Patrick locks his dorm room door behind him and walks down the hall to the stairwell. His feet are anxious to get going, and he has to slow himself down so that he doesn’t actually run the entire way to practice. He’s already going to be at least forty-five minutes early; he doesn’t need to get there over an hour ahead of time.
At the bottom of the stairs, he readjusts his equipment bag, shifting it over his head onto his opposite shoulder so that the weight is distributed across his body, and allows himself a brisk walking pace once he’s outside in the sunshine. Anyone looking would hardly know anything was out of the ordinary; would never guess that Patrick is bubbling with excitement inside like he’s six years old again and going to his very first game at SkyDome.
He was thrilled to get into SUNY Seneca Falls, and he knows he’s here for an education, but getting recruited for baseball and having the athletic department help him apply for academic scholarships at a school that was already his first choice for its business program was the icing on the cake of a pretty spectacular senior year of high school.
The transition to college has been a little bumpy in the way that Patrick thinks—hopes—is typical: the scramble to make friends, the frenzied first few days of freshman orientation with no classes but plenty of parties and freedom, the rude awakening about exactly what tiny fish they are when the rest of the students returned, the anxious anticipation before the heavy work really set in.
He’s been on campus for almost three weeks, counting down the days until the first practice. It’s only Division III ball; he’s not expecting to go pro. But compared to the fields he’s been playing on for his whole life, a university baseball field is practically the majors, or at least the minors. He’s been dreaming all summer of what it will be like to walk out onto the dirt, to smell the fresh-cut grass, to feel the tightness on his cheeks from his eye black and the sweat on his skin from the warmth of the sun. To play on a team full of guys who are just as obsessed with the game as he is.
Which is why he can’t help but snort at the voice he hears—well, he doesn’t want to call it screeching, but it’s definitely close—as he walks down the short corridor that leads from the stadium entrance to the field.
“Excuse me? Hello? When was the last time these batting helmets were sanitized? Because I refuse to catch lice from a disgusting communal helmet just because some underpaid assistant coach was too lazy to spray them.”
He walks towards the home dugout. There’s a taller guy with dark hair—the source of the temper tantrum, apparently—facing away from Patrick, hand resting defiantly on his hip, a batting helmet dangling from two fingers as if he can hardly stand to be touching it at all. The unfortunate recipient of said outburst is a shorter woman with long dark hair pulled into a low ponytail under a green Seneca Falls baseball cap. Her arms are crossed across her chest, and she’s wearing a dangerous smirk on her face that would make most people want to apologize for simply deigning to exist in her presence.
“Oh, we have a no-spray policy here. Organic batting helmets are very important to us. We feel strongly that the lice were here first, and who are we to tell them not to exist in their natural habitat?” She blinks up at the guy.
“Can I ask you something?” the guy says.
“I think you’re kind of rude.”
“Is that a question?” Her face remains impressively impassive.
“Here’s a question,” the guy fires back. “Who around here can actually help me?”
“Oh, that would be me. Stevie Budd. I’m the student equipment manager.”
“Okay, so who around here will actually help me?”
Stevie shakes her head in what is clearly faux-contrition and says, “Ooh, sorry, that I can’t tell you.” She looks up and catches Patrick’s eye. “But maybe he’ll help you so that I can get back to work.”
Patrick stiffens at being acknowledged, but a moment later he’s glad that the muscles in his legs were already tensed in preparation for fight or flight, because when the guy turns around, Patrick goes absolutely weak in the knees. He’s gorgeous, with strong eyebrows, currently furrowed in annoyance; dark stubble peppering a sharp jaw, currently set in...annoyance; and full, pink lips, currently pursed in, well, annoyance. Okay, so he’s clearly annoyed.
“Hey!” Patrick tries, smiling brightly and walking towards the guy, hand outstretched for a shake. “I’m Patrick.”
The guy takes it tentatively and gives it a surprisingly weak shake, considering how strong his arms look. “David.”
“Nice to meet you, David. I’m a freshman. What about you?”
“Sophomore. But, um, this is my first year here. I just transferred.”
“Oh yeah? Where from?”
Patrick’s eyebrows shoot up. Cornell is a Division I school. “Wow, they, uh, they have a really great baseball team. Did you play there?”
“Yup.” David presses his lips together in a tight line.
“Why did you transfer, then?”
A muscle in David’s jaw twitches as he clenches his teeth. “Excuse me, I was under the impression that we just met. How is that any of your business?”
Patrick holds up his hands in surrender. “Hey, sorry. I was just making conversation. It’s good to meet you, David.”
“Mmm. I’m not sure I can say the same of you yet.”
Something hot flashes in Patrick’s brain, igniting the same place that lights up when he’s facing down a full count or next up to perform for an open mic; the place where adrenaline and excitement and determination mingle. “Oh, I’ll win you over,” he says, letting his words drip with self-assurance.
“We’ll see about that.” David raises an eyebrow, and Patrick’s heart races. He’s never found eyebrows sexy before, but on David...well, it seems like just about everything on David is sexy.
Patrick clears his throat and looks around the empty field. “Well, since we seem to be the only ones who got here this early, do you want to warm up? Play some catch?”
“I was here because I wanted to get some uninterrupted batting practice in.” David looks Patrick up and down, and Patrick’s skin burns under his appraising eye. “But sure, I could play some catch.”
“Great.” Patrick grins, and David’s lips twist into a shape Patrick can’t decipher. It’s not exactly a smile, but it’s not exactly not a smile. And there’s definitely—oh god—there’s definitely a deep dimple on David’s left cheek that had been hiding until now.
David turns away from Patrick to retrieve his glove from his equipment bag, which is sitting on the bench in the dugout, and Patrick follows his lead, dropping his own bag on the ground and bending to unzip it. He pulls out the glove that he has been using for the last few years, ever since his dad gave it to him when he made varsity his sophomore year of high school.
When Patrick stands up, David is already sprinting past him; his long legs, clad in black athletic joggers, striding smoothly across the dirt of the infield until he reaches second base. The muscles of David’s back shift under his white t-shirt, and the mid-afternoon sunlight casts highlights and shadows that accentuate the pull of the fabric across David’s broad shoulders and the loose fit at his trim waist. It takes Patrick a moment to react and run after him, heading towards third on legs that he knows are strong and powerful, but not nearly as graceful as David’s. As he turns to face Patrick, David pulls on a baseball cap that Patrick hadn’t noticed in his hand. Patrick is surprised to see the Blue Jays logo (even if the hat is a monochrome black-on-black number that seems to fit with David’s exacting standards, this isn’t exactly Jays territory), but he doesn’t have time to ask about it before David hurls a throw so fast and strong Patrick almost misses it.
Luckily, years of practice as a catcher have made his reflexes lightning fast, and the ball smacks into the cradle of his glove with a satisfying thwack. David’s eyebrows raise just slightly, and Patrick hopes that means he’s impressed, but his face doesn’t give anything else away. Patrick returns the throw with equal strength—another thing years of catching have taught him—and David’s arm is pulled backwards slightly with the force of it. He smirks and tosses the ball back, casually this time. They don’t speak for a long while as they pass it between them, nice and easy, just getting reacquainted with the feel of being out on the field and the familiar motion of playing a simple game of catch.
Patrick has checked out countless guys out of the corner of his eye over the years. At first, he’d thought he was just curious about his teammates who seemed to be able to build muscle faster than him; thought he was just considering what his own body might look like one day. In his quest to decipher why kissing Rachel Covington at Seth Brookner’s pool party the summer after ninth grade felt like a whole lot of nothing, though, he’d started really letting himself look. He’d been able to make a pretty well-educated guess quickly after that, and kissing Seth Brookner at Patrick's own sixteenth birthday party the following May (and a whole lot of other times that summer) had confirmed his suspicions with overwhelming certainty. But Patrick has never been quite this distracted. He can’t stop watching the lines of David’s body, the ease with which he grabs the ball out of the air and fires it back. It’s beautiful to watch.
“So what’s your major?” David’s voice interrupts Patrick’s thoughts, and Patrick forces himself to focus on having an actual conversation and not just on ogling David.
Patrick throws the ball back. “Business administration and management. You?”
“Huh, that’s unusual. I don’t think any of the guys on my high school team were really much into art.”
“I contain multitudes.”
“You know, I’m a musician. I sing and play guitar. I sometimes write my own stuff.”
“How fun for you.”
Patrick grins. “It is fun. Thank you, David.”
Thwack. David holds onto the ball this time. “You’re a little snippy, aren’t you?” Throw.
“I don’t know, I’ve always preferred to think of myself as charming.”
David snorts. “Sure.”
“So where are you from?”
“New York City. You?”
“Alexandria Bay. I’m surprised you’re a Jays fan. I would have thought you’d follow the Yankees.”
“I was born in Toronto. We didn’t move to New York until I was fourteen.”
“No kidding? I was born in Canada, too.”
“I figured. I caught your accent when you said ‘sorry’ before.”
“Fair enough. You sound American, though.”
Thwack. Patrick holds onto the ball as David huffs a laugh at his observation, and Patrick does a dance inside at the tiny victory.
“If you met my mother, you’d understand. She’s an actress, and she’s kind of picked up little bits of accents from everywhere she’s been. My sister still says ‘sorry’ and ‘tomorrow’ like a Canadian, but she spent significantly less time with my mother than I did, since I’m the only one trained to handle her wigs.”
Patrick blinks. “Handle her wigs?”
“Like I said, if you met her, you’d understand.”
“Huh. I’ll have to take your word for it, I guess.”
“I guess so.”
“So what position do you play?”
“Right field. And you—” David’s eyes flick over Patrick’s body again, and he feels his face flush as his gaze lingers on Patrick’s thighs before glancing back up “—are a catcher.”
It’s Patrick’s turn to laugh. “Guilty. Is it the thighs?”
“Mmm. In part. Those, and your whole...thing.” He waves his gloveless right hand around in the air, apparently trying to gesture at some mystery quality Patrick can’t parse.
“Yeah, you know. Confident. Assertive. Big...take-charge...energy.”
Patrick feels his face go from pink to crimson in an instant, and if the smirk on David’s face is any indication, he definitely noticed.
“Hey!” Patrick is saved by a voice calling from across the field, as they both look away to find the source. A muscular guy with light brown hair peeking out from under his Seneca Falls cap is jogging across the infield towards them, waving. “You guys must be new!” He comes to a stop and sticks out a hand. “I’m Ted. First base, and team captain. I’m a junior.”
Patrick reaches to shake. “Patrick. Catcher. I’m a freshman.”
David just waves. “David. Right field. Uh, I’m a sophomore.”
Ted smiles broadly. “Cool! Glad to have you both! You’re going to love the team. We’re base-ically family.” He laughs at his own joke. Patrick chuckles politely, but he hears a quiet groan of disapproval from David, and he can’t help but smile.
The rest of the team starts to trickle in, greeting old friends and introducing themselves, and Patrick’s head is swimming with names, nerves, and exhilaration as he immerses himself in the familiar rhythms of practice.
Coach Lee has them doing speed drills and dynamic stretches for the first half hour, and as much as he tries to concentrate, he catches himself searching for David’s black cap and long legs more than once. Unfortunately, Coach Lee catches him, too.
“Brewer! If you’d rather watch than run, there’s a nice spot on the bench for you right over there.” She points to her right while staring straight at Patrick, raising an unimpressed eyebrow. Shit.
“Don’t let it happen again!”
Patrick gives her a thumbs up in response. Coach Lee rolls her eyes and crosses her arms, and returns to scanning the group.
Luckily, they break into position groups soon after, so David runs off to practice with the outfielders and Coach Currie while Patrick and the other catchers gear up. Emir is nice enough—funny and sarcastic—but Dane seems like kind of a colossal douche, which is too bad, considering how much time Patrick’s going to have to be spending with him. Coach Butani has them line up behind home plate, and they take turns running blocking practice over and over, making tiny adjustments each time to help them save precious fractions of a second. Emir is great. Dane, unfortunately, is excellent. But Patrick is better. He knows logically that Dane and Emir probably practiced just as much as he did in high school, not to mention that they have one and two years on him, respectively, of playing college ball. But he can't help but feel a surge of pride that the hours of work in the backyard with his Dad starting from as soon as he was old enough to hold a ball, and the missed parties, cancelled dates, and occasional late homework assignments, were all worth it to get him here, on a college baseball field, where Coach Butani is enthusiastically praising his form and his speed.
Practice wraps up an hour and a half later, and after a debrief from the coaches, the group breaks apart to head back to the rest of their Thursdays. Patrick tries to catch David’s eye, but he already has his headphones in by the time Patrick makes it over to the dugout, and he slings his bag over his shoulder and walks away without looking up. As Patrick stands there awkwardly frozen, debating whether or not to run after him, Ted comes up and claps him on the shoulder.
“Hey, bud! Some of us are going to go grab dinner at the dining hall. You in?”
“Um…” Patrick spares one more glance at David’s retreating form, then looks back at Ted. “Sure, man.”
“Cool!” Ted grins widely. “And it’s lasagna night!” he sing-songs quietly, holding his hand up to the side of his mouth like it’s a secret and not posted publicly on the weekly menu.
Patrick chuckles. “Sounds great.”
Fortunately, after that first practice, it feels like Patrick sees David everywhere. Unfortunately, it never seems like the right time to approach him. He’s eating in the dining hall with Stevie, alternating between laughing and looking annoyed; he’s hurrying through the student union building, probably rushing to get to class, when Patrick is standing in line at the cafe; he’s on the other side of the library at a table with three other students, gesticulating wildly over an oversized book that takes up most of the tabletop, opened to a photograph of some kind of artwork; he’s across the quad sitting under the shade of a tree sketching in a black notebook, headphones on, looking impossibly beautiful as the sunlight shines through the leaves, dappling across his face and reflecting off the rings on his right hand like a beacon in a storm.
David still gets to practice early each day, but he usually spends the time sitting in the dugout, legs folded up on the bench, hunched over that same black notebook in his lap. During practice, they’re both busy running drills and working with their respective coaches, and after being called out by Coach Lee less than half an hour into the first practice, Patrick is careful not to get caught watching David anymore, lest he get on her bad side even more than he already seems to be. Patrick always hopes he’ll be able to catch David after practice, but every time, when most of the team is heading to the locker room to shower before getting dinner, David just gives a wave to the group and goes to catch up with Stevie as she gathers up the practice equipment.
After two weeks of Patrick slowly going out of his mind with how desperate he is to talk to David, Miguel, who plays first base with Ted, unwittingly throws him a bone.
When David shoulders his bag at the end of practice on Friday, muscles in his forearms flexing with the weight of it (not that Patrick notices, or reflexively licks his lips, or anything like that), Miguel calls out to him before he can start to walk away. “Hey, Rose! Are you ever going to come have team dinner with us, or what?”
David’s eyes jerk from side to side, as if he’s looking for a way out of the conversation. “Uh, no, I’m just gonna head out.”
“Aw, come on, man,” Miguel insists. “We don’t bite.”
“Unless you want us to,” Jake, a tall and muscular center fielder, chimes in, then nudges Patrick with his elbow and shoots him a wink, which. Well. Okay then.
David rolls his eyes and shakes his head in a movement that looks like “absolutely not,” but there’s an amused smile playing at the corners of his lips. “All right, fine,” David acquiesces, and rolls his eyes again as Miguel and Jake whoop in victory.
Patrick falls into step with David as they follow Miguel and Jake to the locker room. He waits for David to finish texting someone—Stevie, probably—before asking, “Good practice?”
David shrugs, and his bag shifts slightly on his hip and bumps Patrick’s hand. “It was fine. Coach Currie is great with improving our fielding skills, but he had us working on running today, and I don’t know if you’ve seen him run, but he, uh, doesn’t.”
Patrick snorts. “He kind of perpetually looks like he’s slowing down, even when he’s just started.”
“Exactly!” David’s hands fly up in the air, waving wildly. “It’s basically the opposite of inspirational.”
“A lot different from the practices at Cornell, I guess?”
David’s face darkens, and his left hand falls abruptly to his side as his right closes tightly around the strap of his equipment bag. “Yeah.”
Patrick’s stomach drops. “Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s fine,” David says curtly.
Patrick glances over at David, but he keeps looking straight ahead, not making eye contact. Patrick searches for something to say to lighten the mood. “I think I mentioned that I play acoustic guitar, right?” David hums in acknowledgement. “So when I was in high school, I used to do these open mics at the local cafe—”
David’s head snaps over to him. “Oh god, why?”
Patrick grins. “They were fun! And pretty popular, too.”
“Was there nothing better to do? How small is your town, exactly?”
“Oh, small. Can you guess what my most popular song performance was?”
“You’re telling me you did enough of them to have a most popular song?”
“Absolutely! Once a month, for four years.” David cringes; Patrick laughs. “Come on, guess.”
“I don’t know.” David looks up and shakes his head with what Patrick hopes is performative exasperation. “Probably Bob Dylan or Ed Sheeran or something like that.”
“‘Genie in a Bottle’ by Christina Aguilera.”
David freezes halfway up the stairs to the athletic center, and Patrick stops short with him. “You’re kidding.”
Patrick raises his eyebrows and keeps his face as neutral as he can. “Nope.”
“Huh.” David turns to continue up the stairs without adding anything else. Patrick follows.
“Nothing, I’m just surprised.” David grabs the door handle and holds it open behind him for Patrick to catch. “You seem...not like a Christina Aguilera guy.”
“I like all kinds of music.” Patrick pauses. “But my second most popular song was ‘Thinking Out Loud’.”
David’s laughter is like music in the empty hallway. “There it is.”
“There it is,” Patrick agrees.
His conversation with David comes to an abrupt halt at the locker room door, where Patrick immediately squares his shoulders, shifting into his learned practice of keeping his eyes to himself as much as possible and holding firm eye contact when he does have to talk to one of his teammates. It’s not that he thinks anyone on this team would care about him being gay, especially since he’s clocked a few of them, including Jake, as possibly queer, anyway. But a locker room is a team’s safe space, their collective home, and not the place for flirting.
As usual, Jake flagrantly ignores all the rules that Patrick trained himself to follow: sauntering around in nothing but flip flops, leaning up against lockers, letting his eyes rove, casually reaching out and brushing others’ bare skin. No one, Patrick included, pays him any mind by this point; that’s just Jake. But Patrick is hyper aware of his fully nude presence today, with his six-pack abs, swaths of tanned skin, and defined pecs scattered with the perfect amount of hair, all of which are staying in David’s orbit for far too long, in Patrick’s opinion. He averts his eyes when he suddenly realizes that he’s tracking Jake and David’s movements, and instead busies himself with grabbing his toiletries and shower shoes out of his locker.
He strips down quickly and wraps his towel around his waist before heading to the showers. They’re just in one of those big tiled rooms with shower heads spaced evenly along the walls, each with a towel hook, soap dish, and liquid soap dispenser that’s filled with that awful 3-in-1 stuff that Patrick grew out of using by the time he was fifteen. He follows the unspoken understanding among all athletes everywhere and finds a spot that’s as distanced from others as possible, keeping his mind purposely blank and respectful as he passes by his teammates who are already showering. He balances his small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash on the soap dish, hangs up his towel, and turns the hot water on full blast, closing his eyes and letting the pressure of the water soothe his sore muscles for a few moments.
Once the relaxation settles into his body, he shampoos and then conditions his hair. He’s just putting the bottle back when he hears David’s voice somewhere behind him.
Patrick fights the instinct to turn around—he’s definitely not going to do that unless he’s sure David is talking to him—and squeezes some body wash into his palm instead.
“Hey, Patrick,” David says again.
Patrick allows himself a glance over his shoulder, but keeps his eyes firmly trained above the shoulders. “Yeah?”
“Um, so I don’t have my shower stuff with me. Because I usually just shower at my dorm.”
“Oh. Uh, okay?”
“And I know it’s probably highly unlikely that you use Innersense Hydrating Hairbath, but, uh” —his eyes flick up towards Patrick’s hairline— “you at least have curly hair like me, so I was wondering if I could borrow your shampoo and conditioner? Just for today.”
David is looking to the side and stumbling over his words, a far cry from the confident, self-assured guy he is on the field. He’s nervous, Patrick realizes. And Patrick can’t help but smile.
“What?” David asks, shaking his head slightly.
“Nothing, I’m just glad you came to me,” he says seriously. “You never know what awful bargain junk is in these dispensers.” David visibly relaxes, which Patrick almost feels bad about as he continues speaking. “Luckily, I use Dove for Men 3-in-1. Great stuff.”
David narrows his eyes and purses his lips. “Mmkay, never mind.”
Patrick breaks, laughing. “Sorry, I’m kidding. I use Odele. It’s not as good as Innersense, but—”
“No, no, that’s great. Pretty much anything is better than this,” David says, gesturing at the dispenser on the wall. “Thanks.”
Patrick grabs the shampoo bottle and turns to toss it over. “Here, catch,” he says, and tosses it gently, trusting that David’s baseball skills will allow him to catch it easily. Which he does, except that Patrick forgot to account for the extra slip that the water and soap on his hands would cause. Almost as soon as the bottle lands in David’s hands, it slides through them to the floor. David growls and bends to pick it up, and without thinking, Patrick’s eyes drop to follow his movement, which gives him an eyeful of every inch of David’s gorgeous body, from the thick, dark hair on his legs, to the shifting muscles in his back, to his round, perfect ass, to—
Patrick snaps his eyes away and faces the shower head again, ignoring the burning in his cheeks and tingling in his stomach, and rinsing himself off as quickly as he can. “Uh, sorry! Slippery hands, you know.” He’s talking way too loudly, but he can’t seem to control the volume of his voice. “I’m all done, so I’ll just leave the conditioner and body wash over here for you.” He turns off the water and wraps his towel around his waist without drying off, and walks away quickly with his eyes trained down on the tile floor. “‘Kay, see you out there.”
“Um, okay,” he hears David say distantly, but Patrick is already out of the showers and beelining for his locker, where he dresses as quickly as he can before pushing out of the door and hurrying down the hallway, heading for the benches outside where the guys going to dinner always wait to walk to the dining hall together.
It takes about ten minutes for the last stragglers to finish up. Patrick tries to focus on his conversation with Ken and Citrus, both shortstops, who are extolling the virtues of yoga for focus and flexibility, but he can’t help keeping one eye on the door, watching for David. Finally, he and Jake walk out together, laughing about something. Another wave of jealousy rolls through Patrick, but he tamps it down as quickly as he can. It makes sense, Patrick reasons, that David and Jake have more of a rapport than he and David do. They’re both outfielders, after all, so they spend most of their practice time together. It’s just that he’d thought he and David had connected, even if it was just as friends, at that first practice, but today is the first day they’ve had any kind of conversation since then, and then Patrick had to go and make things weird by basically running away from him in the locker room.
“Um, Earth to Patrick,” Ken sing-songs.
Patrick realizes he’s been staring into a point somewhere above Ken’s left shoulders. He shakes his head and refocuses. “Sorry, what?”
“I asked if you wanted to come to yoga with me tomorrow. There’s a class at four-thirty at the main fitness center.”
Patrick shrugs. “Sure, why not.” He doesn’t think it’s going to be his thing, but it’s not like he’ll be doing anything on a Saturday late afternoon besides messing around on his guitar or whatever.
“Great!” Ken flashes him a bright smile. He’s cute, Patrick realizes. Not really his type, even if Ken is queer, but cute.
Patrick feels a tap on his shoulder, and spins to find himself face to face with a freshly showered, decidedly more-than-cute David Rose.
“Hey, I have your products,” David says, unzipping his bag and pulling out the three bottles, a glint of silver on his hand flashing in the pink haze of the setting sun. David never wears his rings at baseball practice, but he must have put them back on right after he got dressed. Patrick wonders if there’s a story behind them, since they’re clearly important to David.
Patrick takes the bottles, his fingertips briefly brushing David’s palm and sending a jolt of heat up his arm. He swallows and looks back at David’s dark chocolate eyes. “Thanks.” He gives a pointed look at David’s hair, which has been apparently blow dried and styled back into its usual swoop with nary a curl in sight, and then drops his gaze back to David’s face. “Wow, I can really see the definition in your curls now. Maybe you should consider switching shampoos after all.”
David flicks a hand to the side dismissively. “Just because I don’t let my curls run wild and free, it doesn’t mean my hair deserves to be tortured with some mystery concoction that comes from a dispenser affixed to a locker room shower wall. Which you clearly know, since I don’t see you using it, either.” He reaches over and taps on the bottles that are still in Patrick’s hand, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
Patrick chuckles as he unzips his own bag and drops the bottles inside. “Well, make sure to bring your own stuff next time. I can’t wait to see the difference an extra fifteen bucks a bottle makes on hair that’s going to be straightened, anyway.”
David rolls his eyes and huffs out an annoyed breath, and Patrick grins at him.
“Uh, guys?” David and Patrick both turn to look at Ken, who is standing alone about ten feet away. He hooks a thumb over his shoulder. “Are you coming?” Patrick looks past Ken to see the rest of the team already half a block down the sidewalk, headed towards the dining hall.
“Yeah, yeah,” Patrick says, and he jogs to catch up with Ken.
David doesn’t follow with the same urgency, though, and when Patrick turns and gives a questioning look at his sauntering pace, David just shrugs. “Conserving energy. I only run when absolutely necessary.”
Patrick is torn between keeping up this game they’re playing by hurrying to catch up with the other guys and leaving David behind to tease later, or waiting and walking with David. He settles on the middle ground of staying near Ken, moving at a slightly faster clip than David but never actually getting more than fifty feet ahead of him. He glances back every so often, and every time, David seems to be pointedly not looking at Patrick, instead gazing up into the trees or across the quad. When they get to the dining hall, Patrick and Ken get in the infuriatingly long line to swipe their IDs, and thirty seconds later, David is right behind them, pulling his own ID out of his black leather wallet.
“Wow,” David intones, a smile playing across his lips, the dimple on his left cheek just starting to peek through. “You really showed me. Good thing you got here when you did.”
Patrick says nothing, but once they’re in the dining hall and they’ve grabbed trays, Ken turns towards the sandwich station while Patrick and David both head for the pizza. He gets there a fraction of a second before David and gleefully slides the last three pieces of pepperoni pizza onto his plate, eliciting a whine of protest from David.
Patrick sucks air through his teeth. “Ooh, sorry about that. Too bad you didn’t get here sooner, huh?”
“You play dirty.”
“Hey, looks like there’s almost a whole dairy-free pizza there,” he says, nodding to the right. “Plenty of vegetables to make up for the lack of cheese. So you’re not totally out of luck.”
David grumbles and turns towards the pasta bar, instead, while Patrick goes off to find whichever tables the guys have commandeered. He grabs a seat between Emir and Mutt, who are talking about the new Marvel movie that came out a few weeks ago, but which Patrick hasn’t gotten around to seeing yet. A few minutes later, David pulls out the chair diagonally across from Patrick, setting down his tray laden with baked ziti, salad, and approximately seven dinner rolls and jumping into the conversation that Deion and Sebastien are having about some fashion designer Patrick has never heard of. Patrick rips his two remaining slices of pizza apart and wordlessly reaches over to place one on top of David’s tiny mountain of rolls, then turns most of his attention back to the debate over Marvel casting decisions.
Two rolls appear on his tray a moment later. When Patrick looks up, David seems to be listening intently to Deion, his eyes serious, but a smile plays around the corners of his mouth as he bites into the slice of pepperoni pizza. Patrick feels his own lips quirk up to match, and he picks up a roll, soft and still warm, and eats it slowly, ripping off small pieces and savoring them as he settles into the comfortable hum of conversation around him.
Practices in the fall are regular but not overwhelming, since the NCAA regulates how much they’re allowed to train in the off-season. They meet as a team for two hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and Sundays are mandatory gym time with the coaches and trainers for most of the players. For pitchers and catchers, though, Sundays are more practice. There are pitcher and catcher gym hours that are officially listed as “optional” to get around NCAA requirements, but Patrick knows better than to think they’re actually voluntary if he wants to keep his spot on the team. Not that it’s a burden. The athlete gym is usually pretty empty at six-thirty in the morning, and he runs or lifts, letting the ritual and repetition help him shake off the morning fog and center him for the rest of the day. A few of the other position players from the team are usually there around the same time, and he’s started becoming closer with Daeshim, another pitcher; Vikram, who plays second base; Derek, who plays third; and Ted.
The last Sunday in September, pitchers and catchers practice is cancelled, and they’re instructed to go to the gym with the rest of the team. The energy in the room is different than Patrick is used to now that the whole team is here, sweating and grunting and encouraging each other to do just a little more, to push just a little harder. And it’s...well. Patrick’s only human, after all. Still, he tries not to focus too much on the flex of Blair’s muscles as he works at the bicep curl machine or the swell in Mutt’s shorts as he lies on his back on the workout bench doing chest presses. He heads to the treadmills for a run, and then moves to the bar rack to do some barbell back squats and work on his quads. He slides the weights onto the ends of the barbell and locks them in place, and then turns to Sebastien, who is using the free weights nearby.
“Hey, Sebastien, do you mind spotting me for a bit?”
“Absolutely, my friend,” Sebastien says, in that slow, gravelly voice that would be sexy on anyone else, but somehow always feels predatory coming from him. Sebastien winks, which is more than a little surprising considering they’ve barely talked outside of practice, and turns back to the mirror to finish his set.
“Awesome, thanks.” Patrick watches Sebastien watch himself in the mirror, and he seems to be checking himself out more than checking his form, making squinty eyes and pursing his lips at his own reflection. Gross.
When Sebastien is done doing...whatever he was doing, he racks the weights and comes over to Patrick. Patrick squats down low to get himself in position, resting the bar across his shoulders as he bends his arms to grab onto it, using the mirror to make sure he’s lined up correctly to avoid injuries. Sebastien stands behind him, squatting at the same pace, ready to help Patrick stand again if he gets stuck.
As he pushes himself to do one, then two extra reps at the end of his first set, Patrick feels the beginning of the satisfying burn that tells him he’s making progress. Patrick has always loved that sensation, like a pat on the back from his own body for a job well done. He sets down the barbell, and then shifts his weight onto his left leg and bends his right, grabbing his foot behind him and stretching out his quadricep. He switches to the other side after a count of ten, and then he’s ready to keep going. As he starts his second set, he visualizes the receiving drills the catchers were working on with Coach Butani yesterday, mentally completing one perfect catch and return with each rep.
“Has anyone ever told you how surprisingly beautiful you are?” Sebastien drawls towards the end of Patrick’s second set, as he squats behind him.
“Uh…not...particularly,” Patrick grunts out, as he focuses on using his quads to ease himself up to standing again on his last rep. Sebastien helps him set the barbell back on the rack, and Patrick takes a moment to stretch.
“I’d love to photograph you naked sometime,” Sebastien purrs, and Patrick freezes, his left arm hovering uselessly in the air halfway to a tricep stretch.
“Well, that’s...um.” Patrick chuckles awkwardly, and Sebastien leans in close, framing his face with his hands. Is Sebastien going to kiss him? Patrick wouldn’t be opposed, necessarily, but this isn’t exactly the time or pl—
Sebastien pats him on the cheek and steps away before Patrick can finish his thought, which is probably for the best, honestly. Patrick starts his third set, and he’s seven reps in when he hears Sebastien say, under his breath and apparently to himself, “Wow, haunting…” and suddenly he disappears.
“Sebastien! What the f—” Distracted, Patrick starts to lose his grip on the bar and takes a stumbling step backwards. His life and college baseball career flash before his eyes as he imagines the possible injuries about to befall him, but before the weights can drop or his elbow can twist, there’s a taller body behind him, steadying the barbell and helping him ease it down gently. Patrick sinks to the floor, propping his elbows on his knees and dropping his head, trying to slow down his pounding heart. He feels a hand on his back rubbing soothing circles and a low voice telling him to take deep breaths, and after a minute, he feels calm enough to look up. In the mirror, he sees David behind him, face etched with concern.
“Are you okay? Did you get hurt?”
“No, no. I don’t think so. I just lost my balance. Sebastien was supposed to—”
“Sebastien is an asshole,” David growls. “He seems to think that being a center fielder also makes him the center of the universe.”
Patrick snorts. “He said I was ‘surprisingly beautiful’ and that he wanted—”
“—wanted to photograph you naked?” David finishes, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, he’s tried that line on every outfielder, as far as I can tell. I think Jake is the only one who actually took him up on it, but then Jake literally doesn’t care about any kind of modesty, so.”
Patrick laughs. “Considering his locker room etiquette, I think the whole team and the entire coaching staff is aware of how little modesty Jake has.”
“Exactly. So, you want to keep going, or do you need a break?”
“Uh,” Patrick begins, eying the barbell warily, “I think I’m done with that for today. But I can spot you, if you need.”
David purses his lips. “Okay. Want to help me with my shoulders?”
Patrick has to bite his tongue so hard he nearly tastes blood just to keep himself from saying out loud all of the things he wants to do to David’s shoulders.
“Sure,” he eventually manages to choke out.
David moves to the free weights, where he grabs two 50-pound dumbbells (hot), and then nods at a flat bench, indicating that Patrick should join him. David sits sideways on the bench, which means he can’t see himself in the mirror, but it allows Patrick to stand behind him so that he can guide David with gentle fingers under his triceps (so hot) each time he pushes the dumbbells above his head. David grunts with the effort of lifting on the last few reps of his first set (so fucking hot), and then Patrick helps David ease the weights down to the bench on either side of his hips.
They’re quiet for a minute as David stretches out his arms and rests before his next set, but Patrick is desperate to fill the silence. “We haven’t gotten a chance to talk much,” Patrick says. “Uh, how are your classes going?”
Patrick mentally rolls his eyes at himself. Classes? Really? He hasn’t had an actual conversation with David in two weeks, and he chooses to ask about classes like his great aunt who hasn’t seen him for a year and a half?
David, of course, pounces. He turns around on the bench so he’s looking up at Patrick. “They’re going fine, Aunt Ida, thanks for asking,” he says, eyes dancing.
“How are things at the retirement community? Win any bingo tournaments lately?”
“Are you finished?”
“No, no, I’m really curious. I know that Midge was giving you a run for your money awhile back, after all.” He props his hand under his chin and blinks innocently.
Patrick fixes David with a glare and crosses his arms over his chest. He tries to look annoyed, but his heart is racing and he’s fighting hard against the grin that’s desperately trying to spread across his face. It doesn’t help when he notices David’s eyes flick down to Patrick’s forearms, the corners of his mouth twitching with his own hidden smile. Is David checking him out? Holy shit, he thinks he might be checking him out.
Before Patrick can say any more, David clears his throat and looks away. “Okay, another set.”
Patrick shakes off the moment and steps up behind David again, and he gets a couple of reps in before Patrick notices his form slipping. He debates whether or not he should say anything, since he’s less experienced and David is a bit prickly, but they are teammates, and he decides that it’s worth a potentially awkward conversation so that David doesn’t wind up getting injured. As David brings his arms down the next time, Patrick puts his hands under David’s triceps with more pressure than before, silently encouraging him to bring them back so that they are parallel with his torso.
David shrugs him off and glances back over his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“Sorry, just— You were bringing your elbows in. I didn’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“I absolutely was not.”
“No, really. Here, stop a second. Turn and face the mirror.” David gives him a skeptical look, but listens, shifting his position to straddle the end of the bench. Patrick hands him the dumbbells so he doesn’t have to twist around to get them, and steps one foot over the bench so he can stand directly behind David again. “Okay, go.” David starts again, and by the third rep, his elbows are creeping towards each other. “There, see that?” Patrick says, gently pulling him back to where he should be. David hums in acknowledgement and continues, allowing Patrick to guide him without comment or complaint.
David places the weights carefully on the floor when he’s finished with the set, and then sits back up and looks at Patrick in the mirror. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Patrick says softly, and he can’t help staring at their reflection, noticing how they look next to each other. It’s silly and sentimental, and meaningless, because this is just an inconvenient crush, but...still. They look good together.
“All right, baseball team!” Coach Lee’s voice calls out. “Official training time is over! You can leave, or you can stay, your choice.”
“‘Your choice’ my ass,” David mutters, and Patrick snorts. David looks at him in the mirror again. “Are you feeling ready to get back to it?”
Patrick nods. “Yeah. Do you mind spotting me?”
“Let’s go. Chest presses.” David stands and claps him on the bicep, brief and casual, but Patrick is frozen in place with how the surprise touch reverberates through him. He’s vaguely aware that David is walking away and that he should follow, but he can’t make his body react.
“Hey! Ida!” David calls out. “Are you coming, or is your hip acting up again?”
Patrick finally gets his brain and body to get their act together, and he starts towards David. “I injured this hip storming the beach at Normandy. Show a little respect.” On instinct, he gives David a backhanded swat on the stomach as Patrick walks past him, and the shocked, pleased look he sees on David's face when Patrick glances back over his shoulder makes his heart skip a beat.
Patrick slams the cage gate behind him and punches the buttons to start up the pitching machine. It kicks on with a grind and a whir, and Patrick steps up to the plate and lines up his stance, leaning forward onto the balls of his feet and bending low into his right knee. There’s a deep thump from the machine, and a ball shoots out, a curveball. Patrick lifts his left leg to get his momentum going, plants it again, and twists with all of the power he can muster.
He shakes it off and resets. Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
He slaps the button to pause the machine and kicks at the chain link fencing surrounding the cage.
“Are you planning on switching to soccer next year?” a familiar voice calls out. “Because I feel like there are probably better training methods than that.”
Patrick scowls at the ground. He is really not in the mood to be teased, even by David, and he’s really, really not in the mood to be criticized, especially by David.
“Hey,” David says, from just outside the fence, now, and Patrick can’t help but raise his head to meet David’s eyes. “Rough practice this afternoon, huh?”
“That’s one way to put it.”
David shrugs. “That’s what it was.”
“Easy for you to say. Your batting is insane. You hit three out of the park today.”
“Oh, that’s just because I’m better than you.”
Patrick momentarily sees red, his whole being instinctually readying for a fight, but the sparkle in David’s eyes and the playful twist of his lips chase away the fire in Patrick’s gut, replacing it with a warm glow. And besides, David’s right. He is better.
Patrick looks down at his feet and scuffs a toe on the cement. “I can’t hit Mutt’s curveballs to save my life, and if I have a shit batting average, I’m never going to get field time.”
“Okay, well that’s definitely not true. You’re a way better catcher than Emir or Dane. A great batting average doesn’t help much when they’re letting balls get by them and taking too long to make the throw to second.”
Patrick grunts, but doesn’t say anything.
“Mmm, well, you make a good point there,” David deadpans. “But here’s a thought: let me watch your swing and see if I can help.”
“Coach Schitt was trying to fix it today, and the only thing that changed was that I sent pop-ups to left field instead of right.”
“So you’re saying that his method of standing uncomfortably close behind you and physically helping you swing the bat like you’re a toddler wasn’t helpful, then?”
Patrick laughs in spite of himself. “Fair.”
David flashes him a gorgeous smile. “Come on, show me what you’ve got.”
Patrick clenches his jaw and blows out a breath. “All right.”
David crosses his arms and leans casually against the fence, and rolls a hand in a silent gesture to proceed. Patrick pushes the button to start up the machine again and gets in position.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Pop-up. Patrick tries to shake it off and reset.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Hit. Okay, better.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
“God damn it!” Patrick slaps the button to pause the machine again and glares at David. “So? Any brilliant suggestions? Didn’t you say something about joining the soccer team?”
“Okay, first of all” —David waves his hands in front of him in two circular motions— “let’s put this guy away for now. Second of all…” David walks over to the helmet rack and pulls out a few, grimacing at each and returning them to their places before finally finding one he deems acceptable. “Second of all, I’m coming in. Because yes, I have some suggestions.”
Patrick steps back to allow the gate to swing open, and David latches it behind him. This isn’t exactly a spacious area, and David is suddenly very, very close to him. “I think your body knows what the problem is, even though your brain doesn’t. You’re thinking too hard, and you’re getting in the way of your body’s instincts. Here, set up.” He steps behind Patrick and nudges at his shoulders.
Patrick finds his stance and raises the bat, and he feels David step even closer. Normally, he wouldn’t complain, but… “I thought we established two minutes ago that Coach Schitt’s methods weren’t exactly effective.”
“Mhmm, and I thought we established thirty seconds ago that you’re dropping your back elbow.”
Patrick lowers the bat and turns his head over his shoulder. “What? No I’m not.”
David rolls his eyes. “Of course you are. It’s why you’re getting pop-ups all the time. And then your body remembers what to do, but because your brain is busy working overtime to problem-solve, you don’t realize that you’re overcompensating, so you’re coming in over the pitch instead of under.”
“I’m not… Am I doing that?”
“I mean, I just said you were? So yes, you’re doing that.” He raises an eyebrow, and Patrick’s stomach swoops. God, David’s confidence is annoyingly sexy. Patrick huffs performatively to cover up the blush he can feel rising on his cheeks, and gets in position again. “All right, swing slowly,” David says. Patrick does, and David touches his back elbow lightly when he’s three-quarters of the way through. “There.” David raises his elbow a fraction of an inch. “Does that feel different in your shoulder?”
Patrick considers. “Kind of?”
David shifts his elbow again. “When you were missing, you were raising your elbow to about here. You want to be here.” He moves it back down. “Do it again.” They repeat the exercise several more times, until David is satisfied that Patrick is hitting the mark. “Okay. With the machine now.”
Patrick nods, and David hits the start button and pulls off his own helmet as he exits the cage. Patrick takes a deep breath, centering himself as the machine whirs to life again.
Thump, pitch, swing.
“It’s fine,” David says, before Patrick’s brain can formulate any self-deprecations. Patrick breathes again.
Thump, pitch, swing. He focuses on finding the feeling in his shoulder that will put his elbow at a better height.
“Good,” David says.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
“Breathe,” David reminds, and Patrick does his best to listen.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Thump, pitch, swing.
Hit. Fuck yes.
Patrick stops the machine and turns to David, grinning, and David returns the smile. “Good job, slugger.”
“Thanks,” Patrick chuckles. David bites his lip and narrows his eyes like he wants to say something more, but he remains silent. “Okay, out with it,” Patrick says, putting the end of the bat on the ground and leaning on the knob like it’s a cane.
David rocks his head from side to side. “Are you sure? You made a huge improvement just now. I don’t want to mess you up again by giving you more to think about.”
“You won’t. I want to hear it,” Patrick counters.
David squeezes his eyes shut and tilts his head up, then snaps it down again. “Fine,” he bites out. He puts his helmet back on and opens the gate. "You can stand to get more power in your swing. You're not rotating your hips the right way."
"Yeah. You’re moving both hips out towards the pitcher.”
“Oh, of course. And I should be moving them towards first base. Or the umpire, maybe?”
“Mmkay, do you want my help, or not?”
“Well now I’m not so sure, if you don’t seem to think that I should be swinging in the direction of the ball.”
“Oh my god, just turn around. I’ll show you.” Patrick dutifully finds his stance, and David gives him space to be able to complete a full swing. “Okay, so go nice and easy. Not too fast.” Patrick starts to move the bat. “Stop!” David says suddenly, when the bat is a few degrees above the point of contact with the imaginary ball. Patrick freezes. “Okay, right here. Your right hip needs to drop more.” David steps up behind him and puts his hands on Patrick’s hips, and the surge of heat and adrenaline that rips through Patrick is almost enough to make him fall to the ground. Holy shit, this is how he dies, right here in the batting cages, with David Rose’s hands on him.
Not the worst way to go, all things considered.
David, somehow completely unaffected by Patrick’s near-death experience that’s occurring right before his eyes, nudges at his hip bones, pushing and pulling until Patrick’s right knee and hip are dropped just slightly more than they had been. “There,” David says, satisfied.
“This feels different,” Patrick grimaces.
“It should. It’s correct. Does it hurt?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Good. So drop your knee and hip more as you’re starting to shift your weight, and it will help you put more power behind the ball.” David steps back. “Try it a few times.”
Patrick takes a few swings at regular speed. “Like that?”
“Yeah, it’s better. Think about your hip and knee moving down towards home plate rather than out towards the pitcher. Or, I mean, you could always try rotating your hips towards the dugout. See how that works for you.”
“I’ve gotten dates using much subtler methods before, so I feel like it’s at least worth a shot.”
David lets out a huff of annoyance behind him. “Would you just start up the machine, already?”
“Aye aye, Captain.”
“Okay, no, we’re not doing that,” David says, as he opens the gate and steps outside the cage.
Patrick steps over to the control buttons. “I don’t know, David, I think a tri-corner hat would suit you. We’ll get you a nice black and white feather for it.”
Patrick winks at him and presses the start button, then gets into position. It takes a few pitches to find his rhythm, but he focuses on dropping his hip and knee, and suddenly he’s crushing the ball. He misses a couple, but hits plenty, and they’re sailing harder and farther than ever before. After thirty pitches, he stops the machine and exits the cage to face David’s self-satisfied smirk. “Too bad that didn’t work, huh?” David intones.
“Well, the hitting is definitely better. I can’t help wondering about rotating towards the dugout instead next time, though. Home plate isn’t likely to agree to dinner and a movie, so I’m not sure I’ll get many dates this way.”
David hums and arches an eyebrow. “I don’t know about that.”
Patrick’s heart beats faster, and he considers the facts before him.
- David just spent the last half hour helping him with his swing when he absolutely didn’t have to.
- They’ve had several flirtatious conversations. Right? They’ve been flirting? It’s sure felt like it from Patrick’s side.
- David put his hands on Patrick’s hips. His hands on Patrick’s hips.
- David just gave him the world’s biggest opening to ask him on a date. It may as well be the Grand Canyon. Patrick would be an idiot not to take the opportunity.
Patrick takes a breath. “So I think I’m all done here for today. Do you maybe want to walk back to the main campus with me? Grab some dinner together?”
David’s face goes on a journey of a thousand emotions in the span of a few seconds. Patrick can’t catalogue all of them, but he thinks he catches surprise and happiness, which are inexplicably followed by uncertainty and resignation. “You don’t have to do that.”
“No, I— I’d like to.” Patrick’s heart pounds out a beat that feels alarmingly like please, please, please.
“Um, I think…” David bites his lip. “I think I should stay here, actually.” Patrick’s heart sinks. “See, I came to get some batting practice in?” David continues, and his expression morphs into something more playful as he slips back into the familiar territory of teasing. “But someone was begging for my help, so I haven’t exactly been able to get to that yet.”
Patrick still feels like he’s been punched in the gut, but even so, this back and forth that he and David always seem to fall into feels as natural as breathing. “Would we say begging? Or reluctantly accepting?”
“Okay, your voice might not have been begging for help” —he points a finger at Patrick and circles it damningly in the air— “but all those pop-ups you were hitting before sure were.”
“Ooh, burn, David,” Patrick laughs.
David startles at that for some reason; his eyes go wide, and he jerks his head slightly as if he’s trying to knock something out of it. “Um. Anyway, I'm gonna...go,” David chokes out. “I’ll see you at practice on Thursday.” He turns on his heel without waiting for a response.
“Thank you, David,” Patrick calls after him.
David stops and turns halfway. He gives a little wave. “Bye, Patrick.”
For better or for worse, everything feels normal on Thursday. He and David talk as much as they always do at practice—not much at all—with the same amount of maybe-flirting as always. And like always, David heads over to Stevie at the end of practice with nothing more than a smile and a wave, and Patrick leaves feeling that same frustrating blend of excitement and dejection.
They get a break from practices the next week so that everyone can study for midterms, which means that after Patrick doesn’t see David at all for days. It’s just as well, really, because David made it pretty clear that he wasn’t interested in more than friendship, but Patrick’s heart, and brain, and...other places...aren’t exactly getting the message. He and Blair, who plays left field, are in the same Intro to Business class, so they get together for coffee and studying and wind up bonding over growing up north of Syracuse. He’s in the same psychology class as Miguel and his girlfriend Shannon, all of them getting one of their general education requirements out of the way, so he goes to the apartment that Miguel shares with Derek and Andre, one of the team pitchers, and they eat nachos while quizzing each other and discussing which psychological disorders they’ve each decided that they definitely have.
Psychology is Patrick’s last midterm, on the following Friday afternoon, and when he walks out of the exam, Miguel is sitting on a bench outside the lecture hall scrolling on his phone.
“Hey, Miguel, how’d it go for you?”
“Not bad. The questions about consciousness and perception threw me off, but I think the rest of it was okay. You?”
“Yeah, okay, I think.” Patrick shoves his hands in his pockets. He’s pretty sure he did really well, actually, but anything could happen.
“Cool. I’m still waiting for Shannon to finish up in there, but since you’re here, we’re having a party tonight at the apartment for anyone who’s still on campus. You going to be around?”
“Yeah, definitely. I’ll be there.”
“Cool. Bring anyone you want. See you later.”
“See you.” He waves and Miguel busies himself with his phone again. Patrick heads out of the building and pulls his coat tighter around him as the wind kicks up, blowing a chill through the leaves and through the too-thin denim. He’ll need to get his heavier coat when he’s home next week.
His dorm room door is propped open when he gets there, which is his roommate Brendan’s signal that anyone passing by is welcome to come hang out. Brendan looks up when Patrick walks in, giving him a nod in greeting. “How was your midterm? Psych, right?”
Patrick drops his backpack on the floor beside his desk chair. “Yeah. Good, I’m pretty sure. And now I don’t have to think about classes for a whole week,” he says, flopping face first onto his bed.
“Hell yes,” Brendan agrees.
Patrick keeps his eyes mostly shut and turns his head just enough so that he can make out the blurry form of Brendan sitting on his bed with his laptop in front of him, headphones perched crookedly on his head and covering only his left ear.
“What are you watching?” Patrick asks, his voice muffled against the mattress.
“An old Yankees game. ALCS Game 7 from 2003. Want to watch?”
“Yeah, totally,” Patrick says, pushing himself up to sit cross-legged. “Against the Red Sox?”
“Yup. Hang on a sec.” Brendan sets his laptop on his dresser so that they can both see, then disconnects Bluetooth. A few seconds later, the announcer’s voice crackles to life through the laptop speakers. The game is already in the bottom of the fourth and the Sox are leading 4–0, but since Brendan is a Yankees fan, Patrick is guessing that will change pretty soon.
They watch in companionable silence for the rest of the game, each on their own beds, periodically getting up to get a snack or a drink. It’s an exciting one, and by the time it ends with a walk-off home run in the eleventh, Patrick is surprised to find that the sky outside their dorm window is dark.
“Shit, what time is it?” Patrick asks unnecessarily as he pulls out his phone to check for himself. The numbers read 8:07, which is fine, actually. He has to pack and get ready for the party, but neither should take too long. “One of my teammates invited me to a party tonight. Want to come? I’m probably going to head over in an hour or so.”
“Oh yeah, thanks, man. I was just going to hang out here tonight.”
“Cool.” Patrick packs his bag for the week, throwing some clothes in his duffel without giving it too much thought, and heads to the bathroom for a quick shower.
Patrick hears Brendan turn on another shower in the bathroom a minute or two before Patrick finishes his, so when Patrick gets back to the room, he knows he should have it to himself for a while. He towel dries his hair, then applies some pomade to his curls. He pulls on a dark pair of jeans and a charcoal grey henley that he knows is a little too tight but does really excellent things for his biceps and shoulders, leaving the top button undone and pushing the sleeves up to his elbows. When he checks his reflection in the mirror, he tells himself that he’s thinking so much about his appearance because it’s a party and he could meet anyone there. But he can’t even convince himself that’s the whole truth. Patrick opens one more button and dabs on a little cologne, just in case.
Patrick is fixing a stray curl in the mirror when Brendan walks back into the room, already dressed, carrying his shower caddy and towel in one hand and rubbing a curl sponge in circles over his coiled hair with the other. He makes a show of stopping in his tracks and wolf whistles. Patrick rolls his eyes, but he’ll take the compliment.
“Looking good, man. Someone special going to be there tonight?” Brendan asks.
“Uh, maybe? I don’t actually know whether or not he’s going to be there.”
“Well, if not him, you’ll find someone else.”
Patrick hums noncommittally. “Yeah, maybe.”
An hour later, Patrick is sitting on Miguel, Derek, and Andre’s utilitarian couch, trapped between Dane, who has continued to be as much of a dick as he seemed at the first catchers’ practice, and Sean, who plays second base and isn’t any better than Dane. They’re drunkenly arguing about the correct hotness rating for each of the Yankee wives and girlfriends, and the conversation—such as it is—is such painfully stereotypical macho jock fodder that Patrick feels a surge of nausea despite the fact that he’s still on his first drink. Brendan had stayed at the party for all of forty minutes before he met a girl from the lacrosse team and disappeared somewhere with her, and now Patrick is stuck.
Then, like a knight in shining, uh, jeans and polo shirt, Ted is waving him over from across the room. “Patrick! We need another player for beer pong. Come partner up with me.”
They play against Gary, third baseman, and Eric, left fielder, who have clearly spent most of the night smoking weed, because they keep getting distracted by nicks in the paint on the wall and staring into the light of the lamps scattered around the room. Ted and Patrick destroy them. Or, they definitely would have destroyed them if Gary hadn’t wandered off two-thirds of the way through the game, heading towards the stereo in the corner and muttering something about DJing. Eric just looks at them blankly for a moment after that, and then walks away without saying anything.
“Okay, well that’s that, I guess,” Patrick laughs.
“No way, I’m not taking a forfeit as a real win. We need to find someone else to play against,” Ted says, clapping his hands together, and scans the room for two people they can convince to be their next victims.
“Sorry, man, I can’t drink any more if I don’t want to be hugging the toilet for the rest of the night.”
Ted looks him up and down inquisitively. “Really? You must hold your liquor really well. You don’t seem drunk at all.”
Patrick feels his cheeks flush pinker than they already are from the beer. “I’m not. I can’t let myself get drunk because I get sick if I have more than two. Fucking stupid.” He shrugs self-consciously. It’s embarrassing to admit, but not nearly as embarrassing as throwing up in front of half the team and a bunch of their friends.
But Ted just holds up his hands in surrender, a gesture of support. “No problem. Keep playing. I’ll do all the drinking. I am more than happy to get much drunker than this.” Ted breaks eye contact and waves to someone behind Patrick. “Hey, Antonio! We need you!”
Patrick turns, and he thinks he sees Antonio say, “Okay,” but Patrick can usually barely make out his words from four feet away, so hearing him across a crowded party is an impossibility.
Antonio shuffles over and mumbles an unenthusiastic, “Hey.” He’s holding a beer bottle strangely—from the bottom, with the base resting on his palm—and managing to look annoyed even though he isn’t making any effort to leave. Antonio isn’t Patrick’s favorite person, but he’s never been able to pinpoint why. Something about his personality, or the way he dresses, or his aloofness. It might also have to do with the fact that he is their other right fielder, so if he’s on Patrick’s team during scrimmages, it means David isn’t. But there’s more to it than that. Definitely.
As if summoned by Patrick’s thoughts, the apartment door opens, and there’s David. Patrick has to steady himself on the edge of the beer pong table for a second, because Jesus Christ, he looks good. He’s wearing black jeans with rips in the knees that reveal twin stripes of olive skin, a white t-shirt with a pair of lips and fangs dripping blood, and a goddamn leather jacket. His hair is perfectly coiffed, higher off his head than Patrick usually sees it, since sweat and baseball caps aren’t particularly conducive to styled hair, and his dark, piercing eyes scan the room like a predator looking for its next meal. And fuck, does Patrick want to be devoured.
“David!” Ted calls out, somehow completely unaffected by the way David Rose’s presence sucks all of the oxygen out of the room and leaves Patrick panting. “Come play beer pong with us!”
David grimaces, but walks over to the table. “Um, I really don’t drink beer. Especially not this beer.”
“That’s okay!” Ted says, undeterred. “Patrick’s not drinking, either. Just play!”
David looks over at Antonio, and they have some kind of silent right-fielders-who-wear-all-white-and-black conversation that consists mainly of eyebrow furrows and mouth twitches. It seems to end with them agreeing, because they turn to Ted and Patrick simultaneously and say, “Fine,” in pitch-perfect unison exasperation.
They’ve barely started when there’s a loud crash from somewhere across the apartment.
“Oh boy,” Ted says, “that did not sound good. I’d better go make sure everyone’s okay. Sorry, man,” he says, turning to Patrick. “Uh…” He looks around the apartment. “Josh!” he calls out, and waves over a tall guy with wild, sandy blonde hair. “I have to go take care of something. Come play for me. This is Patrick.” Ted rushes off in the direction of the potential disaster.
“Hey, Patrick. Good to meet you. I’m Josh.” Josh sticks out a large hand to shake, and Patrick takes it.
Josh is wearing a gray t-shirt with a deep v-neck under a denim button-up that’s hanging open, and tight, dark jeans that are rucked up to tuck messily into a pair of loosely tied, deep red Doc Martens. He looks effortlessly cool and totally gorgeous. Josh grips Patrick’s hand for just a beat too long and gives it an extra squeeze before letting go, which sends a flutter of nerves through Patrick’s chest and stomach.
Patrick is in a precarious situation. Josh is undeniably hot, and in a different time or place, Patrick would be all over this. But tonight, David is right here. David might not want to be anything more than friends (maybe? probably?), but Patrick doesn’t want to mess up any small chance he might have. The last thing he needs is for David to think Patrick just flirts with everyone, or worse, that he’s interested in Josh and not David.
So, okay. Okay. He can do this. He just needs to be friendly.
It turns out that he and Josh make a good team. They’re both competitive, but stay calm under pressure. David and Antonio, on the other hand, keep making passive aggressive comments and rolling their eyes at each other when one of them misses. Finally, David and Antonio only have one cup left on their side of the table, and it’s Patrick’s turn. He lines up his shot and lets it go, and the ping pong ball sails through the air and lands in the cup with a triumphant plop. “Boom, baby!” he shouts, pumping his fist and turning to high-five Josh.
“Champions!” Josh cheers. Before Patrick knows what’s happening, Josh pulls him into a tight hug, and Patrick gets that same rush of nerves as he had before; except this time, they’re fueled only by panic, worrying that David will get the wrong idea. He steps out of the hug as quickly as he can, and when he turns to gauge David’s reaction, only Antonio is still there.
“Where did David go?” Patrick asks, glancing around the room to see if he can catch sight of him.
Antonio shrugs apathetically. “He doesn’t like losing,” he mumbles. “Good game.” He turns and walks away.
“Uh, yeah, good game,” Patrick echoes at Antonio’s retreating form. “Um,” he says, turning to Josh, “I should probably go look for David.”
“You don’t think he’s okay on his own?” Josh asks. “He’s a big boy. I think he can take care of himself.”
And it’s a reasonable point. David can take care of himself. But he shouldn’t have to. “No, I know. It’s just...he’s my friend. I want to go check on him.”
Josh raises his eyebrows and tilts his head to the side. “Okay, well, do what you have to do. I’ll probably stick around for a little while, if you want to, you know, talk more.” He slides one of his large hands slowly along the length of Patrick’s arm, running one finger briefly under the cuff of Patrick’s henley where it crosses his forearm, just to be sure Patrick knows exactly what he means by “talk more.” He pulls his hand away and gives Patrick a casual squeeze on the shoulder, as if the touch never happened, as if the goosebumps that erupted across Patrick’s arms were a figment of his imagination.
Patrick rubs at his arm to warm away the evidence of Josh’s touch as he wanders around the small apartment looking for David. He finally finds him in someone’s bedroom—Andre’s, he thinks—standing at the window that overlooks the tiny patch of grass in front of the apartment building that the university tries to pass off as a quad.
David whips around at the sound of Patrick’s voice, his face pinched. “Hey.”
“Yeah, it’s stupid.”
“I doubt that.”
“No, it is. I’m just annoyed that we lost. And also, Antonio was really pissing me off. I don’t know what it is; I just don’t like him. Don’t tell him I said that,” he adds quickly.
“I won’t.” Patrick mimes zipping his lips, and decides not to say that he kind of feels the same way. He doesn’t want to pile on the guy when he hasn’t really done anything wrong. Plus, explaining to David that at least part of his dislike of Antonio has to do with David himself isn’t going to help anything.
“I don’t like to lose,” David says simply.
Patrick looks around dramatically. “Yeah, uh, you’re at a party full of college athletes. You think any of us like losing?”
David laughs a little at that. “I tried to host game nights a couple times in high school—like board games—but I gave up after the third time people brought friends and beer and turned it into a whole thing. How are you supposed to play Celebrity with eleven people? Eleven.”
“Yeah, there’s no way to make that work well. The best number of people to play with is six. Then you can divide into two teams of three, or three teams of two.”
“Yes!” David flings his arms out to the sides emphatically. “Thank you! What is so difficult to understand about that?”
Patrick shakes his head with faux seriousness. “Some people are just barbarians.”
David’s mouth twitches with the effort of holding back a smile. “Exactly.”
“So do you want to keep moping here, or do you want to go back to the party with these particular barbarians?”
“I need an actual drink. I got roped into beer pong the second I walked in the door, and the wine I had before I walked over is basically only a memory at this point.”
Patrick laughs. “I know a great little place.”
“Yup, right this way.” David follows behind Patrick as he leads them out of Andre's (?) room and back to the party. He stops in front of the folding table set up with half-empty bottles of cheap liquor. “Voilà,” he says, with a flourish of his hands.
“Wow,” David intones. “I feel sufficiently swept off my feet.”
“Oh, but you haven’t seen the best part!” Patrick grabs a Solo cup from the stack and crouches down to the mini fridge tucked under the table. He opens it and uses the cup to scoop out a few cubes of ice from the bin that’s more like half ice, half cold water at this point, and presents the cup to David as if it’s a precious gift.
“It’s practically like being at the Ritz in Paris,” David chirps sarcastically as he plucks the cup from Patrick’s hand.
“I told you.”
“Mhmm.” David inspects the bottles on the table, grimacing at all of them before finally returning to the whiskey, which must be the one he’s deemed least terrible. He pours a few fingers into his cup, swirls it, and takes a tentative sip. He winces at what must be a pretty awful burn, muscling through a swallow and sucking air through his teeth. “Smooth,” he finally bites out.
“Only the best for you.” Patrick winks, and he thinks he sees David hide what looks like a pleased smile behind his cup as he takes another ill-advised drink.
“Hey, assholes.” Stevie saunters up to them, materializing out of nowhere.
“Hey, Stevie. When did you get here?” Patrick asks.
“About half an hour ago. You two were busy with beer pong. I got some great photos of you participating in a time-honored college bro tradition,” she says to David, smirking.
David stares at her for a beat, then takes a deep inhale as he opens his mouth to speak. “I’ll need to confiscate your phone and scrub all evidence of those.”
Stevie’s face is stoic as a stone. “Oh, yes, I’ll definitely get right on that. I just need to go join the cheerleading team first.”
David narrows his eyes. “I don’t think those skirts exactly fit with this whole grunge aesthetic you have going on.”
Patrick snorts, and Stevie raises an unamused eyebrow at him before turning it on David. “I didn’t hear you complaining about my aesthetic the other night.”
Patrick feels like all of the air has suddenly been sucked out of the room as Stevie’s words loop in his head. The other night. The other night. The other night.
He dimly hears David speaking again. “I’m still going to need that phone.”
“We could probably negotiate that,” Stevie says, her voice dripping with flirtation.
David clears his throat and sets his drink down on the table, and turns to Patrick. “So I think I’m gonna...I’m gonna go. If I don’t see you, have a good break.” He gives Patrick a pat on the back, which Patrick only vaguely registers. And then they’re walking away, and Patrick is left alone. He slumps back against the table, making the bottles clink against each other, and stares after Stevie and David. What the fuck just happened? His chest burns with anger and frustration, confusion and hurt. And for what? Why is he bothering? Flirting or not, between David turning him down for dinner after batting practice last week and now this, Patrick has gotten two pretty damn clear signals that David isn’t interested. So, fuck it.
He pushes off from the table with such force that he hears two of the bottles rattle and thump on the surface as they topple over, but Patrick doesn’t care about being polite and resetting them right now. He stalks across the room and finds Josh talking with some guy he doesn’t know.
Patrick ignores the other guy and steps right up to Josh. “Hey, want to go somewhere?”
Josh’s eyes flick back to the guy, then to Patrick again. “Yeah. My apartment? I just live down a few floors.”
Josh’s face relaxes into the calm, cool, confident expression he was wearing when Patrick met him an hour ago. “Let’s go, then.” Josh nods at the other guy and offers an apologetic smile, then shoves his hands in his pockets and heads for the door, with Patrick following right behind.
Patrick spends all of fall break feeling sorry for himself while wallowing on his parents’ living room couch, and he definitely doesn’t think about David. He quickly falls into a horrible sleep schedule, staying up until 4 a.m. and sleeping until the afternoon; and each morning, when he crawls under the covers alone as the horizon is just starting to shift to navy blue, and when he dips his hand below the waistband of his sleep pants, he absolutely doesn’t think about David, nor about how he looked in that leather jacket at the party. A week later, Patrick comes back to campus and goes to baseball practices, where he can’t help it if his eye is always drawn across the field to where the outfielders are working on throwing, and he obviously doesn’t think about David. He goes to class, and he does his homework, and he sleeps with Josh a couple more times, and when he tells Josh that he doesn’t want to hook up anymore, he is certainly not thinking about David.
He’s not thinking about David, is the point.
After a couple of weeks, though, Brendan notices that something is up, probably because Patrick is spending an inordinate amount of time in their room, and any time he’s not studying or sleeping, he’s plucking out depressing songs on his guitar or morosely watching the 1992 and 1993 World Series on loop.
“You okay, man?” he asks Patrick one day, voice full of trepidation.
Patrick clenches his jaw. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
Brendan looks pointedly at the laptop on Patrick’s bed. “Because by now, even I know that this is game 6 of the ‘92 World Series, which the Jays win 4-3 to take the whole thing, but you look like someone just kicked your dog.”
Patrick glances up in surprise. “How do you know that?”
Brendan gives him a pitying look. “It’s the third time you’re watching it in the last two weeks, and that’s only counting the times I was here to see you watching it.”
Patrick groans and hits the space bar to pause the video, and then lets his head thunk back against the wall behind his bed. “I thought I was hiding it a little better than that. It’s, uh. You know the party at my teammates' apartment a couple weeks ago?”
Brendan grins. “Hell yeah. Kayla and I have hooked up a couple times since then. Thanks for that, by the way.”
Patrick gives him a half smile. “Glad it worked out for you. Do you remember...I was hoping that a guy would be there?”
“Oh, yeah, I do. What happened with that? Did he show?”
“Oh, he showed. I thought we were flirting, but he left with someone else.”
“Shit. Sorry. Who is he? Do I know him?”
“Uh, that’s kind of part of the problem. He’s one of my teammates.”
“Fuuuuck, that sucks. So you’re stuck seeing him all the time.”
“Yep,” Patrick says, popping the “p” sullenly.
Brendan lets out a sigh through closed lips, making a defeated motorboat sound. “Well,” he says finally, “all I can offer you is a beer and some company to watch your sad baseball game. How’s that?”
Patrick snorts a laugh. “I’ll take it. Thanks.”
Having Brendan sitting with him for his depressed baseball watching doesn’t magically make everything better, but it brightens things a marginal amount, at least. Patrick certainly isn’t complaining.
Despite Patrick's dark mood off the field and David’s unignorable presence on the field, not to mention having to see him leave with Stevie most days after practice, baseball is still going great. Patrick's catching and hitting both keep improving, and he’s feeling good about his prospects for getting playing time once the regular season starts in a few months. Overall, he’s doing fine and getting through his days without too much gloom.
Unfortunately, the people around him don’t seem to realize how fine he is—he’s fine, okay?—because he keeps catching Emir and Deion shooting him pitying looks at pitchers and catchers practice and Ted and Miguel talking earnestly and glancing his way in the locker room. Finally, after more than a week of watching their conspiracy unfold right in front of him, Patrick can’t take it anymore. As he’s packing up his gear to head to the locker room after practice, he sees all four of them, plus Mutt and Derek, gathered in a circle near the visitors’ dugout, faces worried. Patrick slings his equipment bag over his shoulder, steels himself, and marches over to insert himself into their little meeting of the minds.
“What’s going on, guys?” he asks, sidling up next to Emir.
They glance at each other, not nearly as subtle as they think they’re being, and Mutt clears his throat. “They’re all worried about you.”
“You are, too!” Deion protests.
“No, I said I noticed something was wrong. I didn’t say I was worried,” Mutt replies.
“Thanks,” Patrick mutters.
“Nice, Mutt,” Emir says, rolling his eyes. “Look, Patrick, we’ve just noticed that you haven’t been yourself since we got back from fall break.” Patrick starts to protest, but Emir cuts him off, anticipating his objection. “You’re fine on the field. You’re still on top of your catching game. It’s just...everything else.”
“You hardly talk to us at the gym in the mornings,” Derek offers.
“You haven’t wanted to get together to study for psychology,” Miguel says.
“I don’t think you’ve come to team dinners after practice at all,” Ted puts in.
Patrick crosses his arms. “So, what, you’re all just policing everything I do, now?” Patrick says petulantly. He knows he’s being defensive, but he can’t help feeling attacked. He’s just trying to get through this thing that he can’t actually talk to anyone on the team about, and they’re making it impossible.
“I told them it was probably just a girl or something,” Mutt says, and that gets Patrick’s attention.
Patrick came out to his parents and friends early in his junior year of high school, and astonishingly, it had been practically a non-event. Everyone had been immediately supportive, and by the time baseball season rolled around, it was old news. The guys on his high school team were the same ones he had known and played with for years. They’d continued hanging out together during the fall and winter after Patrick’s big announcement, so there weren’t any growing pains or awkward moments borne of insecure masculinity when spring practices started.
He knows intellectually that the guys on the Seneca Falls team will accept him with open arms, too, but he can’t help but worry that coming out will make them see him differently, treat him differently. Still, is he really going to spend his whole college career back in the closet when he’s been out for two years already? Patrick might not have planned to come out right this moment, but the opportunity has presented itself, and he’ll be damned if he lets fear get the better of him in a situation where he otherwise feels safe.
“No, I—” Patrick starts, and then takes a centering breath. “It’s not a girl. I’m gay. But that’s not a new revelation, so it’s not like I’m panicking about it or anything.”
Patrick’s heart feels like it’s about to beat out of his chest in the moment (minute? hour?) of silence that passes before Ted speaks. “Cool, bud. There are a bunch of queer guys on the team.”
“Me, for one,” Derek says.
“Me too,” Miguel and Ted say in unison, and then look at each other in surprise.
“No kidding?” Ted says.
“Yeah, I kind of figured it out over the summer,” Miguel says.
“Same! Up top!” Ted raises his hand for a high five, and Miguel returns it, both of them smiling broadly.
Patrick feels his entire body relax. He hadn’t realized how much tension he was carrying over not having told the team yet, and knowing not only that they accept him, but also that he’s not alone in a field of heterosexuals, is like lifting a weight off his shoulders.
“So is it a guy, then?” Deion asks gently.
Patrick blows out a breath. “Yeah. I thought he might like me, but it turns out he’s with someone else, so.”
Mutt claps him on the back. “That sucks, man.” The rest of the group nods, and Patrick is so relieved that he isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
“Thanks. I appreciate it. I just need to get my mind off of him. Focus more on my classes and stuff.”
“We’ll help, too,” Miguel says. “Let’s get together tomorrow to work on that psychology assignment we have due at the end of the week.”
“Yeah, okay. That sounds great,” Patrick says, and is surprised to find that he means it.
Patrick makes it all the way until late November before his strategy of focusing only on his classes stops working. He’s hunched over his microeconomics textbook in the library on a Sunday afternoon a few days before Thanksgiving. Pitchers and catchers practice had run almost an hour late because Coach Butani couldn’t stop telling stories about his days playing double-A ball, so now Patrick has to cram even more work into what was already not enough time. He thinks he’s starting to understand dominant strategy and Nash equilibrium and how they manifest in oligopoly markets, but every time he tries to answer the chapter questions, he finds himself at a loss and has to go back and reread that section. He’s on his third review of the Prisoner’s Dilemma when the table thumps with the force of a heavy textbook landing on it and a whirlwind of black drops into the chair across from him. Patrick barely has time to look up before the cyclone speaks.
“You’re a business major, right? So you’re, like, a numbers guy?”
Patrick blinks at David, who is talking to him as if this isn’t the first time they’ve spoken since the party last month. But Patrick knows it’s the first time they’ve spoken, because he’s made sure of it.
David barrels on. “Because I’m taking an Intro to Entrepreneurship class this semester, and I’m feeling totally lost.”
And because when it comes to David, his self-preservation instincts are essentially non-existent, instead of deflecting, Patrick responds, “Why are you taking an Intro to Entrepreneurship class if you’re an art history major?”
“I want to open my own gallery one day. It seemed like a good idea at the time.” David waves an anxious hand in the air, trying to excuse his apparent error in judgement. “I realize now that was probably a big mistake.” He brings both sets of fingers to his lips and scrubs at the stubble on his chin.
Patrick’s fingers itch to trace the same lines as David’s, to run a thumb along that plush lower lip and feel the scratch along David’s jawline. But that’s not what’s happening here. Patrick clears his throat and looks down at David’s book. “I don’t know how much help I’ll be. I haven’t taken this class.”
“I know. But I’m supposed to create a financial model for my imaginary business, and my C-plus in high school pre-calculus is not doing me any favors with trying to figure out profit margins and tax write-offs.” David chews nervously on his lower lip.
Patrick sighs. “Okay, show me what you’ve got so far.”
They work through the details of David’s business idea. It turns out he doesn’t just want to open a gallery; he wants his business to be a year-round marketplace of sorts, with art and products from local artisans who normally only sell at farmer’s markets during the summer. It’s a great idea, and, as Patrick helps him discover, has lots of potential for high profit margins.
After they’ve been at it for over an hour, David sits back in his chair and blows out a breath. “Okay, I think that’s all I have today. My brain can’t do any more calculations.”
“Fair,” Patrick laughs.
“I need caffeine and sugar. I’m going to go to the cafe over at Campus Center. Do you want to come get a coffee with me? My treat. It’s the least I can do.”
Patrick should really say no. This is what he’s been trying to avoid, right? Getting close to David only brought him frustration before. But at least he knows where he stands now. David is with Stevie, and he’s not interested in Patrick. He made that very clear at the party. They’re teammates, and they’re going to be around each other even more than they are now once the season starts up after winter break. It will be literally impossible to avoid him for the next two and a half years until David graduates. So Patrick pulls on his big boy pants, steels himself, and says, “Sure.”
It’s a quick walk to Campus Center, and as they wait in line, David stands on his tiptoes and wavers from side to side trying to get a better view of the baked goods in the display case.
“Anything good today?” Patrick asks.
“It’s all just okay,” David sighs. “That’s one thing I miss about Cornell. There were so many cafes in town with incredible pastries that they either made on site or got from bakers who used all butter, local apples, single-origin chocolate…” He trails off, staring wistfully into space.
“Sorry, do you need a moment alone with your thoughts?”
David cuts his eyes sideways to Patrick. “You wouldn’t be joking if you’d eaten them.”
Patrick laughs and holds up his hands in acquiescence, and they step forward to order.
“Large caramel macchiato, skim, two sweeteners, and a sprinkle of cocoa powder,” David rattles off.
The barista—Twyla, according to her name tag—pauses mid-tap on the screen and looks up at him. “Sorry, can you repeat that? A little slower?”
David purses his lips, annoyed, but does, and Patrick bites back a grin.
“And—” David glances back at the display case “—a double chocolate brownie.”
Twyla looks over at Patrick. “Anything for you?”
“An Earl Grey tea. Large, please, with honey.”
David gives his name, pays, and accepts the bag with the brownie, and they step to the side to wait for their drinks.
“Tea with honey. You really are an old lady,” David snorts, opening up his bakery bag and breaking off a piece of brownie. “I think we’re supposed to be getting some snow tomorrow,” he continues. “Is that old knee injury bothering you again? I’ve heard it’s a pretty reliable weather predictor.” He pops the bite into his mouth and chews, eyes sparkling.
“You’re one to talk, with an order like a middle schooler. Does your coffee actually taste like coffee, or just like melted ice cream?” Patrick raises his eyebrows teasingly, and, oh no, this feels dangerously like flirting.
David sniffs haughtily. “Just because I want my caffeine to actually taste good doesn’t mean I should be shamed for it.”
Patrick smiles, but dials back the teasing, retreating from the edge of forbidden territory. “Well, on that we agree. I hate coffee. Hence the tea.”
David hums and takes another bite of brownie.
“Order for David?” Twyla calls out, sliding two cups onto the counter.
“Thanks,” Patrick says, grabbing them both, and follows David to sit at a table by the window. Patrick takes the lid off his cup and blows before sipping gingerly. “So tell me more about Cornell. It’s in Ithaca, right?”
David swallows his mouthful of coffee and nods. “Yeah. Cornell wasn’t a good fit, in the end, but I loved the town. Have you been there?”
“A few times. My dad took me to a couple of baseball games at Cornell. It was easier and cheaper than going across the border to Toronto or down to the city. We also went camping at Buttermilk Falls once or twice.”
“Ugh, no thank you. I prefer to experience nature in small doses, and always when I have four walls to go back to immediately after.”
“I don’t know, David. There’s something about falling asleep to the sound of the crickets and waking up with the sun, and then stepping out of your tent and having a brook right there in front of you.”
David grimaces. “Yeah, you lost me at crickets. And waking up with the sun sounds like a recipe for me being tired and annoyed for the rest of the day. I’ll take my bed and my blackout curtains, thanks so much.”
“Ah, so you pretty much just liked Ithaca for the food, huh?”
“I mean, the scenery was beautiful, from a distance, as long as I could avoid the bugs? And I loved the whole...vibe, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, the fashion was atrocious, but there was such a creative energy. People making art and music and, yes, food.” He shrugs. “It’s a great place.”
“Tell me more,” Patrick says, and David does. It’s almost hypnotic watching David talk about something he’s excited about: the way his hands gesticulate wildly in the air before he catches them and twists his rings self-consciously, only to repeat the cycle again; the way his face morphs through every expression and emotion with tiny, almost imperceptible twitches of his lips and eyes; the way his head tilts from side to side when he doesn’t like something and the way his whole body leans forward when he does. It would be so easy for Patrick to get himself in trouble here. But this is something friends do, right? Listen to each other, learn about each other, have conversations. It doesn’t have to mean anything.
David is several minutes into waxing poetic about a winery that apparently makes an incredible Riesling, and Patrick is about to ask where he got a fake ID that’s realistic enough that a winery would honor it, when a woman’s voice interrupts his thoughts.
“Oh, hi there,” Stevie says, dragging over a chair and plopping down, crossing her arms on the table.
Patrick stiffens. “Hi, Stevie.”
“What are you doing here?” David asks.
“A girl can’t come and get a cup of coffee on a Sunday evening?”
David narrows his eyes. “Okay. And?”
“And you were supposed to meet me for dinner half an hour ago.”
David picks up his phone from where it’s lying face down on the table and checks the time. “Shit. Sorry. Patrick was helping me with an assignment.”
“Mmm, yes, looks like you’re very hard at work here,” Stevie says, leaning towards David and resting her chin on her hand. “Meanwhile, I’m starving.”
“So let’s go,” David says with a shrug. He turns to Patrick. “Do you want to come with us?”
Patrick can deal with being friends with David—or he thinks so, at least—but watching David and Stevie flirt over dining hall fried chicken is a step too far. “No, that’s okay. I think I’ll just head back to my dorm,” he says, standing from the table and shouldering his backpack. “I don’t want to intrude on your night.”
David furrows his eyebrows. “You’re not—”
“Really, it’s fine,” Patrick interjects. “Have a good Thanksgiving, guys. I’ll see you next week.”
“Bye, Patrick,” Stevie says with a wave.
“Bye,” David says quietly.
Patrick nods and heads towards the exit without turning back, realizing too late that he doesn’t know which dining hall David and Stevie are going to for dinner. He’s getting hungry, but he definitely can’t risk running into them after all that, so he turns in the direction of his dorm and the sad package of ramen noodles that’s waiting for him.
After Thanksgiving, there are only two weeks of classes and a week of exams left before winter break. There aren’t any baseball practices for these few weeks—they’ll resume in earnest in January—but thanks to the increased workload with final projects, presentations, and studying, Patrick doesn’t actually have a lot of time for hanging out with the team just for fun. He sees Miguel when he goes over to work on their psychology project; sees Blair when they get together to study for their Intro to Business final; sees Daeshim, Vikram, Derek, and Ted for early morning workouts at the athlete gym; and sees all of the pitchers and catchers (including, unfortunately, Dane) when they meet for their weekly Monday night dinner. He sees just about everyone on the team at some point or another, in fact, except for the one person he most wants to.
It isn’t until Wednesday of finals week, when Patrick finds himself in the library again, chased away by his dorm neighbor who insists on blasting pulsing electronica all afternoon because it “helps him study,” that Patrick sees him.
David is hunched over a textbook, one hand rapidly flicking a pencil back and forth in the air as the fingers of his other hand anxiously thread through his hair. Patrick has never seen David purposely mess up his hair before, which is how he knows he must really be stressed. Patrick tightens his grip on his backpack strap and squares his shoulders. He walks towards David’s table and sits in the chair across from him, in an echo of David’s actions a few weeks ago.
“How’s it going?” Patrick asks.
David jumps slightly and looks up with a start. “Holy shit.”
“Sorry,” Patrick says, doing a poor job of stifling a laugh. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t,” David demurs, flicking the pencil faster.
“Okay, David,” Patrick chuckles, and David wrinkles his nose at him in annoyance. Patrick ignores that, instead using two fingers to slide the book away from David and spin it around to face himself. He keeps David’s place in the book, but closes it slightly so he can tilt his head down and see the cover. “The World of Ancient Art,” he reads. “Sounds intense.”
“Mmm. It shouldn’t be.” David grimaces as he takes the book back.
“But…?” Patrick prompts.
David sighs. “But I keep mixing up Greek and Etruscan pottery.”
“Ah. Well, I definitely can’t help with that, but I can keep you company?”
A smile ghosts across David’s lips. “Maybe. But I have some conditions.”
Patrick nods seriously and folds his hands on the table, facetiously readying himself for negotiations. “Of course. Please continue.”
“Play your music quietly. I don’t want to overhear it through your headphones.”
“Noted. I actually came here to avoid my neighbor’s loud music, so no problem there. Anything else?”
“No distracting me. I have to do well on this final.” David’s eyes are so earnest that Patrick drops his teasing immediately.
“Absolutely. Let me know if you think of a way I can actually help, though, okay?”
David nods. “Thanks.”
David looks back down at his book, and Patrick takes out his phone, headphones, notebook, calculator, and calculus textbook. He pulls up his studying playlist, full of comforting yet innocuous music mostly backed by piano and acoustic guitar. He checks that the volume is low enough and that his headphones are firmly plugged in before pressing play, and gets to work.
They study in companionable silence for the better part of an hour as Patrick scribbles down and then aggressively erases practice problems, mentally repeating formulas to himself to try and get them to stick in his brain rather than disappearing after five minutes of using different ones. He’s surprised to find that the faint scent of David’s cedar cologne is more soothing than distracting, though he can’t help glancing up at David every so often. This time, David has opened his leather-bound notebook and seems to be alternating between drawing on two facing pages, smooth curves and lightly detailed figures surrounding the words “Greek” and “Etruscan”.
“Does sketching help you remember them?” Patrick can’t help but ask, pulling out one of his earbuds so he doesn’t accidentally speak too loudly.
David shrugs, but doesn’t look up. “Yeah. I don’t know why. Muscle memory, maybe? It’s not the most efficient method of studying, but it helps when I get stuck.”
“Huh.” Patrick watches, mesmerized, as David’s lithe hands swipe delicately across the page, making fine movements that are like a miniaturized version of the graceful motions of his arms and legs on the baseball field. “I’ve seen you with that notebook before. Do you draw a lot?”
David pauses his pencil in place on the page and lifts his eyes to Patrick. “You’ve seen me with this notebook before?” he repeats.
“Yeah, of course.” Patrick feels himself flush. “You sometimes have it out before practice, and I, uh, I noticed you outside on the quad a couple times. I never wanted to disturb you, though. You seemed...” He trails off, searching for the right word. “...Peaceful.”
David fully raises his head, then. He stares at Patrick silently for an interminable few seconds, his pink lips pursed in thought, as Patrick slowly dies of embarrassment at having apparently once again come on too strong, too decidedly not-platonic.
Then, without saying anything, David looks back at his notebook and flips to a fresh page, jotting something down quickly and tearing out the paper, folding it in half before Patrick can see what it is. “I have to get going,” David says, as he stands up, gathering his things and shoving them into his bag.
“Right,” Patrick says, standing to join him so that their height difference isn’t quite as remarkable. “Listen, I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable or whatever. I didn’t mean to. I just think it’s cool that you like to draw.”
David smiles shyly, an adorable twist of his lips that makes his dimple pop and his eyes sparkle, and shakes his head. “You didn’t make me uncomfortable.” He slips his messenger bag over his shoulder. “This Ancient Art History final is tomorrow morning and I’m heading back to the city after that, so if I don’t see you, have a good break.”
Patrick nods. “You too, David.”
“And um, here,” David says, handing Patrick the folded paper. “Text me over break. If you want.”
Patrick unfolds the paper in his hands and stares down at the ten numbers that comprise David’s phone number. He looks back up at David, confused but pleased. “Okay, uh, I will.”
David gives a little wave and walks away, the only evidence left behind the faint, lingering scent of cedar cologne, Patrick’s pounding heart, and the paper clutched tightly in his hand.
Patrick waits a respectable thirteen minutes before texting David. He types and deletes several drafts before settling on something innocuous. Cool. Calm. Collected. Definitely not desperate.
Patrick: Hey David, it’s Patrick
Patrick: Texting you so you have my number
Patrick: Good luck on your final tomorrow
Patrick’s calculus final is in the very last time slot of the week, at 4 p.m. on Friday. He makes it through, or at least, he thinks he does, but he’ll have to wait until grades are posted to be sure. His parents are picking him up tomorrow morning, so he packs up the stuff he wants to bring home for the month, which essentially just consists of his laptop, phone charger, baseball equipment, and a collapsible hamper that’s overflowing with dirty laundry. He’s been scraping the bottom of the clothing barrel for a few days now, but he’s successfully made it almost three full weeks without having to do laundry in the communal machines, which he absolutely counts as a win.
Brendan left that morning, and he’s not sure who from the team is still around, so Patrick zips up his coat and tugs his warm knitted cap down over his ears, and walks to the campus convenience store to get a pint of ice cream to go with his solo night of binge watching Parks and Rec. He pays for his Phish Food, turns around, and runs smack into Jake.
Well, he runs smack into Jake’s chest, since Jake has about eight inches on him.
Jake steadies Patrick with strong hands on his shoulders. “Whoa, hey, you okay man?”
“Y-yeah,” Patrick stammers. “I’m fine. Sorry.”
“All good,” Jake says, in that low, sultry tone that makes every word out of his mouth sound like liquid sex. “Surprised to see you here. Campus is basically empty by now.” Jake’s hands are still on Patrick, and they slide down to his biceps, squeezing slightly through Patrick’s thick coat. Is he…?
“Uh, yeah,” Patrick says again. “My last final was late today.”
Jake hums, but it comes out more like a growl. “That sucks,” Jake says, finally stepping back slightly. “But hey, you’re welcome to come over to my place if you want to hang out and have a beer, or...whatever.” His eyes flick unashamedly up and down Patrick’s body.
Okay, so yes, Jake is absolutely coming onto him.
Patrick’s mind suddenly conjures up memories of Josh, alongside a highlight reel of all the time Patrick spent wasting away on his parents’ couch during fall break. Jake is ridiculously hot, and Patrick wishes he was interested in the invitation, he honestly does, but he’s just...not.
“That’s okay,” Patrick says. “I’m just going to head back to my room and chill tonight.” He holds up the paper bag containing his probably quickly-melting ice cream in silent elaboration.
“Cool, you do you,” Jake shrugs. “Have a good break, man.”
Jake reaches out to squeeze his bicep again, and Patrick lets him (because why not), but then Patrick steps back with a, “Yeah, you too,” and heads for the exit.
It’s less than a ten minute walk to his dorm, and Patrick spends it absentmindedly tapping his fingers against the hard shell of his phone in his coat pocket. Back in his room, he tosses his phone on the bed, changes into pajamas, and cues up Netflix on his laptop. He starts at the second to last episode of season two, because honestly, fuck anything pre-Ben, and digs into his ice cream. He tries to concentrate on Ben and Leslie’s feud, tries to stir up any actual emotions over the fact that they are arguing with their future spouse, but his phone is taking up far more mental space than its three by five inch dimensions should allow. He makes it less than halfway through the first episode (and a third of the way through his ice cream) before he can’t ignore it any longer.
Patrick hits pause, sets his ice cream aside, and picks up his phone, tapping immediately on his messaging app.
Patrick: Doing anything fun tonight?
Patrick stares at the screen, waiting. Finally, “Delivered” changes to “Read,” and Patrick watches for the three dots to pop up, indicating that David is typing, but they don’t come. He allows himself five minutes of absentminded scrolling through Twitter, which even he knows is nothing but a flimsy excuse to not have to put his phone down as he waits for a response. Then he waits two more minutes to let the clock switch to an even eleven o’clock, because setting a deadline for 10:58 would obviously be ridiculous.
But the notification never comes.
Patrick sighs and tosses his phone aside, letting the screen go dark. He picks up his ice cream and clicks play on Parks and Rec, trying to focus on anything except David. When that doesn’t work, he pulls out the big guns and jumps ahead to the episode where Leslie and Ben actually get together, but even the awkward sexual tension on their road trip can’t hold his attention. Finally, he gives up and turns in for the night, phone on silent next to his pillow.
Patrick wakes up to his alarm the next morning and swipes an angry thumb across his phone to turn off the offending sound. He throws his forearm across his eyes, trying to block the sun streaming through the curtains for just a few more blissful moments, before taking a deep breath and hauling himself out of bed, then down the hall for a shower. Twenty minutes later, he’s dressed and has packed up the last few items to take with him, and he plops down on his desk chair to scroll mindlessly on his phone until his parents are due to arrive. He props his feet up on the desk, leaning back as he picks up his phone.
He unlocks it, and when the screen lights up, he’s met with thirteen message notifications and two missed calls. He has a momentary cardiac event over the thousands of terrible possibilities that could have caused the onslaught on his inbox, until he taps on the messages and his heart has to work overtime for a different reason.
David: I left you on READ oh my god
David: Ugh and you’re not answering your texts and now you’re not picking up your phone either
David: I was driving my fucking sister and her stupid fucking friends all over the city because they were drunk and refused to take the subway or an Uber like normal people
David: And she called my dad and wanted him to pick her up, but instead he yelled at me for not looking out for her more
David: I have been home for LITERALLY 24 hours
David: What does he do when I’m not here???
David: And now I’m text spamming you while you’re obviously sleeping
David: Doing great
David: K, ciao
David: ...ignore that, please
Patrick laughs helplessly reading David’s texts, and then reading them three more times. He pictures David’s adorably exasperated expression, directed first at his dad, and then at himself as he realized what he’d sent to Patrick.
Patrick: Good morning, David
Patrick: I’m guessing you’re not awake yet, since I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you rushing to get to a 10am class more than once
Patrick: Sounds like your break is already more exciting than I’m expecting my entire month to be
Patrick: So you’re off to a good start, I think
Patrick: Hope today is better
He doesn’t hear back from David until he and his parents are nearly three-quarters through the two hour drive home to Alexandria Bay.
David: oh my god, please let’s never speak of this again
David: I was exhausted and short several brain cells from listening to my sister’s idiot friends blather on for hours
“What’s got you smiling back there?” Patrick’s dad asks, and Patrick looks up to meet his eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Um,” Patrick says, trying and failing to tamp down the joy that is apparently spilling out all over the place. “Just texting with someone.”
“Anyone special?” his mom asks with false nonchalance.
“One of my teammates. But we’re just friends,” he adds pointedly. His mom knowingly, infuriatingly, just raises one eyebrow and smiles into the mirror before looking out the window again.
Patrick: never speak of what again?
David: thank you
Winter break is significantly better than fall break, now that his pining after David while moping on the couch has been replaced by pining after David while texting David. There are no romantic comedy-level all night texting sessions; they text sporadically as the weeks pass. But every day, without fail, David reveals just a little bit more about himself.
David: If I wake up at 11 and have breakfast at 11:15, can I still have lunch at 12?
David: Alexis was going to watch a movie with me, but when I gave her the choice of The Lake House or Hope Floats, she ignored me and chose that horror movie with the murderous clown, what the fuck.
David: Please explain to me why my father, who is Jewish, thinks he has jurisdiction over deciding to throw a spur of the moment Christmas Eve party?
David: Tried to get in some time at the batting cages today, and the place was overrun with children, Patrick. CHILDREN.
David: It was a birthday party, so they were over sugared and under supervised and running around screaming while I had balls flying at my head at 80 mph
David: YES I HEARD IT
David: Don’t say a word
He’s having so much fun texting with David, in fact, that he forgets one tiny, insignificant detail.
Patrick: Have any plans for our last week of break?
David: Yeah actually
David: I convinced Stevie to come visit for a couple days. I’m on the subway going to meet her train at Penn Station right now.
Patrick’s heart drops to his stomach, and he sits down heavily on his bed, elbows resting on his knees, body hunched over the phone clutched in his hands.
David: She’s never been to the city before so she’ll probably want to do all the stupid tourist things like go ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza
David: But I’m excited to see her
David: Do NOT tell her I said that
Patrick’s head swims with images of David and Stevie bundled up in jackets and hats, cheeks pink from the cold, holding hands and laughing as they skate around the rink. They seem to have a weird relationship—derisive on the surface, yet unbearably fond underneath—but they obviously make each other happy.
Patrick swallows thickly against the nausea crawling into his throat and does his best to carry on a normal conversation.
Patrick: Tell her immediately when we get back to campus, got it
David: Oh fuck off
Patrick: Tell her you didn’t want her to know the depth of your emotions because sometimes you just FEEL too much. Will do.
David: Jesus christ
David: You’re supposed to be a business major, not a chaos demon
Patrick: Why can’t I be both?
David doesn’t answer after a minute, so Patrick tries a different tack.
Patrick: Are you going to take her to see Times Square?
David: Oh god, no. I draw the line at that nightmare hellscape.
Patrick: But what about the Hard Rock Cafe? Taking a photo with a creepy, unsanctioned Elmo? These are quintessential New York City experiences, David!
David: Maybe I’ll just leave her there and stave off my ennui in the expensive chocolate shops while she gets a crick in her neck from all the looking up at skyscrapers
Patrick: There you go
Patrick: I’m sure you’ll have a good time, whatever you two get up to
Patrick cringes and types frantically.
Patrick: I mean
Patrick: Not like that
Patrick: Not that it’s any of my business
Patrick: You should do whoever you want
Patrick: Not whoever
Patrick: But also whoever. Like I said, none of my business.
Oh god, this is how he dies. Not with David’s hands on Patrick’s hips in a batting cage, but all alone, sitting on his childhood bed. His headstone will read: Here lies Patrick Brewer, dead of embarrassment because he couldn’t text like a normal person. Then, in a moment of pure, self-indulgent wallowing, he mentally adds: Never kissed David Rose.
David: I’m not 100% sure how to interpret all of that word vomit
David: Though I do feel a little better about the ciao incident that you are banned from ever speaking of again
David: But um
David: Stevie and I aren’t together anymore. If you can even call what we were "together"
David: Just, in case you were wondering
David: About that
Patrick blinks. His brain is suddenly full of cotton, and he can’t think of a single thing to say except an anemic:
Patrick: Thanks for telling me
David has to stop texting when he arrives at his stop a minute later, and Patrick flops back on his bed and flings his arms out to the sides, turning his body into a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for pathetic.
Patrick has always thought of himself as a take-charge guy. It’s basically a requirement for being a catcher, and he’s honed his skills off the field, too, as lead in the school musical, treasurer of student council, and as someone who isn’t usually afraid to ask guys out on dates. But David makes him fumble, makes him stumble, makes him second-guess everything. David gave him his phone number. But was that just as friends and teammates, or was he hoping for more? David made sure Patrick knew he wasn’t dating Stevie. But was that just to clarify something Patrick had mistaken, or did he want Patrick, specifically, to know that he was single?
Furthermore, though he thinks David is probably some flavor of LGBTQ+, considering the flirtatious comments and glances he’s sometimes shot Patrick’s way (those were flirtatious, right?), he doesn’t actually, technically, know for sure. The only person Patrick has seen or heard about David being with is Stevie. Maybe he’s not queer at all. Maybe this is just how David is. For that matter, does David even know that Patrick is gay? Or interested in men at all? Has anyone from the team told him? Maybe, for all of Patrick’s pining and attempts at flirting, David had thought that Patrick was just being friendly, too. Maybe he’d thought that it’s just how Patrick is.
But still, none of that is the biggest problem. He and David are teammates, and the last thing he wants to do is risk making things weird and potentially jeopardizing the team by shooting his shot and getting turned down. The bottom line is that if the choice is between having David as a friend, or having David as a distant teammate that he’s awkwardly cordial with, he’ll take having him as a friend one thousand times over.
So Patrick can wait, will wait, for now. At the very least, until they get back to school and they can get to know each other better in person. As friends, or hopefully, in time, as more.
Jan 19 1:07pm
Patrick: When will you be back on campus?
David: Not until late tomorrow night
David: Have to catch a ride with sebastien, ugh
Patrick: Have you planned for extra time so he can stop and take pretentious black and white photos of half ripped billboards?
David: Kill me now, please
Patrick: Sorry, no can do
Patrick: Have to help my dad clean out the garage
David: I think I’d rather be stuck with sebastien
Patrick: See you Monday morning, David
The baseball team is required to be back on campus a week before the start of classes so that they can travel to Virginia for a three day training camp and a couple of pre-season games with another D-III team. The morning they have to leave, Patrick shoves his equipment bag into the half-full space under the bus and climbs on board. He claims a row about halfway back and takes the aisle seat, tossing his backpack onto the window seat. He’s not exactly saving it for anyone, but if he can make it look slightly less appealing to the average passerby, that wouldn’t be the worst thing.
He digs his earbuds out of the front pocket of his backpack and plugs them into his phone, and pulls up his favorite road playlist, full of plenty of music that David probably has very strong opinions about. He turns his attention out the window, which serves the dual purpose of allowing him to avoid eye contact with his teammates coming down the aisle of the bus while also letting him watch for the one person he actually wants to be stuck next to for an eight hour bus ride.
He finally sees him rushing down the hill, hair perfectly styled, wearing a sweater that looks unbelievably soft and has a tiger stripe print that amplifies the breadth of his chest. He’s carrying his equipment bag and a leather duffel as well as dragging a rolling suitcase, which is approximately eighty-seven percent more clothes than he needs for a three-night trip during which they will be doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and playing baseball. David seems to get into some sort of argument with Coach Currie over the extra bags, and after a minute of David’s frantic hand waving and eye rolls, David climbs onto the bus, leather duffel still in hand. His expression is frazzled, but he otherwise looks completely put together.
David starts down the aisle, eyes darting side to side as he scans the available seats, undoubtedly looking for an empty row he can have to himself, pink lips twitching with disappointment when he doesn’t find one. Patrick keeps his eyes locked on him and waits until David’s gaze finds his before pointedly dropping his bag to the floor and sliding over, offering up a small smile in invitation.
David sighs dramatically, which only makes Patrick grin wider. David plops down on the seat and holds his bag up expectantly in front of Patrick. “So what am I supposed to do with this, now?”
David smells like herbal shampoo and cedar cologne, and in that moment, Patrick’s brain decides to cue up a short film clip entitled, What Would Happen if Patrick Licked a Stripe Up the Side of David’s Neck Right Now and Then Shoved His Tongue Down His Throat? which is extraordinarily unhelpful when he’s supposed to be answering a question like a normal person. He swallows, trying to wet his suddenly extremely dry mouth, and manages, “Gee, I don’t know, David. Maybe if you’d gotten here at six like you were supposed to, instead of ten minutes late, there would have been a row for you to have to yourself.”
David’s eyebrows furrow. “Excuse you, but having to be on a bus at six in the goddamn morning should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. And I had to set my alarm for four thirty. It was basically the middle of the night!”
“Why did you have to get up that early? I’ve only been awake for half an hour.”
“Uh, there was no way I was going to get on a bus for eight hours without showering first.”
And you smell incredible, Patrick thinks, like a creepy stalker, but he says, “Aw, well the rest of the bus thanks you. Unfortunately for you, I can pretty much guarantee that no one else showered this morning, and you’re still stuck with all of us.”
David wrinkles his nose. “Ew.”
Patrick nods gravely. “Indeed. And as for your bag, I believe your options are the floor or holding it on your lap for the entire trip.”
David looks between the floor and his bag, clearly weighing exactly the extent to which he doesn’t want it to touch the same place upon which countless athletic shoes have trod. Finally, he groans and sets it gingerly between his feet.
“There, now was that so hard?”
The glare David shoots him is enough of an answer. Patrick barks a laugh and pats him twice on the knee without thinking, and the touch sends a shiver down Patrick’s spine. He feels his face flush (damn his fair skin for never letting him hide a single emotion), and he busies himself with his music, staring down at his phone as if the countdown of the time remaining on “Dead Sea” by the Lumineers is the most fascinating thing he could possibly fathom.
The bus is mostly quiet as they drive, the team settling into their own road trip rituals. There’s no homework to be done right now, so most of the guys just sleep or read or watch Netflix on their phones. Patrick knows for a fact that some of them read MCU fanfiction, though he’s never been able to get into it himself. David immediately puts in his headphones and closes his eyes, leaning back against the headrest. The light tapping of his fingers on his black denim-clad thigh tells Patrick that he’s not actually sleeping, but he still doesn’t want to disturb him. Instead, Patrick digs The Great Gatsby out of his bag and starts his fourth reread, backed by the folky soundtrack playing through his own headphones that’s wholly inappropriate for the mood of the book, but exactly right for Patrick’s mood of “calm the fuck down, Brewer.”
They’ve been on the road for a little over an hour when the quiet in the bus is interrupted by a loud, “FUCK!” from Patrick’s seatmate.
Patrick pulls both of his earbuds out. “Something wrong, David?”
“My fucking headphones stopped working! The left one keeps cutting out and I can’t hear anything in the right one at all.”
“Oof, yeah, that sucks. Do you think you’re going to make it?”
“Literally no,” David whines. “How am I supposed to get through seven more hours without them?”
Patrick holds up his right earbud and offers it to David. “Want to share?”
David wrinkles his nose again. “I don’t share things that have been inside another person’s body.” He grimaces. “And that’s something I just said to you. So.”
Patrick presses his lips together and tilts his head, and he’s not sure whether he’s working harder to hold back his laughter or the list of innuendo-laden follow up questions that his brain immediately populated. “Well,” he finally manages, “I can assure you that the inside of my ears are very clean.”
David leans in to inspect the proffered earbud, and, apparently deeming it satisfactory, plucks it from Patrick’s fingers. “Fine. Who are we listening to?”
“Mumford and Sons.”
“Oh, no. No, no, no,” David dins, as he takes Patrick’s phone out of his hands. “We can do much better than this. What do you have in the way of female singers from the 90s?”
Which is how Patrick winds up spending the next several hours being educated in all things Whitney, Celine, Tina, and Mariah. The music is a mixed bag—some of it he knows, some of it he finds that he loves, some of it is just okay—but having a front row seat to David enjoying it all as he closes his eyes in bliss and hums along, his dark lashes fluttering against his olive skin, is a compromise that’s more than fair.
The trip actually winds up taking more like nine hours, thanks to a couple of stops for food and bathrooms, and they finally arrive at Christopher Newport University in the late afternoon. The CNU baseball team is waiting to greet them, each holding up a paper with the name of the Seneca Falls player they’re hosting in their room for the next three nights. Patrick is assigned to another freshman catcher named Raj, who greets him with a fist bump and a, “Hey, nice to meet you” spoken with a light Southern drawl. As he and Raj head towards his dorm, Patrick looks back at the group once more, but he can’t find David’s swoop of dark hair among the barely-organized chaos. Resigned, he figures he’ll just see him at dinner. There’s no way David will miss pizza.
He does see David at dinner, and plenty of other times over the next few days, but their time is filled with practices and drills and meals and movie nights, all alongside fifty other guys, so Patrick doesn’t get a chance to talk to David alone again until the end of the trip. They spend their last afternoon in Virginia playing a doubleheader against CNU, and in the end, it’s a draw: they win the first, but lose the second in extra innings, and the mood in the locker room after the second game is significantly less jovial than it had been between games. Sure, the trip was fun, full of jokes and camaraderie, not to mention the chance to play baseball in temperatures much more suited to outdoor pursuits than the bone-chilling upstate New York winter cold, but they’d still wanted to win.
The moonlit walk to the bus is similarly morose, but it’s improved when David sidles up to Patrick and bumps their shoulders together.
“Well that sucked,” David says.
Patrick huffs a humorless laugh. “Yeah.”
They continue towards the bus in contemplative silence. Patrick is about to climb on when David places a hand on his arm, and he freezes, turning back to face David.
“So as it turns out, my headphones did not magically fix themselves this trip,” David begins. “Are yours still clean, or should I risk eight hours of Ted’s puns and share with him?”
Warmth blooms in Patrick’s chest. “You can share mine again.”
David nods. “Great.”
They find the same seats as they’d had on the drive down a few days before, and Patrick wordlessly presses play on Whitney Houston and hands David his right earbud. When David puts it in and hears the second phrase of “How Will I Know,” he shoots Patrick a sideways glance as he pushes a delighted smile into his cheek. Patrick winks at him, then leans back against the headrest and closes his eyes.
He wakes up sometime later to Toni Braxton begging him to unbreak her heart, and he blinks his eyes open to see David’s phone glowing next to him in the otherwise dark bus. He scrubs a hand over his face. “Hey,” he whispers.
David looks up with a start. “Oh, hey. Sorry, did I wake you?”
“Nah. Where are we?”
“We passed through Washington D.C. a while back. We still have like five hours to go.”
Patrick nods and glances down at his phone, which reads 11:47 p.m. “Is everyone else sleeping?”
David sits up straighter and cranes his neck to look around the bus, then relaxes back into his seat again. “Looks like it.”
“Well,” Patrick says, stretching, “I’m not going to fall asleep again. Want to play a game?”
David quirks an eyebrow. “A game? Do you have a Parcheesi set hidden somewhere on your person?”
Patrick isn’t sure whether it’s because his usual filter is weakened from fatigue or because the dark quiet surrounding them makes Patrick feel brave, but he shoots back, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
He can’t quite make out the look on David’s face, but from the way the silhouette of his jaw shifts and his eyes shine as they reflect the faint glow of distant headlights, Patrick thinks he’s pleased with this response.
David clears his throat. “So what game, then?”
Patrick shrugs, though he isn’t sure if David can see it. “Never Have I Ever?”
“Okay, but we don’t have any booze. So what are the terms?”
“No terms. Just for fun.”
David is quiet for a moment, but then he sighs out a hushed, “Okay.”
The game starts simply. Never have I ever been to Seattle. (David.) Never have I ever eaten a whole pizza in one sitting. (Patrick.) Never have I ever watched Twilight. (Both of them.)
Patrick doesn’t mean to shift the tone, he really doesn’t. But when he says, “Never have I ever been drunk,” and David asks incredulously what he has done, the game is off and running.
“Never have I ever had a threesome,” David says, voice low, and Patrick coughs.
“Is that on your to-do list?”
They’ve reached a section of highway that’s lit overhead, so Patrick can see the smirk David gives him in the orange-tinted lights that slide across his face. “Sure, why not? It sounds fun.”
“What, uh, what kind of threesome?” Patrick chokes out.
“I mean, I identify as pansexual, so really any kind would be a good time for me. What about you?” David asks, shimmying his shoulders.
“Well, um, never have I ever had sex with a girl.” He swallows. “So.”
David smiles softly. “Well that’s okay. There’s no shame in being inexperienced—”
“No,” Patrick cuts him off. “I didn’t say I’d never had sex. I said I’ve never had sex with a girl.”
The sweet curve of David’s lips blooms into a lascivious grin, but he says nothing.
“I’m gay,” Patrick clarifies.
And there it is. They both know each other’s preferences, unquestionably. There’s no more wondering if David is interested in men, no more uncertainty about whether or not Patrick’s interest in him is clear, nothing left to hide behind. It’s out there now, for David to do with as he wishes.
David nods. “Well. Thank you for telling me.” David hesitates for a moment, then says, “I, um…I can’t say I’m shocked, exactly.”
Patrick smiles. “No? What would shock you, then?”
“Hmm.” David’s eyes flick up and down, assessing. “Never have I ever had a piercing,” he decides.
Patrick raises his eyebrows silently.
“Really?” David barks out, probably too loud for the quiet bus.
“Yeah, see this scar?” Patrick points to his left eyebrow, where his old barbell has been replaced by a smooth line that cuts vertically through the sparse hair, and he goes a little breathless as David leans in closer to have a better look. “And, uh…” he sticks out his tongue, curling it down so that David can more easily see the inconspicuous clear piercing retainer that he wears in his tongue piercing most of the time.
“Holy fuck.” David raises an eyebrow. “Patrick Brewer, I’m sufficiently shocked.” They stare at each other for a beat too long, until David pulls away, looking down at his hands and twisting one of his rings.
Patrick takes a breath, remembering where they are, and tries to steer the game back into safer waters. “Never have I ever flown first class.”
“I...have done that.”
“Wow, what was it like?”
“Well, uh, not as nice as a private plane?” David winces, as if he needs to apologize for his answer.
Patrick’s jaw nearly drops like a cliché of a cartoon character. “You’ve been on a private plane?”
“My, um, my family used to own one.”
That’s…no, he must have misheard. “I’m sorry, what?”
“My family. We used to have a private plane.”
“Wow,” he says again. “Then what the hell are you doing going to a SUNY—” Patrick cuts himself off. Oh. Used to have a private plane. Past tense. “Sorry, that was...that was rude. Um, can I...do you mind if I ask what happened?” he asks, voice gentle.
David takes a breath and shifts away from Patrick slightly, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes, as if he can’t bring himself to look directly at Patrick as he speaks. “Do you know Rose Video?”
“Yeah, my family used to rent, like, a whole stack of DVDs every Friday night when I was in elementary school, until they closed, anyway.”
“Right, well, that’s us. My dad, I mean.” Which, holy shit. But Patrick doesn’t dare interrupt. “He sold off the business when his advisors told him that DVDs were going the way of the dinosaurs,” David continues. “We got rid of the plane after that, and a couple of our houses, and we moved to our penthouse in the city. I was really excited at first, but, um, high school kind of sucked for me, actually?” He opens his eyes and turns his head to look at Patrick. “I had my art, and I had baseball, but my parents insisted that I go to this really pretentious private school. I mean, I wanted to, at first.” His hands roll in the air in anxious circles. “But I always felt like I had to try so fucking hard. I didn’t really fit in with anyone. That’s why I wanted to go to Cornell. My dad came with me for the visit in October of my junior year, and he kept talking about ‘Ivy League’ this and ‘D-I’ that, but all I could think about was the lake, and the gorges, and the way the changing leaves looked across the mountains.” He closes his eyes again briefly and smiles to himself. “It felt peaceful. Like I could breathe and just...be.” He looks back at Patrick, but his smile dims slightly. “But two years ago, my dad figured out that his accountant had been evading taxes for the last decade, and by the time my dad realized it, Eli had taken almost everything we had left and run off to the Caymans.”
“David,” Patrick breathes, hand reaching instinctively to rest on David’s knee, and tears spring to David’s eyes at the touch. He looks up at the speckled plastic ceiling of the bus and blinks them away, and Patrick squeezes harder.
“Anyway,” David shrugs, “I didn’t handle it well. I started staying out late and missing morning practices. At first the coaches just stopped giving me field time, but instead of trying to improve, I slacked off more. And…” He trails off, and Patrick waits patiently for him to gather his thoughts, rubbing gentle circles on David’s knee with his thumb. After a moment, David continues, voice wavering. “At the end of the season, they told me I was off the team. So I lost my scholarship, which meant we couldn’t afford Cornell anymore, and I just shut down." Patrick aches for David, and he can’t help leaning into his space, pressing their shoulders together as a tiny gesture of support. David’s body relaxes slightly at the contact, and he takes a shuddering breath. “I wound up taking last year off and moping around until my sister kicked my ass and made me apply to a couple of schools. I could have tried to get into Binghamton or Albany and kept playing D-I at a SUNY, but I just needed a change.” He finally turns to look at Patrick. “And coming here felt like the right choice.”
Patrick holds his gaze. “I’m glad you did.”
Patrick’s heart thumps in his chest. Their faces are inches away from each other. He can feel David’s breath ghosting across his cheeks, can see the individual lashes framing David’s dark eyes. It would take almost nothing, barely any movement at all, for Patrick to lean in and kiss him, to show him exactly how grateful he is that David ended up here, despite the trauma that led to it.
But it’s not the right time. They’re on a bus surrounded by their coaches and teammates. They’re exhausted, physically and emotionally. When Patrick finally kisses David, he wants him to know that it’s real.
Patrick forces himself to pull away, leaning back in his seat and patting David’s knee twice before reluctantly dragging his hand back to his own lap. David smiles faintly, then bites his lips between his teeth as he rolls his eyes. “Never have I ever gotten roped into listening to someone’s tragic backstory on a bus at 1 a.m.,” he scoffs.
“David,” he says, shaking his head, “I wanted to know. I want to know you. I’m glad you told me.” David just sighs, letting out a little “hm'' on the exhale, and looks down at his rings again. He watches David spin each one in turn—pointer, middle, ring, pinky—before Patrick breaks the silence. “Never have I ever listened to an entire Mariah Carey album from start to finish.”
David whips his head over to him, eyes wide. “Oh my GOD, give me your phone right now.”
Patrick grins, and does.
The next few weeks are a whirlwind as the reality of playing college ball sets in. Practices are upped to three days a week, four hours a day, plus twice-weekly mandatory training time at the gym and a weekend scrimmage against another D-III team, with a long bus ride on both sides of the game. And between all of that, Patrick has to go to class, study, write papers, and catch up on reading from the classes he missed for practice. He starts every day at 6 a.m. and collapses into bed at 11 p.m., just to do it all over again. It’s exhausting. He loves it.
Ted hadn’t been kidding when he’d said, months ago, that the team was like a family. They joke and play and tease each other, but they also immediately offer sincere support when someone is struggling on or off the field. They eat dinner together most nights after games or practices, and watch movies, binge watch TV shows, or play dirty charades or Pictionary together in someone’s apartment or a dorm common room on whichever weekend day they have free. It’s fantastic.
And David is at the center of it all.
They’ve been sitting together on the rides to and from all of the scrimmages since the trip to Virginia, wordlessly agreeing to share headphones as long as David always gets to choose the music. Patrick is more than willing to agree to the compromise if it means being able to lean into David’s shoulder, breathing in the smell of his cologne while teasing him about the deeper cuts on his “90s Divas” and “Lilith Fair Goddesses” playlists.
David has been more relaxed around him, too, letting his walls drop down and his true self shine through. And if Patrick had thought David was beautiful before, then this new David, who laughs a little brighter, smiles a little quicker, carries himself a little taller...this new David is exquisite. It helps, too, that a lot of those laughs are because of things that Patrick says; a lot of those smiles, if not first directed at Patrick, turn towards him immediately; and that taller posture often leads to David leaning a crooked arm on Patrick’s shoulder. David is as radiant as the sun, and Patrick can’t help but be pulled into his orbit. He doesn’t want to stop being pulled into his orbit.
So it’s not surprising that two days before their first official game of the season, Patrick finds himself at another party in Miguel, Derek, and Andre’s apartment, glued to David’s side. When the coaches had given them the weekend off, the upperclassmen had immediately declared that Saturday night was party night. It’s nearing midnight, and the party has been in full swing for a couple of hours, so it’s about the time that the drinks are really starting to kick in and people are starting to get handsy. Antonio is chatting up some guy Patrick recognizes as Deion’s roommate (Brock or Brian or Brad or something like that, he’s pretty sure). Miguel is sitting on the armchair in the corner, apparently ready to move on from Shannon after their breakup last month, if the girl perched on his lap—Vikram’s cousin, maybe?—is any indication. Jake is holding court in the center of a small mixed-gender cluster of people, none of whom seem shy about running their hands along his arms or back, so he’s bound to have a good night. Sebastien is leaning in close to a girl from the softball team, and her look of explicit disinterest almost makes Patrick want to go rescue her, but before he can act on the impulse, she dumps the rest of her drink on his head and shoves past him. So clearly she doesn’t need his help. Patrick, for his part, is sipping his second beer and not moving an inch. He barely has a buzz from the alcohol, but the warmth of David’s arm pressed up against his is enough to make him feel a little dizzy.
A minute later, Stevie sidles over to them, eyes dancing with mischief. “Hello, boys.”
There’s a sudden lump in Patrick’s throat. David told him that he and Stevie aren’t together, and logically, Patrick knows there’s nothing to worry about. But he’s been here before. He’s been exactly here before. He’d thought, back in the fall, that David might have been interested, but then Stevie came along, and...well. That was that. Just because they’re not together now, it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t get back together sometime in the future. Or, like, in the next three minutes.
“What do you want, gremlin?” David asks her, his voice full of affectionate exasperation.
“Aw, is that any way to talk to your best friend?”
David scoffs. “I don’t have best friends.”
“Sure, go ahead and tell yourself that,” Stevie snorts. “Besides, I’d think you’d want me around.” She pulls a joint from the front pocket of her flannel shirt and wiggles it at him. “Want to go smoke?”
“Uh, yes,” David answers quickly, nodding so vehemently that he somewhat resembles a bobblehead doll. A really, really good-looking bobblehead doll.
“Patrick?” Stevie asks. “You in?”
Patrick’s not going to turn that down. Even if it means risking witnessing another awkward precursor to...whatever...with David and Stevie, it’s been way too long since he’s smoked. It’s a bit of a gamble, considering the fact that he’ll be out of half the season if he tests positive for it, but the NCAA itself only tests for pot during championships, and Coach Lee had told them in veiled terms that the test she’d had them take earlier in the week would be the only marijuana test of the season. And if he’s going to be abandoned at a party for the second time by the guy he’s absolutely head over heels for, he may as well have a bit of a buzz to show for it. He takes a swig of his beer and sets it down on a nearby table. “Absolutely.”
David and Stevie fix him with matching grins, and he follows them out to the balcony. Stevie pulls a lighter from the same shirt pocket, and the joint flares orange in the dark cup of her hands as she lights it. She pinches it between her fingers and takes two deep puffs before passing it to David. Patrick can’t help watching as David brings the joint to his mouth and presses it between his lips: the white paper contrasting with the perfect pink of his lips, the muscles in his jaw twitching as he purses to inhale. He pulls it away and holds for a moment, then shapes his mouth into a perfect “o” and sends a cloud of smoke and breath into the cold night air.
The smirk David gives Patrick when he passes the joint is dangerous, and Patrick allows their fingers to brush as he takes it, keeping his eyes locked with David as he inhales. He can feel the smoke curling through his lungs, warming him from the inside out. He lets the smoke go after a few seconds, breaking eye contact with David to turn his head.
“Yeah, so I’m gonna go back inside,” Stevie says from behind David.
David turns back to her. “What? Why?”
“Oh, I just” —Stevie waves her hands around, in a move that looks remarkably like something David would do in a moment of anxiety— “I gotta go. I totally forgot.”
“You...forgot. About something you have to do at midnight on a Saturday.” David’s voice drips with incredulity.
She’s closing the balcony door behind her before Patrick even gets a chance to say good night, but when he turns back to David, his dark eyes piercing in the starlight, Patrick can’t bring himself to care in the slightest.
David stares at him for a moment, eyes focused and searching, before finally asking, “Can I try something?”
“Yes,” Patrick answers instantly. As if he would refuse anything David asked for right now.
David smirks again, that gorgeous, sexy smirk, and brings the joint to his lips for a long drag. And then he’s leaning in, crowding Patrick against the railing, and finally, finally, finallyfinallyfinally pressing their lips together. There's a lightning strike in Patrick's body, and he's floating, above the clouds, ascending just from being able to taste the sweetness of David's mouth. Patrick feels David’s lips part, and he gets the picture immediately, opening up for him and accepting the smoke as David passes it, inhaling David’s breath and holding it inside himself, pulling away only when he has to exhale.
David smiles at him, inches away from Patrick’s face. “Never have I ever shotgunned before.”
Patrick grins back. “Me neither. Want to try it again?”
David nods. “Your turn this time, though.” He passes Patrick the joint.
Patrick pinches it between his lips and takes a deep inhale, and then leans up to pass the smoke to David. David draws him in closer with his hands on Patrick’s hips, and it’s a minor miracle that Patrick is able to maintain the coordination and brainpower to not choke as a jolt of arousal rockets through him. David tips his head back and blows the smoke out above them, but Patrick can only watch the bob of David’s Adam’s apple along the column of his throat. David looks back down at him and starts to pull his hands away, but Patrick grabs one of his forearms and holds him there.
“David,” he whispers.
David crashes their lips together again in a deliciously sloppy kiss, and Patrick drops the remainder of the joint onto the concrete floor of the balcony, not giving a single fuck about wasting it. It’s barely a moment before they’re licking into each other’s mouths, tongues and teeth working overtime to make up for months of wanting without being able to take.
Patrick wraps one arm around David’s broad shoulders and cradles David’s jaw in his other hand, brushing his thumb against the grain of David’s stubble. David runs his tongue across the flat of Patrick’s, and gasps in surprise as he bumps up against the ball of the metal barbell Patrick had swapped into his tongue piercing tonight.
David pulls back immediately. “Let me see it,” he demands, voice rough. Patrick complies, dropping his jaw and pressing the tip of his tongue against his lower teeth to show off the barbell. “Jesus fuck, that’s so fucking hot,” David groans, and is immediately on Patrick again. His tongue probes into Patrick’s mouth, his fingers tightening on Patrick’s hips as he pulls them closer together, and this time Patrick can feel David getting hard through his jeans. And that’s...god. It’s transcendent, is what it is. He didn’t think it was possible to want David more than he already did, but now he feels like if he doesn’t get David to a bed immediately he might literally die.
Patrick slides his hands to David’s chest, feeling the strong pecs that he knows are hiding under David’s thick sweater, and nudges him away slightly, just enough for their lips to separate and for David to open his eyes.
“David,” he says again, because that seems to be the only word his brain can process at the moment. “David. I want...can we…” He looks back at the balcony door, hoping David understands, because those five words are the best he can manage now that he finally has David under his hands.
To his horror, David steps back immediately, putting several feet between them and wringing his hands. “Oh god, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t—”
“NO.” The force of Patrick’s voice startles even himself. “No,” he tries again, gentler, taking a step towards David and reaching out to brush his fingers along the soft fabric covering David’s arm. “You didn’t misunderstand. Not the kiss, anyway.” Then a horrible thought crosses his mind, and he pulls his hand back. “Unless...you didn’t want to?”
“God, Patrick.” David huffs a laugh, and reaches for Patrick’s hand again, lacing their fingers together. “I’ve wanted you for weeks. Or maybe months, if I’m being honest.”
“Well, same. So...good.” Patrick can’t help the grin that he feels spreading across his face.
“But if you want to go back to the party, that’s totally fine.”
“Oh! Uh, yes, we could do that. If you want to do that. But what I actually was trying to say was...do you maybe want to get out of here? Together?”
David pushes a bashful smile into his cheek, and gives Patrick’s hand a tug. “Yeah. Um, my dorm room is a single? If you want...that?”
“Oh, I want. Let’s go, David.” Patrick drops David’s hand to pull the balcony door open, and he beelines through the party with David hot on his heels, crossing all of his fingers and toes that no one stops them. They grab their coats on the way out, letting the door slam closed on its own behind them, and bundle up as they hurry down the hallway. Once they’re safely outside the apartment building and away from any well-intentioned teammates who would only stand in the way of Patrick’s quest to get David naked as soon as possible, Patrick grabs David’s hand again, allowing himself to be tugged in the direction of David’s dorm.
They make it across campus in record time, and the moment the door to David’s room closes, Patrick finds himself backed up against it, David’s hips pressing into his, his head bracketed by David’s strong arms as David braces his hands on the door. David leans in close, nudging their noses together, and Patrick lets his body slump a few inches, wanting to make the most of every bit of extra height David has. He’s breathless at the feeling of David towering above him, crowding into his space, and he tilts his head up and lets his mouth drop open slightly, silently begging to be kissed.
David complies, licking along Patrick’s top lip and nipping at his bottom one before finally plunging his tongue into Patrick’s mouth. Patrick lets his piercing catch lightly on David’s lip, and David whimpers, chasing the metal with his own tongue. Patrick is hard, so hard, practically shaking from it, and he can’t wait another minute to be able to worship every inch of David’s body. He brings his hands to the bottom hem of David’s sweater and tugs lightly. “Can we take this off?” he breathes against David’s mouth.
“God, yes.” David draws back and eases off his sweater over his head, taking his t-shirt and the remaining shreds of Patrick’s self-control with it. David drapes it carefully over the desk chair behind him, and when he turns around again, Patrick is on him immediately. David tastes like salt and soap and heaven, and Patrick bites and sucks at the skin just above David’s collarbone like he’s trying to single-handedly win the World Series of giving hickies.
“Hey.” David nudges at Patrick, and he reluctantly pulls back to look up at the gorgeous man he’s finally allowed to touch.
“Hm?” Patrick asks, eloquently.
David smiles softly. “You shouldn’t leave any marks, unless you want to do a lot of explaining in the locker room on Monday. Which I, for one, do not.”
Patrick pouts. Damn it, he hates that David is right. “Fine, I’ll try to restrain myself.” He dives back down, this time licking over David’s nipple, flicking at the bud with his barbell as he mirrors the movement with his nail on the other nipple. David keens and shoves at his shoulders again.
“Jesus, Patrick,” he whines, already pulling Patrick’s t-shirt up. “Take your clothes off so I can get my hands on you, already.” David lifts Patrick’s shirt over his head before dropping it carelessly on the floor, and Patrick fumbles at the button on his own jeans while trying to simultaneously toe off his shoes. He finally manages it, and when he stands from tugging down his pants and removing his socks, David has finished taking off his own clothes and shoes and is down to just his black boxer briefs. He stands before Patrick, muscular and dusted with hair and hard, hard because of Patrick, and Patrick can’t help but lunge at him. He crashes their lips together, wrapping his arms around David’s back, running his hands over his shoulder blades and across his ribs, trying to pull him impossibly closer.
David caresses Patrick’s shoulders and drags his nails down Patrick’s sides before suddenly grabbing two handfuls of Patrick’s ass, and he’s not sure if it’s the weed or if it’s just David, but every touch is so much in the best way. Patrick gasps, and David pauses. “Is this okay?”
“Oh my god, so fucking okay, David,” Patrick groans, bringing his hands back around David's body to thumb at his nipples again. He ducks his head to mouth at the pulse point on David’s neck, gently this time.
“Thank fuck. Your ass—mmph, god, right there—your ass should be classified as the eighth wonder of the world. I’ve gotten myself off so many times thinking about it.”
Patrick moans into David’s neck before finding David’s lips again, letting their tongues dance together as he slides his arms up to rest on David’s shoulders and run his fingers through David’s hair. “Tell me what else you thought about,” Patrick begs.
David purses his lips playfully. “This.” With only that warning, David bends his knees to move his hands lower, squeezing the backs of Patrick’s thighs, and then Patrick is being lifted off the ground.
“Holy shit, yes,” Patrick whimpers, automatically wrapping his legs around David's body and using the strength of his thighs to hold on tight. He drops his gaze to watch the flex of David’s biceps and forearms as he adjusts to hold Patrick’s weight, and the slight shift brings their cocks directly into alignment. They both groan, and David drags his teeth lightly along Patrick’s jaw. Patrick shivers at the sensation, making their clothed cocks slide against each other again, and Patrick can feel the twitch of David’s arousal. With the heightened sensory awareness from the weed, it’s an endless loop of pleasure on top of pleasure on top of pleasure.
Patrick hardly realizes he’s being moved until he feels a jolt as the backs of David’s knees bump against the bed. David spins them around and unceremoniously drops Patrick down onto the mattress, where he lands on his back with a soft bounce. He props himself up on his elbows, and is treated to the heart-stoppingly, incandescently hot vision of David Rose standing over him, gazing down at him with eyes full of lust, holding eye contact as he hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his own underwear and shoves them down.
Patrick’s mouth waters as David’s erection springs free, thick and cut, the tip glistening with precome. He feels his jaw go slack and his tongue loll in his mouth, loose with the anticipation of wrapping his lips around David’s cock. He drags his eyes up to meet David’s, then repositions to allow himself to wiggle out of his own boxer briefs. It’s more than a little awkward, but the way David bites his lip when Patrick is fully naked on his bed is gratifying enough to make up for it.
“Hey,” Patrick says sharply, and David’s eyes snap back to his. “Get over here.”
David grins wickedly and climbs onto the bed, crawling up Patrick’s body. He grabs Patrick’s hands and moves them above Patrick’s head, pinning them to the bed as he thrusts against him. Patrick arches up to meet David’s movements, writhing against him, and cranes his neck to kiss him again.
It’s only a few moments before Patrick feels himself hurtling towards an inevitable conclusion that he’s not ready for yet.
“Wait, wait, stop.”
David freezes, releasing Patrick’s hands immediately and pushing himself up to put space between their bodies. “I’m sorry. Too much? Too fast?”
“No, god, this is amazing. I was just getting close, and I didn’t want to come yet.”
“Mmm, what do you want, then?” David asks, his voice low and sultry, and the timbre sends another jolt to Patrick’s cock.
“I want to suck you,” Patrick says, and flips his tongue so that he can bite the barbell between his teeth where David can see it.
David’s eyes roll back in his head as he groans. “You know what that fucking piercing does to me,” he says, flopping onto the bed next to Patrick.
“Oh, you haven't seen anything yet,” Patrick teases, as he winks at David and starts mouthing down David’s torso. He spares a few moments to nose at the coarse hairs at the base of David’s dick and breathe him in, musky and spicy and heaven, before he can’t wait anymore, and finally gets his mouth on him.
David is heavy on Patrick’s tongue, and he revels in the contrast between the velvet softness of David’s skin and the bitterness of his precome. Patrick wraps his right hand around the base of David’s cock, jerking him lightly but letting his mouth do most of the work. He gives as much suction as he can manage as he licks up and down David's length, twisting his tongue to alternate between smooth swipes and the occasional flick of barbell. David shudders with pleasure each time the hard metal brushes against his cock, and Patrick forces himself to stay on his knees so that he doesn’t unconsciously writhe against the mattress and end things too early.
“God, Patrick, so good. So fucking good,” David babbles, and his hands find Patrick’s hair, tangling in the curls. David runs one hand down Patrick’s cheek, thumb caressing the stretch of Patrick’s lips, and Patrick turns his head to the side and lets his mouth open wider, capturing David’s thumb alongside his cock. He licks up and down, letting the barbell run along both at the same time, and David’s hips buck up. Patrick throws his left arm across David’s hips to hold him in place, but it seems to have the opposite of the intended effect, if the way David’s chest arches off the bed is any indication.
“Close,” David pants, sitting up a little and pulling his thumb out of Patrick’s mouth. Patrick looks up to meet his eyes, smiling as best he can, and doubles down on the suction to wordlessly give David permission to come in his mouth. David whines and drops back down to the pillow, and Patrick lightly runs the metal of his piercing up and down the sensitive spot right below the head as he tightens his grip and strokes with more purpose, urging David on. It’s only a few moments before David tenses and moans, and Patrick feels him explode with bitter saltiness on the back of his tongue.
Patrick swallows as much as he can, but he has to pull off and finish by jacking David with his hand. David certainly doesn’t seem to mind, though, and it means Patrick gets a better view of David’s gorgeous face, gasping and twisted in pleasure, as his cock pulses in Patrick's hand and the warmth of David's come drips down his fingers.
By the time David's face relaxes into an expression of perfect bliss, Patrick is so turned on, he can’t wait another second. He feels like he’s one strong breeze away from coming untouched. He sits back on his heels and reaches for his cock, stroking himself as slowly as he can stand, the slickness of David’s come on his hand and his own precome making his foreskin slide deliciously smoothly. At the sound of skin on skin, David’s eyes pop open, and in an impressive show of post-orgasm lucidity, he sits up quickly and reaches out to cover Patrick’s hand with his own, helping him to jerk off.
“David, I’m gonna…” Patrick starts.
“Yeah, come for me. Come on my cock,” David urges, and Patrick moans low and long, and does, his orgasm ripping through him as he pulses hot and thick in white spurts that streak across David’s stomach, thighs, and cock. Patrick falls forward, catching himself on his hands on either side of David’s torso before collapsing down on top of him, heedless of the squelch of his come between them. David doesn’t seem to care, either; he just wraps his arms around Patrick’s shoulders and holds him close as he captures Patrick's lips in a lush kiss.
They kiss languidly, tongues soft, until they’re just trading gentle presses of lips and brushing their noses together. Patrick finally pulls back with a sigh and nuzzles into David’s neck. "I've wanted that for so long."
"Me too," David admits, and Patrick smiles as he feels David press a kiss to his temple. "But, um..." David clears his throat. "I think we should maybe keep this between us for now."
Patrick tenses, and the floaty, weed-enhanced afterglow he had been feeling evaporates like a wisp of smoke. He shifts his position, folding his arms across David's chest and resting his chin on them, and David stretches an arm up behind his own head, bicep flexing as he props himself up so they can look at each other.
"I don't just want something casual, David," Patrick says, finally. "I guess we should have talked about this first, but the way I feel about you…" He shakes his head. "The way I feel about you isn't casual. I like you. So much."
David's eyes soften, and he runs his free hand lightly over Patrick's back. "I don't feel casual about you, either. I want...this. Whatever this is. I want it with you."
Patrick smiles and stretches up to kiss David gently. "Good. So why can't we—"
"It's just...it's the beginning of the season? And I don't want it to be a distraction for anyone, or for anyone to think were distracted by each other—"
"Oh, you're very distracting," Patrick interrupts, teasing, bowing his head to nip at David's chest. David grins and squeezes his ass in retaliation. "Hey!" Patrick protests.
"You're very distracting, too. Or did I not make it clear how I feel about this ass?"
“No, you made that pretty damn clear.”
“Mmm. Good.” David moves his hand higher and resumes stroking up and down Patrick's spine. “Anyway, I think, um, I think the less people know for sure, the better. They might talk, but they won’t know. It will just be easier. And then when we break up—”
“What do you mean, ‘when we break up’? You’re already planning to break up with me?” Patrick frowns.
“No!” David exclaims, quickly pulling his hand out from under his head so that he can flail it wildly, jostling Patrick as David’s torso shifts. “I’m not planning on breaking up with you. It’s just that historically speaking, my relationships don’t exactly...last.”
“Oh, I see. Well, historically speaking, neither have mine. Which is why we’re both single, and here, naked, in your bed.”
“No. I want to be with you, David. Do you want to be with me? Even if it’s just between us right now?”
David bites his lip and nods jerkily.
“Good.” Patrick pecks him on the lips. “Then let’s do that. And we’ll worry about the rest as it comes.”
“Okay,” David whispers.
“Okay,” Patrick agrees. “Now I have two questions.”
David quirks an eyebrow. “I’m listening.”
“Can I stay here tonight? It’s probably after one by now, and I don’t really want to hike all the way across campus, plus there’s this really incredible guy that I definitely, definitely want to spend the night with.”
“Hm. How incredible, exactly?”
“Oh, he’s pretty amazing. Artistic, smart, sexy, great at baseball...”
“Well, I guess you can stay, then, as long as you’re going to keep saying nice things about me.”
“Thanks.” Patrick noses along David’s jaw, pressing kisses into the skin, arousal starting to grow low in his belly.
“What was the other question?”
“Hm?” Patrick nips lightly at David’s neck, not hard enough to leave a mark.
“You said—mmm—you said you had two questions.”
“Oh, right. Well, uh, I was going to ask if we should get cleaned up before we completely fuse together—”
“—but now I think maybe we could just save that for later,” Patrick finishes, slowly dragging his very interested cock against David’s.
“Mhmm, you have excellent ideas,” David says with a smile, and rolls them over to pin Patrick down again.
In the season opener on Monday night, they destroy Oneonta, 12–3. Emir is scheduled to catch, which means Patrick watches from the bench and cheers on his teammates as they score run after run and throw out after out, high-fiving the rest of the players who are on the bench this game. It’s generally not his first choice to sit a game out—he’d absolutely rather be behind the plate—but since David is playing, Patrick is treated to the rare chance to shamelessly watch him in action. And he’s beautiful, all long legs and broad muscled torso leading up to the strong shoulders and arms that held Patrick up almost effortlessly on Saturday night.
David on the field is serious and focused: green cap pulled low on his forehead to block the glare of the setting sun, feet spread wide and knees bent, right hand tucked into the pocket of his glove, practically bouncing on his toes as he readies himself to spring into action at the crack of the bat. After David fields a hit to shallow right field and fires it directly to Derek at third, 150 some odd feet away, to catch the runner for the final out of the game, it takes everything in Patrick’s power not to slam David up against the wall of the dugout and shove his tongue down his throat in front of everyone. Patrick settles for making steady, heated eye contact with him as the players make their way off the field to cheers, back pats, and platonic ass slaps from the rest of the team.
Patrick is as careful as always in the locker room, too, but David nonchalantly chooses a shower only one place away from Patrick, cutting him a few sideways glances accompanied by a flick of his eyes down Patrick’s body. Patrick can feel his cock getting heavier, very interested in having David’s attention, and David gives him a lascivious smirk the next time he glances over. So he noticed, then.
Patrick keeps his face carefully neutral as he rinses off and wraps his towel around his waist, exiting the showers without looking back at David. David gets back to his own locker before Patrick finishes dressing, and Patrick gathers his things, detouring over to David on his way out of the locker room.
He claps a hand on David’s bare shoulder and leans in closer than necessary to say, “Great game, bro.”
David snorts. “Thanks, man.”
Patrick raises his eyebrows and gives David’s shoulder a squeeze before letting his fingers drag down towards his shoulder blade just a little, trailing over the constellations of freckles scattered on David’s still damp skin that Patrick had traced with his tongue the night before. David’s answering shiver is gratifying.
The sky is dark when Patrick steps outside the athletic center, but the lights illuminating the sidewalk are more than bright enough for Patrick to be able to find his phone in his bag. He pulls it out and sends David a text.
Patrick: Meet me at your dorm
He slides his phone into his back pocket and starts walking to David’s building. His phone vibrates with a response a few seconds later.
Patrick: Meet me at your dorm
Patrick doesn’t wait for David to catch up; the temptation to touch him, hold his hand, pull him in for kisses when they are still too close to the rest of their teammates would be torturous. When he reaches David’s dorm, he leans against the wall near the entrance and tips his head back to look up at the sky. A lot of the stars are blotted out by the light pollution of campus, and it doesn’t appear nearly as expansive as the sky on camping trips when he was a kid. Still, it’s beautiful, a sea of inky black dotted with pinpoints of white. It reminds him of one of the sweaters David was wearing one of those days when Patrick spotted him from a distance around campus.
Patrick is distracted enough by the view that he doesn’t hear David’s sneakers shuffling along the pavement until he’s only a few feet away, and when Patrick brings his gaze down again, David’s eyes are locked on him. David doesn’t stop moving until their lips are pressed together, David’s hands on Patrick’s shoulders and his tongue insistent against Patrick’s. Patrick’s hands come to David’s waist, drawing him in tighter, and David’s hands release in favor of wrapping his arms around Patrick’s neck. David pulls away a moment later with a delicious smack of their lips, and then he leans in again to give Patrick a playful peck on the nose.
“Hi,” David says, grinning widely.
“Hey. Someone’s in a good mood.”
“Yes, well, in case you didn’t hear, someone made a spectacular play to end the game tonight.”
Patrick barks a laugh. “So modest.”
“You don’t like me for my modesty.”
“Yeah, you’ve got me there,” Patrick says, leaning in again for another kiss, and David smiles against his lips as he accepts it. “I do like you for your many talents, though,” Patrick says between kisses. “Care to show me any more of them? Like, up in your room, maybe?”
David abruptly steps away and crosses his arms petulantly. “That is a ridiculous line.”
“Did it work, though?” God, Patrick’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
David doesn’t answer, just pulls out his ID and swipes into the building. He holds the door open and looks at Patrick expectantly. “Are you coming?”
“Well,” Patrick says, brushing past him, “not yet.”
“Oh my god.”
Patrick finds it surprisingly easy to concentrate during practices and games in his new world post-kissing (and other things-ing) David. He’d trained himself so well during fall semester to compartmentalize his feelings for David when he was on the field that it doesn’t feel so different to just keep doing that now. Making out in one of their dorm rooms every day after baseball is a pretty great addition, though.
That weekend, they have a series scheduled against Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, so they’re back on the road bright and early Saturday morning for a six hour bus trip. They don’t spend Friday night together, but when Patrick sees David hurrying down the hill to the bus with far too much literal baggage, in an echo of their last bus trip almost a month ago, his insides feel lit up like the fireworks that used to go off at Rogers Centre whenever a Jay hit a home run. But this time, when David gets on the bus, his eyes scanning the seats, Patrick knows that he’s not looking for an empty row. He’s looking for Patrick.
David finds him easily, dropping onto the seat and sliding his bag onto the floor (this time without a look of abject horror). “It is so early,” David whines, closing his eyes and twisting his body to curl up as much as he can in the small bus seat, unapologetically invading Patrick’s space. Not that Patrick minds in the slightest.
“It’s 9 a.m., David. Most of us have classes this early every day.”
“An abomination,” David says, without opening his eyes.
In his flailing, David had unintentionally let one of his knees rest on Patrick’s thigh, and Patrick scratches at it lightly, out of sight of the rest of their teammates. “You’re just going to go back to sleep, anyway.”
“Yes, but I’ve already woken up, showered, and dressed. This is no longer real sleep. This is just a nap.”
“Last time I checked, a nap was real sleep.”
“Incorrect. Check again, please.”
Patrick snorts and stretches to reach his bag without jostling David. He retrieves his headphones, plugs them into his phone, and offers an earbud to David, tapping it lightly against David’s nose until he opens his eyes. David goes adorably cross-eyed trying to see the offending object, but when he realizes what it is, his expression softens and he takes it, purposely letting their fingers brush for a moment longer than necessary. Patrick has touched far more of David than just his fingertips in the last week (has it really only been a week?), but this secret touch that’s only for him makes Patrick desperate to haul David in for a searing kiss. He stops himself, but it’s a near thing. David puts the earbud in his own ear, smirking at Patrick like he knows exactly what Patrick was thinking.
The bus ride doesn’t pass particularly quickly—no bus ride in the history of bus rides has ever passed quickly—but with Lilith Fair Goddesses playing in his left ear, David breathing softly beside him, and the weight of David’s leg pressed warm up against him, it’s far from the worst way to get ahead on the reading for Intro to Statistics.
They arrive at the hotel that afternoon, and even Patrick feels overwhelmed with the press of thirty large bodies squeezed into the tiny lobby, but the front desk clerks seem unfazed. According to the upperclassmen, it’s been a team tradition for a long time to change up who rooms with whom for each overnight trip so that infielders, outfielders, pitchers, and catchers all have a better chance to get to know the teammates they don’t spend as much practice time with. As team captain, Ted makes the rotation schedule. This time, Patrick is paired up with Antonio, which is probably the universe’s idea of a joke, since he’s now stuck with a poor facsimile of the person he actually wants to share a room with. At least it’s only one night.
With strict instructions from the coaches to be back on the busses in thirty minutes to head over to the field, they all crowd onto the elevators and disperse to their rooms. Patrick loses track of David in the barely-organized chaos, but it’s just as well. They came here to do a job, and they’re going to get it done.
They sort of get it done.
They lose the game on Saturday night, but after a night of sleep and a morning not spent driving, they win both games on Sunday, and then immediately pile back onto the bus for another six-hour trip home with early morning classes waiting for them the next day. As Patrick looks out the window, he lets his eyes relax, watching how the trees outside the window flick by like a video on loop. The next thing he knows, his eyes open to a dark bus, and as he becomes aware of his surroundings, he notices a weight on his shoulder and a tickle of hair on his neck. He looks down and finds the top of David’s head, his chest rising and falling peacefully and his hands slack in his own lap, and Patrick’s heart squeezes at the sight. Patrick uses the minimal privacy the bus seats and the dark provide to press a silent kiss to David’s hair. He rests his head on David’s, and lets himself drift back to sleep.
The following weekend, they have another road trip, a five-hour drive to New Jersey to play a three-game series against Stevens Institute of Technology. This time, the doubleheader falls on Saturday, so they drive straight to the field. They don’t get to their hotel until after ten that night, and the whole team tromps exhaustedly into the hotel lobby, blinking blearily at the bright lights like a wandering band of Rip Van Winkles. Patrick quietly taps David’s arm, a silent signal that he’s going to go find somewhere to sit. David nods almost imperceptibly at him, but stays put, turning instead to talk with Deion.
It’s certainly not Patrick’s first choice: if he had his way, he would attach himself to David’s side, lace their fingers together, and not let go until forced to under threat of death or baseball. But he knows David had a point about keeping their relationship secret from the rest of the team. They’re all working to build something here, and an intra-team romance could pull focus from that. It’s good, too, that Patrick can’t let his feelings for David fly free on the field. He’d probably have trouble controlling himself once he let that cat out of the bag, if he’s being honest. As it was, having David show up to the athlete gym during pitchers and catchers training time on Thursday evening was nearly enough to kill him.
He and David were almost never at the gym at the same time; the last time was when pitchers and catchers practice had been cancelled that one time back in September. But then David had waltzed into the room wearing a tight, white t-shirt—with a v-neck, no less—and started up the treadmill without so much of a glance in Patrick’s direction. Patrick tried to stay focused on bicep curls, he really did, but David was just over there, beads of sweat rolling down his neck and down into the peek of chest hair that his ridiculous shirt left exposed, and Patrick just wanted to lick. He caught himself, an undetermined number of seconds later, mid-curl with his mouth hanging open like an over-eager cartoon character. He snapped his jaw closed and glanced around, but luckily, no one else had seemed to notice Patrick’s moment of buffering. He shook it off and resolutely looked anywhere except for the treadmills.
And it worked, mostly, until he heard a familiar voice to his right as he was about to start chest presses.
“Need a spot?”
Patrick sat back up on the bench and raised his eyebrows at David. “You sure that’s a good idea?” David nodded seriously. “Absolutely. We wouldn’t want you getting injured.”
Patrick looked down at the weights in his hands, then back up at David. “That’s why I’m using free weights instead of a barbell.”
“Mm. Mhmm. But I take the health and safety of my teammates very seriously? So I’m happy to help.” He bit his lips between his teeth; a tell, but one that was effective against Patrick nonetheless.
“Okay, fine,” Patrick acquiesced, lying back on the bench and getting into position. David stood behind his head, legs braced shoulder width apart, hands ready to guide Patrick if needed. It was a hell of a view, but Patrick concentrated on using his excess energy to push himself more. He knew that he was grunting by the end as he struggled through the last two reps, and after David helped him ease the weights down and Patrick sat back up, David was looking at him with eyes nearly black and face set.
David studied him for a moment, then leaned down close to his ear to murmur, “I’ll bet you could hold me up against a wall with those arms.” Patrick’s mouth dropped open again, and he genuinely contemplated either dragging David back to his dorm by the wrist or just pinning him to the mirrored wall behind him so they could test that theory, but he was saved by Coach Butani’s chipper voice calling out, “Okay, baseball team! That’s time! Have a splendid evening!”
Patrick looked back at David. “My room or yours?”
“Mine,” David said, low and dangerous.
Patrick licked his lips. “Let’s go.”
So. It’s probably for the best that they’re keeping things quiet.
Patrick plops down on an overly springy hotel lobby sofa next to Andre. It seems to be taking a lot longer for Coach Currie to check in the team this time. When Patrick glances over at the reception desk, Coach Lee has joined him, and the woman behind it is typing frantically on the computer and looking harried. A moment later, Coach Lee turns around and brings two fingers to her lips to let out an ear-piercing whistle.
At first, it has the opposite of the intended effect as the whole team lets out a chorus of groans and complaints about the noise. But when Coach Lee barks out, “Quiet down or I’ll do it again,” the lobby goes near deathly silent.
“Good news, everyone!” Coach Butani enthuses, clasping his hands together in delight. “You will get to know even more of your teammates on this trip! It seems we are short a few rooms.” There are a few groans, but Coach Lee silences the offenders with nothing but a look.
“Right, so,” Coach Schitt cuts in, clipboard and pencil in his hand. “I’m just going to take the bottom of the room list and split you all up into the rooms at the top of the list. Listen up, because I’m only going to say this once. Talking to you, Eric!”
After a few too many beats, Mutt elbows Eric, who finally snaps to attention and says, “What?”
“Exactly. Okay! Citrus! You’ll be in Gary and Daeshim’s room.” There’s some light shuffling as they gather their bags and start to move towards each other. “Andre! You’re with Sean and Dane.” Andre curses under his breath as he drags himself to standing and makes his way over to his roommates for the night. Patrick can’t blame him; Sean and Dane are both kind of the worst.
Coach Schitt is still rattling off names, and Patrick tunes back in when he hears his own. “Patrick! You’re with Ted and David.”
The brash sound of Coach Schitt’s voice and the quiet chatter in the lobby white out into static as Patrick immediately locks eyes with David from across the room. This is definitely going to be a problem.
“Home sweet home!” Ted calls out cheerfully over his shoulder as he pushes into their hotel room. Patrick and David are behind him, and though they automatically left a foot of space between their bodies, Patrick can still catch the scent of David’s shampoo from this distance, can feel the warmth of his body and imagine the feel of their fingers laced together.
He lets David walk into the room first, where Ted has already dropped his bags on the floor and flopped onto the bed closest to the windows. Patrick wrinkles his nose. He distinctly remembers his parents watching some news exposé where the investigative reporters went through hotel rooms with blacklights, and suffice to say, you’d have to pay him a lot of money to get him to lie on those comforters. When Patrick glances at David, the horrified look on his face seems to say that he’s thinking the same thing.
“What are you waiting for? These beds are pretty comfortable! Way better than the dorms,” Ted says.
“Um, Ted,” David begins, “I always take the bed farthest from the door? So I just...I need that one.” Patrick looks at David curiously, but he’s avoiding eye contact, which means that he’s hiding something embarrassing that Patrick absolutely needs to hear the story behind. For a split-second, he considers pushing David into revealing the real reason having that bed matters, but Patrick immediately realizes that if he thinks not kissing or touching David is hard now, it will have nothing on how difficult restraining himself will become once David gets going on one of his long-winded rants, his voice pitching adorably high and his hands flailing in the air. So Patrick keeps his mouth shut.
“Oh, sure! No problem, bud,” Ted says, with a thumbs up and a bright smile. “Patrick and I will share the other one.”
Patrick rushes to redirect him. “No, that’s okay, Ted. I can share with David. You know, since you’re team captain and all that.”
Ted just shakes his head, his smile never faltering. “No way. As team captain, I need to make sure everyone is well-rested and ready to play tomorrow. I know you like your space, David.”
David’s mouth opens, but no sound comes out; instead, his eyes shift from side to side as if looking for an answer. Finally, he chokes out, “I really don’t mind.”
“Nah, we’ve got you covered.” Ted claps Patrick on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s get some sleep. Gotta go for the sweep and beat these guys tomorrow.”
Patrick doesn’t see another way to convince him that Patrick should share with David without arousing suspicion, and from the defeated look on David’s face, he seems to be at a loss, as well. As Ted is unzipping his duffle bag, David and Patrick have yet another silent conversation with their eyes—unfortunately, out of necessity, they’re getting good at those—consisting of “I’m sorry”s and “It’s okay”s and “This is probably for the best, anyway”s, and then they all settle in to get ready for bed.
It’s weird sharing a bed with someone who isn’t David. They’ve only been doing this for a few weeks, but the beauty of college, compared with his childhood bedroom, is the near-constant access to privacy, helped by David’s single room. They’ve been able to spend more nights together than not, and David’s narrow twin bed has only served to give them an excuse to sleep curled up in each other, cozy and warm and safe. After getting used to that, the queen bed he’s currently sharing with Ted seems massive, yet also too small. As a result, in lieu of sleeping, Patrick has become far too acquainted with the water stain on the ceiling above him as he lies awake, his body stiff and back uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that David is in the other bed, breathing rhythmically, his mouth soft and his lips slightly parted, his eyelashes fluttering slightly as he dreams. Patrick knows, without a doubt, that if he were to slide out from under the covers, sneak into bed with David, and cuddle his way into his arms, he would be asleep in a matter of minutes.
But he can’t do that. So instead, he sits up halfway, flips his pillow to the cool side, and twists onto his stomach, curling up like he used to when he was little. He starts to mentally count to one thousand, matching his counting with slow, measured breaths. It’s an old trick his dad taught Patrick to do when he was having trouble falling asleep as a kid, usually because he was either excited about an upcoming game or replaying errors from a game that his team had lost.
Finally, blessedly, he feels his body start to go lax and heavy, and counting without missing any numbers becomes more elusive. The last number Patrick remembers is four hundred eighty-three.
He wakes to Ted’s unrelentingly chipper golden retriever energy.
“Rise and shine, guys! Breakfast already started downstairs. Don’t want to miss that waffle bar!”
Patrick blinks his eyes and squints blearily at the digital clock on the nightstand, which blares a bright red 7:26. He groans and buries his face back in the pillow. He estimates that he got about six hours of sleep last night. It will be enough to make it through the day, but not enough that he’s going to willingly leave the warmth of this bed right away. He’ll get up when the clock ticks over to an even 7:30, he bargains with himself.
But Ted keeps talking. “I’ll see you down there!” His voice is farther away this time, and then Patrick hears the door to the room open, then close. That wakes him up right away.
“David?” Patrick says, picking up his head enough to peer over at the bed next to him. David is facing the windows, and he answers Patrick by rolling over and making grabby hands, his eyes still resolutely closed. Patrick chuckles and swings his feet out of bed. He crosses the short distance between the beds and happily complies with David’s silent request, doing what he’d wished he could last night and cuddling into the warm circle of his arms, pressing a soft kiss to David’s lips.
David sighs happily and hugs Patrick tighter until Patrick is surrounded by him, his face pressed snugly into the crook of David’s neck. Patrick smiles into the soft skin and kisses him again there, and David responds with a kiss to Patrick’s temple.
“Is he gone?” David asks sleepily.
“Nope,” Patrick deadpans. David jerks away suddenly, sitting up and looking around the room frantically. “I’m kidding,” Patrick laughs, and props himself up on his elbows.
David glares at him. “It’s too early in the morning for you to give me a heart attack.”
“What would be the appropriate time for that, do you think?”
“Not before 10 a.m., please,” David says primly.
Patrick nods seriously. “Noted.” He tugs gently—very gently—at David’s sleep sweater. “Hey, come back here.”
“I don’t know. What are you going to do next, tell me that Coach Lee decided to put Antonio in as starting pitcher today?”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure she’s giving Eric a shot at it.”
“You asshole,” David says, but he’s smiling as he tackles Patrick back down, pinning his hands flat on the bed and kissing him, nipping lightly at his bottom lip, and god, Patrick is in heaven. Except.
Patrick pushes up against David’s hands on his and uses the leverage to roll them over, then lifts his upper body away from David. “Not that I’m not really, really enjoying this,” Patrick says, leaning down to kiss him again, “but it’s now” —he glances over at the clock— “7:34, and we have exactly one hour and twenty-six minutes to get ready, eat, and be on the bus. And I know that you need at least sixty to shower and do your skincare.”
David groans and squeezes his eyes shut. “Leave it to Ted to ruin the first opportunity I have to share an actual adult-sized bed with my boyfriend.”
Patrick feels hot all of a sudden. My boyfriend. My boyfriend. My boyfriend.
But David continues, seemingly unaware of what he’s just said. “Why did he have to be so insistent about giving me my own bed? I mean, it wasn’t the worst thing—”
“Um, what was that?” Patrick interrupts.
David blinks. “What was what?”
“Ted ruined your chance to share this bed with your boyfriend?”
David furrows his brow, probably playing back his own words, until his eyes widen. “No, I didn’t say that,” he lies, trying to squirm out from under Patrick.
Patrick drops to his elbows, letting more of his weight rest on David, holding him in place. “Oh no, you definitely did. And I was also disappointed that I didn’t get to sleep here with my boyfriend,” Patrick says, his heart speeding up as he leans down to kiss the smile that David is trying to hide, “but maybe I can make it up to my boyfriend when we get back to campus tonight.”
David hums and drags Patrick down for another kiss. “I mean, I guess your boyfriend would be okay with that.”
“Happy to be of service,” Patrick mumbles against his lips. “As for right now, though, I believe there are some waffles calling our names.”
“Mm, sexier words were never spoken.” David gives him another peck, and then one more, and they separate to start getting ready for the day.
A week later, they’re at home playing against Rochester. They’re well-matched: the Rochester team isn’t making it easy for them, and have been meeting them run for run the whole game. The game is in the bottom of the eighth, and Rochester is up by one. Rochester’s starting pitcher is still in, but he’s showing signs of fatigue. Patrick comes up to bat with runners on first and second and only one out on the board, ready to help push Seneca Falls out in front.
David has been helping him in the batting cages, making up for what Coach Schitt can’t seem to do. David is also, Patrick has learned, very good at thinking of incentives for Patrick to keep improving. There may have been some close calls where they’d gotten carried away making out against the cage gate and lost track of time, startling apart when they heard voices approaching. Luckily, it had been Emir and Dane the first time and Miguel and Citrus the second, none of whom have ever heard of an outdoor speaking volume below “I’m trying to get the attention of the whole team, the members of which are spread out across the entire field.” Thank god it hadn’t been Antonio or Eric; David and Patrick wouldn’t have heard them until they were basically in the cage with them.
Patrick finds his stance and raises his bat, keeping his eyes locked on the pitcher’s left hand, tucked away in his glove as he finds his grip. He tries to relax and focus and just let the muscle memory that he’s developed over hours, months, years of training take over. The pitcher winds up, and Patrick lets the pitch go by. Inside. Ball one.
Patrick sets himself up again, relaxes himself again. The pitcher finds his grip again, winds up again. High. Ball two.
Again. Inside. Ball three.
Baseball is a team sport, of course, but in this liminal space between pitches, it becomes a two-person mind game between the pitcher, who is trying to outsmart, and the batter, who is trying to outwit. When Patrick has the upper hand in the count, he feels like a predator closing in on his prey, watching it starting to weaken, readying to pounce. A tired pitcher who is down in the count means one of two things: either they will get flustered and hand Patrick his victory of an easy hit or a walk, or they will double down their efforts and make him work even harder for it. Today, Patrick takes the information he knows and quickly calculates the odds of one over the other. First, the pitcher has been at this for more than seven innings now. Second, he’s let two men get on base this inning. Third, he’s thrown Patrick three bad pitches in a row. Patrick won’t let himself get ahead of things, but he’s feeling confident.
Patrick gets into position again and waits. The pitcher hurls the ball, and in a move that must be his Hail Mary, it’s a knuckleball that Patrick can barely track. Patrick swings with as much power as he can and hopes he’s judged it correctly.
The moment he feels the contact of the ball reverberate through the wood of the bat, Patrick knows he’s fucked. The pitch was low and outside, and Patrick connected with it early, sending a grounder directly to the shortstop. Rochester gets the force out at second base, and the second baseman easily turns a double play to catch Patrick coming into first. Patrick had a perfect setup to get his team ahead, and instead, he ended the inning for them.
When he returns to the dugout, kicking the wall angrily, he barely has time to register the pats on the back and the words of encouragement from the rest of the team, because he needs to put his pads back on and get behind the plate for the top of the ninth. Daeshim is in as their closer, and he’s already halfway to the pitcher’s mound by the time Patrick grabs his gear. With each click of the straps of his leg protectors, he blows out a breath, clearing his head so that he’s ready to focus on his next task: supporting Daeshim in keeping Rochester from scoring.
Daeshim kills it, throwing curveballs and breaking balls right on the edges of the strike zone, and Patrick frames any that are outside of it with quick flicks of the wrist immediately after the catch that are designed to make the ball look like it was where it should have been. Three batters and three strikeouts later, Patrick is feeling pumped up again and ready to cheer on his teammates who are up next in the batting rotation.
Thanks to Daeshim, Rochester wasn’t able to expand their lead, but Seneca Falls is still down by one run, so they need to at least tie it up to stay in the game. Luckily, Patrick was second in the batting lineup today, which means Ted and David, their strongest hitters, are next up. Rochester has brought in their closer, and unfortunately for him, his first pitch out of the gate is right in Ted’s sweet spot. Ted pounces, swinging with power and precision, and hits a line drive to shallow left field for a base hit. The crowd and the Seneca Falls dugout go nuts, and when Patrick looks out in the stands, his breath catches as he spots a group of fans with their rally caps on, standing up and bouncing on their toes with anticipation. This is what he’s worked for all these years. This electric buzz shared among strangers, this sense of purpose and hope and passion for the game. The fans feel it just as much as the players do, and Patrick knows that the crowd has their backs.
Now it’s David’s turn. From the home dugout on the first base side, Patrick can see David’s eyes as he steps up to the plate, hard and laser-focused on the pitcher. He lets the first two pitches—both balls—fly by without so much as a flinch. On the third pitch, he starts the swing, but doesn’t follow through. The umpire calls it a strike, and David rarely misjudges pitches, so he must have decided as it was coming in that he didn’t like it. David steps out of the batter’s box to roll out his shoulders and neck, and it hits Patrick like a jolt. David is nervous.
Patrick cups his hands to his mouth and shouts out, “You’ve got this, David!” and is rewarded with a flick of David’s eyes over to him and the slightest twitch of his lips, before David steps back into the batter’s box and refocuses on the pitcher. There’s the windup and the throw, and with a powerful swing, the crack of the bat rings out across the stadium as the ball sails deep to right field. Patrick hoists himself up to rest his hips against the railing of the dugout for a better view of the ball’s path. It’s going to be close. Rochester’s right fielder takes off running, but when he reaches the warning track, it becomes clear: that ball is out of here.
Patrick whips his head back over to David, who whoops and takes off at an easy jog around the bases, an unhurried chase as Ted rounds the base paths ninety feet ahead of him, and Patrick runs out with the rest of the team to meet them both as they cross home plate to end the game.
He gives David a pat on the shoulder and a quick side hug, just like the rest of the team, but if his touch lingers on David’s upper back for an extra moment, or if David leans into the pressure of Patrick’s hand just a little bit, he’s sure no one notices.
Later, they crash into David’s dorm room in a tangle of limbs, dropping their equipment bags on the floor and kicking the door closed behind them. Patrick shoves David to the bed and climbs on top of him, straddling his hips and grinding down, down, as he tips forward to lick a stripe up David’s throat. They’d barely rinsed off in the locker room, too worked up to wait any longer to get somewhere more private, and there’s still a hint of salt on David’s skin. Patrick groans as he leans in to nibble lightly at David’s pulse point, reveling in the taste but careful not to leave a mark.
“God, Patrick,” David moans, and Patrick smiles at the feeling of the vibration against his lips. He moves up to tug gently at David’s earlobe, meeting David’s hips with his own when they thrust up involuntarily.
“What do you want?” Patrick murmurs in David’s ear, and David’s answering shiver is gratifying, to say the least.
“I want to fuck your thighs,” he gasps, and it’s Patrick’s turn to shiver.
“God, yeah.” Patrick sits up and slides down David’s thighs a bit to allow him to sit up as well, and they’re separated for only enough time for their shirts to end up tossed over David’s desk chair. (Luckily for Patrick, David is marginally less careful with his athletic clothes than he is with his sweaters.) David wraps his arms tight around Patrick’s waist as Patrick loops his around David’s neck, and Patrick feels totally enveloped and cared for in David’s strong hold. They kiss fervently, biting at lips and mapping out each other’s mouths with their tongues, until David pulls them both back down to the bed and Patrick wriggles out of his grip to nuzzle into his pecs.
Patrick drags his tongue across one nipple, then the other, licking a meandering path between the two. David’s pants and whimpers serve as intoxicating ambient music to Patrick’s ministrations as he luxuriates in the faint musky scent and taste of David’s sweat, his senses overwhelmed by reminders of exactly how fucking hot his boyfriend was on the field today. Patrick loses all sense of time as he explores David’s chest; lets himself sink into the heady, floaty feeling of having David’s body all to himself; lets himself narrow his focus to this, only this.
It’s David’s voice that finally pulls him back to Earth.
“Patrick, fuck, please.”
Patrick gives David’s nipple one last graze with his teeth and pushes himself up. As he takes in what’s around him, he sees David’s eyes on him like fire, his pupils blown and practically glazed over with pleasure; he sees David’s arms tensed, one hand braced against the wall behind his head and the other threaded through his hair, which is slightly flattened, slightly curly, and all gorgeous; and he feels— God, he feels David, rock hard in his joggers, trying desperately not to thrust and come before they’ve even gotten all of their clothes off.
“Yeah,” Patrick breathes. “Yeah.”
He clambers off of David and off of the bed, then shucks off his own sweatpants, underwear, and socks while David does the same. He grabs a towel from David’s closet and tosses it to him to get ready while he digs the lube out of David’s bottom desk drawer, and then rejoins David on the bed.
“How do you want me?” Patrick asks.
“Fielder’s choice,” David says, the casual tone of his voice belied by the precome dripping from his cock, making the tip shiny and wet. Patrick can’t resist ducking down again to give it a tiny kitten lick, just a little kiss, the smallest gesture of affection. David groans and reaches down to nudge Patrick away and tightly circle the base of his cock with two fingers. “Christ, what are you doing to me? I’m about three seconds away from coming right now.”
Patrick hums as he flops onto his back, the towel that David laid out situated under his hips. “I wouldn’t complain.”
David narrows his eyes at him, but there’s no heat behind his glare. He rolls onto his side and props himself up on one elbow. “Normally I wouldn’t either, but I just spent two and a half hours watching you crouch behind the plate with those thick thighs on display, and all I could think about was getting you naked and getting between them. So.”
Patrick tuts. “David, I’m surprised at you. Paying attention to me instead of the game. What would the coaches say?”
“I think they’d say, ‘Nice job hitting that game-winning home run, Rose.’”
“Mmm, you did do that, didn’t you,” Patrick practically purrs, another jolt of arousal coursing through him at the memory.
“Yes I did,” David nods, pressing Patrick down onto the mattress and kissing him deeply. “Turn over,” he breathes into Patrick’s mouth, and Patrick rushes to comply, settling onto his stomach on the towel that David laid out.
He’s expecting to hear the click of the lube pump, to feel David’s hands on him, so he’s surprised when instead the bed shifts and David is suddenly at Patrick’s feet, kissing up Patrick’s right leg. David drags his tongue, his lips, and the tip of his nose along the back of Patrick’s thigh as his hand comes up to caress the side of Patrick’s quadricep, lavishing as much attention there as Patrick had on David’s chest. Suddenly, David bites down, sucking lightly, and Patrick gasps and thrusts against the slightly too-rough texture of the towel. David only lingers long enough to leave a half-hickey, something that won’t draw suspicion in the locker room, before he moves down to repeat his efforts on Patrick’s left leg.
No one has ever done this for him. Sex in high school was more about finding stolen moments in cars and childhood beds when parents were out for a while. This slow, luxurious sex is new to him, now that privacy is at his disposal whenever he and David wish. But even David has never kissed his body with quite this much attention before, and it’s an intoxicating mixture of care and lust that makes Patrick feel like he’s being flayed open.
By the time David makes a matching mark on the back of Patrick’s left thigh, Patrick is practically squirming, biting down on David’s pillow, aching to come but fighting the urge with everything he has.
“David, I need you, come on,” Patrick begs.
“Do you, now?”
Patrick shoots what he hopes is a glare over his shoulder at David’s patronizing tone, but from the way David laughs, soft and fond, he’s guessing the look was more desperate than intimidating.
David runs a gentle hand across the swell of Patrick’s ass, and Patrick can’t help but press back into it, suddenly overwhelmed with the need to be completely filled by him. David hums his approval, but that’s— They haven’t done that together with anything besides fingers, and Patrick has never done it with anyone, and he knows David well enough to know that begging for something new in the heat of the moment is an exercise in futility. So he keeps his mouth shut, letting out a throaty groan instead. And then, finally, there is the click of the lube bottle he’s been waiting for, and there is the slick hand between his thighs, and there is the warm weight of David on top of him.
“Turn on your side,” David murmurs, his breath hot in Patrick’s ear, his command sending sparks up Patrick’s spine.
It takes a minute to adjust, to figure out where everyone’s arms and legs need to go, to make sure everything is good and slippery, but then David is pressed up against his back, and his cock is thrusting between Patrick’s thighs, bumping up against his perineum and behind his balls, and Patrick thinks he might pass out from the sheer relief of it, of being surrounded and cared for and taken. They have done this before, but it’s just...always like this with David, pleasure building on pleasure building on pleasure until Patrick is practically out of his mind with it.
Patrick squeezes his thighs together, rocking back against David’s hips and forward into David’s slick fist, circled tightly around Patrick’s cock. They’ve been moving towards this for the better part of an hour at this point, and Patrick knows from David’s ragged breathing that he’s just as close as Patrick is.
David’s movement stutters, and his cock nudges Patrick’s hole momentarily. David mutters a, “Fuck, sorry,” adjusting immediately, but Patrick barely hears him, because just that slight brush was like fireworks in Patrick’s body, rocketing him towards the finish with the promise of next time. Patrick thrusts hard into David’s hand, and then he’s coming, his thighs burning as his orgasm overtakes his body. He has the presence of mind to bring one hand down to cup over himself as he comes, and when his hand brushes David’s, that one extra point of contact is all it takes for David to follow him over the edge, groaning and digging his teeth into Patrick’s shoulder as he slicks Patrick’s thighs with his come.
David pulls out from between Patrick’s legs and flops backwards onto the bed, and Patrick follows him down, his shoulder blade resting on David’s pec and David’s arm slung around Patrick’s shoulder. Patrick uses his come-covered hand to swipe up some of David’s release, and he brings his fingers to his lips to swallow both of them down. He turns his head to lick into David’s mouth, and David whimpers at the taste on Patrick’s tongue, kissing him back hungrily.
Patrick smiles as he pulls away, twisting for a moment to use the towel underneath them to give himself a cursory wipe down before settling into David’s arms. David sighs deeply, sated, and Patrick finds David’s fingers with his own, lacing them together.
“My thoughts, exactly,” Patrick chuckles, and lets out a contented sigh of his own. He waits a few moments before he speaks again, but then he lets his words spill out, steady as he can manage. “I want you to fuck me.”
David snorts. “I think I need more than thirty seconds if you want to go again.”
Patrick turns on his side so that they can see each other. “No, I know. I mean like, next time. You know, uh—” Patrick licks his lips “—anal. Bottoming. I want that. I want you,” he amends.
“Oh,” David says, raising his eyebrows. “Are you sure? This isn’t just the afterglow talking? I mean, I just fucked you senseless, so I would understand if you’re feeling a little sex drunk right now.”
“Fucked me senseless? Is that what just happened?”
“I believe so, yes,” David smirks.
“I seem to recall a team effort,” Patrick challenges.
“All right, fine,” David says playfully, squeezing Patrick’s hip, before his face goes serious again. “But you know we don’t ever have to do that. Or sometimes it’s easier to top, your first time.”
“I know. And I do want that, too, I think, but I also really—” he pecks David’s lips “—really—” another kiss “—really want you inside me.” He gives David one last peck, but as he starts to pull away, David grabs onto the back of his head and holds him in place, kissing him deeply.
David releases him a moment later, his eyes dark and piercing, and Patrick’s spent cock gives a valiant little twitch at the sight.
“Yeah,” David says. “Let’s do that, then. Next time.”
“Next time,” Patrick agrees.
As it turns out, “next time” isn’t as soon as they’d hoped. The following week is midterms, and between studying and practice, they barely have time for sleep, let alone anything more involved than a couple of quick handjobs to take the edge off. They make it through the week solely thanks to the wonders of caffeine and simple carbohydrates, and by Friday afternoon, the only thing either of them wants to do is put on PJs, order a pizza, watch a movie, and be asleep by 9 p.m.
In fact, they fall asleep by 8 p.m., less than half an hour into Crazy Rich Asians, with the lights on and the pizza box still sitting open on David’s dresser.
Patrick wakes up around 10:30, when David’s laptop angrily announces its low battery with a loud trio of beeps. He detangles himself from David’s adorable octopus limbs so that he can put the pizza in David’s mini fridge, plug in his laptop, and turn off the lights. He wakes David just enough to be able to tug the covers out from under him, and then crawls back into the circle of David’s arms, tucks them both in, and drifts off to sleep.
Because there’s no rest for the wicked, their alarms blare simultaneously at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. so that they can get up and get ready to be on the team bus to the airport by seven. They’re headed to the Berry College Tournament for spring break, which means five days and four nights in Rome, Georgia.
And, miracle of miracles, Patrick and David have been assigned to room together.
The trip is an hour of driving on either end of a two hour flight, plus going through security, waiting to board, and retrieving their checked bags. Miserably, they can’t even go straight to their hotel, because they have to be on the field at 6 p.m. David and Patrick are some of the lucky ones, though, because neither of them is scheduled to play today: Antonio is in right field and Dane is behind the plate. They both get into uniform, of course, ready to go out in case someone gets injured, but that’s unlikely to happen. Instead, they get to spend a few hours cheering for today’s starting lineup while chatting with the rest of their teammates and trash-talking the opposing team.
It’s rare that they get to do this together—the catchers rotate more frequently than the right fielders, and David plays in almost every game—so it’s especially nice to be able to bump shoulders, high five, and clap each other on the back under the guise of simple sportsmanship and team pride. Patrick didn’t think it was possible to be more attracted to David, but seeing him like this with the rest of the team, focused yet free, serious yet joyful, and still seeking out Patrick’s touch even while having plenty of attention from others, is absolutely intoxicating.
By the time they make it to the hotel, the hour late but the team's energy buzzing from their win, Patrick is practically ready to climb David like a tree. David seems wholly unaware of this and astoundingly unfazed by the sight of the two queen beds waiting for them in their hotel room, which also has a door with a remarkably arousing set of locks at their disposal.
“...great game,” David is saying. “Antonio got lucky, I think, since the hits to right field weren’t too shallow…” David keeps talking as he sits on the armchair in the corner to take off his high top sneakers with the complicated lacing pattern, paying no attention to Patrick. Patrick toes off his own sneakers and stalks across the room, stopping just in front of David, who looks up when he sees Patrick’s sock feet come into his field of vision. “Oh, um, hi?”
“Hi,” Patrick says. “Finish taking your shoes off.”
David gives him a confused look, but bends down again to complete the unlacing process, pull them off, and set them to the side.
“Okay?” David starts, but Patrick cuts him off by climbing into his lap and straddling him, framing David’s cheeks with his hands and bending down to kiss him, slow and deep. David lets out a pleased hum and gets on board immediately, bringing his hands to rest on Patrick’s hips and opening his mouth for him, letting Patrick sweep his tongue against David with soft, languid strokes.
After a minute, David ends the kiss and nudges Patrick back slightly. “So, not that I’m complaining, but this feels like you might be angling for something more than just kissing and then going to sleep.”
Patrick chuckles. “I mean, I was hoping? But it’s been a really long day, so if you’re not into it, that's fine.”
David shakes his head and tugs Patrick back towards him, which Patrick is pretty sure David wasn’t even intending to be hot, but god, it really, really is.
“Far be it from me to stand in the way of your plans.” He leans forward to attend to Patrick’s neck with his tongue and teeth, murmuring, “Want to tell me about what you had in mind, exactly?”
Patrick shudders at the dual sensations of the heat of David’s mouth and the vibrations of his voice on that perfect, perfect spot right below Patrick’s ear, and he tightens his grip on the back of David’s shirt. “Want you to fuck me,” he says, all in a rush, and he doesn’t miss the tiny twitch of David’s hips at those words. “Been thinking about it all week, you inside me, stretching me, pounding into me so good I can barely walk tomorrow.”
David pulls back at that and levels Patrick with a serious look. “You know I’m not going to actually do that, right?”
Patrick feels his face fall. “But I thought we said—”
“No, no, I mean, yes, we did, but I’m not—” David shakes his head. “I’m not going to make it so you can’t walk tomorrow.” David looks horrified, Patrick feels mortified, and David is somehow still talking. “From a practical perspective, that seems wildly irresponsible since we have a game tomorrow afternoon, and from a medical perspective—”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Patrick cuts him off, face burning with embarrassment. “I’ve done my research. More than just, you know, porn. I was...riffing, I guess.” He buries his face in the crook of David’s neck. “I feel stupid,” he mumbles.
David huffs a laugh, but his hand rubs a soothing path up and down Patrick’s back, so Patrick knows he’s not actually being made fun of. “Riffing can be very fun,” David says, pressing a kiss to Patrick’s temple. “For this time, though, it would make me feel more comfortable if we didn’t. I want it to feel good for you. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Patrick whines a little into David’s neck, not quite ready to leave the security of this cocoon and brave looking David in the eye.
“But,” David continues, “I promise to make you feel really, really good.” The hand rubbing Patrick’s back dips lower, cupping the swell of Patrick’s ass over his jeans and squeezing, making Patrick gasp. David pulls Patrick impossibly closer, bringing their hips flush, which gives Patrick the courage to emerge from his safe spot and kiss David again. Neither of them is hard yet, but it’s not going to take Patrick long, especially if—fuck, yes, there it is—if David sucks on his tongue in the way he knows drives Patrick wild. Patrick can’t help whining and writhing in David’s lap, pressing him back in the chair as David plays with his tongue, running his teeth lightly against Patrick’s piercing retainer, until Patrick can’t stand it anymore and has to take control again, tugging David’s bottom lip between his teeth and then doing the same with David’s earlobe.
“Want to get into the shower with me?” Patrick murmurs into David’s ear.
David groans, and his hands tighten again on Patrick’s ass; then, in one smooth motion, he slides them down behind Patrick’s thighs and lifts him up, and god, god, Patrick loves when David does this, effortlessly manhandling him with his incredible arms that Patrick has spent countless hours ogling. David carries Patrick to the bathroom, kissing him the whole way, and deposits Patrick on the bathroom counter. David tries to pull away to go start the water, but Patrick keeps his legs wrapped around David’s waist, not ready to let him go yet. David chuckles and presses another kiss to Patrick’s lips.
“If you want to follow through with that big plan of yours, you’re going to have to let me go,” David says, amused.
Patrick pouts, but aquiesses, releasing David from his clutches. When David turns to deal with the shower, Patrick hops down from the sink and strips off his jeans and socks, then reaches for the back of his collar to tug off his t-shirt one-handed. When he emerges from the tangle of fabric, David is staring at him with a complicated look of disgust and desire.
“God, how can improper fabric care be so hot?” David growls, and captures Patrick’s lips in another kiss, running his fingers across Patrick’s chest.
Patrick laughs against his lips. “You’ve seen me take my shirt off like that plenty of times now.”
“I know,” David groans, “and it’s annoyingly sexy every time.”
“I’m sorry this is so harrowing for you,” Patrick teases.
“It is, actually? So thank you for your understanding during this difficult time.”
“I’ll show you a hard time,” Patrick says, grinning, pressing himself up against David.
“I said difficult time, you monster.”
“I took some creative liberties.” Patrick kisses David again, until David pushes him away lightly with an “mmph.”
“Oh my god, at this rate I won’t get to fuck you or sleep tonight, and I was really hoping I’d be able to do both.”
David casually dropping the phrase “fuck you” in this context really does something for Patrick, and his cock gives a little twitch in his boxers. David’s eyes dart down immediately and he looks back up with a smirk on his lips, so yeah, he definitely saw that. Patrick forces himself not to feel any shame, and instead crosses his arms across his chest defiantly. David’s eyes drop again, but this time he licks his lips and takes a step back towards Patrick.
“God, your forearms—” David starts, but Patrick cuts him off with a hand pressed to his chest, keeping some distance between them.
“Now who’s holding us up?” Patrick says, raising his eyebrows. Patrick takes his hand off of David and shoves his own boxers down, then heads for the shower. “Clothes off, David.” Patrick says over his shoulder, as he pulls the curtain closed behind him. He closes his eyes and stands under the spray, letting the water run over his head and down his face and shoulders, washing away the tiny knot of nerves that has settled in his chest. He wants this. He’s ready for this. It’s just new, is all, and Patrick has never done well with unknowns.
David picks the exact right moment to step into the shower and crowd up against Patrick’s back, smoothing over Patrick’s skin with open hands, his lightly-callused palms and fingers tracing wide, gentle paths across his shoulders, his chest, his stomach. Patrick immediately relaxes into him, lets David carry some of his weight, and, after a moment, spins in his arms to kiss him again, deep and hungry.
David kisses back, full of heat and affection, but calm and collected. Patrick can feel it in his touch: this isn’t just about working each other up anymore; David is moving with purpose. David slides a hand lower, letting his finger dip just the slightest bit between Patrick’s ass cheeks. Patrick groans, simultaneously wanting to push forward into David’s hips and back into his hand. David must feel his body being unable to decide, because he smiles against Patrick’s lips and presses in farther, rubbing his fingers lightly against Patrick’s hole. Patrick has been fingered plenty of times before, with David and with other guys, but this is the first time he’s taken a shower with someone, and the heat and slight slip the water provides is pretty fucking great. It’s not enough for David to be able to comfortably push into Patrick, but he makes up for it with smooth strokes, circling Patrick’s rim with a fingertip before sliding forward to press against his perineum, and back again.
And then, suddenly, David’s hand is gone. Patrick snaps to attention immediately.
David holds up a small bottle of lube in explanation—he must have gotten it from his bag before he joined Patrick in the shower—and then squirts out a few pumps and pulls Patrick to his chest again. “Relax,” he murmurs, and kisses him. And then his fingers are back, thank god, and this time, one presses in.
Patrick forgets to hold it together, can’t hold it together, as David turns him into a whimpering mess, his cock hard and heavy between them. David is methodical and deliberate as he fingers Patrick, and as David slides in a second one and Patrick feels him start to scissor them apart, he remembers why they’re doing this. David’s fingers feel amazing, but it isn’t just about pleasure right now; they’re working up to something. They’re working up to David putting his cock in him. He shudders with arousal at the thought, and he can’t help trying to rut against David. David doesn’t let him, though, instead angling his hips away from Patrick and forcing him to thrust up against nothing.
“David, please,” Patrick whines, cursing as David adds a third finger. “God, that feels so good. I really—oh fuck—I really think I’m ready.”
David hums noncommittally and spreads his fingers inside Patrick again, all three of them, and Patrick pushes back wantonly. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, I want your cock, come on.”
Those must be the magic words, because David groans, “Jesus, Patrick,” and eases his fingers out, giving them a rinse under the spray and reaching behind Patrick to turn off the water. They towel off quickly, David grabs the lube from the shower and an extra towel for the bed, and Patrick leads the way with David hot on his heels. Patrick peels back the covers so that David can spread out the towel, and then—
And then Patrick stops.
“Um,” he starts, turning to face David, suddenly nervous again, “how do you want…?”
David chews his bottom lip. “On your back, I think, if that’s okay? I’ve, uh, I’ve never been anyone’s first before. I want to be able to see you so I don’t hurt you.”
Patrick feels his face soften, the urgent drive of his arousal subsiding slightly in favor of comforting David. “You’ve never been anyone’s first? Why didn’t you tell me before?”
David shrugs. “I don’t know. I wasn’t, like...I wasn’t trying to hide it from you or anything. I guess I just didn’t expect to be nervous. I have done this before, a lot. Like, a lot,” he repeats unnecessarily, widening his eyes meaningfully at Patrick.
“Yeah, got that, thanks.” He reaches for David’s hand, an anchor to ground them both. “I’ll be fine. Great, even. I feel safe with you, okay? I trust you.”
David seems to relax at that, his eyes focusing back on Patrick rather than darting around the room. “I trust you, too.”
“Good.” Patrick places a smacking kiss on David’s lips, and then flops back onto the bed theatrically. “So fuck me already.”
David barks out a shocked laugh, the corners of his eyes crinkling with joy, and then turns to pull a couple of condoms out of his open suitcase. He tosses them on the bed and crawls up over Patrick, dropping his full weight on him as he licks into Patrick’s mouth. Patrick wraps his legs around David’s back, and he feels the length of David’s cock slide across his hole, hot and hard and everything, everything Patrick wants.
Patrick gasps against David's mouth, but he doesn’t have to say anything before David is pushing himself up to his knees and unearthing the bottle of lube from the sheets. Patrick lets his feet drop to the bed, his legs falling apart obscenely, and David licks his lips seemingly unconsciously as he gapes at Patrick, some of the pumps of lube missing his fingers and dripping on Patrick’s inner thigh. Patrick hisses at the cold sensation, and David kisses the inside of his knee in apology as he leans forward to slide his fingers into Patrick once more. Patrick is still plenty open, so it’s just a cursory—but gentle—in and out before David is spreading the rest of the lube around Patrick’s entrance, letting his fingers linger on Patrick’s rim, sending heat cascading through him.
Patrick fights against the involuntary tension in his body, squeezing his eyes shut and balling his hands into fists, gripping the sheets as if they could help shoulder the burden of this blissful agony of arousal and anticipation. And then David’s touch disappears, only to reappear a moment later as he smooths his hands down Patrick’s arms. Patrick feels his tension melt away immediately, and he opens his eyes to see David looking down at him, hair soft and starting to curl, smiling beatifically.
“Still with me?” David asks.
Patrick nods. “Yes.”
“Okay,” David says, squeezing Patrick’s forearms affectionately, and sits back on his heels.
David’s erection has flagged a bit, so he reaches down to stroke himself, closing his eyes for a moment and sighing in pleasure. Patrick props himself up on one elbow and reaches forward to cover David’s fingers with his own, feeling David get harder and thicker with their combined efforts, letting his gaze rake over David’s body. He shifts the angle of his wrist so he can let his thumb drag along the underside of David’s cock, and David shudders at the sensation and abruptly lets go.
“Okay,” he says again, shaking his head and blowing out a breath.
Patrick drops back down to the pillows, grinning triumphantly, and David smirks and gives him a swat on the shin.
“Give me an extra pillow?” David says. When Patrick hands it over, David taps his hip twice. Patrick lifts up dutifully to let David slide it under him, and then David picks up one of the condoms and rips it open. Patrick is practically panting as David rolls it onto himself. How something so clinical can be so ridiculously hot is a mystery; but then, pretty much everything about David is ridiculously hot to Patrick, so it probably shouldn’t be such a surprise. David grabs the lube once again to slick himself up, and he catches Patrick off guard when he rubs more lube across both of their bellies.
“Why—” Patrick starts to ask.
“Just trust me,” David says, and then he shifts forward, nudging the tip of his cock against Patrick’s hole. “Yeah?” David asks again.
“Oh my god, yes,” Patrick whines, and David laughs, low and breathy and intimate, and starts to push in.
And fuck, fuck, he’s big. He’s so big, and that’s just the tip, and it burns a little, and it's kind of uncomfortable, and Patrick has to fucking relax. He forces himself to breathe, focusing on the warmth of David’s body between his knees rather than the intensity of the stretch, imagining the soft strokes of David's hands on his arms. He feels himself let go, and then David is pushing in again, little by little, achingly slow as Patrick’s body adjusts to let him in. And suddenly, there’s nowhere else to go and their hips are flush against each other.
“Holy shit,” Patrick groans.
“God, yes,” David agrees, his voice sounding as desperate as Patrick feels. “Are you— Can I move?”
“Yes, yes, fuck, yes,” Patrick pants, and then David is moving, in and out in smooth strokes, and it’s so much and he’s so full and he never wants this to end, ever. He wraps his legs around David’s back again, the place they seem to always want to be, and draws David down to him. David drops to his forearms, bracketing Patrick’s ribs as Patrick winds his fingers into David’s damp curls, tugging him closer to crash their lips together.
Patrick licks into David’s mouth as he meets him thrust for thrust, pushing up against David harder as he feels himself open up to him more. David takes the hint and tears his mouth away from Patrick’s to bury his face in his neck instead, pumping his hips in short, sharp thrusts. David’s teeth are on Patrick’s skin, and Patrick’s cock is trapped between them (ah, so that’s what the lube on their stomachs was for), and David is filling him up so well, and Patrick is on fire.
Too soon and not soon enough, he’s right on the edge, clawing at David’s back, whining in a way that he’s sure would be embarrassing if he gave a single fuck about anything else right now. He barely has time to bite out a frantic David before he’s coming, he’s coming between them, he’s coming on David’s cock, he's coming hard, his ass pulsing as David shudders and muffles a shout against Patrick’s shoulder and follows him over the edge.
They lie there for a few long moments, breathing heavily into the silence, the air thick around them. Then, with a groan and a show of strength that must be superhuman, David heaves himself up. He grips the base of his cock, holding onto the condom, and then looks at Patrick.
“This is going to feel a little weird,” he says, wincing apologetically. He pulls out slowly, but yeah, it’s definitely strange. Patrick shifts a little, grimacing at the sensation, until they’re separated again. David removes the condom and ties it off, then pads to the bathroom. Patrick closes his eyes and lets himself sink into the soft mattress, listening to David shuffling around on the textured tile floor of the bathroom and running the water in the sink. He’s back a minute later with a warm washcloth, running it gently over Patrick’s skin: his come- and lube-covered stomach, his softening cock, his spent ass. It should feel embarrassing, but instead it feels intimate to be taken care of like this, and Patrick hums in thanks, his brain not yet back online enough to form actual words. David takes the pillow and towel out from under Patrick and tosses them aside, brings the washcloth back to the bathroom, and then returns to bed, flicking off the light on his way. Patrick cuddles up to David as he tugs the covers over them, sighing contentedly, letting himself be enveloped by David’s embrace.
“So?” David asks.
“Five stars,” Patrick mumbles into David’s sternum, already halfway to sleep. “Top marks. No notes.” David’s chest rumbles with a quiet chuckle against Patrick’s forehead, and Patrick pets at the soft hair on his belly. “Shh. Sleep now.”
Patrick feels David press a kiss to the top of his head. “Yes, dear.”
He's too happy and exhausted to think of a witty response, so he just hums again and kisses David’s chest. David gathers him up in his arms, holding him close and safe, and Patrick lets the smell of David's skin and the rhythm of his breaths lull him easily to sleep.
The next morning, Patrick wakes up lying on his stomach with David’s arm flung across his back, and he turns his head to look at his boyfriend. David’s hair is a mess, he’s drooling on his pillow, and he’s snoring a little, and Patrick’s heart melts. He wants nothing more than to snuggle into David and kiss him senseless, but he can’t bring himself to wake his adorable, sleepy teddy bear. He closes his eyes instead, taking stock of how his body feels after last night. He’s good, he thinks; David promised not to hurt him—despite Patrick’s failed attempt at dirty talk, which he recalls with cheeks burning—and he hadn’t. There’s maybe a tiny bit of leftover burn, but otherwise, he feels fucking great.
David snuffles a little in his sleep, and Patrick smiles and nuzzles into his pillow in place of nuzzling into David’s shoulder. He’s on the verge of falling back to sleep when he hears a faint buzzing. He tries putting the pillow over his head instead, but the noise persists in the quiet room, the tiniest, unignorable annoyance, like a gnat flying in front of his eyes in the middle of a game.
Patrick sighs and carefully extracts himself from the sheets and from David to go in search of the noise. He tracks it to the side pocket of his equipment bag, and when he reaches in, he finds his phone, which he apparently forgot to put on the night table last night in the midst of, well, everything. He unlocks the screen, which reads, unbelievably, 9:52 a.m. Which can’t be right, because the team was supposed to report for breakfast at 9:30, and he absolutely set his alarm— Except no, he didn’t, because he was too busy getting fucked.
The cause of the buzzing turns out to be texts from several team members, as well as three missed calls from Ted, the most recent of which was just a minute ago.
“David!” Patrick says urgently, dropping the phone onto his bag.
David groans and burrows his face into the pillow.
“David, we have to go. Now.”
David lifts his head and blinks at Patrick blearily. “What time is it?”
“9:53. We’re late. Get up!”
That gets David moving immediately, flinging the covers back and grabbing for his phone on the nightstand, except it isn’t there, because of course it isn’t.
“Fuck!” he curses.
“I know, I forgot to take mine out, too. And forgot to set my alarm, apparently,” Patrick says, turning away to dig a set of clean clothes out of his suitcase. He tugs on his boxers, jeans, and a t-shirt, and then finds his toothbrush and toothpaste and rushes to the bathroom.
He looks ridiculous. His hair is wild from sleeping on it wet, there are pillow creases imprinted on his cheek, and there’s a faint red mark on his neck that he's just going to have to hope isn’t too noticeable. He splashes some water on his face and brushes his teeth, and David joins him a minute later, dressed in black jeans and a white polo shirt with stars around the collar. He looks delectable, and Patrick wants nothing more than to drag David back to bed and run his hands over his entire body, but he’s already feeling not entirely certain that they’re going to make it to the bus on time, so it will have to wait.
David blanches at his reflection in the mirror. “Oh my god, my hair!”
“I ‘ink it ‘ooks ‘ute,” Patrick tells him around his toothbrush.
David shoots him a murderous glare, then turns defeatedly back to his own reflection.
Patrick spits his toothpaste into the sink. “David, just put on a hat. We have to go.”
David growls, but starts brushing his teeth. Patrick leaves him in the bathroom and checks over his equipment bag quickly to ensure he has everything. David follows a moment later, grabbing his black-on-black Jays cap out of his suitcase and shouldering his equipment bag. They opt to take the stairs, since they’re only on the third floor and hotel elevators are notoriously slow, and they rush into the lobby as the team is filing out the front door and onto the bus. Patrick detours over to the continental breakfast area and tosses two apples and a handful of granola bars into his bag, and has just enough time to pour a to-go cup of black coffee and grab some sugar packets and mini creamers before rejoining David right as he’s getting onto the bus.
They collapse into their seats, and Patrick hands David the coffee. He immediately takes a sip, grimacing as he swallows the bitter liquid.
“God, this tastes awful.”
“Aw, you’re welcome, David.”
David looks back at him, chagrined. “Sorry. Thank you.”
“No problem,” Patrick says, winking as he hands over the sugar and creamers, and smiling as David’s face softens.
He turns from David, leaving him to doctor up his coffee while Patrick digs the apples and granola bars out of his bag. When he sits up, Grant is turned around in the row in front of them, propping himself up so he can smirk at them over the headrest.
“Nice of you to join us, gentlemen.”
Patrick rolls his eyes. “Whatever, Grant. We made it, didn’t we?”
“I’m impressed. Sebastien and I are in the room next to you” —Patrick feels the color drain from his face— “and I couldn’t help but overhear that someone was having a great time last night. Sounds like you probably didn’t get much sleep.”
Patrick cuts a glance over at David, who is sizing Grant up over the lid of his coffee cup. He takes a sip, swallowing before calmly saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshit, Rose. I know what I heard. So—”
“Okay, listen, Grant,” Patrick starts to say, but Grant keeps talking.
“—which of you got sexiled?” All of the tension melts out of Patrick, and he feels a relieved smile blooming over his face. “Come on,” Grant grouses, “the least you could do is tell me, since you kept me awake without any of the fun.”
Patrick looks back at David to find him blinking innocently. “Do you want to tell him, or should I?” David asks.
And oh, Patrick wants to see where this goes. “Be my guest.”
David bites down on a smile and turns to Grant. “I did. Patrick met someone at the game last night and told them to come to our room after, so I was stuck hanging out in the lobby until god knows when. Very rude of him.”
Patrick tries and fails to hold back a snort. Grant is nodding, though. “Nice, Brewer. He doesn’t play for Piedmont though, does he? Conflict of interest, and all that? I’m pitching today, and I need you on top of your game behind the plate.”
Patrick notes the pronoun assumption Grant makes from David’s carefully neutral “them,” mentally adding him to the list of people he’s out to, and shakes his head solemnly. “No, he doesn’t play for Piedmont. I’ll be able to concentrate, don’t worry.”
Grant nods, satisfied. “Good.” He starts to sit back down in his seat, but turns back a moment later. “Oh, and you have a little something…” He taps on the side of his own neck, mirroring the spot where Patrick noticed the red mark that morning. Grant winks and disappears behind the headrest, and Patrick looks at David, his face hot.
David just quirks an eyebrow and takes another sip of his coffee. “Must have been a pretty good time last night, huh?”
Patrick takes a pointed bite of his apple, letting the loud crunch speak for him, and grins.
They lose against Piedmont, which is neither Patrick nor David’s fault, thank god. The Piedmont pitcher is insanely good, and Seneca Falls only gets four guys on base the entire game. The whole team goes for pizza after the game, crowding six around tables meant for four, passing slices from table to table so that everyone gets the toppings they want, and refilling each other’s soda cups from the shared pitchers. The team is boisterous despite the loss, dragging each other good-naturedly, shouting across the restaurant, and collectively laughing and groaning as Miguel and Ted, seated three tables away from each other, loudly try to one-up each other in a two man battle of the puns. It’s wild and joyful, and so reminiscent of pizza dinners after childhood Little League games that Patrick is nearly knocked sideways by the rolling tidal waves of nostalgia.
Patrick doesn’t sit at the same table as David, but his eyes are helplessly drawn to him over and over. Sometimes, David’s attention is already on Patrick, and they hold each other’s gaze for a few moments, smiling softly. Other times, David’s attention is on the guys at his table, laughing brightly and smiling that gorgeous smile that shows his teeth and makes his eyes crinkle at the corners. Once or twice, David’s attention is on something or someone Patrick can tell he’s deemed horrifically incorrect, likely Eric or Sean or Dane, his lip curled and his nose wrinkled in disgust.
But every time, Patrick’s heart skips a beat just looking at him.
They crash through their hotel room door later that night, drunk on nothing but friendship and the luster of new memories, and they barely get the door closed behind them before their lips find each other. Patrick begs David to fuck him again, and he does, with Patrick on his back and his leg hitched over David’s shoulder. The sex is full of hushed giggles and whispered praises, still cognizant of Sebastien and Grant in the next room. David comes first, panting out a silent cry against Patrick’s chest, and after he pulls out, he sucks Patrick down to the root and uses his fingers to tag Patrick’s prostate with ruthless precision. Patrick has to hold a pillow over his face as he comes, not trusting himself to be able to hold back his groan as he pulses down David’s throat.
After, David hauls himself up the bed and collapses half on top of Patrick, pressing lazy kisses to his shoulder, and Patrick cards his fingers through David’s hair, still soft from his shower after the game. Patrick forces himself to get up and retrieve his phone from his bag before they fall asleep, not willing to risk another late wake up tomorrow, but they curl into each other again as soon as Patrick crawls back under the covers, sleepy and sated and whole.
Patrick’s alarm goes off before David’s the next morning, and he kisses the top of David’s head in apology when he grumbles and burrows back under the covers like an aggrieved Punxsutawny Phil. But Patrick can’t linger in bed this morning. He’s on a mission.
He pulls on clean clothes as quickly and silently as he can and scribbles out a note to David telling him he’s gone downstairs for coffee. He places it beside David’s pillow and eases the room door closed behind him, letting it catch with only a soft click. The hotel hallway is especially quiet this morning, the sounds from the few guests who are awake at this hour muffled by the thick carpeting. The elevator dings when it arrives, and Patrick rides it down to the lobby, leaning heavily against the wall as his empty stomach swoops with its movement.
Patrick feels like a little kid walking up to the front desk, self-conscious to be asking about this.
“Can I help you?” the woman behind the desk asks. Her name tag says Fatima, and the bright colors on her hijab and the chipper tone of her voice are a startling contrast to Patrick’s half-awake state.
“Um, I saw on your website that you have, uh, a romance package available?” God, he feels dumb just saying it, but he hopes that it will be worth the effort.
Fatima, blessedly, doesn’t bat an eye, nor does her smile dim when she says, “Yes, of course! It includes rose petals, chocolates, and sparkling wine.” She pauses, flicking her gaze over Patrick’s face, and then amends, “Or sparkling cider.”
Patrick blushes. “Thank you, yeah,” he forces out. “Can I have that delivered to my room while I’m out today?”
“Of course, sir. What room number?” Fatima asks, turning to her computer and typing lightning fast.
“Perfect. Shall I add it to your room bill?”
“No,” Patrick says quickly. He imagines Coach Lee getting the team bill and seeing a romance package added to his and David’s room, and he nearly bursts into flames with embarrassment at the mere thought. “I’ll pay with my debit card.”
He hands it over, gives her the message that he wants left with the room service cart, and sets the delivery time for 2 p.m., when they’ll definitely still be in the middle of the game. The cider might not be chilled anymore by the time they get back, but it’s a necessary concession to make to ensure that no one from the team will find out. He accepts his card back from Fatima and thanks her, grabs a cup of coffee for David, and heads back to the room.
It’s a great game against Berry, their host team, and the excellent competition is made all the better by the fact that they eke out a win thanks to a rally in the seventh inning. The team scatters when they get back to the hotel in the late afternoon. They're all gathering in one of the available hotel meeting spaces for Chinese takeout and Black Panther in a few hours, but they have some time to chill in their rooms first.
Patrick lets David unlock their door so that he can enter first, and he’s rewarded by David stopping dead in his tracks, pausing for a moment before he whirls to face Patrick.
“What. Did. You. Do.” David phrases it as an accusation, not a question. His eyes are wide and his brow is furrowed in supposed horror, but he can’t hide the smile playing at the corners of his lips.
Patrick blinks innocently at him. “Whatever do you mean?”
David lets out a grunt and stalks into the room, and Patrick follows, letting the door close behind him. David cuts a murderous glare at the rose petals scattered on the beds before turning his attention back to the room service cart, where a card is propped up proudly against a bottle of sparkling cider. He snatches the card off the tray and reads it aloud in an overly dramatic timbre that Patrick guesses he must have learned from his mother. “Happy Monthiversary,” he recites, then looks back up at Patrick. “Monthiversary.”
Patrick nods seriously, but he has to bite down on a smile. “Yes, David. A month ago today, after months of pining after you, I finally got your dick in my mouth.”
“Oh my god,” David sputters. “You are the worst! I don’t… This is so… What are you…” David’s hands are flailing wildly, the note pinched between his fingers, as his brain whirls searching for the ends of sentences that don’t seem to be forming. Patrick doesn’t miss, though, the way his lips are still twitching with happiness, nor that his gaze keeps landing on the plate of chocolates waiting for them.
“Hey, David?” Patrick says, crowding into David’s space, gripping his biceps firmly to still his arms and keeping his eyes soft and locked onto David’s.
“Mhmm?” David says, lips pursed, his body still fidgety but significantly more grounded now with the weight of Patrick's hands on him.
“This month has been one of the best of my life. I’m really glad you kissed me at that party, and I’d like to continue kissing you for as many months as you’ll let me. Starting right now.”
David lets out a little whine, his shoulders relaxing immediately as Patrick leans up to kiss him, sweet and chaste. He doesn’t move to deepen it because wants David to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is about so much more than sex for him. David is the best person he’s ever met, and he meant it when he said he wanted as much time with him as he could have.
When they pull away, David rolls his eyes in surrender, and pops a chocolate into his mouth, finally giving Patrick a real smile.
“Happy Monthiversary, David,” Patrick says, and kisses David quiet before he can argue, tasting the rich chocolate on his lips.
They have two more games to play in the tournament. They lose against Adrian on Tuesday evening, but they win against Oglethorpe on Wednesday morning, the perfect way to end the trip and start their journey home. There are still a few days left of spring break when they return, and their next game isn’t until Saturday, so with campus still mostly empty and their schedules clear for the next two days except for a few hours of practice, it’s the perfect opportunity for a team party.
Since Brendan isn’t back yet, Patrick has the room to himself while he’s getting ready. He fusses with his hair for longer than usual; his curls are starting to get unruly, and he really should get a trim, but he hasn’t been able to bring himself to do it. Considering how much David seems to like running his hands through Patrick’s hair, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of incentive to cut it shorter. He manages to corral the curls into some semblance of a style, fluffed up on the top but combed back a bit on the sides. He digs through his closet, searching for a shirt that feels right for the party, and settles on the gray short sleeved button-up that he’s only worn once or twice and that he knows David has never seen before. It’s a little out of his comfort zone, but it pulls across his chest in a way that he thinks David will like. He tugs on a tight pair of dark jeans, and, last, puts his barbell in his tongue piercing before heading out to Miguel, Andre, and Derek’s apartment.
David is already there, talking with Jake across the living room, and it’s gratifying to see the way his eyes snap to Patrick as soon as he walks in. David looks unbelievable in a leather jacket that Patrick thinks is different from the one he wore to the party in the fall. Patrick should really ask him how many leather jackets he has, exactly. Like, for science. He’s wearing it over a white t-shirt with some black and white square on it, and, fuck, are those leather pants? He thinks those are leather pants. It’s about the hardest thing in the world not to make a beeline for him and attach himself to David like an overeager puppy, but Patrick manages.
David ostensibly continues his conversation with Jake, but Patrick doesn’t miss the way David tracks him as he moves around the room. Patrick meanders over to get a beer and sips it leisurely as he drags out his greetings with everyone, enjoying the heat of David’s gaze. He lets David come to him, walking over and greeting Patrick with a rough pat on the back and joining his conversation with Blair about how the Jays are doing in the preseason. This close, David looks even better than he had from across the room. He smells like citrus and cedar and leather, and Patrick has never been one to be seduced by traditional masculinity alone, but he’s self-aware enough to realize that on David, that particular combination of scents is making him think about all the unspeakable things he wants to do to him when he finally gets him alone again.
“They’re 11–14 in spring training games so far, so it could go either way,” Blair is saying, snapping Patrick back to the topic at hand.
“But Giles is looking really strong this year, and there are a lot of good rookie prospects that they could call up from the minors,” Patrick counters, gathering his wits quickly.
“Considering the fact that they haven’t even made it to the World Series since before we were born, I’m going to go ahead and not get my hopes up,” David says dryly, and Blair nods in agreement.
“How can you both be so pessimistic?” Patrick chides. “This is the beauty of baseball! A fresh start every year! The excitement of knowing anything can happen! Seneca Falls hasn’t won the SUNYAC Championship in years, but I know you don’t feel this way about us.”
David shrugs. “We have some control over our wins and losses. We have no control over what twenty-five guys in Toronto do. It’s just easier to be pleasantly surprised than let down every year.”
Patrick is about to double down, to get the rest of the team involved and gather the support of all the optimists (Ted, Citrus, and Ken would be on his side, he’s sure), and to give an impassioned speech on the beautiful history of the game and how being a fan is like a marriage and you should stick with your team for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. But he stops himself and thinks about everything he’s learned about David in the last several months: parents who weren’t always there when they were needed, money that was there until it wasn’t, a future in baseball that slipped through David’s fingers like sand in a windstorm. And yet he’s still here, pushing forward and trying to forge a new path for himself for at least the third or fourth time. Maybe David has earned the right to be a bit of a pessimist.
“Fair enough,” he says instead, and gives David a quick squeeze on the shoulder, innocuous enough to fly under Blair’s radar, but familiar enough that he knows David will hear what Patrick can’t say right now. David gives him a small smile, and then Deion is there, slinging his arms around both of their shoulders, bouncing on his toes, and begging them to come play flip cup.
Patrick and a couple other guys, including David, fill their cups with water or soda instead of beer, which means that after five rounds, Patrick might not be drunk, but he definitely needs to use the bathroom. He bows out of round six, and when he finishes washing his hands and opens the bathroom door, David is waiting across the hall for him, leaning against the wall with one leg crossed over the other and his arms folded across his chest. Without saying anything, he pushes off the wall and, with a single crooked finger, beckons Patrick to follow him. As if Patrick would say no.
David leads them into someone’s bedroom—Andre’s, maybe—but Patrick doesn’t have much time to think about it before David has shut the door and Patrick finds himself crowded up against Andre’s dresser, David’s lips hot on Patrick’s neck and Patrick working his hands under David’s t-shirt to dig his fingers into the soft skin of David’s lower back.
“Do you have any idea how good you look in this?” David murmurs, undoing the second button and kissing his way down to the hollow of Patrick’s collarbone. “Your chest, fuck.” David accentuates his point by rubbing a thumb roughly against Patrick’s nipple through the scratchy fabric of his shirt.
Patrick shudders at the sensation as he feels his nipple tightening and goosebumps breaking out on his arms, and he reflexively pulls David closer. “You should see yourself,” Patrick pants.
“Mm, I did, in fact. I’m glad you like it.”
“Are you kidding?” Patrick says, moving one of his hands around David's torso to drag his fingers through the soft hair covering his belly and pecs, hidden away by his clothes. A crime, to be sure. “It was all I could do not to bite your neck in front of the whole team before.”
David punctuates Patrick’s statement with a press of his teeth against Patrick’s pulse point, not even close to hard enough to leave a trace, but enough that he gets his point across. Patrick turns his head to finally capture David’s lips, running his hands up the bare skin of David’s back under his shirt, plunging his tongue into David’s mouth. David groans when he feels Patrick’s piercing, and he opens his mouth wider to let their tongues slide together obscenely. He works a leg between Patrick’s thighs, and Patrick shifts to kiss down David’s neck, dragging the ball of the barbell along the thin skin as they grind against each other. He’s not close to coming yet, and he doesn’t think David is either, but it’s so fucking good: frantic and dirty and pushy in the best way. David slides a hand back to Patrick’s chest and gives his nipple a sharp pinch, and Patrick throws his head back with a whimper as David kisses down the front of his throat.
And that’s how Miguel finds them.
He bursts through the door too quickly for either of them to react, but even if Miguel had been moving at a sloth’s pace, there’s no way they could have righted themselves quickly enough for him to miss what they’d been doing. Miguel freezes for a split second before barking out, “Sorry! Sorry!” and practically running out of the room, closing the door behind him.
David and Patrick stand in stunned silence for a moment, until David breaks it.
“Fuck.” He steps away from Patrick, shaking his hands out frantically. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“Okay, David?” Patrick says, stepping towards him tentatively and reaching out to still his hands, holding them gently in his own. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine! Nothing about this is fine!” Since Patrick is hindering the movement of his hands, David’s bodily momentum seems to transfer to his lips and eyebrows, in the form of frustrated twitches. “He’s going to go tell everyone!”
Something uncomfortable twists in Patrick’s stomach at David’s panicked tone, but he pushes it down in favor of comforting him. “I really don’t think he is.”
“You don’t know that!” David whines.
“So I can go talk to him, then. Let me do that for you.”
David blows out a measured breath that seems to calm him somewhat. “You’d do that?”
David nods slowly at first, and then faster. “Okay. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Patrick thinks for a moment about leaving it at that, but they haven’t expressly talked about this since they got together, and now that it’s come up, he can’t just ignore that gut reaction he’d had to David’s words. “Would it really be so bad, though? If the team found out?”
The question comes out a lot more plaintive than he means it to, and David’s eyebrows furrow, a tiny crease appearing between them. “No, no. It’s not that. It’s—” He shakes his head. “At first, I wanted to keep our relationship quiet so we weren’t a distraction to the team. We wanted that, I thought. Right?” he asks tentatively, and Patrick nods in affirmation. “Okay, yeah. Good. Because I don’t want to hide you, god. You’re amazing.” Patrick feels David’s hands squeeze his just a little tighter. “I mean, Stevie and Brendan know, obviously, but it was basically impossible to keep it from them. Plus, it’s different. I’ve lived a lot of my life either being ignored when all I wanted was for someone to pay attention, or under basically twenty-four hour surveillance when all I wanted was a little anonymity. I just don’t really want to deal with the team weighing in all the time. I— I like this being something that’s just for us.”
And yeah, Patrick can absolutely see that. Sure, the sneaking around is fun. Really fun. And hot. Really hot. But that’s not the point, Patrick chides himself. Would David have called Patrick his boyfriend if not for that stolen moment in the hotel room after Ted left? Would spring break have been as sweet if they were being teased every time they went back to their room? For that matter, would they have been assigned to room together at all? Probably not, on all counts.
So Patrick uses his leverage on David’s hands to pull him just a little closer, and leans up to press a soft kiss to his lips, nudging their noses together before giving them some distance again.
“Yeah,” he says. “I like it, too.”
They straighten their clothes and fix their hair using the mirror on the back of what is apparently Miguel’s, not Andre’s, door, and David goes back to the party first. Patrick follows a minute later, making the excuse that he’d had more to drink than he meant to and needed to lie down for a bit. They carefully keep their distance for a while, wanting to avoid suspicion, but eventually, Patrick wanders away from the group in search of Miguel. He finds him out on the balcony smoking a joint with Sebastien and Gary. Sebastien notices him first.
"Patrick, that shirt is captivating on you," he drawls.
Patrick barely suppresses his eye roll. "Thanks."
“Hey, Brewer, you want a hit?” Gary chimes in, holding out the joint.
Patrick waves him off. “No, I’m good, thanks. Uh, Miguel, can we talk for a minute?”
Miguel nods. “Yeah, sure man. We can talk in my room.”
Patrick follows him, closing the bedroom door behind them. Miguel sits on the bed, and Patrick leans against the dresser where, he unhelpfully remembers, he was making out with David twenty minutes ago.
“So,” Miguel starts, “you and David?”
Patrick huffs a laugh. “Yeah, me and David.”
Miguel tilts his head. “So was this just tonight, or has it been going on for a while?”
“About a month,” Patrick admits.
“Are you guys just hooking up, or…?”
Patrick shakes his head slowly. “No, uh, he’s— David is my boyfriend. We didn’t tell anyone because we just didn’t want it to be a whole thing with the team.”
“Well, I mean, I noticed you guys were hanging out a lot, but that’s it. It clearly hasn’t been a problem for your playing, either of you. Actually, I think you’ve gotten better since you stopped moping around like you were in the fall.” He pauses. “Wait, was David the guy? The one you thought didn’t like you?”
Patrick ducks his head, feeling himself blush. “Yeah, that was him.” He glances back up at Miguel to find him smiling broadly.
“Aw, shit. That’s awesome. I’m happy for you.”
Patrick grins back. “Thanks. I’m really happy, too.”
“So what do you want to do about the rest of the team?” Miguel asks.
“Uh, if it’s all right with you, we’d still like to keep it quiet. I’m not really worried that the guys will react badly or anything. It’s just easier this way, at least for now.”
Miguel nods, considering. “Sure, if that’s what you want. Just don’t make it awkward for me, okay? No covering for secret locker room rendez-vous or whatever?”
Patrick wrinkles his nose. “Ew. Not a problem.”
Miguel snorts. “You have been hanging out with David a lot, haven’t you. ‘Ew,’” he says, using his fingers to draw air quotes around the damning word.
Patrick feels his cheeks heat again and rolls his eyes. “Shut up.”
Miguel stands and pats him on the shoulder. “Nah, it’s cute.”
“Oh my god,” Patrick says, burying his face in his hands.
“Yeah, there it is. Come on,” he says, opening the door, “let’s go back to the party.”
“I’ll be out in a sec.”
Miguel leaves him, and Patrick takes out his phone to shoot David a quick text.
Patrick: All good
“Ughhhh,” David groans, dramatically flopping back onto Patrick’s bed and covering his face with Patrick’s pillow. They’re in Patrick’s room a week and a half later, studying for David’s upcoming test and taking advantage of the fact that Brendan and their EDM-loving neighbor both have class this afternoon.
Patrick reaches over from where he’s sitting at his desk and gives David’s ankle a sympathetic squeeze. “Come on, David, you can do this.” He reads from the flashcard again. “What movement is associated with Boccioni’s The City Rises?”
David moves his makeshift security blanket just enough that one eye peeks out. “Futurism?” he mumbles, his answer muffled by the part of the pillow still covering his mouth.
“There you go.” Patrick grins widely at him, and David pulls the pillow away completely and opens his mouth expectantly. Patrick chuckles as he plucks two M&Ms from the bowl sitting next to David’s Modern Art History textbook and stands to drop them into David’s waiting mouth. David closes his eyes and hums contentedly as he chews his reward, and Patrick can feel himself still smiling like a fool. “I feel like a seal trainer, giving you treats like this.”
David opens his eyes again and cuts Patrick a sideways glare. “I’m sorry, are you comparing me to a large aquatic mammal?”
“I would call seals medium-sized at best, in the realm of aquatic mammals. Though maybe you’re more like an orca. It’s the right color palette.”
David squawks indignantly and sits up again, pointing an accusatory finger in the air. “Okay, first of all, rude. If I’m any aquatic mammal, I’m—” He stops himself mid-sentence. “No, you know what, I will accept orca. They are beautiful, and also give no fucks. But second of all, training animals for human entertainment is a cruel and outdated practice. I think this is more like” —he closes his eyes and gesticulates fluidly in the air— “a Roman monarch being fed peeled grapes by a handsome servant on a beautiful mahogany chaise lounge upholstered in...in a rich burgundy brocade.” He opens his eyes again.
“Huh. That is oddly specific. And not very historically accurate, I'm pretty sure. Also, am I supposed to be a servant in this fantasy?”
Patrick makes a face and waffles his head from side to side.
“Hm. Lover, then?” David tries, dragging out the "L" just a bit and letting his lips curl into a smirk.
“There we go.” Patrick matches David’s expression. David starts to lean forward for a kiss, but Patrick puts a finger against his lips to stop him. “Question first. Then kiss.”
David whines petulantly but complies, crossing his legs and reclining against the wall next to Patrick’s bed.
Patrick picks up the next flashcard and reads it aloud. “Making a rubbing on paper over an uneven surface. Name the term, artist, and movement.” He flips it over to silently check for the answer, and can’t help the, “You’ve got to be shitting me” that escapes his lips.
David grins wolfishly and clears his throat. “Max Ernst. Surrealism. Frottage.” His voice drips with innuendo on the last word.
“That’s seriously an art term?”
“Of course,” David says primly. “Frottage literally means rubbing, so I don’t know where your confusion lies.”
“I can’t imagine,” Patrick deadpans.
“I believe I was promised a kiss for my correct answer?” David purses his lips expectantly.
Patrick stands and braces his hands on the bed on either side of David’s knees, leaning in to deliver David’s reward. David’s lips are soft and sweet and taste a bit like chocolate, and Patrick has to force himself to taper the kiss a moment later and return to his chair, a safe distance away from the temptation of his boyfriend looking beautiful on his bed.
“Okay, next,” Patrick says, taking the next flashcard from the stack. “What was Franz Marc trying to express with Fate of the Animals?”
“It’s a post-apocalyptic scene, possibly a future vision of the destruction that would be brought on by World War I,” David answers without hesitation.
Patrick flips the card over. “Wow, yeah. What does it look like?”
David shifts to pull his phone out of his back pocket, tapping a few times on the screen with his thumbs, and Patrick joins him on the bed, his shoulder pressed against David’s. “Here,” David says finally, and hands his phone to Patrick.
The painting on the screen is chaotic, with jagged spikes of blues, reds, greens, and yellows piercing through the abstract scene, cutting behind depictions of animals in primary colors that almost blend in with the violence around them. Patrick’s eyes struggle for a place to settle, and he finds himself scanning the painting over and over, finding new details each time. When he finally looks up at David, he’s watching Patrick carefully.
“It’s beautiful,” Patrick says honestly.
David nods. “It is.”
“So are the animals supposed to represent soldiers, or…?”
David hums. “The beauty of art is that you can interpret it however you’d like. So if that’s what you see, I won’t correct you. Conventional interpretation, though, is that this depicts a forest fire. Right here” —he points to three daggers of red in the upper left corner of the painting— “are the sparks that start it all. And see how all of the lines are diagonals?” He gestures across the screen and then looks at Patrick for confirmation. Patrick hadn’t, in fact, noticed that, but now that David points it out…
“Yeah,” Patrick says.
“There aren’t any horizontal or vertical lines,” David continues, “which is what makes it feel so tense and unsettled. You’re looking at the animals being burned alive, consumed by something completely out of their control. Imagine how Marc must have been feeling, knowing that war was coming and having absolutely no idea what his life would become, and no choice about it. And he was driven to put his emotions on canvas. It's confronting the inevitability that joy and stability will be ripped away. This painting feels like...hopelessness. To me.”
Patrick keeps looking at the painting, trying to take it all in. He’s never heard David really talk about art before, not in a way that goes beyond studying and schoolwork. But this is different. David isn’t just regurgitating something from a lecture or a textbook. This is what David feels, with his body and soul. This is David’s heart, transformed into words and gifted to Patrick. It’s beautiful, and full of grief, and Patrick thinks his own heart might explode with how much he wants to wrap him up in a protective hug and kiss him senseless in equal measure.
Three words suddenly form on the tip of his tongue, desperate to jump out and make themselves known. They’ve floated through his mind in pieces a few times before, but this is the first time they’ve been fully formed, unyielding, begging to be shared. It’s far too early to be thinking and feeling them, but he is, he does, for this astonishing man who, for some reason, wants Patrick as much as Patrick wants him.
Patrick swallows the words down instead, and releases a choked, “Wow,” before turning to David, cupping his cheek, and pulling him in for a soft, lingering kiss. For the time being, it will have to be enough.
“Hey, do you have any plans for Saturday?” David asks the next day, apropos of nothing. Patrick is lying on his stomach on David’s bed, reading for Business and Society, while David sketches in his notebook for his Figure Drawing class. It feels almost domestic, and Patrick can’t get enough of these little moments that they seem to be having more and more often.
“Not really. We have a game on Friday and two games on Sunday, right?” Patrick says, thinking out loud. “So Saturday should be free. Why?”
“I asked Stevie to let me borrow her car. Want to take a trip to Ithaca with me? Saturday is the opening day of the farmers market.”
Patrick sits up and looks at him carefully. “You want to go back to Ithaca?”
“Yeah. I haven’t been there since— In almost two years,” he finishes. “And I loved it there. Parts of it, at least. I want to take you.”
Patrick bites down on a smile, hearing the words David couldn’t say. David can act blasé about it all he wants; Patrick knows that going back to the town where Cornell is located—the town he called home for one tumultuous year—is a big step for him, and once again, Patrick finds himself in proud awe of David’s resilience. He’s pretty sure, though, that if he told David as much, David would give him an eviscerating glare and immediately rescind his invitation. Instead, Patrick just says, “Sounds great,” and buries himself back in his textbook so that he can let himself smile fully, hidden away from his boyfriend’s eyes.
Saturday is sunny and unseasonably warm, the perfect day for a drive that meanders along Cayuga Lake. Stevie’s car is a red monstrosity that could best be described as a clunker, and they’d had to scoop a disturbing amount of fast food wrappers off the floor of the passenger seat before they could get going, but it’s a small price to pay for a day of freedom, of feeling weightless and limitless and invincible. David made them a driving playlist, because of course he did, but when Patrick hits play, he’s surprised to hear the opening notes of “Woodland” by The Paper Kites rather than something by Mariah or Celine.
David responds to Patrick’s question before he has a chance to ask it. “We usually listen to my music on team trips. Because it’s the correct choice,” he adds, cutting a glance at Patrick, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. “But I thought I’d put some of your music on this, too. Today is for both of us.”
Patrick’s heart clenches with fondness. The sentiment is so unbelievably sweet that Patrick knows he has to temper it for David, lest he spontaneously combust from the vulnerability. “Right, right. Unlike all of our baseball games, which are just about you.”
David sniffs haughtily. “When I am in the best possible mindset for a game, the whole team benefits.”
“Uh huh. And the drives home after the games?”
“Tradition. If we start listening to something different now, who knows what might happen? Maybe we’ll start losing every game. I’m not going to risk throwing the entire team into chaos just for some sad acoustic guitars, Patrick.”
“What about for happy acoustic guitars?”
“Happy acoustic guitars are worse than sad ones?” Patrick laughs.
“Yes, because there are much happier instruments than acoustic guitar. Unless you’re feeling sad, what’s the point?” David bites his lips together to hold back his smile, giving away the game.
“I guess we should start listening to my music after losses, then.”
“No, because then we need to feel uplifted, which my music is also better for.”
“So you’re saying my music is never correct,” Patrick accuses.
“I’m so glad you see things my way.”
“We do what we have to do, I guess,” Patrick says, reaching over to give David’s thigh a squeeze. “For the good of the team.”
“Exactly.” David glances at Patrick with a grin, his eyes crinkling behind his white-rimmed sunglasses.
They ride in comfortable quiet for a while, listening to David’s playlist—approximately a 70/30 ratio of David’s music to Patrick’s, a generous split that is truly more than Patrick could have hoped for—and watching the trees whip by the windows. The drive is only an hour, so before Patrick knows it, they’re approaching civilization again, the road widening and stores popping up around them. Patrick sits up straight trying to absorb it all as David deftly navigates the complicated series of one-way streets that take them to the farmers market.
They pull into the gravel lot and park between two Toyota Priuses, both sporting “Ithaca is Gorges” bumper stickers. Patrick stretches out his back when he steps out of the car, twisting quickly from side to side and then bending down at the waist. When he stands again and looks at David, he’s in the middle of a tricep stretch with his elbow bent in the air, and Patrick makes a show of sliding his sunglasses down his nose to check David out over the top rim, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“You’re ridiculous,” David says, and Patrick can’t exactly see David’s responding eye roll, hidden behind his sunglasses, but he knows from the twist of David’s lips and the twitch of his eyebrows that he’s achieved his goal.
Patrick walks around the car and finds David’s hand to lace their fingers together.
“I’m yours, though,” he says, bold and romantic, and presses a kiss to the hinge of David’s jaw, giddy with the freedom of being far from campus and away from the prying eyes of teammates. David must be feeling the same, because he smiles sweetly at Patrick, squeezing his hand and kissing his temple, and leads them into the market.
It’s like nothing Patrick has seen before; in person, at least. Every farmers market he’s been to has been portable tents set up in rows in a field or parking lot, each with a folding table or two underneath. But this one feels like stepping back in time: a permanent wooden structure made of posts and beams, with stalls, built-in shelves and counters, and beautiful wooden signs hanging above the center walkway marking the location of each vendor. There is produce, of course, but also maple syrup, jams and jellies, wine and beer, crafts, artwork, furniture, bath products, prepared foods, and live music. Patrick hardly knows where to start, but David leads them to a stall labeled Just Desserts. David looks up at the chalkboard menu hanging above the counter and seemingly unconsciously wraps an arm around Patrick’s shoulders, absentmindedly rubbing circles with his thumb. Patrick practically melts into him, curling his arm around David’s waist and holding tightly so that his knees don’t buckle from happiness.
Patrick orders a chai tea and David chooses a coffee for himself and pastries for them both, and they sip their drinks and trade bites of blueberry brioche roll, apple turnover with homemade puff pastry, and raspberry pear frangipane tart as they walk. The incredible baked goods were one of the first things David told him he missed about Ithaca, back when their coffee not-date after the library had been interrupted by Stevie. And they are absolutely delicious—David was right about that, as he is about most things food-related—but they’re made all the sweeter by the taste of butter and caramelized sugar on David’s lips when he tilts his head down to give Patrick a smiling kiss, right there in the middle of the market.
They wander from booth to booth, making occasional purchases along the way. Patrick would have been content to browse each little shop for a minute or two and move on, but David makes easy conversation wherever he goes, asking about alpaca versus sheep wool as he runs his fingers along hand-knitted scarves; drip glazing versus glaze trailing as he admires pottery in shades of cobalt, emerald, and rust; tung oil versus linseed oil as he examines checkerboard patterned wooden cutting boards; and curly versus Tuscan kale as he sniffs at bunches of dark green leaves. Patrick trails after him, listening with interest and awe as David compliments every vendor sincerely. He has an almost magical way of making each of them feel worthwhile and unique, because, Patrick realizes, David truly believes them to be.
The best part, though, is the art displays, where David gives each painting and photograph the same attention and reverence he would a Rembrandt, murmuring low in Patrick’s ear about the use of brush strokes or the play of light and shadow or how the work reflects the artist’s conflicted relationship with the subject. Listening to David talk about art is almost like meditation: a sense of calm and peace flows through Patrick just from the timbre and lilt of his voice, and Patrick thinks—frighteningly, amazingly, unquestionably—that he could spend forever listening to David talk like this.
Eventually, with the pastries long gone, they’re in need of more sustenance, so David heads confidently for Sunrise Samosas. They get two each of chicken, lamb, and vegetable, plus vegan coconut mango lassis, and take their food and the canvas bags holding their purchases to the picnic tables near the waterfront, a short walk from the market. Though there’s plenty of room at the table for them to spread out, they instead sit side by side, thighs pressed together, and eat to the sounds of cheerful conversations around them, the faint plink of the banjo from the live band back at the market, and the gentle lapping of the lake along the shore.
Patrick is almost ashamed to admit to himself that if he had come here without David, he never would have thought this would be something he would enjoy, much less feel a deep connection with. After all, it’s rustic, it’s crowded, and it’s full of people for whom fashion is only function and who couldn’t care less what anyone else thought about it. But seeing David in his element, talking with people about the things they care about most, eating delicious and unpretentious food, and appreciating nature (within the relative safety of minimal bugs and nearby electricity and running water), it just...fits. He fits here, in a place where he won’t be judged for what he is or isn’t. It’s exactly what David had said to him on the bus two months ago: this is a place where he can just be. And after the life David has lived already, what a relief that must feel like.
Patrick turns his gaze from the sparkling water of the lake to the man beside him, who is in the middle of taking an almost comically large bite of chicken samosa.
“Wa’?” David asks, mouth full of food. Patrick thinks he means “what”; a fair question, since Patrick is just sitting here watching him chew.
Patrick chuckles. “Nothing, sorry. I was just thinking.”
David swallows. “About what?”
David raises an eyebrow. “Okay…”
“No, no, it’s good. I was thinking about how this place suits you. You seem really relaxed here.”
“Mm, well, I’ve never met a samosa I didn’t like, so.”
Patrick finds David’s knee with his hand under the table and squeezes it. “I’m serious. I understand why you didn’t want to leave.”
David opens his mouth to say something, then snaps it closed and picks up his samosa instead.
“What?” Patrick asks.
David finishes chewing, and Patrick taps a beat on David’s knee with his fingers while he waits for David to be ready to talk about whatever he’s turning over in his mind. David takes a sip of his drink, and then another, and then turns to Patrick.
“Did I ever tell you about Adelina?”
Patrick blinks at the sudden change in subject, but recovers quickly. “Yeah, your nanny, right?”
“Yeah. Before my dad had to sell the company, anyway. They couldn’t afford to pay her salary after that. She was the one who started playing baseball with me.”
“Not your dad?”
David snorts. “No. My dad was almost never home when I was a kid, and when he was, he didn’t exactly spend a lot of time paying attention to what I was doing. Adelina was the one who raised me and Alexis.” He looks back out across the lake. “Her son was in college when she came to work for us, and he was on his college baseball team. If I remember the story correctly, Adelina’s husband had to work long hours when her son was young, so she was the one who practiced with him on the weekends and after school. She wanted us to try it one day, and we were both such brats about it. Alexis hated it as much as she thought she would. I think she lasted about five minutes. But me…”
“You loved it,” Patrick finishes.
“I loved it,” David says emphatically, looking back at Patrick. “I really didn’t expect to. It helped that I was pretty good at it right away. I think I liked being able to throw and hit the ball so hard. I had a lot of anger to burn. I wasn’t exactly a happy kid.”
“I think that makes sense, all things considered.”
“Probably, yeah. So Adelina and I would play all the time in the backyard. She was the one who asked my dad about Little League, and then it just grew from there. Baseball was really fun with her. I mean, I got really good, don’t get me wrong—”
“Of course.” Patrick nods sagely.
“—but it wasn’t about that. And then Dad sold the company and we moved to the city permanently...and Dad was around more, but he made baseball more about, like, achieving. He’s always been like that.” David shrugs. “But I was still young, just going into high school, and I liked him being proud of me. It just kind of snowballed.”
“Is that how you ended up at Cornell?” Patrick asks gently.
“Mhmm. And then it was all baseball, all the time. I did the bare minimum for my classes to get by and spent the rest of my time practicing or lifting. I never felt like I was good enough. Like there was always someone coming up behind me that could make me lose my spot on the team.” He gestures towards the lake, his movement rough and angry, his brow furrowed. “I never could have done this back then. Taken a whole day off? In the middle of the season? No studying, no baseball? Forget it.” He pauses, looking down at the table and dropping his hand to run his thumb along one of the grooves in the wood. “Until Eli took everything, and I just decided to burn it all down. Then I took plenty of days off.”
Patrick moves his free hand to cover David’s where it sits, restless, on the table. “You know that’s okay, right? It was a traumatic experience, and you were already on overload. It makes sense that you responded the way that you did.”
David hums. “That’s where I’m going with this, actually? I’m realizing that...it doesn’t really matter, because I was really fucking unhappy here. Not, like” —he waves his free hand in the air, indicating everything around them— “here, here. I mean at Cornell. Doing the D-I thing.” He shifts to face Patrick more fully, bending his leg so that his calf is resting on the bench between them, and Patrick adjusts so that their joined hands sit on David’s knee. “I’m happy where I am now. Baseball is fun again, and I feel good about my classes, and I’ve been drawing...and I have you,” he adds quietly, shyly, as if Patrick might actually protest the idea.
“You do,” Patrick agrees, and squeezes his hand before leaning in for a kiss. When they pull back, David is smiling softly, his eyes bright in the mid-afternoon sunlight. Patrick looks away, towards the lake, and adds casually, “It’s a good thing you’re here, too, or else we might have all been listening to Mumford and Sons on bus rides and ruined our chances for the season before it even got started.”
“A travesty,” David agrees seriously, and Patrick reaches over to poke him in the side, making David squawk out a truly ridiculous noise that somehow sounds like Chewbacca after he’s been inhaling helium balloons. Patrick bursts out laughing, and David retaliates by reaching for the ticklish spot right below Patrick’s ribs that David stumbled upon in bed last week and has been exploiting ever since. Patrick lets out an undignified squeak of his own and jumps up from the table, backing away from David and holding out his hands protectively as David gets up and chases after him, abandoning their bags at the table.
Patrick takes off running for real, but David is faster, so he catches up to him less than fifty yards down the waterfront trail, wrapping his arms around Patrick from behind and laughing, giddy, like a kid. Patrick spins in his arms and hugs David tight, both of them breathing heavily, grins on their faces, and Patrick is so ridiculously in love with him it hurts. Patrick presses a kiss to the spot on David’s neck where his lips fall naturally, and he thinks—ridiculously, possessively—mine.
They stand there for a minute, wrapped up in each other, until David lets out a quiet, “Um?” and Patrick pulls back to look at him inquisitively. “We left our bags back there? And there was some really delicious cheese that I was looking forward to having later, so we should probably…” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder.
Patrick laughs, feeling joy spilling out of him like sunshine. “Let’s go get your cheese, David.”
They gather their bags and clear their trash, dutifully separating everything into the bins marked “compost,” “recycling,” and “landfill,” and head back to the car to start the drive back to Seneca Falls. On their way out of Ithaca, they pass signs directing them to turn left for Cornell University, but Patrick knows without asking that they’re not taking that particular trip down memory lane today. Instead, he holds out his hand palm up on the center console and clears his throat to get David’s attention. David glances over, then glances down. He smiles and removes one hand from the wheel to place it in Patrick’s, and they take the long way home as the sun dips low in the sky, turning the lake into a shimmering rainbow of yellows, pinks, and oranges.
Patrick shoves the locker room door open, letting it bang against the bank of lockers behind it with a sharp smack. He abandoned his mask and helmet on the field, but he yanks off his chest protector and hurls it onto the floor, then follows it up with his leg guards, which land with an unsatisfying whisper on the industrial carpeting. He’s blessedly alone, but it wouldn’t matter anyway; he’s too worked up to care who sees him throwing his gear around. And besides, he’s justified. He doesn’t know if the home plate umpire put his contacts in the wrong eyes today or what, but he was calling balls as strikes, strikes as balls, full swings as ones that were stopped in time, and outs at the plate as safe. He was doing it equally for both teams, but that’s not the point. The point is that he was ruining the sanctity of the game, and after six innings, Patrick couldn’t take it anymore.
Patrick paces the empty locker room, squeezing his hands into fists and releasing them over and over. So maybe he shouldn’t have confronted the ump over a ball two that was clearly a strike three. He probably shouldn’t have shouted about it, either. And he definitely shouldn’t have thrown off his helmet and got up in his face, to the point where Coach Schitt had to come out of the dugout to get Patrick to back off.
Okay, in retrospect, it was not his finest moment. He absolutely deserved to get thrown out of the game. But honestly, so did the ump.
Patrick drops onto the chair in front of his locker and buries his face in his hands, but his body can’t seem to keep still, and he can’t stop his legs from bouncing anxiously. He just hopes that he doesn’t get removed from the team for the rest of the season for this. Shit, what if he does get removed from the team? God, he fucked up. But he was just so damn angry. He still is.
Patrick stands up abruptly and laces his fingers behind his head as he starts to walk around again, hoping to work off some of his excess adrenaline. A few moments later, David knocks softly and opens the door, and Patrick spins to face him, dropping his arms to his sides.
“Hi there,” David says, an amused smile playing on his lips.
“I’m sorry, is this funny to you?” Patrick asks, crossing his arms, feeling his shoulders tighten even more.
“No, definitely not,” David says, still smiling, the bastard. He walks towards Patrick cautiously, as if he might spook like an unbroken horse.
“You can come over here. I’m not going to fall apart.”
“I know. I was more worried about getting yelled at. Or get caught in the crossfire of your angry arms.”
“I don’t—” Patrick drops his arms and tries to put his hands casually in his pockets, until he remembers that his uniform doesn’t have them, and settles for a super relaxed, definitely not still angry, arms akimbo stance instead. “I don’t have angry arms.”
“Yes, I can see that,” David placates, closing the distance between them and running his hands up and down Patrick’s biceps. “Want to tell me what happened out there?”
“You saw what happened!” Patrick explodes. His arms try to fly up in exasperation, but David holds them in place.
He quirks an eyebrow. “See? Angry arms. And yelling, for that matter.”
Patrick clenches his jaw, but says nothing.
“So the ump was making bad calls,” David says quietly.
“How are you not angrier about this?”
“Oh, I am. He was basically ruining the game. But I didn’t get myself kicked out.”
“You weren’t even playing today!”
David waves a hand dismissively. “Semantics. I could have done it if I’d really wanted to. I am very talented at making a scene. I was raised by Moira Rose.” He returns the hand to Patrick’s arm, where it joins the other in continuing to pet in soothing downward strokes. “Come on, you’ve never had a bad ump before?”
“Of course I have.”
“So why did this one bother you so much more?”
Patrick sighs and drops his arms, finally feeling some of the tension ease out of his body. “I don’t know. This game just felt really big. The season is three-quarters over already. We only have ten left before the SUNYAC Championship.”
“Mm, yes. That all-important eleventh-to-last game of the season.”
Patrick groans and falls forward into David, burrowing his face in his collarbone and circling his arms around his waist, and he feels David’s arms wrap around his shoulders. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I just wanted to win, and I wanted to win fairly.”
“I get that,” David says, nosing at Patrick’s hair. “But we’re eight runs ahead right now, and since the umpire is making bad calls on both sides, I don’t think we can attribute our lead exclusively to him. I’d say we’re winning in spite of him being objectively terrible.”
“I guess,” Patrick mumbles.
“Also, our record is currently 21–8, so even if we don’t count this as a real win in our minds, we’re still doing pretty fucking well this season.”
“Yeah,” Patrick sighs, the last of his excess adrenaline dissipating. “Okay.”
“Okay,” David echoes.
“How did you get so good at this?” Patrick asks, pulling back to look at David’s face.
“I told you, I was raised by Moira Rose. I’m just glad I didn’t find you hiding in a locker, or I would have had to pull out the big guns. My mom usually needs to rewatch her Best of Vivien Blake DVD to get out of a funk. I don’t know what I’d have to do for you. YouTube videos of your greatest plays? Or maybe home movies of your little open mic nights from high school?” He wrinkles his nose. “I’ll think about it and be prepared for your next meltdown.”
Patrick laughs and hugs David tight again, and as he does, he feels those three words tripping over his tongue, the ones he’s been dying to say for over a week now. A week of being around David almost constantly; a week of thinking them almost constantly. His lips crave the feel of them, but his brain knows what his heart doesn’t: not yet. He catches himself just in time, keeping them locked up by pressing a kiss to his favorite spot on David’s neck instead.
He lets himself be held, lets David be the antidote to all of the anger and frustration that built up over the last ninety minutes, until Miguel peeks his head in the door of the locker room and they pull apart.
“Hey guys, the game is over. I ran ahead, but the rest of the team will be here any minute.”
Patrick nods. “Thanks, Miguel. Really appreciate it.”
“Wait, it’s over already?” David asks. “It’s only been like fifteen minutes.”
“I know, crazy, right? Ted hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth, so that put us eleven ahead, and then Andre struck out the first three Cazenovia hitters in the top of the seventh. They invoked the mercy rule so that Caz could just get on the road.” He rolls his eyes. “At least that’s one and a half innings less to deal with that shitty ump.”
Patrick feels his face contort into a frown as he lets out a throaty growl of annoyance, and David’s hand snakes around his lower back, pulling him tight to his side.
“Yeah, definitely,” David says for both of them, cutting Patrick off before he can go off on what would have been a completely valid tirade. “Come on, let’s go look less conspicuous." He gives Patrick a pat on the hip before drifting away. “Get a move on, Brewer.”
Patrick’s stomach flips at David calling him by his last name, but he knows better than to do anything about it at the moment.
Citrus and Emir are the first ones to burst into the locker room a minute later, just as David, Patrick, and Miguel have all busied themselves with getting showered and changed. Patrick keeps his head down—he’s not really in the mood to talk to anyone else yet—and he’s one of the first to leave. He’s distracted pulling his phone out of his bag to send a message to David telling him to meet him at his dorm, which is why he hears Coach Lee before he sees her.
“Brewer,” she barks out, in that dry, disapproving tone that she deploys effortlessly. Patrick freezes mid-text and whirls to face her, panic spreading icy through his veins. She’s still in her game day uniform, standing tall with her arms crossed. As much as she rarely cracks a smile, she looks especially stoic at the moment.
“H-hey, coach,” he stutters.
“Step into my office,” she says, and spins on her heel to walk down the hallway without further instruction.
Patrick follows her dutifully. His feet feel like lead, but he doesn’t dare fall behind, so he pushes them to move faster and keep pace. Coach Lee opens the door to her office and walks in without looking back, and she’s already sitting behind her desk by the time Patrick gets there.
“Should I…?” he asks, gesturing to the door. Coach Lee answers him with nothing but a raised eyebrow, which he takes as a, “Yes, obviously.” He closes it softly, being sure not to let it slam, and sits tentatively in one of the chairs in front of her desk.
“Um, so the game today,” Patrick starts.
“That was some stunt you pulled, Brewer.”
“I know, I’m sorry, Coach. The ump was—”
“You’re blaming your choices on the umpire?”
“No! No. It, uh, it was definitely my fault. I shouldn’t have done that. I just—”
“Shouldn’t have done which part, exactly?” She leans forward, folding her hands on her desk and pursing her lips.
“Um, any...of it?” Patrick winces.
“Yeah. It was pretty stupid.” Coach Lee stares him down for an interminable few seconds before her face softens slightly, and she sits back in her seat, sighing. “But you’re right, that ump was an idiot.”
Patrick relaxes instantly. “I know! What was he doing?” His voice is too eager, too loud, and he silences himself immediately when Coach Lee’s eyes narrow slightly.
“Still not an excuse.”
“Right, right, sorry.”
“You know I can’t let you back on the field right away.” Patrick’s heart sinks. Fuck. “I can’t have my players doing whatever the hell they want out there and getting ejected.” She flicks her gaze up and down, considering. “You’re a good player, and you have a good head on your shoulders, except when you have your head up your ass. You’re suspended for five games.”
Patrick can’t help the small bark of a laugh that escapes his lips as relief washes over him. “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh,” Patrick says quickly, at Coach Lee’s admonishing look. “I’m just— Uh, I mean, thank you.”
“Mhmm.” She gives him a slight nod and looks down to open up her laptop, which Patrick guesses means he’s dismissed.
He leaves her office, again making certain to close the door quietly, and immediately finds David standing in the middle of the hallway, looking down, his back turned. Patrick’s phone buzzes in his pocket before he can call out to him.
David: Saw you going into coach’s office. Everything okay?
“Everything’s fine,” Patrick calls down the hallway.
David jumps a mile, whipping around to face him. “Holy fuck. Are you trying to kill me?”
“Definitely not.” He starts walking towards David. “Though you did say that if I was going to give you a heart attack, it should be after 10 a.m. You can’t say I haven’t followed your rules.”
They fall into step together, heading for the exit. “So clearly you’re no longer in distress, since you’re back to harassing me. What did she say?”
“I’m suspended for five games.”
David hums. “Not bad, all things considered.”
“No. I’ll be able to play next Saturday, I’m pretty sure.”
“In the meantime, I expect loud cheering for every play I make, excellent, mediocre, or terrible.”
Patrick snorts. “Don’t you think people—” He stops mid-sentence, glancing over his shoulder to be sure they’re alone. “Don’t you think people would start to suspect something if I was cheering for you personally for every play?” he says, voice low.
“Perhaps, or maybe they’ll just think that you’re trying to atone for your sins with overly enthusiastic cheerleading.”
“Shouldn’t I cheer for everyone, then?”
“Obviously not. The rest of them are on their own. They can get their own secret boyfriends on the team.”
Patrick fights the smile he feels trying to break out across his lips. “I think your logic is flawed.”
It turns out that being suspended feels very different from just not being on the field. Patrick still goes to practices and training time with everyone, but when the team travels to New Paltz for the weekend, Patrick is stuck staying on campus. He and Brendan see a lot less of each other these days: Brendan and Kayla made things official over the holiday break, and since she and David both have single rooms, it’s rare that Patrick and Brendan both sleep in their shared room at the same time. So when Patrick wakes up alone on Saturday morning, he gets some cereal at the dining hall, goes to the gym, does his homework, eats some Easy Mac in his room for lunch, and plays his guitar and fiddles with a song he’s been sporadically working on arranging for the last few weeks. By 3 p.m., he’s done more non-baseball activities than he usually achieves in an entire weekend, and he’s crawling out of his skin with boredom.
He flops back on his bed and sends David that “It’s been 84 years” meme with the old lady from Titanic, though he knows David won’t be able to respond until tonight after the doubleheader they’re playing. He thumbs to his contacts, and after a moment’s hesitation, clicks on the contact for “Dad.”
His father picks up on the second ring with a cheery, “Hey, Ty Cobb. How’s the suspension going?”
Patrick groans. “It was one time!”
“Oh, I know. But you’ve dug your own grave, son. You made your choice, and now I get to make this one.” Patrick can practically hear his father’s eyes sparkling.
Patrick scrubs a hand over his face. “Okay, but please promise me you’ll never use that nickname around David. I will literally never hear the end of it.”
His dad chuckles. “Scout’s honor.”
“Although using that nickname around David would require us to actually meet David. Think that might happen one of these days? It’s been nearly six months, hasn’t it?”
“NO, Dad, it’s been two months. Not even. It will be two months in a couple of days.”
“Oh, my mistake. I must have gotten mixed up because of how your phone was practically glued to your hand over the holidays and you kept staring into space, smiling at nothing.”
Patrick feels his face flush, and he’s grateful he didn’t decide to use Facetime so that he still has plausible deniability when he says, very maturely, “Did not.”
“Whatever you say, son.” Okay, cool, so now his dad is just openly laughing at him.
“Is Mom there? Maybe she’ll be nicer to me.”
“I wouldn’t count on that. Have you met your mother?”
“Dad,” Patrick whines.
“Sorry, sorry. It all comes from a place of love. I mean, we’re not thrilled that you got suspended for five games, but we know it was a tough situation. And as for David, we don’t know much about him, but we’re just happy you’re happy. We haven’t seen you like this since...what was his name? Scott?”
“Seth,” Patrick corrects, surprised. “You knew about Seth?”
“Well, not exactly. You were so cagey that summer. You seemed like you were floating on air, but when we asked you what had you smiling so much, you kept telling us it was nothing. You spent a lot of time with him, but we didn’t put the pieces together until you came out to us, and by then, we figured you two had broken up. We didn’t want to pry.”
Patrick’s eyes sting with the effort of holding back a few errant tears. “I didn’t know you guys had realized all that.”
“Sure. We love you, Patrick.”
“I love you guys, too.” Patrick sniffs and uses the sleeve of his t-shirt to dry his eyes. “Yeah, um, David’s great. We had last Saturday off, so we went to Ithaca for the day.”
“Yeah? How was that?”
Patrick tells him about the driving mix and the farmers market, about David making conversation with the vendors and eating samosas by the water. He doesn’t tell him about being in love with David—that’s something he wants to keep for himself for now—but he does say, “I like him so much, Dad.”
His father’s voice is gentle when he answers. “I know. I can tell. I’m glad.”
The conversation moves to easier topics, like Patrick’s classes (going well), his grandparents (going on a cruise to the Bahamas), and the Blue Jays (lost 11-7 last night). By the time they hang up an hour later, Patrick is in better spirits and promising to call—not just text—more often. And he means it. He keeps lying on his bed for a while afterwards, thinking about Seth Brookner, and coming out, and the handful of guys he’s been with, and David. His mind drifts to their second monthiversary next week, and how he can top rose petals and sparkling cider in a hotel room while he’s stuck on campus and David has a game to play that afternoon. He thinks again about his conversation with his father, and their trip last week, and, like a lightbulb flicking on, he suddenly has an idea.
Unfortunately, he’ll need a car for it, and there’s only one person he knows who has a car who might, possibly, given the circumstances, be willing to lend it to him.
Patrick: Hey Stevie
Patrick: I have a big favor to ask
Stevie: Spit it out
Patrick: Can I borrow your car?
Stevie: I will require two forms of payment. 1, tell me what it’s for. 2, TBD
Patrick: I want to go get a gift for david. It’s our two month anniversary
Stevie: Oh my god, you’re going to celebrate your monthiversary AGAIN??
Patrick: He told you about the first one, huh?
Stevie: He told me about the room service. If there’s more to tell, I do NOT want to hear it.
Stevie: Ugh, now I know there was more. Gross.
Patrick: So can I borrow your car?
Stevie: When do you need it?
Patrick: On Tuesday afternoon, during the game
Stevie: Making good use of that suspension time, I see
Patrick: Don’t remind me.
Stevie: Fine. I have to be at the field at 3:30. Can you meet me at my dorm by 3:15?
Patrick: Yes, I’ll be there. Thanks, Stevie!
Stevie: Don’t forget that I expect another payment, too
Patrick: Baked goods?
Stevie: Make sure they’re chocolate.
Patrick has an odd sense of déjà vu as he makes the drive down to Ithaca on Tuesday afternoon, his sunglasses on and the music turned up. Patrick drives carefully, focusing on the road and driving the speed limit, not letting himself get distracted by the views along the way. The trip would be better with the same company as before, but he’s on a mission that must be completed without his boyfriend.
He misses the driveway for Ithaca Bakery the first time in the maze of multi-lane one-way streets, but he manages to circle around and make the turn on the second attempt. As with most things, David had made driving here look easy.
When Patrick walks in the door, his stomach rumbles demandingly. The bakery is more than just that, and the miles of glass cases are filled with sandwich toppings, pasta dishes, platters of salmon dotted with lemon butter, and grain salads, as well as crusty loaves of bread, glistening glazed pastries, and cupcakes topped with mountains of swirled frosting. He can’t wait to come back here with David in person so that he can watch the way his eyes get wide and sparkling, darting back and forth as he tries to make the impossible decision of which pastries to purchase. Patrick has had the pleasure of seeing that look wash over David’s face a couple of times, but never with so many choices to narrow down.
As it is, Patrick himself is having trouble picking just a few for Stevie. He tries to focus on only the chocolate options, and eventually manages to finalize his mental list. At the cash register, he picks up his pre-order, as well as a mini chocolate caramel tart, a peanut butter brownie, and an eclair. He tucks the boxes safely onto the floor of the passenger side, tossing a few abandoned mostly-empty soda bottles to the back seat, and starts the drive back to Seneca Falls.
Patrick makes it back to campus in time for a post-game dinner with the team, and then gently tugs at David’s arm, out of view of the rest of the guys, to get him to follow Patrick back to his dorm room. Brendan is reading on his bed when they get there, and he jumps up immediately and grabs his backpack, heading for the door and mumbling totally casual excuses about suddenly needing to get to the library that don’t at all make it sound like Patrick asked him to clear out for a little while.
After the door closes, David turns to Patrick with a raised eyebrow. “Well that wasn’t suspicious or anything.”
Patrick groans and scrubs a hand over his face. “I know, I was hoping he would be cooler about it than that, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.” He steps forward and wraps his arms around David’s waist. “He did agree to give us the room for an hour or two, after all.”
David hums, pleased, his hands coming up to Patrick’s shoulders. “Well, is it an hour, or is it two? Because I can make both of those work, but the time constraints definitely affect my plans.”
“Which of the plans involves eating dessert?”
“Oh, if dessert is an option, then both. We’ll do what we can with the time left after dessert.” He shimmies his shoulders. “Is dessert an option?”
Patrick chuckles and kisses David lightly. “Yes. Sit.”
He unwinds himself from David, and as David sits on Patrick’s bed to untie his shoes, Patrick retrieves the bakery box from the mini fridge and two forks from the mug holding his clean silverware. When Patrick turns around, David has already drawn his legs up to sit cross-legged, looking adorable and completely at ease in Patrick’s space. David tries to hold back his smile as Patrick brings the box over and sits down next to David, but the dimple that pops out on his left cheek gives him away. Patrick smacks a kiss right on it, loud and wet and objectively gross, but it achieves the intended result of freeing David’s full, gorgeous grin.
Patrick puts the forks on his night table before placing the box, proudly stamped with “Ithaca Bakery,” on the bed and nudging it over to David. “Open it.”
David does, and watching his look of pure excitement slip into performative annoyance is a beautiful thing.
For the second month in a row, it’s not really a question. David knows why. But Patrick answers anyway. “Because you love chocolate cake! And this is actually a torte. It’s basically fudge.”
“I know what a torte is. I mean, why does this torte say ‘Happy 2nd Monthiversary’?”
“As I explained last time, it’s now been two months since I finally got your dick in my mouth. And,” he continues, cutting David off as he starts to object, letting his voice soften into sincerity, “I’m really happy. You make me feel right, David. More right than I’ve ever felt before. Meeting you is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I just wanted to celebrate that.”
There have only been a few times that Patrick has seen David wear the look that is currently washing over his face: on the bus coming home from Virginia when they'd first shared secrets with each other; when Patrick came with his cock in David’s mouth and “boyfriend” on his lips for the first time; and one Saturday morning when Brendan was out of town for the weekend and David had stayed in Patrick’s room, and Patrick had come back from the gym with a caramel macchiato, skim, two sweeteners, and a sprinkle of cocoa powder to wake him up. Patrick loves all of David’s smiles, but this one might just be his favorite, where David somehow pushes his lips to the side while also biting them, his eyes shining as if he’s just on the verge of tearing up, trying desperately not to show how overwhelmed he is by his emotions.
“Um,” David says, his voice a little wobbly, “that is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Um, outside of the Downton Christmas special.”
“You watched Downton Abbey? Weren’t you in elementary school when it came out?”
David cocks his head to the side and raises his eyebrows, his softness dissolving into challenge. “I was in middle school for most of its run, thanks so much. And it’s a gorgeous and tragic story about a gorgeous and tragic family wearing gorgeous clothing.”
And oh, Patrick likes this indignant version of David just as much as the soft one from a minute ago. Patrick feels his lips twitch, but he does his best to hold back his smile. “Not tragic clothing?”
“I mean, the servants’ clothing definitely wasn’t great, but” —David rolls his eyes up to the ceiling and waves his hands in vague circular motions, like two tiny boat propellers trying to steer them away from the conversational Bermuda Triangle that Patrick is trying to fabricate— “we are getting sidetracked here.”
“Sidetracked from what?” Patrick blinks beatifically at him.
David narrows his eyes and points at the cake. “Chocolate.”
“Fair enough,” Patrick laughs, holding up his hands in surrender. “So are you saying you accept this cake as the second monthiversary gift that it is, and not just because it’s chocolate?”
David tips his head back and takes a deep breath, then blows it out through his nose as he snaps his head down again. “Fine,” he bites out.
“Aw,” Patrick says, reaching for one of the forks, “you’re the best.” He pierces the layer of ganache frosting with the tines of the fork and drags it through the fudgy interior before offering it out to David. David does that adorable, beautiful, smile-pushed-into-his-cheek thing again, and then leans forward to accept. As his soft lips close around the bite, his eyes flutter shut and he lets out a quiet groan of approval.
“Good?” Patrick can’t help asking, though he already knows the answer. David’s pink tongue darts out to catch the lingering chocolate on his lips as he opens his eyes, and Patrick doesn’t miss that the sparkle has returned to them. David doesn’t say anything, but he reaches out to wrap his hand around the back of Patrick’s head, his rings cool against his scalp, and leans in to bring their lips together in a lush kiss. David wastes no time before licking into Patrick’s mouth, and Patrick’s taste buds explode with sugary sweetness, and rich dark chocolate, and David.
“Delicious,” David says when he pulls back, smirking. He takes the fork that’s now dangling limply from Patrick’s fingers—considering that knees-weakening kiss, he’s lucky he didn’t drop it, frankly—and uses it to pick up a generous bite. “Your turn,” he says, holding it out for Patrick.
They feed each other bite after bite of cake, sharing a fork and trading lazy, sticky kisses, until the torte is half gone and reads “ppy d hiversary,” and even David couldn’t possibly eat any more. They’re too full to want to do anything requiring disrobing except change into pajamas, so Patrick lends David some too-short sweatpants and a too-tight t-shirt, and when David puts them on, he looks like the most beautiful fashion disaster Patrick has ever seen. He can’t help but kiss him.
They both have homework to do, so Patrick sits at his desk and chips away at his essay for Writing and Rhetoric while David lounges on Patrick’s bed and uses his phone to read his digital textbook for Visual Theory Aesthetic and Criticism. (It took at least seven times getting the name of that course wrong and seven increasingly agitated corrections from David before Patrick finally remembered it accurately.) An hour or so later, it’s apparent that Brendan must have decided to spend the night at Kayla’s, so they turn out the lights and climb under the covers together. They don’t do anything more than give each other a quick good night kiss before curling up together in the way they’ve grown accustomed to after two months—exactly two months—of sharing a tiny twin bed. An evening of cake, kisses, and doing homework might not be the most exciting way to celebrate an anniversary; in fact, some might even call it outright boring. But when Patrick glances over at his boyfriend as he drifts off to sleep, his face soft and his lips slightly parted, Patrick is certain that if he could do it over, he wouldn’t change anything. There’s no better place he could be than right here, wrapped up in David's arms.
Patrick still has two more games left of his suspension. Since he’s not allowed to be in uniform or in the dugout, he figured that watching the game from the stands would be an acceptable consolation prize, and there is definitely something to be said for experiencing the game as a fan. A fan who knows every statistic of every player. And who is sleeping with the right fielder. But still. A fan.
Patrick leaps to his feet at the crack of the bat, nearly knocking over the guy on his right. He mutters a brusk apology, knowing that his mother would scold him sharply if she was there, but he can’t take his eyes off the path of the ball. Rochester’s batter hit it to shallow center field, and Jake is going to have his work cut out for him. He takes off running and dives for the ball, making an incredible catch just before the ball hits the ground; then, with reflexes like lightning, he whips the ball to first base to try and pick off the runner who was too confident about Jake missing the catch and is already halfway to second. Amazingly, Ken, who is playing first base for the first time in a game, is ready for him and snatches the ball out of the air, catching the runner just as he tries to slide back to first. Patrick is cheering so loudly he knows he’ll be hoarse later, but it’s worth it for that incredible double play. Seneca Falls was in imminent danger of Rochester taking the lead or tying it up, but instead, the top of the fifth is over and Seneca Falls is heading to the dugout for their turn at bat.
After Patrick gives a few more whoops and claps, he excuses himself as he squeezes past the neighbor he’d almost elbowed in the face earlier. He offers a conciliatory look of genuine remorse this time, and, once he’s out of the stands, starts jogging towards the athletic center. There’s never a great time to walk away from a baseball game, but they’re into the middle of the lineup now, so he has a while before David is up to bat again. Plus, Seneca Falls is up by one run, so this is as good a chance as Patrick is likely to get. The baseball team locker room is locked whenever there isn’t a game or practice going on, and Patrick accidentally left his phone charger in the outlet where he’d plugged it in during practice yesterday. His phone is on a perilously low fourteen percent, and it definitely won’t make it until tomorrow afternoon’s practice without a fresh charge, so this might be his only chance to save himself from the hassle of being phoneless for nearly twenty-four hours.
The athletic center is only about one hundred yards from the baseball field, so he makes it there in less than a minute and is at the locker room door moments later. He pushes open the heavy door and takes one step into the room, and everything after that is a blur: one person pressing another up against the back wall, two green and white uniforms, one head of dark hair and one of light, a flurry of surprised outbursts and frantic apologies. And suddenly, Patrick is back out in the hallway, still charger-less, wondering what the hell just happened. He really, really wants to retreat to the safety of the stands, but he also really, really needs his charger. Plus, he can’t leave things just like this, letting Miguel and Ted—oh god, that was Miguel and Ted, wasn’t it—thinking that Patrick feels weird about it. Even though he absolutely feels weird about it. He snorts to himself thinking about Miguel stumbling upon him and David in a very similarly compromising position a few weeks ago. What goes around comes around, he supposes.
Ted opens the door a minute later, cheeks flushed and sporting a bashful wince. Miguel follows right behind, looking less red-faced but equally as sheepish.
“Hey bud,” Ted says, significantly less brightly than usual.
“Heyyy,” Patrick says, actually grateful to not be wearing his uniform so that he has pockets he can shove his hands into.
“So uh, about...that…” Miguel starts. Patrick waits a moment, but Miguel just looks away and scratches the back of his neck, seemingly unsure how to finish.
“It’s fine,” Patrick assures him. “I mean, obviously. Considering.”
Miguel snorts. “Yeah.”
“Considering what?” Ted asks.
Patrick looks back at Miguel in surprise. “You didn’t tell him?”
“No way. You asked me not to.”
“Oh, hey, don’t worry about it,” Ted interjects. “It’s none of my business.”
Patrick huffs a laugh. “I think that ship has sailed. It’s fine. Uh, David and I are sort of...together.” He shakes his head. “No, not sort of. We are. He’s my boyfriend.”
“Aw, dude!” Ted’s face breaks out into his more characteristic grin. “Us— Well,” he says, looking at Miguel, “I think…?”
Miguel’s face lights up as he looks back at Ted, and Patrick is keenly aware that he’s definitely interrupting a moment, so he tries his best to look very interested in the nearby flyer for the competitive ping pong club that someone is trying to start up.
“Yeah,” Miguel says. “Yes.” Patrick hears them give each other a quick kiss, followed immediately by the distinct sound of a much less quick kiss. He clears his throat pointedly, and turns around at a speed that would make a snail wonder what was taking him so long. When he completes his one hundred eighty degree rotation, Miguel and Ted have their hands clasped between them, and the gleam of their twin smiles would be bright enough to guide ships to shore.
“Congratulations, guys,” Patrick says.
“Thanks,” Miguel says. “And, uh, we actually have you to thank, I think. Knowing you and David were together gave me the courage to finally make a move.”
“Glad I could help. Though I’m pretty sure you said something to me about not wanting to have to cover for secret locker room hook ups? So…” Patrick teases.
Miguel brings his free hand up to scrub at his face. “Yeah, sorry about that.”
Patrick laughs. “No, no, you’re good. Seriously, though, do you want… I mean, should I keep this to myself?”
Miguel looks questioningly at Ted, who gives a slight nod, then back at Patrick. “Yeah, I think we should probably keep this quiet, too. You can tell David, obviously, but like you said, better to not have it be a distraction for the team.”
“No problem,” Patrick assures them. “Uh, we should probably get back, though. They’ve got to be into the sixth inning by now, and who knows if Ken is going to make it through the whole game at first base. I’m guessing that having to explain that both first basemen were missing because they were making out in the locker room wouldn’t go over great with Coach Lee.”
Ted snorts. “Right, yeah. Let’s go.”
Patrick starts to walk out with them, but stops short when he realizes that he still needs to get his phone charger. He tells them as much, and they continue on while Patrick heads back into the locker room. Charger procured, he feels comfortable using a little of his battery—now at thirteen percent—to text David.
Patrick: Holy shit. Meet me at the batting cages before you go change
Patrick: Everything is fine, but BIG news
Patrick is on fire. He’s making every catch, framing every pitch, throwing like lightning. He’s a wrecking ball. He’s unstoppable. Maybe he should take off five games in a row more often.
They’re on the road again, this time facing Fredonia. The last game of Patrick’s suspension was the first of today’s doubleheader, and he came roaring onto the field for game two ready to kick ass. The Fredonia players, for some reason, keep trying to steal second. He doesn’t know what the hell their coaches are doing, because Patrick has made the throw to second and caught them out every. single. time. And yet again, just as Andre pitches a fastball, the guy on first takes off running.
Patrick is on his feet before the pitch even reaches him, and he hurls it to second. Vikram makes the catch and brings his glove down to tag the runner on his calf, at least two feet short of him reaching the base. Patrick pumps his fist in victory: it’s the final out of the eighth inning, and the fifth player he and Vikram have caught stealing this game. He meanders to the dugout, waiting for Vikram to get there so they can exchange a congratulatory fist bump before joining the rest of the team on the bench. As David jogs in from right field, he catches Patrick’s eye. David bites his lips between his teeth, tilting his head just slightly to the side as he gives Patrick an eyebrow raise. It’s a nothing gesture, something that no one else will think anything of. But Patrick reads his meaning loud and clear, and it sends a shiver down his spine and an inconvenient jolt directly to his cock. Patrick has rarely been more glad for the coverage his athletic cup affords, and that says a lot, considering that he spends hours every day squatting down as people throw baseballs at him.
Vikram is suddenly right next to him, and Patrick shakes off David’s lingering effect as best he can and holds out a fist. “Nice play, man,” Patrick says, knocking their knuckles together.
“Same to you,” Vikram says.
Patrick follows Vikram down the few steps into the dugout and grabs the nearest open seat to take off his gear, which happens to be next to Ken. He gives Patrick a friendly pat on the back and a maybe slightly-too-friendly squeeze on the shoulder, but he doesn’t say anything else, so Patrick just ignores it and concentrates on cheering on the guys coming up to bat in the top of the ninth. It’s the tail end of the lineup, so it’s their weaker hitters, but with a current lead of 8–3, Patrick is feeling confident about their chances for a win even if Citrus, Andre, and Blair don’t come through.
And they don’t. But Patrick does.
Mutt goes in as the closing pitcher, and thanks to his penchant for ignoring Patrick’s pitch calls, promptly gets himself into a jam with the bases loaded and only one out. Even a grand slam won’t be enough for Fredonia to tie it up, but no one wants to take the risk of letting them add four runs to the scoreboard. They’re handed a beautiful gift, though, when the batter hits an accidental bunt by way of not stopping his swing soon enough. The ball bounces anemically towards Mutt, who seizes the opportunity and charges forward to field the ball and toss it to Patrick for the force out at home plate. Patrick steps on the plate and immediately fires the ball to first, catching the runner and turning yet another double play to end the inning and the game in spectacular fashion.
Patrick can’t help whooping and jumping as he runs towards the dugout with as much zeal as his leg guards will allow. The whole team is buzzing with energy, and it carries them to the locker room, onto the bus, and back to the hotel, where they congregate in the lobby, talking, joking, and laughing until Coach Schitt yells at all of them to get to sleep for their third game against Fredonia tomorrow. Which, fair. There’s nothing worse than a premature celebration that ends in a loss.
As the mob of players heads to the elevators, David, who had been keeping his distance all night, sidles up to Patrick and runs a covert finger across his wrist. Patrick looks at him questioningly, and David glances pointedly at the hallway to their left that, according to the sign on the wall, leads to the indoor pool and hotel fitness center. Patrick nods, and David breaks off in that direction while Patrick continues on towards the elevators with everyone else. He drifts towards the back of the pack so he'll end up on the last elevator, and waits until just before the doors slide closed to suddenly, very casually, exclaim, “Oh, shit, I left my phone in the lobby! I’ll meet you guys up there.”
David is waiting for him in an alcove that clearly used to hold a bank of pay phones, and when Patrick finds him, David grabs him roughly by the front of the shirt and crashes their lips together in a searing kiss. Patrick lets his equipment bag slide off his shoulder and fall onto the floor with a thump. He melts into the kiss, winding his arms around David’s back and pressing himself against David’s strong torso.
“What took you so long?” David asks, possibly hours later, once he’s released Patrick.
“Huh?” Patrick says, eloquently. He’s not sure he can legitimately be blamed, though, considering that his brain is pretty much exclusively focused on getting his lips back on David’s. He blinks.
David takes pity on him and loops his arms around Patrick’s shoulders, kissing him gently. It isn’t nearly enough, but Patrick will take it. “What took you so long?” he repeats.
“Oh. I had to sneak away without anyone knowing what I was doing. I was very stealthy.” Patrick leans up for another kiss.
David hums into it. “I guess you’re forgiven,” David says, once they’ve separated again. “But,” he continues, leaning in and murmuring low and hot in Patrick’s ear, “we have a problem. Namely, how and where exactly I’m going to get you naked so that I can get my hands all over my hot boyfriend who was driving me fucking wild the entire game.”
Patrick groans and drops his forehead to David’s shoulder. “You can’t just say things like that when we have no way of following through.”
David chuckles warmly. “Well, I do have one thought. But it’s a little risky.”
“I’m listening,” Patrick says into David’s neck.
“I’m rooming with Jake. And if my estimates are correct, I’d say we have about a fifty-fifty shot that he met someone, somewhere, that he’s planning on hooking up with tonight.”
Patrick picks up his head to look David in the eye. “Wait, seriously?”
David rolls his eyes. “Yes. Have you met Jake?”
“I mean, sure, but I just didn’t realize—”
“You’re telling me he’s never propositioned you?”
Patrick feels his face flush. “Yeah. Once. Right before the holidays. Before we were together, obviously.”
David draws back slightly, moving his hands to Patrick’s shoulders, his eyes wide and sparkling, a delighted smile playing across his lips. “I’m sorry, are you saying you hooked up with Jake?” he asks with a shoulder shimmy.
“No! I was, um. Well, I was pretty hung up on you at the time, in case you didn’t know.”
The playfulness melts off of David’s face in favor of fondness. “I was pretty hung up on you, too. I didn’t realize it, but. I was.” He moves a hand to scratch lightly at the short hairs at the nape of Patrick’s neck, sending goosebumps skittering across Patrick’s arms.
Patrick leans into the sensation, nuzzling back into David’s neck and pressing a kiss there. “Come on,” he says, tearing himself away. “Let’s go see about a bed, shall we?”
They shoulder their bags and make their way to the elevators, and David presses the button for his floor. “Who are you rooming with? Do you need to go make an excuse?”
Patrick snorts. “No, I’m rooming with Eric. I truly don’t think he’ll notice whether or not I’m there.”
“That is one hundred percent correct,” David agrees.
The elevator slows to a stop, making Patrick’s stomach swoop with the momentary feeling of weightlessness, and the bell dings as the doors open on David’s floor. He trails David to his room, where they run into Jake just as he’s closing the door behind him.
Jake’s eyes light up. “David. Patrick.” His voice is thick like syrup, and he seems genuinely delighted to see them.
“Hey, Jake. Patrick needed to borrow something. Do you mind if he comes in?”
“No problem. I’m headed out, anyway. Met a beautiful couple between games that I’m going to go spend some time with.”
Well. All right.
“Don’t wait up,” Jake continues, winking. “Unless...you two want to join me?”
“Mmm, nope,” David says, grinning with false cheer.
“Cool. You do you.” Jake nods at them and saunters off down the hallway. Patrick sometimes forgets how tall Jake is, since he spends a lot of his time with him either averting his eyes as Jake ambles around the locker room nude, or two hundred feet away from him while he’s behind the plate and Jake is in center field. He’s wearing a pair of medium wash jeans that are lighter in the center of his leg, accentuating their length, and the fade on the back pockets really highlights his—
“Um, hi?” David says, and Patrick nearly hurts his neck with how fast he whips his head around.
“Hey! Ready to go in?”
David’s face is a cross between amused and predatory. “Sure, as long as you’re done checking out Jake.”
Patrick’s cheeks burn. “What? No. What? I wasn’t—”
“Mhmm. Tell that to your face,” David says, circling his finger damningly. “My family went on vacation to the Maldives with Nicole Kidman and Lenny Kravitz the summer they were dating, and Nicole fell asleep on the beach one afternoon without putting sunscreen on. Given her gorgeous fair skin, you can guess how that turned out.” He pauses, clearly intended for dramatic effect. “And her sunburn still wasn’t as red as your face right now.”
Patrick kind of wants to hear more about his vacation with Nicole Kidman and Lenny Kravitz, but he had other plans in mind for tonight. “Okay, whatever,” he acquiesces. “Can we just go inside now, please?”
“Oh, now you’re in a rush to get in the door!” David says, sliding his key card into the lock. The light flashes green and he turns the handle, which unlocks with a satisfying click. “A minute ago you were content to just stand out here staring at Jake’s ass.”
“Keep your voice down!” Patrick hisses, pushing the door closed behind them.
David quirks an eyebrow. “Make me.”
Patrick drops his bag in the entryway and stalks over to David, putting a hand flat on his chest and shoving him towards the wall. David tosses his bag aside and lets himself be pushed, and when David can’t go any farther, Patrick takes one more step forward, crowding against him. But instead of kissing his lips, Patrick goes directly for the spot on David’s neck that he knows is the fastest route to making David go nonverbal. He kisses and licks at David’s pulse point, dragging his teeth along the thin skin as one of his hands tucks into the waistband of David’s pants and the other works its way under David’s shirt. He traces his fingers through the soft hair, tracing upwards to thumb at one of David’s nipples. His ministrations have the intended effect: David is quickly reduced to nothing but whimpers and panting, grasping tightly at Patrick’s hips and then sliding around to cup his ass. Patrick works a knee between David’s, pressing up against David’s erection with his own, and a gasp drops from David’s beautiful mouth. As Patrick shifts to afford equal attention to the other side of David’s neck, David’s hands slide under Patrick’s shirt and up his back, pressing flat against his shoulder blades and drawing Patrick impossibly closer.
Suddenly, Patrick is being spun around, his back against the wall, and David has taken a step out of reach. “What are you doing?” Patrick manages.
David smirks. “I thought I told you to make me keep quiet.”
“I thought I was doing a pretty good job of that.”
David hums thoughtfully. “Could do better.” And he drops to his knees.
“Oh fuck, David,” Patrick groans, his hand automatically coming to David’s head, threading his fingers through his thick hair.
“Do you have any idea how hot you were today?” David asks, looking up at Patrick through his lashes as he reaches for Patrick’s belt buckle. “You were commanding that whole field.” David undoes Patrick’s belt and trails his fingers over the thick denim covering Patrick’s cock, a barely-there touch that electrifies every nerve in Patrick’s body. “Calling every pitch, catching every player trying to steal, throwing with such force and precision…” David opens the button on Patrick’s jeans and eases down the zipper, still not breaking eye contact. “You were so focused. I could see the fire in your eyes from all the way in right field.” David leans in to mouth over Patrick’s underwear, his hot breath sending prickles along Patrick’s skin even through a layer of fabric. “All I could think about,” David continues, bringing his hands to Patrick’s hips and running his thumbs along the sensitive skin below the waistband of his boxer briefs, “was being on my knees in front of you and worshipping this gorgeous cock.” David slides the rest of his fingers lower, gently pulling the fabric away from Patrick’s dick and letting his erection spring free. Patrick shudders at both the shock of the cold air in the room and the divine mortification of having David pay such close attention to one singular part of his body. “I wanted to see that hot, focused look turned on me, instead.”
Without any more warning, David drops his jaw and swallows Patrick down, and Patrick instinctively tightens his hand just the slightest bit in David’s hair like he’s learned David loves. The wet heat of David’s mouth is almost too glorious to bear, and Patrick tips his head back against the wall for a moment, closing his eyes and letting his consciousness narrow to the rough slide of David’s tongue, the plush press of his lips, and the coolness of the rings on the hand that David has wrapped around the base of his cock. He only allows himself to look away for a moment, though, because David had said he wanted Patrick’s attention on him. And if that’s what David wants, that’s what David will get.
He snaps his eyes open and gazes down at David’s mouth on his cock, wet and open and nearly drooling, and Patrick smiles and pulls on his hair a little more. “So good, David,” he says. “You’re making me feel so good.” David whimpers around his cock, trying with each bob of his head to take a little more into his mouth, and Patrick’s cock twitches as the head hits the back of David’s throat. “Did you feel that?” Patrick gasps. “How hard you’re making me? How much you turn me on?” David whines and nods a little, blinking up at Patrick as he dives back in again. Patrick watches David hollow his cheeks as he slides back and forth, letting the flat of his tongue drag along the underside of his cock, and the suction and friction on his frenulum is so incredible that Patrick has to clench his fist and bite down on his lip so he doesn’t come yet.
“God, David,” Patrick grits out, “I almost just came, did you know that? Your mouth drives me crazy. It’s all I can think about sometimes, kissing you and feeling you pressed up against me, having your lips and your tongue all over me.” David groans and replaces his right hand with his left on Patrick’s cock, the coolness of his rings disappearing. Patrick is about to tell him to put it back, to give him that sensation again, but before he can protest, he sees David shimmying his own pants down and pulling out his cock, hard and red and dripping with precome. David wraps that ringed hand around it and starts jerking himself off with such abandon that his black sweater-clad forearm is nearly a blur. “Fuck, yes, David. Touch yourself. Get yourself off while you’re sucking me.”
Amazingly, David’s coordination on Patrick’s dick is somehow even better while he’s multitasking. The suction is perfect, the wetness is perfect, and Patrick knows he can’t hold back much longer. “You’re doing so well, David.” Patrick pants, rewarding him with another light tug on his hair. “Gonna come soon. Are you with me?” David makes a sound that must be agreement, because his movement stutters just slightly, and near the floor, he can see David coming over his own fist, beads of white coating his hand and spreading along his cock, making David’s last few pulls glide slicker than the last. Patrick lets himself go at the sight, heat coursing through him as pulses on David’s tongue, and David swallows down his come as greedily as if it were sweet honey.
David keeps going, suckling at Patrick’s cock until the pain of oversensitivity overtakes the pleasure of his aftershocks and Patrick has to stop him. David whines as he releases him, seemingly devastated by the loss. He looks wrecked—lips red and swollen, chin wet from saliva and come, hair wild from Patrick’s hands—and all Patrick can think to do is drop to the floor and kiss him.
“Davd, David, David,” he murmurs, pressing his lips to David’s, then to his cheeks, his forehead, the tip of his nose. “That was amazing.”
David just hums, tipping forward and nuzzling into the juncture between Patrick’s neck and shoulder, and Patrick wraps him up in a tight hug. He knows they look ridiculous, sitting on the floor fully clothed except for their softening cocks still hanging out of their pants, but he wouldn’t move for anything right now. He keeps rubbing his palms across David’s back, up and down his spine, until David heaves a sigh and sits up again, smiling softly at Patrick.
“Hi,” David says.
“Hey there.” Patrick kisses him again, softly. “How are you doing?”
“Mmm, good. So good,” David slurs, blinking slowly.
“Want to go get on the bed?” Patrick asks, running a thumb along David’s jaw.
David pouts. “Can’t. Jake.”
“He won’t be back for a while. Let’s find a movie on TV. If he comes back, we can sit far enough away from each other that it won’t be suspicious.”
David smiles and closes his eyes, sighing happily. “‘Kay.”
Patrick chuckles and stands, tucking himself back in and zipping up his jeans. He brings David a damp washcloth from the bathroom and watches, enraptured, as David cleans the come off of his hand and his soft cock. Patrick takes the cloth back into the bathroom for him and returns to help David to his feet and ease his pants back up. He nudges David to the bed, pulling down the comforter before he has David sit, and then kneels to take off his shoes. David flops onto his back of his own accord, snuggling into the soft pillows, while Patrick removes his own shoes and goes back to the bathroom to get a glass of water. As he’s taking a few drinks, he hears the TV click on and the telltale sound of flipping channels, and he smiles to himself. He refills the glass to bring back to David, who is frowning at the screen as he rapidly taps the remote.
“Nothing good on?” he asks, handing over the glass.
David takes it gratefully and downs it in three gulps, then sets the glass on the nightstand. “That depends. Would you like to watch Matlock, Peppa Pig, Armageddon dubbed in Spanish, or the hotel guest directory channel?”
Patrick sucks air through his teeth. “Tough call. Leaning towards Peppa Pig, to be honest.”
“Yeah,” David grimaces, flicking off the TV. He drops the remote onto the bed beside him with a soft thump. “Want to play rummy instead? I brought a deck of cards.”
“Yes, definitely,” Patrick says sincerely.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, their competitiveness on the field transfers directly to their competitiveness at card games. They trash talk and shout at each other and make wild accusations, all through smiles so wide Patrick’s cheeks hurt and David’s eyes are crinkling at the corners.
“Why haven’t we ever done this before?” Patrick asks, after he extremely graciously, without pouting at all, accepts defeat in their best-of-three tournament.
David raises an eyebrow. “I think we’ve found other ways to pass the time.”
“I guess so,” Patrick laughs. “We should play more games. I like playing with you.”
David pushes his lips into his cheek, trying not to smile and failing miserably, albeit adorably. “I like playing with you, too.”
“We should have a game night this week. We can invite Stevie and Brendan,” Patrick says, gathering up the cards into a pile to start shuffling them again.
“That’s only four people though. We need six for ultimate—”
“—for ultimate gameplay. Right. You’re right. Um,” Patrick pauses, hesitating to share his next idea. “What about inviting Ted and Miguel?”
David groans. “I don’t know if I can handle a whole night of Ted’s puns in such close quarters.”
“I know, but...they know about us. It might be nice to hang out with people besides Stevie where we don’t have to pretend to be just friends.” Patrick gives David his best pleading eyes, setting the deck down and walking his fingers over to David’s hand. “We can hold hands—” he runs a pointer finger along David’s “—sit close to each other, and even—” he leans forward and brushes his lips against David’s, feather-light “—kiss at little.” Patrick sits back. David’s sideways smile and shining eyes are back, so Patrick knows he’s won. Still, his boyfriend wouldn’t be the person he is if not for—
“I have a few conditions.”
Patrick nods. “I’m listening.”
“I choose the games. No drinking games. I’m not playing Two Truths and a Lie or Never Have I Ever with anyone but you.”
“And we need snacks. Lots of snacks. We can’t have game night without them.”
“It has to be in your room. Mine is too small, and I’m going to get claustrophobic in about three seconds having six people in there.”
“Not a problem.”
David hesitates for a moment.
“Anything else?” Patrick prompts.
“I want...I want to be able to hold your hand, and sit close to you, and maybe even kiss a little. But nothing wild. Making out in public is incorrect.”
Patrick can’t help the laugh that barks out from his lips. “David, Miguel caught us making out in his room a few weeks ago. We were just making out in an alcove downstairs two hours ago!”
“It’s different! That was...away from people. Not-so-public, public. At game night, we’ll be three feet away from other people. I don’t want that.” David twists one of his rings around his finger, and Patrick reaches out to still the nervous tell.
“Noted. I promise. No making out at game night.”
“Thank you,” David says, his shoulders relaxing.
“What about after game night, though?”
David smirks. “I think that can be arranged.”
Patrick’s heart does the fluttery thing it often does when David looks at him like that, but just as he’s leaning in for another kiss, they hear the click of the lock and Jake comes striding through the door, looking incredibly cool and, well...the first word that comes to mind is satisfied. But in fairness, so are David and Patrick.
“Evening, boys. How’s it going?” Jake reaches one muscled arm behind his neck to pull his henley over his head. Patrick never understood why David likes it so much when he takes off his shirt that way, but watching Jake is...enlightening.
“Uh…” Patrick says, unable to tear his eyes away from Jake’s naked torso, now that it’s right in front of him, outside of the sacred space of the locker room.
“Fine. We were playing cards,” David tells him.
“Hm. Sounds fun.” Jake is unbuttoning his pants now. Unbuttoning. His pants. “What game?”
“Um,” Patrick says.
David tsks, a sound that’s almost definitely directed at Patrick, which is incomprehensible, because hasn’t he noticed that Jake is pushing his jeans down?
“Rummy,” David tells him.
“Nice. I’m pretty wiped after tonight, so I think I’m going to head to bed. Do you mind?” Jake steps out of his jeans, leaving him in nothing but a very tight, very revealing pair of heather gray boxer briefs. Patrick only realizes his jaw has dropped slightly when David’s pointer finger taps the bottom of Patrick’s chin, and he closes it with a snap. He looks sheepishly at David, who is barely stifling a laugh at his expense.
“No problem, Jake,” David says, looking back at him. “Patrick was just leaving.”
“I was?” Patrick asks.
David pats him on the shoulder and smirks. “You were. I’ll see you tomorrow, buddy.”
Patrick nods. “Right. I was.” He uncrosses his legs and swings them over the side of the bed to slip on his shoes and heads for the door, waving and saying a quick goodbye over his shoulder. He grabs his equipment bag on the way out and walks to the elevator, riding two floors up to get to the room that he’s sharing with Eric tonight. When he gets there, the room is pitch black except for the glow of Eric’s phone, illuminating his face as he sits cross-legged on the still-made bed.
“Uh, Eric?” Patrick reaches into the bathroom doorway and flicks on the light, brightening the space at least enough so that he doesn’t trip and injure himself just trying to get to his duffel.
Eric’s head snaps up as if he’d completely missed the loud click of the lock when Patrick slid his key card in. “‘Sup?”
“It’s almost midnight. What are you doing?” Patrick puts down his equipment bag near his bed and unzips his duffel, digging for his pajamas and toiletries.
“I sat down to go on my phone when we got to the hotel. I guess I lost track of time.”
“You’ve just been sitting here for three hours?” Patrick stands up straight to look at him, supplies in hand.
Eric shrugs. “I guess.”
“Okay, well, I’m going to get ready for bed. And then go to bed. You should probably do the same.”
“Okay, cool,” Eric says, and looks back at his phone. Patrick changes in the bathroom and brushes his teeth, then plugs in his phone and crawls under the covers. When he drifts off to sleep, Eric is still gazing, slack-jawed, at his phone screen, scrolling mindlessly, his eyes slightly glazed over.
Well, that’s Eric. And he’s not playing tomorrow, so if he wants to be a sleep-deprived zombie, then...that won’t actually be all that different from Eric’s usual state of being. So Patrick tries to ignore it, and drifts off to sleep to the sound of the soft tap-tap-tap of Eric’s thumbs on his screen.
They win their game the next day, completing their sweep of the series and putting the perfect cap on their last regular season away game. The rest of the week is just practices and gym time until Saturday and Sunday, when they’ll have their final two home games, against Tufts. Patrick spends a lot of the week in David’s room doing a lot of very sexy activities, such as reading their textbooks, making flashcards, and getting ahead on their final projects for the semester. The SUNYAC Championship is coming up and will cause them to miss the first three and a half days of the last week of classes, so this is their best chance to make sure they aren’t scrambling in the final days of the semester.
Brendan is on board for game night on Friday in their shared room, so Patrick invites Stevie, Miguel, and Ted to join them. David convinces Stevie to drive them to the Wegmans in Geneva so they can stock up on necessities, namely soda, cheez balls, pretzels, cookies, and red licorice.
They’re setting up the room as best they can, pilfering a few extra chairs and a table from the common room for the occasion, when Patrick gets a text from Brendan.
Brendan: Sorry man, can’t make it tonight. Kayla needs me. You’ll have the room to yourself, though. I’ll stay with her.
“Uh, David?” Patrick says tentatively. “Slight hiccup.”
David stops fussing with chair spacing and gives him a panicked look. “Oh god, does Brendan want to bring an extra person? We cannot have game night with seven people, Patrick! It won’t work!”
“No, uh, he can’t make it. Something came up with Kayla.”
David groans and moves to sit down on Patrick’s bed, pulling out his phone.
“Who are you texting?” Patrick asks, dropping down next to him.
“Stevie. Maybe she knows someone to bring.”
Patrick leans in to read over David’s shoulder as he types.
David: Defcon 1
Stevie: So...no emergency?
David: What? No. Defcon 1 is the worst.
Stevie: I thought that was defcon 5.
David: No! It’s a reverse scale!
“David?” Patrick says gently, seeing the slippery slope that they’re headed down, but David waves him off. That ship has already sailed, apparently.
Stevie: That’s dumb. Then you don’t have anywhere else to go. What if there’s something even worse? It would be better if you could go to defcon 6 if needed.
David: There’s literally nothing worse than defcon 1. That’s the point.
David: STOP DISTRACTING ME.
There it is.
David: Brendan can’t come to game night
David: Do you know anyone you can bring?
Stevie: I think I do, actually
David: Will they, you know, get it?
“What do you mean ‘get it’?” Patrick asks.
“You know, get it. Like, it. The vibe,” David says flippantly, as if the answer should have been obvious.
Stevie: What do you mean get it?
Patrick barks a laugh. “See?”
David: Ugh, never mind. Just bring someone
Stevie: I will definitely bring someone
David clicks off his phone screen and drops it on the bed beside him before turning to Patrick with a pout on his face and a crease between his eyebrows. “This is going to be a disaster.”
Patrick pouts back at him sympathetically and wraps an arm around his shoulders. “It’ll be fine, baby.” He freezes, his last word hanging in the air like a trapeze artist, reaching out, praying to catch their partner’s hands before they crash down.
David pulls back a little and quirks his eyebrow. “Baby?”
Patrick feels his cheeks flush. “Sorry, it just slipped out.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I...I liked it.”
And suddenly, Patrick is flying again. “Yeah?”
David nods. “Yeah. Can— Will you say it again?”
Patrick grins. “Of course—” he leans in, barely brushing his lips against David’s, and murmurs the last word “—baby.”
David sighs happily and shimmies his shoulders a little as he kisses Patrick back, soft and sweet. Patrick could have spent the whole night doing just this with no complaints, but they’re interrupted by the buzz of David’s phone.
Stevie: She’s in. Picking her up, and then coming to Patrick’s. Be there in 15
David: Who is it?
Stevie: Sorry, I’m going through a tunnel. I’ll have to call you back
David: What the fuck, Budd
She doesn’t respond, of course.
“Who do you think it is?” Patrick asks, standing and holding out a hand to help David to his feet.
“I honestly have no idea,” David says, taking Patrick’s hand and standing up from the bed. He starts moving around the room again, touching lightly along the chairs, the snacks and drinks, the bowl in the center of the table, the stack of small pieces of paper, the six freshly-sharpened pencils. It’s his anxiety, Patrick knows, that’s telling him that if everything is set perfectly ahead of time, then the night will flow perfectly. And David feels like the night has to flow perfectly, because...well, that Patrick is less clear on. He’s not sure if David could really articulate it, himself. All Patrick knows is that he wants David to be happy, and he’d do a lot of ridiculous things to make David happy. Letting him set up everything in the precise way he envisions before a game night that Patrick had been the one to suggest...that’s about the simplest thing Patrick could do for him.
Patrick lifts his guitar from its stand in the corner and sits back on his bed to noodle a bit while they’re waiting for everyone to arrive. He doesn’t play that one song he’s been working on; he’s saving that for some other time. He hasn’t decided when he’ll play it for David; he figures he’ll just know when the time is right. Instead, he strums through some songless chord progressions, humming wordless tunes, and he hopes he’s not imagining the relaxation he thinks he sees settling across David’s shoulders.
There’s a knock on the door ten minutes later, too early for Stevie, which means it must be Miguel and Ted.
“Hey buds!” Ted greets, giving each of them an enthusiastic hug that Patrick accepts warmly and David accepts with reluctance. Miguel follows behind him with a friendly, but less exuberant, “Hi,” and offers them back pats before settling back at Ted’s side and wrapping an arm around his waist. Ted leans his weight just slightly into Miguel, and their smiles soften at each other’s touch.
Patrick had expected a bit of awkwardness, considering this is presumably the first time Miguel and Ted have been able to be open as a couple around any of their teammates, just as it is for David and Patrick. But there’s none of that; instead, the energy in the room is joyful now that they’re all finally free to just be out in the open. Even David’s anxieties have stayed calm, laid to rest where Patrick’s guitar playing had set them, and he’s smiling so wide that it lights up the room, as far as Patrick is concerned.
There’s a knock on the door a few minutes later, and it swings open in response to Patrick’s shouted, “Yup!” Stevie is behind it with Twyla from the campus coffee shop in tow, and David’s hand tightens in Patrick’s. When Patrick looks up at him, his eyes are wide and his smile has turned ferocious, like a shark smelling blood in the water.
“Stevie!” Ted nearly shouts, and wraps her up in the same hug he’d given David and Patrick. If David had been reluctant to accept, Stevie seems to find it absolutely repugnant, but she gives him a tense pat before stepping away to safety, closer to David.
Or perhaps she’s not so safe there, because Patrick hears David hiss, “I fucking knew it.”
“There’s nothing to know,” Stevie mutters back, glaring at him.
“Know what?” Patrick whispers, but he’s interrupted by Twyla enthusing, “Ted, it’s so great to see you! How have you been?”
“Wait, you two know each other?” Stevie asks.
“Yeah!” Ted says. “I mean, obviously she’s the best barista at the coffee shop, but we also took an ornithology class together last year. It was a hoot!” Twyla and Miguel laugh, and David and Stevie roll their eyes, but there’s something else happening on Stevie’s face that Patrick can’t quite figure out yet.
“Okay,” David says loudly, clapping his hands together. “The first game is Celebrity. Everyone grab a seat, a pencil, and six slips of paper.”
Whatever was going on with Stevie and David gets lost in the energy of the game. They play in pairs, Patrick and David versus Miguel and Ted versus Stevie and Twyla, and Miguel and Ted absolutely eviscerate the rest of them. They exchange a quick kiss after each particularly successful round, and David slings his arm around Patrick’s shoulders when Patrick gets grumpy after each particularly unsuccessful round, and it’s just...nice. It’s nice to lean into his boyfriend, pressed against the warmth of his body. It’s nice to let himself be teased and accept a kiss in apology. It’s nice to be able to be this casually affectionate in front of some of his teammates, all of whom have truly become like family to him. And based on the look on David’s face, Patrick is certain he feels the same way.
Celebrity gives way to charades, for which they split into groups of three: David, Stevie, and Miguel versus Patrick, Twyla, and Ted. Everything is normal for the first few rounds; the teams are evenly matched despite their very different styles of playing. When it’s Patrick’s turn, he draws 10 Things I Hate About You, and, after thinking for a moment, points to his own curls and then dances and lip syncs a silent version of Heath Ledger’s serenade-on-the-bleachers moment. Ted and Twyla immediately say the answer in unison, for a time of eight seconds.
Stevie is up next. She frowns at her paper, then mimes “book” and holds up three fingers. She makes the “little word” gesture, and David and Miguel go back and forth guessing them, both on the edge of their seats and screaming at the top of their lungs.
Stevie points at David, who got “the”. She holds up two fingers, then puts a finger to her lips.
“Quiet!” David shouts.
“Secret!” Miguel yells. Stevie points at Miguel. That same wolfish look from before comes over David’s face, and he starts calling out answers without letting Miguel get a word in edgewise.
“The secret crush! The secret date! The secret relationship! The secret kiss! The secret lover! The secret barista!"
Stevie shakes her head and makes “no” gestures with increasing intensity, until she finally throws up her hands and calls, “Time out!”
“You can’t—” Ted starts, but Stevie isn’t listening.
“David, can I see you in the hallway?” she demands, in that supremely annoyed, question-that-isn’t-actually-a-question way that David is also frustratingly good at.
“Me?” David blinks at her innocently. “Whatever for?”
Stevie sneers at him and grabs his elbow. “Hallway. Now.”
David grins at her as she pulls him to his feet, and he follows her out, letting the door slam behind them and leaving Patrick, Ted, Miguel, and Twyla in stunned silence. Momentarily, anyway.
“Uh, what was that?” Miguel asks the room.
“I wish I knew,” Patrick says. “David’s been acting weird since she got here.”
“I think I might know,” Twyla says, twisting the end of her braid between two fingers and biting her lip.
“You don’t have to tell us, Twyla,” Ted says, his brow furrowed in concern.
“No, no, it’s fine.” Twyla smiles shyly. “Um, Stevie and I kissed last week. We’re kind of dating.”
“Oh my god, Twyla!” Ted nudges her shoulder lightly with his own.
“That’s great!” Miguel says, and Patrick nods along, hoping that his smile looks genuine. It’s not that he’s not happy for them; of course he is. He’s just a little hurt on David’s behalf, is all. Stevie has known that he and David were a thing since, well, probably before Patrick knew they were a thing, considering she was the one who instigated their first kiss by purposely leaving them alone on the balcony at Miguel’s party.
“Why didn’t Stevie tell David?” Patrick asks, and he hopes that it comes out sounding lightly curious, rather than accusatory. Twyla’s smile doesn’t falter; but then, it rarely does, so he’ll just have to hope that he’s hit the mark.
“I don’t know!” Twyla says brightly, shrugging. “But it’s okay. I think he probably knows now.”
“I have an idea!” David suddenly announces, bursting through the door like a black and white version of the Kool-Aid man. “Let’s play Spin the Bottle!”
“Thanks, let’s not,” Stevie says, scurrying into the room right behind him. “Twyla, ready to go?”
“Oh! Um, sure.” Twyla stands and brushes off her skirt. “This was so much fun.”
“David,” Patrick chides.
“What?!” David says, gesticulating wildly. “It’s not my fault! Talk to Stevie!”
Patrick sighs. “Stevie, we all know.”
“Know what?” she says, crossing her arms, though again, it’s not really a question.
“Did you not want them to know?” Twyla asks meekly, and the ice in Stevie’s eyes melts immediately. She drops her arms and reaches a hand out to Twyla, who takes it and laces their fingers together.
“No, no. Sorry. It’s okay. I just felt weird making a big announcement about it.”
“Mmm, well this was certainly a less dramatic way to tell me,” David chirps.
“You invited me for game night, not for ‘entrap Stevie in weird charades’ night,” Stevie shoots back.
All four pairs of eyes turn to Miguel and Ted, who are looking very uncomfortable to be caught in the middle of this extremely niche argument-that’s-not-an-argument love language that Stevie and David use to communicate.
“Are we still playing, or…?” Miguel says hesitantly.
Stevie sighs. “Fine. Yes. Let’s keep playing. But something other than charades.”
“I brought Uno!” Ted sing-songs.
“Oh good, Uno never ends in arguments.” David says dryly, but Patrick can tell that any actual anger that had been lingering under the surface has dissipated. He snorts a laugh and pecks a kiss on David’s cheek.
“Uno sounds great,” Patrick says, accepting the box from Ted and pulling out the deck to start shuffling. “Every man for himself. I’m taking all of you down.”
They make it through three games of Uno, none of which Patrick wins, and all of which end in significantly more laughter than true annoyance. Patrick is glad to see Stevie lean into the PDA portion of the proceedings, accepting an apologetic kiss from Twyla when she forces Stevie to Draw 4, and tucking a strand of hair behind Twyla’s ear when it falls out of place as Twyla leans forward to play her turn. When the pretzels are dwindling and the red licorice is long gone, Miguel, Ted, Stevie, and Twyla end the night for real, leaving with smiles and hugs and promises to schedule more game nights next year if they can’t fit in another one before the end of finals.
When Patrick closes the door behind them, he joins David where he’s already lying on Patrick’s bed. He rests his head on David’s shoulder and tugs at David’s arm until he wraps it around Patrick, and he lets himself be enveloped by his boyfriend.
Patrick’s whole body warms at the pet name, pleased. “Honey, huh?” He pulls back to look at David.
“Yeah.” David winces. “Is that okay? You called me baby, so I thought—”
“I love it.” It’s not exactly what Patrick wants to say, but it’s something, at least. He rests his temple on David’s chest again, and he feels David press a kiss to the top of his head.
“So was game night everything you wanted and more?” David murmurs.
Patrick laughs. “Yeah, I had a good time. What about you?”
“I got snacks, there were exactly six people, and I found out that my best friend was harboring a little secret girlfriend. What isn’t fun about that?”
Patrick cranes his neck to look up at David again. “You’re not actually upset about Stevie, right?”
David shakes his head. “No. I’m happy for her.” His eyes turn serious. “Never tell her I said that.”
“Text her right now. Got it.”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t.”
David squeezes him a little tighter. “No, I don’t.”
They lie there quietly for a few minutes, just breathing, as Patrick uses a pointer finger to trace the lightning bolts that fan out like spokes from David’s collar.
“I want to tell the team,” David says suddenly.
Patrick’s finger freezes halfway down one of the largest lightning bolts. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Tonight was fun. And it was fine, being around Miguel and Ted. I think we barely talked about baseball at all, actually.”
Patrick nods into David’s sweater. “You’re right. I hadn’t noticed that.”
“And um, I think I feel like this, us, isn’t going away any time soon.”
Patrick feels a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He props himself up on an elbow so that he’s hovering above David, looking down at him. “Oh, really? What makes you think that?”
David looks away, shaking his head with faux flippancy. “I mean, you’re basically obsessed with me. Always telling me how good-looking I am, how good at baseball I am, how smart I am… Why would I want to give that up?”
“Hm. Very wise.” He draws David up to him with a gentle finger under his chin and presses a kiss to his lips. “I, for one, am glad you’ve decided to keep me around.” He settles back down and resumes drawing invisible lines along David’s sweater, hoping David is distracted enough by the movement that he doesn’t notice the rapid beating of Patrick’s heart. “When do you think you want to tell them?”
“After the last game, maybe? Then you and I can go to the Athletic Awards Banquet together. Like, together, together.”
“Okay,” Patrick agrees, his mind swimming with the image of David, looking devastatingly handsome in a suit and tie, holding his hand in front of everyone.
“Okay. Honey,” David adds, grinning, and leans down to kiss him again. And again, and again, and again, until clothes are shed and their skin is slick with perspiration, and they're so wrapped up in each other that Patrick can hardly tell where David ends and he begins.
Buckle in, kids. This chapter is a long one!
The week leading up to the SUNYAC Championship is another blur of studying and baseball, with sleeping and eating thrown in whenever Patrick gets the chance. They play their final games of the regular season, both wins at home against Tufts. He turns in as many of his final papers and projects ahead of time as he can so he doesn’t have to worry about them, and helps David with editing his final papers, which mostly consists of asking questions about what one term or another means, Googling famous works of art, and ending up making no suggestions except for removing an errant comma here or there. It turns out that, as with most things, David is a meticulous writer.
By Friday afternoon practice, it seems like just about everyone on the team is crawling to the finish line except for the guys who chose not to get ahead of their class due dates, and they’ll certainly be paying for it later. The Seneca Falls team has to be on the bus at 7:30 the next morning for their two and a half hour ride to Oneonta (as the team with the winningest record in the conference, Oneonta is hosting the championship), so after practice, Ted and the coaches demand that everyone get dinner, get to bed, and get a good night's sleep. David and Patrick take the advice to heart, though probably not exactly as intended. They do get to bed early, and they do get a good night’s sleep, but they also include some two-person extracurricular activities in the time between those to-do list items.
There are eight Division III baseball teams in the SUNY system, and all of them are playing in the championship this year. Seneca Falls is in the second seed position, having won more games than every other team except Oneonta. The competition is set up as a double-elimination, where the teams that lose in the first round play against each other again as part of an elimination bracket. The winners from the elimination bracket play the winners from the regular bracket to determine who goes to the final. It’s a more complex setup than a straight elimination, but it’s more efficient than having every matchup play a best-of-three, while also ensuring that a team has to lose twice to be eliminated.
By the time Seneca Falls arrives in Oneonta, the first game, Fredonia versus Brockport, is already underway. There’s no time to watch, though, because they need to get changed and onto the practice field to warm up. Patrick isn’t playing in this game, but he will in the next: tonight if they win; tomorrow morning if they lose and get bumped to the elimination bracket. Coach Butani runs drills with Emir, who is catching this afternoon, while Dane and Patrick warm up so they’re ready in case Emir gets injured.
First pitch for their game is scheduled for noon. The surge of adrenaline Patrick gets just from being here is almost overwhelming; he can’t imagine what Emir and David and everyone else who is actually playing this game must be feeling. He’s able to manage getting a seat next to David on the bench in the dugout, and gives his shoulder a squeeze as David’s name is called and he stands to jog out to the field. Everyone stands for the national anthem, the starting players lined up on the field in neat rows along the base paths. As the final notes finish echoing off the forest of trees behind the outfield fence, the players take the field, and the game begins.
They beat Oswego easily, almost embarrassingly so. Patrick hadn’t wanted to get his hopes up too much, but Oswego was coming into the championship as the last seed, so he was feeling fairly optimistic about it. Their win means that they’ll be playing against Fredonia in a few hours, so Patrick does his best to relax and enjoy being near his friends and David during the team’s oddly-timed late lunch/early dinner at 3 p.m.
Fredonia is a more difficult opponent than they’d been a few weeks ago when Seneca Falls swept the series. The coaches must have figured out everyone’s weak spots, because Seneca Falls barely ekes out a win, their only two runs having been scored in the bottom of the sixth. David catches Patrick in the locker room before the team heads for the bus, and they’re able to find a secluded corner to steal a few kisses and to hug each other tightly. It’s been one of their longest days in a week of very long days, and they've barely been able to touch each other since they woke up together that morning. Patrick doesn’t want to rush the end of the season by wishing for a loss, but he’ll be glad when the championship is over—hopefully after they win the whole thing—so that he can finally hold David’s hand in front of whomever he wants.
Luckily for everyone’s sanity and stamina, day two is wildly different. Their two wins yesterday mean that they aren’t scheduled to play in any games today. Aside from team dinner, the day is their own, and they can relax or attend any of the games as they wish. Patrick is rooming with Daeshim, whose level of enthusiasm for just about everything rivals Ted’s. He is, of course, planning to attend all four games today. So Patrick and David, of course, do not. David texts Patrick as soon as he wakes up, an hour after Daeshim left. He knocks on Patrick’s door five minutes later, and they make excellent use of an empty room and Patrick’s queen-sized bed. They do go to some of the games, and are able to catch Oswego upsetting Brockport and Oneonta destroying Plattsburgh before they have to go to dinner, but they skip the elimination bracket game of Fredonia versus Oswego in favor of some more quality time with Patrick’s empty room. Or technically, it turns out to be quality time in Patrick’s shower, with Patrick using his barbell piercing to rim David until he’s a quivering, whimpering mess, but still. An evening very well spent.
The next day’s game is against Fredonia again, since they emerged as the victors in their elimination bracket yesterday, and it’s the first postseason game that David and Patrick are both playing in. Seneca Falls has been given home field advantage, so when the national anthem ends, Seneca Falls takes the field first. David jogs away from Patrick towards right field, and Patrick is momentarily transported back to the first day they met, as if David is going to turn around at any moment, a smirk on his face, and throw the ball as hard as he can. Patrick smiles to himself, pulls down his mask, and gets into position behind the plate.
They’ve been on the field together so many times by now that it should be old hat, but it’s just so much damn fun that Patrick doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of it. He watches David make catch after catch, throw out after out, looking focused and in control, and Patrick feels like David’s energy is feeding his own, keeping him in the game and driving him forward. It’s Blair who makes the last out of the game, catching a fly ball to left field, and with that, Seneca Falls is going to the finals. It’s a best-of-three that starts tomorrow afternoon, but their competition won’t be decided until tomorrow morning's game. They’ve already played every SUNYAC team this season, though, which means that Ted and the coaches have a strategy in place, regardless of the outcome.
Some of the team stays at the field to watch the next game between Plattsburgh and Oneonta, but the rest celebrate the win by going back to the hotel for a swim at the indoor pool. Patrick is already in the water, wearing the blue swim trunks with the red stripes down the sides that he’s had since he was fifteen, when David walks in the door. He’s wearing a black bathing suit, of course, and his muscles and chest hair that Patrick loves so much are on full display. What really brings everything to a screeching halt and turns Patrick into a literal embodiment of that old reaction gif of Chris Farley lifting up his sunglasses, though, is the fit of the suit. It’s not quite as tiny as a Speedo, and it’s not quite as thin as a pair of underwear, but it could easily pass for either of those. It doesn’t leave anything to the imagination, from the curve of his quads where they narrow to meet his hips, to the faint line of his slight v-cut, to the bulge of his cock, front and center.
David appears to be completely unaware of how insanely good he looks, since he just walks towards the edge of the pool like nothing is different, like he isn’t standing in front of everyone showing Patrick exactly what he can’t have right this moment. He gives away the game, though, when he catches Patrick’s eye and purses his lips to hold back a smile, right before sitting on the edge of the pool and dangling his feet in the water. And god damn it, it’s completely unfair how much Patrick wants him. He’s seen David wearing far less clothing and in far more compromising positions than this, but something about being allowed to look, just look, is driving Patrick absolutely crazy.
David slides into the pool eventually, saving Patrick somewhat from himself. He and David have gotten very good at acting casually and completely ignoring the elephant in the room when their teammates are around, so they slip into their well-worn “we’re just good friends” personas, and it’s all fine. Until, that is, Dane decides to dive bomb into the water with no warning except a sudden shout of, “Cannonball!” It sends a small tidal wave crashing over all of their heads, and Patrick ducks under the water to avoid being hit in the face. When he resurfaces, most of the guys in the pool are yelling at him to quit being an asshole, including David. David, whose hair is soaked, and who is heading for the ladder at the side. And...hoisting himself up and out of the water. Patrick’s boyfriend is currently standing on the tile pool deck, in a soaking wet bathing suit that is somehow clinging even more to his body than it was before. David bends to pick up a clean towel from the stack, and Patrick can see the round, taut outline of both of David’s ass cheeks. Those ass cheeks he had his face buried between less than twenty-four hours ago.
Moving solely on instinct, Patrick swims to the edge of the pool and hauls himself out of the water. He walks past David, intentionally brushing against him as he reaches to get a towel for himself, and grabs his phone and room key before walking out the door without a second thought of saying goodbye to the team.
The moment he leaves the pool area and enters the hotel hallway, Patrick is hit with a shock of cold air from the air conditioning that has been turned on prematurely. He feels his nipples tighten and his balls contract, and well, that’s one way to quickly get rid of the half-erection he’d been sporting since the moment David walked in wearing that barely-there bathing suit. He dries himself off as best he can with the thin, rough towel while he waits for David to find him.
As expected, David waltzes out the pool door less than a minute later. He’s wrapped his towel around his waist, ostensibly for some level of modesty, but it’s low enough on his hips that Patrick can still see every inch of the dark line of hair that travels from his belly button to the thatch of coarse curls that Patrick knows sits just below the waistband of David’s bathing suit. He walks past Patrick, slowing his stride only enough to murmur, “Was there something you wanted?” low and sexy in his ear, before he’s gone again, away towards the elevators. Patrick drops his own towel into the nearby laundry bin and hurries to catch up, sliding into the elevator just as the doors start to close.
They’re alone, so Patrick wastes no time in crowding David up against the wall of the elevator, licking shamelessly into his mouth and pressing his thumb into the divot of David’s left hip. David responds immediately, wantonly, wrapping one hand around the back of Patrick’s neck and sliding the other into Patrick's bathing suit to cup his ass. Patrick groans and thrusts against David, and then the elevator doors ding.
Patrick practically jumps away from David, startled, like he’s back in his childhood bedroom and his parents have just walked in on them. David just laughs, warm and breathy and not at all unkind, and nudges him out into the hallway. “So,” he says, “your place or mine?”
“Mine,” Patrick answers quickly. “Daeshim went to the game, so we should have plenty of time before he gets back.”
Patrick leads them down the hallway and unlocks the door. The moment it closes behind them, he shoves his wet bathing suit off and tosses it into the bathroom, where it lands on the tile floor with a wet slap. Patrick takes David by the hand and drags him to the bed, and David lets out the start of a laugh, probably at Patrick being so, well, horny. The sound seems to die in his throat, though, when Patrick drops to his knees and unceremoniously whips David’s towel off and drops it to the ground.
“I want to suck you,” Patrick says, bold and brash and unashamed, and David nods jerkily, his lips parting as he lets out a heavy breath. Patrick works David’s bathing suit halfway down his thighs, then nudges David to sit on the bed. He slides David’s suit the rest of the way down his legs, and David dutifully lifts one foot out, then the other. Patrick tosses the wet scrap of fabric aside, stopping David’s protest in its tracks as he leans in and easily takes all of David's mostly soft cock into his mouth. He suckles lightly on the delicate skin, caressing David with his lips and tongue. He tastes like chlorinated pool water at first, but the odd flavor is soon replaced by one that’s less describable, but more familiar. It’s just...David.
David cards his fingers through Patrick’s hair, scratching lightly at his scalp and moaning softly as Patrick starts to suck harder. The movement of David’s hand alone sends warm tingles down Patrick’s spine that leave him relaxed and pliant, and the feel of David getting harder and thicker in his mouth, filling him up until Patrick can’t fit him all inside anymore, has Patrick in absolute ecstasy. Patrick wraps one hand around the base and uses the other to play with David’s balls, sliding his palm along them and tugging gently.
David’s moans turn to hushed cries and bitten-off curses, and he leans back on the bed, supporting himself with the hand that isn’t still tangled in Patrick’s curls. His thighs are clenching and unclenching around Patrick’s shoulders, probably holding himself back from thrusting up into Patrick’s mouth, and his head is thrown back, exposing the long line of his neck and the stubbled underside of his jaw. Patrick has never wished more than in this moment that he had more than two hands so that he could touch every beautiful inch of his boyfriend’s body. Patrick settles for taking his hand off the base of David’s cock and letting his mouth do all the work so that he can reach up and tweak one of David’s nipples.
“God, fuck, Patrick.” David whines at the new sensation and snaps his head back down to look at Patrick. Patrick looks up at him through his lashes, and David’s eyes are full of fire, his pupils blown black. Patrick hasn’t given his own cock much thought, focusing instead on making David slowly lose his entire mind, but when David looks at him like that, like Patrick is sex incarnate, his cock twitches and he’s suddenly, painfully aware of how achingly hard he is. Patrick flutters his eyes closed and whimpers, taking David in as deep as he can and sliding the hand on David’s balls behind them to stroke his perineum. David’s breathing quickens, coming out in harsh pants, and Patrick presses harder at the same time as he swirls his tongue around the head of David’s cock.
David doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to warn Patrick that he’s about to come, nor to hold back the shout that he lets out as he does. Patrick swallows down every drop, starving for it, and when Patrick finally releases him, David gives up on propping himself up and flops backwards on the bed.
“Get. Up. Here,” David commands towards the ceiling, otherwise unmoving, and Patrick scrambles to comply, straddling David’s stomach. He bends down to kiss him, and David accepts it greedily, his tongue sweeping into Patrick’s mouth. “Okay,” David says, his eyes half-lidded. “Okay. You basically killed me just then, so I can’t entirely return the favor, but Jesus Christ, Patrick, please fuck my mouth with that gorgeous cock.”
Patrick groans, nearly coming on the spot. “Are you sure? Like this?”
“God, yes. Just...hand me a pillow.” Patrick does, and David uses it to prop up his head before encouraging Patrick to shimmy up his body and straddle his chest. “I’ll pinch your thigh if I need you to stop,” David says, and sucks Patrick down.
Patrick thrusts carefully, holding himself so that he doesn’t accidentally go too deep, but the wet heat of David’s mouth is incredible, and he’s already so turned on, so it takes less than a minute before he chokes out, “Close.” David reaches up to grab Patrick’s ass in both hands, holding him in place as he comes on David’s tongue, whimpering and barely able to breathe at how unbelievably good it feels.
He pulls out and drops down next to David on the bed, his hip near David’s shoulder. David rolls over and presses a kiss there as Patrick reaches down to run a thumb along David’s eyebrow. “Holy shit,” he says, finally, and David hums in agreement, scooching up the bed so that they’re eye to eye again.
“Hi,” David says.
Patrick chuckles. “Hey.”
“All I want to do right now is take a nap.” David burrows his face in Patrick’s shoulder.
“Mmm, that does sound amazing. Unfortunately, unless you want Daeshim to find us passed out naked together when he comes back here before dinner, we’re going to have to get up pretty soon.”
“No,” David says, with all the nuance of a three-year-old.
“Yes,” Patrick counters.
“Five more minutes.”
Patrick chuckles. “I can live with that.”
They do eventually separate, and David leaves to shower and change back in his room. Daeshim is there when Patrick comes out of the bathroom after his own shower, and he reports that Cortland won the afternoon game, which means they'll be going up against Oneonta tomorrow morning to determine who Seneca Falls will play in the finals.
Patrick dresses in jeans and a henley, and they go to meet the team for dinner at a Tex-Mex place in town. He and David keep their distance from each other, as usual, but tonight feels different. Maybe it’s their win this afternoon, or the energy of the finals coming up, or maybe it was the fucking spectacular sex they’d had earlier (it was definitely the spectacular sex they’d had earlier), but Patrick feels like he’s tethered to David more firmly than ever before. He can’t keep his eyes off of him, and staying more than three feet away from him feels like he’s stretching a cord that’s begging to be retracted. He aches to step up close to David, to tuck himself under his arm and wrap himself around him, to kiss him on the cheek and show everyone that Patrick belongs to him.
But he can’t; not yet. There are at least two, possibly three, more games to play, and then, after, they can tell people. For now, he can live with only the soft smiles David is giving him from the next table if it means he gets to see them up close when they’re alone; can live with Sebastien unabashedly flirting with David over carnitas tacos if it means Patrick gets to be the one to kiss him at night; can live with everyone else lavishing David with attention right now if it means Patrick gets to be the one to really take care of him.
The team walks back to the hotel together, and Patrick shoots David a parting wink as everyone separates to go to their own rooms. He changes into his pajamas and lies in bed, scrolling through his phone and giving only half of his attention to liking photos on Instagram. Daeshim has already gone to sleep, leaving only the small bedside lamp on, and Patrick is just about to turn in for the night, as well, when a text from David comes through.
David: Good night, honey. xx
Patrick’s heart flutters, and he smiles so wide he feels the corners of his eyes crinkle.
David: Good night, honey. xx
Patrick: Good night, baby. xx
The coaches have dictated that under no circumstances should any of the Seneca Falls players go to the game this morning. It’s the one that will determine who will be their opponent this afternoon, and they want the players to avoid either getting their confidence shaken or, perhaps worse, becoming overly confident. Unfortunately, without anything to do until warm ups after lunch, everyone is getting restless. They all hang around the hotel, lingering over the continental breakfast, listening to music, and breaking off from the group to go back to their rooms and make supposed attempts at studying, but Patrick doubts anyone is getting much work done, if they're feeling anything like what he is. It’s not that Patrick is nervous about the game today, exactly; it’s just that their strategy and starting lineup won’t be announced until the coaches find out who else is playing in the finals. So until then, all they can do is wait and watch the minutes tick by.
Finally, lunch rolls around, which means the team gets sandwiches that they all pick at anxiously on the bus ride over to the field for practice. They gather in the locker room for the announcement: Oneonta won, which means that the lineup today will be Miguel, Vikram, Derek, Citrus, Blair, Jake, Antonio, and Patrick, with Deion as starting pitcher. Oneonta has home field advantage for Game 1, so Seneca Falls will come up to bat first. With everything settled, the frenetic energy in the room dissipates, leaving everyone calm and set to do the job they’ve been working towards all year. Patrick feels ready, and he knows his teammates are, too.
It’s a great game, one of the best Patrick has played in all season. Poetically, Oneonta had been the first team they’d played against in February. Though Seneca Falls swept the series back then, Oneonta must have trained their asses off, because they finished with the winningest record this season among all of the SUNYAC D-III schools. They made Seneca Falls work hard for their win today, and the 10–7 final score makes Patrick a little nervous, given how many runs Oneonta was able to get across the plate; but tomorrow, David and Ted will be on the field, and they’re some of Seneca Falls’ best hitters. Patrick doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, but he’s feeling confident.
They lose game two.
Apparently, Oneonta had a similar strategy to Seneca Falls in that they let a few of their top players rest yesterday and put them in today. With Dane catching, Patrick watches from the bench. It’s a brutal slog, with out after out and a score of 0–0 until the bottom of the seventh, when David drives in one run with a base hit to center field and a runner on third. It’s not enough, though, because Oneonta answers with a two-run homer in the top of the eighth to put them ahead. Then, to put a cherry on top of the disastrous sundae, an Oneonta batter hits a foul tip that shoots backwards directly at Dane, knocking his mask off and sending him crashing to the ground in a crumpled heap.
The entire team jumps to their feet to get a better look. Patrick can tell from where he’s standing that, luckily, Dane is relatively okay; just hurt. Patrick has taken a few hits to the mask, and they feel like what Patrick imagines a bat to the mask would feel like: an absolute explosion of pain. Dane might well have a concussion—Patrick had one in high school—and is most certainly out for the rest of the day. Coach Butani sends in Emir in his place, but with the incident having shaken the Seneca Falls players both off and on the field, their attempt at a rally is dead on arrival. The game ends with a score of 2–1, Oneonta.
They have three hours between the end of the morning game and the start of the afternoon game: the last game of the series, and the one that will determine who the SUNYAC champion is. The team spends it trying to relax and shake off the morning. They get sandwiches again for lunch and mostly just hang around the locker room, talking and listening to music on Gary’s Bluetooth speaker.
In the middle of Ted’s astoundingly heartfelt lip sync to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” Patrick feels a familiar hand brush across his upper back, and he turns to see David heading for the locker room door, glancing back at Patrick and gesturing with his head for him to follow. David leads them to a pair of water fountains around the corner, and then spins on his heel to face Patrick and pulls him into a hug so tight Patrick can feel it in his bones. Patrick hugs him back, of course, but something is wrong. David is breathing hard, his chest rising and falling too fast. Patrick doesn’t think it’s a full panic attack, but he pulls back to look at David’s face just in case.
It’s not. David’s eyes are wet and he looks desperately worried, but Patrick can see that he’s feeling mostly in control. He only gets to look for a moment, though, before David surges forward again for a bruising kiss. Patrick brings his hands up to frame David’s face, running his thumbs along David’s cheekbones, gentling his fears and the kiss until David is able to separate enough to nudge their noses together. Patrick leans back just the smallest bit, keeping his hands on David and their bodies pressed close, and whispers, “What’s wrong?”
David bites his lip and squeezes his eyes closed, and for a moment, Patrick isn’t sure he’s going to answer. But then he looks at Patrick and whispers back, “I was so scared.”
Patrick frowns, confused. “When?”
David sighs. “When Dane got hit with the ball.”
“I know, I was worried, too, but he’s going to be okay.”
David shakes his head, and Patrick moves his hands away from his face, sliding them down David’s chest and around to his lower back. “I wasn’t worried about Dane. I mean,” he says quickly, “obviously, in the human sense I was.” Patrick can feel David’s hands gesticulating behind Patrick’s back. “I didn’t want him to, like, be permanently injured or whatever. But I was worried about you.”
“David, I was sitting on the bench. I was like sixty feet away from the ball.”
David rolls his eyes. “Yes, thank you, I know. I mean, I was worried about that happening to you. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. What if you got a concussion? What if something even worse than that happened?”
Patrick scratches at the back of David’s t-shirt where his hands are resting. “I’ve had a concussion once before. They’re no joke, but if it happens again, I know how to take care of myself.”
David frowns. “Okay, but that doesn’t actually make me feel any better? Because having multiple concussions is even worse. You could get a permanent brain injury!”
“I know. But everything in life is dangerous. Like, we could die in a car crash tomorrow.”
“You’re still not helping,” David mutters.
Patrick huffs a laugh. “Sorry, you’re right. I just mean, there are a lot of things we do despite the risk, because they’re worth it. Baseball is one of those things for me.” He leans forward to rest his forehead against David’s. “But thank you for worrying about me. I like that you were worried.”
Patrick can feel David’s brow furrow. “Rude.”
“I like that you care enough to worry,” Patrick corrects.
“Oh,” David says, and moves so that he can burrow in Patrick’s shoulder again. “That’s nice, then.”
“I can be nice.”
David hums noncommittally. “Sometimes.”
Patrick laughs and presses a kiss to David’s neck, right on that spot he loves so much. He expects David to pull away, but a minute later, he’s still clinging to Patrick like an affectionate koala. Patrick nudges him a little. “Okay, this is a really long hug now.”
He feels David nod. “Just one more minute.”
Patrick squeezes tighter, trying to show David just how much he feels for him without actually having to say the words, but he knows that they shouldn’t stay here much longer. “Come on, we should get back before people notice and get suspicious.”
David sighs. “Okay.” They walk hand in hand for the eight feet from the water fountains to the corner, before they have to separate fully and put distance between them, lest their teammates see them together. Still, Patrick reminds himself, win or lose, this is the last game of the season. No matter what, after this, they don’t have to be a secret anymore.
They had home field advantage in the morning game, which means that Oneonta has it this afternoon. They change into their away uniforms and make the trek out to the dugout to wait for the game to start, the unease left in the wake of the morning mostly dissipated. The announcer comes over the loudspeaker and introduces the game, then starts calling the names of the Seneca Falls players first. David is batting fourth in the lineup and Patrick is fifth, which means that their names are announced one after the other, and they get to stand side-by-side on the field during the national anthem. They take off their caps to put them over their hearts, and Patrick catches a whiff of David’s expensive shampoo, a scent he’s learned is gardenia, lavender, and coconut, and allows himself to lean into David’s shoulder just slightly. Patrick can’t take his eyes off the flag to look at David, but Patrick feels David give him a little nudge in return, a movement that simultaneously makes his heart flutter and his nerves settle.
The game is significantly better than the morning and more like the one yesterday afternoon. It feels like an even match in a good way, with both teams getting runs and outs. Seneca Falls has the lead for most of the game, but Oneonta is able to keep things close, never letting them get more than two runs ahead. By the bottom of the ninth, Patrick is ready to take back everything he’s ever said about the beauty of equal competition and run screaming back to the first game of the season, when they beat Oneonta by nine runs. Instead, here they are, up by only one run, with two outs, the bases loaded, and a full count. They are one well-calculated pitch away from taking this thing. They’re also one poorly-calculated pitch away from a winning, walk-off hit from Oneonta.
The Oneonta batter has been reaching for the outside throws, but has let all three inside pitches fly by without so much as a flinch. Patrick signals for Mutt to throw his fastball, high and outside. He shakes his head.
Patrick grits his teeth and repeats the signal. Mutt shakes his head again.
God damn it.
Patrick signals for a curveball. Mutt nods and steps back into position. It might not be effective against this batter, but it’s Mutt’s most reliable pitch, so maybe they’ll get lucky.
He winds up and makes the throw.
The batter crushes the ball, sending it flying deep into right field. Patrick jumps up and tips his mask up, watching and waiting. David is sprinting towards the back fence, looking back over his shoulder, hat knocked back. Patrick can practically feel the change in terrain under his own feet as David reaches the warning track, and he holds his breath. It’s going to be really fucking close. David paces himself to meet the trajectory of the ball, stopping just before the fence, and spins around to make his move. Time stands still as Patrick waits the tortuously long split second before the ball finds David.
But David bobbles it. He’d overshot the distance by an inch or two, and the ball lands off-center in his glove, causing it to bounce wildly. There’s a moment when Patrick thinks David might have gained control of it, but then the ball is on the ground, and in play, and the runners are already more than halfway to their next bases.
One run comes across the plate as David bends to pick up the ball. The game is tied now, and the runners are still going. They’ve lost their opportunity for a force out, so it’s going to have to happen with a tag, and fast, if they want to push the game into extra innings. There’s no way David can throw all the way to Patrick from that deep in right field, so he fires it to the cutoff man at second, who turns it to Patrick for the play at home. But it’s too late. Patrick hears the telltale slide of a cleat against the plate just before the ball lands in his glove. Oneonta takes the lead, and the game, and the series, and the championship. The season is over.
Unfortunately, Patrick has a front row seat as the Oneonta players come streaming out of the dugout to crowd around the runner who scored the winning run and the hitter who helped them get there, celebrating their victory. He steps away and pulls his mask off as he heads for the dugout with the rest of the Seneca Falls team. But on his way, he glances towards right field. David is still standing there, glove at his feet, forearms crossed on top of his head, staring morosely at the massive group hug happening at home plate.
David spent his entire life being great at baseball and being told, however implicitly, that it was where his value lay. He may have realized recently that living only for baseball wasn’t what he wanted, but the emotional wounds of adolescence run deep, and Patrick knows that at the root of all of David’s insecurities is the desire to be the best at everything; the need to appear so talented and put-together that no one could possibly question whether or not he belongs—on a team, in a class, wearing those clothes. He is meticulous because he feels like he has to be. He works hard because he feels like he has to. He practices just as hard—if not harder—than everyone else because he feels like he has to. David is standing in the middle of right field, alone, and almost certainly questioning his inherent worth as a person because of one single mistake in one single game.
Patrick throws his glove and mask to the ground and takes off running, moving solely on instinct, only dimly aware of the ambient sounds of the players and the crowd. Patrick has one single focus, and the object of it is approximately three hundred feet away. David doesn’t register Patrick’s approach until he’s within touching distance, and the sad expression in his eyes turns to one of shock. Patrick doesn’t say anything; just wraps his arms around David’s waist and crashes their lips together, holding him tight against the stupid fucking pads that he still has on.
Patrick keeps the kiss closed-mouthed, but lets it linger, not letting go until he feels the tension finally start to melt out of David’s body. It happens infinitesimally, and then all at once, starting with David’s lower back and his hands, until suddenly he’s sagging into him and letting Patrick carry his weight. David’s arms find Patrick’s shoulders, and his fingers find Patrick’s hair, and his tears find Patrick’s cheeks. David opens up for him, letting his tongue touch Patrick’s lightly. It’s not a kiss that’s a preamble to anything, but one that says, “I care about you” and “I need you” and “Thank you,” and, at least for Patrick, “I love you.”
Patrick isn’t sure who is holding whom tighter, both of them squeezing so hard they’re nearly breathless. Without letting go, David shifts to kiss across Patrick’s cheek, surely tasting the salt from his own tears there, and buries his face into the crook of Patrick’s neck.
“It’s okay,” Patrick whispers. David takes a deep, shuddering breath, but doesn’t respond, keeping himself hidden away in Patrick’s shoulder.
They hold each other like that for a long while, in the middle of the baseball field where their team has just lost, until the noise of the stadium fades away and Ted comes to get them.
“Hey guys,” he says. “I’m really sorry to interrupt, but we’re going to load the bus for the hotel soon. I wanted to make sure you at least had time to change.”
“Thanks, Ted,” Patrick says. Ted nods, then turns away to head back to the locker room. When he’s out of earshot, Patrick pulls away from David just enough to look at him. “Hey, baby,” he murmurs. “We should go.”
David’s voice is barely a whisper when he says, “Okay.”
Patrick picks up David’s glove from the ground and keeps one arm looped around David’s waist as they walk towards the exit. Patrick’s glove and mask aren’t on the grass near the dugout anymore, so someone, probably Ted, must have grabbed them. The locker room is empty by the time they get there, so they change quickly and head for the bus. When they climb on, Patrick sees that their usual seats have been left open, and he knows that the rarity of finding an empty row when the rest of the team has already loaded means that it hadn’t been an accident. David rests his head on Patrick’s shoulder, his fingers laced tight with Patrick’s, still not speaking.
Patrick uses his free hand to pull his phone out of the front pocket of his hoodie. He takes it off silent for the first time since the start of the game and ignores his notifications so he can text Daeshim.
Patrick: Hey, can David and I have the room for a bit when we get back?
Daeshim: Not all night though, right?
Daeshim: Congrats on that, by the way
Patrick feels his face flush.
Patrick: Thanks. No, it’s not for that. Just want a place to talk.
Daeshim: Hey, I know no one’s talking to you guys right now, but it’s because we know David likes his space. The guys were talking in the locker room and he’s all good. It was just an error. He’s been a rock star all season.
Patrick: I’ll tell him. Thanks.
Patrick kisses the top of David’s head, because that’s something he can do in public now, and because his boyfriend needs it. Then, he taps on his notifications, which consist of four texts from his mother.
Marcy: Surprise, your father and I are here at your game! I didn’t want to tell you before because I didn’t want it to throw you off.
Marcy: I know you won’t get these texts until after the game, but good luck! We love you and we’re proud of you. Can we take you and David out to dinner afterwards?
Marcy: Oh my sweet boy, I’m sorry. Please give David an extra hug for us.
Marcy: We’d still like to take you to dinner, if you want. Give me a call when you get this.
Patrick’s eyes sting with tears at the messages. His job is to be here for David right now, because what he’s going through is far more than just losing a game. But the thing is, Patrick is upset, also; not at David, of course, but Patrick has poured so much of himself into baseball this year. How could he not be massively disappointed when they lost? He wants to take care of David; to hold him, and listen to him, and let him cry on his shoulder. But a hug from his mom and dad sounds pretty great right now, too.
Patrick: Hi mom. We’re on the bus, so I can’t call right now.
Patrick: Can we do dinner at 7:30? I don’t know if David will want to come, but I’ll try and convince him.
Marcy: Of course, sweetie. We’ll meet you in the lobby of your hotel. Here’s where we’re going.
Patrick: If it’s bbq, I might be able to convince him.
Marcy: I hope you do. I can tell how much you care about him.
Patrick realizes then that his parents’ first introduction to David was seeing him kissing Patrick—with tongue, oh god—right on the field. Patrick groans audibly, and David sits up a bit to look at him.
“What?” he asks.
“Nothing.” Patrick shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it.”
David sits up fully, and Patrick’s shoulder feels cold from the loss. “Well, now I am worrying about it, so you’d better tell me.”
Patrick sighs. “My parents are here.”
“Oh...kay? I thought you liked your parents.”
“I do, but, uh, they were at the game. They saw us. Kissing.”
David’s face is frozen in mild confusion, until it suddenly breaks into a smile, the first one Patrick has seen in at least an hour. “Oh my god, that’s it? Remind me to tell you about the times—multiple—that one of my parents walked in on me doing a lot more than that. And about the time that my entire family walked in. It was after, luckily, but...still.” Then his face falls again. “Wait, are they upset about it? Did I mess things up before they even met me officially? Fuck, see, this is why I said no making out in public, Patrick!”
Patrick feels his embarrassment fading, replaced by amusement. “You said no making out in public because you were worried about my parents?”
“I mean, not your parents specifically, but—”
“Uh, David and Patrick?” Deion calls from a few rows behind them. “You know we can all hear this conversation, right?”
“Sorry,” Patrick calls back sheepishly.
“Hey, does this mean we can talk to Rose now?” Gary stands up in the row diagonally across from theirs.
“Why couldn’t you talk to me before?” David crosses his arms.
“Ted told us all to leave you alone.” Gary shrugs.
Patrick winces. It’s one thing to quietly ask people to give David space. It’s quite another to tell David they’re collectively giving him space.
“Ted!” David stands, propping his elbows on the headrest of the empty seat in front of him.
“What’s up?” Ted stands up in one of the first few rows.
“Why did you tell everyone to leave me alone?” David shouts.
“Just thought you might want the quiet, bud. That was a tough break at the game. We all thought so.”
“You—” David shakes his head. “I’m sorry, you were all discussing me?” His voice pitches increasingly higher with each word, and Patrick is certain that the only thing keeping David’s hands from flying about is his need to keep them on the headrest so he stays upright on the moving bus.
Ken is the next head to pop up in what is starting to become the world’s slowest game of Whack-a-Mole. “Of course we were. You’re our teammate and our friend. None of us would have wanted to be in that position. It sucked. But it could have happened to any of us.”
David huffs a humorless laugh. “That’s definitely not true.”
“Sure it is,” Emir's voice yells out, a moment before his head appears above the seats. “It was an error.” He looks around the bus. “Hey everyone, raise your hand if you’ve made an error during a game this season.” Most of the hands go up, including Patrick’s.
“Cool,” Emir says loudly. “Keep your hand up if you’ve made more than one error in a game this season.” David drops his hand quickly, but Patrick can see the moment he realizes that at least half the hands have stayed up.
Blair stands up in the last row of the bus. “You had a fucking amazing season, Rose. How many RBIs did you get?”
“Forty-seven,” David answers quickly.
“Yeah. Anyone able to beat that?” Blair says, louder. No hands go up. “That’s what I thought.”
“Are we done with this little Kumbaya circle yet?” Sean calls out, annoyance coloring his tone.
“Shut up, Sean,” Grant answers him. “You’re just mad because you got barely any field time this season. Maybe you’ll actually put in some effort next year.”
“Whatever,” Sean mutters.
Patrick finally stands to join David, bracing one hand on the headrest and the other around David’s waist. “See? Nobody cares. We’re in this together.”
David bites his lips between his teeth and nods, blinking rapidly. “Thanks, everyone.”
“Yup, no problem,” Andre says, joining the conversation and standing up. “So can we ask about you two now?”
“Um,” Patrick says. “What do you want to know, exactly?”
“When this started. Because we’ve all been having this debate for weeks, whether or not you were together.”
Patrick looks at David, whose lips are pursed in a half-smile, and nods at him to answer. “We’ve been together since the start of the season,” David says, his eyes not leaving Patrick’s. A mixed chorus of groans and cheers and “I fucking knew it!”s rings out across the bus. David’s face breaks out into a full grin, and Patrick laughs, full of joy. He has never been more grateful to be the center of awkward attention than right now, when their teammates’ love for them has put such a gorgeous smile on his boyfriend’s face.
The bus pulls into the hotel parking lot, and they all disperse to their rooms, with a few back pats and “So happy for you”s to David and Patrick along the way. Patrick leads them to his room, where Daeshim, as promised, has not returned yet. As soon as the door closes, David wraps his arms around Patrick’s shoulders and draws him in, kissing him deeply. He pulls back a moment later and brings his hands to Patrick’s shoulders, his dark eyes pools of sadness.
Patrick feels his own mouth twist into a frown in sympathy. “Do you want to talk about today?”
David squeezes his eyes shut. “No. Not yet, anyway. I just kind of want to forget about it so I can stop it from playing on loop in my head.”
“Okay.” Patrick rubs a palm soothingly across David’s shoulder blades. “Well we can talk whenever you’d like.”
David opens his eyes again, and some of their usual sparkle has returned. He looks at Patrick for a moment, assessing, and then takes a deep breath. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Patrick asks, genuinely mystified.
“For seeing me. For knowing what I needed after the game without having to ask.”
Patrick’s heart beats faster. “I think the team had a lot more to do with it than I did.”
David shakes his head. “No. It was you. If not for you, I don’t even know if I would have had the courage to get on the bus. I would have Ubered directly back to campus and snuck away like a thief in the night.”
“Hm. So I saved you from an expensive Uber ride and from missing all your finals?”
David nods. “Exactly.”
“Wow, what would you do without me?” Patrick expects David to join in the game, to say something effusive and sarcastic that makes them both laugh. But instead, David looks at him seriously.
“I don’t know.”
There’s a lump in Patrick’s throat, one that’s shaped like “I” and “love” and “you,” but he swallows around it and leans up to kiss David instead, soft and sweet.
“So,” Patrick says, once they’ve pulled apart again, “my parents want to take us to dinner at 7:30. How do you feel about that? It’s okay if you want to just stay here.”
David wrinkles his nose. “I didn’t bring anything nice enough to wear to a restaurant.”
Patrick snorts. “First of all, everything you wear is nice enough for most restaurants, including the clothes you wear to practice.” David starts to protest, but Patrick cuts him off. “And second of all, this is a barbecue place. I think you’ll be fine in literally anything.”
David’s eyes light up at the mention of barbecue. “Will there be sides?”
Patrick smiles and tugs him close, not able to bear being more than a foot away from him. “All the sides you want, baby.”
David does a happy little wiggle, the one he does when he’s particularly excited about delicious food. “Okay, fine. How much time do we have? I want to shower first. I’m kind of gross.”
Patrick nuzzles into David’s neck, breathing in the slightly musky scent of sweat and grass, and sucks lightly at that spot that makes David’s knees buckle. David’s skin is salty, and Patrick feels his own cock twitch as he drags the tip of his tongue roughly along the thick tendon on the side of David’s throat. David whimpers a little, and Patrick mumbles, “Definitely not gross,” before moving up to take David’s earlobe in his mouth.
David sinks into it for a few minutes, sliding one hand into Patrick’s curls and the other down to Patrick’s lower back, holding them close as he presses his hips into Patrick’s in slow rolls. But suddenly Patrick is being pushed away, and David is giving him an exasperated frown that’s belied by the heat in his eyes.
“Patrick. I cannot have sex with you right now, right before I meet your parents for the first time. How am I supposed to look them in the eye and make pleasant conversation when all I’ll be able to think about is how I just had their son’s dick in my mouth?”
Patrick’s half-hard cock gives another little twitch. “Is that what we were going to do?”
David throws up his hands. “I don’t know! Or my dick in your mouth! Or whatever. The point is,” he says, gesturing accusatorily at Patrick, “we need to shower, and get dressed, and there will be no orgasms until after dinner. Got it?”
“Got it.” Patrick raises his hand. “Question.”
David rolls his eyes. “Yes, Patrick.”
“Where exactly will these orgasms be happening, since we both have roommates tonight?”
David shrugs. “I’m rooming with Gary, remember? I’m sure I can bribe him with the promise of some of Stevie’s weed when we get back to campus.”
“Huh. Excellent point.”
“Thank you. Now. I have—” David glances at the digital clock glowing red on the nightstand across the room “—forty-nine minutes until I need to be presentable, so I’m going to go back to my room—” he puts out an arm to keep Patrick at a distance when he attempts to kiss David again “—and I will meet you in the lobby at 7:30.” Patrick raises his eyebrows skeptically at him. “Ugh, fine. 7:40.” David pauses. “7:45 at the latest.”
“There it is. I’ll see you soon.”
David leaves to get ready, and Patrick sends his parents a quick text asking them to meet at 7:45 instead. He heads for the shower and jerks off under the spray, thinking about the taste of David’s skin and the feel of his cock hardening in his joggers for Patrick, and lets the running water wash his come down the drain. Surely when David said “No orgasms before dinner,” he’d meant no orgasms together. And even if not, there was no way Patrick would have been able to get through dinner without working off at least some of his excess energy.
Patrick puts on his last clean t-shirt and a clean-enough pair of jeans, checks to be sure he has his phone, wallet, and room key, and heads to the lobby. He shoots Daeshim a text in the elevator to let him know that he’s out of the room, and exits the sliding doors to see David, looking gorgeous in a black sweater with geometric details in white and some sort of shiny black material, matched with one of his skirted pairs of pants. He’s smiling broadly but twisting his rings nervously as he talks to— Okay. As he talks to Patrick’s parents.
Patrick takes a breath and walks up to the group, squeezing David’s arm before giving each of his parents a tight hug. His dad smells like Old Spice, just like he always has, and his mom smells like the same shampoo she’s been using for as long as Patrick can remember. They each hold him for longer than necessary, certainly, but Patrick doesn’t rush to let go. He’s missed them, and he feels a sense of calm wash over him at the familiar feeling of their love.
He steps away eventually, clearing his throat. “Uh, I guess introductions aren’t really necessary at this point, but Mom, Dad, this is my boyfriend, David. David, this is my mom and dad.”
“Oh, we’re practically old friends already,” his mom says. “We were just telling David how glad we are that you’ve found someone who makes you so happy.” Patrick feels his cheeks redden, and beside him, David chuckles and looks down at his feet, clasping his hands in front of himself.
His dad laughs his warm, buoyant laugh. “Good, I see we’re embarrassing Patrick already. Come on, David, I hear you’re a barbecue fan. Let’s go get some food and see how many more childhood stories we can fit into the space of one dinner.”
Patrick groans and covers his face with his hands, but he can feel David’s energy relax, as if someone just flicked off the switch to the electricity buzzing around them. “I can definitely get on board with that, Mr. Brewer.”
“Please,” his dad says, clapping a hand on David’s back and steering him towards the front door of the hotel, “call me Clint. Now, have you heard the story about Patrick’s first little league game?”
“Oh god,” Patrick mutters under his breath.
His mom steps up beside him to loops her arm through his, and she pats him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, dear. It’s definitely going to get much worse than this.”
Dinner is perhaps the most mortifying experience of Patrick’s life, and he spends essentially the entire time with his face burning bright red. His parents tell David practically his entire life story, including the tale of six-year-old Patrick standing on the coffee table, wearing nothing but his Underoos, belting out “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan. David laughs so hard at that one he cries. Aside from the completely legitimate concern that his face will never revert from crimson back to its normal shade of pale, though, the night is actually pretty damn fantastic. Patrick’s parents have met his previous boyfriends, and known all of them as such except for Seth. But it’s never been this easy before. The conversation flows naturally, and David and his parents make each other laugh in equal measure. Even if a lot of it is ostensibly at Patrick’s expense, he knows that under the humor, his parents’ stories are full of pride and love, and that David’s laughter is affectionate, not mocking. There’s something here, he thinks: something that feels like more; something that feels like a future years down the line.
Or maybe the emotions of the day are making him think overly grandiose ideas. It’s hard to say.
After they’ve finished their meals, and David has waxed poetic about the coleslaw for the fourth time, and his mom has insisted on getting them two slices of apple pie a la mode to go, Patrick’s parents drive them back to the hotel. They’re staying at an AirBnB in town, but the team bus leaves at 7:30 tomorrow morning, so they won’t be able to meet for breakfast. They say their goodbyes in front of the hotel, and as Patrick hugs his dad, he catches David’s eye over his mother’s shoulder. She has him wrapped up in a tight hug that Patrick knows the warmth of viscerally, and the look in David’s eyes is so full of wonder and happiness that Patrick can’t help but feel it, too. After they’ve all separated and his parents are in their car, Patrick takes David’s hand—the one that isn’t cradling the bag containing their pie as delicately as if it were a newborn baby—and waves as his parents drive off.
When the car is out of sight, David looks over at him with wide, sparkling eyes. “Your parents are really nice.”
Patrick smiles. “They adored you.”
“Your mom bought me pie!” David exclaims, grinning widely.
“She did,” Patrick laughs.
“Can we go eat it now?” David is practically bouncing on his toes in anticipation.
Patrick squeezes his hand. “Yes. Time for pie now.”
They take the elevator up to David’s room and go through negotiations with Gary to determine how much weed constitutes adequate payment for displacing him for the night. David easily works him down to two joints, and then Gary is gone, and they’re left alone with a big bed and their pie. David can’t actually kick off his shoes—he has to bend down and complete the complicated unlacing to remove them—but Patrick is pretty sure that from the way he bounces onto his bed when he’s down to his sock feet and does a happy little wiggle when he opens his to-go box, he would have if he could. Patrick slips off his own shoes and joins David, immediately reaching out with his fork as if he’s going to steal a bite of David’s pie. David practically growls as he moves his box protectively against his chest, and Patrick laughs as he presses an apologetic kiss to David’s cheek. He opens up his own box and offers David the first bite as penance, and David accepts it with a smile.
Patrick’s pie is half-eaten and David’s is nearly gone when David speaks. “I keep thinking I should feel worse than I do.”
Patrick swallows his bite. “Feel worse about the game?”
David nods. “If that had happened at Cornell, I would have popped a pill and hid under my covers for a week. But now I’m kind of just...okay. I mean, I’m not great. It keeps replaying in my mind a couple times an hour. But it’s not constant like it was earlier, and I’m not spiraling. I sort of feel like I’m floating in this place where I’m sad, but not completely emotionally gone.”
Patrick rubs a hand across David’s shoulder blades. “That’s good, right?”
“Yeah. I guess I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“Maybe it won’t.”
“Maybe.” David shrugs and scoops up a forkful of apple pie filling and ice cream soup.
Patrick takes a deep breath. “If this had happened at Cornell, how would your teammates and coaches have reacted?”
David snorts. “Losing the championship game with a stupid error? Not great. They probably would have said it was fine, but then barely acknowledge me for the rest of the trip while they talked behind my back about what a fuck-up I was.”
“Assholes,” Patrick mutters.
David shakes his head. “They weren’t, though. They were good guys. It was never a problem for any of them that I was pan, and we all supported each other like the team does here.” He pauses. “I think it was just the pressure of D-I. If someone else had messed up, I would have done the same thing. We wanted to be the best, and errors got in the way of that. It’s different here. I mean, we still want to win, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Patrick agrees.
“But when everyone was being really nice to me on the bus, I actually believed them. I wasn’t thinking that they were just saying it. I think it helped.”
“I’m glad.” Patrick remembers the conversation they’d had at the picnic table during their trip to Ithaca, when David told him how much happier he was here. It makes sense, he thinks, that one mistake, even a critical one, didn’t completely bring David down today. He hasn’t spent the school year under the constant, crippling weight of pressure that focusing solely on baseball will create. Baseball is important to him, as it is to Patrick, but it’s not everything. It’s just one thing.
Patrick closes his to-go box and sets it on the nightstand, and then takes David’s from his hands and does the same. David squawks in protest at Patrick separating him from the few crumbs left, but Patrick silences him with a lush kiss, and David gives in immediately.
They undress slowly, kissing across every inch of newly-exposed skin and rutting against each other with little urgency. Patrick fingers David open, stroking over his prostate and watching the way his cock lets out little blurts of precome that leave shiny droplets on the tip. Patrick takes his time with this, too, waiting until David is begging before he finally rolls on a condom.
Patrick nudges David to lie on his side, and Patrick presses into him from behind, with one hand on David’s hip and the other arm under David’s head and wrapped around his chest. David reaches up behind him to cup the back of Patrick’s head, and they move together like that, rolling their hips in tandem, letting their pleasure build and build like the swell of a wave cresting.
David gasps out, “More, please, I need more,” and Patrick slides his hand forward to wrap around David’s cock, gathering his precome and using it to provide just enough lubrication that it’s not uncomfortable for him. David thrusts forward into Patrick’s fist and back against his cock once, twice, three times, and he comes with a whimper and a sigh, clenching around Patrick and bringing Patrick crashing down with him. Patrick’s fingers flex on David’s chest, pressing into him and holding him close, and the fingers David has in Patrick’s hair do the same, like he doesn’t want to let Patrick go, either.
They lie there for as long as they can, tangled up in each other, until Patrick has to pull out and dispose of the condom in the bathroom trash can. He brings back a warm washcloth and cleans them both up before turning off the light and snuggling back in behind David. David kicks at the blankets near their feet, dragging them up over their bodies in a method that’s much more difficult than it would have been to just sit up and use his hands. Patrick can’t blame him, though; he’s glad not to not be separated from David for any longer than absolutely necessary.
David twists his head around to give Patrick a smiling, off-center kiss on the lips before flopping back down on the pillow. Patrick kisses David’s shoulder and cuddles closer, just breathing with him. Eventually, David’s limbs get heavier and his chest rises and falls evenly as he drifts off. Once Patrick is certain, absolutely certain, that he’s asleep, he presses his lips to that spot on David’s neck that he’s claimed as his own and mouths, silently, “I love you.”
It’s a tiny compromise, one that will let him keep holding onto those words until he’s sure David is ready to hear them for real, and Patrick lets the feeling of warmth that spreads through him carry him peacefully to sleep.
It’s strange not having baseball practice anymore. For the entire week after the championship, the only guys from the team Patrick sees besides David are Sean and Deion, who he has classes with. Everyone turned in their uniforms after the last game and then went their separate ways, diving headfirst into studying for finals and packing up their rooms to move out the day after the Athletic Awards Banquet. He hasn’t even seen David as much as he’d like, since he’s been spending more time in the art studios to finish up his Figure Drawing final work.
Patrick passes most of the time when he’s not studying playing his guitar, trying to get that song ready to play for David in time for their third monthiversary on Thursday. Thursday also happens to be his birthday, but since everyone is so busy this week, he sent a group text to the team to see if anyone wanted to hang out after the banquet on Saturday night. Some said yes, some said they couldn’t make it, and it’s fine. He and David will still celebrate once finals are over.
On the morning of his birthday, Patrick (and Brendan, grumpily) wakes to a relentless knocking on his door. Bleary-eyed, he pads across the room, and when he looks through the peephole, Miguel is standing there holding a bakery bag and a to-go cup. Patrick opens the door.
“Morning!” Miguel chirps, and Brendan groans from beneath his pillow.
“Hi,” Patrick whispers. “What are you doing here?”
“These are for you,” Miguel says, quieter. “Chai tea latte and a blueberry muffin. From David.”
Patrick blinks. “Why are you delivering me food from David?”
Miguel’s face falls. “Shit, did I get the day wrong? Isn’t today your birthday?”
“Yeah, it is, but—”
“Oh, good! Okay, so yeah, David asked me a few days ago if I could bring these to you before your morning final. He knew he wouldn’t be awake in time.”
Patrick feels his face mush into what’s probably an embarrassingly besotted look, but Miguel just smiles at him warmly as he hands over Patrick’s breakfast. “Happy Birthday!”
“Thanks, man. Have a good day.”
Patrick closes the door softly and settles back onto his bed, sending a quick thank you text to David. David keeps his phone on Do Not Disturb at night, so Patrick knows he won’t wake him. He stays in bed for a while longer, sipping his tea and breaking off bites of muffin as he scrolls through his Facebook notifications. He really only uses Facebook to stay connected with his extended family, but fourteen people have left him messages already, which is nice. He gets up eventually, dressing in comfortable pants and a hoodie, and heads out to his Business and Society final.
The test goes well, he thinks, and when he exits the lecture hall and pulls out his phone, he has a message waiting for him.
Patrick: Thank you!
David: You’re welcome
David: Happy birthday!
David: I have my visual theory aesthetic and criticism final at 11:30, so I won’t see you until this afternoon. Go see Twyla at the cafe when you’re ready for lunch.
Patrick grins and checks the time. 11:43. He could eat. He heads out to the main quad and turns left towards Campus Center and the cafe. There’s a short line, but Twyla spots him right away and holds up her pointer finger in a “one minute” gesture. When she finishes with the customer at the front of the line, she steps away from the counter for a moment and returns with a paper bag and a cold cup with some sort of green goop in it. She gestures for Patrick to come get them.
“Happy birthday, Patrick!” Twyla sing-songs.
Patrick takes the bag and cup from her. “Thanks, Twyla.”
“That’s a chicken club sandwich, salt and vinegar kettle chips, and a brownie from David, and this” —she gestures to the cup— “is my special Meadow Harvest smoothie! It’s a new recipe I’m trying out. Let me know what you think!”
Patrick eyes the putrid liquid warily. It somehow looks even more off-putting up close, but he puts on a bright smile for Twyla and thanks her again before heading back to his dorm. He pulls up Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS on his laptop and sits at his desk to eat his lunch. He gives Twyla’s smoothie a cursory sniff, but the overwhelming scents of spinach, peach, and...smoked paprika? are too much for him to overcome, so he brings it across the hall to the bathroom trash can without taking a sip.
The game is in the bottom of the seventh and Bautista has just hit his three-run homer followed by his iconic bat flip when there’s another knock on the door. Patrick is expecting that it will be another delivery, but when he opens the door, David is there, holding a bouquet of flowers and a small pizza box.
“Hey!” Patrick’s heart flutters with happiness.
“Happy birthday, honey.” David gives him a kiss and a slightly awkward hug, since his hands are full. “Flowers are for you; pizza’s my lunch.”
Patrick accepts the bouquet, and the unmistakable scent of gardenias, like David’s shampoo, tickles his nose. He breathes them in, and then digs around for his largest cup to fill with water from the bathroom sink. By the time he returns to the room and puts the bouquet into the cup, David has already finished one slice of pizza and is on to his second.
“Where did you get flowers and pizza in the middle of the day, anyway?”
David shrugs. “Stevie,” he says, still chewing.
“You had time for Stevie to drive you into town and get back? Your final must have gone really well, then.”
“Mm, no. I mean, my final went fine, thanks so much, but I asked Stevie to pick them up while I was taking the test. I ordered from the florist the other day.”
Patrick’s eyebrows shoot up. “How much did it cost you for her to run that errand?”
Patrick crosses his arms.
“Okay,” David amends, the crust in his hand waving in the air as he gesticulates. “It kind of cost you something. She told me to tell you that her driving me was her present to you. So happy birthday from Stevie, too, I guess.”
“Sounds right,” Patrick laughs, crawling up on the bed to kneel in front of David. “Does that mean I get some of that pizza?”
David looks genuinely pained over how to answer the question, but he swallows thickly and chokes out, “Sure.”
“Aw, David!” Patrick rewards David’s selflessness with a kiss. “That’s okay. I’m full from lunch. Thank you.”
Relief washes over David’s face, and he bites off half of the crust with a smile. “You’re welcome. What have you been up to?”
“Not much. Do you have another final today?”
“Nope. I should study later, but I’m all yours for a few hours.” He glances over at Patrick’s laptop. “What game are you watching?”
“Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. Want to watch?”
“Yes, definitely. Has Bautista flipped the bat yet?”
Patrick grins. “I’ll go back to the top of the seventh.”
After the game and some truly excellent making out that’s interrupted by Brendan in mortifying fashion, causing David and Patrick to scramble off of each other and into sitting positions that don't make it glaringly obvious how hard they both are, David leaves with a quick kiss and a promise to see Patrick for dinner. Patrick gets some studying done for his Writing and Rhetoric final, as well as doing some packing, and before he knows it, it’s time to meet David and Stevie.
They’re waiting for him in Stevie’s car in the parking lot closest to Patrick’s dorm. Patrick slides into the back seat, and they drive to a brew pub downtown that has amazing burgers. When Patrick walks in the door, he jumps back in shock at the chorus of “Surprise!”, “Happy Birthday!” and an errant “Congratulations!” that he thinks is from Gary. Most of the team is there, raising glasses of beer and soda in cheers. Patrick spins to face David, who is biting back a smile and clasping his hands in front of him.
“Surprise,” he says quietly.
Patrick pulls him into a firm kiss, not giving a single fuck about the cheers and wolf whistles the team is giving them. When he finally steps back, David is grinning dopily, his fingers pinching lightly at the shoulders of Patrick’s t-shirt.
“Thank you, David.”
David looks up at the ceiling, not quite an eye roll, but certainly a deflection. “You’re welcome. Now, go!” He pushes gently at Patrick to turn around. “Say hello and get some food.”
David has ordered platters of nachos, buffalo wings, soft pretzels with warm cheese dip, and sliders with fixings, and they all laugh and talk and eat, reminiscing about their favorite moments of the season, commiserating over their finals, and sharing plans for the summer. Patrick stays firmly attached to David’s side, holding his hand or wrapping an arm around his waist, and he smiles to himself when he notices that Ted and Miguel are doing the same as they chat with Citrus, Derek, and Blair. There’s a cake, and candles, and an appropriately mediocre rendition of “Happy Birthday,” and when the sky is dark and the regular bar crowd starts rolling in, everyone says goodbye and goes their separate ways.
Patrick, David, and Stevie head back to Stevie’s car. Patrick paws at the white heart on David’s sweater and tries to drag him into the back seat with him, but Stevie puts the kibosh on that immediately. “I am not playing chauffeur while you two make out and get my car all disgusting.”
David simpers at her. “Have you seen your car? How much take-out garbage is in here?”
“That’s different. It’s my garbage.”
“Ew.” David wrinkles his nose, but gets into the front seat anyway.
When they arrive back at campus, Stevie puts on her right turn signal to head for David’s dorm, but Patrick stops her. “Actually, can you drop us off at my dorm? I want to get something.”
“Oh,” David purrs. “Something fun?”
“Oh my god, gross.” Stevie shudders.
Patrick feels his cheeks flush. “Not like that.”
“Hm. Too bad.” David shimmies his shoulders, and Stevie makes an exaggerated gagging noise.
David walks to Patrick’s room with him, where he picks up his guitar and zips it into its case. “Okay, we can go.”
“That’s it? You wanted to practice guitar tonight?”
Patrick slings the case across his back and tugs David towards him. “No.” He leans up to press a kiss to David’s lips. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten that it’s our three month anniversary. I still have to give you your gift.”
David wriggles out of his arms. “Ugh! I keep telling you this is ridiculous!” David scrunches up his nose and widens his eyes, trying to look horrified, but the smile playing at the corners of his lips gives him away.
“Why don’t you wait until I give you your gift to decide?”
David groans. “Fine.”
Patrick pecks him on the cheek, and they walk across campus to David’s dorm. Patrick keeps trying to hold his hand, but David yanks it away every time in supposed irritation. It just makes Patrick smile wider. When they get into David’s room, David sits primly on the edge of the bed, shoulders tense, while Patrick takes out his guitar and checks the tuning. When he’s ready, he sits at the foot of the bed, and David shifts to face him.
Patrick strums a few major chords, just noodling until he can gather the courage to actually start singing. “So I told you that I did these open mics in high school.” David nods tentatively. “But I never actually sang to someone I was dating, or arranged a song for them.” David sucks in a sharp breath, and Patrick smiles at him a little before looking down at his fingers on the neck of the guitar. “When my boyfriends asked, I just said my music was for me.” He shifts into minor, finding the chords he’ll need for this song. “And that was true, but...I think the more accurate version of the truth is that I’ve never felt about anyone else the way that I feel about you. And I wanted to show you.” He glances up, then, and David’s eyes are already shiny with emotion.
“Anyway, here’s ‘Wonderwall.'”
David lets out a little squeak of terror, and Patrick grins at him. “Just kidding.”
He picks through the chords and sings out strongly, forcing himself to keep his eyes open and on David. This is for him, and he deserves to see how Patrick feels about him, even if he’s not ready to hear those three words yet.
I could feel it from the start
Couldn’t stand to be apart
Something about you caught my eye
Something moved me deep inside
He’s altered the song a lot from the original, slowing it down and changing the style, and he can tell that David doesn’t recognize it yet.
Never thought I’d be all right
Till you came and changed my life
What was cloudy now is clear
You’re the light that I needed
He purposely took out the first refrain because he wanted David to pay attention to the lyrics, to notice the weight of what they say despite the energetic tone of the original. Because every word is true: he’s been drawn to David from the beginning. Everything is better when he’s around, and there’s no one else who can compare.
Ain’t no other man can stand up next to you
Ain’t no other man on the planet does what you do
Patrick sees the moment David figures out what song this is, his eyes lighting up with laughter as he scrubs his fingers over the grin that Patrick knows he’s trying to hide.
Ain’t no other man, it’s true
Ain’t no other man but you
Patrick ends the song with a flourish and bites his lip, and David shakes his head and gives him a polite golf clap, smiling disbelievingly. “You’re ridiculous.”
“I told you, my most popular cover in high school was ‘Genie in a Bottle,’” Patrick says, setting his guitar aside. “Christina Aguilera and I go way back. Besides” —Patrick shifts to straddle David’s lap, and David’s hands fall to Patrick’s hips— “I think you liked it. I think you liked it a lot, actually.”
David closes his eyes and looks up slightly, his head wiggling with a tiny, rapid shake. “Um, I don’t— I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No?” Patrick kisses the deep dimple on David’s cheek, the appearance of which always betrays David’s efforts to not smile. “Are you sure?”
David opens his eyes only to narrow slits and purses his lips. “I...may not have hated it.”
Patrick gasps theatrically and presses his hand to his own heart. “Glowing praise from David Rose. I’m honored.”
David bites his lip. “I...may have even loved it.”
Patrick’s heart thumps wildly under his ribs at the word “love” dropping from David’s lips, even if it’s just about a song, and Patrick has to take a deep breath to steady himself. He leans in to kiss David softly. “Happy three months, David.”
“Happy three months,” David mutters, not making eye contact.
“Aw, David! You acknowledged our monthiversary!”
“Only because it’s also your birthday. So, you’re welcome. Now, um” —he fiddles with Patrick’s belt loops— “will you play it again?”
Patrick grins and kisses him again. “Of course.”
Patrick: David, hurry up! We’re going to be late!
David: Then stop texting me so I can finish getting ready! I’ll be down in a minute.
Patrick growls at his phone and shoves it into the pocket of his suit pants, and adjusts his jacket for at least the tenth time. This is the first really nice suit he’s owned. It was a gift from his parents to wear for his high school graduation, and the material is a brighter blue than the standard navy he wore when he was younger. It had been tailored to fit him a year ago, but the long practices and hours at the gym have made it a little too tight in the shoulders and thighs and a little too loose in the waist. But even though it feels uncomfortable, it still looks decently nice, especially paired with a white shirt and burgundy tie. And anyway, it’s the only suit Patrick has, so it will have to do for tonight.
At 7:21, David finally swans out the front door of his building, and Patrick’s mouth goes dry. If he was in a cartoon, his jaw would have literally dropped to the floor, and his tongue would have unrolled out of his mouth and across the pavement. David looks incredible. He’s wearing an expensive-looking black suit, impeccably fitted, of course, with a white shirt and black tie. There are peeks of white showing at his wrists and in his pocket square, and flashes of silver from his cufflinks, rings, and a chain necklace that’s looped under his tie. He’s wearing a pair of skirted pants that end just below his calf muscle and patent leather dress shoes with no socks, showing off a line of ankle that straddles the (socially-constructed) line between feminine and masculine.
Patrick is on him in an instant, kissing him hard. “I changed my mind. We’re not going.”
David pulls back, a little stunned. “What are you talking about?”
With David’s lips out of reach, Patrick dives in to kiss his neck instead. “You look too good,” he mumbles. “We’re staying here so I can undress you piece by piece.”
Patrick feels David’s laugh rumble in his throat. “If you undress me, I won’t look this good anymore.”
“Oh, I beg to differ,” Patrick says, moving up to nip at David’s jaw.
David sucks in a breath and pushes Patrick away gently. “Okay. You have to stop, or I’m going to listen to you, and no one will get to see the two hours of work I put into this look.”
Patrick tilts his head. “I don’t really see the problem there.”
David tsks and rolls his eyes, and takes Patrick by the hand. “Come on, let’s go.” Patrick lets David lead him in the direction of the campus events center, where the Athletic Awards Banquet is being held. As they walk, David glances over at Patrick, and Patrick sees him flick his eyes up and down Patrick’s body appraisingly. He gives a little hum of satisfaction, and then says, low and intimate, “You don’t look so bad yourself.”
Patrick grimaces. “Thanks. I wish I looked better. This suit doesn’t fit correctly anymore.”
“Mm-mm, no. It looks amazing on you. I mean, if you were going to the Met Gala, sure, you’d need better tailoring.” He pauses, reaching over to run a finger along the material where it’s stretched near-taught across Patrick’s shoulder. “But I like how it makes your muscles stand out. You look very, very sexy.”
Patrick feels a complicated mixture of embarrassment and arousal at David’s blatant ogling, blood rushing to his cheeks and to the cradle of his hips as he stops short and tugs David into a deep kiss. There’s no one around, so Patrick slides his hands under David’s jacket, finding the curve of his lower back at the bottom of David’s ribs. He nips at David’s lower lip, licking into his mouth when David opens for him eagerly. Patrick is dimly aware of the seconds passing by, knowing that they’re already a few minutes late to the banquet, but he can’t think of a single time he’s wanted to stop kissing David Rose in the last three months, and this is no exception.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” Ted’s voice calls out, and David and Patrick jump apart. Ted and Miguel are approaching from the other direction, the side of campus where Miguel’s apartment is. They both look great in their suits, and their hands are joined, swinging slightly between them.
David lets out a quiet grunt of disapproval, so Patrick throws Ted a courtesy chuckle. “I’m surprised you guys aren’t there already. You both usually live by ‘early is on time, and on time is late.’”
Miguel and Ted both flush slightly, and Ted pets at his own hair, unnecessarily trying to smooth it into place. “Oh, um, yeah, just…” Ted stammers.
“Wardrobe malfunction,” Miguel fills in.
David snorts, and Patrick bites down on a grin. “Right. Well. We should probably get going, then.”
“Yup! Yes. Definitely,” Ted says.
They make it to the banquet ten minutes after it’s due to start, right as Coach Schitt is leaving the stage to a smattering of polite applause.
“Oh god, did they let him give the opening remarks? Who approved that?” David hisses, his face twisted in horror.
“I guess it’s good we were late after all.” Patrick squeezes his hand, and they follow Ted and Miguel to the tables designated for the baseball team. David and Patrick find two empty seats at the same table as Derek, Ken, Antonio and his boyfriend Brad, and Stevie and Twyla. Derek has an arm around Ken’s shoulders, and Ken is leaning into him in a way that’s decidedly not-platonic, so apparently that’s a thing that’s happening, too.
“Wow, you made it just before the salad was served. Cutting it a little close there, don’t you think?” Stevie says to David.
“Please, you know I’d never miss a course,” David scoffs. “But if I was going to miss one, salad would be it. So. Win-win, either way.”
“Hi, Stevie,” Patrick cuts in, before their banter can go any further. “You look very nice.” She’s wearing a tight black dress that really does look great on her. “You too, Twyla.”
“Thanks!” Twyla says cheerily.
“I know,” Stevie says, raising an eyebrow and taking a sip of her water.
There’s something about being dressed up that has everyone on their best behavior, keeping their napkins on their laps and using their inside voices and making polite conversation. The salad is fine, but eating off of fancier plates and using fancier silverware than they always get in the dining hall improves it somewhat.
After salad, the first round of awards are presented, which are given to entire teams or for which individuals are considered regardless of sport. The women’s soccer team wins for the most team spirit, which Patrick thinks is well-earned, given the face paint and curly ribbons he saw them wearing all over campus on game days during the first semester. Men’s ice hockey wins for most improved record, which...well, their record last year was 3–31, so it was hard to go anywhere but up. But still, good for them. Best Dressed goes to the men’s lacrosse team, at which David rolls his eyes and says, with no attempt at volume control, that he has no faith in any fashion decision made by a bunch of coaches.
Dinner service begins halfway through the first awards, and Patrick nearly chokes on his chicken cordon bleu when Eric’s name is announced for the Highest GPA award. Eric walks up to the stage only when Sean elbows him in the side, amid enthusiastic applause from all of the people who don’t know him and bewildered slow claps from the baseball team.
Once the dinner plates are cleared, the second round of awards are given, for the season MVP of each team. The awards are decided by each team’s captain along with the coaches. They’ll be announced in alphabetical order by sport, which means that baseball is first, so Patrick doesn’t have to wait long for everyone else to find out what Ted already gave him a heads up about.
Ted and Coach Lee take the stage. Coach Lee looks amazing in a sparkling, short-sleeved dress covered in silver sequins, though Patrick would never tell her that. He knows he would somehow get himself in trouble for it.
Ted steps up to the microphone, and Patrick moves his hand to rest on David’s thigh, squeezing gently. David looks over at him and smiles, then presses a kiss to Patrick’s cheek. God, how did he go so long without being able to do this all the time?
“Hey, everybody! How are you doing tonight?” Ted’s voice booms through the speakers, cheery and bright. There’s some applause and a few “Woo!”s from around the room, but Ted doesn’t seem discouraged by the lukewarm response. “I’m Ted Mullens, captain of the baseball team, and this is Coach—”
“Coach Veronica Lee,” Coach Lee says into the mic, crowding Ted out of the way. She turns and narrows her eyes at him slightly. “I can introduce myself, Mullens.”
Ted chuckles nervously. “Right! Sorry. Anyway, we’re here to start off the presenting of the MVP awards.” He steps aside to let Coach Lee take the mic.
“The baseball team had a great season,” she says, in her dry, matter-of-fact way. “Our veteran players kept working hard, and we had a bunch of new players with a lot of promise. Mostly freshmen, but also one transfer student. The baseball team’s MVP this season showed dedication, focus, reliability, and consistency. He was one of our strongest position players, and one of our best hitters. He also supported his teammates both on and off the field, which is why the baseball coaching staff thought he was most deserving of this award.” Ted holds up a finger and looks for a second like he’s going to jump in and say that he also helped with the selection, but then thinks better of it and snaps his mouth shut. “The baseball MVP this season,” Coach Lee continues, “is sophomore right fielder David Rose.”
Patrick is on his feet applauding while the sound of Coach Lee saying David’s voice is still hanging in the air. David hasn’t stood up yet, instead sitting in his chair looking stunned, so Patrick tugs on his elbow to get him to rise to his feet and then gives him a nudge towards the stage. Patrick can see how tightly David’s hand grips the railing as he climbs the few steps up to the stage, his rings glinting under the stage lights and his knuckles almost white. David accepts the plaque with slightly shaky hands, and receives a nod from Coach Lee and a bear hug from Ted. Patrick snorts at the awkward hug, Ted’s arms wrapped around David while David’s are pinned between them, still holding onto the award. All three descend the stairs and make their way back to the baseball tables as the basketball team captain and head coach walk onstage to present the next award.
Back in his seat, David receives congratulations from Derek, Ken, Twyla, and Brad; a raised eyebrow from Antonio; and “Nerd,” accompanied by an eye roll, followed by a hug, from Stevie. Once the rest of the table has turned their attention to the stage, Patrick finds David’s hand under the table and leans in to give him a brief kiss on the lips. “I’m so proud of you,” he whispers, leaning close to David’s ear.
“I didn’t do anything,” David whispers back. “I just played baseball.”
Patrick shakes his head. “You’re an important part of the team. Your skills are important to our record, but you are important to all of us. Me, especially.”
David scrunches up his face and tips his head back in lieu of a response, and Patrick kisses him again on the jaw.
“Hey, lovebirds,” Stevie stage whispers, “you want to maybe stop being so gross so that I can actually enjoy dessert?” She points to the wait staff, who have started circling the room carrying trays laden with slices of cake on small white plates.
“Aw, I think it’s cute, babe,” Twyla coos.
David bites down on a smile and raises an eyebrow at Stevie. “Babe?”
“Shut up,” Stevie mumbles.
“Good one,” David deadpans, and Patrick can’t help but kiss him again.
The rest of the awards go on for far too long, since the MVP of the football team started a trend of making a heartfelt speech upon receiving his award, and the rest of the MVPs, from golf all the way to wrestling, decided to follow suit. It’s almost ten o’clock by the time everyone parts, with waves and hugs and promises to keep in touch over the summer. Everyone is headed home tomorrow morning except for the seniors, who have graduation tomorrow afternoon and will leave on Monday.
It’s a beautiful night, so Patrick puts an arm around David’s waist and steers him towards the main quad and the long way back to David’s room. They walk in silence, enjoying the moonlight and the quiet. The campus is mostly deserted by now, the majority of the students having moved out and the seniors probably downtown at the bars celebrating their last night before graduation, and the light click of David’s dress shoes against the pavement echoes off the darkened buildings surrounding the empty quad. Patrick has always thought that the brick facades of the academic buildings are a little ostentatious, built in the 1960s but made to look like they were designed a century before that. Tonight, though, they’re softened by the surprisingly pretty orange tint of the campus lights and the haze of the humidity hanging in the air that makes everything look ethereal and almost sparkling.
David must think so, too, because Patrick feels his arm tighten around Patrick’s shoulders as he says, “I’m going to miss this.”
Patrick hums. “I know it will be hard to get used to not having hours of homework every day, but if you want, you can borrow my microeconomics textbook from last semester. They put out a new edition and I couldn’t get any money selling it back.”
“Mm! Sounds riveting. Exactly how I want to spend my summer.”
Sadness suddenly washes over Patrick, and tears prick his eyes. He stops walking and puts himself in David’s path, pulling him into a tight hug. “I’m really going to miss you,” he murmurs.
His torso rises and falls with David’s deep inhale, and he feels his hair ruffle from David’s exhale. “I’m going to miss you, too. But, hey,” he says, his tone suddenly falsely cheerful, “probably better that you get a break from me for a few months so you don’t get tired of me too soon. We’ve just told the whole team about us, so it would be a shame if the next time we saw them we’d already broken up.”
Patrick steps out of their embrace and fixes David with a look that he hopes encapsulates how ridiculous he thinks David is being. “David.”
“What?” David’s voice pitches up, and he puts his hands out to his sides, palms up, as if he honestly has no idea what Patrick could possibly be upset about.
“David,” Patrick says again. “I thought we’ve been over this. I’m in this, okay? I’m not going anywhere.”
David crosses his arms over his chest, as if he’s trying to physically protect his heart. “I know.”
“Do you? Because I was going to ask you how soon I could come see you in the city, or when you could come visit me. Alexandria Bay is gorgeous in the summer, you know.” Patrick steps closer to David, winding his arms around his waist again. “We can go to the beach...do some swimming...you could wear that bathing suit...and there’s this really amazing ice cream place I want to take you to.”
David purses his lips and looks away, but his body relaxes, his arms uncross, and his hands find their rightful place on Patrick’s shoulders. “I have a couple of questions.”
“How many questions are about the ice cream?”
“Most of them. Obviously. But also...are you sure?”
Patrick tilts his head, smiling. “Sure that I want to see you over the summer?” David nods once. “Yes. I’m absolutely, one hundred percent sure, David.”
David kisses him, then, pulling him in close and letting their noses bump together. “Okay,” he whispers into the space between them, once they’ve parted. “Come to the city next month, before it gets disgustingly hot and the whole place starts to smell like garbage.”
“Wow, sounds amazing,” Patrick deadpans.
David rolls his eyes. “I said come before that.” He grins. “We’ll go see a Yankees game and root against them.”
Patrick laughs and kisses David again. “Sounds perfect.”
They start walking again, their arms slung around each other as they were before. “What time is your dad coming to pick you up tomorrow?” David asks.
“He should be here by nine. He wanted to make sure we got off campus before all the graduation traffic starts. What time is Stevie driving you to Syracuse to catch the train?”
David grimaces. “My train leaves at noon, but Stevie wants to leave here at ten. She doesn’t trust me to be ready on time.”
Patrick laughs as David shoves him with his hip. David doesn’t drop the arm around his shoulders, though, so Patrick doesn’t go far, and it only means that Patrick tugs him even closer in apology.
“Can I stay with you tonight?” Patrick asks.
David heaves a sigh. “I mean, I guess. If you must.”
David smiles. “Okay.”
They walk the familiar path to David’s building, up the stairs, and through his dorm room door for the last time together. David is going to share an on-campus apartment with Jake and Citrus next year, and Patrick is rooming with Brendan again, but in a nicer dorm. Patrick won’t exactly miss this room, which is barely large enough for two people and the width of which David can nearly span with his arms outstretched, but he can’t deny the soft spot it holds in his heart, for all of the laughter and conversations and important moments that it incubated until they were ready to set their relationship free and share it with everyone.
Patrick revels in undressing David the way he’s been wanting to all night, and they kiss, and they fuck, and they cuddle, and they fuck again, making the most of their limited time to create new memories in this space, and they fall asleep curled in on each other with fingers and ankles entwined.
When Patrick’s alarm goes off at 7:45 the next morning, he lets himself be tugged impossibly closer, breathing in the scent of David’s cologne and shampoo and skin and memorizing the feel of every inch of him, as if he hasn’t already been doing that for over three months now. David’s alarm goes off at 8:30, and Patrick finally admits to himself that he absolutely has to go so that he can be ready before his dad arrives. He reluctantly extracts himself from David’s arms, not without some whining on David’s part, and David follows him out of bed. They hug one more time, and kiss one more time, and squeeze each other’s hands one more time, and then Patrick pulls David’s door closed behind him, and...that’s it.
Patrick walks down the hallway, down the stairs, and across campus in the chilly mid-morning air, feeling slightly ridiculous in last night’s suit with his tie looped haphazardly around his neck. When he gets back to his room, it’s as he left it, with bare walls, bare surfaces, and plastic bins full of Patrick’s entire year stacked in the corner. He changes his clothes, brushes his teeth, and strips his bed, and when his dad arrives, he helps load the car. By 9:30, they’re on the road, with campus in the rearview mirror.
Patrick pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of the sky, lit orange and pink with the morning sun, and texts it to David.
Patrick: Miss you already
David: One month ❤️
Patrick: Can’t wait.
Patrick juggles the drink tray and paper bag, shifting them both into one hand, then uses his newly-freed hand to twist the doorknob and shoulder awkwardly into the gallery.
"David?" He winces at the sound of his voice, too loud as it echoes in the half-empty space, but relaxes instantly when his boyfriend pops his head out from the curtain to the back room.
"Oh, finally." David makes grabby hands at the food Patrick is carrying.
Patrick pulls the bag back, out of David's reach. "Ithaca Bakery didn't have any rosemary salt bagels today, so I had to get your sandwich on a garlic bagel, instead." He hands the bag over and kisses David's pout in apology.
"Did they get the Gimme! Leftist Espresso back in, at least?"
Patrick passes him his coffee. "Taste and see."
David gives him a suspicious look over the lip of his cup as he takes a sip, then closes his eyes in bliss. "Yesss," he hisses; then, after a few more swallows, "Thanks, honey."
Patrick accepts another peck before opening up his own breakfast. "So how are things looking? Is she going to be ready for opening in a couple weeks?"
David rolls his eyes. "Please don't call our gallery 'she.' But, yes. I think so. I still don't know if it's a good idea to go to the game this afternoon, though."
"It's Seneca Falls' first home game of the season. You really want to miss it?"
"No," David admits.
"It’s only an hour away. We'll be home before dinner. If you really want, we can come straight here again after."
"Um, excuse me, but I believe I was promised a picnic by the lake tonight."
Patrick sucks air through his teeth. "I don't know, David. That sounds wildly irresponsible. We're supposed to be opening in two weeks."
David narrows his eyes. "Well maybe I'll go on the picnic by myself and you can come back here."
Patrick grins and puts his bagel back down on the wrapper, moving forward to wrap his arms around David's waist. "Oh, you're going to want me there."
"Am I?" David asks airily. "Because it just sounds like there would be more cheese for me."
Patrick leans up and silences David with a lush kiss, opening his lips and letting their tongues brush together lightly. David drapes his arms over Patrick's shoulders and draws him in closer, fingertips teasing the sensitive skin at the nape of Patrick's neck. Patrick shivers as goosebumps erupt across his skin and he feels a tug of arousal low in his stomach. Nearly a decade together, and David's touch still lights him up every time.
David's eyes are half-lidded and his lips are deep pink when they finally pull apart a minute later. David grins. "All right, you've convinced me. I'll share my cheese with you."
"Very generous, considering I'm the one who packed the basket." He releases David and pats his hip. "Come on, we need to get on the road in an hour and a half. What's on the to-do list for today?"
Patrick gets to work unpacking as many boxes of soaps, hair care, and something called body milk as he can, lining everything up as precisely as David taught him to on the center tables. David, meanwhile, walks slowly around the perimeter of the space, pausing periodically to gaze at the empty walls while tapping his pointer finger thoughtfully against his lips. Anyone who didn’t know David as well as Patrick does might think he was just trying to get out of helping with the heavy lifting. And in fairness, he’s not not doing that, but Patrick also sees what David is actually working on: mentally arranging and rearranging the artwork that will soon adorn the walls of their gallery-slash-local goods boutique, Rose-Brewer Gallery.
Patrick hadn’t wanted his name on the business at first, arguing that a) he was just the numbers guy, and b) “Rose” sounded a lot more upscale than “Rose-Brewer.” But David had insisted, saying that they were equal partners, and that after seeing what having a company with only his name on it had done to his father’s priorities, he would much rather share the business, share the burdens, share the successes, and share the name. It was hard for Patrick to disagree with that logic.
Now, with the sign makers having completed their work a few days ago, he gets to see their names together every day, mounted in burnished gold lettering on the black and brick facade of their building right in the center of downtown. Every time, his body is flooded with warmth and love and almost ten years of memories that stay with him for the rest of the day.
Patrick’s phone buzzes and jingles in his pocket, alerting him that their ninety minutes are up. He sets the half-empty box of massage oil on the floor and nudges it under the table to pick up where he left off tomorrow. David, meanwhile, is still lost in thought in the rear of the store. He’s put on his glasses with their thick black frames, a new addition to his aesthetic that he was reluctant to admit he needed at first. He wears them a lot more readily now, though, since the headaches he’d been getting have started to improve from not having to squint at his sketches or sit hunched over his papers quite so much. At the moment, he has his sketchbook open on the antique hutch that sits along the back wall, and he’s alternating between glancing down at it and making occasional notes, and tilting his head thoughtfully at the large swath of wall available above the hutch.
Patrick slowly walks towards him and slides a gentle palm between David’s shoulder blades, not wanting to startle him. He doesn’t entirely succeed, since David’s muscles jump just a little at the touch, but Patrick receives a warm smile rather than a playful scolding, so he’ll take that as a win.
“How’s it going over here?” Patrick asks.
David hums and drapes one arm over Patrick’s shoulder, and Patrick curls one of his around David’s waist, tugging him just a little closer into his side. “It’s good. I have most of the space planned, I think. I like the idea of hanging those stained glass pieces above this cabinet here so that they’re the first thing people see when they walk in.”
“Those stained glass things that look like—”
“Yes, those. I really want to use our space to promote unapologetically queer artists like Kai. Their art matches the tone I want to set for the entire space, you know? Gorgeous and also a little bit subversive.”
Patrick presses a soft kiss to David’s stubbled cheek. “I love that.”
David smiles and turns his head, leaning in to kiss Patrick’s lips instead. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. So much.”
It’s as familiar as breathing now, telling David he loves him. He’s said it casually, when they’re just about to fall asleep; gratefully, when Patrick has taken on too much and needs David to help him through his inevitable crash; breathlessly, in the afterglow of great sex and spectacular orgasms; and quietly, in the early mornings when neither of them is ready to get out of bed just yet. On days like today, though, when the weather is exactly right and the feeling of baseball is in the air, he’s catapulted back to that first time, in the middle of Central Park, on their four month anniversary in mid-June.
They hadn’t seen each other since they’d said goodbye the morning after the Athlete Awards Banquet, and after almost a month of texts, phone calls, and Facetime, Patrick was more than ready to see David in person again. They’d spent the week together in the city, eating dollar slices of pizza and outrageously expensive ice cream sundaes; speaking in hushed voices as they wandered around world-class museums and shouting expletive-laced trash talk as they watched the Yankees lose; and just walking around exploring, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and of each other. They were on the wide lawn in Central Park that David had told him was called the Sheep Meadow, relaxing on a blanket, listening to the chatter of nearby conversations and the hum of the traffic beyond the trees. In the distance, Patrick could just make out the carousel’s tinny calliope music and the occasional crack of a bat from the rec leagues playing on the baseball fields on the other side of the road that cut across the park.
David had looked gorgeous in his big white sunglasses, black denim skirt, and an extremely weather-inappropriate neoprene sweatshirt, leaning back on his hands while Patrick rested his head on David’s thigh. Patrick had scratched lightly at David’s bare shin, and even now, Patrick remembers the look of absolute serenity on David’s face when he’d gazed down at Patrick. In that moment, Patrick didn’t want to hold back anymore, and before he could talk himself out of it, he finally said the words that had been singing in him for months.
“Hey, I love you.”
David was startled for a moment, until his gentle smile broke into a blinding grin. “I love you,” David said, bending down to kiss him, and Patrick was floating on air.
Years later, that feeling has never gone away.
Patrick gives David one more quick kiss. “We should go, or we’ll be late. And I’m sure you want to get a pretzel and an ice cream before the game starts.”
“Ah, so you do know me.”
“Yup!” Patrick says lightly, then gives David a swat on the ass. “Now come on.”
The drive from Ithaca to Seneca Falls is one of their well-worn routes, so Patrick doesn’t even have to put the stadium into his phone to navigate there. They have many playlists by now, both shared and individual, but they almost always listen to the same one when they drive this road: the one David created for them all those years ago. They’ve added to it and removed from it over the years, and it’s now nearly a fifty-fifty split of David’s and Patrick’s music. The car is different, too, of course, since Patrick’s parents bought him his silver Toyota in his senior year of college and they stopped having to beg Stevie to borrow hers. Pretty soon it will be changed again, if David has anything to say about it. He’s been trying to get Patrick to sell it for at least a year at this point, but Marcy and Clint always taught him to drive a car until it wouldn’t drive anymore, and he intends to follow through with that life lesson regardless of how much David complains.
“Want to play a game?” Patrick asks, as turning down the volume on the stereo a bit.
“Sure,” David says brightly. “Um, I spy with my little eye, something brown.”
“Is it trees?” Patrick asks dryly.
“Oh my god, how did you guess?” David says, positively glowing with sarcasm and self-satisfaction. “Your turn.”
Patrick rolls his eyes. “How about this. Never have I ever, um...been to the Czech Republic.”
David scoffs. “Well that’s not fair. Obviously I’ve been to Prague.”
“You’ve been to Prague? How did I not know this?”
David waves a hand dismissively. “It was one of those supposed family vacations before Dad shut down Rose Video. Alexis and Adelina and I went to the playground and got ice cream every day while Mom and Dad slept, and then they went out to parties and clubs at night while we slept. A shining example of family togetherness.”
David shares things like this every so often, things from his old life that would be sensational or heartbreaking to anyone else. But Patrick knows that they aren’t really that for David; they just...are. They’re facts, they happened, they made him who he is, and they’re in the past now. They don’t need to be discussed and unpacked every time. So Patrick treats this as such, giving David’s knee a squeeze to know that he’s been heard, and asks, “What kind of ice cream?”
“Chocolate, obviously,” David scoffs.
“Obviously.” He taps David’s knee. “Your turn.”
“Okay, um, never have I ever been to an orgy.”
Patrick glances over at him, and David is already looking back, a smirk playing across his lips. “Excuse me, David, you know that’s not true.”
“What? Of course I haven’t been to an orgy. I’ve been with you since I was twenty.”
“Right, and that one time at Jake’s…”
“No. No, no, no. Accidentally stumbling into an orgy that you think is going to be an exclusive, three-person event is not the same thing as ‘going to an orgy.’”
“Hm. Fair. Would...would you want to go to an orgy?” Patrick isn’t sure that he does, but if it’s something David is interested in, he’d consider it. “Jake has his whiskey nights every month, so the option is there.”
“Nah, not really my thing.” David slides a hand up and down Patrick’s thigh. “Too many limbs. I’m happy with just you.”
“Me, and occasionally Jake,” Patrick says playfully.
“Well, sure. But that’s fun mostly because you’re there, too.”
Patrick picks up David’s hand from his thigh to press a kiss to his knuckles. “I agree.” He rests their joined hands on his thigh, and takes his turn. “Never have I ever loved anyone more than I love you.”
“Cheesy,” David groans, but Patrick feels David’s hand tighten in his own.
“True,” Patrick counters.
“How about this, then. Never will I ever love anyone more than I love you.”
Patrick sighs performatively, but his heart flutters in his chest. “Such a hopeless romantic.”
“You love it.”
Today’s starting pitcher, Connor Eisen, is a senior who David and Patrick have been watching play since he was a freshman. He was just an occasional relief pitcher back then, but they’ve seen him come into his own over the years, increasing his stamina and accuracy on the mound as well as his reliability as a hitter. A new development today, though, is the fact that he seems to be in a relationship with Gabe Davies, a junior shortstop, if their lingering shoulder touches and the quick kiss Gabe presses to the top of Connor’s head as they sit down in the dugout are any indication. Patrick nudges David and nods at the two of them, sitting close together on the bench, their teammates on either side of them, and David gives him a fond smile.
After making their relationship public—and Ted and Miguel, and Ken and Derek, did the same—the following seasons had been even better. New players hardly batted an eye at intra-team couples, whether they began, ended, or endured, and they followed the lead of the more seasoned players who had automatically and immediately adopted a “no teasing comments during official team time” rule. Practices, games, workouts, and bus rides were all business and focus. Dinners, movies, and parties were another story, but with the boundaries clearly drawn, it made it easy to just have fun with their friends, who also happened to be their teammates, and give back as good as they got.
The home opener is great. Seneca Falls wins, sure, but it’s most fun because the team is evenly matched against Rochester, so every hit and out is exciting. Going back to Seneca Falls a few times a year has become a tradition for them, starting the year after David graduated, when Patrick was a senior and David had moved to Ithaca to work for the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College. Patrick had followed him a year later, after being hired as a business analyst for a small firm in town. It had taken years of frugal living, sharing a tiny one-bedroom apartment with not nearly enough closet space for David’s wardrobe, but they’d finally managed to save enough money—along with some additional grant funding—to be able to start up the gallery that had been David’s dream since before Patrick met him.
Patrick holds David’s hand on the walk back to the car, his fingers slightly sticky from ice cream residue. David offers to drive home since Patrick drove there, and Patrick happily accepts. The music plays quietly through the car speakers as he watches the trees zip by, leading them towards home. They’re back before Patrick knows it, and David eases the car into a spot in Stewart Park’s nearly-empty parking lot. They have their choice of picnic location along the grassy shore: apparently a Tuesday evening in February, unseasonably warm or not, isn’t exactly prime time for lake goers.
David heads to the restrooms to use the toilet and wash his hands while Patrick lays out the blanket, cheese, fruit, and crackers. He keeps the champagne tucked away for later. The spot he picks under a willow tree isn’t nearly as picturesque as it would have been in the summer, with leaves on the drooping branches, but on the other hand, the lack of shade allows the sun to shine through and warm the breezy air just enough to make the temperature comfortable with a light jacket and a knit cap. Everything is ready by the time David returns, and they settle in to eat, talking and laughing and enjoying the quiet peace together.
“Want to play some catch?” Patrick asks, as casually as he can muster, once the food is gone.
David twists to look up at him. “You brought our gloves?”
“Yeah, I thought it might be fun. We haven’t played catch in awhile.”
David smiles softly. “Sure.”
They grab their gloves and a ball and spread out, years of muscle memory leading them to instinctually find ninety feet, the distance between two bases.
David lobs the ball first, as hard as he can, like he always does, and it lands in Patrick’s glove with a satisfying thwack. They play together in a rec league during the summers, but David’s throw certainly isn’t as strong as it used to be, back when they lived and breathed baseball. A little less muscle on their bodies and a little less speed on the ball is a small price to pay, though, in exchange for nights out with friends, pizza on the couch, and planning a new business; in exchange for building a life together.
Patrick returns the ball as hard as he can, and from the soft smile on David’s face when he catches it, Patrick can tell that he’s thinking the same thing. They spend a few minutes silently tossing it between them, nice and easy, falling into the familiar rhythm.
“When did you first know for sure that you liked me?” Patrick asks as he throws the ball, the question as worn and comfortable as the gloves they’re wearing.
David smiles. “Winter break, when we were texting all the time. I couldn't stop thinking about you.”
“But I admitted to myself how hot I thought you were when we spotted for each other at the gym that first time.”
Thwack. David rolls his eyes. “You know this already.” Throw.
“I know. Humor me.”
“Looking back, I liked you right from the start.” Thwack. Throw. “When I threw the ball as hard as I could, and you just caught it, like it was nothing.”
Thwack. Patrick catches it easily this time, too, and winks at David. “When did you fall in love with me?” Throw.
Thwack. “When we came to Ithaca that first time,” David says. “I told you more about my past then than I’d ever told anyone before, and I just felt...seen. Taken care of.” Throw. “You made me feel safe.”
Thwack. “I don’t think you ever told me that.” Patrick takes a few steps towards David and tosses him a grounder. “You’ve always told me it was when I sang for you on my birthday that first year.”
David bends to scoop it up and throws Patrick a popup in return. “I knew I was in love with you then.” Thwack. “But I was already so far gone on you, even a month and a half in.”
Patrick tosses David a popup and takes another few steps closer. “I knew I was in love with you when I was helping you study for your Modern Art History class in my dorm room.” Thwack. “You were talking so passionately about that painting with the primary colors and the fire. What is it called, again?”
“Fate of the Animals,” David says, throwing the ball back.
Thwack. Patrick catches the ball, and then snaps his fingers. “That’s it. I was so in awe of you and your incredible mind. But I think I was already a little bit in love with you by that party before fall break. You left with Stevie, and I was devastated.” Throw.
Thwack. “I know.” David grimaces, and sends Patrick a grounder. “I wish I’d known then.”
Patrick lunges to the side to trap the ball, and throws another popup to David before narrowing the distance between them by five more steps. “I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”
David’s glove closes around the ball, and he looks back at Patrick, a soft, fond look in his eyes. “I suppose so.” They gaze at each other for a beat, all of their unspoken history swirling between them, until David breaks eye contact and tosses the ball back.
Thwack. Patrick throws a grounder, and waits for David to get it in his glove before he asks the next question. “When did you know you were going to marry me?”
David’s arm freezes mid-throw. It’s only for a split-second; he recovers quickly. But Patrick saw. Patrick catches the ball.
“I don’t know. I just...do.”
Patrick smirks and takes another few steps closer before throwing back. “I haven’t asked you yet, though.”
David raises an eyebrow playfully as he picks up the ball, then throws Patrick another grounder. “Well, maybe you should get on that, then.”
Patrick grins and lets the ball roll past him in favor of closing the last distance between them, and then slips his glove off and lowers himself to one knee. “Okay.”
David’s jaw drops in genuine shock. “Wait, what? I didn’t mean...not now.”
“No? Not now?” Patrick asks, still smiling, as he unzips his jacket and reaches into the breast pocket to pull out the long velvet box he’d tucked there when David was distracted with getting his glove on.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Patrick. What are you doing?”
“Well, I’m trying to propose, if you’d let me.”
David hiccups a sob, nodding, but says nothing.
“David, I met you at a time when I was just starting to figure out what I wanted my life to look like. I didn’t really have a distinct picture; it was all just vague ideas of a house and a job and being happy. But then you came along, and every day, the fog cleared a little bit more, so gradually that I barely noticed it. And then all of a sudden, I looked around and realized that all of the haze was gone, and I knew exactly what I wanted. You. Always you. The rest...the rest is just details. As long as you’re by my side, and I’m by yours, I know that I’ll always have everything I need.” Patrick opens the box and turns it towards David so that he can see the four gold rings nestled inside. “David Rose, will you be my teammate for life?”
David’s face twists in horror, and he pulls off his glove, throwing it to the ground to allow his hands full range of motion to flail with exasperation. “Oh my god, NO.”
Patrick’s heart stutters. “NO? Are you serious?”
“No! I mean, yes! I mean, not no! Just, I can’t believe I’m going to marry someone who proposed with such a ridiculous line!”
Patrick’s cheeks ache with the grin that immediately spreads across his face. “So you’re going to marry me, then?”
“Of course I will, you asshole. Get up here and kiss me already.”
Patrick surges up to meet his lips, his arms wrapping around David’s waist as David’s arms fall to Patrick’s shoulders, just as they’ve always fit together. Patrick is about to deepen the kiss when David abruptly pulls back, raising an authoritative pointer finger between them. “We are not telling anyone that you asked me to be your ‘teammate for life,’” he says seriously.
Patrick laughs, happiness bubbling up inside him at the fact that he gets to spend the rest of his life with this ridiculous, beautiful man. “Whatever you say, Captain.”
“I still think you’d look good in the hat.”
“We could get you an eye patch.”
“You could tie me up and make me walk the plank.”
David’s expression melts from annoyance to sheer, gooey joy, and he delivers his stern rebuke through a bitten-back smile. “First of all, I’m never wearing the hat, and I refuse to have this argument for the rest of my life. Move on.”
Patrick squeezes him a little tighter, not bothering to fight his own smile at David’s choice of words. The rest of his life. “Very well.”
“Second of all, yes, we can absolutely revisit that little tying you up scenario in our bedroom tonight.” He raises an eyebrow and smirks at Patrick.
“Okay,” Patrick says, suddenly a little breathless.
“Third of all, I’m noticing a distinct lack of gold rings on this hand,” David says, pulling his left hand from behind Patrick and wiggling it in front of his face.
Patrick chuckles. “You seem to be correct.”
They take a step away from each other, and David slides the silver rings off of his right hand, placing them in his pocket. Patrick still has the ring box clutched tightly in his hand, and once David’s fingers are all bare, he slides the gold bands onto David’s left hand in the way Patrick first envisioned David wearing them when Patrick decided which rings to purchase: one on his pointer, one on his middle finger, two on his ring finger. Patrick snaps the box closed and slides it back into his breast pocket, and then picks up David’s hand, pressing a kiss to each ring, and finally one to David’s lips.
Patrick keeps holding onto David, and David keeps holding onto Patrick. The breeze picks up around them, colder now that the sun is approaching the horizon, making the bare willow branches rustle in quiet percussion. But nothing matters besides the press of each other’s lips, the warmth of each other’s bodies, and the love between them that Patrick knows will last a lifetime.
Well, that's it, friends. I'm feeling surprisingly emotional about it. Thank you all for reading. ❤⚾️