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sometimes all i think about is you

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one

 

The first time it happens it catches him by surprise.

He gets home late, tired and a little drunk from Dani’s mezcal, but feeling content. Things have turned around with the team and the guys have finally warmed up to him. Not all of them, not yet, but it’s happening. He stops second-guessing his choice of coming to London. Well, most of the time.

He drops his keys on the table and makes his way to the bedroom, kicking off his shoes while turning on the lamp on the nightstand. Then gets rid of his sweater and shirt in one go, running a little hot from the booze, and ditches his pants next. He considers putting on his sweats and old ratty shirt for maybe three seconds before his unmade bed lures him to it. Ted settles right in the middle.

He wonders when he got used to sleeping alone.

He checks his phone, no messages from Henry or Michelle, then plugs it in thinking about the day ahead.

He’ll call Henry during lunch and give him a pep talk before school – the little man has been worried about a report he’ll give tomorrow and they’ve been practicing during video calls all week. Then after afternoon practice (training!), he’ll go to the store. He ran out of milk and there’s a pasta dish he might make this week, something that had caught his eye. Plus, he’s running low on biscuits, so he needs to be up a little earlier. He hasn’t skipped a day yet and he doesn’t plan to.

Beard thinks he’s gone cuckoo, of course. Ted avoids showing up with a pink box on hand these days so he can’t see that blank look on Beard’s face that’s actually full of wondering. He doesn’t want to discuss his biscuit baking habit with anyone just yet. He knows what it looks like.

But they make her happy, just a little, so he’ll bring her some for as long as he can. Rebecca deserves some happiness.

Rebecca.

He thinks about how she looked tonight. How Sam had the balls to do what he couldn’t and ask her to come. And she had. For a moment he thought he had put another crack on that high wall of hers, that she might stay and drink with them and that he might get her to laugh. Might even get her buzzed. He’s sure a drunk Rebecca is a sight to see.

Instead he had to watch her leave, her hips swaying, and he couldn’t look away. Couldn’t understand why no one else was looking because, oh boy, the way she moved was— But those are no good thoughts to be had so he tells his brain to stop right there then turns off the lamp and goes right to sleep.

The next morning, he learns about Jamie and he feels the floor give out under him, all his hard work coming undone, and by the time he gets to her office he’s suddenly so angry he’s yelling. He watches her eyes flash dangerously and there’s a part of him that wants to gear up for a fight, let it all out. About this and stuff she’s not responsible for or even aware of. He’s not that person, though, refuses to be like that, so he shuts it down instead. Drops the box with her biscuits on her planner and leaves, shouting about how good they taste, because they do, darn it. He had one himself and the thing melted in his mouth like butter under the sun.

It’s only when he’s back in his office, Beard nowhere to be seen, that he thinks about the look on her face and it all comes back. His dream last night that had him waking up aching and lonely and not having a clue why.

In his dream he had followed Rebecca after the bonfire, the sway of her hips like a siren call. He had left the guys on the field and tracked her down through barely lit corridors. It felt like it had taken forever, her always a little out of reach, never looking back at him even when he called her. Like they were something out of that one myth and if she had looked at him, he would fade away.

When he finally caught her he had grabbed her arm, his right hand circling her elbow and holding tight fearing she might escape him again.

She had turned then, her eyes flashing in anger just like they had in her office, and he didn’t know why. Couldn’t understand what he had done to make her mad, how he could fix it. He had asked her to tell him what was wrong over and over, but she just kept looking at him and then not at him and he couldn’t stand it, her silence.

But then she had pushed him away, his back hitting a locker or a wall, and next she had descended on him like a goddess, kissing the ever-living breath out of him. Her hands were all over him, touching his hair, his neck, his back, his chest, but his own hands were glued to the wall and he wanted to touch her so badly, but it was like he was frozen in place, not being able to move.

Finally, her hand had sneaked under his shirt and he panted and pleaded for her to let him touch her, but she had tsked at him, the feel of her nails leaving a burning trail all through his chest.

“Rebecca,” he had begged, his voice cracking at the last syllable and she looked so tall, taller than she is in reality, his face cradled against his chest as she shushed him and one of her hands caressed his hair. He was in agony, aching so much from what she was doing to him he felt like he might burst into flames, release never coming. Then, his hands were free and he was finally allowed to touch and grab and feel and have her and then she was gone, the sound of his alarm waking him up.

He woke up alone and hard and wanting. He couldn’t remember why.

But now he does and even though he’s alone he blushes deeply, shocked by his own subconscious. His hands shake a little, the images still stuck to his head, and he scrubs his face hard once then twice until Nate walks in.

“You’re alright, Ted?”

“Yeah, yeah, mighty fine,” he croaks, hoping the tightness in his pants will go away soon. Then he sighs. “Actually, no. I have some bad news about Jamie.”

 

two

 

He mostly forgets about it. It’s a conscious choice after a couple of days of doing a drive-by biscuits with the boss, not really sitting down to chat, Rebecca looking confused at how hurried it all is. A redness on his ears he can’t tamper down when he looks at her.

But that’s the good thing about dreams, you can’t hang on to them even if you want to. Eventually things tend to get kinda fuzzy, even if looking at her long nails makes him shiver just a little bit from time to time.

But again, life happens. Divorce, Liverpool, a panic attack, and Rebecca holding his hand throughout it. Her friend Sassy and a one-night stand. Feeling weird and satisfied and guilty and just plain off for days after. Winning games and then losing them. A game of darts with Rupert and realizing he doesn’t just dislike the man, he loathes him with a deep-seated repulsion that so far in life he had reserved only for flan and trips to the DMV.

Then it’s Friday night and they have a game tomorrow. A big one.

Ted’s feeling antsy. After today’s practice, which mostly consisted of letting the guys play ball and mess around to let off some steam, he had asked if Beard wanted to get a beer. No luck there, with Beard off to see Jane and all, so he had gone to Higgins and then to Nate, both making excuses as to why they couldn’t come.

He had ended up alone at the Crown & Anchor, chatting with Mae here and there, but after a pint he had bowed out. The eyes from the pub’s patrons drilling a hole onto his back through the whole hour – tomorrow’s game was too important to screw up and they sure wanted to let him know that. All games now were too important. That’s a heaviness he carries with him in his pocket everywhere he goes these days.

Relegation.

Ted tries to take his mind off it all. He gets home, showers, and decides he’ll bake something. Anything his pantry can handle. He settles for peanut butter cookies, burning his mouth as he immediately devours a fresh cookie right out of the oven.

It’s not even ten by the time he throws himself on the couch, flicking through channels and trying to find something that will maybe calm him down. It’s not a panic attack, he hasn’t had one of those since Liverpool and is firmly in denial about having one ever again. But it’s something. A desire to walk all the way to France, to finish off the rest of the beer on his hand and drink five more, to dunk his head in water and keep it there until the noise in his brain quiets down.

He stops at some channel playing an old Batman movie. Something he saw with friends back in his youth, his buddy Eric a huge comics nerd. It just started so he thinks he’ll stick with it. He’s not sure if he ever rewatched it.

He finishes his beer but doesn’t get up to get a new one, too entranced by Michelle Pfeiffer in a catsuit. She must have been one of his first crushes. No poster on his wall, but he remembers keeping an old fashion magazine of his mom’s hidden in a drawer, her on the cover.

He watches her and Michael Keaton fight and then not quite fight and some memories come flooding back. His high school girlfriend doing to him something not unlike what the cat is doing the bat onscreen, him all elbows and legs, not knowing where to put his hands. The girl in college he dated for a while that had once put on a Wonder Woman costume for Halloween and tied him up with her rubber lasso later, giggling at the coincidence. He starts feeling a little hot, his breath coming out faster.

Then he thinks about Michelle. Their first time and all the times they had fun. Making love in the rain, in the truck, even once under the bleachers back when they couldn’t get enough of each other. How they knew exactly where they made Henry – halfway from a trip to Missouri when they stopped at a seedy motel for the night, the neon lights bright purple.

He thinks about the last year of his marriage then. How she would turn away every time he touched her. How in the end she would feign sleep every time he came to bed.

Ted moves from that thought quickly and then Sassy comes to mind. How good it felt to flirt a little knowing it would go nowhere – knows he wouldn’t have started anything if he had known she was Rebecca’s friend. How shocked he was when she knocked on his door.

He remembers her body and smile, how she joked through it all, making him laugh and joke around as well as a way to ease up his nerves. Thinks about her legs and what she had done with her mouth and he can feel himself getting hard. It had felt good at the time.

And yet his brain can’t shut down the thought that had come to him back then when he was crossing the room to open the door: that he thought it was Rebecca behind that door, checking in on him.

Ted pictures it clearly in his head now. How he thought he would open the door and see her, a frown between those pretty eyes of hers, and how he’d make her come in and thank her personally for helping him out, even though the memory of her seeing him so low still embarrasses him. But that’s what he would have done, he’d thank her profoundly. Gladly. Still, he knows deep in his bones that if she had come to him that night everything about the divorce would have just spilled out of his mouth the moment she gave him a look of sympathy. How he wouldn’t be able to look at her after that but would tell her all the same. She has that effect on him.

Then he thinks about how she might approach him in his room and touch his arm in sympathy, have him look at her and tell him she knows how he feels because she does. She’s gone through all he’s going through, except worse because Michelle isn’t Rupert.

But still. He wouldn’t be able to handle her calming words again that night, her soothing hands. That looking at her would put dangerous thoughts in his head and he might try to kiss her and that would screw everything up because she’s his boss and so out of his league it’s like he’s a kitten playing in the World Series. So maybe is better than it was Sassy Smurf.

Except what if she kissed him back? What if she felt as lonely as he did that night and opened her mouth for him? He imagines dragging those tiny moans out of her, the same one she makes when she bites into his biscuits. Thinks about how his hands would get to touch her soft skin and he’s straining against his pants now and it takes nothing at all for him to squeeze himself a little, to try to relieve some of the pressure while he pictures smooth skin wrapped all around him. Him freeing her hair and touching her everywhere because this time it’s not a dream and in his head he can move and bite and lick everywhere and it’s Rebecca so—It’s Rebecca.

His phone rings just as his fantasy comes crashing down on him.

Rebecca. He’s thinking about Rebecca.

He picks up the phone with clumsy hands, his voice sounding raspy. “Hey, bud. How was your day?”

Henry starts blabbering on about school and homework and Jake’s birthday party tomorrow and Ted is instantly there, asking questions and soaking up everything as he paces through the living room, shaking off whatever the hell is wrong with him.

As he talks to Henry, he vows this will be the first and last time he ever lets his thoughts get away from him.

He keeps his vow for about a year.

 

three

 

Being back in the Premier League puts a little pep in his step, as his grandpa would say. Despite everything, him being so out of it last year, it didn’t doom them like he thought it might in his darkest nights. He has the doc to thank, of course, she made his head right again. Or gave him the tools to try, at least, when he’s going through a bad time. It takes some of the weight off his shoulders. A little more comes off him when he and Rebecca start talking more again. For real this time, not the half-assed talks from last year.

He missed her. He’s man enough to admit that much.

So, of course, the moment things get back on track his brain decides to play around with him some.

It starts when he’s in Kansas. Rebecca calls him some days, strictly team business most of the time, but some days it spills into her complaining about Rupert. Rupert who can’t stop himself from blathering to the press about his ex-wife and criticizing her every move now that he has his own team.

He’s everywhere. The sports section, the gossip columns, pictures of him and the new wife pop up in The Sun what seems like every other day. He’s on TV and even on the radio. And Ted knows all this because his phone makes sure he knows. And if he knows then he’s sure Rebecca does too.

She doesn’t talk about it that much, but Ted knows her well enough that some of it is getting to her. And on the days she does mention Rupert (or even Nate, who shows up from time to time to imply Ted is a clown and Richmond is his circus) Ted knows it’s because she’s feeling particularly down.

He tries to make her laugh on those days. Well, more than usual. Halfway through his six weeks in Kansas, their talks have moved from his morning-her afternoon to around 3 PM his time, which means she’s been calling him from home. It’s not a daily thing, but he starts making sure his phone is on him during that time, just in case.

He knows Keeley is busy with her new firm and something tells him Rebecca is lonely. Especially now that she and Sam broke things off – he still wonders how deep that went. They haven’t discussed it since that day in her office. But the loneliness? Now that’s a feeling he can relate to. Home has started to feel off whenever Henry is not around. He misses things. His pillow, the pint Mae pours just right, walking around Richmond and being greeted by everyone, the nickname rolling off him. This summer Ted didn’t bother renting a place and is instead staying at his mom’s, doing whatever work needs to be done around the house before he has to head back.

Henry is at a friend’s house so he took the time today to clean the gutters, a nasty job he does every year. His phone is in his pocket and he pretty much lost track of time before it vibrates near his leg. He rips off a glove, high up on the ladder, and watches it as it slips from his hand and falls all the way to the ground while he hits answer.

“Howdy, boss.”

“Ted. I fear the deal with the Brazilian midfielder might fall through. Higgins tells me Leipzig is close to making a better offer.” She’s always like that, straight to business right off the bat.

“Leipzig? Is that in Germany?” She hums and he continues. “Well, that’s a bummer. I saw some videos of the kid. He did this one trick with his left foot that I’m still not sure didn’t bend the rules of physics.”

“Yes, well, I have accounting looking into it, but I’m afraid it won’t happen. Not unless we close that deal with Carlsberg, but you know what a humongous pain in my arse they’ve been these past weeks.”

Ted is familiar with that. If he lets her she’ll go on a rant about them for the next fifteen minutes so he tries to change the subject. “I’ll tell Beard. Coach has a list the size of my arm of potential hires. If that fella doesn’t work out I’m sure we can find us another one. Maybe one of Henry’s friends. I tell ya, these kids can kick a ball. I fear football – I mean, the one with the funny-looking ball – might soon be replaced by the kicky type over here.”

“Can you blame them, Ted? A ball should be round.”

“I told Henry I’d take him to a Chiefs’ game and he asked me if I could take him to a soccer one instead.”

She chuckles. “Tell him he has game pass for life here at Richmond.” She stops. “How’s Henry? Am I interrupting your afternoon?”

She always asks him this, like him taking fifteen minutes away to talk to her would ever be a bother. “No, no, it’s fine. Henry is currently playing some violent video game that I don’t want to know about at a friend’s house. I’m up on the roof cleaning the gutters.”

“You what?”

He squints a little. Do they have another word for that in England? “You know, boss, like a water slide for leaves and other nasty stuff.”

“I know what gutters are, Ted. But isn’t that dangerous?”

“Naw. Not unless I fall.”

“Ted?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t fall.”

He smiles even though she can’t see. “Yes, ma’am.” Then he hears a noise from her side of the line, it sounds like water. “What’s that noise I hear?”

There’s a beat where she doesn’t say anything and then “I’m calling you from the bath. The book I brought with me was too dull.”

At that Ted does almost fall, his legs a little wobbly from the image that flashes through his brain. “Oh.”

“Yeah, so I’ll let you go now,” there’s a hint of embarrassment in her voice, her words a little rushed. “Tell Beard to send Higgins that list.”

“Yeah, alright,” he replies, but he’s not hearing her, still too focused on her words from before and she hangs up before he can even say anything else.

He throws himself at work after that, ripping out leaves and grime with an intense focus and tries not to think about long wet legs. By the time he’s done, the sun a little lower, he digs his phone from his pocket again and snaps a picture. He does love the sky here. How bright it gets during the summer.

He sends it to her before he overthinks it followed by a quick text: “Made it.” Then walks inside to get cleaned up so he can go pick up Henry.

By the time he leaves the shower, humming a Stevie Wonder song loud to drown out any untoward thoughts, his phone is flashing. He grabs it, wondering if Henry might be ready to come home, but it’s Rebecca replying to his text.

Good job. Do you do house calls?

And that just feels unfair.

The dreams start again that night, of course. His subconscious more of a weakling than his own active mind.

Except his dream this time is unlike the one he’s had before.

She’s in the bath because how could his mind not conjure that image after spending the rest of the day trying really hard to not think about it? But in it she’s covered in bubbles up to her neck, not a hint of skin anywhere, save for some of her legs and arms that are dangling from the side.

Ted, though, he’s not in there with her. He’s sitting on the floor by her feet, fully clothed, grey sweater, navy jacket and all and they’re chatting. That’s all they do and in the morning he won’t remember anything their dreams selves talked about, but he remembers her laughter, loud and clear, her head thrown back, and how proud he felt every time she did it.

The loneliness he feels when he wakes up hits him like a punch.

It happens twice more during the next week. Normal, mundane dreams. Him back in her office handing her biscuits, fingers barely brushing, and him walking out through her window instead of the door. A chat in his office about how they ordered kilts and not kits and they hug before he leaves.

He feels like a darn fool. But the dreams keep coming.

Then he’s on a plane heading back for a new season and a flat that has become home. He gets in late, didn’t sleep on the plane at all as usual, but is too wired for bed. It’s barely dinner time back in Kansas.

Ted makes a mad dash to the corner shop, catching them just before closing, then takes the flour from the cabinet and makes some biscuits, having missed the ritual of it all. When he makes it to bed it’s past 2 AM and he tosses through the rest of the night.

By morning he’s tired but excited to see everyone again. They have a couple of new players and maybe this will be the year they do it. He made a promise once and Ted keeps his promises.

When he walks into her office, pink box on hand, Rebecca is already there and she grins wide when she sees him. She looks as beautiful as she does in his dreams. She asks about his trip, but he can see her eyeing the biscuits like she’s just about to snatch them out of his hand if he doesn’t hand the box to her in the next five seconds. So he does just that. He’s glad something so simple, flour and butter and sugar, can still affect her.

“I missed those,” she moans content while chewing on a biscuit.

I missed you, is what he wants to tell her.

 

four

 

The dreams don’t stop, but like anything else in life, Ted learns to get used to them. He throws himself into work with a vengeance, focusing hard on making sure the guys are doing well. He and Rebecca are presenting a united front against Rupert’s constant attacks, which the press can’t help but eat it up, egging on a rivalry that they’re dragged into against their will. And it’s obvious who they’re siding with. Even though now all of Richmond, and not just Ted, knows who he really is, Rupert is still able to sell himself as a fun playboy. The rich guy who will buy everyone a round. It drives Ted nuts.

It doesn’t help that they lose their first game.

Brentford scores a goal in the last half and as hard as they try, they can’t get there themselves. Sam misses such a clear goal, the ball hitting the post, that it makes them all flinch in sympathy. When the ref blows his whistle, he pats Roy on the shoulder and goes off to shake Thomas’s hand, thinking about the pep talk he’ll give in a few minutes to the guys. He tries not to look up at the owner’s box, but his eyes find the seats anyway. She’s not there.

Although he might have stolen some of his lines from Remember the Titans, Ted thinks the whole thing comes out zippy enough. Isaac had stepped in to give Thierry his due at some point – he had stopped a second goal by the tip of his fingers. From his seat in his office, he watches the players slowly gather their things and head out for the night. Beard, who’s there with him, asks if he wants to go for a beer.

“Not tonight, Coach. Think I’ll just head straight home.” Beard, sensing his mood, doesn’t insist and tips his hat at him, leaving him alone.

He loses track of time then, his mind too full, and doesn’t know if he’s been sitting there for ten minutes or thirty by the time he hears the familiar click of her heels. Watches how she stops only for a second to give Sam a pat on the back and then heads for him.

“I was wondering if you were down there,” Rebecca says by way of greeting.

He tries to smile, but can’t quite make it. “Just doing some thinking, that’s all.”

“We did well today”, she says and he winces a little. She follows that with “You can’t win them all, Ted,” her voice soft and that’s exactly why he didn’t go up to her office like he might do after a home game. He can’t handle her softness tonight. These days her gentleness means dangerous nights for him.

“It would’ve been nice to win the first one, though. Get everyone in a good mood for the rest of the season.”

She shrugs. “Yes, it would have. But I trust you to get them there anyway.”

And there’s nothing he can say after that.

She doesn’t leave, though. Instead, she comes closer and walks around his desk, digging into the cabinet next to him like she’s done it a hundred times before. She retrieves the bourbon he has in there and grabs the two glasses perched dangerously on top, dropping them on his desk and pouring them both a drink, some of the liquid splashing on top of a file.

She perches herself on her desk and grabs a glass, eyebrow arched until he does the same then clinks her glass against his.

“To a good season.”

The papers will crush him tomorrow, which he doesn’t mind. But they’ll do it to her as well. West Ham is playing on Saturday and if they win they can expect Rupert to go on spewing his Rupert bull everywhere. But she’s not wrong, it’s the first game of the season. He can do better tomorrow. Make her proud.

“I’ll drink to that,” he tells her, throat burning as the bourbon makes its way down.

He wonders if he’ll dream about this tonight. And what kind of dream.

Ted’s not sure what’s worse. The off-color ones or the corny ones where he, at best, holds her hand. One makes him turn scarlet, the other makes him feel pathetic and like he’s this close to getting his heart broken and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

He knows that, in the romcom of her life, he’s Kristin Scott Thomas with a mustache.

 

A few games in and the press starts ripping him to shreds more so than usual. It’s not the sort of thing that usually gets to him, not until Nate gets involved. West Ham is having a better season than them so far, ahead on the table by a good six points, and that means Nate is everywhere. It makes Ted proud to see how far he’s come, even if it hurts too. He avoids actually watching his interviews, but he can’t avoid the press room so he hears about them anyway through questions the reporters ask him. One time, the week of their game against Chelsea, the guy who replaced Trent at the Independent asks Ted about Nate’s comment on his family. Ted is lost and tells the reporter so, but he sees Roy’s scowling from his seat and he knows what it must be. Same thing Nate told him that day, that he should be back in Kansas with Henry.

He can feel his hands start shaking and he knows his voice will come out all wrong the moment he opens his mouth. But then she’s there, saving him like she always does. A guardian angel in tall heels.

The reporters all turn to her, throwing questions about Rupert at her and she even answers some of those, taking the heat away from him.

And that’s the thing, she starts taking care of him too. It’s not new, but it happens more and more.

He doesn’t quite know what to do with all that.

It’s small stuff. He still passes her biscuits every morning, but if he doesn’t go up at some point after practice she’ll come down to his office for a quick chat. There’s always an excuse, something she needs to run by him that can’t wait, but they become flimsier and flimsier until one day she sticks her head inside the room just to tell him that today’s biscuits were particularly delicious.

But it’s not just that. It’s a pint after work with all the coaching staff and then sometimes just the two of them drinking excellent whiskey in her office. It’s also her around for every pre-game speech and press room interview he gives. He needs her and she’s there, a pat on the knee and ready to fight for the club. It makes his gut catch every time. The chasm between them growing so small it’s like it was never even there.

One time, after she drops by to tell him about their meeting with a minor partner next week, he catches Sam looking at her with longing in his eyes and he looks away in a hurry. Fears he might see the same look on his own face.

She becomes the last thing he thinks before bed. It’s driving him crazy.

 

He passes the point of no return at the end of October.

London is going through a heatwave this week, something abnormal, he’s told, but less than it used to be. Roy goes on a rant about global warming and carbon emissions and how fucking Colin should trade his Lamborghini for an electrical car and maybe just try to save the fucking planet.

They’re antsy and grumpy – not just from the weather but because they’re playing Man City on Saturday and they’ll face West Ham for the first time this season next week. Ted tries to be extra supportive because well, he’s not the one chasing a ball under the hot sun like they’re in Texas and not London in October. He also knows everyone is under so much pressure that it’s a miracle diamonds aren’t cropping up everywhere.

When he walks in on Thursday, Richmond polo on instead of his usual sweater, sweat is already pooling at the back of his neck and he knows it’ll be another unbearable hot day. He takes the biscuits from his backpack, figuring he’ll just hand them to Rebecca and go straight down, the earliest they start practice the better.

But when he walks in she’s chugging water like she just ran a couple of laps around the green. But that’s not what gets to him. She’s wearing those dangerous heels of hers like she usually does – some strappy sandals this time. It’s her dress, though, that has him sweating more than a pitcher with ice water in it. It’s some flimsy white linen, sleeveless and long and like something she’d wear in Fiji or Majorca or in whatever place fancy rich people summer at. He can’t really fault her for wearing it, though, he’s seen her sweating through her silk tops this week. No, what makes his heart start doing somersaults in his chest is the high slit on her dress that shows off legs as long as the Empire State Building. From ankle all the way to mid-thigh. He can’t stop staring.

“Ted?” she gives him a look.

He blushes as he drags his eyes back to her face and he can tell she sees it because she frowns a little in surprise and then moves her legs in a way he can’t quite see that much skin and her cheeks get a little pink.

“Morning, boss,” he says feeling awkward while handing her the biscuits. Then dashes away muttering something about the heat and practice-slash-training.

It takes him way too long to even pretend he’s not still thinking about those long legs of hers, but then she doesn’t even let him have that. By eleven she’s shouting out of her window at him, asking if he wants to have lunch. Something about a purchase she wants to run by him.

He yells back that he and Beard are going out together, which they aren’t, but they usually do whenever Ted doesn’t bring his own lunch so he thinks that’s fine. The look on Beard’s face, though, tells him differently and Ted thinks that yeah, maybe Rebecca inviting him from lunch while the whole club can hear has become a normal thing. Another normal thing? Ted saying yes. Always.

He can’t really see her from down here, but something about her body tells him she might be pouting a little, irritated at not getting her way, so he sighs. Yells back that alright, he’ll go up after they’re done. Beard and Roy smirk at him like there’s a neon sign tapped directly to his chest.

He’s in trouble. She’s trouble.

After practice, he walks up the stairs to her office with a nasty feeling in his stomach. Maybe he should download Bantr after all and start dating again. Back in Kansas his mom had mentioned that such and such’s daughter was single now and isn’t she a doll and Ted had shaken his head because no point in starting anything with someone when he lives across the world, but he’s in London now so maybe he should ask Keeley to explain to him how it all works. Get a handle on ‘em urges, he thinks, grimacing at the word. He feels like a teenager. Fast Times at Richmond High.

He can hear Rebecca’s voice before he enters the room. She’s on the phone pacing and when she sees him she lifts up a finger and nods towards her couch as if telling him to go sit down. There’s food on the coffee table, a large salad he’s seen her eating before, and something wrapped in wax paper. He sits down and, so as not to stare at her some more, goes to investigate what she ordered him.

“It’s just, when will the prick stop, Keeley? It’s been almost three years. The tabloids are saying Bex is pregnant again, for Christ’s sake. Why can’t he let go?” Her words make Ted’s ears perk up and he looks at her immediately, the resigned smile she gives him that doesn’t quite reach her eyes cutting at him. “I know, I know. But I better let you go. Ted’s here, we’re having lunch.” Then Keeley says something that makes her laugh embarrassed as she turns her eyes away from him. “We’ll talk later. And thank you for the help.”

She tosses the phone on her desk and makes her way towards him. “Sorry about that,” she says sitting down next to him. “I ordered you something. Hope you don’t mind.”

He waves her off and hands her the salad. “Hope you don’t mind me being all sweaty. Tell ya, it feels like we’re about two miles from the sun today.”

Ted watches her eying his face. Feels her eyes stare at the sweat on his temple and there’s a look right there between her brows he can’t seem to identify. He changes the subject. “I see Rupert is up to something.”

She snorts. “Isn’t he always? Now eat your food.”

They talk shop as they eat, some of the equipment they bought should be arriving soon and Rebecca mentions the extra PT Roy kept asking for might finally happen, which is good news for Jamie’s knee. When they’re done, having moved on from club business to discussing Higgins’s birthday next week, he thinks about getting up and heading back down – Roy and Beard want to do corner drills for the rest of the day. He doesn’t move, though, the breeze from her air conditioner and the company too comfortable for him to get up and face the heat just yet.

They sit in comfortable silence for a moment, but when he looks at her he can see the wheels turning and he knows that whatever Rupert has done has gotten to her.

“So, what has ol’ Ruper-dupes done now? I just know that if I check my phone I’ll see a slime trail.”

She chuckles, throwing a dirty napkin on the table. “Nothing terrible, I suppose, just an interview this morning. Implied that my father’s dying wish was for the club to go to him. That buying West Ham, a London club, was his way of honoring my dad since his bitch of an ex who knows nothing about football didn’t let him fulfill his promise,” she rolls her eyes at the last part.

“And people bought that?”

She shrugs. “That’s the thing, it might have been true, I don’t know. My father was sad about the divorce, told me I should give Rupert another chance once. Like I’d ever be my mother.” And oh, there’s a story, he’s sure. “He never said anything to me about the club, but he did like Rupert.” She sighs deeply, eyes far away. “But everyone likes Rupert.”

“Not me,” he tells her, steel in his voice. He hates the hold Rupert still has on her. The hurt he causes over and over.

“No,” her smile is soft as she says it, eyes focusing on him. “Not you, Ted.”

It should have been his cue to leave, even though he’d never leave her with that sad look in her eyes. But if he had then what came next wouldn’t have happened. He stays, though, tells her a story about his own dad and how he drove Ted to his first date, he and the girl sitting on the backseat barely looking at each other while they made the drive to the movie theater. How his father had hummed a Kenny Rogers song as they did. It hurts a little, but it feels good too. To share some of the good memories. Then he tells her how the girl dumped him a month later and how his dad was more bummed about it than Ted was. Had handed Ted a flower the next day and told him to hand it to Jenny, the whole thing backfiring thanks to her pollen allergy.

They spend a while talking about dating catastrophes, her detailing an incident involving a small fire and the one time in Uni she tried to bake something for a guy. He’s halfway through telling her about his first date with Michelle at a bowling alley, how he had dropped the ball on his foot and ended up in the ER, when she kicks off her sandals and settles deeper in the couch, crossing her legs in such a way that shows most of her thigh, just like he had seen in the morning, and he stutters before he forces himself to go on. Tries to focus on anything else, but his eyes keep dropping to her legs and surely she’ll catch him, but she’s laughing and cringing too hard at his story to do it.

Finally, when the story winds down, she shakes her head and gives him a brilliant smile. “You always know how to cheer me up, Coach Lasso.” Then she leans forward and squeezes his leg. It’s nothing, really, she has touched him before, but it sends a jolt of pleasure all the way through his body and then his eyes are landing on all the skin he can see and he feels his pants starting to feel a little too tight and he knows he needs to leave immediately before he makes a fool of himself.

“Anytime, boss,” he croaks then gets up, but before he can flee from the room, she’s asking if he could hand her her phone.

He grabs it from her desk, almost dropping it as he does and she leans forward as he hands it to her and from the way he’s standing he can just see a hint of lace underneath her dress and his brain is short-circuiting and he’s out, almost tripping down the stairs at how fast he’s going, ignoring the hint of a smile he saw on her face. Gratitude for cheering her up, he’s sure.

When he gets to the pitch he’s half-hard, the images not out of his head and he’s thankful he’s wearing track bottoms and not his usual khakis today. He ignores Roy’s look, the man just too darn perceptive, and uses the whistle to gather up the guys who are just finishing another round of warmups. The heat feels like a blanket wrapped around all of them.

For the next hour he tries really hard to forget what he’s seen, but it feels damn impossible. It keeps flashing through his brain in bright colors to the point it starts pissing him off. His mood turns sour and everybody else acting like a cranky toddler because of the heat doesn’t help. The guys are being lazy, not putting in the work while Sam kicks the ball over from his spot at the right corner. Roy’s shouts of “whistle”, which never bothered him before, become irritating. By the time Richard and Jamie get into a fight, Ted is right there. Roy grabs Jamie while Isaac does the same to Richard, and Ted just lays it on them and then on everyone else. Dani gives him a look like he just kicked a puppy.

When he’s done he’s still pissed off.

“Is that Led Tasso?” he overhears Roy asking Beard.

“Yep. Didn’t know he was going to show up today.”

Ted breathes once then twice, but his mood doesn’t improve. He’s so snippy Beard keeps giving him bewildered looks and at some point he can even see Rebecca coming to the window to see why he’s yelling so much. That doesn’t help. His mind immediately flashes back to her office.

He can’t think after that. He tries, he really does, but eventually he gives up. He tells Beard he’s taking five and hurries from the field, breathing hard and starting to shake. It’s not a panic attack, he almost wishes it was.

He heads straight for the bathroom, thankful it’s empty, and locks himself in a stall, the smell of disinfectant burning his nostrils. He undoes his pants in a hurry and he has his cock in his hand in an instant, still half-hard but getting harder by the second. His grip is tight and when he thumbs at the head he hisses, forehead hitting the partition between stalls as he jerks off, eyes shut tight. He knows what he’s doing is wrong, but he can’t help himself. She’s just so—And he’s been trying to--

He thinks about Rebecca upstairs, maybe her legs are crossed as she works and if he’d go in he’d see skin again. He wants that so much it hurts. He wants more than that, though. He doesn’t just want to look at her legs, he wants them wrapped around his hips, all fifteen feet of them. The image his mind conjures makes his pace falter. Them on that couch of hers, her dress pulled up. He’s so close and he knows he has to stop, that he should force himself to think of anything else. The porn involving blondes he only watches at his lowest moments, Diane Sawyer, the best sex he’s ever had, but his mind always drifts back to her.

When he comes, a grunt he can’t swallow leaving his throat, is with the image of her legs straddling his head.

He cleans himself up as best as he can and then splashes some water on his face while bending over the sink. He can’t even look at himself in the mirror, he feels so guilty.

He downloads Bantr that night.

 

five

 

They tie against West Ham thanks to a last-minute goal by Dani. It had been a home game, Rupert nowhere to be seen, and while they’re not exactly in an elated mood, most of the team heads for the Crown & Anchor for a drink after the game. Ted feels like skipping it, the look on Nate’s face when they shook hands had rattled him. Plus, he wasn’t sure that having a few drinks on him and Rebecca on his side, looking so pretty while wearing Richmond colors, wouldn't do a number on the control he has painfully tried to build this past week.

Ted settles on a desk with the other coaches, a pint on hand. Keeley is there too, making one of her rare appearances these days, and sitting between Rebecca and Roy. He’s halfway through his beer, discussing Isaac’s hurt knee with Beard and what that means for their game against Leicester, when Keeley interrupts him.

“So Ted, I hear you’re on Bantr now”, she says, a glint in her eyes.

Ted freezes. He hadn’t actually told anyone so how? Can she tell he’s NukeLaloosh? Is she like that fella Snowden and can tell who everyone is on these apps?

At his expression, Keeley takes pity on him. “Roy told me.”

He looks at Roy, who shrugs. “Caught you browsing that app. Mentioned it to Keeley. Didn’t think it was supposed to be a secret.”

Ted half winces, can’t really look at Rebecca for some reason. “Just figured I’d see what the fuss is about.”

Beard doesn’t say anything, but Roy makes a face. “Seems stupid to me. Talking to a stranger? That’s how you wake up without a kidney. Or your balls.”

Keeley swats at him. “Bantr has a really high success rate, actually. Better than Tinder and some other apps. Plus, I think it’s sweet Ted is dating. Proof he’s not angling to become the next Dalai Lama.”

Ted’s ears turn a shade of pink and he can’t help how his eyes slide towards Rebecca. Is that what they think of him? That he’s some sort of monk? He wishes. Then maybe he could stop all this craziness inside him.

“Gaffer here thinks he might find his soulmate in it,” Roy says instead.

At that Rebecca’s eyes lock with his, something there that’s gone before he can pinpoint, but that makes his stomach twist. Keeley coos from where she’s sitting, a romantic at heart, and asks him if he’s been on any dates yet.

He had, actually. He had gone on his first Bantr date this past Wednesday. He matched with someone two days earlier, a baker who lives near Wimbledon and who moved to London from Vancouver a year ago and that asked him out for coffee. They had bonded over being expats and their love of baked goods, but there was no spark and Ted can tell she’s still hung up on the ex he left back home. Not something he can relate to anymore. Still, she gives him a tip about vanilla beans that has him baking a new batch on that same night, curious if it’ll make a difference.

The way Rebecca’s eyes had rolled to the back of her head when she had tried the new recipe was something that was now seared to his brain, like so many other things.

“Uh, just one. Didn’t quite work out,” it’s all he says.

He’s thankful when Beard changes the subject. Spends the rest of the night trying to decipher the look on Rebecca’s face.

 

Ted thinks he’s got a handle on things the next few days. He has this new ritual in the mornings that makes him feel eighteen again. He wakes up, jerks off, showers and heads to work. A clear head on his shoulders and no funny business. Even his fantasies cooperate and don’t involve her whatsoever. Diane Sawyer, on the other hand, well, let’s say that her ears must be burning.

He goes through the motions of dropping the biscuits each morning and having a chat but doesn’t linger. He also starts avoiding her office in the afternoons again, something about the second half of the day making her look more beautiful – an extra button on her shirt undone or her shoes off or just relaxing on the couch instead of sitting behind her desk.

Of course, as she’s done it all season, when he doesn’t come to her, she comes to him. It’s easier, though, when Beard or Roy or both are in the room and the players mingle outside.

Except that day she’s wearing his favorite skirt, something grey and tight, and as she leaves he can’t help looking at the sway of her hips as she walks away, his thoughts turning sinful again. He shuts his eyes tight and shakes his head a little, as if he can make the image of his hand going under her skirt disappear.

“There’s no harm in looking, Coach,” Beard tells him. Ted had forgotten he wasn’t alone in the room.

He gives the man an almost pained look. Ted knows that, but it stopped being just about looking months ago. And he can’t shake the feeling that it’s wrong. This is Rebecca, his boss. The woman who has saved him so many times, who has changed his whole life, and who doesn’t like him in that way even a little bit.

Ted wants to tell Beard all of that and see what his friend might say, but even putting it into words makes Ted feel a little queasy so he just shakes his head again.

Beard gets up and gathers his things so he can leave, but before he does he turns back. “There’s no harm in wanting more either.”

 

Their game against Man United is a rough one. By minute fifteen they have scored twice and Richmond is scrambling, Roy giving him a look like a massacre may be incoming. But then around five minutes before half-time, Richard passes the ball to Jamie, a long kick that goes on for miles and Jamie is putting on his chest, dribbling the guy next to him and then he’s free, only the goalie in front of him, and what might be the prettiest goal of his career follows.

It’s the incentive they need to head inside and come back for the second half wanting blood. Dani scores with an assist from Jamie and Isaac hits a head kick just right two minutes before the ref ends the game. It’s exhilarating.

When Rebecca gets to the locker room, Sassy in tow, he gets déjà vu, even though they’re in Manchester, not Liverpool. Keeley is there too, her first trip with them this season.

“Congratulations, Ted,” Rebecca tells him before engulfing him in a hug.

“That was all them, boss,” he replies, but hugs her back tight. Can’t remember the last time he held her so close.

They all head for a club, thirsty and desperate to celebrate, and Ted is about two beers in when his mind starts getting silly and his eyes keep sliding towards Rebecca. She hasn’t left the dancefloor since the moment they walked in, dancing with Sassy and Keeley and laughing so loud the sound keeps dragging a smile out of him every time he hears it over the loud music.

He’s tossing back the rest of his beer when Sassy joins him by the bar, ordering another round of drinks.

She winks at him, a mischievous glint in her eye. “Come on, Marlboro Man. I know you can move those hips” and drags him to the dancefloor before he can say no, making him carry the third drink that goes with the other two on her hand.

He hands the gin & tonic to Rebecca, knowing without asking that the fruity drinks Sassy is holding are for Keeley and herself. Then Sassy is on him, making him move and he’s accompanying her while she dances to a song with a heavy bass.

Ted is not much of a dancer – much less a club dancer – even though he does know how to spin a woman around a room. But he tries his best at this kind of music, let’s some of the alcohol in his system help him move his legs. Isaac, who does know how to move, steps behind Keeley and suddenly they’re dancing together, complicated moves that have the rest of them whooping in awe.

Rebecca, now dancing by herself, has her eyes closed and head tossed up, soaking up the music and letting it carry her. Ted can’t stop staring at her. The way her hips move and the look of bliss on her face. When she opens her eyes, they immediately find his and he feels his chest flutter, his heart nearly stopping at the smile she gives him.

“You’re in trouble, huh, Lasso?” Sassy’s words snap him back to reality.

He stutters. “I—Uh—What do—Huh?”

She snorts and shakes her head and turns around so she can bump and grind against him a little, which just makes him feel somewhat even more awkward than her words. As the music winds down, Rebecca, who was watching it all with an amused look on her face, grabs him by the wrist and rescues him.

“You look thirsty, Ted.”

They end up outside, a beer on his hand and a cigarette on hers that she bummed off a kid who doesn’t look old enough to drive. Ted isn’t a smoker at all, never cared for the smell or the act, but damn if she doesn’t look sexy as hell doing it.

Something about the way she’s looking at him tells him she can read his thoughts, but thankfully those beers in him help him hide the blush that appears on his cheeks.

“Didn’t know Sassy was going to be here,” he tells her as a way of breaking the silence.

“Nora is with her father, so she decided last minute to take the train and come see us,” she takes another puff of her cigarette, cheeks hollowing. It makes Ted wonder if she has ever had a cigar. “Although I think she had ulterior motives.”

Ted blushes again under her gaze, but he looks her right in the eye when he says it. “Yeah? I’m not that sure. Either way--”

But they get interrupted by the girls, Keeley taking the cigarette from Rebecca’s hand and giving it a content puff. “God, how can something this fucking good be bad for you? And what are you two on about?”

“Just telling Ted here that Sassy might not have come to Manchester just to see her old friend,” she’s smirking as she does, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. It makes him squint, even though her words hit him different.

“Oh no, Stinky,” Sassy says and Keeley hands her the cigarette and she takes a drag out of it herself. “Me and the cowboy was a one-night special.” And at that she gives him a look that knows too much.

When did he become so obvious?

He leaves them outside and heads backs in, finding Beard and Roy tucked in a corner somewhere, piles of empty glasses between them, and tries to ignore whatever is going in in his gut that everyone else seems to be able to see. He thinks about the last time he saw Sassy, back at the funeral, and how they had left together. Ended up at the same pub as some of the other guys.

She had flirted with him a little bit and he tried flirting back, but it didn’t come out quite right. In the end they had chatted a bit about Rebecca and her father. Sassy had told him the man had always been nice to her, but that Rebecca had her issues with the man. “It’s her story to tell, though”, she had said.

A couple of hours later he had kissed her on the cheek as he got her a cab and headed back in for another drink.

 

He heads back to the hotel with Beard, each man heading for their own room, and waits for Henry’s nightly call. The time difference meaning he just had his dinner back in Kansas. They talk a little. Henry had turned into such a Richmond fan that he had watched the game’s highlights already He was also so obsessed with Jamie that Ted feared what might happen the next time he saw him. It’s Saturday night so Michelle is driving him for a sleepover soon and as they chat amicably about her plans for the night as Henry finishes getting his backpack ready – dinner and a movie with Rob – he can tell from the look on her face that it’ll be more than that. With Henry out for the night and all.

It makes him jealous, but not in the way one might expect.

He’s, as Mister Hank Williams puts it, so lonesome he could cry.

Bantr still shows up on his notifications from time to time, but he hasn’t opened the app since that first date was a bust and knows he won’t again. That he might as well delete the whole thing from his phone. Knows he won’t find love in there because well—Then he thinks about Sassy and how, despite her words from earlier, if he had flirted back a little tonight, had put in some of his moves, she might be willing to go for him again. They had fun back then and he hasn’t slept with someone in so long he fears he might crawl out of skin soon if he doesn’t get a hint of human touch.

His mind drifts back to Rebecca again and their hug from earlier. How good it felt to hold her in his arms if only for just a moment. How she fits perfectly onto him, how good she smells and how, despite his most unseemly thoughts, that’s the thing he’d like to do to her the most tonight: hold her. Cradle her to him until he falls asleep.

That can’t be wrong, right? To think these kinds of things about her. Not when that’s what he wants more than anything else. The other stuff? That’s just what a year of being a monk gets him. If only he could just stick to the longing.

Of course, the universe has other plans.

His phone warns his battery is running low and as much as he digs through his suitcase he can’t seem to find his charger. So he puts his shoes back on and heads for Beard’s room looking to borrow his.

He doesn’t make it that far. Keeley is outside Rebecca’s room, room service delivering them a bottle of champagne or two and some food and she stops him. “Oi, Ted! Want some bubbles?” It looks like they’re keeping the party going.

He waves her off. “Nah, I’m good thanks. Just looking for a charger I can borrow. Left mine back home or a tiny elf got it.”

“Accusing Rangnick of theft, Ted?” she laughs. “But come in, I have mine in my purse.”

When he steps in the room he immediately regrets it. Sassy is there too, but Keeley is the only woman in the room still fully dressed. Rebecca and Sassy are both wearing fluffy robes, sprawled against the settee in the room. Sassy has her legs tucked underneath her, but Rebecca has hers crossed, showing legs that go on for miles.

“I got us that stripper,” Keeley tells them as they cackle from their seats. Ted goes beet red, which just makes them laugh harder.

“Ladies,” is all he’s able to say, his eyes still peeking at Rebecca’s legs.

Keeley is digging through her purse. “Fuck, I really thought I had it on me. Sorry, Ted.”

“No biggie,” he replies already moving, but Rebecca stops him.

“What? What does Ted need?”

“Just a charger, boss. Phone is running on fumes.”

She nods and stands up, barefoot and gorgeous. Her hair loose and curled around her face. It takes his breath away. He tries stilling his face, Keeley and Sassy too ready to pounce at any hint that might come from him, surely, and just looks around the room as Rebecca steps inside the bedroom part of her fancy room and comes back triumphantly with the charger.

“Thanks, boss, I’ll hand it back to you in the morning.” He gives them all a salute. “Now you ladies have a good night.”

Sassy waves at him, telling Keeley about Nora’s latest hijinks, and Keeley is focused on pouring them all champagne so Rebecca tells him she’ll walk him out.

She’s by the door as he turns to wish her a good night. He thinks she might be a little sloshed, her face flushed and her eyes just this side of hazy. But then he notices her robe is a little loose, just enough that he can see the top of her breasts and his eyes drop to the pale skin he sees and he quickly averts his gaze, flushing a little, wonders if she’s wearing anything at all underneath. When he looks at her, their height almost the same without her heels on, he knows he’s been caught.

He winces a little and she chuckles, the sound low and going straight to his groin even though he wants the floor to swallow him whole.

She doesn’t tighten her robe, though. Instead she looks him right in the eye as she says words that will haunt him for weeks. “I’m definitely not.”

She laughs loud at the look on his face as she shuts the door.

Ted doesn’t fucking think. He marches back to his room and heads straight for the bathroom. He kicks off his shoes and removes all of his clothes in a hurry, turning on the shower and getting in, the pressure from the water hitting his neck and making him groan.

He takes his hardened cock on his hand and fists it until he’s aching, his eyes closed shut and his mind swirling with thoughts of her. When he comes, the soles of his feet rising up from the floor from the orgasm that rips through him, he’s thinking about unlacing that robe of her and watching it fall down. Thinks of her naked body underneath and bending her over that settee, never mind that there’s a bed five feet away from them.

When he steps out of the showers, doing quick work with the towel, he wants to feel like shit, like he has every time his thoughts have wondered to her while he’s done this, but he’s too tired. He drifts off thinking about the sound of her laughter.

 

plus one

 

It starts with Rebecca coming to his rescue again. She’s down at the office, sharing a glass of whiskey with everyone and waiting around for Keeley. Something about drinks and exchanging Christmas gifts before Keeley and Roy leave for a quick trip to her parents. They have a game on Boxing Day just like last year so she and Roy will be back by then.

They chat while hearing the noise from the guys exchanging Secret Santa gifts, Isaac’s costume even more elaborate this year. Ted is feeling a little down again, thinking about another Christmas without Henry, but there was nothing he could do about it so he tries to focus on next year’s.

He looks at Rebecca while he does it, watching her smile at Colin waving his gift around while chatting with Higgins. A week ago, as he walked her out, both the only ones still left in the building, she had touched his arm and told him that he could fly home for Christmas. That Roy and Beard could handle the match against Watford, the last team on the league table, and that they were doing well. Had even mentioned how they had climbed up to fifth place on the table.

“You should go,” she had said.

He was touched beyond words, speechless for maybe the first time in his life, but he shook his head before she could even get the rest of the words out. Told her about the deal he’d made with Michelle. She’ll take Henry to her sister’s place for the Holidays so Henry can meet his new baby cousin, but next year Henry is spending Christmas in London.

“He’ll be eleven, boss. That’s old enough to fly across the ocean all by himself and come see his old man.”

Still, he can’t say another Christmas without him doesn’t sting. His gift had been shipped and delivered already and they’ll facetime when Henry opens his present, but Ted knows he’ll lose him immediately just like last year. The lure of a new toy and cousins to play with more appealing than chatting with his dad.

So when Nelson Road starts emptying for the night, some heading home and the players to a pub, he lingers. Tries to come out with it and just ask her. Beard gives him a look before he leaves. Beard is full of looks these days. Not a peep out of that hairy mouth of his, but too many looks.

The last of his whiskey burns down his throat as he watches her flick through her phone. When she looks up she tells him “Keeley’s running late and asked me to meet her at the restaurant.” She’s looking at him curiously, something on his face making her wonder.

It’s now or never. “You ladies have fun,” he says gathering his backpack so he won’t have to look at her. “Tell me, boss, you still playing Santa this year?”

“’’Course. Got the gifts and letters all ready to go.”

“You mind if I come with you again this year?” When she doesn’t immediately reply he looks up at her.

She gives him a big open smile that makes his heart beat faster. “I thought you’d never ask, Ted. Of course you can come. I’d be glad to.” Then her mouth like she wants to say more, but her phone pings again and she drops her face to read what must be Keeley’s text. As she types up a reply she nods at him, still smiling, and leaves.

 

They let the guys show off on the last day of training before they break for Christmas. They’re technically doing penalty kicks, but at some point it turns into a game of whoever scored last becomes the next kicker’s goalie. Isaac scores against Colin, but he actually grabs the (frankly terrible) ball Dani kicked. After that he becomes the man to beat, grabbing a couple more balls before Roy walks in, chest puffed out and grunting that none of them know how to kick a fucking penalty.

The ball goes wide and the guys go wilder. Roy is never living that down. Not even Thierry who does not have to worry about penalty kicks did that bad.

Then they convince Beard to give it a go. It’s a strong effort. A hard kick that has Isaac grunting as he grabs the ball with both arms. And then, of course, it’s Ted’s turn.

“Now I hear my man Isaac here is gonna go easy on me.” The guys all heckle him right back while Isaac shakes a gloved finger at him. “Alright then. I’ll remember that when Roy has you all running drills.”

He stares at the ball and takes a good five steps back, looking at the right corner of the goal and then the left, trying to pick where he’ll kick. Knowing that if it’ll head anywhere near the goal it’ll be pure luck.

He breathes deeply and runs fast, kicking the ball with the tip of his foot, clumsily but hard, and watches as Isaac stretches his hand to try to touch the ball. His kick is too strong and too high, though, and then the ball is hitting the net. A perfect top right kick.

The boys go wide and even Roy lets out a whoop, but it’s a woman’s loud cheer that has him looking up at Rebecca’s window, her body draped halfway through it, hand next to her mouth cheering him on.

“Good job, Coach Lasso. Now get your arse up here.”

He can feel himself growing a little pink at the compliment, but he’s smiling even while the guys ohhh at him, messing about as he heads for the exit, someone yelling “Gaffer’s is in trouble” as he shakes his head.

She’s sitting behind her desk when he walks in and he’s a little breathless from the exercise, so she nods towards a chair and fetches him some water. “We’ll make a football fan out of you yet, Ted.”

“Me? I’m a huge fan already, boss. Some of my favorite people are football players and coaches. Or they own a football club.” He takes a big gulp of water. “You ever played? I feel like everyone in this country does.”

She shrugs. “Some since it really is inevitable. But not much. I used to ride horses.”

He nods. He can definitely see it. Rebecca is fancy enough to have been into something like horseback riding or that one where the horse prances around doing a little dance. He tries to picture her riding a horse now, one of ‘em tall Arabian ones. Lady Godiva herself, except fully clothed because he’s been trying to be respectful ever since the hotel. At least during the day, even if sometimes at night his fantasies get the best of him.

“But the reason I called you here, Ted,” and her voice sounds just this side of unsure, “is because I need to send my RSVP to Elton’s party today. Thought I’d ask you if you might want to be my plus one.”

His eyebrows go up to his hairline and he can see her mouth turning like she thinks maybe this was a bad idea, so he rushes on. “I mean, yeah, sure. But-- Are you sure?”

“I thought you might like to see the puppet show. And I think there are some people you’d like to meet.” She sighs. “Most of all, I don’t want to go alone.”

His heart aches for her at that and he knows he’d go to any party on Earth if she asked him to, much less a fancy ‘do with good food and good music. The Higginses are taking a well-deserved trip to Southern Spain for the holidays so Ted would have been all by himself after their Santa run – had, in his wildest fantasies, even considered asking Rebecca if she’d like to have dinner with him. He’d cook, of course.

Still, he can’t believe she wants to take him. “Sounds like a great time then. What should I wear?”

She tilts her head, eying him up and down. “A suit will do. But bring it with you when I pick you on the 25th. We can get dressed at my place.”

“Sure ma’am,” then drinks up and rest of his water and walks out heading for his office. Practice surely done by now.

But a foot past the door Ted stops and turns around, a question nagging at him. “By the way, what was your horse’s name?”

“Theodore,” she tells him, a flush on her cheeks.

He almost breaks his neck going downstairs.

 

Handing out Christmas gifts is as fun as last year, maybe even more so. He had paired up his phone with the radio on Rebecca’s car and put on a Christmas playlist that they blast as they drive from house to house, Rebecca humming at first and then full-blown singing by the time she loosens up. He joins her sometimes, his voice nowhere near as beautiful as hers, but every time he does she beams at him.

The kids are great, jumping up and down as they get their presents from the tall lady and the funny-looking man in a mustache. Both he and Rebecca wearing their hats from last year. At some point, just after handing a bike to a little girl, Henry calls him, wanting to show him the massive Millennium Falcon he’s building with the cousins. There’s noise on the street so Henry asks where he is.

“I’m with a friend of mine, bud. We’re handing out gifts. Remember I told you about it last year?”

“Is it Rebecca? Did you get her a gift?”

His eyes quickly dart towards Rebecca. She’s trying to give him his privacy, but he can tell she heard it.

“I might have,” and at that she looks at him, curiosity in her eyes. He smirks at her.

“Good. Mom got Rob a watch,” then he turns from the screen for a moment. “Gotta go, dad. Noah wants me to teach him how to dibble. Bye!”

And he’s gone before Ted can say anything else. He pockets his phone and closes the still open trunk. Rebecca is looking at him like she’s willing him to speak.

“What?” he asks knowing exactly what she’s thinking.

“A gift, Ted?”

“Guess you’ll find out.”

 

There’s something quite daunting about stepping into Rebecca’s house. A house as fancy as they come. Very much like its owner. It suits her, he thinks as he walks in behind her, his suit in a bag hanging over his shoulder. It’s very elegant with its high walls, and a little intimidating, but also warm if you look at the paintings on the wall, the pictures he sees all around.

She directs him to an office on the ground floor and points at the bathroom if he needs it, then tells him she’s going up to change. That she might take a while, even though they’re running a little late.

Ted takes his time. The nosy side of him comes out to play as he tries not to think of Rebecca upstairs just in her undies, a flight of stairs and a door away. He looks at the desk she must work in whenever she’s not at the office, an empty glass of scotch with lipstick marks telling him she was here maybe last night. There are more pictures. A recent one of her and Nora, one of Rebecca with her mother, and one of her and Keeley from earlier this year looking drunk and happy.

His breath catches when he looks at the next picture. It’s not a picture he’s ever seen before, had no idea anyone had even captured that moment. It’s his birthday. They had a game against Aston Villa that day and they had won. Higgins, he thinks, wanted to gather everyone around Ted for a picture. Rebecca, who was down there with them all, had stepped closer to him and someone had captured that moment before anyone else had really sat around him. Her standing up and Ted looking up at her with the goofiest most adoring look he had ever seen on anyone’s face.

It’s so obvious, he’s so obvious, he’s not sure what’s even the point of trying to hide it anymore.

He’s in love with her.

Ted removes and folds his clothes putting on the suit and trying to figure out how the heck he’s going to spend a night around her without blurting out his feelings. Because now that he has admitted to himself that this has gone beyond what? A crush, a fancy? Well, he’s not sure he’ll be able to keep it quiet. “Can you pass the salt, Sir Elton,” he might say, “and by the way, I’m in love with your friend Rebecca.” Except he knows it wouldn’t be fair to put this on her. Her friendships that she gives him gladly should be more than enough. The feelings? They’ll pass. They have to. He’s been carrying them for so long now that well, all he needs is to bury them deep again. Dig a hole inside his chest and throw some dirt on top. Plant a damn tree. Maybe salt the earth.

He’s fiddling with his cufflinks, an old gift from his grandpa that he never wears but brought with him today because he can’t think of a better place to wear it than at a Christmas ‘do with a bunch of famous folks, but he keeps dropping the right one, his hands a little shaky. He goes in search of the kitchen so that maybe with better light he’ll get the damn thing on.

He’s still fiddling with it when he hears the familiar click of her heels and looks up and when she walks in. His mouth drops open.

“Good?” And there’s a half-smirk dangling from her lips that tells him she knows he thinks she looks fantastic. The long-sleeved red dress she has on clinging to all the right places, which are all of them because Rebecca doesn’t have any wrong parts.

He nods emphatically. “You look amazing, boss,” he tells her, emphasizing the last word just a little as a reminder to himself. Because that’s what she is. A boss and a friend. Never mind his wanting of her or their playful flirting. She knows where he must stand, how could she not know when it’s written all over his face all the time every day. But she’s never given a hint that she feels the same. He’s seen the men she dates. Younger and fitter than him, no baggage of issues they lug around everywhere.

Still, his eyes can’t help himself.

She flushes a little but moves towards him. “Cufflinks, Ted?”

He shrugs. “Thought I might go all out tonight. Can’t get this little guy on, though.”

She puts out her hand as if saying give it to me so he does and she steps in closer to button it up for him. It’s quick works with two hands, but the hint of her perfume hits him and while looking up at her, her hair loose and curled, he feels like touching it. Wrapping a blonde lock around his fingers just to see if her hair is as soft as it looks. His left hand moves against his will and his finger is this close to touching her hair when he catches himself, his intake of breath catching her attention as her eyes lock onto his. She’s so close and he knows he should step back, but she’s still fiddling with the cufflink and his other arm is still raised and he seems frozen into place, all he can see are her eyes.

When they drop to his mouth he thinks this will be it. The moment he makes a fool out of himself and kisses her like he’s thought about it since that night in Liverpool. Is almost leaning towards her already, the pull of her that strong, but then the cufflink clicks onto place, bringing him back to Earth and he’s stepping back, saying his thanks in a shaky voice.

Ted fills the awkward silence all the way to the cab, blabbering on about which celebrity he hopes he’ll see tonight.

 

If someone had told him even six months ago that he’d be watching Sue Perkins doing shots with Emma Thompson he’d call them crazy, even though he should be used to it by now. What hasn’t been crazy about the past three years?

The party is in full swing, even more people than Ted thought there would be prancing around the place. Rebecca seems to know about half of them, which seems crazy, but what’s even crazier is that most of them know him. Intellectually he knows that he’s a Premier League coach and a recognizable one at that thanks to how he came to be coaching Richmond, but still. When it’s Brian May stopping him from grabbing a canapé by yelling “Ted Lasso, what a surprise,” well, it throws him off track a little.

He’s just about convincing Adele, the real one this time, to come sing at their next charity event when he catches Rebecca’s eye. A very handsome fella he doesn’t know is whispering something in her ear, a little too close for comfort, and Ted wonders if he should rescue her or leave her be. He has no hold on her – she already introduced him to people and he has settled at the party just fine. Better than he expected even. If she wants to, she can chat with Handsome Bob all night and he’ll be happy for her. Ted wants what Rebecca wants. Always.

Something in her eyes, though, tells him to come over so he excuses himself from Adele and her friend and walks towards Rebecca.

The moment Ted steps into her personal space she glues herself to his side. “Ted, let me introduce you to Jack Grant. Jack, this is Coach Lasso.”

They chat a little, the man polite enough towards Ted, but his eyes keep shifting towards them and he excuses himself soon after. Rebecca doesn’t step back from Ted, though. Instead she thanks him for the rescue.

“Handsome guy,” Ted says. “A little pushy, though.”

“Quite,” she sighs. “And you took your time. Adele too distracting?” she teases him.

“Wasn’t sure you wanted me to intervene. I mean, the cheekbones on that guy? Phew.”

“Oh, Ted,” it’s all she tells him. Then gulps the rest of her champagne. “Come on then. Let’s dance.”

“Dance?” he squeals. It’s not like he didn’t think it was coming, but tonight? With her looking this beautiful and with all these feelings running through him? But she’s already taking his hand and leading him to the dancefloor.

Because Elton John is richer than Scrooge McDuck, his house the size of a minor palace, there’s an actual freaking band playing. Like this is a wedding and not just a cozy Christmas party. The band alternates between Christmas songs and jazzy ones and some couples are already swaying to the music. He can see Emma Thompson again and her husband, slow dancing to a song that sounds familiar to Ted’s ears.

He steps into Rebecca’s front, left hand going to her waist while he takes her hand in his and they begin dancing. He leaves what he considers a respectful space between them, but even this, holding her hand, is enough to make him a little nervous on his feet. He doesn’t quite step on her toes, but it’s close.

“Guess I’m a little out of practice,” he tells her.

She doesn’t comment on it. Asks him if he’s enjoying the party.

“Oh yeah, definitely. Everyone’s being real nice. Saw Posh Spice and she even knew who I was,” he shakes his head in wonder. “A lot of people know who I am.”

“They like you. Elton congratulated me for bringing a nice date for once. He couldn’t stand Rupert.” She snorts.

“Yeah? I might have just become Elton John’s biggest fan.”

As they chat, it feels natural for them to step closer to each other, him bringing her hand in, his hand on her waist tightening just a little. When he realizes they’re standing almost chest to chest, it feels too late to pull back without her noticing it so Ted takes a breath and keeps swaying. Telling her all about Adele’s maybe-promise.

She fills his senses, her hand so soft and warm in his, and he can feel his chest bursting at the way she laughs with him. So full of love and nowhere to put it. He wants to protect his heart, thinks about Handsome Bob and how maybe it would have been better if Rebecca had liked the guy. That Rebecca with another man might be the kick-start he needs to maybe stop all this fancy. But he can’t say he’s sad she turned the man down.

He makes himself a promise: he’ll enjoy this moment, this dance, this night. Tomorrow he’ll put up some walls. She’ll be none the wiser, but when another man shows up, one she likes this time, then maybe it won’t hurt quite as much.

With that in mind, he pulls her just a tiny bit closer to him, and spins them around once or twice, her startled laugh making people look at them.

Yeah. He’ll enjoy himself tonight. Let himself love her just a little bit.

Their dance ends and he has a hard time letting her go, only does it because the band is taking a break and he can’t exactly keep swaying with her to no music, no matter how much he wants to.

They head for one of the waiters and grab some champagne each, the room a little stuffy after their dance. “You know, I didn’t think Pierce Brosnan was going to be here,” he tells her. “Do you think Sean Connery might be here somewhere? This could turn into a double-oh convention.”

Rebecca gives him a look. “Not unless someone does a séance. Wouldn’t be the first time, I guess.”

Ted stares at her for a beat and then widens his eyes. “Sean Connery is dead?!”

“Quite.”

“Huh,” then he shrugs. “There’s always Timothy Dalton. Maybe he’s around. Great theme.”

“Duran Duran?” she asks and Ted nods. “There are better ones. Speaking of which, Sir Paul isn’t here, but did you see Ringo?”

“Ringo’s here?” Ted asks looking around the room. Henry would get a kick if he could get a pic.

She hums. “Saw him by the library a couple of times. Do you think Henry would enjoy a quick message?”

They go Ringo hunting like it’s a treasure hunt. They know he hasn’t left for people keep saying they just saw him, but the man just might be a little too spry for someone who’s eighty because he keeps slipping between rooms too fast for them to catch him. It doesn’t help that either he or Rebecca kept getting stopped by someone or other. Celebrities: they love their football as much as anyone else, apparently.

They pass by some young people and a kid that Ted is sure plays a superhero in something grabs him by the arm before he can walk out. “A fellow American?” he asks Ted, voice sounding drunk.

“He’s that bloke who coaches football,” someone says before Ted can reply.

The young man gives him a once over. “The one from Kansas? Man, you’re a legend. Showing all these brits how to play their own game.” He waves his hand at him, Rebecca looks amused as Ted shakes some hands.

“Myself, I’m teaching them the great American party game of ‘I’ve Never”, he tells Ted like it’s some wild Yankee game no one in England could possibly know. Then the kid grabs a drink and then announces loudly to the room. “I’ve never had a sex dream about someone at this party.”

Ted feels like choking, even though he’s not even holding a drink. He watches some of the youngsters take a sip of their drinks giggling, but even though he doesn’t want to look at Rebecca his eyes find hers anyway. He blanches, knows she’ll read whatever is on his face so clearly he might as well have taken a drink. But when he looks at her she seems a little flushed, eyes not quite meeting his, an embarrassed smile on her face.

It says something, that smile. His gut tells him so.

He wants to ask her about it. Catch his eye until he maybe gets an answer. If her blush is about Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz or, dare he hope, someone else. But then her eyes are hitting a spot behind him and she’s hurrying from the group, grabbing his hand as they finally catch up with their slippery Beatle.

The man has no clue who either of them are, even though Rebecca tells him later that they had met before, but he’s polite and happy to record a quick video for Henry and to take a picture with Ted, Rebecca playing photographer.

He sends it to Henry as they thank Ringo and then they find a spot on a couch while Henry, who already saw the video, calls him to freak out at his dad. He tells him to thank Rebecca and she leans a little closer to him so she can talk to Henry, who tells her she’s the coolest person ever.

When he hangs up, Rebecca doesn’t quite move back, some old man has sat by her side, his much younger girlfriend perched on the couch’s armrest.

“Henry might be disappointed when he comes to London and we don’t have dinner at Ringo’s place,” she tells him.

“With any luck our Boxing Day match will be against Liverpool.”

“We better win then. We can’t make Henry sad on Christmas.”

His whole body warms at the ‘we’ and he thinks about what he saw on her face earlier. That blush and that smile that tells him something he’s not sure he can believe. Not sure he can trust his gut on this.

Somehow, they’re exactly in view of the puppet show so they don’t get up as Bond himself and Ms. Weisz put on their show. It’s actually very cool, if short, but they both look incredible and Ted can’t help but think about Rebecca’s comment from last year. “Told you,” she whispers in her ear.

He put his left arm around her at some point and it looks like they’re almost cuddling and Ted feels like he’s running a little bit insane here, her signals mixed, and when she starts playing with the hem of his pants, just casually touching, he feels like he might just pass out. Downs another glass of champagne like it’s water. He only starts breathing again when the show is over and she moves her hand so she can clap.

After that it’s dinner time, something delicious, but Ted feels too nervous to eat and mostly picks at his fish. Rebecca is sitting next to him, but not close, and he thinks he misses her hands on him or his on hers and feels a little pathetic for it.

As they serve dessert, a tart mousse that tastes alright, Ted thinks he might finally have a chat with Beard. He could use some advice.

He can’t go on like this.

After dinner, some of the guests leave and some start mingling in different rooms or even outside, the Christmas lights truly beautiful. Rebecca and him, though, they follow Elton John towards his piano and spend a good hour singing all the classics. Rebecca is a little shy around the famous folks, some of them singers, but from her side he hears her voice clearly and thinks that even though this is a memorable experience, he’d rather be with her out on the street hearing her belting out a song with their friends.

As the party starts winding down, his watch telling him is just past midnight, he watches Rebecca wince as they walk away from the piano. Asks her if her feet are bothering her.

“A little. Do you wanna go?”

“Big day tomorrow.” He knows they should, but he’ll stay for as long as she wants.

She nods. “Let’s say our goodbyes to Elton.”

They do just that then grab their coats. Ted helping her put on hers near the door. Of course, when he looks up he sees mistletoe. Rebecca looks up a beat after. “Oh,” it’s all she says.

They stare at each other for a beat, unsure, then someone from behind them goes “Come on, lovebirds. You know the drill.”

Ted’s pretty sure it’s a BBC news anchor speaking, one Rebecca knows based on her “Piss off, Asad.” But she’s smiling as she does and she rolls her eyes at Ted, still grinning, and then leans in and kisses him. Not on the mouth, but almost. Her lips brush the side of his and his hands reach towards her waist almost despite himself. Even though the kiss is brief he feels heady and like he just got electrocuted.

The guy, Asad, heckles them a little, but Ted doesn’t hear, too out of it from the kiss. Rebecca starts walking, waving goodbye at her friends, and all Ted can do is follow her.

They quickly get a cab, the drivers all know Elton’s party means good business, and as the driver pulls from the curb, Ted notices Rebecca is still close to him, their thighs touching. She’s checking her phone, texting back someone and rolling her eyes as she gets a reply. Ted wonders if he should say anything, he hasn’t spoken since their kiss, but he’s not sure what will come out of it if he does. Something like ‘can you do it again’, probably.

She slips her phone back in her purse and Ted realizes he’s not quite sure where they’re heading to. Her place, he thinks, and he’ll take the cab from there. Or maybe walk. Cool off his head. He asks her anyway.

“I gave him my address,” she says shyly. “Unless you want to head straight back to yours.”

He shakes his head and she asks about the party, wanting to know if he had a good time. As they chat, her hand touches his knee and he can’t stop looking at it. So much she notices it halfway through a story about Paul Hollywood and how drunk he got at the party a few years back. Her voice trails off and she starts pulling back her hand, but Ted, almost by instinct, reaches out and grabs it, leaving where it was. He hears her intake of breath and thinks she must be able to hear his own heart beating hard on his chest.

He finally looks at her and she’s watching him, looking as uncertain as he does.

“Ted?” she whispers.

“Yeah?”

“Tell me about your dream.”

He flushes from head to toe. Her words making his heart skip a beat. He takes a breath then says “Which one?” and watches her eyes widen, the way her breath hitches at his words. He’s sure the cabbie must be listening to them, but all his attention is focused on her. So much that he’s caught by surprise when the car pulls in front of her house, the driver telling them they’ve arrived.

He lets go of her hand and opens the door and gets out of the cab with shaky legs, waits for her to get out as well. The walk to her front door is silent, taking forever and no time at all.

While she fiddles with her keys he considers his next move. He’s so nervous it’s like he’s never been on a date before. Because that’s what this was, he thinks, a date. Was it? Was last year? He wanted to hold her hand back then too.

“Is this a date?” he blurts out, rushed and nervous.

She looks over her shoulder at him and gives him one of those looks when she’s not quite sure what to make of him. Exasperated fondness, he thinks.

“You can be quite insufferable, Ted,” she replies turning to him, her door unlocked. But she’s smiling as she does it. Then she takes a deep breath. “But yes, it is a date. If you want it to be. If you don’t then--”

But he interrupts before she can get the words out. “No, no. I—A date—Yeah, no, I mean, I—” then he pauses and tries to make sense of the words he wants to get out. “I’m just saying that if I took a drink every time I dreamt about you, Rebecca, I’d be in a coma before Elton John finished singing ‘White Christmas.’”

She smiles wider at him as he says it, looking so fond it makes his chest ache, and then she nods at him, just once firm. Then grabs him by his tie and pulls him towards her.

It’s a proper kiss this time, her mouth to his, her soft lips opening and her arms are coming around his neck and he can’t believe this is happening. She was a good kisser is in his dreams and fantasies, but in reality? There’s no comparison. He feels her kiss all the way to his toes, the first touch of her tongue on his making him groan and pull her closer to him, his hands grabbing hard at her back.

They kiss until he’s breathless and she must feel the same because she’s pulling away from him, her breath hot on his face as he’s gulping air, but he wants to pull her mouth towards his again immediately, already missing the taste of her lips. He doesn’t get the chance, though, because she starts nuzzling his cheek then jaw and then her mouth is ghosting around his neck and he’s shivering.

But wait. “The cabbie. I should—”

“Gone. Handed him a hundred quid before I stepped out. Merry Christmas.”

What? So she—He grins, feeling floored. “Glad to see you were thinking ahead.”

“Shouldn't I be?” she teases nipping at his neck.

He chuckles, so far gone for her. “Never.”

“Good.” And maybe he leans his head back a little so she can work on his neck some more.

They make out like teenagers on her front porch for what feels like hours, even though Ted knows it must be all of fifteen minutes. He knows he should stop, there are things they should talk about, but he still can’t believe this is happening and having Rebecca here in his arms, moaning at the bruise he’s currently working on her neck feels like a fever dream.

Call it a Christmas miracle, but Ted ain’t stopping unless she tells him to.

Her hand is currently working on his tie, loosening it up and undoing the top button on his shirt so she can access some more of his neck, which just feels unfair since her dress doesn’t show a hint of cleavage. Nothing he can lick or bite beyond her neck. He decides to work from the opposite end then, how his hands will travel underneath her dress like he has fantasized about so many times before. Then maybe he’ll hitch one of her legs around his waist, another thing he’s thought way too much about, and he’ll try to not make a fool of himself, already aching for her.

He’s just putting step one of his plan into motion, pushing her against any hard surface he can find, when they stumble. Her front door opens wide and they start tumbling down. Rebecca yelps as Ted manages to keep them both upright by the skin of his teeth, his hip hitting a table as a vase crashes on the floor.

He’s still clinging to Rebecca, the fright putting a damper on the mood. “You alright?” he asks, eyes wondering.

“Smooth, Ted,” she teases him instead. She’s giving him one of ‘em looks he’s learning to identify as loving, not just fond.

He smiles shyly at her. “What can I say, boss?” The word more of a nickname than anything else these days. “You make me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But I’m sorry about your vase.”

“Oh, fuck the vase, Ted. Now kiss me again.” But she doesn’t wait for him to kiss him, just goes to her himself and then he’s drowning in her all over again. Already too used to the feel of her mouth in his. So much he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to go without it again and it’s that thought, more than anything else, that has him hitting all the stop buttons. Stopping the train before it leaves the station because a little more of this? Santa could drop for the chimney and he wouldn’t be able to stop touching her.

And there are things he needs to say.

He backs away, just a little, breathing heavy and watches her mouth try to chase away his before she opens her eyes, brows drawn together.

“Now I’d very much like to keep doing this, but, Rebecca, I—" He steadies himself, “But I feel like we should talk first because I tell ya, you could knock me back with a feather right now. I wasn’t expecting this. Not really. Hoped, maybe, but for me it’s not—I mean, I want more than--” He knows he’s babbling, too nervous to get the words out, but he only stops when she puts a finger to his mouth.

“It’s okay, Ted. Drink?”

He nods firmly, shoulders sagging in relief because maybe a drink or twelve will calm him down and he’ll be able to tell her how he feels.

She takes his hand and leads him to what must be her living room. She points with her chin for him to sit and heads for the bar. His heart is still drumming in his chest as he sits. Watches her head for the bar and pour them both some whiskey. She kicks off her shoes before she returns, tumblers on hand, and their fingers touch as she hands him his glass. Not unlike all those times he handed her something sweet in a pink box.

Rebecca sits next to him, a leg crossed under the other. Still close, but angled enough that she can look at him. They sip their drinks quietly for a beat before Rebecca nods at him. “So talk.”

He doesn’t know where to start so he starts at the most baffling part. “You dreamt about me?”

She barks up a laugh, one of her hands going up to her face as she blushes. It pulls a smile out of him.

“I did, yes. And not just once either.”

He’s stunned. “And those were--”

“Dirty dreams?” She blushes harder at that, but rolls her eyes at him. “Yes, they bloody were.” She takes a drink. “Don’t you bloody dare ask me to describe them to you, though.”

He grins. “I just might.”

“It’s Leslie’s fault, you know?”

“Higgins?”

She looks up at the ceiling as if annoyed at the memory. “Higgins came in one morning, dropped off some file or other. My tea had run cold and he commented on it and I told him I was waiting for my biscuits. I’m sure you don’t remember that morning.” He does. “Then he asked me how long you had been bringing them for me. When I answered him he just gave this look then cleared his throat and changed the subject, the twat.”

He does remember this day. Ted had been cornered by Isaac and Dani the moment he stepped into Nelson Road and dragged downstairs so he could judge the world’s worst rap battle between Colin and Jan Mass. By the time he had gone up to see Rebecca, he was a good forty minutes late.

There was something off about her that day. A look she kept giving him.

“It’s not like I didn’t know how long you had been bringing them to me. Baking them yourself, for Christ’s sake.” She shakes her head as if in wonder. “But telling someone just made me realize what a gesture it is. No one else has ever done anything like it for me.”

She goes on. “I think that night was the first time. More of a nightmare, really.” She gives him a shy smile. “I dreamt you told me you weren’t going to bring me any more biscuits. You said you left the recipe back in Kansas – it was soon after you got back. Just one of those dreams that made no sense, but it got me rattled.”

“Got the recipe right here,” he taps his head, a little dazzled by her words.

“Good,” she says. “Then the season started and there were more dreams, normal ones and naughty ones and we were spending so much time together and it made me see---.” She shakes her head incredulous. “Ted, I feel like I’ve been circling around you for months. It was so obvious, even though I wasn’t trying to be. I didn’t think you—”

“What do you mean months?” And obvious? What?

“You honestly didn’t notice? All these trips to your office, the late-night drinks in mine. I wasn’t—It wasn’t a move, but—” She shrugs. “I like spending time with you.”

“I thought you were checking in on me. You know because of the-- Uh, my issues,” he rushes out the last words.

Her left reaches out as if wanting to touch him, but she pulls back before she does. Ted wishes she would.

“Some of it was that. Those journalist vultures have been extra hard on you this year, thanks to bloody Rupert, but it was mostly me being selfish. Being around you made me feel better. I could forget about the press and Rupert and all the pressure.”

And at that he can’t help himself, he takes her hand. Tangles his fingers with her like he’s wanted to do for so long. “I had no clue you—”

“Liked you?” she shakes her head. “I felt like a bloody teenager with a crush. With a crush on a boy who didn’t like her back. Might like her best friend even.”

He makes a face at that. “Sassy?” and she gives him a look. “Rebecca, Sassy and me, it was one time.”

She waves him off, some of the whiskey almost spilling out of the glass. “I know that now. But you were also on Bantr and I thought, well, you’re so bloody nice to everyone. So I thought I’d just bury my little crush like I’m fourteen instead of forty-seven and get on with my day. We know what happens when I act on impulse. But you just kept being bloody gorgeous and nice and staring at my legs and— Christ, you really had no idea, did you?”

Ted shakes his head, floored. He had been fighting for his life this whole time and she was right there with him? It doesn’t seem real. “Guess I was too worried that you might notice me thinking about you after hours.”

“Not even after the hotel?”

“The hotel?”

“You don’t remember.”

“’Course I do. I even--” he pauses, caught. “I mean, you were drunk.”

“You even what? And not that drunk.” She puts her glass down on the coffee table. Does the same to his now empty one.

“Don’t want to implicate myself,” he says feeling a flush come over his face. “Might just say that you in that fluffy robe is an image I couldn’t forget.”

“Is that right?” she leans forward and kisses his too warm cheeks. “That night? Because I might have thought about you later, the look in your eyes when you saw me.”

At this his brain frizzles a little. She was there, a couple of rooms away, thinking about him while he slept? And she’s smiling at him like he knows what he’s thinking and biting her lips like yeah, that’s exactly what she was doing and he’s capturing her mouth with his, giving her a long kiss because it’s been too long already.

Her long nails are scratching his hair, sending shivers down his spine, and then she’s moving her legs and straddling him and he’s getting a whole sample of Rebecca on his lap, his erection already making itself known again and when she grinds himself on him he groans inside her mouth.

His hands find her legs, finally able to touch smooth soft skin, rubbing circles all the way up to her ass then grabbing a handful because he’s only human. Rebecca herself is working on his shirt, has the buttons halfway undone already and is lifting his tie from his neck, throwing it somewhere behind her.

When her nails drag across his chest he hisses.

“Good?” she checks in on him.

“Hell yeah.” And he pulls her back down for a kiss. He can’t stop kissing her. Thinks he might come from just this. Her grinding on top of his, the little noises she’s making going straight to his groin.

He’s considering dragging down whatever scrap of lace he can feel with his hand so he can touch her when she leans back.

“While I would very much fuck you on this couch,” she leans in again and gives him a short kiss like she can’t help herself. “I much rather take this upstairs, if that’s alright with you.”

He chuckles, hands running circles on her thigh even though her words make him freeze. “Fine by me. All my thoughts about you and a couch involve the one in your office.”

She gasps and he watches her pupils dilate even further, a look on her face that tells him he might not be the only one who has thought about it and she’s letting him know that. Rebecca gives him a hard quick kiss after that, their teeth almost knocking, and then gets up, grabbing him by the hand so she can lead him upstairs.

They take their time. Ted can’t seem to go three steps without pulling her for a kiss. He loses his jacket somewhere near the door and they almost trip on the stairs, Ted pushing Rebecca against the railing so he can bite at her neck.

When they finally reach her room, he feels like he’s entering a sanctuary. He looks around as she fiddles with her jewelry, tossing them on the nightstand. The whole place immaculate, her huge bed and the hint of her perfume in the air. He still feels jittery, wants to make a joke about thread sheets or her curtains, but it’s like she sees him before he can say anything. Steps into his space and pushes his hair back, her other hand brushing his jaw.

“Unzip me?” Then she’s turning him, pulling her hair forward so he can find the fastener.

His hands are trembling a little as he pulls the zipper down. The extent of her back taking the breath out of him. He exhales hard, the air hitting her neck and he feels her tremble as he steps closer so he can kiss her exposed neck, smell her skin.

She lets the dress drop to her feet, stepping out of them, and then she’s naked, white lace making her look like a goddess. Like something not even his wild fantasies could conjure.

Then she’s stepping towards him, the back of his legs hitting the bed and making him sit down. His hands reach for her and from this angle, it takes nothing for him to pepper kisses all over her belly, to drag his cheek against skin and feel her shiver. To press a finger against the lace and feel wetness pooling on the fabric, making him groan.

Then she’s straddling him again. Except she’s almost naked and he’s still almost fully dressed. She raises a brow at him like this won’t do and finishes unbuttoning the shirt, pushing it from his arms. The cufflinks mean his arms are somewhat stuck behind his back, he can’t fully remove the shirt.

She notices it the same time he does because there’s a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Oh, boy,” it’s all he says before she descends on him. Kissing him senseless, her hands all over him, scratching her nails from all the way up to his chest to his lower stomach, making him twitch. She removes his belt then undoes his pants as she sucks on his neck and he’s this close to begging her.

“I had a dream like this once. Couldn’t move, couldn’t touch. Woke up before I could do anything.”

“Hmm?” she hums then whispers in his ear. “You’re not dreaming now, Ted. So what are you going to do?”

And she’ll be the death of him, he knows. Here lies Ted Lasso. Cause of death: Rebecca Welton.

He can’t stand anymore, though, not when she’s biting on his ear. He pulls his arm and hears one of the cufflinks pop, pulls his arm out of the shirt and with another hand quickly undoes the other and tosses the shirt far away, Rebecca snorting at the scene.

“You think it’s funny, huh? Driving a man crazy like this?” And then he’s grabbing her by the waist and moving her, rolling them so he’s on top now, her legs spreading so he can settle between them, pressing against her until they both groan.

It’s his turn now. He starts by working on her neck, just like she did with him, but soon moves towards her chest, her unfamiliar skin too tempting to stay away for long. His hand reaches her back and he undoes her bra, freeing her breast and he’s sucking on a nipple, watches as she arches off the bed at the flick of his tongue.

He wants to keep working on her breasts, but something flashes through his mind, a dream from weeks ago and the thought has him heading lower, mouth sucking on her hips as he pulls her panties down, backing away just enough to take them off. Her legs are spread open as he leans back in again, the view enough to make his heart skip a beat.

But as he lowers himself towards her he grabs her legs and puts them over her shoulder, her thighs touching his ear. Looks at her as he says “Thought about this too.”

When he lowers his mouth to her he’s staring right at her, watches her eyes widen at his words and then his tongue.

He licks and sucks and watches her hand flutter on air like it wants to reach for his hair and pull him closer. Feels her thighs pressing and letting go against her head. Wants to tell her it’s okay, but he’s too busy lost in the taste of her. Could stay here between her legs dragging sounds out of her for the rest of the night.

She loses the fight, though, or maybe something in his eyes tells her something because her hand does grab his hair at some point. “Fuck,” she sobs, her hand gripping to the point it hurts a little. It makes him moan.

He can feel her clenching around nothing so he backs away just enough to put two fingers inside her, mouth immediately going back to her clit. Ted knows she’s close, can feel her clenching around his fingers and there’s nothing in the world he wants more than to make her come right now. His cock throbs at the thought. He can’t take his eyes off her face, how beautiful she looks with her mouth hanging open, eyes wild with want. He tells her all of that, whispers dirty things between her thighs because he can’t help it, there are so many things he wants to tell her.

Then she’s coming, hips rising above the bed, her thighs pressing hard against his ears just like he imagined and it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. Only stops licking at her when she pushes him away.

He climbs back up at her, lays on her side and watches her catch her breath. “Jesus Christ, Ted,” she tells him, voice hoarse, something of a breathless laugh escaping her mouth at the last syllable.

She’s looking at him like she can’t quite believe it. “You’re telling me I could be having this when you come up in the afternoon?”

That startles a laugh out of him, the image. He can’t say he hadn’t thought about it. “Might confuse Higgins, though, if he walked in.”

“Fuck Higgins,” she says then leans in and kisses him, moaning when she can taste herself.

Then she’s on her knees, dragging off his pants and boxers while muttering about fair play. When her hand closes around his cock he almost whimpers. He’s so hard it’s painful, his cock leaking already. She works him with a firm grip, licking her lips as she looks at his cock, and while he would love to put his cock in her mouth, he really hopes that’s not what she’s going for because he’s sure he’ll burst at the slightest touch from her tongue. The image alone almost enough to get him there already.

Thankfully she doesn’t. She straddles him again at some point, though, something telling him Rebecca really enjoys being on top. She leans forward so she can kiss him, his cock rubbing against her belly, and then bites his lips before leaning back and digging for a condom in her nightstand.

She rips the package open then rolls the condom over him, rubbing him against herself when she’s done.

When she sinks on him, so warm and so tight he’s glad he’s wearing a condom because otherwise, he would make a fool of himself in about five seconds. When she’s fully down she stops, letting them both get used to the feeling, and watches him. She only starts moving when he nods.

Watching Rebecca ride him is an image he’ll never forget. The way her breasts bounce, his hands going up so he can touch them, the way she rolls his hips, dragging every sound he can make out of his throat. The way she throws her back and she gets lost in herself, like she’s enjoying the feel of his cock inside her. How, when he grabs at her hips and pulls her hard towards him, she screams his name.

She’s relentless, those legs of her working up and down and he’s not sure how much longer he can last, hates the thought he might come before her. One of his hands goes to her clit, rubbing her until her pace falters and then gets faster, her orgasm building fast inside her. He can tell by the way she clenches around him, squeezing him like a vice.

When he pinches her clit he watches her mouth hang open, shuddering all over as she comes.

He’ll never get used to this sight.

As she comes down she gives him one of her brilliant smiles again, his cock still inside her, and starts moving again, but it’s not enough. He wants to kiss her when he comes, wants to be deep inside her when he does. So Ted drags her down, mouth opening at the same time he flips them over. Her legs immediately wrap themselves around him and then he’s fucking her like he wants to chase something inside her. Like he can’t get deep enough. He’s so close, too close, the way she’s clenching around him and touching his back. But what undoes him is the kiss she gives his temple, so gentle it makes him ache.

Then he’s coming, buried deep inside her with a loud moan and Ted doesn’t know how he ever survived without this. Knows he won’t ever be able to go without ever again.

“I fear we may be a little too loud for office sex,” she tells him with a smile, her hand stroking his back as he catches his breath.

He looks at Rebecca and feels wrecked. Rebecca herself looks more beautiful than ever, her hair all wild and her skin flushed. He’s thirsty, though, like he just ran five miles, so with a kiss he gets up and removes the condom, putting his boxers back on and throwing the condom in the trash in her bathroom. Considers just drinking water straight from the tap.

When he’s back Rebecca has put on a grey robe, something soft and expensive. At his inquiring look she tells him “I’m fucking starving. Come on.”

They head for her kitchen, both still barefoot, and the floor is freezing, but her hand in his feels warm. She grabs them both a glass of water, Ted chugging his with an amused look from her.

He watches her dig inside her fridge, pouting at the content or lack thereof, then moves. Tells her to sit down as he investigates the fridge himself. He settles for a veggie omelet, the tomato he sees still looking fresh. Thinks about all the dishes he plans on making for her.

When he looks at her she has this surprised expression, like she can’t believe he’s doing this for her. It makes him want to punch Rupert. It makes him pity too, just a little, for not knowing what he had. How could any man not see how incredible she is?

When he serves her the omelet, her feeding him a couple of bites as he rubs circles on her bare knee, he remembers he never handed her the present he got her. He tells her he’ll be right back and goes searching for his coat, finds the box in the inside pocket.

She’s done with the food when he comes back, surprised at the box in his hands. It’s not pink this time and it has a tiny bow on top. He hands it to her, her muttering that he didn’t have to, and watches her open it.

What do you give someone who can buy anything she wants? But when he had seen them, he thought of her. “Took Henry to a fair last summer,” he tells her. “This one couple had a stall where they sold antique stuff. Watches, old trinkets, jewelry, stuff like that. When I saw those I immediately thought of you. How they would go with those eyes of yours.”

He watches her remove the earrings from the box carefully. “They’re beautiful, Ted.” Then she winces. “I didn’t get you anything.”

“You gave me a whole ‘nother life, Rebecca. That’s a gift worth five lifetimes.”

And at that she hugs him. He never wants to let go.

The hugs turn to cuddles and kisses and more. She complains about cold countertops when he undoes her robe like he’s wanted to do for so long. He wonders how many fantasies of his they’ll go through before the night is over. If there are maybe some of hers they should try next.

When they’re done, Ted feeling like she’ll be the death of him, she starts laughing, her eyes full of mirth.

At his confused look she tells him “Keeley will be cross we got to do Sexy Christmas before she did.”

He laughs. “Yeah? Well, we’re definitely doing, how do y’all call it? Boxing Day. Sexy Boxing Day. No boxing, though, even though I know you fight dirty.”

“I’ll check my calendar,” she replies but squeals at the last word when Ted kisses her neck.

He can’t get enough of her. They have a game tomorrow and he knows he won’t sleep one lick. Knows Beard will look at the bag under his eyes and his smile and know. He doesn’t care. Is ready to tell the whole damn world about it. “Yeah, you do that and get back to me. Although I must warn you, we’re definitely doing Sexy New Year’s Eve. I have plans for you,” he tells her grabbing her by the hand and cornering her against the door for a kiss before leading her up the stairs again.

They might just do a whole Sexy Year.