Boys of Summer
By Lenore



"You're gonna love it." Sheppard bounces on the balls of his feet as they make their way out of the subway.

"I can't say I share your optimism, Colonel." 

The jostling hordes in their blue T-shirts and caps don't exactly inspire Rodney's confidence. Neither does the sticky glob of God-knows-what he has to avoid on the stairs. 

Sheppard nudges him with his shoulder. "You've got to see Yankee Stadium at least once in your life."

"I really don't, no."

They emerge into daylight, and Sheppard grins. "Well, too late. Here it is." 

Rodney gives it a careless glance. "It looks perfectly-- stadium-like."

Sheppard just shakes his head.

They stand in line at the gate, and Sheppard hands over their tickets, and Rodney pushes his way through the turnstile.

"You want food now or later?"

Rodney must look incredulous, because Sheppard laughs. 

"Right. So…food." 

They fall into an impossibly slow-moving line for beer and chicken fingers. Rodney starts to fidget. "There has to be a more efficient way to do this."

"Relax," Sheppard tells him. "We've got plenty of time before the game starts."

At last they get their food, and Rodney takes a deep, long whiff as they walk to their seats. Hot grease. Nothing like it. God, he's missed French fries. Deep-frying is a neglected art in the Pegasus galaxy.

They sit, and whatever is happening out on the field looks like chaos, balls and players all over the place.

"Batting practice," Sheppard explains.

"Why are American sports always so disorderly?"
Sheppard rolls his eyes. "We haven't gotten to the game yet, Rodney, and it's not just an American sport. Those are the Blue Jays in the other dugout."

"What do indigenous birds have to do with anything?" Rodney asks around a mouthful of fries.

Sheppard doesn't explain. "Just keep in mind that I was really good about the opera."

"We saw a limited engagement of Grendel. It was the experience of a lifetime! I practically had to commit a felony for those tickets. The fact that you were," he makes air quotes, "good about it just means you're not utterly hopeless."

"Thanks for that vote of confidence," Sheppard says dryly.

"You do make me despair for humanity less than the average person," Rodney tells him, feeling generous.

Batting practice ends. They stand for both national anthems, and then the home team fans out over the grass. One of the players climbs up on a hill of dirt and starts throwing the ball. 

Sheppard leans in to whisper, "You can hear it sizzle when it hits the catcher's glove." Delight shines off him.

The game starts. Rodney finishes his chicken fingers. Sheppard gets them more beer. The sun begins to beat down at an aggressive angle, and Rodney slathers on another layer of sunscreen.

"I don't see why we couldn't sit in the shade." He squints up at the mezzanine.

"Because we're in the first row behind the dugout? In seats people would kill for? That I had to call in all kinds of favors to get my hands on?"

"So I can end up with skin cancer?"

Sheppard sighs, takes off his cap, hands it over. "Here. Happy now?"

Rodney gives it the cautious once-over. "You don't have any scalp conditions I should know about, do you?"

Sheppard takes the cap, thwaps him with it, gives it back.

"I was just asking!"

Rodney pulls it on, and it does help keep the sun off his face. "You know, I'm surprised you're a Yankees fan. Isn't that like voting for Republicans or something?" He narrows his eyes at Sheppard. "Wait. You're not--" He stops himself. "Never mind. I don't want to know. In fact, let's make that a rule between us. No discussing politics. Ever."

"Or at least not while we're watching baseball," Sheppard says in his pay attention voice.

"Yes, yes," Rodney sighs.

It's not so bad once he's actually focusing. He spots patterns, begins to understand the underlying logic of the game. He leans forward in his seat to study the arrangement of the fielders more carefully, how they shift with each hitter, each pitch. Sheppard casually slings his arm across the back of Rodney's seat, his happiness so uncomplicated it makes Rodney happy, too. It really is a nice day, he grudgingly admits, sunny but not too hot, and there's nothing that's trying to suck the life out of them, which is always a plus. He lets out his breath, his shoulders unknotting for the first time in who knows how long. When the guy comes by calling out "ice cold beer," he buys them another round.

Sheppard nods toward the batter at the plate. "One out, two balls, no strikes. A-Rod's going to hit and run here, get Jeter over to third."

The pitch arcs toward the plate, contact, and then white uniforms are racing around the bases.

Rodney gets it then. "This whole thing is statistics. Probability. Not some stupid sport at all, but actual math." He looks out at the field with newfound reverence.

Sheppard grins at him with affection. "Don't ever change, Rodney."

The next hitter smacks a double, and Jeter comes jogging home. He heads back to the dugout, and then he's right there, grinning at a kid in the crowd who's wearing his number. Rodney can't help staring. That's some…smile.

Sheppard notices the double take and seems amused.

Rodney clears his throat. He feels the need to say something. "Um-- these seats are really close to the field."

Sheppard nods toward the other side of the field. "I usually like to sit on the third base side. You get a great view of Jeter's ass when he's hitting."

Rodney swivels in his seat to stare. Sheppard's expression is so perfectly tranquil he might have just remarked about the weather. Rodney has no idea if he's trying to say something, or if commenting on other guys' asses is simply some sports tradition Rodney isn't aware of. Of course, if Sheppard isn't saying something, then asking about it would be the fast track to mortification. Rodney stuffs a handful of popcorn into his mouth. Much safer than talking.
Sheppard doesn't seem to have any such compunction. A few batters later, there's a resounding crack of the bat, the ball sails high through the air, back, back, but then it bounces off the top of the wall.

"That's got to be frustrating," Sheppard says, "thinking you're going all the way, but only making it to second base."

He winks at Rodney, and Rodney's pretty sure they're not talking about baseball anymore.

He clears his throat. "I've never understood what the bases are supposed to represent. I mean, sex things naturally, and the homerun is obvious, but the rest of it seems rather open to interpretation." 

Sheppard slips his hand onto Rodney's leg. "Here's my take on it." His voice goes lower, "If I lean over and lick the salt off your mouth, we're at first. If I move my hand just a little bit to the right," he strokes his fingers over Rodney's jeans, "that's second. If I pull you into the bathroom and lock us in a stall and get down on my knees," his eyes connect hotly with Rodney's, "we're all the way to third. And if we go for a homerun--"

"You push me up against the wall and--" Rodney's voice cracks.

Sheppard smiles. "Or you do me. Win-win either way."

Rodney takes an unsteady breath. "Just-- so I'm clear here. This is you seducing me, right?"

"If you have to ask," Sheppard says, smiling, "I may not be doing it right."

Sheppard's--John's--mouth is soft and strangely vulnerable looking. Rodney's never really noticed that before. Or maybe he has, but never let himself think about it. Now, though, he can't seem to think about anything else, can't stop imagining how he'll trace the shape of it with his tongue the first chance he gets. 

There's just something he needs to ask. "Why now?"

John holds his eye. "Because I can't keep playing by rules I don't believe in, and now is always going to be our safest bet."

Rodney nods, at that last part especially. He knows it too well. Lives with it too much. 

"Okay."

John looks mildly surprised. "Okay? That's it?"

"Yes, that’s it. Is this game over yet?" 

John consults the scoreboard. "Three more innings."

"How long is that going to take?" Rodney whines.

"Probably about an hour," John calculates, "unless it goes into extra innings."

"Wait, did I say this isn't a stupid game? I completely take that back!" 

John smiles, a promise in it of things they'll do to each, dirty things, sweet things, things that will happen over and over again. 

"Relax." His hand settles on top of Rodney's. "We've got time."


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