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a kind of dwell and welcome

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"Ted, have you got a minute?" Keeley asks, shutting the door behind her. That means it’s one of those conversations that'll happen whether Ted has a minute or not — being a coach involves a lot of these. But Keeley’s got an expression on her face like Roy just decided to pick up the kazoo, so Ted ratchets up his Concern-O-Meter to four.

"Sure thing, Lion King," he says, and offers her a seat. It’s late on a beautiful October afternoon and Beard’s already taken off, something about Jane and him having a date night to watch some feminist artisanal pornography. (Beard had not appreciated Ted’s observation that it’s spelled "art is anal," which hurts a little bit but love can do strange things to a man.) Nate and Will are having some sort of very intense conversation out in the locker room that Ted’s absolutely not spying on, even though it looks like Nate’s about to cry — Nate looks like that a lot of the time, so it’s probably fine.

Keeley ignores the offer and circles around the desks to crouch down by Ted’s chair, much in the same way Ted does when he’s got to tell Henry some bad news. The Concern-O-Meter goes right up to seven. 

"Ted," she says, very quiet and serious, like she’s a commentator at a golf tournament, "The Independent just sent me a press room pass request for some new guy, named Harriford Osment."

"That’s not really his name, is it?" he asks, because first things first, that’s a ridiculous name.

"His full name is Harriford Birtwistle-Pennelegion Osment the Third," says Keeley, making the same face Ted's making, "And before this he was reporting on polo and rugby league, so yeah he’s obviously a twat. But that’s not the problem."

And that’s when Ted figures out the problem. He’s a determined turtle — might take him a little longer to get there, but he’s always making progress toward the goal. "Why are they bringing in a second reporter? Is Trent sick or something?"

She shakes her head, which gets her earrings and her hair swinging around. "He’s no longer covering AFC Richmond. They’ve reassigned him. To Arsenal."

Ted still doesn’t know nearly enough about soccer and especially not nearly enough about the various inter-team rivalries, but he does know enough to know that for a Richmond guy to start covering Arsenal games is, in the words of the former VP and current Democratic nominee, a big fucking deal. "But — at the risk of repeating myself, Keeley, why? He finally get tired of covering a Championship team, or what?" Even while Ted says it, he feels guilty for saying it — Trent’s not the easiest fellow in the press room to handle, for sure, but he’s never come off as one of those types who thinks a college-level team or what-all is beneath him. He’d even done a write-up of Roy’s bunch of kids over at Richmond Primary when they’d been in the running for the Under-Nine Finals Cup last month.

Keeley makes a complicated face and gesture combination that Ted’s pretty sure means something other than what she's saying, but he’s got no clue know what that might be, so he has to go off her words, which are, "No idea. Maybe you should ask him?"

"Yeah," Ted says. "I’ve still got his email address, so I’ll just send over a letter of inquiry. Our inquiry being 'what the heck, spell check?' In the meantime, I guess we should have a cake or something for our new friend from the Independent, make him feel welcome." He lifts his voice at the end, because that might not be the kind of thing that AFC Richmond can afford to do anymore, now that they’re on a Championship budget.

"You remember how I said he covered polo and rugby league before this, yeah?" Keeley says, but she gets to her feet and makes a note in her planner. This year’s version is a very nice purple fake alligator skin (at least Ted hopes it’s fake, seems unfair to kill an alligator and then make it suffer the indignity of getting dyed purple) with the words "BOSSY GIRL AND GIRLY BOSS" in glitter on the front. "Anyway, luck for the game tomorrow, and I’m still working on getting you SkyBet's Manager of the Month for November, but you’re up against Neil Warnock."

"Hasn’t he won it like a dozen times?" Ted whines, although he got to meet Neil back when they played at Middlesbrough a few weeks ago (and that word both does and does not sound anything like it’s spelled, English English is even more confusing than American English). Neil should probably win for every month.

"Yeah, but he’s really gunning for a thirteenth, the arsehole," she says, and marches off in her stilettos that Ted’s still impressed with every day that she doesn’t fall right off of them. Back in high school, Ted had tried on the pair of heels they’d gotten for Bradley Letterman to play Mary Sunshine in their production of "Chicago" and dang near broke his ankle. Since then he’s respected anyone who can manage in those things, and also feared them a little bit.

 


 

from: lassoteed@yahoo.com
to: trent.crimm@theindependent.co.uk
subject: what the heck spell check

Hey there, Trent!

Would love to talk — Keeley told me today that you’re not covering Richmond for the foreseeable future, and that we’ve got ourselves a new guy who’s more at home during ballgames that involve horses. Which I do respect, because if I’m being honest I’m not too bad in the saddle but the thought of getting a horse to go where I need AND holding a big mallet AND trying to use that mallet to hit a little bitty baseball-sized-ball around a field sounds very intimidating to me. But he’s not as good as you.

If it’s just a question of the Championship League being more of a step down than you were liking, I understand that. But if there’s anything that’s happened that I can fix for you, please let me know. We’d miss you an awful lot around here.

 


 

from: trent.crimm@theindependent.co.uk
to: lassoteed@yahoo.com
subject: Re: what the heck spell check

Coach Lasso,

I can assure you that my transfer has nothing to do with your club's relegation, nor is there anything that Richmond has done in error. Rather, I have spoken with my editors and we’ve agreed that this is the most appropriate course of action.

I wish you all the best in the season.

-Trent Crimm
+44 3032 723956
trent.crimm@theindependent.co.uk
The Independent
Northcliffe House
2 Derry St
London 
W8 5TT
UK

 


 

"Appropriate course of action?" Beard repeats, when Ted shows him the reply the next morning. "Sounds ominous."

"Yeah, it does, don’t it?" Ted’s not sure what to say back, even though it’s pretty clear that Trent doesn’t really want him saying anything back. I wish you all the best isn’t all that ambiguous.

Still, he’s got a weird clench in his gut that’s not going away. Something’s happened and it’s costing them one of the best reporters this side of the Atlantic. "Coach, can you handle training this morning?"

"Since you called it 'training,' sure," he says. They high-five each other and Ted heads off to wherever the heck Northcliffe House is.

Turns out it’s quite a hike, so Ted ends up taking the subway, which isn’t called the subway here but even though Ted’s been to New York City all of once in his life, he still prefers "subway" to "tube," which sounds like you’re climbing into a toothpaste container. About an hour later he's at the front desk of the Independent, having a nice conversation with a very sweet young lady named Hermione. Ted doesn’t even try for a joke there because he can guess she’s heard them all.

"And is Mr. Crimm expecting you?" she asks, smiling in that way that isn’t really sincere but if Ted had to act as the first line of defense against every irate newspaper reader in town, and do it while being named Hermione, he wouldn’t necessarily be smiling sincerely a whole bunch either.

"Let’s just put it this way, he ought to be," he says.

That actually gets the flash of a real smile. "I’ll see if he’s in," she says. Ted probably should have thought of finding that out before coming all the way up here. But she’s already talking to somebody on the phone. "Hey Sophie — is Trent in? Ted Lasso is here to see him." The way she says Ted’s name startles him, especially when he remembers—

"I don’t think I told you my name yet," he says.

"Thanks," she says to the mysterious Sophie, and hangs up the phone. Then she hands him a lanyard with a badge that says VISITOR on it. "You’re rather famous, Mr. Lasso," she tells him. "I reckon most people here would know you on sight. Or on listen, at any rate."

That feels a little pointed, but then she says he can go on in and that Trent’s office is on the third floor. England’s got a weird way of naming floors, but fortunately all he has to do is press the "3" button and it seems to get him to the right place.

Another young lady is waiting for him as soon as he walks out of the elevator, looking like a little miniature Rebecca. "Hi, Ted," she says, holding out her hand. "I’m Sophie, the sports desk assistant. Trent’s in his office, I can show you the way."

"That’s great, thank you," he tells her, and they head off through a dizzying maze of hallways and big open cubicle farms and more hallways. It’s like that House of Leaves book, except for all the people yelling at each other in conference rooms and the phones ringing.

They pass through another big open room, this one with various sports posters on the walls and a dozen or so people busy at their desks. One of them looks up, sees Ted, and elbows the young lady next to him, who slaps at the fellow next to her, and by the time they get to the other end of the room pretty much everyone’s staring after him.

"So was Hermione being serious when she said y'all know me on sight," he asks Sophie, "Or are you the one who’s famous around here?"

Sophie glances back. "Definitely the former," she says. "But don’t worry."

Until then Ted didn’t know he had something to worry about, which worries him. 

Finally they get to an office door that has TRENT CRIMM on a big brass nameplate. Sophie knocks and he can hear Trent mutter something before he says, "Come in."

"Ted Lasso to see you," Sophie says, and Ted barely has time to step inside before she vanishes in a proverbial puff of smoke, shutting the door behind her. Which you can’t do if you literally vanish in a puff of smoke — hence the proverbial.

Trent’s office is a lot smaller than Ted and Beard’s, but there’s a old country house vibe to it that you don’t really get at a clubhouse. Behind him is a solid wall of bookshelves, filled to the brim with books and magazines and a lot more awards than Ted expected, although it’s not a huge surprise — Trent’s one of the best, and has been for a while now. There’s a nice rug over the carpet and the desk looks like something that the Queen might sit behind when she’s giving one of those speeches of hers.

The man himself is sitting behind it right now, though, blinking up at Ted over the tops of his glasses with his hands hovering over the keyboard on his laptop. He doesn’t say anything, just slowly takes off his glasses and puts them on the desk.

"So," Ted says, "I got your email."

Trent keeps on not saying anything, which Ted’s noticed is a trick of his. Ted’s not the biggest fan of it, but it’s effective.

He takes a seat in one of the chairs in front of the desk and claps his hands on his knees. "And I’d like to ask some follow-up questions, in the words of this journalist fellow I know."

"Very well," says Trent, all rounded out vowels — Ted still can’t tell one accent from another, but apparently Trent's is what’s known as "posh." There are other terms for it; "Oxbridge rowing team afternoon tea month in the countryside type bellend" is what Roy called him once, and even though Ted has no idea what any of those words mean in context, he gets the feeling that Trent’s the type of guy who retreats into his own good manners whenever he’s thrown off. "What can I help you with?"

"You said—" Ted has to pull out his phone to make sure he gets the exact phrasing right — "'I have spoken with my editors and we’ve agreed that this is the most appropriate course of action.’ Mind clarifying that a bit for me?"

Trent leans back in his chair. He’s one of those born leaners — Ted might go so far as to call him languid. It ought to make him seem harmless, and maybe that’s how most people see it; he can’t have gotten all the stories he’s gotten without people trusting him. But it always makes Ted a little nervous, like he's a mouse stuck in a room with a well-fed cat who's contemplating him for dessert. "Very well," Trent says again.

Ted manages to stop himself making a joke about deja vu all over again. "Whenever you’re ready," he prompts.

Trent heaves a big sigh. "I would ask that our conversation not leave this room," he says. "Would you agree to that?"

"Strictly off the record," Ted promises.

That gets him a little bit of a smile, which is nice, but he’s still hesitating, licking his lips and looking out the window like he’s trying to figure out which version of the story to run — the one where Richmond won or the one where they lost. Or the one where they tied, but Trent had to run that story for almost two months. Maybe that really is why he wanted a transfer.

"I’ve become involved with someone from AFC Richmond," Trent says, which snaps Ted right back to the conversation. "And as such, it would be unethical for me to continue covering the team."

"You’re involved with — who?" That really shouldn’t be the first thing out of his mouth. That’s wonderful, Trent, I’m rooting for you and whoever’s lucky enough to date you, but also I care about everyone on my team so you are also lucky to be dating them, which means everyone’s lucky all around is what he should say. But sometimes Ted’s brain and his mouth don’t get along so well and something else entirely pops out.

Trent licks his lips again, which he’s really got to stop doing, he’ll end up with chapped lips and nobody wants to be kissing that. Which brings Ted right back to trying to suss out who it is Trent’s been kissing. "I’d really rather not discuss it."

Ted feels a little flash of guilt — of course he should be respecting Trent’s privacy — but Trent sounds so resigned about it for some reason that Ted’s got to push just a little bit.

"I’m sorry, Trent, I don’t mean to pry — I just don’t want you to be —" Ted’s got no idea what it is that he doesn’t want Trent to be. "You all have my full support, okay? Whoever it is." 

He wants to say something else, something about how it's good he's putting himself out there again after a divorce. Ted's still not used to the idea of looking for someone else, of looking at all — it still seems wrong, somehow. But Trent's a handsome man, smart and successful, funny when you're not expecting it. Even if this new relationship takes him away from Richmond, from Ted's press room and from those little scrimmages they have next to the bus right before an away game, Ted's got to be happy for him.

"Thank you, Ted," says Trent. He picks up his glasses, twiddling around with them instead of looking up. "It isn't precisely a reciprocal understanding. But I couldn’t in good conscience continue to cover AFC Richmond with that sort of conflict of interest. Fortunately, London has no shortage of football clubs." He finally does look up and smiles, but it’s one of those Hermione-smiles, doesn’t reach his eyes at all.

"Sure, I understand," says Ted, although he's not actually sure he does — there’s a lot of information he needs to process here, such as what "a reciprocal understanding" means. "But look, I know you'd rather not discuss it, but my door's always open, okay? And if there's anything I can do to help—"

"Ah, no," says Trent, with that sort of deeply horrified politeness that English people specialize in. "Thank you all the same. Let's just leave it at that, all right?"

"All right," says Ted, a little disappointed. Trent is a friend, sort of — although Ted’s not sure journalists are allowed to have friends — but he’s someone Ted looks forward to seeing, somebody he enjoys being around. Maybe Ted’s just being selfish, wanting him to stay put. "Well, how about this — we'll be at Mae’s on Friday night. It’s Shannon’s eighteenth birthday and I promised to buy a round or two, so open invitation, if you want."

"Thank you," says Trent, although Ted can see him debating whether or not he wants to ask who the hell Shannon is. But instead Trent makes a big show of looking at his watch (he wears it on his right wrist, and for a while Ted was hopeful that he'd found another lefty, but English people are weird). He gets up and shuts his laptop, grabbing his glasses and his jacket from the back of his chair — his dark gray one with the silver check print. "I’m sorry, I have to go, so—"

"Sure, yeah, I’ll uh, walk you out. Mostly because I’ve got no clue how to get out of here on my own without a magic ball of string, and I left that at the clubhouse."

"Of course," says Trent, and they walk back through the hallways and big open rooms, including what Ted’s got to assume is the sports department. This time there’s more whispering, but Trent just strolls on through like he doesn’t hear a thing. Ted’s dying to ask but there’s something about the set of Trent’s shoulders that makes him look a little more tense than he’s trying to let on, and Ted doesn’t know what to do about that.

They get to the elevators just as Ted has a nasty thought. "You and Seraphina are still coming to the Pup Cup next Saturday, right?"

The Pup Cup was Rebecca and Nora’s idea, though Rebecca keeps saying it was all Nora’s — it’ll be just like the Puppy Bowl in the US, except with a soccer ball instead. Arlo and Chris are going to commentate and Barkingham Palace is supplying the dogs, who’ll be available for adoption afterward. Trent’s daughter was very vocal about wanting to come when she heard about it, and Ted got them tickets a few days ago.

"I think she’d disown me if I reneged on that," Trent says, sounding soft and fond the way he always does when he’s talking about Seraphina. (Ted still hasn’t gotten the story behind why Trent gave such a little bean of a kid a name like Seraphina, but before today he thought he’d have more time to ask.)

"Well, good," Ted tells him, and then the elevator’s there, a little crowded with people going off to get an early lunch or yell at a source or whatever it is journalists do. Ted steps on and makes room for Trent, but when he turns around Trent’s hanging back, his jacket still slung over his shoulder, looking like something out of a James Dean movie.

"I’ll take the next one," he says, and the doors close.

Ted hangs around the lobby for a good five minutes, but whatever elevator Trent took must’ve taken him to Narnia or something.

 


 

Trent doesn’t show up at Mae’s on Thursday. At least, he probably doesn’t. 

Ted tries his best to look for him, but Shannon’s got a lot of friends, or at least a lot of people who like drinking beer when AFC Richmond — more specifically, Ted Lasso of AFC Richmond — is buying rounds. But Shannon’s a good kid: she’s already put in an application to be Assistant Kit Person next year, and Ted’s feeling pretty good about his progress sweet-talking Rebecca into giving in. Personally, Ted would rather have her try out for the team, but there’s apparently rules about that sort of thing. He's got some calls in to the Portland Thorns, though.

Ted texts Trent on his way home.

sorry you couldn’t make it to Mae’s!  

it was a hoot and a holler

I always think there should 
be a third thing to that saying

What do you think of "a hoot 
and a holler and a hoo-boy"? 

look forward to seeing you next 
saturday though!

The only response he gets is one of those little read: 0432 notifications. Ted spends the whole day trying to decide if he should say something else, but by the time he makes a decision he falls asleep and can't remember what it was the next morning.

 


 

Ted’s in the middle of a hostage negotiation between Colin, a three-month-old bulldog, and Colin’s left shoe when Trent and his daughter roll up to the Pup Cup the following weekend. Ted’s met Seraphina a couple of times, and then there was that hectic afternoon last spring when he had to run back to his apartment and put together another birthday box for her before Trent left for the day. (Trent accepted the box with one of his little muttered "thank yous" that sound like he’s more annoyed than grateful, then squinted at Ted and demanded, "Why are you so sweaty?")

Back when she was the tender age of almost-three, Seraphina was mostly wearing the standard issue overalls or sturdy-looking dresses that could take dirt and food stains without flinching. Now at the venerable age of three-and-a-half, Seraphina’s fashion sense has apparently kicked in — today she’s got on a teeny tiny little blazer, much like the one Ted and Michelle had bought for Henry a few years back to go to Aunt Delilah’s second funeral (long story). She's  also wearing almost the same corduroy pants her dad’s got on, and a very sparkly tie that’s too far away for Ted to clearly make out, but might have unicorns. She’s a Trent Crimm mini-me, complete with a very business-like ponytail, though hers is bright blonde and topped with a tiara.

Ted finally manages to get Colin to stop crying and jogs over to where Seraphina and her dad are now sitting cross-legged on the pitch, with a couple of puppies wiggling in their laps. Seraphina giggles adorably as the puppy licks at her hands, and Trent—

Also looks adorable, as a matter of fact. He's making soothing noises at the little guy on his lap (Ted’s not sure of the breed, but it’s smaller than most of the dogs here, and looking a little apprehensive) and petting it in long strokes all the way down its back. Ted once read that puppies like that, it’s the closest thing to their mom’s tongue cleaning them up. He wonders how Trent knew about that, too.

They haven’t spotted Ted yet, so he gets his phone out and snaps a couple pictures of them. Then he goes over and sits down, making a third side of a little triangle. "Hey, y’all, you enjoying yourselves so far?"

Seraphina seems to recognize him from last season — Ted’s impressed, most kids that age really are goldfish — and shoves her puppy out of her lap in order to fling herself at Ted. "TEDDY!" she shrieks, right in his ear, which hurts a lot but it’s always nice to be warmly received. Ted gives her a hug and she uses him like a springboard to chase after the puppy (who’d understandably skedaddled after she’d thrown it off her lap like she was one of those trebuchets from Lord of the Rings).

Trent’s puppy takes its turn making a leap for him, landing headfirst on the grass but the spunky little thing’s not deterred one bit. It scrabbles up onto Ted’s lap and barks at him, tiny little yips that are fortunately not nearly as loud as Seraphina. Still, it makes Trent jump a little — Ted tries not to smile and definitely doesn’t mention it, but Trent always looks like a startled cat when he does that.

"It's all right, buddy," Ted soothes the little bundle of fur and teeth on his lap. "Or girlie, I respect you enough not to go checking." He smiles up at Trent, holding the pup up for maximum cuteness. "This one’s a good guard dog. Might make a real nice friend for Seraphina there."

Trent doesn’t look swayed; he leans back on his hands and lifts an eyebrow or two. "She seems rather more fond of you."

"Well, kids aren't known for their discerning taste." Ted lets the puppy go on the grass and it tumbles off toward where the rest of the kids and puppies and players are having fun with soccer balls of various sizes and softnesses. Sam and Dani are a little further off, doing footwork with a bright pink plush soccer ball, puppies swarming their feet going crazy. "But I get it, these things can spiral pretty fast. You get a dog, and pretty soon you've a neurotic cat, a vampire bunny and a werewolf dachshund to keep track of. That's a lot of responsibility."

"Vampire bunny?" Trent echoes, looking baffled, which on Trent doesn't look like normal people's baffled, but like he's waiting for the rest of the story to drop. So Ted tries explaining the plot of Bunnicula, although he has to consult Wikipedia to make sure of a couple plot points.

That leads to them talking about some of their other favorite books when they were kids — turns out Trent's read all the Madeleine L'Engle books, but he's never even heard of Wayside School and Ted's already compiling a book order as soon as he gets home.

"I should probably go rescue my daughter at some point," says Trent after a while, although he doesn't make any move to do so.

"Yeah, she looks like she’s in real pain," Ted observes. Seraphina has laid herself flat down on the grass and there’s about a dozen puppies crawling all over her; Ted can hear her cackling under the pile.

"She hides it well," says Trent, and Ted looks over, alarmed — but Trent’s got a little sparkle in his eye, his mouth twitching as he meets Ted’s gaze.

"Well, maybe she’s channeling it into fashion," he suggests. "Or is that tie and blazer getup your idea?"

"No, that’s a recent development," Trent says, shifting on the grass to get more comfortable. "She’s been stealing my ties, so I got her some for herself. Then she started sobbing uncontrollably because she didn’t have a 'jacket,' and upon further investigation—"

"You figured out she meant one like yours."

Trent dips his head in acknowledgement.

"Well, it’s a good look," Ted assures him. "Although personally I think you could wear the heck out of a tiara and a sparkly purple unicorn tie."

Trent doesn’t say anything, but he smiles a little, squinting into the sun.

"And anyway," says Ted, looking away, "She’s been scoring some killer looks the whole time I’ve known her."

"Ah yes, her overall phase was particularly cutting-edge," says Trent, dry as a desert with the heat turned up to high.

"I could’ve sworn they were OshKosh B'gosh, myself," Ted says. "Very fashionable, back home."

"They were, as a matter of fact," Trent replies. "Her grandmother is from Boston — she went on a spending spree the last time they were state-side."

Ted frowns, feeling like he’s missed a step. "Your mom’s American?"

Trent huffs a little laugh. "No, my parents are both English back to 1189. I’m referring to my… in-laws, I suppose you can call them." He shifts around again, his knee bumping up against Ted’s for a second before he pulls away. "They've helped take care of her, since Joshua."

There’s a very firm period at the end of that sentence, but Ted’s still at a bit of a loss. Up to now he thought Trent got a divorce. "Did Joshua um… pass away?" he asks, already flinching at the question.

But Trent seems more amused than anything else. "Oh, if only."

"Oh," says Ted. "Well, I'm sorry, anyhow."

"Don't be," says Trent. Ted glances up at him and Trent's smiling at him, just a little one, like it's something to be kept secret between the two of them.

It seems like as good an opening as Ted's likely to get. "Look, Trent, I know this is none of my business—"

"Something tells me that won’t stop you," says Trent, and the smile gets a little broader.

"It usually does not, no," Ted admits. "But… look, you mentioned before — I know you said it shouldn't leave your office, but this person you want to have a, um, reciprocal understanding with—"

"Ted," Trent says, warningly. "I did ask that you leave it alone."

"Sure, of course," says Ted, "But whoever it is, they," he decides on "they" because all he knows about is Trent's ex-husband, but that’s not necessarily conclusive these days, "Are darned lucky. And if you’ve asked them out and they turned you down, that’s one thing, but if you’ve just decided that it’s hopeless, well then I don’t really think you’ve given it a fair shot. Is all I'm saying."

Trent doesn’t say anything. Ted’s not sure if that’s good or bad.

"And I guess what I'm saying is that if you ever need a wing man, or a cheerleader, or something—"

"I really need to stop talking to you," Trent says, although he sounds more rueful about it than pissed off, and gets up to help Seraphina get out from underneath a puppy that’s about twice her size.

They disappear a few minutes later, and Ted realizes he never even asked Trent if this person he liked had shown up to the Pup Cup at all.

 


 

Ted gives Trent a week or so, makes some very discreet inquiries around the clubhouse, but it doesn’t seem like anybody’s been fielding offers for a night of romance and haircare tips with one Trent Crimm. So he shoots off another email, offering up an expose on Isaac’s decision to adopt five of the puppies from Pup Cup and the resulting need to hire a dog-sitter, a dog trainer, and a cleaning service that comes in four times a week.

This doesn’t end all that satisfactorily, since it means that Harriford Osment III (which, Ted just learned that’s how people with "the Third" in their name write it down and it’s just silly) comes knocking at his office door the next morning asking about Isaac’s decision to adopt five puppies and the resulting need to yadda yadda.

He texts Trent later that night.

some people might consider it rude
to re-gift a scoop

He doesn’t have a little avatar picture for Trent’s contact info on his phone; a quick google search provides some, but they all have him with shorter, darker hair, and it just doesn't look right. Then he remembers the pictures he got of him and Seraphina and scrolls back and forth through the two pictures. The first one Ted got shows Trent looking over at his daughter, pleased and smiling; the second was taken just as the puppy on Trent's lap managed to get him right up the nostril, Seraphina laughing and Trent making a face. Ted hovers over it, but it feels a little dangerous to pick that one, somehow. Like he'd got hold of a moment you should only get to see if you've been allowed. So he goes back to the first one and crops it, editing Trent’s profile.

There’s no new message, but on a hunch Ted checks the text chain anyway. Sure enough, read: 2349 is right there at the bottom. Ted can almost hear Trent’s voice saying it out loud.

Also rude to keep folks on read.

The little typing dots come up after he sends that, and Ted settles himself a little deeper into his armchair. He’s missed this, in a funny sort of way — missed poking the bear, seeing if it’ll take a swipe at him.

My apologies.

Busy writing up a profile on Led Tasso.

"All right, that's a heck of a left hook," Ted mutters to himself, and goes to bed.

 


 

And that’s all he gets. Ted doesn’t try texting or emailing again, figuring Trent’s got his job and Ted’s got his own work to do — if Trent doesn’t want to confide, that’s entirely his business.

Still, the press room feels off. There’s no shortage of mean questions — something about the UK makes the press real snippy, maybe it's all that godawful tea they make themselves drink — but none of them have that little twist that Trent had, keeping Ted on his toes and not just on defense. He’s tempted to call Mikel and ask if he gets a little zing in his stomach whenever Trent stands up in the Arsenal press room, asking him some question that’s going to turn the whole day upside-down. But Mikel is busy battling it out for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and Ted doesn’t want to bug him.

Maybe all Trent needs is assurances that Ted’s not going to try to play Cupid or anything. It had been a dumb offer in the first place; yenta though Ted may pride himself on being, Trent doesn’t need his help. So Ted decides to take Mohammed to the mountain, even though he’s still not 100% clear on that turn of phrase.

Tristan, who decided against re-signing with Richmond and its Championship-League pay cut, had taken himself off to Arsenal over the summer. But he’s a good kid and he’s still happy to hear from Ted, happy to score him a seat for the next home game. 

Ted gets to the stadium early enough to avoid any outright fistfights waiting in line, and ambles in with the rest of the crowd peaceably enough. Once inside he scans the seating for the press box, and on his way over he debates what kind of thank-you present he should get Tristan — man’s a fiend for those vintage arcade games, maybe he can find him a Frogger.

There’s a few familiar faces in the press box who all seem pretty pleased to see Ted when he waves from the barrier. Trent, down in the front row with his laptop and that little screen they have for the replays, doesn’t notice him yet, so Ted calls out, "How y’all doing?" as Constantin lets him in.

That gets Trent’s attention, although sighing, "Oh, for fuck’s sake," and putting his hand over his eyes isn’t the welcome Ted’s been hoping for. But Ted hasn’t gotten this far by getting discouraged at the first fence somebody throws up at him, even if this is more like the seventeenth fence Trent’s heaved in his general direction. 

So he takes the seat next to Trent and tries a smile, which is decidedly not returned. "So! This is what a game’s like up here. A lot different — down on the pitch you don’t get the height advantage, harder to see the players. Last game I lost track of Richard for five whole minutes in the last half."

Trent’s still looking at him with that sort of flat look he's got when he's waiting for Ted to stop making jokes at a press conference. "Do you need something?" he asks.

Ted shrugs. "Just enjoying the pre-game atmosphere." There’s a stack of magazines next to Trent’s laptop; the top one’s open to a big glossy picture of Mikel, looking as handsome as ever. Maybe Trent’s already moved on from his crush on whoever it is at Richmond, although that doesn’t seem like Trent’s M.O. "Doing some research on the new coach? Or new to you, I guess, Mikel’s been here a year and a half now, right? I got to meet him in March at that away game last season — nice guy, even though Arsenal cleaned our clocks."

Trent seems to be doing his level best to ignore him, hunching further and further over his laptop.

"Look, Trent," Ted says, a little quieter now. "I just wanted to clear the air, you know?"

"Clear the air," Trent repeats, still not looking up.

"Just seems like you’ve been avoiding me, is all, and I hope I didn’t say anything or do anything to make you uncomfortable, and if I did—"

"Are you trying to apologize for making me uncomfortable while I’m in the middle of preparing to write a match report?" asks Trent, still typing even as he turns to look at Ted with a fairly irritable expression, it's got to be said.

Since that’s exactly what Ted’s done, he tries smiling again. "Sorry?"

"Sorry," Trent echoes, and turns back to his laptop. The last word he typed was flarghjkl, but Trent shuts it before Ted can inquire further. "I need to go do some interviews before the game, so." And with that very unsatisfactory end to the sentence, he high-tails it out of there.

"Was he sitting on a thumbtack or what?" Ted asks. The folks around him give him looks ranging from annoyed (which, fair enough, he’s probably not supposed to be in here) to amused (which he gets a lot) to pitying (which is more than a little confusing). Ted leans over to the row behind him, where Charles is typing with one hand while texting with the other. "You know what’s going on with Trent?"

"Yes," says Charles, not looking up.

"Game’s going to start in a bit," pipes up a reporter Ted doesn’t know.

He gets the hint. "Okay, well, thanks for all the hard work you guys are doing," he says as he gets up. "Best of luck. Break a pencil."

There’s a chorus of thank-yous and kind of pointed good-byes. He passes by Sarah on her phone; she covers the mouthpiece and says, "Nice seeing you, Ted, sorry nobody can chat."

"That’s all right, I just came to talk to Trent a little bit, see how he’s doing. We miss him over in Richmond." But she’s already gone back to her phone call. "All right, well, have fun guys."

"No, seriously Ted," says Sarah, covering the mouthpiece again and favoring him with a warm smile, "Get out."

"Okey-dokey," says Ted, and gets out.

The next morning, Ted reads the paper over his toast and OJ. Trent's article about the game is great — it's always great — but there's a kind of pointed reference to Arsenal doing so well this season that even Ted Lasso attended this last game, presumably because Richmond needs all the help they can get.

Whoever Trent's got a crush on isn't going to like that, he decides with a certain amount of satisfaction as he heads out for the day.

 


 

Ted really, truly, honestly means to give Trent his space after that, but fate clearly has other plans.

Fate, the British Natural History Museum, and the RSPCA.

"This is all your fault, somehow," says Rebecca as Ted climbs into the back of her car.

"Good evening, Ted," he says, shutting the door. "Good evening, Rebecca, your dress is amazing. Why, thank you Ted, and may I say you’re looking very snazzy yourself in that tux."

"I’ve never in my life described someone as 'snazzy,'" Rebecca laughs. Her driver Liam puts the car in gear and they float out into traffic.

Ted buckles up and accepts the glass of champagne she hands over to him. "All right, I’ll work on my impressions. Besides, it’s animal welfare and museum patronage, everybody can get behind that, right?"

The Natural History Museum, in a display of cross-promotion that would make Keeley proud, is opening a new exhibit about domesticated animals in partnership with the London branch of the RSPCA. "They'll clear five million, easily," Rebecca said when she asked him to come along. And that’s in pounds, so it’s twice as impressive. Or one and a half times as impressive — Ted’s not sure of the exact currency exchange right now.

Rebecca makes a considering noise. "I suppose. And the Turners gave our last children’s benefit almost fifty thousand pounds, so turnabout’s fair play." She scrunches up her face and looks over at Ted. "Thanks again for being my plus-one."

"Any time," Ted says. "In fact, more times after this, please, tuxedos are expensive and I want to get some use out of this. So if you can get yourself invited to more fundraisers with a black tie dress code, I’d be obliged."

She laughs again. She’s been happier lately — Ted’s not sure if it’s the team winning or her dating life or just the steady progress of time putting her further and further away from Rupert Mannion, but he’s glad for her. She deserves a bunch more happiness than she’s gotten. 

They spend most of the trip to the museum discussing strategies for what to do if one of them gets trapped in a conversation. Ted proposes hand signals; Rebecca’s point that she can just text him is well-made but not as fun.

"So are you friends with these folks, the Turners?" Ted asks as they wait in line to get checked in.

Rebecca shrugs as she hands over her invitation to a nice lady at a table. "Only in the way all rich Londoners are friends, really. They’re pleasant enough — Mrs. Turner’s American, as a matter of fact. You two should get on."

"Depends," Ted warns. "I don’t trust anybody from Idaho. Whole state looks like a middle finger."

She heaves a deep sigh, the one she gives when she secretly thinks he’s funny, and they hook arms and venture forth.

Ted’s not exactly getting used to this caliber of shindig, but it’s not all that different from the potluck fundraisers their church would do back when he was a kid. The venue’s a lot nicer, and the outfits are better, and the accent’s a whole lot different, but it’s all about smiling and shaking hands and eating food awkwardly on tiny plates. He can do that.

Rebecca’s just introducing him to the Bishop of Witherspoon or something when Ted catches sight of a little blur of black and white at about waist level. There’s a fair number of kids here — no matter how fancy the gala, if you’re holding it at a museum full of dinosaur fossils it’s going to attract a certain element — but this one looks like a runaway penguin, heading for the Blue Zone.

Ted looks around for any sign of a parent (or possibly a zookeeper) and comes face-to-face with Trent Crimm: the Independent in a tuxedo. 

"Which way did she go?" he demands, before Ted can say anything other than oh.

Ted points down the hallway, and Trent says, "Come on then," like he's a shaggy-haired James Bond whisking Ted off for a movie full of adventure with a theme song by Ariana Grande. Ted makes his apologies to the bishop and a startled-looking Rebecca and goes after him.

They find Seraphina in the mammals hall with the big blue whale, poking at something she’s definitely not supposed to be poking at. She's got a little miniature tuxedo on this time, although true to form her bow tie is sparkly. "No tiara?" Ted asks, as Trent scoops her up.

Seraphina, who’s already wiggling around in protest, turns to look mournfully at Ted. Trent turns to look at him too, less mournful and more irritated. "Thank you, she’d almost forgiven me my oversight."

"Daddy, I want my tiara," Seraphina says in the wheedling tone that’s universal to all under-fives, even though Ted gets a kick out of the accent — it’s like listening to a baby Judi Dench.

"Yes, you do want your tiara," Trent says in the placating tone that’s also universal, and puts her back down. "Now, you’re not to—"

She immediately makes another break for it, shrieking laughing.

They end up wandering through a good chunk of the museum, just the three of them. Most everybody else is at the new exhibit or in the big main hall, but that means they get the place to themselves, chasing after Seraphina while she demands to know why she can’t climb on the giraffe or the moon or the giant elephant tusks. Ted can sympathize.

They spend a few minutes staring at the stuffed dodo in the avian hallway. "I don’t think it ever occurred to me that this was a real animal until just now," Ted confesses.

"I don’t think it did to me, either," says Trent, thoughtful. Seraphina’s perched on his shoulders; she’s taken off her clip-on bow tie and is mushing it under her nose, yelling "MUSTACHE MANNNNNN" at regular intervals. Ted decides to be flattered, imitation being the most sincere form and all.

"Suppose that’s human nature, ain’t it," Ted says as they amble down the hallway. "If something’s gone before you knew it was there to begin with, it’s easier to pretend it was never there at all. That way you don’t feel like you missed out on something amazing." He turns back for one last peek at the dodo. "Or something very, very silly-looking."

His phone buzzes; it’s Rebecca. 

Do I need to send out a search party?

sorry boss

trent crimm: the independent needed 
help with a runaway daughter

do YOU need a rescue?

remember the hand signals 
a shark fin on your forehead

There’s kind of a long pause while Rebecca’s replying. "Do you need to be going?" asks Trent. Seraphina immediately whines, which is still flattering but it's not like Ted can just go home with them. If Trent ever decides to make his move, Ted will have to pull the lucky person aside and give them some tips on how to get into Seraphina's good graces.

The little dots next to Rebecca's name disappear — maybe the reception’s bad in here. "Rebecca’s the one with the checkbook," Ted admits, putting his phone back in his pocket. "I’m just the arm candy tonight."

Trent gives him a look, which is ruined a little by Seraphina leaning over to try putting the bow tie under his nose. "Your salary is one point two million pounds for the season," he says, a little nasally.

"I spent it all on the tux," Ted says, fighting like hell not to laugh.

His phone buzzes again. 

No rescue necessary; it turns out the 
bishop has all the correct opinions 
about the new series of The Crown. 

The real question is why you 
wrote out Trent’s full name and title?

put it in my autocorrect last season

I see.

Kind of a weird response, but Rebecca really likes The Crown. Ted puts his phone away again. "Shall we?"

"Mustache MANNNNNN," Seraphina agrees.

She starts getting sleepy soon after that; Ted helps Trent peel her off his shoulders before she topples off and ends up carrying her for a while, Trent walking a little closer as they talk about museums they went to when they were kids, zoos and theme parks they still remember more than thirty years later.

"You must miss Henry," Trent says, during a lull in the conversation. Ted looks over at him, but he doesn’t have that reporter gleam in his eye.

Still, Ted’s leery, aware that he’s spent almost two hours with one of the most ruthless journalists in London. "This on the record or off?" he asks.

"Off," says Trent, then adds, strangely hesitant, "I didn’t mean to—"

"It’s alright," Ted says, hoping it is. "Yeah, I uh. Yes, I do. FaceTime and care packages and all that stuff doesn’t really cut it. Every time I get off the phone with him I want to jump on the next plane and fly back to Wichita, scoop him up and not let go."

"Why don’t you?" asks Trent. He’s gentle about it, but Ted still feels the sting of the question.

"Well, somebody just informed me that my salary is one point two million pounds for the season," he says. "And last season I made almost a half a million pounds. That’s a lot of money — more than either me or Michelle’ve ever made, probably more than my folks made their whole lives. You remember how you asked me once why I took this job, if it was just the money?"

"At your friend's restaurant where we nearly died?" Trent asks.

Ted laughs — he's not wrong, although poor Ollie can never know. "Yeah, whenever I start getting too full of myself I go have dinner at Ollie's. Keeps me humble. But to answer your question from back then, it wasn't just the money. But that kind of paycheck… it sands off a lot of sharp corners, you know. Made it real hard to say no, even if it was just for a season or two."

"So this is temporary," Trent says, instead of asking what particular sharp corners he's talking about. Ted's grateful; off the record or not, he's not ready yet to delve into the Lasso Family Financial Fix, as his sister Katie's been calling it. Besides, it's not like his family's troubles are interesting to anyone outside of Kansas.

Off, Trent had told him. "That depends," Ted says slowly, his heart beating a little faster. It always beats fast when he’s telling a secret — but this isn’t a secret, not really. Rebecca and Beard and Keeley and all the rest of them know, and it's nothing the press would care about, not even that turkey Ernie Lounds. It doesn’t make sense that telling Trent feels so dangerous.

It still does. Ted clears his throat and keeps going.

"Michelle — my ex-wife, Henry’s mom — she and I talked about it over the summer. Talked a lot. I mean, a lot. And we figured if Richmond can’t make it out of the Championship League this year, then I’ll’ve done my best and I’ll go back home. Wichita State’ll take us back, or take me back if Beard decides to stick around here."

"And if Richmond gets promoted," Trent says, or maybe it’s a question. It feels like something he wants an answer to. 

"Well, you tell me how much of a bonus I’ll get from that," says Ted, carefully shifting Seraphina over to his other arm. She’s not that heavy, but three and a half years old is three and a half years old. "I could probably afford my own private plane to shuttle me back and forth. But what we were really talking about is Henry and his mom moving here."

"Really," Trent says. Ted looks over at him, half-expecting him to have his glasses on and his notebook out. But he’s just got his hands shoved in his pockets, looking blandly at the big dinosaur mural they’ve washed up in front of. It ought to ruin the line of the suit, as Rebecca calls it, but Trent looks even more like a secret agent about to seduce some young ingenue. Ted wonders if Trent's made any progress with his mysterious Richmond crush yet; he should just go ask them out while he looks like this and they'd say yes in a minute. "Your ex-wife sounds remarkably generous."

"Oh, she is," Ted says, coming back to the conversation. Michelle is generous; that's probably a big part of the reason they couldn't work it all out. "But Michelle works for this, uh, well, I watched her go through school to do it but I still don't exactly understand it, but it’s called aerostructures and it's basically engineering aircraft components. She’s real good at it, and her company’s building a new plant that’ll be up and running next year in Bristol. Which apparently is in the UK."

"That’s still a long way away," says Trent, although he sounds distracted.

"Oh, you sweet summer child," Ted says, smiling even though his heart is still going a mile a minute. Maybe he’s just out of shape. "Where I’m from, any drive less than four hours is considered a day trip."

"Are there things in Kansas worth driving four hours to get to?" asks Trent, looking politely dubious.

"Just for that, you have to carry her back to the party," Ted huffs.

They’re both experts in the little kid handoff, so it’s not awkward, but Ted’s aware of all the places they’ve got to touch in order to get Seraphina from one dad to another. It’s one of those things you don’t think about as intimate until you’re halfway through it.

If Trent’s feeling flustered, he doesn’t look it; he settles his daughter on one hip, her face smashed up against his neck. "I think we'll be going," says Trent as they come into the main hall, which all this time has been just a few steps away. "Past bedtime for both of us."

"Sure, yeah, of course," says Ted, jamming his hands in his pockets. He probably doesn't carry it off the way Trent did. "But this was nice, tonight. On the record."

Trent readjusts his hold on his daughter and looks at Ted for a minute. "You know," he says, "My parents live near Bristol."

Ted wants to say something: ask what they're like, if they're retired, if Trent's an only child or if he's got brothers and sisters, what he was like as a kid, if he ran as wild as his daughter does now, if her fierce joy and laughter comes from him, even if not much else did.

"That's good to know," he says instead.

Trent looks away. "Goodnight, Ted," he says, and goes out the door into the warm autumn night.

 


 

"This Ted?" The voice on the other end is unmistakable, but she adds, "It’s Mae, down the pub. One of your lot’s drinking up all my best whiskey."

Ted looks over at the clock: it’s almost ten on a Monday night, and they've got a game on Wednesday. "Be right there," he tells her, switching off the oven. He hasn’t put the cookies in anyway, and there was a Smitten Kitchen tip that said keeping the dough out for a while uncovered might help with the rise. "Who all’s in trouble?"

"It’s Trent," says Mae, which aside from being surprising that Trent’s getting drunk anywhere, much less at the Crown & Anchor, is also surprising that Mae knows him well enough to call him by his first name. (Also that she likes him enough not to give him some sort of prefix like "that posh twat" or "that devious cunt," which aside from being very offensive are the kinds of terms Mae tends to use with most people.) "He’s not talking to anyone," Mae continues. "Just drinking, and the last time someone got alcohol poisoning at my establishment I was cleaning vomit off the ceiling, Ted, so come along."

Ted’s already out the door, which is unfortunate because he realizes later that he forgot his keys. Among other things.

"Are you wearing an apron?" says Trent, squinting up at him. He doesn’t sound slurry, but there’s a definite decrease in RPMs going on.

Ted looks down. He is indeed still wearing his apron, as well as his raccoon-themed LL Bean slip-ons. "Trying to start a new trend," he says, scrabbling at the knot in the back, which chooses that moment to become one of those knots that are un-unknottable just when you don’t want them to be. Ted gives up and sits down across from Trent.

They’re in a booth in the back room. Ted doesn’t come back here often, unless the front room's full; he likes to people-watch, stare out the big windows or listen to Mae hassle her regulars. The back room is darker and quieter, and, around this time of year, blessedly free of any Christmas decorations that festoon the front of the pub. The back room is exclusively for the sort of folks who are just here to drink and stare at a wall.

Trent definitely looks like he fits that particular bill tonight. His eyes are bloodshot and he’s got a little bit of that flush some people get after they’ve had too many. Even his hair looks bad, which still looks good on him but it’s falling short of Trent’s usual standards. Ted checks the bottle of whiskey on the table; it’s still about two-third’s full, so they probably don’t need to call him an ambulance just yet.

Even drunk as a skunk in a funk, Trent catches him looking. "I hope you brought your own, because this is mine," he says. He doesn’t move the bottle toward him or anything, just looks hard at him.

"No, of course, I ordered something for myself," Ted says.

Just then Mae’s waitress Kylie comes in with a matching bottle and a glass. She sets it down, gives Ted a pitying smile, and says, "Mae’s putting it on your tab."

"I appreciate it. And can you bring out a big pitcher of water, too? And two glasses. And maybe some chips. Your chips, not my chips — you know what I mean."

She heads off for the kitchen and Trent slumps a little bit more in his seat. "I’ve been here for a while, I wouldn’t recommend trying to catch up all at once."

"Oh, no," says Ted. "You ever see that movie, The Thin Man? William Powell and Myrna Loy, Nick and Nora?"

"I’m a gay man in my forties," says Trent, the dictionary definition of sardonic.

"Right, so you remember that scene where Nora tries catching up with all of Nick’s martinis? And then later on she asks what hit her and Nick says, 'The last martini.'" Dad got the box set of them on VHS for Christmas one year when he was a kid, and after that it was their Christmas tradition, to watch them all right in a row Christmas Day. People would come in and out of the living room, doing other things — the last few movies of that franchise weren’t the best, lots of skippable stuff — but Ted still remembers almost every word of them, all these years later. "Anyway, while I think their relationship was one of the great cinematic masterpieces of the 20th century, I’m not interested in getting hit by martinis, whiskeys, or anything else tonight." He taps the unopened bottle. "This is the last of Mae’s good whiskey; I bought it so you wouldn’t be able to."

"I can always switch to scotch," says Trent, and pours himself a triple. After a long minute, he pours Ted a double; he’s steady enough to get it all in the glasses, but his hand’s definitely got a bit of a tremble.

Ted doesn’t mention it, just clinks with him and downs the stuff. He’s more of a Jack Daniels man himself, but when in Richmond. "So," he says, trying not to cough, "You want to talk about it?"

"If I said no, would you fuck off?" asks Trent, sounding more curious than mean-spirited.

Ted considers it. "Probably not," he admits. "But hey, if you say yes, maybe I’ll eff off afterwards."

"If ifs and ands were pots and pans," Trent mutters, which either is a sign of alcohol poisoning or another one of those English phrases that are full of English words that are still impossible to translate.

"I could just take a guess. I'm getting pretty good at figuring out what's bothering y'all English people, which is just about as hard as figuring out y'all's football."

"It's not about you," says Trent, glaring at him.

Ted blinks, because the way he said that makes it sound like they're in the middle of an argument. "Why would it be?"

Instead of answering, Trent slumps a little further down, propping his head up on his fist. After a minute, he looks up at Ted and makes a little "go on" gesture.

"Okay, all right, so… you're depressed that you've got to cover Arsenal so much now, since you hate them with a red-hot fiery passion," Ted tries.

It nets him a sort of sleepy smile, like Trent just woke up on a lazy Sunday morning. "I don't hate them with a red-hot fiery passion."

"'The only thing more repugnant than an Arsenal fan when they're losing is a Man City fan when they're winning,'" Ted quotes. "And what was that one I liked? 'Arsenal's offense can often remind one of a country gentleman's hunting rifle, one he buys at great expense and maintains to exacting standards, taking it out to use with solemn ceremony only to immediately shoot himself in the foot.' I was not expecting a gun metaphor, much less to laugh at it, but you really are a heck of a writer."

Trent's head almost slips off his hand. "You read my book?"

"I read all of them," Ted corrects him. "Beard got a couple after you whupped my hiney at that first press conference; he said we needed to know how your mind worked, since you were the most dangerous guy in that press room. Then over the summer I downloaded the rest of them — even got one of them as an audiobook, the one about the Hearts of Midlothian team? You're a real good reader, too, although I did doze off a little bit while you were explaining the history of the Scottish Football Association."

He had dozed off, the first time, but over that awful summer back in Kansas he'd listened to Hearts of Gold a half-dozen times, packing up the rest of his things from the house or sitting alone in the motel room he'd gotten a few blocks away, arranging to sell off most of it. He'd whittled down the last twenty-odd years of his life to what could be put into the back of a pickup, and then drove that pickup down to Mama's house and put it all away up in her attic, next to dusty boxes that hadn't been touched for almost thirty years. Trent had kept him company, most nights, without even knowing it.

Which means the least Ted can do tonight is return the favor. He clears his throat and tries again. "All right, if it's not about Arsenal, is it — is Seraphina doing all right?"

"My daughter is a monster, as always," says Trent, although he's so affectionate with it that Ted can't help but smile. "But no, her antics have not as yet driven me to drink."

"Okay, well, at the risk of beating a dead horse, or however you put it over here—" Ted starts.

Trent puts his head on the table with a soft thud. "Oh, God."

"Is it something to do with this un-reciprocal understanding that made you quit Richmond?"

"I told you it wasn't—" Trent's still face-down on the table, so he's a little muffled, and Ted wants to reach over and touch his shoulder, get his hair out of his face — Mama still hassles Katie about her hair all the time, how she ought to pull it back, she has such a pretty face.

"You know, I've been thinking on it, though, and I think whoever it is, it's not someone at the clubhouse anymore."

That gets Trent to lift his head up. "'Anymore?'" he asks, scraping his hair back. He's got surprisingly big hands, long fingers with blunt nails, and Ted wonders if he keeps them that short to stop himself from biting at them, the way they do for Henry. Lord knows Ted's watched Trent tapping at his mouth with his glasses or his pen or his fingers enough times.

Ted rewinds the conversation a couple seconds. "Yeah, such as, perhaps this person's left the team? And in that case, I think it'd be ethically all right for you to start covering Richmond again, you know, since you hate Arsenal with a red-hot fiery—"

"Are you suggestion that I'm carrying a torch for Roy Kent?" asks Trent, looking halfway between bewildered and entertained. "The man who called me a colossal prick?"

"Well, you did write that very nice article about his niece's team," Ted says.

"Kent left a message with my assistant saying that if I ever wrote about him again, he'd shave my head with a machete and make me eat it."

"Your hair, or the machete?"

"My point being that Kent isn't really my type."

Ted puts a pin in that — he'll have to find out what Trent's type is at a later date. "Well, I wasn't even really thinking of Roy anyway," he teases. "I was talking about that fella you wrote your first book about, Martin Holbrake." It's a good book; Holbrake was the first openly gay footballer in Richmond's history, and still one of the only ones in the whole sport. Trent had gotten a dozen interviews with him to write the biography a few years back, and they'd clearly hit it off. Still, Ted wonders if Trent will spot the sarcasm here.

Sure enough, Trent gives him the exasperated look he gives when Ted's goofing around in the press room and Trent's got a deadline with no time for shenanigans. "He's eighty-two," he says. "And has some sort of reciprocal understanding with Franz Beckenbauer, if rumors are to be believed."

Ted makes a big show of shrugging his shoulders in defeat. "All right, then, well, unless it's the classic Christmas blues or something, you've got me beat." He leans back in the booth and puts on his best lay it on me expression. "Guess you're just going to have to tell me."

Trent licks his lips, the shine of it the brightest thing in the room, and after a long minute he sighs. "It’s my anniversary."

Ted’s first impulse is to reach out, offer a hug or just a hand pat, but he knows how bad an idea that would be. Ted’s a hugger by nature, but he learned a long time ago that the folks with bubbles around them usually needed to be the ones to reach out first. And Trent’s bubble is about three miles wide at the best of times.

"We met here, in fact," Trent continues, picking up his bottle and waving it vaguely around the pub. "He was a supporter and I was getting local color for some article or another. So I suppose it's rank sentimentality that brought me here tonight."

"Nothing rank about sentimentality," says Ted, and keeps his hands to himself. "I'm… guessing Joshua won't be joining you, then?"

"Joshua," says Trent, pouring himself another triple, "Is in California, where I pray daily that an earthquake drops a building on him." He pours some more into Ted’s glass, too.

"From what I understand, that happens a lot less often than the disaster movie genre would have you believe," Ted says. "Volcanoes, too. Way fewer of them in LA than you’d think." Trent smiles, just a little bit, and Ted tries to formulate his next question. "Was he — did he — hurt you?"

"Nothing so dramatic." Trent takes a sip, but at least he doesn’t knock the whole thing back. "Just the same tedious story as a million other marriages. We wanted different things, wanted to be with different people, or wanted to… be different people. It’s an awful thing when you have to perform the role someone else thinks you ought to play." He puts his glass down, tilts his head back to rest against the wall, his expression still sharp even with almost half the bottle gone now. "Don’t you agree, Coach Lasso?"

Ted’s saved from having to answer by Kylie, who reappears with water and fries. Then there’s that fifteen second awkwardness of being friendly with her while trying to keep track of the conversation, something Ted’s never been any good at. Trent, who even stone cold sober isn’t the type to be friendly with anyone, just gets himself comfortable, stretching his legs along his side of the booth. They’re long legs, and his sneakers stick out over the edge. When Kylie leaves he’s just sitting there, waiting.

"I do," says Ted. "I think." Truthfully, he's a little lost; he probably shouldn’t have any more whiskey.

But that’s seems like the right answer for Trent, who takes another sip. "It was a relief getting rid of him. Seraphina deserves better than a father who just wanted her as a bandage for a failing marriage."

Ted wants to ask where Seraphina is tonight, if she misses this Joshua guy at all. Something tells him she doesn’t; Ted’s known about a thousand children of divorce, his own son included, and Seraphina doesn’t carry any of the hurt kids have when one parent decides they’re not worth sticking around for. Maybe she’ll grow into that. Ted hopes not — but Trent’s already going to kill him for hearing as much of this as he has, so he keeps his mouth shut. 

Besides, there’s a big part of him scared that maybe Michelle’s talked like this about him, if she thinks Ted’s just chickening out of being a father now that he can’t be a husband. She’d probably be a better person to commiserate with Trent tonight — they're not much alike, but Ted can’t help but be afraid that he’s too similar to this Joshua guy, far away from his only child and not missed at all.

"Well," he manages, because this is about Trent, not him and his various hangups. "I’m glad she’s got you. Don’t think Joshua would be getting her fancy ties and tiaras."

Trent, who’s been staring down at his feet for the past minute, looks up at him, surprise and appreciation, which hits him almost as hard as the whiskey. "True," he murmurs.

Clearing his throat, Ted edges one of the water glasses closer to Trent’s elbow, where it’s summarily ignored. "If you don’t mind my asking," he says, feeling like he’s on one of those San Andreas cracks in the world, "If you’re so glad he’s out of your life, why are you sitting here alone on a Monday, drinking terrible alcohol?"

"This is Glenfiddich, you filthy American," says Trent, but he’s smiling now. "And I’m not sitting here alone, am I?"

"No, but you’re also not sitting with, you know," he says. "That person with the reciprocal understanding?" He kind of waves his hands around, hoping Trent’ll get the gist.

He does, clearly, if the way he winces is any indication. "Ted, you really—"

"I didn’t say anything," Ted protests. "I just figure, best way not to be drinking on your old anniversary is to find someone you can have a new anniversary with."

"Medice, cura te ipsum," mutters Trent.

Fortunately Ted doesn’t speak Italian, so he can’t be offended. "Or hey, what if you dated Mikel? Then you can get yourself transferred back to Richmond."

"Mikel," says Trent, propping his chin on his hand. "Mikel Arteta, the manager of Arsenal? You think I ought to date him?"

"Sure," Ted says. "He’s real nice."

"Mikel Arteta, married to a supermodel, with three children?" Trent continues. "I may be mistaken, but I believe he’s off the market."

"Oh, well that’s a bummer. His loss. Though he really does have quite the jawline. I wouldn’t throw him out of bed for eating crackers."

"What would you throw him out of bed for?" asks Trent, sudden and intense — like they’re right back in the press room and he’s about to ask a follow-up question that’ll knock Ted for a loop.

"Uh," Ted responds, with that quick wit that got him kicked out of debate club after a week.

Trent makes a sort of dismissive noise. "All right, I’ve talked about it," he says. "So as you promised earlier—"

"Ah, but I didn’t really promise, did I?" Ted reminds him. There’s a mean part of him kind of enjoying the alarm on Trent’s face at the idea that Ted might stay with him until closing time.

Then his expression hardens, and he swings his feet down to the floor. "Very well, I’ll go," he announces, and to his credit manages to stand up without too much wobbling. Ted’s impressed, even though he does have to grab Trent’s jacket and glasses and follow him out to the front.

Paul, inexplicably alone at his regular table, waves a greeting at him before noticing Trent’s condition. "Oh, dear. He need a cab?"

"Nonsense," says Trent, and trips over a chair. Ted makes a grab for him and catches him by the waist, his other hand on Trent’s arm. He’s just as lanky as he looks, whipcord muscle over a bony frame.

"Uh, yes please," says Ted, and Paul nods and slips outside. Mae, still holding court at the bar, gives Ted a thoroughly unimpressed look, which he supposes he deserves. "Trent, you think you can remember your address?"

"Seven Darnley Terrace," he replies, looking up at him, not making any move to shove Ted away. They’re close enough for Ted to smell the whiskey on his breath, feel the warmth of him under his hands.

"All right, then," Ted says, more to himself than anybody else, and manages to get Trent outside.

Paul’s already got the door open on one of those big black cars that are called cabs here in London, although they look like mini-hearses to Ted. Paul, who’s earned himself Ted’s unopened bottle of Glenfiddich tonight, helps Ted get Trent into the cab, although Trent seems to have a little trouble figuring out that he’s supposed to let go of Ted and take hold of his jacket.

"Ted," Trent says, urgent all of a sudden, looking — not like anything Ted’s seen before, not from him. Ted wants to climb in the cab with him, take him home and make sure there’s aspirin and a tall glass of water on his bedside stand. He hopes Trent doesn’t have to pick Seraphina up early tomorrow.

"It’s okay, Trent," he says. "We’re okay, okay?"

"…okay," Trent repeats, a little bit sarcastic, but the look fades.

Ted straightens up and shuts the door, which feels like a mistake a half second after he does it, but he just gives the driver the address and steps back. There’s a little bit of a drizzle starting up, but he waits until the cab pulls into traffic and disappears around the corner.

"He gonna be all right?" asks Paul, who can take both bottles as far as Ted’s concerned.

"I sure hope so," Ted answers. He’s still holding on to Trent’s glasses, he realizes. They're as nice to hold as they are to look at, but Trent’s going to be pissed when he finds out Ted accidentally stole them.

Paul shakes his head sadly, then frowns down at Ted. "You wearing an apron, bruv?"

Chapter Text

Ted wakes up early the next morning and looks up directions to Darnley Terrace, which is a real place despite the name. It’s another adventure on the subway, but the route’s a little more direct this time and it’s a nice brisk walk from the station to the pretty blue door on a pretty little street, though apparently that street is a terrace.

Trent opens the door after a minute or so, flinching at the sunlight like a vampire with mono. He looks like one, too: he’s got a serious case of bedhead and a ratty concert t-shirt for a band Ted doesn’t know under an even rattier cardigan. There’s a crease on his face where he must’ve slept on a wrinkle, and he’s wearing flannel PJs and fuzzy socks with swans on them.

Ted’s halfway between wanting to apologize for bugging him and wanting to get him into the nearest armchair with a blanket. "Let me guess," he says, "You didn’t drink water or take an aspirin before you passed out last night."

"What?" says Trent. His voice is about an octave lower than usual, which means it’s somewhere underground. "Ted — what are you doing—"

"Your glasses," Ted says, fumbling for his backpack. "I didn’t have a case or anything, so I wrapped them in a t-shirt, but they should be okay." Sure enough, when he gets them out they look fine.

"Thank you," Trent says. He doesn’t put them on or away, just fiddles with them the way he does, like they’re his own personal Dumbo’s feather that he’s got to keep hold of or else he'll crash back down to Earth. "You came all the way up to Notting Hill at half seven for this?"

"Sure, you know, you probably need them for things, writing for one, that’s the way you make a living and all." Ted’s aware that he’s babbling, but he’s still never been clear on how to turn that off.

"Right," says Trent, just standing there.

Ted’s palms itch. "Listen, do you want me to go get you some coffee or something? Or I can make you some coffee, if you’ve got the supplies. Or I’ve got a hangover omelette that’ll knock your very high-quality socks off, if you—"

Trent’s not a big guy, but he shifts to fill the doorframe like he’s worried Ted will shove on past. "No, thank you," he says, although he doesn’t sound grateful.

Ted takes a step back, almost tipping off down the stairs. Trent makes a move to grab him but Ted gets his balance, his adrenaline spiking as he clings onto his backpack. "I, uh, just wanted to check in on you, is all," he says, figuring if he pretends he didn’t almost go ass over teakettle into the street (or terrace) then they can move right along past it. "I’m sure last night was tough, but I wanted you to know you’ve got friends who care about you."

"Friends who care about me," Trent echoes, shaking his head, and puts his glasses in the pocket of his sweater. "Ted, what you’re doing is—"

"Irresponsible?" Ted supplies, remembering the last time Trent had tried chastising him, that night last spring at Ollie’s restaurant.

But Trent doesn’t smile or roll his eyes or do any of those things Ted’s gotten used to. Instead he shuts his eyes a second, like he's in some sort of pain, and says, "Unkind."

Which hits Ted right across the jaw like a knockout from a prizefighter. "Unkind for — for what? For caring about you?"

"Is that what this is?" Trent demands, taking a step toward him. This time when Ted retreats, he remembers the stair and doesn’t break his neck. "Because I really have no idea what you’re doing."

"I’m trying to," starts Ted, and then realizes he doesn’t have much idea either, which is even more frustrating. "Look, just because I’m not the person who you — you know, left Richmond about, that ain't my fault, okay?"

"Oh my god, you complete fucking bellend," Trent yells, like something’s finally snapped.

"What?" Ted yells back. For the past couple months it feels like he ought to have some sort of reference book to understand anything Trent says, only Ted wouldn’t even know where to go looking. There’s a great bookstore back home that has a whole section with all those For Dummies and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to types of books; he’d probably have to start there.

"Ted, the person I left Richmond about is you. Though I must say, your performative obliviousness that’s now bordering on actual homophobia has done wonders to put paid to that issue, so well done. I’ll be back in the Richmond press room before the end of the season at this rate." He takes a deep breath and wraps his cardigan around himself, glaring down at Ted from the next step up.

Folks have accused Ted of talking in circles from time to time, but it takes him a full fifteen seconds to unravel what Trent’s just said. "Me as in — so you mean—"

"I mean," says Trent, pushing his hair out of his face, where it's fallen into his eyes from all the yelling, "That every time you give a press conference, you reveal your soft underbelly to a swarm of vultures, including myself, and say things so kind and profound and at the same time utterly absurd that it made me want to—" he makes another gesture, holding his hands up in front of himself and curling them into fists. Ted’s pretty sure he’s not referring to punching him, but it seems like it might be a close thing right now. "And since you didn’t, and don’t, I took myself off. So now that you know, you could at least have the decency to leave me alone."

"Okay," says Ted says, more of a placeholder word than any kind of actual response, because his brain's jumped the track.

Part of him wants to do what the man says and leave him be, since apparently that’s all Trent's been asking from him these past few months. Part of him wants to tell Trent that it’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with it — which seems dumb, because of course there’s nothing wrong with it.

And then there’s a part of him making suggestions that Ted honest-to-God hasn’t ever considered, outside of a few times watching Denzel Washington in some movie or other. That part’s just whispering right now, but it already seems a lot louder than everything else.

"Okay," Ted says again. "Well. Okay. Uh, all right. You mind if I think on it for a little bit?"

Trent squints at him like he’s some sort of heat mirage on a county road in July. "Think on it," he echoes. He’s got a real bad habit of doing that.

"Yeah, I’ll confess that I hadn’t, uh." Ted’s not sure how to vocalize the ideas swirling around in his head of what the hell and okay wow and yes please. "It never occurred to me that this might be the exact flavor of problem that you’ve been dealing with, and I apologize for not understanding, and I’d like to take some time to, you know—"

"I really don’t, Ted," Trent says, looking tired and sad, but at least he’s not running away. Mostly because they’re standing on his front steps, but still, Ted’s choosing to take that W.

"I’m saying that I don’t want you thinking that the only resolution to this is you getting left alone." It’s not exactly what Ted means, but right now he’s not even sure what he means. But he thinks about all the places he and Trent have touched, all the skip-start surprises he gets whenever he’s around him. "I’m not… I’m not saying I don’t, okay?"

That gets him an eye-roll, which on the one hand is nice because at least it’s familiar, but on the other hand is real annoying. "Ted, as kind as you probably think that sounds, we’re both a bit old for the 'straight man stringing along the fa—'"

"I’m gonna stop you right there," Ted says, a bit louder than he ought to but he doesn’t like that kind of talk from anyone, even somebody who’s got a right to self-identify however he wants. "This ain’t that, all right? This is… 'man very surprised that other man is attracted to him at all, what with all the very handsome men this other man is surrounded by every day, but man thinks that other man is,'" and that’s where Ted runs into trouble, because what is Trent, exactly? Attractive? Handsome? Hot? All those things, and something else, something that’s keeping Ted on this stoop when common sense says he should have headed out a long time ago. "Compelling."

Trent opens his mouth, then shuts it, licking his lips in a way that Ted realizes is very distracting, and that he's been distracted by for a while now. This day is turning out to be full of surprises and it’s not even eight a.m. "All right," he says after a minute. "Then you should — take some time, I suppose."

"I’ll do that," Ted tells him, but even while he does he finds himself needing something, itching for it. "Um. Would you mind if I—"

Trent lifts his eyebrows, in that expectant way he has that must’ve gotten a thousand-plus people spilling their guts to him over the course of his career.

So Ted takes a chance and a step up, level with Trent. "I’d like to kiss you. Because if neither of us likes that, well, then there’s no point in any of this, right? Empiricism’s a wonderful thing — might help us both out, you know what I’m saying?"

"Hardly ever," said Trent, but he’s still standing there, so Ted leans forward, slow enough so that Trent can change his mind if he wants.

Instead Trent smiles, one of those sly pleased things that makes Ted’s insides go haywire, and tilts his head just enough so that when Ted finally gets there, he’s waiting for him. Trent’s lips are soft and warm and Ted registers the taste of toothpaste before he registers that he's opened his mouth, stuck his tongue right in there — horrible phrase, but it feels a lot better than it sounds — and God, Trent tastes good, he feels good, a little bit of stubble scraping on his cheek and his teeth nipping at Ted's lower lip. One of Trent’s arms snakes around Ted’s waist and the other cards through his hair, his whole lean frame up against him. It's like Ted's drowning and Trent's the only thing letting him breathe.

Ted drops his backpack.

Trent startles back — still a jumpy one, Ted thinks fondly — but recovers fast. "So," he says, voice still real low and rough. He hasn't let go of Ted yet, and Ted's hands are digging into the loose folds of Trent's sweater to make sure he doesn't any time soon. "Did you like that?"

"I did," Ted tells him, or tries to, but it comes out sort of cracked and high-pitched like he's back in eighth grade with Ms. Scanlon all over again.

"Good," says Trent. "So did I. Now go take your time." He lets Ted go, smoothing out the wrinkles he put in Ted's jacket. "And Merry Christmas, Ted." Then he goes inside and slams the door right in Ted’s face.

Ted decides to get a cab to work; he’s not really in a condition to walk the three blocks back to the station.

 


 

He does end up taking his time, with some distance to boot, and goes back to Kansas for the holidays. Richmond’s got a game on the 26th, but Beard and Nate tell him they have it covered. Besides, Ted’s not going to start counting chickens yet, but they’ve got 46 points' worth of eggs now; they might get their promotion without having playoffs at all. Which would be nice. Less dramatic, but nice.

Being home is — not bad. It’s good, even. Ted gets a rental from Kansas City Airport to drive down to the Farm for a couple days before Christmas. Baxter Springs is pretty much the same: a few business closed down on Main Street, a few new ones (why they need laser printing in Cherokee County is beyond him, but they've got a nice sign on the door where the old sewing machine repair shop was).

But Baxter Springs doesn't ever seem to change much; if he closes his eyes he can still see the same dusty roads and dusty people that he and Katie watched from the back of their parents' Buick back in '83 when they moved up here from Galveston, John Mellencamp on the radio singing about those old crazy dreams that kinda came and went.

He stays at Mama's, in his old room with the bunkbeds; last Christmas he and Michelle bundled up together on the bottom bunk, giggling when they'd almost fall out, Henry whining up on top that they were being too noisy, they had to go to sleep otherwise Santa wouldn't come. Having his family had kept all the ghosts at bay, but with just him and Mama in the house it feels crowded with them, like there's no room for him at all. Mama doesn't seem to mind — she never has. Or maybe she's become one of the ghosts herself at this point. Ted's never really been brave enough to ask.

He spends most of the time over at Katie's anyway, shoving the kids into their winter clothes and sending them outside while the grown-ups finish wrapping presents. Katie's two eldest are mothers themselves, and Tim and his wife are talking seriously about it, which means next year Katie might be one step closer to an even ten grandkids.

"When did we get so old?" Katie says, bouncing little Natalie on her knee.

"Now, speak for yourself," says Ted, finally unsticking his fingers from the scotch tape. "I'm still always gonna be nine years younger than you."

"Yeah, my little baby brother," Katie says, leaning hard into the twang and poking Ted's cheek until he wraps her finger up with tape and Mama tells them to quit it.

The Farm's doing pretty good these days; getting Katie out from under that debt had been one of the big reasons to go to Richmond in the first place, and she hadn't wasted any time getting the place back on its feet. Ted wanders around the property, checking out the new orchard (Katie's got plans for a cidery, Madeline already working on some logos) and the berry bushes that are taking up that spot on the hill their father could never get a crop to grow on. The ground's frozen over but it feels more alive than it has in a good long while; asleep for now, resting.

He wanders around town, too; there's still some Trump signs on the front lawns, but a surprising number of Biden ones, and a scattering of those "In This House We Believe" signs like the one Michelle bought a few years ago. He wonders what Trent would make of that; if he'd be okay holding Ted's hand walking down these streets. Would he fit here at all? Would he ever want to?

He heads back to Mama's house before it gets dark; once the sun goes down around here, the cold sets in and a man can freeze to death just walking to the corner store to buy himself some cigarettes.

 


 

He drives to Wichita on Christmas Eve and spends the rest of his vacation with Henry and Michelle at their house — her house, legally, now. (He'd signed over the deed to her last summer on the same trip to the bank where he'd paid off their mortgage, their banker sitting there behind his desk looking like he had about a million questions.) Michelle’s converted his old office off the living room into another guest room, which means he can stay there instead of that depressing motel he’d been at this summer. It feels off-kilter, being in this home that’s not his anymore, but at least he knows where all the snacks are.

Henry is wonderful and only a little bit twitchy, although Ted and Michelle have a couple talks with him about how it’s okay to feel anxious with all the excitement. He's speaking French more than he speaks English; one of Michelle’s presents for Ted is the premium Duolingo app for his phone.

"It’s that Ladybug and Cat Noir show," she sighs, grabbing her coffee mug from the cupboard. "I knew I shouldn’t have signed us up for Disney Plus, he started listening to it in the original French and now he sounds like Gerard Depardieu."

"Hey, now, don’t be a… rabat-joie," says Ted, after a quick consult with Google Translate. "I can’t even speak English-English and I’m living there."

It’s six in the morning, the day after Christmas — they call it Boxing Day back home, Game Day for Richmond against Birmingham. Ted’s been up since two talking with Beard and Nate about their strategy, and watched most of the game via Zoom with Keeley and Rebecca trading off to offer him a completely unhelpful but deeply appreciated video. It was a squeaker of a game, 1-0 with a last-minute penalty kick from Jamie, and Ted’s letting his phone charge while it buzzes all over the countertop from people texting or calling or what-all.

Michelle laughs. She seems to like him a lot more, nowadays; Ted’s not sure if he’s ready to admit yet that he likes her more, too. "You think me and Henry might have any better luck?" she asks, casual as you please into her coffee cup. "Speaking English-English?"

Ted blinks at her. "Maybe," he says, cautious. "You’re both smart cookies. Do you," he takes another swig of coffee, hoping more caffeine will keep him from putting his foot in it, "You think that’s something you’ll be interested in learning?"

"Maybe," she says, smiling. "I could live with not putting snow tires on the Jeep every winter. And Jane told me last month that she's going to the new plant once it opens next fall." Jane is Michelle’s boss and mentor, a tiny old lady who’s got a voice like Carol Channing; Michelle worships the ground she stomps on. "Plus… I like it here, I like this house, but I don’t love it. And Henry’s at an age where this kind of move might not be cause for therapy when he grows up."

"I don’t know about that," says Ted. "Kids over there can be mighty mean about the accent. Grown-ups, too."

Michelle makes a big show out of shrugging her shoulders. "There might be a fancy-dancy school I happened to find out about that teaches kids in English and French," she says. "Pretty pricey, unless maybe you’re some kind of big shot major league soccer coach."

"Excuse me, I plan on being a big shot Premier League football manager," Ted corrects her, all prim and proper.

"You’re getting there," Michelle tells him. "I’ve been watching the rankings. Although I still don’t understand them."

"God, me either," Ted says, and they plan their day as he yawns through his third cup of coffee (which will not prevent him from crashing later that afternoon and getting woken up by a snowball down the back of his neck and a howling demon of an eight-year-old jumping on his kidneys).

Another text buzzes his phone right off the countertop, where it dangles sadly by the power cord; Ted goes over and scrolls through all his notifications, double-checking there’s no fires to put out.

One of the texts is from Trent. Ted carefully sets down his cup and opens it up.

It’s a photo of Seraphina sitting on a sofa, mouth open and yelling at something off to one side — a TV, maybe, since she’s decked out head to toe in Richmond gear. It’s all too big for her, especially the little bobble hat that’s covering half her face. In the foreground, blurry and unfocused, there’s a pair of long, long legs, also in Richmond-themed PJs, ending with a pair of greyhound-covered socks. It’s Trent, taking a picture of his family on Game Day and sending it to him.

"What’s got you grinning?" asks Michelle, tilting her head and smiling curiously at him. 

There’s no jealousy in her voice, but Ted’s still got to tamp down on his knee-jerk impulse to shove the phone in his pocket like he’s Henry getting caught with a forbidden cookie. 

"Got sent a cute picture of somebody’s kid," he says. "Rooting for us."

"Somebody, okay," Michelle says as she nods. "Does this somebody have a name?"

"Maybe," he says, and clears his throat. "It's uh, early yet. But we should probably talk about that sort of — I mean, with Henry. I don't want you thinking I'd bring somebody around who wasn't—

"Ted," she says, and Ted risks looking up at her. She's still smiling, but in the way she does when she's trying to figure out what to say next. One of his friend's an actor down in Los Angeles, doing those little bit parts that make you point at the TV and yell there's Jolene! She once told him there are still lines from shows she did fifteen years ago that she remembers clear as day. Michelle's face will probably always be like that; something he knows by heart, despite everything.

"I want you to be happy," she says, "And if I'm worried about anything, it's that you'll get so wrapped up thinking about Henry and me that you'll forget about yourself. Is this somebody good to you?"

Ted nods, then reconsiders. "Good, yes, nice — not always."

Michelle laughs at that. "Nice is overrated, anyway. They good to their kids?"

Ted catches that. "'Their kids?' I know you aren't assuming I'm getting myself into a threesome at my age."

She tsks at him and pours herself another cup. "I've been hearing all this stuff about how the third person plural can also be used for the third person gender-indeterminate singular."

"And you think this somebody of mine might be a third person gender-indeterminate," he says. He's stalling and she knows it, but he's flipping back and forth between terror and relief here, not really able to move past it just yet.

"Ted, breathe," she tells him, sharp and loud enough to cut through. "It's gonna be all right, just take a second, okay?"

"How'd you — how'd you know?" he asks. It sounds more demanding than that, a simple question and not one that ought to be important. But it feels bigger than this room, almost.

"I didn't know anything, Ted, but I was your best friend for more than twenty years, remember?" she says, a little bit impatient, the way she always was when he couldn't catch up with her fast enough.

"Yeah, but—"

"Ted, you don't need to tell me anything you're not ready for." She sets her coffee mug down to reach out for him. "I'm not gonna Oklahoma you, here. But I don't think I was the only one of us waking up every morning, hoping to feel the same as we did in the beginning."

"…no," says Ted, taking her hand and squeezing a little. "I, uh. I don't think you were, either."

It ought to feel like failure, he's pretty sure, or like some admission, and when he looks up at her there are some tears hanging bright in her eyes. But instead he's grateful, weak-kneed with it, grateful that the woman he let down so badly has understood him better than he's understood himself, all this time.

"So, let's quit fussing," she says, and wipes at her cheeks with her other hand. "We'll talk to Henry when it's time for your somebody, okay?"

"Well, and if you get yourself a somebody, too," he says, and pulls her into a hug. He can still rest his chin on the top of her head, can still make room for her to put her arms around his chest. They still fit like this; there's comfort in knowing they might always fit like this.

She laughs and holds on a minute, then lets him go. "I promise. Both our somebodys will get a fair shake."

"'Both our somebodys,' huh," Ted teases. "So does your somebody have a name?"

"Not yet," says Michelle, but she bumps his shoulder. "I’ll let you know, though. Deal?"

He holds up his coffee mug to her, and she reaches over to grab hers and clink. "Deal."

 


 

Ted’s connecting flight through Austin is late, so he's barely got time to go straight from the airport to the clubhouse and give everybody a quick pep-talk for their game on January First. They win that one 4-1, two goals from Sam and a goal each for Dani and Jamie. The whole team goes out for beer and boasting afterward, the players competing for who gets the next round and everyone yelling their heads off.

Ted’s so hopped up on jet lag and endorphins and alcohol that he calls Trent on his way back to his apartment, and it’s five minutes into the conversation before he can slow down enough to worry if he wasn’t supposed to.

"I um," he says, almost tripping over a cobblestone. "I’m thinking I don’t need to take a whole lot more time," he says, and stops to lean up against a handy wall. His breath is puffing out in front of his face, hanging for a second before it fades away.

"I haven’t set a clock, Ted," says Trent, but he can hear the curl of his smile around the words. "Congratulations on tonight. And welcome home."

 


 

Maybe Trent didn’t set a clock, but Ted’s timer sure is beeping at him.

 


 

The first person he actually says the words out loud to is Beard, who reacts about like Ted thought he would. "Sleeping with the enemy, huh," he says, putting his feet up on the desk. It’s the Monday after the game and they’re the only ones here so far; the players won’t be coming in at all, since there's almost two weeks before their next game at Bristol City, and those kids have more than earned a day off of practice. Training.

"Not Julia Roberts’ finest work, I’ll admit," Ted replies, "But I don’t know what that’s got to do with this."

Beard gives him a look.

"Okay, I know, I know. But he stopped covering us for a reason, alright? Before he said anything, before he — I dang near forced it out of him, okay? He wasn’t gonna say anything, but now that he has, I just keep thinking about…" Ted spreads his hands.

"Full frontal," Beard says with a sage nod.

"Also not a great film, Soderbergh kind of whiffed on that one," Ted says. He taps his pen on the desk, waiting for Beard to say something about Steel Magnolias or Mystic Pizza, but Beard’s almost as good as Trent at stretching silence out like pulled taffy. "It’s not just that, though, I just — I like him. A whole lot. Even though I haven’t really ever liked a him. Or maybe I have and I just wasn’t realizing it, I don’t know."

"Well, either way, you know what it’ll be, Coach," Beard says, putting his hands behind his head.

Ted knows exactly what’s coming, but he has to give him this much at least. "What’s that, Coach?"

"Something to talk about," says Beard, and puts on his sunglasses.

 


 

Ted’s about forty-five seconds in to his "so, boss, hypothetically, say a friend of mine" introduction that he’d figured would be the best way to ease Rebecca into this conversation when she says, slightly muffled by cookies, "It’s Trent Crimm, isn’t it."

"It might… not be," he says.

She takes a few more seconds to swallow. "Tall dark and handsome reporter who may have once had some professional connection to 'your friend’s' team, but has moved over to Arsenal, whoops not Arsenal some other totally unrelated team." Rebecca’s paraphrasing isn’t totally off. "It's Trent. And… you?" she adds, her voice a little uncertain. "I see."

"I wanted to let you know in part because you’re my boss, and I am your employee, and if this kind of thing will cause problems—" Rebecca’s eyebrows are almost off her forehead at this point, so he corrects, "When it causes problems, I wanted to give you a heads-up. But in bigger part because you’re my friend and I value your judgement and I am a little… at sea. In these particular waters."

"The particular waters of being with a man," she says, blunt but kind the way she is.

"Right," says Ted, although in truth he's feeling like he's got at least an anchor there; the shape of wanting has gotten clearer since that kiss in December, going from something amorphous that made Ted's heart stutter to more solid desires. But that's probably not appropriate workplace talk, so he adds, "Plus, you must know him as well as anybody else around here. He covered Richmond for a while."

"He predated me, in fact," says Rebecca, and gets up to make herself some more tea. "Or at least, my marriage to the owner. I was a fan long before, as you know."

"You still need to show me those pictures of tiny little teenage Rebecca all dolled up in her Richmond gear," Ted reminds her.

"Hell will freeze over first," she says cheerfully, bobbing the little teabag in her cup. "He wasn’t any worse than any of the press in that room, but he wasn’t notably better. Better turns of phrase, certainly; there’s a reason the Independent’s clung to him for so long."

"Did he know about Rupert?" Ted asks, wondering why he's never wondered about that before.

"I can’t imagine that he didn’t." She goes over to the sectional and he moves over to sit with her. "You have to understand, Ted, his profession, they’re… they’re not people I’ll ever trust. Not fully, and certainly not with the hearts of the people I love." She taps the spoon on the rim of her cup, looks at it for a minute, then sets it down on the coffee table, turning to reach for his hands. He gives them to her immediately.

"The absolute best case scenario still means that the moment people find out, you’ll be inundated. Trent’s a member of the press, but that won’t protect either of you; it may well make things worse. Certainly Ernie Lounds and the tabloids will be all over you, and the articles will not be pleasant. Football is still a horrifically homophobic sport and the fact that Trent covered Richmond while you were manager, however briefly, will be made much of. It will be quite, quite bad."

"And that’s your best case scenario?" Ted asks.

Rebecca’s mouth quirks a little at the corner, but she’s still holding on tight. "You’re a rising star, Ted. I think you might be one of the finest managers in any league in this country, even if you can’t remember the offside rule. But that won’t matter in this case, and if something goes wrong in the relationship, then it won’t be you and Trent against the press. It will just be you."

"You really think he’d do that?" Ted asks, his palms sweaty because this is Rebecca Welton, who’s been through more baptisms of fire than an arsonist preacher. (Also because she’s squeezing his hands pretty hard.) She won’t sugarcoat it, not for him or anybody else.

"I hope he wouldn’t," she says. "I just… I don’t want you to get hurt, as cliched as that sounds. Trent’s a tremendously good journalist. And in this country, that’s not a compliment." She lets go of his hands and considers him. "I will tell you this: last year, when I won ownership of the club in the settlement, that first press conference was… brutal. You remember your first day here?"

"Do I ever," Ted says. Trent himself had been the one to set the whole firestorm off, in fact, swearing at him and everything.

Rebecca nods. "Trust me when I say you got off lightly. And at least you only spat on the press; I went a bit mental, told them they were a bunch of narcissistic wastes of oxygen who would rather have a wank over a game they could never hope to play themselves than do one bloody useful thing in the whole of their miserable lives. I said that as far as I was concerned, the press room was no different than any other den of cockroaches, and if they wanted a quote from me they could suck their own knobs. Et cetera." She picks up her tea again and takes a sip; Ted can’t tell if she’s proud of that moment or not.

"The next day, Trent asked for an interview. Leslie, for reasons passing understanding, let him in and I was about to throw him right out again when he offered me a gift bag; inside was an industrial-sized can of Raid. He said he looked forward to my tenure and left." She shrugs. "So I suppose if there’s any one of them I’d pick out, it would be him."

Ted blows out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. "Didn’t know you had Raid over here," he says.

"All the mod cons," she assures him, and spends the next few minutes explaining what that means.

 


 

Ted doesn’t get a chance to tell Keeley; five minutes after he leaves Rebecca’s office, Keeley’s sent him a half-dozen texts with a whole bunch of emojis he doesn’t know.

did Rebecca spill the beans?

Nah Beard did

I’m Women’s Auxiliary for 
Ted Lasso’s Diamond Dogs

Higgins got us 👕 for 🎄  

You like him though yeah 

like it snot just you’re hard up 

cos we can get you 🍆💦

thank you for the offer

yes I like him

We should ttly do a 👫👬 !!!!

Also if he hurts you 
I will RIP his head off 
and stuff it up his FUCKING NOSE

that is as touching as it 
is anatomically improbable

I know you mean it because 
you wrote it all out like that

appreciate it

 


 

Walking home that night, Ted gets a text from Roy.

hes still a real prick 

you should be taken yoga

good for shagging

 


 

Ted calls Trent the next day after practice. He almost calls him before practice, and he almost calls him twice at lunchtime, then one other time while he’s waiting in his office for Dani to finish up a photoshoot out in the locker room.

But once he heads out for the night — it’s only five, but it’s getting dark already, people calling out their goodbyes in the parking lot as they flick on their headlights — he takes out his phone and scrolls down his Favorites list until he can press his thumb against Trent Crimm: The Independent.

"Trent Crimm, the Independent," Trent answers, sounding distracted. 

"Ted Lasso, AFC Richmond," Ted replies.

"Hello — sorry, I’m a bit—" he can hear Seraphina in the background asking a question, and then an older guy says something about "It’s about to start, Trent!" There’s a lot of crowd noise on his end, but Arsenal’s not playing tonight.

"Are you subbing in for somebody?" Ted asks, crossing over to Duke Street. "Because it sounds like you’re at a game."

"I’m at a panto with Seraphina and her grandparents," he says. "Little Red Riding Hood."

"Little Red Riding Hood I know, panto I don’t." Ted stops at the next light and waits for the walk sign at the corner. "I thought those were bread crumbs."

"That’s panko," Trent says, a slow condescending drawl that Ted’s kind of into. He’s just about to apologize for calling when Trent adds, "Fortunately, you’ve provided me with an excellent excuse to escape to the foyer for a bit." The noise level goes way down on his end. "So, Ted Lasso, AFC Richmond, what can I do for you?"

"Coming from a guy who kisses like that, that’s what we in America call a loaded question," Ted says, and immediately winces. He wants to flirt, now that he knows that’s what him and Trent have been doing, but he’s never been good at it. Michelle once told him that the cutest thing about him was his total lack of game. Which probably ought to’ve thrown up some red flags back then.

Trent might have a different opinion; he makes a thoughtful hmm noise and says, "Is it, now."

Ted blows out a breath. "I uh, haven’t done this in a while," he confesses. "I might be a little rusty."

"And what is it you’re doing?" Trent asks softly.

"I’m, uh, hoping for a reciprocal understanding," Ted says, which actually gets a laugh. "I took the time and I thought about it and I like you, a lot, and not the way I like Coach Beard or Rebecca or any of my players or any — anybody, really, and I don’t know what comes after that, but I’d like to find out, you know, with you, if that’s the sort of thing you’d be interested in finding out about."

"Hold on," Trent says, in that brusque way he’s got when he’s—

"Are you writing this down?"

"For posterity," says Trent, completely unapologetic. "I wanted to get every word."

"Well, I didn’t say we were off the record, that’s on me," Ted allows.

"You’ll be named only as an anonymous source," Trent promises him. "Would you like to come over on Sunday? I have Seraphina for the weekend, so she’ll likely insist on a tea-party, but—"

"As long as it’s imaginary tea, that sounds great," says Ted. It sounds terrifying, but in a good way, like bungee jumping or getting in one of those cages where sharks swim around outside.

"Excellent," says Trent, sounding pleased. "Be sure to bring along an F&M hamper, since I’ve absolutely nothing in the house, and don’t wear anything you don’t want a three-year-old to attack with magic marker."

"I don’t know, scribbles could be a fun look." He feels giddy, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "I don’t think my khaki and polo shirt ensembles are as popular here as they are back in Kansas. Might need to change up my wardrobe."

"No comment," says Trent. Just then there’s a swell of music on his end, some cymbals along with the rest of an orchestra. "Oh God, it’s starting."

"Have fun with your bread crumbs," says Ted, and they say their goodbyes. Ted puts his phone away and realizes he’s been standing at this corner for a half-dozen walk/don’t walk cycles.

He stays put until it comes around again. He’s not ruining their first date by getting hit by a car.

 


 

The whole week drags on. Part of it — most of it — is nerves, Ted pulling out most of the clothes he owns and feeling like he’s seventeen again, wanting to look cool for Katie Kemblowski in AP English. Some of it is that there’s no game to train toward this week, so practices don't have as much urgency, but Beard is good at whipping the guys into shape even without the adrenaline-rush of a competition.

And then some of it is because everybody and their cousin wants to help Ted out with his first excursion into the LGBTQ+ community. It’s incredibly nice and embarrassing as hell at the same time.

The Diamond Dogs band together and get him The Compendium of Gay Sex, complete with one of Nate’s craft-laden paper covers. "Not that there’s anything shameful about sex," he says, whispering the word "sex" until they have to lean forward to hear it. "Or gay sex, or straight sex, or any of that. It’s just, you know, if you’re on the Tube and you don’t want people peering over your shoulder."

Ted flicks open the book, which is sort of laid out like one of his high school textbooks — page 87 has a very nicely-done drawing of one man giving another man a blowjob. "If I’m on the Tube, Nate, reading this, I think people will be peering over my shoulder regardless. But thank you, I appreciate it."

Rebecca explains what an F&M basket is and spends about ten minutes with him picking out the best one, ie the one with the most sweets. "It does come with tea, I’m afraid," she warns him.

"Yes, but it also comes with hot chocolate, so we’re all good," says Ted.

Keeley offers to introduce him to some friends of hers who can give him some pointers, but admits they’re all super-hot twenty-somethings who go out clubbing most evenings. 

"Yeah, I’m not sure if they’ve got the most relevant experience when it comes to two middle-aged guys trying out for a relationship," Ted says to her. He’s not actually sure Trent is trying out for a relationship with him per se, but he hopes he is. Ted’s already thought of a gift to get him for his birthday, which isn’t until September.

Which makes it extra ironic that it's Will the kit man who helps out the most. It’s completely on accident; Ted comes looking for him on Friday to ask about handing out extra towels for morning drills, those fluffy big ones, because they’re having a cold snap and most of the players refuse to be sensible and wear anything heavier than a sweatshirt, but they’ll happily wrap themselves up in their towels as they take a break on the sidelines. 

Will cheerfully agrees — he does almost everything cheerfully — and continues, "Best of luck for this weekend, yeah? Not that it’s my place, but. I dunno, it’s been nice knowing there’s a fellow queer guy in the swamp of heterosexuality around here."

Ted gets distracted for a second by the word "queer," which up to now he thought was an insult, but Will’s beaming at him like it’s a badge of honor. "Uh, thank you, Will. And likewise," he adds. "I’m not really sure uh, if I merit the welcome just yet. This is — kind of a first, for me."

"Oh!" says Will, blinking. "I thought — sorry, it’s just you pinged — never mind," he says. "But look, if you’ve ever got any questions, or anything. It can be a lot."

Will’s even younger than Keeley and her friends, but something about the offer sounds genuine. "Anything I should know before a first date?" he asks, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them from twitching.

"If he pushes for anything you don’t want, fucking leave," says Will, with enough emphasis to make Ted worried about where this advice is coming from — if it’s general knowledge or hard-won personal experience. "And obviously don’t push him for anything he doesn’t want. But I guess that’s the same for straight relationships too, isn’t it?"

"It sure ought to be," Ted agrees. "Thanks, Will. I appreciate you."

"Sure thing, Coach," he says, giving Ted one final beam before heading off in search of the towels. 

Ted stands there for a little while longer amidst the funk of football boots and tries to think of anything Trent might push for that he wouldn’t want. Nothing’s springing to mind; maybe he ought to consult that textbook some more.

 


 

Finally Sunday rolls around, and Ted heaves his Fortnum & Mason basket up to Darnley Terrace with only a little bit of difficulty. He rings the doorbell and it feels like jumping off the rock at the Clearview swimming hole, falling until you splash down into the water below.

Trent opens the door and for a second Ted can’t even speak because all his nerves get overridden by the sight of Trent Crimm: the Independent wearing the biggest, sparkliest, pinkest tiara that Ted’s ever seen in his life. And that life has included a lot of Disney movies. Trent’s expression is completely flat, like he wears a tiara all the time. With his daughter around, it wouldn’t come as a shock.

"Good afternoon, Your Highness," says Ted. His cheeks are already hurting from all the grinning he’s doing. He holds up the basket. "I have brought very, very expensive offerings to the court."

"Excellent," says Trent, and grabs it without missing a beat. "Go and make your introductions to the princess, she’s having trouble with the corners."

This comment gets an explanation as soon as Ted steps inside; Seraphina (with a tiara even bigger than Trent’s, Ted’s feeling left out) is sitting in the bay window, scowling at a three-by-three wooden puzzle. The pieces are all jumbled but there’s enough black and white stripes to give Ted a good idea of what the finished product will be.

He takes off his coat and has a seat next to her while Trent disappears into the back of the house with the basket. "Hey there, Seraphina," he says. "How’s the puzzle treating you?"

"Hi Teddy," she says absently, because sometimes grown-ups’ arrivals are an event and sometimes they’re just a distraction from the important work of being three and a half.

Sometimes they’re useful, though, because Seraphina eventually decides that a much more fun game than putting a puzzle together is to stack the pieces on top of each other in Ted’s hands, then hit them from underneath so they go flying all over the place. They get three rounds in of this game before Trent comes back, tiara still firmly in place with a tray full of goodies.

"All right, hooligans," he announces, putting the tray down on the coffee table, "Time for a tea party."

Seraphina makes a beeline for the tray and Ted manages to get to his feet with only moderate difficulty, although his knees aren’t exactly singing his praises. While Trent and his daughter futz around with the food, Ted takes a minute to check out the room. It's nice and airy, with wood floors and the walls painted a pale grey, or maybe a pale blue — it's hard to tell because most of the wall space is covered in artwork and photos and framed examples of Seraphina’s own artistic endeavors, with Trent’s scratchy lettering in the corners giving them titles and credit to the artist.

The photos are what draws Ted’s eye; he doesn’t know anyone, but their relationships to Trent and Seraphina aren’t that tough to figure out. There’s a bunch of one-off pictures of folks sitting or standing with Trent, or Trent and Seraphina: kids at a birthday party or a bunch of people in business clothes holding cups of wine at a shindig, but the interesting ones are the repeats. 

He spots a tiny brown-haired woman giving a teenaged Trent a big kiss on the cheek while Trent’s holding onto some framed award or degree and dressed in black robes. She pops up in a lot of pictures, younger or older, the most recent one of her with short grey hair holding a sleeping Seraphina, who doesn’t look much younger in the picture than she is now. There’s a big guy with a red beard and hair standing next to her in that one; he’s in most of her photos, except for one with a forty-year-old version of himself and a gangly, familiar-looking kid with a eighties bowl cut standing in a fishing boat, holding up some good-looking trout. 

There’s another older couple in a lot of the pictures, too, blonde and blue-eyed like Seraphina, but all the pictures of them are only from the last five years or so. Almost all of them feature Seraphina at various ages, opening a Christmas present or chasing after a dog. They seem a little more stern than the brunette and the redhead, but they’ve got smile lines and there’s one photo of the man looking adoringly at the woman while she’s twirling Seraphina around in this very living room.

"Her grandparents," says Trent, coming up beside him and gesturing to the picture. "Both sets, actually, these are my parents," and he points out the brunette and the redhead.

"Too bad you didn’t get your dad’s hair," Ted says. They’re standing close, and if this was a girl Ted was dating he’d probably put his hand on her waist or on her shoulder, but then again maybe he wouldn’t if her daughter was sitting right there? And are you supposed to put your hand on another guy’s waist? Even if he's put his hand on your waist before? Trent isn’t trying to touch him right now, does that mean Ted shouldn’t, either?

"I might have done," says Trent, happily oblivious to Ted’s internal crisis. "My birth father’s, at any rate; my parents adopted me when I was a newborn, so I’ve no idea. I did try to dye it once at university, though."

"How’d that turn out?" Ted asks. He still wants to put his hands on Trent, but now he’s distracted by the notion that somewhere out there might be photographic evidence of this dye job.

"Poorly," Trent says, but he’s smiling while he says it.

Ted lifts his hand to put it on Trent’s shoulder, but chickens out and points to the blond couple instead. "And these folks," he says, "They’re the ones you went to see that Little Red Riding Hood play with?"

"The very same."

"Hope they’re not holding a grudge that I called you right as it was starting."

"Oh, they most definitely are," Trent says, turning to face him and leaning up against the mantlepiece. "Which is why I told them that the horribly rude person calling me just then was a work colleague."

"Lying to the in-laws is never a good idea," Ted advises. He’s still pointing at the picture like a fool, but he’s not sure what else he should be doing right now. He knows what he wants to do — there’s a lot of it that’s not appropriate for a family setting, in fact most of it, but there’s a fair number of innocent things that won’t scar Seraphina if she notices — but everything feels like a risk, like maybe he read all of this wrong, like he’s barging in here and Trent’s too polite to throw him out.

"Ted," says Trent, and kisses him.

It’s a little thing, more of a smooch than that big number he planted on Ted in December. It feels different, too; Ted’s not flying off in all directions with it, but instead feels like he’s getting pulled together, right here in the middle of Trent Crimm’s living room. He puts his hand on Trent’s shoulder and Trent puts a hand on his hip and it’s like completing a circuit, lighting him up.

Trent pulls back; Ted leans forward on instinct but stops himself before he gets anywhere. Trent notices and gives him a grin so full of mischief that it makes Ted’s stomach flip-flop.

"Now you needn’t worry about when it will happen," he murmurs, his thumb pressing a little on Ted’s hipbone, not trying to tickle but there’s still a zing to it, a promise.

"But now I’ll be worrying about when I can get another one," Ted complains.

"I feel your pain," Trent says solemnly. "Let’s eat something before that little monster gets it all."

Somehow the afternoon gets clean away from them — the tea party morphs into the construction of a pillow fort, which Trent’s terrible at, no head for structural integrity at all, and Ted has to take over as project manager while Trent’s sent to find more blankets. There’s an interesting twenty minutes where Seraphina gets cranky about one of the pillows having some lint on it; Trent calls her "Fina-foo" and she has a full-on meltdown, face going red as she shrieks "MY. NAME. IS. SER. A. PHIN. A!!!" at a volume that would make any soccer fan proud.

Trent observes her for a minute, then turns brightly to Ted. "Coffee?"

Ted follows him through a hallway toward the back of the house, a little nervous. Henry’s had his share of tantrums for sure, but his are more along the sulking line, crossing his arms and sitting on a chair or on the ground or, on more than one occasion, out on the trampoline in the backyard. Seraphina’s going for more of a "Veruca Salt on cocaine" vibe. "She gonna be okay by herself?" he asks, and then has to stop and take in the kitchen with a low whistle.

It's incredible — almost the whole ceiling is a skylight, letting in the trickling afternoon sun, and sky-blue kitchen cupboards run the length of two walls. Against the third wall is a battered farm table with an even worse-off old bench, and two wooden chairs at either end; most of the F&M basket’s innards are strewn around on the tabletop.

The fourth wall is all big bay windows and a sliding door that leads out to a tiny little balcony, overlooking a tiny little backyard. This time of year there’s not much plant life other than some determined-looking shrubs and browning grass, but the muddy trail leading from the house to a swing-set indicates that Trent and Seraphina still go out there on the regular.

Trent pauses, lifting an eyebrow. "Was that whistle for me or the kitchen?" he asks. "And choose wisely, Coach Lasso."

"Definitely you," Ted says hastily, but can't help adding, "I can’t resist royalty."

Trent frowns, then sighs and pats at his head where the tiara is still firmly attached. "There’s probably a droit de seigneur comment I could make, but I’ll refrain," he says, which Ted’s grateful for because he has no idea what that means.

From the living room Ted can still hear screaming. "You sure she's not gonna pop a blood vessel?" he asks, hooking his thumb over his shoulder.

"She did, once," says Trent, opening a cupboard and pulling out a fancy French press. "But experience has shown that the best course of action is to let her wring herself out. It usually lasts about the time it takes to boil water for tea. Or coffee."

Sure enough, by the time Trent’s poured them both a nice cup in a couple of mugs from the Independent gift shop, Seraphina comes looking for them, asking her dad about a goose game.

Turns out that Trent’s got a Nintendo Switch, complete with a hookup to his TV hung over the fireplace. They get comfortable on the sofa and Trent teaches him how to play "the goose game," where you run around causing mischief in a small town that reminds Ted a lot of Richmond. They play co-op mode, Trent sitting cross-legged next to him, poking at him with his knee or his elbow to get Ted going the way he wants. Seraphina’s not quite able to manage the controls herself yet, but it turns out she’s much more enthusiastic about jumping up and down in front of the TV, shrieking with laughter every time they steal a boot or turn on a water sprinkler or, her personal favorite, honk in unison.

"Feels a little like bullying," Ted confesses as they work together to trap a little boy in a phone booth.

Trent makes a considering sort of shrug of his shoulders. "It’s good for them," he says. "Builds character."

Ted finally manages to get the hairbrush in the shopping basket, which crosses another task off the list. "Kind of like calling Seraphina you-know-what," he says.

"What, Voldemort?" Trent asks innocently, and Ted’s not sure how he manages not to tackle him into the sofa and kiss him some more.

Seraphina gets bored eventually, so they all traipse outside in their coats and mittens to push her on the swing for a little bit. Ted gives her a helicopter, which prompts Trent to complain about how she’ll insist on getting them all the time now.

"Guess you’ll just have to keep me around, then," Ted says, feeling brave.

Trent smiles and says, "I suppose so."

By that time they’re all freezing and it’s getting dark, so they go back inside to the kitchen and raid the rest of the F&M basket, Trent sitting in one chair and Trent in the other, with Seraphina sliding around on the bench making zooming noises when she isn't stuffing her face with chocolate pretzels. Ted doesn’t offer to leave and Trent doesn’t mention it.

Instead they watch Cars 2, which is inexplicably Seraphina’s favorite movie at the moment, and Trent makes popcorn with an honest-to-God popcorn maker that goes on the stovetop and everything. There’s a little bit of shuffling around on the sofa, Ted trying to figure out where he's supposed to go before Trent grabs him by the belt and yanks him down to sit on one side while Seraphina’s already half-asleep on the other. Which is just as well, because Ted learns something about himself in that moment, ie how much he enjoys it when Trent yanks him around, and that’s something you do not want to learn about yourself when you’re in the same room as an alert three-and-a-half-year-old. 

Trent curls his arms around both of them, which is fine by Ted because it means he gets to hold the bowl of popcorn. "Don’t eat it so quickly you get sick," Trent warns, and Ted’s not sure which one of them he’s talking to.

Even though Cars 2 isn’t exactly the best example of the franchise, it's still nice. Trent’s not paying much attention to the movie either; he keeps catching Ted’s eye and smiling and looking away like they’re a pair of teenagers in the middle of a movie theater. Trent doesn’t make a move for the popcorn; instead he settles Ted against his side, casual, like they’ve done this a hundred times. Halfway through the movie he puts his hand in Ted’s hair, combing through it like it’s got a fascination for him, which is strange because Trent’s got him beat in the hair department by a country mile. It feels good, though, gets Ted shivery in a sort of calm way that he’s never felt before — he can’t really describe it.

Still, Ted's eating Trent’s share of the popcorn and getting a scalp massage, which doesn’t seem fair. So he picks up a kernel, one of the ones that’s got a nice coat of butter on it, and feeds it to Trent.

It’s both the right and the wrong thing to do. Right, because Trent makes a little noise when it touches his lips that is going to feature in a lot of Ted’s fantasies. Wrong, because it makes Ted want to climb into his lap and do a whole lot of things he doesn’t even have names for yet. (He really needs to get cracking on that gay textbook.) He feeds Trent a few more times, watching his jaw and his throat work as he chews and swallows. Trent’s watching Ted right back, and it’s almost scary how much Ted likes having all Trent’s attention focused right on him.

"You need to stop," Trent says, though, the next time Ted makes a grab for some popcorn. 

Ted gets that guilty jolt in his chest that feels all too familiar, back from when he was always doing something wrong or too late or too much. "I’m sorry, I—"

Trent tugs a little on his hair, which makes Ted stop talking because otherwise he’s going to whimper, and nods over to the other side of the sofa. "She’s asleep," he whispers, "So I’m going to make a valiant effort to get her up to bed."

Relief goes through Ted like water, but he's not entirely sure what to say in response. "Should I — I can — if you want me—"

"I do, actually," says Trent, and gets to his feet. Seraphina is totally sacked out; Trent collects her into his arms and heads up the stairs to the mysterious second floor. Or first floor. Whatever.

Ted takes a deep breath and gives himself the job of cleaning up, turning off the TV and tossing the last of the popcorn out, then doing an overall tidy-up of the living room and kitchen. He's just starting on the dishes when Trent comes back downstairs.

He stops for a second in the doorway, blinking. The tiara, Ted’s a little disappointed to note, is gone. "What are you doing?"

"That a rhetorical question?" Ted asks, because there’s not really a lot of extrapolation that needs to be done when you see somebody elbow-deep in suds at a sink.

"Leave that," Trent says, getting a towel from one of the cabinets and turning off the tap. He dries Ted’s hands off himself, like he doesn’t trust him to do it, and tosses the towel on the counter. "You didn’t come over to do the washing up."

"No, but I like to consider myself a full-service guest," Ted tells him, then listens to what he just said out loud and winces. "Uh, anyway."

Trent goes to a cupboard and pulls out a couple of short, heavy-bottomed glasses. He sets them on the counter and turns back around, folding his arms across his chest. "So what did you come over for, Ted?" he asks, all slow and level.

Ted rubs his still-damp hands on his thighs, because there’s a whole lot of jokes or innuendo he can make, but he doesn’t want to do that. So he tells the truth. "I wanted to talk some more. About this — about what you want, from this, us or what-all. Because I haven’t really heard much on that."

"I want you," says Trent, frowning. "Apologies if that was unclear."

"Right, no, that part was pretty clear," says Ted, trying not to freeze. He expected Trent to be honest, but that was a lot of honest, it felt like. "Maybe what I’m looking for is more… why, I guess."

"Ah," says Trent, drumming his fingers on the countertop. "Why. Well — any number of reasons." 

"Something to do with my soft underbelly, or something?" Ted asks. "Which I've been trying not to take personally, by the way."

Trent smiles. "Nor should you. But that's part of it, I suppose. I don't think you realize…" Trent thinks for a moment, then looks back at Ted. "Do you remember the game you had earlier in the season, against Nottingham Forest? When Rojas killed that dog?"

"Still have nightmares about it, yes."

"I asked you about it at the press conference, and you told us the story about Hank, your first dog. Only dog, I’d venture," he says, looking expectant and continuing when Ted nods. "You told that story as though it were important — not that it wasn't, but… as though you wanted me to know. And you weren’t worried that I would mock you or misquote you or anything of the sort. You gave up part of yourself as though you had so much to give, an endless reserve. It was…" he trails off. "It was quite extraordinary."

Ted can barely remember what he said back then — he’s impressed Trent remembers it well enough to call Hank by name. "And that’s what made you want to go out with me?"

"No," says Trent, his mouth quirking. "That’s what made me want to shove my cock down your throat."

"Man, okay," Ted says, after a few seconds where he can’t remember how words work, "I guess emotional disclosure really gets your motor going."

Trent shrugs. "I’m English, Ted. Emotional disclosure is comparable with watersports and pony play in terms of taboo fetishes. Probably less acceptable, actually."

Ted's pretty sure he knows what those are but honestly he's too distracted by Trent saying the word "fetishes" to think much about it. "Uh, good to know."

"I want other things, too," Trent says, looking serious. "This isn’t just about that, I hope you understand."

Ted nods, maybe a little too hard. "No, sure, I mean, I’ve got a textbook, so."

"Textbook?" Trent asks, slow and careful.

"Never mind. But um, I want other things, too. And those things. Whatever they are." He remembers Will’s advice, but he's got no idea who’s pushing here. "I’m new to all of this — heck, it’s been twenty years since I dated anybody I wasn’t married to, man or woman, so there’s a lot I either don’t know or forgot about." He takes a deep breath and prays that he’s not pushing, because it feels like he’s right at the edge of real steep hill. "But I want to figure it out. With you."

"Good to know," Trent says, teasing, and Ted wants to glare at him and kiss him some more. "Perhaps some ground rules, then. We take this slowly, for one."

"Slowly is good," agrees Ted, although even he's not sure what qualifies as "slowly." He hopes that means more kissing, at least. "And I know you’ll be honest, but I want that as a rule, too. No papering things over to make things run smoother." He's had too much of that — a whole marriage's worth.

"Agreed," says Trent, and he actually gets out his glasses and his notebook, leaning down over the counter to write. It’s both very ridiculous and kind of hot. For such a lanky guy, Trent’s got a nice butt. "Also, since you mentioned a textbook of some kind, I’d like to ask that you not watch pornography as research. It’s apt to give you a somewhat… disjointed understanding."

"That sounds fair," says Ted. He actually did try watching some, but it all looked kind of… boring, or painful, or both. Nobody seemed to be enjoying themselves, and Ted’s got limited experience but he’s already enjoyed himself a lot more just kissing Trent, so he’s got a feeling that most porn won't really meet his specific situation, as it were. "And I know this makes me sound like a prude, but — for now at least, I’d like to keep things G-rated whenever Seraphina’s around. Not because we’re two guys," he adds, even though Trent isn’t looking offended or mad or anything. "Honestly I think it might be more of a Midwestern hangup. Me and Michelle never did much hanky-panky whenever Henry was in the house, either."

"No hanky-panky while children in residence," Trent recites, his pen scribbling along the page. "By the way, there’s drinks in the cabinet there if you’d like." His pen pauses to tap the cabinet above his left shoulder.

Ted gets up to check out the offerings, aware of how Trent doesn’t move out of his way. "You didn’t really just write hanky-panky, did you?" he asks as he randomly pulls out a bottle, his other hand brushing against Trent’s lower back.

Trent turns and shows him the paper, which has NO HNKY-PNK WHL CHLS PRZ in Trent’s blocky scrawl. Ted’s set to make a joke about translating journalese, but he can feel the warmth from Trent’s body all along his, and it’s not even half a step to close the distance and pin Trent’s hips up against the counter with his own.

"Was this just a ruse to get me in range?" Ted asks, kissing his jaw. Trent has a very nice jaw, sharp and a little raspy this time of night. He smells like chocolate and caramel. Tastes like it, too.

"Did you require a ruse?" Trent asks as he tilts his neck.

With such a polite invitation as that, Ted can hardly refuse to press his mouth to Trent’s throat. "Might’ve been nice. Everyone likes a good ruse now and then."

"Would this… oh… qualify as hanky-panky?" Trent asks, taking off his glasses. "I’d hate to break a rule before the ink’s even dry."

"Something tells me you absolutely love breaking rules," says Ted, and maybe Trent was right before — they’ve kissed once already today, so Ted’s not feeling anxious or apprehensive or wound tight about it. He just really, really wants to kiss him again.

"Watch yourself, Coach Lasso," Trent murmurs as he brushes his nose along Ted’s hairline. "There are some rather draconian penalties for slander in this country."

And then Ted does kiss him, managing to put the bottle down instead of dropping it so he can get his other hand around Trent’s waist, pull him closer. "Wasn’t one of those rules you wrote down about honesty?" he asks when they take a second to breathe. "Or is that the rule you’re breaking right now?"

Trent laughs into their next kiss, his arms looped around Ted’s shoulders. 

 


 

Ted doesn’t stay over — he wants to, and even better Trent wants him to, but all kidding (and kissing) aside, neither of them relish the idea of Seraphina walking in on anything. Besides, tomorrow’s Monday and they both have to get a good night’s sleep.

"Which we won’t get if you stay here," says Trent, kissing him some more in the foyer, "Not if I have anything to say about it."

"Really?" says Ted, because honestly that sounds real promising.

"Mmhmm," Trent says, nodding seriously as he trails his mouth down Ted’s neck. "I’ve used up a truly enormous amount of self-control on you for almost a year, Coach Lasso. I know my limits." And he kicks Ted out without further ado.

Ted takes a few seconds standing on Trent’s stoop and taking in the freezing January air. One of these days he’s going to leave here without an uncomfortable tightness in his pants, but as Aragorn once said, it is not this day.

Chapter Text

"Sounds like it went really well," is Will’s verdict the next morning. They’re all out on the pitch, Nate and Beard having a small slap fight over some defensive drills while the team warms up. Ted takes the chance to consult to his expert in the field — or on the pitch, over here — while he’s setting up the sports drinks. "The only time I ever met a guy’s kids, he wanted me to babysit them as well as—" Will makes a very upsetting gesture that makes Ted want to find this guy and give him a very strong piece of his mind.

"I thought so, too," he says instead, although he does make a note to suggest that, if Will ever wants to talk to the Doc or anything, he's part of the team and can always be provided with that service. He’ll have to figure out a better way to phrase it first. "And the rules, the thing where — it’s not weird, right? Going slow?"

Will picks up the crate of water bottles and sets them gingerly on the bench, and Ted moves around to the other side to help him put them out. "Because two guys have to have sex on the first date?"

"No!" says Ted, reflexively, before saying, "Well… yes, I suppose, yeah, that’s kind of the stereotype, isn’t it."

"There’s not really any right or wrong way to do this, you know," Will says. "Do you want to see him again?"

Ted nods. "Very much."

"Okay," says Will. "And do you want to have sex with him?"

"Very much," Ted admits, because it does feel like an admission. Last night when he was talking with Trent in the kitchen, all the stuff they’d agreed to had sounded smart. Most of it still does — parameters to give them some room. "I guess I just don’t know what 'slowly' ought to mean in this particular context."

"Fortunately, you can always ask," says Will, only a little bit making fun, but he’s probably earned it.

"Okay, so I should just — call him and ask him out again, and casually drop the fact that I’m ready when he is, so to speak?"

"Call?" says Will, with all the devastating pity of the young. "Like, a phone call? You really are from another century, aren’t you."

Ted huffs. "Give me a break here, Casanova. The last time I was out on the dating scene, The Matrix was just coming out." Will opens his mouth, probably to tell Ted that he wasn’t even alive back then, which will necessitate that Ted walk into the sea, or whatever nearest large body of water London has. That big river everybody spells weird, probably. "Just — I don’t want to push, like you said."

"Sounds to me like you might want a pull," Will says, and Ted’s been here long enough to know that that’s very dirty and probably not workplace-friendly, but it’s kind of… nice, too. Knowing there’s somebody else who speaks this language Ted’s just starting to learn. Will quickly adds, "Sorry. But yeah, just talk to him. Call him, even. Ask him out and see where that leads."

"And it wouldn’t be weird?" Ted asks.

"Honestly," says Will, collapsing the empty crate and putting it under the table, "The weirdest thing is that you want to date him at all."

 


 

Unfortunately, a date per se is not happening any time soon. The whole week is crazy, and the next one too, scheduling-wise; they’re playing two home games and two away games to make up for the long break they had. Arsenal’s just got one home and one away, but the that game is in Newcastle, which is apparently very far.

"Oh, no, like two whole hours?" Ted asks, pulling some of the leftover pasta sauce out of the fridge to heat up and pour over the penne he’s got bubbling on the stove.

"Five and a half, I’ll have you know," Trent says, his voice echoing a little on speakerphone. "And you’re supposed to commiserate with me, Ted, not mock me."

"I’m gonna keep telling you until you get it into your head, you live on a tiny little island that’s smaller than half the states in America," Ted says. "And there aren't even any teams y'all play against in Scotland. So this all just sounds like whining to me."

"I can’t believe I thought dating you would be a good idea," Trent grumbles.

"Well, we haven’t been on a date yet, technically," Ted says, sticking the sauce in the microwave. "Which reminds, me, I’d like to rectify that sometime soon."

"Would you, now," says Trent, his tone shifting, and just like that Ted’s getting hard, right in the middle of his kitchen on a Saturday night. "And what would you like to do on this date?"

"I’ve, uh, got a few ideas," he says, heart beating faster.

Just there’s a knocking sound on Trent’s end, and somebody yelling about getting their arses on the bus. "And I would very much like to hear them, but we’re about to leave for the stadium," Trent says. He does sound bummed about it. "But we should resume this conversation later."

"You’re a mean man, Trent Crimm," Ted says, and Trent laughs and hangs up on him.

The thing is, Ted does have ideas — maybe too many, all of them vivid and urgent. He’s as helpless and horny as he was at fifteen, jerking off twice a day and still walking around with a buzz of impatient desire in the back of his head. It’s as if Trent’s given him space to feel nervous, and instead left Ted without a clue how to handle the want that’s lodged in his throat. The only solution he can think of is Trent, getting his hands on him again, getting their bodies together again.

But knowing he can’t, at least not right away, is its own kind of relief; he’s able to focus on the team, his guys, help Sam out with his right cross and give Dani a pep talk about missing a recent corner kick. They’re working better as a team than they ever have before, sharpening themselves with each game like an axe on a whetstone. (Or maybe it’s one of those sharpening belts, Ted can’t remember.) He’s proud of of all of them, and even a little proud of himself; twelve months ago none of this was even in the purview of his imagination, and now here they are, with a real shot of making Richmond the comeback story of the year.

He just — also really wants to get laid.

 


 

It’s not until the following Friday that they’re back in London at the same time, and even then it’s almost midnight by the time Ted drags his sorry butt up the stairs to his apartment. He dumps everything on his bed and heads straight for a shower, washing the team bus grime off of himself before changing into some flannel PJs and a t-shirt. He’s achy but not tired just yet, so he collapses on the couch and turns the TV. There's a rerun of "QI" on — he loves Sandi and the guy who sits next to her, with hair almost as impressive as Trent’s. 

During the next commercial he gets out his phone; he’s been texting Trent all day, about dumb stuff like their favorite disgusting food combinations or their views on solar energy or the ethics of elephants in circuses. He’s scrolling back through their messages when the phone lights up with a call.

"Trent Crimm, the Independent," Ted answers, trying to match Trent’s accent.

There’s a long, disgusted pause. "Is that really the best you can do?"

Ted chuckles, scrubbing his hand through his still-damp hair. "All right, mister, let’s hear your Ted Lasso."

"There’s a good reason I didn’t attend RADA," Trent says. "I take it you made it home all right?"

Ted shuts his eyes as he leans back into the couch. There’s something pretty wonderful about having someone keeping track of when he gets home. Although it’s hard to tell if it’s just generally wonderful or specific to Trent. "I did, thank you. Nice to finally be in the same city as you again, by the way. If it weren’t so late I’d ask if you wanted to come over."

It feels risky to say, but he’s being honest. He wants to see Trent, wants to touch him and kiss him and maybe get him horizontal for a while. He really wants to discuss the exact definitions of "slow," because just this conversation is getting him half-hard in his PJs.

"It’s actually early, by my watch," says Trent. "But I’m glad you said that."

"Why, did you think I’d stopped liking you between now and—" he pulls the phone away and checks when the last text was, "—ninety-seven minutes ago? Although I’ve got to say, that marmite and apple thing might be a dealbreaker."

"That’s rank hypocrisy, from someone who eats peanut butter and ketchup sandwiches," says Trent. "But no, I didn’t mean that."

Which is when Ted’s doorbell rings, just like something out of a Meg Ryan romcom. It’s not much of a surprise when Ted opens the door to find Trent on the other side, wearing a long black wool coat and a red scarf, his phone already put away. 

"Hey now," Ted says, grinning into his own phone, "You shouldn’t hang up on people."

Trent takes a quick step inside, right into Ted’s space, and kisses him hot and sharp until they're up against the wall. Ted tries and fails to kick the door closed, and drops his phone, but he’s too busy trying to get Trent’s coat off to care much. Trent’s big hands are cradling his head, turning it this way and that to kiss under his chin or down his neck, and Ted just wants to stay here for an hour or a year or so.

"So," he gasps as Trent scrapes his teeth along the tendon of his neck, "Is this some type of booty call? Not that I’m complaining."

That slows Trent down, although he’s still got Ted pinned pretty good. "Ah, no," he says after a minute. "Not… precisely. I’m afraid I might have got a bit carried away just now." He actually looks embarrassed, licking his lips. "I really did want to see you."

This honesty stuff is starting to be a real turn-on. Ted tugs at both ends of Trent’s scarf, reeling him back in. "Wanted to see me, huh, is that what the kids are calling it these days."

Trent gets all ruffled like an offended great blue heron that got bit by a fish. "I was the one to suggest we take things slowly," he insists, resisting Ted’s attempts. "I didn’t come here just to grope you."

"Well, that’s a real shame," Ted says, "Because I've been sitting here, just hopin' for some gropin'. There’s even a chapter on it in my textbook."

It’s always fun watching Trent’s face as he tries to pick a reaction; if Ted talks fast enough, it’s like one of those flip books. Ted clocks confusion, disgust, arousal, dubiousness, and affection all in a span of about three seconds before Trent steps back a pace. "Truly, Ted. I didn’t mean—"

"And truly," says Ted, "I’m saying that while I also wanted to see you and talk to you tonight, if you’d like to do that and some groping I wouldn’t mind." He leans to the side and finally gets the door closed, then takes Trent’s hand to lead him over to the couch. "Guinness okay with you?" he asks over his shoulder as he heads into the kitchen.

"Fine," says Trent, slowly sitting down while looking around the place. It’s the first time he’s been here, and Ted wonders if he’ll have anything to say about the lack of paintings and photos on the wall, the way Henry’s artwork is just taped up and not professionally framed.

Ted pulls out a couple of bottles, popping the tops off with the magnetic church key on the fridge. He turns off the kitchen light and goes back out to the living room. Trent takes the offered bottle; he's  pulled off his scarf and coiled it up on the coffee table, but he still looks chilly. So Ted sits right next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders — his dark grey sweater is incredibly soft, and Ted finds himself petting Trent’s shoulder like it’s a baby kitten. Trent doesn’t seem to mind; he leans right up against him, putting his free hand on Ted’s thigh. Which gives Ted some cause for optimism.

"In the spirit of honesty," Trent says, after taking a long pull from his bottle, "I should tell you that one of the reasons I want to go slow is because otherwise I'd fuck you into the nearest mattress."

Ted inhales some of his beer and nearly chokes to death, which would be a real shame if Trent has that kind of itinerary planned for them at some point down the line. "Oh, really?" he says, once he's more or less gotten his breathing under control.

Trent, who leaned away from him while he was sputtering all over the place, gives him a long, kind of resigned look, like he's just now realizing that he didn't pick the smoothest of movers as a potential date tonight. "Yes, really," he says, and settles back against Ted's side. "But it's not a good idea."

It sounds like — well, no, probably it's not a good idea, but it's still making Ted feel hot all over. "I defer to your expert opinion on that one."

Trent smiles at that, but he's quiet for a minute or two, clearly looking to say something. "There's an… impulse, I suppose," he says finally, fingers picking at the knee of Ted’s PJs, "On my part, at least, to… grab what I can, when it comes to you. Before you’re gone." He holds up his hand, cutting Ted off before he can say anything. "I know you’re likely to stay in the UK for another few seasons at least, after Richmond wins its promotion. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that any relationship you have will last that long."

"Kind of pessimistic, romance-wise," says Ted. "Although thanks for the vote of confidence, I notice you didn’t say 'if Richmond wins its promotion.'"

"Oh, you could still easily fuck it up," Trent assures him, twiddling with his beer bottle the way he does with his glasses. "But my larger point is that my impulses shouldn’t dictate the pace of any of this. It’s far more important that you feel comfortable with how this goes."

"Is sex supposed to be comfortable?" Ted asks, curious. "Because for me it’s always been a little jittery-making."

"It’s supposed to be something you want," says Trent, pointedly.

"And you think I might turn out to not actually want it," Ted guesses. "That about the size of it?"

Trent takes another drink. "As wholly ridiculous as that may sound," he says, "Yes."

Which actually makes a little bit of sense. Ted tries thinking about this whole thing from Trent’s angle — meeting a guy who was married to a woman for twenty years, who’d never dated anyone other than women, who’d needed all of Trent’s heart spilled out on his own doorstep before realizing what it was Trent was asking for. Maybe there’s a little cause for concern, there.

Fortunately, that’s a problem he thinks he can solve.

"Look, Trent, I don’t want either of us rushing. For both our sakes. And there’s things I’m not ready for, like uh, I still might need to work up to um, anal sex." He hates the way he says it, like it's something embarrassing, but that whole chapter was kind of embarrassing. "Or blowjobs, mostly because I’m kind of worried about the learning curve on that one. And I can tell you now, watersports and pony play aren’t likely to ever be something I want to try. First one’s gross and the second one’s got too many accessories." He takes a deep breath. "But this past few weeks I’ve been… well, I’ve been thinking about you. A lot. In a very non-G-rated kind of way."

"Have you," says Trent.

It’s really tough being annoyed and aroused by the same person at the same time. "Yes, Trent, I have, and I can go get my textbook and show you exactly which diagrams made me think real hard at night, if you follow my drift. But if you’re looking for some more empirical evidence about how much I want this, and you, I don’t know what to tell you." He tries not to sound too snippy, but he’s waving his bottle around and nearly spilling it on the cushions.

Trent plucks it right out of Ted’s hand, setting both the bottles on the coffee table next to his scarf. "I am, as a matter of fact," he says, and turns back to Ted.

"You’re what?" Ted asks, but it’s too late.

Ted doesn’t really dig on rating kisses, but this one’s definitely a top five contender. Trent leans into him, puts his hand back in Ted’s hair — it must be pretty messed up at this point — and Trent's so eager, like he's been as desperate as him this whole time. It’s a lot, not too much but a lot, making Ted squirm and pant and feel prickles of sweat everywhere they’re touching.

Which, they’re touching in a bunch of places; Trent’s tipped him right over so Ted’s sort of leaning against the arm of the couch with Trent on his knees, straddling Ted’s thighs. This gives Ted the opportunity to finally get his hands on Trent’s butt, trying to get him closer while at the same time appreciating the very nice handfuls he’s got to occupy himself.

"So," says Trent, pulling away just far enough to suck at the hinge of Ted’s jaw, which hadn't ever been a sensitive spot before but it's certainly doing a number on him at the present moment. "Do you like this?"

"Yes, please," says Ted, shifting his hips — he's dying for friction, anything, but Trent's still so far away. "Two scoops, sprinkles on top."

Trent puts a hand on his chest. "Ted," he says, looking skeptical, and Ted’s had just about enough.

So he takes Trent’s other hand and presses it right down onto his dick, which has been taking a lively interest in proceedings. It’s a lot more aggressive than Ted’s ever been, but it’s also the first time he’s had an honest-to-god argument with someone about just how hard he is.

"There’s your empirical evidence, all right?" he says, or at least he tries to, but Trent chooses that moment to give him a little squeeze, his thumb running along the buttons at the front of his pajamas. Ted squeaks out the word "right" just as his hips jerk up, and he’s so needful — he’s going crazy with Trent touching him like this, watching him, kissing him. It’s not too much, it’s not enough. "Trent, please, come on now."

But Trent’s looking torn. "We can go however slowly you need," he says. "I — you shouldn’t feel pressure, Ted."

"Well, that’s one word for what I’m feeling." He gives Trent’s butt a pat. "Hey, listen. I trust you, and I want you to trust me, okay? I’m a grown man. You’re gonna have to teach me some things, but saying 'no' ain't one of them."

"This is just because you’ve been hard ever since I came through the door, isn’t it," Trent says, but his mouth is twitching and his thumb on Ted’s dick is moving again in slow, lazy loops.

"You noticed that, huh." Ted shifts his hips again, pressing up, wanting more. "World class journalistic work, there."

"Mm, there’s a lot to notice," Trent says, and scrapes his nails carefully down the length of Ted’s cock.

"Oh, fuck," Ted says, tipping his head back to thump onto the arm of the couch.

"I think," says Trent thoughtfully, "That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say 'fuck.'" And he gives him another squeeze, right at the head, a little bit mean about it.

Ted does not mind at all. "I’m happy to say it as often as you like, if you keep on doing that."

Trent smiled, that smirky one he has for when things are all going his way. "Say what?" he asks, his fingers tapping lightly at Ted’s waistband, which is just dirty pool.

"Fuck," Ted says obediently, because he might be new at this whole gay sex thing but he knows positive reinforcement when it’s promising to jerk him off.

"Very good," says Trent as he shoves his hand down past the waistband to curl around Ted’s cock. He doesn’t have a lot of room like that, but that doesn’t slow him down any, going tight and fast the way you sometimes have to when you’re in a rush, because Trent knows how to do that, he’s done it to himself —

"Fuck," Ted says again, partly to tease but mostly because that’s the best word he can think of. Trent’s hand is broad and warm and Ted’s so close already, worked up and wrung out, just aching for it. "Trent, please, I'm—"

"Shh," says Trent, and puts his other hand over Ted’s mouth, that wicked little gleam in his eye. "Quiet, Ted. Your neighbors might hear."

It’s pretty much the hottest thing Ted’s ever had done to him, and he comes in three hot pulses, everything in his body contracting and releasing all at once. Trent keeps hold of him through it, watching him with his mouth a little open like it’s something to see. Like Ted’s something to see.

Ted lets go of Trent’s butt with some regret, but as much as he admires Trent’s dexterity in doing all of that one-handed, he needs both of them for this.

He manages to get Trent's pants undone and shoved down to his thighs; Trent goes in for the briefs line, his cock making a dark wet spot in the navy cotton. Ted’s mouth waters in a way he’ll have to circle back around to later — maybe move blowjobs up a little bit on the to-try list he's been compiling in his head.

For now he just pushes the briefs down as far as they’ll go, and then he’s got his hands on Trent before his brain catches up to the fact that he’s touching someone else’s dick for the first time. He doesn’t want to freeze, but — was he supposed to do that? Trent has a foreskin; it feels different, the skin softer. Is there another way you're supposed to jerk off someone with a foreskin? Was that in the textbook? Or maybe he’s supposed to blow him. Or should he have been jerking Trent off at the same time?

"Ted," says Trent, carefully taking his hand out of Ted’s boxers and carding his other hand through Ted’s hair. "It’s all right if you’re not—"

"Tell me what to do," says Ted, remembering just in time to keep his voice down. "I want to, but I’m — tell me what I need to do here."

Trent smiles, but he still doesn’t look totally on board. "You don’t need to do anything," he says, which is a pretty impressive complete sentence when his cock is hot and hard in Ted’s hands.

Ted narrows his eyes. "Should I say fuck again?" he asks, and squeezes a little — maybe Trent knows all about gay sex, but Ted has a pretty good idea how to get his attention.

"Okay," Trent says, on a gasp, his hand in Ted's hair tightening. "All right, um. Just, stay like that." And he moves his hips forward and back, his cock moving along Ted’s fingers and palms with a faint wet noise that Ted’s going to be thinking about a lot. "Oh, just like that," he sighs, letting his eyes drift closed.

Ted watches him, watches the line of his neck and the arch of his back, the furrow of his brow, the flex of his legs. He’s beautiful, and Ted realizes he’s saying that over and over again, quietly in rhythm, beautiful, beautiful. Trent opens his eyes and stares down at him, still holding tight, and then he slips two of his fingers into Ted's mouth, salty with—

It’s Ted’s own come, he realizes, it’s him on Trent’s fingers, and that’s enough to get him twitching all over again. He swallows the taste of it, wants to put Trent’s whole hand in his mouth and lick up every trace. Trent pushes his fingers further in and Ted bites at the knuckle, wanting more, wanting everything.

"Oh, God," says Trent, and comes all over Ted’s t-shirt and his hands, his grip in Ted’s hair just this side of painful. He looks wrecked, and Ted wants to give himself a little pat on the back for that.

Although not just this second. He carefully lets go and wipes his hands on his shirt, figuring it’s a loss anyway. Trent is still balanced on top of him, breathing hard.

"So," asks Ted, not even bothering to hide how smug he’s feeling, putting one arm behind his head. "Did you like that?"

Trent laughs, quiet and pure and beautiful, and says, "I did, thank you."

 


 

Still, they’re not really dating — at least not as Ted’s ever understood the term, the dinner-and-a-movie type of dating. Sundays are usually spent with Trent and Seraphina at their place, playing hide and seek or chasing her around the backyard or playing Super Mario 3 Classic and arguing about where the special shortcuts are while she cheers them on. (Trent’s right more often than Ted, and never lets him forget it.) Ted heads home after dinner, kissing Seraphina goodbye on the top of her head if she’s still awake and Trent goodbye with a lot of tongue if she isn’t.

On weekdays after work, at least on those rare occasions when neither of them have a game to coach or cover and Trent’s not on dad duty, he’ll come over to Ted’s place. They still go slow, but most nights involve at least an orgasm each, and Ted’s kind of alarmed at how each one gets better; he’s pretty sure he’s got a lot of catching up to do. But Trent doesn't seem to mind, never worried about it, always easy—

"Always what?" he asks, laughing even as he's pushing Ted away. "Explain yourself."

"I don't mean easy like — I just mean you're always a sure thing," says Ted.

"You're not making this better," says Trent, narrowing his eyes. They're making out in Ted's bedroom early in the evening, before Trent's got to go back out and cover a game for Crystal Palace, and Ted's worried that between the time they have left and his logorrhea, nobody's getting a hand on anybody's dick tonight.

"I mean…" he says, trying to figure out the right words. "I always got anxious about this before. I never knew if I was supposed to, to want it or to be disappointed if I wasn't getting it or if whoever I was with might not want it, or wanted it more than me, or — but with you," he's not getting this out well, but Trent's still waiting for him, a smile on his face. "You always want this as much as I do, and I'm not, you know. Messing it up. Except for right now, this moment, I am most definitely messing it up, I'm aware."

"You most definitely are," Trent agrees, and grabs him by the collar to pull him back down. They end up with two very nice orgasms, one apiece, and Trent has to take the stairs two at a time to run and catch a cab.

But as incoherent as Ted maybe had been, it's true — Trent doesn't ever seem to get tired of touching him, of pulling him closer, even though Ted's suspects that they've set themselves a glacial pace by most standards. But he doesn't care; he's got good company.

He just wishes there was a better term for what they were doing. "Google ain’t helping, neither," he complains a few days later, perched on Trent’s kitchen counter while Trent messes around throwing out the takeout boxes. (It seems like popcorn is pretty much the limit of Trent’s culinary expertise, although he does make a pretty good ice cream sundae.) Seraphina’s already asleep in her room upstairs, after they took turns reading a half-dozen Little Miss books to her. "Nobody's thought up a more elegant term than 'handjob?'"

"What more elegant term did you have in mind?" Trent asks, pulling the trash bag out and tying it shut. Ted hops off the counter and gets out a fresh liner, putting it in while Trent takes everything out to the trashcans outside. He steals a couple bites of Trent’s still-unfinished sundae and scrolls through some of the euphemisms, getting more and more horrified until Trent comes back.

"Listen to this one, a hand shandy," he says, as Trent eats the rest of his dessert with a suspicious squint at Ted. "Sounds like a drink. Or, good lordy, a five-fingered slippy, that’s awful. And what on earth is—" 

At which point Trent physically wrestles Ted’s phone out of his hands and kisses him to shut him up, his mouth cold and vanilla-sweet. "Would you like to try something other than handjobs?" he asks.

Ted would like that very much, but he has to ask. "Does it have a better name than 'handjobs?'"

"Decidedly not," Trent says him, eyes sparkling.

So Ted gets to spend the following night learning about frottage, something even more fun to do than it is to say — if Trent would get through the whole instructional video.

"Now, silicone lubricant is a bit messier," he says, standing by Ted's bed and waving around a fancy-looking tube. He's not undressed but he's pretty comprehensively unbuttoned and unbuckled, and Ted was looking forward to the evening's activities until Trent got on a roll here. "But it lasts quite a bit longer than the water-based lubricant we've been using for—"

Ted's about to fall asleep with an erection for, well, not the first time in his life but the first time in a while. "Trent, I am familiar with lube," he says, as patient as he can. "Can you please just get over here."

"I want to make sure you enjoy yourself," says Trent, even as he finally crawls on top of him, squirting some of the lube onto his hand.

"I'm pretty sure I will if you just stop with the seminar," Ted says.

He's right, too; he loves it, loves the way Trent pushes him around where he wants him, spreading Ted's legs wide or wrapping them around his waist, like he wants to get things perfect. Ted doesn't even have to do anything, just lie there and feel it, kissing and stroking when and where he wants. He's never had sex like this, sex that quiets him down and fills him up all at once. It's like some kind of refuge he has under Trent's body, under his hands; a shelter he's never known existed.

He's not always sure what he can offer in return, but it turns out Trent's not that demanding — Ted finds all sorts of ways to please him, to touch him. One of his favorite places on Trent's body turns out to be the nape of his neck; Ted likes the ceremony of kissing him there, pushing his hair gently out of the way as though it's a secret spot for just the two of them. Trent always sighs when he does it, bending his head down further, supplication and demand that Ted gets hooked on real fast.

The road to gay sex nirvana isn't always smooth sailing; there's that time Ted falls clean off the couch mid-stroke, or the nasty bruise on Trent's thigh that he gets from colliding with the bedpost instead of the bed. Ted has a bad moment the first time they try getting completely naked. It's not a full-blown panic attack, not like that night in Liverpool, but there’s a ringing in his ears and his hands won’t work right. He grits his teeth because he wants this, he does, it’s just he can’t make his heart stop slamming up against his ribcage like it’s dying to jump clean out of his body.

Trent, still wearing his pants, sits back on his heels and gets off the bed, probably disgusted, probably tired of having to deal with Ted’s weird hangups and—

Trent picks Ted’s undershirt from off the floor and holds it by the hem at the bottom, nudging at him until he lets Trent slip the shirt back on. Ted gets his arms through while Trent pads out to the kitchen, coming back with a glass of water. He hands it to Ted and climbs back in bed, wrapping his long arms around him with his chin on Ted's shoulder. He doesn't say anything, which makes it better and worse all at the same time.

"I’m sorry," says Ted, drinking small sips. He shuts his eyes. He doesn’t want to throw up.

"You’ve done nothing that requires apology." Trent doesn't say anything else, just holds him close, his freezing cold feet tucked under Ted's thighs. Ted keeps his eyes closed and listens to himself breathe, feels the beat of Trent’s heart against his back.

The next Sunday when Ted goes up to Notting Hill, Trent’s by himself. "Her grandparents took her to Legoland," he says before Ted can even ask, and takes Ted upstairs to his bedroom.

Ted’s been in here a couple times but never in the afternoon light, spilling in from the windows onto the big wide bed underneath. He stands in the doorway for a minute while Trent goes to one of the bedside tables and sets his glasses down, unclasps his watch and tugs off the hair-tie he’s always got around his other wrist. He turns to Ted and Ted feels the pull of him, like an anchor in a storm.

Trent lets Ted strip him down, piece by piece, until he's lying naked on the bed, then pulls Ted down to lay beside him. They spend almost an hour like that, with Ted just… touching him. A part of him tries insisting that he ought to feel guilty for this, ashamed for being such a wuss when Trent is too patient already. But it’s swallowed up by the feel of Trent’s chest hair, the mole on his stomach that makes him breathe in sharp when Ted brushes against it, the bump of his kneecap and the roughness of the soles of his feet. Ted touches him and can’t be anything less than grateful at his luck, blinking away the sting in his eyes at how close he came to missing all of this.

 


 

They learn more about each other, sharing their history and their phobias and their favorite music. Trent loves Ella Fitzgerald and Pete Townsend; he'll tolerate Kenny Rogers but draws a firm line at Jimmy Buffett. Sadly for him, Seraphina turns out to be a born Parrothead (which may or may not be down to Ted sneaking in listening sessions with her whenever Trent's back is turned). Ted gets a text from Trent one day while he's at work: it's a video of Trent, glaring ferociously at the camera, while Seraphina marches back and forth behind him, yelling "SEARCHY FOR MY LOSS SHAKERASALL" over and over again.

"That almost makes me like him," Rebecca admits when he shows it to her.

"Almost?"

She purses her lips and hands him back the phone. "Don't push it."

Ted learns more about FIFA scandals than he ever thought he would, because it turns out Trent's writing yet another book, this time about Sepp Blatter (who Ted refuses to believe is a real person for almost a week). It's kind of neat to watch Trent working on something longer than an article or a match report; he gets wrapped up in it, printing out chapters to mark up and chewing absently on his pen while he mutters to himself, running his hand through his hair every thirty seconds until he gets sick of it and pulls it back, then getting annoyed with that and pulling out the hair tie. Ted just keeps bringing him coffee on days when he's doing his revisions, although he does mandate breaks for making out.

He also gets to guide Trent through a traumatic 48-hour saga after Seraphina breaks his glasses right in half while trying to get them to fit her face. Getting a new pair of glasses is, apparently, out of the question.

"You don't just throw something like this away because it's been broken," Trent says, squinting at the superglue instructions, the broken glasses forlorn on the kitchen table in front of him. "Here, read this, my daughter has destroyed my eyesight and I'll be taking her to the orphanage tomorrow."

"That'll require you to read Google Maps directions, so I'm guessing you'll have to wait until you get new glasses."

"I won't need new glasses if I fix these," Trent hisses, snatching the bottle back. "And I would think you of all people would appreciate repairing and not replacing."

Ted sighs and gets up, kissing the top of his head as he goes to get a beer. "Trent, they are busted, I don't know what else to tell you. It's not like that time I sewed up that seam in your jacket; these ain't coming back together with thread or superglue or a miracle from Heaven. You need to Marie Kondo these things, thank them for their service, and toss them." Which goes down about as well as a suggestion to Willie Nelson that he ease up on the mary jane.

In the end Ted finds identical frames on Ebay, right down to the serial number, and has them rush delivered. He even takes them to Trent's optometrist to get the right lenses put in. However, his plan to present them to Trent that night and get some thank-you sex out of it gets derailed when Trent instead launches into a big old lecture about the fast-fashion industry and how wanton consumerism will destroy the planet and that replacing perfectly good glasses is, somehow, fascism.

"Perfectly good glasses that were in two pieces," Ted points, out as patiently as he can.

"But—" Trent seems to run out of steam. "Fine, thank you," he sighs, in that reluctant way he sometimes gets that makes Ted want to strangle him and snuggle him at the same time.

"You're welcome."

Trent puts the new glasses on and makes a face, even though they're exactly the same as his old ones. But then they have sex anyway, and Trent even keeps them on, which Ted didn't know he was into but is glad for the discovery.

Afterward, Trent settles down on top of him for a little while and they talk about getting Seraphina her own set of glasses. "She just wants to be like her daddy," says Ted, running his finger gently along the earpiece. "Don't even have to put lenses in them, probably."

"Good thing, too. The last time she got hold of mine, she tried to clean them and I had to replace the lenses. At great expense."

"Yeah, your eyesight's pretty pricey," Ted agrees. "But how'd she ruin the lenses by cleaning them?"

Trent squeezes his eyes shut, clearly pained just by the memory. "She cleaned them with a rock."

They learn other stuff, too: favorite takeout foods (Trent's is Ethiopian and so is Ted's, once he tries it — mostly because English pizza is truly godawful), how they like their morning drinks (Trent prefers coffee too, although he's got a tolerance for tea that baffles Ted), political leanings (even though they don't always translate; Ted learns a lot about Brexit and why some of Trent's articles get people writing angry emails about how Trent should leave his "bloody Remoaner shite" out of football), and dozens of other little factoids about each other. 

But most of what Ted seems to be learning about is himself, or maybe it's himself when he's with Trent. He's still not sure what names fit him best now, but he doesn't feel much anxiety over it. He's forty-five years old; searching for definitions doesn't feel so urgent when he has so many other things to do. Winning games, and helping out his guys, and mapping out the freckles on Trent's back, and debating with Seraphina over which stuffed animals she'll sleep with tonight, and watching Henry's baseball game through a crappy video call so he can cheer along with Michelle when their son gets up to bat.

He's worried most of the time, exhausted all the time; it's hard work and hard to keep everything going. But it gets easier whenever he reaches out and finds Trent waiting for him, ready to hold on.

 


 

"So when do I get to take you out?" asks Ted. Or at least he tries to. There’s a lot going on — he's straddling Trent’s lap, with Trent sprawled back on Ted’s couch looking up at him with some serious Bette Davis eyes. He made Trent dinner tonight and Roy was right, that chicken cordon bleu recipe really got Trent all hot and bothered. Between that and the yoga classes he recommended, Ted needs to get Roy a gift basket or something.

"Out?" asks Trent, holding onto Ted’s hips and gently pulling and pushing at him, building a rhythm that he seems happy to to keep going indefinitely. Ted got rid of his tie earlier and mussed him up a little, and looking down at him now, he thinks that that Bridgerton show missed casting a good-looking baron or duke or something. Nobody’s pants have come off just yet, but Ted has high hopes.

"Yeah, on a date, you heard of them?" It’s getting harder and harder to talk as he gets — well, harder and harder. Trent looks as relaxed as ever, except for the way he's breathing, the hitch in his chest that lets Ted know that he’s enjoying himself. Ted feels kind of self-conscious — he’s never been the one on somebody else’s lap like this — but watching Trent watch him is worth any awkwardness. Ted already knows he’ll do a lot of things to get Trent Crimm’s attention.

"This isn’t a date?" Trent asks, raising his eyebrows. "Seems to fill a number of prerequisites."

"Well, there was dinner," Ted agrees, "And part of a movie." This has the anticipated effect of making Trent scowl and try to sit up, the better to argue that the Bring it On franchise is yet another example of American cinema not just beating a dead horse but turning it into some kind of zombie horse to lumber onward endlessly (Ted might be paraphrasing here), like he did for a good fifteen minutes before Ted turned off the TV and crawled into his lap. Which might have been Trent’s plan to begin with. He’s crafty like that. "I meant go out, like on a date. As in a restaurant or a carriage ride through the park or… I don’t know, you like opera? We could go to the opera."

"Ted, have you ever been to the opera?" Trent asks, and now that he’s sitting up he wraps his arms around Ted’s waist, so they’re up close and personal.

Ted moves his hips again, trying it out, and Trent’s arms tighten. That’s a good sign. He tries to remember what Trent asked him. "I saw Hamilton last summer on Disney Plus. That count?"

"Absolutely not," says Trent, and lifts his face up to kiss him. Ted’s really loving these kisses, the way Trent is sweet and mean in turns; it’s like a game. It’s kind of like soccer, actually, nothing Ted’s ever played but he’s having a lot of fun learning.

He also knows when Trent’s trying to duck an issue, and the last few weeks or so he’s added "making out with Ted Lasso" to his methods of ducking said issues. So Ted’s got to be the one to keep them on track. "Trent, I’m serious. Let me take you out."

That stops the kissing, which is a shame. Trent frowns up at him. "I don’t think that’s a good idea."

Some of Trent’s hair’s fallen into his face and Ted combs his fingers through it. Honestly he’ll take any excuse to stick his hands right in there. "What, you worried about being seen with me?" he teases, tucking it behind Trent’s ear.

"Yes," Trent says, right off the bat like he doesn’t even have to think about it, which is a little hurtful. But he turns to press his mouth against Ted’s palm, his hands big and warm on Ted’s back — keeping Ted in place, right where he’s supposed to be. "I’m a well-known football journalist and you’re a well-known football manager, and until recently I was covering your team. Being seen together in public, romantically, will have repercussions."

"Repercussions like what?" Ted asks. Rebecca’s warnings are already rising to the surface, though, like all those dead fish after Gene Kemblowski threw that stick of dynamite in the lake their sophomore year. "We didn’t start anything until after you stopped covering Richmond — you told your bosses before you told me, remember?"

"Vividly," says Trent, biting back a smile before his face gets serious again. "But that won’t matter, not to the press."

"Aren’t you part of the press?" Ted asks. "There’s a badge with a lanyard over there somewhere and everything."

"Yes, which is why they’ll probably be even more vicious," Trent says, and yep, Rebecca had said that too. "We’re not nice people."

"Oh I’m aware, I saw that documentary about Princess Diana," says Ted. "But it’s got to happen sooner or later, right? We can’t just stay in here forever."

Trent swallows, breaking eye contact. "No, we can’t."

"So what’s this really about?" Ted says, because he’s pretty sure it’s about something.

Trent sighs and leans forward, until his forehead is pressed up against Ted’s chest. "This is still very new to you, Ted," he says, his voice vibrating up Ted’s sternum in a way that’s kind of distracting, but he tries to focus. "I can’t expect you to take on the burden of coming out and revealing a boyfriend at the same time, especially without—"

"Boyfriend?" Ted says, perking right up. He puts his hands on Trent’s shoulders and pushes him back far enough to look him in the eye. "You know, you’ve been teaching me a lot of new terminology, but this is the first time that word’s come up."

Trent’s face is a real study, a mix between abashed and amused and kind of terrified. "I — apologize, I didn’t mean—"

"You absolutely did mean," Ted says, and kisses him — not one of the biting ones but softer, sweeter. "And for the record, yes, I liked that." He manages a dismount without kneeing Trent in the groin, and offers his hand. When Trent takes it, Ted pulls him close, close enough that Trent goes just a little bit cross-eyed trying to focus without his glasses. It’s the cutest dang thing and Ted’s never telling him about it. "How about I show you how much I liked it?"

They manage to get most of their clothes off by the time they get to the bedroom, and Ted gets the thrill of being the one to push Trent down on the bed for once. "All right, I've read the whole blowjob chapter—"

"This running textbook joke you have isn't nearly as amusing as you think it is," says Trent, but he's grinning at the same time.

"Rule Number Two, you've got to be honest," Ted reminds him, and grabs a pillow for his knees, kneeling down next to the mattress. Trent obligingly arranges himself in front of him, his cock already hard and leaking just a little, and Ted grabs the lube from the nightstand. "And I happen to know you think I'm hilarious."

"You bought 'Lubido Intimate Lubricant,'" Trent says, gesturing at the bottle. "With a dispenser pump. I do think you're hilarious, but perhaps not quite the way you think you're hilarious."

"This is not the kind of encouragement I was hoping to get for my first blowjob, Trent," Ted says, making a big disappointed face as he gets some lube into his hands and wraps it around Trent's cock. Trent's hips twitch upwards and his mouth shuts with a snap. "Mmhmm, that's what I thought."

He slides his hand up and down a few times, just savoring it — he loves doing this, truth be told, loves having all his attention focused on what Trent wants, what he needs. Ted had plans to pace himself here, see what he was comfortable with, but what if instead—

"Jesus Christ," says Trent, which sounds positive. Good thing, too, because Ted's got Trent's cock in his mouth and doesn't want to stop any time soon. It's bigger than he was expecting, slick with the lube and precome and sweet-sour on his tongue. 

Ted shuts his eyes and just… lets himself go, pressing down until he can't get any further, and he wants to stay there forever, breathing hard through his nose as Trent slides his hands into his hair, fingernails scratching. He's saying something but Ted can't really hear; it feels quiet and peaceful and—

"All right," Trent says, a little louder, and the hands in his hair are pulling him off. "As gratifying as it is to watch you choke on my cock, I do need you to breathe."

The most annoying thing about Trent is his ability to talk in complete sentences when he's about two seconds away from coming, and Ted tells him so.

"Thank you for your feedback," Trent says, and guides Ted right back onto his cock, finally.

Ted loses himself to the feeling, the slippery too-much of Trent's cock and the tense muscles of his thighs under Ted's hands, smell of him all around; the ache in Ted's knees even with the pillow, the stretch of his jaw, the sting of tears at the corners of his eyes as he tries to get more, further, anything.

Trent says something else and tugs at his hair again, but it's not fast enough — Ted almost inhales as Trent's come fills his mouth, salt-bitter and warm. He pulls away and coughs, wiping at his mouth and checking to see if Trent's all right. He's pretty sure he didn't catch him with his teeth, but it's startling when somebody comes halfway down your throat.

"That was," Trent says. He doesn't actually follow it up with an adjective, though.

"Look, I'll work on it," says Ted, only to get hauled up into bed alongside his boyfriend.

Trent eyes him appraisingly; Ted's got no idea how he gets more wound up after sex. "It was a remarkably good first effort," Trent tells him, "But allow me to give you some advice."

"What did you have—" Ted shuts up because Trent leans over and licks a long stripe up from the root to the tip of his dick, then sucks the head into his mouth and Ted just has to lie there and take lessons, as it were, from the master.

Trent keeps it going for longer than he did, backing off just when Ted's about ready to lose his mind, letting him settle a bit before getting him going again. When he finally comes, it's like a long inhale after holding your breath: sweet and necessary and making you tingle down to the tips of your toes.

He lies there just basking, spread-eagled on the bed with, he realizes, his undershirt and one sock still on. Trent, sitting up to lean over him, is completely naked, and Ted slides his hand up Trent's inner thigh to let his fingers brush against the hair at his groin. Trent inhales sharply but he doesn't seem to mind it. "Thoughts?" he asks Ted, as arch as any time he'd asked that same question in the press room.

"Well, it was a remarkably good first effort—" Ted says, or tries to, because Trent scowls at him and gets out of bed.

"You'd best have a spare toothbrush, Coach Lasso," he says. "Otherwise I'm using yours."

"After what we just did, that seems fine," Ted calls after him, and grabs his boxers from the floor to put them back on. By the time he gets to the bathroom Trent has indeed found the spare toothbrush; he notices Ted's wardrobe change and raises an eyebrow, but doesn't say anything.

Ted gets his own toothbrush and they have an interesting toothpaste-y discussion about the etiquette and hygiene of oral sex, which Ted should pay attention to but he gets distracted by the goosebumps along Trent's shoulders and arms, so he pulls his bathrobe off the peg and holds it up for Trent to get into.

Trent pauses in the middle of whatever he was saying about perineums and spits into the sink, putting his toothbrush down on the counter. Ted helps him put it on and finishes his own routine while Trent ties the belt.

"You look good in that," Ted says. "Although I do prefer the birthday suit, but this is less likely to give you pneumonia."

"I'm not going to get pneumonia in your bathroom," Trent says, but he kisses Ted softly and Ted’s about five seconds away from proposing a round two, however futile, when he remembers Trent had been saying something, earlier — and not just about taints.

"Without what?" he asks, with some difficulty, because Trent’s going for a hickey on his collarbone. Ted wants to encourage that, but he also wants to finish the conversation.

"What?" Trent mumbles against his neck.

"Before, when we were talking. You said you didn’t expect me to come out and tell everybody about my boyfriend," he draws the word out a little, mostly to watch Trent squirm but also mostly because he really does like it, "Without… something."

"Oh, yes, before you interrupted me by letting me fuck your face," Trent says, making a big show out of remembering. This leads to another digression while they hash out the exact definition of face-fucking, which by the end of it Ted's pretty sure they didn't do and also pretty sure he'd like them to do.

Trent's the one who gets them back on track after that. "I was going to say, I don't expect you to come out publicly without first telling those closest to you." He picks up his toothbrush and, after a second, puts it in the toothbrush mug.

"Oh, most of them know," Ted assures him, washing off his toothbrush and reaching around Trent to put it away.

Trent catches his wrist and takes the toothbrush out of his hand, putting it in the mug himself before turning Ted to fully face him. "Most of whom?" he asks, looking very suspicious.

Ted shifts back a little, wondering if he should offer Trent his other wrist. "Um, well, Beard, of course. Rebecca. Some of my other friends at the clubhouse. Michelle, obviously. We haven’t talked to Henry yet, but she got him a bunch of books about, you know, divorced parents and if they start dating other people. There’s one about gay penguins, too, which Henry’s been asking me a lot of pointed questions about, but I think he’s hoping I’m dating Beard, so we might need to let him down easy about that."

"So most of AFC Richmond and the entirety of Kansas are aware," says Trent. He leans back against the counter and, sadly, lets go of Ted's wrist. He looks like one of those spinny wheels on the computer when a program crashes. "And none of them have leaked anything to the press?"

"I think you’re overestimating how interesting we are," Ted says.

"Perhaps." Trent's brain clearly still going a mile a minute.

"Haven't you told any of your friends?"

That brings Trent back a little. "I think you're overestimating how many people I like," he says. "Besides, it seemed like tempting fate, a bit."

Ted sighs. "You’re just determined that this toast is gonna land jelly-side down, aren’t you?" he says, tugging on a lock of Trent’s hair that’s fallen across his forehead. "Get dust bunnies and dirt on it and everything."

"That metaphor is disgusting," says Trent, but there’s not a lot of heat to it. "I suppose I just don’t want you announcing anything before you’re ready."

"That sounds an awful lot like 'before I’m ready, too,'" Ted points out.

"I’m not afraid of this," Trent says, just a little too emphatic about it.

"Never said you were," Ted says. "But are there people you'd like to tell? Before we present ourselves formally to the Queen or whatever it is y'all do here?"

Trent gives him a flat look, but gets distracted by the actual question. "I — suppose you ought to meet Seraphina's grandparents," he says. "My in-laws, that is to say."

"Yes, I probably ought to," Ted says, as quick as he can without seeming too quick about it, although he probably botches it up. "And your parents, too, if you want."

"My parents already approve of you far too much," Trent says drily. "But that will have to wait until after the season, I'm afraid — they don't travel up to London except in direst emergency, and they've told me unequivocally that my 'handsome chap' doesn't qualify."

Ted likes Trent's parents already. "Okay, then. After the season."

Trent frowns. "I really do think—" 

This whole conversation is starting to ruin Ted's afterglow. "Trent Crimm, I am ready to tell people that I’m your boyfriend and more importantly, that you’re my boyfriend," he announces, putting his arms around Trent's shoulders. "But if you’re not, or not yet, then how about we follow Rule Number One and take it slow, all right? And make a plan."

"I’m listening," Trent says, dubious, but he’s squeezing Ted’s butt so that’s nice.

Ted thinks about it for a second, buying time by readjusting the lapels on his bathrobe. Trent does look very, very good in it. "All right, step one, you introduce me to the in-laws, see what they think. Step two, we’ll go have drinks with Beard and Higgins. See what they think."

"I’d venture to guess they think I’m an arsehole who doesn’t deserve you," says Trent mildly.

"That’s not — no, yeah, that’s a fairly accurate summation," Ted has to admit. "But this is your chance to change some hearts and minds. And hey, I'm betting the in-laws aren't my biggest fans neither." Trent makes an harrumphing sort of noise, so Ted kisses him and tries to remember what step they were on. "So yeah, when all of that goes great, I'll make us reservations somewhere fancy, one of those places that has the tire store stars." He draws a little star in the air with his finger.

"Michelin stars," Trent corrects him, with the kind of despairing tone that Ted loves to get out of him.

Ted smiles and gives him a kiss on his forehead as a reward. "That’s it, and we’ll go have a nice dinner and maybe go see a play, that’s a thing here, right? The West End and all that jazz? Ooh, is that Mousetrap play still going?"

"Christ," Trent mutters, and drags him back to bed.

 


 

Part one of their plan almost derails the whole dang thing, because Trent's in-laws more or less hate him on sight. Ted can't even blame them.

It starts out okay; he heads over the next Sunday a few hours early, with the stack of Bunnicula Easy-to-Read! books that had finally arrived. The plan is to meet Faye and Luke Turner when they drop Seraphina off, and charm their socks off with his friendly demeanor and dedication to reading.

"I think you may be overestimating the degree to which their socks can be charmed," Trent warns him, but he's impressed with the books, at least. "She's still a bit young, but she'll like the pictures."

Then the in-laws call up saying they'll be an hour or so late, which means Ted and Trent have at least an hour all to themselves. One thing leads to another, which leads up to the bedroom, and Ted gets to find out whether or not he actually does like it when Trent fucks his face (answer: yes, and boy howdy). Trent's also a big fan, if the way he loudly comes down Ted's throat is any indication, and hauls him up by the hair to kiss him, filthy and delicious. He then shoves Ted flat on his back and sucks him down like an Olympic champion, Ted so wound up that he lasts about thirty seconds. But they're a very good thirty seconds.

Just as Trent flops back on the bed next to him, both of them still breathing hard, the front door opens. An older woman's voice — an American one — says, "Trent! Trent, are you here?" There's more voices, an older British guy and Seraphina, chattering away about something.

"Shit," whispers Trent, lunging off the bed and making a grab for his pants. "I ought to have known that 'an hour late' would mean 'twenty minutes early.' Just a moment, Faye," he adds, calling that last part down the stairs.

Faye, a.k.a. Trent's sort-of in-laws, a.k.a. shit. Ted sits up, adrenaline pumping. "Should I—" hide under the bed is what he wants to suggest, but that didn't work in high school and it probably won't work now.

"Oh, God, I—" Trent crashes into the bathroom and swigs some mouthwash while he paws at his clothes, getting them more or less back on himself the way they're supposed to be. "They're expecting to meet you, so our options are to pretend you're not here and that you stood them up, admit you are here but pretend we were looking at etchings, or admit that you're here and we were having sex."

"You could always get them into the kitchen, I can sneak out and ring the doorbell," Ted says, getting himself re-zipped and re-buttoned while Trent ties up his hair. "That way they—"

"Trent?" says the lady from downstairs. "Is your… friend here? There's a coat left lying on the sofa. And some… books," she adds in kind of a judgy tone.

Trent closes his eyes. "Into the valley of death rode the six hundred," he mutters, then points at Ted. "Give me a few minutes, make yourself presentable."

"Hey," says Ted feelingly, but Trent just grins at him and gives him a kiss that flattens him right back down on the bed before disappearing out the door and down the stairs.

Ted does his best on the presentable front, washing his face and using Trent's mouthwash. He looks around for a brush to get his hair in some semblance of order after Trent had his way with it, but it's definitely been a few minutes by now, and since Trent's bed doesn't have enough room for him to hide under it, he goes downstairs.

Seraphina's in the living room with Peppa Pig playing on the TV and the Bunnicula books in her lap, leafing happily through the pictures. She pays him no mind when he kisses her on the top of her head, so he ventures into the kitchen. 

The in-laws are sitting at the table while Trent's fussing around with tea things at the counter; as soon as they see Ted, the temperature goes down to Arctic levels. "Hi there," he says, waving at them like an idiot.

Trent smiles at him, at least. "Luke, Faye, this is Ted Lasso. Ted, Seraphina's grandparents, Luke and Faye Turner."

"So," says Mr. Turner, looking more hostile than Baz on a bad night, "You're Richmond's infamous new manager. We've heard a lot about you."

Clearly they'd like to hear less. Ted glances over at Trent, who's rubbing at his eyebrows, and tries for a folksy smile. "Pleasure to meet you both," he says, offering his hand. "You've got a lovely granddaughter."

"We've already met," says Mrs. Turner as she shakes it. "You were Rebecca Welton's date to the RSPCA gala in November, weren't you?" Her accent's hard to place, but he doesn't need any help reading her attitude.

"Well, I'm always willing to help out in the plus-one department," he says, and wonders what the hell he even just said. "And Rebecca's a good friend."

"I'm sure," says Mrs. Turner.

"He was the one who helped me track down Seraphina after she ran off," Trent supplies as he hands out the tea. He's even busted out the actual cups with the saucers; Ted's no expert on British family politics, but that's probably a bad sign.

"Ah, yes," says Mr. Turner, "When you disappeared for the last half of the event and then went home before we could say goodnight to our granddaughter."

"Don't you want some tea, Ted?" asks Mrs. Turner.

"Oh, Ted doesn't—" says Trent, at the same time as Ted says, "Absolutely, that'd be peachy," which is around the same time that Ted notices the hickey on Trent's neck.

After a hugely uncomfortable fifteen minutes where Ted has to drink an actual cup of actual dirty leaf water, the Turners head out, giving Seraphina hugs and checking with Trent's schedule for the next week in low voices at the front door. Ted cowers in the kitchen for a little bit and only creeps in as far as the kitchen doorway, watching them maneuver around each other in the living room. There's a kind of rhythm to it, and he wonders how much he's throwing everything out of whack.

They say goodbye, although they don't mention that it was nice meeting Ted — probably because it wasn't. Trent shuts the front door and leans heavily against it, his forehead thudding against the wood.

"That could've gone worse," Ted offers.

Trent twists around, still slumped. "Faye just asked me if your mustache was real or something you'd found at a costume shop," he says. "Then Luke said, given how much Listerine he could smell, surely a fake one would have come off during our recent activities."

"So, probably couldn't have gone worse, then," Ted concludes sadly.

Trent chuckles and pushes himself off the door. "Think of it this way," he says, coming over to give him a kiss on the cheek. "At least you didn't spit on them."

"I feel like that's such a low bar I may just trip over it one of these days," Ted confesses, and kisses him back. They do smell a little like mouthwash, which least is better than that godawful tea.

Trent indulges him for a few minutes before pushing him toward the sofa. "All right, go explain this Bunnicula nonsense to Seraphina. I'm making sandwiches for lunch, and some coffee. I finally found that disgusting vanilla creamer you were on about the other day, so you should be happy."

"I am," says Ted, and sits down with Seraphina to exclaim over the pictures of Harold and Chester and their little vampire bunny pal.

Chapter Text

It's one thing for Ted to talk a big game in re: showing Trent off to other people, but he'll be the first to admit his follow-up could use a little work.

"What the fuck did you do to yourself?" Trent demands a week and a half later, hovering in the doorway to Ted’s bedroom.

"You were gonna wear your hair up for tonight?" says Ted, crestfallen.

Trent makes a constipated noise and zooms off back toward the kitchen, his sneakers squeaking on the hardwood floor.

Ted can’t really blame him for being grumpy. They'd managed to get Ted's, Trent's, Beard's and Higgins's schedules coordinated on Monday to meet up, only for Trent and Seraphina to fall prey to a cold that took them both out of commission for a couple days. Tonight's supposed to be their make-up get-together; Ted texted everybody this morning with instructions (Higgins was good cop, Beard was silent cop, and Trent had to stay away from the Glenfiddich) and told them all to meet at the Crown & Anchor at eight.

Then the six-thirty Vinyasa Yoga for Beginners class happened, and then a trip to the emergency room (which aren't called emergency rooms here), and then some very effective painkillers. Ted's not entirely sure how he got from the cab up to his apartment, but he does remember sending Trent a message explaining the situation once he'd gotten himself in bed and figured out how to plug in his phone.

It's not until Trent comes back with a beer from the fridge to sit on the edge of the bed that Ted thinks to ask—

"How'd you get in, anyway?" Not that he's objecting in any way, shape, or form. Especially form, since Trent's got such a nice one. Particularly when he drinks from a bottle like that. Makes a man think all sorts of things about that mouth.

Trent coughs a little. "You are aware that you're saying all of that out loud, correct?" He puts the beer on the nightstand and picks up the bottle of pills Ted dumped there when he emptied his pockets before hopping into (and more or less landing on) the bed. "Oh dear," he says as he reads it over.

"Yes, sweetheart?" Ted replies, cheered up that it only took breaking his ankle to move them into the pet names stage. He should go out and break his other ankle to make sure.

Trent laughs for some reason and pulls off his shoes. "I seriously doubt it's broken," he says while he takes off his jacket and tosses it over back of the armchair. He's not wearing a tie today, opting for his t-shirt-under-a-button-down-under-a-jacket look, but there's something about him that makes Ted feel like he's emotionally loosening his tie. Or spiritually, or maybe sexually. Ted's flattered, but he's pretty sure he's not supposed to have sex with a broken ankle. "Well in that case, I hope it isn't broken," says Trent, and climbs up next to Ted, all of him right there in reach.

Ted reaches, and gets Trent on top of him like a big pointy blanket. Trent tries rolling off again but Ted took wrestling in high school so Trent doesn't have a chance in hell.

"We'll revisit that later," says Trent, wisely giving up the struggle, "But I'm absolutely not doing anything with you in this condition."

"Can we do this, though?" Ted asks hopefully, smoothing his hands down Trent's back. "I like you here. You’re just so… long."

Trent props himself up on his elbows so he can down at Ted with one eyebrow all the way up.

"Not like that," Ted huffs, and the other eyebrow takes off. "Okay, yeah, like that too, but I was meaning more that I really like your body. And you, as a person," he adds, because Trent shouldn't get the wrong idea here. "But also your body. That's how I broke my ankle, did I tell you that? I was doing uh… Tree Pose? I think it's called, and I thought about you and I got all scrambled, and let me tell you what, being scrambled when you're trying to balance on one foot and put your other foot on your knee does not make for a good omelette."

Trent frowns, and Ted gets fascinated by the lines bracketing his mouth. "You injured yourself doing yoga?" says Trent, slapping his hand away.

Ted puts his hand back on Trent's back. "Yeah, Roy recommended it. Said it's good for shagging, which I have to tell you is an amazing word for sex, although I keep thinking about that Shaggy Dog movie, from the seventies? Not sexy. But you are, and there's some poses that can help out, with sex. Or shagging. Especially once we get to anal sex, which I've been getting more on board with, I should tell you. I was kind of worried about butt stuff at first, you hear all sorts of things and I didn't want to bring it up until you brought it up, but the last time we tried the old frottage cheese and we were getting all enthusiastic about it, you remember that?"

"I do," says Trent, pretty evenly, but Ted's an observant fellow and he can tell when Trent's trying not to laugh at him. Which doesn't happen often, Trent's pretty comfortable laughing at him.

"Well, at one point your dick sort of slipped, I guess that's not the technical term — is there a technical term for that? And you pushed right up against there and I just about came so hard I blacked out. Seeing stars and everything. So I'll probably like it, or at least I hope I will, and I'm thinking we should try it sometime, but that's why I'm taking some yoga to help for that because I'll tell you, Trent, some of those positions in the textbook look advanced, did you know there's one called the pile-driver?"

"All right, that's enough of that," says Trent, and kisses him. It's a nice kiss, the one Trent gives him when he's being affectionate but doesn't want to admit it. It's Ted's favorite. "I really need to burn this textbook of yours."

"What?" he says, trying to remember what they were talking about.

Trent brushes some of Ted's hair off his forehead, which is nice of him. "Try to get some rest, Ted," he says, and that's the last thing Ted remembers for a few hours.

He wakes up with cottonmouth and a throbbing ankle. Trent's sitting cross-legged on the bed next to him, tapping away on his phone. For a guy who still wanders around everywhere scribbling stuff down into a notebook, Trent's actually pretty fast with the thumb-typing; Ted's seen him write up whole articles like that, hunched over with his glasses sliding down his nose every five seconds.

"Hey," he says, and manages to sit up and land a kiss on Trent's shoulder. "What time is it?" He remembers the yoga class and the hospital and most of his and Trent's chat from before, but there's a lot of holes — such as how Trent got in, for one thing.

"Half-nine," says Trent, which means nine-thirty in American. His hair's got that weird bend to it that it gets when he's had it pulled back for most of the day. "Coach Beard has already been alerted that we wouldn't be coming out tonight and said he would let Higgins know."

"You've got Beard's number?" Ted asks, surprised.

"I have now," Trent says, still typing. "I sent him a message via Twitter, which fortunately he checks a great deal more often than you do, and we exchanged contact information in the event that you do grievous bodily injury to yourself again."

"I suppose I should've seen this coming," Ted muses, "You two conspiring against me."

"I have thus far not been invited into the Diamond Dogs, so you needn't worry," says Trent, still frowning at his phone. He has it opened to Twitter, so maybe he and Beard are working out a Ted Minding schedule. Probably wouldn't be the worst idea.

"I'm more worried how you managed to break into my apartment," says Ted, although he's not, really — it seems like a handy skill to have. Besides, if he gets to wake up next to Trent on the regular he'll happily deal with some light B&E.

"Fortunately, you've informed me multiple times that you keep a spare set of keys in the odd little decorative vase in the communal hallway," Trent says. He stops his thumbs whirling around for a second, looks hard at something on his phone, then pushes a button and tosses it on the nightstand before turning his full attention to Ted. "By the way, I've confiscated that set. I don't care how much you like Indiscreet, it's an appalling security risk. If you ever do lock yourself out, you'll just have to call me, as opposed to sending me an incomprehensible text."

Since Ted has been repeatedly telling Trent about those keys in the hopes that the hint would be taken, he's too busy basking in victory to take umbrage at the tone. "Well, clearly whatever incomprehensible text I sent still got you here," he says, and with one last shoulder-kiss he tries swinging his legs over to stand. The sprain's pretty bad, but he's had worse and mostly he's just annoyed at himself for ruining their plans.

"Do you need help?"

"Pretty sure brushing my teeth and seeing to nature are still things a man has to do for himself." Ted limp-hops in what is no doubt a very attractive way to the bathroom. After he deals with his bladder and his teeth, he tries getting his hair to do something other than the patented Lasso Bedhead Special of half-flat-half-mohawk. He gives up after a minute or two; Trent's already seen him, not much point now.

When he comes back out, Trent's made himself comfortable on the bed, sprawled out like he's Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, although sadly he does still have his shirts on. Still, he doesn't look like he's got plans to go home any time soon. "Hello again," says Ted, and shuts off the bathroom light.

"I'd like to revisit some topics we discussed earlier this evening," says Trent, "If you've no objection."

"I probably don't, but who knows," Ted says honestly, half-crashing back onto the bed. "The hours between the hospital and about five minutes ago are a little blurry. Did I talk about high school wrestling?"

"That's certainly a subject of interest," says Trent, and there's something exhilarating about the way he immediately turns on his side to put his hand under Ted's shirt, warm against his heart.

"I'll bet." Ted gets his arm under Trent's head and gets him a little closer, because it's Friday night and neither of them have a game and Seraphina is at her grandparents' place until tomorrow morning. Sprained ankle or not, Ted likes the idea. "What else is a subject of interest, Trent Crimm from the Independent?"

"Earlier, you claimed to have broken your ankle doing yoga in the interests of having better sex," he says, scratching his fingers down along Ted's stomach. "Don't you worry that might send the wrong message, given that I've been reliably informed the other party has no intention of taking up said pastime?"

Ted's not ticklish, but he still shivers — which is good, because otherwise he'd be covering his face in embarrassment. Trent seems to enjoy that, though. "All right, first off, if the sex gets much better, I'll be going to the ER for a whole 'nother reason," he says, shifting so that he can grab one of the pillows under his head and stuff it under his calf. "Second, maybe you should try it — I sure would love seeing you in some of those yoga pants. Third, it was a sprain, nothing's broken. And fourth, it's not for better sex, it's more for… what's the word, pre-emptive planning. For future sex."

"'Future sex,' I see. Such as?" Trent asks, all but batting his eyes as he runs the backs of his fingers just under the waistband of Ted's boxers. Ted really hopes he isn't using this interview technique on anybody else, otherwise the whole country's state secrets will get turned right over.

"All right, I'm a little hazy but I'm pretty sure I told you what 'such as' I was thinking about," he says, trying not to sound defensive. "Off the record, of course."

"Of course," says Trent, and now he's stuck his hand right down Ted's boxers to give him some quick, hard pulls — not that Ted's dick needs a lot of encouragement by now. He tries kicking his boxers off but his ankle doesn't much like that, so Trent gets up to help out and gets Ted's t-shirt off, too. 

Then he stands there for a little bit, looking at Ted from the foot of the bed. Ted's mostly gotten over his issues as far as being naked with another man, but he can't help noticing Trent's still fully dressed. "You care to join me, there?"

"No," Trent says. He takes his hair tie off his wrist and puts his hair back, then starts rolling up his sleeves. It's sexy and intimidating at the same time, which is pretty much Trent Crimm in a nutshell. "I'd like to try something else, if you don't mind."

"Experience indicates that I won't, so sure," says Ted, even though his hands are twitching with the desire to cover up with a blanket.

Which is when Trent climbs right on top of him, clothes and all. "Before I forget, there's something else we should discuss," he says, looking serious. "You proposed 'sweetheart' as a term of endearment, which I've no objection to, but have you any thoughts as to what you'd like me to call you?"

Most of Ted's thoughts are focused on finding out what it is Trent wants to try, but he drags what brain cells he can back to the question. There aren't a lot to spare. "Uh, not at present, but I'll get back to you."

"Excellent," Trent says, and kisses him again before moving downward in a very promising direction. He gets comfortable between Ted's legs, which has a whole lot of visual appeal — Ted sits up far enough to get more pillows behind him, making a couple of adjustments so he's sure not to miss a thing.

Trent props his head on his hand to wait for him to get done, his other one making idle patterns on Ted's thigh. "Ready?" he says, only making fun a little bit. There's a bottle of one of Trent's fancy lubes next to Ted's knee, and Trent's fingers leave a shiny streak where he's touching him.

"Now that I've got a front-row seat, I'm all—" and Ted never gets to finish his joke because Trent takes the head of his cock right into his mouth. No big show about it, just swallowing him down and all of a sudden Ted's world is pressure and pleasure and soft, wet warmth. Ted wants to watch every second, or maybe lay back and take it, or maybe push his hips up into Trent's beautiful mean mouth. "Fuck," he decides on, before remembering they have to keep it down for Ms. Shipley's sake. He can feel Trent's slick fingers just behind his balls, stroking gently before circling around his hole. He twitches, his body caught between instincts, and Trent slides off with an absolutely filthy sound. 

"Do you like this?" he asks, his mouth — that mouth, Jesus — quirking up in a little smile while his fingers press a little, just a bit, just enough to drive Ted absolutely out of his mind.

"I don't like that you stopped," Ted says. He tries not to sound too whiny but it's the cruelest thing Trent's ever done, and he's the one who asked Ted about the offside rule when he was less than a week into the job. "I like it, I promise."

"Well then," Trent says, and he puts his mouth back on Ted just as his finger slides in, easy as anything.

Ted's got just enough time to clap his hand over his mouth before he comes right down Trent's throat. Trent is still watching him; Ted can't look away, but it doesn't save him because he can't see Trent pushing his finger in a little bit more until it's too late — Ted can't come again but it's like his body won't listen, filling him up and flooding his brain, leaving it clean and empty and quiet.

He comes back around to this plane of existence a few seconds later, Trent looking self-satisfied between his legs while he uses Ted's undershirt to clean off his hands. "Welcome back," he says, smiling.

"Glad to be here," Ted says, still breathing heavily. He feels like Laura Dern, trying to get all the controls to his brain switched back on before he gets eaten by a raptor.

"As am I," says Trent, and crawls back up the bed. "So, Coach Lasso," he says, settling down half-over him, "Any thoughts on the performances so far?"

"Well, it was a quick first half, I'll have to admit, but I'm real hopeful we can make a comeback." Trent gives him his you're-amusing-but-you-haven't-answered-the-question look, so Ted takes another few seconds to actually think about it, sort out the endorphins from everything else. "It was kind of overwhelming, I'll be honest. But in a good way, like when you're eating really great ice cream and you get an ice cream headache, but you want to keep going."

"Not the first time I've been compared to a migraine, but certainly the most flattering," says Trent. He's hard in his pants, though, so at least Ted was putting on a good show.

"Can I try it?" Ted asks, their hands tangling together at Trent's belt. "The um, is there a term for that? The rusty trombone?" He knows that terms's got something to do with the butt and the dick at the same time, but he's unclear on the specifics. He should check the index of his textbook, see if they've got it listed somewhere.

"I'm certainly not calling you that," Trent huffs while he gets his pants and his briefs down. "But for now, I just want—" He shifts until he can push up against Ted, hips pressing him down into the mattress. "I need—"

"Oh, I know what you need," Ted says, "Hold on." He wriggles over until he's on his stomach; he feels kind of silly, but the way he can hear Trent's breathing get a little faster is its own reward.

Trent doesn't need any more encouragement than that; he lays on top of him, his cock hot and wet between Ted's thighs, the lube already making things nice and slick. "Oh," murmurs Trent, "Oh, that's—" He grabs onto Ted's shoulder to get leverage, his other hand smoothing down Ted's side. "That's—"

"Mm, you take what you need, sweetheart," he says, thankful that Trent can't see him grinning against the pillow. "Come on, now." He's not getting hard again but it's still working for him, working just fine for him — the slide of Trent's cock, but also the grip of his fingers, the soft brush of his shirt, the warmth of his breath. Trent's not thinking about how to get him off or what he likes best; all he's thinking is about what he wants, and he wants Ted.

After another few minutes, Trent tenses and comes with a low moan, that same one that features in a lot of Ted's daydreams these days. (All of them, really.) It's messy and slippery and apt to be sticky pretty soon, but neither of them try to move just yet. Instead Ted closes his eyes and breathes in the smell of him, sweat and cologne and whatever fancy shampoo he use.

One of these days Ted's going to have to figure out how to put into words this feeling he's got — this bewildered grateful terrified joy in his chest that he's never felt before, might not have ever felt, if Trent hadn't finally lost his cool and confessed his big gay feelings by calling Ted a penis on his own front stoop.

Because Ted's never really been… wanted before. Not really, not like this. He's gotten affection and warmth and intimacy, and he returned them because he thought they were the whole of what you got. He loved Michelle with a stubborn panic that there could be any other way to love, and as usual she'd been the smarter of the two of them, figuring it out first.

But with Trent, with them together — that want just keeps building, an itch that you satisfy only to flare up again a few seconds later. Ted's not worried about affection and warmth and intimacy; Trent's long since stopped being able to fool him, and he knows what he's seeing when they look at each other. It's this — this, here in this bed — that still surprises him, every time. Ted has a sneaking suspicion it always will.

Eventually, Ted does try to get up. Trent complains about it, although he doesn't use actual words so much as make a disgruntled humming sound like an irritated bumblebee. "Fine, but you're the one with the messy clothes," Ted tells him, managing to roll over at least enough to get Trent tucked into his side. "Don't blame me when you're the one having to wait for the dryer to finish cycling at three am."

"I probably will," says Trent, getting his leg over Ted's thighs. "As… as long as it's all right with you that I'm here at three am." He doesn't quite put a question mark at the end of the sentence, but it's close.

"I suppose so." Ted makes a face like he's considering it, even as he pulls him in closer. "You really like being on top of me that much?"

"Yes," Trent says. "I like being your big pointy blanket."

 


 

Ted's ankle is mostly fine by the next morning, which means he gets to wake Trent up with coffee and a blowjob before he has to head to the clubhouse for Game Day. Trent in the morning is a whole different animal than the guy Ted usually sees, sleepy and about a half-second behind events, but he's very appreciative.

"Which one did you appreciate more, though?" Ted has to ask, pulling on his track pants and rummaging around in the closet for his one clean Richmond hoodie. "The coffee or the blowjob?"

Trent takes a big drink of his coffee and doesn't answer.

"You are cruel and unusual," Ted informs him.

"So I hear," says Trent, and gets out of bed to kiss him on the cheek. "Run along now, darling, I'll be sure to lock up."

Ted's halfway down the stairs before "darling" hits him right between the eyes and he has to go back up there to express his approval. He ends up ten minutes late to work.

It's freezing cold for the game, but that seems to work in their favor, everybody on Richmond's team going double-time. Sam and Dani are really working their Vulcan mind-meld ability to know where the other one is, which gets them two goals, and then Sam gives Jamie an assist with a third goal to clinch it. They're not going to be wearing BFF necklaces any time soon, but Sharon's right: they don't need to be friends to be a team. It still breaks Ted's heart a little, though.

Beard's the one to suggest that Trent join them at Mae's after the game. "Might as well get us while the endorphins are going," he says, bland as a banana. Higgins is in, so Ted sends Trent a message to see if he wants to stop by once Arsenal's game wraps up.

They're on their way over before he gets an answer: If Mae does a Round For The WAGs and includes me, I'm leaving immediately. Which seems like a fair condition, and Ted accepts. By the time they get to the bar, the crowd's thinned out and nobody's swarming them. 

But there's a bigger problem. "Uh, fellas?" asks Ted, spotting the two women in the corner booth waving at them. "Did you invite Julie and Jane along?"

Higgins looks confused. "I thought this was a group outing?"

"I just thought it'd be funny," says Beard.

Ted's got enough time to text a warning before Trent arrives, but the rest of the night goes okay. Higgins and Julie are both won over pretty fast with the discovery that Trent has a daughter; Beard doesn't say much, but Jane works at the place that published Trent's last two books and is working with him on his next one, which means they hate some of the same people. 

Ted tries running interference as best he can, but after about twenty minutes in Julie says, "Ted, fancy a game of darts?"

"Oh, yes!" says Jane, very bright and smiley, which makes Ted immediately suspicious.

Sure enough, Beard and Higgins declare their intention to stay put, staring at Trent (more specifically, Beard stares and Higgins kind of hopefully smiles at him). "I believe I'm supposed to remain here and be interviewed," says Trent, stealing Ted's still-mostly-full glass of beer.

"Oh, how the turntables," says Ted, which neither Higgins nor Trent seem to understand. "Didn't y'all get The Office over here?"

That seems to confuse things even more, but Julie and Jane drag Ted off to teach them how to play. They're both pretty good for beginners, and Ted uses his off hand to keep it fair, although he does almost get Baz right in the eyebrow once while he's trying to peer over the crowd and see how Trent's getting along.

"Leslie told me this was still on the 'down low,'" whispers Julie while Jane's taking her turn. "But I have to say, Ted, he's a bit of all right, isn't he? Lovely hair."

"I keep telling him he should be doing shampoo commercials," says Ted, wondering if this classifies as girl talk.

"One of those ones by a waterfall or something," Jane agrees, retrieving her darts. "Plus, he actually sends his drafts in on time. Hope he goes like a dredger for you, Ted."

Ted's not sure what that last thing means, but it seems positive so he thanks her for the support. 

Julie gets surprisingly competitive once she understands the rules, so it's almost an hour until Ted can get back to the table. "How's everybody doing over here?" he asks, sliding in next to Trent. They all look like they're in one piece; Higgins looks pleased about something, and even Beard's got his arms crossed in a faintly approving way.

"I drank your beer," says Trent, but he's smiling while he's saying it.

"That's only fair," Ted says, smiling back, the whole right side of him warm and pressed up next to him.

"So! This was lovely," says Julie, prodding at her husband, "And we really should be going home, but it was so nice meeting you, Trent, we must do this another time."

"Oh, yes, absolutely, always nice when friends get together!" Higgins says, and gives Ted possibly the most unsubtle of subtle thumbs-up.

Beard and Jane seem ready to go, too, so they all head out to walk home or get a cab or, in the Higginses' case, walk back to the clubhouse to retrieve the car. Beard makes the "quick chat" face at Ted, so he leaves Trent and Jane to their intricate scheme of revenge against some editor who's done them both dirty.

"Well?" asks Ted, bouncing a little on his toes.

Beard nods his head.

Ted gets it. "Nice callback." He takes a deep breath, and then another, looking over at where Trent and Jane are waving their hands at each other while they plot. "What'd he say to win you over?"

"That you were playing right-handed," says Beard, and claps him on the shoulder. "Nice draft pick, Coach."

"Thanks, Coach," says Ted, and watches as Jane and Beard pair off, arm in arm.

Trent's watching them too. "That woman," he says as Ted walks over, "Is one of the most terrifying people I've ever met."

That's a real pot and kettle situation as far as Ted's concerned. "Didn't you once make Vinnie Jones cry?"

"I'm mildly impressed you know who Vinnie Jones is."

"'Course," Ted says, trying to look as innocent and earnest as he possibly can. "I watched every episode of Galavant."

Trent laughs, loud enough that passers-by glance over at them. "I absolutely should have seen that coming," he says, shaking his head. 

"You absolutely should've."

"So?" asks Trent, looking up at him, and Ted could swear on a stack of bibles that he's nervous. "Did I pass the test?"

"Oh, flying colors," says Ted. "I knew you would. You're a charmer, Trent, I keep telling you. Could sweet talk the pants off a preacher, though from what I hear in the news sometimes that's not as difficult as it ought to be."

"I can think of someone else's pants I'd like to remove, actually," says Trent, stepping just a little bit closer than the regulation friendly distance Ted's been trying to keep in mind this whole night.

"Really?" asks Ted. "Anybody I know?"

 


 

They catch a cab back to Trent's place, despite Ted's apartment being all of a block away; Ted's grateful, since the idea of walking that far without touching Trent has become absolutely detestable. They're prevented from getting too fresh with each other by the driver, who recognizes Ted from TV and starts peppering him with questions about Chicago.

"Pretty sure you've been there more than I have," Ted whispers to Trent at one point, but Trent just smiles and slides his hand up another inch on Ted's thigh. "Stop that, or I'll forget all the points I need to make to George here about deep dish pizza."

They make it out of the cab and up the stairs and into the house without incident, but Ted's hanging by a thread here so he's not entirely responsible for picking Trent up and slamming him against the wall. Or more accurately, he is responsible, but he doesn't regret it.

"This is a new experience for me," Trent confesses, laughing, his head tilted back so Ted can bite at his neck right where those stupid ties won't cover. "I don't think I realized you can do this."

"With enough motivation," Ted says, "And stretching." He keeps his hands tight on the backs of Trent's thighs, using the leverage to grind into him. He just wants so much — voracious for it, hungry like he's been starved for years.

"Maybe there is something — oh — to this yoga after all," Trent gasps, his thighs tightening around Ted's waist and moving with him, pulling Ted's head back with a hand in his hair so he can look down at him. Ted whines, so close already, and Trent's smile is sharp as a knife. "Very good, darling," he says, low and purring.

"All right," says Ted, to himself as much as to Trent, "I'm not coming in my pants like this is junior prom." He sets Trent down carefully, already missing him now that he's a whole half-foot away.

"Coach Lasso," Trent says, grinning, "Would you mind expanding—"

"I would, yes, get your butt upstairs," Ted says, and hustles him up into his bedroom where he pushes Trent against the wall.

"This is somewhat familiar," Trent murmurs, although he looks gratifyingly surprised when Ted gets to his knees.

"I'm sure you didn't have any trouble keeping your hands to yourself all night," Ted tells him, "But not getting to touch you was driving me crazy, so if you don't mind?"

Trent looks down at him, eyes wide and dark. "I don't mind," he says, carding his hand through Ted's hair.

"Good," Ted mutters, and yanks Trent's pants and underwear down and finally, finally gets his mouth on him. Trent's hand drifts to the back of his neck, soothing, and Ted pushes in a little further, a little more, sweat and sex on his tongue, his harsh breaths through his nose the loudest thing he can hear. It's still not enough — Ted pulls off and pushes Trent's clothes down the rest of the way, getting them off one leg so he can haul Trent's thigh over his shoulder. He's done this before with women, opened them up to his mouth and fingers, and a distant part of his brain is a little smug knowing that it works just fine on guys, too, if the way Trent thumps his head on the wall is any indication.

"Ted," he says after a minute, his breathing fast but sounding as calm as ever, "I'm going to come down your throat." And he does, Ted swallowing around him, taking what he's given and wanting more.

Ted pulls off and takes his first real breath in a while; his vision's a little swimmy, but fortunately his lungs remember how to breathe after a few seconds. He's so hard it hurts, but when he tries to get his belt undone Trent disentangles himself and pulls him up.

"Oh, no," Trent says, walking him backward toward the bed. "I have plans for you."

They're good plans. There's the plan about getting naked, which Ted approves of, then the plan of Trent kissing him while he jerks him off, which he really approves of, then the plan of fingering him in long, lazy thrusts, which he approves of most of all. 

"In the spirit of Rule Two," says Trent, pressing long fingers into him, "I should tell you that keeping my hands off you all night was amongst the most difficult things I've ever done."

"Well," Ted pants, "Your hands are on me now."

Trent smiles "They are. Do you like it?" He slides out, then back in, a slow rocking that Ted can feel everywhere, like the rumbled prayers at church or the roar of the wind across the plains or the crashing hush of the sea. Ted arches his back and wonders if this is a kind of prayer, if there's a god out there who can hear him, if he cares at all.

"I love," he says, and can't think of any other words.

 


 

He wakes up disoriented, with the bedroom all turned around and shaped weird, until he realizes he’s not at his apartment. Then he’s disoriented because he’s alone, the other side of the bed hardly warm at all. He finds his boxers and shirt and heads downstairs barefoot to see where his boyfriend's got to.

Where he’s got to is the little balcony off the kitchen, leaning over the railing. There’s hot coffee in the French press and Ted pours himself a cup with plenty of cream and sugar before opening the sliding doors — and getting hit with the most godawful smell.

Trent shoots about a foot in the air and spills his coffee everywhere. "Shit," he says, furiously mashing out a cigarette on the railing.

"Trent Crimm, what on earth." Ted waves away at the stink. "You're a smoker now?"

Trent stares at him for a second, the smushed-up evidence still in his hand. "I've really no idea how to answer that."

Ted looks around until he spots the pack of cigarettes tucked into a little ledge above the door, half-empty with a lighter kept inside just like his friends used to do in high school. "These things'll kill you," he says, shaking it at Trent.

"I have one cigarette in the morning, I'll take the risk," says Trent, making a grab for the pack. "You should be grateful. I used to smoke a pack a day until Seraphina came along."

"Oh, I'm grateful all right." Ted lets him have it back but sneaks a kiss in the meantime. "Ugh, morning breath and coffee and nicotine, horrible combo," he says, and takes a drink of his own coffee to handle it. "Although this does explain a lot in regards to your spookability."

Trent glares at him. "My what."

Ted glares right back, because his boyfriend doesn't get to be huffy right now. "You trying to tell me you're not as high-strung as a cat in a rocking-chair factory? Four years of nicotine withdrawal would give anybody the jumps, I suppose."

"Very funny, give me your coffee since you made me spill mine."

"I'm sorry, I don't share beverages with smokers. Nasty aftertaste." But he does make breakfast while banishing Trent upstairs for a shower and some serious time with the toothbrush, and they have breakfast in bed, getting crumbs and coffee stains all over the sheets.

 


 

Turns out London's got a lot of Michelin-rated restaurants, dozens of the suckers, so Ted ends up making a list on his laptop so he can sort them easier. He takes some out of contention altogether (he doesn't care how many stars it's got, he's not going to Gordon Ramsay's place) and arranges the rest of them with a few different criteria, mostly based around if Trent likes eating that sort of food.

Still, deciding on one is harder than Ted thought it would be. Part of him wants Trent to just pick something, but he also wants to be able to pick the restaurant Trent would have picked. So he's understandably having some difficulties.

"You do know it's all right if you don't want to do this," Trent tells him, peering at him over his book. It's a drizzly Tuesday evening; their schedules lined up weirdly this week, which means they've had most of the day to themselves. Actually, that's not true: Trent's still got to finish his article about the recent spate of injuries on Arsenal's team and Ted needs to review footage of last night's game.

But instead, Trent proposed some shower sex when he first came over, which Ted was all for — until he found out why.

"I am going to say on the record," Ted said as he waved around the box holding the MicroLax Complete Wash Enema Kit, "That I have some reservations about this. I used one of these when I had a colonoscopy a few years ago and I was not a fan."

Trent just smiled and plucked it out of his hands. "Yes, but it may be useful to learn the fundamentals now, while we're still at the… shall we say preliminary stages."

"So is this some sort of very roundabout constructive criticism of my… roundabout?" Ted asks, trying not to pout.

"No, you've been remarkably tidy," Trent told him, which made Ted's eyebrows go all the way up. "And I don't expect it will be a regular event. But as I said, one should always have a firm grasp on the fundamentals."

"I'll firmly grasp your fundamentals," Ted muttered.

"Besides," Trent added brightly, completely ignoring him, "You may find you enjoy it. Plenty of people do, especially ones as… enthusiastic as you've been."

Ted scrubbed his face, feeling it hot and red under his hands. "All right, but this is highly embarrassing."

"I like you embarrassed," Trent pointed out, mild as milk.

Ted snatched the box back and glared at him. "Yes, I am aware of that, sweetheart."

But a few minutes of embarrassment was worth it for Trent crowding him into the shower stall afterward, getting three fingers inside him while he murmured damp praise along Ted's shoulder. Ted pressed his forehead against the tile and just felt it, breathing through the stretch and burn of it, not able to talk or even think until he came, Trent telling him how well he'd done, how beautifully he'd taken it.

Now they're hanging out on the couch, Trent's icicle feet tucked under Ted's thigh while he reads some book with a faded title Ted can't read from here. Ted's scrolling through some of the reviews for a place called Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which he feels might be a little on the nose for the name of a restaurant.

"I do want to do this," he assures Trent, rubbing his bony ankle, sliding his hand up under the too-big sweatpants Trent's wearing now so he can feel the rough-smooth hair on his calf. "I just don't get Yelp sometimes. This turkey here gave the place one star because it was raining. She was inside but apparently the rain spoiled the ambiance."

Trent looks at him over the tops of his glasses and Ted folds like a cheap suit. 

"I mean, sure I'm nervous about it, but it's not like I don't want to be seen with you."

"I should hope not, I've been reliably informed that I'm a catch," Trent says, shutting his book with his finger holding the page. Ted's thought about getting him some bookmarks, but Trent seems to prefer this, waving a book around at him while they talk. "But I meant the entire ordeal. It's not just the restaurant."

Ted always gets distracted by the way Trent says "restaurant," but this is a serious conversation. "Aren't you nervous?" Ted asks. "You didn't even want to do this before."

"Because it was a bit early to be making public statements and all the rest of it," says Trent, wiggling his toes under Ted's legs. "It still is, if I'm brutally honest — it'll only be two months on Tuesday."

Ted frowns, because that's not right. "It's been two and a half months."

"Ted," sighs Trent, "I'm fairly sure America doesn't count days differently, and we only started seeing each other the tenth of January."

"Yeah, but you kissed me on December twenty-second," Ted argues.

Trent blinks at him for a minute. "Leaving aside the fact that you kissed me," he says slowly, a smile spreading all over his face, "Do you mean to tell me that you think our relationship started then?"

"Well, I wasn't kissing anybody else," Ted says primly, before remembering — "Wait, no, Mae really laid one on me New Year's Day after we won against Blackburn, I'll cop to that one."

"Yes, but that interval was intended for you to make up your mind as to whether you wanted to kiss anyone else," Trent says, still looking incredulous.

"Come on, now," Ted scoffs. "Like I wasn't a sure thing."

Trent reopens his book, fingers fussing at the top of a page. "So I'm beginning to realize. But going back to our original topic, coming out is always difficult, regardless of circumstance. There's nothing wrong with having some doubts."

"Did you ever have to — do something like this?" Ted asks. "Before?"

"Did I ever date a celebrity, do you mean?" Trent asks, clearly tickled pink by the question. "No, thank God. You're a tremendous amount of trouble." And he makes a big deal about going back to his book.

"Very funny," says Ted, and pokes him until he looks up again. "I mean, did you ever have to — what was it like, telling the world you were gay?"

That's a clumsy term for it, but Trent just makes a considering noise to himself and shuts his book again. "I don't suppose I did, really," he says. "I've been out for most of my life — certainly my entire professional career."

"What about your parents?" Ted asks, thinking about the tiny little woman and the big redheaded man in Trent's photos at his house, beaming away at their only son.

"I imagine they knew before I did," Trent says with a sort of far-off smile, before he seems to think on it a little more. "Mainly they fretted about me 'being safe,' since Mum was a doctor and the early nineties were a dangerous time for gay men—on any number of levels."

"And professionally?" Because that's another stumper, as far as Ted's own personal journey goes. He knows exactly how bad it'd be if he were still coaching football — American football — back home. But here, he's got no frame of reference.

"Professionally…" Trent makes a dissatisfied sound. "I had it worse than many, better than most. I was driven, I was persistent, and I was bloody lucky."

"On any number of levels," Ted agrees.

"Speaking of family," says Trent, looking like he's trying to be delicate, of all things, "Have you talked to your mum yet about it? Or your sister?"

Rule Number Two, Ted reminds himself. "No," he says, and doesn't have anything to follow that up with.

Trent doesn't look mad or disappointed; he looks understanding, which almost makes it worse. "There's a saying about friends being the family you choose," he says. "Which implies that family is often the friends you don't choose. If you follow my meaning."

"I think so," says Ted. "I might need a map to get there."

But Trent just wiggles his toes some more. "I'll be waiting at the destination."

Ted calls Katie first, mostly because she's the one most likely to pick up — Mama's had a cell phone for a few years now but she hardly ever has it with her. But in the end it doesn't matter, because she's over at Mama's anyway. Ted paces behind the couch, Trent still curled up there with his book, although his hand's outstretched to brush Ted's every time he passes by.

"Hello there, Theodore," Mama says when Katie puts them on speaker. "Are you getting along all right?"

"Oh, sure," he says, turning to pace the length of the living room again. He wants to ask, "What about you?" because that always leads to a nice twenty-minute dialogue between Katie and Mama about the farm, their friends, Katie's kids and grandkids, and any interesting gossip in Cherokee County. Usually Ted uses this time to fold laundry or clean up the kitchen, listening to his family argue about things so far away from his life now that he can hardly see them with a telescope.

But he has an awful feeling that if he doesn't get this out now, it'll lodge in his throat and choke him. "So, listen," he says, taking a deep breath. He's stopped by the couch, and fumbles for Trent's hand. "I've got something to talk to you all about. Or uh, somebody."

"Oh God, you're not getting back together with Michelle, are you?" says Mama. "I know she's the mother of your child, Theodore, but I swear—"

"No, Mama, I'm not — I've met someone. Someone else, over here." Trent's holding his hand, he can do this. "His name's Trent Crimm."

It's awkward and nerve-wracking and neither of them say much in response. Ted can see them so clear, sitting at Mama's beat-up kitchen table that they were raised around, hands clenched around their coffee mugs as they stare at him. After a while Mama says, quietly, "All right, that's enough," and Katie says they've got to go.

He hangs up and circles around to put his phone down carefully on the coffee table, because it'd be bad manners to put it through a wall. "I should text Michelle," he says, shaking out the tingles in his hands. "See if we can sit Henry down tonight."

Trent tugs at him until he sits on the couch, practically on top of him. "You're not some gay Father Christmas," he points out, his chin on Ted's shoulder. "You don't have to do all of this in one night."

"Clearly you haven't seen my Santa hat."

There's a decent chance Henry doesn't really get the whole conversation, but he's polite enough when Ted introduces him to Trent over FaceTime that night. "Hi Trent!" he says, waving at him. "Do you play Minecraft? Do you want to see my tower I built for my horses?"

"Oui, je voudrais beaucoup le voir," says Trent, with a sly look at Ted.

Henry lights up like a Christmas Tree. "Vous parlez français?"

The next half-hour is spent listening to Henry explain Survival Mode versus Creative Mode to Trent, speaking what sounds like pretty good French, although periodically he'll drop back into English to ask Ted for various dinosaur-themed skin packs. Trent chatters back; Ted can't understand most of it, Duolingo notwithstanding, but he can recognize vague parental approving noises in most languages.

Michelle gets on for the last few minutes and assures Ted that she was listening for most of the conversation and that he did very well. "I'll buy him one of the dino packs and tell him it was from Trent," she whispers, taking the phone to another room while Henry's distracted by a runaway horse. "Although he might not even need the bribe, if he gets someone who can actually talk French with him as opposed to whatever me and Ted try to say. Um, hi, by the way," she adds, smiling her nice to meet you smile, which is when Ted remembers that both of them are in the picture, snuggled together like this. "I'm Michelle."

"Pleasure to meet you," says Trent, sitting up straighter. Ted really didn't think through the ramifications of doing this via FaceTime. "Henry's a wonderful young man."

"He's a lot like his dad," she says, winking. "Good job, you two. And congratulations."

Between the emotional workout and the shower sex before that, they end up falling asleep on the couch like a couple of senior citizens. Ted wakes up with the dawn's early light shining right into his face. He stretches and feels for Trent next to him, only opening his eyes when he comes up empty.

He finds Trent shuffling around in the kitchen, looking half-asleep and rocking some truly hilarious bedhead. He's staring uncomprehendingly at the wall next to Ted's counters.

"I don't have my cigarettes here," he says, forlorn. "Or a balcony."

"I know, sweetheart," Ted tells him, and turns on the coffeemaker. "I know."

 


 

In the end, Ted turns to who he should've asked all along: Keeley and Rebecca.

"Okay, so," Keeley says, taking his laptop away from him and settling it on her lap. "You'll want somewhere not too close to either of your places, so if you need to flee the scene you're not just leading them right back."

"They'll probably have a stakeout at both places anyway, but the principle's sound," says Rebecca, leaning over the back of the sectional to peer at the list. "Oh, not that one," she adds, pointing at something on the list. "Or that one."

Keeley taps something on the keyboard, making a thoughtful face. "Probably best if it's one with a—"

Rebecca nods as she sits down next to her. "Right, you want the option—"

"Exactly, but they shouldn't have the—"

"No, of course not—"

Ted goes and gets himself a soda from downstairs. 

By the time he gets back, they've made the call. "Hélène Darroze at The Connaught," says Rebecca, handing him his laptop back.

"Lots of big windows to be seen and photographed," Keeley continues as she snatches it back. She pulls up some pictures of a nice-looking restaurant, with, as promised, really tall windows. "Good number of side exits if you need to escape, the staff's really discreet so they're not going to like, sell a list of what you ate to some tabloid. Plus it's a hotel, so you can just get a room if you need to hide for a few hours. Or… whatever," she adds, with a broad wink.

Rebecca's not looking nearly as thrilled. "And you're certain you want to go ahead with this?" she asks. "It's not as though you have an obligation to him to go public. If this is something he's insisting on—"

"Trent's been the one dragging his feet, boss." One of these days he's going to have to figure out how to get the two of them to stop thinking the other one is an evil demon from the underworld, but it's probably not happening today. "This was all my idea. And if you need me coordinating anything for, uh, I don't know, social media stuff or press—"

"Oh, we're fully at Bikini Stage Red at the moment," Keeley assures him, which necessitates a five-minute digression as to what exactly the Bikini Alert system was and why it was called that; Ted never gets a satisfactory answer to the last part but figures it's something like DEFCON 1. "But it's going to be fine. Horrible and total shit, obviously, but fine by normal UK tabloid standards."

"Great," says Ted, even though he's got no idea if it is, and looks through the menu at Hélène Darroze. He's got a little knot in his belly, maybe because he's hungry. "How's the food?"

Rebecca gives him a long look, but all she says is. "It's fine. For Mayfair, anyway."

 


 

If Ted's honest, he doesn't remember a whole lot about Hélène Darroze at all. The food's tasty enough, but he's too distracted to really appreciate it; every time there's somebody passing by the window he's braced for something, he's not even sure what. A paparazzi flashing a picture? Some tabloid journalist shouting questions through the glass? How was it supposed to work, exactly?

They get about halfway through the main course when Trent sighs, "All right, bollocks to this," and stands up, buttoning his jacket. He's actually wearing a suit-suit, dark grey pants and jacket with a white shirt and a dark red tie. He looks good, and Ted hasn't even told him that yet. "Come along."

"What's the matter?" But Ted knows. This was supposed to be a nice date — the thing he's been pestering Trent for all this time — and he's ruined it already. "I'm sorry, I'll try—"

"Come along," Trent insists and holds out his hand. "I intended for this to be a surprise, but I've procured a room at the hotel for tonight, and I fully intend to use it rather than watch you chew your own mustache off." He flags down their waiter Hugh as he passes by. "Charge our dinner to the room — Crimm, 347."

It probably shouldn't be hot when Trent gets all bossy like this, but Ted's a simple man. "So you're not mad."

Trent gives him a sideways look as he pulls Ted to his feet. "I've asked myself that question almost every day for the past year," he says. "But no, I'm not angry. Just a bit impatient."

Impatient, in this context, sounds good; even while he gets hopeful at the implications of impatient, he's got to admire Trent's talent at derailing Ted's tendency to spiral with promises of sex. Still — "Do you think we did… I don't know, enough?" he asks as Trent leads them back out through the restaurant, into the foyer and toward the bank of elevators.

"I certainly hope so," says Trent, pressing the "Up" button. "Though part of me does enjoy doing this in public, despite the consequences."

"Doing what, having a meal with a bunch of very tiny plates?" asks Ted, because that's the clearest memory he's got of the last hour.

Trent smiles fondly at him, the way he does when Ted's said something so dumb it's cute, and pulls him in closer. They're holding hands, Ted realizes, were holding hands the whole time. "This," says Trent, and kisses him softly as the elevator pings.

 


 

"I do hope you've kept up with your yoga," Trent teases as he fingers Ted open, braced above him. The hotel room is probably really nice, but once again Ted's been distracted from appreciating it — although this is a much better distraction.

Ted wants to make a smartassed comment back, but something about this switches his brain right off, which he kind of likes; he can let the world narrow down to Trent's fingers, his voice. "Please," he manages, "Please, please, please—" 

"Shh, yes," says Trent, and then he's in between Ted's legs where he belongs. He puts one hand on Ted's hip and fists his other in Ted's hair, holding him down and open for him and all Ted can think is please as Trent pushes in, slick and hot and unbearable. Ted's twisted all around, wanting more of it, wanting — God, how has he lived this long without Trent fucking into him, so slow and careful, every nerve in Ted's body singing.

"Do you like this," Trent murmurs, and Ted can't think why it's funny, but he laughs and gets his legs around Trent's narrow hips, lifting himself up just enough to make him gasp as Trent's cock hits him right there, right — perfect—

He comes all over himself and Trent's rhythm stutters as he pushes in once, twice, like he never wants to to be anywhere else. Which is convenient, since Ted's not letting him go after this.

 


 

Ted wakes sometime in the small hours that night, the dream he was in the middle of already slipping away. Trent's half-sitting up in bed next to him, staring out the window, the moonlight streaming in like they're in some sort of noir film. They're both still naked, which is always going to look better on Trent, but Ted's breath catches at just how beautiful he is right now: the lines of his face and the way he breathes and the freckles on his arms, artwork Ted could never have dreamed up, all for him.

He must give himself away somehow, because Trent smiles a little without looking over at him, and shifts to settle his hand in Ted's hair, stroking gently.

"You know, I had to look up the term for them," Ted whispers (he's not sure why, they were loud enough to set ears ringing before). "Nasolabial folds, you know what those are?"

That stops the hair stroking for a minute. "What?" says Trent, staring down at him, although he's whispering too.

Ted scootches a little closer, so he can trace one of the laugh lines from the corner of Trent's nose down to his mouth. "You've got really nice ones," he says. "I just thought you should know."

"You're an utterly ridiculous man," Trent says. He clears his throat. "Listen, I should tell you — before you find out tomorrow anyway—"

"Oh, God, are we trending or something," Ted says, and presses his forehead against Trent's hip. They'd cleaned themselves up earlier before collapsing back into bed, but Ted can still smell him under the soap, a tang and salt-sweetness.

"Fortunately only locally thus far," comes Trent's very unreassuring answer. "But no, it's not about that."

Ted takes one more breath before rolling onto his back, wincing a little — anal sex is now at the top of his list for good times, but the after-effects are no joke. "What's it about?"

Trent looks out the window again. "I've spoken with my editors at the Independent, as well as my publisher and my agent, and we've all agreed to a leave of absence from the paper until the end of the season. I need to finish the last revisions and add that chapter on—"

"What?" says Ted, trying to sit up until Trent makes an impatient noise and shifts down in bed, draping himself along Ted's side and slinging a leg over his hips to keep him in place. "You're — a leave of absence? Why? Until when? Why?"

"Until the end of the season," Trent repeats, propping himself up on his elbow. "And because I really do need to finish this damned book before the next FIFA scandal renders it irrelevant."

Ted doesn't buy it for a second. "Rule Number Two, remember?" he says, reaching up to tuck some of the hair falling into Trent's face. It's a losing battle — the man would make Mustafa jealous.

"All right, yes, also because I'm worried about the fallout of our relationship going public," says Trent, kissing Ted's palm absently. "Although it likely won't help one way or another, in terms of speculation about my partiality, and I'm sure Arsenal will have a great deal to say about it."

"Then why bother?" Ted asks. "You love covering football. And you said yourself, all the ethics and what-all of us dating, there's not a conflict if you don't cover Richmond—"

"There is conflict, though," Trent interrupts. "And you know it, too. It hasn't come up yet, but next year? When you're back in the Premier League? It's not just that my coverage will be questioned, Ted. It's that I would question it. I don't want my feelings for you to impact my objectivity."

Ted has to think about that for a little bit. He remembers last October, barging into Trent's office, Trent telling him that just having the hots for somebody at Richmond was a conflict of interest. Although Trent probably didn't say "having the hots for somebody." But it still doesn't sit right with him. "Okay, again, really loving your positive thinking in regards our chances of getting promoted," he says. "But that's next season — are you going to be on hiatus then, too? You'll just never cover football again?"

Trent smiles at that. "If you earn your promotion, I'll be busy writing another book," he says, tapping Ted meaningfully on the chest. "And by the time that's published, I suspect you and I will be—"

"Trent Crimm, I swear to Kenny Rogers if you end that sentence the way I think you're going to—"

"Rather old hat," finishes Trent, still smiling.

"Better," Ted grumbles. He thinks about it some more. "So basically I really need to earn this promotion and win the League Title next year." Trent settles down half on top of him, making a vague affirmative noise. "Okay, well, that's a lot to put on a man's plate at—" he looks over at the clock on the bedside stand "—Three forty-seven in the morning. You think I can do it?"

Trent hmms a little bit more, and reaches up to press his thumb right between Ted's eyebrows. "I think," he says, "That you've got a lovely glabellar line."

They fall asleep again with Ted's forehead resting on the delicate knob of Trent’s spine, feeling Trent’s heartbeat against his chest, breathing in its rhythm.

 


 

With all that buildup, Ted expects the blowback to be bad — reporters he'd thought were his friends hounding him, strangers getting in his face, all sorts of stories running about his secret gay sex romp with Trent Crimm: The Independent. 

It's worse. 

Ted moves right into the clubhouse for the better part of a week, since getting down Brewer's Lane to his apartment is all but impossible. Will goes and packs him up a few things; when he gets back he's got a glower on his face that almost looks intimidating, if it were somebody other than Will. "Somebody asked if I was your neighbor, and then if I was your boytoy," he says, handing over the knapsack. "I said 'not on these wages,' so I might've accidentally started a rumor that you underpay your boytoys.'"

Trent's got the opposite problem, getting trapped in his house. "Seraphina's safely away with her grandparents, but I'm playing Rapunzel in the tower for now," he says, when Ted calls him later.

"You've got the hair for it," says Ted.

"There's three — no, five vans parked on the street. I've even rated ESPN, although Harry never did like me much."

"Look, Trent, I'm sorry—"

"I'm not," says Trent. "This will blow over, Ted, and I'll be able to give you a proper snog in the middle of the street. That alone is well worth the inconvenience."

"You old romantic, you."

They've got an away game down in Bournemouth on Wednesday and thank goodness they win, because the press pool afterwards is more vicious than Ted's ever seen them. He tries telling himself that with a story like this, even Trent would probably be asking the same types of questions, but that just serves to make him mad at the fake-Trent in his head.

There are a few bright spots. Michelle makes extra-sure that Ted gets to chat with Henry every night, and it's a lot more fun talking about second-grade drama than grown-up drama. Even though Henry's still lapsing into French like English is too much trouble. "Papa, est-ce que Trent est ton petit ami?" he asks one day. "He's really cool, je l'aime."

"Oui, buddy, he is," says Ted, and that's pretty much the extent of Henry's interest.

The team is the biggest surprise — the biggest good one, anyway.

"Coach?" says Isaac a few days later, hovering in the doorway. "The team got together and — we didn't buy you anything, sorry, maybe we should've, but we got you this," and he thrusts one of those oversized birthday cards with a bright yellow envelope at Ted.

Inside is a card with a very large, very glittery rainbow heart on the front, with the words "LOVE IS LOVE!" in similarly glittery lettering. Inside were messages from the whole team — of support, of happiness that he'd found someone. Jamie just signed his name, but added "& Ted Danson" to it, which felt special somehow. Sam wrote him a wonderful message about caring for the team and caring for its leaders, which ran right onto the back of the card and a couple Post-It notes stuck on for good measure.

"You just stay strong, Coach," says Isaac. "Anybody messes with you, we'll rip 'em apart, yeah?"

"Yeah, Isaac," Ted says. He's holding onto the card so tight he's going to crumple it, but he can't seem to let go.

 


 

By Saturday, Rebecca has to call a strategy meeting. "I'll admit I'm surprised," she says, tapping her pen on her desk. "It's been relatively benign so far."

"This is benign?" Ted asks. He believes her — if anybody knows what the press can do when they're at full throttle, it's her — but he got a Facebook message from his old high school girlfriend Patrice last night, asking if he was okay because she'd been fielding calls about Ted's prowess in bed. They even used that word, she wrote. "Prowess." I thought it was some kind of sex position until I looked it up.

Rebecca sighs. "Unfortunately, yes. But," she says heavily, "The minute we lose a game, or God forbid, tie again, they'll go right back into a feeding frenzy. Bunch of fucking pricks."

Ted looks over at Trent, who was somehow winkled out of Darnley Terrace to attend this meeting of the minds, and tells him, "Present company excepted, of course."

Trent just lifts an eyebrow. "I'm not sure that it is," he says. It's the first time Ted's seen him in a week and he wants to reach out for him, kiss the dark circles under his eyes.

"It isn't," says Rebecca. "What would be ideal is for you two to go away for a month and give the press something else to fixate on, but inconveniently for you, Ted, you've still got a job to do. We're neck and neck with Bournemouth for the top two spots, and we just beat them, but the last thing any of us need is for you to split your focus until we secure the promotion."

Higgins's phone rings just then, with a jazzy little number. Higgins looks down at the ID in some confusion but answers it, muttering quietly at the people on the other end. Ted just hopes it's not another reporter trying to scale the fence.

"We don't need a month," Keeley pipes up from her spot on the sectional. "The news about Mike Sands shagging Tiana's mum on the Man City bus is going to drop soon, plus there's the… other thing you've been working on. Ted and Trent are already being portmanteau'ed so once those stories hit, no one'll give a shit about these two."

"Excellent point." Rebecca's tapping went up a couple beats per minute. "Can we nudge either of those stories up?"

"'Nudge them up?'" Trent says, leaning forward with a outraged look on his face.

Ted's distracted by the other thing Keeley said. "'Portmanteau'ed?'" he asks, turning around to look at her. "You mean like Bennifer or Brangelina? What's ours?"

"Tred," Keeley tells him, sympathetically. "Honestly, that might be what dooms you two as tabloid fodder."

"I feel like Tent was right there and they whiffed it, if I'm honest," Ted says, and she nods in agreement.

"Do you mean to tell me," demands Trent, glaring at Rebecca, "That you've somehow procured some scandals to use as cover for us?"

Rebecca glares right back. "You're a bit long in the tooth to be this naive, Trent. How do you think you got your cozy little one-on-one interview with Ted last year, hmm?" Ted looks over at Trent, who's got his jaw set. Rebecca sits back and smiles, cold and phony. "It was a favor to your boss, in exchange for a favor for me. Welcome to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. I'm sure you'll learn your way around eventually."

"I'm well aware of how I got that interview," says Trent, although it's closer to a snarl. "Just as I'm aware of what favor was exchanged. Don't insult me by glaring at him, of course he didn't say a word. I found out on my own. I'm a journalist, if you'll remember."

"It's hard to forget. The smell of high-minded hypocrisy is rather—"

"High-minded hypocrisy—" 

"All right, now, fellas," Ted starts.

"Shut up, Ted," they say in unison.

Ted's saved from having to hold both of them up by the scruffs of their necks like a couple of ornery cats by Higgins, who hangs up his phone. "Um, sorry about that," he says, clearing his throat, "But there's a woman at the front gate insisting that we're holding her son hostage? She says he's to be released immediately."

That at least gets Trent and Rebecca staring at him, instead of lunging over the desk to throttle each other. "And security isn't handling it?" Rebecca asks.

"Well, they were," says Higgins. "Until she told them her name is, uh, Dr. Sarah Crimm."

"Oh, Jesus Christ," sighs Trent, pinching his nose.

Chapter Text

Forty minutes later, Ted's in the passenger seat of a battered Range Rover that's probably older than he is, Seraphina rhythmically kicking the back of his seat while she sings to herself.

"Can't have her sitting behind me," says Dr. Crimm, barging into and out of a roundabout to the sound of about a dozen cars honking at her. "She's liable to shatter a vertebrae with the way she goes at it."

"So you think it's better that Ted's vertebrae get shattered?" asks Trent, who's gotten himself folded up somehow in the back seat next to his daughter. 

Dr. Crimm flaps her hand at him over her shoulder. "He's young, he'll recover. The body is a miraculous instrument, at least until you get into your eighties," she says, and runs another red light. "Besides, at least she doesn't have meter-long legs that stick into the back of my seat, unlike some children I could name."

"Sorry, mum," says Trent and tries folding himself up even more, with limited success. Ted makes sure not to laugh, mostly because he's worried it might come out a touch hysterical.

Somehow Rebecca's suggestion that Ted and Trent disappear for a while has been merged with Dr. Crimm's plan to take charge of her son and granddaughter for a weekend in the countryside, and now Ted is on enforced vacation until Tuesday afternoon. Everyone's calling it a "mini-break," except Trent, who's calling it a "kidnapping."

"You're so dramatic, dear, Faye hardly scratched me at all when I insisted on taking Seraphina with me this morning," says Dr. Crimm as they get onto a highway. Ted's always kind of surprised England has those. "And I know for a fact Luke has a hunting rifle in the house, and he didn't brandish it at me whatsoever. So I can't be a kidnapper, now can I?"

"Your understanding of the law is about as reliable as Dad's understanding of the central nervous system," Trent says over the roar of the engine.

"Which is why we married each other, dear." She turns to look over at Ted. "So, you're the wanker from Richmond who seduced my only son away from his gainful employment?"

Ted wonders if he can risk jumping out of the car when they're going 100 kilometers an hour, however fast that actually is, but Trent saves his life by hissing, "Mum, he's American, he's going to think you mean it."

"I do!" she protests, but now Ted can see the twinkle in her eye. "I didn't say I was upset about it, did I?"

"My mother has long felt that having a filthy journo in the family is a scandal not to be discussed in polite company," Trent explains. Seraphina, with the kind of selective hearing little kids are so good at, starts chanting "FILTHY JOURNO FILTHY JOURNO" in time with her kicking feet.

"He could have been a doctor, followed in his mother's footsteps," Dr. Crimm says, shaking her head sadly. "But he faints at the sight of blood."

"I don't faint, mum," snaps Trent. "I just need to sit down for a bit."

"That's fainting," his mom tells him. "Just lazier."

"Not too late for you to be a lawyer, though, is it? Like your dad?" asks Ted, turning to look back at where Trent's already sulking. "Probably less likely to involve bodily fluids in general."

"Trent's far too anti-social to be a solicitor," Dr. Crimm says. "And as much as his father would have loved it if he'd become a barrister, his inherent contempt for anyone in power would probably have made him a spectacularly bad one."

This comment is followed by ten minutes or so of Trent and his mom explaining the difference between solicitors and barristers; by the end Ted still isn't 100% clear, but he nods along as if he is.

"And what of you, Ted?" says Dr. Crimm, as they barrel past another beautiful village with the weak spring sunshine trickling through the clouds. "I read Trent's interview with you last year and I could tell even then that he was besotted, but that was all football nonsense and besides, the boy's said precious little about you otherwise. Do you even like children? Have any of your own? Where is Kansas, exactly?"

The rest of the trip is spent getting cross-examined, more or less; Dr. Crimm's got the same tendency as her son to ask questions that throw Ted off completely, sending him scrambling for a good answer. Or maybe they both learned it from Mr. Crimm. Either way, it's terrifying.

"And I thought your interview style was intimidating," Ted says at one point, turning to look back at Trent — who's got his notebook out and is scribbling away using his knees as a lapboard. "Are you kidding me?"

"It's useful information," Trent says, still writing. "I didn't know you were a Boy Scout. Though in retrospect I should have guessed."

"With that side parting, you certainly should have," Dr. Crimm agrees, glancing at Trent through the rear view mirror.

All in all it's a stressful couple hours, worse than that time outside Des Moines when the team's bus broke down and they had to caravan into town with a bunch of bikers coming through on their way from Minneapolis. Dr. Crimm seems to mostly approve of him, but she's got one of those British old lady faces that can be hard to parse.

They've long since left the highway and have been heading down a series of smaller and bumpier roads, until they finally turn onto a gravel driveway about a mile long and down into some wooded area that looks like the dump site for every one of those British murder shows Trent makes him watch. He's half expecting Vera or Detective Barnaby to be waiting for them at the end of it, but instead there's a cute little stone house in a clearing, with actual smoke coming up through the chimney and some goats giving them the stink-eye from a fenced-in yard.

"Welcome to Bastard's Cottage," says Dr. Crimm. "Wipe your feet when you go inside and don't feed the goats, they've broken into the house twice this winter looking for chocolate biscuits."

Ted looks back at Trent. "Bastard's Cottage?" he says. Trent just makes a face.

Just then a giant of a man steps out the front door, his face familiar but a lot taller than Ted had realized from the photos — he actually has to duck to clear the mantle. "Got back all right?" he calls.

"All in one piece, esquire," Dr. Crimm calls back as she's getting out of the car. "Brought along this Ted Lasso character for good measure. I've found him thoroughly unexceptionable, but you must of course make your own assessment."

"Thank you, doctor," says the man — Mr. Crimm — and bends down to solemnly receive a kiss on the cheek from his wife.

Ted helps Trent unstrap Seraphina, who's woken up and is equally excited about the goats and her grandpa. "Is 'doctor' and 'esquire' their pet names for each other?" he whispers over her head.

"Yes," says Trent, looking disgusted. "Don't draw attention to it, it only encourages them."

"I think I prefer 'darling,'" Ted confides, setting Seraphina down so she can run full bore for her grandpa's kneecaps. "Even though you pronounce it wrong. And is 'unexceptionable' good or bad?"

"I honestly couldn't tell you at this stage," Trent says as he unbuckles his own seatbelt to get out. "Wait," he says, pausing, "What do you mean, I 'pronounce it wrong?'"

Ted can't help it; he leans in through the open car door and kisses him, just a soft little brush of his lips. "Don't worry, darlin', you'll learn one day," he murmurs.

Trent grabs him by the arm and pulls him in for another kiss, a little more insistent, and says, "I will pronounce it that way over your dead body," in such an affectionate tone of voice that Ted bursts out laughing, snorting against Trent's cheek.

"Come on," he urges, "This carseat's digging into some unmentionable places and I ain't here to give your whole family a show."

"You're certainly not," says Dr. Crimm as she opens the hatch — or boot, or whatever they call it. Trent startles and nearly brains Ted in the face, but they both manage to clamber out and meekly accept the bags that Dr. Crimm hands to them, staggering into the house.

The house itself is different than Ted had expected, if he'd been expecting anything: the ceilings are low and the floors look centuries old, worn into actual grooves from the passage of a thousand people passing back and forth. But there's a real fire going in the chimney and the whole place smells good, like baked bread and flowers.

Turns out the bread is for the dinner Mr. Crimm is cooking, and Trent and Ted get conscripted into expanding the fancy kitchen table to accommodate all five of them. It's the newest piece of furniture in the house by a long shot, and Ted develops a theory.

"Did you steal your parents' old kitchen table?" Ted asks, knocking on the wood. "And then replace it to conceal your misdeeds? Because I'll tell you Trent, I don't think they were fooled."

Mr. Crimm, stirring something delicious-smelling on the stove, makes an alarming rumbling sound that Ted realizes is a laugh.

"I did not steal it," Trent protests. "They bought this thing—"

"Which is far more convenient," Dr. Crimm calls from where she's playing in the living room with Seraphina.

"And they planned to bin the old one." Trent's expression indicates that this is something of a long-running intrafamilial feud. "So I had it brought up to London."

"A rank sentimentalist, our Trent," Dr. Crimm says. "Though I'm sure you've noticed that already, Ted?"

Ted lifts his eyebrows at Trent, who's grumpily setting the table. "You do still have that basket I brought over on our first date," he points out.

"That hamper is useful," Trent argues.

Dinner is amazing, some kind of meat pie with bread and cold beer, the older Crimms picking on Trent relentlessly even while he gives as good as he gets. There's a dozen inside jokes and half-referenced family stories that go completely over Ted's head, but it doesn't really matter; it's the affection that shines through, the steady warmth and love that knock the breath clean out of him.

There's no cell reception out here and definitely no wifi ("Why do you think the boy hardly ever comes to visit his poor ailing parents?" demands Dr. Crimm, to which Trent replies that if they're so ailing, he can always put them in a nursing home in Slough), so Ted has to use their landline to call Henry and Michelle that night. Henry's mostly just excited to hear that his dad is somewhere that has goats, and Ted and Michelle agree to reconnect on Tuesday when/if he's back in civilization.

Seraphina passes out around eight and the grown-ups don't last a whole lot longer; Ted's yawning fit to crack his jaw when Trent finally takes him by the hand upstairs to a pretty little guest room with whitewashed walls and a big four-poster bed. They peel out of their shirts and pants and more or less collapse on top of each other under the covers, too tired for more than a little PG-rated making out before they fall asleep.

It's still one of the best days Ted's had in a long time.

 


 

Ted forgets to shut off the alarm on his phone, but it doesn't matter; he gets woken up at dawn by a sharp knee to the kidneys as Seraphina climbs into bed. "Cuddle Time," she insists, flopping down between him and Trent. It's only then that she seems to realize that Ted isn't a usual person she sees around these parts, and looks curious. "Do you want Cuddle Time?"

"Cuddle Time is the best," he agrees.

"Shut up, both of you," grumbles Trent, dragging Seraphina into his arms. He squeezes her until she giggles and flails at him, and Ted has to make a grab for both of them to save himself from a black eye.

They fall asleep again and wake up for good sometime around ten, Seraphina zooming back to her room to get some toys while the grown-ups rummage around in the bags for suitable clothes. Ted puts on a mishmash of Richmond gear and some of the more regular clothes Will had brought over from his apartment. Trent, who wasn't given the option of going back to his place for an overnight bag, has to make do with some ancient jeans and a flannel shirt from the dresser that was last in fashion in 1997.

"Look at you, like Dave Grohl's hotter younger brother," Ted says admiringly, and Trent rolls his eyes at him but does give him a kiss as they make their way downstairs for breakfast.

The elder Crimms have taken themselves off to church, so Trent makes them an omelette, which is mildly shocking. "I know how to cook some things," Trent grumbles, poking at the bubbling mass of egg and milk and cheese.

"Never doubted you for a second, sweetheart," says Ted, and lifts Trent's hair out of the way to plant a kiss at the nape of his neck. Trent smiles and tilts his head, inviting, so Ted gets reacquainted a little bit longer with this particular patch of skin he's been missing. "All right, you're gonna burn that omelette," he teases, and pats him on the butt while he goes looking for the rest of the bread from last night. Seraphina follows him around the kitchen, patting his butt with both hands until he swings her up onto his hip, at which point she pats his cheeks while making fart noises.

After breakfast, Trent and Seraphina take him on a tour of the property, which is 90% woods as far as Ted can tell. "Who's the nearest neighbor y'all got out here?" he asks as they traipse down a little pathway, a very photogenic brook to their right and a solid rock wall to their left.

"Including or excluding the ghosts?" asks Trent from up ahead, stomping along in some big lace-up boots that probably belong to his dad.

"Well, okay, that's gonna fester," Ted mutters to himself.

They end up at a little tiny waterfall, about hip-high and pretty as a picture. There's a nearby rock overhang just deep enough to provide shelter if it rains — not that there's much risk of it right now, it's sunny and warm enough that they've shucked their jackets and Ted's rolled up the sleeves of his sweater.

"This was my secret spot, when I was young," says Trent, while Seraphina goes jumping into the shallow water downstream, laughing at the spray from the waterfall.

Ted sits on a little outcropping and leans against the cool stone. "Where the young Trent Crimm, not yet of the Independent, would come and read his Latin poetry?" He tugs Trent into his lap; he's not heavy, just a nice warm armful in the cooler air of the shade. "Or did you bring your gentlemen callers out here?"

Trent shakes his head, settling his arm comfortably around Ted's shoulders. "I've never brought anyone here," he says, gazing down at where Seraphina's now poking at some mud with a stick. Kids really are kids everywhere, Ted thinks, before he parses out what Trent just said.

"What, nobody? Not even—" Ted never likes talking about Trent's ex; it feels like Voldemort or Bloody Mary, risking some sort of awful reappearance if he so much as mentions the name.

"Mmm," says Trent, shaking his head again.

Ted's got to kiss him for that. He feels like that pool at the bottom of the waterfall, filled to the brim with clear water and sunshine, spilling out.

"Mind your hands, Coach Lasso," Trent murmurs. "Rule Four is quite clear about hanky-panky with regards to the presence of children." He taps Ted's hand that's wandered a little further up his thigh than is strictly G-rated, though Ted notices that he doesn't try moving it.

"Hey, Diane," Ted says, a big dumb grin probably all over his face, "Let's run off behind a shady tree."

"…who's Diane?" asks Trent, frowning.

"Dribble off those Bobbie Brooks," Ted replies, "Let me do what I please."

"This is some terrible American song, isn't it," Trent says, squinting suspiciously at him.

Behind him, Seraphina pulls a rock out of the water with a triumphant little grunt, then immediately screams "TOO COLD!" and drops it.

"Sure is," Ted answers both of them, and Trent heaves a deep sigh as he stands up to go dry off his daughter with his jacket.

Dr. and Mr. Crimm are home by the time they get back, still wearing their Sunday best. "I would have asked if you'd like to join us, Ted," says Dr. Crimm, "But the boy's been an aggressive atheist his whole life and would probably die of shock had he fallen in love with some bible-thumping Yank."

Trent goes stiff a little at that, and Ted knows why — they haven't said as much to each other, not yet, although Ted can feel it under his tongue. But he just smiles and smooths a hand down Trent's back, says some nonsense about how God is everywhere and their adventure out to the waterfall was as beautiful as any church he's ever been to. It's even true, more or less.

The weather turns in the afternoon, a rainstorm coming up out of nowhere. Ted's still not used to how sudden it happens here — in Kansas you can see the cloud banks coming for miles, can sit out on your lawn chair and watch the storm crawling toward you while the wind picks up. Here it's a sudden slap of a thing, coming over dark and the rain hammering down on the roof without any warning.

Trent and his dad go out and make sure the goats are doing all right, coming back with red noses and their hair a mess, which somehow leads to Dr. Crimm getting her son and her granddaughter to agree to a little impromptu homemade salon day.

"Seraphina used to scream her bloody head off whenever we'd try to plait her hair," she says, combing Trent's hair back with an ancient plastic comb. She's seated comfortably in her armchair, Trent sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her. Trent in turn is combing back Seraphina's hair while she sits in his lap, although she ruins it at regular intervals by craning her head to watch what's going on behind her. 

"Then we discovered," Dr. Crimm continues, "That so long as she had her hair done up the same as her father's, she was happy enough."

Ted thinks back on it: every time he'd seen Seraphina with her hair in a ponytail or some such, Trent had been wearing it like that, too. "Is that why you're growing your hair out?"

"Growing his hair out?" Dr. Crimm grumbles, jerking the comb particularly hard. "That's one term for it. You've gone positively feral this past year, Trent."

"Yes, thank you, mum," Trent sighs, giving Ted a baleful look that he doesn't know if he's earned.

"But at least now you can do a bit more with it, other than a ponytail and the — what do you call it? A 'man bun.'" Dr. Crimm sounds like she wants to wash her own mouth out with soap after saying it.

"I don't call it anything," Trent protests. "I call it 'whatever I can manage to convince the little monster to wear.'"

"Well, let's see if we can convince her that since Daddy has a lovely French plait in his hair, she should have one, too."

Which is a good plan, and one Ted and Mr. Crimm get a lot of entertainment out of watching, but it falls apart a little bit on the execution: Trent, for all his talents, turns out not to know the first thing about braiding. Ted ends up conscripted, punishment for his sin of admitting he was in charge of getting his two oldest nieces ready for school when he was younger. "They usually went in for pigtails, but I definitely learned the art of the French braid," he says, taking one of the hair ties off the table and looping it around his thumb. "Which one do you want me to handle?"

"You'll doubtless be the one to do them both, if they ever submit to this once you go home to London," says Dr. Crimm, "But see how you get on with Seraphina. We don't want the boy here having an unfortunate reaction to having your hands all over him."

"Mum," Trent hisses.

"It's perfectly healthy and normal, dear," Dr. Crimm says, taking Trent's comb out of his hand and giving it to Ted. "But not just before dinner."

"My cue to start dinner, I think," says Mr. Crimm, and heaves himself off of the couch.

"You keep asking why I don't visit more often," Trent says, glowering as he lifts Seraphina up off his lap and deposits her in Ted's. "This is why."

This time both the braids come out okay, although Ted keeps getting distracted by the way Trent watches him mess around with Seraphina's hair, like he's doing something impressive. Neither Seraphina or her dad tolerate the finished product for long; by the time Mr. Crimm's putting a roast chicken with potatoes on the table, their hair is loose around their shoulders again, only a little extra curl to show for it.

 


 

Ted wakes up on Monday with Trent looming over him, looking positively gleeful. "Mwhat," Ted manages, burrowing into his side. One of these days he's going to have to tell Trent how good he smells first thing like this, like pastries or sunshine or something. Trent's taken off his shirt for some reason so Ted can press his face right up against him, breathing deep.

"Good morning to you, too," says Trent, curling around him, sliding a knee between Ted's thighs.

Ted debates the merits of breaking Rule Number Four. "Everybody else still asleep?"

Trent chuckles low and very, very dirty. "Everyone else," he says, looking down at him, "Is gone. Mum and Dad took Seraphina out fishing this morning."

"And they didn't ask me if I wanted to — oh," Ted inhales as Trent's leg presses in higher, rubbing up against his dick. "Oh, okay, it's like that, huh."

"Mmhmm," says Trent, and now that more of Ted's brain is coming online he can feel Trent already hard and hot against his hip. "I've missed you."

"I'll bet you have." Ted slides his hand down Trent's back and keeps on sliding — Trent's not just shirtless but buck naked, always Ted's favorite outfit on him. "Aw, my present's unwrapped already," he pouts, ducking the pillow Trent swats at him and pulling him close. "Come here, sweetheart, tell me what you want, I'll give it to you."

"I'd like to fuck you again," Trent murmurs, kissing his jaw, "Would you like that?"

"Oh boy howdy, would I," which is how he ends up half-smothered by Trent's pillow but also how he ends up sprawled on his stomach, panting into his elbow while Trent slowly works him open and slowly, slowly pushes in. It's still overwhelming, his fight-or-flight instincts sending adrenaline everywhere but it's so—

"God, you're good," says Trent, running his hands along Ted's shoulders and his back, taking tight hold of his hips. "So good," and he picks up the pace until Ted's sweating underneath him, desperate, his cock rubbing against the sheets. He's already on the edge and tipping forward, if he can just get a hand on himself, anything, he's so close. "Hold on, shh, just wait," Trent tells him, and Ted's hardly got time to protest when Trent pauses (although he does protest, a high whine in the back of his throat) before he feels Trent pressing back in, the angle just a little different, up and in and perfect.

"Oh, fuck," Ted gasps, coming in a warm wave all through his body, his toes curling with the lazy pleasure of it. "Oh, that's just the spot," he mumbles.

Trent's still inside him, thick and wet. "Do you want me to stop?" he asks, leaning over until he's brushing his nose against Ted's ear.

"Please, sweetheart," but he's not even sure what he's begging for until Trent pushes in again. It's too much and just right and Ted presses his forehead against his arm and takes it, nowhere to be but here, feeling every inch.

 


 

It's late morning by the time they stumble into the ancient shower that, according to Trent, only has about ten minutes' worth of hot water at any given time.

"I see, so this is responsible water conservation on our part, is it?" says Ted, massaging some shampoo into Trent's hair.

"Naturally," says Trent, or he tries to, except some suds get into his mouth.

It's been a couple days by now since Ted's seen to his mustache, so after he and Trent take turns shaving in the spotty little mirror in the bathroom, he rummages around in his overnight bag for his trimmer and comb. Trent steals a pair of Ted's track pants and finds a threadbare wool sweater that smells powerfully of mothballs, then wanders back in to perch himself on the counter and stare at Ted while he carefully trims off just a bit at the edges and near his mouth.

"What?" he says, catching Trent's look. "You need to go get your notebook, record this for posterity?"

Trent smiles. "I could interview you, if you'd like."

"Fire away, Trent Crimm from the Independent."

"Trent Crimm, the Independent," says Trent, and dang if he isn't even talking in his press room tone of voice, skeptical and challenging all at once. Ted's not surprised at the flash of arousal he gets, same as he used to back then — and now he knows that's what it was, the spark that made him call on Trent every time even when (especially when) he was at his meanest. Which really goes to show that he ought to have figured this thing out a lot sooner. "Amongst American men, the mustache has largely fallen out of favor over the past few decades. Yet you, Coach Lasso, have become so identified with your mustache that there are multiple social media accounts dedicated to it. What inspired you to opt for this somewhat unusual choice in facial hair?"

"Well, Trent, I don't rightly remember," says Ted, focusing on the tricky spot right at the divot at the top of his lip. "I've had a mustache since high school, although back then it was not the luxurious specimen you see today."

"So you've never shaved it off? In all that time?" asks Trent, surprised enough to ask in his regular voice.

Ted looks over at him, a little uncertain. "Do you want me to?"

Trent frowns, reaching his hand up and covering Ted's mustache with his thumb. "Hmm. No, I don't think so. I'd hardly recognize you without it."

"Maybe not," says Ted, and nips at the pad of his thumb. "But if you saw any pictures of my daddy, you would — I looked just like him, before I grew this thing and stopped wearing my hair in a very unfortunate buzz cut."

It doesn't get the laugh Ted was expecting; but Trent smiles anyhow, puts his hand at the back of Ted's neck and pulls him in, settling Ted between his knees so his heels brush against the backs of Ted's thighs. "I'd much rather you looked like yourself," he says.

 


 

Seraphina and her grandparents don't come home until the early evening, flush with success. Mr. Crimm beheads the fish with startling efficiency and fries them up while Seraphina tries explaining their adventures; there's a lot of gesturing and enthusiasm, so Ted gives the story two thumbs up despite having no idea about where they went or who caught what or anything.

After dinner Dr. Crimm sits Ted next to her and pulls out some family albums, which makes Ted all but rub his hands together in glee. "Tit for tat, dear," she says warningly, clutching the albums on her lap. "I'm entitled to some pictures of your lad first, then we'll crack these open and you can see the boy falling asleep in the goat pen."

"Aw, the kid and the kids having a nap together?"

Dr. Crimm smiles serenely, but it's Trent's wince that clues Ted into what's coming next. "He was twenty-seven at the time."

Trent and his dad sit Seraphina down to play Go Fish with a truly ancient set of actual fish-shaped cards, but Mr. Crimm and Trent start arguing about the rules and Seraphina gets distracted by the picture-swap, so in the end they all pile on the couch, taking turns going through Ted's curated albums on his phone and the sepia-stained photographs in the albums. Ted's pictures only go back so far, but the albums extend back through generations, the Crimms and Colemans and Haverfords and Morrises. Ted looks over these pictures of people who bear no resemblance to Trent but are still familiar somehow, in the twist of an aunt's smile and the way a grandfather rests his hand on his chin. And he looks at their tiny, dark-eyed scion as he grows up in birthdays and school photos and Christmas mornings.

("You got any pictures of that time he dyed his hair in college?" Ted asks, flipping through an album that looks to be entirely dedicated to Trent's graduation.

"I burned all of those," Trent tells him.

"He did, the little shit," says his mother.)

Ted looks at the photos, but more often he looks at Trent, smiling down at the images of himself and his parents, of his aunts and uncles and grandparents who have all passed, leaving him behind to remember them.

 


 

"You were quiet tonight," Trent says as they climb into bed. They haven't packed yet, or checked their phones, or done anything to remind themselves that this long weekend's almost over and they'll be right back in the thick of things the minute they get home.

But the bandaid's got to come off some time. "I'm thinking about tomorrow," he says, getting comfortable on his back. "I don't know that we're gonna be much better off than we were before, sweetheart. And I don't know what to do about that."

Trent waits for him to settle then drapes himself all over; they haven't done this a lot, but he already knows where his arm goes around Trent's shoulders, how Trent will squeeze his icy feet in between Ted's calves and rest his head on Ted's chest, rising and falling just a bit with every breath. "I doubt there's anything to be done," he says, yawning.

For a little while it's quiet; Ted can hear Dr. Crimm saying something downstairs and Mr. Crimm's rumbling reply, and outside the sleepy complaints of the goats, and the wind and the trees moving through it. 

"Did I mess this all up?" he asks, soft enough that Trent can pretend he didn't hear.

"No," says Trent immediately. "This was always going to be a disaster, and we handled it as well as we possibly could."

"Yeah, but — I don't know. I thought this was just a step we could take to be together, but now we'll go back and I won't see you again until lord knows when. Feels like everything I try to do backfires on us." 

He doesn't add that it feels familiar — feels like the last few miserable years of his marriage, where every move was the wrong one, sending the boulder rushing down the hill to be pushed up one more time. With Trent, it's never felt like pushing it uphill — the boulder's never even been there. Except here it is, late on the scene but crushing him just the same, sinking him down.

"I was thinking about that," says Trent, pushing himself up to lean on his elbow. It's dark in the room, but Ted can just about make out the outlines of his face, the sweet tumble of his hair. "Why not stay with us? Faye and Luke and I have agreed to a one-week rotation for now, so we won't need to worry as much about getting Seraphina safely back and forth. And we can hardly all stay at your flat; Brewer's Lane will likely be impassable for longer than Darnley Terrace, from a purely logistical perspective." He's babbling, Ted realizes; he's nervous, and Ted can hardly stand being this far away from him.

"You just want to land somewhere you've got your smokes," he teases, sweeping Trent's hair off his forehead. "I see how it is."

Trent swats at him irritably. "I'll have you know, I haven't had a cigarette in almost two weeks."

And it's that comment that trips some sort of signal in Ted's addled little brain — not the offer to move in with him for the indefinite future, not bringing him home to his parents and showing him places he's never let anyone else see, not the late nights reading on the sofa or the lazy afternoons arguing over dinner plans or any of the rest of the hundreds of moments they've collected together in such a short time. It's this, Trent looking annoyed and sleepy while he tells him what he'd give up just to make Ted happy.

"Man," Ted manages, "You must really love me." Trent's eyes go a little wide, and Ted pulls him in, traps him in his arms and rolls over to pin him down, tangling them up in the sheets and the blankets but he doesn't care, he's got to get closer.

Trent seems to be similarly-minded, hooking his leg around Ted's and kissing him wherever he can reach. "Very badly, I'm afraid," he whispers, his nose brushing against Ted's neck and jaw.

Ted shakes his head. "I think you do a darn good job of it," he says. "I just hope I'm keeping pace." He holds his breath, but the adrenaline spike of it doesn't come — there's no confession here, no big moment or milestone. Just a statement of fact or a comment on current events, something that was just true.

"Well, I've been here for a while," says Trent, smiling up at him, broad and beautiful. "No need for you to catch up all at once."

 


 

Ted dreams that night of a forest full of blue and yellow trees under a bright red sky; he's lost but not scared, wandering around with a magic ball of string that isn't tied to anything. Halfway through he realizes Trent's walking next to him, holding his broken glasses.

Where are we headed? Ted asks, but it's his father's voice, rough with thirty years of farm work and cigarettes and the awful furious sadness he was never able to put down.

Does it matter? says Trent, taking his hand, and they walk further on into the woods.

 


 

The elder Crimms put Seraphina and Trent and Ted into their spare car for the drive back home, a rusty Saab 900 that Ted hasn't seen on the road since he was in high school. "This thing still run?" he asks Trent in a low voice as they're trying to secure Seraphina's carseat in the back.

"Mum wouldn't lend us a car likely to crash," Trent assures him.

"Too right, I wouldn't," says Dr. Crimm, and she's really got to stop scaring the bejeebus out of Ted while he's stuck in awkward positions in cars. She pops the trunk and throws their bags inside. "I respect my colleagues too much to foist the boy on them. Bring him into the A&E and next thing he's writing up some dreadful expose on the nurses. Ted, I'm sure you would be a model patient," and she comes around to pat him briskly on the shoulder. "Now budge over, you're buckling it in all wrong."

Ted leaves Trent to argue with his mom and heads inside for one more look around the house. Mr. Crimm and Seraphina are in the kitchen, packing up an entire grocery bag's worth of treats for the road, which Ted's not going to argue with.

"Thank you very much, sir," he says, taking the bag.

Mr. Crimm looks at him for a long minute. He hasn't talked much this whole weekend; a lot of folks would probably say it's because his wife doesn't let him get a word in edgewise, but Ted's got a suspicion that it's the other way around, Dr. Crimm filling in the words that her husband can't always find for himself.

"Call me Alistair," he says. "Looking forward to your next visit after the season."

They get on the road before Ted's rightly recovered. "I don't think I've ever called someone's parents by their first name," he confesses, messing around with the radio that's getting a whole bunch of French stations for some reason. "Even twenty years into our marriage, Michelle's parents were still 'sir' and 'ma'am' and 'Mr. and Mrs. Newman' and all that."

"That must have been the reason you divorced," says Trent, managing to navigate a roundabout and reach around behind him to stop Seraphina kicking his seat.

Ted laughs, because he can — because his marriage fell apart and so did he, and now he's here with a man he loves and who loves him back, a daughter he'd die for as fast as he would for Henry. He wasted so much time thinking that happiness would be some sort of reward for him eventually, if he could just do better, be kinder, try harder. And all along it was here waiting for him, in a strange country with a strange man on the wrong side of the road. "Maybe one of them," he says. "Probably not the main one, though."

They give up on the radio eventually and Ted turns his phone's speakers up high, taking them through John Cougar Mellencamp's greatest hits as they make their way back home.

 


 

They get to Richmond around ten; Trent drops Ted off at the clubhouse's back entrance, managing to avoid the riot that's happening at the main doors mostly by nobody thinking that the latest scandal is going to come driving up in a car this ugly. Still, it's discouraging to know that their long weekend hasn't magically called off the hounds.

"Even though you're one of the hounds, too, I guess," Ted admits.

"A hound on a leave of absence," Trent reminds him as they pull into the parking lot. There's just a couple cars there so far, but Rebecca's is one of them. Ted hopes whatever she's got planned will happen sooner than later.

"You gonna come pick me up after work, too?" he asks Trent, rummaging around in the snack bag for some afternoon treats. "I sure wouldn't mind. Notting Hill's a bit more of a hike than Brewer's Lane."

Just then a beautiful red sports car comes roaring in; Ted can see Isaac and a young lady in front who take a few minutes to suck some pretty serious face before Isaac hops out and goes inside the clubhouse.

Ted turns back to Trent and waggles his eyebrows.

"Christ," Trent mutters, "I'm a WAG."

"Not driving this car you ain't," Ted says, and busses him on the cheek. "Let me know how it is at home, if we need to, I don't know, hire security, I guess? I can afford that for a while, at least until this blows over. And eventually I really do need to go and get some things from my apartment, plus I don't want that little plant Keeley got me to die, so—"

Trent leans in and kisses him back — it's not quite sucking face, but it's definitely up there. Ted comes up for breath a little bit dizzy. He glances at the backseat, but Seraphina's still having fun munching on a banana, the smell of it getting strong. "What was that for?"

"Nothing," says Trent, and unbuckles Ted's seatbelt. "I'll pick you up at seven, and then we'll go home."

Keeley pulls in just as he's getting out of the car. "Ted!" she says, waving haphazardly at Trent as she drags Ted into the clubhouse. "Come on, I have so much to show you."

Ted looks over his shoulder as the door closes; Trent's still sitting there in the car, looking amused, just as Seraphina's about to throw her banana peel at him.

"It's been tremendous," Keeley says, hooking her arm around his. "The press has gone absolutely mental, we caught one of them hiding in a laundry cart yesterday, although you probably saw the Tik-Tok on that one."

"I didn't, actually," Ted says, and pulls his phone out. He pushes the power button but all he gets is the low-battery icon, which always looks kind of sad to him. "I should probably uh, charge this or something."

Keeley stops them in the middle of the hallway and swings around to look him in the eye, although even with her impressive boots on today she still only comes up to his armpit. "Wait, you don't know about what's happened? You haven't checked your phone at all? Or listened to the news? Or turned on the… what's it called, radio?"

Ted puts his phone back. "I have to admit that we did not."

Keeley gives him a sly look and takes his arm again, leading them upstairs. "Ooh, 'we did not.' You'll have to tell me all about that later. But come on, Rebecca's going to love telling you what we did to get the press off your arses." 

"What did y'all do?" Ted asks, starting to get a little worried.

Keeley bumps the door open with her hip, beaming up at him. "We absolutely murdered Rupert."

 


 

The only thing more salacious than a sex scandal, as Keeley explains, is a football scandal that's being hidden by a sex scandal. Especially if the football scandal has some sex in it.

"It's a shame Trent can't write about it, actually," says Keeley. She and Rebecca have got Ted between them on the sectional, showing him some of the headlines he's missed.

"Yes, isn't it just," Rebecca says in a little sing-song tone of voice that doesn't fool him for a second.

As far as Ted can understand what they're telling him, it all started a few months ago, while Ted and Trent were busy wandering around the British Natural History Museum with Seraphina and a whole lot of unresolved sexual tension. Bex and Rupert had shown up at the fundraiser around the same time they'd been looking at the dodo, and Rebecca had done her best to stay out of their way.

"Why didn't you send me an SOS?" Ted asks, trying not to sound hurt about it.

"Because amongst your many, many talents, Ted, I have not yet found your flair for maintaining a low profile," Rebecca tells him, which is harsh but fair. "Anyway, I didn't do much better — Bex cornered me in the loo and said she needed help." She sighs, a big heaving-shoulders thing that looks like it's carrying a log of weight. "And considering how many friends Rupert has, she adopted the 'enemy of my enemy' approach."

Ted hasn't thought about him much, but it turns out Rupert has been a busy boy these past few months, trying to get himself a whole new soccer team to replace Richmond. He is — or was, until a couple days ago — hip-deep in secret negotiations with Newcastle to make a purchase at the end of the season.

"The problem with that little scheme," says Rebecca, "Is the rather horrifying prenuptial agreement he made his new wife sign — in which all assets she brought into the marriage are legally recognized as his, while all assets he brought into the marriage are also legally recognized as his."

"'What's hers will be mine and what's mine will stay mine.'" Ted can even remember the little sneer on that turkey's face when he said it, and the poor kid on his arm just smiling up at him like it was a private joke between them. "Doesn't seem to leave this girl in a very comfortable position. And here I always thought you were supposed to give new mothers priority seating."

Keely pushes at his shoulder; Rebecca sighs loudly. "How we've missed your particular brand of comedy these past few days," she says, but she's smiling like she means it.

"It's actually fucking great, though," Keeley continues. "Because since Bex owns three percent of our club, and her shit marriage contract thing means that now Rupert owns it, he's not allowed to be buying up another team. Conflict of interest, yeah?"

"Which hardly would have been an insurmountable problem for Rupert," Rebecca picks up; Ted feels like he's at some sort of tabloid tennis game. "All he had to do was give up ownership of the share of Richmond. Fortunately for us, he couldn't even manage that much without being a complete fucking arsehole."

Rupert's lawyers had explained to him the whole conflict of interest problem, and so he'd decided to sell. Only he couldn't — that 3% might be legally his, but Bex was still the only one who could sell it. And she didn't want to.

"It might have been petulance at first," Rebecca shrugs. "She's very young, and I rather suspect Rupert's been indulging her up until now. It wears off, of course, but I don't think she expected Rupert's rather… outsized reaction."

"That's one way to put it," Keeley says, crossing her arms like she's practicing her disapproval if she ever sees Rupert in person. "He cut her off from her baby. Walled her up in that ugly pile of shit mansion in Ascot and hired a billion nannies so every time she wanted to see her kid — he's actually pretty sweet, weird nose though, looks like one of those plastic ones you see on stuffed bears — every time she wanted to see him there'd be somebody telling her that he's sleeping or getting fed or oh, shouldn't she be resting, and all that."

"She's worried about leaving Rupert with no money and no recourse," Rebecca says, "But at this point she just wants to get herself and her son away from him, which I can certainly sympathize with. So Keeley came upon a rather ingenious plan."

"Another one of those 'enemy of my enemy' things," Keeley says, beaming like she's competing with the sunshine and looking to win. "Because when Rupert cheated on Rebecca and dragged her through it, the press didn't give a shit, right? But now he's trying to illegally buy another club while he still has his claws in Richmond, and he's treating his new bride really shitty, and she just had a baby, and she's super young and fit? Not that you aren't, obviously," she adds over Ted's shoulder.

"Obviously," Rebecca says, dry as a stale scone.

"Anyway, so Bex called a press conference on Sunday to announce she was getting a divorce and suing for custody, right, because he's such a shit husband — and then she drops that Rupert's been looking to buy another club and meanwhile forcing her to sell her share of Richmond. She even did this great bit — here, let me find the video — where she talks about how much she loves AFC Richmond and can't bear to sell. She does a lower lip tremble and everything, it's brilliant."

It is, from the clip Ted watches on her phone. Bex looks heartbroken, talking about having gone to Richmond games when she was little, and how much she admires Rebecca for how she's been not just an owner but a leader for the whole team.

"I wrote that bit for her," Keeley confides. "And did the wardrobe — see, the big sweater makes her more vulnerable, softer, yeah? No earrings, hair up but looking just a bit messy, nude lipstick — fuck, I'm good at this."

"You really are," Ted tells her.

"So now the press are sharply divided," Rebecca says. "One half—"

"Two thirds," Keeley corrects her.

"A sizable number of them," Rebecca continues, "Think Rupert's a shithead, which is obviously true, and that Bex is a victim of his ruthless scheming, et cetera."

"They're also singing Rebecca's praises for being so high-minded and generous to help this poor young woman, blah blah, lots of requests for interviews with the two of them about their new friendship with a fashion shoot on the side, all that," says Keeley.

"The rest of them think we're both evil harpies out to ruin Rupert's life, although that's mostly the Mail and a few others," says Rebecca.

"No," says Keeley, who's wiggling in her seat, "The rest of them are split between the harpy angle and my personal favorite angle, the angle where Rebecca seduced Bex away from her man with her powerful sexual charisma and is holding Bex in thrall." She makes a dramatic gesture that knocks a pillow off the sectional.

"I still think you planted that story," Rebecca grumbles, but when Ted looks back at her she's smiling and readjusting her blazer, which is a surefire giveaway that she's pleased about something. "At any rate, I've hired some very expensive lawyers to see what we can do about the prenuptial agreement; in the meantime the FA as well as the chairman of the League are taking a dim view of Rupert's activities. Plus, a judge has awarded Bex temporary custody, pending the suit, so Rupert's having quite an unfortunate time of it right now, sad to say." She doesn't look too stricken about it.

"Funny how he lost Rebecca and tried to replace her with an inferior Rebecca," says Keeley, musing. "And then he lost Richmond and tried to replace it with an inferior Richmond, and both of them blew up in his face. Kind of pathetic, really."

"Oh, Bex isn't so bad," says Rebecca, flicking through something on her phone. "Let's hope David takes after her."

"David?" Ted asks.

The baby, Keeley mouths, making a helpful rocking motion with her arms.

Ted nods. Rebecca likes the baby? he asks, tipping his head back toward Rebecca and giving a thumbs up while pointing at Keeley's invisible baby.

Keeley nods and then gives him her there's DEFINITELY something going on big-eyed stare.

Wait, are they… Ted asks with a tilt of his eyebrows.

Keeley pursed her lips in the standard I don't know and I'm mad about it formation.

"Stop it, you two," says Rebecca. "It's highly unnerving when you do that."

Ted grins. "So is that why there's still a bunch of reporters hanging around out front?" he asks, pointing his thumb in what he hopes is the generally correct direction. "They're looking to get a quote from the sapphic seductress herself?"

"Not a bad headline," Keeley says thoughtfully. "But I don't think that many tabloid readers know what 'sapphic' means. Sadly," she adds with a big wink in Rebecca's direction.

"Oh, fuck off, both of you," says Rebecca, getting to her feet. "I've got work to do, and I believe, Coach Lasso, that you have a game to win for me tomorrow."

"Yes, ma'am," he says. He and Keeley get up too, Keeley stuffing her feet back into her cute strappy sandal-heels, and Ted takes the box from the table. "Sorry there's no biscuits today, but I did grab something out of the Crimm's road snacks repository," he says, and hands it to her.

Rebecca takes it and opens the lid, frowning. "Is this marmite?" she asks, pulling out a little tiny container of some sort of brown fluid. "And apple slices?"

Ted grabs the box and the container. "All right, well, my bad for not checking first." He follows Keeley out the door. "See you later, boss!"

"Does Trent actually eat that?" Rebecca demands just before he shuts the door.

 


 

The first few days living at Darnley Terrace are a little rough, though most of it's the adjustments Ted imagines everyone has to make in these kinds of situations. "Although I'm hoping not too many people have had to deal with this particular kind of situation," Ted says, one night after they have to all but arm-wrestle somebody from the Daily Mail off the front stoop. There's a lot fewer people camping out than there were before, but the ones that are still here have a stubborn streak a mile wide.

Seraphina's not sure at first if she wants to share her dad full-time with Ted, and there's a few temper-tantrums before she cottons onto the fact that Cuddle Time can be twice as cuddle-intensive now. Ted's phone alarm makes Trent grind his teeth and Trent's tendency to bolt upright in the middle of the night and wander off downstairs to write or read or generally not-sleep makes for some cranky mornings, even aside from Trent's low-level nicotine withdrawal.

But even the drawbacks have their upsides. Trent's entire kitchen situation is downright appalling; Ted takes inventory of one skillet, two coffee makers (one broken), the popcorn maker, a rice cooker still in its box, a gigantic cooking pot that Ted's comfortable calling a cauldron, and a couple of spatulas and wooden spoons. "I'm almost impressed," he admits, sitting down at the table to start a list of necessary supplies. "You don't look like a man who's been making do with takeout and cigarettes for most of his adult life."

"Really? What do I look like?" asks Trent, looking interested.

"Like a man who ought to have a casserole dish."

In the end Ted hires Will and some friends to go pack up most of the kitchen stuff in his apartment and bring it on over, which results in a couple stories about Ted Lasso having twinks delivered to his house, but at least they don't trend on Twitter for more than a few hours. And after that, Ted's actually able to cook real food; he celebrates by making everybody some gourmet mac 'n' cheese in his giant cast-iron skillet. Will and his friends demolish most of it in about five minutes, and Seraphina's a big fan.

Even Trent's appreciative. "Of course, I'll have to wait until the weekend to show you just how appreciative," he says offhand, and Ted almost inhales a pasta elbow. Will and his girlfriend Haley giggle at the other end of the table, and Powderkeg and Bentley (probably not their real names but Ted's not going to pry) offer Trent some high-fives, which he accepts bemusedly.

Ted learns how Trent likes his toast and Trent makes room in his dresser drawers for Ted's clothes; they give Seraphina baths and argue over which bright distracting iPhone games to buy for her. Ted falls asleep every night to the sounds of pages turning in whatever book Trent's reading, and he never wants to wake up anywhere else.

Still, Trent's acting squirrelly, watching Ted when he thinks Ted doesn't notice, cutting himself off sometimes mid-sentence, like he doesn't want to say too much. Ted wants to ask about it but he's got two games that week, one of them in Cardiff, and he's well aware that if there's an argument they need to have about something, he'll be way too snippy unless he gets a decent night's sleep beforehand.

By the time he gets home Saturday night, Trent's already handed Seraphina off to her grandparents for the next week and ordered some doro key wot and sambusas from Delisa's, which Ted figures is as good an expression of love as any he's ever gotten. He even managed to get a nap on the bus, so once they're done he pulls Trent over to the couch and gets them comfortable under a quilt before fixing Trent with the Nana Lasso Beady-Eye Special. 

"All right, what's been bugging you. And don't look so surprised, you're not nearly so stealthy as you think. Spill it."

Trent huffs, and settles in a little more. "I've been… wrestling with myself, I suppose," he says after a minute, and his expression stops Ted from a really bad joke about how that's his job. "In no particular order: I don't like this scheme your employer's set in motion with her ex-husband's wife and son, and I don't like that you don't seem to mind it." He pulls his feet up and tucks them under Ted's legs, "I'm worried about whether or not this will all blow up in our faces; Rupert Mannion's a clever man and is doubtless planning some form of retribution. I'm also alarmed at the extent to which you're in Rebecca Welton's confidence, and she in yours — I don't consider her at all trustworthy, but you have a faith in her that I can't understand." He takes a deep breath and thinks for a second or two, then smiles a little, rueful. "And I'm also annoyed that this is a fucking incredible story and I can't write a single word about it, even if I weren't on leave of absence."

"Okay," says Ted, nice and slow to give himself some time. "That's… a lot to have bugging you."

"I'm also going to smash your phone with a hammer the next time your alarm goes off playing that horrible song," Trent adds.

"The whole point is that it's horrible," Ted argues for probably the seventeenth time. "But sure, yes, okay, I'll change it. As for the rest — first off, I don't see what's to dislike about Rebecca helping that kid out of her marriage. Even if her ex-husband gets some blowback." Trent still looks annoyed, which Ted can't figure out. "Don't tell me you like Rupert Mannion."

Trent sighs, staring at the fireplace. "No, of course not. But Rebecca Welton is helping herself as much as anyone else, you must realize that. And the timing of it all—"

Ted shakes his head. "What's bothering you more, the notion that she cooked up this whole thing for our benefit?" He tries catching Trent's eye. "Or the fact that she didn't?"

"Yes, all right, I'll admit that this wasn't arranged solely for our convenience," Trent says, shoving his toes a little bit further under Ted's leg. Ted makes a note to start pestering him to see his doctor about his circulation, because nobody should have feet that cold. "But Rebecca Welton moved up whatever schedule she had originally planned for this debacle to help us. She has the power to help us like that. Doesn't it bother you?"

"Not as much as you calling her 'Rebecca Welton' like that all the time," Ted sighs, and gets an another huff from his boyfriend. "And not putting too fine-tipped a point on it, but don't your in-laws live next door to Richard Branson or something?"

"They live in Islington, not Holland Park," Trent says in that impatient way he's got when he's making references that he forgets Ted doesn't know. "And whatever the Turners' flaws, they can't simply make scandals go away with a wave of their hand."

"Neither can Rebecca, if you'll notice," Ted counters. "But no, it really doesn't bother me. I've seen a heck of a lot worse — I know you don't think much of my amateur-level experience with college football, but let me tell you that the NCAA makes FIFA look positively quaint in comparison. Nothing Rebecca's done even comes close."

It's on the tip of his tongue to say something about Rebecca's original plans for Richmond, for him — point out that he's got as much a right to judge her record as anyone — but there are some secrets that aren't his to give out.

But even while he's hesitating, Trent's watching him, his expression patient and very familiar: the expression he gets when he knows exactly what you don't want him to know, and is just waiting for you to admit it.

"You know about all that, don't you," Ted says, before he can stop himself. 

"About your boss's attempts to undermine her own team last year?" He actually smiles a bit. "I do keep having to remind people I'm a journalist; it's a far harder habit to break than smoking, I can assure you."

Ted's too busy trying to figure out if he's in trouble or not to appreciate the joke. "How long?"

"A long time. I don't have proof, if that's what you're asking. Or any intention of publishing." He takes Ted's hand, lacing their fingers together. "Did you think I'd be angry that you hadn't told me?"

"You're not?" Ted's adrenaline is going through the roof right now but he concentrates on where they're touching, the warmth of Trent's hands and the bony chill of his toes.

Trent makes a considering noise. "I'm angry that she put you in that position — that she prioritized her sense of grievance over the well-being and livelihood of hundreds of people. But I can understand why you didn't say anything. What I can't understand is why you continue to trust her, after finding out about it." He frowns. "How did you find out?"

"Without your special journalism superpowers, you mean?" Ted thinks back on it. "I guess I was a lot like you — I suspected something hinky straight off. But it's not like I had any proof, and besides, I had my own reasons for taking the job. Figured maybe it was just another part of the challenge, you know? Anyway, she ended up telling me the whole thing, a few days before that last game against Man City."

"She told you?" says Trent, sounding more offended than he has this whole conversation.

"Said I could quit and call a press conference and everything," Ted confirms. "Said she'd been wrong to do it, and she was sorry." Which wasn't exactly what she said, but it's what she meant, watching him and waiting for some punishment that he had no business meting out, and wouldn't have if he did.

"Oh, well, in that case," Trent scoffs. He takes a minute, clearly thinking something through. "That — I don't think you realize how much she trusts you, to tell you all of that." He shakes himself out of whatever he's musing on and adds, "Which isn't to say you should trust her."

Ted wants to argue, wants to keep defending Rebecca to Trent like he defends Trent to Rebecca. But he's tired, bone-deep with it; all he wants to do is curl up and sleep for about a month and not have to contend with another round of the Trent and Rebecca What Do You See In That Arsehole? gameshow. Maybe that bus nap hadn't done as much as he'd thought. "Swear to God, I should just put the two of you in a Get-Along shirt," he mutters, rubbing his eyes.

"A what?"

"Never mind. Look, Trent, I can't make you see her the way I do. I know you think I see too much of the best in people, and that may be, but just because you see the worst in them doesn't mean that's the whole picture either. If you'd seen me on my worst days, guarantee you we wouldn't be here tonight."

That seems to hit Trent somewhere. "I didn't mean—"

"I know, and I don't want you taking it like that. I just — it seems a lot of this is coming down to you not liking it when I put my trust in other people, people you think don't deserve it. That about the size of it?"

Trent blows out a breath and actually takes the time to think it over. "Yes. For the most part."

"Okay. Now, how many of those folks, do you think, approve of me trusting you? Go ahead and give me a wild guess."

"Yes, but they're wrong," Trent insists.

"Of course they are, of course," Ted says. "How about this. I'm gonna set up a little one-on-one between the two of you, and y'all can talk this over yourselves. Because I'm not gonna quit loving you, Trent, but I'm not gonna quit loving her either. In a strictly platonic, non-genitalia-related way," he adds.

Trent's still looking pretty horrified. "And you think that will help?" he says, flabbergasted. "Putting the two of us in a room together, alone?"

"Keeley and I will stand by with water guns to make sure you don't kill each other," Ted promises. "Now come on, I've been wanting to love you in a very non-platonic, extremely genitalia-related way ever since we got home from Bristol." He tugs on Trent's hand, urging him to move over so Ted can lie back on the sofa and get Trent spread out on top of him. Somehow Trent manages to keep them covered with the quilt, which is nice. "Downright cozy, sweetheart," he says, bending his knees a little to cradle Trent between his thighs.

"Hmph," says Trent, but he does give him a kiss on the jaw, trailing down his neck. "Coach Lasso, are you trying to distract me with sex?"

"I know, that's usually your go-to method, ain't it?" Ted gasps when the kiss turns into a bite; Trent's been getting nippier lately, for sure. "I will state for the record that it seems to be working as an offensive strategy."

"Deeply offensive," Trent says, but he's getting his PJs — Richmond-themed, Ted loves those PJs — and Ted's sweatpants out of the way, so he can't be that peeved. Ted can hear the click of a bottle cap, muffled by the quilt.

"Anything going on down there I should worry about?" he asks, grinning up at Trent.

Trent kisses him even while his hand curls around them both, slick and warm. "No, I think I have it under control," he says, biting Ted's lower lip softly as he moves against him, twisting just a little bit on the upstroke the way Ted likes.

"So you had," Ted starts, and loses the thread for a few minutes while he urges Trent on, fisting his hands into the quilt to pull it tight around them, keep Trent closer. "You had lube in your pocket?" he finally manages. "This whole time?"

"Boy Scouts aren't the only ones who can be prepared," Trent murmurs. "I like to plan for all contingencies."

"Good idea," Ted says, or thinks he says. He might just be making noises at this point.

Trent comes first, with a sort of low gasp. Ted pushes his hair off his face; he loves watching Trent like this, the quirk of his mouth and the little furrow between his eyebrows as he comes. Ted doesn't like to think of himself as greedy, but he'll cop to being greedy for this, hoarding all the details just for himself. No one else gets to have this; Ted's got no problem being selfish about the taste of Trent's mouth and the smell of him at the curve of his neck. 

"Did you like that?" he teases when Trent's eyes open again.

"Shut up," says Trent. Ted pushes his hips up meaningfully, and Trent's eyes get narrow and kind of mean. "Is there something you'd like, Coach Lasso?"

"Yes, Trent, I'd like to come," he says, as earnest as he can manage. "And I trust you'll be able to assist with that."

"God, I hate you," Trent said, pushing himself off and a little to the side so that Ted's got no friction at all now.

"Trent, this is important, you need to know that I trust you to give me an orgasm tonight." Ted says, holding on tight to Trent's shoulders so he doesn't go tipping ass-first onto the floor. Though it'd serve him right.

Trent glares at him. "I sincerely hope that you don't trust anyone else to provide those."

"Oh no, this is a solemn trust. I take my orgasms very seriously—" Ted's laughter is cut off as Trent wriggles himself onto the floor, using the quilt under his knees, and takes Ted into his mouth. It's over pretty fast after that, but they stay there for a little while anyway, Trent resting his head on Ted's stomach and Ted gently pressing his fingers into the nape of Trent's neck.

 


 

They get themselves upstairs and clean themselves off a bit before collapsing into bed. Ted's just about to fall asleep when Trent says, "I ought to tell you something."

"Mmkay," he says, patting Trent's head sleepily. "Is this about that lab coat I saw in your closet, do you want to try some role play sometime?" He yawns, feeling the stretch of it all through his body. "I'm good with it, Dr. Crimm."

"Jesus Christ, don't ever say those words in this bed again," Trent groans, laughing. "No, it's… you asked me, earlier, when I learned about your employer's attempts to destroy the club."

"Do I need to be more awake for this?" Ted asks. He keeps stroking Trent's hair; it's soft against his palm, soothing. "Because I do have that secret stash of Five-Hour Energy Drink, but that's really a break glass kind of deal."

Trent, probably wisely, ignores him. "I learned it the day before I quit the Richmond press room."

Ted stills his hand, waiting. He's not sure if he should breathe too loud right now.

"I suspected something was off from that first press conference; Rebecca Welton—" he huffs and amends, "—Rebecca clearly had some scheme in mind. But it wasn't until early October when I got confirmation — I won't tell you how — not enough to publish but enough to get a meeting with you, confront you with what I had. That would be enough to run with. So I requested one, at your earliest convenience."

Ted remembers that; most of the press just poke their heads in whenever they need a quote or whatnot, but Trent always scheduled his meetings, like he was a gentleman-journalist or something.

"I came into your office, ready to set fire to the whole club, and you… you had your hands behind your back and demanded that I pick one. You were so irritating about it," he sighs, pressing his face into Ted's shoulder. "I picked one or the other, and you gave me the envelope with the tickets to that adoption event that Seraphina wanted to attend. And then you told me to pick your other hand.

"It was a small sewing kit, one of those cheap plastic ones, and you said that a seam was coming loose on the shoulder of my jacket and you could fix it in a 'jiffy.'" He says it slowly, like it's a word he's been saving up for all this time. "So I stood there, unable to move, while you sewed up my jacket, nattering on about how much it had been bothering you the last few weeks whenever you'd see me wear it, how I needed to train Seraphina up to spot these things, or perhaps I ought to find someone special who would notice things like that for me. And all I could think was that I'd already found him."

Ted still doesn't want to say anything, but Trent pushes himself up as if he had, searching Ted's face for long seconds, trailing his fingers along Ted's jaw. "I'd wanted you, before that. But I listened to you and I realized that I couldn't bear it, that I was about to do something that would ruin your life, that would make you…" he drifts off for a second, looking away. "That would make you no longer notice when a seam came loose."

"It was a lot harder to notice with you on the other side of London," Ted points out, because he can't figure out all the rest of what he wants to say — that he would have noticed, even then. Even if.

Trent brushes Ted's hair back off his forehead. "Ah, but I could have withstood that, I think, seeing you just a few times a year. I told myself I could, at any rate. So I left."

Ted remembers that, too; finishing up with Trent's jacket, tugging a little on the sleeve to make sure it was good enough to hold. He really did natter on the whole time, mostly because Trent didn't say anything. But there was a moment afterward, when he brushed the knob of Trent's wrist and felt something hiccup in his chest. Trent turned to look at him, solemn and serious. 

"You said 'thank you for the tickets, I'd no idea you ran a tailor's shop in-house.'" Ted tells him. "And then you ran away."

"Mmm," Trent says, "I ran away from you a great deal, back then."

"Didn't do you much good."

Trent drops a kiss on his forehead, lingering. "It did me quite a lot of good, actually," he whispers, and clears his throat. "But that's why I couldn't stay at Richmond — why I can't go back. It's not just perceived bias or conflict of interest, Ted. I can't trust myself anymore, not when it comes to your happiness." He smiles, a little thing that doesn't quite look real yet. "So now you know a secret about me, one that could sink me for good if it ever got out. And if Rebecca's sabotage attempts ever come to light, you can tell the world that I—"

"Sweetheart," Ted sighs, because of course that's what this is all about, "Trust ain't contingent on me knowing all your secrets — heck, you still don't know all of mine." And wouldn't for a long time, if Ted has his say. "You don't need to prove yourself to me, okay?"

"…Okay," Trent says, but he sounds skeptical. "I'm not sure it ought to be that easy."

"Well, a good friend once told me when you're with the right person, even the hard times are easy." Ted yawns again. "Come on, now, if we really need to talk some more we can do it in the morning. I'll double it up, even, have a Ten-Hour Energy Drink. That'll set the world spinning."

Trent repositions himself on top of Ted. "I just — as much as it annoys me that you would trust anyone else, I think it might… frighten me, a bit, that you trust me, too." He exhales, warm against Ted's collarbone, like it was a splinter that had finally worked its way loose.

"Well, good to know how to strike terror into the heart of Trent Crimm, I thought it was only spiders that did that," Ted grumbles, pawing vaguely at his hair as he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Keeley agrees with Ted that a peace summit between Trent and Rebecca is long overdue. "Otherwise Rebecca's going to hire ninjas to dump Trent's body in the Thames."

"I'd've thought you'd be all right with Trent getting offed," Ted says, somewhat surprised. "You're Rebecca's right-hand woman, and all."

"Yeah, but Trent's growing on me." They're down in her office and she's already scootched off her shoes to prop her feet up on the desk. "Besides," she adds with one of her purse-mouth grins, "You like him."

Ted thinks back on a few nights ago, bullying Trent into a ridiculous bubble bath and combing out his hair, Trent letting him do it and leaning back against him when he was done, the two of them murmuring to each other in the quiet of the empty house. "I sure do."

"You're disgusting," Keeley says, scrunching her nose at him. "I bet you're writing 'Mrs. Theodore Crimm' in your diary every night."

"Keeley, I am a modern woman who will be keeping my own name." Even while he's saying it, part of Ted wonders why the idea doesn't sound all that scary — not the changing his name part, that would be a royal pain in the butt, he never really understood why Michelle put herself through all that. But the rest of it… he's got no clue if it's something Trent wants, or even if it's what he himself wants just yet. It doesn't worry him, though. It just feels like a future, taking some kind of shape on the horizon, like when you're driving west across Colorado toward the hazy promise of the Rockies.

"I've been thinking about that, too, and Keeley Kent is not happening." She makes a face. "Roy says he's all right with Roy Jones, though."

The conversation drifts off a little bit, to marriages they've witnessed, marriages they've been in — turns out Keeley was married for three months when she was 19, to a very nice Bolivian footballer who didn't speak a word of English. "Best relationship I had until Roy, honestly," she sighs. "But anyway, we better get Trent and Rebecca not actively hating each other before there's wedding talk, otherwise the priest will ask if there's any objections and Rebecca will come in with an Uzi."

An ugly thought occurs to him — he feels bad even saying it, but if anybody's going to know it's Keeley. "Rebecca's not — she's isn't…" he doesn't even want to say the words out loud, so he spins his hand around in a circle before putting it on his chest.

"Oh, fuck no!" she says, laughing. "Ted, you're lovely, but the number of terrifying people you've accidentally seduced with the power of your mustache remains at one, I promise. Or maybe two, but Sass claims she's the one who seduced you."

That's pretty much how Ted remembers it too, so he lets it go. "So you think Rebecca will go for it? The peace summit idea, I mean."

"I think I can convince her. Maybe. Eventually. Can't have it here, though," she says, waving her hands around, taking in the whole clubhouse. "Unfair home advantage, yeah? Gotta be neutral territory."

"Right, good point. What about Mae's?"

"Nah," Keeley says after a moment. "If they start chucking things at each other Mae will stick us with the bill. Plus I wouldn't put it past her to run bets on who wins."

"Now, this ain't about winning and losing—"

"Ted, you're my mate, you know that, but this is absolutely about winning and losing." She bites her lip, thinking. "You know, I think I've got the perfect place for them to talk. Super private, no paparazzi whatsoever, nothing they can use as weapons, lots of soft things for them to throw if they need to."

Ted tries to follow along. "The playground at Richmond Primary?" he guesses.

"Oh God no, Rebecca would strangle him with one of the swing-set chains." She gave a full-body shudder. "I am not going down for accessory to murder, Ted. I wouldn't last a minute in prison."

Personally Ted thinks she'd rule that place with an iron fist, but Orange Is The New Black probably wasn't that realistic a depiction of women's prisons anyway. Besides, maybe England still had chain gangs or deportation ships or something instead. "Well, wherever it is, I'm sure it's great."

Keeley claps her hands. "It is. Ted, this is a brilliant idea."

 


 

"This is the stupidest fucking idea you've ever had," says Roy, "And you once had us running drills in our socks."

"Don't be so negative," Keeley says, although she's got to raise her voice a bit to carry over the sound of Trent yelling about statues, or maybe statutes.

Ted and Keeley have been hiding in Keeley's kitchen for about half an hour, trying not to listen in on Trent and Rebecca's extremely upscale fight happening in the living room. It's harder than you'd think; for one, Keeley's got a very nice open-plan first floor (or ground floor, maybe) that lets in a lot of light but is somewhat lacking in the doors department. For another, both Rebecca and Trent have a marked tendency to get loud when they're pissed off, and an even marked-er tendency to get pissed off when they're in each other's presence.

Roy, blissfully unaware of their plans for today, showed up about five minutes ago with groceries for dinner, which he's now in the process of preparing. "There's only enough for two, so you and your feral cat squad will be fucking off in about forty-five minutes."

"Roy, you can't put a timer on this," Keeley says, gesturing out toward where Ted can see Trent waving his glasses around and Rebecca looking about ready to stab him with one of her high heels.

"I can put a timer on dinner."

Ted claps his hands together. "How can I help?" he asks. "With the dinner, that is."

With the understanding that he's still not allowed to stay, Ted gets put to work cutting up veggies. They start talking about breadmaking, which both of them are getting into; Roy's a big fan of challah, and Ted asks him for advice on the egg wash, since he's never found one that gets the right combination of shine and crispiness.

Keeley pulls up a playlist on her phone that's mostly gentle piano solos. "Can't hurt," she says, even though they can still hear Rebecca making some very heartfelt suggestions about where Trent can shove his journalistic ethics and standards.

From further down the counter Roy turns to glare at Keeley, then at Ted. He's kind of missed that glare, truth be told. "They're going to fucking kill each other."

"Not with big strong Roy Kent around," Keeley says, leaning up against him. "Not with my man, with all his muscles and that, to intervene."

"Your man and his muscles aren't getting anywhere near them," says Roy, but Ted knows that tone of voice pretty well and they've definitely got backup if things head south. "Anyway," Roy grumbles, probably realizing he's already conceded, "The trick is you separate the whites and the yolks, whisk them up separate and then add them back together."

"I'll try that next time," says Ted, just as Rebecca starts shouting about something called News of the World.

 


 

Roy is true to his word and kicks them out forty-five minutes later, but fortunately things have mostly wound down by then. The three of them stand on Keeley's front doorstep, blinking in the early evening light for a second, the sound of the slammed door still reverberating.

"Well," Rebecca says in her briskest of brisk tones, "Let's never do this again, shall we?"

"Right," says Trent, and Ted's already planning to email Katie later tonight and ask to borrow that XXXL t-shirt Beatrice uses on her kids.

Rebecca nods and marches off to her car, where Liam looks up from his book and starts the engine. Trent watches her go, snorting softly at the automatic door opening and closing.

"So," Ted asks, guiding them over to their car, "How did it go?"

"She thinks I'm the devil incarnate and I think she's a power-mad ersatz oligarch," he says as they get in. "Fortunately, we have a few points of commonality that may allow us to remain in the same room for whole minutes at a time."

"Points of commonality, huh. Such as?"

Trent turns the car on, smiling to himself. "We were both rather horrified by Keeley Jones's interior design aesthetic, for one. The pink fur pillows will haunt my nightmares."

"Aw, I thought they were kind of cute. You don't think Seraphina—"

"If you ever even breathe a word to her about them, I will set fire to every one of your polo shirts, darling," Trent says, and they pull out onto the road.

 


 

Things get better.

They still get the odd photographer jumping out of a bush at them for a while, but Keeley's right; they're not that interesting, especially when there's some new revelation about another one of Rupert's mistresses he's been keeping on the back-burner since marrying Bex.

Ted keeps them nice and boring by taking Trent to the movies and going with him and Seraphina to the playground, the everyday stuff that doesn't make for headlines. It's hard to churn up much of a scandal out of a couple of middle-aged men going about their business, bickering over what to get at the grocery store and zipping up Seraphina's coat when it's chilly outside.

"I'm a bit annoyed, to be honest," Trent confesses. "I'd have thought our fifteen minutes would at least run the full fifteen minutes." They're wandering around the park outside the stadium; it's a couple hours before game time, and Rebecca has cordially offered Trent a seat in the owner's box. (Keeley's promised to sit in between them with her elbows at the ready, which is nice, but realistically the two of them can probably just reach over her head to slap at each other.)

"Now, sweetheart, you usually last a little longer than that," Ted teases him, and takes his hand. "But it's worth it, to get to do this."

Trent stops, pulling Ted around to face him. "You really mean that," he says, searching Ted's face like he's got a bug on it.

"I really do. Wait, do I have a bug on my face?"

Trent's still watching him. "You can just — say things, sometimes," he murmurs, "And it's as though you're…" he trails off, and now he's looking at Ted's mouth, which Ted always enjoys.

"It's as though I'm in love, sweetheart." Ted gives him a quick peck on the cheek. "But I'm gratified to know that just holding your hand can get you all flustered like this, makes me feel—"

Which leads to Trent shoving him up a nearby tree and, in English parlance, snogging the holy hell out of him.

That does get photographed, but all that happens is they trend a little bit on Twitter with the hashtag #gaygaffergoals. Keeley puts the picture on Richmond's Instagram feed and they get what is apparently the right amount of likes, which is nice. Trent, for his part, has the newspaper version of it framed and hangs it on the wall along with all the other family photos, and then it's Ted's turn for some snogging.

They add more pictures. Michelle sends over Henry's official T-ball photo from this year, alongside Henry's least favorite picture of himself (crying in bathtub as a toddler, with Michelle and Ted both trying to scrub unmentionable fluids off of him after a misadventure in a ditch). Ted gathers his courage and gets a print made of the picture of Trent and Seraphina at the Pup Cup, which Trent stares at for a long minute before he hangs it up.

"What?" Ted demands, feeling nervy and exposed.

"Nothing," he says, smiling at him from behind his glasses. "I'm just in continual awe of your ability to fancy someone without realizing it."

Dr. Crimm sends them a picture she must have taken that first morning after they'd arrived at Bristol, during Cuddle Time. All three of them are dead to the world, Ted with his mouth hanging open and probably snoring ("definitely snoring," Trent assures him), Trent mostly burrowed under the blankets with only the top of his head visible, and Seraphina with her head flopped over Ted's legs and her legs contorted over Trent's hip. They send a copy of that picture to Michelle, who lets him know that she showed it to her chiropractor and he screamed.

They introduce Henry and Seraphina on one of Ted's FaceTime calls to Kansas, all three parents holding their breath. It goes okay, although both kids get bored with each other pretty quickly and are way more interested in getting someone to pay attention to them, which is only fair when you're almost four/eight and a half. They try a couple more times: an attempt to make cookies together over video ends up with two screaming tantrums from Seraphina and an outright refusal to stop eating all the chocolate chips from Henry and a resulting upset stomach that abruptly cuts the evening short. More successful is the night there's a thunderstorm in London, Seraphina crawling into bed crying and terrified; Henry and Michelle pause their dinnertime to sing her their lullaby song. It works, calming Seraphina down enough that she curls into her dad and falls asleep with only moderate clutching at the two of them. Henry's pleased as pickled peppers to have helped — "I'm gonna grow up and be a mom," he says, and Michelle and Ted share a smile over the phone, Trent already fast asleep again.

Trent buys Minecraft for his Switch so that Henry and Ted can play together, but that quickly morphs into Henry and Trent playing together, mostly at two in the morning London time. Ted comes downstairs for some water and finds Trent curled up on the sofa with his Switch in his lap, using his wrist to push up his glasses every five seconds.

"You making another run at my Tetris score?" Ted asks, detouring to drop a kiss on his head.

"Your son is trying to burn me alive," Trent replies, holding up the screen. Sure enough, Ted can see Henry's little alligator avatar jumping up and down on a nearby platform while Trent's rhinoceros is surrounded by lava.

"Well, kids do do the darnedest things," Ted says, kisses him again, and gets his water. When he goes back upstairs to bed, there's a message from Michelle on his phone.

I think Henry is cyberbullying
your boyfriend

its good for him

builds character

Trent, unsurprisingly, bullies right back, trapping Henry in a pit that goes all the way down to bedrock, which prompts Henry to make a device that shoots Trent into the sea, and so on from there. Ted would worry more about it if Henry didn't ask to talk to Trent after each murder in order to compare notes. These conversations are mostly in French, with Henry reenacting some of the more gruesome deaths with sound effects and a lot of glee — at which point Seraphina often gets involved in the discussion, attracted by the sounds of destruction, and she and Henry will make noises at each other until Ted or Trent or Michelle call it a night.

"Dad, when we come to England can you make Trent bring his Switch when he visits us?" Henry asks one night. "So we can play Mario Kart."

Trent, who's lying full-length along the sofa with his head in Ted's lap at the moment, looks up from his book. "It seems I'm not the only one confident that you'll win your promotion," he says mildly, necessitating that Ted jostle him with his knee.

"Sure will, buddy, but your mom's gonna have to get two TVs and put them side by side, so you can both play on the big screen."

"There's a split screen option, Dad," Henry says, with the witheringly patronizing tone of an eight-year-old who's more on top of technology than his parents. "Jeez Louise."

"I don't know where he gets his attitude from," Ted tells Trent, and only gets a smile and a turned page for his trouble.

 


 

Just as the season's picking up — Richmond's still in contention for one of the promotion spots, but it's closer than Ted would like — Trent's book deadline starts looming, which means he's jetting off to various places in Europe and once to New York to argue with people. Considering how much arguing Trent does in his own home, Ted doesn't really see why he's got to travel so much to do it; for a few weeks they see each other about as often as they did in the early stages of their courtship.

"Did you really just call it courtship?" Trent says, in between kisses.

"What would you call it?" Ted asks, but he's not really interested in the answer. Trent's just walked in the front door after a week in Zürich, please mind the umlauts, browbeating various people at the FIFA headquarters. (Apparently Sepp Blatter has put out a restraining order on him, which Trent thinks is charming.) They'll be picking Seraphina up tomorrow morning, which means Ted's got all night to tell Trent how much he's missed him.

Which is a lot — Richmond won both their games this week, Zoreaux's wrist is doing better, and they finally hunted down that smell in the locker room (a pair of Bumbercatch's socks, he's going to get that bromodosis looked into). But he felt off-kilter the whole time, reaching out to steady himself and hitting thin air. He didn't pick up on a "Bo Knows" pun that Beard made on Thursday and it's still haunting him.

So he's not giving Trent a chance to get off his coat; instead he presses him up against the front door with a knee between Trent's thighs, feeling him already getting interested — as if the bite to his kisses weren't enough of an indication.

"Stay put, sweetheart," Ted says, and grabs the pillow from off the foyer table where he'd put it earlier. "I've got a plan."

"Can I put my luggage down, at least?" Trent asks, but Ted can see the sweetheart go through him like water.

Ted makes a big show of considering it as he drops the pillow on the floor. "Sure," he decides, and goes to his knees, his right one complaining already because he's probably too old to like this so much. "But you better do something with those free hands of yours."

"God, I love you," Trent says with a breathless laugh, and runs his hands through Ted's hair.

Ted gets him unbuckled and pulls his cock out, flushed and irresistible; he doesn't need Trent's tugging hands to guide him down but he appreciates it all the same. Usually Ted likes to focus on Trent while he does this, use his hands on him; but it's been a long week and he pulls his own sweats down, gets a grip on himself because Trent knows what to do, Trent will take care of this.

And God, does he ever.

"You know, I imagined doing this to you, in this exact same spot," says Trent, his voice still low and downright conversational. Ted pulls off for a second, just to take a breath, but Trent tightens his grip on his hair and suddenly that doesn't seem so important. "Shh, darling, just take it," Trent says, feeding his cock back into Ted's mouth. "It was the first time you came here. You kissed me and said you wanted time to think. But that's not what I wanted, God, I wanted to drag you inside and fuck you absolutely stupid." His hands twist in Ted's hair, just shy of hurting. "I leaned up against this door and, oh, fuck, imagined you on your knees, just like this. I wanted to ruin that mouth of yours. Like I'm ruining it now, aren't I?"

Ted would try answering, but he's a little busy.

They manage to pick themselves off the floor eventually and have dinner, although Ted's got to ice his knee a little bit and Trent ends up overcooking the pasta while he's fussing over him. "Seraphina's gonna end up as bad a cook as you," Ted scolds him.

"I'm a perfectly serviceable cook," Trent argues, and they bicker about salting pasta water until bedtime.

"Is it awful of me to be grateful we have time like this for ourselves?" asks Trent, early the next morning. They're lying in the wreckage of their bed, the blankets and top sheet mostly knotted up in one corner, the pillows lying somewhere on the floor; they'd gone for a pretty athletic round two when Ted's alarm had woken them both up, and Ted's now trying to rationalize going back to sleep for another hour.

"You saying you don't like Cuddle Time?" Ted asks, lifting his head where it's hanging off the side of the bed to look over at Trent.

"I'm saying there are merits to joint custody," Trent says, from his position more or less correctly aligned with the mattress. "And I'm also saying I feel like an absolute twat saying it."

Ted smiles. "It's not awful," he answers. "Kids are great, our kids especially. But there's something to be said for early morning NC-17 marathon sex romps where you don't have to worry about the rating, so to speak."

"Right," Trent says, flat and hopeless the way he does when he wants to pretend Ted's not funny.

"It'll be interesting, once Michelle and Henry get here," says Ted, poking at Trent with his toe. "We'll have to figure out a schedule that allows for sex romps."

"NC-17 marathon sex romps, to be precise. But you still have to win the promotion," Trent points out, hauling himself out of bed. "Isn't there some saying about chickens?"

"You mean about why it crossed the road?" Ted calls after him as he disappears into the bathroom. "Of course, it'd get run over looking the wrong way, over here. Get flattened by a double-decker bus or something."

From inside the bathroom Ted can hear Trent making a strangled noise of irritation, which is very sweet of him.

 


 

The London Zoo is one of those places Ted probably should've known existed but didn't. "Like that fancy farmer's market y'all got," he tells Trent as they pass through the gates, Seraphina riding piggyback and gently crushing Ted's windpipe.

"Live animals and fresh produce, London truly is the city of the future," Trent replies, and Ted tries convincing Seraphina to swat her dad for the next five minutes.

Trent's right about one thing, as far as Rupert Mannion goes: the man holds a grudge and gets real petty about it. Last year he crashed Rebecca's children's benefit and got Robbie Williams to cancel on her; this year he kicked it up a notch and systematically closed off every concert hall, event space, and whatever the English version of a Rent-A-Center was that Rebecca tried to book.

Between difficulty accessing a music venue that would be suitably high-class for Rebecca's donor group and Sam's gentle observation that perhaps she didn't need to continue Rupert's tradition of auctioning off players, Rebecca was forced to rethink her approach.

"Which is when I told her my brilliant idea," says Nora, sitting on the floor with Seraphina in the waiting area of the Meet The Penguins! Experience, playing a very complicated game of patty-cake. "Because I'm a genius."

"Clearly," says Trent from his seat next to Ted, and Nora beams up at him.

"I reckoned, rich people like exclusive concerts and dressing up and red carpets and all that," she continues. "But everybody likes pandas."

"Not everyone," Ted mutters, but just smiles at Trent when he lifts his eyebrows at him.

And so the AFC Richmond Zoo For All Fundraiser was born; Rebecca's prospective donors invited alongside the families directly benefiting from the foundation, rubbing elbows with each other while they leaned against the barriers to check out the tiger exhibit. There's no auction per se, but Keeley (in between running around like a border collie with a triple shot espresso) reports that they've already raised more than last year.

The meet'n'greet with the penguins goes pretty well, although they have a bit of a time keeping Seraphina from waddling off with flock at the end of the fifteen minutes. "This is why I didn't let you buy her a penguin costume," Trent points out as he picks Seraphina up. "Despite all the whinging from the both of you."

By the time they wrangle Seraphina back through the exit, Nora's already rejoined the rest of their little group waiting outside for them — Rebecca preferred to admire penguins from a respectful distance, and Bex is apparently banned from penguin encounters as a nursing mother.

"I'm coming back the minute he's off the tit, though," Bex promises, bouncing her son on her hip. He babbles something in baby-speak at her and she bumps noses with him. "David's great, but he doesn't half cramp my style."

"Isn't that just like a man," says Rebecca, but she's holding out a finger for David to wrap his little hand around so it rings kind of hollow.

It's a lot like any other day at the zoo, although the donor bracket is pretty easy to spot with their markedly different sense of what 'casual zoo-attending clothing' is. Ted sees a lot of twinsets and pearls, and Nora points out all the handmade shoes, which are apparently a thing in England.

"Yes, but that doesn't necessarily signify," Trent tells her. "Your godmother clearly isn't wearing handmade shoes at the moment, for example, and she's—"

"Yes, thank you, Trent," says Rebecca, a little too loud.

They're ambling along the Orange Route, according to the markers, Seraphina getting the occasional swing forward between Ted and Trent while Nora and Rebecca flank Bex. They're probably getting in people's way, but for once Ted's not inclined to worry about it. "Well, handmade shoes or not, at least we're all comfier-dressed this time," he says.

Rebecca makes a skeptical noise. "Yes, you were cruelly forced to put on a suit and tie for an evening," she says. "Meanwhile, that goddamn dress I wore needed more rigging than the HMS Victory."

"Looked good, though," says Bex, sounding as casual as any twenty-something thinks she sounds.

Trent looks over at Ted, who makes a similar face back. For all this talk about Rebecca letting Ted into her confidence and whatnot, she hasn't talked a whole bunch about Bex in the last few weeks. The tabloids seem to be tipping more and more toward the sapphic angle, as it were, though once again there's a pretty interesting division between the folks making Rebecca out to be a home-wrecker and those who want them to be the next Ellen and Portia. They've even got their own portmanteau, ReBex, which is a heck of a lot better than Tred and honestly makes Ted a little jealous.

"Not that this getup isn't just as flattering," Ted adds, waving his free hand vaguely in Rebecca's direction. "You look very nice."

"Even without handmade shoes?" Rebecca asks, chipper and bright-eyed.

Trent glowers and looks set to make some other cutting remark when Bex catches Ted's eye; she's almost as good as Keeley with her nonverbal communication skills. Maybe she's been getting lessons. "Ted!" she says, maneuvering herself in between Trent and Rebecca. "Would you like to carry David for a little bit?"

"I would be absolutely delighted," says Ted, mostly because he would be delighted. David's a squirmy little fellow but he settles down after a minute, blinking at Ted with the big eyes of somebody who's still getting used to spaces that aren't womb-sized. "What do you say we go check out the bug house next?"

This time it's Rebecca and Trent who stay outside, along with Seraphina (who shares her dad's mistrust of the creepy crawlies) and Nora, who spots Sam wandering past the flamingo enclosure and runs to hide in the bathroom. Ted's got some reservations leaving the two of them without a grown-up buffer, but he figures any scratches they leave on each other will probably be well-earned.

Besides, Bex is good company, with the right attitude about coral ("amazing, but the fact that they're all teeny tiny little organisms? And they're kind of animals, but kind of not, and kind of things that other things grow on top of? Freaks me out, man") and babies ("they're wonderful and smell all the time, I had no idea how much I would be able to tell different types of poo from each other") and Rebecca ("the most incredible, lovely person who's ever made me almost wee myself in terror"). After five minutes, he can see why Rebecca's taken an interest, whatever that interest might be.

"You know, I was scared of meeting you," she says, as they coo over the little clownfish. David's migrated back to Bex's charge, drooling happily as he slaps at her chin. "I didn't even want to come today, except it's the zoo, right, you can't miss an outing at the zoo."

"Especially now they've got the new squirrel monkey exhibit," Ted agrees, but he's still catching up to what she said. "Haven't we met a couple times by now? You were at the charity gala last year, we talked about — what was it?"

"You complimented my purse to try and help get me out of a really awkward conversation with some creepy old guy," she says. "Who I then went and married, like a total twat."

"Right, yeah, rings a bell."

"And then the next time I saw you, you pissed off said creepy old guy so much that he popped about a billion viagras and managed to impregnate me," Bex continues. "And both times I don't think I actually said anything to you. Mostly because I thought I'd sound like a tit, which I probably do."

"First time I met Trent, he swore at me and I spit on his phone," Ted offers, though he's not entirely clear as to why Bex would worry about how she'd sound in front of him, of all people. "And right after we got relegated last year I spit all over Rebecca. So, you know, consider yourself graded on a curve."

"You spit on Rebecca?" Bex asks, her eyes wide. "Is — is she into that?"

"It was an accidental spitting, and I'm pretty sure she isn't," Ted tells her. "If you're information-gathering on that front."

Bex blushes, which is both hilarious and adorable. "We're not — I mean, she hasn't," Bex says, hurriedly. "Why, has she said something — not that there's anything. Or anything. Unless she said something?"

"Does this qualify as girl talk?" Ted asks, because honestly now that he's had a couple doses of it, he's got no problem going behind Rebecca's back to get another hit.

"Oh, fuck, I think it does," says Bex, looking stricken.

They have a whale of a time wandering through the rest of the exhibit, interrupting each other to point out a cute fish or bug, but mostly talking about Ted's favorite subject: somebody he loves and how wonderful she is.

"Honestly, half the appeal is how good she is with David," Bex confides, as they meander toward the exit. Ted glances as his phone: it's been almost a half hour and there are 20 messages from Trent and a dozen from Rebecca, respectively threatening to lock him in the walrus enclosure if he doesn't re-emerge soon and asking if Bex is all right and why they're taking so long. "I really didn't think watching somebody kiss my baby's head to see if he was running a temperature would be sexy, you know? It's weird."

Ted smiles and texts back some heart emojis to Trent and some vague smiling faces to Rebecca. "Not that weird."

Bex hits the automatic door opener button with her hip and they emerge, blinking, into the sunlight again; their dates are nowhere in sight but he can hear a couple of deep sighs from up the walkway, so they head off in that direction. Sure enough, they round the corner to find them sitting on the same bench but as far apart as humanly possible, Trent supervising Seraphina playing a game on his phone and Rebecca chatting with Nora.

"You think they all go to to the same barber?" Bex whispers, and Ted laughs loud enough for all four ponytails to whip around and spot them. Seraphina wriggles off her dad's lap and makes a beeline for Ted, her hands already impatiently up over her head for another piggy-back ride.

"Me and David are feeling mighty left out in the hair department," he confesses as he catches Seraphina and swings her up and over.

They wrap up the orange route and stop at the food court, where Bex and Rebecca have an argument about the organizational chart of lion prides in the wild and Nora explains TikTok to Trent. Ted keeps his focus on Seraphina, who has decided that all the foods she loved yesterday are disgusting and that Teddy is probably trying to poison her. 

They head off again after everyone's finished eating and Seraphina's deigned to eat one half of an Oreo; there's still a pretty good crowd, but Ted spots Roy and little Phoebe in the distance and waves. Phoebe waves back, but Roy takes one look at them, barks, "No," and picks Phoebe up over his shoulder, marching off in the opposite direction.

The hyenas and hippos along the pink route don't disappoint, although Ted finds himself mesmerized by what looks like a glitch in the Matrix. "What in Mary Moses is that? Looks like if a zebra and a giraffe and one of those little piggy guys with the snout put their genetics in a blender."

"A tapir," Trent tells him.

"No, actually it's an okapi," Rebecca reads from the plaque in front of the enclosure, bouncing David a little in her arms.

"I meant, the 'little piggy guy with the snout,'" Trent says. "Obviously that's an okapi."

"And its penis," Bex observes, tilting her head. "Weird, I thought it'd be striped, too."

"PENIS!" Seraphina says, with all the joy of an almost-four-year-old upon learning something new. Trent covers his face.

"Did you actually know that was an okapi," asks Ted, "Or is one of those things where you read the wikipedia page five minutes ago so you'd sound like you knew what you were talking about?"

Trent keeps his face covered. "You're never going to let me forget about Doug Flutie's drop kick, are you?"

"Not even when I'm ninety, sweetheart."

"The fact that you're all divorced is starting to make more sense to me," says Nora, thoughtful.

"Let's go somewhere a little less phallic, shall we?" Ted suggests. "I think the other side has a bunch of lemur and otter packs and such, calling it the Happy Families exhibit."

This causes a certain amount of amusement that Ted's not too sure about, but it gets them away from the randy okapi. Seraphina starts fussing about being carried again and Nora swoops in for a rescue this time.

"Hop up," she says, and Seraphina cheers for herself before she clambers onto Nora's back. "All right, we're off to see the lemurs, the wonderful lemurs of Madagascar — even though that doesn't scan, really, does it?"

"LEMURS!" Seraphina shrieks. "What's a lemur?"

"Don't get too far ahead," Rebecca calls, shifting David to her other hip and repositioning his pacifier in one smooth motion. Ted raises his eyebrows at Bex.

"I told you," she whispers back. "She's a natural. It's unsettling. She can change a nappy better than I can — not that that's hard, I'm still total shite at it, but it's freaky." There's a brief pause while she explains that nappies are diapers. Rebecca and Trent drift a little bit ahead; they're not talking, but David is having a nice one-sided conversation about whatever it is six-month-old babies want to discuss. 

They overtake another family who are busy watching the giraffes and also engaging in a small war with each other. "You have lovely children," the mom says, putting her hand out toward Rebecca and Trent, only shouting a little bit over the noise of her kids. "I wish mine would give each other piggy-back rides. It's all we could do stop them chucking each other into the lion's pit."

Bex grabs Ted's arm, her eyes wide, but Ted's already fumbling for his camera.

"Um," says Trent, stopping in his tracks.

"Ah," Rebecca agrees, looking queasy.

"Bahb," David counters, chewing on Rebecca's sweater.

The mom looks confused and then immediately embarrassed, because English people get embarrassed at the drop of a hat except when it's something they should actually be embarrassed about. "I'm — oh, I'm sorry, I thought you two were—"

Nora's circled back by now, Seraphina singing the chorus to Margaritaville absently as she leans back to bat Nora's ponytail back and forth. From the evil gleam in her eye, she definitely overheard the exchange.

"Mummy," she calls, "I thought you and Daddy wanted to go see the Happy Families?"

Rebecca gives Nora a look that would peel paint off a train engine, but the mom just smiles, relieved that she was right after all. "Oh, it's very nice," she says to Nora. "You two and your parents will love it!"

"I really—" Trent says, looking absolutely repulsed.

"Oh, I do hope so," says Nora, with a wistful sigh up at Trent. "Daddy's been so busy lately, working double-shifts at the factory, we hardly see him at all."

"Get the picture, get the picture," Bex hisses.

"Are you kidding?" Ted whispers back. "This is on video, I'm not missing a second."

"I know he does it for us, and Mummy too, with her job at the bank. But really, isn't just spending time with your family the important thing?"

The mom looks over at her own pack — husband wrangling two boys who seem intent on killing each other, the kid in the stroller picking his nose with admirable determination, and the lone girl already halfway over the fence to make a grab for one of the baby giraffes. "Right," says the mom, but she smiles up at Trent and Rebecca anyway. "You're doing an excellent job, it looks like."

"Thank you," Trent says, and puts his hand on Nora's shoulder, patting it heavily. "We're very proud."

"Oh, yes," says Rebecca, pinching Nora's cheek. "A lucky pair, we are, with kids like this."

"Daddy, it's a penis!" Seraphina gasps, pointing at one of the giraffes.

"I think I'm gonna pee my pants," Bex whispers, leaning up against Ted as he tries to keep the phone in focus. He'll need to figure out how to frame a video so he can hang this on their wall. Maybe gifsets, that's all the rage.

 


 

They lose their next away game against Fulham (which isn't much of an away game, less than ten kilometers even if you're taking the scenic route along the river). It's a mess of a first half, the rain pouring down and making mud pie out of the pitch, and they're down 2-1 at the whistle. The second half is worse, Jamie taking a bad fall that wrenches his shoulder, and they can't get anywhere against Fulham's defense. The game ends 2-1 and the team's too exhausted to even be pissed off about it.

Ted fields a press room that's positively elated they've finally lost one, after a few weeks of boring wins, and has a conference with Beard and Nate and Rebecca about strategy for the last few games of the regular season — what they'll have to do if they slide any further and go into the playoffs for that last shot at promotion. He checks in on Jamie, who's shivering in his ice bath treatment and uncharacteristically, one might even say terrifyingly, quiet.

"It's the first time I ever really fucked myself up," he says, teeth chattering just a little. Gail makes a clucking noise at him, though her earbuds are in so Ted can't tell if it's concern for Jamie or some new development on My Favorite Murder. "It's a bit, y'know."

"I do," says Ted, taking a seat next to him. He's still chilly and damp himself, and Trent's going to kill him if he gets sick, but Jamie's got a drawn look on his face like he's just realized he can mess himself up. Twenty-four sounds about the right age to start realizing you're mortal; Ted's known too many young men who learned a lot sooner. "But you've got some of the best people in the country making sure you're okay, and we're all keeping tabs on you, too. You played great out there tonight — proud of you." He gives Jamie a second, because getting praise always makes him a little twitchy right after, then adds, "You still got your dad's number blocked?"

"And his email. And Facebook. And Twitter." He looks glum for a minute before brightening. "Me mum's coming down for a few days, though. Wants me to show her how to use Bantr."

"Good for her, getting herself out there."

Jamie smiles, beatific. "Yeah, she watched this documentary, s'brilliant, called Catfish. Says she's gonna pretend to be me and find me a nice girl."

"Well, that sure sounds like it's gonna work out in some sort of a way," Ted says, and wishes him luck.

By the time he texts Trent to pick him up, he's about ready to eat a live chicken and sleep for a year. The rain's gotten worse and Ted gets soaked through all over again just getting from the entrance to the car.

"Christ, I should've brought a tarp," says Trent, recoiling when Ted goes in for a kiss.

"Sorry to drip all over the fine leather upholstery," Ted says, "I'm sure the chauffeur can buff it out in no time." He twists around and gives Seraphina, already in her PJs and mostly-asleep in her carseat, a little wave. She blinks at him and yawns, which is honestly fair for this time of night.

"The chauffeur was busy getting you Nando's on the way here," Trent says, handing over a promisingly grease-laden bag — now that he mentions it, Ted can see the slight poof of Trent's hair that's the hallmark of getting caught in the rain.

"I love the chauffeur very much," Ted tells him happily, and digs into the chips while Trent navigates them home. It's an easy half-hour, Trent eviscerating Richmond's performance tonight like they're still sparring in the press room, Ted force-feeding him chips when he gets too snotty. By the time they get home his mood's vastly improved, though he's distantly worried about hypothermia if he stays in these clothes much longer.

Seraphina gets a semi-second wind and Trent abandons him to her machinations while he disappears upstairs, changing the laundry or some such if the noise is any indication. Ted's too tired to do more than shuck off his jacket and shoes and socks, hopping around after Seraphina while she develops a complicated game of tag that seems to involve as its main premise that Ted can't win, which is just rubbing salt in the wound but almost-four-year-olds aren't known for their empathy. Fortunately she lasts about ten minutes before sacking out again; Ted has to wrap her in the blanket on the back of the sofa so he won't get her all wet, but he carries her up to her room without incident and tucks her in. She rustles around in her sleep, grabbing Reddie (a red teddy bear, Seraphina's still not too inventive when it comes to naming things) and pulling it close. 

He stands there for a little while, thinking about her birthday coming up soon — right after their season ends, which is very thoughtful of her — and the birthday party the following weekend that Trent's in-laws are going to throw, the invitation to which is on their fridge with the least-cute magnet holding it up. ("Who sends an engraved invitation to a kid's birthday party to the kid's own parents?" Ted demanded when it arrived, and Trent sighed and kissed him on the cheek, which was about as good an answer as he ever got when it came to the Turners.) He and Trent will have their own celebration with her on the day itself, with some agonizingly thought-out presents that she's not really going to care much about because she's only turning four, but she'll get a kick out of destroying the wrapping paper and hiding in the boxes afterward, which is the main thing.

Besides, the most important present isn't something he can wrap: Henry and Michelle, coming to visit at the end of the month after Henry's school finishes up. They'll stay down at his place down in Richmond for a week, seeing more of the sights than they did during that disastrous visit last year (Ted's definitely taking them to the zoo this time). Then Ted'll take charge of Henry for a week while Michelle heads off to Bristol, talks to the folks she'll be working with in a few months. They haven't nailed down specifics yet, but Michelle's boss Jane has already ensconced herself in the new offices and just about ordered Michelle to be "in place" by the time the school year starts in early September.

He hasn't told Trent yet — or Henry, since they want him to get a feel for what the UK's like before springing a whole move on him. The secret's fit to bust behind Ted's teeth any minute, but Michelle's been having way too much fun pretending she's sneaky about the whole thing, and he still loves her enough to play along. Trent definitely knows something's up ("journalist, I am a journalist with actual prizes for journalism, which is an entire field of employment predicated on finding out things people don't want you to know"), though so far he's confined himself to narrow-eyed looks whenever Ted hustles out of the room to talk to Michelle.

"You realize that if you were a normal person, I'd think you were cheating on me with your ex-wife," Trent pointed out one night, and Ted was so busy laughing that he almost got Trent with his teeth.

Trent slips into the room and puts his hand on Ted's back, both of them hissing at the cold fabric of his shirt. "Right, come on, darling," says Trent, keeping his voice low. "Let's get you sorted."

"Sure, now that I've done all the work," Ted grumbles, but he follows Trent down the hallway and into their room, fumbling at his tie — he's been trying to dress a little snazzier on their away games but that mostly translates to a tie and a button-up under the pullover, which apparently has made for some unflattering Mr. Rogers comparisons online.

Then Trent leads him into the bathroom, and Ted forgets about the tie. "Why, Trent Crimm from the Independent, I never," he says.

"Don't get used to it," Trent warns. "Those bath bombs are an absolute menace — you're going to have glitter on you, I hope you realize that."

He didn't light as many candles as Ted did the last time — just a couple on the sink, two or three on the far ledge of the bathtub — and there aren't nearly so many bubbles, just a slightly golden-tinted surface on the lightly steaming water. But there's a bottle of beer sitting on the little stool Seraphina uses to brush her teeth and Trent's phone is playing something soft and guitar-y.

"I don't know about this," Ted says, teasing. "Do you feel it sends the right message, having a bubble bath after a loss?"

Trent squints at him. "I'm never sure whether to be flattered or horrified at how well you remember the things I've said to you," he says, slapping Ted's hands away to tug at the knot he's made at his neck. He pauses and squints harder. "This is my tie," he says, accusing.

"Mm, yeah, wore it for good luck, you're gonna have to burn this one," he says, plucking hopefully at Trent's cardigan. "You planning on joining me in there?"

"Rule Four," Trent admonishes, even while he leans in for a kiss, and then another one, and then a third one that's definitely at least bending Rule Number Four a little out of shape. "Besides, as I said, glitter. I've already had my shower, I'm not submitting to a twenty-minute rinse like a chavette at the end of an evening."

He does settle on the stool once Ted gets in, pushing up his sleeves and holding Ted's beer until he's comfortable, then handing it over with all due ceremony. "Thank you," says Ted, catching his hand, lacing their fingers together. "This is nice."

"Well, I'm world-renowned for my niceness." Trent leans against the edge of the tub, his other hand trailing idle patterns in the soapy surface, and just watches Ted for a while. Ted's still getting used to this, even after all these months: how Trent sometimes looks at him like he's something to be memorized. It's not unsettling anymore, but it always kicks his heartbeat up a couple notches, stirs him up a little bit.

Ted takes a swig from his beer. "So, I should let you in on some stuff," he says. "Since May's coming up."

"Yes," says Trent, clearing his throat. "End of the season."

"And Seraphina's birthday, that's the important thing," he says. Trent smiles, briefly, but he's still looking tense. "Look — I was hoping we weren't going to have to worry about playoffs, but after tomorrow night Nottingham Forest might have us beat for the number two promotion slot."

"I'm keenly aware," says Trent, looking down at where his fingers are still drifting through the golden bubbles.

"So, if we end up in the playoffs, I'd like to ask a favor," he says, taking a deep breath. "Would it be okay with you — and Seraphina, obviously, we'd consult her — if I stayed at the flat for the duration? I'll still come by, but if we're having to deal with playoffs, I'm gonna be living at the clubhouse mostly anyway."

"And you don't want to split focus." Trent smiles, looking—

"Right, but why're you looking so happy?" Ted demands. "You getting sick of me?"

Trent's smile gets bigger, even while he's shaking his head. "No, no, I'm just… relieved to hear you're so invested in the promotion," he says. "You've been remarkably sanguine these past few months about Richmond's chances."

"I'm still sanguine," Ted protests, squeezing his hand. "It's just gonna be a little trickier, that's all. There's a lot riding on this. Besides," he adds, because to heck with it, he can't keep this up another minute, "I've got to get the place ready for company. Or guests, I guess, I won't be staying down there when they show up, but there's some takeaway in the fridge that's been in there for like a month and that definitely needs throwing out—"

"Ted, please take a few steps back in the conversation," Trent says, shaking his hand loose to frown at him. "What guests?"

"Henry and his mom," says Ted, grinning. "They're coming for a couple weeks, staying in Richmond. It was gonna be a surprise for Seraphina's birthday, but Lasso men are pretty crap about keeping that sort of thing to ourselves, honestly, I should tell you about the time we tried throwing a surprise party for my mom's fiftieth and I think she knew more about the arrangements than we did."

"Ironically, this is unsurprising." But Trent's frown is melting away, at least. "So they'll be visiting?" He takes his phone down from its perch on the sink and starts poking at his calendar app.

"Well, recon is more what I'd call it, but sure. It'll be both of them the first week, then Michelle will head down to Bristol and we can see how it goes, keeping track of two monsters at the same time. I was thinking Michelle could take your folks out for dinner one night, but she'll probably be busy finding a place for her and Henry. We're thinking he'll do fourth grade — which is Year Five, I think?" He squints at Trent, but Trent doesn't say anything, so that must be right. "Year Five in Bristol, and if he wants to finish, uh, primary school is what you call it, down there that'll be fine, but there's some great secondary schools here in London—"

"Perhaps… a few steps further back would be helpful," says Trent, putting his phone down in his lap. "Are they — Michelle and Henry are moving here?"

"I sure hope so — if I'm out of a job at the end of the season, alimony's a lot more generous in the UK than in Kansas. Besides, I'll be sitting on a pretty nice nest egg from the last two seasons. I can be a lord of leisure for a while, maybe have Roy write me up a recommendation to coach some school teams."

Trent's still staring at him. "So you're not going back to Kansas, if Richmond stays in the Championship League," he says slowly.

Now it's Ted's turn to stare. "No? Why on earth would I—"

"Because that was the plan, wasn't it?" Trent runs his hand through his hair, pushing it back. "You laid it all out, back in November. Fail at promotion, and you leave. Win, and you — stay."

"Well, sure," Ted says, finishing up his beer and setting it down on the floor. Clearly a few things have gotten lost, as it were, in translation. "But that was before everything else, sweetheart. And Michelle's as gung-ho about this as anybody — she likes Wichita fine, but between you and me, that woman could work in Antartica and be happy, so long as as she had projects she liked. And apparently her new division is working on some sort of helicopter torquing… thing, I'm not sure what, but anyhow she's gonna be knee-deep in engineering nonsense for the next three years, at least." He tries catching Trent's eye. "You all right over there? I didn't mean to — earth to Trent, come in—"

Trent slips off the stool onto his knees, leaning over the bathtub rim to kiss him hot and fierce while his phone clatters onto the floor. Ted grabs hold to steady him, getting his cardigan soaked in about none seconds flat, and Trent's broad hand wraps around the back of his neck, keeps him from getting knocked back against the porcelain as Trent all but climbs into the tub.

"I thought," Trent says, and doesn't finish whatever he was going to say in favor of pressing a kiss to Ted's Adam's apple, his collarbone. "I didn't think—"

"Sure, okay," says Ted, and gets rewarded for his agreement by Trent's hand, sliding down Ted's chest and stomach to wrap around his cock. "Oh, yeah — no, wait—"

Trent's wandered back to his mouth and Ted gets distracted by the press of teeth against his lip, the way Trent's stubble rasps at his cheek.

"Rule Number Four," Ted remembers at long last.

"I've locked the door," Trent murmurs in his ear, giving him a nice long stroke. "But if you really don't want to—"

"You're so mean," Ted says, marveling, kissing him again. He's hard in Trent's grip; the water feels like a tease all on its own, not nearly enough.

Trent takes his hand away, pulling just far enough to look down the whole length of Ted's body. "You know, if you don't want me to touch you," he says, "You could always touch yourself. I'm sure the definition of hanky-panky allows for some… release of pressure, surely?"

"I like how you pretend these rules aren't something we just made up to stop us from injuring ourselves with all those NC-17 marathon sex romps right off the bat," Ted says, but he takes himself in hand, trying not to slosh the water around too much even while he wants to push up into his own fist. "Fuck, Trent—"

"Not tonight, I'm afraid," says Trent, his voice low and amused, "But I'd be willing to try again sometime, if you'd like."

Ted laughs at that, because their one attempt so far resulted in Ted calling off the whole thing before he even got all the way in, Trent pouting for the rest of the night because Ted was "irritatingly thick." That in turn resulted in Ted making a lot of really bad jokes that Trent had to pretend were also irritating, which resulted in him holding Ted down and fucking him hard enough to leave bruises, which as far as Ted's concerned, was the best possible result anyway. He likes the arrangement they've got.

But he does enjoy the idea of Trent spread out under him, just taking it, as helpless as Ted usually is, as helpless as he is right now. He holds Trent's gaze as his orgasm rolls over him from the nape of his neck, where Trent's still got hold, down his whole body, leaving him blissful and already half-asleep. "Oh, boy," he mumbles, relaxing against Trent's warm hand. "Talk about release of pressure."

"Yes, I thought I would enjoy that," says Trent, looking smug.

Ted tries to focus. "Don't you mean you thought I'd enjoy that?"

"I rather think most people enjoy a good wank," says Trent, laughing at the face Ted pulls at that word. "But no, I've been wanting to watch you do that for some time."

Ted can feel himself blushing even over the heat of the water. "You have."

"Mmhmm." Trent sometimes gets this glittery look in his eyes, like when he's got hold of a good story or he's found a way to screw Ted over in Mario Kart. "Why do you think I already took a shower?"

Ted puts two and two together. "Aw, man," he whines. "So I don't get a show tonight?"

"Well, you did lose," Trent reminds him, cruelly.

"Yeah, but I also told you that I'm not abandoning you to go back to Kansas any time soon, which apparently you thought was somehow in the cards," Ted shoots back. "That ought to be worth at least a grope or two."

"Maybe next time." Trent leans in and presses a kiss to his forehead. "I'll go check on the monster. Don't drown, all right?"

"Sure thing," Ted yawns again. It ends up being a close call before he pulls the plug and washes off in the shower. 

There's still glitter all over the sheets and Trent complains about it for an hour the next morning, but Ted just drinks his coffee and admires the way the sunlight gives Trent a ridiculous halo, limning him in gold.

 


 

And then, just like that, things get worse.

Richmond loses their next game, and their next, and now it's not a question of getting the number two spot for automatic promotion but fighting to stay in the top six at all. Beard has a tic in his right eye and Nate's growing visibly grayer by the hour and Ted has a ringing in his ears pretty much all the time now, faint and insistent and inescapable. The team's still with him, still determined to win promotion or die trying, but it's that last part that's starting to keep Ted up at night.

They manage to claw out a 1-0 win against Huddersfield, but it's ugly as anything Ted's ever seen this side of the Atlantic. Isaac damn near kills himself taking a hit that was meant for Sam and stays down a long, long time. He's not carried off but it's close as all get-out — and then the son of a gun turns up at practice the next day, putting on his captain's armband and daring Ted to say a word about it.

"Surely you've seen worse," Trent points out later that night, brushing Ted's hair out of his face. They're lying in bed together, whispering across the pillows; it's something like three in the morning and for once their bouts of insomnia have synched up, both of them restless and exhausted at the same time. "American footballers suffer far more serious injuries."

"I know, and I'm pretty queasy about that too," Ted admits. "Always was, to be honest — but these guys go out there with nothing, you know? Feels like I'm leading a platoon armed with slingshots."

"That's what brought down Goliath, remember," says Trent, sitting up. "Come on, let's wake Seraphina up and make some eggs and toast. No reason she should get a decent night's sleep if we can't."

"Boy, you sure do like living on the edge," Ted mutters, but flings the blankets back and follows him.

They win their last away game against Bristol City, 3-1 with his guys playing like they've got firecrackers up their butts, but somehow lose their last game of the regular season against Birmingham. They wind up in fourth place for the playoffs, up against #5 Swansea and then a final with either #6 Barnsley or #3 Cardiff.

They're still in this; they've still got a shot. But the ringing gets louder every day.

 


 

Seraphina's birthday begins the way a lot of mornings do, with the birthday girl herself bouncing on their bladders — though instead of her usual "WAKE UP! WAKE UP!" alarm (or her current favorite "PENIS! PENIS! PENIS!" variation) she's screaming "I'M FOUR! FOUR! ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!"

"It's a miracle she's survived this long," Trent mumbles, and uses Ted as a shield to protect himself.

Technically Ted's not supposed to be here — he's supposed to be in Richmond, ostensibly at his flat but more realistically in his office. For the last four nights that's exactly what he's been doing, sometimes with Beard or Nate for company, waking up with a crick in his neck. But last night around ten-forty-five he'd pulled up another clip of Swansea's offense, stared at it for a few seconds, and gotten right up out of his chair and out the door. For all he knows, the clip's still playing.

"Did you walk here?" Trent demanded, muzzy and outraged, when Ted finally collapsed in bed with him around one in the morning.

"Sure did, Mr. Darcy," Ted confirmed. "Had to check in on my sister." He was out like a light until Seraphina's dulcet tones informed him that it was now time for birthday celebrations.

Seraphina's stoked with her first present, a tiara that's about as big as her head, with matching (though smaller) ones for Trent and Ted. Four years old is still too young for conceptual presents, so the news that Henry is going to come visit is kind of lost on her, but she does appreciate the toys that Ted tell her are from Henry and Aunt Michelle.

"Sometimes buying affection can be a heck of a deal," Ted observes, watching her zoom around the living room in her new cape from the relative safety of the sofa. He's got a trash bag all ready for the detritus, and Trent's armed with scissors for opening whatever boxes don't succumb to the might of Seraphina's fists on the first couple of blows. "Although making her think she's more of a princess is probably going to backfire."

"Faye has informed me that there will be fireworks at the birthday party on Saturday," says Trent as he plops another present on the floor near-ish to where Seraphina's trajectory might take her next. "I somehow doubt anything we give her today will be the contributing factor in her burgeoning sociopathy."

"That's tiara's pretty big," Ted counters, as Seraphina finds the next present and tears into the wrapping paper with what can best be described as cackles. "But doesn't it bother—" he stops, because if it's one thing Trent doesn't need, it's Theodore Busybody Lasso venturing an opinion on his parenting arrangements. "I guess I've always wondered," he amends, when Trent looks up from where he's trying — uselessly — to collect all the wrapping paper. "About you and the Turners."

"Why allow them into Seraphina's life, you mean?" says Trent. He manages to unwind a piece of Scotch tape — or whatever they call it over here — from Seraphina's foot, adding it to the ball he's forming in his hands. "When I loathe their son so absolutely?"

His tone's pretty mild, but Ted's always twitchy about this sort of thing. Everybody's divorce is different, like really depressing snowflakes; he knows there's a reason Trent hasn't told him exactly what happened. "We don't have to talk about it now, I mean, with her here and—"

"Ted, she may now be four but I can safely say her ability to grasp concepts like custodial arrangements is still a long way off," Trent says. Ted holds out the bag and he deposits his wad of wrapping paper. "Besides, if she does understand any of it, so much the better, really." He sits back on his heels, watching Seraphina for a moment. "I suppose it was desperation, at first. By the time Miss Brandon came to term, Joshua was long gone. Leaving me somewhat fucked — you can't exactly cancel an order for a baby."

"Right," Ted says, and thinks for a minute about that "Miss Brandon."

"I'd been resistant to the idea from the start — he'd talked me into it. Said it would help." There's a twist in Trent's voice at that last word. "But I went to the hospital and the little monster was bawling her head off in the crib and that was it, really." He thinks for a second, then retrieves a bigger present from the top shelf of the bookcase and balances it on the coffee table, at eye-height if you're four years old. (Seraphina doesn't notice right away, since she's busy jumping from the second-to-bottom step on the staircase down to the floor, yelling "SUPER-PRINCESS!" every time.) "Joshua terminated his parental rights as soon as my adoption application went through — practically the same day. I never expected to hear from the Turner family again."

At which point, Seraphina comes tearing around the sofa and all but collides with her dad, catapulting off of him when she sees the next present. For a minute they just watch Seraphina light into the wrapping paper and pull out the Duplo Cars set, complete with Lightning McQueen, Mater, and a gas pump. She coos at it and holds it out to Trent, who obediently opens the box and fishes out the toy figures for her.

But Trent's not finished with the story, so Ted clears his throat. "You did, though. Hear from them."

"Oh, no," Trent disagrees, amused. "The two of them just turned up on my doorstep one day, when Seraphina was about three months old. They'd no expectations, they said, but Seraphina was the only grandchild they were likely to ever have, and they wanted to be part of her life. So I agreed." He looks up at Ted. "What?"

"Nothing! It's just… very generous of you," says Ted.

"Uncharacteristically generous, you might say," Trent counters, a lift at the corner of his mouth. 

"That's not what I meant," Ted says, hasty, then thinks about it. "Maybe it is."

"Well, it wasn't. Generous of me, that is. I don't think I'd slept more than two hours at a time during those three months; I dumped her into their arms and passed out for eighteen hours." Trent shakes his head. "They're not my favorite people in the world — they've already tried cornering me a few times about public schools. Which means private schools," he explains, even though that's not really an explanation. "But they love her very much, they don't fob her off on nannies when she stays with them, and most of all they've stuck it out when their own son wouldn't. I'll let them have their fireworks for that alone."

"At the very least," says Ted. He thinks back on that first meeting with the Turners, watching them move around Trent and Seraphina like a well-ordered machine. He thinks on his mother, who raised two kids and has had a hand in the lives of every one of her grandkids and great-grandkids; of Michelle's mom and dad, who see Henry once a year at Christmas. "That's pretty generous all around, then. You've got a good family unit going."

Trent must hear something in his voice. "Ted," he says slowly, "Faye and Luke — they love Seraphina, dearly and profoundly. But they only turned up after Joshua admitted to them that she was his child — genetically, at any rate. If she'd been," and he sighs, a big sad thing that encompasses even more than he's saying. "If she'd been like me, I don't believe for a second that they would have been part of her life. The love came later. Whereas with you…" Trent climbs to his feet and sits down on the sofa next to Ted, curling into him with a yawn. 

"With me?" Ted asks, nudging Trent into his side. 

Trent wraps Ted's arm around his chest, absently running his fingers along the back of Ted's hand. "We are," he says. On the floor, Seraphina rummages around for the gas pump pieces, frowning in concentration as she puts it together.

Ted smiles, presses a kiss to the back of Trent's head and narrowly missing the tiara. "And I'm with you, sweetheart." He can't see Trent's face but he can feel the exhale of Trent's smile. "Fireworks, huh?"

"Mm, and a pony for the children. And no, adults are not getting a ride." 

"On the pony? Or—"

"Seraphina, don't stick the nozzle up your nose," Trent says loudly, and turns to bite Ted sharply on the shoulder.

"Okay, well, that's just unfair," Ted says, but he pulls Trent in closer and they watch as Seraphina chatters away to Mater and Lightning McQueen, telling them they're so beautiful and that they can live here forever with her.

Ted takes a cab down to the clubhouse around ten, leaving the two of them dozing on the sofa after an eventful morning. He spends the whole trip clutching his keychain, rubbing at the key to the front door of Darnley Terrace like a talisman or a compass; a promise to come back home.

Chapter Text

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.