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a kind of dwell and welcome

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They win the semifinals.

The first game's in Wales — the home crowd's hyped as all get-out for their team and Swansea gets a goal in the first five minutes. But then Jamie and Dani have a good time with the Pepper Shakers trick play and even the score before halftime; Dani makes a truly beautiful goal in the middle of the second half, and they keep hold of their 2-1 lead until the whistle.

Their second leg at Richmond on Saturday is a lot closer — a lucky penalty kick starts them down 0-1, and Swansea's defense has remembered that they're one of the best in the league. Richmond has to fight for every inch of the field, and at halftime they're still nowhere on the board. 

But Sam buries a penalty kick in the last thirty seconds for a tie — meaning a win for the semifinals, the total score 3-2. The entire stadium's on their feet, the noise of it like hands lifting them all into the air. Ted gets smothered in hugs from the coaches, the players on the bench, the players on the pitch rushing in. The stadium-cam shows the owner's box with Rebecca and Keeley and Bex and Higgins all hugging each other; in the background and out of focus is Trent, cheering like a man possessed.

It's joyous, a hallelujah and amen from the church of Nelson Road in a language Ted still only half-understands but prays in all the same. He feels drunk with it; he can't remember a word he says in the press room, or if he says anything sensible at all, but Keeley doesn't cut the Q&A short so he's probably all right.

They're not out of the woods by any means; Cardiff City, as predicted, has annihilated Barnsley 7-1 in their combined legs and the final won't be anybody's idea of a good time. Ted's got no illusions about how close they're skating to the edge. But the noise in his ears as he steps outside that night is from the fans, still cheering to come on, you Greyhounds. 

He texts Trent on his way to the Richmond flat.

did you get home safe?

saw you up on the jumbotron
earlier

disappointed you weren't
wearing one of my visors but
still glad you came

Those visors are an abomination.
The fact that I saw you in
them numerous times and
still wanted to fuck you
troubles me to this day.

On his way past Mae's, Ted greets — and gets forcibly hugged by — Paul and Baz and Jeremy; they shove a beer in his hand and call him a wanker, but in an affectionate tone that warms his heart. Ted manages to juggle his keys, his beer and his phone for long enough to get through the front door and up the stairs and into the flat, where the lights are already on.

Trent is lounging on the couch, wearing one of Ted's Richmond pullovers and the pants he insists on calling "trackies," and sure enough, has one of Ted's visors jammed on over his hair. It's hilarious and the most unflattering thing he's ever seen Trent wear, and Ted spills beer all over the floor in his haste to jump on top of him.

 


 

Seraphina's birthday party — or more exactly, Seraphina's grandparents' birthday party they're throwing for her — starts the next day at around three, which means Trent's expected to be there by nine.

"Don't they have like, housekeepers and caterers and everybody to help set up?" Ted grumbles, pulling Trent in closer. "Unless you're supposed to be wrangling the ponies."

"Christ, can you imagine," Trent laughs, and submits to the affectionate semi-armbar hold Ted gets him in. "No, I'm just there to be complained at or to make sure Seraphina doesn't dive-bomb into the cake again."

"Again? That's a story in a word, right there."

"Mm, when she was two. Landed right on top of it, face-first." Trent wriggles over onto his back, rubbing at his eyes. "I take it you'll be arriving a bit later than three."

There's no accusation in Trent's voice — they've talked about this already — but Ted's gut still gets a little knotted. "I've got interviews coming outta my ears all day, I'm sorry—"

"Don't be. If I had any kind of reasonable excuse, I'd be absenting myself, too," Trent says. "Unfortunately, Harriford will be conducting your interview for the Independent, which means you'll be getting nothing but easily-deflected nonsense questions."

"Really, what kind of questions would Trent Crimm of the Independent be asking me?" asks Ted, and they get sidetracked for a half-hour and Ted's got to run to the clubhouse to be on time.

He tag-teams with Rebecca through most of the day; reporters are equally curious about Ted's plans for the upcoming final match and about Ted's opinion on the ownership squabble between Rupert, Bex, Rebecca, and their seventy-three thousand lawyers. Ted answers the first type of questions but deflects the second — he's happy to play white knight any time, but Rebecca's more than capable of slaying this particular dragon all on her own.

It's almost five by the time he's done; he hops right on the Tube. Trent gave him the address for the Turners' place in Islington, a straight shot on the Overground line, so he's got good hour to sit there and work himself up into a lather about this dang birthday party.

Fortunately he can distract himself by hassling his loved ones — Henry's phone is off, but when he texts Michelle, she sends back a cute picture of the two of them in some sort of conservatory, having a nice Sunday adventure at a local garden. Katie actually texted him last night, congratulating him on the match; they've been sending brief messages back and forth about carefully neutral topics over the past few weeks, and he hasn't spoken to Mama at all, but it's better than he'd expected.

Meanwhile Trent's been spending most of the afternoon offering biting commentary about the various friends of his in-laws who've been trapping him in conversations. A big theme seems to be the mysterious American boyfriend and if he really does have a mustache.

what did you tell them?

That it was merely painted on,
in the style of Groucho Marx.
A
worrying number of them believe me.

well yourr the one always saying
richer doesn't mean smarter

Ted scrolls through the other messages they've exchanged over the past week, during Ted's self-imposed exile, but it doesn't do much to soothe him. Not after he had Trent in his bed last night, the real thing and not just words on a screen. He didn't realize until then how much he's been missing Trent, missing the long silences between them that don't need filling up. Maybe this whole not-splitting-focus idea is dumb, but he's not sure how to ask if he can come back home, much less have the way bigger conversation about where home really is, now.

Islington doesn't feel too different from Richmond or Notting Hill — houses that are mostly older than Ted's entire country, lots of wrought iron fencing and streets that have never even heard of asphalt — but something about it feels uncomfortable, like a t-shirt you've put on backwards without realizing. Maybe because Arsenal's stadium sits square in the middle, sticking out of its surroundings like the world's sorest thumb; the only times Ted's ever been here he's been unwelcome, an intruder.

He gets himself to the right address and rings the bell, which is answered by an honest-to-gosh butler whose name is Mr. Throgmorten and who's been employed by "the family" since his employer was in short pants. Ted doesn't get much more information before he's deposited in a room off the main hallway, full of books and leather armchairs and giving off the vibe of the holding cell for wayward guests.

well i'm here but jeeves 
banished me to the library

scoping out the place for pipes
or candlesticks or wrenches

Don't be so dramatic; if the Turners
wanted to kill you, they would have
ensured you dropped dead well away
from their estate.

thanks mrs. white 

that's a real comfort

Ted's about ready to just sneak out and risk the wrath of Mr. Throgmorten when he catches sight of a picture, tucked away up on one of the bookshelves. It's one of those family portraits you get taken at Walmart, although this one looks a bit more high-end. He recognizes Mr. and Mrs. Turner, sitting at a little table with some books casually lying around on top. Standing behind them is a young man, handsome enough to make you double-check you'd seen what you'd thought you'd seen. He's got the same pale blue eyes and straw-blonde hair as his mom — as his daughter — but there's nothing else Ted recognizes in that self-satisfied little smirk.

"Pleased to meet you, Joshua Turner," Ted murmurs. "You sure do look like a Joshua."

"I was about to take offense at that." For a second Ted's heart goes right up through the top of his head; he spins around and sees Trent at the doorway, still looking down at his phone. "But Madeline Kahn is probably the best I could hope for."

Ted walks over to him for a kiss hello; part of him wants to ask about the picture, but most of him knows that's a bad idea. "Ain't Madeline Kahn the best any of us could hope for?" he says instead.

Trent pulls him in for another kiss, his hand gentle at Ted's jaw. "Are you ready?" he asks, pulling back to look at him. He doesn't look around the room, or up to that bookshelf where his ex-husband sits smug and pretty. He's looking at Ted.

"You already told me I wasn't allowed a pony ride," says Ted, getting one last kiss, "So I suppose I'm braced for the worst."

"Famous last words," Trent says, but he takes Ted's hand and leads him out through an intimidatingly large ground floor, passing by dining rooms and multiple living rooms (one of them's bound to be called a parlor, but Ted's darned if he knows which one) and a hallway which sounds like it might lead to the kitchen. "The scullery," Trent explains, which is nice except Ted has no idea what a scullery is.

They're in the backyard by the time they see anybody else, although "backyard" isn't the right term for the expansive garden that looks like Marie Antoinette's going to pop her head out from over a hedge any second. There's got to be a hundred people milling around, including a fair number of kids. He's surprised at that, for some reason.

"Because you think the Turners are the villains in a Disney film, most likely," says Trent, although he doesn't sound like he thinks Ted's wrong, exactly. "Come on, Seraphina's in the conservatory."

"There's a conservatory? What am I saying, of course there is. Probably has orange trees or something."

"Avocado trees, too," Trent confirms. "Come along." Trent drags him through the crowd and won't let him stop even for a second to check out the pony patiently plodding along in a clearing to their left, with a concerned-looking girl on its back and being lead around in a circle by a very bored teenager. Ted does insist on stopping long enough to say hello to the Turners, who are either actually pleased to see him or are doing a great impression of it. They've been thawing a bit over the past couple of months — one advantage of that terrible first meeting was that he really couldn't sink any lower — and although Ted doubts they'll be inviting him to their bowling league any time soon, it's an improvement.

"Do y'all even have bowling over here?" he asks Trent as they leave the Turners behind and continue toward the back of the garden; the ratio of kids to grownups is still the same, but the grownups look more like babysitters and nannies than the fancy folk closer to the house.

"Yes," Trent says, looking back at him with a very suspicious expression. "Am I about to be press-ganged into a bowling night?"

"Nah," says Ted, trying like hell to hide his grin, "It's just something me and Michelle and Henry did back in Kansas. I'll look up bowling alleys nearby. Maybe Seraphina would like it — but no need for you to get involved if you don't want."

"I'm aware that you're trying to provoke me right now, but the fact that someone else will do this with you comes as a relief more than anything else." Trent's grip on Ted's hand has gotten tighter, though, so Ted still wins.

"Just imagine how relieved you'll be once they actually show up," Ted teases as they head into the conservatory — a huge glass-enclosed house in its own right, with all sorts of trees and plants pressed right up against the windows. It's muggy and warm in here, and he wonders what on earth possessed Seraphina to want to play in here when she has the whole of the garden to terrorize.

But then Trent says, "Oh, I don't need to imagine," and there's the sound of someone running toward him — but even as he turns to catch Seraphina, his brain trips over the rhythm of the footsteps, heavier and further apart than a four-year-old's. And that's the last he thinks about it, because Henry jumps into his arms yelling "HELICOPTER!" and laughing like a maniac, and when Ted stops spinning around he sees Michelle with Seraphina in her arms, both of them grinning fit to beat the band.

 


 

The rest of the birthday party's kind of a blur.

Ted gets a semi-coherent explanation for the surprise in between child wrangling, supervising Seraphina opening presents, and dealing with Henry's (relatively mild) pouting that he doesn't get any presents.

"Hon, your birthday's in November," Michelle reminds him. "Besides, you were the present today, for your daddy and for Seraphina and Trent."

"I'm not a present," Henry huffs, his arms still resolutely crossed.

"Not with that attitude you're not," Ted says, as Seraphina tears past wearing her brand new mini-Trent glasses, with the lenses carefully removed beforehand.

"We can always go back home early," Michelle offers, with that kindly little twinkle she uses whenever she's trying to trick Henry into behaving himself. "I know how disappointed you were to miss out on that last week of school."

Henry's face morphs into a rictus of terrified good behavior. "It's great here! I love being a present! Can I get another ride on the pony?"

They send him off and Ted tries getting a little more of the story. "All right, but when did y'all even start planning this? Because I seem to recall going to a lot of trouble to buy those plane tickets."

"And they're getting refunded, so no fussing," Michelle says.

"Besides," adds Trent, "I've been reliably informed by a trustworthy source that you'll be earning a sizable bonus, should AFC Richmond win the final next Monday." The two of them smile beatifically at him, and Ted's only now starting to realize how much trouble he might be in with these two. "But to answer your question, it was… mid-April, I think?" He turns to Michelle for confirmation.

"Yeah, about then," she nods, thoughtful.

"So all that time I was sneaking around trying to keep it a secret from Trent that you all were coming," Ted clarifies, "The two of you were sneaking around keeping secrets from me?"

"Ted, you informed me less than a week ago that you would be remaining in England even if Richmond lost its run at promotion this year," Trent says, with that same "don't be such a git" tone of voice he used to use in his follow-up questions in the press room. "Something you apparently assumed I already knew. I don't think you're allowed to be annoyed that I sprang this on you, darling."

"I'm not annoyed," Ted protests. "Besides, if you've been in cahoots with Michelle all this time, then she must've told you all about the move."

"Oh, no," Michelle says, grinning. "I realized you hadn't bothered to tell him and so I kept all that to myself." She looks at the two of them and laughs. "Honestly, I don't know what's funnier," she says to Ted, "Your face, or the way you," and now she's looking at Trent, "Say the word 'darling'."

"Fucking Americans," Trent sighs. "I'm getting another drink."

"You two get along worryingly well," Ted says, watching Trent navigate the crowd toward the bar that's been set up along the side.

"The fact that it worries you makes me so happy, you have no idea," Michelle says, bumping his shoulder.

Ted doesn't have much time to worry, though, because it turns out all their hopes that Henry and Seraphina would get along like brother and sister have turned around and bit them on the butt.

Seraphina, like all good younger siblings everywhere, is already obsessed with following Henry around and doing whatever he's doing, which causes a meltdown ("Third one so far," says Michelle with a grim smile on her face as she drags Henry away for a We Use Our Words talk. "Honestly better than I'd expected.") and a fraught moment where Seraphina doesn't want to blow out her candles without Henry's help. The Turners are visibly lowering Ted's score by the minute, but fortunately most of their friends seem to think it's funny (which it is, although the second time Ted has to extract Henry from a tree where he's climbed up to get away from his newest and most terrifying fan is less hilarious). By the time the fireworks roll around, Seraphina's fast asleep, Henry's wound tighter than a tangled-up Slinky, and all three parents are about ready to collapse.

"This is why we stopped at one," Michelle whispers, readjusting her hold on Seraphina as Trent leads them upstairs to her bedroom. The party's still in full swing, but Seraphina's been dead to the world for at least an hour and the Turners gave their blessing to deposit her into bed and leave early. Ted doesn't think it's purely out of the goodness of their hearts.

"One what?" Henry asks, bouncing up the stairs. According to Michelle he didn't sleep a wink on the plane ride over, which means he's been awake for almost a day and a half. Ted's missed him something fierce but he's not exactly regretful that they'll be going back to Trent's place after dropping off Henry and his mother. "Mom, Mom, one what, Mom, one what—"

Fortunately they arrive at Seraphina's bedroom, which shuts Henry up for a minute, although he starts fussing about all the cool toys she's got quick enough. Ted tries preventing any grand larceny on Henry's part while Trent and Michelle get Seraphina changed and tucked in bed, and makes a number of vague promises about a toy store shopping trip in the near future that he'll probably regret.

They climb into Trent's car, which Michelle is reassuringly on Ted's side about.

"Did you lose a bet or something?" she asks, opening the driver's side door before remembering they're in England and circling around to the other side.

"Americans," Trent complains.

"You're outnumbered now, sweetheart," Ted tells him, crawling in the back alongside Henry, who shifts over to the middle seat to flop over onto Ted's shoulder. They head out toward Richmond, where Michelle and Henry have already set themselves up nicely as of this morning.

"Already hooked up the Switch and everything," Michelle says. "We had a busy morning."

"So all that nonsense about having to go to the party early, that was just a ruse," Ted says, craning around the seat to glare at Trent. It doesn't have much of an impact, though; Trent just laughs and reaches back to link his fingers with Ted's, squeezing briefly before letting him go to shift the car into third.

Henry's passed out by the time they pass Regent's Park, so they outline their plan for the following week — Trent will play host for whatever outings Ted can't make it to (which will be most of them) and butter up Henry as much as humanly possible. "I even bought some of those steering wheels for the Switch," Trent says, "And Michelle and I have agreed that a surefire way to win Henry's affection is to let him win all the Mario Kart races." 

Michelle's got her own plans to get on Seraphina's good side, although from what Ted saw tonight that won't be much of a challenge; when she wasn't trailing around Henry like a little blonde shadow, she was insisting that Michelle carry her everywhere. And every time she did, she would pat Michelle gently on the face and murmur, "You're so pretty, such a pretty lady."

Between the two of them, they seem to have things all figured out — they've even got a schedule planned for some adventures the next day, while Ted will be trapped at the clubhouse.

"Although that reminds me, can one of you handle Henry for a couple hours on Wednesday?" Michelle asks as they're crossing over the Thames. "Rebecca wants to take me out to lunch."

"Rebecca?" says Ted, the same time as Trent does — though their inflections are wildly different.

"…Yes?" Michelle answers, eyeing both of them with raised eyebrows.

"Wednesday at lunchtime, check and check," Ted promises, and has an intense wave of deja-vu from back when they'd be coordinating their schedules around Henry's school and baseball practice and banjo lessons. Judging by Michelle's smile, she's thinking the same thing.

It doesn't distract her for long, though. "Trent," she drawls, turning back to him, "Am I right in getting the impression you don't like Rebecca Welton?"

There's a faint creaking noise from the wheel where Trent's gripping it. "Not at all," he says, about as convincing as a crocodile with a leash sticking out of its mouth.

"Rebecca Welton, the person who Ted got a BFF necklace for last summer? Rebecca Welton, who refers to Ted exclusively as 'our Ted' whenever she messages me? Rebecca Welton, Ted's soulmate?"

"Platonic soulmate, I said," Ted protests, and Trent looks like he's about ready to drive them all straight into the river.

 


 

They don't get home until almost midnight; by then Ted's feeling a little bit like Henry himself, exhausted but too wound up to do anything but crash when he least expects it. Trent doesn't look like he's in much hurry to go to bed either, so they sit on the sofa and Trent lets Ted complain some about all the interviews he had to deal with earlier.

But he doesn't really have his mind much on it; there's something else he's mulling in the back of his mind. During a lull in the conversation, he blurts it out:

"Why don't you ever talk about your divorce?"

Trent doesn't answer for a couple beats; but when Ted manages to look over at him, he doesn't look pissed or even annoyed, just surprised. "What's brought this on?"

"I don't know," says Ted, although that's not really true. "I guess — me and Michelle, you know all about that, how it ended and why we're still on good terms and all. But I really don't know much of anything about what happened between you and — that other guy," he finishes, wincing. This is why he ought to've gone to bed already, instead of staying up babbling away like this.

"What would you like to know?" Trent stretches his legs out to put his feet in Ted’s lap. It's a neat trick he's developed, letting them touch while they talk through thorny subjects. Ted's grateful for it, wraps his hands around Trent's arches, warming them as best he's able.

Everything, Ted thinks, but that's not really true, either. "What ended it, I guess."

"Boredom," Trent answers right away. "Although I will say his method of dumping me was rather interesting."

Ted just waits him out, a Trent Crimm move right there, and Trent smiles a little in recognition before continuing.

"It was at his thirtieth birthday party, at our flat in Soho. We couldn't afford anything lavish — we'd spent a fortune on the surrogacy, and on top of that we were just a few days away from finalizing the purchase to this place," and he waves his hand vaguely around the room. "But I'd arranged it fairly well, invited the friends of his that he was speaking to at the moment, got the right drinks, the right music, the right… party accessories," he says with that irritable sigh he gets when he's talking about drugs. "Joshua had a wonderful time, everything went off perfectly, and then when the last of the guests left he turned to me and said 'I can't believe I wasted my twenties on you.' And he left. Packed up everything he wanted that night and went off in a cab."

"Jeez," says Ted, mostly because he can't think of anything else to say to that.

Trent makes a considering face, as if Ted said something a little more profound. "I think I was largely… annoyed, to be honest." He shakes his head. "I'd spent most of our relationship planning for a disaster of some sort. I just hadn't quite anticipated it then." 

"Did you try getting him back?" Ted asks, kneading along the tendons of Trent's foot. He's pretty sure he knows the answer, but the question feels important to ask. "Counseling or what-all?"

Trent smiles. "It never even occurred to me, I'm afraid. Once the annoyance wore off, I was mostly relieved — as I said, it was boredom that doomed us."

"Yeah, but that's not much of an explanation," Ted says, feeling testy all of a sudden. "Leastways not one I understand — if he was so boring, why be with him in the first place? Other than the obvious," he adds, because he remembers that picture in the library.

"The obvious usually doesn't require anything else," Trent says, although he looks a little embarrassed about it. "Joshua was only twenty-three when we met — very young and beautiful and charming. I was a dozen years older and very much… feeling my age, I suppose."

"The venerable age of what, thirty-five?" Ted guesstimates, trying to do math in his head.

"Yes," Trent sighs. "But perhaps it wasn't boredom — more that we could never manage to take an interest, either of us, in each other's lives. He thought I was a quaint old dinosaur and I thought he was an adorable puppy, but that's as far as we could relate to one another."

"And what about now?" What about with me, is what Ted doesn't say, but wants to. 

Trent smiles, flexing his feet. "Now… I don’t mind feeling my age." His smile gets a little sharp. "Or feeling your age, more precisely."

"That’s not my age you’re feeling right now, sweetheart," Ted says, shifting Trent's feet up and away, keeping hold of them in case Trent gets any more ideas. "But seriously, now. That's the whole reason you hate him so much? You couldn't relate enough to each other?"

Trent shrugs. "That and his infidelity, which had been making me rather resentful. And his abandonment of his own daughter, who he'd claimed to have wanted so badly at first. Though that shouldn't have been a surprise — he once went out to get a pram and came back with this Victorian monstrosity from Harrods." His tone of voice makes it clear that this was bad. "But I don't really hate Joshua."

Ted finds that just a touch unconvincing. "One time when I told you about a mountain lion that got spotted in Hollywood, you said you hoped it ate him."

"To be fair, darling, I also hoped it would eat Kevin Baxter," Trent points out. 

Which is true; Trent wasn't in a good mood that morning. "All right, but you're still not on speaking terms with him or anything."

"Would you like me to be?" Trent asks, wriggling his toes a little bit until Ted resumes kneading them.

"No," Ted answers, then thinks about it and says with a little more certainty, "No, I don't. I guess it's more — I get along with all my exes, you know? Still exchange Christmas cards with my high school sweetheart; heck, me and Michelle do better as friends than we ever did when we were married. And I just thought… I don't know." He swallows and forces it out. "I guess part of me wonders what you'd think of me, if we ever broke up or you got bored of me or whatnot." 

Again, it's not the whole truth of it, but he's still trying to figure out how to say the rest of it. How easy it was for Trent to give up on Joshua, to cut him neatly out of his life with no room for reconciliation. During the awful slow-motion explosion of Ted's marriage, even at his most terrified and lonely, he knew Michelle would still talk to him, still let him have some scrap of her life, of Henry's life. But Trent's not Michelle, doesn't have any of the loyalty that Ted built up over two decades of history. If Trent wants out, if he gets tired of this, he'll walk away and Ted won't ever see him or Seraphina again, won't have any right to want it.

He's startled out of his thoughts when Trent pulls his feet off of Ted's lap; Ted's barely got time to register it before Trent's clambering on top of him, straddling his legs.

"If we ever break up," Trent says, his voice low and sort of menacing, "I will come back to Richmond's press room and I'll make you suffer, every single day. I'll eviscerate you in every article and match report, I'll write an entire book about Richmond's abysmal failures, and," he adds, glaring at Ted, who's starting to laugh despite himself, "I'll break into your flat and shave off your mustache in the middle of the night."

"Well, that seems fair," Ted says, and tilts his chin up for a kiss, because Trent can't resist that — because Ted doesn't know yet how to explain the rush of air into his lungs, the way his heart beats lighter — because Trent's telling the truth, that he plans for disaster to strike, and Ted's never been anyone's disaster before.

"Besides," Trent says, after a little while, "I can't imagine being bored with you. You'll be fascinating when we're ninety."

"When we're ninety, I'm gonna be reminding you about that time you pretended to know who Doug Flutie is, and then you're gonna want to drop-kick me," Ted reminds him. "Besides, we're only gonna both of us be ninety for what, two and a half weeks?" he adds, smiling too broad for any of his kisses to land right. "Since you're almost a year older'n me. Still dating younger men, Trent Crimm, it's disgraceful."

"Shut up," says Trent, his eyes warm and full of so much affection that it's a wonder Ted hasn't floated away.

 


 

The week leading up to the final is tough, no doubt about it. The players get a couple days off to recover as best they can, but the coaching staff are right back to the grindstone Monday morning and they don't let up on the gas even once. Ted and Nate and Beard argue over tactics until they're blue in the face, Ted and Nate opting for an aggressive offensive approach on the wings and Beard insisting on a more conservative, defense-first approach that would rely on counterattacks. They end up asking Keeley to trick Roy into coming in for a consult; he's as charming as ever, but his ideas end up setting off a whole new round of arguments about how they can afford Roy Kent as an assistant coach the next year. 

There are talks with Rebecca and Higgins about the budgets, plural — because the minute the final is over, one of two things will happen, and it's Higgins's job to make sure it goes smoothly.

"And my job to be able to answer those questions smoothly," says Rebecca, picking up another copy of the Premier League budget forecast.

"I don't envy either of you those jobs," Ted assures them, although he's already gone cross-eyed trying to keep track of everything. This sort of thing always seems to slide off his brain like water off of a drowsy duck; he can't picture what either future will look like, not with the present staring him so resolutely in the face.

"Look on the bright side, Ted," says Higgins as he hands him another stack of paper as thick as a brick. "At least there's only two possibilities — the Championship Finals can't end in a tie."

"That is what is known as a small mercy, my friend," Ted mutters, but squeezes his eyes shut for a minute in the hopes that it'll make the numbers make sense this time.

It's long hours and short days; Ted might be back at Trent's place, but he's not there for much more than falling into bed too darn late and getting up too darn early. Trent's kind enough to provide coffee and/or blowjobs to wake him up every morning, at least, which are both greatly appreciated.

"Yes, but which do you appreciate more?" Trent demands, wiping his mouth and peering suspiciously up at him.

Ted just grins and takes a big drink from his coffee mug, which he was very careful not to spill just now.

"You're cruel and unusual, Ted Lasso," Trent sighs, but he does join Ted for a quickie in the shower, so he can't be that mad.

Besides, Trent gets his revenge later that afternoon; Michelle sends Ted a bunch of pictures and videos of the four of them at the Eye of London, looking out at the riddled expanse of the city. One video has Trent and Henry trying to find the exact location of the Richmond clubhouse, the two of them looking serious as they consult Google Maps on their phones, Seraphina lying flat on the ground in between them making "brrrrr" noises with her lips. Another one starts with Henry mid-conversation with an elderly lady who's nodding along, wide-eyed, as Henry explains that no, Uncle Trent is not his dad, he is his dad's boyfriend, and Seraphina is definitely not his sister at all, no way. This gets interrupted by Seraphina tugging on Michelle's sleeve and informing her that she could be Seraphina's mummy if she gets Seraphina some chocolates.

Ted watches the videos and flips through the pictures and misses them all with an ache that lodges right behind his heart, hammering away the whole afternoon.

 


 

The final is scheduled for mid-afternoon, Monday the 31st; in the late evening of Thursday the 27th, Rebecca comes striding into the dressing room and tells everyone that they're barred from the premises on Friday.

"Go sleep in your bed, or someone's bed," she says, giving the players ample time to make the "oooeeeeee" noise they're all itching to make. "Have an actual meal, go to a movie or a nightclub or a rugby match for all I care, and we'll see you bright and early Saturday morning."

There's a three-second silence in the dressing room, followed by whooping and hollering from every one of Richmond's players. Rebecca stands there while they all grab their things and scoot boots out the door in under sixty seconds, then she spins on her three-inch heels and marches right into the coaches' office.

"That goes double for you two," she says, pointing at Beard and Nate, "And triple for you, Coach Lasso." 

Ted instinctively leans away from the finger. "Boss, I'm not sure—"

"Well, I am," she says, in her Don't Question Me Or I'll Peel You Like A Grape tone of voice. "I appreciate everything you've done this year — all of you — it's truly remarkable. But the three of you almost killed yourselves last week during our semifinals."

"We won, though," Ted offers as a counterargument.

"And you likewise almost killed yourselves last last year in that final match against Man City, which we lost. Perhaps it's time to rethink that particular strategy. No one, least of all me, wants any of you dropping dead from exhaustion, especially not before the match."

"So we can drop dead afterward?" Beard asks, curious.

"Subject to the renegotiation of your contracts next Wednesday," Rebecca agrees. "Now get out of my clubhouse, gentleman, before I have security escort you out."

 


 

Ted's halfhearted suggestion that they meet elsewhere the next day to continue working is voted down almost immediately. "She'll know," says Nate, keeping his voice down while they conference in the parking lot. It's only seven-thirty, but the place is deserted other than Nate and Rebecca's cars.

"Only if one of you tells her," Ted points out.

"You really think Nate's good at lying?" Beard says.

"That's true. And then she'll be angry. And do that thing where she blows air through her nose and kind of glares with her eyes all glinting," says Nathan, shaking his head. "No, no, no — no thanks."

Beard shrugs. "I don't want to, Coach," he says, and heads off. Nate makes an apologetic face and gets in his car, driving away at a slightly unsafe speed.

Ted's phone pings with a text; it's from Michelle.

Rebecca just said to make sure
you didn't do any work tomorrow

Trent found out who texted me and 
almost snapped his pen in half

You were NOT kidding about how much
they hate each other

I would never kid about stuff like that!

We're almost done at Madame Tussauds

Henry thought the name meant everyone
would be speaking french and was VERY
disappointed

Meet us back at the apartment?

ten-four, bull roar

Ted stops by Mae's and talks to her about her Monday night preparations; the whole town's braced for the catastrophe of either a win or a loss, but the Crown & Anchor's bound to be the focal point for a lot of exuberance either way. "I've seen my share of uh, what do you call them, football hooligans in my day," he says, helping her replace one of the kegs behind the bar. "I just want to make sure you'll be all right."

"Your concern is touching — oi, don't forget to shut off the air line first," she adds, reaching around him to twist a dial on the CO2 tank. "No, we've got it all managed. Talked with Rebecca and everything, if everything goes pear-shaped."

"Well, pears are a particularly troubling shape, I won't deny that," says Ted, now crammed into the bottom of the bar. "What'll you do if — no," he decides, "Don't tell me, I've watched Leverage and it never works out if you explain it. I'm sure you've got it all worked out."

"Thank you, Ted," says Mae, and turns the CO2 back on. "Your approval means the world to me."

 


 

Ted ends up meeting the Crimm/Newman/Lasso crowd at the front door to the flat; he's texting Rebecca with questions about her little operation with Mae, whatever it might be, and doesn't even see them until Henry plows into him, demanding helicopters. After that Seraphina needs her turn, so Ted's a little dizzy when he finally catches sight of Trent and Michelle, watching from a safe distance with unsettlingly similar expressions on their faces. "You two want a turn?" he offers, a little winded but up for the challenge.

"Christ," Trent mutters.

"Your problem now," Michelle tells him, with a little pat on his arm that really drives home the fact that the two of them have been getting nice and familiar with each other for four whole days unsupervised.

Still, Trent gives him a kiss hello and they all head up the stairs and into the flat, which has already accumulated the signs of a nine-year-old and a four-year-old spending serious time on the premises. Henry and Seraphina get his Switch going on the TV and start up Just Dance, which is the only game so far that doesn't result in the two of them yelling at each other, while the grown-ups sit around the kitchen table and discuss dinner options. Trent's busy defaming Ollie's restaurant when Ted's phone lights up with a message from Rebecca.

You have many wonderful qualities,
but subterfuge is alas not one of them.

Don't worry.

one of these days you're gonna have to
tell me what my wonderful qualities 
actualy are bc I keep hearing about the
ones I don't have

I'll text Michelle and have her confiscate
your phone, stop pestering your boss.

Ted turns off his phone and puts it back in his pocket. "Sorry about that," he says.

Trent gives him that pinched-face expression where he's holding in a laugh. Michelle's got no such compunction. "Kids these days," she says, grinning, "Always on their phones, with their Pokemon Go and their Tweetering and what-all."

"Those degenerate youth, I swear," Ted says. "We're a menace to society. Glad to have the two of you here as elder statesmen to keep us in line."

"Are you older?" Trent asks Michelle, frowning.

"Four whole months," she says, propping her feet up on the empty kitchen chair. "That's why my pet name for him was 'babycakes.'"

"'Babycakes'?" Trent looks equal parts grossed out and delighted.

"All right, enough of this, we're ordering takeaway and you're gonna go get it," Ted decides, pointing at the two of them, "While I spend some quality time with the kids and get working on this dancing game."

They order from Alhambra and he and Michelle and Henry commiserate over the pizza, which is all right by English standards but falls far short of your average Pizza Hut. "I know enough about chain restaurants in America to be highly offended by that," Trent protests, and Michelle promises to make one of her famous pies for him sometime, although Trent grumbles that it sounds like more of a threat.

It's almost ten o'clock by the time they leave, Seraphina distraught that she'll be separated from Henry for an entire evening. She cries the whole way home, getting some baleful looks from their fellow passengers on the Tube; by the time they get inside the house she's quieted down to the occasional hiccuping sob, just to let them know how much she's suffering.

"I'll take her to her grandparents' tomorrow night," says Trent, after they put her to bed and bumble their way down the hall to their bedroom. "Let's see how she does being denied access to Henry for two whole days."

Ted manages to get most of his clothes off and gets under the covers. "The important thing is that that'll be the Turners' problem, not ours," he says, and as Trent climbs into bed he shifts around to accommodate all Trent's knees and elbows. "And we'll have a good time tomorrow, the five of us. Go do a tour of London on those double-deckers or check out Ripley's or cruise around Trafalgar Square—"

"I've already suffered through Madame Tussauds," Trent says, yawning into Ted's collarbone. "I categorically refuse to subject either myself or Seraphina to Ripley's Believe It Or Not, much less a bus tour. And we already did Trafalgar Square on Tuesday."

"Nuts, that's right," Ted remembers, with a little ache that he's been getting a lot this week. "Y'all been having fun, I hope?"

"Michelle and I are getting along very well," Trent answers, which was the real question anyway, so Ted can't even be mad. "I always suspected she was too good for you."

Ted jostles him with his shoulder. "Least the second time around I don't run that risk," he says, and despite Rule Number Four they don't get to sleep for a little while.

 


 

The next day is the kind that belongs in a montage, sunshine and smiles and ice cream cones. Trent gets plenty of pictures, which is a good thing because Ted's having too much fun to bother.

They do end up at Ripley's, and on a double-deck tour, mostly because Michelle's got no qualms about playing both sides and gangs up on Trent mercilessly when Ted makes his suggestions over breakfast. The kids have a great time on the bus, although Seraphina's definitely more interested in watching her dad play Tetris on the emergency Switch they brought with them. Henry peppers the tour guide with questions and races from one side of the bus to the other to catch everything, mostly remembering to keep it in English, although Ted does have to field some puzzled questions from a couple sharing the tour who turn out to be from Belgium.

Ripley's is a more mixed bag, as far as the kids go; Seraphina's entranced by the bedazzled Mini, but Henry gets upset about the cow with five legs and wants to know why they'd let it get stuffed after it died like that, because it should have a little dignity after living its whole life with a leg stuck out of its back. So they tag out of that one early and wander around Piccadilly Circus, which Henry is also annoyed about because there's no actual circuses in sight. They bribe him and Seraphina with a trip to a nearby toy store, where the kids get three presents apiece, one for every parent currently oppressing them.

After that, Henry and Seraphina are too invested in playing with their new Legos and Peppa Pig dolls, respectively, to have much interest in sightseeing. Darnley Terrace is a lot closer than Richmond, so they hop on the Tube and manage to wrangle themselves into the house with minimal difficulty.

"Where do I get to sleep, Dad?" is Henry's most pressing question at the end of the tour.

Ted freezes at the question, because he hasn't got the first clue. Him and Trent still haven't really talked about what the next few months might look like; he's been so wrapped up in the end of the season and the playoffs that he hasn't even set his mind to it.

"You'll stay at the Richmond apartment for now," says Michelle, just a little bit louder than usual. Ted looks up at her and she's watching him close, a tentative smile on her face. She always was good at knocking him loose from the circles his brain could start running in.

"That's right, I'll come down and stay with you while your mom goes off to Bristol, and then we'll uh, we'll see about the rest of it." Michelle rubs at his arm in approval, and he takes another couple breaths. Trent watches him closely — he's not looking thrilled, but Ted's been trying to get better at keeping his little spirals to himself. Trent's got no reason to have to put up with that; lord knows Ted wouldn't put up with it from himself if he had the option.

"Okay," says Henry, in that tone of voice that indicates it could be very un-okay at some point, but he's willing to indulge the grown-ups for now.

"I mean if you want, there's a shed under the stairs going down to the garden," Ted offers, and Henry makes a joyfully disgusted sound before demanding to be shown the shed. They spend the next hour or so clearing out a small space between the pots and the weedwacker and whatnot for Henry to fit his sleeping bag, in the event that he does in fact get to reenact a slightly more outdoorsy version of Harry Potter this summer.

"Of course, we'll have to do something about the rats," Trent says thoughtfully.

"Gross!" Henry yells, looking absolutely thrilled. "Are there really rats?"

"Oh, yeah," Ted says. "English rats are huge, too. Big as a pug dog, and mean as anything. We'll have to check all your fingers and toes every morning, but that should be fine."

Michelle nods agreeably. "Sure, sure. I'm sure they've got prosthetic toes and whatnot, should be fine."

"I'll stay at the apartment," Henry says, with wide-eyed fervor. 

Michelle and Ted wait until he's out of the shed before they share a little high-five. "Another successful instance of telling bald-faced lies to our only child," says Michelle.

"We're great parents," Ted agrees.

Trent just sighs and ushers them out of the shed.

He's a little off the rest of the night; nothing Ted can pin down, exactly, just a bit quieter, a bit slower with the retorts than usual. Ted's not feeling at his most energetic himself after a whole day with two kids and two adults, all of which know him way too well. But he keeps an eye out when Trent fusses around in the kitchen while he and Michelle try beating Henry at MarioKart (it's hopeless, the kid's some kind of genius and the special wheel thingy Trent got for him only makes him more dangerous). After the third race Ted gets up and checks on him.

"Everything okay?" he asks, because Trent Crimm is putting dishes in the dishwasher, which might be a sign of the apocalypse. He helped with making dinner, too, which is what first put Ted on notice.

"Yes, of course," says Trent, closing the dishwasher and smiling up at him. "I ought to get Seraphina over to her grandparents', though. Does Michelle want a lift for her and Henry?"

Michelle declines, although she does make Henry pause the game for a minute while they all say their goodbyes for the evening. "We'll take the Tube back, it's not too tricky. And Henry wants another crack at his old man Dry Bones here," she adds, winking at Ted.

"Man, I get nothing but trouble from you two," Ted says, but he helps Trent get Seraphina's things collected for the next week and even offers to help get her situated in the car.

"No, no," Trent says. "Enjoy getting trounced at MarioKart, I'll be back in a bit." And he slips out with Seraphina half-asleep on one shoulder, her little bag with all her new toys on the other.

The door clicks quietly closed, and Ted turns to Michelle just as she turns to him, both of them frowning at each other. "He all right?" Michelle says, just as Ted ventures, "You think he's okay?"

Michelle smiles, just for a second. "Maybe you ought to talk to him when he gets back," she suggests. "It's gotta be a little weird, you know? Having us here and everything."

"Right, yeah," says Ted, and thinks about that all the way through playing a few more races with Henry — he gets trounced for his trouble, his son shows no mercy whatsoever — and through bundling up their things and through walking Michelle and Henry to the station and through walking home. A little weird, that sure covers a lot of possibilities, but Trent's the one who snuck Michelle and Henry over early, who's been spending time with them. He likes them, Ted's sure of it.

Ted finishes cleaning up, starting the dishwasher and running the vacuum on the ground floor, checking to see if laundry's piled up in the past few days. It has, and he changes the sheets while he's at it, putting on fresh and tidying up their bedroom. He's standing in the living room, debating the merits of putting the vacuum cleaner away versus hauling it up to the first floor for a quick run-through when he realizes that it's almost 11, and the only text he's gotten is from Michelle an hour ago, letting him know they made hit home all right. He sends her back a thumbs up and swipes over to Trent's text chain.

 did you get yourself kidnapped again

hopefully also by your own mother
and not by pirates or anything

ill happily pay the ransom but that sort of thing
sets a bad precedent

just encourages them

Even as he's about to turn off his screen, a little note pops up: read: 2253. "Oh, no sir," Ted mutters.

Trent Alexander Crimm 

if you are leaving your boyfriend on read

That one doesn't even get a read notification, so Ted calls him, ready to get snippy about whatever's going on. There's a ring or two — and then Ted hears a cellphone go off outside. He opens the door and there's Trent, sitting on the stoop and staring down at his phone. 

Ted hangs up and goes to sit down next to him; Trent doesn't even look surprised, just puts his phone away and clears his throat. In his other hand is a pack of cigarettes, still in its wrapper, and a matchbook from the pub two streets over.

Trent clears his throat again. "I thought I'd hold off until midnight," he says. "And if you didn't come looking for me I'd just smoke the whole fucking thing on the doorstep."

"That would've been pretty melodramatic," Ted points out, "Considering I might've just fallen asleep on the toilet again."

"Mm," says Trent, staring down at the cigarettes.

Ted waits him out. He's never been able to do that before; always too fearful to let silences lie still, needing to fill up the air with noise of some kind. But Trent's taught him — a lot of things — but he's taught Ted how to keep quiet and wait for the silence to break itself, like a soap bubble on a warm summer afternoon. He's in no rush.

"You said once," Trent starts, then takes another half a minute, rotating the pack in his hand. "You said that running away from you didn't do me much good, because you always came looking for me. But I'm not sure that's really what I was doing." He tears open the pack and crumples the cellophane, stuffing it in his jacket pocket.

Ted leans back against the step, trying to figure where this might be going; he's got no clue, really, but he should confiscate those matches before Trent gets any other ideas.

"I think I was just trying to… leave first," says Trent. He puts a cigarette in his mouth, then sighs and puts it back in the pack and hands it, impatiently, to Ted. "Leave before you did."

Ted takes the pack and crushes it under his heel, as well as he can. Trent watches him do it with a slight smile on his face. "Seems like that plan didn't work out so good."

"Not really," Trent says, turning to smile at him for real. "But in some ways I'm… still waiting for you to leave. Even though you're staying here, I can't quite make myself believe you'll stay here."

Ted tries to follow. "Is that why you've got such an intricate strategy for if we break up? Because that seemed pretty well thought-out."

Trent's smile this time is a little more forced, a little less real. "As I've said, I do like to plan for disaster." He says the next words slow and soft, as though he doesn't want Ted actually hearing them. "I suppose I just didn't realize before today how much a disaster it's going to be."

Which is how Ted finally cottons on — it's in the curl of Trent's spine as much as anything he's saying, the grip he's still got on the matchbook, the way he looks so brittle, like one good breeze will send him shattering into a million pieces on the sidewalk. It shouldn't make Ted smile; this is a serious conversation, and Trent needs to understand where things stand. But he can't help himself, the way relief and disbelief both run through him at this idea: that Trent could be scared of Ted leaving him. Of all the foolishness.

"Well, I don't have a crystal ball," he says, and gently takes the matchbook out of Trent's hand to curl his fingers around his palm instead. "But I can tell you this, I've been worried that you'll get sick of me, and one thing I'm sure of is you won't be so sweet about it as Michelle was. Heck, maybe that's a good thing — lord knows I don't want to spend another year splitting up with someone, not ever again. But if you keep planning on disaster, you're gonna do an awful lot of running away." He stands up and pulls Trent up along with him, until they're both facing each other under the front door light. "But please understand this, Trent Crimm: I'm gonna keep on looking for you. I've been looking for you before we ever met, and I don't think I know how to stop anymore."

"Well," Trent starts, but seems to run out of steam. He looks down at their hands, still clasped together.

If this were one of those plot lines from Love, Actually or the end of a Nora Ephron movie, they'd have some big declaration of feelings right here, with maybe a rainstorm or the neighbors joining in for an extra comedic beat. But Ted can't think of any movie ending he wants more than this, pulling Trent off the stairs so he can open the door, leading him up the stairs and into their bedroom, into their bed.

He keeps Trent pinned underneath him the whole time — catching his hands when they reach for Ted and pressing them back down. He doesn't want interference, Trent's impatience to distract from this as he gets himself ready. "I swear to holy heaven, I will tie you up," he threatens the fourth time Trent makes a grab for him. "Be good, sweetheart."

"I can't—" Trent scrabbles at the headboard, pressing the palms of his hands against it. "Please, I can't—"

"You're gonna," Ted says, and tries to find the right position — he's never done this before, but there's no way he's letting Trent up now. It takes a little work but he gets the right angle, feels himself opening up on Trent's cock and getting filled, inch by inch. It's thick and hot and Ted has to just give himself a minute, settling into the burn of it, the welcome relief of it. "There," he says, breathless, "You're gonna stay right there."

Trent looks up at him, wide-eyed, his mouth open like he wants to say something but Ted leans forward — oh, it feels good — and slides his middle fingers into Trent's mouth, in and out, following the rhythm with his hips as he pushes back against Trent's cock. It's easy to lose himself in this: in the slick urgency, the way Trent presses up against him with every thrust, the sharp sting of Trent's teeth at the pads of his fingers. But Ted holds off, watches as Trent gets closer, face twisted up with it, and sits back just as Trent's about to come, pulling his fingers away.

"What — God, please," Trent says, in a voice Ted's hardly ever heard: high and needy and desperate, like he's about to fall apart.

"No, I told you, you're gonna stay right there," Ted says, shifting his weight — he wasn't kidding before, all those wrestling holds are good for something. "And where am I gonna be, sweetheart?"

Trent gasps, arching his back, so beautiful. "Here," he gasps, and when he reaches for Ted this time, Ted laces their hands together, white-knuckled. "You're going to stay here."

 


 

Wembley Stadium isn't the oldest stadium in England, or the biggest, but it's the one that's got the most gravitas, it seems like. There's a weight to the place that curves space and time around it — even when there's not a match being played, you can still feel the roar of a crowd or the swarm of bodies up in the seats, down on the pitch.

"Gives me the heebie jeebies," Ted says, looking around from the sidelines. It's an hour until showtime and the stadium's already half-full, murmuring and disjointed cheering at whatever's up on the jumbotron. "There's something ain't right about it. Maybe it's that darned roof, now that is not natural, am I right?"

Beard ignores him, which is probably for the best. Ted got about three hours of sleep last night, keeping himself still while Trent drooled affectionately on his shoulder. He's nervous, but probably about the right level of nervous — his hands are a little prickly, but it'd be weird at this point if they weren't.

The team's good and fired up, champing at the bit before Ted even steps foot in the dressing room. So he dispenses with the pep talk, just looks over each and every one of them, thinking about how they've changed this past year, how they've changed him.

"I'm proud of each and every one of you," he says. "Now, let's go kick their butts."

 


 

Cardiff City is set up pretty defensive in the first half; Ted has his guys match them, see what can be done with quick counterattacks. Cardiff City's defenders are dogging every step Jamie takes, not letting him get in their head but doing their darnedest to get into his. But Isaac's got his eye out for the other guys' forwards, holding his ground.

The first half gets them nowhere — but Cardiff City's got nothing on the board either, so they come up loaded for bear in the second half. Jamie keeps the attention on him and Dani gets a goal with less than fifteen minutes to go. Cardiff City's downright furious, but Isaac knows what he's doing and keeps them out of Zoreaux's nonexistent hair until five minutes are left, when Bumbercatch finds himself all alone with the ball up front and makes a Hail Mary of a goal, right into the back of the net.

And they win.

They've done it.

Just like that, AFC Richmond — his team, his guys, all the men and women who've worked themselves to death this past year, all for him — are back in the Premier League, with nothing but promise ahead of them. The stadium's going absolutely berserk: Ted hears them all but screaming "We're Richmond 'til we die" until it echoes through his head, until he can hear it in the soles of his feet.

Ted hugs Beard, hugs Nate, hugs the whole coaching and physio team with him in the dugout, hugs Sam and Isaac and Colin and all the rest of them until his shoulders are sore from all the back-clapping. The noise is still reverberating through the stadium, a wall of it, but through the noise he can make out a small crowd streaming in through the opposing tunnels, Cardiff City and Richmond teams both letting their families on the pitch for the last match of the season. Ted manages to disentangle himself from an incredibly enthusiastic Dani and makes his way over to where his little family are standing by the net. Someone's already given Henry a ball, and he's having a good time playing keep-away from Seraphina, who's got her hands over her ears but is making a good attempt at running after the ball anyhow.

Trent's grin is broad and taking up his whole face; Ted collides with him and holds tight for a few seconds, grabbing hold of his sweater with hands that are still tingling. "You did it," he hears Trent rumble against his shoulder. "You absolute lunatic, you did it."

"We did it," Ted feels obligated to correct, and gives himself another second before pulling away, giving Michelle a hug, too.

"I can't believe it, this is incredible!" Michelle's just as thrilled, for all that she and Trent apparently spent Saturday night with him trying to explain the offside rule to her. "Congratulations, Ted."

"Thanks you, it's uh, yeah. I'm still in a little bit of shock," he admits, because they've done it — this awful relegation he saddled them with last year, he's gotten them back to the Premier League. Part of him wants to pretend that makes everything he's screwed up okay but that's not how it works. Still, it's humbling to know that these people did all of this despite everything.

Just then Rebecca comes charging up, little David on one hip and Bex practically dancing behind her. "You fucking wanker," Bex squeals, wrapping him in a big hug that almost knocks him clean over. "You brilliant little spitting fetishist, you're amazing."

"Well said," says Rebecca, and hands David over to Bex in order to provide her own hugs. "Thank you, Ted," she murmurs, barely audible over the noise. "You — I can't thank you enough."

"Right back atcha, boss," he says, holding tight for a second. 

She squeezes one last time and lets go, her eyes shining a little but Ted's not about to blab on her. "So what now, Coach Lasso?" she asks, smiling. "What's the plan for next year? The FA cup, the League Title? It'll be the World Cup, as well — what should we do?"

"I don't know," Ted answers, and it's true, he doesn't know. 

The noise from the stadium seems to get louder, almost like it's pushing at him — pushing him down, and his hands aren't prickly anymore, they're numb, can't feel them at all, can't think or breathe or — 

"I just need to check on," he says, or maybe he says something different, because all that matters is getting away, getting clear.

Wembley Stadium's a maze, but it doesn't matter — there's a hallway and another hallway and another room, another hallway — he's lost and he can't see anyone, can't hear anything over the ringing of his damn ears, can't feel his hands or his feet but his heart's about to give right out, all he can hear is the noise and this is how it's going to end, he never gave Henry a hug, he'll never hold Seraphina again, never see Trent's smile, never step out on the field on a blameless blue-skied day—

He starts hearing something else, in the distance: somebody counting up to ten, over and over again. His hands are numb but they're holding onto something, clenched so hard that they probably hurt. And he can see something, glinting in the darkness.

It's Trent's glasses, hanging from the V of his sweater as he's crouched down in front of him. Ted's on the floor, he realizes; he's got his hands tangled up in Trent's sweater, stretching it all out of shape, he's ruining it. "I'm sorry," he manages. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be—"

"You're fine, darling," says Trent, but his face doesn't look like he believes it, it looks like he's worried, like this is anything worth worrying about.

"Yeah," Ted agrees, nodding. "I just need a minute alone, I'll—" He can get to his feet, he can, and he does — they're in some dimly-lit office or other, not anywhere he recognizes, but if he can just get away, Trent doesn't need to know. He can just get away and get himself together and later on he can just — he can explain it later, but this isn't—

"Absolutely not," says Trent. "The last thing you need right now is a minute alone."

"No, I really do, I've got to go and deal with—" himself, he's got to deal with whatever tripped loose, and who ever heard of someone having a panic attack from winning? When everything's going right? It's pathetic, is what it is, he's better than this, he can do better.

Trent's got a hold on him — got him by the shoulders, his grip digging in. "You said you were going to stay here, Ted," Trent says, firm. "You promised."

"You don't want to see this," Ted says, "Please, don't make me—"

"I do, actually," says Trent. He drags Ted over to a loveseat in the corner of the office, pulling him down and counting to ten again, over and over. Ted squeezes his eyes shut and breathes in with odd numbers, out with even, in and out to the sound of Trent's voice.

He doesn't know how long it takes — maybe he should've kept track of how many tens they went through — but it feels like a long while before the counting stops. Ted opens his eyes and the room's actually pretty well-lit, with a nice little table lamp offsetting the fluorescent overheads. Maybe Ted should get some lamps for the coaches' office.

There's something warm and heavy on his lap — Trent's legs, he realizes, and Ted's got his fists clenched into the denim of his jeans. Ted wants to let go, wants to get up but he's just about as trapped as if a cat had curled up on his knees. He doesn't want to look Trent in the face.

Being with Trent has never felt like something brave or something hard to do; it was easy, like falling or breathing. Everything else has been hard, impossible sometimes. But he'd see Trent and touch him and it all went away, faded into the background. He's been thinking this whole time that that was enough, and here's proof that he's so broken not even Trent Crimm, the man who'd superglue his own glasses back together, could do anything about it. If he'd ever want to.

"Darling, you need a haircut," he hears, and he's startled enough to look up. Trent's smiling at him, his brown eyes soft. "You're getting dangerously close to a mullet." He combs his fingers gently through Ted's hair, fingernails scratching softly.

"I'm sorry about this," Ted says, hating the way his voice is hoarse and weak, like he's been sick instead of just — but maybe he can salvage it, maybe if he just promises it won't happen again, not anywhere Trent has to deal with it. Maybe this will be all right.

"Are you trying to apologize to me for having a panic attack?" asks Trent, curling his finger around some of Ted's hair and tugging. "By all means, apology accepted, but isn't it a bit like apologizing for breaking an arm?"

Ted lets the absurdity of that go. All the fight's gone out of him anyhow, and if Trent wants to pretend this isn't a dealbreaker, then he'll play along as long as he's allowed.

"Do you have any idea what triggered it?" Trent asks, after a long minute or two.

"I don't know," Ted says, remembering.

"It's all right, it isn't—"

"No, I mean—" This is awful. "Rebecca asked me what came next and I — said I didn't know. I don't know. I don't have a plan." He's desperate to shut himself up but his treacherous mouth keeps on going. "Beard calls it semantic satiation, a word becoming a sound and that's all it is to me, now, I don't plan anymore — not for wins or losses or for, for anything. I didn't plan for you, I didn't plan for getting divorced, I never get time to plan, things just keep happening and I'm always trying to catch up, I'm always running behind wanting to, to, to know what's gonna happen next, but I can't ever figure it out. I can't ever see what's coming. What if it all goes wrong? What if we get relegated again, and then Richmond's lost everything, and you can say you'll want me around but what if you don't, and what if Henry hates me for dragging him all the way across the planet just because I'm too selfish to want to go back to that place, there's too much of it, I can't do it, I can't see—"

"I can always start counting again," Trent says, his hand still running soothingly along the back of Ted's neck.

"You've got to know what a mistake you're making," Ted says, because this is the most he can stand to warn him. He's still a coward at heart. "You'd be a fool to think I can make this work out."

"Too late for that, I'm afraid," says Trent, impatient, like he gets when Ted's just being ridiculous for no reason. "But if it helps — I never planned for you, either." He holds out his other hand, right next to where Ted's still clutching at the denim of his jeans. "Never, in all my worst-case scenarios, did you ever want me back, or love me back, or come stay with me and Seraphina. I never considered the possibility that I'd get to be here with you tonight. I've never once planned for a future where I got to keep you. Where things have worked out."

Ted takes his hand, carefully, his fingers aching with how tightly he's been holding on. Trent exhales on a smile; Ted doesn't even need to see it, but he looks up anyway.

"Perhaps if we plan together," Trent says, "Things can work out."

 


 

Eventually they've got to face reality — it's only been fifteen minutes, by Trent's watch, but there's bound to be talk about the manager of the winning team disappearing right after the match. "They're probably all still out on the pitch doing interviews," Ted says, patting Trent's leg to urge him up. "I can probably just sneak back in, it'll be—"

"Oh, everyone's out in the hallway," says Trent, not making a single move. "They all wanted to pile in here, but I won."

Ted freezes. "What do you mean, everyone?"

"Rebecca, for one," he says, sounding really irritated about it. "She's the one who told me something had happened, that I should come find you. And then of course she followed me, as though I don't know my way around Wembley Stadium. So Bex followed her, and Michelle and Henry followed me, and I had Seraphina — she's out there with them, wanted to come in very badly but Dani Rojas distracted her. Then while we were looking for you we met up with Beard, also Nate the Great, and then we ran into Leslie and Julie, who'd actually been following Bex, and they were with Keeley and Roy, and after about three minutes the entire team came pouring in, and they all went looking for you. Your new kitman was actually the one to find you, if you're wondering. Then all I had to do was elbow my way to the front of the crowd and lock the door behind me." He smiles. "You have an annoyingly large number of people who care about you. I hope you don't mind me saying."

"Aw, heck," Ted says, and wonders if being embarrassed to death is something that'll show up on a death certificate.

Trent swings his legs down onto the ground and hops to his feet. "Come along, time to face the unutterable humiliation of being well-loved."

"Easy for you to say," Ted grumbles, but he gets up and smooths his hair, tugging absently at his sweater. He's sweated right through his button-up but he can't do much about that now.

Trent opens the door and — the hallway's empty.

"I sent them away," says Rebecca, leaning against the wall by the door. "Told them all that the last thing you needed was a mob in your face. Mind you, they've probably all texted or called you in the past ten minutes complaining about it." She straightens up and looks him over, like Trent does with Seraphina every time she takes a fall out on the playground. Then she glances over at Trent. "All right?"

Trent nods. "I'll be in the carpark," he says to Ted. "After I collect our wayward brood. We'll wait for you."

"You don't—" but that's not what Trent wants to hear, judging by the squint he's getting. "Thanks, sweetheart. I appreciate you."

"So you'd better," Trent says, and for a second he looks like he wants to stick around, like he'd put himself in Ted's pocket if he could. "Here," he says, abruptly, unhooking his glasses from his sweater and pressing them into Ted's hand. "Don't break them." And he gives Rebecca another nod and heads off toward… maybe the car park, Ted's honestly completely turned around in here.

"You can go with him, you know," says Rebecca, her eyebrows still screwed up together. "We can survive without post-match interview footage from Coach Lasso."

"Well, sure," says Ted, opening the glasses and closing them again. They're still warm, and Ted can feel the smooth polish of the frames under his fingertips. "But I want to get my share of the glory, here. Besides," he adds, and puts them carefully in his pocket, "Some very smart young lady once told me that you can't keep a gaffer from his pitch."

"Sounds like a brilliant woman," Rebecca says, and loops her arm through his. "Reminds me of something this very odd little man once told me."

"Odd little man, huh?" he says. "What did he say?" He takes a deep breath and lets her guide him back the way they came.

She squeezes his arm with hers. "Oh, just that if you care about someone, and you have a little love in your heart, there isn't anything you can't get through together."

Ted thinks about that as they walk back through the hallways, up toward the pitch. The noise is getting louder, but he can hear himself through it, can feel Trent's glasses in his pocket. "Pretty sure I said 'ain't.'"

"Undoubtedly you did." They're at the mouth of the tunnel leading up; Rebecca lets him go and straightens her jacket. "Now, let's get to work."

 


 

Ted does his interviews on the sidelines rather than in the press room; it's unpleasant but he keeps hold of himself, though once or twice he does almost break Trent's glasses when a snide little question ticks him off more than it should. After that he's got a quick meetup with Mick McCarthy and the rest of Cardiff City FC's coaching staff; they exchange some clench-jawed compliments and handshakes that would shatter marble, but it's better than some of these Ted's gone through. And then finally Ted and Rebecca do a quick gladhanding with the various part-owners and sponsors, although that one's nicer because he can just stick with Bex and make her give David over for a little while.

"You did do fucking brilliantly," Bex says, putting a towel over his shoulder before David's burping gets too dangerous. "Really glad I fucked up my life enough to get to be part-owner of your club, Ted."

"Coming from you, Bex, that's quite a compliment," he says, turning to take a breath of David's baby smell — it's as good as a glass of wine for settling him out of the last of the shakes. Bex just smiles and puts her hand on his back, just the way he's holding her son; like she's holding him safe.

It's only about a half hour before Ted's allowed to slip away, down under the stadium and out to the carpark reserved for the coaches and players. It's still mostly full of cars and empty of people, but Ted can spot Trent's ugly Saab a mile away and as he gets closer, Trent gets up off the bonnet and comes toward him, meeting him halfway. "I forgot something earlier," he says as he approaches.

Ted pauses, hoping this doesn't mean he has to go back inside. But Trent just smiles and keeps on coming, right into his arms. He kisses Ted softly, then not all that softly, wrapping his arms around Ted's waist and pulling him close. Ted kisses back — it feels like he's waking up, getting his head above water. It feels like breathing all over again.

"Congratulations," Trent says, giving him one last kiss. "Now get in the car."

Michelle's in the backseat with the kids, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "We didn't see anything!" she promises, which means she saw the whole thing. Henry confirms this by complaining about her covering his eyes for no reason, Mom all the way back home.

 


 

They make plans.

They're all going down to Bristol together — all five of them, with Michelle in charge of packing the boot to accommodate clothes and toys and other essentials for three grown-ups and two kids. Trent's going to drop off the Saab with his parents, and then they're buying a new car. "Something bigger than a breadbox, this time," Ted declares, which starts another argument about the bloated American car and how Trent is absolutely not getting anything called an SUV.

They're going to stay with the Crimms for a few days, and then they'll go to Bristol itself, scope out a nice place for Michelle and Henry, with a spare room to accommodate visitors. They're visiting schools nearby and finding out which one will be best for Henry. They're going to look up kids' cricket teams, find out if there's a good banjo teacher in town.

They're refurbishing the basement in Trent and Ted's house, arranging a bedroom for Henry when he's staying in London; the guest room on the first floor will stay mostly the same, but Michelle's going to leave a few things of hers there. They're going to ask Katie to send along a few boxes from Mama's attic, things Ted wants in his home. They're going to put some serious pressure on their next-door neighbor to sell them the detached garage that's sitting right next to their house, so their new car has somewhere to go. Trent's got a terror campaign all plotted out.

They're going to plan a vacation for next year, but in the meantime they're going to celebrate birthdays and holidays together, they'll wake up together and fall asleep together, they'll see it coming: the future on the horizon, heading toward them as beautiful and vast as that first glimpse of the ocean.

 


 

But he's got something he needs to do first. 

Trent drives him to the clubhouse. "I'll wait in your office," he says, getting out with him. "Beard can't stop me having a good rummage this time."

"Just don't make fun of all his boxing posters," Ted warns.

The doc is in her office, where she's been the whole season; she's packing things up on the desk, putting some papers and notebooks into a cute little tote bag. Ted taps on the open door, soft enough not to startle her.

She looks up and smiles, with that same calm expression that scared him right from the start. "Coach Lasso," she says, "Congratulations on last night."

"Thanks, doc," he says, jamming his hands into his pockets. "Are you, uh, packing up for the summer break, or…" The line item for the sports psychologist was one of the things he'd argued against, in those meetings with Higgins and Rebecca. Either the team wouldn't need her going forward if they won, or she'd proven ineffective if they lost. But they'd overruled him.

"Neither," she says. "I'm going up to Fair Isle for a couple of weeks." She looks at him for a long moment, still collected, still weighing him up against some scale he's got no idea how to measure up to. "My wife's family lives up there, so they always guilt us into a trip at the end of the season."

Ted takes in a deep breath, lets it out. "Thank you, doc," he says, which maybe doesn't make sense, but it feels like something to be thankful for. Something he's thankful for. "That uh, that's — she sounds like a lucky woman."

Dr. Sharon smiles again. "But I'll be back on the fifteenth. That's a Tuesday, I believe."

"Okay, um… so you'll be free on the Thursday after that?"

"Sure," she says. And waits for him, just like she's done all this time, calm and collected and considering.

"That's great. Because I…"

And here it is, isn't it? Words he's been reluctant to say, resentful of, fearful of, even. But he's got plans, now.

"I want to make an appointment," Ted says, and in the quiet of the office he can hear the slow beat of his heart, quiet and steady and sure.