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smoke and dust (what's left of us?)

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He leaves the hospital with a leg brace, a prescription for painkillers and the diagnosis of anterior cruciate ligament injury. At least that’s what the doctors are thinking. He has an MRI scheduled for after the weekend to confirm and make sure it’s just that and not a more complex ligament injury. After that, he’ll probably have to get an appointment for surgery.


If he’s honest he doesn’t really care what exactly it is that’s wrong with his knee. He just knows it hurts a whole fucking lot. 


And that his career as a professional football player is most definitely over.


A small part of him is almost grateful for his injury. He’s had a bit of time to come to terms with the fact that he will no longer be the Roy Kent he’s known for all of his life. But the injury makes it feel a little less like a complete and utter disgrace. Many football players before him have been brought down by broken body parts. At least now there is a reason that ties into, but goes beyond his age alone. 


And still - still - it hurts. All of it. His knee, the relegation, the fact that he knows this chapter - the only one that has ever existed in the book that is his life - is over now. 


It really, really fucking hurts. 


Roy closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and lets the pain turn into the one emotion he knows how to deal with: anger.


He’s quiet on the drive home. Keeley doesn’t talk much either and he’s grateful for it. Grateful she’s here, with him. He didn’t want to ask her to drive him to the hospital and he didn’t have to. She offered, but in a way that made it clear that she wasn’t going to accept no for an answer. He’s grateful for that, too. He’s never been good at leaning on others. Ever since he was a child and was sent to Sunderland, it’s always just been him. He learned early on that it was not a particularly good idea to rely on other people. They’d just disappoint you. 


Keeley is different. It’s a stupid fucking cheesy thing to even think, but it’s also the truth. She’s just a really good person, even if she’s made some questionable choices (Jamie fucking Tartt, among others) in the past. She’s loud and funny and talks a lot. She pushes, but never too much. She lets him be, grumpy and angry as he is, but also never lets him get away with being a dumb idiot. He can be quiet with her in a way that feels comfortable. He’s never had that before. 


Keeley inserted herself into his life in a way that he didn’t think he’d ever want. The first night she stayed over at his place, she cleared out some space in his drawer for a few of her clothes and left her pink toothbrush in a glass next to the sink. In the morning he came into the kitchen to find her brewing what looked like very expensive specialty coffee that he most definitely had not bought. She looked so comfortable then, leaning against the kitchen counter in sweatpants and one of his faded shirts. And when she gave him a big smile and leaned in for a kiss, instead of panicking all he could think was that this felt right


And earlier, after he’d hobbled off the field for what he knew was the final time, angry and defeated and humiliated, feeling a million years older than his age and he tried to push her away when she came into the locker room, she didn’t leave. Didn’t allow him to pull back, away from her. Instead she inserted herself into what felt like a defining moment in his life and, sitting on the bench with her hand clasped tightly in his, he could let himself feel sorrow for the first time in a long while. 


It was like Ted had said: this was a sad moment, but what was worse than being sad was being sad alone. And he was not alone. 


Just like he’s not alone now. 


He can feel Keeley’s eyes on him, the comfort of her presence surrounding him. It doesn’t magically make it all better. This is not one of the stupid, cheesy Disney movies Phoebe makes him watch way too often. It doesn’t take the sadness, the anger away. 


But it does help. It does help a bit.


“Okay”, Keeley says once she’s helped him inside. He hadn’t even put up a fight when she put his arm around her shoulder, her small frame supporting all of his weight as they made their way to the door. 


She directs him to the sofa, making sure to elevate his injured leg on one of the decorative pillows his sister gave him that he would not in a million years admit to actually liking because the fabric really is just very soft. 


“How about a bath, huh? That’ll be nice for your muscles.”


He lifts his eyebrows at her words, annoyance washing over him. He knows she’s just trying to help, but he’s not good at this . Letting himself be cared for. Really, all he wants right now is a glass of whiskey and to brood on his couch for a few hours before eventually dragging himself to bed and not getting out of it for two straight days. 


“A bath? I’m not a fourteen-year old girl, for fuck’s sake. What’s next? Pink bubbles? You gonna paint my nails a glittery purple and read me one of those stupid magazines about like horses and shit?”


Keeley just smiles at his outburst, seemingly unfazed.


“Actually I think a nice crimson would suit your skin tone better. But I can absolutely run out and get you a nice fizzy bath bomb. You know they’ve actually got ones that change colour, too”. 


“Keeley,” he grits out, trying to keep his voice calm despite the exasperation he’s feeling because he knows, he knows she’s just trying to be nice but this? This is not him. And god, he also knows he’s being a right arsehole about it but he can’t help himself, his leg hurts like fucking hell, his career is over and he just wants to be angry at all of that for a little - or or a long - while. He doesn’t want to be coddled and he doesn’t want to have to feel guilty about the nice things she’s doing that he cannot currently appreciate.


“Alright,” she says, interrupting his rapidly spiralling thoughts, still smiling widely. “But just so you know, I was going to offer to join you. You and me in the bath together, could be enjoyable, don’t you think?”


Roy would never admit to it, but the hot water actually feels really nice and he has to suppress a sigh as he leans against the back of the tub. Of course Keeley would not be Keeley if she hadn’t managed to dig out a few candles that he’s sure are still from Christmas last year when Phoebe insisted he put up at least a few decorations and he relented, like he usually does. Speaking of his niece, Keeley managed to also find a bottle of some purple princess-y bubble bath somewhere in the back of his bathroom closet that he cannot for the life of him remember purchasing and that is also most definitely not his. Keeley only giggled when he said as much. She’s curled into his side now, careful to avoid his injured knee and he wraps his arm tighter around her, pulling her further into him as he watches the light from the candles dance across the white bathroom tiles. 


He knows he’s gone quiet again and this time she doesn’t let him overthink, soft fingers pressing against his skin to tilt his head down until his eyes meet hers.


“Want to tell me what’s going on in that pretty head of yours?” she asks gently.


He sighs quietly, hitting his head softly against the wall behind him.


“Just contemplating what day would be best to go down to the unemployment office, I guess.”


“Well,” Keeley says, and whatever pity he was expecting to find in her eyes, it’s not there. Instead there’s only warmth and something much deeper that he doesn’t, can’t dwell on right now. 


“Whatever you do, I’ve heard from trusted sources that Monday is absolutely the most horrid day to go. So, you know, maybe not that one.”


His lips curl into a wry smile at her words.


“Trusted sources, you say?” 


“Yeah,” she replies, a small smile of her own dancing across her lips. “Trusted sources.”


They fall quiet for a while. He picks up her hand, gently trailing his fingers over her soft skin and she leans back into him, her head resting in the crook of his neck.


“I just don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do,” he says after a while. She tilts up her head until her eyes meet his again. “Like I’ve never even gone to university. What am I going to do, work at fucking Starbucks?” 


She chuckles at that and it vibrates through his skin. 


“You could write a book. Be a motivational speaker. You’d be great at that”, she replies and he grunts, rolling his eyes.


“I’m serious, Keeley,” he says after a moment. “We all know I’m not going to play again. I’m too fucking old and now my stupid leg…” 


He trails off, teeth digging into his lips as he shakes his head in annoyance, at the situation and himself. 


“The point is,” he continues. “I’m clearly going to have to find something else to occupy my time with and it’s definitely not going to be commentating on football matches like some right fucking idiot. Or creating my own perfume or whatever the fuck else it is rejected has-beens like me are supposed to do.”


Keeley nods quietly at that. 


“Well, I was going to suggest Survivor, but I guess that’s off the table, too…” 


“Keeley,” he interjects, voice strained. “I mean it. I’m never going to play professionally again. You do know that, right? So if you…if you don’t...if you want to...”


He shakes his head again, doesn’t know how to phrase it exactly, but needs her to understand. She’s young, her career a wide open road in front of her and men (and women) falling at her feet left and right and he...he’s just some old bloke who used to be someone. What does he even have to offer her? 


And god, it would really fucking hurt if she left now but he wants her to have the choice. Because she deserves more than he can give her. He really needs to stop watching so many of those stupid Disney movies because this sounds so fucking corny but she really does deserve everything. 


Keeley’s head whips around at his words, her face hard.


“Want to do what?”, she asks, drawing out the syllables. “Want to trade you in for a newer model? Great idea. Hmm, let’s see. Sam’s really cute. Or maybe Dani Rojas? He’s always so happy and he’s a great football player. Which is obviously the main thing I’m looking for in a relationship.”


Narrowing her eyes, she swats his arm hard. 


“Ow,” he yelps, glowering at her as he rubs at the sting.


“Well you deserve it,” Keeley exclaims angrily. “You’re being a complete tosser right now.”  


She shakes her head and he sighs.


“Look,” she continues, voice a bit more gentle now. “I don’t give a shit about what you do. I’m not dating you because you’re a famous footballer. How shallow do you think I am?”


“I don’t think - “ he starts to interrupt her but she holds up her hand.


“That is what you’re implying though. I know this really sucks for you in multiple ways and I know you’re angry and sad and you have all the right to be but don’t take it out on me. I’m just trying to help you because even if you can be a right arsehole sometimes, I really like you. And I want to be with you. I don’t care if you’re a footballer or a bartender or driving people around in those stupid golf carts. I want to be with you. So get your head out of your arse.”


Leaning in closer, she frames his face in her hands, lets her voice soften until it’s barely above a whisper.


“I like you for who you are, Roy Kent. Just like Phoebe likes you for being her amazing Uncle Roy who gets her quite literally everything she wants. And you’ve got time. You’re not exactly going to run out of money tomorrow, or in a week. You can take a few months to let you knee heal and figure it all out.” 


She presses her lips to his then and he pulls her closer, feels the lines of her body press against his and her arms wrap around him, anchoring him to her. 


There is a warmth spreading through him at her words, at her kiss. A warmth that feels foreign and yet familiar, like the feeling of being wrapped in a thick blanket by the wrinkled, strong hands of someone who loves him and even warmer still. Like for one short moment everything that’s happened that day, all the sadness and anger is just washed away and there is only Keeley’s warm body, her soft voice, her smile, her gentle kiss. Just Keeley and him, together.


God, he’s being really cheesy, but for once in his life he does not care. Because this? This means so much more than he ever thought it could.


“I…” he starts, doesn’t know what exactly he’s trying to tell her except something , something right and important and real but she cuts him off with another kiss. 


“You don’t have to say anything,” she says quietly as if she’s sensing the jumbled mess of his thoughts. She probably is. In any case, the look on her face is enough to tell him that she does know, does understand. 


“Just don’t doubt that I’m in your corner,” she continues. “I’m not going to drive off with your car, or your wallet or whatever. I’m staying, right here. With you.”


Trying to swallow past the sudden bout of emotion rising up in his throat, he nods and presses a kiss to the crown of her head. She curls her leg over his and together they settle back into the warmth of the bath. 


He doesn’t know if it will all be okay in the end. There are too many things looming on the horizon. Surgery, rehab, an official retirement announcement, relegation and the press that are going to be all over this like the vultures they are. There are so many maybes, so many possible ways this can go and that really is what it all comes down to: he doesn’t know what will happen.


It’s the hope that kills you . He’s always known this statement to be true. But apparently Ted fucking Lasso and Keeley Jones have gotten to him because right now, in this moment, he finds that he doesn’t want to believe it.


Right now he wants to have hope. That things will work out. That he can find a way to be someone beyond who he thought he was. Roy Kent still. Not better, not more than that. 


Different, but still himself, still who he has always been.