They played in Kansas City near the beginning of August, and everything seemed normal enough at first. It was hot and muggy and the sky was a little gray, but nothing they hadn't seen before. By the third inning, the clouds had started to roll in thick and fast. Jensen watched them, mouth pinched in a tight line. He didn't say much, but Jared knew him well enough by then to tell that he was panicking.
"What's going on with the weather?" Jared said in the dugout.
"Don't talk to me," Jensen said, while scanning the sky. And right then, as though Jensen's displeasure had caused it, the rain came pouring onto the field.
"Oh, hell," growled Jensen, and grabbed for his phone as the first lightning flashed in the sky. Jared said, "You're not supposed to be on the phone during a storm. Even I know that."
Jensen said, "This is an emergency," typing without looking up. Jared watched the field. They seemed to be trying to continue the game despite the downpour. Then Jensen said, "Oh my God." Jared looked over at him, and Jensen's eyes were enormous, his face pale enough to make all his freckles stand out. "There's a tornado watch for this area - no, a tornado warning. And - "
The brightest flash of lightning Jared had ever seen lit up the field, at almost the same moment as an unbelievably loud clap of thunder. Jensen froze in terror. "Holy shit," Valdez said from the other end of the dugout, then started to laugh. "Look at them! And they call us pussies?" All the Royals had started running off the field into the home dugout, not waiting for the umpire to call the game. Jensen recovered just enough to add, "I knew that pitcher wasn't a real man," but it wasn't very convincing. Everyone in their dugout pressed closer together to make room for the whole team, and Jensen huddled tight against Jared's side. Jared found himself wanting to squeeze Jensen's elbow or do something reassuring, but he was pretty sure that even in his weakened state, Jensen would deck him. So he just stayed close.
The spectacular thunder and lightning went on for what probably seemed like hours to Jensen, but was really about half an hour. Then it began, slowly, to move east of them. The groundskeepers had pulled a tarp over the field after the first big lightning strike, and now some fans who'd risked their lives staying in the stands the whole time ran onto the field and started body-sliding on the wet tarp until security chased them away. "Those people deserve to get electrocuted," Jensen said, which Jared thought was one of his more accurate pronouncements.
They tried to play another inning, but when a streak of lightning came down right behind the scoreboard, they called it for good. They drove back to their hotel, with Jensen twitchier and more nervous than Jared had ever seen him, making dire predictions when Jared said he was going to take a shower. The shower was uneventful, and when Jared walked back into their room, Jensen was on the bed closest to the door, as far away from the windows as he could get without curling up in a corner. After a nasty second wave, the storm was passing over, although there were periodic flashes of bright light and loud noise from outside. Jensen flinched just a little at the thunder every time.
"Man, how can you take a shower with that going on outside?" he asked. "Haven't you ever seen those shows on the Weather Channel about what happens when people get struck by lightning? It's terrible. Sometimes it comes through walls and ceilings. And if you're stupid enough to be in the shower, there's nothing they can do for you."
"What are you, my grandma?" Jared said. "And do you spend a lot of time watching the Weather Channel when we're not on the road?"
"Fuck off," Jensen explained.
"I bet you watch it all the time," Jared said happily. He went to the window and held the curtain to the side so he could look out. The sky was still ugly, purple-black as a bruise. A bright streak of lightning came down somewhere further away, and Jared counted in his head. Before he could finish, Jensen came up next to him. "You know lightning can melt glass, right?" he said, really sounding nervous, and he pulled at Jared's sleeve like a kid.
Jared laughed. "I'd almost think you care whether I live or die," he said, but stepped back from the window, noticing how close Jensen was, still warm from the game, but not too sweaty, since they hadn't gotten to play much. "You could use a shower too."
Jensen looked disdainful. "Sure, if I had a death wish." He hesitated. "Besides, I, um - " and then he leaned up and kissed Jared, his mouth nice and soft, a little salty from the sunflower seeds he'd been eating in the dugout. Jared put his arm around Jensen's waist, fingers spread out on his back. He could feel Jensen's heart beating fast through the soft cotton of his t-shirt. "Man, that was like poetry," Jared said, grinning, when they pulled apart, and Jensen punched him in the chest and said, "Shut the fuck up. You liked it."
"C'mere, wildcat," Jared said, and pulled him down onto the other bed, not minding when Jensen rolled his eyes. Jared rolled them over so he was on top. He could hold Jensen down pretty easily, he noticed, letting most of his weight rest on him as he eased Jensen's pajama pants down his thighs. "You like me holding you down?" Jared said, and before Jensen could answer, probably with something horrible, his face was suddenly illuminated by another flash of lightning through the curtains. There was another, louder crack of thunder a second later, and Jensen cried out softly, startled. "Shh, shh, " Jared breathed, leaning down to kiss him again. "It's passing over," he said against Jensen's mouth, and Jensen nodded and closed his eyes, tilted his throat up like an invitation for Jared's mouth, and Jared was struck by how vulnerable a gesture it was.
"Hey, man," Brock said to Jared a week or so later they got changed after a loss to the Braves, "have you seen Jensen?"
"Not in the last ten minutes," Jared said, a little confused. Their locker room was pretty spacious, but it didn't exactly have enough room to lose somebody. "Why?"
"I just saw him leave," Brock said. "He looked kind of upset."
"So this was different from his everyday angry expression?" Jared said. "That must have been something. I'll try to track him down."
He thought he'd stop by Jensen's house and see if he'd gone home, but he didn't have to go that far. Jensen was waiting by his car in the parking lot.
"Hi, there," Jared said. "Nice game today."
"Thanks," Jensen said. He did look upset, but not especially angry. He seemed a little tired and sad, not like during the game, most of which he'd spent swearing and spitting as vigorously as usual. "Jared, let me ask you something."
Jared's heart sank. "All right," he said, uneasy but trying not to let it show. Maybe it was something else, something that didn't matter. "Can I give you a ride - "
"Is there anything...unusual in your contract this season?"
Jared took a deep breath. He knew there was no reason to feel so guilty. What had he done wrong, really? He'd asked himself that question plenty of times as he pictured how this moment might go, but it had never gotten rid of the feeling of dread. "Can we not have this conversation out in public?"
"Don't worry, I'm not going to punch you. Or embarrass you." Jensen's voice was still level. He took his sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on, which was a kindness, since Jared didn't much want to look at him at the moment. "I'm just curious. Did they hire you to keep an eye on me this year? Civilize me or something?"
"It isn't like that," Jared started, but of course that was pretty much how it was, and even though Jensen was Jensen, it didn't seem right to flat-out lie to him. Instead he said, "Did someone say something to you?"
"Kelly did," Jensen said. "After the game." And he sounded so calm and resigned that Jared realized he really wasn't going to cause a scene.
"I don't believe he said that to you," Jared said, and Jensen flinched, just a little. "No, not - I didn't mean it that way. Of course I believe you. Just, it's none of his fucking business. Why would he say that to you?"
"Because he hates me, Jared," Jensen said. "I told you that. Nobody seems to believe it, though. Hell, I wouldn't believe it either, if I weren't me. He's pretty damn charming. Did you tell everybody about it, or just him?"
"Um," said Jared, cursing himself silently.
"Well, that's a little embarrassing," Jensen said, smiling awkwardly. "But all right. I guess that's all I needed to know." He turned and started to walk off.
"Jensen, wait," Jared said. "Can we talk about this or something?"
"Sure," Jensen said, turning back around but not coming closer. "What do you want to say?"
"I'm sorry," Jared said. "I've been sorry since - well, since I realized you weren't a complete monster. Which took a while, and you know, they weren't being totally unreasonable by putting that in my contract." He cut himself off, because all of this was what he'd planned on saying if Jensen came to him in a rage after discovering the truth. But Jensen didn't seem to be in a rage, and trying to defend himself was just making Jared feel worse.
"You're right," Jensen said, shrugging. "I'm not pissed at you or anything. If I was pissed, you'd know it. I'm just surprised, I guess. And it'd be nice if you'd kept it to yourself instead of telling everyone on the team that you were supposed to be keeping me under your thumb, like I think Kelly put it."
"I didn't say 'under my thumb,'" Jared protested weakly. Jensen ignored that and went on, "But I can't really blame you. I mean, I blame you for being an insufferable jackass in general, but I've pretty much said that all along. We've done a lot of fucked-up things to each other this season, and that's fair. But knowing you had an agenda the whole time?" He took his sunglasses off and looked Jared in the eye. "That's pretty underhanded."
"I didn't expect you to react like this," Jared said, feeling the inanity of it even as it came out of his mouth.
"Well," Jensen said, "I hate to break it to you, but there's a lot you don't know about me."
He turned away again. Jared let him go, mostly because he had no idea what else to say.
Things changed after that. Not too much with the rest of the team - Jensen was still at about a mild-to-average level of ornery, as he'd been for the past couple of months - but with Jared. For a while, he still expected Jensen to freak out at him, yell or throw a punch or something. Then he started to hope for that. He thought maybe if Jensen could get it out of his system in one big dramatic event, things could go back to normal. Jared would never have believed it in April, but he'd gotten pretty fond of the rhythm they'd developed. They had good communication on the field, maybe even more intimate than what they did off the field. In their hotel rooms, they sometimes talked, sometimes didn't, and were mostly comfortable either way.
They spent a lot of time in bed, and that wasn't anywhere near comfortable. It was rough and invigorating and sometimes so good that Jared could barely believe it. The nature of their job still meant that they were almost never apart, but they'd adapted, and now Jared didn't mind so much. There were moments when he almost liked that intimacy. A lot of his high school friends were married by now, and some of those marriages didn't seem as intimate as his situation with Jensen.
But all that had been before Brock filled Jensen in. Even though Jensen didn't seem to have gotten mad, he had gotten quiet. It didn't even seem to be a passive-aggressive silent treatment thing; that wasn't Jensen's style. He'd just shut down, obviously not comfortable with Jared anymore. Jared guessed that, for all the time Jensen spent blustering about everything under the sun, this was how he reacted when something really mattered to him. He remembered them out on the balcony that night, drunk and talking about baseball, Jensen suddenly quiet and a little reverent. That had felt like this.
So now things were quiet. Jensen kept ducking out of their room at night, probably just to avoid being with Jared, and Jared went out with the rest of the team more so he wouldn't have to be alone with Jensen. When he came back in late at night, he would sometimes find Jensen under the covers, his breathing a little too deep and even. Jared never called him on faking it, because sometimes he did the same thing.
Jared had never thought that he would mind seeing Jensen quiet and unhappy, but as it turned out, he did. After a while, he found Brock in the locker room and said, "I heard you had a talk with Jensen."
"We talked, yeah," he said, looking innocent and a little concerned. "Is he all right?"
"I'm wondering," Jared said, ignoring the question, "why you thought that was information he needed to have."
Brock shrugged. "You told us easy enough. I figured it wasn't a secret." Which stung, and could have been true, but he went on, "It just kind of came up."
"How the hell does that just come up?" Jared asked, not bothering to keep his tone friendly now. "Does it have anything to do with the fact that he's been playing a little better lately? Maybe you thought he needed a distraction?"
"I'm not sure I like that," Brock said, slamming his locker and standing up. "I've never done anything to him."
"You never had to," Jared said. "All you had to do was wait and give him enough rope, right? Hell, I can't blame you for that. But I bet you enjoyed the hell out of telling him what I told you."
"Jared - " Brock started, and Jared took the couple of steps between them, not touching him, just taking up his personal space.
"Maybe you shouldn't talk to him anymore about anything but catching," he said, looking Brock in the eye, making sure he was understood. "Or me, either."
Brock stared back for a minute, then said, "Fine, man, whatever you say," holding up his hands, going for lightness but coming off a little sulky.
"You're not as ready as you think you are," Jared said, and walked out. He knew already that this hadn't been his smartest move ever - Brock was liable to be around a lot longer than Jensen, and even if they both got traded, they could easily end up on the same team again someday. He'd always been an impulsive guy, though, and this had felt right. It still did.