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Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

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“The thing is,” Lara Adebayo (The Guardian) says in the press box, as AFC Richmond are up 3-1 on Chelsea and looking very likely to hold onto their lead with only seventeen minutes left in the game, “Have we considered that Ted Lasso might be a witch?”

“Surely you’re joking,” Trent says, looking at her over his glasses.

“No, no, let’s hear her out,” Ben Smythe-Jones (The Telegraph) says slowly, holding up a hand.

“I mean, truly. Look at where we are,” Lara says, gesturing to the press box. “More to the point, look at where they are! Last season they were in the Championship! They’d just been relegated!”

“They had an American as their manager,” Ben murmurs, in tones of horror, even though Ted Lasso is, somehow, in his third season as manager of AFC Richmond and one would think that that the press would’ve become accustomed to the shock and alarm of having a Yank as the manager of a football club. (They aren’t, of course.)

“And now they’re back in the Premier League, and it’s the middle of the season and they’re still somehow in the top-four, and if this lead holds they’re going to leapfrog Chelsea and jump into third—”

“Second,” Nigel Thrombey (The Daily Mirror) interrupts, staring at his phone. “Liverpool have just gone down 1-0 to Newcastle. Own goal.”

All of them take a second to take that in, doing rapid calculations in their head of the current table standings, and Trent knows the exact second that it hits.

If these scores hold, AFC Richmond, the club that was adrift in the Championship just a season ago, will be exactly three points away from leading—leading!—the Premier League.

“Dear God, are they actually going to do this?” Ben murmurs in disbelief.

“No,” Nigel says.

“Stranger things have happened,” Trent murmurs, but without conviction.

“No, no, they have not,” Lara says, gesturing out at the field. “Look at them! Look at that man! Don’t tell me you’ve seen anything like this before, because you are lying. A team like that? Doing this? And with a man like Ted Lasso leading them?”

Trent finds himself bristling at that, without quite knowing why. (Or rather, without wanting to think about why.) “What do you mean, a man like—”

“You know exactly what I mean,” Lara says, rolling her eyes at him. “Trent, you described him as one of the kindest, most warm-hearted individuals you’d ever met in your life, let alone football. You practically called him a saint!”

“I said that off the record,” Trent mutters, his face going hot as both Ben and Nigel look to him with interest. He’d also said it four pints in at the pub, which frankly means that it shouldn’t be counted against him at all.

“I am just saying, nice people do not, in fact, always win,” Lara says, emphatic. “Except now this one is! All the time, in fact!”

“It is enough to make you wonder if you’re living in a sports movie,” Ben says thoughtfully. “Something made by Disney.”

“Or,” Lara says, gesturing still at the pitch, particularly at the touchline where Ted Lasso is gesturing and communicating with his defense, “It makes you wonder whether Ted Lasso is a witch, and he’s accomplishing all this with magic.”

“Ted Lasso is not a witch,” Trent says, putting as much emphasis into the words as he can.

Of course, it would figure that not five seconds after he says it, Chelsea’s attack breaks down and Richmond are on the counterattack, their forwards sprinting down the pitch and Sam Obisanya letting loose a beauty of a curling ball past Chelsea’s goalkeeper and right into the corner of the net, putting AFC Richmond up 4-1.

Amidst the ecstatic roars of the Richmond away fans, Ben asks, sounding faintly stunned, “So...how would we know if Lasso is a witch, Lara?”

There is absolutely no reason for Lara to look so smug, and Trent tells her so.

*

By the end of December, Trent (along with the rest of the British football media) has run out of adjectives to describe Richmond’s assault on the Premier League title. In private (and increasingly in public) the only thing that any of the journalists can say to each other is a variation on, “Fucking hell, they’re still doing it!” It, being, of course, winning game after game, often in swashbuckling style, while their rivals shoot themselves in the proverbial foot with losses or draws. They’re at the top of the table, and they keep staying there.

Trent even finds himself being interviewed via satellite by ESPN over in the States, doing his best to explain (in American terms) the sheer magnitude of what one of their own is accomplishing and has already accomplished.

“Honestly, it’s like watching a gorilla tap dance,” he hears himself saying at one point to the American pundit on SportsCenter. “It’s not technically impossible, but it’s definitely not something you ever expected to see in your lifetime.”

He knows it’ll come back to haunt him the second he says it, but even so, Trent is surprised when he gets a toy gorilla with tap shoes sent to his office a few days later, with a note that reads, I’ll make sure to work on my soft shoe dance, just for you, with Ted Lasso’s signature below.

“A tap dancing gorilla?” Lara asks him dubiously at the next game. The teams have just come out for warmups and there’s not much to do until the game starts, so of course Trent’s hearing an earful about his unusual choice in metaphor.

“Better than calling him a witch,” Trent says dryly.

Lara scoffs. “Please. A white man pulling off a mustache like that? Totally supernatural.”

“Wait, what?” Tristan Reeds (The Daily Mail) says, overhearing.

“Wasn’t talking to you,” Lara says without looking back over her shoulder, and Trent hides his smile as Tristan hangs back, crestfallen—he’s been trying to wheedle his way into Lara’s good graces all season, but no luck there.

“But think about it,” she says to Trent. “Just think about the configuration of events that brought Ted Lasso to the UK, to Richmond. Think about all of it, and then tell me that the man isn’t a witch. You can’t!”

“I absolutely can, because he isn’t,” Trent insists.

Lara leans back in her seat and says, gesturing at the pitch, “Okay. Just watch.”

And Trent does watch, as first Richmond go down 3-0 in the first half to Aston Villa, and Trent (along with everyone else) is crafting an article that asks if perhaps this is the game that puts a dent in Richmond’s title hopes, if this is the game where they show some cracks in their so-far impenetrable confidence...only to watch as Richmond storms back in the second half, scoring three goals to tie the game at 3-3, and just as injury time is trickling down...Isaac McAdoo goes and scores an absolute cracker of a goal from a header, thanks to a pinpoint cross by Dani Rojas, and Richmond come from three goals down to win the entire game, 4-3.

“Fuck me,” Trent says, torn between pulling at his hair in disbelief and frantically re-writing his match report.

“It’s witchcraft,” Lara hisses, typing madly away at her own laptop. “I’m telling you!”

And Trent isn’t actually believing that it is, it’s just the stress and madness of a regular Premier League season compounded by the once-in-a-lifetime miracle run they’re witnessing now, but for just one second, he finds himself mouthing the word ‘witchcraft’ to himself.

It certainly doesn’t help that in the presser after the game, Ted Lasso is his usual affable self, with the twinkle in his eye and the dimple in his cheek, giving thoughtful answers to each reporter he calls on.

“Trent Crimm, the Independent,” Ted says as he points at him, that dimple deepening in his cheek.

Trent rises to his feet and says smoothly, “Trent Crimm, the Independent,” ignoring the rest of the room reciting it along with him. “Looking forward to the rest of the season, are you worried about the thinness of your squad, compared to your competitors? You made very few moves during the transfer window, so I wonder if you’ll be relying on rotating your starting eleven at any point over the coming weeks.”

“Well, Trent, I’m not looking forward any further than next week’s game against Brighton,” Ted says firmly. “I will say that I have full faith in my players on this team, and given where we’re at, I think it’s pretty justified. Injuries are always a concern, though, but knock on wood—” he actually taps on the table with his knuckles, “—and with the hard work of our physios, we’ll be able to make it through.”

Nothing especially profound in that, except that when it comes with Ted Lasso’s signature Kansas drawl and the warm weight of his twinkling brown eyes looking directly at you, well…for just a moment, Trent could almost swear that he feels, well. Bewitched.

*

Trent is unsurprised to find that Lara has roped some of their colleagues into this witchcraft nonsense, but he is surprised to see who she’s convinced.

“Oh, Nigel,” Trent says, in genuine disappointment. “Really?”

“Look,” Nigel says, belligerently gesturing with his half-empty pint. “The man gave me biscuits that he baked himself to celebrate my thirtieth anniversary with my wife, and they were so good that my wife wept while eating them. I didn’t think her tear ducts worked anymore, she doesn’t even cry when we watch Pixar movies with the grandkids!” He exhales, scrubbing at his thinning hair as he says, “If that’s not witchcraft, Crimm, I don’t know what is.”

“Jesus Christ,” Trent says, hanging his head low. The only saving grace is that the local pub they’re all in, packed to the brim with their fellow journalists, has heard weirder things than this.

“There is something about him, though, isn’t there,” Ben murmurs thoughtfully. “He’s just so charismatic.”

Despite himself, Trent flashes back to the memory of Ted Lasso looking at him earnestly over the remains of an Indian dish so spicy that it should’ve been classed as a weapon, and what it felt like to melt in the face of that relentless charm for the first time. “Yes, he is,” Trent agrees, grimly, and downs the rest of his pint.

“I mean, if I had to pick a man,” Ben continues, “It probably would be Ted Lasso. Mustache and all.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Trent asks.

“You know,” Ben says, looking around the table for support, “If I ever wanted to try it on with a bloke—”

“If you say man crush, I will fling this pint at your head,” Trent warns.

“You can’t tell me you don’t find Ted Lasso attractive,” Ben says, indignant now that they’re not indulging his temporary fit of bi-curiosity.

Lara, much to Trent’s relief, is giving him a skeptical look, and says, “You really want to ask the only woman journalist here if she finds a manager attractive?”

“Or the only gay journalist that?” Trent asks, eyebrow raised.

Ben slumps in his seat. “Fine. I will be sitting here, with my totally reasonable man crush on Ted Lasso.”

“Who is definitely a witch,” Lara adds, so they’re back on that bullshit again.

Several rounds later, and Trent is drunkenly slurring, ““How would you even tell if he’s a witch? It’s not as though Ted Lasso ever wears a witch’s hat, or cackles. No broomsticks to be seen.”

“Throw him into a pond and see if he floats, I think,” Nigel muses.

“Does he have any strange birthmarks?” Lara wonders, staring dreamily up at the ceiling.

Ben slowly raises his hand, and says in a solemn drawl, “I...will volunteer to find out.”

As Trent stares at him, Lara bursts out laughing and says, “That man crush isn’t looking so hypothetical now, eh?”

“Jesus Christ, I’m not drunk enough for this,” Trent groans, running a hand through his hair.

“Oh, we can fix that,” Lara says brightly, waving down the bartender.

*

A few days later, Trent has recovered from both his impressive hangover and from the horror of watching Ben wax rhapsodic over Ted Lasso’s floppy hair, and he’s off to Nelson Road to interview Jamie Tartt, Richmond’s leading scorer (and early favorite for winner of the Golden Boot). Trent’s looking forward to it, because ever since Richmond’s promotion to the Premier League, Tartt has been determined to avoid speaking to the press at all costs, even after games, even after he’s scored a hat-trick, or even that one game against West Ham when Tartt had scored four goals—he’s still refused to get in front of a microphone or speak to the press, leaving it to Lasso and his teammates.

Which means that scoring this interview is a coup for both Trent and the Independent, and Trent is determined to get something out of Tartt that wasn’t pre-approved by the team’s publicist. (Although given that Keeley Jones is part of the team’s PR, maybe that wouldn’t be so awful.)

To his surprise, Jamie Tartt is already waiting for him when Trent arrives, ten minutes early. He’s sitting in Leslie Higgins’ office, dressed in his usual tracksuit, hair slicked back and a trapped expression on his face. And waiting there with him is—

“Well, hey there, Trent Crimm from the Independent,” Ted Lasso says, an easy smile on his face as he gets up to shake Trent’s hand.

“Coach Lasso,” Trent says, only mildly surprised. As always, Ted’s grip is firm but not crushing, his hand warm and calloused in Trent’s. “Will you be joining us for this interview?”

“Oh, heck no,” Ted says. “Just wanted to take the moment to say hello, drop off some biscuits—”

“Excellent,” Trent says without thinking, looking eagerly at the small pink box resting on the desk. Abashed, he meets Ted’s gaze and admits, “Nigel was raving about your baking a few days ago. You made him and his wife very happy.”

“Hey, thirtieth anniversary, it was the least I could do,” Ted says. He looks to Jamie and claps a hand on his shoulder, “Right, Jamie, I’m gonna leave you in Trent’s excellent hands, I’m sure y’all will get on like a house on fire.” He pauses and says thoughtfully, “Now that I say that, that saying seems rather threatening, doesn’t it? I mean, the house is being destroyed by the fire, so really they’re not getting along at all.” He waves his hands as if to dismiss his own words, saying, “Let’s say you’ll get along like an anemone and a clownfish.”

“A what and a what?” Jamie asks, face scrunched up in confusion.

And so that is how Trent’s exclusive interview with footballing star Jamie Tartt begins, with Ted Lasso giving an impromptu lesson in marine biology and mutualism.

“So it’s good for both sides, then,” Jamie says, thinking it through. “Not like, um, those parasites that kill off their hosts.”

“Exactly,” Ted says, looking for all the world like a teacher smiling at a favored student. “Mistletoe, ironically, is a parasite. It feeds off the host tree it lives on, and doesn’t give a thing back. Just takes resources for its own gain.”

That seems rather pointed, and Trent looks to Ted, who is gazing steadily back.

“But a mutual relationship, where both sides get what they need and nobody loses, well, I think that’s just fantastic.” Ted says, finishing with, “Don’t you agree, Trent?”

Trent quirks an eyebrow at Ted, but says, “Certainty, Coach Lasso.”

Pleased that his unspoken message has been received, Ted beams at them both before finally departing.

“Sorry about that,” Jamie says as the door shuts behind Ted. “Coach can get protective, you know.”

“It’s all right,” Trent says, sitting down in the chair next to Jamie. “That was actually fairly subtle, as warning messages from a manager go.” George Cartrick, Richmond’s no-longer-lamented previous manager, for example, had never met Trent without shouting an expletive or two his way.

His notebook open and recorder out, but not yet on, Trent looks at Jamie and asks, “Listen, Jamie, before we get started, what are you looking to get out of this interview?”

Jamie looks surprised, but has the presence of mind to ask, “We still off the record?”

“Yep. I just want to make sure of what your intentions are, before we begin.”

Jamie grimaces a little, and admits, “I’ve been avoiding the press for a while now, but that can’t last forever. Or so I’ve been told,” he mumbles at the last. “And it’s not fair to my teammates, constantly getting asked questions about me.” He pauses before admitting, in a sudden burst, “And it’d be nice if the whole world stopped thinking of me as a massive bellend.”

Trent’s mouth twitches, but he says smoothly, “That’s fair enough.”

“And you?” Jamie asks, squinting at him. “What are you intending to get out of this?”

“You’ve been avoiding any and all interactions with the media for well over a year, I won’t pretend that this interview isn’t a coup for me and my bosses,” Trent says, and he can see Jamie’s shoulders dropping a little at his candor. “I’m looking to hear what the last couple seasons have been like for you, and share that with the public. I won’t lie to you and say I won’t ask any hard questions, but I won’t twist your words either. Fair enough?”

Jamie still looks wary, but he nods and says, “Fair. Let’s go then.”

Trent turns on his recorder, and the interview begins.

Most of Jamie’s answers are what Trent expected, if he’s honest—the regrets about how he behaved at Manchester City, his avowals that he’s changed, gained a true appreciation for the sport and for his career, his newfound appreciation for his teammates, etc etc. That’s not quite fair to Jamie, who does seem sincere, it’s just...well, it is just what Trent expected.

He has the shape of the article mostly in hand, and he will swear to anyone who asks (up to and including his editors and colleagues) that the questions about Ted Lasso are necessary. “So what is it really like, having Ted Lasso as a gaffer?”

A little to his surprise, Jamie grins at this, disarmed by the mention of Ted. “Honestly, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he says, then grows alarmed, quickly adding, “Now don’t make anything weird of that, now.”

“I won’t,” Trent says, amused. “But do you want to elaborate?”

Jamie pauses before answering. “It’s hard to describe if you’re not here in the locker room every day,” he says slowly, feeling out the answer even as he’s saying it. Trent stays very still, and listens as Jamie Tartt says the words that will, Trent already knows, take a significant role in the book Trent has been mentally writing since mid-season.

“The truth is that I still don’t know if football can really be like how Coach Lasso says it can,” Jamie says, and looks up at him as he finishes, totally sincere, “But after what he’s done for me, I’ll do everything I can to prove him right.”

And for that moment, it’s impossible for Trent, cynical and jaded journalist though he might be—it is impossible not to look at Jamie Tartt’s earnest face, to hear the sincerity and belief in his voice, and not be moved.

*

It should be an perfectly ordinary Tuesday, except that approximately at 1:34 PM, AFC Richmond's Instagram account breaks the entire fucking internet, along with Trent’s mind.

Trent's meeting Lara for lunch at a small cafe near the Guardian offices, and he's just come back to their little table with another scone when she checks her phone and starts choking on her tea. "Fuck me," she gasps in between coughs, as Trent thumps her on the back. "Go check Instagram right this second."

Trent groans a little (social media is part of his job, and he's not half-bad at Twitter, but keeping track of all the apps is draining), but anything that has Lara so flustered must be worth seeing.

"Is this about the Richmond fancy dress party?" he asks after a moment.

"Third photo, you'll know it when you see it," Lara says.

Wondering just what footballer has managed to wear some offensive costume, Trent obligingly scrolls through the photos of Sam Obisanya as Black Panther, Rebecca Welton as a truly terrifying-looking Bride of Frankenstein, and then he sees it.

He slowly drags down his glasses, and murmurs, "Oh…my."

There's a lot more that could be said at the artistic black-and-white photo of Ted Lasso in a cowboy costume, complete with the hat and (of course) the lasso on hip, two days' worth of stubble on his face to coordinate with the ever present mustache, smiling ruefully at the camera next to Keeley Jones, dressed as a sexy sort of Artful Dodger, but it's all blotted out by an overwhelming wave of bewildered lust.

It takes at least two minutes before Trent can gather himself enough to even read the accompanying caption, which just reads, Would love to see Netflix make this into a film, eh? Love to the gaffer for being such a good sport about this costume, as it was all @KeeleyJonesOfficial's idea. :)

"A fucking cowboy outfit," Trent says at last.

"And what an outfit," Lara says, fanning herself. "That is just impressive thirst-trapping right there."

"Ted Lasso doesn't thirst trap," Trent says, vaguely offended, although he can't tell if it's because he wants to defend Ted's honor or because he's angry about having to even utter the words “thirst trap”.

"I beg to differ!" Lara says, waving her phone's screen at him. "Look at him."

"Oh, I'm looking," Trent says. "Believe me."

Satisfied, Lara turns back to her phone, reviewing it gleefully. "The added stubble is just..." She kisses her fingertips in appreciation. "That's just art, that is. Save a horse indeed."

"Lara," Trent protests, and she just raises an eyebrow at him.

"There are literally ten comments on this post saying the same thing, if not worse," she says. "Hell, just imagine what Ben’s going to say when he sees—oh, look, he’s going off in the group chat,” she adds, as both of their phones start buzzing with the notification of Ben Smythe-Jones, graduate of Oxford and professional journalist, texting FUCK ME TED LASSO WHAT, in all caps.

“That crush is looking pretty serious now, eh?” Lara says, laughing. “Hope he can keep it together when he does his big interview.”

“Mm,” Trent grumbles, before the rest of what Lara’s said sinks in. “Wait, what?”

“Ben’s scored an interview with him for the Telegraph,” Lara says, looking at him curiously. “And I will not be surprised if Ben asks to see Ted’s lasso, if you know what I—“

“Yes, thank you, the innuendo was obvious,” Trent says in a tone that even he will admit is rather snippy.

Lara looks deeply amused, but thankfully turns back to ogling Ted Lasso’s photo again.

Trent sips at his coffee and looks down at the photo, taking in the details that eluded him the first time—the leather vest, the unbuttoned henley shirt underneath that shows the smallest glimpse of chest hair, the lasso around his belt—no toy gun holstered there, however, which is a pleasant surprise, and yes, thanks be to God and Keeley Jones, the leather chaps over his jeans.

Fuck. Just...fuck.

To Trent’s deep irritation (which he will maintain is professional jealousy only) Ben is all blushes when he meets them all at the pub after his interview with Ted, sighing wistfully about Ted “being such a gentleman”, and Ted’s “affable American charm” and blushing even harder when Lara asks if he got to see the cowboy hat.

Trent glares at Ben, and as the light catches his artfully tousled waves of blond hair, Trent remembers that Ted Lasso’s ex-wife is also blond, and wonders (before he can ruthlessly shut down this line of thinking) whether Ted Lasso has a type, and to drown out that particularly awful thought, he immediately goes and has several pints of lager.

And if he ruthlessly takes his red pen to practically every line of Ben’s gushing interview with Ted Lasso once it’s published (truly, were the Telegraph’s editors asleep at the wheel?) no one else has to know about it.

*

The breaking point for Trent, personally, is the game that Richmond play against Crystal Palace at home, or as everyone else comes to know it, The Game With The Cat.

At first everything’s fine. Richmond are playing well, even though the score’s nil-nil, and nothing too absurd has happened, aside from Ben’s musing about what it would take to get Ted to bake something for him. Trent frankly thinks he deserves a reward for not asking why on earth Ben thinks he deserves Ted Lasso’s baking, even if he can feel his eye twitching from the effort.

And then...it happens.

There’s a small rumbling among the crowd, and Trent looks at the pitch more closely, but none of the players seem injured, although play has seemed to slow down, Colin Hughes pausing with the ball in midfield rather than passing to an open Montlaur.

“Oh my God,” Lara breathes out, reaching out to grab at Trent’s forearm in a bruising grip. “Look at O’Brien.”

Trent obediently turns to where O’Brien is standing in his goal, looking perfectly fine as he gazes at...as he gazes at...

“No,” Trent says, in open denial of what his eyes are telling him.

Lara is too busy laughing hysterically to respond, even as Nigel lets out a curse and Ben asks weakly, “Am I hallucinating?” as they and the rest of the press and all twenty-five thousand fans in the stadium stare in disbelief at the black cat that has wandered onto the pitch.

A fucking black cat. On Richmond’s pitch.

Helplessly, Trent’s gaze slides over to where Ted Lasso is nonchalantly standing by the touchline, arms folded, looking as bemused as anyone else that the football match they’re all here for has been interrupted by a black cat.

“A witch’s familiar,” Nigel breathes out, and they all watch, riveted, as a steward attempts to approach the cat, who freezes for one second before racing off, streaking down the pitch in a blur, veering around the players and easily avoiding the small army of stewards attempting to catch it.

Of course the crowd loves it, calling out óles every time that the cat evades a steward, laughing and cheering it on.

Logically, logically, there should be nothing to it. Trent’s seen this a dozen times before, some stray animal slipping in during a game and momentarily bringing it to a halt. Stray dogs, stray cats, even a pigeon or two. A momentary diversion, a laugh for the crowd, and eventually security brings the animal off and it gets taken off to the nearest animal shelter, no problem.

But this is—

“How is this happening?” Trent hears himself saying. “How the fuck is this happening?”

And then, because the universe has a sense of humor, the black cat, clearly overwhelmed and exhausted, makes a frantic dash for the touchline, right by Richmond’s bench, straight towards—

In what feels like slow motion, Trent and everyone else in the stadium watches as Ted Lasso smoothly crouches down and catches the stray black cat in his arms, holding it close to his chest as he soothes the distressed creature.

Richmond’s fans let out a roar of delight equal to any goal celebration, and Trent Crimm loses all composure and shouts, to the universe at large and to Ted Lasso in particular, “For fuck’s sake!”

Seemingly ignorant of all the ways in which he is currently ruining Trent’s life, Ted seems totally at ease holding a cat during the middle of a fucking football match. The cat seems pleased as well, settling into his arms and lifting up its chin for pets.

(Later, because he is a fucking masochist, Trent will look at the TV footage and see the closeup of Ted’s face during all this, the fond smile he gives the cat as he gently pets its fur, his head lowered as he murmurs what must be soothing nonsense, as though he has nothing better to do at this time than offer compassion and shelter to a terrified stray animal, and Trent will groan and put his head in his hands.)

One of the stewards approaches Ted to take the animal away, because of course Ted shouldn’t be holding a cat in the middle of a Premier League game that he is supposed to be coaching. The cat doesn’t seem to want to go, twisting away from the steward’s hands and burying itself in the cradle of Ted’s arms. Ted easily waves the steward off, and that is how the next ten minutes of the game go, with Ted Lasso holding a black cat in his arms as he watches his team see out the first half.

Lara’s hysterics have finally calmed into low wheezing gasps, Ben obligingly thumping her on the back so she doesn’t choke. “Fucking hell, I love being right,” she gasps, wiping at her eyes.

The game ends in a 2-2 tie, but literally no one in the press room, Trent included, gives a single fuck, as more and more journalists crowd around Lara to discuss the theory that Trent had desperately hoped would remain limited to their tiny circle. So much for that, because between Nigel shouting about witches’ familiars and Ted Lasso’s latest improbable miracle, the entire machine of the British sports media is becoming converted, one by one, to the belief that Ted Lasso, manager of AFC Richmond, is an actual witch.

And, to Trent’s increasing horror, he’s starting to believe it too.

 

*

Ted seems deeply amused at the press’s preoccupation with the cat in the post-match press conference. After the third question about the cat, he laughs and says, “Y’all take black cats seriously around here, is this a superstition thing? Are they considered to be bad luck here too?”

“Well, it won’t be bad luck for you, will it,” Ernie Lounds (The Sun) mutters, and half a dozen people in the room shush him frantically.

Tapping his glasses against his mouth, Trent watches as Ted’s face momentarily creases with confusion, before he visibly decides to let it go.

Trent knows that as a professional, he should be jockeying for more quotes, should be pressing Ted on Richmond’s defense lapses in this game, but all he can do is look at Ted Lasso’s smiling face, take in his easy charm and the way he holds the entire room in the palm of his hand, and think, of course. Of course.

And, of course, three days later the AFC Richmond Instagram announces that the black cat is being adopted by their manager Ted Lasso, who has named it, or her rather, Lola. “Whatever Lola Wants is clearly this girl’s theme song,” they quote Ted as saying in the caption, next to the utterly charming photograph of Ted on a couch with a contented Lola in his lap, a hand resting in her black fur, smiling at the camera.

Trent studies every inch of that photograph for longer than he’ll ever admit to, taking in every small detail, from the book on the nearby table (Toni Morrison and Terry Pratchett, interesting) to the afghan throw artfully tossed over the back of the couch, and of course, the man at the center of it.

It’s probably only because he’s stared at the photo so long that Trent thinks he can see a hint of weariness in Ted’s face, a certain exhaustion in the eyes that, for once, aren’t twinkling as much as usual.

*

When the storm hits, absolutely no one sees it coming. Trent’s frankly a little embarrassed about it, that he had no idea that the Sun has been planning to publish this article, but the first he hears of it is when he opens his phone to a dozen different notifications and the blaring headline of the Sun declaring ILLICIT AFFAIR IN RICHMOND, superimposed over a photo of Ted Lasso and Rebecca Welton at some black-tie affair, smiling at each other.

“Fuck,” Trent swears, and the rest of his day gets very busy after that. He ends up gobbling lunch down at his desk while he’s in the middle of a conference call with Lara, Ben and Nigel, all of them thrashing the story out, over and over again. (In a purely personal capacity of course, Trent loves them all, but damned if he’ll give up a story to any of them.)

“I don’t believe it,” Lara says flatly. “It’s a misogynistic hit piece by that fucker Lounds, who I wouldn’t trust if God himself came down and named him as a saint.”

“They’re skirting right on the edge with this one,” Nigel says. “Christ, some of these accusations, this supposed rendezvous in Liverpool after a game, they’ve gotten very specific with these.”

“Not to mention essentially accusing Ted Lasso of adultery,” Trent says, his voice flat.

“But I mean,” Ben says, his voice more hesitant than usual, “It has to be...I mean, surely their lawyers wouldn’t have signed off on the story if they couldn’t back it up.”

“Wouldn’t they?” Lara asks, cynical. “This is the fucking Sun we’re talking about.”

“You’ve been awful quiet, Trent,” Nigel says. “What do you think?”

Trent takes a hand through his hair, staring at his laptop, at the story of Rebecca Welton bringing an untried American college coach over to the UK and promptly falling into some wild affair with him, at the snide quotes from unnamed sources about their “unusual closeness” and “body language”, everything about it tawdry and sordid and awful.

Trent is self-aware enough to recognize that he doesn’t want to believe it, that his judgment is in fact compromised somewhat when it comes to Ted Lasso.

And yet—

“I don’t buy it either,” Trent says finally. “At least not like this, not the way they’re saying it happened.” He shakes his head, adding, “This feels...spiteful. And the depiction of Rebecca Welton isn’t just misogynistic, it’s incoherent. For half of it they’re painting her as some voracious sex-crazed seductress, the other half of it has her as this pathetic middle-aged caricature, and all of it is too over the top to be believable.”

“Rupert Mannion’s old friends with the owner of the Sun, isn’t he,” Lara says thoughtfully.

“You think this is Mannion planting a story?” Ben asks, sounding far more scandalized than he should, given how long he’s been a working journalist.

Lara snorts. “Rupert Mannion has been planting stories in the press ever since his ex-wife took Richmond away from him. It’s just that this year he’s had fewer takers, because we’ve all been too preoccupied with their run at the title. Maybe this is him lashing out.”

“There’s no proof of that,” Nigel warns.

“Yes, which is why I’m just speculating and not immediately writing an article where I accuse Rupert Mannion of slander or libel,” Lara says, snippily.

Lara’s speculation feels right though, in a way that the Sun’s article doesn’t. Trent has few illusions about this sport left, and he’d always been able to appreciate Rupert Mannion as a good source for a pithy quote, even as he hadn’t liked or respected the man on a personal level.

He does respect Rebecca Welton. And he respects Ted as much as he likes him, which is what has Trent second-guessing himself—just because he doesn’t want the story to be true doesn’t mean that it’s all lies.

He groans and shuts his laptop with more force than is warranted, saying, “Well, Richmond’s next press conference should be interesting.”

And it is interesting. Much in the way that Trent is sure a Category 4 hurricane is fascinating.

The press room is even more packed than usual, all of them jockeying for position and setting their phones out on the table to pick up every word that Ted Lasso will say. To Trent’s surprise, he doesn’t see Ernie Lounds anywhere in the room. That’s unusual, as Ernie isn’t the sort to run away from confrontation.

For the first time, Ted is actually running a few minutes late, which is shocking by his usual standard of promptness. Just as Trent is wondering if perhaps they’ll have Coach Beard do the press conference instead—which would be a mistake, PR-wise—Ted strides into the room, with Leslie Higgins and Keeley Jones behind him. Perhaps they’ll be joining—but no, no, Trent sees them standing to one side in the room, looking at Ted with anxious expressions on their faces.

And the second that Trent looks at Ted, really looks at him, amidst all the noise and flashing lights of a press conference at full roar, he understands exactly why Higgins and Jones look so worried.

“All right, all right, settle down,” Ted says, and the words aren’t unusual, but the snap to his voice is. As is the tightness to his mouth, and the uncharacteristic pallor to his face. “One at a time.” He’s sitting very upright in his seat, scanning the room—his gaze catches on Trent for a second, but then Ted looks away and says, “Tristan, you’re up.”

The room quiets as Tristan Reeds (The Daily Mail) gets to his feet. Trent is mildly surprised, as he would’ve assumed the play from Ted and the club would be to call on a friendlier journalist, one that didn’t work for a tabloid, because there is no way that Tristan’s question won’t be about—

“This morning we saw a rather incendiary article in the Sun about the nature of your relationship with Richmond’s owner, Rebecca Welton,” Tristan says, smooth and confident. “Would you like to comment?”

Ted doesn’t speak at first, just looks steadily at Tristan, waiting him out until Tristan starts to look discomfited. “You’re asking if I would like to comment,” Ted says, and it’s only then that Trent realizes what’s happening.

He’s been appallingly slow on the uptake, but to be fair, two and a half seasons, and this is the first time that he’s ever seen Ted Lasso angry.

“Erm, yes,” Tristan says.

“You’d like me to comment on an article that accuses me of cheating on my wife with my boss,” Ted says, spitting out each word as though it has personally offended him. “Here’s my comment for you: Ernie Lounds is a damned liar.”

Trent whistles lowly, but it’s drowned out by the collective gasps of the room.

“My comment is that the article is nothin’ short of a disgrace,” Ted continues heatedly, accent thicker than Trent has ever heard it before. “My comment is that it’s full of nothin’ but lies and misogynistic bile towards one of the few female owners in the league. My comment is that no, I did not sleep my way into this job. My comment is that as of half an hour ago the club’s lawyers have been instructed to start a lawsuit against the Sun and Ernie Lounds for libel—”

The room explodes at that, every journalist in the room, Trent included, leaping to their feet and asking fifteen different questions, all of which Ted ignores, his voice rising as he says, “And that’s all I’ve got to say about that bullshit. Tristan, does that answer your question?”

Tristan nods frantically, clearly struck mute by the sight of a furious Ted Lasso staring right at him, eyes glittering, face pale with the force of his righteous anger.

Trent doesn’t fucking blame him, he’s practically breathless himself—and not just because he’s had to cross his legs for the sake of discretion, what with the wildly inappropriate lust pulsing through him at the sight of Ted Lasso vibrating with fury.

Ted only sticks around for two more questions before abruptly calling a halt to the press conference—another thing that’s never happened before today—and as he leaves, Trent sees him murmur something to Keeley Jones, hand over his mouth to avoid everyone reading his lips, but then he’s gone through the exit, journalists futilely calling after him.

Trent is busily tapping away on his phone, attempting to write his article and offer some commentary on Twitter, but then there’s a growing rumble around up and Trent looks up to see Keeley Jones standing next to him, asking quietly, “Trent, do you have a minute?”

“Certainly,” Trent says after a second. He quickly gathers his things and follows Keeley out of the room, ignoring everyone’s eyes on him.

He tries to convince himself that it’ll be Keeley or Higgins wanting to speak to him off the record, but somehow he’s not surprised to find himself escorted past the locker room into Ted’s office, where Ted himself is pacing angrily back and forth, and when he comes in, Ted lifts his head to stare at him, eyes still glittering with anger.

Christ, Trent cannot afford to be so turned on right now.

“Coach Lasso,” Trent says neutrally, only now noticing that Coach Beard and Nate Shelley are there as well, looking warily from him to Ted and back again.

Ted doesn’t greet him—another first—just turns to his fellow coaches and says, “Fellas, you mind giving us a minute?” His voice is still clipped with anger.

Beard looks as though he does very much mind, if the wide-eyed look he gives Ted is any indication, but he nods and ushers Nate out, closing the door behind them as they go.

“This off the record?” Ted asks him. He’s no longer pacing back and forth, but his hands are jammed into the pockets of his ubiquitous khaki trousers, and he’s staring at Trent as though Trent is...if not an enemy, then certainly not a friend, and Trent is surprised at how deeply it stings, to have Ted Lasso looking at him with open distrust.

“Of course,” Trent says.

Ted bites at his mouth for a moment, then asks, very quietly, “Did you know the article was coming?”

“No,” Trent says, before his brain can catch up to his mouth. The dying embers of his professionalism make him add, “Not that it’s my job to warn you about stories, but—no. I didn’t know about it.”

Ted just stares at him mutely for a minute, then quickly rubs his hands over his face, muttering, “Jesus H. Christ.”

“It doesn’t seem to have been an easy day,” Trent says carefully.

Ted chuckles, but without any humor to it. “No. No, it has not been a good fucking day. My phone’s been blowing up more than a fleet of Goodyear blimps, I had to call my ex-wife and reassure her that I didn’t cheat on her while we were still married, the rabid pack of Tasmanian devils that y’all call photographers over here have been staking out my home so I’m going to have to be sleeping here at the club for the next week, at least, I’m going to have to turn my personal life inside out just to prove in a court of law that I’m not sleeping with my boss, and all of this, all of it, is because Rupert fucking Mannion decided to use me as another tool to bully and abuse his ex-wife. Fucking Christ.”

Trent exhales very slowly, not moving as he watches Ted flex his hands as if they hurt, breathing deeply as he clearly attempts to bring his temper under control.

Ted shakes his head once, twice, and when he looks up at Trent again, his eyes are clear and his expression is stricken. “And absolutely none of that is your fault or your business, shit and hell, I have no right talking to you like that—”

“Ted, it’s all right—”

“I apologize, none of this is fair—”

“It’s fine,” Trent insists, talking over him. “Frankly, you’re doing me a favor talking to me like this off the record, so don’t worry about it.”

Ted looks at him, incredulous. “I’m doing you a favor by bringing you in here so I can bite your head off about a bunch of shit you had nothing to do with?”

“Your predecessor used to greet me as ‘Hello, poofter’ each time I met him one-on-one,” Trent says levelly. “Besides, having you on background for the biggest story in the Premier League is a favor.” He nods at the chair sitting opposite Ted’s desk, and asks mildly, “All right if I sit down?”

“Sure, yeah of course,” Ted says, more subdued that his anger finally seems to have burned itself out for a moment.

Trent sits down and settles his satchel down by his feet, before asking carefully, “Do you know with certainty that Rupert Mannion’s behind this?”

Ted sighs and says, sitting down at his desk, “Well, he hasn’t sent us a handwritten letter proclaiming that his evil plan’s worked, but yeah, we have a pretty good idea. He’s...been trying to worm his way back into the club, and he’s not exactly a man who takes it well when you tell him no.”

“You said he used you as a tool to—”

Ted looks at him and says, flatly, “You’re not a fool, Trent, don’t try and act like you’ve ever bought Rupert’s bullshit. You have to know what he’s really like. The shit he’s pulled—” He cuts himself off, breathing hard through his nose, and then says, bitterly, “You know what Rebecca did, first thing this morning? She apologized to me. For a bunch of crap she had nothing to do with, for a story that’s far worse for her than it’ll ever be for me, for a national press that’s been trying to tear her apart for years—she’s apologizing to me for it.” He sits there in silence before looking at Trent and saying, “All of that’s off the record, to be clear.”

“Yes, you said that in the beginning,” Trent says, smiling a little.

“Oh, good. Because I was too mad to remember much of anything just then,” Ted admits frankly.

“That was obvious,” Trent says dryly. “Was that, ah, was that a rare glimpse at Led Tasso?”

It doesn’t get a laugh, but Ted does look amused, abashedly grimacing as he asks, “Oh Lord, you’ve heard of that?”

“Something about...feet-fingers?” Trent asks, playing up the dubiousness, and there it is at last, Ted reluctantly chuckling, some of the tension finally leaving his shoulders.

He should just leave it there. But somehow, Trent finds himself saying, “About this lawsuit. I’m not going to try and tell you what to do, but these things can get very nasty. Are you sure you want to go there?”

“Oh, we’ll be fine,” Ted says, a corner of his mouth turning up. “That story’s garbage from start to finish, but it’s also weaker than a wet paper bag.” His mouth firms as he says, “And I don’t want them to get away with it.”

“You mean you don’t want Rupert to get away with it,” Trent says.

“No, I fucking do not,” Ted says. He pauses and then says, more cautiously, “And this is all going to be on background, right?”

“You’re off the record, Ted, I give you my word,” Trent says, and it’s...flattering, the way that Ted relaxes at that. That even in the middle of what is clearly an awful day, in the midst of what is about to be a massive battle with one of the UK’s major tabloids, Trent’s word is still good enough for him.

He realizes that they’ve been sitting in silence for a while now, just looking at each other. Ted looks...well, he always looks good so far as Trent’s concerned, but he also just looks tired, now that the anger’s burned out. There’s a weariness to his mouth and grey hairs at his temples that weren’t there two years ago.

Ted asks slowly, “Did you believe it?”

“What, the story in the Sun?” Trent asks. At Ted’s little nod, Trent pauses before saying, “Not that it’s my business what two consenting adults do in their spare time—”

“Apparently you’re the only journalist in this country that believes that,” Ted mutters.

“—but no,” Trent says. “I didn’t think...I didn’t think it would’ve happened like that, even if you two were in a relationship, and the depiction of Rebecca Welton was…” he grimaces. “Frankly, it’s too misogynistic to be believed.” He smiles ruefully at Ted, and finishes, “For whatever that’s worth.”

“Oh, it’s worth plenty,” Ted says, giving Trent a crooked smile, and Trent shouldn’t be going warm all over at that, he shouldn’t be proud of himself for making Ted Lasso smile, he shouldn’t be—

But he is, all the same.

*

Despite Trent’s article going up the very same day, detailing the outrage within AFC Richmond at the Sun’s unfounded accusations, his Twitter mentions are full of angry Richmond fans castigating him as a member of the British press (and therefore, responsible for what every other person in his profession does) or insisting that this is somehow a conspiracy against the club, instigated by Russian oligarchs and oil-rich monarchs that resent Richmond staying at the top of the table for so long.

There’s some speculation that the lawsuit is a bluff, but Trent for one is unsurprised when the papers are filed in court, and the rumor is that Simon (and Ernie Lounds, who is still nowhere to be seen) did not actually expect to be sued, and might just have to settle out of court...that is, if Ted, Rebecca Welton, and the club are even willing to settle.

And then one morning, Trent gets a message from Lara in the groupchat that simply reads, Buckle your seatbelts, boys.

Knowing, just knowing that he somehow missed out on a major scoop, Trent swears and immediately goes to the Guardian on his mobile phone, to find that splashed across the front pages is a breaking story about leaked emails showing that Rupert Mannion, ex-owner of AFC Richmond and ex-husband of Rebecca Welton was, indeed, the main source (the only source) behind the Sun’s article about Ted and Rebecca’s supposed affair.

“Oh, holy fuck,” Trent says, filled with disbelief and more than a bit of professional jealousy.

If anything, the Guardian’s headlines are underplaying the scandal. The leaked emails are absolutely vicious, with Mannion referring to his ex-wife in terms that would make the most misogynistic Reddit troll blush for shame, and when Lounds or Simon make faint protests as to the content of the article and how far they can take it, Mannion twists their arms with sordid references to past misdeeds on yacht parties in Capri. It’s brutally clear that he was the driving force behind a story with absolutely no grounds to it beyond Mannion’s spite and fury at his ex-wife for taking his club and making it into a bigger success in two years than he managed in the last twenty.

Somewhere in London, AFC Richmond’s lawyers must be weeping with joy. And if he’s honest, Trent’s delighted as well, not just for the schadenfreude of seeing Rupert Mannion finally exposed as the little shit that he is, but for the wholly unprofessional joy in seeing Ted Lasso (and Rebecca Welton) thoroughly vindicated.

It’s a very busy day at work, Trent banging out his article (as well as following up with his own sources) and doing a running commentary on Twitter. With every Tweet he makes, he gets dozens of Richmond fans either loudly crowing about how they were right about the conspiracy or demanding that Trent denounce Simon Wells, who does own the Independent as well as the Sun. Trent has, in fact, seen some very nervous-looking lawyers moving through the halls, but damned if he’ll say so on social media.

His own article doesn’t have the jaw-dropping reveal of Lara’s, but he’s pretty proud of it when it’s published, the headline reading simply, Football owes Rebecca Welton an apology.

Trent doesn’t let himself off the hook in it, detailing for the first time the unsavory behavior he himself witnessed from Rupert and his lackeys that he’d left alone because he feared losing access to the club and to his sources. He talks about the misogyny that’s so rife within football, about the media that never acknowledged how disturbing it was that Rupert Mannion would crash Richmond’s charity events uninvited to embarrass and discomfit his ex-wife, that he married a woman decades younger with the same name as his ex and then promptly bought her shares in the club he lost. He talks about how everyone would write his behavior off as “laddish and charming” rather than “controlling and vindictive”.

We made excuses for Rupert Mannion because that’s what we’ve always done for men like him, Trent writes. When the reality is that Rupert Mannion was only ever a mediocre club owner, that he was arrogant and unkind to anyone who displeased or crossed him. He didn’t have friends in the footballing world, he had lackeys, who he valued only for what they could do for him, for how quickly they could do his bidding.

Except now the lackeys have failed him. Now Rupert Mannion sits exposed and alone, while the club he claimed to love is reaching heights he never could have dreamed of, perhaps never could have accomplished. And should Richmond maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League table, perhaps there’s no better revenge for Rebecca Welton, formerly Mannion, than to lift the Premier League trophy and officially become the most successful owner in the history of AFC Richmond.

The day after his article’s published, Trent gets a text from Rebecca Welton’s phone number that reads, simply, Thank you.

Ted sends an email as well. Great article in the Independent, Trent. I told Rebecca once that she wasn’t the only one that could see Rupert for who he really is, I’m just glad that she gets to see that that’s really true.

He also gets a call from Mae, the owner of the Crown and Anchor. “Saw your article in the Independent,” she says to open off. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“Well,” Trent says, already reaching for his notebook and pen. “I’d love to hear more.”

Amidst all the drama, the incessant headlines and the string of exposes on Rupert’s behavior, not to mention the Sun’s front page groveling apology and record monetary settlement (which Rebecca Welton and Ted Lasso immediately announce that they’re donating to charity), Lara still finds time to text the group, Rupert Mannion’s downfall a result of a witch’s hex? Y/y

NO, Trent writes back in all caps, even as he remembers Ted Lasso’s fury, the way his angry gaze had felt like it was pinning Trent to the floor.

Absolutely, Nigel writes.

100% a hex, Ben chimes in.

You’ve been outvoted, Crimm, Lara gloats.

Trent rolls his eyes, but at the next match at Nelson Road, where the Richmond fans are singing at the top of their lungs to the tune of Camptown Races, “Rupert Mannion’s a fucking prick, a fucking prick, a fucking prick! Rupert Mannion’s a fucking prick, he can fuck right off!”—well, Trent actually finds himself believing in hexes, because how else could all this have happened?

*

Trent doesn’t even know why he looks twice at the stranger in a hoodie, sitting on a bench in the park in Notting Hill where he takes his morning runs, except that he does, and then he stops and looks for a third time.

“Ted?” Trent says slowly, jogging closer.

Ted Lasso lifts his head, blinks at Trent for a moment, and then he puts a smile on his face. “How do you do, Trent.” He’s wearing a nondescript black hoodie with the hood pulled low over his face, and his eyes are tired.

“Fine,” Trent says, more discomfited than he has any right to be, and not just because he’s in his ratty joggers and a threadbare shirt. “Surprised to see you here in Notting Hill.”

“Oh, I just decided to go for a stroll,” Ted says lightly. “You know, stretch my legs, see a little more of this city.”

“Of course,” Trent says, nodding slowly, even as he doesn’t remark on just how long a walk it would’ve been, all the way from Richmond to Notting Hill. “And the disguise?”

Ted lifts an eyebrow at him. “You think a hoodie counts as a disguise?”

Trent hesitates, because there’s pressing Ted Lasso, Premier League coach for a scoop, and then there’s...whatever this conversation is. “I think you seem to want to be incognito, which is a surprise, given your usual modus operandi.”

Now both of Ted’s eyebrows are raised. “You calling me an attention hog, Crimm?”

Trent can feel his cheeks getting hotter at that, which is awful, he lost any sense of shame years ago when he started working as a journalist. “I’m saying you’ve never had a problem moving about in Richmond as your easily recognizable self—” He checks himself, and says thoughtfully, “Unless that’s the problem.” Ted looks away, and Trent’s stomach lurches in sympathy. “Richmond must be, ah, something of a cauldron at the moment.”

“No, no, it’s great,” Ted says. “Fans are thrilled, Mae’s telling me the Crown and Anchor got more business than ever. Whole place is buzzing, it’s wonderful to see. Truly, just...wonderful.”

“Mm,” Trent says, very carefully. “And I’m sure everyone wants to talk to you, the coach that’s made it all possible. Requests for selfies, offers to buy you drinks, paparazzi following you about, never a moment to be quiet and alone—”

The tiny flinch from Ted is horrible to watch. “Boy, uh, you have a real knack for spotting the weak spots in a man, huh?” Ted asks, staring up at the overcast sky.

“Comes with the job,” Trent says.

“And you are very good at your job,” Ted says, voice light. It’s a compliment, and also a plain fact, there’s no reason for Trent’s stomach to twist at hearing it.

On the surface of it, there’s nothing really here. A wildly famous man is chafing against that same fame, it’s the oldest cliche there is. And Ted Lasso is better equipped to deal with that than most, what with his supportive boss and coworkers, what must be an army of friends and family ready to support and cheer him at any moment.

And yet, here he is, sitting alone on a park bench in London, looking so forlorn that it hurts to witness.

When Trent sits down carefully next to Ted on the bench, he can feel the last remnants of his journalistic objectivity disappearing into smoke. Ted turns to look at him, faintly surprised, and Trent coughs. “You know, much as I enjoy the occasional pint at the Crown and Anchor, it can get wearying, being approached by Richmond fans that want to thrash out every word I’ve written in my weekly match report.”

Ted’s mouth is starting to curve into a smile. “Oh, I’ve seen you go on a blocking spree or two on Twitter, I get the idea.”

“So I make it a point to find quiet out of the way places where absolutely no one there cares about football, or about the fact that I write about football for a living.” He pretends to think about it, then adds, “There’s actually one just a block or two away. Decent cafe, and the owner prides herself on not learning a single thing about football in thirty years of living in the UK.”

“Why, Trent Crimm,” Ted says, smiling crookedly. “Are you inviting me to share in your secret hideaway?”

“I’m inviting you for a coffee and croissants, don’t make too much of it,” Trent says dismissively, getting to his feet. Ted doesn’t get up at first, looking up at Trent with a slightly odd expression on his face. “Well?”

For absolutely no reason at all, he holds his hand out to help Ted get to his feet. And after the smallest of pauses, Ted takes it, his hand warm in Trent’s as he rises to his feet, and it’s only Trent’s imagination that his grip lingers for a half-second longer than necessary.

*

“The problem you have,” Trent says, peering at Ted over his cup of coffee, and their shared basket of freshly baked croissants, “is that like any talented football coach, you’re too myopic. You think London is nothing more than Richmond, Nelson Road, and the training ground.”

“To be fair, that is where I work and live,” Ted points out, but at Trent’s raised eyebrow, he holds up his hands and settles back to listen.

“You’re living in one of the largest, most cultured cities in the world, and you’ve barely gotten a look at it. Try going to a concert, a zoo, hell, go full American tourist and take a trip to Buckingham Palace for all I care—“

Ted looks more skeptical than ever, protesting that he saw Big Ben his first week here, but Trent barrels on regardless, because somehow in the last fifteen minutes the idea of Ted Lasso being trapped in his Richmond flat has become absolutely abhorrent to him.

“Or if you’re looking for a bit of culture, head over to the West End and take in a play, or visit an art museum—“

To his surprise, Ted’s eyes light up at that. “God, it’s been ages since I had a real long prowl through an art museum. Been meaning to check y’all’s out, but I could never find the time…”

He looks struck by the idea, and Trent is struck as well, although by something else entirely. “You’re a fan of art museums?”

Ted gives him a crooked grin over his giant cup of coffee. “You know we do have museums in the States,” he teases. “Besides, for someone always in the know, I figured you’d have already turned up my minor in art history.”

“I’m sorry, your minor in what?

Ted laughs at his open shock, his entire face lighting up with amusement. “I’ll never stop getting a kick out of what y’all journalists find surprising about me,” he says, sounding fond, and Trent tries and fails not to go warm all over at that. “Hell, poor Gary the other day just about had a stroke when we were chatting and I told him about the time my sister got on a genealogy kick and figured out where our ancestors originally settled, way back when they crossed the pond.”

“Oh?” Trent says, both out of curiosity and because he’ll be dammed before being left out of something that fucking Gary (The Times) knows about Ted Lasso.

Ted shrugs. “I wouldn’t have thought y’all would care so much about our history when you’ve got so much of it here, but I guess something about Salem, Massachusetts still sends a shiver down people’s spines.”

There’s a faint ringing in Trent’s ears. “I’m sorry,” he says, in as mild a tone as he can manage. “Did you just say you had ancestors who lived in Salem, Massachusetts? The home of the infamous Salem witch trials?

Ted looks bemused by Trent’s reaction. “Well, they weren’t around for the actual trials, they came to America a good hundred or so years after all that mess was over and done with.” He chuckles to himself. “Good thing too, otherwise who knows—maybe the Lassos of Kansas might’ve never come to be.”

He pauses in his reverie to look Trent over with a concerned eye. “You all right there, Trent? You’re looking kinda pale.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” Trent says, very faintly, and quickly downs the rest of his coffee in several gulps.

God, Lara can never ever hear about this. Any of it, Trent decides, watching as Ted takes a bite out of his croissant, closing his eyes as he savors it.

As much as to stop himself from watching Ted’s throat work as to change the subject, Trent says, “So, art museums, eh?”

“Yeah,” Ted says, smiling. “Been meaning to go over to that Tate Museum for a while now, I hear they got a great collection of pre-Raphaelite works, and I spent a whole semester back in college going back and forth with my professor about whether Rossetti was any good or if he was just lucky in his friends.” He pulls a face and says, “I’m as sympathetic to the artistic temperament as anyone else, but any man digging up his wife’s grave for a payday is a man that was not right in the head.”

“Erm, right,” Trent says, blinking. He pulls himself back together and offers, “Well, if you’re looking for a break, that seems like an excellent place for you to start.”

“Yeah, I think it is,” Ted says, smiling sweetly at him. He pauses before saying, “Of course, I wouldn’t mind having some company with me—it’s been a minute since I had someone to ramble about art with.”

It truly takes Trent far too long to realize what Ted’s getting at. “You—are you asking me to go with you?”

“Unless you’d rather not…“ Ted begins, looking unsure again, and Trent can’t let that stand—nor, if he’s honest, can he let this opportunity go.

“No, no, I’d be delighted to,” Trent quickly tells him, before revising it to a more dignified, “I mean, who can pass up the opportunity to listen to Ted Lasso pontificate about British art?”

Ted grins at him, dimples flashing in his cheeks as he says, “Well, lucky for y’all, I like your art a hell of a lot more than I like your tea.”

*

Three days after Richmond beats Tottenham Hotspur 5-1, Trent finds himself not working hard on his latest story, or chasing down a source, or even just having a pint at the pub with his colleagues—

Instead he’s walking through the halls of the Tate Museum with Ted Lasso by his side.

He honestly hadn’t thought it would even really happen until he was walking through the front doors of the Tate to find Ted there already waiting for him, wearing not his usual blue jumper and khaki trousers, but a well worn (and very well-fitting) pair of dark blue jeans, along with a pale lavender button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up just so, collar unbuttoned, and Trent’s mouth actually goes dry when he first sees him.

Ted spots him, and his smile is so wide and delighted that for a second Trent can’t believe it, that Ted Lasso is standing here in the Tate Museum, waiting for him, happy to see that he’s here…

Jesus fucking Christ, he’s already ruined and there’s nothing to be done about it.

Trent tries to make a joke as he approaches, saying, “I didn’t think you owned any other trousers except for khakis.”

Ted grins as he looks down at his own legs, admitting, “I did have to dig ‘em out of the back of my closet, I won’t lie.” He shoots a sidelong glance at Trent and says, “But I’m trying to be incognito like Carmen Sandiego, right?”

Trent tries to keep his tongue behind his teeth, he does, and yet—

“Incognito looks good on you,” he says, deliberately mild, and turns away when Ted looks at him. “Shall we start?”

“Yeah, let’s get this show on the road,” Ted says, as enthusiastic as he is about everything else, and they begin their so-called prowl through one of the best art museums in all of London, if not the world.

To Trent’s surprise (although why he’s surprised by anything Ted Lasso does at this point is beyond him; expect the unexpected might as well be his standard operating procedure) Ted is not rambling a mile a minute as they make their way through the various exhibits. Instead he’s quiet and solemn, looking around with wide eyes, taking it all in.

Finally, they’re in front of Millais’ Ophelia painting, and Ted breathes out, “Will you look at that.”

He stands in front of it for what feels like an age, hands shoved into his pockets. For Trent, he’s as absorbed by Ted as he is by the painting itself, looking from the delicately rendered flowers, the face of a woman who’s been gone for centuries, to Ted’s dreamy expression, the corners of his lips faintly upturned.

At last Ted sighs faintly and says, “Part of me always loved the story behind this painting. How he fussed over every last detail, wanting to get all of it right. Each and every flower in it has a meaning, is symbolic.” He smiles crookedly and adds, “But also the model, Elizabeth Siddal was her name, nearly died posing for this because nobody thought to make sure the water she was lying in was heated.”

“Is that what draws you to the Pre-Raphaelites?” Trent asks. “The drama of their personal lives, as much as the art itself?”

“Well, you can’t really separate the two, can you?” Ted points out. “I won’t lie, I liked the fact that they were as dramatic as any episode of General Hospital that my nana would have playing on her TV. But I also liked the puzzle of it, you know? If you knew how to read the painting right, it would tell you all kinds of things you’d miss on first glance.”

They search out more of Millais’ paintings, then Rossetti and Hunt after that, Ted chatting about his art history professor who barely came up to his shoulder, the time he blurted out in front of an entire lecture hall that Rosetti’s paintings of women reminded him of drag queens (Trent lets out a barking laugh and is glared at by an elderly visitor). He shares details about the time he finally visited New York with his then-girlfriend (now ex-wife, and Trent notes the lack of bitterness with which he speaks of her) and how he would’ve spent the entire trip in the Met if she hadn’t dragged him off to appreciate other things in the City.

“To be fair, I wouldn’t have missed our Broadway tickets for anything,” Ted says with a laugh. “That showing of Cats was a real fun time. Not to mention getting to see Kathleen Turner in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

“For a man who obviously loves the theater, it amazes me that you’ve been here for nearly two years and not been to the West End yet,” Trent remarks, and Ted shoots him a glance.

“Why, you inviting me?”

Praying that the flush to his cheeks isn’t obvious, Trent says coolly, “If it’ll expand your horizons, why not?”

Ted looks so pleased by the—well, Trent doesn’t know what to call it but an agreement for another outing—that Trent’s face grows even hotter. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

When Trent looks back on that afternoon—which he does, frequently—it’s not the art that he remembers, or even the shape of their conversations, it’s the memory of watching Ted’s well-shaped hands moving in the air as he talked, looking at the dusting of hair along his forearms, gauging the breadth of his shoulders underneath that shirt, and being achingly aware of every inch of space between their bodies as they walked.

All in all, Trent’s sure he’s done more foolish things in his life than fall for Ted Lasso, but he can’t recall any of them.

*

On the day that Trent finally concedes defeat, it’s a lovely midday visit to the British Museum, where Ted’s viewing the exhibits with a skeptical eye and asking, “So do y’all plan on returning any of this loot you stole or what?”

“That would require admitting we stole it in the first place,” Trent says dryly, but he’s distracted by the sudden incessant buzzing of his phone.

"Hang on, I apologize," he murmurs, dragging his phone out of his pocket and activating the screen.

It takes several attempts for what he's reading to sink in, but when he does, Trent's jaw drops before he looks up to stare at Ted, who is blinking back at him innocently before growing concerned.

"Everything all right, Trent?" he asks, stepping a little closer, forehead creased in worry.

"Yes," Trent says blankly. "No, I mean—I'm fine, it's nothing personal, it's just..."

Still staring at Ted, Trent quickly navigates away from the constant barrage of texts from Lara, Nigel, and Ben (that are all a variation of WITCH WITCH WITCH and I fucking TOLD YOU Mannion got hexed!!!!) to open to the front page of the Daily Mirror, which is announcing in all caps that Rupert Mannion, disgraced former owner of AFC Richmond, has just survived being hit by a lightning strike. Wordlessly, he shoves the phone in Ted's face, just long enough for Ted to read the page.

Ted quickly scans the screen, expression not changing at all. "Huh. Well, ain't that something."

His nonchalance has Trent momentarily speechless, as he quickly snatches the phone away and demands, "That's all you've got to say? Ain't that something?" His voice rises into a truly atrocious attempt at Ted's Kansas twang, but in Trent's defense, he is being sorely provoked.

Ted's eyebrows fly up, and he teases, "Well now we know one thing Trent Crimm can't manage, and that's American accents. Good God, is that really what you think I sound like?"

"Ted," Trent grits out, staring at Ted over his glasses, refusing to be distracted or charmed, "Rupert Mannion just got struck by lightning, and you're not at all thrown by that?"

"Well, why would I be?" Ted asks, blinking innocently at him again. "It's not like he died or got seriously injured, that article says he's making a full recovery. Besides, getting struck by lightning's not that serious. My great-aunt Peggy got hit by lightning twice, and she lived to ninety-seven. Heck, Martha Stewart got struck by lightning three times and survived each one, now she's out there palling around with Snoop Dogg, living her best life." After a pause, he asks delicately, "You all right, Trent? Seem a little lost for words at the moment."

"I'm fine," Trent manages to say, his voice strangled, and his gaze constantly drifting upwards to Ted's hairline, where he can't stop himself from imagining just how a witch's hat would look on him.

Ted solicitiously urges him to sit at a nearby bench, leading him there with a careful hand at the center of Trent's back—Trent, his mind caught in the whirlwind of yet another fucking bizzare event centered around Ted Lasso and the sheer physical pleasure of Ted's warm hand touching him, obediently goes.

His phone's still buzzing madly in his hand, but that'll have to wait for later.

"I didn't mean to be callous just then," Ted says, unaware that Trent is rapidly recalibrating everything that he's assumed about Ted Lasso for the last two years. Not to mention his previously rock-solid belief that witches didn't exist. "But I guess I do believe that you get out of the universe what you put into it. Never wanna see anyone hurt, but..." He shrugs, and says, "Let's just say I won't be weeping crocodile tears for Rupert any time soon."

"I can't blame you there," Trent admits, but as he looks at Ted's open, guileless face, he has to blurt out, "Ted, you..." At Ted's raised eyebrow, he falters, but tries next, "I mean, it's rather a hell of a coincidence, isn't it? Mannion being exposed as the villain he is, and then him being actually struck by lightning?"

Ted's expression doesn't flicker, not by a fraction, and Trent should know with how intently he's gazing into Ted's face. "The universe moves in mysterious ways, Trent," he says sagely, then changes the subject to, "Now tell me more about these Parthenon Marbles..."

Trent attempts, and mostly succeeds at, changing his focus from questions of witchcraft and karma to discussing one of the most controversial museum pieces in the world, and after a while, his attention drifts to how closely he and Ted are sitting together on the bench, their thighs just barely brushing together.

The universe moves in mysterious ways, Trent repeats to himself, and when Ted moves in a little closer to ask a question, Trent doesn’t force himself to move away, instead he lets himself lean in closer.

*

It’s frankly impossible for the Richmond-Man City match in late March to be overhyped, given what’s at stake, but by the time the trip to Manchester arrives, Trent is thoroughly exhausted by the constant chatter, online, in person, on TV.

Manchester City, as it stands, is in a distant second to Richmond in the table. They absolutely have to win to even have a chance of catching Richmond points-wise (and even then they would likely need help), while if Richmond can hold Man City to a tie, or even better, win—well then, that’s the Premier League title as good as sewn up.

The funny thing is that absolutely no one is giving Manchester City a shot of winning the game. The bookies have the odds at 4-1 in favor of Richmond winning, and when Trent arrives in the press room at the Etihad Stadium, none of his colleagues will rate Man City’s odds either, although for possibly different reasons than the gamblers.

“After smiting Rupert Mannion where he stood, you think that Ted Lasso’s worried about managing Pep Guardiola?” Nigel hisses in Trent’s ear. “No, he fucking is not.”

“Smiting is not how I would describe it,” Trent says, although his protests have become token by now, and they all know it.

“He smote the man where he stood, Trent, let’s just accept it,” Lara says loftily.

“I thought you said the man was a witch, not God himself,” Trent says to her.

“Witches can smite people,” Lara insists.

“How would you know?” Trent demands, and Lara just retorts, although thankfully she keeps her voice down to a low hiss, “Because Ted Lasso is a witch, and he smote Rupert Mannion, ergo, witches can smite people.”

“Oh my God,” Trent groans, but then Ted’s walking into the room, and he has to be focused on doing his job, even though his job is getting stranger and stranger by the day.

It certainly doesn’t help that after the, ah, smiting of Rupert Mannion, the press have become nothing short of deferential to Ted, almost all of them starting their questions by calling Ted “sir” or “Mr. Lasso”, to the point where Ted, during their latest museum trip to the V&A, outright asked Trent if the press was “messing around” with him. Trent somehow kept a straight face while assuring Ted that the newfound respectfulness was absolutely genuine, but he’s still not sure how much Ted believes it, if the constantly skeptical air he brings to press conferences these days is any indication.

Well, Trent’s pretty sure he’s not going to be smote down at the moment, so when Ted calls on him, he rises to his feet and says, “Trent Crimm, the Independent. Coach Lasso, the growing rivalry between you and Pep Guardiola has been a constant during the season—“

Ted wrinkles his nose, saying, “I wouldn’t call it a rivalry. Pep’s a heck of a manager who has won just about every trophy there is, I sincerely doubt he’s feeling the pressure of a rivalry with me.”

Trent’s sources suggest the exact opposite, with the Man City hierarchy annoyed at losing to such arrivistes as Richmond (with their American cowboy of a coach at that) and at watching Jamie Tartt thriving at his new club, after he’d crashed and burned in such spectacular fashion at City.

“You have a double-digit lead over Man City in the table, you’re the only coach who’s been successful at integrating Jamie Tartt into a functioning team, and you already beat them 2-1 this season at home,” Trent says, eyebrow raised. “If you don’t call that a rivalry, what do you call it?”

“The same thing it is in any other sport,” Ted says. “Nothing but good, healthy competition.”

That’s definitely going in the book, Trent thinks to himself, smiling quietly as he sits back down. It’s possibly his imagination that Ted smiles at him for a beat longer than what’s necessary, but Trent doesn’t think it is.

The game itself, like so many games that come with a mountain of expectations to carry, is not actually that exciting. Man City score first, about thirty minutes in, and Trent is already sketching out a post-match article about the title race maybe being back on again. Richmond create some good chances but they go into the locker room at halftime still trailing 1-0.

But even as he’s writing the skeleton of an article about Manchester City’s win over AFC Richmond, Trent is firmly convinced he’ll have to do a massive rewrite before the game is done, and he’s absolutely right on that score.

In the sixty-seventh minute of the game, Richmond win a free kick just outside of the box, and it’s Jamie Tartt that goes up to take it and then—

The ball curves beautifully over the wall of players, and straight into the top corner of the net, past the City goalkeeper, and just like that, Richmond are level.

Tartt, in a display of tact that Trent honestly didn’t think him capable of, doesn’t celebrate what really is a stupendous goal. Not that it matters: his teammates are celebrating for him, and the Man City fans are booing him louder than ever, while the Richmond away fans are belting out his song. Still though, it’ll play well with the media and general public, him having the sense not to celebrate a goal he’s scored against his old club.

The score stays at 1-1 for the rest of the game, no matter City’s desperate attempts to pierce through Richmond’s defense, and finally, after three minutes of added time, the game is done, and so for all practical purposes is the title race.

Not that it’s any use telling Ted that, as he stalwartly refuses to concede that Richmond have the title race in the bag, no matter how many ways Trent and his fellow journalists prod him.

“The chickens aren’t hatched, so we’re not counting them,” Ted insists to an incredulous-looking Gary. “This is a solid result, but we’ve got another game against Norwich in midweek we need to keep our eyes on.”

“Yeah, but who needs chickens when you’ve got a black cat familiar at home?” Gary mutters, but not nearly quietly enough, as Ted frowns and says, “Sorry, Gary, what was that?”

Gary looks like a deer in the headlights, and not just because every journalist in the room, Trent included, is glaring at him. “Ah, no, it’s nothing. Mr. Lasso. Sir.”

“Uh huh,” Ted says, skeptically, casting a long look at them all—Trent can hear every journalist in the room holding their breaths, and knows that at least half of them are praying they won’t be hexed like Rupert Mannion—but Ted, affable as ever, calls on someone else instead.

The next day, as he and Ted are making their way down the street after an exceptionally long tour of the National Gallery, Trent asks, “Do you actually mean it in the press conferences when you say you’re taking it one day at a time? I know that’s what everyone says in your position, but you have a remarkable habit of being utterly sincere, even with a microphone shoved in your face.”

Ted looks deeply amused. “Well, thanks, I think. But yeah, I mean it. I have to mean it. Look, between you and me, I know we’re in a real good spot, and I know that game against City was critical. But I can’t let myself get complacent, or let the team get complacent. The minute you do that, you’re just asking for the universe to knock you back down.”

“Hmm,” Trent says.

“Besides,” Ted says, “The victories taste a hell of a lot sweeter when you’ve earned them.”

“I can imagine,” Trent says, only a little hoarsely, as he desperately tries to keep his mind from going into the gutter by wondering what other things Ted Lasso savors the taste of.

He sneaks a quick look at Ted, who is as ever, unfairly handsome in the button down shirts he favors on these outings (this week’s is a pale salmon color that he pulls off with ease) and just as Trent is getting caught up in looking at his profile, the way that his hair falls over his forehead, Ted turns and looks right back at him, his gaze steady.

Shit.

Face flushing, Trent opens his mouth to say who knows what, except the skies open and they’re caught in a sudden downpour, the rain coming down in sheets.

“Jesus!” Ted exclaims, half-laughing, futilely raising his hands to shield himself from the rain, “Here, here, let’s get inside before we melt—“

They half-walk, half-run into the nearest cafe, and once they’re inside, Trent tries to wring out his hair and wrangle it back into a ponytail, only to be caught mid-motion by the sight of a thoroughly drenched Ted, hair slick with rain, that charming button-down shirt plastered to his skin, cold nipples pebbling, a stray drop of rain running down his temple—

He can’t even pretend not to be staring when Ted catches his eye; Ted gives him a crooked half-smile that is surprisingly knowing, then claps him on the shoulder and says, “Let’s go dry ourselves out by that table over there, huh?”

The table is in a fairly discreet corner, not easily visible from the street, but it’s frankly too small for two grown men to sit at, and so Trent’s legs keep brushing against Ted’s beneath the table as they try and organize where each of their feet should go.

One of the staff very kindly brings them some towels to dry off with, and they make their orders—Earl Grey tea for Trent, and some ridiculously sweet coffee concoction for Ted.

“You know, if you’re planning to stick around in the UK, you should start learning how to tolerate tea at some point,” Trent remarks once their drinks have arrived.

“Oh, no I will not,” Ted says, the twinkle in his eye signalling that he knows full well what Trent’s doing, and he’s more than happy to take the bait. “Listen, I’ll try anything at least once, but I have had the horrible leaf water y’all call tea and I want no more of it, thank you very much.”

“Not even with milk and sugar?”

Ted pulls a face. “I like milk and I like sugar, why on earth would I want to contaminate them with tea?”

Trent snorts before he can stop himself. “It’s a measure of how charming you are that you can carry off insulting our national drink.”

Ted’s mouth curves upwards and he says, teasingly, “Oh, so you think I’m charming then, huh?”

And that is when the penny drops at last. Trent sits back in his seat, looking from Ted’s handsome, interested face, to the tiny and intimate table they’re sitting at, where their legs are still brushing together. He thinks back to the day they’ve just spent together, thinks back to the weeks of museum visits and intimate dinners and afternoons at restaurants and cafes, and he blurts out, “Holy fuck, is this a date?”

Ted, to Trent’s growing outrage, doesn’t even have the decency to look surprised. He simply raises his eyebrows and says, “I’m a little confused as to what you think this is, if not a date.”

“You, but—” Trent, to his utter mortification, is spluttering incoherently, but it’s impossible to be coherent when he’s just discovered that he has been dating Ted Lasso for weeks without ever realizing it. “But you’re from Kansas.”

Ted’s forehead wrinkles, and he asks, “Do you think we don’t have bisexuals in Kansas?”

“Oh my God,” Trent groans, running a hand over his head, just barely keeping from pulling at his hair in frustration. “Oh my fucking God. I’ve been dating Ted Lasso and I didn’t even know it.”

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to be,” Ted says, very mildly, and when Trent jerks his head back up to stare at him, Ted is very deliberately looking down at his frothy coffee thing, rather than at Trent.

“Don’t be fucking stupid,” Trent says immediately. “Of course I’m interested, why else would I be tramping about every museum in the Greater London area?”

The slow-dawning smile that spreads across Ted’s face is unlike any other smile Trent’s seen from him before, and it leaves Trent breathless.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Ted says, leaning in a little closer across the table, his leg pressing against Trent’s with intent, a shiver running down Trent’s spine as he does. “I didn’t think I was reading those come-hither looks wrong, but it’s always nice to be sure.”

“I have never made come-hither eyes at anyone, in my life,” Trent says, trying to sound indignant and failing, as his voice is far too low and hoarse to sell it.

“Yeah, you have,” Ted says, grinning at him. “Batting your eyelashes like a British Betty Boop.”

Horrifying metaphors aside, it’s overwhelming, frankly, to be the focus of all that charm, all that interest, and realize that he doesn’t have to talk himself out of actually taking it seriously.

To that end, he leans over the table himself and says, dropping his voice down by half an octave, “Ted, have you been taking me out on these trips just to seduce me? Because if you have…”

He lets his voice trail up, and Ted takes up the bait. “If I have?”

“Then I’d have to tell you you didn’t need to bother,” Trent admits. “I’m pretty much a sure thing by this point.”

To distract himself from that confession, Trent reaches out and sips at his tea, eyes lowered, although it’s no good, he can still feel Ted’s gaze on him.

When Ted finally speaks, his voice is gratifyingly hoarse as well, and Trent is very intrigued by it. “Well, that is, ah, certainly flattering to hear.” Trent looks at him, and Ted has gone a fascinating shade of pink, high on his cheeks and at the tips of his ears.

And then, like clockwork, the realization hits that at some point (hopefully in the near future) Trent will get the opportunity to find out just how far that blush goes down, and now it’s Trent’s face that is heating up.

“You know,” Ted begins, but then his phone starts ringing, and he grimaces, holding up a finger as he apologizes, “Sorry, sorry, hang on a second—“

He answers the phone and says, “Nate, what’s—wait, hold on, slow down—what’s happened? Well, shit. No, yeah, yeah, I’ll be right there.”

He hangs up and gives Trent an apologetic look. “Emergency at the stadium, I’ve got to head over there before poor Nate has a heart attack, but—“

“It’s all right, go,” Trent says, reassuring. “We can finish this...discussion later.”

Ted lights up at that, and despite the fact that they’re in public, he reaches out and brushes his fingers along the back of Trent’s hand, the touch far too chaste for how much it sets every nerve in his hand on fire. “I’m holding you to that,” he says, the dimple flashing in his cheek before he rushes out of there, disappearing into the rain.

Trent watches him leaving through the window, and takes a minute to sit there in disbelief at, well, at everything really, and to remember the feeling of Ted Lasso deliberately touching his hand, before he pulls himself back together and starts calling his sources for info as to what, exactly, is happening at Nelson Road.

*

Of course it’s too much to hope that their outings would pass without any notice from the public. It’s not as bad as it could have been, and certainly better than what Trent fears, and yet he is not enjoying arriving at the press box for a match and having Ben Smythe-Jones immediately shoving his phone into Trent’s face, demanding, “Is that you out and about with Ted Lasso?”

“What?” Trent asks, irritable. Apparently someone had caught a blurry shot of Ted inside the cafe, soaked from the rain, and in the background you can see the back of Trent’s head and half of his shoulders. Hardly scandalous, and yet Ben’s glaring at him as though he’s been caught in the act of defacing Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square. “That could be anyone.”

“Oh please, like we can’t spot your artfully-streaked ponytail anywhere,” Lara says. “So what gives? You cultivating him as a source for the book you’re still pretending you’re not writing?”

“Yes,” Trent says quickly. “The book. That’s it.”

Ben grumbles a little longer about lucky so-and-sos and how you never know, he could be writing a book, but that seems to be the end of it, even if Trent catches Lara watching him a little more closely than usual.

The game itself is perfectly normal—Richmond take the early lead, thanks to some excellent interplay between Dani Rojas and Sam Obisanya—but it’s a vaguely surreal feeling to be covering it, knowing all the while that the manager standing by the touchline and urging on his players is the same person that’s been stealthily dating him all this time.

At one point, while there’s a brief pause in play for one of the Burnley players to receive treatment, Ted’s face appears on the giant screen, and Trent stares at it blindly, thinking about how at some point he’s going to kiss that man on the mouth. Fuck.

Well, that too, if the universe is kind.

*

As the season progresses into April, it’s increasingly difficult to find time in their schedules to meet up on what Trent finally knows are dates. One of Trent’s colleagues is on paternity leave, and so Trent is not only following Richmond’s matches, but filling in for the Independent on Champions League coverage as well. It means a lot of flying in and out of the country for the midweek Champions League matches, as well as managing his usual workload, and between that and Ted’s own very busy schedule, there simply isn’t room for day-long rambles through Britain’s extensive network of museums.

There is, however, room for texts.

Nate and Will are on a mission to find me a type of tea I don’t hate, is this your handiwork? Ted texts him one day, along with a photo of a cup of tea, and then another photo of Ted pulling a very dubious face.

Trent grins to himself, and sends back, Assimilation is inevitable, Ted, and resistance is futile.

I feel like this is the time for me to quote John Paul Jones and yell that I have not yet begun to fight, but really, I’m just going to continue to avoid tea. Except for this chai stuff, that is wonderful. Everything else, garbage leaf water.

Trent flatters himself he’s being quite discreet about this state of affairs, at least until Lara observes in the pub one evening, “Either you’re cultivating the most charming source in history or you’ve made a new friend.”

Trent blinks up at her, distracted from Ted’s charming description of movie night with the team (they’re playing at Wolves and spending the night in a hotel). Apparently, half of Richmond’s players have a yen for animated movies that would make the most callous person weep. “What?”

“You’ve been typing away on your phone for the last five minutes and smiling,” Lara says, narrowing her eyes at him. “Smiling in a very…besotted way.”

“I have never been besotted in my life,” Trent lies immediately.

“The smile on your face indicates otherwise,” Lara says. “Anything you’d like to share with the group, Trent?”

“Absolutely not,” Trent says immediately, holding his phone a little closer to his body, and Lara laughs but doesn’t press the issue, thank God.

Trent eventually goes back to his messages with Ted, eyeing Lara warily, but she’s turned to dissecting Arsenal’s latest embarrassment of a season with Ben and Nigel. Trent answers on auto-pilot (honestly, given the rinse-repeat pattern of Arsenal’s slide into mediocrity, he could talk about the club in his sleep) and types out to Ted, Sorry, out at the pub. Lara was curious about who I was texting and why they had me smiling so much.

Ted immediately sends back three smiling emojis in a row. Beard’s been begging me for weeks now to stop singing showtunes around the training ground.

Which showtunes?

I refuse to answer on the grounds that they are embarrassing.

Biting back a smile, Trent quickly types out, You do realize I’m an investigative journalist and therefore skilled in getting people to answer questions they’d rather not answer?

Well, you’ll just have to make it worth my while to answer.

“You seem deeply amused at the thought of Arsenal ending the season out of the top four once again, Trent,” Nigel observes, and Trent says blandly, “At a certain point, while watching Sisyphus chasing the boulder down the hill, you either have to laugh or weep.”

“That’s...very philosophical of you, Trent,” Ben says slowly.

“I try,” Trent says.

*

The Richmond-Leeds United game gains a new importance about thirty minutes before kickoff, with Manchester City losing 4-1 to Liverpool at Anfield. With that loss, all Richmond have to do now is win at home today against Leeds, and the Premier League title is theirs.

Realistically, it has been practically theirs for ages now, but for them to properly win it at their home stadium, in front of their fans...even Trent can’t resist the romance of that, the nearly cinematic perfection of it.

The stadium is a cauldron of noise, red and blue flags flying everywhere as the fans sing and chant, even if the atmosphere is momentarily dampened when Leeds take an early 1-0 lead. But after that, Richmond start playing as if they’re personally offended by Leeds even daring to score against them, and by half-time it’s 1-1.

“Come on, come on,” Trent finds himself murmuring, urging them forward, and when Nigel looks at him, Trent grimaces but says, “It’s a better story if they win it today.”

“True,” Nigel concedes, then wonders aloud, “Do you think Lasso’s brought his familiar to the stadium today? For luck, I mean.”

“I thought witches didn’t need luck,” Trent says dryly.

“You never know,” Nigel says stoutly. “Game like this, wouldn’t leave it to chance, would he?”

Whether the cat is at the stadium or not, Richmond come out for the second half like a team possessed, battering the Leeds defense, and finally, sixty-two minutes into the match, Sam Obisanya scores the goal that will make him a Richmond legend, a low driving ball that the Leeds goalkeeper has no chance of keeping out.

The roar of the stadium is deafening, and Obisanya is mobbed by his shouting, joyful teammates—Trent’s fairly sure he sees Dani Rojas dramatically kissing Sam Obisanya’s cheeks in celebration. The last half-hour of the game is frankly, madness, with the crowd cheering each clearance, each defensive move as though it’s a goal, singing Obisanya’s name to the tune of Que Sera Sera, and Trent watches as with each ticking second, the tension in the stadium, the pent-up joy just spirals higher and higher—

And finally, when the two minutes of added time are over, when Isaac McAdoo has booted the ball halfway across the pitch, the referee’s whistle is blown, and AFC Richmond are Premier League champions at last.

There are a hundred different images from the day that will be burned in Trent’s memories—the elderly Richmond fans weeping openly in their seats, Rebecca Welton’s joyous, dazzling smile from the owner’s box, broadcast for the entire stadium to see on the big screen, the players carrying Ted Lasso on their shoulders, tossing him up into the air to the roaring cheers of the crowd.

But when he watches the match back, Trent will linger on the moment when AFC Richmond have won, and the cameras all turn to look at Ted, and he looks absolutely stunned, as though even he can’t understand how they’ve accomplished such a thing.

*

Of course, Trent doesn’t expect to see Ted for a couple of days after that. How could he? Richmond are celebrating their first title in the history of the club, and Trent can only imagine the amount of champagne that they’ll be collectively consuming. There will be press obligations, celebrations to attend, the adulation of an entire fanbase (frankly, an entire country) to soak in.

And yet, two days after Richmond have won the title, Trent gets a text around mid-day from Ted that simply reads, You free tonight?

The words are simple, but something in them makes Trent pause before replying, Certainly. Recovered from your hangover yet?

Oh, I’m still recuperating, Ted replies, and Trent can see the wry smile accompanying it, But I’d like to see you anyway.

Trent smiles, and types out, I’m off work at three, when would you like to meet?

A brief pause, the blinking dots indicating that Ted’s still typing, and then he replies, Just come on over when you’re off work.

Well, that’s certainly an overture. Trent clears his throat, never mind that he’s not actually speaking, and carefully types out, It’s a date.

He also may or may not check to make sure that the condoms he’s discreetly placed in his wallet are still good, but the blinds to his office are drawn, there aren’t any witnesses.

Not that Trent is expecting anything, just...well, hoping.

He reaches Ted’s flat before four, having stopped at a nearby shop to pick up wine and a small cake from a patisserie. But once he’s at the door and Ted opens it at his knock, Trent is the one taken aback.

It’s not that Ted looks awful—Trent is unhappily aware that Ted Lasso couldn’t look bad to him if he actively tried—but he does look tired, his face rough with two days’ worth of unshaven stubble, wearing a Wichita State t-shirt and loose track pants, his feet bare and his hair mussed, as if he’d just woken up from a nap.

So instead of saying ‘hello’ or ‘thanks for having me’ or even ‘here, I brought wine and cake’, Trent blurts out, “Ted, you look exhausted. Have you gotten any sleep in the last forty-eight hours?”

Ted pulls a face. “Lord, do I look that awful?”

“You’re incapable of looking awful,” Trent says, ignoring the slow, delighted smile that grows across Ted’s face at that, “But you do look like a strong breeze could knock you over.”

“Honestly, that’s kind of how I feel,” Ted admits, stepping aside to let Trent in. Trent isn’t so distracted by Ted that he can’t take in the flat itself—it’s neat and tidy, with plenty of afternoon light streaming in through the windows. The furniture itself is impersonal, but he notices the photographs hung up on the walls—family and friends, a signed one from a Richmond game—Trent wants to get closer to read the writing, but is distracted by Ted tugging the wine bottle free from his grip and saying, wryly, “Let’s get this stashed away in the kitchen, then I promise you can poke around to your heart’s content.”

“Yes, sorry, of course,” Trent says, abashed. Just because he’s incurably curious about everything (especially everything to do with Ted Lasso) doesn’t mean he can’t dial it back for one day.

He follows Ted into a well-appointed kitchen, all the signs of a serious home cook there, and sitting on the center of the kitchen island, right in a pool of sunshine, is Lola, the famous Richmond cat (or witch’s familiar, if you listen to Nigel, and Lara, and Ben, and practically every member of the British press).

The cat lazily blinks at him, and from behind him, Ted asks, “Oh, I forgot—I should’ve asked if you’re allergic to cats, or if you’re scared of them—”

“No, and no,” Trent says quickly, though he does not answer the question of if he’s scared of familiars. “Is, ah, is she good around new people?”

“Aw, she’s a sweetheart,” Ted says easily, stepping around Trent to set the cake and wine to one side, and reaching out with a hand to stroke Lola. “Just give her space and let her come to you in her own time, she’ll be putty in your hands.”

“Is that your go-to advice for wrangling cats?” Trent asks.

Ted shoots him a grin and says, “Yep. Works great for cats, and also works wonders on long-haired investigative journalists.”

Trent purses his lips, both to keep from smiling or scowling, but before they can fall back into their easy, flirtatious banter, he asks, carefully, “You didn’t actually answer me when I asked if you were sleeping well.”

There’s the briefest hitch in Ted’s shoulders at that, so fast you could almost miss it, but his voice is light and easy as he says, “Oh, I’ve been sleeping fine.”

“Ted,” Trent says, still being so careful. “It’s just me.” At the skeptical curl of Ted’s eyebrows, Trent amends, “I mean that…I don’t have my notebook out. No recording device is on. It’s just me, asking the man I’m seeing how he is.”

Ted pauses before nodding, his mouth twisting to one side as he rubs a hand over his face. “No, you’re right, it’s…” He sighs heavily, before saying, “I’m not complaining about anything, I just wanna make that clear. Not a single thing to complain about.”

“Of course not,” Trent agrees smoothly.

“It’s just…I’ve been working towards this, planning for it, since the second we got relegated, you understand?” There’s an urgency to Ted now, a grit that’s clear in his voice, and Trent’s riveted by it, this first sign of the fire that led this man to drive AFC Richmond to their first title. “I’ve been pushing that boulder, pushing and pushing and pushing, we all have, and now—” He throws a hand up, helplessly, “Now the boulder’s finally over the goddamn hill and I’m left wondering, what am I supposed to do with myself? This title race has...it’s consumed every part of me. Working to prove everyone wrong, working to prove Rebecca was right for keeping me on, and now we’re here at the promised land and I just feel…” His stricken gaze meets Trent’s as he says, bewildered, “I just feel emptied-out. Like a pitcher of water nobody’s bothered to refill.”

“What you are,” Trent says, gently but firmly, “—is exhausted. You’ve accomplished an impossible thing, it’s no wonder if you’re feeling drained now it’s all over.”

He hesitates for a moment, but Ted looks so at sea that it’s impossible to leave him in this state. “Right,” he says, with more confidence than he actually feels in this moment, and he reaches out to take Ted by the shoulders, ignoring the thrill he feels at the sensation of touching Ted like this, of touching Ted at all. “Come here, sit down, and just let me—” Take care of you, is what Trent thinks, but he amends it to, “—handle everything.”

Ted doesn’t resist, obediently going where Trent moves him, sitting down in a chair at Trent’s light guidance, and oh, that shouldn’t delight him as much as it does. “So you’re in charge now?” he asks, forehead furrowed, but Trent does hear the note of hope in that, the relief that someone else is at the wheel.

“Exactly,” Trent says. “I’m sure you’ll regret it at some point, but too late now, you’ve already let me in the door.” He steps back to survey Ted and the kitchen, asking after a moment, “Have you eaten?”

“...yes,” Ted says, after a pause that has lasted entirely too long for Trent’s liking.

“So you haven’t eaten in a while,” Trent says. “Right, I can fix that.”

“You’re going to cook?” Ted asks, dubiously, and Trent just raises an eyebrow at him.

“I’m going to order takeaway,” he says. “We’re getting Indian, and I will be deciding the spice level for our dishes, thank you very much.” Ted laughs at this, but doesn’t argue, seemingly happy to let Trent take over their plans for the rest of the day.

Once that’s settled, Trent takes Ted by the shoulders again—Ted is shockingly pliant in Trent’s hands, and Trent is trying very hard not to read anything into it—and leads him back out into the living room, sitting him down on the couch and saying, “The only thing you’re forbidden to watch is anything to do with football.”

“Forbidden, huh?” Ted says, waggling his eyebrows at him. Trent tamps down a wave of lust at the mischievous look on his face and does not pin him to the couch, which he thinks is an incredible display of restraint on his part.

“Yes,” he says, in his crispest tone. “I’m in charge now, remember.”

“Yeah, you are,” Ted says, his head falling back against the couch, looking up at Trent with an affectionate look on his face.

His face going hot, Trent quickly turns to the stack of DVDs (of course Ted still hangs on to physical media, and Trent can only approve) and after a moment, picks one out.

“Why do I have the feeling this is one of your favorite movies,” he asks, holding up the DVD of Singin’ In The Rain, and Ted beams up at him.

“Well, that would be because you’re a very intelligent and perceptive man,” Ted says.

Once the movie’s started, Trent settles himself next to Ted, pausing only momentarily before letting his arm stretch out along the back of the couch, almost but not quite touching Ted’s shoulders. Ted smiles over at him crookedly, turning his body to the side just a fraction to face Trent more easily.

“You know, we can watch something that’s closer to your tastes,” Ted says. “Like Laura or The Red Shoes or something.”

“No, this is good,” Trent says. “Like I’m going to sneer at watching Cyd Charisse dance with Gene Kelly. I didn’t see a lot of modern musicals in your collection, though.”

Ted eyes him. “What type of modern musicals,” he says, warily.

Trent pretends to consider it. “Well, you could have the new version of Les Misérables,” he offers, and just barely keeps from barking with laughter at the affronted look on Ted’s face.

“Don’t you even speak of that monstrosity to me,” Ted says, fully indignant now, sitting up straighter. “If you’d told me that the director had a lifelong grudge against every actor that was in that film and him making that movie was an act of revenge, I would’ve believed it. First of all, don’t cast actors that can’t sing if you’re making a musical. Second, you don’t cut them off at the knees by making them sing all their numbers live once, filming it and saying, ‘Here, this is what we’ve got, I don’t care how flat you sound’ and just leaving it there—”

Trent covers his mouth with his hand and settles in to listen to Ted Lasso opining on the tragic state of modern musicals in Hollywood—practically no one from the cast of Les Misérables or La La Land is left unscathed, with the exception of Anne Hathaway—with a fervent distaste that he’d only thought Ted saved for the subject of tea, or Rupert Mannion.

Their food arrives while Ted is still ranting about how no one in Hollywood knows how to film dancing numbers anymore, and between the food and the subject matter, Ted is seemingly coming back to himself, alert and present in a way he wasn’t when he answered the door to Trent earlier this afternoon.

Trent takes a moment to just gaze at Ted, how deliciously rumpled he looks now, his eyes bright, a tiny smear of curry sauce at the corner of his mouth.

Ted catches him staring and asks, self-consciously, “What, did I get the tikka masala all over my mustache?”

He wipes at his face with a napkin and Trent says, “No. I mean, yes, but you got it already. But that’s not why I was looking at you.”

Ted blinks at that. “Oh?”

It doesn’t even feel like a decision he’s actively made, when Trent leans in and brushes a faint kiss against Ted’s mouth, his mustache scraping along Trent’s upper lip for one tantalizing moment. He keeps it brief, no matter how much he wants to linger, no matter how much he wants to push for more, and slowly pulls back to see Ted’s response.

Ted’s eyes are closed as he pulls away, and when he slowly opens them to look at Trent, it’s as if he’s waking up at last.

“There you are,” Trent says quietly, half to himself.

“Here I am,” Ted agrees, as if he’s discovering it along with Trent in this moment, before leaning in and kissing Trent on the mouth—and he doesn’t keep it brief, either. No, this kiss is achingly slow and sweetly thorough, his mouth moving with such care over Trent’s, until Trent is gripping his own thighs to keep from reaching out and just taking

But then Ted sighs a little against his mouth, and Trent can’t keep himself from taking what’s offered, after all. He tries to restrain himself, he does, but from the moment that his hand steals into Ted’s soft hair, his other hand curving low around Ted’s waist, Ted just...he yields, beautifully, melting into Trent’s hands, clutching at the back of Trent’s shirt until Trent practically has no choice but to press him down against the couch, their bodies fitting together until he’s half-lying on top of Ted, trying his damnedest not to wrap his legs around Ted’s and grind his hips down until—

Trent tears his mouth away from Ted’s, pulling back to look down at him and oh, that was a mistake—Ted’s face is flushed, his mouth wet and his hair even more disheveled, and Trent can barely remember why he’s stopped kissing this man, that feels like the worst decision he’s made all day.

But he has made it. “Perhaps,” Trent says, breathing heavily, “Perhaps we should, ah, pause? For a moment?”

Ted looks up at him, his gaze heavily-lidded and asks, bewildered, “Why?”

Trent opens his mouth to answer, then realizes he doesn’t actually have an answer. “Shouldn’t we be moving slow?” he asks.

Ted looks even more bewildered now, saying, “We’ve been moving slow, we’ve been moving like an ice glacier across the Midwest. But if you need to keep going slow, then we can, Trent, I’m never going to try and pressure you—”

“I’m just trying not to pressure you,” Trent protests, and the incredulous look that Ted gives him at that is making him feel rather foolish.

“Believe me when I say you don’t need to be worrying about that,” Ted says, hooking an arm around Trent’s waist to pull him in even closer. “I’m the one that’s been trying to seduce you all this time, remember?”

“Congratulations, it worked,” Trent says, and Ted is still laughing when Trent leans in to kiss him again. And now that the brake is off, now that Ted has told him (in every way possible) that he doesn’t have to hold himself back, things quickly get out of hand, Trent licking into Ted’s mouth and biting at his lip until Ted is making soft, helpless noises, rocking up against Trent’s hips as Trent feverishly does his best to slip his hands under the hem of Ted’s shirt, groaning at the feeling of warm skin and wiry hair beneath his palms.

“All right, all right,” Ted gasps out at last, “C’mon, sweetheart, we’re taking this to the bedroom, I’m too old to be getting up to the things I want to do with you on this couch.”

By this point it feels as though every thought in Trent’s head has been driven out by Ted’s mouth and his body and his hands, and so Trent, for once in his life, has absolutely nothing to say as Ted drags him in the direction of his bedroom.

*

Trent means to take his time, to take things slow. He really does.

But from the minute that he gets his hands on Ted, gets his shirt off of him with a few desperate tugs and Ted’s willing assistance—all patience, all restraint leaves him, and he just takes everything he can get, his hands moving over Ted’s bare chest, shoving him back onto the bed with barely a pause before clambering on top of him.

Not that Ted isn’t giving as good as he gets, immediately pulling Trent in between his legs, his hands tangling in Trent’s hair as they kiss, arching up into Trent’s hands and groaning as Trent maps out his body, thumbing at a nipple until Ted is whimpering.

Christ, how responsive he is. Trent sits back a little to take him in, admiring the sight of Ted coming undone at his touch, dropping his hand down to press against his aching cock—somehow both of their trousers are still on, what an incredible oversight.

Ted is squirming beneath him, trying for more friction, and Trent breathlessly starts working a hand down past the waistband of his sweatpants, and the noise that Ted makes when Trent finally wraps a hand around his cock is incredible.

“Oh God, yes,” he groans, eyes fluttering shut before he blinks them open again. “Wait, oh, wait a second—”

“Yes?” Trent asks, and Ted flails at the nightstand next to the bed.

“Supplies are in the bottom drawer,” he says, raking a hand through his hair. “I can—”

“No, I’ll get it,” Trent says, climbing off him. “And you can get the rest of your clothes off.”

“Yes, sir,” Ted murmurs, grinning up at him. As delightful a sight as it is to see Ted Lasso stripping off his clothes, Trent does have a task to accomplish, and he quickly opens the drawer to find a truly impressive array of sex toys—Trent doesn’t even recognize what some of them are for—along with several different types of lubricant.

“Good God,” Trent says blankly.

“We do have sex toys in Kansas, Trent,” Ted says from the bed, and when Trent turns to stare at him, Ted is naked and propped up on one elbow, watching him with amusement. “Though if it’s a little too wild for you, we can—“

“I will show you wild,” Trent says, and promptly moves to pin him down to the bed, and within just a few moments he has driven Ted to a writhing, incoherent wreck, exactly how Trent likes him.

But Ted is right about the need for supplies, enjoyable as this is, so finally Trent wrenches himself away from Ted again, ignoring the protests and saying as sternly as he can (not very, given how hoarse his voice is), “Stay there and stop distracting me.”

“I’ll behave,” Ted promises, making a great show of putting his hands above his head, looking so tempting that it rather undermines his promise.

Trent manages to stay focused, just, hastily taking off his own clothes and Ted sits up to watch, with a gratifying amount of appreciation, and then reaching for a bottle of lubricant from the drawer (Trent’s going to think of it as the sex drawer from now on, he can already tell) and also one of the condoms discreetly placed to one side.

He holds up the condom and says, hesitant, “We never actually talked—”

“No,” Ted agrees, his voice composed even if a flush is rising up along his cheeks, “But unless you have any objections, Trent, I would really appreciate getting fucked tonight.” His gaze drops down and he adds, “Particularly now I see what you’ve been hiding in your pants all this time.”

“Jesus Christ,” Trent says, his fingers tightening around the bottle of lubricant. “The mouth on you.”

Ted just looks at him, far too innocently, and says, “Well, I find it helps when you make things clear, otherwise maybe the other party could take weeks to figure out where you’re going—”

There is, Trent finds, one guaranteed way to shut Ted up, and he applies himself to the task with enthusiasm.

Trent keeps thinking that he should check himself, be less demanding, less rough—that pinning Ted’s hands above his head while he presses biting kisses to Ted’s mouth and throat is the definition of too much, except that Ted is so beautifully responsive and eager, Trent simply can’t stop himself from being as toppy as he wants.

And finally, Trent is working Ted open with one slick finger, holding his legs open with a hand braced on the back of Ted’s thigh. “You are shockingly flexible,” Trent says, his gaze caught between where his finger is slipping in and out of Ted’s hole and Ted’s flushed face, the way that he keeps pulling distractedly at his hair as he tries to push back against Trent’s hand.

“Rebecca started me on, on yoga a while back,” Ted says, sounding winded. “Good for my back.”

“Good for other things as well,” Trent says, crooking his finger just so and being rewarded for it when Ted gasps, his cock jerking slightly against his stomach, the head slick with pre-come.

“Jesus, Trent, quit teasin’ already,” Ted urges, nudging him with his knees, trying to pull Trent in closer. “I’m ready.”

“You are not,” Trent insists, even as he goes hot at the thought of sinking into the clenching heat of him.

“Come on, I want to feel it,” Ted tells him, pulling at him with both hands now, dragging him into an absolutely filthy kiss that makes the argument for him far better than words can.

And finally, after Trent has rolled the condom on with unsteady hands, he sinks his cock in slowly, God, so so slowly, having to recite the scores from this weekend’s matches in order to keep some composure—

Once he’s fully sheathed inside of Ted, Trent holds himself very still, bracing himself on his arms as he stares down at Ted, who has his eyes closed, breathing heavily.

“Ted,” Trent manages, his voice strangled, “Ted, is this—”

“It’s good,” Ted promises, shifting ever so slightly, but even that has Trent biting at his lip to keep control. “Just, ah, just a second—” He breathes in and out deeply, and then opens his eyes, a corner of his mouth turning up as he says, “All right, all right—”

“Yes?” Trent confirms, even as he slowly starts to rock in and out, shallow thrusts at first, but as he and Ted move together, the pace begins to pick up until Trent is swearing and sweating as he practically bends Ted in half, pounding into him hard enough to send the headboard of the bed rattling against the wall, the slick noises of their bodies coming together an obscene soundtrack in Trent’s ears, matched by Ted’s slurred voice urging him on, saying, “Harder, oh God, sweetheart, that’s so good, just a little harder now—”

It’s sweet and filthy and everything that Trent wants to hear, everything that Trent could want, and he sets his teeth into the meat of Ted’s shoulder—Ted’s hand tightens in his hair at that, body clenching tighter around his cock, and he keeps fucking into him with short, sharp thrusts until Ted is gasping and coming apart around him, beneath him, and Trent squeezes his eyes shut and follows soon after, in a white-hot rush of pleasure.

*

A little time later, Ted is his usual bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self, while Trent is still limp as a wet rag. “Give me a second to recover,” he says, brushing Ted’s arm with the back of his hand.

Ted chuckles and places a soft kiss to Trent’s cheek, his mustache rasping against Trent’s skin. “Relax, sweetheart. You took care of me well enough, now it’s my turn.”

“Well enough?” Trent echoes, disbelieving. “I like to think I did better than that.”

Ted just laughs again as he clambers out of the bed—there’s a hitch to his stride that Trent should probably not be so gratified about, but fucking hell, he really did put his back into it. “Oh trust me, I will be feeling this tomorrow, don’t you worry.”

As Trent watches him head in the direction of the bathroom, he notices for the first time a birthmark low on Ted’s left shoulder—a reddish splash of color that looks something like a starburst.

“I didn’t notice your birthmark,” he muses, half to himself.

“Well, we were preoccupied,” Ted teases over the sound of the faucet running. “Bet you haven’t noticed Lola sitting up there on the dresser either.”

“Wait, what?” Trent says, twisting about in confusion until he looks up to the top of the dresser to see, yes, a black cloud of fur observing him calmly, green-gold eyes shining in the dim light. “Oh, fucking hell, Lasso, has your cat been watching us fornicate all night?”

“Dunno,” Ted says. “I wasn’t paying much attention myself, you made sure of that.” He returns to the bedroom with a damp washcloth, distracting Trent from their feline third-wheel as he finishes with cleaning Trent up, his touch light and careful, his free hand stroking Trent’s hair.

Once he’s done, Ted tosses the washcloth into a laundry hamper across the room, pumping his fist as he hits the target. “Two points,” he says, pleased.

Trent smiles up at him, taking in his warm brown eyes, the marks on his throat that Trent is far too proud about causing, and as Ted grins down at him, as they begin to trade lazy kisses back and forth, whatever wisps of coherent thoughtTrent has about the birthmark on Ted’s shoulder, the black cat lurking about, they all disappear, as he finds himself preoccupied with much more interesting things.

*

Trent’s never been much of a morning person, but for this morning, he will make an exception.

He’s still drowsy, but he’s been set up at the dining table with a cup of coffee and an omelet that somehow tastes even better than it looks, watching as Ted makes yet another omelet for himself, chatting about his previous job in Kansas, the room bright and cozy.

It’s early days yet, but Trent could get used to this. He wants to get used to this.

“It was real funny, everybody warning me about how wild the fanbases are around here,” Ted says. “A big part of my job back at Wichita State was convincing the alumni not to try and bribe players to come to our college, because that would be illegal. Also morally wrong, but somehow that never stuck with them so much as the legal consequences.”

“Bribes, you say,” Trent responds, intrigued—and also trying to picture the sort of fools that would believe that Ted Lasso would be a party to bribery.

“Dear God, you have no idea. Every year I kept having to tell the boosters, no, you can’t try and hand out envelopes full of cash to high school kids. Not their mamas either. Or their daddies. Or their grandmas. They’d just nod and smile and shake my hand and then turn right around and try and wave a wad of cash at another recruit, and then I’d have to start from scratch all over again. Worse than herding cats, I swear to God.”

“You were good at it, though,” Trent says, and Ted, busy plating his omelet, turns to look at him, eyes narrowed.

“Oh, I know I was, but I’m surprised that you know that,” he says, and Trent laughs out loud.

“I may have placed a few calls to the current editors at the Sunflower,” he admits, referencing Wichita State’s student-run newspaper. “They had plenty to say about the previous editor’s determination to dig up a scandal in the football department, and how angry he was when he couldn’t find anything.”

“Trent Crimm, trying to dig up dirt,” Ted says, but he’s amused rather than offended. “Why am I not surprised.”

He comes to sit down next to Trent, plate and glass of orange juice in hand, and drops a kiss at the corner of Trent’s mouth before digging into his food. Trent watches him for a moment, fond, and is only brought back to himself when he hears his phone ringing.

“Go ahead, answer it,” Ted urges. “Might be the next great scandal you’ll uncover.”

“It won’t be nearly as interesting as these bribing boosters you’ve mentioned,” Trent says, but he reaches out for his phone.

It’s Lara, and Trent answers with only a momentary hesitation. “Crimm, you’ll never believe what’s happened now—” as she launches straight into a dramatic tale about three of their fellow writers, all at different publications, caught up in some sordid love triangle that finally burst out into the open at, of course, the local pub that they and their fellow journos all attend. It’s nothing but base gossip, which of course means that Trent is riveted, and he’s hearing just how many drinks were thrown when he is rudely interrupted by Lola, who has decided to investigate the remains of his omelet and see whether they are to her liking.

“Lola,” Ted hisses, picking her up. “Now that’s just rude—” Lola loudly yowls in protest at being denied her treat, and as Ted pulls her away from the table to scold her (though what good scolding will do for a cat, Trent does not know) it takes a moment for Trent to realize that Lara is no longer talking, and the silence on the other end is...well, foreboding.

“Um,” Trent says.

“Either you have shacked up with another resident of Kansas who has come to our shores,” Lara says very slowly, “Or you are in the company of Ted Lasso at seven in the bloody morning. And his cat.”

Trent opens his mouth to deny it, but hesitates for just a second, and in that second is his downfall.

“Oh my God, I knew it!” Lara shrieks, at a volume piercing enough to be heard from Edinburgh. “You fucking legend, you’ve gone and bagged the Witch of Richmond—”

“That what of what?” Trent replies, aghast, knowing, just knowing that Lara’s voice is loud enough to be overheard. “Please don’t tell me you came up with that ridiculous title—”

“Don’t be silly, it was Ben’s idea,” Lara says. “Good one though, he does have them from time to time. And do not distract me from the subject, which is that you have landed the Premier-League-winning manager of AFC Richmond and I will be demanding all the details posthaste, Crimm, you have a lot of overdue sharing to do—”

“Which I will not be doing at the moment, thank you,” Trent says quickly. “As you have gathered, I have much more pleasant things to be occupied with at the moment.”

“Do not think this is the end of it—”

Trent knows he will be made to regret it in the future, but he quickly hangs up. After a second, his phone starts chiming incessantly as messages begin to pour in from the group chat, and Trent grimaces as he quickly puts his phone on silent and places it facedown on the table.

Once that’s done, he gathers up his courage, and looks at Ted, who is standing by the table and still holding Lola in his arms. To his credit, Ted is trying very hard not to laugh, even if the twitching lips are impossible to ignore.

“I don’t suppose,” Trent says without hope, “that I can persuade you to forget that call just happened?”

Ted gives up the pretense of a straight face and just laughs, his shoulders shaking as Lola, affronted, stares up at her owner as if to demand what’s so bloody funny. “I’m sorry, the look on your face right now is too memorable to forget.” Still chuckling, he says next, “So I suppose it was Lara who started this whole witch thing, huh?”

Shit. Shit fuck shit.

Trent stares at him. Realizing denial is impossible, he asks, his voice only a little strangled. “How long have you known about that?”

Ted’s eyebrows fly up. “Oh, y’all have not been subtle. At all.”

Trent thinks back to the course of the season, grimaces, and concedes, “You have a point there. In our defense, this has been the strangest season in the history of the Premier League, and you are by far the strangest manager the Premier League has ever seen. And the fucking coincidences, one right after another…”

Ted just watches him, eyebrow tilted, and Trent trails off, remembering all those coincidences, lined up in a row, and he thinks back to the birthmark staining Ted’s shoulder (a witch’s mark, is what Lara would call it) and he looks at the black cat cradled in Ted’s arms (a witch’s familiar, is what Nigel said).

“Ted…” Trent begins, and he has no idea how to finish, not without uttering the most ridiculous question in the history of his career. But...God help him, he has to ask. “You’re not...I mean, it’s ridiculous. You can’t be. Can you?”

Ted looks down at Lola, smiling a quiet, private smile to himself. Stroking the cat between her ears, he says, as sweetly and calmly as though he’s in the middle of the Richmond press room, as though he’s lying in bed with Trent right now, the absolute bastard looks Trent right in the eyes and says, his eyes twinkling, “Now that would be telling.”