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"Meu amor. What is on your mind?"

His back was ruler straight and his hands cupped his bare knees. The durable, water-resistant material of his swimming trunks tickled his thighs and Tom Brady rolled his shoulders and neck. Somehow, he looked more alive after just a few days in the sun. New England winters and the stress of the AFC Championship and Super Bowl LII paled him, hallowed him out (despite how relaxed he had seemed), and just a few days after the devastating loss, Tom already showed more color and vibrancy. He'd gotten rid of the black, knit cap and matching, oversized gloves (thank goodness; Gisele always though the combination made him appear sickly) and traded them for a baseball hat to shield his eyes from the sun and a swimsuit for the beach.

"I'm thinking about the future."

"With what?" Gisele pressed. Every single time Tom uttered the word future, she felt a skip in her heart. All she wanted was for her beloved husband to retire. The game was dangerous and though he was a pliable, healthy, hydrated forty year old, he was not getting any younger. She wanted him to be around more, helping out more, taking care of his kids. He was a great father, but so often was he on the road with this game or that that his kids didn't get to see him as much as she'd have liked them to.

"The Patriots," he admitted in that pointed voice of his. English hadn't been her first language, but after many years of living with Tom and hearing the difference in accents around America, she was able to pick up on Tom's distinct manner of speech. Sometimes, she wondered whether or not he was purposely over pronouncing his words after being surrounded by native Bostonians for so long. They certainly had a language of their own. "Josh is back, so that's great. Gisele, that's great, I couldn't be happier. It's just confusing to me. Not sure if Bill has purposely left me out of things, purposely kept me in the dark."

"Like what, Tom?" she urged, sounding vaguely annoyed.

"I don't know. Malcolm. I love him. Always," Tom muttered distantly, his eyes focused on the floor to ceiling sliding, glass door that overlooked a beautiful beach. They'd only been here for a couple days, but he felt antsy. Knowing he wouldn't be playing a real game again for months made his skin crawl. "The Josh McDaniels situation. Next years roster. The free agents. Pay cuts."

Is this what retirement would feel like? A permanent state of discomfort?

"I need to make a call, meu amor," Tom said suddenly as he got to his feet and grabbed his phone. "I'll meet you in the gym later."

He didn't even hear her protests as he exited their luxurious rented home on the beach front of the Bahamas. Tom slid open his phone and exhaled a long sigh as he scrolled his contacts.

Only one person would have a semblance of understanding for what he was going through.

"Oh holy hot dog on a tin roof, that's good!"

The masseuse, a slim, young dark-skinned woman with a neat-as-a-pin bun piled onto the top of her head, dug her elbows into flesh between his shoulder blades, working out knots and tension built up over many, many years of contact sport.

"Shhyah, baby! Work it on in there!"

He was her most vocal client, so she always made sure to book his appointments with plenty of time to spare before her next came in. The last thing she needed was rumors getting out that more than a massage was happening in here.

A loud buzz suddenly erupted against the chair in the corner of the room where Peyton Manning had folded up his clothes before their session began.

"Wanna get me that? 'Less you wanna see the goods," he laughed, craning his neck. Peyton never missed a phone call.

Middle of driving in insane traffic? "Hello, Peyton speaking."
Middle of a drive-thru order? "Hello, Peyton speaking."
Middle of watching a game in the stadium? "Hello, Peyton speaking."
Middle of a funeral? "Hello, Peyton speaking."

It was the fringe benefit of being a super star.

The masseuse exhaled a silent sigh and dug through his jean pockets where she found his buzzing LG phone. She couldn't help but notice the name on the screen- Tommykins Bradykins; The Next Me- before handing it to Peyton.

"Hello, Peyton speaking."

"Hey, Peyton. It's Tom."

"I know, man, I know! How's it going, kiddo?"

Tom secretly hated that Peyton called him kiddo. He was only one year older than Tom, but it might as well have been fifteen with the way Peyton ate and lived his life, especially now that he wasn't playing. Tom would never let that be an excuse. Peyton had only made it to 39 before retiring. Now, Peyton was in every fucking commercial on television and Tom wanted to know if that was his future.

"Can we talk?"

"I'm talkin'!" Peyton waved the masseuse away as he shifted to sit up, covering his middle with the white towel that had been laid across his backside. She hated that his bare ass was on her precious, expensive massage table, but there was nothing she could do about it. Quietly, the masseuse left the room.

"I'm sure you've heard about how, you know, everyone wants me to retire. Especially my wife," Tom began. His bare feet sank into the soft sand along the beach as he walked, the hot sun absorbing into his pale skin. He'd already applied plenty of organic, coconut-oil-based sunscreen to his skin, which left him looking even more white than usual despite the layer of tan he'd achieved over a couple days in the sun. "I was just wondering, from uh-- former NFL Quarter Back to current, what is retirement really like, you know? On the other side of the game?"

"Ho-boyee! Brady, kid, you have no idea!"

"No, I don't. That's why I'm calling to ask. I don't want to retire. I've got a few more seasons in me, at least. But I gotta start thinking about it more seriously."

Tom exhaled a long sigh.

He could almost hear Peyton smiling.

A bouquet of wilted, red roses sat on Stephen Gostkowski's dining room table. He hadn't talked to Ryan since the night of the Super Bowl. The plane ride had been somber and as soon as they'd gotten to New England, Stephen pushed ahead of everyone, grabbed his belongings from his Gillette Stadium locker, and shoved it all haphazardly into his bag. He'd taken off without another word.

Everyone in the world had seen him choke.

No matter how much he was told it wasn't his fault- that the missed field goal for three points had been a result of a faulty snap- and the missed extra point wouldn't have won them the game, anyway. But Stephen knew better. If he had kicked straighter. Harder. More consistently- like Ryan knew how- maybe the game would have ended differently.

The flowers faded from red to brown and appeared deflated and dejected as they wilted over. They looked like how he felt.

It was four days after the Super Bowl when Stephen had finally crawled out of bed for longer than it took to pour himself a bowl of Wheaties. Dark circles hugged his hallow eyes and his hair was greasy tangles.

He picked up his phone and opened his text messages to Ryan. This wasn't easy. Nothing ever was. Last year had almost been as difficult, but the silver lining was his team had done their job and given New England a win. This year, as hard as each of them had tried, they hadn't pulled it off.

The Eagles had pecked them.

Stephen sighed deeply and began typing a message into his phone to send to the best man he had ever known.

Stephen [11:33AM]- Hey. Can you come over?



Chapter Text


Stephen [11:33AM]- Hey. Can you come over?

Ryan Allen had been in the middle of eating a bite of cereal when the text buzzed and lit his phone screen with temporary brightness. "Woh!" As a result he'd fallen off his chair, dragging the bowl of cereal with him, its contents splattering all over him. That simple incoming text sent him into a full blown panicked frenzy. He hadn't heard from Stephen Gostkowski in four days. He hadn't really heard from anyone on the team but, that was to be expected. There was no easy way around the utterly horrific and oh so total devastation that Super Bowl LII had caused the New England Patriots. Ryan had never seen each of his teammates so... so.... so completely broken. Defeated. Hurt. 


He couldn't tell ya how many times he'd tried to call one of his greatest friends in the world, Julian Edelman, who just didn't answer or return any of his calls. Ryan had texted Cooks and Harrison; no reply. He'd tried Danny Amendola who seemed pretty desperate for friends but nothing. Didn't want to bother Gronk because he didn't feel close enough to the guy. Ryan had even considered calling Tom Brady and he would have if he had Tom Brady's phone number. (But he didn't... well, not yet anyway.) 

Gostkowski was the first person he'd heard from. His best friend. The best man he knew. 

He immediately jumped up and grabbed his phone, sliding it open, slamming his fingers all over the screen before pressing the phone to the side of his face. "YES, HELLO?"


Ryan blinked in confusion, pulling the phone away from his ear only to realize that it had only been a text and not a phone call. "Oh... okay, no problem." He reassured himself. With a few heavy breaths he set to work responding to the texts. (Well... there was only one text, actually.) No matter! 

It was kinda tough, ya know? Being 27 and single in the NFL with no friends. Well, that wasn't true. Ryan Allen had a bunch of friends. Gostkowski and Edelman were two of his best friends, and although he spent a lot more time with Gostkowski, he thought maybe he should try to change that and spend more time with Edelman. At least Edelman was also single.. like him... Sometimes it got to be painful being around Stephen, a man seven years his senior who had a wife and son. Ryan wasn't sure why it hurt as much as it did. But it just did. 

It hurt

That aside, Stephen had just invited him over!!!! Like hell would Ryan pass up on that. He didn't even bother changing his clothes. 

A good twenty minutes later he was standing outside of Gostkowski's house, feeling like an idiot. 

"I can't believe I offered a married man flowers." He muttered sorely to himself, willing his heartbeat to slow down. 

He headed up to the front door and gave it the old knockerooo. 

"❀❊Ugggghhhhh!!❀, go ahhhhead ❊~ come innnnnn~!!❀ s'totally unlockedd!!❀❊" Stephen's high pitched whine called out, muffled by the door. 

Ryan bit his lower lip and breathed in deeply. Stephen was the epitome of a real man. So inspirational, so masculine. A husband. A father. He stepped inside of the house, bracing himself to have to awkwardly greet Stephen's wife and son, Hallie and Slaydon. 

"Haaaeyyy..." Stephen's voice faltered, sounding as if someone had taken a chainsaw to his throat. Ryan's eyes bulged. 

"What happened to you?"

"...there's cereal all over your shirt, Ryan." Stephen replied.

"Yeah, sorry. I was eating a bowl of Wheaties when you texted me." Shit. Shouldn't've admitted that...

"Ohmagawhd..." Stephen inhaled a sharp breath, "That's what ❀I'mmmmm❀ eating!!!!!"

"Woah, what, seriously?" Ryan sounded breathless, blinking shocked eyes at Stephen.

"Yeah, ohmygohd, come heree." Stephen reached an arm out and Ryan felt like a moth drawn to a flame. He hurried over and ducked down, allowing Gostkowski's arm around his shoulders. Ryan took Stephen into both his arms and squeezed him gently.

"I missed you." He sighed dreamily, inhaling Stephen's familiar floral scent. It didn't even look like Stephen had showered in days and yet still, the guy smelled like that pink sweet pea lotion from bath and body works. 

"I missed you too..." Stephen squeaked, and Ryan felt a small dampness on his shoulder through his shirt.

"Are you crying?" Ryan asked gently.

"Mm'hmm," he felt Stephen nod. 

"Where's your family?"

"They went to the mall." 

"But you love the mall? Why didn't you join them?" Ryan asked tentatively. 

He felt Stephen shrug. "I'unno."

"Oh Stephen." Ryan pressed his lips together into a tight line and breathed out through his nose, not at all releasing his hold on Stephen. 

The two men hugged for a moment longer before Stephen got up off the chair and finally wrapped both his arms around Ryan's body.

Ryan swallowed hard and rested his chin on Stephen's shoulder, feeling Stephen do the same to him. 

"I see you kept my flowers..." Ryan commented, eyes landing on the wilted roses on the center of Stephen's table.

"I did," Stephen whispered. 

"I... I um... sorry..." Ryan kicked himself for apologizing because, literally, there was no reason to.

But then Stephen said, "Me too," and Ryan wasn't sure what the hell that was supposed to mean until Stephen pulled away and pressed his lips against Ryan's. 

The world went black, bright red and kind of white as Ryan shut his eyes tightly, letting the kiss happen. Stephen didn't let up and Ryan found himself responding eagerly, parting his lips to deepen their kiss. He moved his hands to grip Gostkowski's hips and felt Gostkowski's hands on his shoulders and neck. 

Fourteen missed calls from Ryan Allen; yeah, Julian knew he probably shouldn't have given Ryan his phone number. But Ryan didn't seem to have too many close friends on the team other than Stephen Gostkowski and Julian had felt bad for the guy. He sorta related, actually. It was pretty obvious that Ryan was crushing on Gostkowski but last time everyone in the world checked, Gostkowski was married with a kid. Edelman hated to say it, but he could relate to the kind of heartache that kind of attachment ensued. 

He checked his texts one more time before tossing his phone aside. Life was boring lately. 

Almost violently, he grabbed his plate of food and plopped down onto his favorite recliner. "Burger tyme," he mumbled to himself before taking a delicious mouthful of his hot, juicy, ginormous cheeseburger. As he chewed he turned on the TV. 

Right now Nick Fucking Foles was all over ESPN and the NFL Network so Julian decided he'd avoid those channels. Click, click, click... hmmm the Hallmark channel. Julian chewed and (Holy Brady, this burger was so good -- just the right contrast between cheese and pickle) swallowed, taking in the dramatic scene unfolding before him on the television. Yeah, this was all right. He totally wasn't thinking about how his team had fucked up their chance at the Super Bowl now that Patrick Swayze was on his TV screen. Tom Brady wasn't on Julian's mind, and neither was how badly Tom Brady had needed him out there on the field. Julian wasn't even thinking about how he bet he could've said the right things to motivate Tom when he needed it. Yeah, no, definitely not thinking about all the plays he could’ve made to change how that fucking game ended. Just thinking about this hella fly movie starring Patrick Swayze and the one and only, Whoopi Goldberg. There really was no one else like Whoopi Goldberg. She was one of a kind, and Julian could appreciate that.


Julian jolted a bit, turning to spot Danny Amendola somehow inside of his house. He must've used his spare key. "Uh.. hey, aren't you suppose to be with Olivia?" 

Danny was unzipping and shrugging out of his jacket, yanking his hat off. "Yeah, but." There was a moment of silence that Julian labeled as awkward before Danny continued. "She had this thing to go to and I didn't wanna like," he was shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders so Julian just nodded. 

"Yeah, I get that. Models, am I right?"

"Yeah," Danny said with a grateful smile, taking a seat on Julian's sofa. "What you watching?"

"Ghost." Julian said confidently, taking another bite of burger. He noticed Danny's eyes on his food and his heart sank a bit. He did not wanna share, but. "You want in on this?" 

Danny turned his attention to the TV, "I am a little hungry." 

Julian knew Danny too well. Damn boy had a girlfriend and was still showing up at his house all hungry and alone, while being in a happy relationship? Could've fooled Julian. He got up and headed into the kitchen to cut it in half. 

Matt Ryan punched himself in the face. 

"Honey, please!" His wife shrieked. 


"Honey, please... you're hurting yourself... and you've been in your crying room for four days now..." His wife was sobbing from the other side of the door. "Please just come out of your Designated Cry Room... someone is here..."

Matt Ryan ignored the pathetic whimpers and punched himself in the face again. Nick Foles's win had tasted a little sweet in one way; watching Tom Brady SUFFER was always sweet to Matt Ryan, but it didn't go without the pain of knowing that Nick Foles could do what he himself couldn't. 

"Let me talk to him." Speak of the devil --- it was Nick Foles's unmistakably dull, flattened voice that Matt suddenly heard outside of his Designated Cry Room.

Matt lowered his fist and turned his head to the side, lifting one eyebrow over a blackened eye. 

The door to his Designated Cry Room opened, and Matt Ryan's eyes met with the those of Nick Foles. Matt's lips parted. He was stunned, shocked into silence. The only way to open the door to his Designated Cry Room was to press your hand against a device that read your level of hatred towards Tom Brady... Matt was sure that no one else hated Tom Brady as much as him, but now... now.... Nick Foles had matched his level of hatred. It didn't make sense. 

"Why do you hate him?" Matt asked, voice laden with caution and curiosity both, "You beat him. Easily. You stopped him from making a comeback. You stopped Tom Brady."

"Look at you." Nick responded easily. "You've been beating yourself up for a whole year, haven't you?" Nick gestured around the Designated Cry Room. "And this, this is preposterous. Padded walls? Pictures of Tom Brady..." Nick paused then, swallowing very hard. Matt noticed a flicker of something painful dance across Nick's face before Nick continued, avoiding the pictures of Tom Brady. "... and these numbers, 28-3... you've scribbled these numbers everywhere." 

Matt gulped defensively, "You would know this feeling if you'd lost Super Bowl Lii... but you didn't, and therefore you could never know."

"I know a different feeling." Nick stated calmly, chin inclined, eyes darkened.

"..." Matt watched on in fear. 

"I did everything in my power to give Tom Brady exactly what he wanted, needed --- and still, the man rejected me."

"You of all people should know that Tom Brady wants and needs only one thing: to win." Matt said with certainty, confusion clear in his eyes.

"Tom Brady needs to retire." Nick countered without an ounce of doubt. "He wants it. I know he does."

"I'm... not sure why this matters so much to you but..." Matt Ryan suddenly felt very afraid of the Super Bowl MVP standing in front of him. "...but I just... I just want to recover and-"

"SILENCE." Nick demanded, his voice a dull but heavy thud. "As you know I am a free agent now."

Matt nodded. 

"There will be another Super Bowl next year."

Matt nodded again.

"You and I have to work together now. We both know how it works, we both know Tom as a winner and a loser. We know how to take him down."

"I want to take him down..." Matt whispered feverishly, unable to resist those words. 

"I want to take him down as well. He broke my heart." 

Matt Ryan decided not to question the hint of romance behind that statement. "You have yourself a partner." He extended his arm. 

Nick Foles matched Matt’s movement and the two men shook hands. However, Matt Ryan did not notice the evil gleam in Nick Foles's eye.

Chapter Text

"The meeting is henceforth called to order."

The shiny, wooden gavel crashed against the podium thrice, silencing soft chatter inside the basement warehouse that was the meeting space of the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady.

"We will begin this meeting in our normal fashion; with a video of one Mr. Brady that will leave us to case and point another reason to dislike this terrible, horrible, disgusting, no good, filthy, barf-worthy, cheating, scumbag, douche, sore-loser, effeminate, cocky, unreasonable, weird, gross, heinous, jealous, conceited, butt-muching, careless, unkind, unforgiving, disgraceful, lousy--"

"--Russell," Carson Wentz placed a hand on Russell Wilson's forearm, eyeing him carefully. This would go on all night and, truthfully, Carson Wentz was only here because Nick Foles asked him to come. He'd been under the impression it was another celebration for the Super Bowl win against the Patriots; but he could not have been more wrong. He'd been called to the front of the room, which he limped to favoring his bad leg, and was told he was expected to make a speech as the man who almost took on Tom Brady and who might have to face him in next year's playoffs or Super Bowl, if things went as well as they had this past football season.

"--conniving bastard." Nick Foles was grimacing in the front row, sour as ever. For a man who just beat Tom Brady and the overrated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, he sure was in a bad mood. Carson found it bizarre that Matt Ryan was sitting directly beside him. His bug-eyed look was always a little unnerving, like the man had seen things he might never come back from. "Lane, dim the lights."

Lane Johnson gladly flipped off the lights in the back of the room, casting an impenetrable darkness in the open space. Suddenly, there was a soft crash as Lorenzo Alexander's right foot kicked Kareem Hunt's chair leg, causing the flimsy piece of furniture to bust beneath his dense 201 pounds. Beside him, Ben Roethlisberger dropped a soggy, yet somehow stale, tuna sandwich and released a groan of despair.

"That was my meal!"

Kareem patted the old Quarter Back on the shoulder after he pulled himself to his feet. "Sorry, I'll get you something after."

"You will?" Ben asked, his tone so full of hope that every single person in the room could hear his emotions. "You really will? You're not lying?"

"Yeah, dawg, there's a Subway across the street."

"I know. I got this there," Ben whispered, his hand absently reaching for the soggy tuna that had slopped and squished into the cement floor. His chunky fingers slid the unpleasantly scented gunk into his parted lips. He didn't add that he'd taken it out of the trash after some construction worker had thrown half his sandwich away. HALF! People were so wasteful.

"Alright. Well..."

"THE MEETING HAS BEEN CALLED TO ORDER!" Matt Ryan had stood up to scream, his voice full rage and panic and, if you had listened close enough, deep sadness.

Not here, Matty. Not here.

"Okay, T.J.," Russell said calmly, squinting into the pitch dark room, having no idea what the hell was going on. "Play the video." With a sigh, T.J. Watt pressed the play button on his laptop and a projector reflected a video of one Tom Brady at Carnival in 2011.

It was a rare video. The Quarterback was seven years younger than he was now, his hair obnoxiously long as he danced in that terrible way he danced.

Everyone was dead silent as they watched a younger version of Tom Brady clapping as gleefully as a child in the middle of a bunch of petite locals. It was when Tom was interviewed by a media station that a chorus of 'boo!!!!'s erupted in the wide space. Russell hushed them.

"Just feel the hate. We don't need to vocalize it."

Everyone fell silent as the worst thing of all transpired on the grainy screen. An image of Tom Brady dancing. Slow and purposefully, his arms rising and then falling as he bobbed.

"HE'S SO WHITE!" Kareem Hunt screamed from the side of the room where he had taken to standing. Everyone laughed, their deep hatred making it impossibly easy to poke fun of one Tom Brady's terrible, dad-like dance moves.

The video game to an end and Lane Johnson turned the lights on once more.

"To Failure for Tom," Russell spoke.

"To Failure for Tom," everyone repeated in unison, a show of solidarity.

"Carson Wentz is here with us today. He has a speech for everyone."

Carson glanced up, squinting at the huge crowd. There were some recognizable faces there- some from his own team, others from different teams across the AFC and NFC. There were even coaches, too.

He felt ridiculously uncomfortable because, truthfully, Carson Wentz did not hate Tom Brady. What use was hating someone? It caused a distraction. He'd always respected the older Quarter Back, having been amazed by his abilities since he was a young kid.

This was not something he would not say, not here.

Russell stepped aside from the podium and Carson limped to the front, fingering the folded paper in his pocket that had been handed to him by Nick Foles before the start of the meeting. He had no idea what else to do, so he removed it, unfolded it, and flattened it out over the podium before him.

Carson took a deep breath and cleared his throat.

"Gentlemen," he spoke. "I stand here united with the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady." Carson read slowly. He'd never been the best reader and had utterly failed at public speaking in college. There was a murmur of appreciation throughout the room. Carson continued, "Tonight, in show of support, I unleash the plan to dethrone Tom Brady as proposed by the wonderfully talented, amazingly supportive, beautifully handsome, does-not-look-anything-like-Napolean-Dynamite Nick Foles and the just okay Matt Ryan."

Carson's heart thundered in his chest and he glanced up, his eyes meeting Nick's. His back up Quarter Back's lips were parted, breathing through his mouth like he always did. He squinted.

There was something too eager there.

Two and a half weeks ago, Lane Johnson had come to Carson, breathless and in a panic, murmuring something about Nick Foles having a crush on Tom Brady. At the time, he'd paid no attention. Lane had been a huge hater of Tom for years. He'd been determined to dethrone the legendary Quarter Back since he first signed with the Eagles. Whenever it came to his rambling about Tom, Carson usually tuned out. But now.

Everything was beginning to make sense.

Week 14.

The Philadelphia Eagles versus the Los Angeles Rams.

The third quarter of the game, a third down play. No one was open and Carson had made the decision to run it. As he zoomed forward, Carson noticed linebacker Mark Barron and defensive end Morgan Fox quickly closing in on him. He was sandwiched in no time at all and Carson went down. He knew, instantly, that something was wrong. His leg screamed with pain and he could hardly move, the agony unbearable throughout his body.

Three hours before the game had begun, Nick Foles had mysteriously gone missing. Everyone had tried calling the back up Quarter Back for it was mandatory for him to be at all games and they were warming up, giving one another pre-game pep-talks, and practicing last minute moves while studying technique.

One hour before the game, Nick zoomed into the stadium dressed in civilian clothes, without explanation as to where he had gone. Carson recalled the scent of sweat and musky locker room on Nick's body, but he'd written it off. They were always in and out of their own locker room, but Nick had not been in theirs all day.

"Carson?" Russell asked, nudging the injured Quarter Back with a flat palm.

"I can't do this. Fuck you all. Really. What the hell is this shit? A Tom Brady hate group?"

"We are the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady, Mr. Wentz," spoke Woody Johnson- owner of the Jets. Carson had heard about the prank someone had managed to pull against him (one simple Google search a few months back had claimed Tom Brady owned the Jets). Were these people really that petty?

"Nick. I know what you did," Carson said, his eyes only on Nick Foles. "I know exactly what you did."

Nick gasped.

"You hear anything from Brady?"

"A bit. But let me tell you, I'm concerned. It's been like four days since he's done anything public except for comment on Malcolm's Instagram post."

"Bet he's in the Bahamas," Julian said confidently. He knew his Quarter Back, knew that whenever Tom was upset he often just got away. It was a bad habit Julian had long since known about.

"Oh?" Josh McDaniels shrugged. "Well, hopefully he'll be back soon. I've been conversing a little since you know, the announcement. Now I kinda feel what Tom feels all the time. All the hate of the NFL directly pointed at me."

Julian laughed and shook his head. "Whatever. They hate us 'cause they ain't us, am I right?"

"Yeah, yeah," Josh replied, switching his phone to the other ear. "So, about Danny? You were asking about Danny?"

"Oh," Julian replied. He glanced through the windshield of his car towards his old high school. He'd flown to California for an award from his college alma mater, and while there, Jules stopped into his old high school to visit his teachers, give out some jerseys, and give the kids hope. "Right." He'd forgotten that he called on behalf of Danny the second he had opened his mouth to begin asking about Danny, before cutting himself off to ask about Tom. "He's a free agent."

"I know," Josh replied. "I know what you're going to say Jules and I can't really tell you anything. We both know that these things are complex and there really isn't any way to predict the future. We'll see how things play out. I'll talk to Kraft and Bill. Hopefully things fall in our favor and we get the best players for the team."

"Yeah," Jules sighed. He'd been expecting this response. Had anticipated it from the second he dialed Josh's number, but he had to ask. He'd promised Danny he'd ask. Danny had done so much for him, it was the least he could do. "Okay, Josh. Thanks. I look forward to seeing you soon."

"Me too. Welcome back, Jules."

Julian couldn't contain his smile.

"Thanks, Coach."


Delete. Delete. Delete.

The Eagles robbed us and cheated.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

I congratulate the Eagles on beating us for the first time ever in a Super Bowl after never winning before simply due to sheer luck.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Tom stared at Instagram. He'd gone to upload a photograph of he and Rob shaking hands and was planning on breaking his silence. He knew he couldn't wait much longer. It'd been almost five days since the Super Bowl and things were expected of him, especially now that he was returning to Boston.

"Meu amor," Gisele was staring at him on the plane ride home. "What are you doing?"

"I need to make a post, you know? About the Super Bowl. I have to, before I show my face in public again."

Gisele nodded, knotting her long and elegant fingers through his soft hair. "I know. Do you need help?"

Tom scrunched his nose.

He'd seen her Instagram posts. Often, they made fun of him in a joking way that was just true enough for them to hurt. Then she always did another little caption in Portuguese, her mother tongue. He never bothered translating them, but the last thing he needed was for Gisele to do that on his Instagram. Everyone would know it hadn't come from him.

"The kids, Tom. Just think of our little children. We want to raise them to be respectful, yes? Humble?"

Tom tilted his head to the side and nodded, not quite sure what the hell she was getting at. "Yeah, sure we do. Of course."

"So be respectful and humble."

Sometimes, that was hard for Tom. But at least he was able to backspace.

It took the entire plane ride for him to come up with something he deemed reasonable and he made Gisele proofread before he posted. She had missed some of his typos.

It has taken me a few days to reflect on our SB loss as well as the great season our team had. There are many emotions when you come up short of your goal. And they are all part of learning and growing in this journey of life. Learning turns everything into a postitive. And the number one feeling I have had the past 4 days is gratitude. Gratitude to my teammates for the incredible effort given all season regardless of the challenges we faced.
Gratitude toward my coaches for the effort and sacrifice they make to put us players in the best position to win.
Gratitude to the NEP organization for supporting us on our very challenging and difficult journey.
Gratitude to the Philadelphia Eagles team and organization for bringing out the best in us and being gracious winners (as well as congratulations on winning the championship)
Gratitude toward our fans who showed up every week to cheer us on and commit their time and energy and love and support to what our goals are.
And gratitude to my family and friends who continue to love and support my dreams.
Thank you all. I love you all.
Best, Tom

"It is perfect. Te amo."

Tom pressed post and turned off his phone. He didn't want to deal with the comments right now.

"Te amo."

The plane skidded along the runway.

They were back in New England.

Back to reality.




Chapter Text

"Nick. I know what you did," Carson said, his eyes only on Nick Foles. "I know exactly what you did."

Nick gasped.

Before Carson could continue to exploit the realization of Nick Foles's deliberate sabotage to take the star quarterback's place in the Super Bowl, Frank Reich began to laugh dramatically (also quite randomly?), and all eyes were redirected to his sudden (and questionably joyous?) outburst. 

"HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhahahahhahahahahahahahahaaaaahhaha," he breathed, "HAHAHAHAHAHHAHEHHHEHEHEHEHEHEHAHAHAHUHUH---" he breathed again, "HAUHAHEHUHAUHAHUHAJAJAHAHAHAHAJAHHAUHHAHAHHAHHSHSHHSHAHHAHFAHHPHAH--" he took another huge breath, "AHAHHAHAHAHAHHSAAA......" he began to choke a bit, clearing his throat before continuing, "AAAAAAAHhahahhHAHAHHHahahahha....." he breathed once again, "AhhhHAAAaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAahhahhahhaAHH...!" The guffaw lasted a long time despite a lack of happiness in his upset, widened eyes. 

Carson Wentz and Frank Reich made eye contact during the ordeal. Everyone was staring at Frank in confusion, but Carson was really looking. He saw that this was obviously just a distraction to take the attention off Nick Foles. It was obvious! There was no hiding the hurt on Carson's face as he watched his former head offensive coordinator indirectly take Nick Foles's side, and if one were to truly and carefully inspect Frank's face , they would see a flicker of pain there as well. Frank had abandoned Carson in every way, it seemed.

During the distraction, Carson Wentz was forcefully extracted from the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady, roughly escorted out by two tall, masked men. On their darkened masked faces was a single word: TBZer0.

Barry Church of the Jacksonville Jaguars sat in the back of the room, right next to the door that Carson Wentz was shoved through. He flinched as Wentz struggled in the hold of the two tall men forcing him out of the room. Barry forced his head to the side, looking the other way, heart roaring inside of his chest. 

As if someone noticed Barry's flinching, a voice called out, "Barry, would you like to say a word during tonight's meeting?"

Barry swallowed hard and rose to his feet. He blinked quickly a few times and squared his shoulders, mentally preparing himself for what would come next. 

"Yes, sir." He walked to the front and shook hands with Russel Wilson. "Hey man, good playing this season.."

Blake Bortles cleared his throat loudly from the front row and Barry glanced over to lock eyes with his own team's quarterback. He glanced down and said nothing else to Russel Wilson before taking a stand at the podium. 

Blake Bortles grinned and nodded from the front row. 

"As you all know," Barry began, "I gave the Gronk a concussion this season... a concussion that likely sparked his thoughts about retiring and moving to a different line of work... for the sake of his health, I guess." Barry swallowed and wished his mouth didn't feel so dry. "It uh, I mean. I paid the price but it was... it was worth it, right guys?" He forced himself to grin as the room applauded. "Gronk is um.. a very good friend of Tom Brady's so..." He found that he no longer knew where to look as he spoke. He recalled trying so hard to follow through with his shoulder on that play, no intention at all of hurting Gronk. In fact he'd been nervous for his own health. Gronk was a big, intimidating guy. He ran a hand through his hair. "You know, I was just trying to dislodge the ball..." He nodded, clenching his jaw. The statement caused a few more claps, but definitely less applause than before. "I was just..." he cut himself off. Now was not the time.

Barry continued on, stronger now than before. "Without the Gronk on the Patriots, we stand a better chance against them but most importantly, Brady will lose a friend. I am honored to say I played a huge role in his potential retirement." Nothing Barry had previously said brought about a louder cheer than those final words. Barry nodded his head once and snuck away from the podium.

He felt awful. Wasn't sure why, exactly. Brady was an extremely hatable guy but... but to cheer at Brady's suffering at the expense of Gronk's health...? 

"Good speech, Church!" Blake Bortles clapped Barry on his back as he walked by. Barry turned and smiled at his quarterback. "Thanks, Blake." 

Barry took his seat next to Paul Posluszny, his teammate. He didn't know much about Paul, only that, like himself, Paul didn't hate the Patriots as much as the rest of Jaguars did.

Very discreetly, Paul took Barry's hand and gave it a squeeze. 

Barry hesitantly glanced up at Paul through his lashes. 

Paul was nodding so slow it was hardly noticeable. He mouthed the words: I know and then the words it's okay and Barry felt a flash of hope... 

The hope faltered a bit when the door once again opened. All eyes roved over towards the back of the room to land on Matt Patricia standing in the doorway. "Is this the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady?" He asked, eyes bloodshot.

Frank Reich sighed, eyeing Matt Patricia hard. There was a lot of unspoken hostility between the two men... and they were bound to clash very hard despite both attending the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady... but just then Frank checked his watch. "Crap... I gotta go." 

Frank hurried out, pushing thoughts of a hardened Matt Patricia and a hurt Carson Wentz out of his mind. 

He had someone new to focus on now.

"You sure you don't wanna join in?" Andrew Luck asked, looking at Nick Sirianni, his offensive coordinator, who sat on the living room couch shaking his head with a happy smile.

"No, no... you two have fun." 

"Well, all right! If you say so!" Andrew turned and got into position in front of the large television, control in hand. "And a one! Two! Three! Go--!!!!" 

Andrew Luck and Tony Dungy, his long since former coach, started to move at the same, reciting their made up dance to their favorite song from Disney's Teen Beach Movie. The name of the song was called Surf Crazy Finale and Andrew Luck LOVED this song a lot more than Tony Dungy did, but Tony went along with the dance anyway because he simply adored Andrew Luck that much.

The two men were in Andrew's living room, sunshine shot in through the lace curtain windows as the two men twisted their hips and lifted their arms up into the air, stepping this way and then taking a step back in synchronized fashion. Tony Dungy looked content enough, but it was nothing compared to the utter and completely unhinged happiness all over Andrew Luck's ecstatic face. His eyes were brighter than the sun, smile wider than the entire length of a football field. 

Tony Dungy had a little difficulty keeping up with Andrew's wild twisty and turny dance moves, but he did his best. Granted, Tony was getting up there in age, but the man considered himself mentally young. He let out a small laugh as he goofed up one of the moves and felt Andrew clap him lightly on the arm. Andrew laughed too, and Tony Dungy's heart melted. Andrew Luck's smile had that effect on most people, but especially Tony Dungy.

"~It's a bikini wonderland..." Nick Sirianni sang from the couch as he nodded in time with the tune. "Surf, surf!" he hummed. "Woo!"

"Okay, ready!?" Andrew turned to Tony, beaming, and Tony nodded. Suddenly the two men turned to face each other completely. Andrew began the countdown. "Five. Six. Seven. Eight." And just like that both men began an elaborate hand shake that involved many, many complicated and bizarre claps and slaps. The stood in place and recited it perfectly. 

"~Cruisin for a bruisin'..." hummed Nick Sirianni.

After the song was over Andrew shouted, "Yes!" in amazement and tossed his head back gleefully, "We did it!"Tony Dungy slapped his own hand down onto his knee rather gently, but rough enough to make a noise of it. The two men laughed and shook their heads in enjoyment of one another's company. 

T.Y. Hilton emerged from the kitchen, walking into the living room holding a bowl of doritos. "Heyyyy! Y'all did it without me?" 

"You snooze you lose!" Andrew Luck replied, overjoyed but not without a sassy point of his finger. 

T.Y. Hilton placed the bowl of doritos down and immediately ducked, running towards Andrew with his mouth opened up, pretending as though he'd bite Andrew's finger.

Andrew giggled insanely, pulling his arm in against his body protectively as T.Y. Hilton rose to his full height and ruffled Andrew's hair. 

Nick Sirianni was still humming Surf Crazy Finale from the couch, apparently not quite able to get the catchy tune out of his head. 

Suddenly T.Y. Hilton, Andrew Luck, Nick Sirianni and Tony Dungy all heard an unfamiliar noice. Someone else was in the room.

Frank Reich cleared his throat. He was leaning against the front doorframe, standing in the threshold of Andrew Luck's cozy little home as he watched on. Frank had never felt more mortified before in his entire life. This... was what he'd agreed to?

After winning the Super Bowl with the richly talented Carson Wentz and the darkest mastermind of them all, Nick Foles, THIS... was what he'd agreed to? 

This... this was why Josh McDaniels had backed out on the eleventh hour. 

Frank blinked his eyes hard. 

"HEYYYYYY!" Andrew was the first to officially break the silence, that million watt smile of his returning full force. "Look who's here! It's the new head coach!!"

Frank couldn't believe he left the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady for this. He plastered on his biggest smile and said, "Hello."

Chapter Text

"But which one is which?" he whispered to himself in a blind panic. His hands twitched as he moved from one to the other, biting his lip, his expression screwed up. His hair stuck up in all directions from grasping onto it, tugging it in frustration. Arms jerked back and forth, desperate.

This always happened to him. Ever since his wife's ultrasound confirmed there were two babies in her uterus, Chris Hogan knew there was going to be a problem.


It'd been simple when they were tiny infants, before Ashley had sliced off their hospital bracelets with their names written clearly across them.

But now, he was seeing double. Chris stared at two pudgy, round faces. One had clamped its fist around a banana, causing the soft, sweet fruit to turn to mush against the white, BPA-free plastic tray attached to the twins' high chairs. The other was swaying back and forth to a silent song and laughing in that baby-laugh that all babies had. Ashley was convinced they were beautiful and special and different from all of the other babies at the baby-gym classes they brought them to; but if he were to confess something sinful aloud, Chris would admit that he wouldn't be able to pick them out from the mass of bald, fuzzy heads.

It had ridden him with deep guilt. It was one thing to confuse his teammates, especially when there were a number that shared the same last name as either someone on the Patriots or on other teams. It wasn't his fault that teammates came and went, some staying for years while others only lasted for part of a season. There were too many to keep track of!

It was just the nature of the game.

But this! This was far worse than the names his teammates called him - racist, bigot, asshole. He couldn't tell his own two kids apart and it broke his heart.

What made it worse was that one was a boy and one was a girl and Ashley, bless her, had insisted on giving them slightly gender neutral names- spieling some nonsense about gender stereotypes and wanting them to be well rounded or whatever.

Chase and Parker.

Even after peeking into their diapers to figure out which was which, he still found trouble in which named belonged to which twin.

Chris picked up the baby that had been swaying and peeked into the diaper.

"You're the girl," he murmured. "Alright." Which name sounded more feminine? He supposed it was Parker. "Alright, Parker. Let's get going."

He tucked his daughter up beneath one, muscular arm and brushed past his wife as she entered the kitchen. "Takin' her to gym," he said before he leaned over, pressing a quick kiss to his wife's lips.

"On Valentines Day?" she asked, pouting. "I was going to call the nanny."

"Oh," Chris replied. "I was supposed to like, meet Edelman after. He's got Lily. We were going to like, throw the ball around at Gillette."

Ashley frowned. "Okay, but you'd better be taking me out tonight."

Chris managed a small smile and nodded. "Yeah, sure, babe."


Chris's expression was fixed ahead as his luxury SUV roved over the pot-hole-littered streets outside of Boston. He'd been so distracted during baby gym he lost sight of Parker and picked up someone elses baby before a small Asian woman hurried over.

"What are you doing with my son?" she shouted at him.

"Oh, sorry," he mumbled, handing her the child before spotting Parker. He only recognized her because of her Patriots pants. He scooped the baby up and buckled her into the car seat before taking off for Gillette.


Chris pulled into Patriot Place, his mind running on automatic as he grabbed his baby-bag/sports-bag combo, slung it over his shoulder, and hurried around to the other side. Parker had fallen asleep on the ride and he carefully undid her car seat to let her rest as he made his way into the massive stadium. Julian was already there- his distinct form rushing through the plush grass painted with the Patriots logo was a sight to remember from seasons past. Chris beamed.


It took him a moment to notice the other person on the long side of the filed. Tall and gangly, he wore just a t-shirt with exposed shoulder pads and a gray helmet that contained no logo. Knobby knees peeked out from beneath tight-fitted, blue spandex.

Tom Brady.


Chris licked his bottom lip and jogged down the stairs, careful not to bump Parker too much in her car seat. When he made it to the the sidelines, he noticed Lily, too, running around after her father, her tiny legs waddling and tripping her up as she tried fruitlessly to keep up with the athletic Julian Edelman, her father.

It was good to see Jules run again. It was good to see him at Gillette stadium.

Chris set down his bag and daughter, making sure she was covered by a thick blanket. It was a temperate Februrary morning, but he didn't like to expose his kids to the elements more than he had to. He made sure her face was shielded from the sun before jogging onto the field. If he was lucky, she'd sleep for another hour as she was accustomed to long mid-day naps. Thank you, expensive daycare. Lily stopped to watch him for a moment before bursting out into a loud sob at the stranger's appearance.

It was her noise that made Julian pause, following her line of sight to Chris. He gave a sheepish grin and waved.


Tom suddenly shot the ball so hard across the field that Chris felt a gust of wind as it passed and he turned to watch it land by the goal line.


"Hey, Hoges!" Tom shouted as he jogged up to him, beaming. "Ready to practice?"


Chris nodded. "Didn't know you'd be here. Weren't you like-- in the Caribbean?"

Tom shrugged. "For a bit, yeah. I'm still-- you know--feeling the pain of the Super Bowl, feel the pain of all my lost games. Especially when we had made it so far. but Jules is back, man. Jules." Chris smirked and nodded. Sometimes he was jealous of Edelman, he couldn't lie. The other Wide Receiver had a huge fan base because he was so handsome and single and he was clearly one of Brady's favorites. Chris had watched Tom vs. Tom (now available on Facebook), had seen how often Julian was involved in the Goat's life. Sometimes, Chris has to admit, he wished Tom would rely on him like that. He had it in him to be that good, he knew it.

Mostly, Chris was just glad to have another talented Wide Receiver back on the field, hopefully guaranteeing another Super Bowl trip (knock on wood. *knock**knock).

There was a moment that Tom and Julian stared at each other and Chris shifted, kicking his feet slightly. He felt like he had invaded a super personal moment. There was something so affectionate and open in Tom Brady's eyes as he gazed at Julian and Julian gazed at him, it was as though the hurt he felt from Super Bowl LII had dissipated.

"So, yeah," Chris mumbled.

"Right, c'mon Hogan," Julian playfully punched Chris's arm in encouragement. "I'll race ya." Julian's eyes trailed down to his side, spotting his daughter as she clung to his massive, muscular leg and patted her on the head. "It's okay, Lils. Go see the baby!" He said, pointed to the car seat on the sidelines. Lily, unable to help herself from seeing another baby, held her plush soccer ball and ran to the side to look at Chris's baby. Julian shrugged, laughing. "Ready? Set? GO!"

Julian took off at lightening speed and Tom hurried after him, slow and awkward.


Chris squinted, sighing as he ran after the pair, passing Tom in an instant but unable to reach Julian.


"Oh my god- look!"

"Look mom!"


"Oh my goddddd!"

"I can't believe this is happening!"

A chorus of young girl's screamed as he walked down the street.

Carson couldn't believe he'd been roughly escorted out of the meeting for the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady. He couldn't even believe such nonsense existed at all! Who were these people kidding?

Matt Patricia's sudden appearance hadn't gone unnoticed by the Eagle's Quarter Back. He'd brushed past him as he was shoved out the door. Though Patricia's signature beard existed no more, he would know those dark, sweet eyes anywhere. The Patriots defense had lacked this season, that was certain, but Matt had been an asset to the Patriots for six full years and now, now he was gone. Sent to the Lions. Their eyes had met momentarily on his way out the door and Matt looked away quickly, but Carson swore he saw something sad in that gaze. Something that was undeniably hurting.


"This is incredible!"

"Take a picture!"

Carson offered a half smile as he shoved a hand deeper into his pocket while using the other to grip his cane to limp along the sidewalk towards his car.

There was too much on his mind.

Nick Foles. The facts pointed to him completely sabotaging his career to selfishly lead the Eagles towards the Super Bowl, resulting in a win. This had given Eagles fans something they had wanted for many, many years and something that Carson had not been able to give them. It seemed everyone forgot that he had been the one to win enough games earlier in the season to qualify them for the playoffs. He hadn't been bitter about it until this moment. Things happened, Nick rose to the challenge, and that was that. But it was Nick's goddamn fault but Nick was their hero now, and Nick, his backup Quarter Back who he'd spent many, many hours coaching and tossing the ball with, a gentleman several years his senior that he loved like a brother, had repaid him by ruining his chances at earning a ring. Love made people do crazy things- but was it really love for Tom Brady when he now worked with opposing teams to hate on Tom? It was so weird.

"Ahh! I have to call my mom and tell her about this!" The group of girls was growing and following him now.

"This. Is. Amazing!"

Frank Reich. The man who had helped coach him. Frank was one of the nicest men he had ever known, and yet that laugh! What had this all meant? Why was Frank at the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady meeting, anyway? Didn't he have better things to do?

It was too much. He needed to get home and think what he could do next. He could talk to Doug Pederson, but it was clear there were few people in the NFL he could trust any more. Was Doug someone he couldn't confide in any more? It was a hard pill to swallow. They'd gotten so close this year, but he had thought of Nick like a brother.

"I'm going to snapchat this to EVERYONE!"

"Sooo dreamy in person!"

"I can't even!"

Carson removed his keys from his pocket to unlock his car before he turned to face the group behind him. In the very least, he could be nice to his fans.

"Hi," he called, waving awkwardly, his keys jingling in his hands. A few girls screamed while one, in particular, fainted against her friends. Carson frowned and wrinkled his nose. He wasn't used to this reaction, at least not to this extent. Sure, he had a fan base, but this was extreme. Maybe he could take some pictures.

He moved through the crowd, letting a few people take selfies with him as he scribbled autographs on blank pieces of paper to others.

"I can't believe this."

"This is just a once in a lifetime opportunity."

"What brings you here?"

"Yeah, Prince Harry, what are you doing in America?"

Carson inhaled a deep breath and felt his cheeks warm. This wasn't the first time this had happened. Why hadn't he learned? He blinked back tears and offered a strained smile before sliding into his vehicle without another sound.

He was several miles away from the meeting and the group of girls when he removed his phone from his pocket and found the number of the one person he thought he might be able to trust in this world.



"Yes, speaking. Who is this?"

"Carson Wentz. I have to talk to you."

Chapter Text

"Hold it right there!" cried out one of the Trading Policemen. A squad of men dressed in dark tuxedos filtered out onto the Patriots practice field. Many of the players on the field, Tom Brady for instance, felt all too familiar with this process. Some of the players, Danny Amendola for instance, were still shocked every time the Trading Police came around. Granted, certain players were more likely to be abducted than others.

Tom Brady held his chin high as he watched the Trading Police infiltrate his practice squad. One of the Trading Policemen attempted to take a hold of Tom's arm but Tom rolled his eyes, knowing full well that he wasn't going anywhere, and never would. The officer's hand sizzled with the touch, causing him to jump back in pain. Every time the Trading Police tried to touch a teammate that couldn't be traded, it burned them. (Literally.)

The ringleader of the Trading Police, grinning as he looked around at all the players, began his speech, "Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law." His eyes settled on Bill Belichick, "You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police..." The anonymous officer chuckled, "Just kidding because we are the police."

"The Trading Police!!" They all called out in unison.

The head officer squinted his eyes as he looked around the field, carefully examining each player. 

"First up! Malcolm Butler..." 

Malcolm Butler clenched his jaw shut. He'd been prepared to be abducted by the Trading Police. "It's okay, guys." He told his teammates. "We all saw this coming." 

"NOOOOOO!! I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE!” Dion Lewis screamed, running so that he stood protectively in front of Malcolm Butler. "Take me instead, but leave him alone. He never did anything wrong. He just wanted a chance to prove himself."

Butler blinked rapidly, eyes locked onto Dion's back. He opened his mouth but no words were spoken. 

Tom took a step forward, "Dion," he stated sadly, voice soft but Bill placed an arm in front of Tom before the quarterback could move any further.

"Leave it." Bill said simply.

Tom blinked back tears.

Dion smiled sadly. "I never felt like I could do much but... at least I can do this." 

Butler whispered, "Thank you," unable to look away from Lewis.

"Aw hell," the head Trading Policeman laughed, "Take them BOTH then!" 

"What?" Chris Hogan yelped. 

"That's not fair!" Cried Brandin Cooks.

"Shut the hell up, you underpaid babies!" The Trading Police officer had to shout in order to be heard over Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler's protests as they were handcuffed and dragged out of the stadium. "Can we get Brady?" he asked with a sly smile.

"No, sir." One of the officers replied, still rubbing the burn on his hand from attempting to touch the Patriot's quarterback.

"He's too old anyways. How about Edelman?"

"He renewed his contract, sir." 

"Shit, did he? Friendly reminder that NONE of you are totally untouchable." The Trading Police Officer harshly called out. 

"Well, technically-" 

"Shut up, Jefferson." The head Trading officer said to one of the other Trading police officers. He began to walk, circling players predatorily. "One more for today..." he said. "Since we can't get Edelman, how 'bout we go for the next best thing?" The head officer locked eyes with Amendola.

Danny swallowed dryly. 

"NO." Ryan Allen couldn't help his sudden outburst, his scream echoed in around the stadium. He went to rush forward but Gostkowski lurched forward and wrapped his arms around the punter, holding him in place.

Despite Bill's earlier warning, Tom Brady spoke again, "Don't do this. Please, guys."

There was a sudden deathly silence as the Trading police closed in on Danny Amendola. 

Gronk moved to stand beside Brady. 

They did this every year to Danny, and every year Danny would stare back defiantly. Each year they would attempt to grab him and burn the palms of their hands.  

This year, however, Danny stared down hard, gaze glued to the ground. 

"Dola?" Came Julian's half hopeful voice, but Danny didn't look up nor reply. 

The officer hesitantly reached out to touch Danny and didn't get burned. 

"Oh, ho ho." Said the head Trading Policeman. "Look at this. Seems we have a change of heart on our hands." Two Trading Policemen grabbed onto Danny as the wide receiver was handcuffed. 

"Dola." Julian's voice demanded, but still Danny didn't look up. "Dola, snap out of it."

As if to rub salt on the wound he was about to rip open, the head Trading Police officer turned to Bill. "Is this okay with you, coach?"

"Yep." Bill said.

Gronk watched Brady.

Brady watched as the Trading Police escorted Danny out. 

Julian watched too. 

"Appreciate your cooperation." And with that bid farewell, the Trading Police exited the Patriots practice field. 

Chapter Text

"Well, you know how it is. Off season and all."

"It's a fucking mess!"

The April roster for the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady meeting had dwindled to almost nothing.

Members were as such-

  1. Nick Foles
  2. Doug Pederson
  3. Frank Reich
  4. LaGarrette Blount
  5. Chris Long
  6. Lane Johnson
  7. Matt Patricia
  8. LaSean McCoy
  9. Eli Manning
  10. Blake Bortles
  11. Russell Wilson
  12. Ben Roethlisberger
  13. Kareem Hunt

Nick Foles stood at the podium in the same room it was always held - right across from Subway in the factory district of Philadelphia - speaking to a small crowd of about a dozen. The oversized spaced looked pathetically massive with so few bodies to occupy the hundreds of seats that had, once upon a time, been overflowing with the massive bodies of NFL professionals.

Doug Pederson stood behind Nick, his fingers digging into the tight muscles of the backup Quarterback who had taken his team to a Super Bowl Victory.

Nick still wasn't over it, and neither was the whole damned city of Philly. Neither was Tom Brady. HA! But the off season brought the challenge of club recruitment. A lot of the once reliable members didn't feel like taking the plane ride to Philly for the two hour meeting when they had vacations to go on and families to tend to before training kicked up again.

They were not true to the cause and would not be welcomed back. Fortunately, some rookies were being drafted and he could only hope to get the word out.... But how!?

But, to Nick Foles's utter horror, the Patriots were spreading themselves far and wide. Patriots players he never thought would leave the Patriots organization had infiltrated all kinds of teams - the Giants, the Titans, the Dolphins, the Rams...

All of that Patriots love would be extended to those teams, he was damned sure of it!

"WE NEED MORE MEMBERS!" Nick screamed into the microphone, causing every single face in the small audience to flinch.

"We'll get more," offered Matt Patricia from the front row, his wiry beard slowly growing back into place, but neat and trim rather than wild and unruly as it had been when he'd been the Defensive Coordinator. "As the season picks up, and people remember that Brady's just-- so good - so GOOD -- we'll get more."


Doug's tantalizing fingers moved up the stiff muscles of Nick's backside, working away the tension that had built and built and built since he effortlessly managed that touch down after that epic trick play that Brady had done just plays before, only Brady had failed to execute. That should have been Nick's finest moment, but if Doug could pinpoint precisely when his backup Quarterback's mind had begun to unwind, it was then.

"I WANT THEM NOW!" he repeated, this time stomping his foot for emphasis.

Just as his sneaker made contact with the concrete floor, the back door opened. For just a moment, Nick was temporarily blinded by the April sun (he heard New England was still getting snow- fuck them) silhouetted a figure. Nick brought a hand up to shield his eyes.

"If it isn't Napolean Dynamite!" screamed a cackling voice from the door. Nick squinted, his lips parted to reveal a set of oversized front teeth. Who the hell was this? "I think I can solve your little attendance problem. C'mon boys."

The door opened even wider and to Nick's utter shock and delight, several dozen men jogged into the room.

"Roger Gooddell?"

"The one and only, sucka!" Roger slammed the door behind himself after everyone had taken a seat, and marched over to the podium, shoving Nick out of the way so hard he could have torn his ACL if he had not been prepared. Fortunately, he was braced for the impact. Roger was never a neat and clean man.

"Hello, boys. Enjoying the off-season? Good. Let's get to work on taking down Tom Brady once and for all."



"My mom lives here now and--"








James Harrison scooped a massive serving of protein powder into Brandin Cook's blender and turned it on. His voice, impossibly, got louder as he spoke over the sound of kitchen machine.


"He's not?"


"HE'S NOT?" Brandin felt foolish shouting, and just as he did, James flipped the Vitamix off.


Brandin inhaled a deep breath and nodded.


Brandin gave James a small, understanding smile and nodded. James was already walking away, wearing his massive, oversized sweatshirt with a photo of himself printed in the center. He sipped his protein drink.

Just as Brandin was about to press call to accept the contract from the Rams, James stopped and turned to face him for just a moment.


And he was gone.

Gisele leaned back against the edge of the oversized pool in Costa Rica.

"Meu amor," she cooed.

"Te amo," Tom Brady said automatically, lifting his pasty white legs in he water, watching as droplets clung to his skin before he bent his knee, allowing them to submerge again, kicking against the soft current.

"Don't you think it is time we return home?"

Tom's expression was flat as he stared ahead, watching the golden sun illuminate the sky a brilliant shade of orange as it set in the distance. He had hardly heard his wife.

"Why? The trading police took Danny and Dion and Malcolm last time I went home. Then they came and they took Nate. Now they took Brandin- which I wasn't against- but what next? Jules? Chris? Gronk? Andrews?"

"Meu amor," she repeated. "We must go home. The kids, they cannot miss school. We have to move on. You know I love you, meu amor, but we cannot stay here anymore. It is beautiful, yes. But we have to move on, have to get back to work."

Tom shook his head just slightly and kept his gaze on the horizon. She didn't understand. Never understood. Would never understand.

And still, she was right.

The TB12 Training Facility needed him almost as much as he needed it. His legs craved pliability and with 41 fast approaching, and LIII less than a year away, maybe it was time to get back to work.

"One more day."

"Okay, one more day. Then we go home?"

"Then we go home."


Black light illuminated the brilliant, white shade of his two, straight rows of teeth covered by a small, metallic object. He smiled at himself in the mirror a little too widely and took a quick selfie.

"Ha, that's great!" he said to himself.

'Get ur teet cleened use coade GRONK87 for 69% off.'

Rob Gronkowski pressed send to his Instagram story and nodded to himself, smiling. He removed the strange contraption from his mouth and tossed it against the white, linoleum sink for his maid to deal with later.


The maid came rushing in to turn off the sink for him.

"Thanks, Berta. Dunno what I'd do without you, ha."

"No problem, Mr. Gronk. Can I do anything else for you?"

"Just-- my teef cleaner hahaha." Rob pointed to it. She quickly nodded and put it inside the plastic container it was meant to be kept in then shoved it away into a drawer.

"I'm going to go skateboarding!"

"Are you sure, Mr. Gronk? It is almost dark."

"Oh, right. Hm. Nah. Guess I'll just get some taco bell and play some Madden."

"Okay, Mr. Gronk."


Chapter Text



Monday, April 16, 2018

As the start of the season practices begin for the five time Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, who faced a recent devastating loss during Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles, two important team members will be noticeably absent.

Tight End Rob Gronkowski is rumored to be considering whether or not to make a return to the Patriots after hints of retirement shortly after the last Super Bowl while veteran Tom Brady is in Qatar attending to previously arranged business obligations.

Belichick confirmed to ESPN that start of season practices have always been optional; but it begs the question as to how serious Tom and Rob are about their spots on the New England Patriots, a team notoriously known for making sure every teammate knows just how replaceable they are.

"It will be heavily attended, but I know there are a couple players that I've talked to that have other commitments, but that's the way it always is. So, not really anything new there," Belichick reported regarding early season practices. Those 'couple players' he referred to are two of the most important teammates.

Tom Brady has been a regular participant of early season training, so this absence has been duly noted by Patriots fans. Tom has consistently spoke out about wanting to play well into his forties, but with wife, Gisele Bundchen recently taking the pressure off her husband to retire, there have been talks that the Quarter Back who would be entering his eighteenth season with the league is going to retire sooner than anticipated. There has been no confirmation from Tom.

Rob Gronkowski's hints of retirement are likely a ploy for more money. After watching many teammates take pay cuts (most notably, former Patriot Danny Amendola whose recent trade to the Miami Dolphins came as a shock) while still others have been traded to teams willing to pay players double, and sometimes more than triple Patriots wages, it is no wonder that Gronkowski has put more value on his own abilities. The twenty-eight year old has undergone surgeries for injury after injury and faces a big decision in the upcoming weeks. Rumors abound regarding Gronkowski's future in acting or wrestling, but he has yet to confirm any reports.

Information from ESPN's James Leopard was used in this report.

Who knew camels were so slippery?

"Woah, buddy!" Tom exclaimed as a boisterous smile curled the corners of his lips as he patted the massive creature. He was clinging to the hump, desperate not to fall into a pile of desert sand. Gisele had taken command of her own camel and was trotting ahead with their children, her glistening tan body absorbing the blistering sun.

Tom was smeared with layer upon layer of sunscreen and wore a wide-brim hat. The business aspect of his trip was over. He'd done what he had to do and was more than ready to feel the wheels of their private jet running along the runway in Boston. They would be leaving the following morning for home, but he had one last day to enjoy his time in this foreign country.

Suddenly, beneath him, the camel jerked and Tom went flying like his final throw during Super Bowl LII; straight through the air, towards...

"GRONK?" he screamed, just as the Tight End captured him in his massive arms.


"Woah, buddy, there, there. No no, please no," Tom said, patting the Tight End on the shoulder. Rob eased him down gently but wore an unsatisfied expression on his boyish face. "Thanks for catching me, buddy." Tom handed Gronk the brim hat off his own head. "Gronk spike?"

Rob nodded enthusiastically and threw the hat into the desert sand. "GRONK SPIKE!" The hat fell lamely. Sand absorbed the light-weight straw hat a little too much. It was nothing like spiking a fully inflated ball into a patch of turf. Gronk looked disappointed but shrugged as he threw his arms around Tom.

"What the hell are you doing here, man?" Tom asked, patting Gronk on the back, beaming from ear to ear.

"I needed to talk to you, man," Gronk began. Tom stared beyond Gronk's shoulder as Gisele and his children disappeared into the distance with the tour they'd been on. At least he and Rob were guaranteed full privacy out here, in the middle of the desert, without a single ESPN reporter misinterpreting every, single thing they did and said.

"I'm all ears, man," Tom said, giving Gronk an encouraging nod. Life was so different during the off-season. It was stressful and depressing, sure, especially because he was still facing the grief of a lost Super Bowl, but without regular practice, without the pressure of the next game looming imminently over his head, he found that he didn't know who he was or how to act. He was lighter in so many ways, but he wasn't really Tom.

"I talked to Peyton Manning," Gronk said, squinting his eyes to small little specks against his massive head. Tom's brows pinched as he gazed, almost eye-to-eye (people always thought he was shorter, but really, they were but a couple inches apart) with Gronk, waiting for him to continue. Talking to Peyton Manning could only mean one of two things. "He says I should go into the hot dog commercial business. Fuck football, fuck the low pay, fuck Bill and his mother fucking ridiculous schedule's and shit. Here, check out our texts."

Gronk struggled with his phone for a moment. The device fell into the sand, coating the glossy screen and sinking into the open crevices. Rob blew at it with all his might, causing Brady's short hair to blow back in Rob's breeze just a bit. He handed the phone to him and Tom's eyes began scanning the conversation.

Peyton: Hey hey buddy-o! Heard u on the fly with the football NFL bizzzz. U lookin for $?
Gronk: Hall yeh!
Peyton: I know u r! HELL YEAH! That's my boy!
Gronk: HAHAHA! SUP Dawg?
Peyton: I got a biz proposition for my main man Robert Gronkowski if ur all ears!!
Gronk: JUST do it.
Peyton: Wait for it... Drum roll please...
Peyton: Nathan's Hot Dogs.
Peyton: Hear me out.
Peyton: They lookin for a man like u, good lookin as me, hot hot hot, tall! TALL and buff and lean and full of hot dogs to rep their BRAND. u in? GOOD DOUGH $$$$. More than u'd make with NFL by long shot.
Gronk: Buttttt wut mush?
Peyton: Like 5 figures.
Gronk: Holly SHITTTT. Tat's wut im takeng abowt!
Peyton: YEAH? I'll have my people call your people.

Tom blinked slowly and then looked up at Rob, who was squinting towards the sky, his feet shuffling.

"Are you going to do this?"

"I don't know, man. That's why I'm here! I can Gronk spike those dogs, and get free ones all I want. What do you think?"


A loud thud crashed in the adjacent room, jolting Brandin Cooks from a deep slumber.


His heart leapt to his throat, pounding against his Adam's apple so violently he swore it might escape through taut skin. Brandin gripped his blanket in one hand and reached for the phone on his bedside table as quietly as possible with his other hand. He slid it unlocked, tucking the phone close to his body so that the glow wouldn't alight his entire room. He was about the call the police when his bedroom door burst open.

An angel stood in his doorway. All he could see was a silhouette, dark but dressed entirely in white with massive wings flanking its sturdy body.


Brandin blinked, his whole body going rigid for a split second, and then relaxed.



"What the hell are you doing here, in LA? In my apartment? It's friggen--" He paused, glancing at his phone, "two in the morning, man!"

"The plan, Cookie. The plan. No matter what you hear--"

"Wait, James? Are you okay?" James Harrison stood there so calmly, his voice like a zen master. Did something horrible happen to him? Was this his ghost? Brandin bolted out of his bed as any icy spider crawled down his spine, sending chilled shivers through each limb.

"I am okay, Cookie. I am okay. You will be, too. I just wanted to tell you... Never forget. Never forget what we had, where we came from."

"I couldn't, man. I couldn't ever forget," Brandin said breathlessly, backing up into a darkened corner of his room, his heart race, race, racing in his chest. James's figure nodded with such a specific kind of certainty that Brandin felt his anxiety slowly melt into a puddle on the floor.

"The Plan, Brandin," James said softly as he began to back away, an angelic glow surrounding his entire body. The glow began taking over, slowly, slowly consuming him. Brandin had to squint to look at James as he began to disappear with every backwards step.

"Wait, where are you going?"

"The Plan."

One more step and James was gone. The light was replaced with empty, black space and yet, Brandin Cooks felt more full than he ever had in his life.

It was eight in the morning when his buzzing phone woke him up after a blissful sleep. Brandin reached for the device, muscle memory recalling the night before.

Had that really happened?

It had to have been a dream.

Exhausted eyes blinked back sleep as he glanced at the device. There was a single alert from his NFL app.

James Harrison, legendary Linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots announces retirement; click here to take a glimpse into his legacy.

Brandin's heart dropped to his stomach.

Chapter Text

"Hah hah! Hot, hot heat!" Gronk shouted at the crystal blue Miami sea. He shimmied his shoulders. 

"Sure is hot." Tom Brady said, smearing more sunscreen over his arms. "But not as hot as Qatar."

The two men were shirtless, sporting only their neon colored beach trunks. 

"Actually, it might be as hot as Qatar." Brady paused, considering. "Nah, no. It's not." Gronk laughed beside him, pointing to the ocean and clapping his hands as Tom added thoughtfully, more to himself than the boys, "It gets pretty hot down here more like, mid-summer."

Gronk punched the air ahead of him like a ninja, and then he spiked it. He spiked the air. 

"I love hot weather." Brady said trying to keep the mood light, patting Gronk on the back. Pat, pat. Pat. "Hey Gronk?"

"Gronk listening."

"Isn't Danny lucky to be playing down here in Miami?" Tom asked.

Gronk grimaced, visibly flinching. "Uh...."

Brady winked animatedly. ("I saw that," mumbled Danny from the side.)

"OHHH." Gronk cleared his throat, voice drenched with not so secret realization. "Yeahhh, he SUUUURE is." Gronk winked back to Brady, who proceeded to tap a hand against his forehead and shake his head down at the sand. 

Danny's eyes were bloodshot. 

Julian stood beside Danny, pressing his lips together into a thin line. He reached an arm out and wrapped it around Danny's tanned, warm muscular incredibly attractive goddamn physique. He gulped as small as he could and didn't make eye contact with Danny. 

Everyone was just avoiding Danny's eyes. (They were so, so red. Because he'd been crying earlier.)

Flashback to the first ever Dolphin's practice: 

Danny walked into the locker room, duffle in hand. He froze, dropping it to the floor along with his jaw.

There was a movie theater set up in the locker room. Every single Miami Dolphin was sitting in the dark munching on popcorn as they watched The Parent Trap starring Lindsay Lohan. A young girl's voice boomed surround sound into his ears. 

Danny kept silent. 

Ryan Tannehill shot a glance over his shoulder. Being team captain, it was his job to make sure everyone on the team was on board with the Dolphins happenings, Danny figured. Ryan hopped up and nearly tripped over someone's pillow. "Sorry!" He laughed, giving Xavien Howard a little tickle. Xavien chuckled, curling in on himself as he batted Ryan's invasive hands away. 

Ryan made his way to Danny, smile filled with more genuine joy than Tom Brady's ever had. He held his arms out and gave Danny a hug. 

Danny didn't move.

"Hey, Danny! Welcome to the team!" Ryan excitedly whispered. 


"For our first day of practice we are marathoning Dennis Quaid movies." Ryan couldn't seem to stop grinning as he gestured to the backs of his teammates as well as the overhead projection of The Parent Trap that they all watched intently. "Told everyone to bring their slumber party gear. It's kind of a a Miami Dolphins tradition to start the season off with Dennis Quaid, you know?"

Danny twitched, forcing a stiff nod. 

"Did you bring pillows? Wanna borrow some? Xavien over there is notorious for bringing like a million pillows."

It was all Danny could do to blink his eyes.

"DANNY. DANNY!" Julian shook his shoulders. "He disassociating again," Julian said to Brady.

"No.. I'm here." Danny said. He wasn't sure how much time had passed. 

Julian breathed a sigh of relief. "Dude, I'm worried about you.."

"I'm fine." Danny replied softly. "Can... can we just practice?" 

Gronk ran straight for the water, pink plastic flamingo shaped floaty device locked around his waist as he tumbled into the water. 

Julian shuffled in his sandals and shrugged, "I mean, we kinda just came to help you settle in and relax a bit. It's kinda weird..." to practice together since we're not on the same team anymore, "For Tom." Yeah... yeah blame it on Tom. 

Meanwhile, Tom Brady was a few feet away from them taking a few steps backward, pretending to throw a football when he bumped into a chair and lost his balance, falling into the sand which clung to his still damp layers of sunscreen. "Son of a BITCH." He cried out.

Julian shook his head. "He uh, he's still trying to get over the loss, you know?"

Danny blinked rapidly, suddenly wishing he hadn't worn sneakers, sweatpants and a wifebeater. Yet another bad decision on his part. All he ever did these days was make bad decisions. 

Julian nodded, still tight lipped. He lightly punched Danny on the arm. "Maybe you should take some of those clothes off," he joked suggestively. Danny's eyes were watering and Julian realized now was just not the time. "I mean, you know, relax a little, man. Think about the good stuff." 

Danny had gone quiet and still again. Julian thought made he was disassociating again. 

This was going to be a hard trip.

Chapter Text

The mirror was too low; or maybe, his head was too high.

Rob Gronkowski bent at the knee to peer at his reflection in Danny Amendola's bathroom at his new digs. Miami was hot, but the chicks were hotter. (And Qater had been even hotter than that!).

Five figures.

Bill Belichick.

Nathan's Hot Dogs.

Tom Brady.

A new, injury-less career.

Another shot at a Super Bowl win.

There were too many questions, too many uncertainties running through his mind.

That day in Qatar, after he'd flown for 17 hours followed by a 4 hour bus ride and 2 hour camel trek to find Tom Brady in the desert with his family, the legendary quarterback had offered him just one piece of advice.

"Ask yourself this, Rob. Is it really about the money?"

And then, later, as Gronk rode the camel and Tom walked beside them towards Tom's distant family, "You know you make more than five figures with the Patriots, right?"

He hadn't known that, but he didn't tell Tom that.

Was it about the money? In a way, sure. But anyone who knew Gronk, who really knew Gronk, knew that he hadn't spent a single penny of his NFL earnings, instead relying on marketing income and outside deals with name branding. He would be set for life regardless if he took Peyton's advice or made his return to the New England Patriots.

So no, not really. It wasn't about the money. It was about the glory. It always had been about the glory. About the game, the chance to prove his worth as a tight end, as the best tight end ever!

Rob inhaled a deep breath and splashed a single handful of water against his face, then stepped out of the bathroom. He knocked his head against the ceiling (little dude like Danny didn't require head space) and laughed it off before dancing his way over to Julian and Tom. (He wasn't sure where Danny had gone, but the last he'd seen him, the Dolphin had been staring with massive eyes at the weather forecast in Florida on his phone).

"Guys, Gronk's got an announcement!"

The goddamn phone rang with an obnoxiously loud blare, singing the melodic tune to the Monday Night Football theme. He still hadn't figured out how to reset it.

"Goddamn phone, useless piece of shit-- Hello?" Bill asked into the wide receiver.

"What did Bill Bellichick ask to the 49ers? Can we have our quarter back! Here's your answer, Bill. No! Hell no! Jimmy's great, is Tom retiring?" Kyle Shanahan chuckled.

Bill hung up.


Stephen rolled over, his dark hair sticking up on end as his arm slid around Ryan Allen's slim waist. They'd taken their third vacation since the Super Bowl and were currently holed up in a hotel outside of Gillette Stadium. It was hard to have a family while being a football star, but Ryan made everything easier. He'd made life... simple.

"Mm?" Ryan Allen didn't open his eyes. He was so sleepy, it was just plain adorable. Stephen smiled and licked his lips before pressing the quickest peck to Ryan's.


...The Philadelphia Eagles.

had pecked them...

Stephen sat up ruler straight, his eyes staring into the distance at a spot on the wall of the luxury hotel. Some piece of modern art had caught his eye, but he wasn't really seeing it. Ryan stirred from the movement, from the sudden loss of contact during their annual morning cuddles.

"Stephen?" he asked, sleepily at first before his eyes peeled open to see the kicker. Fear washed through him, sinking like weighted lead in his belly. He, too, sat bolt upright and wrapped an arm around Stephen's shoulder. "Stephen? Sweetheart..."

Stephen didn't move, didn't even acknowledge that he heard Ryan whatsoever.

This wasn't the first time this happened to Stephen Gostkowski since the Super Bowl. In fact, for a long while, it happened every day. After a few weeks, a few days were skipped here and there, where Ryan was given hope that things were finally getting better, but then it'd happen again. And now, nearly three months after the Super Bowl, it happened again. He knew what to do.

Ryan jetted out of the twin bed they shared and grabbed Stephen's absolute favorite book - Rainbow Fish. He leapt back onto the bed, nudged him with his elbow, and opened up to the first page. He began reading, slowly, and then faster and faster until Stephen's lips quirked into a smile and he began reading aloud with him, reciting the words from memory. When the book came to an end, Ryan set it on the bedside table and leaned into the other.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, yeah. Thanks soooo much. You're always such a help, sweetie."

"Aw, shucks."

"I just-- that Super Bowl, Ryan. I could have won it for us. I missed those-- those field goals! I didn't follow through like I could have!"

"Shh, no one blames you," Ryan whispered. He pressed his forehead to his and cupped his cheek with one hand, his thumb drawing loving circles against his baby soft skin. "No one blames you. We are going to be training for next season. And you know what? We're going to win a lot of games. Together."

Stephen smiled sadly. "You think?"

"I know."

They embraced in a long hug. When Ryan pulled away, his arms open to accept all the sweet cuddles, Stephen hesitated.

"Hey, Ryan?"


"I like, saw on Instagram that you and Jules were cooking dinner the other night."

"What? Yeah, I mean we are good bros," Ryan said. His brows furrowed and he leaned up on his elbow. "I thought you didn't have Instagram?"

"I don't. My wife," Stephen said, as though that explained it. Ryan flinched. The mention of Stephen's wife was always a sore spot. Stephen cleared his throat. "Anyway, why don't you ever invite me along? I'd like, sooo love to cook with you guys, get to know the popular kids on the team a little better."

"Heh, uh," Ryan paused, scratching the back of his head as he searched for a response. "I mean, it was Julian's house. I don't know. I'll suggest it sometime, I guess."

"Are you embarrassed of me?"

"What? No! Why would I be?"

"I don't know. Because I lost the Super Bowl?"

"Stop, man. You didn't. No one blames you."

Stephen collapsed forward into himself, releasing a sob that shook his whole body. Ryan exhaled and started rubbing his back, frowning.

"You can come next time, baby. I promise."


Rob started gyrating, his whole body behaving like a ringing phone set on a hard surface. Julian whooped and fist pumped and Tom stood up, clapping a couple times before his hands fell at his side. He wore the brightest smile.


Danny stood in the doorway, lips parted, his chest heaving as tears flooded his brilliant, hazel-brown eyes. Tom and Julian froze, expressions falling, but Gronk continued to dance.

"I'm back baby! Making it official!"

"I thought-- I thought-- No one else is leaving?"

"Well, Nate, Malcolm--" Julian began.

"--Malcolm was practically forced out!" Danny interrupted. He turned, punched a wall, and released an animalistic cry.

"Hey, man," Gronk said, slowly stopping his gyrations to approach Danny. He placed an oversized hand on his shoulder. "Hey. There, there. You okay. You okay."

Danny turned and buried his whole face into Gronk's chest, releasing a massive, agonized sound.

"Shit, man. That bad?"

"The DOLPHINS!" Danny screamed, punching Gronk's chest repeatedly. His fists easily bounced off and Gronk couldn't help but giggle. He loved it!



Chapter Text


It was Roger Goodell's final night hosting the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

"What's this?" a man dressed in full security guard attire asked. 

Roger Goodell glanced up into the mirror of his backstage white-wood makeup vanity. It was lit with soft gold lights around a mirror that framed his saddened face. He held a powderpuff in his hand, freezing before he could pat power onto the reddened parts of his face. It seemed after every announcement he made, the heat of his face would eat through his foundation. "..wh-what's... what..?"

"This." The security officer held up a jagged line of metal. 

"Oh," Goodell sighed, shoulders dropping as he tried to relax once more and pat the powerpuff against his nose. "That's just my nail file."

"And are you using this to hurt yourself, Mr. Goodell?" 

Roger tensed. 

The security officer confiscated the nail file and locked eyes with Roger Goodell in the mirror. A moment of silence passed between the two of them. 

Roger calmly placed the powderpuff onto the table and then picked up his lip gloss, gently uncapping it to delicately spread some shine onto his lips.



Sony Michel called up Isaiah Wynn. 

"Hello?" Isaiah Wynn answered.

"Isaiah... it's me, Sony!" Sony Michel squeaked.

"Sony! Omagad! Omgaod, ohmigod. Can you believe it?" Wynn practically shouted.

"No, not really!! That's why I called though. I mean what are the odds that the patriots would draft both of us?"

"Super slim." Wynn said. "So, Sony, whatchu up to, boy? Why  you callin' me when we could be hanging out."

Sony hummed, "Man, I was actually thinking... I'm HANGRY."

Wynn sighed.

Sony continued, "But you know I aint really in the mood to cook nothin and was wondering if you made anything or wanted to go out or somethin, you know."

While holding his cell phone against his face, Wynn dropped his face into his hand. "When you gonna learn to cook, bro?"

"Eh, idk."

"Dude. Arite, yeah come over. I made some Arugula salad."

"Yeah, boy! I'm on my way." The line clicked and Wynn glanced up at the sky, unable to hide a small smile from forming on his lips. Ohh, that Sony. Can't live with him, can't live without him.


A blackened New England night sky stared down at Danny Amendola. He stared right back. Everything hurt, from head to toe, heart to soul. He’d hitchhiked his way from Miami to New England under a clever disguise and come across many interesting personalities on the road. It had been at times terrifying, but at last he’d made his way back to the place he’d come to know as his true home.

Julian Edelman carefully squirted TB12 electrolytes into his glass of water, heart racing. Danny Amendola burst through the door and in a nervous frenzy Julian smacked his bottle of electrolytes across the room. "HEY, DANNY," he shouted, shocked and self conscious of how he'd been caught red handed using Tom Brady's electrolytes. 

Danny didn't seem to mind though. "Jules, thank god you're home."

"Wait... what are you doing here?"

"I just wasn't feeling too good, man."

"Aren't you suppose to be in Miami?"

"Yeah, but I figured I'd come up you know... play some baseball."

Julian kept silent, unsure of what to even say to that. He truly feared his friend was losing his mind.


"Meu amor," Gisele whispered cautiously. She moved to sit near her husband, smiling as he mumbled his love for her in Portuguese. “Are you okay?”

He was blinking his eyes fast again.

He did then whenever he was in a mood. Gisele tilted her head onto his shoulder and let it rest there, reaching out to stroke his arm as non threatening as she could manage. Even still, he flinched beneath her touch. “What’s wrong?” In truth, it was hard not to sigh after asking it.

“Just uh, it’s…” Her husband was glancing down, fingers fiddling.

It was just so much easier to use a heart eyes emoji when it came to Tom sometimes. Gisele released her breath as slowly as she could, hoping to hide her building frustration.

“It’s our new quarterback, Danny Etling. He’s uh… he’s twenty-three. I started playing football when he was a six years old.”

Oh.” Gisele replied more harshly than she intended. She straightened up and flipped her hair out of her face before slowly returning to lean against her husband. He was so touchy when it came to age lately, walking the line between resigning and more determined than ever. "Age stops for no man, meu amor." 

He felt tense beneath her and she knew there would be no reaching him tonight. He was lost in his own world tonight. 


“Aaron Brooks, Don Meredith, Chad Pennington,” Danny Patrick Etling whispered feverishly as he lay motionless in his bed, “Jeff Hostetler, Jake, Delhomme, Jim McMahon, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan, J-Jimmy Garoppolo, T-T-..T-….” Even though Danny Etling was laying still, the mere thought of the Goat of all time stole his breath away. Danny’s heartbeat had increased so suddenly he feared it would wreck him.  He tried turning onto his side but that didn’t help, he was practically sweating. God, he felt done in; physically devastated in the best of ways.

He sighed joyously, smiling uncontrollably, eyes fluttering shut.

It had become a nightly routine for Danny Etling to recite the names of every single NFL quarterback ever. He studied them all. Every single one of them. But the one he’d always studied most… well that was none other than the goddamn, motherfucking GOAT of all time.

Oh wait, just Goat, he told himself. You’re a Patriot now, you CAN’T make that mistake anymore.

Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. had been Etling’s role model since he was six years old and Brady turned the Patriots into the best team in the league.  He blushed brightly just thinking of the name: Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.

This season was going to be THE BEST!!

Chapter Text

Everything hurt.

It was more than just a bodily ache that pounded every inch of his body; from the top of his head all the way to his feet. He was in agony. A pain so deep he was certain he would not survive this kind of hellish torture.

This, Roger Goodell thought, was worse than the moment during Super Bowl XLI after he'd listened to a 13 hour audiobook tape on overcoming societal pressure to attain a positive self image on the way there, when everyone in the stadium erupted in deep, unmistakable boo's.

He should have been used to this. Every goddamn year at the drafts, he was inevitably chewed up and boo'ed off stage (like Eminem, his rap idol, once had been).

Roger sat at his computer, his hand repeatedly digging into one of those oversized tins of Christmas popcorn featuring a cute puppy on the outside. He pulled out handful after handful of caramel, cheddar, and buttered popcorn in one, mixed fistful before shoving it into his open mouth. Roger's fingers were gritty with fake cheese dust and sticky caramel. His free hand scrolled through countless articles.

A long time ago, his therapist had advised him not to google himself. This was precisely why.

But Roger, well, he was in a dark place. This was exactly the kind of self-deprecating situation he needed tonight.


He tried to find a single article that displayed him in a positive light, but after three hours, he was giving up hope. None of them existed.

The nail file he kept on him at all times sat on the computer desk and his tear-filled eyes sought it out. Mouth open, cheese dust coating his lips and fingers, he made to reach for it with shaking hands.

Just as he was about to lift it, an idea struck him like an Defensive Lineman on Eli Manning.

A small, sinister smile crept across his face.


Roger's fingers dashed to his keyboard and he frantically began typing. Reddit was a site he used late at night when loneliness had gotten the best of him. He'd read conspiracy theories, learned about the cynical side of the Internet, and, when he was feeling the most depressed, he would read about himself.

Tonight, however. Tonight, Roger would make things right.

The fucking New England Patriots. He hated them, perhaps more than Nick Foles and Lane Johnson. Roger liked to take full responsibility (in private, of course) for tarnishing Tom Brady's flawless reputation. But now, with the Patriots finally picking up the pieces after trades and the drafts followed by that embarrassing Super Bowl loss, he was going to hit them hard.

Roger typed in his username, one he designed to throw people off from who he really was, pretending he was a young stud of 37 instead of the tiny, decrepit old man he was becoming.


Roger opened up a new thread.

I know something about the Patriots. :) :) Big news coming soon.

And he waited for the replies to roll in.

By the following morning, Roger's screen was full of guesses as to what the newest scandal would be. He decided to go with his favorite.

Tom Brady would be too obvious a choice.

No, this time he was going to hit them where it hurt.

Julian Edelman. His fingers hovered over his filthy keyboard and he released a wicked laugh as he quickly typed the news that might destroy the Patriots once and for all.

"Julian Edelman has been using Performance Enhancement Drugs."

The second he clicked post, Roger made a phone call.

"Hello, ESPN."

"Hi. I would like to direct you to the brilliant Reddit page- Redditlover1981. There's news about Julian Edelman."

Within an hour, the news spread like wildfire. He sat back, his fingers crossed over his swollen stomach, and watched the news and every sports network as they dropped the news, just like that. This would be easier than he imagined.

It was Roger Goodell to call Bill Belichick.

"That's right. A four game suspension on your Wide Receiver prince. The one with the face."

"Okay. Bye."

It was in the darkness of his mother's basement that Roger rubbed his hands together in a menacing laugh, throwing his head back. Finally he would be seen as the hero.



Chapter Text

"You sure about this, buddy?" Gronk asked Brady, leveling him with a concerned stare. 

Brady said nothing, but only returned Gronk's stare with a fiery determination. 

Gronk nodded, chest puffing with a sigh. "All right then. Go do ya thing. I'll wait out here."

Brady's gaze met the sky for a moment before he started towards the darkened, seedy Football Game Ban Prison building. 

"Tell him I said hi." Gronk called to Brady’s back.

"May I ask who you are requesting to visit today?" The PED Ban patrol officer asked. He wore all white, like everyone in the PED Ban Prison ward did. 

Today Tom Brady wore all black. "Julian Edelman," Brady said quietly. 

The PED Ban patrol officer looked down at the clipboard in his hand and further inquired. "And you're here alone?"

"Yes," Tom said. 

"Check him." The PED Ban officer said, and four guards clad in pristine white uniforms suddenly went at Tom Brady, frisking him so thoroughly that they even checked his pockets. There were metal detectors and UV blacklight detectors grazing over his every inch. Tom Brady kept his eyes steadily focused on the nothingness ahead of him, careful to keep them dead of the painful emotion he felt. How could Edelman have landed himself in PED Ban Prison?

"He's clear," said one of the guards. 

"Ready to be escorted," said another. 

Two men took a hold of Tom Brady, one on either side of him. Tom shot them both offended glances as they touched him.

"Mr. Brady, you will be allotted a visitation span of ten minutes." 

Tom swallowed bitterly, giving a curt nod as the two men manhandled him into the darkened depths of PED Ban Prison. 

The hallways were dark and long, thick with must. The scent in the air reeked of a hospital, that sickly kind of clean that wrapped itself too tight around the brain. It was too sharp for Tom Brady. There was nothing inviting about this place and all he could think to himself was: no... no...  

When they reached Julian's cellblock Tom cursed beneath his breath. "Sonuva avocado..." 

That seemed to tick one of the guards off. He let go of Brady with shove just as the other man released Brady's other arm. "Ten minutes, Mr. Brady."

But Tom felt wrecked at the sight before him. Julian was on the floor, dirty and beaten, donning a red and blue mask. No wonder he hadn't been on social media. They'd locked him away and even went so far as to take his phone. The audacity. And the mask made him look savage, they'd even ripped the shirt off his back. He must've been so cold.

Did Belichick know about this? A shudder worked down Tom's spine as he realized he'd rather not know the answer to that question

"You've got a visitor, Number Eleven." The guard informed Julian. 

Julian groaned out in response, not even bothering to look up. "I'm good, thanks. I've had enough from you."

"It's someone else, Number Eleven." The guard said, which prompted a pregnant silence. 

"Jules..." Tom's soft voice seemed to cut through the building  tension, echoing down the dank hall of the dungeons. 

"Tom?" Jules asked with just enough hope to break Brady's heart. As an afterthought Julian mumbled, "don't want you to see me like this.."

"I'm not leaving him here." Brady declared. 

"Tom, don't-"

Tom remembered his own time spent in this prison. He hadn't been in this ward, but rather in the Deflate Ball Ward. It had been a lonely time, indeed, and one he actively chose to constantly remember. He'd never forget the downright shame he felt. Redemption had been sweet, but it didn't appear as though Julian had the promise of any such thing in his future. 

"I'll do whatever it takes to get him out."

The guards looked at each other. After a moment the one who seemed especially angry at Brady set his jaw and said. "Want you to wear a piss yellow shirt that says I Heart Gisele. But the heart has to be an actual heart symbol and not the word. And hot pink shorts."

The air slid out of Brady's lungs before he could stop it, and although his initial instinct was to shake his head no, he bit down his denial. "Not yellow."

"It has to be yellow." The guard insisted. 

"Fine. Done." Brady responded, lifting his chin to the challenge. "I'll do it."

The guard sniggered aggressively as the other guard leaned in and whispered something into his ear about how they could get into serious trouble. At the end of it, however, they unlocked the prison door and allowed Julian to go free. 

Brady wrapped an arm around Julian's back and encouraged him back the way they came. "I got you, you fucking idiot." 

"I ... I didn't...." Julian whimpered.

"I know, Jules. I know." Brady assured.

"Guerrera ... he... and coach..."

"Save your energy, Jules." Tom tried for a cold tone, but there was no hiding his adoration. 

"You really gonna wear that yellow shirt?"

"I have to." Tom replied simply. “Oh, and Gronk says hi.”


Chapter Text

The tincture hovered above Julian's parted lips as he slept, slept so deeply not a single thing in the world could wake him up.

PED Prison had been....

...more than difficult. 

There were words in other languages, he was sure, to describe the atrocities that he'd seen, faced, experienced, but Julian hadn't allowed himself to think of them. Not now. Appealing his suspension had been a bust; and though part of him wanted to seek revenge and take it further, take it all the way to the goddamn supreme court and show those sorry suckers what was what, Tom wouldn't allow it.

..."Just rest up, Jules. Four more games to make sure that leg's in top shape."

That was all Julian had to hear before he was putty. Tom had that way about him. Anything he said, went. No one could deny it, it was a blessing to have the GOAT having your back.

Now, spread across the king-sized bed beside Tom and Gisele's king-sized bed, Julian slept. It was a dreamless sleep, Tom could tell. There was no shouting, no twitching, no spasming. He dropped a single droplet of his ultra-powered TB12 enhanced electrolytes into Julian's mouth. The wise receiver had no external reaction; but Tom knew the bad boys were doing their job inside. He would nurse his favorite wide receiver back to perfect health if it was the last thing he did.

With a content sigh, he rolled back over and curled into his pillow, staring at Gisele's backside. 

"Hoooo--OHhhhoOohhh god," Braxton Berrios wrung his hands as he paced Gillette Stadium's locker room hours before the pre-season opener. "Ohhhh god!" His stomach was tense and moving at once, like there was something alive in there, something that wanted to crawl out. It couldn't have been the taco salad he had made specifically for Ryan Allen (he had taste tested everything, and god they were all so perfect- the FLAVORS!). Braxton knew just what this was. 

Pre-game anxiety. There was nothing he could do, nothing except... his ears were a set of wireless headphones, blasting music so loudly he didn't realize he'd been talking aloud. 

Ain't got no tears in my body
I ran out, but boy, I like it, I like it, I like it
Don't matter how, what, when, who tries it
We're out here vibin', we vibin', we vibin'...

"You can do this Braxton," he gasped, clutching the sink as he looked at himself in the mirror.

His first game in the NFL. He had always imagined himself as a Miami Dolphin- knowing that if he were to make his career count, it would have to be with a losing team. There was so much less pressure when that was the case. But no, the goddamn New England Patriots had to go and draft him. He wouldn't even get to watch the Dolphins, and see Danny Amendola make his debut there because the Dolphins were also playing that night at the same time! A worse case scenario he could not imagine.

"Oh noooo."

He ran into a stall and emptied the contents of his stomach into the bowl.

Isaiah Wynn had been lifting Sony Michele in the air, ballerina style, when they realized they were not alone in the locker room. The sound of a white boy in distress interrupted their pre-game celebration ritual. It was their good-luck charm and practice for when things went their way on the field. No better way to show off to the other team when they made a good move, after all!

Sony tip-toed as delicately and quietly as he could manage, peering around the door that lead into the bathroom part of the locker room. The distant tunes of a female pop-star blared from the ears of Berrios, and he turned to look at Isaiah, withholding a laugh. They crouched low, hiding behind the door, watching as their fellow rookie and teammate pace and talk to himself promptly before losing his lunch. Sony pulled a face and gagged- that was gross.

"Jesus, man. Talk about performance anxiety," Wynn laughed as they both stood up, high-fiving before continuing their celebration routine. It was their way. They'd done it all throughout college football, and it had landed them both as New England Patriots. There was no way they were going to stop now, not even for Braxton Berrios.


Ja’Whaun Bentley whipped around after locking his white Mercedes (there were at least 50 bags from Macy*s, JC Penny, and Nordstroms in there, he didn't want anyone getting any funny ideas). 

"What's good?"

Stephon Gilmore wrapped a loose arm around the rookie linebacker's shoulders. "You got it, man?" he asked, his eyes wide and maniacal as he held out his hand, which was covered in fingerless gloves, as the pair walked towards the stadium. The game was still hours away, but Belichick, as always, required early attendance.

"Course," he Ja'Whuan replied, reaching into his pocket to extract a small test tube. "Brady's DNA." 

"Shush your mouth!" Stephon said, smacking him with an anxious look. He tugged on the bone necklace around his neck, his eyes roaming the entire area before he snatched the tube and shoved it away. "Thanks, man. See you on the field. Better not fucking trip."

Ja'Whuan was silent as Stephon ran away, but a wicked glimmer appeared in his eyes as he tucked a single strand of Gilmore's hair into another test tube, pocketing it.

Julian felt weirdly alert. His body was a powerhouse, machine of perfection. Ever since he'd fully recovered, he was itching and ready to go, but this goddamn bitch of a suspension meant he had to take it easy. Besides, he knew the last thing he needed was to sustain an injury during practice or pre-season. While Toemas Brady was 51 years old, Jules played a much rougher position and had no clue how much more time he had left as a seasoned-pro. He had to live it up. 

Still, he arrived on the field at the precise time Belichick called. Coach was giving a pre-game pep talk and Jules, while suited and ready to go, had no idea what he would do during this game. With all the rookies and players of less value, he doubted he'd get a ton of play-time, but god he was feeling squirrely. A whole season off and time in PED Prison had left his muscles jittering in excitement to go, go, go!

"We focus on today," Belichick said before he nodded and clapped for the team to disperse. Before everyone could run off, however, there was the distinct sound of a throat clearing. Jules looked up, expecting to see Josh McDaniels or maybe Brady or captain David Andrews, but this time, it was a newly-familiar face.

Short, dirty blonde hair swept over a sun-kissed forehead as the young, new-recruit Quarterback stepped forward with a small, sultry grin.

"Just wanted to say good luck. I know I'm new," he said, captivating everyone's attention with his graces and good-looks, an award-winning smile on his lips. Damn, he was confident. Jules noticed Brady a few feet away, his brows pinched together in confusion as Etling took it upon himself to give the team a speech. What was he thinking? "We all know Mr. Brady, I hope it's okay I call you that, Mr. Brady."

"Call me Tom," Tom said uncertainly, though Jules could see the curiosity in his eyes. 

"Mr. Brady," Etling said, laughing breathlessly. He was clearly unaccustomed to the legend's presence; or, perhaps, he was just respectful towards his elders. Either way, Jules couldn't help but snigger under his breath. "Usually doesn't play much in the pre-season, so you're going to have to rely on me and Brian. So, I just wanted to say--"

"--Shut up," Bill interrupted. "You," he pointed to Ryan Izzo, new draft out of Florida. "Take him out of here. Let's get to work." Ryan looked flabbergasted that Bill acknowledged him at all, let alone with such a direct order. He was hasty to grab Danny's elbow, moving him out of the middle of their huddle.

"Hey, maybe next time, let coach do the talking," Ryan muttered. Julian shook his head and laughed.

Oh, to be a rookie again.


Things were different.

Kansas City had not been the right fit for him. Everyone could have seen that from a million miles away. Alex Smith didn't thrive in a place most known for their tornadoes. No, it was in Washington he was beginning to feel like he was finally, finally at home.

Watching Tom Brady fall from his high horse in the Super Bowl had been incredible. Motivating beyond words. If a backup quarterback from a mediocre team could de-throne the GOAT, that meant Alex could do something incredible.

And now, though he was probably barely going to touch the ball all night, he would be in the same stadium as Tom Brady. In Gillette. He never, ever thought this was possible.

He was going to take advantage.

"That's right. Lower the goddamn air pressure," he instructed into his cell phone. A mischievous grin tugged over his lips.

Deflategate Part 2. 

This was the year Tom Brady would be taken down once and for all. 

He had the whole of the Official Coalition Against Tom Brady behind him. Alex Smith would finally be seen for what he already knew he was.

A hero.