Author's disclaimer: I don't know Grealish or De Bruyne. This story is complete fiction.
Chapter 1 was here.
Whenever a goal was scored in the Premier League, the Fantasy Premier League Twitter account would immediately relay this information to the world, announcing who got the goal, and who provided the assist.
The thing that Jack Grealish wanted to make happen, more than anything in the world, was to get the Fantasy Premier League Twitter tweet these glorious words:
Goal – DE BRUYNEAssist – GREALISH
He had seen Kevin De Bruyne say, in an interview with Jamie Redknapp, that he himself preferred making assists to scoring, so Jack supposed that:
Goal – GREALISHAssist – DE BRUYNE
Would be almost as satisfying.
But, following the thought process that KDB outlined in his interview with Redknapp: that if you made such a sumptuous assist, that it made it easy for the goal scorer to score, Jack really, really wanted to demonstrate his footballing worth to Kevin.
He had come reasonably close to achieving it in the Spurs game that evening. In the closing minutes of the game, chasing an equaliser, the Englishman had provided a cross, which the Belgian had converted into a right-footed shot that was palmed away by Hugo Lloris.
That had pretty much summed up a frustrating game where City couldn’t break down a dogged Tottenham defence. The crowd had been particularly hostile to the visitors, and Jack knew that this was largely influenced by his new club's relentless pursuit of Harry Kane.
Jack was frustrated because that save made him realise just how desperate he was to impress Kevin. He had spoken at length about his keenness to learn from the Belgian, and he had meant it. But the earnestness of his admiration and frequency with which he'd said 'De Brooin' had turned him into a bit of a meme.
It hasn't escaped Jack's attention that Kevin didn't exactly seem to be elated to be in his company. Embarrassed that he had freaked Kevin out with his constant flattery, Jack was starting to realise that his idol seemed to always be quite surly around him.
And the harder Jack worked to try to get Kevin to like him, the more he seemed to push him away.
Jack now got the feeling that Kevin thought he was a bit of a joke. Between the headband, the low socks and the swaths of adoring female fans who expressed their desire to bed him on social media, Jack feared Kevin saw him as being a footballer second, and 'Jack Grealish the brand' first. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jack wasn't really one to dwell on negative thoughts – he didn't even hold any ill will towards Gareth Southgate for how Southgate had under-utilised him during the Euros, when many of his fans were far less forgiving. But the frosty reception he'd gotten from Kevin De Bruyne since he'd joined City was starting to chip at his self-esteem, not least because a huge factor in him joining City was to play alongside Kevin.
And the loss to Spurs didn't help his gloomy state of mind.
These were all thoughts swirling through Jack's mind as he sat on the team coach back to Manchester, the midfielder's deer-like eyes looking morosely out of the coach window at nothing in particular, while Ed Sheeran played on his iPhone.
He snapped out of his rumination when he realised Kevin had occupied the seat next to him and was looking at him expectantly.
'Kevin!' Jack spluttered. He instinctively pulled his headphones out, and cursed himself for packing the ones with the wires instead of his AirPods, as the wires were currently tangled messily, and Jack thought this surely wouldn't help with Kevin's perception of him as a disorganised man-child.
Kevin didn't seem to mind. Jack was expecting him to be fuming about the Spurs loss, but this was probably the most temperate KDB had been around him since he'd joined City.
'I just wanted to check you were OK, Jack', Kevin said, and the sincerity with which his blue eyes held Jack's brown ones, told Grealish that he meant it. 'It looked like a pretty physical game for you.'
It had been. Japhet Tanganga had not given Jack an inch to breathe, and he was left wanting in any one-on-one duels with the 22 year old right-back. When the tussles had gotten particularly hard-fought, the impact of the challenges had led Jack to fall on the grass a few times.
The Spurs fans had jeered every time Grealish had taken a fall, but Jack would have stayed on his feet if he could have. However, he didn't want Kevin to think he was soft, so said stoically, 'Oh, you know… I kind of expected it. It is what it is!'
De Bruyne gave a knowing look that said, 'cut the crap, Grealish'. 'You don't have to put on a brave face for me, Jack', Kevin said kindly. 'I totally get how hard it is to play against sides when defenders are specifically targeting you.'
Kevin paused, wondering if he should divulge more information, as he wasn't really a big sharer. Then, seeing that the look on his teammates' face still resembled that of a wounded animal, he went on.
'I was fouled in the Champions League final. Probably 'cos Chelsea knew it would be easier to take me out than to play fairly against me. I had to be subbed off the game… it still hurts me, that'.
Jack understood. He remembered how indignant and upset he'd been when he'd watched Antonio Rüdiger collide with Kevin, leading the Belgian to have a black eye, and needing to make a premature exit from the game. He remembered Kevin's tears as he went off, and how sad he'd been on his behalf.
'So don't get too down about today, Jack. There's still 37 games to go, and I was impressed with your performance today, honestly. I still have a good feeling about this season'.
Confused, Jack blinked at Kevin from under his long eyelashes. Was KDB… praising him?? But he thought Kevin hated him. He thought Kevin found him a pain. Why was Kevin being so nice to him?
Jack didn't want to ruin the moment by blurting out all his neurosis, so he just gave a sad little smile.
'Eden Hazard used to get ganged up on all the time when he was in the prem, and it was 'cos he was so talented, defenders just didn't know how to play against him,' Kevin continued, determined to cheer his teammate up. 'So just take the fact that you get so many bruisings as a compliment, it means opponents are worried about you and know you're a challenge. Okay?'
Just as Jack was about to nod his assent, Kevin put his hand under Jack's jaw and tilted it upwards. The Belgian's eyes locked with Englishman's for one, two, three tantalising seconds, before Kevin said, 'chin up, Jackie'.
Then, without waiting for a response, he got out of the seat and went back to where he was sitting before.
Jack stared after Kevin, unable to process everything that had just went on.
KDB had complimented his play.
KDB had touched his face.
KDB had called him 'Jackie'!!!!!
Jack quickly put his face mask on over his mouth and nose, and then put the hood of his hoodie on to hide his face. He knew he had a massive smile on his face, and he didn't want any of his teammates to see, lest they ask him what he was grinning about. And Jack didn't fancy himself to think of a lie fast enough.
Jack beamed giddily as he scrolled through his phone for a cheerier song to listen to, than the downbeat Ed Sheeran number he'd been listening to before.
Despite the disappointment of the result, this was the most content Jack had been since joining his new club.