The Invincible M.A.E. (harleymae) wrote,
The Invincible M.A.E.
harleymae

Perfect Dose

Title: Perfect Dose
Author: Mae
Rating: NC-17, for one pr0n scene
Characters: Dan Haren, Huston Street, Barry Zito. With Nick Swisher, Mark Kotsay and Noah Lowry.
Dedication: lastcatastrophe, who tolerates my strange obsession with Dan Haren and frala for reading even though it's baseball.
Disclaimer: It's all lies!
Author's Notes: Noah Lowry is a starting pitcher for the Giants and was college roommates with Dan Haren at Pepperdine. This is a loose sequel to Tonight Doesn't Count but you don't have to read that to read this.



Perfect Dose


Dan Haren didn't understand.

It wasn't so much the fact that Huston Street was behaving strangely that confused him - because, well, Huston Street had always been strange - but the fact that he had suddenly become so much stranger.

And really, this would have been fine in and of itself. He wasn't being strange in a threatening or dangerous manner; he hadn't taken up a new hobby of homemade bomb construction or anything like that, and he hadn't become quiet or withdrawn. If anything, he had become even more talkative, to the point that Swisher had bought a pair of earplugs to keep in the clubhouse as a joke, grabbing the case to ward Street off as soon as he saw him approaching.

No, Street's newly developed strangeness would have been totally fine, and could possibly have even gone completely unnoticed by Haren, if he hadn't decided to attach himself to Haren like an industrial strength refrigerator magnet (a yellow smiley face one with googly eyes).

*****

It was a chilly, white day in Oakland. It wasn't overcast, but the fog had come in, and the sun made everything bright yet devoid of warmth, like it was the world's biggest fluorescent light hanging right over the Coliseum. It was the bottom of the third, and Huston Street was huddled close to Dan Haren in the dugout as Cust swung and missed.

"Hey man, wow, it's cold today isn't it? It's almost June and it's still cold! Back home people are frying eggs on sidewalks. I mean, not that people in Texas actually do that, it's just an expression. Because that would be crazy, wouldn't it? Frying eggs on sidewalks? Why would anyone do that? Waste of perfectly good eggs, I'm telling you. But damn, it's cold. I wish I had my jacket. My jacket's inside. Hey, I could get it, then I wouldn't be cold right now. Yeah, I think I'm going to get it. Oh, but what if something cool happens while I'm inside getting it? I don't want to miss anything. I'm going to wait for the end of the inning."

Haren's mouth was open, and had been for the latter half of Street's discourse. He'd been on the verge of saying something in response, but hadn't, on account of the fact that there really wasn't anything to be said in response. Aware that Street had actually stopped talking, he mustered up the beginning of a feeble agreement and was about to speak when Street abruptly started talking about how it was barbecue weather back home and how he was missing some fantastic cook-offs, then proceeded to launch into a complete recap of the last family cook-off he'd been at, painstakingly naming every relative and friend in attendance, as well as everything he'd eaten, down to the last condiment.

Haren closed his mouth, shoulders slumped a little in defeat.

*****

There was the time Street screamed at his iPod on the team plane.

"Goddamnit! Turn on, you stupid motherfucker! Argh!" Street shook the iPod viciously, using bone (metal) rattling force, yanking the earbuds right out of his ears in the process. "Why are you doing this to me? I treat you right! I got this like, skin thing to keep you from getting scratched! I never let your battery run out! Damn it, William, you're the shittiest, most ungrateful iPod in the whole damn history of iPods."

Then Street slammed his forehead into the back of the seat in front of him in frustration, giving Kotsay, who had been dreaming uncomfortably about some lunatic screaming at his iPod, a rather rude awakening. Kotsay rose ominously, peering at Street over the top of his seat.

"Can I help you with something?" he asked, in a decidedly unhelpful tone of voice.

"The stupid thing just won't turn on anymore!" Street jabbed the play button with his thumbs for emphasis, then started assaulting the rest of the click wheel for good measure. Still, the cold, dead iPod screen stared back at him blankly. "Do you know where I can get this fixed? Do you think they can fix this? I mean, maybe they can't, right? Then they'll give me a different one? I don't want another iPod, I want this one. If they don't-"

Haren, who was trapped between Street and the window like a mouse cornered by a cat on speed, noticed Kotsay's eyes narrowing and decided that disaster prevention was preferable to disaster management.

"I'm sure they'll be able to fix it," he said, interrupting Street quickly while simultaneously waving his hand at Kotsay to indicate that he should stand down. Kotsay stared daggers at Street - ineffectively, as Street was completely focused on his iPod - for a couple of seconds before turning around and settling back into his seat.

"Yeah, really? You think it's going to be okay?" Street had given up on pressing buttons and had started shaking the iPod like he was playing the maracas. He was also talking in a soft, earnest tone, as if he was hoping the vet would be able to make his little doggie feel better.

"It's just turning it on that doesn't work, right? There's probably just a loose wire in there or something," Haren said reassuringly, talking out of his ass.

"Yeah, yeah," Street nodded, mumbling softly, looking like he was trying to convince himself that everything would be okay. Then he smiled at Haren and started winding the earbuds around his iPod, storing it in a side pocket of his backpack when he was done.

For a moment, Haren wanted to ask Street what was wrong. He wanted to ask him why he was freaking out over a stupid iPod that he could easily replace almost as soon as they landed in Seattle, why Street had been freaking out about a lot of things since the season started, even before he went on the DL. He wanted to know why Street had superglued himself to his hip, and he was also vaguely curious about why his iPod was called William.

But instead he said, "Tell you what, if they can't fix it, I'll buy a new one for you."

"Really?" Street's eyes widened.

"Uhh, no." Haren looked out the window at cotton puff clouds and cerulean blue, hiding a smirk.

"Cheap bastard."

*****

Nick Swisher was a guy who liked to talk. He was also a guy who liked to make sure everyone was okay. He often combined these two interests by talking to guys who seemed down or off. He never really said anything that was particularly insightful or helpful, but just making the effort showed that he cared about a guy's well-being, and that was usually enough to make him feel better--not that anyone would ever admit to this.

He was also a person who respected others' privacy, which seemed contrary to his constant teasing of the guys and pestering about embarrassing incidents in their pasts, but he knew that there was a line that shouldn't be crossed, and he stayed well away from that boundary. Well, he mostly stayed away from it--if he thought that someone was being hurt, or was about to get hurt, he would do something about it.

It was this sense of concern that was responsible for the knock on Haren's hotel room door a little after 11 PM in Kansas City. Haren, who had just gotten into the perfect position to fall asleep, sighed and threw the covers off, getting slowly out of bed. He shuffled to the door in his boxers and peeked through the peephole to find a very shifty looking Nick Swisher standing outside. Reluctantly, he opened the door, but didn't move aside to let Swisher come in.

"Dude, it's late. What's up?"

"I gotta talk to you about something." Nick wasn't quite making eye contact; he was looking past Haren's shoulder into his room, like he was looking for something. "Can I come in?"

"Can it wait? I'm pretty tired, Street was here earlier and-"

"No!" he shouted abruptly, interrupting Haren, who started a bit in surprise. "I mean uhh, I'd rather talk now, if that's okay."

Haren nodded and moved aside to let Swisher in, then closed the door behind him. He noticed that Swisher's cheeks were slightly flushed; was he angry about something?

"So what did you want to talk about?" he asked, after Swisher had settled into a chair and he'd gotten back into bed, leaning against a propped up pillow.

"Uhh... I wanted to talk about Street, actually."

"Street?" Haren blinked a couple of times. "What about him? His weird behaviour?"

"Yeah, sure, if you want to call it that," he said quickly. "You guys have been spending a lot of time together."

Haren buried his head in his hands. "Oh God, yeah, it's like he's always by my side, day and night-"

"Right!" Swisher shouted again, only this time his voice went a little high-pitched at the end. "Right, right, okay. Okay. Umm, you know he's uhh, young and impressionable, right? And that he likes--looks up to you a lot?"

Haren frowned. "Are you trying to say that I'm a bad influence on him?"

"No, I'm not saying that, man, I mean, you people can do whatever you want, just don't-"

"'You people'?"

"Huh?" Nick seemed to have lost his train of thought.

"You people. What do you mean by 'you people'?"

"Nothing. You people. You, Street, Zito," he said, slapping his hands on his knees like he did sometimes when he was nervous.

"What? Zito? What are you talking about?" Haren was becoming increasingly confused.

"You people," Swisher elaborated, speaking each word loudly, clearly and slowly, as if he thought Haren was a Japanese tourist with a big camera dangling around his neck.

Haren tried his best to figure out he meant, but there was only one thing that came to mind.

"You mean... pitchers?"

Swisher stared at him incredulously for a moment, then shook his head and continued. "Yeah, sure, pitchers. Okay, whatever. The thing is, Street's having a tough time this year, and I know you think you're being good to him, but you're not. You're just going to make things worse."

"Make things worse? How? By doing what exactly?" Haren was getting a little annoyed. Street was a guy who always wanted company. Sure, they spent a lot more time together compared to the previous year when he'd hung out with Zito as well, but there was nothing wrong with that (aside from Street possibly driving him nuts, which would take months, maybe years). It wasn't like they were out drinking and whoring every night.

"By doing what pitchers do. Shit, man, you know what I'm talking about."

"I don't, I really don't. Look, can you just tell me what it is you're trying to say? Because I really have no fucking idea right now," he said, as patiently as he could.

Swisher opened his mouth, but no words came out. He sighed, and a dozen things came into his mind, but he would never have been able to find the voice to say them. Finally, he settled on one thing that he could say out loud. "Just... just promise you'll be honest with him, okay?"

"Be honest with... fine, okay. That's it? Great, I'll do that. Is there anything else?" Haren was more than a little disturbed by the conversation. What if Street's strangeness was somehow contagious and Swisher had caught it? Could he be next?

"Promise," Nick said firmly, looking expectantly at him.

"I already said I'd do it. If you want me to promise, you're going to have to explain yourself."

"Jesus, Danny, don't make me say it."

"Look man, it's late. If you don't want to tell me what's going on, then just get out."

Swisher sat there, clearly conflicted, but finally he decided against talking. Haren would just deny everything anyway, so it was pointless. He left the room, mumbling something about someone else having said the same thing, but he was out of earshot by that time, and Haren wouldn't have understood even if he'd heard.

*****

They were in Minnesota and they'd just lost.

Three in a row to Minnesota, six in a row and counting. The guys never really got too high or too low, but they did get antsy. The injured guys were the worst, hoping every morning when they woke up that they would be better, they would be closer, they would be close enough to go. Of the injured guys, Street was the worst, and so he went to Toronto to have his elbow poked and prodded and tortured, anything to make it heal faster.

"I just want to get back as soon as I can," he said, smiling, enthusiastic, determined.

He was telling the truth - of course he wanted to play - but getting off the DL was the end result; what he'd done had served another more immediate purpose. Treatment was intense and it didn't leave much room to feel anything else, and that was what Street needed. It kept him sane, made him feel accomplished.

It was over, though, and he wasn't handling being back in limbo very well. He attached himself to Haren when the game ended and talked up a storm, flitting from one topic to the other, not even really knowing what he was talking about sometimes. He saw the looks that Haren gave him, but none of them registered; he kept his mouth moving and he didn't have to see.

*****

Huston Street's voice was the enemy of elevator music everywhere.

If the aim of elevator music was to eliminate uncomfortable silences, then this functionality was provided automatically - and at no extra cost - by him. Unfortunately, the uncomfortable silences tended to be replaced by incoherent ramblings, so his ability was of questionable worth.

Because Street never strayed much from his side, Haren ended up being on the wrong side of the closing elevator door as Blanton, Gaudin and the rest of their dinner group made their escape. They didn't have anything against Haren, but unfortunately there are casualties in war, and the two of them ended up waiting for the next elevator together.

"Good night," Haren said as they got out of the hotel elevator onto their floor.

"Good night? Are you going to sleep now?" Street asked, checking his watch.

"No," he answered, and immediately regretted it. "I'm going to re-watch some old episodes of Lost."

"Oh. Can I watch too?"

"They're on my iPod; I mean I guess we could share the headphones, but..." Haren said doubtfully, hoping to discourage Street.

"Yeah, sure, that sounds good!" he said grinning enthusiastically.

Haren took his time walking down the hallway to his room, hoping that Street would change his mind along the way, but no such luck. He opened his door reluctantly, and they went into his room, settling down somewhat uncomfortably against the pillows on his bed. He picked his iPod up from the bedside table and handed an earbud to Street, then started watching the episode from where he'd left off before.

Two seconds in, Street blurted, "Why are they in cages?"

"They were captured by the Others," Haren replied, deciding right there and then that he was going to sleep as soon as he'd finished watching that episode.

"Who are the Others?"

Haren paused the iPod and looked sharply at Street. "What's the last episode you watched?"

He scratched his head, trying to remember. "Umm, I think the one where they blew up the hatch?"

"That was way back at the end of the first season. This is the third season. A lot's happened since then; you might not be able to follow what's going on."

"Oh, well uhh, that's fine. You can just fill me in as we go along, right?" Street smiled brightly, and somehow that made Haren say yes.

He ended up answering Street's questions about half the time because in addition to having missed the entire second season, he'd also forgotten most of the episodes he'd watched. It turned out to be less annoying than Haren had expected. He'd watched the episode before, so he wasn't missing anything, and he actually quite liked hearing Street's interpretation of events and theories, despite - or perhaps because of - how ridiculous they were. Street seemed to be missing a filter between his brain and his mouth, and so he often ended up sounding like he was one beer short of a six-pack, but he was just (unintentionally) providing a view of how he processed the world.

On the tiny, bright screen, Kate had climbed out of her cage, broken the lock on Sawyer's cage and entered it. They started to kiss and strip each other's clothes off.

"Have you ever hooked up with a girl who was with someone else?" Street asked, abruptly.

Haren had been expecting another question about the show and there was a short delay before he responded, a little alarmed. "What, you mean like a threesome?"

"No! I mean like, you know, a girl who was dating someone else."

"No," Haren lied.

"Oh. Well, you know how you're like, hooking up with her and stuff, and you see her with her guy or whatever, and you get so pissed. Like, what the fuck is that guy doing touching her and shit, but you can't get pissed. You're not supposed to get pissed cos' that's not actually your girl. And it feels like... it's so fucked up, man." Street stopped; he looked uncomfortable, like he'd just said more than he was supposed to.

"No, that's never happened to me," Haren said after a while, and this time he was telling the truth. He turned the iPod off and put it aside; he looked at Street, and suddenly he saw how young Street was, and how scared and confused and angry. "Do you love her?" he asked, quietly.

"Yeah," Street mumbled, staring intently at his fingernails.

Haren didn't want to ask the next question, but he knew he had to, so he asked it as gently as he could. "Does she love you?"

Street swallowed hard and didn't say anything.

"Any girl would be lucky to have you," Haren said, opting not to mention the notable exceptions.

"She's not any girl," he said resolutely. Then he frowned, as if something had just occurred to him, and promptly burst into laughter.

Haren blinked at Street's bizarre behaviour. "Dude, what's so funny? Is there a girl or not? Is that why you've been so-" He caught himself before he said "strange". "So, uhh, preoccupied lately?"

Street didn't answer and hugged him instead, still smiling. Haren hugged him back cautiously; Street had seemed genuine when he'd talked and Haren thought he was telling the truth, but he was still confused by Street's laughing fit.

"I miss Z," he mumbled into Haren's shoulder.

"Me too," Haren said, not commenting on the change of subject. "I guess you're stuck with me now."

Street looked at him with a curious expression. "I guess I am," he said softly, and rested his head on Haren's shoulder.

*****

Haren visited Zito in Southern California the previous year; it was the fall of 2006, after they'd been eliminated from the playoffs. They went down to San Diego together to go surfing, but the surf report betrayed them and the ocean was flat when they reached the spot Zito picked. They got back into his car, shaking the sand from their flip flops, and drove to another beach, but there were no waves to be found there either.

"I can think of a couple of other places to try," Zito said, rubbing the back of his head with his palm.

Haren shrugged. He'd been quiet since Zito picked him up at the airport the night before. They'd talked about the surf reports for the next day, and Zito had taken him to his rack of boards so he could pick one out. The two of them were roughly the same size so he was able to quickly choose a board that would work for him, then he claimed that he was tired and went to bed.

He didn't go to sleep though, and he lay on the bed, fingers laced behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He was wondering if he'd made a mistake in going there. Zito had made it sound so good over the phone; just a few days of nothing but surfing and sun and sand. Haren had taken that to mean relief, a way to empty his mind, but seeing Zito, being with him--it just reminded him of what they had experienced together: losing, hurting, failing.

It almost seemed appropriate that they couldn't find any surfable waves in San Diego.

They got back on the highway, windows down, radio blaring fizzy, forgettable music, and Haren leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, feeling the wind whip his hair around his face. If only... if only... he started to think, but he couldn't get any further, and maybe the trip wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Zito started chuckling and when the music faded, Haren heard him and looked over to ask what was funny; he discovered that Zito was laughing at him.

"What?" he asked, feeling a little self-conscious.

"Your hair." Zito grinned.

Haren flipped the sun visor down and looked at himself in the small mirror; the stream of air rushing into the car made him look like a bearded medusa, tendrils of hair flowing in the wind. Annoyed, he turned to say something to Zito, who was still snickering quietly, when he noticed that Zito's hair was being puffed into a big Italian fro.

"Dude. Your hair."

"Huh?" Zito glanced at himself in the rear view mirror and frowned, dismayed at his reflection, then glared at Haren, who glared back just as fiercely.

It wasn't clear who cracked first, but their hostility dissolved rapidly into laughter, and Haren shook his head, pulling a lock of hair away from his mouth. The sun shone down on them, big-haired wave hunters on the prowl, and the ocean stretched ahead at their side, promising something better if they would just go a few more miles. They got to their exit and slowed down, following the curving road to the beach.

Zito got out of the car even though it was obvious from the parking lot that they were out of luck. He squinted and spotted a speck of crest in the distance, but as it got nearer, he could see that the "wave" was barely six inches high. Haren had kicked his flip flops off and was digging his toes into the warm sand.

"There's still one place left," Zito said, somewhat sheepishly.

"I'm hungry. Can we get lunch along the way or something?"

"Sure, uhh, I think there's a place I've been to before that's not bad. We can stop by." Zito headed back to the car and Haren followed, preferring to stay barefoot even when he stepped on the hot asphalt; it brought back memories of being a kid, racing down the street with his friends as his mother's voice faded away, telling him to put some shoes on.

They returned to the highway, the sugary pop radio station and the wind that made monsters of their hair. Haren took a deep breath, inhaling the salt air, and he felt better than he'd felt in days. He could forget things between normal starts, unless they were mistakes he could learn from, otherwise there was no point fixating on things; it would just make things worse. But it was a much longer time between starts now, and his last one had been the last game of their season; that wasn't an easy thing to forget.

"Well, this is it." Zito pulled into a parking spot right in front of a slightly faded, but cheerfully painted taco stand built on the edge of the beach. "Fish tacos are good."

They both got fish tacos and Coronas, immediately sealing the bottles with their thumbs and inverting them, watching the slices of lime fizz. Without saying anything, they both gravitated naturally to the beach, sitting down on the sand together. All the kids were in school, so the beach was mostly deserted, except for a lone jogger, scattered sunbathers and a few intrepid swimmers.

Haren took a long swig of his beer, thirsty after the long drive. He was hungry too, hungrier than he'd thought, and he wolfed down both his tacos without saying anything. They tasted amazing.

"I'm going to get another one," he said, planting the base of his bottle in the sand and standing up. "Do you want one too?"

Zito was just finishing his first taco and shook his head. "You sure you want to eat so much right before we go surfing?"

"I don't know man, it doesn't look good," Haren said doubtfully, looking out to sea. "Maybe we should just do something else today and come back tomorrow."

"Give it one last shot then we can call it quits."

Haren looked wistfully toward the taco stand, then down at Zito, who was looking especially earnest. "All right."

"Great. Sit down, then, I don't want you hurling out there."

Zito drank half his beer and gave the rest to Haren, who finished it quickly so they could get going. He would have liked to bring it along with him, sipping slowly in the car, but he decided that the friendly officers - should they encounter any - wouldn't be particularly understanding.

They left the radio off this time, as befit the solemnity of their final attempt, and who knows if it had any effect, but when they got there, they stared out the windshield at the smallest, saddest but most definitely surfable waves they'd ever seen, then turned to each other, grinning like idiots.

"See, you just have to trust me," Zito said, looking as proud as if he'd given birth to those waves himself.

"Yeah, good thing I didn't get that third taco."

Then Zito leaned forward and kissed Haren, right on the lips.

*****

Street talked too much.

Zito kissed him again to shut him up, pinning Street's wrists above his head as he thrust slowly into him. A part of Zito wanted to just lose control, to finally give in and take what he wanted, ride Street hard, come deep inside him; but he couldn't do that, he wouldn't do that, because it was Street, and he would never lose control with him because that meant surrendering a part of himself to him, and Zito couldn't have that.

Street struggled to break free of his grasp, but his grip was too tight and he couldn't get his hands free despite how badly he needed to stroke himself; all he needed were a few quick jerks and he'd be coming hard, pressed against Zito's body. He grunted in frustration, a sound that quickly became a groan when Zito buried himself balls deep inside him, sucking hard on his neck.

"Oh fuck," he gasped, bucking his hips up against Zito, loving the way he filled him up, but it lasted only a moment, and Zito pulled almost all the way out, licking a line up his chest as Street twisted beneath him in frustration.

"Need you... need you to fuck me," he begged, looking up at Zito through half-closed eyes, his voice so husky the words barely made their way out.

But Zito ignored him, taking his time to nip and bite, trace patterns with his tongue, anything he could do to make Street want him more, as if by some bizarre law of conservation that would make Zito want him less. He'd wrapped his legs around Zito's waist, trying to get his dick deeper inside him, but he wasn't getting nearly as much as he wanted.

Zito wasn't so much fucking Street as he was screwing him.

Eventually, he let go of his wrists and Street reached down eagerly to jerk himself off, barely even noticing the tingling in his fingertips as the blood rushed back to his hands. He came with a long moan, Zito pounding his ass hard until he came as well, shuddering against him. He pulled out while he was still hard and rolled over onto his back, sliding the condom off with a shaking hand. He closed his eyes, breathing hard, and he took a couple of attempts to tie it off blind and toss it into the trash.

Street groped for Zito's hand, still panting, but when he found it Zito withdrew his hand and sat up, getting off the bed. He made his way to the doorway on weak legs and when he got there he turned around to look at Street, lying there and looking a little hurt, his legs still splayed apart obscenely.

"I have to be at the airport in an hour," he said, as if it was an apology. "You can use the other shower if you want."

Street sat up slowly and pulled his knees in to his chest. "No, I uhh, I think I'm just going to go home to shower."

He grabbed his boxers and pants from the floor and pulled them on, his face burning. He didn't understand why he felt so cheap, so used, when it wasn't supposed to be like that at all. It was no strings attached and that meant he wasn't entitled to anything after. Street had accepted that months ago, but apparently some part of him hadn't received the memo.

And then Zito was in front of him, kneeling, kissing his cheek softly. "I'll see you out," he said, his voice kinder than his words.

Street finished getting dressed as Zito wiped himself dry with a towel and pulled on some shorts. He went to retrieve his things from the coffee table in the living room and started to head towards the front door when Zito called him back.

"Hey, don't forget your iPod."

"Thanks." Street came back to get it and paused. "It doesn't turn on anymore."

"Yeah? You should get it fixed. Is it still under warranty?"

"I don't think so; you gave it to me over a year ago."

"Right, Christmas." Zito ran a hand through his hair, making it stand straight up, then looked into Street's eyes for the first time that day. "You should get a new one. They have better ones now, smaller, more storage--maybe you should look at an iPhone."

"Yeah, maybe," Street mumbled. "I like the one I have, though. You know, when it worked."

Zito nodded and he hated himself, but just for a moment.

*****

"Okay, what the fuck did you do to him?" Swisher hissed in Haren's ear, scaring the shit out of him and causing him to almost drop his copy of The Ruins on the floor.

"What?" Haren blinked, shaking the creepy images in the book from his head.

"Let's take a walk," Swisher said gruffly, pulling him to his feet and leading him out of the clubhouse into the hallway as the infielders pretended to ignore them.

"What's your problem?" Haren stopped when they were twenty feet away and crossed his arms, confused and irritated.

"I don't know; Street was fucking crying in the john just now, so I just want to know what you did to him." Swisher crossed his arms too, and Haren had rarely seen him this angry. "For fuck's sake, Danny, I thought you would be better."

"He was... he was crying?" Haren blinked in surprise. "I don't know what to tell you; I don't know about anything he would be upset about."

Swisher narrowed his eyes at Haren, but grudgingly accepted that he was being genuine. He was just as in the dark as Swisher was--possibly even more in the dark, judging from the expression on his face.

"Okay," he said, awkwardly. "I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions."

"It's okay." Haren relaxed his stance a little, dropping his arms to his sides. "But why did you think Street crying was my fault? Am I that much of an asshole?"

They both chuckled a little at that, and Swisher looked down thoughtfully. "Because of how close you two are. You know. Pitching."

Haren looked suspiciously at him. Swisher kept using that word, and Haren didn't think that it meant what he thought it meant. He was about to ask Swisher to explain himself when Street appeared around the corner, drinking a can of Coke.

Swisher opened his mouth to say something, but Haren cut him off with a nod. "I'll talk to him."

"Hey guys, what's up?" Street walked over, beaming at them like a ray of sunshine, and Swisher stared at him incredulously before turning and walking away, mumbling something unflattering about pitchers.

Haren looked carefully at Street, saw the redness in his eyes, and knew that Swisher hadn't been mistaken.

"What's wrong with him?" he asked, sounding offended. He took a gulp of Coke to console himself.

"Don't know." Haren shrugged. "Hey, is everything all right with you? Anything going on you want to talk about?"

"No," he answered, defensively. "Everything's great. Why do you think something's wrong?"

"You were crying in the bathroom," Haren said, watching Street's face closely to gauge his reaction.

"What? I was not! Who said that I was crying? It was Kotsay, wasn't it?" Street's jaw dropped in shock and outrage, and Haren almost believed him.

"Uhh, no. Swisher, actually."

"Goddamn those chatty fucking outfielders!" Street scowled. "Why can't they mind their own business?"

"So you weren't crying?" Haren prompted him gently.

Street shook his head vehemently. "I was just kind of sniffling a little bit. Allergies. And then Kotsay came in and gave me this look and ran off to gossip with Swisher like a couple of old women!"

Haren could tell from the way Street was standing - the way he was grabbing his elbows and looking down, around, behind, doing anything but meeting his eyes - that he was lying. It made him truly sad to think that something had hurt Street badly enough that he'd been crying in the bathroom. Even though Street had constantly been at his side since the season started, and talking most of the time he was there, Haren had never gotten angry with him. He couldn't, really--not with Street's earnestness and his genuine desire to help everyone around him, and definitely not with his honest, open smile.

"Did you take something?" he asked, finally.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah. I took some umm, Claritin." Street coloured and smiled nervously at Haren. "I'm fine now."

"That's good." Haren sighed inwardly. He wasn't good at this kind of thing, talking to people about problems--theirs or his. That's why he was so close to Zito; each understood how the other thought without having to say anything, and except for that one time, it had always worked out. But he was close to Street too, figuratively and - since the start of the season - literally, so he tried his best.

"So how are things going with that girl?"

Street's eyes widened and he opened and closed his mouth like a fish before recovering to respond. "I uhh... I just went to see her. Yesterday."

"Is she still seeing someone else?" Haren asked, and Street closed his eyes, remembering how excluded he'd felt once he was done being fucked, like that was the only part of his life that he would ever be able to fit in.

"She doesn't love me," he said, plaintively.

Haren hugged him, patting his back gently as he blinked away hot tears. Then he stepped back a little, hands still firm on Street's shoulders. "You have to end it; this thing, I've seen it dragging you down and I hate it. I want to see you happy, and you're not happy right now, not with her."

Street was speechless, struggling to keep the tears back, and he wrapped his arms around Haren, squeezing him tightly, thanking him wordlessly for caring, for being there, for reaching out to him instead of pushing him away. And Haren, holding Street in his arms as he lost his battle with his tears, felt something completely new.

*****

Haren had gone through that stage in his teens when he questioned his sexuality and had been answered with a noncommittal grunt.

He'd never really been too concerned about it because there was a continuous stream of girls - and a couple of boys too - and that was ultimately the important thing. Lowry had quietly freaked out when he came back to their dorm room one morning after sleeping over with his girlfriend to find Haren and Todd from the swim team asleep in bed together. After Todd hurried out of the room, half-dressed and clutching his remaining clothing and one shoe, Lowry had freaked out again, but much more noisily.

"I can't believe we've been rooming together for this long and you never told me you're a fag! What the fuck? I mean, shit, are you staring at my ass when I change? You checking out the rest of the team in the showers too? You know what? Get your shit and get the fuck out of here! I'm not rooming with a fag."

Haren had stood there, stinging from Lowry's words, and his hands clenched into fists, but he forced himself to straighten his fingers back out and he started explaining. He told Lowry that he had been afraid to tell him because he was worried about how he would react - apparently with good reason - and that a good time to do it had never come up, and that he hadn't been able to come up with the right words. He reassured Lowry that he didn't have anything to worry about; he would never try to jump his bones while was drunk, or try to take advantage of him in any other way. Their friendship meant too much to him to ever jeopardize it by doing anything like that. Lowry could trust him, and he would always be able to trust him.

Lowry stewed for a while, and Haren did have to crash with another teammate for a couple of days, but eventually he calmed down and told Haren he could move back in if he still wanted to. He apologized for what he'd said, for calling him a fag, and they never talked about it again, except when Haren later conceded that he had in fact checked Lowry's ass out on numerous occasions. But he couldn't really be blamed for that; after all, it was a great ass.

And on a fall day in San Diego, in front of faith restoring waves, the same kind of thoughts raced through Haren's mind as he leaned back from Zito, looking like he'd just been slapped instead of kissed, shakily repeating, "Good thing I didn't get that third taco."

Zito was a kindred soul, but he wasn't a soulmate, and Haren had never thought that he could be; in that moment, he knew that he would never be. They were similar in a lot of ways: they were both SoCal boys, they had both gone to Catholic school, they both had interesting hair, but most importantly they were pitchers--and not in the Nick Swisher sense of the word. They were like brothers, and everything in their relationship was already defined; everything had its place. Haren loved that place, and he didn't want to move away from there.

He didn't want Zito to be anything more or less than a friend, and he could have tried to tell him all of this, to talk to him like he'd talked to Lowry, but for some reason he chose instead to get out of the car and get his surfboard. Zito had followed suit slowly, wondering how he could have been wrong in reading Haren. He was pretty sure that he wasn't straight when they met, and he'd been wrong about this kind of thing before, but never when he'd felt so strongly about it. He decided he was just lucky that Haren hadn't punched him in the face, and they carried their boards out to the ocean together, hair flowing in the sea breeze.

Haren now looked at the boy - the man - who was burying his face in his shoulder, and he saw a friend, but not a brother; they had roles in their relationship, but Haren wasn't convinced that they weren't just under construction. Street could be crazy, but he was always crazy in a good way. Nobody was more loyal than him, and nobody could brighten a day like he could.

It could take Haren a while to warm up to people, but that was only because it took time for a person to reveal who they truly were. The good thing about Street spending all that time with him, was that he was absolutely, one hundred percent sure that he knew who Street was.

Dan Haren still didn't understand everything, but he did understand the way he felt about Huston Street.

*****

Nick Swisher emerged from the clubhouse tentatively, like a baby chick slowly emerging from its shell. He was wondering how Haren's talk with Street was going, and as he peered down the hallway, it took a few moments for him to locate them, standing in the shadows by the wall, and a little longer for it to register that they were kissing.

Kotsay came over to look at what Swisher was gawking at, but Swisher pushed him back, breaking the line of sight between him and them. Kotsay frowned, a little grumpy at being shoved aside. "What are you looking at?"

"Danny and Street."

"What are they doing?" Kotsay asked.

Swisher blushed furiously, sputtering a little before he could muster an answer.

"Pitching."


THE END


P.S. William the iPod as in Barry William Zito.

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