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dressed up to the eyes, it’s a wonderful surprise

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Roy can admit, if only to himself, that he’s been in love with Keeley since the first time Jamie Fucking Tart brought her out for a dinner with the team. He’s fairly certain Keeley knew Jamie was showing her off, but she’d been sweet and jovial and even managed to rope him into a one-sided conversation, to which he remembers responding with mostly grunts, even when he could barely take his eyes off her, and while he’d questioned her judgement in dating him, of all people, he’d quickly learned that Keeley was more than a fit, footballer’s trophy girlfriend. She was quick and funny and smart as hell, smarter by far than Jamie, but she seemed to like him, and Roy still doesn’t know if it’s that, or simply his own cowardice that kept him (mostly) silent about it.

He also isn’t exactly sure what she’s doing with him now, why she’d choose an angry, washed up footballer as her partner, but he knows enough not to look that particular horse in the mouth. Instead, he does as many little things as he can for her—brings her tea when he knows she’s having a rough day, cooks her dinner, slips his hand into hers when he thinks no one’s looking.

Keeley is far more demonstrative, but he thinks she knows what he’s trying to say, when he turns up her favorite song on the radio or rubs her feet while they watch the news, smirking to himself at the little moans she makes.

She’s taught him to be a bit more open, a bit less guarded. Taught him his soft side isn’t necessarily a shortcoming, as he’d always thought. She’s made him a bit kinder, a bit less angry, at himself and the world, and he knows he can never really pay her back for that. She asks so little of him, seems content with who he is, as he is, and all she ever seems to need is his presence, his respect, his honesty.

It’s the last one he has the hardest time with, especially on days like today, when her smile is beaming and she’s talking a mile a minute about the gala, how she convinced Rebecca to join her in offering themselves up for auction, since Sam and Isaac with both be out—Sam sick with the flu, and Isaac in Basildon visiting his grandmother. She’s saying something about dragging him dress shopping later, smirks at him and tosses her hair over her shoulder.

“How much do you think I’ll go for?” she asks, and Roy rolls his eyes.

“However fucking much I have to pay for you.”

Keeley beams. “So romantic,” she says, but her eyes are bright and he knows she knows there’s no way he’d let her auction herself off to some handsy pensioner, or worse.

Roy drums his fingers on the table as she talks about dresses, interjecting his thoughts as she shows him a few pictures on her phone, but he can’t stop thinking about the other thing she said, the other person on the rich man’s chopping block.

He knows more about Rebecca than the rest of the team—knows what she did, and why. He doesn’t blame her for it, though he harbors a bit more resentment than Keeley and Ted, he’s sure. But she’s stepped up lately, been a good ally—a few months back, when the press did a rather scathing article on him and Keeley, Rebecca was the one who raised so much hell they retracted the article. When Nate found himself stuck in Sheffield, Rebecca drove herself (and Ted) to pick him up. She’s been in the locker room more, or so he’s heard, and whenever he picks Keeley up from the club, Rebecca always makes a point to drop in and say hello. Roy’s found her and Ted with their heads pressed together more than once, at a bar or in her office, and it’s been good, to see her softer side—the “real” Rebecca, as Sassy put it one night.

He knows her past, too, though, knows who she was married to, and knows without a shadow of a doubt that putting Rebecca on stage is an absolutely asinine idea. Keeley seems so proud, still talking about how much they’re going to raise for the children, that it takes him longer than it probably should for him to gather the courage to catch her gaze.

She stops, mid-sentence, and frowns. “What?”

He opens his mouth, then closes it. “Nothing.”

“No, what?” she insists. “You’ve got that face on.”

“What face?”

“The ‘I want to say something that’s going to upset my girlfriend and I don’t want to get in trouble for it” face.”

“I don’t have a fucking face for that.”

“You do, you’re wearing it right now.”

“Keeley—”

“Tell me.”

He sighs, taps his finger on the table for a moment, then squares his jaw. “Rupert‘s gonna bid on her.”

Keeley blinks. “Who?”

“Rebecca. If you put her in the auction, Rupert will bid. And he’ll win.”

“No, he’s not coming,” Keeley says firmly. “He’ll be out of town.”

“Wasn’t supposed to come last year either,” he reminds her, and tries to keep his voice soft. Keeley slows, and her expression falls into one of confusion, then guilt, and he hates himself for bringing it up, but it’s better, he thinks, to tell her now than let her find out tomorrow.

“Shit,” she says, scrambling up from the table to pace the length of her dining room. “Shit fuck shit.”

Roy nods sympathetically, and Keeley takes a deep breath.

“Okay. So he bids—someone will outbid him. You know Ted would never—”

“You think gaffer’s got a million pounds stocked up somewhere?”

Keeley winces. “I’ll bid, then,” she says resolutely. “It’ll be girl’s night!”

“Keeley,” he says gently, and she sighs.

“I know. I know, but we can’t let—”

“I know,” he murmurs. She holds his gaze for a moment, stricken.

And then her shoulders set, her jaw tight, and she snatches her phone off the table.

“Right. We need backup.”

“We?”

“You pointed it out,” she says, texting frantically. “You’re involved now.”

“Goody,” he mutters, but Keeley doesn’t react, except to bus a kiss to his cheek as she passes toward the stairs.

“Ted’ll be here in 30 minutes,” she says. “You should probably put trousers on.”

Roy harumphs, but dutifully follows her up the stairs, silently cursing the interruption to their day.

He was gonna make scones and everything.

“Howdy!” Ted says brightly when Keeley answers the door, and despite how much he hates that word, Roy feels his shoulders drop just a fraction. Ted’s enthusiasm may be a bit much for him at 9am, but Roy knows if anyone can unfuck this particular quagmire, it’s Ted.

Of course, that’s not how Ted puts it, crossing the threshold with a paper bag full of what smells like fresh pastries, balancing three coffees in a tray on his arm.

“Heard y’all got yourselves in a bit of a pickle.”

“It’s about the auction,” Keeley says, ushering him to the table while Roy waits a grand total of three seconds before reaching for the bag of sweets. There’s even a scone in there, the wanker.

“How’s that comin’ along?” Ted asks, sliding Roy his coffee. Roy grunts in thanks, and Ted nods.

“It was going brilliantly,” Keeley says, drawing her legs up to her chest as she sits, and Roy frowns, isn’t sure he likes the way it makes her look small, unsure. Definitely doesn’t like the fact that he made her that way, however well-intentioned. “Until Roy pointed out that I’m a fucking idiot.”

“That’s not—” Roy protests, at the same time Ted, like a protective older brother, teases,

“Well, now, those better not have been his exact words, cause then we’d have to have words and I don’t fancy my chances of winning an argument with him at this time of the morning.”

Roy grunts again, and Ted smirks, and Roy knows he’s trying to lighten the mood, by the way he shoots Roy a wink and says,

“See what I mean?”

Normally, Keeley would laugh, but instead she stares down into her coffee, biting her lip. Without thinking twice, Roy leans forward and reaches under the table to lay a hand on her ankle. Keeley gives him a grateful look, but it’s tinged with worry, and Ted immediately drops the charade.

“What happened?”

“I convinced Rebecca to take Sam’s place in the auction,” Keeley says. “She didn’t want to do it—said something about bad press but I honestly just thought she was being insecure, yeah? Like it’s fucking Rebecca, who wouldn’t bid on her? I’d bid on her! She’s gorgeous and fit and have you seen her breasts?”

Roy coughs and Ted blinks and Roy makes a note to follow up on that later because Keeley is gaining steam, gesturing wildly even as her eyes remain fixed on her coffee.

“Seriously, that woman has the most gorgeous tits I’ve ever seen and I’m including my own and if I were single—”

“You’re not,” Roy reminds her blandly, and Keeley rolls her eyes.

“I’m just saying, I thought it’d be good for her, an ego boost, yeah? Get her out of her comfort zone, get her a date with some fit financier so she could blow off some steam and stop thinking about—” She stops, looks at Ted, then Roy, and he doesn’t know what that look means, but he can guess.

He’s not an idiot, and he’s always been observant. He’s seen the way Rebecca behaves around Ted—the way her smile brightens just a bit more, the way she’s more willing to make a joke, or drop her shoulders a bit. He’s seen the way she leans into his space, never too much, always holding back; he’s seen the way Ted leans back into her, the way he lights up whenever she comes downstairs, his silly quests to make her laugh, the way he can’t quite take his eyes off her whenever she’s in the room.

Clearly, Rebecca and Keeley have had some kind of conversation about it, but Ted doesn’t seem to pick up on that. Instead, he’s frowning, a look Roy isn’t entirely certain he likes on the gaffer.

And he knows.

Roy knows he knows, because when he looks up and meets his gaze, Ted’s eyes are shadowed, his mouth downturned.

“It was supposed to be fun,” Keeley says, and Roy squeezes her leg. “But Roy said—”

“Rupert,” Ted fills in, and Keeley nods.

“How did I not think about that?”

“You were trying to help your friend,” Ted says quickly, “Ain’t no shame in that. And it’s good, y’know, that you don’t think like him.”

If Keeley wonders why both of them did think like him, she doesn’t ask.

“So what do we do?”

Ted pauses, drumming his fingers on the table in a rhythm that makes Roy twitchy. It’s an anxious sound, and Ted isn’t cracking jokes, isn’t making light. He almost wishes he would. But the silence pulls, and Keeley looks to Roy with bright, wet eyes, and he removes his hand from her leg to take her hand, curling his fingers around her palm. She smiles faintly, and squeezes back, her grip strong and needy.

“Well we can’t outbid him,” Ted says, “Not on our own. I’d do my best, y’know, but Rupert’s got deeper pockets than an Oklahoma oil well, and trust me those things are deep.”

“We could kill him,” Roy offers, finally eliciting a weak laugh from Keeley that makes his heart constrict.

“Not that I don’t like your thinking, but the press would have a field day and I think that kinda defeats the purpose of helping the boss.”

“ ‘Rupert Manion: Dead by Ted.’ ”

Ted snaps his fingers and points at her. “Exactly. No, what we need is—”

“Money?” Roy interjects again, and Ted nods.

“Yeah, and a lot of it.”

“We could rob a bank,” Keeley says, “Though I promised to do that with Rebecca.”

“Again, not much help with the press, but I appreciate your dedication to helping out.”

Keeley smiles wanly. “She’s my best friend. And I put her in this situation, and what’s worse she probably knows, and let me do it anyway.”

“Not your fault,” Roy says, and Keeley looks up at him.

“Isn’t it, though?”

Ted shakes his head, “No, no, no, that’s no good thinkin’,” he says. “You were tryin’ to do right by your best mate and got a little carried away, it happens. Your heart’s in the right place and Rebecca knows that, and I doubt she’d have let you talk her into it if she really didn’t want to.”

Roy isn’t sure about that, but rather than say so, he just nods when Ted frowns and pauses,

“Did I use ‘mate’ right?”

“Close enough.”

“Awesome.”

“We need a plan,” Keeley says, and Ted falls silent again, a rather unnerving spectacle, if Roy’s being honest. He’s gotten used to Ted’s long-winded, pun-filled Americanisms and his belief that no problem is too big to solve, no hill too tall to climb. It’s been, though he’ll never admit it, grudgingly reassuring, something he can count on.

But Ted is quiet, mulling, lost in his own head rather than thinking out loud, and Roy thinks if this were about anyone else, he’d be squawking away like a fucking bagpipe. But it’s not anyone, it’s Rebecca, and he’s taking this seriously, opening his mouth a few times, then shutting it and shaking his head. Roy waits, watches Keeley fret out of the corner of his eye. They need to do something, for both of them, because he knows Keeley will never forgive herself if Rupert wins. If Rebecca is forced to spend even a millisecond more with that prick than she has to.

And he gets it. He knows Rupert’s type, if not Rupert himself. He’s seen the rags, heard the stories, held Keeley close as she talks about how worried she is about Rebecca some days, has seen the shadows that cross Rebecca’s face from time to time, when she thinks no one is paying attention.

And he knows Ted has seen it, too. Knows Ted cares, maybe too much, maybe more than he should, though that’s not Roy’s place to say. And he believes fully, though annoyed with himself that he does, that Ted will find an answer.

So he isn’t surprised when Ted finally jumps, nearly upending his coffee, and points a finger at each of them in turn.

“I got it!”

Keeley brightens, sitting up straight, her smile slowly returning.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah! It’s gonna require a little help though. A lot of help. Actually, it’ll be a team effort, if you don’t mind my saying so, and I’m gonna need both y’all’s help to get things started.”

“Of course,” Keeley says seriously. “Anything. What do you need?”

Ted grins. “About a hundred thousand dollars.”

Roy looks around the gala, and has to admit Rebecca has outdone herself. She’d changed venues to Kew Gardens, and the enormous ballroom is full to the brim with plants and hanging lights, everything soft and white and green.

Gripping his arm as they make their way around the room before the evening begins, Keeley points out all her suggestions and Rebecca’s ideas, everything from the flowers to the big band currently setting up on stage.

Rebecca is talking to the manager, and Keeley nearly squeals when she sees her.

“Doesn’t Rebecca look fabulous?” Keeley beams, confident now in Ted’s plan, and it’s another thing he loves about her—she doesn’t do petty jealousy, or hate other women, or view them as competition. Especially not Rebecca, who, he has to admit, looks dazzling in the high-neck, sleeveless gown that hugs her figure and slits just a bit daringly up her thigh. There’s enough fabric in the skirt to hide it, the deep purple fabric flowing around her ankles, and Roy grunts approvingly.

“Brings out her eyes,” he says, and Keeley looks up at him in surprise. “What? You said aubergine and green are complementary.”

“When did I say that?”

Roy frowns. “When you were picking out your dress. You said you wished you had green eyes cause you wanted that fucking lavender monstrosity.”

“It was a Vera Wang!” she laughs, hitting his chest, but she looks delighted, and Roy can’t quite bury his smug smile.

“It was fucking hideous.”

Keeley smiles, and squeezes his arm before stepping away to do a little twirl. “And this one?”

It’s light green and tight and he’d spent a good few minutes in silence when she’d first shown it to him before yanking her forward into a hungry kiss.

He’s not quite comfortable enough to do the same thing now, but he lets his eyes roam over her before he meets her gaze, feels so utterly besotted that his “You know exactly how I feel about it” doesn’t come out quite as gruff as he’d like.

But it makes Keeley grin, and that’s enough for him, for now, and he grudgingly accepts the kiss she smacks to his cheek before glowering around at a few onlookers, who quickly move away.

“Sap,” Keeley says brightly, and Roy huffs. He doesn’t get a chance to do more than that before there’s a tap on his shoulder, and he turns to find Ted, looking more frenetic than usual.

“Sharp suit,” Ted says, pointing at him.

Roy appraises Ted, in his black suit with a white bow tie, fancier than last year, and nods in return.

Keeley is more affectionate, throwing her arms around Ted’s shoulders. “You look brilliant!” and then, softly, in his ear, “Everyone good?”

Ted pats her back and nods, holding on a bit too long in order to say, “The eagle has landed. And by eagle, I mean money. Lots of money. Who knew y’all were paid so well?”

Keeley laughs, but Roy sees the tension drain from her shoulders, at the same time he looks up and sees Rebecca watching them from across the room, and for one, brief moment, she looks grief-stricken. Not jealous, not angry—she knows as well as he does that there’s nothing romantic between Ted and Keeley—but heartsick, almost, a longing look on her face Roy recognizes from experience.

And then she catches him looking and her face shutters, suddenly unreadable before she turns away and gives a too-wide smile to whatever benefactor is now babbling in her ear.

Idiots, Roy thinks, and turns his attention back to Ted, who can’t quite keep still, hands fluttering as he talks a mile a minute about something incomprehensibly American.

It’s almost a blessing when the evening begins, though he isn’t surprised to find himself seated with Ted, Keeley, a few rich but well-mannered fans, and Cheryl Barnaby. He grumbles, but Cheryl is the one who introduced him to his yoga group, and they’ve kept in touch since last year’s gala—for all her uncomfortable innuendos, she reminds him of his gran, and he knows how lonely she’s been since her husband passed, and if anyone has two things to say about it, well, he’s got two fists and a particularly hard head, as Keeley often tells him.

Dinner kicks off, and Ted and Keeley do most of the talking to the other two at their table while Cheryl shows Roy an endless stream of photos of her grandkids that he’d seen a hundred times, but he nods and occasionally makes a comment that has her launching into stories about her family. It isn’t lost on him that all her photos are of children, children who are probably grown, but she never talks about where they are now, and he doesn’t ask.

He eats his steak and listens intently, even as his eyes keep scanning the room, and whenever he looks up, he can see Ted doing the same. Except his eyes always fall in one place, on Rebecca, seated a few tables over, with Higgins and a group of people Roy doesn’t recognize. High rollers, he’s certain. Her smile is placid, doesn’t quite reach her eyes, and she keeps scooting her chair just a little bit away from a man who seems not to get the hint, following her until she can’t go any further.

Roy frowns, and looks at Ted, but he’s also watching, and after a moment he politely excuses himself, gets up and slips over to their table, putting his body between Rebecca and the man Keeley identifies as Simon Wallbanger, a stock broker from the States with a healthy chequebook and even healthier libido.

But if Ted knows that, he says nothing about it, as far as Roy can tell. Just grins and weasels his way into the conversation, a hand on the back of Rebecca’s chair, and he keeps shifting so that he’s in Simon’s space; every time, Simon moves back, away from Rebecca, and Roy doesn’t know why she looks so surprised. Either that someone would notice, or Ted would do something about it. He’s always playing the white knight for her, over and over again. Never asks for anything in return, never seems to even think about wanting something. He’s charming, in his own way, and certainly more popular now than he was last year, and no one at the table, even Simon, seems to suspect a thing.

Only Rebecca knows. She’s staring at Ted, whose face is turned toward Simon, and she seems to be memorizing him. It’s the same way he used to look at Keeley—like if he could just drink her in for long enough, it would be good enough. Like he could survive on his memory of her alone.

Ted turns, then, and smiles at Rebecca, so wide and sincere, his face a mirror of hers, as he mouths okay, boss? while Simon is prattling on, and Roy resists the urge to roll his eyes.

“Ah,” Cheryl says, catching his gaze. “Young love.”

Roy scowls.

Ted eventually returns to his seat, after the plates have been cleared and he’s made rounds shaking hands and smiling at everyone, jovial as ever on the surface. But Roy can see the tension in his shoulders the closer they get to the auction. He sees Rebecca down a few glasses of liquid courage, her shoulders squared, eyes flickering around the room every so often. She looks to Ted, who always seems to be looking at her, throwing her winks or a thumbs up or a, “Hey, boss! What’d you get when you cross an alligator with a goat?” thrown across the room. Rebecca raises an eyebrow, and Ted shrugs. “Doesn’t really have an answer, but I bet it’s gnarly.”

Rebecca rolls her eyes, but she hides a smile behind the rim of her glass.

By the time dinner’s over, everyone is full of food and wine and there’s a genial buzz about the room, save Keeley, who looks nervous, and Rebecca, who looks flatly terrified.

“It’ll be fine,” he says, leaning to murmuring Keeley’s ear.

“I know,” she says, but she squeezes his hand tightly, her smile forced. “Ted’s got it covered, yeah?”

Roy nods. Over the past half hour, he’s watched the team one by one step out, and return with silver briefcases, pushing them under their tables and chairs. Roy’s own briefcase is near his feet, Keeley’s too. It’s entirely for show, entirely Ted’s idea, and it goes against everything he knows about the man, his humble wisdom and gentle demeanor. This isn’t a lesson, it’s a challenge, a dare, and he can’t say he entirely blames him. He’d do worse, if someone ever came for Keeley the way Rupert does for Rebecca. But it’s disquieting—not the action itself, not the plan, but the hard look in Ted’s eyes when he’d told them about it, the way he hadn’t joked once, or even tried. He knows there’s no lost love between Ted and Rupert, on personality alone, but there’s something else, a protective, almost vindictive streak Roy hasn’t seen before, and isn’t sure he likes.

Roy looks for him now, spies him at the bar, his shoulders hunched, and Keeley follows his gaze, then turns back and pushes at his shoulder.

“Go talk to him.”

Roy pushes back. “You talk to him.”

“You’re a Diamond Dog,” Keeley says. “It’s your job.”

“I’m not a fucking Diamond Dog.”

“You are, and you know it.” She shoves him again. “Go.” And then, softly, “He needs you.”

Roy grouses, but gets up, bending to press a kiss to Keeley’s head, even as he mutters, “I’m collecting on this one.”

She grins. “I’ve got party favors for later.”

Roy grumbles to himself, Keeley’s laughter fading in his ears as he winds his way to the bar.

Ted’s yammering at the bartender, something about a film with horses, and Roy orders a fruity drink for Keeley just to give the man an out. He looks faintly grateful before moving to the opposite end of the bar to fill the order, and Ted turns his attention to Roy.

“You ever seen Black Beauty? It’s a tear-jerker, I tell ya. Always been afraid of horses myself—they’re unnaturally proportioned, ya know?—but even I needed a tissue or ten. Hey, we should do another movie night. I got a whole CD case full of stuff—Seabiscuit, Hidalgo, Flicka— my dad thought exposure therapy would help me out, but honestly the thing that did the trick was The Godfather—horse ain’t so scary without the legs—” He kicks his foot up and out. “—although I did feel bad for that Woltz fella, must have been a pretty good shock to wake up next to something like that.”

The bartender slides Roy his drink, and Ted takes a breath.

“Are you done?” Roy asks.

Ted frowns. “I dunno. I got a lot of horse anecdotes.”

“You’re nervous.”

“I’m not nervous. We got this covered.”

“You’re nervous for Rebecca,” he amends, and Ted wilts a little.

“Yeah, I mean it’s gotta be scary, puttin’ yourself up there like that, not knowing who’s gonna want you, puttin’ a price tag on yourself.” He pauses, tilts his head. “How’d you deal with it?”

“I don’t care.”

Ted frowns, and Roy sighs, turning fully to the bar, elbows on the counter.

“It’s money for a good cause. I leave my ego at home for a night.”

“That’s very healthy of you, Roy.”

“Easier said than done.”

“I’ll bet.”

Ted looks away for a moment, fiddles with his drink. “I don’t think it’s about ego. I think she knows.”

“Course she does, she’s not a fucking idiot.”

Ted stares into his glass for a minute before taking a long drink. “Kinda wish she didn’t,” he murmurs, and it’s Roy’s turn to frown, to stare at him, study his face, and for the first time, it clicks:

They’re not talking about Rupert anymore. They’re talking about Ted, and Ted’s feelings, and Roy feels his stomach knot. He hates this, hates these conversations, but he can’t walk away. Mainly because Keeley would straight up murder him, but also because Ted’s been there for him, every time. It’s clear from the look on Ted’s face that he wants to talk, but isn’t sure how and Roy swallows the unsettled feeling in his throat and asks,

“Didn’t what?”

Ted swirls his drink for a moment, silent, then takes a sip and pauses again before he says, seemingly apropos, “I don’t like grandstanding. Don’t like the kinda person I turn into when I do it. Makes me feel petty and ridiculous.”

Roy nods, and Ted takes another drink.

“But every time I think about what he did to her, the way he treated her…” He trails off, but Roy follows his gaze, down to his hand around his glass, and it’s trembling. “It’s one thing to get your heart broken ‘cause it can’t be helped,” he says, and Roy knows he’s talking about Michelle. “It’s another to have someone do everything in their power to break it on purpose. To be that kinda person, to do that to someone, anyone, but especially...” Roy nods solemnly as Ted takes a shaky breath. “I try real hard not to hate anybody. Everyone’s got their own backstory, their own reasons for bein’ the way they are.”

“But you hate him,” Roy says, and Ted nods, looks almost guilty for it.

“I hate him. And this… it’s about protecting Rebecca, ‘course it is. But it’s also about makin’ him hurt.” He finishes his drink and signals for another. “And I’m not sure I like that about me.” He stares into his empty glass. “I’m not sure Rebecca would like it about me either.”

At that, Roy snorts. “Rebecca spent almost a whole year trying to sink the team just to get back at that prick. Just because she’s switched sides doesn’t mean she isn’t gonna love humiliating him.”

“There is that,” Ted says, but he doesn’t sound convinced.

“You don’t have to do it,” Roy offers, but Ted immediately shakes his head.

“Oh no, I’m gonna do it,” he says, “And I’m gonna enjoy it real bad.” Roy rolls his eyes at Ted’s smile. “I just… wanna be doing it for the right reasons.”

Roy nods, and thinks of Keeley. Thinks of all the things he would do for her, good and bad, to make her happy. To keep her safe. To keep her close, so long as that’s what she wanted. He thinks about being subtle, about gently prying, about beating around the bush, for Ted’s sake. But he’s never been good at that, doesn’t really have the patience, so he shrugs and says bluntly,

“You love her. That’s not a terrible reason.”

Ted chokes on his drink. “I what?” he says, and if his voice goes up an octave, Roy doesn’t call him on it. “No, no, I just—”

Roy blinks slowly and Ted opens and closes his mouth a few times.

“Yeah, alright,” he says, and then, almost timidly, “Is it obvious?”

“As a black eye.”

“Cool,” Ted says, but Roy knows he finds it decidedly not cool, and shrugs.

“Rebecca has no idea, if it helps.”

“Not sure it does,” Ted admits, looks like a man who’s already been rejected. Roy curses under his breath and resists the urge, barely, to smack him in the back of the head.

“Don’t be a doughnut.”

“A donut?”

“Yeah, a doughnut. An idiot. A pillock. A nitwit—”

“Yeah all right I get the picture. Donut about what? Hey, that rhymes!”

Roy glares. “You and Rebecca have been doing this dance since you met, except neither of you can hear the fucking music.”

“Roy—”

“No, ‘cause it’s getting really annoying just watching, and now Keeley’s got me over here trying to give you a fucking pep talk, and we both know how I feel about pep talks.”

“We surely do.”

“So I’m not giving you one.”

Ted almost smiles, his voice far more curious and open than Roy’s would be in his situation. “What are you doin’, Roy?”

He pauses, blinks—what is he doing?—then sighs.

“Fuck if I know,” he admits, but Ted just smiles at him, a bit melancholy around the edges, but genuine and kind.

“Well, I appreciate it all the same.”

Roy nods, and wishes for a moment he were better at this. Wishes Keeley had come over instead, wishes Ted would just fucking talk to Rebecca instead of doing this pining bullshit; but he figures he’d be rather hypocritical if he said so, so he keeps his mouth shut.

Looking back over his shoulder, he sees Keeley give him a thumbs up, then a thumbs down, her face a question. Roy shrugs and waves his hand in a middling motion, to which Keeley glares.

I’m trying! he mouths, and Keeley winks. Roy huffs, lets his gaze drift away, and notices Rebecca slip out of the ballroom. Not unsurprising, but a good out, and he looks back to Ted, who has turned around, following his gaze.

“Go,” Roy says gruffly.

Ted hesitates. “I’m not so sure—”

“She needs you,” he says. “Don’t be a wanker.” He pauses. “An actual wanker, not the affectionate kind.”

“Affectionate, huh?” Ted asks, brightening a bit as he sets his glass back on the bar.

“To some people.”

“Present company excluded?”

“You’re stalling.”

Ted sighs. “Yeah. Okay.” He takes a deep breath and blows it out, giving Roy one last glance and pushing off the bar, following Rebecca out the side door of the ballroom.

Roy rolls his eyes, grabs his and Keeley’s drinks and makes his way back to her, barely managing to sit before she starts bombarding him with questions.

Her needling takes them through the next ten minutes, and by the time Ted and Rebecca slip back into the room, she looks lighter. Still nervous, still apprehensive, but her shoulders have dropped and she smiles a bit more freely. Ted trails behind her, a soft, besotted look on his face that makes Roy want to gag and punch something in equal measure.

But Keeley just sighs and leans into him, her voice a bit wistful. “Think they’ll be okay?”

Roy snorts. “Yeah, if the gaffer ever stops being a puss—”

“Hello, everyone!” Higgins says, tapping the microphone, just as Keeley elbows Roy in the ribs. The crowd falls silent, a disparity from the last time Higgins gave a speech, bumbling and nervous, letting the crowd talk over him. He knows from Keeley that Rebecca’s been giving him lessons in public speaking, and when he glances over, she’s beaming proudly as Higgins introduces the auction, and reminds everyone pointedly that it’s for children, above all else.

Zoreaux kicks off the night, then Richard, then Dani. Jamie gets his usual high bids and girly screams, but it doesn’t bother Roy as much as it did last year, not with Keeley’s hand on his thigh and her whispered witticisms in his ear.

Roy keeps a steady eye on both Rebecca, who looks fainter by the minute, and Ted, who can’t stop bouncing his leg under the table. He looks calm, but Roy can see the tension in his shoulders, and he knows both of them are waiting.

They’re halfway through and there’s still no sign of Rupert, and Keeley leans into him, whispers, “Maybe he won’t show.”

“He’ll show,” Roy murmurs back, “At the worst possible moment.”

Keeley sighs, and he feels bad again, guilty, and he squeezes her hand, buoyed by the smile she gives him in return.

The auction carries on, and soon it's Keeley’s turn. She rises, crosses to the stage and hams it up, twirling for the crowd, blowing kisses, grinning away, and Roy pretends for all of a second he’s not going to bid, and then bids so high everyone else drops out.

“I think it had more to do with that death stare than the price tag,” Ted tells him, but he merely grunts, and Keeley bounds off the stage back to her seat, choosing instead to push her chair in and sit on his lap. There are hoots and hollers and Roy yells “piss off!” and then Higgins is clearing his throat again, saying something about last but definitely not least, “our very own Rebecca Welton!”

Rebecca stands, and smiles and gives a self-conscious wave as she moves to the stage, and Roy sees Ted’s hand flex around his glass, so tightly Roy thinks it might shatter.

“Ms Welton is kindly stepping in for Isaac McAdoo, and in honor of our esteemed employer, we’re starting the bidding at ten thousand pounds!”

Someone immediately calls ten, and Roy doesn’t miss the way Ted’s head whips around at the voice—Simon’s—and his eyes narrow. Another man goes to eleven, and Sassy, bless her, bumps it to fifteen, shouting something about girls’ night that makes Rebecca laugh shortly. He thinks, if he didn’t know her, didn’t know what to look for, he’d miss the way her hand is trembling at her side, the way her eyes are scanning the room almost frantically.

“Do I hear fifteen?” Higgins barely pauses, “going once, going twice—”

And there it is, that smooth, slimey voice, “Twenty thousand.”

The crowd murmurs and turns to the side, and he’s there, in an expensive suit, no Bex anywhere to be seen, smiling serenely at the stage.

Rebecca’s fingers curl into a fist, her face almost ashen.

“I see,” Higgins says, the distaste almost palpable. “Twenty thousand pounds. Do I hear twenty?” He asks slowly. There should be a pause, but Keeley’s hand is in the air before Higgins has the words out completely. “Twenty five!”

“Ooh! Stiff competition!” Leslie says, and Rebecca looks almost faint with relief, until Rupert moves off the wall, stalking closer. “Thirty.”

This time, it’s Jamie, as agreed, raising his paddle. “Thirty five.” There’s a confused murmur, and Jamie merely shrugs. “What? I like blondes.”

Rebecca rolls her eyes, looks confused, but Roy pays more attention to Rupert, who appears far less relaxed than before. “Forty thousand” he says.

“Bidding on your ex-wife, mate?” Jamie calls out. “Bit desperate if you ask me.”

“Yeah,” Colin adds, “ain’t you having a baby?”

Rupert smiles, but his shoulders are tense. “How else am I supposed to find out what my favorite team is up to these days?”

“Well, you could always turn on a television,” Ted says, loud enough that everyone can hear, and there’s laughter and snickers and Rupert fixes Ted with a steely glare.

When the room falls silent again, Higgins swallows. “Forty thousand,” he says, and Roy raises his hand.

“Forty two.”

There’s a murmur, and Rebecca frowns, shaking her head minutely. He nods back, tries to look reassuring, but he probably just looks pissed.

“Forty five,” Rupert says.

Zoreaux looks far too pleased as he waves his paddle—“Fifty thousand!”—and Roy rolls his eyes, knows Zoreaux had begged Ted to let him call the fifty thousand mark.

Rupert counters again, frustration starting to seep into his tone. He thought this would be easy. Thought he’d come in here, make a fool out of Rebecca, and leave the hero of the night. Roy clenches his fist at the thought, breathing out slowly when Dani makes his bid.

Higgins looks like he might cry from stress, Rebecca is swaying slightly on stage, and Roy kicks Ted in the leg under the table. “Do it already.”

“Patience, grasshopper. Let him think he’s won.”

The team keeps inching it up, and Rupert looks increasingly annoyed, until he seems to have had enough, and calls out, “One million.” And then, with a shrug, “It’s for the children.”

The crowd ooos, and Rebecca’s face falls. It’s too steep, now, for any person to fight him alone, and she looks so resigned, so defeated. She stares down at the stage, her fingers tangled together, and he’s never seen Rebecca look so small. He doesn’t like it, not one bit, so when he pulls out his briefcase, he lets it hit the table a bit harder than necessary, and Rupert looks up.

His eyes narrow as, one by one, everyone on the team pulls out a silver briefcase. Ted, Keeley, even Sassy, all surreptitiously placing them on their tables. Coach Beard stands his straight up, and Tommy is in the back, his in his lap.

Rebecca doesn’t seem to notice, but Rupert’s eyes track around the room. He sees the briefcases—sees all the dollar signs they hold—and for the first time, looks uncertain.

On stage, Higgins looks at Rebecca, then down at the podium, unable to meet anyone’s gaze as he mutters, “Going once, going twice—”

“Two million,” Ted calls.

The room stills. Rebecca mouths Ted, no, but he isn’t looking at the stage. He’s staring at Rupert, hand over his own briefcase, patting it with his fingers, leaning back in his chair with a quiet, simmering rage that Roy doubts too many people would even notice.

But Rupert does. His mouth opens, and Ted stares him down, unflinching in his smile. Rupert’s eyes flicker around the room, taking in the team, each silver briefcase, each defensive posture and sneer. He looks back at Ted, eyes narrowed, and Roy holds his breath. Rupert opens his mouth, closes it, and then looks away.

Only then does Ted turn back to Rebecca, his smile soft and reassuring even Higgins barrels through, “Going going gone! On a date with our esteemed gaffer, Ted Lasso!”

Keeley screams, jolting to her feet, and the shouts and whoops of the team join her. Everyone is clapping, everyone except Rupert, who is still standing on the sidelines, bewildered, and Ted, who’s watching Keeley clamber into the stage, nearly tackling Rebecca in a hug.

Everyone is talking and Higgins says something about a record year for children and Roy thinks they should all be a little more humble about starving kids, but he gets it. He’d have done the same for Keeley.

Well, if he’s honest, he probably would have just punched anyone who looked at her funny, but it’s the same idea.

Keeley and Rebecca hurry off stage, Higgins going the opposite way, and Roy almost barks out a laugh when he intentionally smacks into Rupert, his own briefcase hitting Rupert in the knee. Higgins apologizes, of course, but it’s a brave move, a bold move that tells Rupert exactly whose side he’s on, and Rupert knows it.

Rupert turns to the bar as a small but mighty crowd swarms Rebecca, and Roy looks to Ted, who’s frowning down at his briefcase. He looks to Rebecca, then toward the bar, and his face hardens. It’s a look he’s never seen before, even when he was yelling at Jamie, about as angry as Roy had ever seen him, and Roy wonders if he’s going to have to break up a fight this time. If he even would, provided Ted gets at least one good punch in.

But then Ted’s shoulders drop, and he breathes out shakily, turns away and seeks out Rebecca instead. He smiles. Soft and small, but satisfied, and he rises from his chair, takes his briefcase, and gives Roy a shoulder squeeze before he slips away.

Roy frowns, thinks about following him, but then a few of the boys come over, still grinning, and he gets dragged into shots and dancing with Keeley and for a while he forgets about Ted and Rebecca, the auction, Rupert, just focuses on the soft skin of Keeley’s back, the smell of her perfume, the hollers of his mates that he returns with two fingers.

He gets even more distracted when Keeley drags him into a coat closet for a good twenty minutes, and they emerge disheveled and giddy and smug and Roy isn’t entirely sure he knows what happiness feels like outside of a win, but thinks this just might be it.

Keeley helps Rebecca gently usher out the stragglers, until it’s almost gone midnight and the only other people left are the team, Ted—who, Roy has noticed, has been stealthily avoiding Rebecca all night—Higgins, Sassy, and Coach Beard, a woman on his arm who introduces herself as Charlene.

They gather outside the ballroom, the boys ragging on each other as Roy leans against the wall a few yards away and watches them. It doesn’t hurt as much as he thought it would, not being on the team. He likes his new job—working with kids, raising money for schools’ sports programs—and with Keeley beside him, he never feels like he’s lacking. He misses it, of course he does, but he’s less angry than he imagined he’d be. More settled.

Richard is trying his best to teach Ted how to pronounce “mille-feuille,” and the team are laughing, and then the doors open and Keeley steps out, grinning ear to ear.

“The lady of the night!” she says, almost a scream, and Rebecca rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I want the rags to call me,” she says, but she’s smiling, and the team parts their huddle, standing behind Ted as he turns, and smiles back.

“Howdy, boss!”

Roy rolls his eyes as Keeley tucks herself under his arm, and Rebecca’s smile drops as she stalks down the stairs, holding her skirts delicately.

“Ted Lasso!” she says, the waver in her voice giving away her emotions, “I could bloody strangle you—”

“Hey now,” he starts, but she interrupts,

“Two million pounds are you out of your tiny American mind!”

“Well first of all, I resent that—Americans’ brains are just as big as everyone else’s, we just choose not to use ‘em as often, that’s all—and second, relax. I had help.”

“Help?”

Ted nods, and looks to the team, who all have their briefcases; so does Sassy, and Roy has his and Keeley’s.

“I don’t understand,” Rebecca says, and it’s not a front—she really doesn’t, her insecurity so plain on her face, and he knows Ted sees it too, knows by the way his voice drops as he says,

“We all pitched in. Me, Nate, Coach Beard, even Isaac and Sam. The whole team.”

Rebecca stills, looking at all of them, her eyes wide and glassy. “You—you all—” She swallows and shakes her head. “How did you know he’d be here?” she asks faintly, and Ted shrugs, a bit self-deprecating.

“Call it a scoundrel’s intuition, call it a lucky guess. We just didn’t want to put you in that situation, so.” Ted shoves his hands in his pockets for a moment before taking them out again, pointing at Rebecca with a finger gun. “And hey! It’s money for kids, right?”

“Ted—” Rebecca starts, then cuts herself off, her voice strangled as she manages only a soft, broken, “Why?”

Ted smiles gently. “Cause you’re the boss, boss. We need you,” he says, but it sounds a lot to Roy like I need you, and he wonders if Rebecca can hear it, too.

She stares at him and he stares back, and Roy can almost feel Keeley vibrating next to him, holding her breath. Ted takes her hand, wraps it in his, and Rebecca looks down, looks back up, like she doesn’t quite believe.

For a split second, he thinks they might actually kiss, here in front of everyone; and then Rebecca steps back just a bit, still holding Ted’s hand, and looks to the rest of the team. “Thank you. All of you,” she says, her voice shaking. “I don’t—I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I can ever repay your kindness.” She laughs, a bit watery, and it’s Jamie—back on the team because of her—who shrugs.

“How ‘bout drinks are on you?”

The team laughs, and Rebecca smiles and nods and everyone cheers, and it’s Dani who starts chanting:

“We’re Welton’s till we die, we’re Welton’s till we die, we know we are, we’re sure we are, we’re Welton’s till we— what?” He stops, stares at his teammates, who are all staring at him, and there’s a moment where no one cracks, and then:

“We’re Welton’s till we die, we’re Welton’s till we die, we know we are, we’re sure we are, we’re Welton’s till we die!”

They all join in, bouncing around and hitting one another and Rebecca hugs each of them in turn as they gather around her, singing. Keeley leaves his side to join in, and from the outskirts, Roy catches Ted’s gaze. Ted nods in thanks, and Roy sighs, pointing to Rebecca as he mouths, “Dough. Nut.”

Ted grins, but nods, and eventually manages to weasel his way into the group enough to say, “Now come on, y’all, we’re takin’ the boss on a date!”

There’s a cheer and more laughter, and just as they turn to start locating taxis, Rebecca says, almost scandalized, “You can’t go to a pub with that much money!”

Roy buries a grin, knows this is the moment Ted has surely been waiting for, when everyone turns, and Ted grins at Rebecca.

“Good thing it ain’t money, then,” he says, as they all open their suitcases, streamers flying everywhere with pops and Rebecca makes a squeaking noise and everyone laughs and there’s more cheering and hollering and Rebecca slaps Ted on the arm with a breathless, delighted, “You fucking wanker!” that has everyone laughing again, and Ted just looks at her like she hung the fucking moon.

“We wrote a check,” Ted says with a shrug, and Rebecca wings an eyebrow.

“So all this was for show?”

Ted looks a bit embarrassed, but he nods. “Given everything he’s put you through, I figured there wasn’t any harm in giving Rupert a bit of a—” He turns over his shoulder. “Hey, what’d you call it earlier?”

“A right bollocking,” Colin says, and the team laughs.

“Yeah, that.”

Rebecca laughs. Soft at first, and then nearly doubled over, laughing, brighter than Roy’s ever heard, her hand on Ted’s arm.

“You all are ridiculous!” she says, but she’s smiling so wide, and Ted is nearly bouncing on his feet, and Dani starts chanting, Boss! Boss! Boss! Boss! as they start hailing taxis. Half of them abandon their empty, open briefcases, and Roy doesn’t miss the way Keeley insists on sitting in his lap in order to leave Rebecca and Ted as the last ones, alone.

Throwing her arm around his shoulder, Keeley leans into him and nuzzles his neck. In the rearview mirror, just before the taxi turns the corner, Roy manages to just make out Ted’s hand, lifting toward Rebecca’s cheek.

Despite himself, he almost smiles.