It’s been a long season for the Alphas, now working their way through a pointless September, the championship feeling like it slipped out of the realm of possibilities sometime back in April. Kirk doesn’t mind so much, being part of a team more likely to fail with flair than pull off an easy win, though it’s shaded with the knowledge that their Triple-A League affiliate, the Commanders, have been sniffing around his batting average since his debut. The team manager, Pike, had been eager to share the definitely confidential information about Kirk being called up for next year’s spring training, though he tries, as always, to focus on the now.
The now which involves them giving up the fourth run of the 7th inning in their last game of the season.
He’s still grimacing when a voice behind him cuts through the despair-filled murmurs of the dwindling attendees, announcing the first good news of the otherwise dismal game.
“You have ensured I would not regret being late, I see.”
And Kirk, even as the batter rounds second, is smirking as he looks over his shoulder. “Would you prefer that you miss all the good stuff?”
Kirk’s transfer to centerfield from left in May had coincided with the game that ended up boasting their worst loss of the year, though it was caused by unrelated circumstances; namely an injury list which was, according to the team physician, McCoy, “Officially longer than the list of reasons I don’t want to be here.”
The derisive expression on the fan’s face now is one Kirk had first been introduced to then, right around the top of the 6th when the score against them had reached double digits. Kirk had been busying himself, silently attempting to recite Hamlet from memory, when he turned to watch yet another ball jump the wall, only to meet the vision of a man in the front row of the bleachers. He had a stoic aura that was an unusual sight at a sporting event, an almost comic accessory to the home team colors he was wearing, and an absolutely perfect combination to his, “Perhaps Mitchell should attempt delivering the ball via telekinesis, as the current means of pitching does not seem to be working in our favor,” that had sounded delightfully long-suffering in tone.
It’s one thing to be mocked in your own stadium, another to have it be done by your own fan, and a whole third insult to have said party do so with such precise eloquence that they almost seemed apathetic to the slaughter. Kirk had laughed in his usual way, lips splitting into a wide grin as he leaned backwards, arms crossing over his chest as their eyes met, an apology thoroughly lacking.
Kirk had been taken aback by the eyebrow raise, the bored expression turning into one of provocation that he had simply been too weak not to meet, having asked playfully, “Any advice for the rest of us?” And the man, straight-faced yet candid, hadn’t blinked before winning Kirk over with his reply of, “You no longer play for Iowa State, Kirk. It would serve you well to become accustomed to losing.”
He had shaken his head in response even as the tip of his tongue pushed out between his teeth in an untamable smile, refacing the diamond in an attempt to still appear invested. They lost 15-2, though Kirk still thought of it as one of his favorite games, having spent the last two innings playing slightly deeper just to participate in the running commentary.
Overtly delighted to see him again, Kirk guessed the next night that his new friend was a season ticket holder. Earning his name, Spock, by the third game, with the payment of a walk off home run. By June, Kirk knew about Spock being an associate professor of physics who couldn’t seem to dodge the study even in his free time, serenading the centerfielder with predictions of how the day’s wind factor would affect ball travel. In July, he learned of Spock’s eidetic memory, which quickly warped into a competition of trying to out-remember the other team’s averages, a contest in which Kirk lost spectacularly each inning. August brought with it the knowledge that when one is raised in a desert climate, one does not mind the scorching heat of the bleachers in summer, even if the only reward was to watch your team get bulldozed. Kirk learned through carefully constructed sentences that Spock had no desire to speak of home, from the arcs of crafted silences that the man knew how to simply enjoy when his team was ahead, and from coy smirks that a sense of humor was boiling closer to the surface than he’d like you to believe.
Spock had spent the first week of September ranting about how even the most irrational of superstitions can affect performances due to the innate illogicalness of humans. He’d spent most of the second preaching the invalidity of the designated hitter, though a few innings had been lost to the dissection of whether crimson was prevailing in uniforms due to its correspondence to blood and the promoted battle-esque nature of sporting events, or simply due to the prevalence of vivid natural red dye. Kirk had spent the entire month trying to figure out how to bring up his off-season job at the mechanic shop without making the offer of an oil change for the cost of a coffee sound like a lewd proposition.
And, trying not to look as in love as he feels each time he runs out of the dugout for the top of an inning.
Though Spock’s sharp, “I do not remember attendance being listed in my ticket contract as a requirement for optimal performance. My impression was that victory fell under your assignment, regardless of my presence,” makes it as hard as ever.
The at-bat song dying out gives Kirk enough time for only a wink and a shrug. “It’s always the fine print that gets you,” he commiserates, refacing the field.
Concern for what’s happening behind home takes precedence over Kirk’s comment, worry leaking into Spock’s tone as he asks, “I must be mistaken; I believe that Chekov has called for a knuckleball,” with already realized pain.
Kirk only nods, peeking over his shoulder with a look of warning that, he hopes, speaks of the hell he’s witnessed in practice.
“I was not aware that Sulu had a knuckleball among his —” allowing the rest of the thought to die as the batter takes a hit off the upper thigh, the crowd groaning as the Nomad slowly makes his limping way to first.
“You regret coming yet?” Kirk asks, scarcely sounding the miserable that he ought to.
“If losing gracelessly was a deterrent then I would never make it through the front gates.”
He grants Spock a wounded expression, knowing it curves wide of the mark. “Well, you’re the only filled chair for about 3 sections, perhaps everyone else has adopted that very philosophy,” Kirk offers, not daring to grow hopeful as the count reaches 1-2. “Not that I’m hoping to lose my only company, but the ushers being paid minimum wage would probably pitch an inning before they checked your ticket. You could be watching this massacre from the best seat in the house.”
It’s a swing, and a miss, and a clash of eye contact as Kirk goes to issue his usual sarcastic salute for his inning leave when Spock responds, “I find my current view to be sufficiently gratifying.”
Kirk’s just left to hope that the shade of his hat hides the red of his face.
“Your boyfriend finally showed,” is how their batting coach announces herself, making use of the empty bench beside him. “Though you may deserve him missing your last shine under the Alpha floodlights after refusing to ask him out for the last 70 straight home games.”
“Give me partial credit, I was in left for 11 of those and he missed a couple for a cosmology conference in June.”
The look on Uhura’s face is equal parts amused, amazed, and skepticism as she asks, “Do you even know what that is?”
“The physics behind the start of it all,” he answers, allowing himself to exude the type of self-satisfaction he normally saves for the batter’s box.
Though it drains just as quickly as it was constructed upon seeing a similar confidence built into Uhura’s expression.
“Well, if he’s such a pro at beginnings, perhaps you ought to take charge of the finale.”
Kirk only has the time to open his mouth before he’s saved by the sound of Chekov connecting with the ball, grounding it into the outfield. Responding with nothing other than an exaggerated sigh, Kirk grabs his bat from the rack, tightening his gloves as he looks for focus. He finds a new favorite, silently chanting the equation of inertia that Spock had burned into his memory the slow night of a pitchers’ duel, the method having proved useful for centering his mind away from pressurized moments. Like the bases being loaded with two outs in a down by four game.
“Grand slam and I’ll convince the ump to write ‘I’m single and painfully bisexual’ on it next time,” is the only advice she offers as he steps onto the dirt.
The ball landing only 30ft away from Spock, who retrieves and pockets it after realizing there’s no child anywhere to offer the souvenir to, doesn’t help.
Neither does the fact that, despite his usual refusal to applaud, Kirk swears he sees the aspiration of a smile on Spock’s face as his cleat taps second on the way to third.
The rest of the 7th is DeSalle being abandoned on first when Sulu pops one directly into the third baseman’s glove, the perils of a pitcher wielding a bat. Kirk tells himself that he did his part, that his keenness to see the 8th had no bearing on anyone’s performance, and his guilt vanishes quickly when Spock fails miserably to look unimpressed.
“I see that you refuse to end the season without the assurance that you will be spoken of in the in between.” And there must be something wrong with Kirk, truly, for the way he’s made giddy by being scolded for tying the game. Though it waivers at the edges when Spock continues, “Do you have aspirations of captainship next year?”
It’s an obvious opening for him to mention leaving the team, and he should be thankful for it, though hesitation insists on blooming.
“Don’t think the Commanders normally name rookies as captains, but I’ll let them know you think I’m qualified,” is where he finds his response, regretting that he misses Spock’s expression as he faces the field.
For a moment Kirk wonders if the silence is his answer. He actually thinks about turning his back on the heat being served to home plate just to get a feel for the temperature stewing behind him when their relief pitcher, Scotty, does him a favor and sends the batter an order to sit down.
Eye contact is barely established when Spock, voice full of a worrying amount of earnestness, says, “Then I am pleased that I came despite the resistance my day poised against the idea.”
“A malfunction in the school’s grading network had already caused me to remain at work past my planned departure time when an administrator informed me that an experiment in one of the chemistry labs had been found reacting overzealously by a concerned custodian. Considering my proximity to the issue, I was the logical choice to handle the matter, despite it ensuring my late arrival.”
Scotty walks a batter and Kirk tells himself not to be grateful for the extra time.
“And you decided that we were the best climax to an already frustrating day?” Kirk shakes his head. “Dare I suggest the existence of an unhealthy obsession?”
“The belief that everyone is entitled to a hypothesis is in the nature of my profession. Therefore I cannot will myself to discourage yours,” and if this were June, Kirk may have believed Spock’s factual tone.
The Nomad grounds the ball to second, making easy work of the double play and the end of Kirk’s second to last chance.
Kirk turns around, walking backwards as he shouts, “You’re staying for the 9th?” the burden of the clock doing nothing to aid his subtlety.
Spock doesn’t seem to notice, nodding as Kirk sprints back to the dugout.
The bottom of the 8th grants them another stranded runner, no advance in score, and Uhura’s judgmental eyebrow at his excuse of, “Running out of time,” as to why he didn’t come back wielding a phone number.
“60-plus games, each over 3 hours on average, half of which you spend out there. Yet here we are, one inning left.” He doesn’t blame her, not really, for the exhaustion which emboldens her, “Men.”
“Command Field is only about an hour away,” is the casual way Kirk greets Spock in the 9th. “I mean, it’s not the epitome of convenience but it’s still a day trip. If you wanted to come.”
Spock, either enjoying his desperation or missing it entirely, responds with only, “I have not yet attended a Triple-A game.”
“Then you need to!” he counters, far too eagerly. “For scientific purposes, of course.”
“Perhaps,” the oddly warm tone making up for its lack of promise.
Kirk’s ordering himself to grow a nerve when the first out is won by a swing and a miss, followed quickly by a signal to move into a shift from their dugout. The other team, it seems, hasn’t quite given up on the idea of a win, putting in a pinch hitter that’s known to pull right. He tells himself there’ll be one more out, that pride may need to be abandoned entirely, giving into a panic when the shift doesn’t rescind after the second batter takes strike three looking.
“Fucking lefties,” he barely manages to mutter before the hitter swings at the first pitch, Hansen easily gloving the ball where he covers far right, and suddenly Kirk’s about to become the loneliest number in the outfield.
“Planning on sticking around for the 10th if we can’t figure this out?” he asks, struggling not to sound desperate.
“You will.” Spock smirks, meeting his eyes before calling out, not seeming to care that Kirk has yet to put any distance between them, “And Jim?”
He doesn’t respond, too busy wondering if Spock’s ever used his first name before, the realization that he never introduced himself, despite the distinct lack of need, hitting him suddenly. His eyebrow raise must be prompt enough, Kirk’s face falling into honest amazement as a bold sincerity finds Spock’s.
“You have earned the recognition that you are receiving.”
There’s a lot of things Kirk wants to say, the idea of simply blurting out his phone number, and hoping Spock’s memory works just as well amidst the element of surprise, wading not far from the realm of possibilities, when his name is beckoned by a teammate.
Kirk, of all damn things, just smiles before stumbling over his own feet as he heads back to the infield, like the idiot that he is.
Kirk gets a double with only one out in the 9th and DeSalle makes quick work of a sinker that stays up. Exhilaration still hits him with every win, and Kirk knows to celebrate them regardless of how much they objectively matter. It’s a bold sensation, one that erases the aches of muscles and tiredness that stems from a long season’s end. It’s an inherently good feeling. So much so that it doesn’t hurt as badly when he throws a celebratory arm around Sulu only to notice Spock missing from the bleachers over his shoulder.
It’s fine, really. It wasn’t like he was planning to run out there, making an ass out of himself in front of his team, his opponents, and the diminished crowd. And, if he had been, he should probably be grateful that his willingness to look like a moron has been made redundant.
There’s an odd conflict brewing inside of him as he makes his way out of the stadium. The serotonin from the win not totally washing off in the shower and the peace of knowing he won’t be physically forced to sprint for a couple months are both at odds with one singular downside, leaving him to weigh his limited choices. On one hand, he could show up at Spock’s place of work and risk seeming like a stalker. On the other, he could hack the college’s database for more information on the professor and risk becoming, for all legal intent, an actual stalker. The third option, taking a winter semester of astrophysics, says a lot just for the fact that it’s currently being marked as preferred.
He’s deep into another round of self-scolding, glaring at his toes as they scuff the pavement as he exits into the parking lot. Kirk compels himself to look up, forcing a smile at the small hoard of spouses and partners that wait for the rest of the team, leaning against the row of cars as they enjoy the fall weather while it still behaves. There’s a swell of, “Good game”s and “Nice bat”s which he tries to dodge with grace, not quite up for his normal speech of how it takes a whole village to win a war.
Only, he’s so busy eluding one conversation that he almost misses another, the voice behind him barely registering as he spins to face it. Visuals prove faster on the uptake than his actual brain, nearly refusing to accept that Spock is standing a couple feet away, hands tucked behind him in perfect parade rest that the man, somehow, manages to make look casual.
The concept of Spock, eye level and sans their normal barrier, is a hard one to process, Kirk getting a tad lost in the calculation of how much better the guy looks with proximity. Though he finally processes the, “I have researched the Commanders and found it imperative to inform you that I find fault with their colors of choice,” which was spoken a concerning length of time ago.
Feeling the awe taking over his face, Kirk halts his attempts to reel it back in as the corners of Spock’s mouth allow the beginnings of an actual smile, chocolate eyes warming.
“Gold doesn’t do it for you, Spock?” Kirk asks, feet slowly initiating his pilgrimage closer.
“While I appreciate the deserved advancement in your career — I believe you look better in your current blue.”
Kirk leaves a probably rude lack of distance between them, forcing his eyes to remain on Spock’s, even as he shakes his head in disbelief. “You stayed.”
“We clearly had more to discuss.”
And Kirk loses the first of his battles as his cheeks are pushed up ridiculously, causing his vision to blur as he squints with the power of his grin.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Kirk begins, his muscles mostly ignoring the order to reset his expression back to neutral. “You can pick any game, against any team — wear their colors if you rather — but, just for going, I’ll buy you dinner afterwards. You can spend the entire meal explaining exactly why you find Command gold to be substandard.”
A worthwhile impression of a man pretending to mull something over is immediately added to Spock’s ever-expanding resume.
“Are you willing to entertain a counteroffer?” he asks. Kirk finally nods, distracted by how much he enjoys the way his face still needs to tilt upwards to see Spock. “I will acquire a gold abomination this spring — in support of a player I have grown to admire personally — but, as compensation, you will purchase me dinner tomorrow. I shall explain the inferiority of the color to you then.”
Giving into the laugh, Kirk nearly drops his bag as Spock inches closer. His hand raises on its own to meet the one being offered, Spock’s fingertips brushing Kirk’s upturned palm as he deposits a baseball into it. An overwhelming sensation hitting Kirk so thoroughly that he nearly misses the number inscribed carefully along the seam. Though, for some reason, the sight of it seems to make him find his long-lost nerve.
“Counter-counteroffer?” he asks, catching the cuff of Spock’s shirt just as he moves to leave. “We find someplace still serving coffee at this hour and I’m all ears now.”
Kirk’s smirk backslides to something perilously genuine as Spock’s fingers graze the back of his hand.
“I believe I can be made amenable to this proposal.”
And Kirk has just enough wits left to hope Spock finds red as suitable as blue on him, face flushing hot as a thumb slips past the edge of his sleeve.