AN: Wow. Umm. Hi, everyone. It's a bit difficult to know what to say. The tiny corner of Nerdfighteria that I've been operating in just expanded rather exponentially.
All of your reviews have been completely wonderful, thank you very much! And of course, thanks to John Green himself, though honestly I'm a little embarrassed that he's read any of this. I only wrote his character into the first chapter because it was a good way for the Johns to meet, but I wrote him out quickly because I don't like writing for real people, even Managerial alter-egos of real people.
Also if anyone is curious, I updated the first chapter with a little author's note explaining why I enjoy writing this, because I agree it's a bit of an odd source material.
Finally, thanks to my wonderful beta DragonAndPhoenixForNaNo.
That's more than enough from me. Enjoy!
When John awoke the following morning, it took him a minute to remember why he wasn't in his own bed. Smiling in recollection of the previous night's events, he rolled onto his side, expecting to find Bald John next to him. He was surprised – and a little dismayed – to find his side of the bed empty. When John reached out all the same, the sheets were cool under his touch.
Sitting up, he pulled himself – shivering in the brisk December morning – into the shower. Fifteen minutes later, his hair still wet and sticking out at odd angles, John padded downstairs.
In the time it had taken him to wake up and take a shower, he had managed to convince himself that the night before had been a mistake. He could already picture Bald John's face when he got downstairs: his ears a shade too red, his eyes trained on the floor, and murmuring (in the way he does when he's nervous) that maybe they should pretend it didn't happen.
But hey, we could still, you know… hang out… if you wanted. Alexander Martin's words still rang in John's head, even so many years later. He dreaded hearing them from Bald John's lips.
On some level he knew he was being irrational, but he had trouble coming to terms with the alternative. What if Bald John did want him? The idea was entirely new to John, and he wasn't in the habit of allowing himself to believe good things could happen to him.
What happened to aiming for attainable goals, John? What makes you think Bald John has suddenly become attainable?
His insecurities did such a good job of seeding doubt into his mind that by the time he arrived in the kitchen, he was truly afraid of seeing Bald John.
But, of course, his worries were wiped away with a single look. When he entered the kitchen, the grin that stretched across Bald John's features was so reassuring that John was filled with unexpected warmth. Even so, he had to be sure.
"Morning," he said in greeting, shuffling his feet uncomfortably on the wooden floorboards of the kitchen. "So, last night was… fun… but listen, I would understand if you don't want it to continue. I mean, it makes sense, you know? Until yesterday you weren't even –"
John never got a chance to finish his sentence.
Bald John had risen from his chair almost immediately, and strode purposefully over to John, kissing him with such enthusiasm that there was no further discussion to be had on the matter. When Bald John released him at last – one hand still around the back of John's neck – he was a little dazed, and couldn't for the life of him remember what he had been trying to say.
"Good morning." Bald John said finally. "I made some coffee if you'd like it."
And it was as easy as that. They never once had any further discussion regarding their relationship; it was just obvious to them. They were quite simply everything to each other, and really, what more was there to say?
Christmas itself ended up being one of John's all-time best. He and Bald John spent the first half in bed, before finally rousing themselves and feasting on coffee and homemade croissants. This was immediately followed by an intense afternoon practice where they promptly burned off the croissants. Later, they exchanged low-key presents and spent the evening watching It's a Wonderful Life on tv, which Bald John had sworn up and down was an American classic, and was openly appalled that John had never seen it. Eventually, the night ended the same way it had begun.
And a week after New Year, they took the train up to Liverpool together to visit Ashley and her family. John got immense pleasure out of her squeal of excitement when she saw them holding hands on her front step. John had deliberately avoided telling her so it might be a surprise.
She hugged them both enthusiastically in turn, and they shared a second pseudo-Christmas dinner, this time with their other family.
Ashley managed to corner him while they prepared to bring out dessert.
"So!" She exclaimed, having trapped him against the kitchen counter while he sliced up the Christmas pudding.
"So… what?" he teased her with a smile.
"So… what's all this?" she gestured between him and the closed door to the kitchen, through which Bald John was sitting at her dining room table. "When did this happen?"
John grinned, completely unable to control his child-like glee and, like good siblings should, he shared with her the gossip of the past month. After he finished, Ashley just laughed and looped her arm around his shoulders.
"So much for giving him time, eh little brother?"
"You know me, Ash. I've never been very patient."
Barring their disappointing result at Hull City in November, the Swoodilypoopers were entering 2008 with one of the best winning streaks the club had seen in a very long time. And this rather sudden improvement to the club's prospects had a number of surprising knock-on effects for the whole team. Perhaps most startlingly of all was that as they started to improve, interest in football began to take hold again in Swindon.
John noticed people's eyes would follow him and Bald John when he went jogging together through Queen's Park, or the Giraffe would be noticeably busier on days after a Swoodilypoopers match – though their table at the back always remained available to them. Most surprisingly for John, he had even been stopped once while he was shopping by a young girl asking for his autograph. The request threw him so off guard that he immediately asked why. The poor girl looked so embarrassed that he stood in the middle of the Tesco with his groceries in hand and chatted with her for ten minutes by way of apology.
One of the more interesting – though no less embarrassing – changes was that the team had begun holding small press conferences after some of their more important matches. Patrick, occasionally Manager John Green during his relatively rare visits from the States, and a few members of the team would meet with the local press in one of County Ground's conference rooms, which hadn't been used much since the since the team's brief foray in the Premiership during the early 90s. Peter from the Gazette and a few other members of the local press would ask them some questions about the match they had played, about their tactics, or their goals, or their strategy for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Hannah would stand at the back of the room taking some pictures, but mostly spending her time pulling faces at John, trying to make him laugh while one of the reporters was speaking. He was ashamed to say that she had even succeeded once or twice.
On one of these occasions, Fat Lucas and Beef Stock had been sitting next to him at the plastic fold-out table, fielding questions from the reports about Swindon's defensive tactics. Beef Stock, as an alternate, didn't usually participate in press conferences, but he'd had a particularly good match that afternoon, as Ginger Rampage was off with a mild ankle sprain. He looked over at John, scandalized, as John tried to hide his laughter behind a glass of water.
John was too busy frowning playfully at Hannah to notice Beef Stock and Fat Lucas looking from Hannah to John with interest.
At last the reporters had finished, and John could go home. With a wink and a grin to Hannah, he walked back to the lockers to pick up his things. As he was exiting the conference room, Beef Stock and Fat Lucas walked up, flanking him on either side. Beef Stock punched John affectionately on the arm in greeting. Rather, John assumed it was meant to be affectionate, but Beef Stock's size and general beefiness meant he hit John with enough force to make him stumble.
"So… OJ," he said with an air of forced carelessness. "What's going on with you and Hannah?"
John tripped over one of the locker room benches.
"What?" he scrambled back to his feet, trying to ignore the new throbbing pain in his calf and the laughter of his two teammates. "Nothing!'
Beef and Lucas both looked unconvinced.
"But she is proper fit." Fat Lucas prompted.
"Yes," John was forced to admit.
"And you two are, like, friends, or whatever, right?" Beef continued.
"And you expect us to believe that you could be friends with someone like that, and not be –"
"Yes!" John was rapidly getting uncomfortable with the conversation. He could feel the heat of his own blush, and a sheen of sweat was forming at his temples. Even worse, he knew his friends would misinterpret the cause of his anxiety.
"Why not?" Fat Lucas asked. They both looked genuinely confused.
"I don't know," John lied. "She's just not my type." Not a lie.
"A fit, smart, funny, blonde girl who's obsessed with football?" Fat Lucas' eyebrows were raised in incredulity. "Seriously, what's not to like?"
"She's… Scottish?" John tried. Seriously, Bennett? Scottish? That's all you've got?
His two friends still looked wholly unconvinced, but they said nothing more about it as they gathered up their bags and prepared to leave the stadium.
John was about to close his locker when a small, folded piece of lined paper caught his attention. The note looked like it had been pushed through the grating of his locker, most likely while he was in the press conference. John unfolded it and immediately recognized Bald John's neat handwriting.
Sorry I couldn't wait for you, wanted to pick up some things for dinner. How do you feel about salmon? Too bad, by the time you're reading this I'll be halfway through making it. Besides, I know you love salmon. Come home soon? J x
John folded the note back up along its crease and delicately put it into his jeans pocket. Then, throwing his duffle onto his shoulder, he called quick goodbyes to Fat Lucas and Beef Stock as he half-ran out the door.
If John hadn't been so hell-bent on getting home as soon as possible, he would have noticed that Fat Lucas and Beef Stock had hung back to talk in private.
AN: Thoughts? Questions? Comments? They really do make my day.