Author: victoria p. [musesfool]
Summary: On his fourth birthday, Dean gets his first baseball glove.
Characters: Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester
Disclaimer: Kripke's, not mine.
Original story: The Boys of Summer by ignipes
Notes: Thanks to laurificus for betaing and to amberlynne for cheerleading. Thanks to ignipes for writing such an inspirational story.
Word count: 4,910 words
The Boys of Summer (Hot Corner Rag)
"Be back later," Dean says when Sam pokes his head out from under the covers. Sam grunts, not awake enough to form words, but Dean knows he'll remember.
Dean's restless, itching to move; the stops between here and there are always the worst. It's not the downtime that bothers him, so much as the in-between-ness of it--not hunting but not relaxing, transitioning from one to the other, or maybe not; it's all still up in the air. Dean's never liked unclear boundaries and shades of gray.
He's finishing a late breakfast that would be lunch for someone who hadn't gotten to bed at dawn, when he sees the crowd of people heading east up the main street.
"What's going on?" he asks the waitress when she stops by to refill his mug of coffee.
"Ball game," she answers. "Summer league, down at the park."
Dean takes a sip of coffee and smiles.
top of the first, one on, none out
On his fourth birthday, Dean gets his first baseball glove. It seems huge to him, though it's tiny in his father's hands, as he shows Dean how to slip his fingers into it, velcros it tight across the back of his hand.
"When the weather warms up, we'll play catch, okay, Dean-o?"
Dean gets other presents as well--Legos, some books, a firetruck--but the one he always remembers, later, is the mitt.
After the baby comes, Mommy doesn't have as much time to spend with Dean as she used to, but every night after work, Daddy comes home and plays catch with Dean in the backyard for half an hour before dinner, and sometimes, after dinner, too. Mommy and Sammy sit in the rocker and watch. Dean can't wait until Sammy's old enough to play, too, and every night before he goes to sleep, Dean tells him so.
The glove is lost in the fire, along with nearly everything else, and it's a couple of years before Dean gets another one.
He pretends he doesn't care.
The field is nice--the grass is green, the infield dirt still wet from last night's rain, and raked flat so the ball will roll clean. There are wooden bleachers rising like whitecaps, beams warped and paint silvered and peeling from years of wear and weather; people are sitting in groups--families, knots of gossiping teenagers, little kids climbing up and down while their parents yell at them to be careful. There's a guy selling ice cream out of a cooler, and a couple of barbecue grills set up behind the bleachers, and if it wasn't for the crappy rap music blaring over someone's boom box, Dean could almost believe it was heaven, just like Field of Dreams.
There's a girl, probably younger than Sam, with a squirmy little boy on her hip, who gives him a smile and nod of invitation--friendly, and not without promise, but not a sleazy come-on, either--but he doesn't join her on her blanket. He ends up leaning against a tree behind the bench of one of the teams--they're wearing blue jerseys with curly M's embroidered on them--because he's not really planning to stay.
bottom of the second, two out, bases loaded
Dean is eight the first time he steps out onto a real baseball field, where they rake the infield dirt and mow the grass regularly. He has a glove he found in Pastor Jim's basement--it's too big for his hand, and smells of damp and incense, but Pastor Jim said he could use it, and all the other kids have their own equipment. He's not sure what the coach means when he says they have to wear a cup, so he asks.
The other kids laugh, and the coach looks like someone just told him he can only eat cauliflower for a week (years later, Dean will realize the coach was a college kid, probably only eighteen or nineteen, and way too young to be dealing with fifteen eight-year-olds on his own), but he says, "It's to protect your, uh, your crotch in case you, uh, get hit with a ball or bat."
Dean nods; it makes sense. He doesn't know how he'll get hold of one, but he probably won't be around long enough for it to matter (the cup, along with a new pair of sneakers--store brand from Wal-Mart, but still, new--shows up in his duffle a few days later; when he tries to thank Pastor Jim, the priest denies all knowledge). He knows he doesn't belong on this nice field with these normal, suburban kids, keeps waiting for the day the coach looks at his clipboard and realizes there's no Dean Winchester listed, but until that happens, he gets to play with the team, and that's all he really wants.
Coach rotates the kids around the bases, and Dean does all right, considering he's only ever played wiffle ball, and never in any organized way.
When he lands at third base, something clicks into place, and he knows. This is his corner, his position. It's like when Dad put the gun in his hand the first time--natural, right. The coach gives him some instructions about how to stand, how to hold his glove, and by the fifth day of practice, Dean is fielding grounders like he owns that bit of dirt and grass. When they play their first game, he starts at third.
He gets back to the rectory late that afternoon, covered in dirt and grass stains, and he can't stop smiling.
Dad looks him up and down, quiet for so long that Dean thinks he's going to get yelled at; he squares his shoulders and waits for it, but Dad just says, "Good game?"
"We won," Dean answers, and he'll never forget the feel of that smile, wide and joyful, on his face, and the answering one on his father's.
The kids are warming up, shagging pop flies and hitting fungoes. There's a nice breeze, and the tree shades him from the worst of the summer sunlight, so he stays longer than he expected to. Sammy's probably still sleeping the sleep of the just, if he's lucky, and Dean doesn't want to disturb him, knows he needs the rest and doesn't get it nearly as often as he should. He's tired himself, but the kind of tired that only makes him itchy and cranky and unable to sleep, and the sun and the smell of the grass and the sounds of the game make him feel better than the four hours of fitful sleep he got before he finally gave up and got out of bed.
He and Sam are used to each other again by now, long years on the road together overcoming the time they spent apart, bending them to each other's shape the way Dean used to break in a new glove, oiling it and sleeping on it and working it until it fit the shape of his hand, but they still drive each other bugfuck sometimes, and have to spend some time alone. Dean's pretty sure Sam uses the time to watch porn on the internet, or to read books that have nothing to do with the job; he probably thinks Dean is out banging some pretty waitress or something, and sometimes Dean is, but sometimes this is what he wants--the sound of the bat hitting the ball (though he still kind of hates the metallic thunk of aluminum, wishes they all still used wood like in the majors), the ball hitting leather, the murmuring crowd quieted by a towering home run, the staccato bark of the infielders calling for the ball, and the kids cheering on their favorites, unselfconscious in their passion for the game.
He used to have that, used to collect baseball cards like a true fan ("geek," Sam used to call him, when he’d rattle off stats or organize the cards by team and position, and Dean would always answer, "Takes one to know one," and they'd wrestle until Dad separated them), used to turn the television to ESPN or WGN automatically, looking for a game, or the soothing theme song of Baseball Tonight, in every low-rent apartment or crappy motel room that had cable.
The baseball cards (except for his Ryne Sandberg rookie card, which is in a safe deposit box in Wabash) are long gone--the shoebox that used to hold them holds his tapes now, miraculously unscathed in the crash--and these days, he's more likely to turn on softcore porn than baseball.
Maybe it's time for that to change again. For the first time in a long time, he wonders how the Cubs are doing.
After a couple of summers of CYO ball at Pastor Jim's, Dean has a good eye at the plate, a good arm, and the sharp, smart instincts of a born third baseman. Whenever they move to a new town, he manages to find kids who are willing to let him play ball with them; sometimes, he even thinks of them as friends.
Sammy tags along; he's always the youngest, and since no one else wants to spend the afternoon squatting behind the plate, he's always the catcher. The first couple of years, the glove's bigger than his head, a perfect target in the sunny afternoon, until he whines about never getting a chance to play the outfield, and they switch him out for someone else. He runs on chubby legs out to right field and then forgets to pay attention to the rest of the game, fly balls falling in front of or behind him as he wanders off to look at the dandelions sprouting in the dirt, or read the graffiti painted on the walls of the handball court that backs the field.
When there aren't any other kids around, Dean always has Sammy to play catch with, and Sam pays more attention then; as much as he likes having enough kids to play ball with, Dean likes it best when it’s just him and Sammy, and he thinks Sammy does, too. They spend long summer evenings in the parking lot of the motel or the grass of a nearby park, Dean lecturing him on the finer points of throwing a curve ball, and all the reasons why he should always run out a ground ball to first base.
"What if it goes through the guy's legs, like Bill Buckner in eighty-six?" Dean says, and refuses to get sidetracked when Sam asks if the Red Sox are really cursed, and if they're going to Boston to break it. "You always gotta run hard and keep your eyes on the ball, Sammy. Just like hunting. You never know what's gonna happen, and you gotta be ready to take advantage of the other guy's mistakes."
Sam rolls his eyes, but he never dogs it down the first base line, not after Dean threatens to disown him.
Dean doesn't know how it's gotten to be July already and he hasn't been to a game once this year, hasn’t even thought about it. Time was, he'd get to at least one major league game a summer--make sure they took a job in or around Chicago if at all possible, even with Sam's teasing about his affinity for sad sacks and losers and teams that are under a curse--and a whole handful of minor league games.
He likes the minor league games best these days--not only are they cheaper, but the players are all hungry, eager to play, and willing to deal with the fans, not jaded yet by multimillion dollar contracts and media consultants and the rabid attentions of Mike and the Mad Dog (who, by the way, you couldn't pay Dean to listen to).
He used to drag Sam with him when he went to those games--Sam likes sitting out in the summer twilight, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes as they drink beer and eat ice cream as much as he does, and once, Sam caught a foul ball that he gave to the kid sitting in front of them, both Sam and the kid beaming like the floods lighting the field--but with all that’s gone on in the past eighteen months, there hasn’t been time for family outings to the ballpark, and neither of them has really been in the mood for it, anyway.
But he wouldn't bring Sam with him on days like this, anyway. Never has. Not because he doesn't think Sam would get it, but because he knows he would.
top of the fifth, one out, go-ahead run at the plate
"Please, Dad? We'll be super good, won't we, Sammy?" Dean nudges Sammy, who looks up from his comic and blinks.
"Yeah, Dad," he says, and goes back to reading, like Dean didn't buy him that new issue of Uncanny X-Men just to get him to agree to go to the game without a fuss.
Dean's never been to a real big league game, though he asks Dad every year, right around Sammy’s birthday, if they can go. He can't believe Miss Rossi invited them. "I'll do extra PT for a week," he says, because it's the Cubs, and they're his favorite team, have been ever since he got that jersey with their logo stenciled on it the first summer he played ball at Pastor Jim's. They’re easy to follow, too, since WGN is available in most of the places they’ve lived, and from April to October, the television is more likely to be tuned to baseball than anything else, no matter how much Sam complains.
Dad looks like he's thinking about it, and Miss Rossi smiles. Dean likes her. She lets him watch the ballgames on her television while she shows Dad the new guns she's gotten since the last time they were in Chicago. She's got cool black cat's-eye glasses with rhinestones in the corners, and she likes the Cubs as much as he does.
"It'll be fine, John. Live a little," she says, and Dean does his best to look mature and responsible. Sammy doesn't look up from his comic, but he doesn't say anything stupid either.
"Okay," Dad says. "Okay. But you owe me a week of extra PT, Dean."
The game is totally worth it. They sit in box seats on the first base line, and Miss Rossi buys them ice cream and popcorn, and even Dad relaxes enough to laugh when Sammy gets excited whenever a foul ball flies their way. Dean's got his mitt ready, but the balls all go over his head. It's okay, though. The Cubs beat the Pirates five-nothing, and they go back to the motel happy.
Dean finally does indulge in an overpriced bottle of water and an ice cream bar, the hard chocolate coating plasticky and yet tasty against his tongue. He licks the melted vanilla ice cream running down his wrist just as a kid on the M's swings for the fences. From the sound of the bat off the ball, Dean can tell it's gone, and the ball soars white and free into the blue summer sky, easily clearing the centerfield fence, tying the game at two. The kid rounds the bases with a huge smile on his face, arms and legs pumping furiously as the crowd cheers him on. Dean smiles, too, remembering how that used to feel.
sacrifice fly brings home a run
By the time Sam is thirteen and starting to hit his (endless) growth spurt, he throws a pretty mean fastball, and has some good movement on his curve, thanks to Dean drilling him every summer. He'd rather fight with Dad about auditioning for the school play, though, instead of keeping his mouth shut and going his own way, like Dean does. Dean doesn't rebel often, and he does it quietly. He does it to satisfy himself, rather than rile their father, and Dad usually lets him get away with it, but Sam's always got to make a big production out of everything, dig in his heels and refuse, when a little give would get him a little something back.
Dad doesn't even know Dean's tried out for the team until he's on it, and it's too late to say no.
Dean walks into the try-out and owns the day. He acts like it doesn't mean anything, but inside, he's quivering with the kind of nervous excitement he generally only feels on the hunt, when they're waiting, armed and ready, for whatever's lurking out in the darkness.
He smirks through practice every day--he trained harder and longer for Dad before he was ten--but he runs out every ground ball and rarely makes mistakes on the field, so the coaches put up with the grinning impudence that always shades just this side of disrespect.
As the season winds on, he bats .300 and anchors a solid defensive infield with his good glove and strong arm. He's on pace to hit thirty home runs and steal thirty bases, and there's talk of scholarships and scouts, of possibilities Dean's never even let himself think about before, because he knows they can never happen, but sometimes...
He doesn't fuck up too badly in the classroom, either, even brings home B's in math and physics that semester; Dad's admonitions to keep his head down and do his homework keep him from blowing off school the way he'd like to sometimes, when his English teacher wants him to give a damn about Eliot and Dickinson. It's part of the deal--if he doesn't screw around on academics, Dad will let him stay on the team. As long as it doesn't interfere with hunting.
Even Sam doesn't bitch too much when they settle in--he makes friends, and starts growing out of his baby fat. When his voice changes, Dean thinks he might even be decent company again.
It's all good, until Dad gets wind of what could be a wisakedjak wreaking havoc up north somewhere, and they're off. Turns out it's a nasty-ass poltergeist, and it flings Dean around like a ragdoll.
He's out of school for three days, and when he finally shows up at practice, he's still got bruises all over his chest and shoulders, and a scrape on his jaw that makes even talking hurt. There’s no note that can cover this, no excuse he can offer that won’t look like anything but the cover-up it is, though, of course, everyone will jump to the wrong conclusions, and he will never be able to set them straight, as much as he’d like to sometimes. So he sucks it up. He’s good at that.
"Winchester," the coach says before Dean can start changing into his uniform. He leads Dean into his office and sits down behind his desk, face set and grave in a way Dean’s seen too many times to not recognize. He stands at attention, offers one small bit of respect, even if the coach doesn't know that's what it is. "You got good hands, a good eye, and a level head out on the field. You have real potential to play this game at a higher level, but you haven't learned yet that the rules are in place for a reason, and that they apply to you just as much as everyone else."
He pauses, giving Dean the opportunity to excuse himself, to explain; giving him the chance he can’t take.
"Whatever," Dean answers, smirking, trying to make it easier, on himself, on the coach, even though his stomach is in knots, because he wants this, has worked hard, has defied Dad for it. But he can't let that show. He imagines Coach will write him off with a dismissive, kid had an attitude problem, when all is said and done, and he's just doing his part to make it true.
But the coach doesn't follow the script. "Son," he says, ignoring the way Dean bristles at it, "if there's something going on at home, something you want to tell me about--"
And there it is, just like he expected. There’s nothing else Dean can say now, nothing the coach will believe, so he says, "I got into a fight," and shoves his hands into his pockets, letting his shoulders collapse into a slouch. "Over a girl. I was pretty wasted, but she was really hot." The coach levels a stare at him, but Dean's faced down scarier things without breaking a sweat. "You should see the other guy."
The coach's jaw works, like he's got a mouthful of something he'd like to spit out and can't, and then he says, "Fine. You know the rules, Winchester. You missed three practices without permission. You're off the team."
"Whatever," Dean says again, and bites the inside of his cheek before he can say anything else.
He grabs Sammy from where he's doing his homework in the bleachers, and they head home. Sam opens his mouth like he wants to say something, but Dean just shoves a tape into the tape deck and turns the volume up loud.
"You're home early," Dad says. "Thought you had practice."
Dean shrugs, but very carefully doesn't meet Dad's gaze, looks at the wall above his left shoulder instead. He has to clear his throat a couple of times before he's able to speak. "Got kicked off the team. Apparently rules apply to me. Who knew?"
Dad opens his mouth, closes it, and then opens it again to say, "You can use the free time for target practice." But his voice is rough with regret, and Dean has to swallow hard against the sudden sting behind his eyes.
The other team is wearing green jerseys with Athletics stenciled in yellow across the front, and they're pretty good. The pitcher's a tall, gawky kid who reminds Dean of Sam at sixteen, all lines and angles, elbows and knees, face screwed up in concentration as he stares down at the catcher, long fingers gripping the ball by the seams. Sam had never really taken to baseball, possibly because of all the time he spent squatting behind the plate, dodging flying bats and badly thrown pitches, but as the game goes on--and it's an exciting one, with some good defensive play and a couple of well-hit home runs--Dean wishes he were here to see it. For a second, Dean thinks he might be, spots a tall guy on the edge of the crowd, hovering, but when he looks again, the guy is gone. He thinks about pulling out his phone, calling Sam and telling him to come, but then he remembers all the reasons he doesn't.
seventh inning stretch
He wins the tickets in a poker game, and it's the perfect gift--birthday, Christmas and forgiveness all rolled into one. He hasn't been to a game since Sam left, and it's the perfect time to start up again, new season, new coast. Hell, he won't even razz Bonds much for doping (though they totally have to asterisk any records he sets, in Dean's opinion).
He has it all planned out--first he'll talk Sam into going to the game, and then while they're at the game, enjoying overpriced watered down beer and hotdogs slathered in onions and ketchup, he'll talk him into coming home, or at least back to Seattle where Dad's researching some kind of tentacle-monster in Puget Sound. Dean pulls up in front of Sam's dorm in the Impala--Dad gave her to him after Sam left, and Dean's still not sure what it means, if it's a reward or some kind of apology, but he takes her, because she's the only home he's ever had--but Sam's not in his room.
He's standing in the vestibule, trying to figure out what to do next, when this cute chick comes down the stairs, hair dyed pink and three rings in her left eyebrow.
"Looking for someone?" she says.
"Sam Winchester? Tall guy? Stupid hair?" He hates the way his voice sounds hopeful when he says it. "He's not in his room."
"Yeah, I know Sam." She nods towards the door. "Come on."
She leads him out into the bright spring sunshine, and there's grass and trees and a whole lot of kids hanging around studying, playing Frisbee, having lives, and he's as outside of it here as he's ever been. After a few minutes of walking, he realizes she's led him right to Sam, who's sitting in the middle of a group of people, books spread out on the grass, laughing. He looks happy, like he belongs.
Dean stops, stomach lurching in dismay, because after the first few weeks of Sam not taking his calls, he'd finally gotten the message, and stopped calling. He gets the message again now, seeing Sam surrounded by friends, enjoying himself, as normal as he’d ever wished for. Sam doesn't want to see him, and tickets to the Giants-Reds game aren't going to change that.
He's aware of the girl staring at him like he's a freak--he's already learned to live with that, has years of practice--but he doesn't care. He turns and leaves before Sam can spot him, forces himself not to run back to the car like an idiot, like a chastened dog slinking away with its tail between its legs, but that's exactly how he feels. He drives until he's out of California altogether, rips the tickets in half and lets them flutter out the window.
He doesn't go to a game at all that season, and misses it in his gut, feels it like the slow burn of Sam's absence in his life.
After the game is over--the M's win it five to four on a dramatic walk-off home run--the little kids all run out on the field. A few of them start playing catch, fathers and sons (and a few daughters), and Dean feels Dad's loss all over again, remembers with sudden sharp clarity those summer evenings back in Lawrence, Mom protesting that he was too young to be playing with a hardball, and Dad's laughing response that if he started young, he wouldn't be afraid of it by the time he hit Little League. But Dad had grabbed a tennis ball instead, anyway, because Mom had asked, and that was reason enough.
Dean remembers after, late afternoons on motel parking lot asphalt, the soft worn mitt from Pastor Jim's on his hand, heat rising from the blacktop, and Dad tossing the ball to him and Sam--just one more training method, he realizes now, but one he'd loved then, would love to have again now. That old mitt is long gone, and he hasn't owned one in longer than he'd like to admit, doesn't even like to look at a game on ESPN and think, that could've been me, because he knows it never could have been, that even if he'd had the talent and the drive, even if he'd had the luck, he never could have left Dad and Sam alone. But still, a guy can miss playing catch with his dad and his brother, even if he'd never ever admit it.
walk-off home run
Three weeks and countless towns later, he's getting that itch under his skin again, feeling the need to get out of the motel room, when Sam pulls a plastic bag out of his duffle.
"Hey," he says, wearing that shy smile that kills with nurses and librarians and old blue-haired ladies, with everyone who is suspicious of Dean's attempts at sincerity. "I was thinking maybe we could have a catch."
He pulls two mitts out of the bag, worn brown leather soft and faded ("better than new," Dad had told him once, "since it's already broken in," and Dean had accepted the secondhand glove with grateful pleasure) and offers one to Dean, who takes it, momentarily rendered speechless. Maybe Sam really is psychic, to know he'd--they'd both--needed this.
"Yeah," he says when he can speak again. "Yeah. That'd be cool."
There's a park not far from the motel, scrawny August grass turning brown from the heat and the lack of rain, but the glove on his hand is familiar even now, and when Sam attempts to wind up and pitch, the knots of tension Dean's been carrying in his shoulders the past few months loosen a little.
When he was a kid, Dean had loved baseball because it made sense--anything could (and often did) happen, but there were rules that made sense of it all--and it had made him believe that the perfect life was possible, that if he just hit the ball hard enough, or learned the right words in Latin, or ran as hard as he could for as long as he could, he could get his family back the way it had been before.
He doesn't believe that any more, hasn't for years, but he still loves baseball, loves the way everything between those white lines has a rhythm that makes sense down to his bones, and playing catch with Sammy in the late afternoon sunlight is the closest thing to a perfect family life he's ever going to get.
Sam throws, and the ball lands in Dean's glove with a hard smack, and Dean grins at the sound. He'll take it.