christ, i have no excuse for this.
By Candle Beck
Stupid fucking Barry Zito.
Billy Beane needs another bat in the outfield. He needs a lefty in the ‘pen (excuse me, a *reliable* motherfucking lefty in the ‘pen) and maybe a second baseman who didn’t spend nine years in the minors, though Scutaro’s not looking like he belongs at Triple-A Norfolk anymore, but it’s a long summer for a journeyman to be starting every day.
Every year, he needs something.
What he doesn’t need, what he most emphatically and triple-scored *does not need*, is a cocksucking one-time ace starter with a fucking mental block.
He doesn’t need the bad luck that’s stuck to Zito like his shadow, the way he’ll go out there and throw a four-hitter with two earned runs and still get tagged for the loss. He doesn’t need Zito’s month-long winless streak or his inability to get past the fifth. He doesn’t need Zito’s frustration or bird-dark eyes, he doesn’t need the sarcastic drag that’s crept into Zito’s voice or the tight anger in his every movement, he doesn’t need Zito’s fear or Zito’s despair or the way it’s begun to affect the rest of the team.
He doesn’t need to see that proof-of-God curveball hung up over the plate like a fucking Christmas stocking.
Billy Beane does not need Barry Zito, not anymore.
He’s having trouble figuring out why he doesn’t just trade the motherfucker already.
Beane comes down from his office after Zito gets pulled after going three and a third and allows five runs. He’s in the tunnel when Zito slams through the door and wings his glove hard into the concrete wall. Zito snarls, “Fuck fuck fucker motherfucker,” and braces his hands on the stone, his head down and breathing slow.
“Hey!” Beane calls shortly, striding over to his pitcher. Zito snaps his eyes up, his mouth sneered.
He raises a hand, replying sharply, “I know, Billy, okay? I fucking know.”
Shaking his head, Beane plants a hand on the wall and leans in. “You don’t know shit, motherfucker. You haven’t got the slightest fucking clue.”
Zito roughs out a breath, black shadows under his eyes, a dented line hooked in his hair from his cap, spiking up in the front and powdered with dust. “I don’t need you to tell me when I’m pitching bad, all right?” he bites off carefully.
“Well, you need someone to tell you, because fuck if you’re doing anything about it,” Beane snaps.
“I’m doing *everything*!” Zito cries, his voice echoing and hoarse. Something shudders through him, and he steadies for a long moment before continuing softly, “Everything I can think of, I’m doing it. I swear to God. I can’t . . . I can’t shake it and I don’t know why.”
Billy’s so angry, he’s so fucking sick of this. Getting beat like this, getting beat and no reason behind it, no reason . . .
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Zito,” Beane growls. “This is all in your head. You know you’re better than this. Everybody knows you’re fucking better than this.”
Zito’s strung tight, his eyes screwed shut and then he suddenly rares back and punches the wall, hard. He gasps in pain and staggers backwards, cradling his hand to his chest.
Beane clamps his hands on Zito’s upper arms, Zito tense and flinching. Beane’s rough, snarling. “Dumb son of a bitch, quit acting like a fucking rookie! Are you *trying* to fuck yourself up now? Is that what this is, you stupid piece of shit?”
Zito tears away, the soon-darkened red spots already rising on his knuckles. “It was my right hand, what do you fucking care?” his voice breaking.
Beane shoves Zito’s chest, bumping him into the wall. They say he’s got an anger management problem, and they’re not wrong. “Listen to me. You fucking listen to me, Zito.”
Zito’s face is stubbornly warped and his eyes are down, far away. Beane pushes him again, keeps his hand on Zito’s chest, and he can feel Zito breathing fast. “You think I don’t know what this is like?” Beane says and he lets his voice drop, get raspy and deep. Zito won’t look at him.
“You think I don’t know? When you go out there and you can’t see right, you can’t breathe? Everybody tells you you’re gonna be so good and you’ve always been so good and then one day you just *aren’t*.”
Zito sneers like a teenager. “Yeah, all that compassion, is that why you’re about to get rid of me? You’re gonna send me somewhere else because you know me so well, Billy, is that it?”
Billy closes his hand in Zito’s jersey, digging his knuckles into Zito’s chest. “You’re dumb, but you’re not dumb enough to believe everything you hear from the fucking press, motherfucker.”
Zito catches his hand around Beane’s wrist but doesn’t throw him off, just glares and says back, “The press aren’t the only ones saying it, skip.”
Zito’s that kid you saw walking home at dawn across the college quad with no shoes and socks that don’t match. Zito’s everybody’s best friend and he makes up his own prayers and somewhere he’s still twenty-one years old and driving across the desert, crying so hard he couldn’t see anything.
Zito’s got fucking *everything*, and he doesn’t even know it.
“I’m not gonna let you do this,” Beane says, Zito’s heart racing. “You wanna end up like I did, you just keep thinking about how bad you’re doing and get too scared to fix it and then see what fucking happens, kid, just wait and see.”
Zito’s upper lip pulls up, and yeah, bad fucking move, lefty, because Zito’s spitting out thoughtlessly, “I’ll never be like you, Billy, you’re not even a has-been, you’re a never-fucking-were.”
And Beane hits him, there in the ballpark tunnel, hauls off and just fucking decks him, Zito’s head cracking back against the stone and his eyes rolling up white, his body sagging briefly.
Billy holds him up.
Zito lets his weight rest heavily, tilted forward against the other man, his mouth pressed to Beane’s shoulder for a long time until he pulls back, eyes glazed, and says incredulously, “You hit me.”
He lifts his hand, touches the corner of his mouth, staring down at his fingers. “I’m bleeding,” he notes in amazement.
Beane with his hands curled in Zito’s jersey, slipping up and down, laughs slightly, his anger sinking out of him and did he really just hit his number three starter? “Are you just gonna keep pointing out the obvious, or are we gonna talk?”
Zito feints a grin, blood on his teeth. “I dunno, I might be kinda scared of you now.”
Beane forces his hand loose, pats the pitcher carefully. “Like you weren’t before.”
They’re quiet, Zito’s tongue poking at the inside of his lip, tasting copper and feeling the swell. Beane doesn’t take his hands off him, though he’s not really mad anymore, strangely, and Zito doesn’t need the support anymore.
And then Zito’s hands suddenly crawl up his sides, moving anxiously and scratching at Beane’s shirt. Zito lifts his head and his eyes are black, solid fucking black, and he whispers, “Don’t trade me, Billy.”
Beane slides his hand to the back of Zito’s neck. Zito clings to him, tipping his pitches and letting everybody see everything. His voice won’t for the life of him stay steady. “I don’t want to play anywhere else, Billy, I don’t think I can. So please, man, please don’t get rid of me.”
Beane shakes his head, Zito’s hair flat over his fingers. But he won’t say anything, ‘cause Billy Beane doesn’t lie, not unless there's something in it for him.
He touches his forehead to Zito’s for just a second. “Go ice your arm. Your hand too. Don’t punch anything else.”
Zito sniffs hard, lifts his head to swipe an arm across his nose. “You don’t punch anything else, either.”
Billy grins. “Okay.” He lets Zito go, being terribly careful with him. Zito keeps his grip for a long moment, and Beane finds himself saying, “You’re not gonna end up like me.”
Zito lets his palms skate down Beane, clipping his belt and then off him, and Zito smiles crookedly, the corner of his lip swollen. “’Course not. I’m not that smart.”
Zito scoops up his glove and walks down the tunnel to the clubhouse without looking back, one hand on the back of his head on the growing bump, and Beane leans on his shoulder against the wall, his hand aching from where it hit Zito’s mouth, and he’s lining up rosters in his mind, available players, which team he can screw over in a three-way trade and how much he’ll have to give up.
An outfield bat, a lefty reliever, a veteran infielder. Anybody but this cold-eyed man who has everything and can’t touch it, anybody but a ballplayer too broken to be fixed.
and for those who are just totally confused, let's get back to what we do best.
Author: Candle Beck
Category: MLB, Oakland A’s
Pairing: Mulder/Zito (hurr-freaking-ah)
Feedback: Rock and roll.
Disclaimer: The premise is absolutely true. So is Zito being a complete fucking nutcase. But then all the rest, not so much.
Summary: The Oakland Athletics take no responsibility for valuables lost or stolen in the ballpark.
By Candle Beck
“Mulder’s stolen my motherfucking curve.”
Huddy blinked. “What?”
Zito waved accusatorily with his half-full pint, sloshing it around. “He . . . he stole it! Nothing but a fucking thief, fucking son of a bitch.”
“Zito, what the fuck are you talking about? Mulder’s always had that curve,” Hudson replied, his voice familiar with exasperation, ‘cause Zito had been in the crosshairs for a month and it wasn’t as if he was exactly mentally stable to begin with.
“Not like this!” Zito insisted, glaring at the other man for refusing to believe him. “You think I don’t know my own curve when I see it? Thing falls in like it’s on tracks. He puts it on the outside corner, he drops it inside—since when does Mark fucking Mulder have that kind of control? That’s my goddamn curve he’s throwing, and I want it back.”
Hudson rolled his eyes, cracking his knuckles against his palm. The strained muscle in his side hurt and he wasn’t in the mood to worry about Zito tonight. “Why don’t you go tell him that? He’s drunker than I am, he’ll probably have more interest in this.”
Zito scanned across the shifting packs of people, finding the other lefty elbow-to-elbow with Chavvy at the bar, grinning at the girl serving drinks in a manner that was altogether distracting. Zito considered them for a long and fully intoxicated moment, then nodded seriously, “That’s a good idea. I’ma give him a piece of my mind.”
Hudson snorted. “Well, you go to it, Barry.”
Zito didn’t waste any time, hollering over the crowd, “You jacked my hammer, you motherfucker!” drawing the attention of pretty much everybody in the bar *except* for Mulder.
Hudson covered his grin behind his hand, helped Zito as he rose stumblingly, one last draw on his beer before he set it down and swiped his arm dramatically across his mouth, scowling in the direction of Mulder.
He nodded decisively. “A’ight. I’ma go. If I’m not back in ten minutes—”
“Go already!” Huddy exhorted, flapping his hands impatiently in a shooing gesture.
Zito grinned affectionately at him. “That’s just the kind of enthusiasm I need. You the best, Huddy.” He rubbed his palm across Hudson’s head, Hudson knocking his arm away, shoving him towards the bar.
Zito staggered briefly, regained his balance and strode with what he surely thought was unimpeachable authority, only to get to the bar and find Mulder gone. He twisted in a full 360, almost lost his balance again, and punched Chavez on the arm.
“Where’d he go?”
Chavez looked over, irritation lining his forehead, rubbing his arm. “Ow, by the way.”
Zito punched him again, same spot. “Where’d he go?”
Chavez punched him back, knuckling Zito’s arm hard. “You’re a real obnoxious son of a bitch when you get wasted, you know that?”
Zito drew back his fist to knock Chavez again, but Chavez snagged his wrist. “Stop hitting me. Or I’ll have to kick your ass.”
Zito switched tactics, busting open a wide grin. “Hey, Chavvy, how ya doin’?”
Chavez still held Zito’s wrist, eyeing him distrustfully. “You done trying to be tough?”
Zito nodded cheerfully, wiggled his hand in Chavez’s grip. “Done. Who’s tough? Not me, for reals. I’m the least tough.”
Chavez had to laugh, letting the other man go. “All right, I take it back, you’re not an obnoxious son of a bitch when you’re drunk, you’re fuckin’ schizophrenic when you’re drunk.”
Zito beamed. “Thanks, man.”
Chavez shook his head, chuckling. “What’d you want, anyway?”
Scratching his head, Zito said intelligently, “Um.” For the life of him, he couldn’t remember why he’d come over. He’d gotten so caught up in the fun of exchanging punches with the third baseman, he’d totally lost track of everything else. “I . . . definitely wanted . . . something . . .” he trailed off, hopelessly confused.
Snickering, Chavez pushed a shot of Jack in Zito’s direction. “Here. Memory aid.”
Zito clapped one hand on his friend’s shoulder, picking up the glass with the other, toasting with an inestimable amount of blacked-out charm, “To . . . remembering stuff. And to this guy right here.” He shook Chavez’s shoulder, knocked back the whiskey.
His eyes quickly watered, and he snapped in a hard breath. “Woo,” he said unsteadily.
Chavez slapped him approvingly on the back. “There you go, drinking like a man now. Mulder wouldn’t even touch the hard stuff.”
Zito’s eyes widened. “Mulder! Son of a bitch! That’s what . . . I’m looking for that punk.”
Chavez lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
Zito nodded intensely, scrubbing a hand through his hair, his eyes shaded with doubt they’d all come to know by heart. “Got some unfinished business. Or . . . something to that effect. Where’d the little bitch go?”
Smirking, Chavez jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “He was making a phone call, I think. But hey, call him a little bitch when you find him, willya? Promise me you will.” Chavez hooked a tiny mischievous smile, wondering if Zito would return with a black eye or a fat lip.
Zito bobbed his head, banging his fist on the bar. “Abso-fucking-lutely, I will. No doubt about it.”
“Excellent,” Chavez grinned.
Zito half-tumbled off the stool, his hand sliding across Chavez’s back, hanging on until he had to continue under his own power. Chavez watched him go, then went back to sit with Hudson, slouching in the booth, bending a satisfied look at the pitcher.
“Just sent Zito to his death.”
Hudson nodded seriously. “Well done,” lifting his glass for Chavez to clink a solemn toast.
In the back hallway, the payphone was abandoned, and Zito blinked in uncertainty, tottering and squinting against the dim light. After probably too much time looking for Mulder in the clearly empty hallway, it finally occurred to Zito that his friend wasn’t there, and he pushed his way into the men’s room.
Mulder was in there, washing his hands, and Zito stopped dead, looking purely befuddled, like Mulder had appeared out of thin air.
“What . . . what’re you doing?” Zito asked, baffled, having maybe not expected to actually find the other man.
Mulder slanted him an incredulous look, a crook of a smile playing on his face. “My taxes,” he said dryly, shaking the water off his hands.
That did nothing to help Zito’s confusion, but he tried to stick to the plan. “I’m pissed off at you,” he said with as much intimidation as he could muster, glaring at the other man foggily.
Mulder raised his eyebrows, cocked his hip against the edge of the sink. “Is that right?” he replied casually, apparently not intimidated at all.
“Damn right it’s right! You’re . . . look at you, you’re a thief! Lousy fucking thief. Worst thief ever.” Zito poked a finger at Mulder’s chest, then poked him again when the first had no visible effect.
Mulder looked down at his chest, Zito’s index finger pressed against his body. “Are you okay?”
Zito shook his head, scowling murderously. “No! ‘Cause you stole my goddamn curve!”
Mulder thought about that for a moment, took in the cloud cover in Zito’s eyes, the vague tremble of his hand even while braced on Mulder, the shiny tucks of hair behind his ears where sweat had darkened the color down to a deeper wood shade. Zito wasn’t just tipsy, wasn’t just drunk . . . boy was straight plastered.
Mulder decided to play along. “Yeah, and what are you gonna do about it?” he said with a mocking tinge in his voice.
Zito’s eyes wicked angrily. His hand twisted in Mulder’s shirt. “Give it back.”
Mulder laughed, which did nothing to settle Zito down. “What?”
Zito pulled him forward, then shoved him against the wall, concrete under Mulder’s back, Zito’s fist knobby on his chest, Zito’s other hand going to the hard side of Mulder’s stomach, holding him down. Mulder looked down at him curiously, thinking that at least Zito wasn’t a boring drunk.
“Gimme back my curveball,” Zito demanded. “It’s not yours, it’s mine! Everybody in the world knows it’s mine!”
He tugged Mulder forward then pushed him back again, graffiti smearing on Mulder’s shoulder blades, staining his shirt. Zito’s face was all mean and a bit pathetic, the skin puffy under his dark eyes.
“Dude, you’re not the only guy in the game with a curveball,” Mulder told him, relaxed against Zito’s hold, not too concerned about this. Zito wanted to get desperate, wanted to start swinging wildly for the fences . . . it wasn’t like he didn’t have a right.
Zito’s gaze narrowed, and he flattened his hands on Mulder, sweeping down, frisking him. Mulder twisted, but didn’t break away. “The fuck are you doing?”
His head bent down, scowling at Mulder’s chest, Zito patted Mulder’s sides clumsily, one hand around Mulder’s waist to scour at his back. “Where’d you put it?”
A couple of Zito’s fingers got under Mulder’s shirt, long rails of heat on Mulder’s skin. “Uh . . . I think you’re maybe . . . crazy,” Mulder said carefully, his shoulders down against the wall and Zito edging closer, his knees bumping Mulder’s.
Zito’s hand curved around Mulder’s side, his palm whisking on Mulder’s stomach. “Where’d you put my curveball? I’ma find it. Then I’ma kick your ass.”
Mulder laughed a bit airlessly, tilting his head back against the wall for a second before he remembered that this was pretty fucking weird. When Zito dug a hand into Mulder’s jeans pocket, Mulder bit his lip and tried to jerk his hips away, but it did no good.
Zito rooted around with single-minded determination, his hand pinned tightly high on Mulder’s leg through the thin shield of denim, and his forehead was resting on Mulder’s shoulder. Zito’s hair swept Mulder’s throat, the underside of his chin, and Mulder could hear him cursing under his breath.
Mulder was getting weirdly overheated. He wondered if the air conditioning was busted.
When Zito made a strange little growling sound and closed his teeth on the collar of Mulder’s shirt, Mulder decided it was about goddamn time to stop humoring the other man, lifting his hands to Zito’s sides, pushing him away with strong insistence, but Zito wouldn’t release the bite he had on Mulder’s shirt, stretching it out so cool stale air slippered in and tautened the skin of Mulder’s chest.
“Jesus,” Mulder managed. “Never knew you were a six-beer queer.”
That, at least, got Zito to back off, but not all the way. He moved far enough away to glower at Mulder, his hands hooked in Mulder’s belt. “Who’s queer? Who’s had six beers? You . . . shut up.”
And Zito’s eyes dropped to Mulder’s mouth, a kind of unnatural light in his face, and he whispered again, “Shut up, stupid thief,” before he leaned in and kissed him. Mulder let him, mainly because the other options weren’t all that appealing, not really feeling up to beating the shit out of Zito, and anyway, Zito was drunk and better-looking than Mulder would have liked to admit, and by the time Zito shifted to cover Mulder’s ears with his hands, nudged Mulder’s legs apart with his knee and stepped in, their chests pressed flush, Mulder basically decided he was tired and Zito was fucking crazy and it wasn’t like he had anything better to do tonight, anyway.
Fuck it. Mulder hadn’t lost a game since early May, his every touch was clean, and right now he could get away with anything.
It turned out Zito didn’t remember, so it wasn’t a big deal. You’d think he might have figured it out, from the awkward stains on his jeans and the bite marks on his throat, but Zito wasn’t exactly conscious of his mistakes even while sober, a strong current of blamelessness in him despite all his faults.
So, pretty much Mulder might just as well have been in there alone that night, some kind of bizarre midseason hallucination, a well-denied fantasy that could be tucked away on the back shelf with all the others.
Oddly enough, though, when Zito took the hill two days after that utterly surreal night, he threw his curve with perfect, struck-down control, the best he’d had it all year, that curve so sweet it was like a dare or a practical joke, and that’s what finally convinced Mulder that what had happened had actually really happened, and he started to wonder about the truth of the abandoned memory behind Zito’s eyes, because Zito had gotten back what he’d lost, and maybe this dumb fucking kid was smarter than he looked.
good god, y'all.