Saw Maddux win his 300th. Had several debates over which was the truer baseball fan, the kid who roots for the opposing team's player who's got a shot to make history (theoretically, rooting for the game itself, instead of just your team), or the non-Giants-fan kid who would throw back Bonds's 756th home run ball if Bonds knocked it out of another team's park, because fuck history.
Yeah, that second kid is me (minus the specific scenario, obviously), there's no doubt. I mean, I knew it'd be pretty rock to see Maddux win that game, but the day you start rooting against your team for any reason, you just don't count anymore.
Maddux was a class act, though. Didn't come out for an ovation after because you don't do that shit in someone else's park. Place was crowded with Cubs fans, and they were annoying as hell.
Also saw Mulder give up the first grand slam of his career and generally just get the shit kicked out of him. Kind of sucked.
But not as bad as two days later when Zito pitched better than he's pitched all fucking year and somehow still managed to get tagged with a loss. This incredibly unfair string of bad luck for my boy is verging on Biblical. There are frogs falling from the sky and half of Oakland is hidden by locusts.
We're winning on the road, which is . . . yeah. Okay. Why not? This team stopped making sense awhile ago, just before losing four of fucking six to the Tigers and the Royals.
In case you were wondering, Tim Hudson is back and if your team plays in the AL, oh, how I pity you.
I get that I'm basically the entirety of the Giants fanbase around these parts, so briefly, they've slipped into a pretty sweet groove. Swept Philly on the road, won six straight.
Finally coming to terms with the fact that San Francisco has the worst defense in the game, and that includes the minors, the Independent League, and the twelve year olds in Williamsport. And, just to drive me insane, also we hit into more double plays than any other team, our starting rotation (those not named Schmidt) is a catastrophe and our bullpen, oh our bullpen. No words for our bullpen actually. Just incoherent howls of misery, just about every night around the eighth inning.
That said, I am totally kidnapping JT Snow. He is mine, yo. He's 36 and he's having the year of his life and I am just infatuated with him.
Elsewhere--what the fuck happened to Houston this season?
Little bro's off the school, and he has STOLEN MY CAR. But he is a slug now, so I guess he's got other things to be concerned with.
Friends been out to see a kid, took them to an A's game and Portrero Hill because that really gives you a feel for this place, I think.
The drug addiction has come back with a motherfucking vengence. Two weeks gone to it now and yeah, this part I remember.
Got a boy who said to me, right when we were first hooking up, "it's okay, you can pretend I'm Zito if you want." Keeper!
Leaving for the East Coast in eight days. Jesus fucking Christ.
Written a fucking novel's worth of stuff (fucked up, don'tcha know), and most of it's not very good (fucked up, don'tcha know again), but well, you know, I'll deal.
Of that which was good, take a look:
This will also be making the rounds to all the other places to which it applies. Sorry to pester those of y'all who'll see it a million times.
Fucking Mulder and Zito infiltrated my perfectly fine story about Bobby Crosby and made it all about them. Share the attention, you greedy motherfuckers!
The Rookie and the Lefty
By Candle Beck
Yeah, the rookie can fly, so fucking what.
The rookie can hit and the rookie can run and the rookie can go deep in the hole, backhanded stabs and fucking Baryshnikov spins to peg the ball to first. The rookie's got impossible range to his left and makes the throw for the third out from the rim of the grass behind where Chavez dived full out but couldn't quite reach it, and it's okay 'cause the rookie is there.
The rookie's too big to move like he does, six-plus feet of grace and style and a broken mold. Shortstops are skinny, shortstops are quick, shortstops peer up at their pitchers and are engulfed by the shadow of the first baseman, but this shortstop is tall and strong, with big hands and broad shoulders, his stomach and chest hard-muscled, his scars shallow and inconsequential.
The rookie wears his socks high and looks good in the home whites and he’s letting his hair grow in, a soft brown fuzz, Bobby Kielty perched on the back of the dugout bench, peering down at the top of the kid’s head and saying with mild surprise, “Huh. Figured your hair would be more blonde than that.” Start of the season, the guys complained that they wanted to call him Mini-Huddy, with the shaved head and the little geometric scrap of a so-called beard under the lower lip that the two of them shared, but the rookie's got five inches and forty pounds on the pitcher, so it didn't really work.
The rookie, joining this roster that has been on magazine covers in the Bay Area (slightly disreputable magazines, to be sure, selling like wildfire in the Castro District and outer Sunset and not making much of a dent among the well-to-do normals, but still) as 'The Best-Looking Team in Professional Sports,' fits right the fuck in with his handsome face and his eyes bright as ninja stars. By late April, there were already girls in baby doll tees with his name across their backs; he's a fan favorite and they cheer like crazy every time he steps to the plate.
The rookie plays ball like a rookie should, all unchecked joy and baffled amazement. He is a major league ballplayer, he is playing for a contender, he is twenty-four years old and living the dream, living every single moment of the dream. The rookie has always been good, but now he's good at the only level that really matters, the everyday miracles and heartbreaks, the full slam of the stadium lights and the hollowing screams of the fifty thousand.
The rookie was marked from birth to be a big league shortstop. He's got one of those perfect baseball names, like Lou Gehrig or Juan Marichal or Sandy Koufax, the kind of name where the kid really had no choice other than picking up a glove or a bat.
With a name like the rookie’s got, what else was he gonna do? Fuck, he was turning the double play while still in the womb, he was raking down-the-line doubles before he could even lift his head up. Sometimes baseball's lying in wait for a person, sometimes this is bound to happen.
Bobby Crosby, Jesus fucking Christ.
* * *
"He's like a puppy," you say, stripping your jersey off your arms.
Hudson, halfway dried from his shower, the bruise on his left shoulder from a scorched comebacker faded to dull green and yellow, hikes his eyebrows. "The kid?"
"Yeah the kid," you answer impatiently.
This has always been a young team. Chavez was starting at third when he was twenty-one. You shut out the Yankees in New York City in October at twenty-two, a what-the-fuck midseason call-up coming out of nowhere to beat Roger fucking Clemens, and then you won the Cy Young at twenty-four. Rich Harden looks like he's still got to get home before midnight or his parents will flip, his face totally unlined, blushing in the summer heat, and he's not even the youngest on the staff anymore. Mark McLemore keeps saying, "I feel like I'm playing Little League or something, Jesus."
But this season, there's only one 'kid,' just like five years ago there was only one 'kid' and that was you.
Huddy squints over, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes. Drops of water slip down his collarbones, his skin flushed. Crosby's sitting leaned forward, his hands twisted between his knees, intently nodding along with whatever bullshit Mark Mulder's come up with for today. Hudson shrugs. "He's just young, is all."
You stuff your mitt down into your bag. "He's not that young. And even so, it's no excuse for being so . . . fucking starstruck. He's been with us all year, he should have calmed down by now."
Hudson gives you a look. "Took you two seasons to quit stuttering when Eckersley came by. You still sound like a fucking high school freshman asking a girl out when you gotta talk to Billy."
You scoff, knuckle him on the arm. "The fuck I do. It's only when Billy gets . . . you know, homicidal. Then, yeah, maybe a little nervous. But I never . . . never tagged around with nobody like Bobby tags around with Mulder."
Crosby's laughing at something, Mulder grinning down at him. Mulder's in his fucking element, a ready-made audience, perfect-vision eyes to see how good he is, how cool, how strong, how motherfucking slick he is.
Hudson studies them, shrugs again. "Whatever, they're friends. Roommates. Mark's the first real friend he made up here." He pauses. "Well. Not counting Elly. But Elly's not around, so."
You scowl, but you look dumb when you scowl, like a six year old trying to be intimidating, so you clean the anger off your face. Anyway, you got no cause to be angry.
Hudson knocks you one on your shoulder. "You can't really talk, man. You and Mulder were pretty fucking tight, first couple of years. Fucking joined at the hip, y'all were."
You blush quickly, dragging your T-shirt over your head to hide it. You blink your eyes open with your arms still up and the shirt all tangled around your elbows, and stare out through the thin fabric, everything tinted red and million-times-machine-washed soft. Huddy wanders away and you watch the lefty and the rookie for awhile longer, thinking that maybe you and Mulder used to be friends, maybe used to be even more than that, but you never fucking once looked at him with the kind of devotion Crosby's got in his eyes right now.
* * *
And you're trying to stay away from the house on West Jake Road in Alamo, the open-door house where half the team has lived at one time or another. You're fucking tired of West Jake, knotted through the hills, the utterly impossible-to-remove tree sap that drips down on your windshield when you're parked under the stretching trees, the maddening quiet, the fact that despite the name, it's actually at the very eastern edge of the town ("but it's the western end of the hills," Mulder's always claiming, as if that makes a fucking difference), the broken asphalt in the driveway and the powder burns on the north wall.
You're staying away, but you're pretty bad at it, which is why you end up over there after the team drops the Tigers series and you're glued down at 8-8. Well, it's really a lot of reasons, why you go over to West Jake and abandon yet another promise you’ve made to yourself.
Mainly, most of the guys you hang with on a fairly regular basis are there (except for Chavvy, who, you'll find out later, would spend the night lost in the South Bay with Eric Munson, getting into a screaming fight in the parking lot of a truck stop, a vicious known-each-other-for-twenty-years type of fight that might have had something to do with Munson hitting .225 this season for the Detroit fucking Tigers and might also have had something to do with Chavez getting drafted in the first round when they were 18, but anyway, Chavez would sleep in the shotgun seat and Munson would sleep crammed in the back, on the side of the road somewhere east of Pleasanton, dead with fatigue and too lost to find their way home, and when the highway patrolman woke them up tapping on the window glass with his flashlight, they got to be best friends again on the drive back, coming up with ways to explain where they'd been all night to Chavez's wife and sharing a Snickers bar for breakfast), and if you don't join them, you'll get to spend the evening with your guitar and your .500 record, which isn't necessarily a bad way to spend an evening, but also not exactly a crazyfun time or anything.
So you head back up to West Jake, and you think, 'no matter what, i'm sleeping at home tonight, no matter what,' and then you get so fucking pissed off at yourself, because who says you'll even have an option to sleep somewhere else, stupid motherfucker?
You're kinda laying low, you're skidding around the edges of the rooms and not making much eye contact. There's a Project Gotham Phantom Racing tourney going on in the living room, and a concentrated effort to Find The Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee Video Online And Download It For The Good Of Humanity happening in Harden's room, but it’s early yet. Melhuse is out with some chick and his room is empty, a drying T-shirt hung on the doorknob. You snag a beer and go to watch the video game.
You're keeping pretty quiet and Mulder's playing with his mouth tight and thin, bumping his shoulder into Crosby, who is, of course, right next to him on the long couch. It's been that way, maybe since the All-Star break, or maybe before and you only just started realizing 'cause you're a little slow like that. But it's been easy to find either one of them for the past month or so at least--just look for the other.
Mostly, that involves looking for Mulder, because Mulder has a tendency to make his every entrance and exit something of a production, because Mulder always makes sure that you know where he is.
Crosby, somehow, manages to beat Mulder on a race through North Beach, flying over the pixilated San Francisco hills, and Mulder just laughs it off, which surprises the hell out of you.
You're ghosting your arm against Mulder’s, as softly as possible so that he won’t even notice, and the doorbell rings. Crosby says, "Pizza guy," and reaches for his wallet, but Mulder's is already out on the coffee table and he hands it to the shortstop without even blinking. Crosby grins, knock-‘em-dead, and disappears down the hallway to the front door.
You stare at Mulder until he looks over at you, shortly asking, "What?"
You curl your upper lip in an almost-sneer, forcing relaxation into your body, leaning back. "Since when do we let rookies eat free?"
Mulder makes a dismissive noise. "Whatever. I owe him for the Yankee game."
Eyebrows hiked up, you're thinking, 'what the fuck what the fuck, he's just a fucking kid so what the fuck,' but what you say is, "Getting kinda soft, aren'tcha?"
He glares at you. "Fuck off, dude."
Your arms crossed over your chest, you mutter under your breath, “Getting kinda fucking sensitive, too,” which Mulder’s not supposed to hear, but he does and he punches you, hard enough on the arm that you know there will be a bruise there by tomorrow.
* * *
You spend the night.
You really don’t mean to, but it just sorta happens.
Crosby, who you’ve realized you seriously dislike with absolutely no reason, keeps offering you pizza and you keep stubbornly refusing, getting hungrier and hungrier. Before your stomach can betray you, you sneak a slice while Mulder and Crosby are both in the kitchen arguing about which is the superior beer between Heineken and Rolling Rock (Mulder’s an insane man from Chicago—there’s no world where Heineken doesn’t win that debate).
Mulder comes back in first, Crosby rummaging down the hall to see what’s going on in Harden’s room. You’re quickly swallowing and Mulder looks at the pizza box, then up at you, and narrows his eyes, smiling cold. He flops down next to you, snatches a paper napkin off the coffeetable and swiping the corner of your mouth with it. You jerk away and try to set him on fire with your mind, but he just fucking smirks at you.
“Race?” he asks, tipping an eyebrow up.
You take the controller, running your fingers over the plastic. “Gonna kick your ass this time.”
Mulder snorts. “You’re certainly due,” he tells you.
You have never, not one goddamn time, beaten Mulder at any video game in the world. Tonight you don’t even come close. He just fucking destroys you.
Crosby comes back in and slumps down on Mulder’s other side, leaning casually against his shoulder. You watch them out of the corner of your eye. Their elbows fight for space; they could just shift apart a little farther, but they don’t. Mulder’s elbow is hard and pointy, all thin skin and bone—you remember.
Crosby’s such a good guy. That’s the worst part about the whole thing (well, not really, but it’s definitely in the top five). Crosby’s blade-sharp and funny in the quirky snickering way that all your best friends throughout your life have been funny. Crosby loves baseball and punk music and he made you a mix CD during spring training, not for any special reason, but just ‘cause you’d said you’d never really listened to Black Flag on accounta Henry Rollins being kind of irritating, and he basically took that as an affront to all that was good and holy and decided it was his job to correct this sad misconception of yours.
Crosby’s never been anything but a friend and a brother to you, which makes hating him one whole hell of a lot harder.
Hating Mulder, of course, you could write a fucking graduate thesis about how to hate Mark Mulder. It’s the easiest thing you’ve ever done.
Eric Byrnes comes in from Harden's room, his eyes glassy and tired. He falls bonelessly into the armchair, his chin on his chest and his legs kicked up over the arm. Crosby waves the Xbox controller at him, seeing if he wants a turn, but Byrnes’s eyes are already closed.
The other guys leak out, straggling good-byes and Dye stealing the last slice of pizza, and you should leave too, but you keep playing.
Mulder and Crosby go to the kitchen again, empty bottles in their hands, screeching high against each other. You're shifting around on the couch, trying to find that spot where the acoustics are such that voices from the kitchen are echoed and barely intelligible, and Byrnes, his eyes still shut, says, "I'm sorry, dude."
You flinch, coloring guiltily. Byrnes, with his thatch of blonde hair sagging down over his forehead, looks asleep. "For what?" you ask.
It takes him a while, a weighted sigh. "The game last year," he answers unhelpfully. There's a white feather in his hair. Mulder's pillow is like that too, bleeding out the stuffing, the fine light feathers. You spent two years picking them out of your hair, waking up with them sweat-stuck to your stomach.
You roll your eyes. "Which game, man?"
And he's quiet for a long time, his eyes closed and a deep line pressed between his eyebrows. "Game 4. In B-Boston." Jesus, he sounds like he's about to cry.
You sit up and you say, "hey, no," but he turns his head away and, using all his power, he passes out right then and there, and you settle back, thinking about new curses.
You set yourself to listening to the men in the kitchen again, angling. You find the spot, the bend of the roof and walls. You can hear them, muffled and broken up, but you can hear them.
". . . gonna turn in." That's Crosby. His low voice that begs for a Deep South accent, and the way he knows all the regional slang that you grew up with, southern California specific and you pitching against his high school's baseball team a decade ago, twelve strikeouts and the Long Beach second baseman screaming at you from the dugout, held back by his teammates, because you had a nine run lead and still drilled the boy who’d hit a double off you his last at-bat.
Mulder's voice doesn't fit him, never has. It's too steady and too unremarkable. He’s got the Midwest’s nasal tones and talks carefully around certain words that stall on his tongue. You're always expecting a baritone that's nothing more than a vibration, but it’s just a normal guy’s voice, nothing special.
You can almost hear Crosby shrugging. " . . . don't think . . . likes me very much."
Mulder's not happy with that, scoffs. " . . . fuck him . . . being an asshole. Hang out."
You're staring blankly at the television screen, watching the replay of the last race, the brilliant cars spinning, crashing, exploding. You're very aware that they're talking about you.
"Nah, just . . . some sleep," Crosby murmurs. "Leave Richie a note . . . tomorrow."
And oh, motherfucker, because Mulder says something and you're not sure, you didn't hear it right, Mulder says something and it might be "I'll see you in the morning," but it also might be "I'll be in in a minute," and you haven't the slightest idea which it was.
Your hand hurts and you look down, realizing that it's closed in a fist, so tight your nails are digging into your palm and you force it loose, force a breath in.
Byrnes is asleep in the chair, breathing raggedly and rubbing his cheek on the cushion. You can hear Harden snoring from all the way down the hall.
Crosby ducks in, smiling at you, all goodwill and uncertainty. "Night, dude," he says.
You make a vague sound in the back of your throat, a grunt of acknowledgement without looking at him. His eyes go hard and his smile strained, but he holds it until he's not facing you anymore.
Mulder's just behind him, shaking the water off his hands. Crosby's shoulder brushes his chest as Mulder turns to let him pass in the entranceway, Crosby catching his eyes and cutting him a real smile.
Mulder takes in Byrnesie passed out on the chair and the corner of his mouth pulls up caustically.
The fluorescents are off in the kitchen. The yellow hallway light hits Mulder's back, the vibrant video game colors on his face. The air gets swiftly thick, and you have trouble swallowing.
Goddamn, but you hate this fucking guy, and you're too smart for baseball, because you know how much easier your life would be if you could just hate him a little bit more.
Mulder stretches his arms over his head, humming a groan as he twists his torso around, his spine popping. He's all kinds of smooth, the skin you can see, the skin you can remember, and you're thinking about the tastes that gather densely in the hollows of his body, the overpowering scent of cut grass and a veil of clean sweat. Mulder lifts an eyebrow, that cool cool move that had you hooked from the start. "You staying?"
Your breath stops in your chest, and Mulder's looking at you and when the flickering light from the television casts across his features, his eyes reflect back all blue and silver.
It's an invitation, it's gotta be.
You stand. You take a step, but only one step, because suddenly, a blast in your mind, a howl, 'what the FUCK ARE YOU DOING,' and you are stuck in place, your knee nudging the coffeetable.
"Um . . . yeah," you answer, glad for the shadows because your face is hot. "Guess so."
Mulder's gonna grin at you, gonna pull you close. Mulder doesn't care about the fucking rookie, he never did. Mulder hates you, maybe not as much as you hate him, but close, and it's not like that's ever been reason enough for the two of you to stay away from each other.
But Mulder just yawns, and turns away. Waving a hand dismissively, he tells you, "You know where everything is," and then walks down the hall, leaving you standing there and you are the stupidest son of a bitch in the world.
* * *
Byrnes says, "Sailboat." Then he says, "Frog." Then he says, "Mel Ott was better than you."
Then you throw one of the couch's pillows at him. You wouldn't mind the talking-in-his-sleep if he would actually make some fucking sense.
He's all folded over in the chair and when the pillow hits him in the face, he sneezes and his eyes blink open for a moment, you glaring at him, and then he smiles lazily at you and drops back asleep, breathing through his mouth and twitching like a dog.
You can't sleep.
On the couch with a blanket pushed down to your knees and your head wedged between the arm and the back of the couch. You were with Mulder when he bought this couch, at a furniture store down in Hayward, and you said to him, "I spend too much time crashing at your place for you not to get something longer than five fucking feet." And he rolled his eyes, shoved you, you tripping back onto a plastic-covered chaise lounge. "Like you really sleep on the couch when you crash at my place," he retorted, which made you blush fiercely and he teased you for the rest of the day.
You've decided that you hate this couch.
You lie there with your shoes and socks off, your belt coiled like a snake on the carpet. You look for animal shapes in the ceiling cracks and you count Eric's heavy, mildly-congested breaths. Your eyes are wide open and you wish, christ how you wish, that Byrnes had not apologized for Game 4.
Not being able to take it anymore, you sit up, and get to your feet. You walk down the hall as quiet as possible, near the wall because the floor creaks everywhere else. You get to the shut door of Crosby's room and stop breathing for a little while, listening, listening.
You can't hear shit.
You slide down the wall until your legs are jackknifed up against your chest, your chin on your knees. You make no noise, and you imagine your ears stretching, getting bigger like wings, Dumbo, craning. You're a radar ship, scanning for faraway signals, your satellite bleeping, night-vision green on your monitor. You're a fox, motionless in the forest with your pricked ears so acute you can hear the sunlight breaking through the leaves, and you wait in the hallway and listen hard.
It's quick and it's blurred, cut off after not even a second, and there's no way to prove you actually heard it, but . . . laughter. Two voices, one smothered by a pillow or an arm or a bare chest.
You close your teeth on the thick denim of your jeans. You screw your eyes shut and count to ten, then twenty, then fifty. Your heart is slamming against your ribs.
Mulder, you can't remember, did Mulder ever laugh when it was you sheet-covered beside him?
You don't trust your memory when it comes to him. You've never quite been able to separate the fantasies from the realities. It’s been too long, too many games and too many road trips and too many times Mulder grabbed the back of your jersey and hauled you off somewhere.
With your head down and your arms wrapped around your legs, you measure out your breaths. You count again, to fifty, then a hundred, then three hundred, waiting for this terrible spotlit feeling to go away, unclench your stomach and release the grip on your heart.
You have no idea how this happened. You have no idea when you became cruel and ripped down by useless jealousy, sneeringly sarcastic and obsessed and pathetic and all the other things that you are now.
You used to be, man, you used to be better than this. You used to be good.
You listen to the echo of your heartbeat, slowly hypnotized with your breath shallow, your mind alternately swept clean and quietly jammed with fully random thoughts. In the background, an even vibration in the base of your skull, you are driving yourself nuts thinking, ‘I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.’
* * *
Yeah, you fall asleep, there in the hallway.
You dream that you’re throwing your curveball, but you’re throwing it right-handed. Rick Peterson’s there and you call out to him, hey rick, look, I’m a righty now, is this normal? Peterson watches you pitch for awhile, then shakes his head sadly and says, didn’t think you could get any worse but goddamn boy.
Right-handed curveballs looping on the backs of your eyelids, and suddenly there’s a hand in your hair, snatching you angrily out of your doze. The hand pulls so hard you make a high whining sound of pain and push your back up the wall, getting your legs bent under you and snapping your eyes open.
Of course, of course.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Mulder hisses, leaning down to reach you, his hand sliding out of your hair and twining in the material of your shirt, stretching your collar out of shape and his knuckles brushing your throat before he jabs his fist into your collarbone.
You shove up, clawing your hands on the wall, straightening. Mulder follows your movement but doesn’t release you, his expression brutal.
“N-nothing,” you stammer, pressing back against the wall to get some space between you, not doing any good. “Fell asleep. On accident.”
His eyes slitted into horizontal stripes of blue, Mulder replies harshly, “In the fucking hallway? You just ‘accidentally’ got up off the couch, came halfway across the house, sat your ass down right in front of Bobby’s door, and then nodded the fuck off?”
He’s scornful and enraged, you can feel his arms shuddering, overcoming him. You smell sex on him, and you know you were right all along. His hair is stiff with dried sweat and the gel he uses in the mornings, and his mouth looks swollen, used. His skin’s still damp, hot to the touch, you can feel the pulse of warmth across the slice of air that separates the two of you.
You’re blinking fast, scared half to death and also humiliated and also so fucking stupid, and before you even know what’s happening, you’ve gone on the offensive, because it seems to be your only option.
“Yeah, and why the fuck do you care if I fell asleep in front of Crosby’s door? Worried I mighta interrupted?” you challenge him, Mulder’s hand loosening briefly in surprise before winding tight again, savage sounds rasping from low in Mulder’s throat.
You angle forward, kicking Mulder’s bare feet, bumping your chest against his. He’s wearing sweatpants and a wife-beater and your mouth is dust-dry.
“C’mon, Mark, what were you doing in there,” you taunt him recklessly, feeling spun and beyond self-preservation. “You’ve fucked your way through the pitching staff, now you’ve moved on to the position players?”
Mulder’s other hand slams into your chest, the bony rank of his knuckles wrenching perfect-circle bruises over your heart. You wince and try to rip away, but Mulder’s snarling and holding you down and his knee nudges your legs apart.
You let your mouth open, just enough to whistle air in between your bared teeth, and your eyes close. Mulder pushes you up against the wall and you can feel your shoulder blades denting the thin plaster. You feel Mulder’s breath hot on your face and his fists pinned high on your chest, a matched pair just below your collarbones.
There’s a noise from behind Crosby’s door, a long scraping shuffle, and Mulder goes totally still, whirring with tension then he steps back, doesn’t let you go. He yanks you down the hall and shoves you through the door of his bedroom, you tripping over your own feet but miraculously staying upright.
You can see that Mulder wants to fling the door shut with all the power in his body, but the house is asleep around you and so Mulder very gingerly tucks it closed, his face scrawled with anger and frustration and the remnants of a unanchored doubtful look that used to slip across his features as he slept, the look you memorized because you were lying on your side watching the rise and fall of his chest, the rhythm of it calming your heart and tugging your eyelids down and stilling your mind into silence.
He turns to face you and doesn’t waste any time. “Don’t you ever talk shit like that again.”
You cross your arms over your chest, burying your clenched fists in your elbows. “Can’t tell me what to do,” you mutter, eyes down.
“Yeah I fucking can,” Mulder snaps. “You’ve been begging to get your ass kicked for fucking months now, and trust me, I got no fucking qualms about being the one to deliver if you keep pushing me.”
You dig your thumbs into the soft hollows of your arms, sharp little spurs of pain to keep your head on straight. “Why do you wanna fuck around with the goddamn rookie, anyway?” you half-mumble, steely at the edges of the words.
You chance a look and Mulder’s strung so tight it’s like three invisible teammates are holding him back. If you get out of this night with no blood on your face, you’ll consider that a victory.
Slow and deliberate, shivery with violence, Mulder grates out, “It’s none of your fucking business what I do. Not anymore. You got no right to be like this.”
“I have every right!” you cry, and you didn’t mean to say that, not that loud, not with that shatter in your voice. Mulder takes two steps towards you, his eyes flashing chaotically. You back up, your hands out, and run into the bed, sitting down hard. You’re not sure if this is better or worse, staring up at him, feeling awful and sick and open to all attacks.
Mulder’s tall shadow is cutting over your face, so maybe you’re protected. You’re thinking about a years-past three in the morning, bent-double with the edge of this bed pressing into your stomach, pushing your face into the mattress, turning your head to steal gasps of oxygen, and Mulder’s hands on your hips, stroking up your sides, Mulder biting your shoulder and groaning, going limp and sliding off you, his forehead streaking a long line all the way down the track of your spine, both of you sheened and slick with spit and perspiration.
“I have every right,” you whisper again, scouring a palm over your face, so tired you can barely hold yourself upright. Mulder fixes his hands on his waist, glaring at you. The sweats he’s wearing are slung low; you can see the sturdy curves of his hipbones.
You pull your eyes away, and you’re not looking at him as you continue haltingly, “You . . . you just do this stuff. And you d-don’t think about how it’s gonna affect the team or nothing. I’m . . . I’m the only one who knows how this ends.” You pause. You don’t trust Mulder, you never have. “Aren’t I?”
Mulder rolls his eyes, moves away to pace in irritation. “Jesus, despite what you might think, I’m not fucking my way through the clubhouse. I don’t got that kind of time.”
You scuff the carpet, scratchy fabric chafing on the ball of your foot. “Fooled me,” you reply darkly, helplessly thinking about Mulder and Crosby moving in time with each other.
Mulder comes to a stop, a dagger of illumination from the bedside lamp stabbing across his stomach and chest, his wife-beater white and soft and trailing shadows on Mulder’s shoulders. “Look, goddamn it, just because you couldn’t handle it, that doesn’t mean Bobby won’t be able to. Your life being a fucking train wreck doesn’t have shit to do with me. I did right by you, and I’m so fucking sick of you blaming me for your season and your nervous breakdown and your broken fucking heart.”
Yeah, Christ, not fair, not fair. There’s something heavy like melted lead in your chest, and you curl forward over your knees, your head in your hands. Your shoulders are trembling slightly but you’re not crying.
Mulder makes a noise of disgust. “What the fuck,” he mutters impatiently. “This isn’t that hard, Zito. Just . . . stop being so fucked up.”
You take your hands away to look at him incredulously and break off a cruel laugh, because maybe that’s the least helpful advice ever.
Mulder wings his hand through the air, annoyed and ready to be done with this. “Stay away from me. It’ll be better for you. And certainly fucking better for me. You come nosing around again trying to catch me and Bobby like you did tonight, we’ll see how your pretty face looks with a busted nose. You wanna be this pathetic, you do it on your own goddamn time.”
He takes a moment, eyes narrowed in the dim light, studying you carefully. You know you look exhausted and worn to the bone, your hair flat in some places and skewering up in others, your eyes sunken and your bottom lip badly worried by your teeth.
Mulder sighs, swipes a hand through his hair. “I know you’re having a kind of rough year. But all the shit that’s going wrong in your life, it’s nothing real, man. You’ve . . . you’ve made everything so fucking complicated.” Mulder’s face is dragged into taut lines, a muscle pulsing in his jaw. His eyes, his goddamn eyes are pale watery blue but he can’t see as much into you now as he could before.
“You can’t just destroy everything within reach so that you’ll have a reason for being scared,” Mulder tells you evenly, and you notice for the first time the bruised shape of a mouth at the crook between Mulder’s neck and shoulder, the shallow razoring of teeth on his skin.
Mulder thinks he understands you completely, arrogant because he figured you out years ago, but he doesn’t know shit.
You only destroy things that deserve to die. You don’t need another reason to be scared, you’ve already got more than you can bear.
You stand up. “You shouldn’t be fucking Crosby,” you tell him, and he gets pissed off again, about to fire back, but you cut him off. “You should leave him alone because everybody’s watching him now and he could be as good as anybody, and even if you think it’s bullshit, you fuck people up, Mulder. Maybe you don’t mean to or don’t care when you do, but you get inside a person and just fucking annihilate them.”
Mulder doesn’t respond, clenching his teeth and staring at you stonily. He doesn’t believe you, you can tell.
You go over to him, moving swift like darting off the mound to backhand a drag bunt, crowding chest-to-chest and he is wire-tight, warm. He’s about to throw you off, so you quickly slide your hands up under the wife-beater. He sucks in a surprised breath, his hands fluttering lightly on your upper arms and he doesn’t push you away. You scale your palms over his stomach and lean forward to scrape your teeth on his throat, pull your tongue hard across the mark on Mulder’s shoulder, licking roughly like you could clean the bruise off.
Mulder touches his fingers to your hip, curling around for a better grip, and you memorize the feel of his body under your hands and lift your head to kiss him on the mouth, dry and awkward and too fast for either of you to deepen it.
You break away, removing yourself from the radius of his arms. He looks confused and turned on and suspicious, a little dumb with his half-lidded eyes and bitten mouth. You make a fuck-you kind of a smile, you’re feeling weak.
“See how you fuck me up,” you whisper, searching for something, anything, in his face, coming up empty.
You leave him behind, walk back down the hall. You don’t listen at Crosby’s door though you’re sorely tempted to—maybe he confesses things in his sleep, maybe he tells secrets.
But you already know his biggest secret, don’t you?
You go into the living room and Byrnes has contorted himself into an impossible position in the armchair. You should wake him up, get him to sleep on the floor, else his body be a net of muscle cramps in the morning, but you just lower yourself onto the couch and pull your socks and shoes on.
You sit there for a while longer, ready to leave but not moving, trying to keep totally still, trying not to think about anything and having a fair amount of success.
The muted light from down the hall, from Mulder’s room, widens, creeping along the wall in a canted triangular shape. You hear footsteps on the carpet, but only because the whole rest of the world has frozen in place, soundless.
The footsteps stop, halfway down the hall. You wait to hear Mulder’s muffled knock on Crosby’s door, the rumbled conversation, but neither comes.
Footsteps again, and now you can see Mulder’s silhouette on the wall, in the triangle of light. A foot or two forward and he’ll be standing in the room’s entranceway and you’ll be able to figure this out, at last, at last.
He doesn’t move, his shadow pegged to the wall, hushed and immobile in that strange wedge of yellow light.
He’s all that you can’t stand and all that you can’t live without. You are now and forever beyond recovery, and you watch his shadow on the wall and you are holding your breath.
John Darnielle had a whole album that's pretty much based on my life when my life gets like this, which was kinda spooky but also very cool. We Shall All Be Healed, by the Mountain Goats, and this which is my current favorite, called "Linda Blair Was Born Innocent."
Gentle hum of the old machines
Here we come scrubbed and scoured
Patches on our jeans
When the drone sounds
In the cool night wind
We pick up the call
Kick all the traces in
Hungry for love
Ready to drown
So tie down the sails
We're going downtown
Great big drain on the power grid
You may not like Tate's methods
But you've got to admit
She's a real nice kid
We walk light
Down the wires
Higher than weather baloons
Empty hearts on fire
Hungry for love
Ready to drown
So tie down the sails tonight
We're going downtown
Goddamn, but he hit it right on the head.