phone out in front of her. “Since you’re bailing out on your surrogate family and all.”

The thought of finally being in the same room as Mike came to mind, forcing Ginny to tamper her own smile.

Before she could open her mouth, as a realistic and alternative truth was being formulated, Blip’s voice became a distraction.

“The boys are getting cleaned up,” he told Evelyn, walking straight over towards her. Once he made it to her, he dropped a kiss to her cheek.

“I’m just about to place the order,” she let him know, looking up at him. “And trying to figure out why Ginny is bailing on us.”

Ginny shook her head, her shoulder coming up in a simple shrug. “Plans.”

Blip turned to her then, a finger pointing straight at her and his head tilting in question.

“What?” she asked, her arms coming up to fold over her chest.

“I talked to Mike today.” His hand dropped to his side as he took a quick glance at Ev beside him. Then he turned back to Ginny. “Have you talked to him lately?”

“Me? To Mike? Why?” Pause. Because three one- or two-word questions didn’t sound weird or sketchy at all…  “I mean, I’ve talked to him, I guess.” Her hands slipped away from that tight hug over her chest to hold either side of her waist.

“I talked to him while we were out,” Blip said slowly, splitting a look between both women.

What in the hell had Mike said that had Blip questioning her like that?

She was jumping to conclusions. The mere second it had taken for Blip to share that he’d talked to Mike while they were out, a hundred thoughts had zoomed through Ginny’s mind before…

“He told me that Rachel is in town.”

“Yeah. And?” Ev asked, moving away from Blip and heading across to the other side of the kitchen.

It hadn’t meant much to Evelyn, but there was curiosity coursing through Ginny.

“And… they were having lunch,” Blip said slowly.

“Mike had lunch with Rachel?” The question was out of Ginny’s mouth before she could stop herself. He’d talked to her earlier. It was possible that lunch had taken place after he’d talked to her.

“He didn’t say much about it,” Blip added. “Just that she was in town. But…” He raised a brow and looked straight at her. “There was something in his voice. Gin, you don’t know anything about the two of them, do you?”

She wasn’t supposed to stand there stock-still with a blank look on her face…

“You two have been keeping tabs on each other, right?” Evelyn asked, turning around from the cabinet with a glass in her hand. “Is this… something?” And then she was wilting, her weight bearing down on one side of her body as her face scrunched up. “Mike and Rachel?” she asked, seemingly testing the words out on her tongue. “I thought he was over and done with that.”

Mike was over and done with that…

And that was the truth.

“Mike hasn’t said anything to me about Rachel,” Ginny answered truthfully, yet quietly.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Blip murmured, making a move over towards the refrigerator. “You remember the way things went down with Ginny’s agent.”

Yeah, she knew how things went down with Amelia…

“And I thought that had the prospect of actually going somewhere,” he added. “Until it didn’t.”

Ginny had never been jealous of either past relationship. They happened. Rachel was Mike’s ex-wife, and there were plenty of reasons why, while she was in town, that they would get together and even have lunch. There were plausible reasons why he hadn’t had the chance to let Ginny know about it. Or how it had been a more opportune time to let Blip know…

The syncrasy of man and wife came into play as Blip grabbed the pitcher of lemonade from the refrigerator and Ev grabbed three glasses from the cabinet, both coming together at the kitchen table.

“Well, I’m not convinced it’s anything,” Evelyn sai with a shake of her head.

Blip shared a doubtful look with his wife. “Maybe not.” He turned his attention towards Ginny just then. “We’ll just have to see if he speaks on it again.”

Ginny was supposed to have a response to that. With thoughts swirling in her mind, she wasn’t sure what that response was supposed to be.

Her hands wrapped around to her lower back, holding firmly. Tilting her head, her shoulder lifted and she huffed out a noncommittal breath.

 

****

 

You like chasing; you don’t like having.

That’s what Rachel had reminded him. Because the chase was fun. The chase was more mental than physical, and Mike liked that.

You don’t like having.

The proof of that was...

The second you get what you want, you figure out a way to throw it away

Her example had been a case that was specific to them, but it didn’t have to be, did it? It wasn’t a case that was only specific to Mike and Rachel. What she’d said had been specific to him, to Mike and the circumstances he put himself in.

There was a part of him that needed…

Ginny.

When things went wrong, when he needed to center himself, she was able to do that. She was something that could focus him, to calm him. It could be with her thoughts, her words, her body…

There was another part of him that knew he couldn’t have her… Not now. Not when it was this on his mind.

Mike gripped his phone before twisting it around in his fingers to face him.

They’d had plans to meet, to be together.

Something’s come up. Can’t get together tonight.

And with that text, Mike tossed his phone down on the empty couch cushion beside his own. An involuntary deep breath entered through his nose. His hands clasped together before his forefingers pressed tightly into the middle of his forehead. And then he was dropping his head between his open legs, his shoulders rounding as he sat there quietly.

Fuck, he wondered if he was ever going to stop being a total fuck-up…

The phone buzzed beside him; not a text, but a phone call.

“Fuck.” The curse was muttered under his breath as his twisted around to look at her name glowing on his screen. It couldn’t have been a simple text back, could it? But why should it?

Mike picked up the phone, sliding the bar over to connect the call.

“Hello.” The phone pressed hard against his ear as he returned to his previous posture, his head hanging nearly into the space created by his wide-apart knees.


“You cancelled on me,” Ginny said quietly into his ear.

And there went that part of him that wished it wasn’t so. Even soft and quiet and questioning, her voice tried to defrost a layer of ice that was encasing his heart.

“Something came up,” Mike muttered into the phone. “Didn’t seem like a good idea to catch up, is all.” Fuck. His fingers came up to pinch the bridge of his nose, his eyes squinting shut tight.

“You had a bad day?” she asked. There was still something hidden in her voice, something he should’ve picked up on.

“Fucking spectacular,” was his sarcastic response.

“What is it? What happened?” There was a little persistence in the way she said it.

Mike pinched a bit tighter while his eyes squeezed shut even more.

“Nothing. Nothing.” He shook his head and one foot kicked out in front of him before coming back in that resting position. “Just… I won’t be the company you were expecting tonight, Gin. So... “

“Does that mean things went… good or… bad… between you and Rachel at lunch today?”

And, fuck Blip , there it was.

Mike inhaled another deep breath and let his hand fall from his face. “It was nothing to speak of.” He pressed back on the couch, his back sinking into the cushion.

“So what was the point of telling me, right?” Ginny sighed. “I mean, that didn’t have anything to do with this sudden need to be alone. If -”

“I’m alone,” he cut in, a twist in his gut just confirming he didn’t like where she was about to go.

But… Mike got it. Rachel equaled ex-wife. Rachel equaled last hook-up prior to Ginny.

“It wasn’t a big deal, which is why I probably didn’t mention it.” His head fell back, rolling side to side on the fabric of the couch while his fingers went right back on that spot on his nose. “It didn't matter. It was a damn spur of the moment thing.”

“Before or after we texted?” Ginny asked.

Mike felt the scrunch of his face at the question. “We had lunch after-”

“But you had set up the lunch before, though, right?” Ginny cut in.

“I talked to her earlier that morn-”

“And you chose not to mention it then,” she cut in once more.

“Should I just shut up now, because I haven’t completed a sentence in a moment,” Mike muttered. He was already agitated, aggravated, not in a good mood.

“I was just-”

“No, you were just being Ginny.” It was his turn to cut in, agitation not coming out in a good way at all, each word short and clipped. “You were being Ginny , the know-it-all. And whatever I have to say doesn’t matter because you’ve already come up with assumptions. You don’t even give a freaking second to consider anything else because you know it all .”

Fuck!

Mike jumped up from his seat, feeling himself losing control of his temper as well as his tongue. There was nothing he could do about that now.

Ginny was silent on the other end, but he knew not in a good way. Somehow, he had let himself put his foot in his mouth. Still, he was more angry at the situation than at himself.

“Well next time maybe you should be a little more forthcoming, and then I wouldn’t have to be ‘know-it-all Ginny’,” she finally muttered on her end of the phone.

Mike’s fingers dug into his temple.

“I went to lunch,” he grinded out through clenched teeth. “Nothing…” Mike paused then.

There was a reason why he knew being with her wasn’t going to be a good idea. Only, he’d thought it would be for other reasons; not her reasons to grill him on Rachel. What had happened to his peace of mind? Because that wasn’t what she was offering him right now.

Goddammit.

“Tomorrow, Ginny,” he offered helplessly and tiredly. With a ragged sigh, he asked “Can we… do this tomorrow?”

He hadn’t meant to be short with her, not really. She’d caught him in a bad place. He probably should’ve felt even worse than he did, but it was what it was.

“Fine… Mike.” There was probably more that she wanted to force out, but she bit off right there.

He wasn’t surprised when the line goes dead on his end. But… how could he be?

“Damn it.” It was just a murmur as he threw the phone on the couch a few feet away. Both hands free, he swiped the back of his hand over his lips. “God damn it.”

It was immediate.

He wanted to blame Rachel. He would. He chose to blame her, for reminding him of who he was and what was wrong with him.

So he wasn’t perfect. So he had some hangups. Who was? Who didn’t?

Ginny…

She invaded his mind just then. Her radiant smile. That bright smile that she is covering with her hands. The eagerness to grow and learn and succeed.

She was so many things that he was not: young, whole career in front of her. There were some commonalities, some bonds, But there were differences between them.

Rachel’s words came back to him, hitting him like a ton of bricks.

You like chasing; you don’t like having.

His fingertips grip at his temples.

He’d wanted to contest those words then, but it was with a lot of growing up on his part over the past few months that had lead led him to Ginny. It had been a chase in his own mind. They were teammates. And even though it was Ginny’s rule of thumb, he couldn’t deny that it was a unique relationship to be in. But there had also been a deep connection. Not only physical, but something that helped him be himself with her. But…

Mike Lawson was a fuck-up. When had that changed?

The problem was… It hadn’t. He had been a fuck-up, and still was one to this day.

His fingers clawed at his beard, tugging and receiving just a miniscule speck of the pain he deserved.

 

****

 

“Who is she?” Rachel asked quietly.

The remnants of the salty fries were licked away from his thumb as he gave a hard shake of his head.

“None of your business.” He looked up at her with a grin on his face.

Rachel leaned into the table. “Come on, Mike.” Shaking her head, she added, “I haven’t heard anything about a budding relationship floating around.”

“Why would you?” Her statement produced a frown on his face as he pressed back in his seat.

“Well, that’s the thing,” she said slowly. “If this was nothing, wouldn’t we have seen you out with someone.”

“God damn, Rachel, are you keeping tabs on me?” This time, he smiled again before shaking his head. “The particulars are none of your business. Not anymore.”

She didn’t smile back. Instead, there was a somber look that was across her face.

“You look genuine,” she finally said. “So I’m just hoping you’re being careful, Mike. “ Her finger came out to point at him from across the table, her eyes following that same spot. “Being careful with that heart of yours.”

Mike’s hand flew up to press against his chest. “Meaning?” He was curious to know how she would follow that statement.

“I know you, Mike,” Rachel reminded him. “I know how it weighed on you when you thought we should be together and give our marriage another shot. And,” she said, shaking her head, “it wasn’t about me. It was about not wanting to fail on top of being alone.”

Hand still pressed to his chest, Mike could feel the slowing of his heartbeat. He let his hand slide down, over his belly until it was in his lap.

“I’m not trying to fill a void with just anything or just anyone,” he promised.

“It wasn’t that long ago you were at my house,” she reminded him.

“And even a shorter time since I was in your bed,” he admitted. “Doesn’t change anything about what’s going on in my life now.”

Rachel smiled again, a small smile as she stared right at him.

“So this thing, this relationship, isn’t you chasing?” she asked, her head tilting just so as her eyes darted across every visible piece of him. “This is you having, is that it?”

Mike swallowed the lump in his throat that his ex-wife had put there.

“This is me trying to have, Rachel,” he answered solemnly.

She took in a small breath and nodded her head.

“So this is what Mike Lawson looks like ‘having’.”

 

 

****

 

Ginny eyed the evening sky from her backseat as it whirled passed. Her middle finger lifted to the corner of her eye to swipe at the imaginary something hanging there.

Her mouth opened wide and she pulled her hand down as she quickly turned her attention to her driver.

“Change of plans?” she said in question.

“Yeah?” he said easily.

“Can you take me home instead? Can you make that change for me?”

He turned to look at her, as if to ask if she was sure. “Yeah, that’s not a problem.”

Ginny nodded her head, attempted a smile, and then looked back out the window.

How had the day started where it had? How had she realized that the man she had spent the last few months with getting to know in a very different way than before… was the man she loved? How had the day ended with knowing she was in love with a man and being brushed off so easily by him?

Ginny licked her lips before she rolled them in, her head nodding and her eyes fluttering closed. Maybe it was easier than she’d let herself believe, because that man was Mike Lawson. And when it came to Mike Lawson, wasn’t all bets off?

She let her head fall onto the seat and her eyes once more set on the moving landscape.

 

****

 

Didn’t he know the truth? Didn’t he know what he had? What they had?

The bigger question was: Did Mike know who he was? And the answer to that question was yes . So…

There had been times when he’d wondered if he deserved her. There were similarities in them, but there were also some differences. Mike was on his way out while Ginny was just at the beginning of her career. She was a twenty-four-year-old woman on the verge of taking over the world of baseball like never before seen. And he was an almost thirty-seven-year-old veteran catcher on his way out, with all the glory that came with it.

Ginny was innocent in some ways, and experienced in others. If he messed her up, caused her any anguish because he’d thought there was something… If he messed her up because he’d gone after her… If this was everything Rachel had warned him against…

You like chasing; you don’t like having.

There was a time when Ginny had been cautious, with every turn. That wasn’t the case anymore. And when he fucked up, royally screwed himself with her, would she look back on their time together and despise him for it?

Fuck!

Damn him.

The closest thing Mike could get his hands around and force his energy into was bottle of beer sitting on the table in front of him. Squeezing the bottle hard with his fingers, it was flung to the tiled floor, shattering before him.

It didn’t ease the stress he was under, like he knew it wouldn’t. That didn’t stop him from walking over the mess, leaving it for another time, when maybe he could give a damn.

Chapter Text

Her phone rang once before she’d connected the call and placed it to her ear.

“Hello.” Ginny frowned and tried to ignore the slam of her heart against her chest, while simultaneously giving silent thanks that her voice was controlled and leveled.

“I have a past.” That grumbled statement had been her greeting, sounding so familiar.

Ginny fell down in her chair, the tip of her thumbnail coming up to her mouth so she could take a gentle bite of it before her hand fell into her lap.

“And Rachel is a part of that past,” she added, sounding cool even to her own ears as she hiked a shoulder up that Mike couldn’t see. She tried not to roll her eyes as her fingers gripped tight on the phone, taking the same of time to digest the statement as he had.

“Leave her out of it.” It wasn’t a plea of a hopeful request. It was a order, as surely as if Mike had barked it at her. “Rachel doesn’t matter, so... just leave her the hell out of it.”

“Rachel doesn’t matter.” The only sentiment that dripped from Ginny as she did roll her eyes was a mocking one.

“It… This has nothing to do with Rachel.”

“This has absolutely nothing to do with Rachel,” Ginny agreed easily again.

If she could have seen his face…. All she could do was imagine it, though. Ginny imagined the lines creasing his eyes in haggard exhaustion. She imagined the way his forehead would fall between his thumb and middle finger, massaging at his temples to the point of pain. She imagined the verbal assault that was at the tip of his tongue, Fuck you, Ginny , that he kept at bay for whatever reason he chose.

“So a night of sleep wasn’t enough time to absorb the pros to listening before blurting out, is that it?” Mike murmured quietly into the phone.

“When you call and start up the same conversation?” she asked lightly.

“Or did a night of sleep give you the chance to cement your stance?” Ginny heard the harsh blow of air that he let out. “You don’t want to hear anything, talk about anything, if it isn’t about my ex-wife and the lunch we had together.”

Frustration was clear and present, not that it surprised her. But… For a moment, she regretted the tactics she had decided to take. Mike had accused her of leaping without thought. And…

“You could’ve said something to me,” she finally got out, trying to push her point. “I don’t like lies, Mike.”

“How about you realizing that everything I’ve said to you has been the truth, huh?” he threw back at her. And then there was a muffled string of curses barely coming through the phone, the frustration picking up even more.

Had that been a fair question? Maybe. If she’d thought about it…

“Ginny?” His voice was ragged now. “I don’t… know.”

There was an automatic sadness that overcame her, and she didn’t know why. Or did she? Because the raggedness of his voice, the tiredness of his words, made her think that… maybe he had moved on to something else. That their conversation was heading towards something else.

“Mike, what is it?” The question came out as a quiet whimper, her own frustration now twisting her face as she dug her feet into the carpet and leaned forward in her chair.

“I’m over here trying, and… I don’t know.”

Ginny shook her head, a single brow raising as her fingers gripped at her knee. “What don’t you know?”

There was a pause, silence from both ends of the phone from the space of one, two, three, four, five seconds.

“I… don’t know… how this… works,” Mike finally got out, each word monotone and slow. “I tried, and I don’t know.”

“Mike-”

“Bye, Ginny.”

She wasn’t able to get a similar sentiment out, pulling the phone from her ear while straightening up in her seat at the same time. Her eyes found the wall opposite of her, a blank space to just stare at. And then the slow and steady pound of her heart became impossible to ignore. Even though, she did her best.

“Goodbye to you, too, Mike.”

 

****

 

The baseball felt good in Ginny’s hand, her fingers manipulating it as she found the perfect hold on it. Finding the right grip, her posture changed, setting up for the pitch before putting her all into the throw.

“Gin!”

The concern in Blip’s voice brought her out of some type of reverie she hadn’t realized she must have been in. It was then that she took in the sight before her, watching Marcus hop around the makeshift home plate, looking up at his dad with all the wonder in the world while clutching the bat in his hand.

“She’s giving you her best,” Blip said with a short shake of his head. “You have the talented pitcher of the San Diego Padres at your services, remember.”

“Um, yeah, I see,” was Marcus’ response. His eyes widened more as he dropped the bat, leaving it to lay next to home plate. And the he was running off.

“Marcus, that pitch didn’t send you to first base,” Blip reminded him, watching his son run off.

“I gotta go to the bathroom!” he shouted at them. “I’ll be back.” His feet picked up speed as he made his way towards the house.

Ginny took in a small breath as her fingers came up to tug at the bill of the ball cap on her head. Then her lips were rolling inward and her head hung in front of her as  the toe of her sneaker digging into the grass.

“Well, maybe he had to go to the bathroom, but I’m thinking he probably needed a break from that strike you pitched him,” Blip called out to her.

She stopped herself from letting her mouth drop open or her eyes widen in surprise. Instead, she tugged at the hem of her shirt and twisted her body around as she glanced at Blip leaning down to pick up the baseball.

“I mean… I love my son, but…” He tossed the ball up in the air some five or six feet before it fell back down and catching it again. “I wouldn’t say he’s quite yet New York Yankees’ Brett Gardner.”

This time Ginny rolled her eyes, her hands disappearing behind her back. Swinging her hips, she took a small bit of her inner cheek before she spoke.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize,” she apologized. Watching the sudden toss of the baseball, her hand shot out in an attempt to catch it.

“That Marcus isn’t Brett Gardner?” Blip asked lightly, teasing her.

Ginny huffed out a laugh. “I mean, you see how I could’ve made the mistake, right?” She felt her shoulder slump, the levity almost completely leaving her. And with the teasing all but gone, it left her in her own head, a heaviness settling in her heart.

“Ginny?” Her name came out as a question, wonder lacing his voice. “Gin... what’s going on with you?”

“Nothing,” she tried to assure him immediately, her face producing a scowl as she looked back at him. Her shoulder had come up at the same time she’d shook her head. But… it was on instinct. Instinct to keep everything inside. Especially when she wasn’t completely sure what was wrong with her anyway.

“Nothing?” Blip repeated, a single brow raising in disbelief. The ball traded from one hand to the next as he stood there still, waiting for a better answer than the one she’d given.

But…

Ginny had nothing to say, and the blink of her eyes, the small shake of her head, the poke of her bottom look, should have said it all. She brought her hands together briefly before outstretching in order to call for the ball.

“Okay, nothing then,” Blip murmured carefully. Digging his foot into the ground, he took a pitcher’s stance and threw the ball back at her.

She caught the soft pitch easily, and gripped it tight within her fingers.

“If you don’t want to talk about it…”

Ginny looked up from the baseball that was twirling around her dancing fingers, finding her friend with his arms wide open in understanding.

“Then how about you punish me with that screwball of yours?” he offered. And then he was crouching down in the spot where Marcus had once stood at bat. “Come on, I’ll be catcher for a little bit. And I won’t even ask you to go easy on me.” Blip clapped his hand hard into his mitt before opening both and readying himself for her pitch.

In spite of herself, Ginny felt the upturn of her lips in a smile. She didn’t know if it was exactly what she needed, but it was something…

“Come on, Gin.”

She nodded her head and started to take in a small breath that eventually grew until her lungs filled to capacity. Even as she set herself up in position, she couldn’t help the thoughts beginning to run through her mind. There was a part of her that wished she could say something to someone, say something to her friend that had offered up a listening ear. But… she couldn’t. No one knew. And no one could no. So…

Without being able to stop herself, the pitch left her hand at full force, no doubt reaching close to her top out at eighty-seven miles per hour.

And… it felt good. For those few mere seconds, she felt good.

“Well, someone’s ready for spring training,” Blip called out to her. He rotated his wrist just a bit before tossing the ball back her way. “Maybe one ball isn’t going to be enough.”

Ginny had no complaints, and admitted as much with a shrug of her shoulder. She gripped the ball again, and it wasn’t long before she was pitching it back towards the other end ot the yard,

“Or maybe just letting you have this time to work out whatever is better than any alternative,” Blip said just loud enough for her to hear.

This time, Ginny lifted her chin in acknowledgment, taking in a deep and settling breath. Or an attempt at being settled. It didn’t completely take the edge away, because she was still holding so much in.

Twisting the baseball between her fingers, she tried to gather all of those feelings and thoughts into her right arm, transferring it all into that ball as…

God, jealousy didn’t sit well with her! And Ginny could admit that there had to be at least a sliver of jealousy that was wrapped up in her anger over Mike. Jealousy of a situation that she still wasn’t sure about. And why wasn’t she sure? Was it really because Mike couldn’t be forthcoming and honest? Or was it because she had a way of digging in and not listening to what was important?

… She threw another certain strike to Blip.

God, jealousy didn’t sit well with her!

What did sit well was the knowledge that it hadn’t been so long ago since she’d come to the fact that she loved Mike, that she was in love with Mike. So why wasn’t she celebrating that instead of feeling like a caged animal over the drama in her life currently?

There was a little less speed on the baseball this time when it came back to her. It was then that Ginny straightened up, her eyes finally focusing on Blip from across the grass, and noticing the way his hand dug into his mitt on his opposite hand.

“Blip?” His name came out a cautious question.

He shook his head. “I think Ev will be here within the next hour,” he told her.

“Yeah?” Ginny said, prompting him to finish his thought.

A sharp brow lifted. “I was wondering if I’m up for the challenge of catching for you until she does get here.”

Ginny frowned, still unsure about what he was getting at.

“I really don’t mind being the metaphorical punching bag for you, G, but maybe you’ll be more willing to talk to her about whatever’s bothering you when she gets back,” Blip finally explained.

Ginny let out a small breath as she let his words ruminate in her mind. Apparently, it wasn’t difficult to note that something was wrong with her. Still…

It was more so muscle memory that readied her next pitch, strong and fast as ever, without warning back towards Blip.

 

****

 

He was supposed to had showed up in some capacity that day. Okay, he’d called her that morning, but that hadn’t went too far. So she had expected him, at some point, to try again, to fix what was somehow cracked between them.

Ginny hadn’t expected to go the whole day without hearing from Mike. She hadn’t expected for… whatever this issue was… to go on as long as it had. Because it hadn’t been that long ago that she was laying on a beach with the realization that she loved the man.

But… he hadn’t called again. Not within all those hours she’d spent away and was with the Sanders. And, no, even with a gentle niggling- that bordered on rapt curiosity and nosiness- from Ev, Ginny hadn’t unburdened herself. She couldn’t have, no matter how much Ginny would have loved to have someone to bounce all those thoughts she’d had off of. Mike hadn’t called in the few hours since she’d been home, filling her time with television, food, and internet.

When enough had become enough, when sitting around and being stagnant had taken its toll on her, she was more than ready to change the atmosphere she was in.

A hot shower had been the a great start. Dressing in her workout gear had been the next best step. One way to jumpstart of her was a stimulating workout during early morning hours. She was hoping that the same kind of workout would help end her day.

Her exercise routine had included Mike.

Not this time, though…

Ginny shoved her right foot into her shoe, suddenly annoyed that she’d let the thought of him enter her mind. But, of course, he was a reason why she was going to try, again, to put her energy into something physical to forget about him.

Leaning down, shoelaces gripped with her fingers, she heard the ring of her phone that was sitting on her bed only a few feet away. She made quick work of the laces, only to untie them when the tightness was unbelievably too tight. There was a small grimace at the thought of taking the time to re-tie it again before giving up and walking over to the bed and the phone.

The back of the phone was facing her. She grabbed it up quickly, turning it around and finding the text filling the screen.

I’m such a fuck up.

So… Ginny wasn’t the only one still beating their self up at the moment.

Instead of sitting on the bed, she fell down to the floor. Her legs bent at the knee and she rested her phone there in her hands, staring at the text message. It took her another few seconds before she took the time to open the thread of messages, only giving a cursory glance at the five or last messages they’d sent prior to last night’s phone call.

There was a stupid ache coursing through her chest, and she wanted it to go away. But she knew why it was there. She missed him, wanted this thing to pass by and let them get back to them . That’s what she wanted.

Ginny twisted around on the floor until her back was able to rest against the edge of the bed. Grasping the phone in her hands, she re-read the text message.

Mike was still in that self-deprecating place. What he’d reminded her earlier was that he had a past. It was a topic of conversation that had been brought up before. Only then, she’d been much of a willing participant in making sure he realized that his past didn’t mean anything to her. So why…

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m waiting to be the judge of that.

Because, no matter how much she wished it wasn’t true, Ginny was waiting. Waiting to be on the same page as Mike. Waiting for life to go back to what it was.

The fact that there was no response immediately…. She dropped the phone on the floor beside her. She eyed the way her shoelaces laid limply across her shoe. It was only then that she went back to the task of tying it. She continued to ignore the phone as she went ahead and tied the other shoe as well, very carefully and meticulously.

She left the phone there as she placed both hands on the carpeted floor beneath her and lifted herself up. Her gym bag was all packed up, sitting on bed. Her headphones were on the dresser, though. Ginny, with heavy and purposeful steps, walked over to grab them.

She only took a second to glance at her reflection in the mirror. Yep, it was still her. The quiet pounding of her pulse was unrecognizable on the outside. Then she looked down, ducking her head to place the headphones around her neck.

Her head twisted around first, her gaze suddenly going to the floor where she’d left the phone, before the rest of her had turned.

Mike had texted her first… His phone had been in his hands… and he had texted her. She hadn’t taken that long before she had responded. Yet…

Ginny felt the tension gathering in the creases of her mouth. Noticing it, she instantly parted her lips and let her tongue from one side to the other.

She shook her head, and once careful and considerate steps were now quick little steps back to her bed. She reached out for her gym bag, dragging it to the edge and quickly unzipping it. Just a quick check to make sure she had everything, that was all…

I’m such a fuck up.

That’s what Mike had texted her. But, what if…

Her hands came to rest on her hips for all of two seconds before she bent over to pick the phone up off of the floor. She refused to look at it, but instead tucked it into the pocket of her jacket.

Why hadn’t he…

Ginny’s hands went up into her hair, pulling out the hair tie before turning her once-tight ponytail into a tighter ponytail.

There was nothing left to do but to grab her gym bag and her keys and then leave.

What if…

Instead of wrapping her hand around the strap of her bag, it dived back into her pocket of her jacket. With a press of the power button and a couple of swipes through the screens, she was back at Mike’s thread of text messages.

Six minutes. All of six minutes had passed since he’d sent the text.

What if… it hadn’t been meant for her?

I’m such a fuck up.

What if…

“Shit.” Ginny muttered the curse as she stuff the phone back in her pocket, shaking her head the whole time. Her laugh that escaped her mouth was mirthless. Who was she turning into? This wasn’t her. This wasn’t her!

Maybe. Maybe not.

Whatever Mike was, she was ready to find out. And, apparently, if it was left up to him, then it didn’t look like she was going to be the judge of that tonight.

Ginny bunched up her shoulders, her head angling to the side, and then she scooped up her bag by the strap. She pulled  it over one shoulder as her free hand came up to adjust her headphones from around her neck and over her head until they were covering her ears. Eyelashes fluttering in annoyance, her mouth was tight as she turned around and headed towards the door.

Well, if Mike had accomplished anything by the way he’d chosen to reach out to her, it was the energy to expel with a grueling workout at the gym.

Chapter Text

 

She should have been used to it by now, the celebrity, the adoration. But kids were different. The gravity of being a role model for the generation underneath hers was easy to spot as they stood there in awe and open amazement of not only her, but her teammates. And that… was something that might always surprise Ginny.

Although she’d known about the event for quite some time, she hadn’t realized then what head space she was going to be in when the day finally came. She didn’t know that while trying to support and raise money for sports in elementary schools, she was going to also have to separate personal from professional. That was… even when her personal had suddenly intertwined so heavily with that professional.

The San Diego Padres players had been a special surprise for all those attending the charity event, an attempt to raise funds for sports throughout elementary schools in the district. They were supposed to had been announced at 1:45pm, nearly two hours into the event; a surprise for all the families participating. Ginny and a half dozen other Padres were supposed to offer a few words on the importance of sports in the world today, as well as producing a sizable check in the name of the team. And after that…

Ginny hadn’t been surprised when Mike had been the last one to show up into the little room the Padres had been ushered into to wait out their surprise appearance. She hadn’t had any reason to think he wouldn’t show up, but why wouldn’t he avoid her for as long as he could?

She remembered when he walked in, his fingers coming up to grab at the arm of his sunglasses, pulling them off of his face. He scanned the perimeter of the room, offering a raise of a single brow in acknowledgement of someone else in the room. He flashed a quick smile, all white teeth as he nibbled at the chewing gum in his mouth.

That’s when Ginny had turned away from Sunny, who she had been keeping busy with in a conversation. That’s when she’d folded her arms over her chest, held tight, and propped up the heel of one foot while pressing all of her weight on the other leg.

The fact that a few days had passed, with little interaction between them, was not going to change anything when they were finally in the same room together. Anyway, today wasn’t about them. It was about something bigger than the misunderstanding that was over their heads.

Ginny had avoided him in that room. There had been a part of her that was happy that he’d shown up last minute. Just less time she’d had to deal with all of it. But that had just been the beginning of their afternoon. Just the beginning…

It was being among her teammates and their fans that had finally lifted her spirits some. It had been seeing the concern on their faces, turning hopeful as she assured them in person that she was ready for a new season with the Padres. It had been the opportunity to promote her team and their dedication to supporting their community. It had been seeing the excited faces, interacting with them in a positive light, that had brought her spirit up. Even if it meant being in the same space as Mike, without much interaction between just the two of them.

That was okay, right? Mentally shrugging off her own issues, it had been easy to plaster on a smile, even one thrown in Mike’s direction from across space. But… sometimes thoughts of him and her had crept to the forefront of her mind.

It only became worse when fate had thrown the two of them together. Avoidance between two people at a fairly sizable event should’ve been possible. Only… sometimes that wasn’t the case at all.. Hm…



****

 

There had been name tags at two different tables, splitting the teammates up during the scheduled half-hour of autograph time. There was a part of Ginny that wished she’d been looking at Mike from across the other side of the room. There was another part of her that struggled with the fact that Mike Lawson was not only sitting at the same table as she, but also sitting right there to the right of her. He was sitting close enough that her elbow had a way of bumping into his personal space, knocking into his own arm as she scribbled her name across a glossy photo of herself done up in Padres gear.

“Sorry,” she muttered just loudly enough.

“Not a problem,” Mike assured her immediately.

And then Ginny made the wrong decision to look over at him, finding a pen twirling around his fingers as a solemn yet blank face stared at her.

It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d realized that she loved him. Ginny Baker had fallen in love with Mike Lawson and… nothing had come of it.

We need to talk. She was close to blurting out the obvious, but it was the reality of where they were, as Mike turned his attention to the fan standing in front of him.

The glossy print sporting her freshly-inked autograph was lifted up in her fingers. She plastered a smile on her face just as she looked up at the fan, offering the photo up to her.

“Thanks, Ginny.” Even as the young teenager said it, his gaze was locked on the autograph now in his hands.

“No, thanks for coming out,” she told him. “It was nice meeting you.”

His smile was huge once he looked back at her. And then he was moving down the line, coming in contact with Salvamini on her left. With as many people there clamoring for personalized autographs, the line was moving like a conveyor belt, only the briefest of conversation being held. And maybe that should have helped. Maybe that should have left Ginny less time to fill her mind with the man sitting beside her. Still…

“I think I’ve loved you just about my whole adult life, Mike Lawson.”

Ginny’s fingers paused on the new photo placed in front of her by the next person in line. The breathy declaration made by Mike’s newest autograph recipient caused Ginny’s slack-mouth as she looked up at the her.

“You were the only poster on my wall for a little while,” the woman told him.

That had earned a huff of laughter to escape him, and as Ginny licked her lips, she saw the twisting smirk that was instantly on his face. She wondered if she had crossed his mind in that moment, if he’d thought about the way he’d teased her about having his poster on her bedroom wall. It almost caused a blush to creep over her. Almost...

“Ginny?”

Whatever answer Mike had for her, Ginny missed it. It was only with a tinge of embarrassment on her end that she looked back at the fan currently in front of her.

There was a nervous excitement about her, her fingers gripping together, perhaps bouncing on the balls of her feet as she tried not to smile too widely at Ginny.

“Hi there,” Ginny offered, turning her attention fully to the photo in front of her. It took concerted effort to listen for the name of her fan, followed by the signature being scribbled on one more picture.

“Thanks,Ginny,” she said in awe, sliding the picture back towards her.

“Thanks for coming out today,” was Ginny’s response as she mustered up a genuine enough smile.

The fan had nodded, smile just as big as anyone else Ginny had encountered that day.

Offering her own little nod, Ginny watched as she moved toward Salvamini. And then, turning back and expecting the next in line to be in front of her…

“I mean, I’ve been married for three years now,” Mike’s number one fan informed him. “But my husband has begrudgingly come to terms with the fact that I love you with all of my heart.”

For a moment, Ginny had the chance to watch the way Mike’s eyes crinkled in amusement, that tight and amused smile being offered up at his fan. His hand, letting go of his pen, fingers flexed wide and taking over a fair amount of the table, slid across it until it was grabbing hold of hers.

He was going to kiss her…

Why was that an irrational thought that crossed Ginny’s mind?

“Well, if your husband doesn’t mind, I’m not going to complain either,” Mike assured her smoothly. He let go of her hand just then, moving back and grabbing up the pen once more. “Thanks, Brittany.”

Sighing, she picked up her picture. “Thank you, Mike.”

It wouldn’t have surprised Ginny if she would have hugged the picture to her chest… Damn! Drumming her fingers of left hand on the table while picking up her pen with her right, she felt the fierce pull of her brows as she nibbled gently at her bottom lip for just a second. If that didn’t come off as petty jealousy, she didn’t know what did. It was just…

Even with the switch, even as Mike’s number one fan stood in front of her and the line continued to move, Ginny did a ninety degree turn, her foot coming out from under the table and planting between her and Mike’s chairs.

“Mike?” she called out, hand resting on her knee as she leaned towards him.

His head turned in her direction, offering only the smallest of frowns before leaning down towards her.

At least he hadn’t ignored her. And she was going to believe that it had nothing to do with being in public together and putting up the right front.

“What?” he asked gruffly. But…

There was a definite softening in him. There was a definite lax in the shoulder closest to her, an ease in the purse of his lips, a moment where his gaze on her was unguarded.

“What, Ginny?” he asked quietly.

Goddamn her! All she wanted was to…

“We need to talk,” Ginny finally got out.

Mike slipped back in his seat, putting space between them once more. And whatever she’d seen in him for those mere seconds was now gone.

“Can we talk after this?” she whispered quickly, not caring that the plea for her need was written completely over her face.

With one hand grabbing at the bottom of the chair, Mike scooted closer to the table. His other hand was swiping across the end of his beard. Then he gave the shortest and quickest of nods. A brief glance back at Ginny was the final acknowledgement he gave her.

Ginny hadn’t realized until then that she had been holding in a breath. Feeling a bit of ease creeping into her chest, she sat back up in her chair.

He was going to talk to her. After days of miscommunication, he was going to…

Taking a small bite of her cheek, Ginny hissed air into her mouth between her teeth.

“Hi, Ginny,” Brittany said brightly, seemingly still high off her encounter with Mike.

Ginny pasted on another smile. “Hi. Thanks for coming out today!”

 

****

 

She was tired of tiptoeing around, waiting for the perfect opportunity to happen so that she could talk to Mike. If there was ever a time that she was over gatherings of any number of people, now would be that time.

Ginny’s arms hang loosely in front of her, held together by just the tips of her fingers. Ushered back into the small room where the Padres had started their day, she was now surrounded by her teammates once more as they were getting ready to make their exits. She grounded the toe of her shoe into the floor as she looked around the room. Mike had been making small talk with Miller for long enough. They had things to discuss, didn’t they?

“Baker.”

Ginny spun around at Sonny’s voice calling her, coming in close contact with him.

Softly punching his fist into his hand, he offered her a smile. “It looks like we’re moving this thing to the closest grill and bar possible. Are you free to come along?”

She took a step back, planting her foot behind her and her arms came to fold over her chest. “Who? The team?”

“An impromptu gathering, yeah,” he said, giving a nod.

Unable to stop herself, Ginny bit down on her lip as she quickly turned her head in the direction of where she’d last seen Mike.

“Actually, I had some business to take care of,” she murmured, turning just as quickly back to Sunny. Her arms tightened over her chest, her chin lifting about an inch. “But if I get the chance…”

Sonny moved then, his hand coming out to clasp her shoulder.

“Okay.” It was that simple. That easy.  “See you around then.” Giving her shoulder a good pat, he walked off from her.

Ginny’s arms fell away and she twisted back around. Her eyes didn’t track Sonny as he made his way to the Padre in closest proximity. Instead…

Mike had finished his conversation with Miller, she noticed. She watched as he slipped his hand into his front pocket, coming out with the phone that had been there.

Someone else was going to get to him first if she waited…

Tilting her head, Ginny rolled her shoulders as she put one foot in front of the other. Phone calls and text messages hadn’t produced any more understanding between the two of the since all of this had  gone down. For the first time in days, she had Mike in front of her.

He gaze locked on hers from a couple yards away. Standing locked in his his position, he took another glance at his phone, let his thumb swipe across the screen a few times, and then dropped the phone back in his pocket. After that, there was only time to wait for her to make her way to him.

I missed you. Standing in front of him, watching the visible swallow as both hands went into his pockets and stayed there, the slight hunch of his shoulders as he settled into his own body… I missed you . It wasn’t the right thing to lead with. We need to talk. Well, that would be stating the obvious.

Ginny closed the gap between them, slipping a foot between the space that his legs had created, and leaned forward into him, her mouth aiming for his ear.

Mike turned his head, bringing his beard in contact with her cheek.

“We’re in public, don’t forget that,” he muttered before she was able to get anything out herself.

It felt like an admonishment. “I know,” she assured him quietly. “We need to talk.” A shoulder came up sharply. “And the fact that we’re in public just means I can’t yell at you.”

There was a huff of laughter that she hadn’t expected coming from him as he pulled back, creating some space between them. Lips pressed firmly into a straight line, his eyelashes were low as he tilted his head down and looked her over. The hands in his pocket began to move, but stayed put in their hiding place.

For a second, for just a moment, Ginny wished she could let everything bad that had ever happened between them go away. It was probably in that moment she’d let caution fly out the window…

“Miss me?” she asked, with an almost smile as she folded her hands over her chest. And why couldn’t he just say…

Mike lifted his chin in her direction, a single brow lifting as he leaned in just so towards her.

“I’ve got a helluva lot of baggage, Baker,” he whispered gravelly at her. “And this? This is just some of it.”

“You think I don’t know you have baggage?” Ginny blurted out, maybe a little too loudly, her eyes growing wide with indignation. And she didn’t stop. “We were in a good place before you met up with Rachel.” Her arms fell to her side, although it had been tempting to grab at him.

“Public?” The calm features, the way he nonchalantly scanned what he could see of the room, the way his shoulders rounded as he hunched in closer to her, the way he stood there innocently. “Remember that?”

Damn. Damn him. Damn the situation. Ginny wasn’t an erratic person. Even if this instance, she wouldn’t necessarily go that far. So why couldn’t she find a calming center right then?

“I remember,” she bit out, taking a step back from him. She felt the fierce frown, and tried her damndest to remove it from her face. “We were in a good place, Mike,” she repeated again, her hands coming together and placed between them.

Mike blinked, once, twice. “I warned you. I warned you that I came with baggage,” he reminded her, shaking his head.

“We also said that this wasn’t a repeat of our pasts,” she reminded him evenly, but her eyes cut hard. “So maybe I didn’t expect to deal with it, in this way.”

She was met with silence at that. A shifting of his hands inside his pockets, but other than that, his stare was on her, and nothing else.

Were they going to stay at this standstill? Was he going to offer anything else?

There had been days that had passed since the incident. They had been on no clearer path in all that time. Now… now she had Mike in front of him. And what changed in her?

Ginny loved him. Having him in front of her, that was her truth, it was something she couldn’t deny. It was something that she didn’t want to deny. And yet… there was so much she didn’t know.

She opened her mouth, and waited for something to fall out. Something. Anything…

“I don’t know what you want.” Her eyes lifted as her mouth slacked open, still searching for the words. “I don’t know… Maybe you’re not over Rachel.”

The ragged sigh he let out sounded of disgust. “I’m so damn over that plot point.”

“Maybe you just lost interest in me,” Ginny said, ignoring his words and continuing to tick off possibilities. “Maybe this was… what it was and nothing more. Maybe… you want something easier than this. Or maybe you don’t want anything at all.”

“Gin…” His hands came out of his pockets and his arms were quick to fold over his chest. The space she had put between them disappeared as he took two steps to get right into her face. Indecision and going through the thought process was written over his face as he chewed at his bottom lip and his stern gaze met her eye to eye.

Seeing the indecision, seeing him think…

Maybe… she was right. And maybe that hurt just a little too much for a public conversation with the man who she’d fallen in love with…

“Do you even know, Mike?” Ginny asked, shaking her head slowly, staring right at him. She refused to feel crushed. Or, better yet, chose to leave that feeling for a later time.

Mike gave a single shake of his head. “Never said I had everything figured out.” He gave a hard shrug. “Probably wouldn’t be a total fuck up if I understood all the bad stuff.”

Ginny offered up a sad smile. “Well, that’s baggage for you.” There was such a sadness overcoming her from the inside, and she tried her best to not let it show on the outside. “So… how about you figure this out, once and for all, and let me know?” She took in a deep and sudden breath. “Figure your shit out, Mike. And soon.”

Feeling close to her breaking point, she walked around him her arms wrapped around her chest and a deep scowl covering her face. The scowl had to leave. Lifting her head high, removing every bit of emotion from her face, she walked to the door, readying herself to be removed from the situation. At least for now.

 

****

 

Ginny Baker was supposed to be off limits. That’s the way it had began. Sole female rookie in Major League Baseball. She was Blip’s unofficial sister. She was Mike’s teammate.  He was her captain. She was supposed to be his baseball legacy.

And Mike had stayed away. For a while. It was true that he’d almost kissed her. And it wasn’t only Ginny who had put a stop to it. They were both willing to admit that a hookup had repercussions. Repercussions that weren’t worth it that time.

But then things had changed. Something undeniable had been forged between them. That’s when they had went into this things, eyes wide open and without expectations. A chance to give those always-lingering feelings time to flourish, And flourish they had. Mike had wanted Ginny Baker even more than he’d realized in the beginning.

Mike planted the heel of his foot into his mattress, digging himself up. He ignored the protest of his lower back, only grimacing slightly as he laid against the headrest. Instead of a inconsequential pain in his back, he frowned at the phone in his hand.

He missed talking to her at night, having her voice in his ear. Or at least… having her voice in his ear when it was complaining about his ex-wife or the baggage he carried. What he missed… What he missed was... being called out on his bullshit, he missed the easy back and forth banter that was old and new, he missed the way she had opened up to him, and was continuing to open up to him, he missed his best friend.

Best friend…

It hadn’t been difficult to let her quietly yell out her frustration at him earlier in the day.

God, seeing her at the event… She’d been a sight for sore eyes.

Best friend...

What was the truth? See, that was what he wasn’t sure about. What was real?

Without a conscious thought about it in his head, his thumb had thumbed through pages and pages on his phone, somehow bringing up an image of her right in front of him.

Was it, what they had together, fucking real… or not? Because… twenty-four-year-old Ginny Baker didn’t need the fucking head games he was currently playing with himself. She deserved… better than that. So, right now, was she a prize he’d won and would want to let go, for better or worse, soon enough?

Well, with his eyes darting across the screen of his phone, looking at that smile and imagining her laugh emanating from her… Well, right now… he wished she was laying in his bed next to him. That’s where his thoughts took him: wanting Ginny next to him, as he wrapped his arms around her waist, laying his chin against her shoulder, falling asleep with her.

His arms wrapped around her. Because…

He wasn’t chasing her, was he? He’d caught her. Had her. And was content, damn content, because of it.

But knowing him…

Goddamn, he was a goddamn fuck up. And he’d never been more tired of having to admit it.

“Damn.” Mike muttered it under his breath. Rolling his eyes in annoyance, his thumb scrolled out of the random pictures of Ginny. He felt his throat almost close up, swallowing that feeling and wincing, his eyes squinting. “Just… fuck it.” He found her phone number, his thumb slipping away from the screen. But… fuck it … He pressed the call button, sealing his fate.

It was late- he was in bed, after all- but it wasn’t too late. It wasn’t impossible that she wouldn’t answer.

Mike listened to the phone ring in his ear, once, twice, three times…

It was also possible that she wouldn’t answer, that she would ignore him in some kind of payback, payback he wasn’t sure he wasn’t entitled to…

“Hello.”

It seemed all of a sudden, or maybe it was because he’d been all in his head.

“Mike?”

He held his breath once he heard the skepticism in her voice. Nodding his head, his eyes steady on a spot on the mattress, his mouth puckered for a second.

“Ginny, we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Mike dipped his chin down, letting his nose come in close contact with the lip of the beer bottle in his hand. He sniffed in the scent, his nose wrinkling at the smell. Maybe it was because he’d been nursing the same bottle for more than twenty minutes. Twenty minutes. Because he had been sitting in the corner booth for nearly thirty minutes already, trying his damndest to not think too hard about anything at all while he waited for Ginny to join him. That wasn’t always easy to accomplish…

He’d gotten there more than a half hour before their agreed upon time. That could have been due to some nervous energy. Or maybe it was because it was better to be situated inside the bar instead of alone at home waiting.

Ginny had seen him when he was down and out; she hadn’t seen him at his worst (even if maybe she’d thought she’d had), but she’d seen close enough. She’d known the imperfection that he was plagued with, and she hadn’t ran away. Ginny had seen him push away, and in the end… In the end, she had figuratively knocked him up the side of his head and told him to get his fucking shit together.

The thought made Mike huff out a puff of laughter. He hadn’t been able to muster up an astonished laugh at the time, but now… He tightened his hand over the beer bottle as he threw his head back and took a hard and fast gulp. He wasn’t chasing. He’d had a moment of pushing away, but he wasn’t chasing . He hadn’t been chasing. And Ginny…

He hadn’t heard when the door had opened, but he caught sight of her out the corner of his eye, coming into view. The bottle slipped away from his lips and,with a conscious effort, landed quietly on the table in front of him. This time, it was the lump that had formed in his throat he gulped down, once, twice, before he could breathe clearly.

Mike remembered another time he had watched Ginny Baker walk into a bar with sights set out on him. On that evening, she’d been a knockout, dressed to impress and doing nothing but that. On this early afternoon, she was still a knockout, hair pulled back in a ponytail that was covered by the dark-colored ballcap, a well-worn and comfortable-looking cotton t-shirt, and simple dark jeans. She looked… good enough to take his breath away. She looked good enough to to have him realize… what a fucking bastard he could truly be.

For the last couple of months, he’d had Ginny. And she’d had him. The fact that Mike hadn’t had the need to be cautious, to dredge up his own fears or drown in his own lack of self-worth, just proved how natural it was. It wasn’t something he’d tried to make work out while he saw Ginny fading away, losing or feigning interest in what they were building. No, that had been Mike’s relationship with Rachel. It wasn’t something he could take just as easily as he could let go because there was nothing there beyond the superficial. No, that had been Amelia. No...  Because even though it always hadn’t be simple and easy, making it work was something to be proud of. And even when there was self-doubt in their own selves, that didn’t mean this was something he could leave as easily as he could take. No… This with Ginny? This thing with Ginny… was different. He…

Each of Ginny’s steps were slow and with purpose as first one heel of her tennis shoe pressed carefully into the floor, followed by the descent of the toe of that shoe, and then all over again. Her head barely turned as her gaze, which was away from him, probably scanned the room.

Another gulp, followed by a quick swallow of beer before the bottle slipped back to the table and Mike pushed it away.

For all of his issues, for all that was wrong with him, the truth of the matter was that Mike had come to care more than he’d ever realized he could about the woman who was supposed to be his legacy, the woman who had this dream that had her reaching for the farthest star and was well on her way to capturing it. He more than just cared for the woman who had far more important moves in her life than that of an aging pitcher who was at the end of his own career.

“Fuck.” The curse had slipped out, almost unbeknownst to him. But the mutter brought him back to the here and now.

Sitting up, taking that time to let his eyes settle on the quiet sexiness and beauty of Ginny Baker, his hand came up to his mouth to cover it as he cleared his throat roughly.

“Ginny.” It was still raspy. He felt the tenseness in the corners of his mouth and the way his brows furrowed low in a frown. “Ginny,” Mike called again, hating the unsettled feeling going on in his chest.

She’d heard him that time, turning around in his direction at once.

Hand bracing the edge of the table, Mike half-lifted himself up from his seat before hardly sinking back down. Was he supposed to stand up for her, greet her accordingly? Maybe? Maybe not? Fuck. Instead, he let his hand run across the bottom half of his face, an attempt to loosen that scowl that had settled there.

“Ginny,” he called again, this time her name leaving his mouth softly.

Turned in his direction, ballcap almost shielding her eyes, Ginny lifted her chin the merest of an inch before giving a single nod.

She hadn’t had to come here today. She hadn’t had to consent to meeting him...

God, he really did miss what they had created; the friendship, the ease, the camaraderie. It wasn’t as if Ginny Baker was this elusive woman who shied away from being open to those in her life. It was just… the bond that was between them? It had to have meant some- No, it did. The bond between them meant something… And that something was…

It was something that was so much more...

Mike pressed himself into the booth, his back hitting the cushion as his gaze settled on her, trying very hard to focus on the here and now.

Standing next to her would-be seat, if she chose to take it, Ginny’s eyes darted across the table before setting sights right on him. She gave a brief nod, her chin dropping just so as her lips pressed together and inward as the fingers of her left hand skirted up her hip.

“We need to talk.”

So formalities such as Hello weren’t needed, apparently.

Maybe it was an attempt at erasing the other day. And if that was so, if she was willing to let go of the jackassery that he showed yesterday…

The tip of Mike’s tongue almost reached the corner of his lip. He tilted his head towards the open seat beside Ginny in the booth.

“We need to talk,” he murmured in agreement. “Sit down, Baker.”

Because it was still so easy to share that gruff exterior…

She sat down easily enough, sliding into the booth and settling close to the edge.

Mike was caught off guard by the scent of her as she quietly took up space, settling into her seat. He should have been prepared for it. Didn’t know why he wasn’t, to be honest. But he wasn’t surprised that his next thought was the scent of her perfuming his bedsheets and pillows. Or inhaling that scent as his nose was nuzzled up against her shoulder or into her back. Why was that image so damn clear in his mind and so fucking soothing?

Mike heard the gruff sigh before he even realized he was doing it. His eyes blinked twice on the small space on the table between them, the frown only increasing. His shoulders hunched over just as he hung his head a bit lower, thinking on where to start.

He wanted a different narrative. He needed a different narrative. It couldn’t be the same thing over and over again. Because the same thing over and over again hadn’t gotten them anywhere. And that included her part. Just the thought of Ginny getting miffed off as she brought up his ex-wife had Mike crunching the toe of his shoe into the floor beneath him.

“Some more of the same?”

Ginny’s quiet accusation, and it was an accusation, sent a cold chill throughout Mike’s entire body. Did he deserve the condescending tone? He was on the fence with that one, but not about making sure this didn’t turn into the same thing. There was even a bit of furious blood running through his body. All because of her. But that fact also gave him a rush of joy.

Fucking smartass… Ginny Baker was a smartass, and… even when it made his blood boil, he couldn’t admit to himself that he actually hated that trait in her…

The frown returned to Mike’s face, almost a grimace, in fact.

“I’m thirty-seven.” The first fact fell from his mouth so very slowly and so very carefully. Mike knew, as his eyes stayed transfixed on the table between them, only the most peripheral sight of Ginny’s arm resting there, that there was going to be a lot of rehashing of facts they’d already brought up. But this time… This time, there was going to be some substance behind those words.

“I’m a thirty-seven-year-old pro-baseball pitcher at the tail-end of his career,” he clarified. “Without a ring, I’ve still had a fulfilling career.” Mike lifted his hand up into his beard, his eyes staying focused on the table as his hand dragged across his face. “I’ve been married.” His head tilted at that fact, trying to brush over the mess that that fact had been in his life, which ran into his next fact. “I’ve been divorced. I’ve enjoyed the pleasures of what it’s like to be the hot single athlete, having my choice of women to keep me occupied.” His shoulder hiked up instantly. “That’s just the simple truth.”

From across the table, Ginny took in a deep breath. Maybe it had been his words. Maybe it had been his tone. Maybe it had been the fact that she was as over the separation and was ready to get down to the truth of the matter just as much as he was. Whatever the reason, that breath signaled something in Mike.

Still, it wasn’t enough to get him to look up at her. And yet it was the push he needed to continue.

Mike let his fingertips glide along the edge of the table, both hands starting in the middle and making their way to the end, gliding over the grooves and rough edges before they came back together. Just a couple of seconds before he continued.

“All of that is an aside,” he murmured roughly, knowing that was the case, his eyes blinking down into his lap before he settled on his hands in front of him. “None of that changes who I am, and what I’ve been for a long time.” More truth, he thought as his jaw ticked and he squinted eyed focused on those hands. “And what I am is a moody bastard who gets stuck in his ways. And that’s not always easy… Not for the people around me. Or even myself sometimes.” It wasn’t news to himself, was it? “I’m hard on those around me, but even harder on myself.”

Mike looked up then, lifting his lowered lashes until he came in contact with the soft features of the lower half of her face. Her ballcap shielded her own eyes and the bridge of her nose. But the strong yet soft jawline was there; her full and pouty lips were visible; her firm chin, pointing down, was there. Beautiful, and that was just plain and simple.  But…

That wasn’t everything about Ginny Baker. No, not in the least. And she also didn’t get a reprieve simply because he was a bastard and that wasn’t going to change….

There was a reason why his moody and curmudgeon ways had tipped the scale.

Mike found himself shaking his head, his eyes lifting a bit higher. He pressed his hands back into the wood of the table as he turned his chin a bit forward, attempting to come in contact with more of her face, almost catching her eye. Maybe she realized the turn in tide, because the bill of that cap went just a little lower over her face.

Had the fact that he’d paused not been clue enough for her? A low grunt emanated from deep in his throat as his head tilted even more, an attempt at gaining her full attention.

In the space of three ticks of a second, Ginny had rounded her shoulders and pressed the small of her back into the booth. It was at least another three seconds before her chin jerked up and the cap shielding her eyes lifted a degree or two.

A hint of long lashes… A hint of warm brown eyes would have been better.

Hadn’t there been a time, fairly recently, that she had taken a step back? Hadn’t there been a time where he’d had to coax her out of something? Or was he just as much to blame as she had been?

It was getting difficult to discern...

“Ginny Baker, you push buttons,” Mike finally got out, thick from the truth. How much farther could he turn his head in an attempt to have her attention? “Not only mine, let’s be real. You are a fucking smartass …” Her eyes, cutting, finally made their way to his at that comment. Mike didn’t have time to embrace the small leap of his heart in his chest at the victory. Instead, “A fucking smartass ,” Mike repeated, feeling it was warranted, “who has the ability to push my buttons.”

Ginny’s hands came up to the bill of her cap, tugging it up, and when her hands fell away, allowed him to finally get a good look at her face.

“Well, no reason for me to bring up my own shortcomings, huh?” she asked, quite glibly.

It didn’t stop Mike from taking that moment, internalizes every little piece of her that was in front of him. His stupid pride and personal offenses hadn’t let him take her in the other day they were together. It had been more important to stay unattached, more important to be aloof, even when she had tried to get him to talk. Again, just one more reason to add to the lucky column that she had showed up today.

Mike’s bottom lip poked out as he shook his head. A single brow raised as he feigned thought that over, “Nope, there’s always enough room to add own for yourself.” His mouth quirked in a quick, sudden, soon-gone smile. After one second of silence turned into two, three, four, five… His shoulders caved in again as he folded his hands over the table, his held tilting toward the wall their booth was against. “I miss this,” he muttered, the admission coming out thick. “I miss this a lot.”

“Couldn’t tell when you did everything in your power to ignore me,” Ginny countered.

Mike looked back at her to find her folding her arms over the table and matching his position.

He blinked slowly at her before, “See? Smartass,” came out of his mouth. The fingers of his right hand flexed, and almost of their own volition reached across the space between them. “You’re pushing it, but I guess I’m in too good of a mood to get pissy about it.” He didn’t touch her hand in turn. Instead, he pulled his hand back and stacked it over the other one. “Especially when I can come up with times where you pulled something similar.”

Ginny sucked in her cheek, her head tilting, and then her mouth opened before it closed again. Catching the sight of the waiter who’d took his beer order from the corner of his eyes instantly let Mike know why. They both turned in the waiter’s direction, but it was Ginny who spoke.

“Just a bottled water.” Her hand had been up, pausing the waiter from having to go through any spiel. “Thanks.”

Mike glanced at her, seeing the hint of smile she’d offered the waiter who was now backing away. His eyebrows settled low as he grabbed at the forgotten beer bottle. He only took a sip, watching Ginny settle back in her seat, before he pushed the bottle towards the far end of the table.

And then he was left to clear his throat once more, catching Ginny’s eyes on him.

“What?” he finally asked.

It took a moment of silence from her, a moment where her stony yet soft face watched his.

“I don’t care that you’re thirty-seven,” Ginny finally said slowly and quietly. There was a small inhalation of breath taken before she continued. “But you should know that, because we already went through that.”

Yeah, that was true. But it didn’t stop it from being an issue with him.

Did that cross her mind as well, because next came, “You told me our age difference didn’t matter to you either. That’s what you said.”

Mike drummed his fingers on the table in front of him. He gave a single shake of his head.

“It doesn’t matter to me, in that regard,” he tried to explain. “It’s just a fact. I mean, there’s a reason they tend to call me ‘old man’.”

The corner of Ginny’s mouth lifted. “Sounds like a term of endearment to me.”

“Term of endearment, huh?” he couldn’t stop himself from asking.

Ginny’s hands disappeared from the table to hide somewhere underneath it. “From me, a term of endearment, yeah,” she admitted quietly. And...

Fuck his life…

Then she looked away, away from him and towards the bar. “But if there’s ever a time you’re feeling…. unsure about it, I don’t mind hearing about it.” Her eyes found a spot on their table smack dab in between them. “Same thing goes for your career, Mike.”

She’d said his name. For the first time that day, she’d spoken his name, and it was another one of those moments where Mike had to look past a certain feeling rushing through his body.

“Yeah, we talked about that, too.”

“You know your life doesn’t end with saying goodbye to the game,” Ginny muttered with a shrug. Her hands came back up onto the table, fingers linking together as her hunched shoulders led the way to her leaning towards him. “Team Padres, right? Family for life, right?”

He hadn’t expected… whatever this was from Ginny. Serene. Non-confrontation. Not yelling. Not cursing him out for his stupidity. Not knocking him upside his head figuratively for all the shit he’d put her through.

“I told you that,” Mike reminded her. “That’s all true.”

So Ginny was used to his curmudgeon ways. And, yeah, she could get pissy angry with him when he was in the wrong. She could even hold a grudge. But it hadn’t stopped her from caring (because she did care) for him. Just as much as he cared for her.

Care…

Mike’s tongue flattened against the roof of his mouth as he kept the frown he was feeling inward instead of on his face.

Care…

I miss you.

Wasn’t that always easy to admit to her? Just as easy as it was to show her how much he cared for her.

He tried not to just stare at her, but couldn’t stop himself as he watched every facet of her beautiful face. And then, when he hadn’t continued….

“What we haven’t talked about is whatever your issue is with Rachel,” Ginny said, apparently ready to get to the point. Or, at least, the point that seemed to be the most important to her.

Because they had rehashed all the other stuff.

“I’m a fucking work in progress,” Mike muttered thickly, finally pulling his gaze from hers.

“Yeah?” It sounded dubious, as if that statement didn’t add anything to the here and now. “Are you ready to talk about Rachel?” Whatever calm demeanor he had been able to draw from her earlier seemed to lessen in that question, annoyance creeping up in her voice.

If their phone call that night hadn’t popped into his mind, if he hadn’t immediately had the memory of Ginny cutting him off at every other word coming from his mouth… then he probably would have smiled at that annoyance. Unfortunately, a bit of annoyance crept up into him as well.

“Are you ready to listen without prejudgement?” Mike threw back at her, his lips instantly setting into a grim line. From under the table, his legs spread apart, taking up as much space as possible.

He saw the visible swallow from Ginny. Before she could respond, there was a bottle of water and napkins being set in front of her from the waiter.

Mike glanced up as the waiter asked if there was anything else he could get her, or Mike as well. He let Ginny answer, taking that second to pick up his beer bottle and taking a small swallow before pushing it back again.

God, she had the ability to get under his skin.

When they were alone again, Mike glanced at her, watched the way her own concentration was settled on the water, twisting at the top, gingerly sitting it down, and then raising the bottle to her mouth. It was a long sip before the bottle was sat back down, her hand still clutching it and her other hand reaching for the top and placing it back on.

Okay, Mike had a lot of shortcomings, but Ginny had her own. There were things about herself that she knew she had to work on. She wasn’t perfect, never admitted to being perfect. She could be annoying, annoying as hell, but it didn’t take away from everything amazing about her.

“I’m ready,” Ginny said, the admission strong as she set her eyes straight on his own. Her head tilted just so. “I’m ready.”

Mike felt compelled to not be the one to break the contact between them. He felt compelled to not be weak when she’d said she was ready to finally listen, without prejudgment. So…

He should have spent more time thinking on how to start this part, because…

“When I talked to you that night, I was already agitated over Rachel and lunch,” Mike began, trying not to let that agitation build up in him again. “But that unplanned and last-minute lunch with her had nothing to do with whatever your brain decided to concoct.”

Ginny’s mouth open, but Mike was impressed with the fact that it shut with a sound coming out. She was trying. Good.

“Rachel and I have had our ups and downs, but we’re on pretty solid ground,” Mike continued. Feeling tension in his back, he leaned back into his seat. Putting that space between them, though… “We both understand each other,” he said in a low groan, bringing himself right back over that table and leaning in close and keeping his eyes on Ginny. “We’re friends, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

On her side of the table, Ginny took that moment to grab at her bottle and lay back against the booth. Her features were difficult to read; she didn’t look upset, just hard to read.

“She reminded me of something that day,” Mike murmured, taking in as much of Ginny as he could. He wanted to take the hat off her head; he wanted the shield to be gone. He wanted to reach across the table, take her hand in his, feel her skin against his as he tried to explain the jumbled thoughts of his own head. Better yet, he wanted her sitting next to him, shoulder to shoulder, his face only inches from hers as he explained the complexity of his messed up thoughts.

“What did she remind you of, Mike?” Ginny finally asked after his apparently too-long break.

You like chasing; you don’t like having.

The small intake of breath that had his chest puffing out was involuntary. “She reminded me that, in not so many words, just how messed up I am.”

Ginny’s head dipped down as a thought clearly ran across her mind. “Nice.” She twisted the cap off her water again and took a cool sip.

“Well, like I said.” Mike’s shoulder came up in an easy shrug as he slouched comfortably in his seat. “Not in those words exactly.” He couldn’t tear his stare away from her, taking in the irritated expression led by the smack of her lips, popping of her dimple, and the slight flutter of eyelashes while her attention fell to her water again. “What she said- the fact that I... “ Finding the words was difficult as he was trying to come to terms even as he spoke. “I am… a classic self-saboteur…”

Ginny looked up at him then, nostrils flaring just slightly and shifting her weight to one side of her body and leaning into the table.

“And… I…” Mike felt the heaviness of his heart, feeling like lead weighing him down in his seat. “I didn’t want her to be right about me fucking this thing up between us,” he admitted thickly.

Ginny’s inhalation of breath was audible, the sound of her shoes sliding across the floor as her shoulders squared and she inched away from the table. She probably hadn’t meant for there to be such a visible response…

Mike threw up his hand, closing the gap between them. He nearly rolled his eyes.

“I didn’t tell her about us,” he clarified, half-wondering if that was what had caused the reaction. “She… kinda got it in her head…” Mike’s face took on a frown, his mouth tight in the corners no matter how much he tried to loosen them. “She got it in her head that I looked happy and attributed to… to something personal… instead of professional.” He pulled his hand back as he tilted his head.

Again, there was something going on in that mind of hers. Something he wasn’t quite sure about, especially when she looked away from him, her eyes finding some spot on the table before looking somewhere behind him and then off to the side. He watched the silent way her mouth began to work, the way she finally fell back against the booth again, and then her the fingers of her hands laying palm-up before interlocking.

“You…” Ginny caught his eye for all of a second before something else became more important to her to look at. “You said you couldn’t see me that night.” Those fingers shook towards him to stress that fact.

“I had a lot on my mind,” Mike said plainly. He sucked in his cheek, biting down gently before, “Seeing you- when I was contemplating what… this was,” he said, his hand waving between the space before them. Had it been just a chase? That was what he had been struggling with then.

“God damn it,” he muttered, briefly closing his eyes, grabbing on to the edge of the table and sitting up straight. “Gin, I know what it took for you to go into this thing,” he reminded her thickly. “I know you broke rules, and that was something you didn’t take lightly.”

She was watching him imploringly, her head swaying gently with every word coming from his mouth, her eyes looking wondrous and a bit sad. And it was his fucking fault.

“If…” The lead in his chest only got heavier. “If I… ended up being classic Mike Lawson, sabotaging whatever good thing that was in my personal life, then… you were the one that was going to pay. If…” Mike paused and took a moment to try to swallow down the dryness of his throat. “If I was in this for the thrill of the chase instead of having whatever this could be between us-”

“If it was that, then you’d want quit right then and there,” Ginny cut in, drawing a conclusion to everything he’d said.

“I wasn’t ready to quit.” Honesty plagued him when he leaned into that table and added, “It’s just that your mouth and the fact that you’re a know-it-all pushed me beyond my limits for the night. That was what I was done with.” Both hands came up to run down the length of his face as he took in a deep and steadying breath. “And then it didn’t stop. You didn’t stop. Even the next day, you couldn’t stop being know-it-all Ginny the next day.”

“Which only helped you to see that this thing here- us- was nothing but a mistake,” she deduced. A flexed hand came to smooth over the bill of her cap and then over her covered head. “Because love it or hate it, Mike, that’s not going to change about me.”

A smirk lit up his face in that moment, followed by a small huff of laughter.

“Know-it-all Ginny at work again,” he whispered. He shrugged and offered her a shake of his head.

It all happened simultaneously and instantly.

Ginny’s hands slammed down on the table in front of her as Mike saw her leg come out from underneath it, the words already out her mouth. “Forget you, Mike.”

Wait. Woah.

“Ginny.” His arm rushed out, his body bending and extending as  his hand made the move to clutch any part of her.

The number of patrons in the bar was quite small, but making a scene for the ones who were there was not what Mike meant to do.

“After everything you just said and everything I just said…” He’d grasped her by the wrist, pulling her back. This time, instead of risking the possibility of her leaving instead of filling that spot on the opposite side of the booth, he brought her closer to him. “Of course the conclusion you come to is the cynical one.” Looking up at that waried expression on her face, he gently yanked at her wrist. “Sit down.”

It was with reluctance, or at least she made it seem that way, that she gave into his request (or gentle command), falling into the booth beside him.

And the truth was right there in front of him, impossible to be disguised as something else or and too strong to be ignored.

God. Damn.

But… First…

“I’m not the easiest choice, Ginny,” Mike whispered, now taking his turn to take in the scope of the room they were in. “Everything that I admit to being… is what you’ve seen first-hand and know to be true.”

Ginny was quick to turn her body in his direction, facing him as completely as possible in the tight squeeze of the booth.

“You’re a thirty-seven-year-old divorced pro-baseball player at the end of his career,” she reiterated. “You’re hard on those around you, and even harder on yourself. You don’t have time for games, and even less time for pretending that you do.” She scooted closer, her eyes taking a moment to look him up and down as her face stayed as stern as the voice she’d used. “And you don’t want this thing between us to end with you being the bad guy.”

Almost. Almost everything she’d said was right.

Damn. This time his chest was heavy for another reason.

“Gin…” Mike found himself holding his breath as he looked down, reaching gently for her hand with his own. “Gin, I…” Being in public, in this sparse bar, was what stopped him from lifting that hand to his lips and placing a kiss there. Instead, he squeezed her tighter, appreciating the feel of her being so close to him… “I don’t want this thing between us to end… period. I don’t want to throw the best thing to happen to me away, sabotaging the one thing that makes me happier than anything else. ” He shook his head, swallowed once more, and then, not quite meeting her eyes due to the bill of her cap, spoke the truest words yet expressed at that table.  “I love you, Ginny.”

Her eyes still didn’t meet his, but there was a slight yet significant squeeze of his hand by hers.

He hadn’t come here thinking those words would fall from his mouth. How hadn’t he realized it before now ? Or maybe he had, just without the label.

“I’m sorry, for being the closed-off jerk,” he apologized when his admission was met with silence.

Ginny glanced up then, her eyes wide. “Are you?”

But it was the warmth being creating between their hands, moisture gathering there.

“I’m not perfect, Gin,” Mike told her slowly, only briefly going back and forth on what her question was really pertaining to.

“I never thought you were,” she quickly pointed out. “I never asked you to be.”

The nervousness that he surmised from a sweaty palm wasn’t enough. Maybe… he’d messed everything up; realized too late what was between them; waited too long to come back.

“Especially when everything you’ve said about me is the truth, too,” Ginny added, admitting her own faults. “Mike… I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know what this was going to be.” She shook her cap-covered head. “But you know what this separation did for me?” She still didn’t look at him after that question. “It made me have to confront myself and what this was in my own mind. It made me confront myself and admit what I wanted from this, and what the feelings I was having really meant. And that isn’t so hard to admit.” The hand in his tightened all the more as she dropped her head, coming all the closer. “I love you, too, Mike.”

Every word... Every slight feel of her pressed against him...

He heard the long and low growl tear out of him. The hand not embracing her own came fell down on her thigh that was closest to him. He fingers gripped her through her jeans.

“Ginny. Gin, look at me,” he told her, his voice sounding strained to his own ears. Their faces were close together, but… he needed to be able to see her, see every feature.

Ginny pulled back, her chin tilting backwards so that the ballcap wasn’t an obstruction for either one of them.

“I love you, Mike.” She said it so lightly that it was as if she’d mouthed the words.

He wanted to kiss her. He couldn’t kiss her. But he could tell her those words again. Words that he hoped to God meant as much for her to hear him say as they did to him to hear her say.

“I love you, Ginny.”

The squeeze on her thigh tightened and her head dipped down again. But her hand came to cover his, holding there firmly.

He wanted to kiss her, hated that his lips weren’t on her…

Hand moving up her thigh because he couldn’t stop himself, he asked, “Same rules apply though, right?”

“With the year we have coming up?” she reminded him, although her hand hadn’t deterred his in the least.

“Right.... Right.” With a final squeeze of her thigh, he let go. Lifting his leg in order to get to his back pocket, Mike slipped the single bill he knew was there and set it flat on the table. “Then this conversation needs to move somewhere a little less public. Is that okay with you?”

“I think we have a lot of talking to do,” Ginny said quietly. An arm reached across the table to grab her water even as she began to scoot out of the booth. “And I’m thinking privately is going to be a whole lot easier.”

Mike followed her lead, watching the way she slipped off to the side and waited for him to meet her. He did a quick scan of the room again. And, not to his surprise, the two Padres players didn’t seem to hold anyone’s attention in the room.

“Blip and Ev,” Ginny rushed out.

“Blip and Ev?” Standing right next to her, Mike had just did a sweep of the room, and yet…

“Do we tell them?” Ginny stepped back, her hands disappearing behind her back as she looked at him. “Or do we keep it from them?”

Mike lifted a single brow. “We… said we’d tell them. That they’d be the first to know. But…”

“Right,” Ginny cut in. She moved then, her hands staying behind her back as she took the lead again, one hand slipping into a back pocket.”

Right…

There were a few things that needed to get through before that. Like placing his hand where her hand was now placed. Or saying the words that would be followed by a kiss. Or hugging her tight because he was a fucking mess and it didn’t stop her from wanting him in every way possible. Or admitting she was smartass, but admitting that it was a quality he missed and wanted to to be a part of his life in the worst way.

Damn, it had never been like this before. Never.

Never….

Damn.

“Ginny.”

She was quick to turn around, all cheekbones, pouty lips and strong chin as the cap brimmed the other part of her face.

“What?” she asked, her attention focused on him.

He loved her. How had the words not come to him sooner? How had he not realized before? Well, for all the damage that Rachel had done, she had at least brought that realization to the forefront. At least…

Having Ginny Baker standing in front of him, waiting intently on him to finish his thought…

“I’m kissing you,” Mike told her, the words and current thoughts making his voice thick with a need.  “In my mind right now, my hands are all over you and I am making up for those days that I haven’t been able to touch you or kiss you.”

There was a moment, a brief moment, where they stood there in front of each other, letting those words and those thoughts run through their minds. And then…

Ginny took in a deep and exaggerated sigh. “So maybe you’ll remember this feeling the next time you decide to be a jackass.” She twisted around, her hands slipping into her back pockets, which only accentuated the noticeable sway of her hips as she moved quickly in the direction of the exit.

Mike felt the sudden dryness in his mouth. His tongue slid across his teeth and he held back from shaking his head.

“As long as you remember what a smartass you can be,” he threw back at her.

Smartass. But… he could deal with that. She could be a smartass, but as long as she was his smartass… it was something that he could learn to live with… for a very long time.

Chapter Text

“... Play fifteen of their thirty-one games this spring in Peoria, all but one of them as the home team. The home schedule features four night games: Monday, March fifth versus Arizona…”

Ginny’s eyes scrunched together as she tuned out the newscast playing quietly from somewhere across the room. She rolled halfway over from her back to her side, her fingertips unconsciously slipping over her recovered shoulder.

There was no reason for her to need to grip the old injury. Because it was an old injury. An almost-career-ending injury that had healed and should be no issue in the upcoming season… Her fingertips dug just a little deeper this time, massaging a particular area of her shoulder.

“Padres' pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Peoria on this Wednesday, February fourteenth, with the club's first full-squad workout on Monday, February nineteenth,” she caught the reporter adding. Well, that wasn’t the most romantic of ways to spend Valentine’s Day, but considering everything… She’d make it. Rookie no more. Primed and ready to make a real impact on her team. And it was only… about ninety percent as scary to think about as it was when she’d found out she was being brought up from the Minor’s not so long ago. (Truly, it really wasn’t that long ago…)

Letting go of her shoulder, Ginny angled herself up into a sitting position, pressing her hands deep into the mattress, right then left, then right then left, until her back hit the headboard. The source of television being on, no matter the quiet volume, stood some feet away and right in front of her.

Ginny let out a quiet sigh and tried to ignore the tingle that had a way of travelling throughout her entire body at just the sight of him. It shouldn’t have been… No, she amended her thought, it was okay to be a bit in awe of the man, who was just a man, but hers in all the best ways.

“The team will begin its thirty-one-game schedule in Arizona with the annual charity game on Friday, February twenty-third as the home team against the Seattle Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex.”

Mike Lawson in front of his T.V. with arms loosely folded over his bare chest as he angled his only navy-blue-boxer-brief-clad body into it, was a sight to wake up to.

“Anything interesting?” Ginny murmured quietly, her voice just a little bit husky from lack of use. Her legs moved restlessly underneath the sheets that covered her just at the waist. Her chin pointed down, almost hitting her chest as only her eyes lifted towards him.

Mike’s arms tightened over his chest just as a low grunt escaped him. He turned his head to look back at her, showcasing an intense and business-like frown. All business….

“Nothing that we don’t already know,” he finally answered quietly, keeping the atmosphere of the room the same. “Just going over the schedule.”

Ginny took in a small breath, lifting her chin just so. “Oh, okay.” And then her shoulder was raising, rotating backwards of its own volition before she could stop it.

Mike was facing her fully now, his arms dropping to his sides as he took slow and purposeful steps towards her.

“Good morning,” he told her, his voice showing a hint of concern that could also be picked up on in the way his squinted eyes focused on her.

Ginny shook her head. “Good morning.”

And whatever this was, whatever Mike had picked up on and Ginny had wanted to leave at the unconscious level, seemed to be magnified.

“I’m okay,” she said quickly, shaking her head more fervently this time, her legs coming up until her feet were almost tucked under her.

Mike’s lips parted, but he stayed quiet a full second before asking, “Sure?”

“Mm-hm.” And she resisted that want of biting down on her bottom lip. Instead, noting how close he was to her,she tilted her head back in wait.

He didn’t disappoint. Mike brought a hand up to cup her cheek, causing her eyes to briefly close before opening again, after he dropped a kiss on her lips.

“Baker?”

There was a soft moan that emanated from her throat while his lips murmured her name against hers. But… Ginny was wary of what was going to follow…

“What?” she asked quietly, sliding her mouth across his own until she could place a soft kiss right there in the corner.

Mike brought his arms down on either side of her, sinking down into the mattress and shadowing her body with his own. His back became an instant thought to her, and the fact that he hadn’t had a serious complaint in quite some weeks. His knee, on the other hand…

“Near the end of the season, you experienced an injury that was nearly career-ending,” Mike reminded her. His face only inches from hers, his eyes staring intently into hers, the purpose of this conversation couldn’t be misinterpreted, even right at the beginning. “It was a tough go for a while. And even during your recuperating time, it wasn’t always a hundred percent chance that you’d be back, or maybe not back to the player you were used to being.”

Both of Mike’s hands dug farther into the mattress even as Ginny sat there, quiet in her attempt to take the words in while her gaze stayed strongly on him.

“It wasn’t easy, Gin,” he continued in that same quiet reverie. “But after some strong and honest words from a lot of people- me included, I might add-” A smile ghosted across his lips just a his chin raised a notch. “You came to the realization that an accident didn’t necessarily mean everything you’d work for was over. And,” he reminded her, his eyes cutting in that crinkly way that was all Mike Lawson, “you proved that to everyone and yourself, by working hard and being nothing but ready for spring training.”

It was then that Mike pressed a hard kiss against her lips, followed by something a bit softer, and then a groan as he pushed himself off the bed.

“Got it?”

Got what? All tingly at the thought of Mike Lawson’s first inspirational speech of a new season?

Ginny didn’t say it, but couldn’t help but smirk up at him. Even if he was all keyed up for playing the part of Captain Mike Lawson, she wasn’t ready to be called out for being a smartass, which she definitely would’ve been if she’d shared her first thought. But…

Inspirational wasn’t just a title he was given without credence…

“I did prove it to myself,” she agreed firmly, giving a short nod of her head. “And I’m ready to show the world.”

Feet planted into the floor some shoulder-width apart, arms folded over his chest with the bicep muscle of his right arm flexing in an incredibly sexy way, Mike took a moment to watch her, squinty eyes and all.

Ginny let out another sigh, visibly more calm because of someone very special in her life, and took the path that diverged from being a smartass. Her hand came over to cup the heel of her foot as a bit of her lip got caught by her teeth.

“What I’m not so sure on is…” Her eyes widened on him just then. “If I’m really ready to break the news to Ev and Blip about our relationship this afternoon.”

Mike’s shoulders slumped and he physically deflated in size.

“Well, hell, now that is something to fucking contemplate,” was Mike’s return.

And even as his hand came up to reach for his beard, Ginny slipped off to the side of the bed, covering a half-groan/half-giggle with the pillow that was next to her.

“So you see what I’m saying?”

“I… see what you’re saying.”

 

****

 

They were nearly an hour into their evening out. Nearly an hour if Ginny counted the ten or so extra minutes it had taken from the time Ev and Blip sat down with her at their reserved booth and when Mike had joined them, sliding easily into the open spot next to her.

Ginny had vowed to herself that she wouldn’t let nervousness get in her way. And she was pretty proud of herself for being able to look up at Mike as he had fell into place beside her, a nod and moody-enough greeting for all that were there, because other than the small flip of her heart and churning in her gut, her greeting was just as casual as his before she picked up the glass of water in front of her and took a sip.

That was nearly an hour ago… And during that time, professional baseball seemed to be dominating the table’s conversation. Not that Ginny minded in a bit. After taking some time to focus on other aspects of her life, more personal aspects of her life, for the past few weeks, it felt good to focus on the career side of things. But…

Arms folding over chest as chin dropping down, Mike’s knee bumped against her leg as he reacted to something Blip had said.

... It was true that everyone was there as a final get-together before all players left for Arizona. But there was another driving force for both her and Mike.

So it was difficult enough to ignore that simple brush of contact between them, It was even more difficult for the thought of being one-hundred percent honest with her best friends about her relationship with Mike. But it was almost impossible for the thought to leave her mind now that it had settled there.

Distracted to the point of losing focus on the conversation at hand, Ginny picked up her glass of water and found the straw with her lips before taking a sip. Her attention turned to the small space between herself and Mike, and then got caught on the way his knee, from under the table, swayed back and forth, careful not to touch her this time.

She placed her glass down on the table and pushed it back, holding in her sigh as much as possible, but unable to keep from rolling her eyes.

“You’d think it would be me who’d tire of all things Padres, first.”

At Ev’s statement, Ginny sat up a bit straighter and looked across the table at her friends. Her mouth tightened in the corners and she felt chagrined at being caught. Tilted her head, she forced her mouth into a smile even as her feet swept across one another under the table.

She also ignored Mike’s harumph from next to her, only imagining the side glance she was sure he was throwing her way as his arms tightened over his shoulders.

“I’m not tired,” Ginny said, sounding accusatory.

“Maybe it’s nerves,” Blip murmured, hunched over the table opposite of her. His brows lifted slightly as his fingers rubbed the napkin beside his plate.

“Nerves.” Since it came out mockingly, Ginny wished she would have kept the comment to herself.

Ev turned her head just slightly to give Blip a long look, eyes expressing something Ginny couldn’t quite grasp. Or maybe… it was a look that she didn’t want to acknowledge… Then, wide-eyes and innocent, she turned back on Ginny.

Ginny mentally screwed her eyes shut with the thought Fuck .

It wasn’t as if the four of them hadn’t been together during her and Mike’s courtship. It wasn’t as if she and Mike hadn’t sat down with them since they’d decided that they were all in and their best friends would be the first to know about them. Except…

Ginny braved the idea of looking at Mike, only to find him bringing his fingers from his mouth and munching slowly and quietly on the fry or two that was there.

This was the time where the conversation was supposed to happen. At some point in this evening, they were supposed to come clean with their best friends.

And the fact that Mike didn’t seem to be bothered by it was almost comically infuriating, Mentally, she attacked him with a Fuck you, Mike Lawson , and she wasn’t entirely sure he didn’t get it even in its silence.

Ginny shook her head, her eyes fluttering and a flop against the back of the booth. She noticed then the tightening in her gut, but went back to ignoring that.

“Nothing,” she muttered.

Ginny didn’t like the sudden swell in Ev as she sat up. Her bottom lip was caught between her teeth and it looked as if she was attempting to not make more out of whatever Ginny had said or done. (She wasn’t succeeding well, though.)

“Are…” Ev’s head tilted again, her mouth slightly open as she thought about her words carefully.
“Are you sure?” And then there was a frown, but maybe a hint of insincerity was laced within it. “Are… you sure?” Her right shoulder went up an inch or two. “Maybe it’s something… unrelated to baseball?”

There was now a knot in Ginny’s gut. Her back slid against the booth as she sat herself back up next to Mike instead of digging herself into the corner.

“I think Ginny has something to share,” Mike added quietly, sounding a bit curious.

She glanced at him and found a questioning look on his face as her stared right at her, the dare both apparent and teasing.

There had been a point in time when Ginny had pulled away from him. There had been a point when she had wanted to keep him at arm’s length for her own safety. There had been a time when he hadn’t trusted in himself or in them, a time when he had pulled back and questioned the validity of their relationship. And wasn’t that so long ago? Because… they had both grown from those points in time. And now…

“Gin?” Blip asked, proving that Ginny had everyone’s attention at that table, even when she had slipped away for a short moment in reverie.

Mike lifted his arm to lay across the top of the booth and turned his body in her direction, his knee coming up to rest on the seat. He had a shit-eating smile on his face and eyes only for her.

What happened to being in on this together? What happened to them both being nervous on the idea of sharing the news of their relationship with their best friends? What happened?

“You’re annoying,” she whispered loudly, hand gripping on the table and pulling up to cut shrewd eyes on him.

Apparently, it was something Mike couldn’t fault her for saying, based on the puckered lips and agreeable nod.

Ginny offered a small smile as she turned her attention back to her friends across the table. It was then that she let her grip from the table loosen until she laid  both hands on top in front of her.

The look on Ev’s face said she was primed and ready for the details to some juicy news.

“This is going to be good, isn’t it?” Ev asked with a devilish twinkle in her eye. “I mean…” She slowly shook her head, once to the left and once to the right. “This is going to be really good.”

Ginny’s mind went straight to the time she had shared her almost-kiss with Mike so long ago. And then she thought about the numerous conversations and dirt-spilling of her barely-there relationship with Noah. Ev had even been all-too interested in her relationship with Trevor…. What was she going to think about this one?

Ginny’s mouth opened, only to gawk silently at her friends from across the table.

“Well, this isn’t just Ginny’s news, to be fair,” Mike spoke up from next to her.

Ginny glanced at him and watched as his arm came away from the booth in order to slowly find it and its partner to lay on the table in front of him. He only spared Ginny a quick glance, his face the picture of seriousness all of a sudden.

She thought she fell in love with him just a little bit more in that moment.

“But… not Padres news, right?” Blip asked in an awkward murmur.

When Ginny looked away from Mike in order to turn toward their friends, she was able to catch Blip’s turn from his wife and back on them.

She shook her head as she let her fingers of one hand criss-cross over the other hand.

“Not Padres news,” she agreed, even when her head tilted of its own volition and she stopped short of biting the inside of her cheek.

Mike let out an unsure Mm next to her.

“Well, not Padres news,” Ginny said, raising her hand and waving it across the whole of the table. “But…”

“But it would be important to note that it’s… career-sensitive,” Mike got out finally, a bit awkward as if he had chose each word carefully.

Ginny nodded at his profile. “Career-sensitive, that’s good.” Her attention turned back to Ev and Blip, whose heads were tilted towards one another as they shared a similar look of doubt and confusion between them.

“We’re telling you because you’re our best friends,” Mike said simply, and more to the point than what Ginny had even attempted to get to.

She took in a breath, her chest rising and then falling as she stared at the pair before her.

“And we’re also doing in public so that you don’t have the opportunity to freak out on us,” Mike added. “So…” He lifted a hard shoulder. “Don’t freak out on us, okay?”

This time, Ginny licked her bottom lip before a smile broke across her face.

“Mike.”

“Ginny.”

Their names came from their best friend’s spouse, Blip looking cautiously at Ginny and Evelyn looking absolutely besotted at Mike.

Oh God, she loved him so fucking much that sometimes she wondered how pathetic did it make her…

He didn’t grasp her hand and look at her longingly. His words weren’t flowery and poetic. But…

“Look,” Mike started, one hand coming up to stroke his beard while the other one fell open on the table between them all, “I know once upon a time you thought even I couldn’t be so idiotic to even think about Ginny on any terms other than being teammates.”

“Oh, fuck.”

“Oh, fuck!

Somehow, although the words were the same, the connotation of both Blip and Ev’s reaction were completely different.

“What?” Ginny, mouth left open at her question, stared hard at Mike before turning a questioning look at Blip.

“His words in passing, but still,” Mike muttered.

Idiotic though?” she asked, leaning against the table and bringing her hands as close to Blip’s as possible.

“Anyway!”

When Ev was the voice to put them back on track, there was something wrong.

Ginny turned her attention to blink at her. Oh… Right. Juicy news was to be given…

Her tongue slipped out to make its way from one corner of her mouth to the other. She glanced at Mike, whose eyes, she found, were on her as his shoulders hunched over the table, and a look of calm and solemnity.

“Mike and I are dating,” Ginny finally came out and admitted. Which left such a deep tug on her womb that her feet kicked the bottom of the booth before coming together and lifting until she was only bouncing on her toes.

She liked his smile, found some pride in it as he watched her before turning to glance at their friends.

“Ginny and I have been dating…” He paused, brought his arms over his chest once more, and leaned back in his seat. “For most of this off-season,”

“It wasn’t always serious,” Ginny added.

“So it’s serious now?” Ev said, her smile almost contained. She was doing a good job, the hold she had on Blip’s hand looked tight as hell, but she was keeping it together.

Ginny felt her knees bounce as she balanced on her toes. Her hands came together before she placed them in her lap.

“It’s serious,” she assured them.

“Probably wouldn’t have brought it up if it wasn’t,” Mike admitted. “But-”

“Like Mike said,” Ginny cut in, “we’re not going public with this.” She turned to look at Mike and caught the swift shake of his head and the all-too serious look he had for the pair across from them. “This is a huge year for us as players.”

“We… get it,” Blip said slowly.

“No matter what our private lives are,” Mike added, “we don’t want them to mask what this year will be for Ginny, and I don’t need my last year to be about fielding questions on relationships when this is my farewell season.”

“And you’re keeping this a secret from…”

“Everyone,” Ginny answered Ev’s question with a shake of her head.

“So,” Ev started again, looking at Blip who offered a small shrug, “are you going to be able to do a better job with the world at large than you have with us?”

Confusion marred Ginny’s face as she placed her hands on either knee in order to stop the hopping. Her head tilted and her brows fell low as she watched her friend.

“Excuse me?”

“What?” Mike asked in a low voice, leaning back over the table with his arms still folded.

Ev shook her head. “Well, when you throw crumbs my way, and at my husband, don’t be surprised when we start putting the pieces together.”

It was Blip’s turn to shake his head. “We didn’t know anything.” And then he shrugged. “We just… wondered. You two…” His voice trailed off from there.

It was Mike’s turn to shake his head, Ginny noted, with a grunt of surprise to follow. The raise of eyebrow he gave to her was an acknowledgement of the situation before he went back to the neglected plate in front of him.

“More importantly,” Ev began, sounding cautious.

Ginny picked up her glass to take a sip of water to wet her recently-noticed dry mouth.

“Are we mature enough to talk hot sex now…”

Ginny’s eyes squeezed shut in embarrassment and she sucked in more of her water to keep from having to do anything else.

“Or is that a conversation I’m going to have to wait for when it’s girl’s only?”

 

****

 

Mike’s fingers tangled in her hair, and even though it was low and almost indistinct, she heard her name come from his lips.

Ginny let him pull her away with a sigh, but trailed little kisses along his stomach and chest until she made her way to his mouth.

With his fingers still in her hair, with firm pressure on the back of her head, he kept their mouths together for a kiss that was deep and long.

It would be a while before they would be in this bed again. They hadn’t figured out quite yet what the protocol would be as far as sleeping arrangements when they left for Arizona. So… this last time, in this home and this bed that she had become so accustomed to in the last months (enough so to feel like home)...

“I love you, Ginny,” Mike muttered against her ear as she kissed her bearded cheek. The hand in her hair stayed while his other hand flattened down her back until it was covering and roaming over her ass.

“I love you, too, Mike,” she whispered against him. She pushed herself up by pressing her hands on his chest, finally losing his fingers from her hair. But she liked the way his other hand curved around her cheek, taking full pleasure in it.

Ginny shook her head. “You stopped me, but I’m not done with you just yet.”

Mike’s teeth bared when he grinned up at her. His hand fell away from her ass only long enough to apply a swift smack there.

It left Ginny’s mouth open and a shiver to run through her entire body.

“Never said I was done,” Mike reminded her. “Just starting to feel like maybe it’s my turn to have a little fun, too.”

Ginny’s chin fell towards her chest. “So you weren’t having fun?” She lifted herself until she was able to align her body with his, and then, oh so carefully and seductively, sank down. Two can play this game.

Mike’s eyes fluttered closed before both hands came to wrap around her waist.

“Let's just say that I would love to be able to derive my pleasure from the giving end instead of receiving end, hm?” he murmured tightly. One eye popped opened and stared up at her.

Ginny offered up the tiniest of smiles as both of his hands left her waist and found either side of her head. She quickly licked her lips as he brought her down for another kiss.

It was slow. It was tantalizing. It was… telling. And an ache filled her to the point of whimpering.

With a groan and an arm around her back, their positions were switching. In an instant, Ginny found herself on her back and relishing in the weight of the man above her.

“Mike…” She stopped him with his name just as his mouth slipped from hers and his beard began the path where his mouth would follow. Her hands covered his cheeks, pulling him away from her.

Mike Lawson. This… this thing… with Mike Lawson. She hadn’t seen it coming. Probably hadn’t wanted to see this thing coming…

“I love you, Mike,” she whispered up at him, her head coming off the pillow to place a kiss on his lips. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered right back and with as much feeling as possible. “And you know what?” he asked as he hooked his arm around her thigh in order to spread her legs farther apart and situate himself right there perfectly.

Her chin lifted just as a smile crept across her lips and she tried not to focus too much on how good he felt right there.

“What?” she asked softly, as if daring him to say whatever was on his mind.

Arm tightening its hold on her, he looked down at her with all the sincerity his stoic face could possibly hold.

“To this day, you still amaze me, Ginny Baker.”

And when he kissed her again, leaving her breathless and aching in her heart as well as her middle, she pulled him closer, never wanting to let go.

Because Mike Lawson left her in awe.