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She's an adult, with a job and a lot of money and ownership of a newly relegated football team, so she texts him the same day he lands back home, without giving herself a moment to doubt it.

It's work-related, contract minutiae, the ins and outs of organizing a team in the off-season, and it could've waited a day or a week (or two), but she's also recently divorced – just not quite as recently as him – and so she gives him the out, trusting he'll recognize it for what it is, and take it if he needs it.

He texts back a couple of hours later, "On it, boss!," and she doesn't ask for updates, doesn't check in again, until a proposal to keep them under the salary cap lands in her email at 2 p.m. (her time) the next day.

She does the mental math – and asks Higgins just to confirm – and yes, it's 8 a.m. his time, the start of the work day, and a small part of her thinks to maybe admonish him for not even taking a full 24 hours to himself, but it would be disingenuous, and more than a little hypocritical.

She gave him work because she knew he might need it, knew it was the only thing she was able to focus on some days, even if her work was sabotaging his for most of the time she's known him.

That's over now, it's in the past, and by some miracle, it hasn't disrupted whatever fragile thing they'd begun building together, both as part of the larger team, but also just between themselves, panic attacks and dartboard hustles and things they only say with their faces, never their words – at least not hers.

So, she emails him back, countering for the sake of countering, Rupert's infuriating voice echoing in her brain about the art of negotiation. She doesn't want to negotiate with Ted – wants to give him everything to make up for how she nearly cost him the same, but there are rules to be followed, standards and practices, and this is how these things go.

&&.

The first time she calls him is a week later, the late afternoon sun casting her office in a warm glow.

The mobile ring in her ear breaks off into the sounds of children's laughter, all squealing and joyful noise. She apologizes immediately, without even really thinking of doing it, and how utterly stupid of her, of course he'd be with his son, of course he'd be soaking up every minute before he's needed back across the Atlantic.

"Oh, no apologies needed here, I'm just scouting the local talent," he says, punctuated by the clear sound of a woman giggling.

"Ted, I'm quite confident you didn't mean that the way it sounded," – the way Rupert would mean it, she thinks to herself – "Either way, I'll let you go for now."

"Now hang on just a second," he says, and suddenly the background noise dims, cutting off as she hears a car door slam. "It's a nice day here today, just watching some pick up games at the park, like I'd do back ho– back in Richmond."

"Oh," she says. "Well. I certainly don't want to take you away from your son, I'll just –"

"Boss. Rebecca. I – I don't have Henry today, he's, well, he's got a whole life here, and today that life includes Colin's birthday party down at the community pool."

She almost asks, almost pokes at the bruise she can see clear as day – the one where the people you love most find ways to go on without you. She wears a similar mark and knows all about it, but instead she gives him a way out again.

"And the right foot on Colin? No good?"

"Just absolute rubbish," he says, hitting the final word with an over-affected accent.

"Right," she says, and a part of her is ringing alarms, rushing her off the phone, trying to claw back whatever pieces of herself she's left on the table with him, for him, because now that he's not in her office, bringing her biscuits, she realizes how much she misses him, and that...well, it's how things started with Rupert.

How things started with everyone before Rupert.

But then Ted starts talking about "Sharks and Minnows," about all the other warm up drills he's just learned from literal children, and he sounds so guileless, so utterly sincere and enthusiastic and kind that the mental alarms quiet, fading out until all she can hear is the foreign twang to his voice.

"I miss the biscuits," she says suddenly, clapping a hand over her mouth as if to contain any further minor displays of vulnerability.

"Now that just won't do," he says, without missing a beat. "Maybe if we both wish really hard, some will appear."

"Ted, I hesitate to say this because I'm not sure encouraging your own special brand of Ted-ness is the best thing for either of us right now, but things have been markedly less...magical over the last 48 hours."

"Mm-hmm," he says, and it sounds farther away somehow, and he doesn't say more, so she just keeps speaking.

"I don't mean real magic of course, but there's something very Disney about you – tell me, do birds help you dress in the morning?"

"Are you saying I'm some sort of princess? Because I gotta tell you, I've always thought I had the calves for a high heel," and the last words are louder, closer, deeper, as if the phone was away from his mouth and now he's brought it back.

Before she can parse whatever that change in tone and nearness did to her stomach, Higgins – Leslie – is bumbling into the room, both hands outstretched before him like he's making an offering, and he is, white box sitting on his open palms.

Higgins comes closer, until she can pluck the familiar box from his hands, and then he's shuffling back out of the room, some sort of awkward head bow his only goodbye, and she can picture it now, how he'd look as one of the dwarves in Snow White.

"Magic, Ted?" she says, arching an eyebrow even though she knows he can't see it.

And then suddenly – he can.

Her phone vibrates with the switch to FaceTime and she accepts it, his face filling the screen and his smile wide under that damned mustache she's somehow grown fond of.

"Yes," he says. "Magic – and the cross-continent continuation of Biscuits with the Boss. That's a bit of a mouthful, huh? Cross. Continent. Continuation. Double alliteration even, got the Cs and the Bs. Of course, you'd know all about word play, good ol' Bill Shakespeare practically invented it –"

"Ted," she interrupts. "Is this what you want to talk about?"

He looks thoughtful for a moment. "I – I don't know, actually. My friends, well, they're all good folks, and I wouldn't make them choose, and she's the one that's gotta stay here and –"

"I understand," she says, cutting him off gently, because she does.

"Well, go ahead then," he says. "Have your biscuits, boss, and I'll walk you through what I'm thinking for the mid-field."

She tries to pay attention, really she does, she's going to do it right this next season, be a proper owner, with the support he needs, and not an actively combative approach at every turn.

When they hang up, it's because a football has smacked into his windshield, the harsh thud of it interrupting her admittedly mediocre accounting of the teams they'll be competing against. She's confident wherever Beard is right now, he's doing this work for them, but she wants to show she's trying.

"I gotta go settle this on the pitch now, boss," he says, and she wonders at that, thinks about how Rupert would've responded to a ball striking one of his cars. It certainly wouldn't have been with a game and probably would've involved his lawyers. "Can't promise magic every day, but you send me a text or let Higgins know, and we'll see what we can do."

"Be well, Ted," she says, hanging up, and though her office still has that hazy magic hour light to it, it seems dimmer now, somehow.

&&.

The watch arrives from a local courier, in an Apple bag, not in a box with international postage, so she has no reason to suspect it's from Ted.

But, it is. Of course it is.

He calls – FaceTimes, actually – only moments after she's unwrapped it, having given up looking for a note.

"You ready to be walking buddies?" he says, holding up his own wrist and matching watch for the camera to see.

There'd been no discussion of the fact that they almost never only spoke on the phone anymore – if it wasn't a text or an email, it was a video call, always, the little noise from Zoom chiming on her computer or her phone lighting up with his face – a screen capture she'd taken from an earlier call.

It's nice, it feels like friends, and with every call she grows more certain that he really isn't holding anything against her, that she's somehow found the one man uninterested in lording her faults and failures over her.

"While I appreciate the sentiment, Ted, I do have a watch already. I – I have...several," she trails off, embarrassed for a moment at the trappings of her life, that they make her so unable or unwilling to accept gestures such as these.

(A small part of her defends itself – perhaps it isn't money that makes her so guarded, perhaps it's that, in her experience, gifts don't come without strings – even if Ted's do, even if Ted's gifts never have anything to do with the cost and everything to do with, well – Ted.)

"Ah, yeah, I hear you of course, but those fancy watches don't do this," and he holds his wrist up again, tapping at the watch until three colored circles draw themselves to varying degrees of completion on its face. "Now Higgins – or truthfully I think it was one of the Higgins kiddos – went down to the store and was supposed to set this up for you, so if I do... this," he presses something else, "It should do that."

Her watch pings and suddenly she and Ted are sharing their rings.

"Now here's how we can do this, if you're up for it," he says. "This little things tracks all sorts of stuff, but we can check in on each other, root each other on. I find I have a clearer head when I get those endorphins going – or is that adrenaline? Whatever it is, it's the good stuff, and we're gonna get it together."

Two hours later, her watch tells her it's time to stand up, and, surprising herself, she does.

&&.

Despite her recent efforts to lose many, many football games, Rebecca Welton is fiercely competitive.

When it becomes clear that Ted is completing his rings every day, often before her, even with her having a six hour head start on the day, she doesn't take it lightly.

She'd enlisted Keeley's help in finding a more suitable watch band for the thing, the one it had come with being made of some awkward, hideous velcro type material, and they'd found some nice ones, glittery ones and subdued ones, versatile ones and sporty ones, and she cycles through them all, keeping her watch – keeping Ted – strapped to her arm as she climbs the stairs of the stadium, as she visits with Flo and plays with Nora.

It's been just over a month since the end of the season, since Ted left, and he's not supposed to return for another four weeks, so she tells herself what she's doing is actually strategic.

It's good business.

She's building a solid, collaborative relationship with her head coach, something she should've done when she'd first hired him.

They still talk – FaceTime – all the time, she's been on with him as Henry lost a tooth, listened to him opine about the different styles of barbecue, can tell which room of his house he's in within moments of the call connecting, but those interactions are a two-way street. They're both aware of being on the phone.

The rings though – the rings are more passive, more voyeuristic.

She can look – and she does – when it's late at night for her and he hasn't moved yet, can reach out and check on him, rarely directly, but he seems to know, and he returns the favor.

This is how she finds out that Michelle has started dating and this is how he finds out, a continent away, that Rupert is expecting twins with "New Rebecca."

If Ted is good at anything, and, frankly, she knows he's good at a lot, despite what she'd thought, despite what many people here still think, but if she'd had to pick one interpersonal skill to highlight, it's his ability to pick up on cues – to let the other person set the tone and the pace, and he does that with her.

It is, in fact, that exact thing that he does when they find themselves talking about Liverpool one night – well, evening for him and truly night for her.

It started as a recounting of the match, of continuing to utilize Nate, filling in the gaps in their set pieces, and refitting Roy's role on the team – something they both agree is crucial to their success.

She mentions that Keeley had said Roy's been reading more, business books, coaching books, leadership books, always jammed under the pillow when Keeley comes to bed.

She tells Ted, almost without thought, how good Keeley and Roy are for each other, that perhaps there was a more formal role for Keeley at Richmond, too, if she wanted it, perhaps she could do this for others, too – though obviously not exactly what she's doing for Roy.

And then Ted had laughed and said something about kindred spirits and balance, about things being complete on their own but making something bigger together.

She'd assumed he was talking about the team, it was edging close to the hallmarks of a Coach Lasso Motivational Speech, so when he'd said, "Like you and me," it stopped her short, tea sloshing in its cup as she set it down.

"I was under the impression Coach Beard was the yin to your yang, Coach Lasso."

And there it is, she sees the moment he registers whatever her face has decided to give away, something it's started to do more often recently and something she's instantly aware of. In response, her expression freezes, despite it being more than a year since those little shots of Botox that Rupert always insisted she get "for her migraines."

She watches him consider backing off, tilting his head ever so slightly, as he looks her in the eye from across an ocean. Then his expression...hardens, almost. Something more resolute, at least.

"Boss, uh, well, actually...Rebecca?" and here he scratches the back of his head, his watch face lighting up with the movement so she can briefly see Henry's gap-toothed smile beaming out from it.

"Yes?" She does not – does most assuredly not – react to him calling her Rebecca.

"Beard has a Casio watch from 1988."

"I see."

"He, uh, well, he doesn't need a fancy watch. His watch already does what he needs it to do, you understand?"

"I do," she says.

"But you and I...our – our watches weren't keeping time, you know? We were looking down and it was saying it was an hour ahead, an hour behind, hell, I was sometimes thinking it was a completely different day. Different month. Do you – is this making sense?"

"It is," she says, and this time she wants to say more, words arranging and rearranging on her tongue, but before she can order them properly, he speaks again.

"And other, uh, watches, they're right in other time zones, see? Like, uh, like Liverpool time. It's okay, I think, to be on Liverpool time for a little bit, but I – I – oh, hell, that was going somewhere about jet lag, but it all fell apart on me."

"Ted. I understand and I – I know what time it is now. Thank you."

He smiles at her, a warm and fond smile, and, god, he passes those out like the bloody biscuits, like he can always make more, but she's starting to feel like maybe she deserves them now – both the smiles and the biscuits. Like she's helping him tell the time, too.

"Anyway, the more yin-yangs the better, I always say."

"You always say that?"

He shrugs, settling deeper into the sofa he's sitting on. "When the opportunity presents itself."

She thinks about stretching this out a bit more, this banter and where it might lead, thinks about what Flo had told her – "good, but his heart wasn't in it" – and instead, she just...lets it go.

It's been more than a year for her, a year and an evening with a waiter on Liverpool time, but for him – well, to belabor an already tenuous metaphor, he is, indeed, still jet lagged.

But she can help, she thinks. She wants to help.

&&.

It shouldn't surprise her when he returns two weeks early, but somehow it does.

His rings don't move for hours, well into the evening, and she'd sent a text and then tried a FaceTime, and when he hadn't responded to either, she told herself there was no reason to panic, that Beard speaks to him, Nate, too, and even Roy or Keeley – if he were in trouble, someone would know.

Which is why when he walks into her office later than she should even still be there, the sun barely clinging golden and hazy to the skyline, it's more of a surprise than a relief.

There's two quick, soft knocks, and then her door – still ajar from Nate running back and forth with new kit designs hours ago now (not exactly his job anymore, but a project he was keen to take on) – swings open wide.

He gives her a big goofy grin, charming and sweet and genuine, and then holds up a finger before ducking back out to the hall.

When he reappears, it's with his arms full of brightly colored packaging, a heaping pile of plastic she can barely decipher before he's depositing it all on her desk in a toppling mountain.

"These, boss, are cookies."

She takes in the mess on her desk and begins to read – Oreo and Chips Ahoy and Keebler and Trader Joe's – some she recognizes and some she doesn't, all scattered across her desk, shiny and sprawling.

"Now I don't want you thinking this is a permanent replacement, those regulars biscuits will be coming back any day now, but it's good to expand our horizons," he says, and pointedly moves to fix himself a cup of tea.

She watches him in silence for a moment, curious exactly how this will go, but he only gets as far as selecting a tea bag, giving it a sniff, before he's shaking his head. "You know what? I think my horizons just don't want to go in this direction."

He hands her the crumpled tea bag and she stares at it in her hand for a moment before depositing it in the bin, brushing her hands off.

"Well, that's all right," she says. "You may find that more to your liking." She gestures to the corner, where a small fridge filled exclusively with bottled – non-sparkling – water now sits, an order she put in just hours after wiping her face dry the last time he'd been in her office.

He grabs a bottle and cracks the seal on it, sitting himself in the chair in front of her desk – there's only one open, the other full of sample kits.

"What's this?" he says, picking one up.

"New league, new look," she says.

"Hey, now, that's the spirit." He begins picking through them, finally landing on the one she herself favors and draping it across his chest. "Whoo, these are sharp, aren't they?"

"That's the one I like, too," she says. "The away version is here."

She makes her way around the desk, plucking it from the pile and draping this one across her own chest, sticking it out slightly. It's ostensibly to hold it in place, and truly she meant it to do only that, but the way his eyes skitter to and away from her chest makes her think of other implications, and Flo's voice whispers in the back of her mind again.

"Good, but his heart wasn't in it. " This time she lets herself complete the thought with the rest of what Flo had said. "I think it would have been great if it were."

He whistles softly, and now that she's realized exactly how aggressively she's thrust her chest in his face, even though she knows the whistle is innocent, directed at the kit and not her breasts, it makes her cheeks feel hot.

Anyway, if she's going to think about his heart and what it is and is not in, she really ought to ask what he's doing here and away from Henry so soon.

"Back a little early, aren't you?" she asks.

"Ah, well, yeah, I'd say so, and since you know my watch keeps correct time, I'll just tell you – Henry's going to spend Christmas break here. This is the trade off."

His smile now is soft and fond and a little melancholy, so she tries to encourage him.

"Oh, that's just lovely, Ted. London at Christmas is something special. Higgins knows all the best places to go or I could ask Flo or –"

"No," he says firmly and then adjusts his tone. "I mean, nope, nah, I mean, well, I've already said that, but, uh, we'll just go ahead and stick with Higgins' recommendations, shall we? Is it still Higgins? Happy to call him Leslie if he'd prefer, nothing wrong with that –"

"Nate had him a kit made up about a month ago, 'Higgins' right across the back, he wore it a week straight and told us it was okay to call him that again."

"Well, then, Higgins it is," he says. "So, boss, whatcha got for me today?"

"Uh," she says, a little taken aback. The sun is nearly set, the watch on her wrist lighting up to helpfully tell her it's a quarter past 9. "It's – well, uh, today is over." Oh, just the pinnacle of eloquence, truly well done, Rebecca, she mentally rolls her eyes at herself.

He doesn't seem to notice her clunky response though, and looks down at his own watch. "Oh, you're right about that, still six hours behind you up here," he says, tapping at his temple. "Lucky you were even here, eh?"

"I – I spend a lot more time here now. And Ted, I feel like I have to say – I'm truly committed this season. I'm putting in the work and I just want to apologize again for –"

"It's in the past, boss. Rebecca."

And there's something to that, she thinks, using both names, almost like he's reassuring her as a colleague, but also as a...friend.

If that's still what this is.

"All right, well, I do mean it, and I'm prepared to show you," she says.

"You're speaking to me like we haven't been talking for weeks, when you and I both know that's not true. In fact, I know that you still need to close that movement ring for the day – what say we go take a walk around the pitch, see what kind of shape she's in. Is that a thing? She? Is it like boats?"

"I haven't the faintest idea, Ted."

"Well, but you're open to learning now, aren't you? That's gonna make all the difference."

She changes into her trainers, a pair she'd bought and started keeping under her desk for exactly this purpose and they head out to the pitch, being careful to stay off the field proper, Nate could be anywhere at any time.

They take a lap in silence and it's only then she realizes he's staring at...the ground? No – it's her shoes.

"Where, uh, where did you get those at?" He's squinting at them, trying to get a better look in the low light.

"Oh, you know, I don't actually know," she says, and it's an outright lie. She'd gone to Selfridges, found the coolest-looking woman she could, and asked for help picking them out, purely because she knew Ted had an extensive collection himself.

"I gotta say, boss, that's some heat on those feet, gotta hook me up with your plug."

"I...am not sure what you just said," she laughs.

"You know, I'm not exactly sure either, I just know that's what the boys used to say to me when I got a new pair. There's this whole culture around it, it's art – some of them worth more than those other watches you own."

"Is that so?"

He nods.

"Well, I like this watch, it tells me I did a good job," and as she says that, her final ring completes, buzzing pleasantly.

They walk another few laps, Ted telling her about Henry and the flight over and all the other American goodies he brought back for her.

She hears him and she listens, really she does, but his arm keeps brushing hers as they walk, and she is gripped, over and over, with the urge to hold his hand.

It's such a weird, foreign impulse, she can't remember the last time she'd been bothered over hand-holding of all things.

When her watch tells her that her heart rate is elevated, she knows exactly what's happening, even if she won't admit it. She gets in all her steps every day, it's not the exercise doing this – and whatever this is, she thought she had two more weeks to prepare for it.

They call it a night when he closes his own rings and Ted walks her to her car.

She's been driving herself around more lately and so there's no one out here but them.

"I'll see you in the morning then?" he says.

"Technically you have two more weeks to yourself, you've been fulfilling off-season duties remotely already, no need to make the trip –"

"I'll see you in the morning," he confirms, nodding his head and stepping away.

"Rebecca?" he calls after only a few steps.

"Yes?" and it's her own silly fault for not realizing what he'd called her, for not realizing something was about to shift.

"Is it okay – I'd like to give you a hug? It's not anything weird now, I promise, and I just –"

As she'd done in his office in the locker room, what seems like decades ago now, when she'd told him the shameful truth about her actions, she makes the move for him, pulling him into a hug before he can do it himself.

In her trainers and not her heels, she's ever so slightly shorter than him, but not by much and it's...something how well they fit together like this.

His arms fold around her and he smells like the outside and the faintest bit of cologne, nearly gone after a day of travel.

He's warm and solid and she lets herself sink into the hug, feeling something like release or relief at the simple act of being held like this, holding someone in return. It's a little sappy, for her especially, but maybe he's rubbing off on her, maybe this is part of it.

Before, she might have chalked it up to physical closeness at all, but she knows now that's not true. She knows, has proven it to herself, that she can be close to be a man if she wants.

But it's – it's this man she wants to be close to, with his rambling drawl and cool "sneakers" and, again, inexplicably, a mustache.

When they part, it's in tandem, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders for a parting squeeze, and then he's slipping away and she's driving home.

&&.

The next several days feel more like normal, he comes by in the morning with biscuits, they go over their respective plans for the day and then they carry out those plans.

She can almost forget sometimes that this warmth she feels when she's near him is novel, that it means something, because it also feels so natural – she's not been this open with a man in, well, maybe ever.

It's different with women, with Flo and Keeley and her friends from university, the women in her life have, over and over again, built her up and supported her – it's the men she had shit luck at picking.

And somehow, when she'd meant to be picking the wrong one – the one that nailed the coffin of Richmond firmly shut – she'd found...if not the right one, then at least a good one.

It's because of that goodness that she lets him lead her down to the pitch on Friday night.

They're having the grass redone over the weekend, lines redrawn and all the other trappings that go along with the players returning soon, and so even Nate can't complain that they're mucking anything up (she hopes).

As soon she sets foot on the grass, he's passing her the ball, and she keeps her eyes locked on him as she traps it, passing it with two touches neatly back to him.

"I did grow up in England, Ted," she says, gesturing expansively at their surroundings by way of explanation.

"Right, right – ooh, when you'd get tall like that? Bet you were a force to be reckoned with out here."

He passes her the ball again, moving further back, until they're near the mid-field.

"At about 15, it was a misery. Could barely control these," she noodles her arms out, "Let alone these," and she does the same to her legs, kicking them out, ungainly and lanky, before passing him the ball back once more.

"Well, let's see what you got, Welton," he says and takes off abruptly, speeding down the pitch toward the goal.

She lets him have that one, moving to the sidelines to drop her blazer down, before jogging to meet him.

They're more evenly matched than either of them likely would've guessed and she has to give some of that credit to Ted – keeping those bloody rings completed each day often meant walking the stairs or visiting the gym and she's in slightly better shape for it.

Their similar heights mean that he can keep pace with her just as well as she can with him and they find themselves in close contention for the ball more than once.

She can tell he's more competitive about this than he usually lets himself be, cutting in close when she has the ball and shielding it with his whole body when he does.

It's one of those closely contested possessions that brings them both tumbling to the ground, a poorly executed slide tackle on his part, and a singular focus on hers, and suddenly their feet and legs are tangling, their backs hitting the ground in tandem.

"That was a cheap move, Lasso."

He props himself up on his forearms behind him and shrugs. "All's fair in love and football."

"I think calling that inelegantly executed slide tackle 'football' is being a wee bit too generous."

She shifts up from lying on the ground, moving to sit cross-legged closer to him, so her knee is nearly brushing his hip.

"Well, now, see" he says. "Now you're speaking my language because where I come from, 'football' is all about moves like that, you use your whole body and you use your hands."

"Again, how no one in your homeland realized that there was already a sport called football, where it is, in fact, your feet that touch the ball is a mystery to the rest of the world."

She nudges him lightly with the knee nearest him and then just...doesn't move it. Her knee remains pressed to his side and he glances down at it before looking up at her.

"Is that so? Tell me, what other things about my 'homeland' baffle the rest of the world? Because I gotta tell you, we've at least got it right about tea – cold and sweet is the way to go."

"Well, for one, you're quite loud. And so friendly. And all this saying what you're thinking, sharing your feelings? Doing exactly what you're wanting to do? Honestly, who does that?"

He sits up fully at the waist then, legs still stretched out in front of him, knees bent slightly, and she doesn't miss the way he keeps contact with her, makes sure they're still touching.

It's...new. But somehow, also, it's not. It feels natural and safe, and she'd say it's just because he's an affectionate guy, he's an American, as they're just discussing, but she knows it's more than that.

"So you think we all just run around, saying what we're thinking, doing what we want? Tell me, Rebecca, what is it you think I'm thinking here? Go on now, take your guess."

His voice is lower and for what familiarity there was before, this is a new Ted – she could guess what this Ted is thinking, with a tone of voice like that, if she thought he was a normal man at all.

But he's not, and truthfully very few of the men in her life were normal in any sense of the word, at least not since her school days. Maybe that's why it feels so easy with Ted – he reminds her of simpler times.

With all the money Rupert has, his friends, even Flo's husband, it was never just about two people, always more than that, manipulation and revenge and selfishness.

And even now, with her independence and her very own football team, young men in their prime physically, whose futures she holds in the palm of her hand –

There's a deliberate choice she makes, and it's present tense, a choice she makes every single day, to not be Rupert or his friends. Surrounded by these young, fit men, good-looking and muscled, with stamina for days, who know she could change their lives in a matter of seconds – and she hasn't slept with a single one of them. Doesn't even think about it (much – she does have eyes and her mind does wander).

But Ted – Ted doesn't need her or, at least, not the same way. He needs, perhaps, just Rebecca, not Rebecca the Owner or Rebecca the Wealthy or Rebecca the Trophy Wife – Ted needs Rebecca the Person.

And it's that Rebecca who chooses not to answer him verbally, too anxious to disrupt what they've built over the last year, what they're building tonight.

Instead, she moves slowly, deliberately, and she follows that impulse from just a few days ago, brings her hand to his, and folds them together.

She quirks an eyebrow in response, indicating this is her return volley, it's his move, his turn once more.

He squeezes her hand. "Well," he says, drawing the word out. "I'd say that's a correct answer."

It's part of the infuriating charm of Ted Lasso that this isn't necessarily what it feels like, what it would be with those normal men – and she's paralyzed by the thought that she's misreading all of this, that he would do this same thing with Keeley or Nate or even Higgins.

So, she puts it back on him, a shortcut, perhaps, maybe a bit of a cheat, but she's gotten good at protecting herself over time, even more in the last few years, and she's unwilling to drop defenses that have served her so well.

"And what about me then?" she says. "Are the English so unlike you that you can't tell what I'm thinking? Should I shout it from the rooftops to the entire locker room?"

"I wish you would," he says, but it's muttered, quiet and under his breath, and she knows he hadn't meant it as his response.

"I think," he says, this time slightly louder and clearly meant for her to hear. "That you're thinking...well, gosh, Rebecca, there's really two ways this could go – are we...do you…?"

She squeezes his hand again, running her thumb across the length of his. It's dancing on the line between gray and starkly black and white, just a bit more and there'd be no other way to interpret what they're doing – but she stops just short.

He catches her eye with his, shifts so his body is angled toward hers, and she's aware of everything – the feeling of the grass through the thin material of her trousers, the faint smell of earth and his cologne on the soft breeze lazily rolling through the stadium. Her pulse is racing, her hand warm in his, and the focused, dizzy heat of anticipation spreads hot and thick in her veins.

She moves their clasped hands from his lap to hers, higher on her thigh than might be considered strictly proper.

Before she can even process that the next move is his to make, she feels a soft vibration, gentle and faint, and when she looks down, it's to see his watching glowing, an alert that his heart rate is elevated.

It sends such a charge through her, the implication almost immediately apparent, that her own watch goes off with the same alert only a moment later.

"Think we closed our rings for the day," he says, voice still low and warm.

"Too right," she says, and she feels her body move toward his, leaning in, waiting, waiting, waiting.

He shifts to sit cross-legged, mirroring her pose, but at a slight angle, so the space between their bodies intersects, no longer a clean, straight line to mark their boundaries.

They sit like that for a moment, hearts racing, and she still can't be the one to do it, can't quite bring herself to close this ring, the one between them, and so she pleads with him, mentally, to do something.

When he finally moves, it feels like it's been an eternity, the final seconds of a close match drawn out, Man City and Richmond and Jamie Tartt making the extra pass.

His free hand, the one not still clasped warm and dry in her own, raises slowly but smoothly, and it strikes her that she's witnessing something brand new to her, living it – Ted Lasso has moves.

He places his hand gently on her cheek, fingertips edging softly into her hair and his eyes focused on hers. He's looking at her like he's searching for acceptance or rejection or something, and he must feel as wrong-footed as she does, because he goes no further and instead draws a deep breath.

"Is this – oh, I'm just gonna say it, I'd like to kiss you, but not if you –"

"Go ahead," she says, and it's nearly a whisper, so afraid he'll change his mind, decide he doesn't want her, realize that –

His lips press to hers, interrupting her doubts, and something else entirely takes over. This she knows how to do, this she is good at.

She meets the light pressure against her mouth in kind, working to fit her lips against his and shifting her body to get closer, her hand moving from his to slip around the back of his neck. Her fingertips slip through the short hair there, her nails brushing lightly against his scalp, in a move that has his whole body gravitating toward hers, pulling her closer with both hands as his hands frame her face.

She wants more than this, and when he opens his mouth to slip his tongue into hers, something hot and fizzing sings in her veins, the same thick, wet heat that echoes as his tongue slicks against hers and that bloody mustache bristles against her.

He tries again to get closer, crowding into what little space she has left and she uses the momentum to press him to her, to take him with her as she unfurls her legs and lays back on the grass.

His body follows hers, his torso slanted across her chest with one hand braced on the grass as he combs his fingers into her hair with the other and kisses her deeply.

A faint voice in the back of her mind pipes up to say that his heart most certainly feels in it, but she almost doesn't even register it, her hands gripping his back, his biceps, before one slides to knot in his hair, keeping him close.

He kisses her for a long time and she lets him, following his cues and letting him follow hers, gentling the kiss and heightening it, a slip of his tongue against hers, a small nip at his bottom lip. It's wet and messy and hot and it's been so long for her with something like this that she's practically vibrating with it as the moments stretch out before them.

She can feel his hand on her hip, twisting in her blouse, and she has a mental image of the ruined silk she'll hand to her dry cleaner, grass stains up the back and deep wrinkles up the sides. Her shirt is untucked, came untucked when they were playing yet, but he uses it to his advantage, hand slipping underneath to rest in the same place as before, but better this time, skin to skin.

His thumb skirts a line across the bottom of her rib cage, slowly moving up each one until it's circling the skin just below her bra, slipping ever so slightly under the band and soothing the slight indents left in her skin by the garment.

She makes a noise against his mouth, in his mouth, from deep in her throat, a whiny sort of pleading thing, and he responds with a sound she feels between her legs, amplified when he fits his hand over her breast, feeling her up like they're still teenagers as she arches into his palm.

He pulls his mouth from hers, moving to kiss her neck, deep, wet kisses, and nips and licks, the feeling of them making her squirm toward him and then away, it's too much, it's not enough, over and over and over.

She can feel him hard against her, pressed against her lower abdomen and she presses up against him, deliberate and dirty, as her hand tangles in his hair and tugs with the feeling of all of it.

He groans then, or moans, a needy, desperate sound, and his mouth stills on her neck.

"Fuck," he says on an exhale, and ohhh, that's something, the contrast between that word and her sense of him zipping right through her.

She's working her hand down, trying to get to his cock, trying to move him between her legs, trying something, anything, when a wet mechanical sputter breaks through, followed rapidly by a series of clicks and then suddenly – the sprinklers are on.

He jumps up quickly, pulling her up behind him, and they run to the tunnel, stopping only when they've cleared the field.

She looks behind her to see the arcs of water dousing the grass and when she turns back toward him, he's right in front of her, gaze darting from her eyes to her mouth and then he's crowding her up against the cinder block of the tunnel, pressing against her as he kisses her, deep and slow, one more time.

When he pulls back this time, he drops one final quick kiss to her mouth and then presses a gentler one to her forehead.

It's this kiss, this gesture, more than anything, that nearly wrecks her, and she's at a loss what to do, how to respond, so she fits her hands along his head and tips her forehead to his, closing her eyes as she tries to show him, tries to make him understand.

This...this tenderness, she doesn't hate it.

"Uh," he says. "I'm a little out of practice at this part."

"Me, too," she says, voice light and nearly laughing, incredulous that she's done...whatever this was with her head coach, with Ted.

"Well, what say we figure it out together?" he says, and takes her hand, leading her further into the tunnel, toward the lift to her office.

"I think I'd like that," she tells him.

&&.

He walks her to her car again, after she gathers her stuff, and she thinks about offering him a ride home, knows he would understand what she's truly offering, but similarly certain that it wouldn't be the best thing for either of them right now.

Instead, she drives home alone, watches the car clock tick to midnight as she arrives, and looks to her watch to see a brand new set of empty rings appear, ready to be completed.

(She wakes at 3 a.m., the soft satisfaction of knowing she can sleep just a bit more keeping her warm and comfortable as she reaches for her watch where it's charging on her nightstand.

She's not sure why she does it, but she swipes to check his rings, a small reminder that he's out there somewhere, maybe.

There's a decent sized chunk of his exercise ring already filled in and she's puzzled for a moment. It's a new day – he wouldn't have – what exercise could he have done so late at night –

Oh.

Oh.

Well, never let it be said she's not open to new ideas.

Her hand slips under the waistband of her pajamas only to retreat moments later. She straps her own watch to her wrist and restarts the journey.

Maybe he won't notice, but she has a feeling he will.

Somewhere a whistle blows and today's match begins.)