Summary: Luke Danes, Dean Forester, and a game of softball. What could possibly go wrong? A part of Faye Dartmouth's Redemptive!Dean verse.
A/N: Faye Dartmouth has kindly allowed me to play in her Redemptive!Dean verse and helped me every step of the way. To the beta and friend who will never let me put grace in a bottle I give a million thanks.
Summer Project – Part 1 of 2
Luke ducked into Doose's Market to grab a gallon of milk. It was both a blessing and curse that the market was so close to his diner. The blessing part was that it was a short walk from the diner which made it easy to pick up what he needed and the curse part of it made himself known with a booming voice as Taylor announced he'd act as bag boy.
Rolling his eyes, Luke grabbed the milk and headed for the cash register. He could hear Taylor grumbling loudly and chose to ignore him as his purchase was rung up by some blushing high school girl.
"I suppose you want to know what I'm talking about."
Slapping his money into the palm of the young blonde's hand, Luke turned to look at Taylor. "Not really. I'll just mosey on back to my diner and leave you to it if it's all the same to you."
Luke hadn't expected his words to make a difference and sure enough the gray-haired man launched into the unneeded and very much unwanted explanation. "I just got off the phone with a certain former bag-boy, now well into his twenties, looking for work here. Imagine! Someone that old wanting to be a bag boy."
Staring pointedly at the apron tied around Taylor's stout paunch and the way his hands lingered by the paper bags, Luke couldn't stop himself from quipping, "Over twenty, working as a bag boy…imagine that."
The sarcasm flew over Taylor's head, as always, and Luke held his hand out for his change, willing the high school student to hurry up. Never a people person on the best of days, Luke had little to no tolerance for the wind bag in front of him, especially at the end of a long day.
"Why, I'm talking about none other than Dean Forester. When will he ever mature, learn to be responsible. Why, I remember the time Dean…"
Change safely tucked into his pocket, milk in hand, Luke smoothly interrupted the other man's tirade. "Night, Taylor. See you around."
Tucking his chin down, Luke put on a burst of speed and hit the door before Taylor could object.
It wasn't just his annoyance with Taylor that made him want to get the heck out of there, but also hearing Taylor berate Dean.
Dean Forester was actually a good kid. Sure, Luke had given him a hard time the second and third go-around he'd had with Rory, but Luke felt justified. Since then he'd seen changes in the kid. Luke just didn't understand why no one else in Stars Hollow would give Dean a second chance.
What had Dean done to deserve such loathing? Sure, he'd broken up with Rory in fantastical fashion but Luke had to admit his buttons had been good and truly pushed by none other than Luke's nephew, Jess.
And then there were the rumors about Dean and Rory after the kid got married way too young. He'd tried to talk him out of that one but the kid hadn't listened.
And to be fair, Luke himself had blamed Dean for these things, too, but he'd come to see a new side of the kid. He was anything but irresponsible; too responsible with the way he wanted to take the blame for everything.
Dean was home for the summer and in typical Dean responsible fashion, was trying to earn some extra money. If only Taylor would get off his high horse he might see that the kid just needed a few extra bucks.
Luke promptly forgot all about Dean's woes as he entered the diner and found Lorelai messing around with his coffee maker. It was after 10:00 PM. Why would his girlfriend be wanting coffee at this hour? He shrugged it off — this was Lorelai and there was no rhyme or reason to anything she did. He just needed to go with the flow and stop her before she made a complete mess of his diner.
Pulling up the blinds, Luke glanced up and down the street. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. The perfect day for fishing. Which was unfortunate because now that Lane had gotten herself pregnant again, Luke was stuck inside, waiting tables.
What good was owning your own diner if you couldn't up and leave at a moment's notice? But there was no one else he trusted to take care of his business except Caesar and his dedicated employee couldn't scramble eggs and flip pancakes while taking orders at the same time.
Lane was so selfish, so inconsiderate. Weren't twins enough? What was it with people and that weird desire to procreate? Overpopulation: completely Lane's fault.
Luke had been left in the lurch but really, that was the story of his life. Sometimes being responsible sucked but he didn't know any other way.
On the verge of turning away from the window, a tall, solitary figure ambling down the sidewalk caught his eye. It was a really tall guy with dark hair, hands thrust deep into denim pockets. Shoulders were hunched and eyes averted on the off chance someone would try to make eye contact. Luke recognized that gait and posture — Dean Forester. Stars Hollow's very own reject.
Cringing when he remembered Taylor's comments from last night, Luke tried to turn away from the window but his feet held fast; nothing burned Luke more than injustice and that's exactly what the town of Stars Hollow had heaped upon Dean.
Luke remembered his own opinion of Dean had been pretty low until the whole electrocution — excuse moi — electrical shock incident. Dean had kept his mouth shut and taken the blame for Luke's inability to turn the power off. He still felt like he owed the kid even though he hadn't asked Dean not to say anything. Everyone had assumed Dean had screwed up again and Dean had persuaded Luke it was just easier to go with the flow.
Go with the flow. Yeah, Luke had been doing that a bit too much lately and no matter what Lorelai said, it just didn't work and he decided to shake things up a bit. The town's collective treatment of Dean still rankled; they treated him like he was gum scraped off a shoe.
And Luke hated feeling indebted to anyone.
His right hand lifted and made a beckoning motion. Dean stalled on the sidewalk, his head rotating around like some crazed ostrich, and then snapped back. The younger man jabbed his thumb into his chest in the universal gesture for 'who me?' and Luke impatiently repeated the motion with his hand.
Sometimes trying to do the right thing was a pain in the ass.
Checking his watch, Luke noticed it was 5:30 AM; another thirty minutes until the diner officially opened. Luke unlocked the door and waved Dean inside. "What's going on, Dean? Taylor said you're looking for a job."
Luke was appalled at his own tone of voice and winced; if someone had talked to him like that, he'd have taken great delight in setting them straight. And it wasn't that he was mad at Dean, he was mad at the whole situation. Dean was a good kid. It might have taken Luke a while to come around to that point of view but if he could see it, anyone should.
The younger man's shoulders hunched forward and he seemed to shrink before Luke's eyes. How could a kid that tall make himself look so small? And why wasn't Dean standing up for himself?
The kid sighed and replied, "It's a long story."
"Well, pull up a chair, I've got time."
To someone who didn't know Luke, he probably sounded cranky and demanding. And sure, Luke could be that way and often was. But this was his gruff, caring voice. He didn't think Dean knew the difference as his eyes slid around the diner before he parked his thin, tall frame in a chair at the counter.
Luke grabbed a mug and poured out some coffee, slapping it onto the counter with authority as he grabbed the sugar, which the kid liked to use to doctor up the java.
"I thought you were taking classes this summer?"
Still gruff despite Luke's best efforts but if only Dean would raise his head and look him in the eye he would know Luke was concerned. After all, there was an old Chinese proverb, or at least a fortune cookie, that said if you saved someone's life you were responsible for it. Luke hated to give into that kind of superstition, but he didn't need any more bad luck than he already had.
Dean's nerves increased as he swirled a spoon through his coffee, the brown liquid threatening to slosh over the edge of the mug. "I thought my dad needed my help this summer so I sublet my apartment and came home; no one told me Dad was in Chicago and Mom and Clara are visiting my older sister in California. They uh, don't, uh, trust me to stay at their house so I'm looking for a job and a place to stay."
That was so not what Luke was expecting to hear. He really didn't know what Dean would say, but that wasn't it.
Why wouldn't Dean's parents trust him to stay at their house alone? He knew Dean was making excellent grades, was at college on scholarship now if Lorelai was to be believed— it's not like he was a party animal.
Bright pink suffused the kid's face as he frowned as though in pain. Clearly it wasn't easy for Dean to admit he was in a jam. And having to explain that his parents didn't trust him? Well, that was a level of humiliation no one deserved and if Luke hadn't wanted to help the kid before, he certainly did now.
And if Dean didn't have a place to stay, then where had he stayed last night? Luke wasn't even sure if he wanted to know. One problem at a time.
"Lane is having another baby."
Dean's head raised and he met Luke's stare for the first time since walking into the diner. "Good for her?"
Luke barked out a short laugh. Dean's sense of humor had never been in question. Just his poor decision making. Although by all accounts that was a thing of the past. Not that everyone seemed to think so since then. Or maybe not if Dean's parents had made him persona-non-gratis while they were out of town.
"Better her than me. But what I'm getting at is that Lane is on maternity leave. I need some help. You need a job. Any of this tracking?"
A swallow full of coffee went down the wrong pipe and for a moment Luke was afraid he'd be called upon to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Dean again. Thankfully it passed. Despite some of their previous encounters, he actually liked the kid. But not enough to do mouth-to-mouth on him again.
Once Dean had stopped wheezing and cleaned up some of the liquid that had sprayed out of his nose — that act was simultaneously gross and neat and Luke didn't know whether to be horrified or clap — Dean composed himself enough to answer. "Sorry 'bout that. I don't know if that's a good idea. Me, working for you, that is. I mean, I totally appreciate the offer but I've never waited tables before."
Luke pinned Dean with his patented stare and even though he shouldn't be undermining the kid's confidence by strong arming him into taking the job, he felt vindicated when Dean capitulated. "I, ah, okay. But don't say I didn't warn you."
"Well it couldn't be any worse than you doing electrical work."
Dean flinched but a scowl replaced his cowed expression. There, that was better. Dean's self-esteem definitely needed building up and Luke would do his best to work on it. He definitely would have the time now that he was the kid's boss.
"When do you want me to start?"
"How about now?"
The kid was startled by Luke's response but he didn't try to run. Or hide. He just sighed again. "Okay."
But resignation was better than depressed.
Luke remembered how coordinated Dean used to be. They'd played against each other in the softball league and Dean had been competent. Actually he'd been one of the better players on his team. And Dean had played hockey. Captain and center of the high school team that went to state. And lost. But still, he'd had some skill and ability.
This display, for lack of a better word, was upsetting. Dean was just about the worst wait staff he'd ever seen in action. And he'd seen some lulu's.
First, the kid kept running his left hip into the corner of the counter where you had to step up and grab the coffee, drinks or put in the orders. So far he hadn't spilled anything on a customer but he'd managed to splash hot coffee on his bare arm. Not to mention the bruised hip.
His writing was legible but he didn't know the shortcuts and lingo and by the time he'd written out the customer's order, the customer was thinking about bolting to a place with quicker service. Luke could see it in their beady little eyes.
Except for Lorelai who flirted and teased Dean. That was about the only time Luke had seen the kid relax. Thank God for Lorelai. Under her constant barrage of friendly and vaguely inappropriate chatter, the kid had finally unbent a little and made small talk that was appropriate for the diner. And he'd smiled. Luke was beginning to think the kid had forgotten how.
Lorelai even marched behind the counter to get the coffee for a refill and gave Luke some feedback on his new hire. "He doesn't have a good beat and he can't dance to it but he sure is cute. I think he'll be a hit with your customers. Assuming he doesn't bankrupt you."
Both of them cringed as a tray filled with dishes crashed to the floor. For the second time since Lorelai had entered the diner. That wasn't counting the other two times earlier in the day.
The kid was tense. That was the problem. That had to be the problem. Why else would a normally coordinated kid be completely incapable of such simple tasks? Luke just didn't know how to get him to relax. If he opened his mouth right now, he'd bark. And that wasn't very relaxing.
The phone rang and Luke was relieved that he could turn his back on the little scene of Dean brushing up busted plates while some woman whose name Luke couldn't remember tried to pinch his ass. Okay, maybe that was a part of Dean's nerve problem. The freakin' women in this town could put anyone on edge.
Damn it. Now he wished he hadn't answered the phone. It was Bill with the news that he had to quit the team. The team Luke had vowed he'd never belong to again but he just couldn't stay away from the lure of competition.
Once Luke heard the reason he knew there was no way he could talk the guy into changing his mind; a triple bypass just couldn't be rushed, not even for Luke.
The kid had that beaten down look again as he slunk over to Luke. "Yeah, Boss?"
He was either making the biggest mistake of his life, or the best decision. "We've had a change in our game plan. Go look for a place to rent and be back here by 5:00."
Dean's brow crinkled in confusion but he didn't argue. "You want me to work the dinner hour?"
Luke's lips split into a wide grin and for a moment Dean looked horrified. "I need you to fill in on my softball team. Bill is out for the season and this year we're going to make it to the playoffs. I'm counting on you, Dean. Don't screw it up."
Dean shrugged his shoulders which could have meant anything from you've got to be kidding to count me in. Although the intense look of concentration he'd worn while breaking dishes...er, serving customers, was replaced by one of relief. "I...okay. I'll see you at 5:00 then."
Dean tentatively ambled out onto the infield. At least the kid remembered where the second baseman should be positioned – to the side of the base instead of on top of the actual bag. That had been something that Ken's nephew had failed to recognize and after one miserable practice, he hadn't shown his face again. It was a godsend really because Luke hadn't looked forward to telling Ken that his nephew sucked and wouldn't be playing for the team.
The team was desperate, but not that desperate.
Luke started off practice with his usual activity, hitting fly balls into the outfield so the players could shag them and throw them back in to the infield. When balls were thrown to Dean, he stepped on the bag and swiped his arm as if tagging out the runner before throwing the ball in to the catcher. And Luke hadn't needed to give the kid any instruction. All of which suggested strongly that Luke had in fact made a wise decision for the team; he just hoped he made the right decision by Dean as well.
At first, Dean's face was scrunched up with worry; the kid always looked like someone was going to single him out and give him hell for something or other. But after a half an hour of practice, the kid had found a rhythm and even looked like he belonged.
It was the first time since Luke had motioned Dean into his restaurant that morning that the younger man appeared to be at ease. He might have sucked as a waiter but on the baseball diamond his natural athleticism took over and he shined. Who would have thought? Maybe he'd done right by the kid as well.
Luke pounded grounder after grounder toward the holes on either side of Dean to see how he handled them. He never once tripped over his feet which was an upgrade from Bill. And his throws to the bases that Luke called out were flawless.
The catcher, Pete, nudged Luke's elbow with his mitt. "Where'd you find this kid?"
Shrugging nonchalantly, Luke smiled. "Dean? Oh, his family moved here when he was in his teens and I played softball against him when he was still in high school. And he was the center for the hockey team that went to state. Not bad, huh?"
Luke threw a baseball up in the air and swung at it on a downward angle so it would bounce hard against the diamond. The ball took a nasty hop right as Dean went to field it but he made the proper adjustment and smoothly gloved the ball, pivoting and throwing to first base; there was no doubt that any runner would have been out.
The catcher handed Luke another ball. "Don't tell Bill, but I think Dean here is an upgrade. Can he bat?"
Luke didn't know the answer to that question. "Let's find out."
Setting the bat down, Luke motioned to Dean. "Hey, Forester, time for some batting practice. You're up!"
Grabbing his mitt and a ball, Luke jogged to the mound as Dean jogged to the plate. The kid had some spring in his step, unlike the unsure youth who had moved on to the diamond an hour ago.
Wow, an hour ago. Luke had slammed balls at Dean's position for at least thirty minutes without anyone complaining or getting restless.
Once Dean settled in the batter's box, Luke pulled his arm back and let his first pitch fly. It rocketed high into the air before crossing right over the center of the plate. Dean jumped on it, smacking it with authority. The ball easily flew over the right fielder's head and the fence.
Luke was impressed. But he had a reputation to uphold so he found something critical to say, honing in on the fact that Dean had hit the ball to the opposite field which meant he was a little late with his swing. "Not bad for your first swing. But a little late…let's see if you can hit this one to left."
Dean pretty much put on a batting clinic, hitting the ball to any field Luke directed. And the kid could hit for average as well as well power. It was a struggle but Luke kept his lips from pulling back into a smile. This is what he'd been waiting for. This team could go deep in the playoffs.
Calling time, Luke motioned for his team to gather around the pitcher's mound. "I think Dean is a nice fit for the team. Anyone have a problem with that?"
Whirling around, the faces were split evenly between stunned and impressed. Ken was the first to find his voice. "Hell, no! Welcome to the team, man."
What followed was the age-old ritual of grown men pounding on each other's backs and slapping hands and generally acting in a juvenile manner. Under normal circumstances, Luke might feel a little ridiculous about it all, but even he couldn't ignore just how good this felt.
This team was going places and everyone could sense it. Even Dean had lost the stoic expression, his eyes alight with excitement.
Luke cleared his throat. "Okay, people! Let's call it a night. Remember, we need to meet here tomorrow at 4:30. We want to arrive at the field as a team."
The guys drifted off the diamond and toward their cars while Luke started filling a bag with the baseballs. He was momentarily startled when two big hands dumped a bunch in the bag but smiled involuntarily when he came face to face with a beaming Dean.
Once all of the balls were collected, Luke handed Dean the bag while he grabbed the bat. "So what's with the show of teeth?"
Dean continued to flash those blindingly white teeth, his dimples winking. "Thanks. That was fun. Probably the most fun I've had in Stars Hollow since…well, in a long time."
Clapping Dean on the back, he matched steps stride for stride as they headed for Luke's truck. "Just stick with me, kid. The fun starts tomorrow. It'll be one for the record books."
Luke suppressed the desire to cackle. The other team was toast now that his team had a second baseman.
Luke swung the bat back in one fluid motion, paused, and then swung forward. The joints in his shoulders creaked and his back popped as he warmed up in his usual pre-game ritual. He tried to maintain his game face, but a wide smile kept threatening to split his lips wide open.
The Stars Hollow Lovers were going to beat the pants off of the Bloomfield Bulldogs.
Not that Luke wanted to see the opponent running around in their underwear. On the contrary, that would be quite a disturbing image; it was just a figure of speech. Damn, hanging around with Lorelai had really affected his thinking processes.
The thing was, ever since Luke had agreed to form a slow pitch softball team to compete in the Hartford League, he'd dreamed about making it into the playoffs. Sure, he never admitted it and he'd only agree to coach in a huff, mostly to get Taylor off his back, but still. Dreams of winning were hard to push aside. And now, finally, with the addition of the very tall, very fast, very skilled second baseman, the dream was now a reality.
It was hard to believe that someone who was such a klutz at the diner – someone who had already cost Luke a fortune in china – was so athletic on the playing field. Sure, Dean had been okay when he was a teenager, better than average, but he'd lacked the coordination to really dominate the sport.
Something had happened in the intervening years and Dean had finally figured out how to marshal the strength in those long limbs. He could field, bat and run bases like nobody's business. He was their secret weapon.
Glancing toward the visitors' dugout – the state of the art visitors' dugout the likes of which their team had never seen – Luke spotted his secret weapon and with him was a pretty young woman with long blond hair.
The pretty young woman turned her head and Luke instantly recognized her. It was Lindsay Lister, formerly Forester.
Luke moved closer to the dugout, drawn by the tension simmering around the two young people. He was simply moving closer to protect his star player. He needed Dean to be sharp and have his head in the game.
He certainly wasn't worried about the younger man's state of mind. Or the fact that Dean's ex-wife could damage his player's fragile self esteem. Oh, no, Luke wasn't worried, not whatsoever, not about anything except softball, manly sport that it was. Because that would be too girly.
And Luke had a game to win. That took precedence over everything.
Leaning forward, Luke nonchalantly stretched his legs and arms, craning his neck to the side to hear the conversation better.
"You look great, Lindsay. I really like your hair long like that."
"Are you saying you didn't like it when I had it in a short bob? Because you said you liked it then. But then again, you lied about a lot of stuff, didn't you?"
Zing! That one had to hurt. He wondered if he should intervene but he didn't want to draw attention to the couple either.
"No, that's not what I meant. You look fantastic, really healthy. And happy."
She tossed her hair and smiled. "Well, I should look happy, I just got engaged."
Another cringe on Dean's behalf. Lindsay wasn't holding back any punches tonight.
Luke had a sinking feeling about the game. A cringing Dean wasn't really a home-run hitting Dean, and if Lindsay didn't finish soon, there wouldn't be much of a second baseman left to play. But really, other than invite himself into the conversation which would cause a scene, he didn't have any ideas. He wished Lorelai had made the trip. She was good at this subterfuge stuff.
"That's great, Linds. Congratulations. You deserve to be happy."
"Yes, I do."
Lindsay's voice had thawed to socially acceptable as opposed to the earlier frigid tone. Luke heaved a sigh of relief as he bent forward and touched his toes, stretching out his back more.
"Well, I guess I should head back into the stands. I'd wish you luck but I want Blair's team to win."
"Take care of yourself, Lindsay. I can't have my favorite ex-wife being unhappy."
A high pitched giggle spilled unexpectedly from the blonde's mouth. "Dean, I'm your only ex-wife!"
And just like that the tension dissipated from the air. Maybe tonight wasn't going to turn into a disaster after all.
Stars Hollow was the away team so Luke approached home plate as the lead-off hitter. He took a few good cuts at the air to demonstrate his swing and when the Bulldogs pitcher floated the ball across the plate, Luke executed the perfect bunt.
Sprinting down the first base line, Luke was easily safe.
"Hey, Grandpop, shouldn't you be at home in bed?"
The tall, buff, blonde guy that was playing first seemed to think he was a comedian. Although this young twerp wasn't even funny, and his material was stale.
Rolling his eyes, Luke decided he'd teach the knucklehead a lesson…he'd humiliate the guy when he was up to bat.
"Dude, who's the tall, dark-haired guy on your team?"
Luke ignored him, wondering if word of his secret weapon had leaked out.
"Huh, I think I can take him. Easy."
The first baseman's cryptic words were forgotten as the next batter approached the plate. Neither Jim nor Ken could generate any offense. Dean, who really gave the softball a ride deep into center, committed the last out and soon Luke was jogging to the dugout to get his glove.
Staring at the scoreboard as he walked to the mound, Luke took a deep breath. He caught Dean's eye and winked. This was his Luke's chance to shine.
And partake in one of his favorite pastimes; baiting the batter.
The big first baseman stepped up to the plate. The back of his jersey spelled out his name in capital letters. BLAIR. As in Lindsay's Blair.
Luke leaned over and stared into the batter's box. "Here we go, Biff, nice and easy. Show us what a whiffer you are."
Grasping the 12 inch ball in his right hand, Luke pulled his arm back and let the pitch lollipop into the sky, crossing home plate at the batter's waist. "Strike!"
Blair spit into his hands and rubbed them together before grasping the bat. He kicked the sand at his feet, digging in.
He couldn't help himself. The guy was a pretentious jerk. Hell, with all the twitching and preening the guy was doing, Luke might as well be facing Nomar Garciaparra.
Suddenly Luke was struck by inspiration. He hadn't watched all of those old episodes on Nick at Night for nothing. "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life."
That's what you get for having a name like Blair. Although his parents should have been ashamed of themselves. Really, giving a kid a name like that was just asking for other kids to make his life miserable.
The batter's already ruddy complexion turned a deeper hue of red and the umpire, a man closer to Luke's own age, snickered. When Blair tried to step out of the batter's box, the ump ordered him back in. "Batter up!"
Serving up another high arched pitch, Luke had to duck as Blair nailed the softball, sending it screaming back up the middle. He couldn't see the catch but the claps and whistles told him that his second baseman had recorded an outstanding out.
And so the innings went, with Luke ridiculing the Bulldogs, which he had taken to calling the Bullfrogs, for no discernible reason other than the fact that it made them angry as well as his favorite target, Blair. Also known as Biff, Buck, Brock, Breck and Blaine. In between the ridiculing, Stars Hollow managed to score three runs to the Bullfrog's two, the last one by Dean who smacked a triple. Dean had been the best player by far on the diamond tonight although you'd never know it by his demeanor.
He was quiet and went about his business with little to no fanfare.
It was the bottom of the 7th inning and the Bullfrogs had three outs to tie or win the game. The first batter of the inning approached home plate, swagger in his step. Blair.
Blair, who had decided to employ intimidation tactics when it came to Luke's best player. So far the preppy jock had tried to trip Dean when he sprinted down the baseline for a single and drifted into the base path when Dean was running out his triple so Dean was forced to skirt around him. It might have been an inside the park homerun if bonehead hadn't tried that little trick. But the first base ump had warned the team that the next display of poor sportsmanship would result in their being bounced from the playoffs, and Luke felt reasonably sure that would be the end of that.
Only he was wrong. Yeah, wrong. It happened from time to time no matter how much Luke didn't like to admit it. But Blair seemed determined to prove Luke wrong in the most fantastical way.
The blond behemoth swung at a bad pitch and the top spin sent the ball high into the air in a classic pop up.
Dean's low, sure voice sung out the magical phrase Luke longed to hear in that moment. "I got it!"
Twirling around on the mound, Luke craned his neck back and watched the ball hit its zenith before it started its descent toward Dean's glove.
A smile was already creasing his face in anticipation of only needing two more outs to win the game when the unthinkable happened.
Blair rounded first base and deviated from the base path, plowing into Dean.
The two large bodies smacked into the ground, limbs entangled.
The softball fell harmlessly to the ground.
The players on the diamond were stunned. Dean would have caught the ball. It was beyond bad sportsmanship to level the fielder. Before Luke could appeal to the umpire, he realized something that was even more important than winning the game.
Dean hadn't moved.
Blair had rolled off the still body and was dusting his pants off, smirk firmly in place.
Luke was about to round on the idiot when a thin blond streaked by him and beat him to it.
"What the hell, Blair?! Dean never did anything to you to deserve that!"
"Lindsay, honey. You told me he hurt you, cheated on you. I was just trying to teach him a lesson."
Stepping around the sideshow, Luke knelt down on the dirt next to Dean. The younger man was lying on his stomach, left arm twisted underneath his body, his head turned to the right side. He looked like a discarded doll. Raggedy Ann. Or in this case Andy.
Luke put a hand tentatively on the kid's back. "Dean, can you hear me?"
His words were almost drowned out by the bickering couple behind him.
"Of course I was hurt, I thought I loved him! But we were both young and stupid and not ready for marriage. It was my fault just as much as his that things didn't work out. Dean's a great guy. You had no right to do that!"
Lindsay's voice was beyond loud, broadcasting to the whole field, the last syllables wailed at a pitch almost too high for human ears. Luke thought the noise would bring Dean around. At least he would have hoped.
Only Dean remained unmoving on the ground.
Luke's breath caught in his throat. Was the kid even breathing?
And then he felt it. The gentle rise of Dean's back.
"Ambulance is coming."
His full attention was on Dean, sprawled out in the dirt, but Luke recognized his team mate Pete's voice. Pete was responsible. He had kids. He'd know what to do.
But when Pete kneeled down on the other side of Dean, Luke had the impulse to chase him away.
The sandy-haired man picked up the unconscious kid's wrist. That just seemed wrong. Luke had seen enough to know that he didn't trust Pete. "Um, maybe you should wait out on the road, you know, guide them here."
Pete gave him a funny look but moved away, leaving a relieved Luke in his wake.
Only Luke wasn't relieved. Dean was still out, still crumpled on the ground, still not opening his eyes.
And then Dean moaned. Luke was looking expectantly as the usually tanned face turned ashen, and this time Dean didn't moan, groan or make any audible noise.
Instead he pushed off on his right hand and flopped over on his back, left arm cradled across his chest. "Ah, that's better," the woozy kid muttered under his breath.
Scrambling back so Dean's large body wouldn't collide with his own and do itself even more damage, Luke studied the milky face before him. Dean's eyes were still closed firmly and that was freaking Luke out. His eyes seemed to be twitching behind the lids and with the flopping on his back like that made Luke think of something heinous – what if Dean had a seizure?
Luke had seen someone in the throes of a seizure once – Dean to be exact – and he was afraid they were moving back into that territory. And Luke hadn't had an opportunity to perform mouth-to-mouth or CPR since that day and was very much hoping to keep it that way for fear that this time it wouldn't turn out quite so successfully.
"Don't move! Just, you know, relax." Luke was hard pressed to keep the exasperation out of his voice.
Hazel eyes opened to a slit. "Luke. What's wrong?"
"The kid asks me what's wrong. What do you mean what's wrong? You're flat on your back in the dirt."
Pulling off his baseball cap, Luke scrubbed vigorously at the hair atop his head. He knew Dean had taken a hard knock to the head but this was way bad if the kid didn't even know he was hurt. And why did he keep thinking of Dean as a kid? Maybe because Luke was old enough to be his father and Dean looked like a crabby toddler waking up from a nap with the skin pinched between his eyes and his mouth turned down in a frown.
"Why are you glaring at me? Did I break more plates?"
"No, of course not."
"Oh, good. God, my head is killing me." Dean stretched his left hand up to touch his head and gave a startled yelp. "Ouch!"
Pushing off his right hand, Dean shoved himself to a sitting position.
Luke was hovering. There was no other way to describe it. And if he wasn't so worried at the moment he most definitely would be wringing Dean's neck. "Can't you just sit still?!"
Large eyes blinked owlishly at him and the lower lip quivered.
Great. Luke had been reduced to yelling at an injured player on his team. His star player. And damn it, his friend. And said friend looked like tears were going to spill across his cheeks any moment now. As if things could get any worse.
Luke didn't do shows of emotion, at least not when he could help it. And really, Dean didn't either. Emote, that is.
Something was wrong here.
Carefully cradling his left arm against his chest, Dean shifted his body yet again. This time Luke kept his mouth shut and watched his younger friend carefully.
Dean's substantial weight rested on his right palm, braced on the dirt. His long, right leg was bent at the knee, his forehead resting against it.
And if Dean's color had been bad before, it took a stunning turn for the worse. Green was not a good look for the kid.
"Just breathe though it, kid. The ambulance should be here soon."
The beyond pale face snapped up, eyes large pools of pain. "No! No ambulance. No hospital. Not this summer. I promised."
When a tremor shimmied through the already shaky body in front of him, Luke inched forward and put a hand behind Dean's back to support him. "This isn't up for discussion here. My team, my rules. If I say you're going to the hospital, then that's it. You're going!"
The just kicked puppy look blossomed across the kid's face. Even Dean's voice wavered as he spoke softly. "But every summer I end up in the hospital. Not this summer. I promised my mom. I can't go."
Luke found himself kneeling behind and to the right of Dean, his right hand resting on Dean's shoulder, partly to make sure he didn't move around anymore and partly to give comfort. Comfort to Dean or to himself, he didn't know, but Luke's hand massaged and petted in an effort to calm them both.
With a sigh, Dean's weight shifted back more. Luke found himself with an arm full of woozy Dean. "Hey, kid, you doing okay?"
"I don't feel so good. Just going to rest my eyes for a moment."
"No!" The syllable burst out of Luke's mouth louder than he intended, Dean flinching at the commotion.
Patting a shoulder awkwardly, Luke spoke in a softer voice. "Sorry, I mean I think you're supposed to stay awake."
"Sorry." The word was more than a little slurred and filled with pure exhaustion. Neither a good sign in Luke's book.
But he reminded himself, he'd seen Dean much worse off before. But that thought really didn't ease his worry at the moment. When Dean had received the mother of all electrical shocks at his diner, he'd been a snot-nosed screw-up of a kid. At least Luke had thought so.
Now Dean was Luke's friend. No longer snot-nosed and a screw-up, the kid just had some self esteem issues. Once he had those worked through, Dean would be fine.
Fine. Except at the moment he wasn't. Fine, that was. Luke was pretty sure Dean was unconscious again and didn't know if he should lie him flat or keep propping him up. The ambulance chose that moment to pull on to the diamond.
Luke had never seen a prettier sight in his life. Well, maybe pretty was the wrong word for a hunk of metal that flashed and screeched. His brain was short circuiting if he was worried about what word to use while someone was draped in his arms, dead to the world.
"Excuse me, sir. Has he been conscious at all?"
The voice was feminine and professional.
Good. He could do this. Answer their questions and they'd help Dean. "He was on his stomach and then he wasn't. He moved himself, though, it wasn't me. He was a little out of it. Not so bad he couldn't complain about not wanting to go the hospital."
There. He congratulated himself on getting the facts out in a logical manner. Although the quizzical look the two paramedics shot each other – the other one a big guy – made him rethink the logical part.
And Dean woke up and got into the act. "No, no hospital. I promised." At least the kid was consistent.
The female paramedic was crouched down on Dean's left side and she eyeballed the left arm he kept clutched against his chest. "Oh, sweetie, I'm afraid we have to give you a ride. Your arm is broken and the doctor will need to put a cast on it. Then you'll be as good as new."
Dean had broken his arm? Luke winced as he remembered the collision as the beefy Blair had bowled Dean off his feet and the awkward way Dean's arm had been jammed underneath his body. He should have put two and two together before now. The kid's arm was broken and Luke could have made it worse for all he knew.
The male paramedic appeared with equipment in each large hand. "What's his name?"
"Dean. Dean Forester."
There, he could sound competent if he kept it short and sweet.
"Dean, my name's Paul and this is Sue. We're going to make you comfortable and then get you to a doctor so we can get that arm taken care of. Okay?"
Luke was still kneeling behind Dean, still supporting his weight and couldn't see Dean's face from his vantage point. But he did feel Dean's head bob up and down and felt the younger man wince at the motion and he heard the soft, unsure response Dean gave them. "Um, sure, I guess."
Sue seemed to take charge of the scene. "Let's get the c-collar on him and then slide him on the back board."
She deftly wrestled the collar thing around Dean's neck and then she and Paul were pulling Dean out of Luke's arms and settling him on a board. "On the count of three, one, two, three."
Dean was effortlessly deposited on to the stretcher that Luke hadn't even noticed. But now Luke's arms were empty and he definitely noticed that.
"Sir, we're going to transport him to Hartford Hospital. Do you want to meet us there?"
Sue's voice was kind if a bit impersonal. She didn't know Dean. Would she take good care of him? Well, it was her job.
A hand suddenly latched on to Luke's. Hard. "Luke. Please. Can you come with me? I hate hospitals."
Right back at ya, kiddo.
Luke arched a brow at the two paramedics who were wheeling the stretcher toward the ambulance despite the iron grip their patient had on Luke's left hand.
Paul and Sue had some sort of silent exchange that was kind of creepy to watch, with shoulders twitching and eyes flashing, but finally the came to a conclusion. "Sure, but you need to stay out of Sue's way."
Another hand latched on to Luke's other arm. "Where are your keys? I'll make sure we bring your car to you?"
Pete. And with Pete were the concerned eyes of Jim, Ken, Bob, Tim, Will and Dan.
Luke had never realized before that everyone on his team had a one syllable name. No wonder Dean fit right in.
He also hadn't realized that everyone had been gathered around as Luke had tried to tend to Dean. He'd been in his own little world, too worried about Dean to acknowledge other things were going on.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Luke was grateful. "Thanks, Pete. My keys are in my bag in the dugout."
"Just take care of Dean, we'll follow you there."
Luke hadn't even thought about transportation. Good thing Pete had. Because eventually Dean was going to need a ride home. And it would be bad to make a kid with a broken arm take a bus back home to wherever the kid was staying.
Clambering aboard, Luke scooted out of the way as Sue and Paul closed the ambulance doors and started to work on Dean. He pressed back and gave them room as a blood pressure cuff was tightened on Dean's right arm, stethoscope was applied to his chest, penlight was flashed in his eyes and a host of other procedures were performed.
When a needle was brought out and slid into Dean's arm, Luke thought he might pass out. He really hated everything that had to do with being sick. He regretted missing out on most of his daughter's childhood but it was times like these that made him realize he wouldn't have been much help throughout all those illnesses that kids seemed to suffer.
"Sir, are you okay?"
Luke realized Sue was speaking to him. "Sorry, me and needles don't get along."
He found himself settled on a small chair pulled down from the wall. "We don't need two patients, if you don't mind."
He must have really zoned out as he noticed Paul was gone and the ambulance was moving. "How is he?"
Dean's eyes were closed once again and he had a variety of apparatus attached to him, including an IV hence the whole needle from earlier. Luke willed away the queasy sensation in the pit of his stomach. He could do this. He was already in the ambulance so he had to do this.
Sue brushed a hank of Dean's hair off his face. Maybe she wasn't so impersonal after all. "He's definitely got a fractured arm and a concussion. Probably bruised ribs, too. And he's in shock which is why we started the IV. That and the heating blanket should keep him comfortable."
The drive lapsed in silence as Luke tried to avoid looking at the wires and things protruded from Dean's body. Leaning forward he touched Dean's right hand. Just to make sure Dean wasn't a mirage.
Dean's right hand closed firmly around Luke's. Neither man said anything as Dean blinked dazed eyes at Luke. Consciousness had to be a good thing, Luke figured. "I'm so going to kill Kirk. I can't believe he hit me with that invention of his."
Okay, that was interesting. Luke had heard from Lorelai how Kirk had smashed into Dean on the sidewalk in front of her place last summer. Dean had ended up with a nice little concussion from that collision, too. So maybe consciousness wasn't such a good thing after all.
After shooting a nervous look at Sue who gave an encouraging nod back, Luke plunged down the rabbit's hole. "Actually, Kirk isn't to blame for this one. Don't you remember, someone ran you down on the base path?"
Dean squinted his eyes hard at Luke. "Hey, you're not Lorelai."
Luke couldn't suppress the urge and rolled his eyes. "The facial hair give me away? You're right, I'm not."
This just kept getting better and better.
Sue swooped in and fiddled with some equipment hanging from the IV pole. "How are you feeling there, Dean?"
This wasn't an idle question. Sue was watching Dean like a hawk which made Luke nervous. Skittish even. Luke hated that out of control feeling.
Dean tried to turn his head but the brace around his neck wouldn't let him move. "I don't like this. I can't move. Everything hurts. And he's not Lorelai."
The petulant child was out in full force. Make that confused petulant child. Dean's mind was in another time zone from his body and it was really hard to watch.
The paramedic patted Dean's thigh reassuringly. "I don't know who Lorelai is but your dad here is taking good care of you. Try to relax."
Dean opened his mouth, shot Luke another confused look, and closed his mouth again. He settled back on the gurney and continued to cling to Luke's hand.
The paramedic's words bounced around in his head. Your dad here is taking good care of you. Despite the fact that being around the medicine-y smells and equipment were making Luke edgy, he decided he was doing a good job of taking care of Dean. The hand holding for one. Very dad-like, which Luke had to figure was a good thing for a kid who just got mowed over by some Cro-Magnon blonde. Although he probably should clear up the misconception that he was Dean's dad. Not that he'd mind being Dean's dad. Sure, Dean had made some whopper mistakes so far in his young life and yeah, there'd been a time when Luke couldn't stand to be around the kid but he'd come through them a better person. Wasn't that what mattered? It wasn't making the mistakes that could make or break a person, it was how they dealt with the fall out.
Mistakes. Luke knew a thing or two about those. His marriage to Nicole, his absent parenting for April, his hit and miss ability to settle down with Lorelai, just to name a few. And right now he was feeling like Dean's condition was all his fault seeing as he'd practically blackmailed the kid to play on his team. But he'd known it would be good for the kid. Young man. Whatever.
Sue was speaking on a walkie-talkie but Luke wasn't paying attention to what she said. The ambulance rocked to a stop and Sue jumped back to her feet. "Dean, we're going to take you inside now so that a doctor can take care of your arm."
Luke had almost forgotten about Dean's arm; it was folded over Dean's chest, clutched closely to his body. It kind of bent at a crooked angle and Luke winced. Dean winced, too.
And then Luke didn't have time to do anything except jump down off the rig and follow as Sue and Paul guided the gurney through the sliding glass doors.