“Mandatory,” Isaac had said. “Bring something.”
And that was how Jamie had ended up at Higgins’ family’s house, holding a bottle of wine he’d grabbed at Tesco on the way over.
“Does that just say ‘blend?’” Roy took the bottle from him, making a face.
“So what if it does?” Jamie yanked the bottle back. Roy’s face went wrinkly for a moment and then smoothed out just as Higgins’ wife swooped in, saying, “Oh, you made it! We’re so glad to see you,” and dragged Jamie deeper into the house.
Thing was, Jamie hadn’t realized that when Isaac said “the whole team’s going” he’d meant like, coaches and wags. He’d thought it was just going to be the lads having dinner like he’d missed at Christmas, not a full-blown thing with Richard’s models of the week and whatnot. He’d’ve brought someone if he’d known.
But he hadn’t, and because Isaac was shit at relaying messages, all Jamie had to do all night was get bruised by Higgins’ youngest kid’s nunchucks and try not to watch the way Keeley was sat on the sofa all cuddled up with Roy.
It was impossible, though. She fucking glowed like a torch at a campsite or some shit, and Roy kept smiling every time she laughed. It was a dumb, small smile, like whatever she was saying wasn’t very funny. Even though Keeley was proper funny — Jamie would’ve been laughing at her if he was sitting there. Maybe not back when they were dating, but now definitely.
Not Roy. Jamie wondered what he looked like when he laughed; he couldn’t remember ever seeing it before. Usually, when Roy was laughing he was being sarcastic about it.
Roy looked over then, noticed Jamie staring from across the room. Ever since the Man City match, Jamie had been on edge, waiting for Roy to say something, anything, but it was weeks now and nothing.
Still, that didn’t stop Jamie’s insides doing a loop-de-loop when Roy made eye contact. Knowing Roy, he was just biding his time or some shit.
Roy saluted with his beer and Jamie, caught, did it back, threw in a middle finger for good measure. Keeley laughed at that, which made Roy laugh, and Jamie, feeling like a prick, turned on his heel and left.
After dinner, Jamie poured himself a cup of tea from the sideboard and tried to figure out how long he had to stay. The party was only getting louder, Mrs. Higgins ladling Dani’s punch into everyone’s glasses like they didn’t have training in the morning. Whatever. It wasn’t Jamie’s problem if they all felt like shit.
In his pocket, his phone buzzed. He took his tea into the back garden, swallowing a weirdly spicy mouthful before answering.
“Jamie,” his dad said.
“Have you been arrested again?”
Jamie didn’t wait to hear more. He hung up and blocked the number and vowed that next time he wouldn't answer, no matter what. It didn’t matter that he made the same promise to himself every time.
The door opened, bringing with it a burst of sound — Dani, leading a singalong or some shit.
“Jesus fuck it’s loud in there,” Roy said, ruining the quiet of the garden.
Jamie didn’t look at him. “Aren’t people your age losing their hearing anyway?”
Jamie rolled his eyes. Louder, for the ancient fucking idiots in the garden, he repeated, “Aren’t people your age losing their hearing?”
And fuck him if Roy didn’t laugh, with too many teeth showing and his stupid eyes crinkling up. He tried to hide it by taking a sip from his own cuppa, but Jamie had seen it already, now finally fucking knew what it looked like when Roy Fucking Kent laughed out loud and turned out he hated it.
Rather than stand out here, seething, he headed back inside, bumping his shoulder into Roy’s on his way.
“Oi.” Roy caught his arm, holding tight when Jamie tried to shake him off. “I didn’t say anything when you told my girlfriend you were still in love with her, but maybe I should have.”
Jamie glared at him. “It’s none of your business, mate.”
It’s not like Jamie was trying to start something up with her again. And whatever, he’d texted her after to apologize. He’d been too in his own head, spiraling a bit after everything this year — getting traded, getting kicked off Lust Conquers All, ending up back at Richmond, everything with his fucking dad — that the funeral was just a cherry on top, made him realize there were only a few good things in his life and Keeley was one of them. Wasn’t fair to put it on her, though. He knew that.
This time, when he pulled away, Roy let him go. Though if his face was anything to go by, he wasn’t happy about it. “It’s one step forward, two steps back with you.”
“Then stop following me, mate!”
Roy’s fist clenched like he wanted to grab Jamie and shake him. He wished he would, honestly, because he had all this excess energy now, was spoiling for a fight. But all that came of it was Roy shook his head and went back inside, the door slamming behind him.
Jamie finished his shit tea and figured fuck it. He left his cup by the door and snuck out round the side. If anyone missed him, they’d get over it.
He woke up with a migraine, the kind so bad he made it as far as the toilet before he had to lie down again.
He could hear his mobile going off in the other room, the consistent, passive-aggressive buzz of it vibrating on his nightstand. He was missing training. Coach Beard was probably livid.
He pressed his forehead to the cool tile of the floor and tried his best to ignore it.
The headache didn’t go away. It didn’t get worse, either. Jamie couldn’t decide if that was a good or a bad sign.
“What.” The hammering on his door was nearly as bad as the hammering in his skull. He’d only dragged himself to answer it because he figured at least this way, one of them might stop.
“You look like shit, bruv.” Isaac blinked at him. Behind him, the sun was shining, bright as hell itself. Jamie closed his eyes. “Did you eat the same fish as Roy? He missed two days, too.”
Two days? Christ. Jamie rested his head against the wall and tried to think. He hadn’t been upright this long since he left Higgins’ house. Which was two days ago, apparently. “I didn’t eat fish.”
Isaac was quiet for a long time. “Do you want me to call someone? Lasso or…”
There wasn’t anyone Jamie wanted to see less than Ted fucking Lasso right now. He’d probably talk Jamie straight into a brain bleed.
Issac must’ve understood Jamie’s pathetic grunt because he said, “Yeah, okay. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Jamie said, resigning himself to the fact that, no matter what, he was going to have to drag himself into the club in the morning.
It took him thirty minutes longer than usual and he had to pull over twice to vomit in the street, but he started to feel better by the time he entered the dressing room.
“Alright, Jamie?” Colin asked, giving him a wide berth.
“Fine, yeah.” Jamie sat himself on the bench, his limbs heavy as lead as he started to pull his socks on. In the manager’s office he could see Lasso pointing through the window, saying something to Beard. He could see Roy was in there too, looking like overcooked shit. That made Jamie feel a bit better.
He tied his boots and fixed his hair, slapped Colin on the back, and jogged out to the pitch.
It was touch and go the whole morning. There were stretches he felt mostly fine, just the lingering throb of the migraine settled at the edges of his skull, and then just as suddenly he was doubled over, his vision gone blurry as his stomach rolled.
Somewhere in the distance, a whistle blew.
“Hey, Jamie!” Lasso was yelling, Jamie could hear him clear as day, but he was too busy trying not to sick-up on the field to respond. “Are you alright, son?”
“Fine,” Jamie said, hands on his knees. “Just need a minute.”
“Really?” Lasso was right there now, his face centimeters from Jamie’s, all sweaty and concerned. “Because this looks like something only a doctor can fix.”
“No.” He’d be fine just as soon as he could get his bearings back. He’d been doing alright. It was probably the sun or too much running on no breakfast or something equally stupid.
But Lasso wasn’t listening, too busy waving at something behind Jamie, which was good because as long as he was distracted Jamie could focus on taking long, steady breaths the way Dr. Sharon had shown him.
“Where’s Nate? Or Roy?”
“Nate’s getting the trainer,” Beard said.
“Good.” Lasso’s hand was warm on the back of Jamie’s neck, his thumb digging into the worst knot there. It felt even nicer once Jamie stopped needing to vomit.
“I’m alright.” He took a breath and then another, the worst of it starting to fade away. “Sorry.”
“What’s all this?” Roy asked. “He alright?”
“You look like shit,” Beard said. Jamie looked up in time to see how right he was — Roy was pale, looked like he felt just as bad as Jamie did.
“It was dodgy fish, I told you.” Roy looked annoyed to be reminded about it. He jerked his head in Jamie’s direction. “What’s with you? I step away for five minutes and you collapse?”
“Fuck off.” Jamie stood up. The worst of it had seemingly passed; he’d make sure to eat something before he drove home. That’d sort him out.
“We’re here.” Nate waltzed up five steps behind the head trainer, Carl.
“I’m alright.” Jamie tried to wave him off, but Carl didn’t give a shit, basically dragged him off to the training room. Which was for the best, apparently, because by the time they were inside Jamie felt like he’d been run over by a lorry again.
He let Carl bully him onto one of the tables, pack ice onto his core and a cool cloth on his face. It didn’t help, but it was better than nothing, even as Carl poked and prodded at him, asking the dumbest fucking questions about where he’d been and what he’d eaten and who he’d seen since he was last well.
There was no telling how long he’d been lying there, but eventually, there was a thump against the door and then Roy was there, his voice thin as he said, “Gaffer wants to see him. If it’s alright.”
“No,” Carl said, but Jamie pushed himself up, reaching for his shirt. He could make it down the hall.
“Yes,” Roy said. “See? He’s fine.”
Carl glared first at Jamie and then at Roy. “He gets worse, it’s your head.”
“He wishes,” Jamie said, testing his legs on the floor. The shakiness had gone; he still felt bad, but not like he might collapse.
Roy held up crossed fingers, even as he held the door for Jamie with his free hand.
“I’m serious,” Carl said. “If he goes down, call 999, not me.”
“What the fuck are we paying you for, then?” Roy said over his shoulder.
“You don’t pay me nothing. Ms. Welton pays me.”
The door swung shut behind them. “We’ll see about that,” Roy muttered.
Jamie snorted. Trust Roy to use his shitty vendettas to get people sacked. He’d never forgiven Carl for being the first to say his knee was fucked last season.
“You look better,” Roy said when they were halfway to the manager’s office. “I’ll tell Ted he can hold off on ordering your coffin.”
“He’ll be sad he can’t get a two-for-one deal with yours.”
When he glanced over, Roy was shaking his head, the corner of his mouth sharp. “Even at death’s door you’re a persistent twat.”
Jamie got to Lasso’s door first. “Takes one to know one,” he said, before letting himself in. If the door swung shut on Roy, well. He shouldn’t let his reflexes slow in his old age.
“Where’s Lasso?” Jamie asked for the third time, turning to peer out the window into the weight room. It was empty. The whole place was empty. “Thought you said he wanted to see me.”
Roy crossed his arms. “I lied.”
Coach Beard looked between them. “You’ve both been sick since the party?”
Roy grunted. Jamie shrugged, said, “I’m fine.”
Beard looked at him, his face blank and creepy. Jamie reached for the book that was splayed open on the desk so he didn’t have to look back. It was about eels.
“Don’t touch that,” Beard said, and then, “you drank the bonding tea, didn’t you?”
“The fucking what?” Roy asked, just as Jamie said, “No,” even though he hadn’t a clue what bonding tea was. It sounded shit though.
Beard stared at them like he didn’t believe them. The room was painfully silent for a long time. Jamie was just about to leave, actually started for the door when Roy put his hand out and said, “Hang on, are you saying —”
“Jane brought her special bonding tea to the team potluck and you both drank it and now have to be within a ten-foot radius of each other or else you’ll experience blinding pain?”
Jamie burst out laughing. No one else did. “You’re serious?”
“She got me once,” Beard said, “over the summer. It’ll wear off. Eventually”
Roy’s eyes bugged out of his head. “The fuck you mean, eventually?”
Beard didn’t say anything.
Roy didn’t either.
“Right, well,” Jamie didn’t give a shit about their staring contest, “this was a shit prank but nice try. Bottom marks all around. See you later.”
They were still glaring at each other when he shoved his way out of the room.
He made it all the way to the car park before the sick feeling was back.
“Upsa-daisy.” Beard hauled him to his feet. “You’re alright.”
He was right. Jamie was already feeling better. When he opened his eyes, Roy was leaned against Jamie’s car looking peaky.
“It knocked me down for a week,” Beard said. “But maybe you’ll be luckier.”
“A fucking week?” Roy sputtered.
“Don’t drink strange teas,” was Beard’s parting advice.
“It was your girlfriend’s shit tea,” Roy said, mostly to himself.
Jamie rolled his eyes. “I’m going home.”
“Like fuck you are. Don’t know if you noticed, but any time we get far apart our heads start to split in two and we end up heaving in the bins.”
“Maybe you do,” Jamie said, even though that was almost exactly his experience.
Roy clenched his jaw so hard Jamie wondered if he’d ever accidentally cracked a tooth. Not that he fucking cared.
“Bye, grandad,” he said, climbing into his car and peeling out. He was halfway to the gate when he remembered he hadn’t grabbed his kit bag. He was just outside the gate when the nausea slammed back full force and he had to stop the car so he could throw open the door and spit into the street.
The passenger door opened. “You’re a fucking idiot,” Roy said, climbing in and slamming the door behind him. Jamie spat again then sat back, leaning his head against the seat. “Drive.”
Jamie was still shaky and off-balance and didn’t have it in him to put up a fight. He did as Roy said.
He only agreed to go back to Keeley’s place because it was neutral territory.
“I’m not staying here,” Roy had said, staring in horror at Jamie’s sofa.
Jamie’d laughed. “Why, afraid you’ll throw your back out?”
Roy’s glare had said yes, that was exactly it. Which was fine, because Jamie didn’t want him staying at his place just as much as he didn’t want to have to stay at Roy’s.
“That’s not a fucking option,” Roy had said when Jamie said as much and the next thing he knew, Roy was letting them into Keeley’s place.
It was fine, so long as Jamie ignored the fact that Roy had a key and his trainers were by the door and there were a dozen other signs that Roy basically lived here, even if he technically didn’t live here. He wasn’t jealous; he was over all that. He just didn’t want it thrown in his face was all.
“Don’t know about you,” Roy shrugged off his jacket and chucked it onto a chair, “but I need a fucking lie down.”
There was a joke about how Roy was so old he needed afternoon naps on the tip of Jamie’s tongue, but before he could make it he felt a wave of exhaustion sweep over him. It was like the endless headache and nausea were catching up all at once. He swayed a little on his feet, startling when Roy reached out to steady him. Jamie lurched away before he could make contact.
Roy clenched his jaw, annoyed. “Come on. Upstairs.”
For a brief, horrifying second, Jamie was struck by the idea that Roy might drag him into his and Keeley’s bed. That the stupid tea meant they’d have to share. He could feel his face going hot at the thought.
But Roy dropped Jamie off at the door of the spare room. “Think this’ll be close enough. It shares a stupid wall,” he said, before turning on his heel and disappearing into Keeley’s bedroom.
Judging by the low-grade ache at the base of his skull, it wasn’t, but it never got past the point of annoying, and Jamie fell asleep quickly enough that it didn’t matter anyway.
By the time he woke up, the sun was on its way down. He stumbled downstairs to find Keeley in the kitchen.
She didn’t look surprised at all to see him in the doorway. “Hiya, Jamie. Heard you’ve had quite the few days.”
“Yeah.” Jamie scratched his arm. That was one way of putting it. He wondered what Roy had said, how much she knew about Jane’s tea and shit.
But Keeley didn’t say anything else about it, only, “I picked up Thai. Got you your usual.”
“Oh. Thanks.” He was surprised she remembered; he tried to think what it was she always ordered and hadn’t a clue. He wondered if he ever knew it in the first place. She was the one who’d done most of the ordering and shit. Maybe she never told him. Probably she had and he was just a twat. Roy probably remembered what she wanted every time; probably knew from the jump, never even had to ask. “I’m not really hungry, though.”
Keeley’s eyes went wide. “You really must be dying.”
She was reaching to feel his forehead when Roy came thundering down the stairs, squinting like the lights were on too bright. Jamie jumped back, closing his eyes against the tidal wave it set off in his stomach.
“Ten fucking feet.” Roy’s voice was even lower than usual. He sounded like his stomach was doing the rumba, too. “Beard told you.”
“How the fuck am I meant to know how far that is?”
Roy’s eyes went wide and his head tilted to the side like he was so appalled by Jamie’s idiocy that he couldn’t keep himself upright. “Maybe by how bad your fucking headache is,” he said, his voice getting progressively louder. “Clearly downstairs is more than ten feet, twat.”
Jamie was about to say he hadn’t realized; that he’d gotten so used to the headache over the past days that it had started to fade into the background. That Roy, at his big age, should be used to all sorts of aches and pains and shit. But before he could Keeley appeared with a beer for each of them, gesturing for them to have a seat at the table. They both did, and now that the nausea was fading, Jamie actually was hungry. He helped himself to his lad na.
“How long are we in this then?” she asked, pressing a kiss to Roy’s head, drawing a circle between them like it was all three of them who’d drunk the tea. So she knew everything. He wondered when Roy had told her, what he’d said. How mad she’d been that Jamie was staying here now. She didn’t seem upset about it.
“Dunno,” Jamie said around a mouthful of noodles. “Coach Beard didn’t give like, specifics.”
Keeley hummed. “Were you really sick, too? Roy thought he was dying.”
“I thought I was hungover,” Roy said defensively.
Keeley made a face like same difference.
“Jamie threw up in the car park,” Roy said, the words rushing out of him.
Jamie shot him a dirty look. “Tattletale.”
“Aww.” Keeley frowned sympathetically and reached over to cup Jamie’s cheek. It wasn’t a stretch from where she was sat, right at the head of the table, just between the two of them. Her fingers were cool. It felt nice. Jamie shrugged her off before he accidentally leaned into it or some shit. He didn’t need her pity, just like he didn’t need the hairy eyeball Roy was giving him.
“So we just have to hope this goes away?” All this talk of Jane’s shit tea was ruining his appetite.
“Yeah.” Roy said it like it was obvious.
“Could be worse,” Keeley said brightly, “at least you’re not like, fused together like conjoined twins.”
Jamie shuddered at the thought of having to drag Roy’s hairy arse around with him everywhere he went. He knocked back the rest of his beer in one go, pointedly ignoring the way both Roy and Keeley stared at him the whole time.
“I’m going to bed,” he said. They were still staring.
His migraine was back before he made it all the way to the guest room, kept building as he changed and cleaned his teeth, until he crawled in bed and it finally leveled out, settling in his skull like a terrible, torturous weighted blanket.
It stayed that way for a long time, bad enough that Jamie couldn’t stand to look at his phone. He ended up just lying there in the dark, waiting for sleep, only his headache for company.
He felt better in the morning, except for the fact that it was half seven and he was wide awake. One night at the old folks’ home and he was already turning into one himself. How embarrassing.
There was fuck all to do, and after twenty minutes Jamie had reached the end of his patience and decided to go out for a cup of coffee. He didn’t have to poke around the pantry to know Keeley still only kept the shit kind on her shelves.
He’d made it all the way to the corner before he really started feeling unwell, but by that point it didn’t make sense to turn around and sneak back into the house. He’d be fine. It wasn’t like the shop was that far, anyway.
Only he wasn’t fine, and even if it wasn’t far it felt far, and this time the migraine came with an aura, little spots like water floating across his vision while he waited for them to call his name.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Roy shouted when he finally made it back. He was waiting in the doorway like a stalker. “Three meters!”
“It’s fine,” Jamie said because he’d started getting better as he got closer to the house. But that didn’t stop Roy from grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him inside and in between one breath and the next Jamie felt so miraculously better that his knees went wobbly.
“What the fuck,” he said, letting Roy manhandle him straight to the sofa.
“What the fuck,” Roy pushed him to sit down, “is that you can’t be trusted to follow simple fucking instructions and now I’m going to have to sit here with you all fucking day so I don’t end up with an ulcerated fucking esophagus!”
Jamie’d meant what the fuck, why had everything shitty-feeling disappeared for a hot second, but he must have imagined it. The headache was back now, or maybe it had never left, it had just gone from skull-splitting to tolerable so quickly it felt like it had been gone. It didn’t make it any easier to process Roy’s whole fucking meltdown. “A what?”
Roy just growled.
Jamie rolled his eyes. Whatever. He made to stand up but Roy said, “No.”
“We’re going to be late for training, mate.”
“We’re not going to training, not like this. I told Ted we’ve got food poisoning.”
“We haven’t —”
“I fucking know we haven’t got food poisoning, you numpty. But Ted can’t find out what’s really wrong.”
“Right.” Jamie cottoned on. “Because he’ll be mad at Jane.”
“No.” Roy settled into the opposite corner of the sofa, kicking his feet up on the coffee table. “Because if finds out we drank some nutty tea, he’ll destroy every kettle he sees for the rest of his life. It’ll make the Boston Tea Party seem quaint.”
Jamie couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not; when he looked over, Roy’s face looked the same way it always looked. He never gave context clues.
“When you think about it,” Jamie said, ignoring most of Roy’s point, “this technically is a kind of food poisoning. So: not a lie.”
Roy laughed, but only through his nose. “Fuck me, you’re right.”
Keeley came bustling into the room then, smiling when she saw them both. “You found him! Are you feeling better?”
Roy nodded, tilting his head to kiss her goodbye.
“Good,” she said, her hand lingering on his cheek. Jamie looked away. “Stay close, yeah? Jamie?” While he wasn’t looking she’d moved down the line and was now next to him, her hand in his hair, tugging like she wanted him to pay attention. “Stay close together? I don’t want to get home to find anyone dying again.”
He nodded, but that apparently wasn’t enough. Keeley tugged his hair harder, making him look up at her. It was hard to swallow all of a sudden. “Yeah,” he said, “alright.”
“Good boy,” she said, in the way that made his insides go liquid. She’d probably forgotten how that’d always done him in. He couldn’t believe it still worked; it was a mortifying realization.
She patted his cheek and dropped another kiss on Roy’s head and was out the door before Jamie got himself under control.
“Right,” Roy said, about an hour after Keeley had left, just as Jamie was starting to get fidgety. “Let’s see how this works then.”
“What do you mean?” They knew how it worked. Beard had told them, ten feet and all that. It’s what Roy had been yelling about all fucking morning.
“I mean,” Roy stood up, “you and me are going to sort out how far, exactly, we can go before one of us feels like he’s got a dart in his eyeball or pukes in the street or whatever.”
And so that’s what they did. It reminded Jamie of training, mostly, what with the way Roy would yell “Whistle!” so Jamie would start walking and “Whistle!” again when Jamie should stop because Roy was starting to feel poorly.
They mostly tried it outside, in the back garden, where there was loads of space and it didn’t matter if Jamie had to bend over to retch because Roy tried to go all the way through the house and out the front door.
He was still heaving when he felt Roy’s hand in the middle of his back. It was weirdly gentle compared to the way Roy shouted, “What is wrong with you? I said to yell when it came back,” right in Jamie’s ear.
“I’m fine,” Jamie said, standing up and shaking Roy off. He was, was the thing. Felt a million times better now that Roy was right here. But Roy just stared like he didn’t believe him. “What? Aren’t you meant to feel the same as me?”
That’s what Beard had said, right? That they’d both be ill unless they stayed together?
“And I do, which is why I came back here.” He did look a bit pale, Jamie noticed. It made his beard seem darker, his eyebrows angrier. Part of Jamie wanted to touch his cheek, see if it felt as chilled as it looked. “This only works if we fucking work together, Jamie, for fuck’s sake, it’s not complicated.”
Roy reached out and Jamie braced for a hard knock, but Roy only planted his palm between Jamie’s shoulder blades and urged him forward. He left his hand there like he was worried Jamie might not be steady enough to walk yet, even though his headache and stomachache had gone completely.
“I’m fine,” he said again.
“Yeah, well, forgive me if I don’t fucking trust you.” Roy guided Jamie into the kitchen, where he poured him a glass of water, and then led him back to the sitting room. Once he was satisfied Jamie wasn’t going to keel over, he backed away until he was fully across the room. Jamie’s headache was a tolerable hum. “See this?” He gestured between them. “Do not. Go further. Than this.”
Jamie rolled his eyes but Roy was having none of it.
“No,” he said. “Don’t make me tie a string to you.”
“You mean a leash.”
Roy glared at him. Jamie glared back. This was such shit. The length of a room? That was nothing. Fuck Roy for being the only other person at the party to drink the spicy magic tea. And fuck Beard’s girlfriend for bringing it in the first place.
After a minute, Roy took a step back, and then another. Jamie could feel the telltale sign of his migraine creeping up the back of his neck, like a spider trying to find a safe place in his brain. He set his teeth and stood up, followed Roy into the kitchen and then out again, straight back to the sofa where they sat on opposite sides.
Roy watched him carefully until he was satisfied Jamie wasn’t going to do a runner or some shit.
“Good boy,” he said, and Jamie knew it was a joke but that didn’t stop his stomach doing an airplane swoop. He blamed Keeley.
At some point, Roy turned the telly on and Jamie, bored by some weird, ancient show about a man who was apparently in love with bees, fell asleep.
When he woke up again, Roy was still sat there, his computer on his lap as he watched Forest’s match against Swansea from last week. Jamie watched the footage for a few minutes.
“Denise is too slow in the midfield,” he said, pointing to the screen. “He keeps dropping and then getting caught on his back foot. He’s too robust to be a center-back anymore.”
Roy looked up, watched as Denise got beat again. He grunted, the kind he made when someone had a point but he didn’t want to admit it. Jamie pressed his lips together so he wouldn’t get caught smiling even as a proud feeling rose in his chest.
“That’s not what robust means,” Roy said. “And his name’s Delisa. You should get your fucking eyes checked.”
Jamie squinted at the screen. Sure enough, his kit said Delisa. Huh. “Whatever.”
“He’s crap with his right foot,” Roy said. “If you keep your eyes open, you’ll beat him every time.”
Roy sighed like he thought Jamie was an idiot. “Look,” he rewound the footage, pointing with the remote as Delisa stumbled, got beat, “he’s slow on the right. You’re… competent with your left, so when you go up against him, you know.”
Jamie’s brain was still stuck on the compliment buried in there. He stared blankly at Roy, knowing there was an answer he was supposed to give but mostly shocked Roy’d said something nice, even if it was just tactics.
“Fucking exploit it!” Roy said, obviously annoyed Jamie wasn’t following. “Fuck’s sake. Push him to his right, every time, okay? Do you want me to tattoo it on your hand or would that be useless because you can’t read?”
“I can read,” Jamie said. Part of him was relieved Roy was being a prick again. It was fucked up, him saying nice things. Jamie didn’t know how to react. This he could handle. “Fuck you.”
“This is your left foot, by the way.” Roy kicked Jamie’s foot none too gently. “In case you weren’t sure.”
“Whatever.” He rolled to his feet, the joints in his ankles cracking as he stood. He was halfway across the room before his head started buzzing.
When he turned back, Roy was still sat on the couch. He snapped his fingers to get his attention.
“I need to piss,” he said. “You coming?”
Roy looked like he was fighting a war with himself for a minute, but eventually, he stood up and followed at a very specific distance.
He was still close enough for Jamie to hear him mutter, “I fucking hate Beard’s girlfriend.”
Through the door, Jaime yelled, “So do I!”
They made it through the whole day without incident, even if Roy did glare at Jamie until he followed him upstairs at half ten and Jamie had to lie awake for hours because he wasn’t tired but it wasn’t like he could go anywhere without risking waking Roy up with a migraine.
Jamie got him back by having a lie-in, sleeping straight on until Roy banged on the door mid-morning, yelling, “Listen, you little shit, if I find out you’re just sitting in there to keep me a prisoner in my own home, I’ll shave off both your eyebrows.”
“What?” Jamie opened the door, brain fuzzy with sleep. He hadn’t meant to sleep so long; his body was clearly trying to set itself to rights. “Sorry, I was — what?”
Roy’s fist, which had been mid-knock, fell to his side. His head tilted and he opened his mouth like he was going to say something and then stopped.
Jamie scrubbed at his eyes; he could feel a mark on his face from the pillow. Fuck, he’d been out cold.
“You were asleep.” Roy’s voice had gone down about ten notches.
“Yeah?” Obviously he had been. And people called Jamie thick.
“Sorry. I thought —” Roy shook his head and took a step back from the door. It made a little burst of cool air when he moved, a tiny breeze that had Jamie shivering involuntarily. “I’m going stir-crazy.”
Jamie was still thrown that Roy had apologized for waking him up, still caught in the quicksand of waking up. “Okay. Let me just —”
Roy nodded once and then stalked away, back into his and Keeley’s room, and when Jamie finally got out of the shower, dressed and ready for the day, he could see Roy sat on the edge of the bed, back straight, waiting. Like a fucking psychopath.
Problem was, Roy was boring as hell. He rejected all of Jamie’s suggestions for shit to do. All he wanted to do was sit in his chair and work, or read a stupid fucking book, or watch some dumb gardening show. Jamie was losing his fucking mind.
“We could go to Nando’s?”
Roy turned so slowly that for a second Jamie wondered if his head might go all the way round like a haunted doll.
“Two footballers walk into Nando’s and then what?”
Jamie waited for a moment, sure it was a trick question. “We eat… chicken?”
“People would see us!” Roy yelled.
“So? You might look like a hairy twat but it’s not like you’ve got some hideous rash.”
“No, I’ve just got Jamie fucking Tartt following me around everywhere I go.”
Jamie crossed his arms, flopping backwards onto the sofa. “You could do worse, mate.”
“No,” Roy said. “And we’re not going to Nando’s. We’re staying here.” He chucked a book at Jamie. “Read that if you’re bored.”
“Fuck off.” Jamie threw the book back. It hit Roy square in the chest and bounced off. “I’m not reading shit.”
And even though he wasn’t tired, he closed his eyes and feigned sleep, listening to Roy grumble under his breath about how Jamie was an illiterate prima donna sack of shit.
“Shh,” he said, curling in on himself a bit. Keeley’s sofa was comfortable as shit; he’d had some great naps on this thing. Lots of great memories on it, actually. “I’m sleeping.”
“You just woke up!” Roy said, but eventually his rumblings stopped and Jamie heard him settle down again, and between one breath and the next, Jamie was asleep again, arms around one of Keeley’s shaggy pillows as Roy started typing something nearby.
When Jamie woke up, it was to the sound of a camera shutter going off.
“What the fuck,” Roy said, alarmingly close. Apparently, at some point he’d moved the floor and then also sacked out, his head lolled back against Jamie’s thigh. That explained why Jamie’s legs were weirdly warm. “Delete that.”
Keeley stared at her phone, head tilted, considering. “You know, I had a dream about this once.”
Roy shook his head. “You mean a nightmare.”
“No.” She stuck her tongue out at them.
“Gross,” Jamie said, wrinkling his nose and hoping his face wasn’t going as red as it felt. He didn’t look at Roy, but he could tell by the way his whole body stiffened that he was horrified by the thought.
Whatever. So was Jamie. He couldn’t believe he was being forced to picture it.
Keeley caught his eye and winked. God, she had a depraved mind sometimes. He had loved her for it, back in the day, but now. Christ.
“What the fuck,” he said, loud enough that Roy pushed himself off the floor, all his bones cracking at once.
“Ignore her,” Roy said. His face was doing something weird, but he turned around before Jamie could sort out what it was. “She’s sick in the head.”
Keeley laughed, loud enough that it sounded like church bells echoing through the whole house.
“Oi.” Roy snapped his fingers in front of Jamie’s face.
Jamie tore his gaze away from Keeley, who was sat at the dining table like a bendy pretzel, swiping icing off her plate and then licking it off her finger. She’d brought home a cake to celebrate him and Roy not killing each other yet. Ironically, the cake was what was going to do Jamie in.
“What?” he said, even though he knew exactly what.
Roy glared. “Outside.” He didn’t give Jamie a choice, grabbing the edge of his jacket and yanking him up.
“Listen,” he started, but Jamie cut him off before he could get going with, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to split you up — at the funeral, I mean. Or ever. I know I said shit I shouldn’t have, but like. I don’t know. I didn’t mean it. Well, I meant it but not like that.”
Roy looked doubtful. Jamie chewed on his lip, trying to think of the right way to put it without having to say that Rebecca’s dad dying had freaked him out. He didn’t need to give Roy that kind of ammunition. Not on top of the loads he already had.
“Look, I’ve not done anything while I’ve been here, have I?” Roy’s nostrils flared. “Except looking, fine, but it’s not my fault I’ve got like, eyes.”
Roy stared at him for a minute. When he exhaled, he made a noise like a bull. Jamie took a step back and prepared to dodge whatever came next.
Only Roy didn’t say anything, he just stormed back inside. Jamie followed because otherwise Roy’d shout at him for giving him a migraine. He’d already made enough of a mess of things.
All night he waited for Roy to say something, anything, but he never did. It was just like after Wembley.
Jamie didn’t know how much longer he could keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Especially now there were so many shoes up in the air.
“I’m dying,” Jamie whispered, hunched over his phone like it could create a cone of silence that would prevent Roy from hearing.
It’d been another day of doing fuck-all except watching the endless scouting footage Roy apparently loved so much. Maybe Jamie should become a coach when he was done; it was easy as shit, standing around during matches and watching telly in his downtime.
“Aww, sorry babes,” Keeley said. “But I’ve got to go to a meeting with Rebecca now so like, stay strong. Tell Roy I said hi.”
He didn’t want to, but then he figured what if Roy found out he hadn’t delivered the message and it was like, strike three. “Keeley says hi,” he said, throwing himself down onto the sofa.
Roy didn’t look up from his computer. “You’re calling her now? Having mid-day chats?”
Jamie frowned. “She called to check up on us. You weren’t answering your phone.”
Roy narrowed his eyes and shifted so he could dig his phone out from underneath him. His face smoothed out when he saw what were probably a dozen missed calls and texts.
So there, Jamie didn’t say. “Back it up,” he said, gesturing to the tv, “might as well see what the fuck this back line looks like.”
“They’re shit,” Roy said, but he backed it up all the same.
How’s it going Beard texted him and Roy in the middle of the afternoon. Jamie thought it should have been obvious: neither of them was well enough for training, ergo.
Roy ignored the message outright.
Jamie, who felt bad enough for lying to the team about this ongoing battle with food poisoning, eventually caved and sent back, Not great, Beard!
He never responded, but Jaime wasn’t expecting him to.
Roy caught him outside the toilet that night, just as they were all getting ready for bed. It was weird seeing him in flannel pajama bottoms. They looked worn, soft. Jamie would’ve thought he slept in like, burlap. Something scratchy that made sure he woke up in a bad mood.
“You need to fucking relax,” Roy said, in a tone of voice that did absolutely nothing to help Jamie relax. “This isn’t going to work if you’re waiting for me to bash your head in or some shit.”
“Don’t you want to bash me head in?” Jamie had been in that garden, had seen Roy’s face. Knew Roy Kent wasn’t going to tolerate his girlfriend’s ex hanging around; he’d been lucky to survive this long. He wasn’t stupid enough to think his days weren’t numbered.
“I’m over it,” he said. “All of it. Just — can’t we like, wipe the slate and have a fresh start?” Roy closed his eyes. When he opened them, he didn’t look angry. “Aren’t you tired, Jamie? Because I’m bloody exhausted.”
Jamie was overwhelmed by the urge to hug him, to wrap Roy up and let him lean against Jamie for a bit. It had felt so nice, having someone to cling to, someone to take the weight of everything for a little bit. Someone to hold him together so all his parts didn’t come loose and go rocketing around the room.
He clamped down on that urge hard. Roy didn’t need a cuddle, he needed this stupid bond to wear off so he wasn’t stuck with Jamie for hours on end.
“Yeah,” he said. Just getting through the day was exhausting. They could at least agree on that. “Alright. Clean slate or whatever.”
He couldn’t quite believe Roy was letting it all go, but a lot of weird shit had been happening this week.
“Good,” Roy said. Jamie thought it looked like his mouth was sort of curled into a smile, but it was probably just a trick of the moonlight.
“We need to talk,” Roy said first thing in the morning.
Again? Jamie thought and then got distracted by the plate in front of him, toast and eggs and sausage all fresh from the griddle. “Did you make this? For me?” Maybe it was poisoned. Roy’s MO would be to put him at ease and then take him out within twelve hours.
“Don’t get a big head about it.” Roy sat down, shoveling his own eggs into his mouth. “I made breakfast, no sense sitting here eating while you whinge about starving.”
“Thanks?” Jamie couldn’t quite wrap his head around the idea of Roy Kent cooking anything, let alone breakfast for the whole house. But here he was, eating it.
Keeley smiled at him as she ate her own egg whites. Apparently, she got fruit salad, too.
“I didn’t get any fruit salad,” he said before he could stop himself.
“Fucking hell.” Roy stood up faster than anything, stalked to the fridge, and came back with a big bowl. “Here. Now were you listening or not when I said we need to talk?”
“Roy.” Keeley’s voice had a warning tone to it. “We talked about this.”
Roy stopped glaring at Jamie to glare at her.
“That doesn’t work on me,” she said, kissing the straight line of his mouth. “Here.” She passed him a mug and then slid one over to Jamie, nodding for him to have a seat.
Jamie did, only because Roy’s glare definitely still worked on him. He took a sip of his tea to cover his nerves; it was exactly the way he liked it. When he looked up, Keeley tapped the side of her nose. Of course she fucking remembered.
“Alright, what’s wrong?” He made himself look back at Roy, who was none too amused by their silent conversation.
“We need to go back to training.”
Jamie stared at him. Roy stared back.
“Is that it?” Jamie looked at Keeley, who nodded. “I thought you were going to say we were stuck like this permanently or something!”
“We could be!” Roy yelled.
Keeley rolled her eyes at him. “Settle down.”
It was impressive, watching all the different looks that flitted across Roy’s face before he grunted. Keeley patted his hand reassuringly. Jamie wanted someone to pat his hand and tell him it’d be fine, too, even if he knew it wouldn’t be; he shoved that desire aside. It was a useless thing to want, anyway. He helped himself to some fruit. That’d have to be enough.
“So.” He forced himself to sound upbeat if only because it would annoy Roy. “What time do we leave?”
Early, was the answer. To avoid any questions about why the fuck they were carpooling.
Which was fine with Jamie. He didn’t need anyone seeing Roy climb out of his car, though it did make him wonder: “Did you just leave your car here this whole time, mate?”
Roy looked at him like he was mental. “Keeley ubered back and picked it up days ago.”
Roy pulled another face, one Jamie didn’t bother trying to sort out. “I’m going to my office. Don’t go anywhere until training starts.”
Jamie didn’t say duh; he let his face say it for him.
Roy pointed right in his face. “Don’t be smart,” he said, sounding mean, but there was a weird pull at the corner of his mouth. It was gone as quick as Jamie noticed it, so maybe he’d imagined it.
“Jamie!” Sam, just like everyone else who had trickled into the dressing room, sounded thrilled to see him. “Coach said you were dying! I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“I’m fine,” Jamie said, accepting his hug. Over Sam’s shoulder, he watched as Roy stalked into Lasso’s office. “Wasn’t dying. Not terribly at least.”
“We’re not allowed to eat fish for the rest of the season,” Zoreaux said. “Coach’s rules.”
“That’s right,” Lasso said, standing in the doorway. “Only creatures from the land or sky.”
Behind him, Roy rolled his eyes. Jamie stared at the poster above the door to keep from snorting.
“Good to have you back, Jamie,” Lasso said. “We missed you.”
He didn’t believe it, really — it had only been a few days — but he said, “Glad to be back, Coach,” all the same.
And then Nate blew his whistle and everyone jumped, shouted, and Roy yelled, “Jesus shitting Christ, I’m going to throw that whistle down a well and you with it if you don’t stop blowing it indoors.”
Lasso’s eyes got real big and his mouth got real small before he turned and said, “Roy, I think we missed your special way with words most of all, didn’t we fellas?”
The team, ears still ringing, agreed, and then Lasso waved them all out to the training grounds. Jamie’s headache kicked up as he jogged out, but he didn’t let himself look back to see how Roy was getting on. He’d sort it out. He’d promised he would.
“It’ll be fine,” Roy had said, “You just worry about what happens on the pitch, I’ll sort out the rest.”
Turned out that meant legging it up and down the sidelines because Lasso had the brilliant idea that they should have a full-sides scrimmage.
Jamie took advantage of a throw-in on the far side to catch his breath. He could tell Roy was getting closer by the way his headache ebbed.
“Can hear you huffing and puffing from midfield,” he said, because that was true, too. When he looked over, Roy’s face was pink; he had beads of sweat on his forehead.
“Fuck off.” He sounded like shit, but at least Jamie’s head wasn’t pounding. It was impossible to stay close enough to keep it in check, but Roy was clearly trying. Too hard, maybe. His knee was going to be fucked.
“This is shit,” he said, because it was. He’d thought they’d be doing drills, normal shit. That maybe Roy’d have to jog along while they ran laps for a few minutes. Watching Roy crouch on the sidelines because Lasso wanted them to try his Freaky Friday play where Jamie and Dani switched sides mid-half was decidedly less amusing. And that was ignoring the way it made Jamie’s own head feel like it was about to pop off.
He watched as Dixon sent the ball upfield, trying for Dani. He started forward and Roy moved with him, albeit at a slower pace. Shannon managed to win the ball midfield and Jamie dropped back, the attack over.
“You should really cut to center when that happens,” Roy said, sounding annoyed. “Provide some fucking support for Dani.”
“I’m providing fucking support for you,” Jamie hissed. “So your ugly head doesn’t separate from the shag carpet you call a body.”
Roy stared at him for a moment, the same twitchy look he’d gotten in the garden the other night when Jamie’d apologized. For a second, Jamie thought he might storm off again. He’d have to find a way to follow him, and wouldn’t that look fucking pathetic.
Roy dug the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. Jamie tried to keep one eye on the pitch, but it was a peripheral awareness. He couldn’t stop staring at Roy.
“Listen.” Roy tracked the ball as it was passed downfield, McCraken and Sagredo taking on Isaac. “You’ve got to focus. Don’t worry about me.” He looked straight at Jamie then, dead in the eye with an unnerving intensity. “Do your fucking job, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Jamie agreed, because with Roy looking at him like that he didn’t think there was another option.
“Good.” Roy nodded once and then shooed him away, just in time too, because Isaac cleared the ball into open space and Jamie had to sprint for it.
“Come on, Tartt,” Roy shouted. “You just had three days off, you should be well-rested! Move your arse!”
Jamie chased it down, even as his head started to pound, and took the ball inside the eighteen before knocking it to Dani, who slotted it past Zoreaux easily.
On the sideline, Ted started hollering about teamwork making the dream work. Dani and Sam both swarmed Jamie with high fives. In the distance he could see Roy bent over a bin. At least he had Nate nearby to check on him.
“Great job, everybody,” Lasso said when it was finally fucking over. “I appreciate the hustle out there. I think it’s really going to help us against — who is it again?”
“Nottingham Forest,” Beard said as Jamie staggered to the bench, gladly accepting a water bottle from Will. Roy was only a few steps behind him; he sat down too, looking like a puppet with its strings cut. His leg accidentally knocked into Jamie’s when he sprawled out and everything stopped hurting for a minute. Jamie looked out the side of his eye, but Roy had his head tipped back, eyes closed, lines of tension gathering at the corners of his eyes, his mouth. In the column of his neck.
Jamie resisted the urge to reach over and press his fingers to the skin there, feel Roy’s pulse and make sure he hadn’t crapped out once and for all.
“Alright, geezer?” he asked, careful to keep his voice low.
Roy nodded, pulling himself back together a bit, gathering his limbs in.
“Oooh, let me guess,” Lasso was saying, “they’re men in tights?”
“Tight tights,” Beard agreed, his voice going high and weird. Only Roy laughed, and that was less a laugh than it was a weird dying-cow sound. Making noise was probably a good sign, Jamie figured; he took a pull from his water bottle and focused on the dull thud of his headache.
At the team’s silence, Lasso shrugged. “Think they’re too young for that one.”
“Shame,” Beard said. “Clear out.”
“Hang on, you two.” Lasso gestured to the bench.
Jamie pointed to himself as everyone else jogged back inside.
“Yeah, you and Casper the Unfriendly Ghost.” He took a few steps closer. “Y’all look terrible and I think that’s my fault. I pushed too hard today.”
“Nah.” Jamie shook his head, sitting up straighter because he didn’t think Roy’d be able to. “We’re fine. Least I am — this one might need a ride straight to the care home.”
Roy flipped him off without opening his eyes.
Lasso, shockingly, seemed to find the whole thing amusing. “Okay, well, I know after a bout of food poisoning I like to go all-in on some Pedialyte. Do y’all have that here? Doesn’t matter. Hydrate, that’s what matters. I’ll send Will back out with some more drinks.”
Roy didn’t move so Jamie gave him a thumbs up for both of them.
“Jesus,” he said once Lasso was gone. Roy grunted.
Jamie slumped back into his seat, letting his legs splay wide, pushing his knee into Roy’s, and exhaling as his headache fully dissolved.
Roy didn’t move away so Jamie didn’t either, not for a long time.
Roy didn’t say much for the rest of the day, not in the car on the ride home, not while they sat on the sofa watching an old run of Law & Order episodes. Jamie couldn’t decide if the quiet was weird or welcome.
“Listen,” he said when the marathon ended and some movie Jamie’d never heard of started. Did Roy not know about Netflix? Is that why he watched regular telly all the time? It didn’t matter, he just couldn’t take the silence anymore, and something had been nagging at his brain all day. “Did you notice —”
“No.” Roy heaved himself off the sofa. “Come on, it’s nearly six. I’ve got to start dinner and fuck off if you’re thinking you’ll get out of helping again.”
“You’ve never asked,” Jamie said, original thought forgotten. “Do you need help dialing a phone? Did Keeley switch your mobile out for one of those senior ones that only dials 999 and your neglectful son?”
“Here. Make a salad.” Roy chucked a head of lettuce at him and then a carrot and two peppers and a cucumber and a lemon.
Roy shook his head. “Just wanted to see if you’d catch that one too. Toss it back.”
“Wanker,” Jamie said, because he wasn’t going to be fucking pleased that he’d caught all the veg and Roy looked amused by the whole thing.
He also wasn’t going to admit that it was kind of nice, listening to Roy bustle about the kitchen while some old farty classical music playlist played in the background and Jamie put together enough salad for three.
“Well isn’t this a sight,” Keeley said, sneaking up behind them. She planted a kiss on Jamie’s cheek before doing the same to Roy.
Jamie waited for Roy to growl or pull a face or tell Jamie to fuck off, headaches be damned, but he didn’t react at all. He looped his arm around Keeley’s waist and pressed a kiss to her forehead and asked, “How was your day?”
She shrugged. “Fine. Yours?”
Roy shrugged so when Keeley looked over, Jamie shrugged too. Roy was right. It was fine.
“Wine?” Roy asked.
Keeley grinned. “Yes, please. Jamie?”
He didn’t like wine all that much but said yes anyway. It wasn’t like it could make anything worse.
Keeley noticed Roy limping around the time he was taking the chicken out of the oven.
“Eat. Before it gets cold.” He handed Jamie a set of tongs so he could serve himself. “Keeley, leave it, I’m fine.”
She crossed her arms, the ice pack a garish blue against her hot pink shirt. “You need to ice your leg. I’m not dealing with you tomorrow when you’re crying about it because you can’t go down the stairs.”
“I’ll be fine.” Roy helped himself to heaps of salad like if he served himself enough she’d get off his back.
“Jamie, did Roy ice his knee when you got home?”
“Um.” Jamie stuffed a piece of chicken into his mouth and nearly spat it back out. Fuck, it was hot. He opened his mouth to breathe around it, hoping that would cool it off.
“Fucking disgusting,” Roy said. “You’re asking this child instead of trusting me?”
Keeley, either used to Jamie being an idiot or so dead-set on catching Roy in a lie she didn’t care about partially-chewed food, didn’t blink. “Jamie.”
He looked from Keeley to Roy and back again, trying to weigh his options. Angering either of them led to a spiderweb of problems he’d never back his way out of. Maybe he could just leave. Or pretend he’d gone deaf.
“For fuck’s sake,” Roy said eventually, probably because he couldn’t stand seeing Jamie gape like a fish, “give it here.”
He slapped the ice pack on his knee like it had personally wronged him. Jamie watched the way Keeley secured it with a bandage, her hands quick and sure like she’d done it a million times.
“Thank you,” she said, kissing his temple. Jamie stared at his plate. Looking anywhere else felt like he was intruding.
He found himself stalled outside their bedroom door that night. Roy was reading in bed, a fresh ice pack on his knee, while Keeley flitted about, talking to him about something Jamie couldn’t make out.
It was none of his business, but he was glued to his spot anyway. He watched as Keeley said something to Roy and he tilted his head up for a kiss, letting go of his book so he could run one hand up the back of her bare thigh.
Keeley pulled away and Roy picked up his book again, but not before noticing Jamie stood there like a pervert. He braced for him to start yelling.
“Alright?” Roy asked.
Jamie nodded, forced himself to say, “Yeah.” He was, wasn’t he? It wasn’t like he could put a fucking name to the weird feeling that had just taken up residence in his chest, and even if he could, they didn’t want to hear about it.
Keeley popped into the doorway to beam at him. She had dots of moisturizer on her t-zone. “Night, Jamie! Sleep tight.”
“Sweet dreams,” Roy said.
Jamie’s legs remembered how to move and he put himself straight to bed, where he lay awake for a long time trying to figure out if Roy had been sarcastic or not.
It hadn’t sounded it at all, which was what made it so fucking odd.
He needed this stupid tea-bond to break so he could go back to feeling like he was on solid ground again.
Jamie woke up with a headache, same as every day for the past however long it had been.
“Should we ask Beard? Or Jane?” he asked on the way in.
“Fuck no,” Roy said, and that was that.
Training was easier, at least. Lasso had them doing light cardio and running set plays in advance of tomorrow’s match.
Jamie managed to spend the whole day close enough to Roy that he avoided any nausea, even if his headache was bad enough by the end of it that he had to sit down for a rest before hitting the showers.
He knocked on Roy’s office door when he was ready to go. No one else was in there, thankfully. He leaned against the wall and screwed up the courage to ask the question that had been plaguing him all day. Ever since this had started, actually.
“If this doesn’t go away, how the fuck are we meant to play tomorrow?”
“We?” Roy spun his own chair around so they were facing each other. “I’m not fucking playing.”
Jamie just glared at him. He knew Roy wasn’t playing, that was the bloody problem. If Roy was playing, they’d be fine. Probably too bunched up for effective defensive strategy, but they’d at least be able to manage for one match. Double-team Forest’s best player, fucking Denise or whoever he was.
With Roy on the sidelines, they were royally fucked.
Roy stood up; he was across the room in three strides but he pulled up short of actually being toe-to-toe with Jamie. His fists were so tight Jamie could see his knuckles were white before Roy crammed them into his pockets. For a long, brutal moment, he said absolutely nothing.
“We’ll manage.” He sounded so sure of it, part of Jamie thought maybe he knew they were going to wake up tomorrow and the stupid tea was going to have worn off entirely. “And if we — if you can’t…” he trailed off.
“You’re not benching me because of Beard’s crazy girlfriend,” Jamie said. Not when they were this close to promotion. Not with only three matches left in the season. He’d play blind before he let that happen.
Roy didn’t react. It was like that’s what he’d expected Jamie to say. Well then. That was that. Jamie sagged back against the wall, suddenly so drained he didn’t even want to be standing any longer. This whole week, this whole fucking season, it had been so long. His head hurt. He was exhausted. He was ready for it to be over. All of it.
Roy leaned forward and then stopped like he’d thought better of it. He spun on his heel to dig his keys out of his drawer.
“Ready?” he asked and headed out without waiting for a response. Jamie followed. It wasn’t like he had a choice.
They’d finished dinner, all three of them, and were trying to find something to watch. Jamie had won the remote and was flipping through the channels, each option worse than the one before it. He couldn’t believe this was like, what he did every night now. He really couldn’t believe that he kind of liked it — making fun of the reality show contestants, watching Roy get heated when Jamie slagged off his favorites, Keeley scrolling through Insta and showing Jamie funny memes and clothes she thought he’d look fit in. It wasn’t half bad.
He was pretty sure he had what Dr. Sharon would call Stuck-Home Syndrome.
“Oi,” Roy reached over the arm of the sofa and smacked Jamie’s arm. “Go back.”
Jamie’s breath caught as his headache receded. “You do notice this goes away when we touch, right?”
It was out of his mouth before he thought about it. Roy’s hand was frozen on his arm while some news program blared away.
“I’m sorry, what?” Keeley sounded equally rocked. Jamie couldn’t stop staring at Roy’s frozen face to check her reaction.
It was the worst staring contest of Jamie’s life, sitting there waiting for Roy to even acknowledge that he’d said anything. Jamie was just about to give up, yank his arm out from under Roy’s hand and go back to trying to find something to watch when Roy inhaled sharply and said, “I’m not fucking stupid, of course I have.”
“What?” Keeley asked again.
Jamie had the presence of mind to shut off the tv before he rounded on Roy. “Okay, but you never touch me? And you never said anything!”
“Right, because every time I did go to touch you, you flinched like I was going to punch you!”
“Because I always thought you were going to punch me!” Jamie said. Roy always looked like he was going to hit someone; he had resting punch face.
“Yeah, which is why I didn’t — Jesus bleeding Christ,” Roy cut himself off with a frustrated sound. He looked like he was about to hit the next person who moved.
Jamie felt like he was losing his mind a little bit. His headache was back now, worse than it had been, which meant he had a proper headache on top of a tea-bond one. Bloody fantastic.
“Okay,” Keeley said, standing up. “Okay. Here’s what’s going to happen. You,” she pushed at Roy’s shoulder until he’d budged over to the middle of the sofa, “there, good.” She shoved one of her pink muppet pillows into his lap, which made Roy look about four hundred times less intimidating, especially when he hugged it to his chest.
“And you,” she came over to Jamie and urged him out of the chair and into the space next to Roy, giving him a pillow of his own and everything, “exactly. Now nobody move.”
Jamie was acutely aware of his own pulse when she left the room. His blood was rushing in his ears and Roy’s breath was going harsh in and out of his nose and they both stared straight ahead, sat still as could be. Jamie petted his own pillow and tried to think soothing thoughts, whatever the hell those were.
“Aww, well done,” Keeley said, coming back with a massive glass of wine only for herself. “Now we’ll just sit here, all of us together, and have a perfectly nice night.”
She said it with such finality that neither Jamie nor Roy said anything. She plucked the remote from where Jamie’d left it on the chair, switched on some channel that seemed to only play dumb girly movies, and sat on the other side of Roy with her big glass of wine. She, at least, seemed happy as a clam.
All Jamie could focus on was Roy’s breathing and the way his hairy arm was pressed against Jamie’s. They were so close, sat like this, their thighs touching all the way from their hips to their knees. Keeley’s sofa wasn’t nearly big enough for three.
But Jamie’s headache — headaches, really — had subsided, and all that he had to anchor him to reality was the fact that Roy’s joggers were really soft when Jamie’s knuckles accidentally brushed them. He felt the way Roy’s quad went tense and then relaxed, like Roy was making himself chill the fuck out.
“Sorry,” Jamie said, quiet, meaning it only for Roy.
Roy grunted. Keeley reached behind Roy to scratch her fingers against Jamie’s scalp the way he’d always liked. It was enough to turn his limbs to jelly first and then to lull him all the way to sleep.
Next thing he knew, he was waking up to Roy leaned over him, his voice surprisingly soft as he said, “Oi, Jamie, time for bed.”
He stayed close the whole way up the stairs, his hand warm on Jamie’s shoulder blade. It was the longest Jamie’d not had a headache in days.
“We could,” Keeley said quietly from the doorway of Jamie’s room.
“No,” Roy said, just as quietly.
Jamie wanted to ask what, but Roy was still touching him, his palm warm and soft on Jamie’s collarbone, his other hand pulling up the blankets, tucking him in, and sleep was right there, dragging him back under.
When he woke up, the sun was shining and his headache was back.
“Fuck,” Jamie said, to the emptiness of the room.
The match was in six hours.
“Tartt!” Roy pulled him aside just before they headed for the pitch. He cupped his hand around the back of Jamie’s neck, tugging him close enough that Jamie could see the spot high on his cheek he’d missed shaving. “When it gets too much, let me know. I’ll pull you.”
“Yeah,” Jamie said, but they both knew he’d do no such thing.
He breathed a sigh of relief when the whistle blew for half.
Will made the rounds, passing out water bottles while the coaches had a brief chat. Jamie tried to suss out what they were saying, but his head was hurting too badly to focus. All he could tell was that Roy was barely paying attention, staring at the floor instead of listening to whatever Nate was saying.
Jamie gave up and closed his eyes. Roy was at least close enough now that his head didn’t feel like it was being crushed under a steamroller. He had to take advantage of that while he could.
He was focusing on his breathing when he heard Roy say, “Oi, Richard,” and then he was right there, wedging himself into the gap between where Jamie was sat and where Richard was standing, stretching his hamstrings.
Roy spent the rest of the break explaining Lasso’s modified attack plan for the second half, his leg pressed against Jamie’s the whole time.
It was just enough to set everything level again for the second half. But even with that, by the eightieth minute Jamie’s head was so bad he could hardly see. He looked to the sideline, trying to see how Roy was holding up but his vision was so splotchy everyone looked like a runny watercolor painting.
Someone charged at him. Jamie feinted right before touching the ball left. Turned out, Roy’s intel hadn’t been shit — the crowd cheered as he beat the defender easily.
It was instinct that had him pass the ball to Dani, believing he’d be where he was supposed to be because Jamie sure as shit couldn’t tell for certain.
But Dani was there, Jamie could tell by the roar of the crowd, which got infinitely louder a moment later, and people were swarming around him, leaping on his back. Jamie irrationally hoped one of them would be Roy, but his headache stayed as bad as ever.
He muscled through it. It wasn’t like a coach was going to swarm the field mid-game. No matter how exciting the goal had been.
At long last, the whistle blew. Jamie legged it to the sideline, waiting for the pain to let up even incrementally as the distance between them closed.
“Atta boy, Jamie!” Lasso was to him first, clapping him on the back, someone else patting his chest, and then Jamie felt a hand on the back of his neck. He flinched before everything went so perfectly clear that his head snapped up to find Roy right in front of him, looking like shit on toast but somehow still grinning at him.
“You went left,” he said, shaking Jamie a bit, “Well fucking done,” and everything was so overwhelming for a split second — relief and happiness and Roy sounding like that, mystified but fucking pleased — that Jamie worried he might actually fucking cry.
The celebration after was mental, everyone caught up in the joy of a late goal.
Keeley swooped into the room and made a beeline straight for Jamie. “You were bloody fantastic out there,” she said, her arms thrown round his neck. He was going to miss her when this was all over. He really did love her, even if he wasn’t supposed to. It was such a shit thing to realize so long after they split up. He hugged her back tightly and tried to put all that out of his mind.
When he looked up, Roy was watching them, his face weird. Jamie stuck his tongue out at him and Keeley turned around, laughing, smacking Jamie on the arm. “Don’t be a prick. He’s proud of you.” She caught his chin between her forefinger and thumb, making him look at her. “We both are.”
“Yeah.” His voice sounded wrong even to his ears, but Jamie didn’t know how to fix it. Didn’t know how to do anything against the tide rising inside him. “That’s ‘cause I’m fucking amazing.”
Keeley laughed. Even though there was no way he could hear them over the din, Roy rolled his eyes at their antics, made a show of turning around to stare at the wall with Beard.
He stayed in the same general area, though, so Jamie’s headache stayed the same as it ever was. It was almost like it was barely there.
“Stop touching that.” Roy smacked Jamie’s hand away from the display. “Honestly, you’re worse than a child.”
“This song is offensive to my ears. Keeley, tell him.” Jamie twisted in his seat to look at where Keeley was in the back, the three of them riding back to hers together after the match.
“I don’t even know what this playlist is,” she said. “Is it like, smooth jazz? I feel like I’m in a fancy lift.”
“That’s exactly what it sounds like!” Jamie said. He tried to hum along, but the song had no discernible pattern.
“Fuck you both, you can walk home for all I fucking care.”
In the backseat, Keeley cackled. Jamie reached for the display again but Roy said, “No,” and as much fun as it was winding him up, he dropped it. Roy’d had to stand on the sidelines fighting nausea and his own hellish migraine the whole match and he didn’t get an assist for his efforts; Jamie would let this one thing go. He was feeling generous.
Roy shifted so his and Jamie’s elbows were touching on the center console. Everything felt fucking fantastic after that and Jaime didn’t give a damn what crap song was playing. His brain felt lighter than it had in ages. They’d fucking won, and Keeley was humming along like she’d heard this song before and Roy was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel and for once Jamie felt great. If only he could take all this energy and put it somewhere.
Usually after a match like this, he had plenty of options. Now he had… more of this.
“Why would anyone invent a tea that makes you have to be near a person?” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Fuck you, too,” Roy said. “You’ve had a lovely week. I made you breakfast.”
He was right but Jamie wasn’t about to agree with him. He was only winning on a technicality. “Yeah, I’ve loved having black spots in me eyes and no privacy. No offense, mate, but I need a break from you lot. I need to take care of myself.”
In the back, Keeley started laughing like a proper maniac. “See?” She leaned forward just enough to swat Roy on the shoulder. “He gets it!”
Roy rolled his eyes, shook his head. “I apologized for that, yeah?”
“And quite well.” She leaned between the front seat to waggle her eyebrows at Jamie. He blinked and tried not to think about what that meant. She sat back again and said, “You know, I’ve got one idea how we —”
“Stuff it,” Roy said to her. He glanced sidelong at Jamie. “You can take care of yourself just fine.”
Jamie raised his eyebrow. Maybe Roy had been retired and loved-up for a minute now, but he had to understand what Jamie was talking about. He wasn’t dead. “What, with you ten feet away?”
Roy’s face went red, the flush creeping up his neck and his cheeks. He looked like his posture had impossibly gotten straighter.
“You’d want to listen in?” Jamie asked, because tormenting Roy was almost as good an outlet as going out and finding someone to get off with. Not quite, but it’d do. And besides, it was making Keeley laugh even harder, so it wasn’t like Jamie could stop if he wanted to. “That’s what gets you off? Listening to someone prettier than you wank off? Is that why you two work so well? Because that’s —”
“No,” Roy said, loud and sudden, and that was all the warning Jamie got before Roy’s hand was clapped over his mouth. His palm was warm. “No more talking from you. Alright?”
Keeley wasn’t laughing anymore. The air in the car had changed; Jamie felt his pulse kicking up. Above them, the light turned green, but Roy didn’t move the car.
He leaned across the console, putting himself in Jamie’s line of sight. “Alright?” he asked again.
Jamie nodded. He felt hot all over.
Roy nodded. “Good.” Satisfied, he took his hand away. He put his elbow back where it had been, made sure it was touching Jamie’s.
Jamie took a deep breath and then another and wondered if his face had gone as red as Roy’s had been; wondered if Roy had noticed. He couldn’t decide if he wanted the answer to be yes or no.
And that, well. He turned, looking out the window at the passing street lights. One day this stupid bond would break and he wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.
He cracked open a beer the second they got back, drained half of it before catching Roy and Keeley both in the doorway to the kitchen, watching him.
“You want one?”
Roy shook his head. Keeley said, “No, thanks.” And then the two of them looked at each other and had some kind of silent conversation with only their eyebrows.
“Right,” Jamie said, because even if he was still technically a guest here it was still a bit rude to have a whole conversation he wasn’t privy to, “so what now? Are we watching another bloody film? What a way to celebrate the big win.” He did sarcastic jazz hands to convey his excitement.
He was sick of this, being here, with them, the two of them all loved up and Jamie stuck about like some dumb wobbly training wheel on a kid’s shit bike. He was clearly losing his grip on reality. He needed space. Some time to his fucking self.
Keeley looked at Roy, who said nothing. She sighed. “Yeah, I guess so,” she said, and then bumped Jamie out of the way so she could take a whole bottle of wine out of the fridge. She only grabbed one glass.
Roy said, “Keeley,” and followed her into the next room.
Jamie let them be, even if it meant his headache came back with a vengeance. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who needed some bloody space.
He still had all this pent-up energy, was the problem. The kind he’d usually take to a club or Raya to get out of his system, but instead, after everything, he got Roy’s stupid hairy leg pressed against his own while they watched… whatever this was. Jamie hadn’t paid attention when Keeley named two options, just picked the one Roy hadn’t said.
He had a beer, then another, the collection on Keeley’s coffee table growing steadily.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Roy asked eventually. Apparently, if he wasn’t annoyed by Jamie talking he was annoyed by his silence. Stupid prick.
“We fucking won, mate,” Jamie said, “and I’m sat here like a geriatric.”
Keeley chuckled, unphased when Roy turned his laser-eyes glare on her. “Come on.” She nudged him. “You remember what it’s like to win.”
“Yeah, we just fucking did. You were there, too.”
“Roy.” Her eyes got big, like, anime big. After a beat she crawled right into Roy’s lap, kissing him so deeply Jamie could see both their tongues. Which was just cruel, honestly.
Keeley had Roy’s face in her hands; she held him steady when they separated.
Jamie shouldn’t be watching, he knew that, but he couldn’t stop. Maybe he could find a way to escape and take his inevitable headache upstairs and wank through it. Be extra loud just to piss Roy off. That’d show him.
Roy exhaled, sounded a bit shaky when he did so, and great, that was a sound that was going to live in Jamie’s brain until he died.
“Fine,” Roy said, answering some question Jamie didn’t know, but it made Keeley grin so wide and so bright it was like seeing the sun rise. She turned that same smile on Jamie and the next thing he knew she was kissing him, nipping at his lip like she remembered every button she could press to turn him into putty in her hands.
He tried to hold himself steady, tried not to kiss her back at all. He’d meant what he’d said at the funeral, but he’d meant what he said after, too: he wasn’t here to wreck any homes or some shit.
“Keeley,” he said, trying to put space between them, but there was nowhere to go. “What the —”
She took hold of his face, same way she had Roy’s. Roy’s hands were still on her waist, holding her steady; his arm was still solid against Jamie’s, keeping the headache at bay. “It’s alright,” she said, soft, like he was a wild animal that needed gentling. “Roy and I, we — that is, if you.”
She wasn’t talking in full sentences, but it was fine because Jamie’s brain was only getting about every tenth word. He looked to Roy, expecting to see fury, but Roy’s face just looked normal. A bit flushed, but otherwise same as always. He looked back to Keeley.
“Do you want to?” She didn’t specify, but she could have said anything — skydive, kill a man, cram his whole body into a Fiat and drive straight off a cliff, whatever the fuck — and Jamie knew he’d have agreed.
“Yeah.” His heart was going a million beats a minute. This was what people talked about when they said gift horses and mouths and all that. “Yeah, of course.”
She grinned, shifted her gaze from him to Roy and then back before kissing him again. This time he kissed her back.
He felt it when Roy went tense next to him and braced for everything to go tits up, for him to change his mind and put a stop to this madness.
Roy waited until Keeley sat back, her lip gloss smeared and her breath coming quickly. She looked even more dazed than Jamie felt.
“Upstairs,” Roy said. “Now.”
Jamie led the way.
“Oi.” Roy snapped his fingers in Jamie’s face, startling him out of his trance. He’d seen Roy’s cock before, in the showers and all that, but it was all about context, wasn’t it? “Focus up.”
It was weird, hearing Roy use his coach voice, and Jamie knew it meant he’d get inconveniently hard the next time Roy yelled Whistle and made him drop everything to do press-ups.
He was meant to be focusing on Keeley right now, but Jamie thought fuck the arbitrary rules and dropped to his knees to lick the head of Roy’s cock. Roy did a full-body shudder.
“Jesus fucking Christ. Can’t even follow simple instructions.” If Roy was trying to sound hacked off, he wasn’t doing a very good job.
“Sorry,” Jamie said anyway.
Roy’s hand landed in his hair. “Yeah, I bet you are.” His grip was surprisingly gentle. It reminded Jamie of getting hugged at Wembley, which was the absolute last thing he wanted to be thinking about. He took Roy deeper like that’d make him forget.
Above him, Roy swore. Keeley was saying something, but all Jamie could hear was his own pulse thumping in his ears. He had to pull off to catch his breath, hand curled round the back of Roy’s bum knee.
“Jamie,” Roy started, voice all wonky, and rather than hear whatever it was he had to say — that this was a terrible idea, that he could leave now, that they should all put their pants back on and go watch fucking Bake Off — Jamie put his mouth on the crease of Roy’s thigh, dragged his teeth along the jut of his hip to hear him curse.
“You can fuck my face if you want,” he said, not caring if he sounded desperate. He slid his hands up to the curve of Roy’s arse, gave him a little encouraging nudge.
“Yes,” Keeley said, since Roy had lost the ability to speak, and there was Roy’s hand on Jamie’s head again, guiding him back down. “Yes,” Keeley said again, right there, her hand on Jamie’s neck, his shoulder, “just like that. Oh, that’s so good — Roy, tell him.”
“That’s,” Roy sounded wrecked already, just from working his cock in and out of Jamie’s mouth; it was insane how pleased Jamie was at that, “Fuck, it’s so good. You’re so good.”
Jamie dug his fingertips into the meat of Roy’s arse to keep from touching himself. He was so hard it was getting difficult to ignore. Having Keeley and Roy saying things was only making it worse.
“Fuck,” Roy said again, and then he was making Jamie back off, guiding him toward where Keeley was sat at the edge of the bed, her legs splayed. It was muscle memory and a joyful one at that, burying his face in her cunt and listening to her gasp while Roy said, “That’s it,” and kept his hand on the back of Jamie’s neck like he was a flight risk. Like Jamie could imagine wanting to be anywhere other than right here, right now. He’d drink Jane’s dumb tea any day of the week if it guaranteed him this.
It was mental, getting something and only realizing after the fact you’d wanted it more than anything else. He hadn’t thought to imagine anything like this but here he was, putting every other threesome he’d had to shame.
“Christ,” Keeley said, panting, thighs still twitching from the comedown. “You’re so good at that.” She touched her fingers to Jamie’s cheek, dragged them over the bridge of his nose to his wet mouth; he kissed them, made a show of it at the end, nipping and sucking on her fingertips until her breath started to pick up again. “Cheeky. What do you want?”
He thought of a million things: Keeley’s mouth on his cock, fucking her with Roy’s fingers in his arse, Roy’s tongue in his arse, his tongue in Roy’s arse. He wondered how much Roy would let him get away with — just fingers or his tongue, maybe the tip of his dick. His brain overloaded at the idea of Roy taking his cock, the sounds he’d make with Keeley spread out beneath them. Or maybe Jamie in the middle, or under all of them, Keeley on his face and Roy splitting him open.
“I think we broke him,” Keeley said.
Roy wrapped his hand around Jamie’s dick and said, “See? He’s fine,” when Jamie surged back online like Roy’s hand was a vital part of his brain’s electrical system.
“What the fuck,” Jamie said, gasping.
“She asked you a question.”
“Fuck you,” he said. Roy’s grip tightened.
“No. Be nice.”
Jamie’s mouth opened of its own volition; he had to fight to keep the argument inside. Roy waited, eyebrows raised, his hand not moving. After a beat, he nodded.
“Good boy,” he said, gathering the wetness at the tip of Jamie’s cock and using that to ease the slide. “Now, what do you want?”
“Your cock,” Jamie said immediately, unthinkingly, letting Roy decide what it meant. “Please,” he added off the look on Roy’s face.
That did the trick. Roy’s face went from stern to something else entirely; he looked to Keeley for help.
“Go on then,” she smiled wide, her arms held out to both of them, “give us a show.”
“Yeah,” Jamie said, feeling like he was standing on the edge of a cliff about to jump, “let’s have it.”
“Oh, you’ll get it,” Roy said, and manhandled Jamie onto the bed. He went more than willingly.
For the first time in ages, Jamie woke up without a headache.
“Alright?” Roy asked. His eyes were still closed, which made it creepy as fuck.
“Yeah.” It was easier to say that and ignore all the points where his body was touching Roy’s: Roy’s shoulder against his arm, Roy’s knuckles against the curve of his hip, Roy’s knobby knee against the meat of Jamie’s thigh, his cold toes against Jamie’s shins. Taking stock of it, Jamie realized the toes were probably Keeley’s; she was curled up on Roy’s other side, one of her legs thrown over both of his.
The bed had been perfect when Jamie was the one sandwiched between them last night but now, with a pink sky fighting its way across the horizon, it felt too small. He thought of his own bed back home, the one he hadn’t slept in all week. It would probably seem massive when he finally got back to it. He missed it, he told himself. He wasn’t meant to be cramped like this. Didn’t know how Roy and Keeley did it every night.
“Go the fuck back to sleep,” Roy said, patting blindly at Jamie’s hip. He left his hand there, hot and heavy like a brand.
Jamie listened to both their breathing until it hypnotized him into sleep.
Roy made breakfast. Jamie sat at the table watching him and Keeley make the kind of synchronized circles about each other that only came from so many mornings spent together doing the same routine.
“Oi,” Roy said, “that’s mine.”
“You hate yogurt.” She moved so the bowl was just out of his reach. “This is for me and Jamie. You just want to pick the berries off the top like a monster.”
Roy pulled a face like he was being accused of war crimes. “I do not.”
He’d done just that yesterday when Keeley had to take an early morning crisis call from the Bombas people because Colin had somehow aligned their socks with Welsh independence. When he’d caught Jamie staring, he’d said, “If you tell her, I’ll fucking kill you,” and Jamie had said, “I’ll keep my mouth shut if you give me a strawberry,” and Roy had thrown one at his head but in a like, nice way.
As it was now, Keeley turned to Jamie, using her whole body to fend off Roy. “Jamie, back me up.”
Over her shoulder, Roy bared his teeth. For the first time in his life, Jamie was unphased. He understood, suddenly, what Keeley meant when she said it didn’t work on her anymore. Roy wasn’t nearly as intimidating now that Jamie knew what he sounded like when he came. What he looked like first thing in the morning, still sleep-dumb and with only half the prickliness he wore the rest of the day.
He looked between them, a couple of idiots playing keepaway with a parfait, and his heart lurched so fast it felt like something inside him had been knocked loose. It felt like it was something important, something that might never actually go back where it was supposed to be.
“You think Roy Kent’s stealing your berries?” he said, surprised his voice sounded normal. Nothing felt normal right now. “Are you mad?”
A hint of a smile appeared on Roy’s lips; it was gone by the time Keeley whirled around on him.
“You’re the mad ones,” she said. “Both of you.”
Roy took advantage of her distraction to nick some raspberries right off the top of her bowl.
“Roy!” she shouted, laughing, as he popped one into his mouth. The other he lobbed to Jamie with a wink.
The whole thing made Jamie want to put his head down on the table. He needed to find his bearings. He booked it to the toilet to splash cold water on his face. The sharp stab of a migraine was almost immediate.
Jamie winced, pressed his fingers to the worst parts of it, the darts at the back of his head, the sharp pains just under his eyes. It was a good reminder of why he was here. He needed to set himself to rights. It had been one night, one stupid threesome that happened because he was stupid enough to drink a cup of unmarked tea.
He stared at his reflection, trying to sort out if he looked different or if it was just an illusion. He had a mark on his neck, just under his collar. He pressed his fingers to it, glad for the hurt that came with it. At least that was a different sort of pain than the headache.
He took another minute for himself, splashed another palmful of water on his face, and then braced himself to return to breakfast. It was far from the hardest thing he’d done in his life.
“Oh,” he said, coming out to find Roy waiting just down the hall, looking pale and miserable. He was standing just out of range, like he’d been trying to give Jamie space or some shit. “Sorry.”
Roy shrugged like he understood Jamie’d needed a minute without someone breathing down his neck, even if it meant dealing with the pain.
When they sat down to eat, Jamie stuck his leg out under the table so his ankle was touching Roy’s and just like that, everything felt monumentally better.
They were due in the club mid-morning for film review, so Jamie didn’t even get the option to sort himself out in relative peace and quiet. Though maybe it was better this way. Better to get out of the house, be with people who weren’t only Keeley and Roy. To pop the bubble they’d built around themselves this week.
Part of Jamie felt like it was still stuck twelve hours ago, like his brain had sex jetlag. It was unfair of the world to keep on turning, everything happening as scheduled, expecting Jamie to keep up with it like he hadn’t had Roy Kent’s fingers up his arse and then experienced a tiny mental break in his kitchen at half eight in the morning.
“Well well well, look who’s just in time for the eleven o’clock showing!” Lasso said, greeting them at the door like a nutter. “Popcorn?”
He held out paper cups of popcorn to them. Roy grunted and walked past him. Jamie, surprisingly still hungry, gladly took both.
Roy nicked some as soon as they sat down. “Get your own,” Jamie said, yanking the cups out of reach.
Roy snorted. “Too good for sharing, are we?”
“Fuck you, I’m amazing at sharing.”
Roy made a face like he was remembering just how good at sharing Jamie was.
The lights dimmed before Jamie’s face could get too red.
“Alright, y’all,” Lasso said. “First to point out our five greatest achievements of the game wins a — what do they win, Coach?”
Beard reached into the cap on his lap and fished out a scrap of paper. “Free pass on one set of suicides.”
“Ooooh,” Ted shimmied his shoulders, “high stakes. Alright, Nate, hit play.”
Halfway through the tape review, Roy’s mobile rang. It wasn’t until he’d come back into the room that Jamie realized he’d felt perfectly fine the whole time Roy was gone.
He put his hand on Roy’s arm, trying to be casual about it and failing, judging by the way Roy looked at him, his eyebrows saying what the fuck are you doing?.
Jamie tried to make his eyebrows communicate back, but Roy was too thick to get it until Jamie pointed at his own head and walked out of the room. He made it all the way down the hall and realized he could just keep going.
It was a relief, really. To walk all the way outside, to call an uber, to not have the threat of a blinding migraine and a six-foot hairy shadow trailing within ten feet of him. Forget the rest of the match; he’d lived it once already, what was the point of seeing it a second time.
Going home he texted Roy, even though part of him felt stupid for even that. They were free now. Roy didn’t have to give a shit about his whereabouts.
See you later
Jamie stared at the messages. Leave it to Roy to not get it. Senile bastard.
No point in sticking around now the tea’s worn off
The dots blinked on and off for a bit, Roy typing and typing, but nothing ever came through.
The car dropped Jamie off and he let himself inside; it had only been a week, but the place still felt dark and musty. Instead of opening it up, Jamie went straight to bed. He hadn’t slept much last night.
It was nice to sprawl out, he told himself. Nice to have a whole quiet place to himself.
The plan was to get his head on straight, find a way back to the pre-tea-bond place where he was totally fine seeing either Keeley or Roy in public without having his heart do a stupid cartwheel or whatever bloody arrhythmia it had developed.
Maybe he should see a doctor. Maybe it was a legitimate side effect of Jane’s stupid tea.
The plan was fucked, though, because it’s not like he could just avoid them until he got himself under control. Well, he could avoid Keeley. He couldn’t avoid Roy.
He was dreading the first day back. He’d spent his whole day off doing fuck-all, but that had somehow made it worse. All he thought about was what Keeley was doing, or if Roy was already watching footage of the match. If they’d binned his things or boxed them up or what; it wasn’t like he was going to ring them up and ask for everything back anytime soon.
But for all he worried — what if Roy said something? What if Roy went back to ignoring him outright? Jamie didn’t want to talk to him, but he didn’t want to go back to Roy pretending he didn’t exist, either — it turned out not to matter. At training that morning, Roy was his normal self, looking only at the middle distance and yelling at everybody when they fucked up, which was frequently.
“No! Whistle!” Roy stopped the drill to point everyone back to their original places. “No one leaves until you get this right. Do it again.”
It was weird, sort of, getting this version of Roy, knowing that somewhere there existed a version of him who had spent all this time making Jamie food and sitting next to him on the sofa while he slept and running himself ragged at training just so Jamie could keep up appearances. There are two wolves inside us, or whatever it was Lasso had tried to explain to him after training one day. Jamie didn’t have any wolves inside of him. But Roy was half-wolf, half-domesticated-pitbull — terrifying bark, but absolutely no bite and a secret, shameless love for having his back scratched.
The wolf Roy was better, Jamie thought. Easier to understand. Even if Jamie’s dick was getting mixed messages about him ordering Jamie around the pitch. That’d go away with time. Probably.
“Get your fucking knee over the fucking ball, Tartt!” Roy shouted, apparently sick of Jamie distractedly sending them sailing straight over the crossbar.
Jamie concentrated on the next kick and sure enough, straight to the back of the net. He looked up, pleased, but Roy wasn’t even watching.
“Nice one, Jamie!” Colin said, clapping him on the back. It wasn’t the same.
“So what,” Keeley finally caught up with him at the end of the week, cornered him in a Starbucks of all places, her arms crossed and her ponytail swinging angrily while Jamie wondered if it were possible to shrink down small enough so he could drown in his latte, “you’re ignoring my calls now?”
“My phone died.” It had, was the thing. He’d left his charger at hers. And yeah, he’d gotten a new one first thing he realized, but for like, a good chunk of hours there his phone was dead. He’d ignored all the notifications when he switched it back on, because not knowing was better than hearing the voicemails that said: “It was a mistake” or “Come get your things so we don’t have to see you again” or “Rebecca’s sorting out a transfer as we speak, Roy and I asked her to,” or whatever they all said.
“For five days?” She was unimpressed.
He shrugged. There wasn’t anything to say. He hadn’t wanted to talk to her; that much should have been obvious.
“Right,” she said, taking a seat opposite him. “Listen, we don’t have to talk about it —”
She leveled him with a look. “But we should. Just ignoring it forever doesn’t do any good. That’s how things fester.”
“I’m not festering.”
“See?” Roy appeared next to the table, sending Jamie’s stomach plummeting straight to the ground. Seeing him at training was one thing; seeing him out in the wild, holding two cups of coffee and glaring like the world had wronged him was another. “Told you he’d be fine. Come on, then.”
“Sit,” Keeley said. Roy did, begrudgingly. Jamie pushed his chair back, ready to get up, but Keeley said, “You, stay.”
Roy smirked; it made Jamie want to lunge at him. Like he wasn’t doing the exact same thing, following Keeley’s orders and all that.
“Now, we tried to give you space, yeah? But it’s been so long already and I’m — we’re — getting worried. All we wanted to say was…” she trailed off, twisting her cup on the table, and for the first time all week, Jamie considered she might be feeling a bit off about the whole thing, too. She’d been so normal the morning after, laughing and joking, acting like nothing had happened at all. The opposite of how she was now.
“Look.” She took a deep breath and looked straight at Jamie. “Did you have a good time?”
“No,” he lied.
Keeley rolled her eyes. “Roy, did you have a good time?”
She leaned back in her chair. “Okay, me neither.”
Jamie and Roy both scoffed at that; if there was one thing Jamie was sure of, it was that Keeley had properly enjoyed herself. Roy too, if memory served.
“Fuck you, old man,” he said; he wasn’t going to let that stand. “You nutted so hard I don’t think you’ll ever be able to get it up again. Your balls are all dried up forever.”
“Oh please.” Roy leaned so far across the table his nose was nearly in Jamie’s face. “I bet you’re hard just remembering it.”
It wasn’t fair because Jamie was half-hard just from trying not to think about it in the middle of a public coffee shop.
After a minute of their glaring at each other, Keeley had apparently had enough. “Maybe we should see if Jane has a bloody truth tea so you can both stop lying to yourselves.” She stood up. “And each other.”
With that, she took her coffee and left. To Jamie’s surprise, Roy stayed where he was.
They sat there in stony silence for a good long while, Roy staring out the window while Jamie stared at the wall and vowed to himself that he wasn’t going to be the one to break first in whatever the fuck kind of game Roy was playing at.
Eventually, Roy huffed and stood up, his chair scraping loudly against the floor. “Jesus fucking Christ, get up,” he said when Jamie didn’t react.
Roy came round to Jamie’s side of the table and stood there, looming over him for a second. It would have been terrifying if it hadn’t been Roy; Jamie had gotten used to him and the weird way he held his arms five centimeters from his body like he was an action figure and they’d been attached wrong in the factory.
He craned his neck, looking up at him, about to tell him to sod off, but Roy backed off with no warning, looking like a balloon with the air leaking out of it. “Never fucking mind,” he said and walked out just like Keeley had.
Jamie watched him stalk past the window, that stupid fucking angry stride, and realized no matter how badly he wanted to, he probably shouldn’t let them go. Fucking hell, he hated it when Keeley was right.
Roy ignored him when he caught up and kept ignoring him for a few blocks, until they had to make a turn and he said, suddenly, “I can’t believe I missed you following me around.”
“What?” Jamie did a stutter step. “I wasn’t following you!” It was Jane’s shit tea; he wasn’t some sad puppy trying to get Roy and Keeley to take him home. His brain caught up to everything else. “Wait, you missed me?”
Not that that mattered, apparently, because Roy was making the same face he always made, the one like he was trying really hard not to murder a person. “We are not having this out in public.”
Jamie wasn’t aware they were having it out at all, but he’d been caught on his back foot ever since Keeley showed up at his table. Ever since the night of the Forest match, honestly.
When he cleared out of his own thoughts, Roy was a few paces away, waiting. “Come on, then,” he said, and maybe it was a force of habit, leftover instinct from the tea-bond, or maybe it was just that Jamie was inclined to do as Roy said when he said things in that tone. Whatever it was, Jamie hurried after him.
“That didn’t take long,” Keeley said when Roy led Jamie into the sitting room. “Well done, babe.”
Roy easily accepted the kiss she dropped on his lips.
Jamie wondered what the fuck he was doing here. Why he’d followed Roy back at all. What the endgame was.
“So what,” he asked, because if he had to stand here and just watch them pretend like it was normal fucking days he was going to lose his mind, “you dragged me all the way back here and —”
“Okay, one,” Roy cut him off, “I didn’t drag you, you came of your own fucking volition, and I think we agree, all of us, that that is a very important distinction, yeah?”
He waited for Jamie to nod before continuing. “Two.” He held up a second finger and then stopped, his mouth stuck open.
“What’s wrong with him?” Jamie asked, looking to Keeley for help. “Do you need to reboot him?”
Roy actually fucking laughed, a sharp, startled burst like even he hadn’t been expecting it. His whole face changed when he laughed. It reminded Jamie first of that night at the Higgins’, him and Roy and that cursed tea in the back garden; and then dozens of other times while Jamie was staying here, Roy laughing so easily Jamie would’ve sworn he’d been body-snatched. After the tea wore off, he figured he’d never see it again.
Jamie considered leaving right then, running straight out the door before Roy could say whatever he’d been thinking and ruin what was surely their last nice moment. However unintentional it had been.
“Sit down,” Roy said, jerking his head toward the sofa. “Please.”
Jamie didn’t think he’d ever heard him say please before. It was unsettling.
“Listen closely, because I’m only going to say this once: what happened the other night, with our —”
“Threesome,” Jamie said, because it wasn’t that he was upset he’d had great sex, it was everything after it that had gotten in the way. For the first time in his life, sex had made things more complicated. He’d never felt so betrayed.
Roy, it seemed, felt the opposite. Which made sense. “Right. I get that we — I know you feel —”
“What Roy is trying to say,” Keeley stepped in before Roy could give himself an aneurysm, “is that we had talked about it beforehand and we’re sorry that we sprung it on you and made everything awkward, especially since you and Roy have to work together. Well, we all have to work together, but you two especially. That was not on. We should have asked first, instead of assuming and mucking it all up. So we’re sorry.”
Jamie’s brain was still stuck on the fact that they’d been talking about it.
“We don’t regret it,” Roy said, with an unshakable finality.
“Okay,” Jamie said.
“Only that we weren’t all on the same page,” Keeley said again. “So, some regrets.”
“No regrets,” Roy said.
Keeley sighed and then knelt on the sofa next to Jamie, taking one of his hands in both of hers. “We love you —”
She rolled her eyes. “We care for you very much. And I still maintain that everyone had a great time.” Jamie nodded. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Roy’s head nod once. Something deep in Jamie’s gut turned over, victorious. “And it’s a shame that it was like, a one-time-only thing, but if that’s what you want, then we respect that.”
Jamie felt his brain fall off a very sharp cliff. “Wait, what? What do you mean? You want to do it again?”
“No,” she said. “We respect your decision.”
“I didn’t decide that!”
“You did a runner the second you weren’t contractually obligated to be here!” Roy yelled. “The literal second!”
He had a point there. And Jamie wasn’t very well going to say oh, it was because I realized I actually liked spending time with you and didn’t want it to end so I panicked and ended it. He’d sound like a fucking idiot.
So instead he said, “So you want to do it again? Like right now?”
“Well we’re not putting a fucking timer on,” Roy said, looking cross.
“Afraid I’d win?”
Roy pulled a face. “Win what? It’s not a race.”
“Could be.” Jamie felt lighter than he had all week. He’d missed antagonizing Roy until that stupid vein started bulging in his neck. And Roy had missed him. Apparently, they both had.
“I think maybe it’d be nice to spend some time together when, you know, you’re not a room’s-length away from anyone’s head exploding,” Keeley suggested. She squeezed Jamie’s hand as she said it.
“That’s not the tea’s fault,” Roy said, “that’s just what happens when this dickhead speaks.”
“Fuck you.” Jamie crossed his arms over his chest. “Maybe I don’t actually want to sleep with you again.”
It was a pathetic lie.
“Get out of my fucking house,” Roy said.
“It’s actually my house,” Keeley put in.
Roy threw up his hands. “Oh, so this is how it’s going to be? You both ganging up on me all the time?”
“Babe, that’s how it already is.” Keeley was laughing.
Roy cocked his head to the right and then to the left and then stopped moving altogether. He looked like someone’d smacked him in the face with a frying pan.
“He needs a minute to process.” Keeley patted Jamie’s thigh, scooching so they were sat side by side. “It’s not his fault. His emotional realizations take longer than ours.”
Jamie glanced at her sidelong. “What do you mean ‘ours’? I didn’t emotionally realize anything.”
It was another useless lie. Keeley just looked at him like he was as transparent as a window.
“Fine,” he said. “It wasn’t the sex that did me in, it was everything else. The like,” he waved his hand in the air, trying to capture the whole room and Roy and Keeley in it without having to explain himself, “all of it, you know. I liked the boring bits.” He frowned; it was still so stupid and embarrassing to think about. That breakfast with Roy and Keeley was the bright spot of his day? Fucking mental. “Can you believe it?”
Keeley’s smile spread across her face slowly, like the sun coming up. His heart felt like it was doing a kickline against his ribs. “Yeah, Jamie, I can.”
“Fuck!” Roy shouted, and then Keeley was properly laughing, great big joyful peals.
“Come on and give us a kiss,” she said, holding her hand out to Roy.
“Fuck no,” he said, but let her drag him down onto the sofa into the tight space between them.
Roy was so solid, holding himself so carefully, that Jamie had the urge to up and leave. Roy probably hadn’t heard anything he’d said, too caught up in his own head; if he left now, there was still a chance he could pretend it never happened.
But he made himself stay, said, “Alright, Royo?” in as sarcastic a tone as he could manage.
Roy rolled his eyes but it must’ve been the right thing to say because he sat back and kind of melted into the sofa, ending up pressed against Jamie’s side, knee to hip to shoulder, Keeley curled up on his other side. Jamie remembered waking up with them, almost just like this; he wondered what it would be like to be in Roy’s spot, sandwiched between them.
“Are we meant to be just fucking sitting here staring at nothing?” Roy asked. “What the fuck.”
Jamie bit the inside of his cheek so he wouldn’t smile. “Thought there wasn’t a timer on it.”
Roy made a noise low in his throat and turned to Keeley. “This isn’t going to work if he keeps mouthing off.”
She winked at Jamie over Roy’s shoulder, said, “Oh, that’s exactly why it’s going to work.”
Roy grunted but Jamie suspected it was one of his happier grunts. Or at least the kind that was like, resigned but not really mad about it.
They sat there in silence for a bit, a fidgety feeling growing and growing under Jamie’s skin. He couldn’t stop thinking about something Keeley had said earlier.
“I wonder what other teas Jane’s got,” he said when he couldn’t stand it anymore.
Keeley put her head in her hands. “Oh good god.”
Jamie ignored her. “I bet some are hallucinogenic.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Tartt,” Roy said. “We have to save it for the off-season.”
When he looked over, Roy was nearly smiling. Jamie got a thrill just thinking about the possibilities.