Tim is on the massage table, his hip and leg being stretched out by Mark. He digs into a difficult knot in Tim’s lower back, and for a moment the pressure is quite unbearable, and Tim groans out loud, before the tension goes out of the muscles and his spine turns liquid with the relief. The rehab has been going slowly, tediously, and the stress at home has been ratcheting up.
His dad called late last night, furious and frustrated at Tim’s refusal to let him come up to Scottsdale. “If you’re not throwing still, how will you get ready for Spring?”, he had shouted through the phone, and Tim knows, knows what’s at stake, but he can’t go against Dr. Philippon’s advice, not if he wants to return to pitching again, let alone pitching for the team and club he’s called a second home since he got drafted. Mark is slowing down now, just long strokes on his hip and back that feel warm and good, relaxing him after the long physiotherapy, but his mind is humming with anxiety. And all he does these days is rehab through the day, and worry through the night. The party scene and drinking no longer hold out solace, hooking up is too much work and feels like cheating, and his career hangs in balance. This is his life now - all the loneliness in the world.
Mark has finished rubbing down Tim with the rough white towel, and he reluctantly gets off the table, leaning his weight on the right foot. He has to take a shower, get dressed, call the driver to get him home, and that chafes as well, that he can’t drive and has to rely on someone to get him places. He opens his bag to get at his phone, and it rings the moment he digs it out. It’s Buster, and Tim is surprised enough that he almost fumbles and drops the call. “Hey!” he says, and for ten seconds, there is only the sound of Buster breathing, background noises of cicadas and leaves rustling, and Tim closes his eyes.
Buster is in Leesburg, with Kristen and the kids, there’s no reason for him to call Tim up. They don’t do this. “Hi Buster, are you still there?”, Tim says quietly, hopes Buster didn’t dial his number by mistake. That’d be worse than Buster not calling. Buster clears his throat, and his voice seems to be rough as hell. “Hey Tim”, he says, “Hi. I just wanted…I just wanted to see how you are doing. Is rehab going okay?” Tim feels his lips curl into a smile, voice grow warm and fond, the way he never manages to control in Buster’s presence, “Yes. Yes, Buster. It’s going okay. How are you?” Buster exhales rough, “Good”, and then there is a pause, before Buster says, voice gone even quieter, so soft and low that Tim has to strain to hear him over the background noise, “I miss you.” There is a tightness in Tim’s chest now, and all he can say, helpless, is “Buster, please.”
They really don’t do this. Buster made his choice, and Tim accepted it, but no matter what they said to each other, Buster can’t seem to stay within the lines he himself drew, and Tim is so so tired of never having enough and never knowing where he stands. The fragile balance has gone even more brittle since Buster visited Tim in the clinic after his operation. Tim only remembers hazy unreal snatches of it – Buster in the dark room, the long warm fingers softly stoking over the IV in Tim’s hand, soothing the throb, the brush of kisses and tears on his lips. The next morning he thought he had dreamt Buster up, but Dave came in and said Buster had come to see him, something weird in Dave’s expression as he observed Tim’s reaction, and Tim’s heart had lurched up into his throat. He sometimes thinks he needs Buster more than Buster will ever need him – but then, Buster will always do this, come to Tim, and move away, never let him get over Buster, and never let him love anyone else either. Sometimes, Tim is desolate. It is not even that he’s specifically jealous of Kristen – who he does genuinely like when he’s sane, and feels so guilty about. He’s jealous of all of them: friends, family, the babies, the fucking Giants, even fans asking for autographs. Because without them, maybe he could have Buster. And maybe, just maybe Buster would want him, want to claim him the same way.
The silence drags on, but this is something else Buster does as well – call Tim up, and just listen to him breathe. Even when they are the most upset with each other, or so far away that sometimes that Tim’s memories of Buster go hazy, Buster will call him up late at night, and not say anything, just hold on. He did it the year he broke his ankle and spent the year rehabbing, he did it during winter 2014, and every call like this makes Tim’s heart twist on itself with pain. Great, now his vision has gone a bit blurry and his voice is scratchy. “Buster”, he tries again, “I’m okay. Go be with your family”, and his voice cracks on the word, but he soldiers on, “And enjoy the offseason”. Before he can hang up, Buster says, urgent and hoarse, “No, Tim, wait. I’m coming out to Scottsdale, okay. I wanna see you. Please. Please, Tim!” Tim leans against the wall, says helplessly, “Okay. Okay Buster.”
Two days later, it’s the feel of long jeans clad legs on his thighs and cotton shirt brushing on his bare chest that wakes Tim up. Buster is poised over him, dark hair beginning to curl, dishevelled from his flight, warm even through the clothes. He is blanketing Tim, eyes gray-blue in the soft light of dawn, looking at Tim intently. He looks so good and feels so amazing Tim pulls him in with an ankle hooked on Buster’s calves, arm going up to the silky nape where the close cut brush of hair ends. Buster’s breath leaves him at one go, and he lowers himself down gently on Tim, big warm right hand on Tim’s hip, stroking on the scar there, face tucked in Tim’s neck. Tim shivers at the sandpapery rasp of Buster’s stubble, then the wet silk of his lips and scrape of his teeth as he kisses a bruise right below Tim’s ear. He pushes up Buster’s grey t-shirt, caresses the smooth warm skin of Buster’s back even as he tilts his neck to give Buster better access, crosses his ankles high up on Buster’s thighs, cradling him into his body. Buster is lean after the long weary season, and now that he’s here in Tim’s bed, in Tim’s arms, it’s difficult to focus on anything else but this moment, peaceful, and content and happy.
Buster is making these small sounds, soft breathy moans, nuzzling Tim’s jaw, and then higher up, on the thin skin beneath Tim’s eyes, and the tip of his nose, and then, finally, finally, the corner of Tim’s mouth. He holds his lips there, rough and a moment too long, before Tim grows impatient and turns his head and slides his lips onto Buster’s. For a second, it’s just that contact, the smooth wet glide of Buster’s on Tim’s own chapped lips, and then Tim moves or maybe Buster does, and their mouths are open, and Buster strokes his tongue in, and Tim sucks on him, and it’s like a switch is flipped.
Tim can feel himself shivering, blood running hot wherever Buster’s hands trace on his skin, can hear himself pant, trying to kiss Buster and get his shirt off at the same time, and Buster is calling his name, these shocks of sound between kisses, “Tim, Timmy, oh!”, like a litany, and there’s only this bed, white sheets and duvet, sunlight striping their bodies, birdsong filling the dawn air. Buster lifts himself off Tim for a moment, kneeling up and pulling his shirt off, and Tim looks his fill, the way he often can’t, traces his fingers over Buster’s chest, rubbing on his nipples, licks the mole on the base of Buster’s long beautiful throat, while Buster fights to get his jeans open. Tim pushes down on the blue boxers Buster is wearing, until his cock is filling Tim’s palm, silken hardness blood-hot and pearling at the tip. He drags his nail through the slit, and Buster makes a sound as if he’s been punched.
Tim looks up and has to close his own eyes at the sight – Buster’s hair is wild from Tim’s fingers, his lips red and bitten and swollen, cheeks pink, eyes looking down at Tim, wide with lust, almost shocked and desperate. Buster happens to Tim all over again, every time they come together after being apart. Tim pulls Buster’s hand to his mouth, sucks two of his long thick fingers in his mouth, and feels the minute tremors that take Buster then, vibrating with want as he stares at Tim laving his hand. He tastes of salt and Buster and so goddamn good Tim moans. Skin on skin, Buster’s cock smearing precome on Tim’s belly, Tim’s hardon insistent on Buster’s hip as he bows over Tim, murmuring praise and profanity. Tim bites on Buster’s thumb, traces the whorls on the pad, and Buster’s arms sort of give way, and he leans down heavier on Tim as Tim arches up. Buster moves his fingers out of Tim’s mouth, pulling Tim’s lower lip in between his own lips as he lines their cocks, grasps them in the hand slick with Tim’s saliva, and swallows Tim’s shout as he begins to smoothly jack them together.
Tim’s entire world is Buster and sensation – the roughness of Buster’s jeans on his bare legs, the smooth delicate skin of Buster’s cock against his own, Buster’s calloused finger dragging over the heads, mixing their precome together, Buster’s stubble on his chin and mouth, Buster’s tongue stroking into him, sucking in an imitation of another intimate act, Buster’s smell, recycled air and detergent and sandalwood and musk. His hands in Buster’s hair, the strands silky, on Buster’s back feeling the fluid movement of muscles beneath skin, the warmth of the sunlight pouring in a concentrated rush into the room. Tim is shaking, desire and despair and it feels like a heart wound, pure and good and unbearable pleasure as his orgasm starts, like a wave rolling up from his feet, blacking his sight out, as Buster spills on him, breathing harsh in his ear, “Oh, oh love”.
For a long time afterwards, they lie together, tangled up, still shivering with aftershocks, Buster’s head on his chest, his arms across Buster’s back, fingers carding through Buster’s hair, as Buster breathes, his eyelashes soft fluttering brushes on Tim’s skin right above his heart. It’s only when Buster begins stroking back over Tim’s surgery scar that Tim notices that the cold metallic glide of Buster’s wedding ring is absent. He takes hold of Buster’s hand to see better, and the pale bare strip where the ring should be makes his breath catch. Buster has pillowed his chin on Tim’s sternum, is looking at him, calm and heavy lidded eyes. Tim can’t even ask him, but Buster answers anyway – “There’s no one else here between us, Tim. Only you and me, for these two days.” Tim didn’t know he had any hope left within himself, but the rush of disappointment makes him feel drained nonetheless, the ache from rehab, and the ache from Buster’s body in his arms, and the ache in his heart all hurt piercingly. Buster is still watching him, and Tim knows that Buster sees what his statement did to Tim, and yet, he has always known that Buster won’t choose him over Kristen. Can’t. That he’d do this - “It is enough”, he tells Buster, who kisses his temple, an apology and supplication all at once.
Later, they’ll go out for lunch, somewhere discreet and private, the top-floor of a chrome and glass tower, hidden from other patrons near the back, the city and the desert beyond spread out beneath them like a glittering jewel. Buster will inch his right hand close to Tim’s where he’s playing with the napkin, press his fingers very lightly to Tim’s wrist, trace figure eights there, while he looks out the glass. Buster’s bare toes on Tim’s ankle beneath the table, quiet conversation as they talk around everything they can’t say, Buster having to go back to Georgia, Tim’s endless rehab, the uncertainty of his future. Later still, after the waitress has left them alone with dessert, Buster will pull out something from his pants' pocket, a simple braided black leather bracelet, two silver dragon heads holding a ring between their mouths, and slip it onto Tim’s left wrist, quick and precise as Tim sits still with shock. Buster will sit back, hands folded onto his lap, smile soft and small, and say, “I can’t give you a ring, but I thought, you may prefer a bracelet anyway, with your atrocious taste.” Tim will trace the dragon heads, where they lie among the wood and hemp and beads of his other bracelets, and find that they bear the carved letters B and T engraved under them.
Tim looks up at Buster, smiles at him, pain and love and acceptance, and says, teasing, “So you’ll suffer me, yes?”, and Buster grins, quick and bright, “Gladly. Always.”
This is how it is, whatever it is that they are to each other. Dark and secret and precious, between the shadows and the soul.