When Louis was five years old, he went to his very first football game. His dad had bought the tickets from a guy at work for a great price and he wanted to spend some quality time with his son. Louis didn’t really understand the game at the time, he mostly liked watching all the boys run around the field, but he really loved the way it felt to be there. He had never seen his dad as excited as he was at that game, and when they got home afterwards, Louis decided he wanted to play.
After begging his mom, she let him sign up for the community team that played every Saturday. Louis poured his soul into it, never missed a practice, and honestly loved the game. He loved his teammates, he loved how it felt when they scored, and he loved seeing his mom and dad cheering him on in the stands. It only got better as he got older, because his siblings would come too.
In middle school, Louis tried out for the school team and the coach started him at quarterback. He had never played that position before, as he was always placed at wide receiver because he was small and fast. Louis learned quickly though, and before long he learned to love football even more. He was the leader of the team, the hotshot quarterback that everyone adored, and his parents were so proud.
When high school came around, it wasn’t a surprise that Louis skipped the freshman team and went straight to varsity. Louis got stronger, faster, and meaner and he learned everything there was to know about the game. He practiced every single day, even if it was just throwing the ball in the backyard, and he perfected his skill more and more.
Colleges were begging Louis to come to their school, offering him scholarships and perks that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams. He was promised national championships and a starting position, and Louis was so overwhelmed that he didn’t think he could ever decide. But one Saturday in early January, Butch Jones from the University of Tennessee called him and asked him to play. He went on a campus visit, fell in love, and signed with the Volunteers the next day. They broadcasted it live on ESPN, the SEC network, and pretty much every sports network there was. Butch promised him the starting position of quarterback since the quarterback from last year had graduated, and Louis was the happiest he’d ever been in his life.
But sometime in February, he was watching last minute signings with his dad, and saw Harry Styles. He was a five star recruit from Alabama, the perfect student, and the best quarterback in the state. There were rumors he’d be the starter no matter where he went. He had three hats on the table in front of him, one for Alabama, one for Georgia, and one for Tennessee. Louis held his breath, begging him to pick anything, anything but Tennessee, but Harry grabbed the bright orange hat and smiled as he shook hands with Butch Jones and Louis felt his lungs collapse in his chest.
“Good morning everyone! Welcome to your first day of summer practice.” Butch is staring down at the entire team, all 53 of them, with a glint in his eyes. Louis’ pads are heavy against his shoulders and tight around his chest, but he can feel his heart pounding hard underneath them.
“I’m excited to get started but I just want to say a few words. First, I’m glad you decided to play for the Vols. We’ve been doing a lot of rebuilding and we have high hopes for this team. Second, if you’re new, don’t be nervous. It’s going to be a lot to take in, but do your best and pace yourself. It’s gonna be a good year!”
Most of the team lifts their helmets and cheers, but Louis feels a bit like throwing up. Most of the team is quite a bit bigger than him, in height and muscle, and he’s intimidated.
“I’m going to divide everyone into their respective positions so you can start practice. When I call your name, just meet your captain and follow them to your spot on the field. We’ll start with offensive players first.”
With his heart beating so loud and the ringing in his ears, Louis isn’t sure he’ll even hear his name being called. He’s praying he’ll be wrong, that he’s going to be playing quarterback like Butch promised, and that all the work he’s done won’t go to waste.
“Niall Horan, Nick Grimshaw, and Louis Tomlinson, you’re going to go with Anton Howard. You’re our starting wide receivers.”
Butch continues to name off names and positions as Louis starts to walk to Anton, but he can’t hear any of them over the roaring in his ears. He doesn’t want to play wide receiver, he hasn’t since he was 11 years old, and it wasn’t what he was promised. When he’s almost to the front, and he hears Harry’s name, he pauses and looks back.
“And everyone, this is Harry Styles. He’s going to be our starting quarterback this year.”
Louis looks at him, the tall and lanky Harry Styles, and takes it all in. He’s got hair to his shoulders that curls at the ends, tattoos all down his arms, and a bright smile on his face as the team cheers him on. He’s lean and fit, and absolutely beautiful, and Louis hates him to the core.
They practice all summer, off and on, sometimes as a team and others with their position coach. Louis meets the other wide receivers and loves them, especially Niall who always has a smile on his face and runs faster than anyone he’s ever known. Louis is good; he’s fast and never drops the ball, but his heart isn’t in it. He wants to call the shots, be the one throwing the ball instead of catching, and playing where he belongs. He’s bitter and pissed, and it shows.
When they start practicing as a whole team in the stadium, Louis finds it hard to listen to Harry at all. He’ll call a play, and Louis thinks it’s stupid but he runs to his place anyway, and Harry never throws him the ball. Not once, even if he’s wide open, and Louis hates him even more. Niall, Nick, and Anton have gotten their fair share of amazing catches and runs to the end zone, but Louis stands there in the middle of the field looking lost most of the time. When practice is almost over for the summer, and he hasn’t been passed the ball once, he loses it.
Harry calls a play, and Louis runs out past every defensive lineman, weaving in and out until he’s wide open, and when he looks back at Harry, he’s looking right at him. No one is on him, he has all the time in the world to throw the ball, but he looks away and throws it to Nick who has four men surrounding him and can’t catch the ball. A defensive player catches the ball, forcing a turnover. Louis sees red and doesn’t even wait for the whistle before he’s pushing people out of the way and rounding on Harry.
“What the fuck is your problem?” Louis is shouting and his vision is blurry, and when his hands connect to Harry’s chest, people start yelling.
“Where do you get off, huh? You can’t just leave me hanging all the time goddammit, throw me the fucking ball! You looked right at me, you bastard, and I was wide open and you passed it to a crowded receiver!“ Louis knows he’s screaming now, and people are trying to pull him off, but he can only hear Harry yelling right back.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Harry screams, pushing on Louis’ chest hard.
“You son of a bitch, I swear to God – “
Harry launches at him, knocking Louis backwards into the grass, and he’s trying to punch him in the face. Louis throws his knee up, hitting Harry in the groin, before he pushes him off and climbs on top of him. Louis wants to choke him, beat the absolute shit out of him, but as he goes to throw his fist, Harry beats him to it and hits him square in the jaw. Louis sees stars, and then he hears the shrill of a whistle and everything gets quiet before it’s an explosion of nothing but Butch’s voice.
“That’s enough! Styles, Tomlinson, on your feet.”
Louis staggers up, clutching his jaw while shooting daggers at Harry as he lifts himself off the ground. Butch is standing there, the perfect picture of anger, and Louis thinks this is it. He’s kicked off the team.
“Would you like to explain why you’re trying to beat each other into pulp in the middle of practice?”
Louis and Harry both start shouting at the same time.
“He won’t pass me the ball, and he hasn’t since we started, and I – “
“He just attacked me, and he’s jealous of the other receivers because they get more playing time –“
“Enough!” Butch is hoarse from yelling, and Louis kind of wants to cry and crawl into a hole in the ground.
“I won’t tolerate fighting on this team. Harry, you have to pass the ball to everyone, that includes Louis.”
“But I – “
“I don’t want an explanation, just do it!” Harry looks down at his shoes, and Louis wants to punch the air in victory.
“As for you Louis, you need to understand that everyone else gets to play too. This is a team, and sometimes you aren’t going to be the star, got it?”
Louis nods and fiddles with a loose string on his jersey. He looks to the side and sees some of the other players looking terrified, while others are trying not to laugh.
“Now, both of you strip off your pads and run drills in the stands. Don’t stop until practice is over.”
Louis’ heart feels like it falls in his stomach, but he just throws his pads over his head and on to the grass before storming to the nearest steps to climb up to the top of the stands.
He can hear Harry behind him, his heavy footsteps on the stairs and his breath ragged. When Louis reaches the top, he immediately runs back down to start the drills, knocking his shoulder into Harry as he goes.
They run up and down the stairs, over and over, and it’s hotter than hell and Louis wants to kill Harry Styles. About ten minutes into the drills, Louis is slowing down and he’s breathing heavy. He has sweat running down his face and into his eyes. He reaches the top of the stadium once again, but when he turns around Harry is standing there staring at him, his arms crossed.
“What’s the matter, Harry, don’t wanna follow the rules?”
Louis goes to pass him, but Harry grabs him by the bicep and stops him in his tracks.
“You’re such a damn drama queen. You could have just approached me instead of causing a huge scene and getting us both in trouble.”
“Oh, fuck you!”
Louis tries to rip his arm from Harry’s grasp, his callused hands rubbing his skin raw, but Harry isn’t letting go.
“What is your problem?” Harry spits, getting close to Louis’ face.
“You’re my problem. You and your perfect goddamn existence!” He’s exploding like a firecracker, sparking and catching fire, and Louis can’t stop yelling.
“I was supposed to be quarterback! I’ve been working to get this spot for years. I worked my ass off for 13 years and for what? So some punk ass kid from Alabama can take the spot I was promised by Butch-fucking-Jones. You’re a bastard, Harry. You took my place, and now you’re rubbing it in my face. Fuck you.”
Louis shoves at Harry, pushing him back against the bleachers, and if Louis has tears running down his face as he runs down the steps, no one has to know.
A few weeks pass and school starts, so Louis spends the last week of August moving into his dorm. It’s the athletic dorm, and he’s thankful because at least he’ll have something in common with his new roommate. He carries box after box, kisses his whole family goodbye, and collapses on his bed to hopefully squeeze in a nap before he meets Niall for dinner.
He’s had his eyes closed for about five minutes before the door to his room opens, and his roommate walks inside. Louis recognizes him immediately as the kicker for the team, but he’s only seen him a few times since they usually practice separately. He’s gorgeous, with jet-black hair that’s shaved on each side with a long fringe, and sharp features, and he looks like a total badass. He’s wearing dark jeans, despite the fact it’s summer, with an Avengers shirt. He also has an unlit cigarette between his teeth. When he’s finally in the door, he turns to face Louis.
“Hey, I’m Zayn.” Louis thinks the name fits his face. Zayn sounds exotic and mysterious and kind of terrifying.
“Yeah, I know,” Zayn smirks, “you’re the guy who tried to kill Styles the other day in practice.”
Louis feels himself flush, but Zayn just laughs and throws himself down on his bed opposite of Louis.
“Don’t worry, I’m not judging. It was just funny, is all. You’re half his size and he looked like he was gonna shit his pants when he saw you charging at him!” Louis cackles, feeling a bit proud of himself, and decides he really likes Zayn.
They chat for a little bit before unpacking their stuff, designating areas for their clothes and football gear and various other knick-knacks. Zayn stops every once in a while to open their window and smoke, but Louis doesn’t mind. He even takes a few drags from it, enjoying the buzz he gets after only a couple hits.
Around 6, Niall comes by the room and greets Zayn happily, before explaining to Louis that they’re from the same high school. Together, they walk to the cafeteria at the bottom of the dorms. It’s the best one on campus and reserved only for athletes, so it’s small but has plenty of options. They stand in line and get their food before making their way to a small table near the back.
“God, I’m starving!” Niall says, his mouth already full from his cheese fries.
“You’re always starving, you cow.” Zayn looks at Louis and then rolls his eyes.
They eat quietly for a few minutes before Niall looks up and waves his arms, hollering at someone behind them.
“Liam! Come sit with us!”
Louis turns around, wanting to see who Liam is, and he sees a broad guy with muscles but a face like a puppy. His arms are toned and he’s tall, so Louis can only guess he’s a linebacker. But next to him, to Louis’ horror, is Harry. He’s dressed like he belongs in a magazine, with some weird shirt covered in paisley and jeans that look painted on. His shirt is hanging half open, and Louis can see his abs that are covered by a huge tattoo of a butterfly, which makes him want to punch Harry square in the face. Louis hates him.
Liam and Harry sit down on each side of Niall, which leaves Harry directly in front of Louis. Harry’s eyes don’t leave his plate while Liam introduces himself to the group. Louis was right in suspecting he was a linebacker, and he tells everyone he’s from Alabama like Harry, but he went to a different school. They share stories for a while, and Louis tries his best to avoid looking at Harry, who doesn’t say a word.
“So Louis, where are you from?” Liam asks with a smile.
“Tennessee, actually. I lived about two hours away from here, though.”
“Were you a receiver there, too?”
Harry’s knee hits the table and Louis wants to crawl under the table and maybe die there, too. Harry still isn’t looking up, but Louis can see his face getting red from behind his curls.
“Uh, no actually. I was the quarterback.” Louis hears his voice break, but pretends he doesn’t and smiles back at Liam, hoping he’ll drop it. Louis shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t.
“So why’d you switch positions?”
Louis wants to lie. He wants to tell Liam he just didn’t like it, that he wanted to try something new. He has the lie on his tongue when Harry finally looks up, looking straight at Louis with a glint in his eye that Louis knows can’t be good.
“He wasn’t good enough,” Harry says, and Niall’s eyes get wide from beside him. Louis’ blood pressure rises and he’s standing up before he knows what he’s doing.
“What was that? I couldn’t hear you with all that bullshit in your mouth,” Louis snarls, his hands gripping the end of the table hard enough that his knuckles are white.
Zayn shrinks down in his seat, Niall is just staring, and Liam looks confused. Harry, however, stands up and leans over the table, his nose just inches from Louis’.
“You heard me.”
Louis snaps, jumping on the table and grabbing Harry by the collar of his stupid shirt. He feels hot all over, hearing Harry’s words playing over and over in his head. Not good enough. You aren’t good enough.
“Come on guys, just relax,” Niall stands up beside them, but Louis turns on him quickly.
“Yeah, Niall, let Louis show us all how insecure he is that I got the position he wanted,” Harry is smirking at him, and his eyes are blazing and everyone around them is eerily quiet. The entire cafeteria is watching now.
“You know what,” Louis says quietly so only their table can hear, “this entire team, even Jones, thinks you’re some football god, but I can see right through that. You’re just an asshole who likes to play favorites and wouldn’t know the word ‘team’ if it punched him in the face.”
As Louis talks, Harry’s face gets less stony and Louis can tell his words are poking a nerve. Louis lets go of his shirt roughly, making Harry stumble a bit, before grabbing his tray and leaving the table.
“Wow,” Liam says, whistling low, “That was terrifying,”
For the most part, Louis loves college. His classes are fairly large, sometimes having over 200 people to a room, but they’re fun and Louis likes the discussion. Even more so, Louis likes the freedom. He likes being able to come and go as he wants, and if he wants to have a bowl of corn flakes for dinner, his mom isn’t around to tell him no. The only thing he hates is Harry, and how he’s everywhere.
It turns out him and Liam are good friends, and Liam is friends with Niall who Louis loves way too much to ditch because of Harry. It feels like Louis sees Harry everywhere he goes, from the cafeteria to practice to the community bathrooms down the hall. Ever since the fight in the cafeteria, Harry hasn’t so much as looked at Louis. One night when Louis and Niall are sneaking ice cream from the freezers hidden in the back of the kitchens, Niall tells him Harry feels a bit guilty because of what he said, and Louis hides his smile behind his spoon.
The first football game of the year is tomorrow, and the team is playing great. Harry still won’t throw the ball to Louis, and it still gets under Louis’ skin, but he holds his tongue. Louis isn’t keen on doing any more drills. As they round up the last practice, Butch gathers the team in a circle right on the giant T in the middle of the field.
“Y’all are doing a great job out there, but don’t let your focus slip. For the first time in years, we have a big opening game. We aren’t playing a pushover, and they’re going to bring everything they’ve got. I need everyone to play as hard as they can, understood?”
The entire team nods.
“Get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, and be at the practice field by noon. Have your suit on when you get there, we’ll be doing the Vol Walk around 12:30, and then it’s game time. Any questions?”
When no one answers, he dismisses them, and Louis picks his helmet up from the ground and heads to the locker room. As he’s packing his bag, nerves pick at his skin and for the first time in his life, he’s doesn’t want to play at the game.
Louis wakes up sick to his stomach after sleeping restlessly the whole night, so he skips breakfast and takes a long shower. Close to noon, Zayn and Louis head to the practice field, meeting Niall, Liam and Harry in the lobby of the dorm. Harry looks amazing in his suit; it’s dark gray, tight in all the right places, and he’s finished it off with an orange tie. Louis tells himself not to stare, because he hates him, but when he falls behind as they make their way to the practice field, he’s staring more often than not.
They do the Vol Walk, where the entire team walks down the campus and shakes hands with fans. Lots of people know Louis, since he was a big name in Tennessee, but more people know Harry, and they scream when he comes into sight. Louis pretends he can’t hear it, and smiles at everyone that reaches their hand out, and tries to not throw up from nerves.
The pregame practice is a lot different than normal practices, because Harry has to throw the ball to Louis at least once. He never misses, and Louis doesn’t drop it. He can read Harry’s moves well, and Butch pats him on the back as he walks by. Before he knows it, they’re heading back inside to the locker rooms so the band can start pregame.
Louis can hear the band from inside, and knows the shapes they’re making and the chants the crowd is cheering. When the team slaps the door on the way out, palms touching an orange Tennessee engraved with the words ‘I’ll give my all for Tennessee today’, Louis can’t hear or think. He can hear Rocky Top blaring through the stadium, 100,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs, and he knows they’re about to run through the giant T the band forms on the field. Niall is standing beside him, saying something that Louis can’t really hear, and then everyone’s running. The crowd is deafening and he can’t even hear himself think. He looks up and the entire stadium is on their feet, wearing the most hideous shade of orange that Louis has grown to love.
Time passes quickly, and before he knows it, kickoff is over and Butch is calling Louis up to play, along with Niall and a few other upperclassman players Louis barely knows. When Louis stands to face the defensive line, everything blurs out and it’s just him and the game.
It’s the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and Tennessee is losing by six. They’re on the thirty-yard line, and it’s 3rd down. Louis feels sick and exhausted, even though he’s yet to have any big plays. He caught a tiny pass that Harry threw mistakenly too short, but he got tackled instantly and the pass wasn’t even meant for him. There have been times that he’s been open, right near the checkerboards in the end zones, and Harry just won’t pass him the ball.
Louis hears Harry call the play, and when the ball is snapped, he squeezes through the defense and sprints towards the end zone. There’s nothing but grass and wide open space in front of him, so when he turns his head to see if Harry is looking his way, he expects to see Harry launching the ball. What he sees, though, is Harry moving his head rapidly from side to side, looking for someone to pass to. Louis looks too, and doesn’t see anyone but him open. Nick is in the end zone as well, but he’s covered by two players from the other team. This is it, this is his moment. Harry has to pass him the ball now.
Louis stands there, and feels like time stands still, as Harry doesn’t even look at him and throws the ball to Nick. Louis can’t hear anything but his heart pounding loudly in his chest. The crowd is so quiet, holding their breath as the football flies towards Nick. When Nick jumps up and closes one hand around the ball before landing on his back on the orange and white checkerboards, the crowd is screaming and Tennessee players are running to Nick to hug him, pat his back, even kiss his helmet and Louis is sick.
Zayn makes the extra point and as the clock ticks down to zero, Tennessee wins by one point. Louis walks alone back to the locker room, his helmet in his hand, and wants to cry, wants to scream, wants to understand where he went wrong in all of this. Why does Harry hate him so much that he can’t even pass him the ball when winning the game is on the line?
The rest of the team streams in slowly, everyone showering and changing quickly so they can head home and sleep. Louis just sits on his bench, his head in his hands, while everyone celebrates around him and all he wants to do is throw up or scream or cry. When it gets eerily quiet, and Louis feels alone, he lets out a sob. His entire body hurts, and he hates that he loves this sport so much, and he just wants to quit. Louis’ is full on crying now, his chest heaving and his breath coming in hiccups.
Then, there’s a bang behind him in the showers, and Louis stands up quickly, wiping his face with the sleeves of his jersey and praying whoever is in the showers didn’t hear him. He strips his pads and uniform quickly, throws on some sweats and his favorite sweatshirt, and slams his locker shut. When he turns around to leave, Harry is standing by the showers in nothing but a robe. He’s looking at Louis with wide, innocent eyes and Louis knows that look all too well. It’s pity.
Louis swallows around the lump in his throat and adjusts his bag on his shoulder before looking at the floor. It’s so quiet in the locker room, and Louis wants nothing more than to scream and curse Harry, just absolutely lay into him, but he can’t find the words. Harry takes a step towards Louis, and Louis counteracts it by stepping backwards, wanting to get away from him. He feels like Harry is a bomb, one wrong move and he’ll explode and stab Louis with the shrapnel.
“Louis, look I –“
“Save it,” Louis says, and when his voice cracks around the words, he tries not to think too hard about it.
“C’mon, hear me out, please?” Harry pleads, and then Louis is the bomb, exploding in a fiery rage.
“Hear you out? You’re kidding me right?” Louis is yelling full force, and Harry is shrinking underneath his gaze.
“I don’t give a fuck what you have to say. I’ve never done anything to you other than retaliate your actions. You’re the one who pretends I’m not on this team. You’re the one who won’t even pass me the ball when we are at actual risk of losing our very first game of the season. You’re the one who’s ruined my time on this team,” Louis can feel tears brimming around his eyes and when he tries to walk away, Harry grabs his arm lightly and holds him back.
“Please,” Harry says, and when Louis looks up at him, he looks on the verge of tears too. “Just let me explain something, and then if you don’t want to talk to me again, then fine.”
Louis rips his arm from Harry’s grasp before crossing his arms over his chest. Harry looks up at the ceiling, gathering his words, before meeting Louis’ eyes.
“Look, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean for any of this to get this far. I knew Butch had offered you my position, and coming in, I knew you were bound to hate me. I get it, I really do. It’s just – “ Harry sighs loudly and runs a hand through his hair, trying to find the right words to say.
“I knew I’d never get any playing time at Alabama. They don’t play freshman, and by the time I’d be old enough to start, there’s be a better quarterback coming along. I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines and watch. I love playing too much, I couldn’t even fathom the thought of being a backup plan.”
“You realize that’s what you’ve been doing to me, right? I might technically be playing, but I’m not doing anything. I’m just standing there looking like an idiot.”
“I know,” Harry puts his hands on Louis’ shoulders, and for the first time all day, Louis is starting to feel calm. “I know I’ve been terrible. I didn’t mean what I said, when I told everyone you weren’t good enough. You’re definitely good enough, maybe better than me, and I definitely deserved everything you’ve said about me.” Harry laughs, actually laughs, and Louis is speechless.
“I can’t explain why I did what I did, I guess I just thought that if I pretended you weren’t there, then you really weren’t. You’re such a good player Louis, I hope you know that.”
“You sure have a funny way of showing it,” Louis uncrosses his arms and pulls at his shirt, feeling shy.
“I promise Louis, I’ll stop ignoring you.”
“You’re going to pass me the ball? You’re going to actually act like I’m on the same team as you?” Louis knows he’s rubbing it in, but after months of feeling useless to the team, he wants Harry to suffer a bit.
“Yeah, I swear.”
Louis meets Harry’s eyes, a dark shade of green under the florescent lights, and feels a weight lifted off his chest.
“Thank you,” Louis’ voice is small, and he hates it, but Harry smiles so wide that, for a second, he doesn’t think it matters.
“But if you’re a dick to me again, I’m going to hang you by your toes on the goal posts,” Louis smirks at him, only half serious, and Harry laughs loudly at him.
The next Monday at practice, Louis has a skip in his step as he puts on his practice jersey and heads to the field. Butch gives a few good words about the performance on Saturday, and then surprises all of them.
“We’re going to do something a bit different today, so I need everyone to get in a big circle around me. Don’t worry about standing side by side, it doesn’t have to be single file.”
Louis meets Niall’s eyes and quirks an eyebrow, which Niall returns with a shrug. When everyone is circled around Butch, he motions towards two of the upperclassman team captains to stand in the middle with him.
“We’re going to do an exercise called ‘The Circle of Life’. Basically, two of you are going to stand in this circle, face to face, and try to tackle the other to the ground.”
“Fucking awesome,” Niall whispers and Louis snorts loudly, eyeing Niall from the corner of his eye.
“This is going to help in two ways. One, it’ll help you learn how to break tackles. Two, it’ll help you learn to tackle better at the same time. I’m going to have the captains show you how it’s done, and then we’ll start.”
The upperclassmen, both giant defensive linemen, stand in front of each other like they would during an actual play. They stand absolutely still until Butch blows the whistle, and then it’s brutal.
Louis watches as they tear at each other, pulling at jerseys and padding, pushing as hard against each other as they can. The entire team is cheering them on, watching intently as they try to tackle each other to the ground. They can’t seem to bring each other down, both of them digging their feet into the ground and pushing with everything they’ve got. Finally, when Butch is about to blow the whistle to call a tie, one of them grabs the armpit of the other’s jersey and yanks, pulling him to the ground roughly.
“Great job you two!” Butch yells, “That’s how I want all of the team to be by the end of the year. I want it to be hard to bring each other down! Next up, let’s have Niall Horan and…. Derek Barnett.”
Louis laughs loudly when Niall’s eyes get wide. Derek is over 6 feet tall and has biceps bigger than Niall’s head. He walks to the middle of the circle instantly and Niall hasn’t moved.
“Still think this is, how did you say it? ‘Fucking awesome?’” Louis says, chuckling.
“Shut the fuck up,” Niall mumbles, grabbing his helmet from the ground beside him and slamming it on his head. Louis is still laughing under his breath when Liam comes up behind him, nudging him in the back.
“How long do you reckon he’ll last before Derek lays him out? I give him a minute.”
“Derek will probably tease him for about five seconds, make him think he has a chance, and then just pummel him. I’ll bet you five bucks on it.”
“Deal,” Liam says right as Butch is blowing the whistle, signaling them to start.
It’s barely been ten seconds before Derek grabs Niall by the waist and slams him backwards, both of them crashing to the ground in a heap. The whole team winces as they fall, and then Louis holds his hand out to Liam, palm up.
“Pay up, Payne.”
Liam just rolls his eyes, and then Niall is hobbling over to them slowly, his face pale and a hand on his back.
“How ya feeling there, Niall?” Liam asks.
“Now now Niall, no need to be –“ Louis mocks before being interrupted by Butch’s booming voice.
“Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, you’re next.” Then it’s Niall’s turn to laugh as Louis blanches.
The entire team is practically holding their breath as Louis walks to the middle of the circle, having seen them fight multiple times inside and outside of practice. Harry is already at the center, his helmet still in his hand, and he’s biting his bottom lip around a smirk. Louis tries to stand up taller and lift his chin up since Harry is practically towering over him. He has butterflies in his stomach and there’s a ringing in his ears so loud he almost doesn’t notice Butch talking to both of them.
“No punching you two, this is purely a tackling exercise,” he says and the team laughs.
Louis puts his helmet on and places his hands on the ground before lifting his head and meeting Harry’s eyes through his helmet. Harry does the same, and Louis can see him smiling behind his facemask.
“I’ll go easy on you.” Louis’ jaw drops open and then he hears the whistle blow behind him.
Harry lunges hard at his shoulders, pushing Louis back slightly, so he digs his feet into the ground and grips Harry’s shoulders hard, shoving back with all his strength. He can hear Harry grunting as he pushes, and his biceps are straining, and how in the hell did Louis never notice his arms.
Then Harry yanks Louis hard to the left, trying to push him to the ground, so Louis latches on to bottom of his jersey and pulls hard. It happens in a matter of seconds; Harry is tumbling over Louis in mid-air, and Louis ankle twists and turns them over completely so Harry’s back slams into the ground hard. Louis falls on top of him, his ankle giving out from the rough spin. The entire team erupts into cheers, and Harry rips off his helmet before laying his head on the grass.
“What just happened?” Harry’s voice is slightly higher than normal, like he’s had the wind knocked out of him, and Louis takes his helmet off so he can smirk down at Harry.
“I think I just kicked your ass.”
Harry chuckles and grins at Louis, making Louis’ smirk fall off his face. Suddenly he’s very aware of their position, Louis lying almost completely on top of him in the middle of the entire football team. The energy is charged between them, and Harry is looking at Louis likes he’s the sun which makes him a bit breathless, so Louis rolls off quickly before he does something crazy like kiss him.
Louis gets up quickly and walks over to Niall and Liam without looking back. He lets himself think about anything but Harry and his green eyes and how he looked lying underneath him.
Louis’ homework starts piling up over the next few days so on Thursday, he loads his backpack, makes some coffee, and heads to the library. He finds a table near the back of the second floor, so he unloads his history book and starts reading, a highlighter in his hand to mark important dates.
He’s there for about an hour before someone pulls out the chair in front of him and sits down. He looks up and sees Harry, all smiles and green eyes and dimples. His hair is down and tucked underneath a beanie. He’s dressed down, wearing just a white shirt and sweats. He’s cradling a Starbucks cup between his hands, steam spilling from the top where he’s removed the lid. Louis thinks he looks better this way, like he’s cuddly and relaxed.
“What are you doing here?” Louis asks, setting his highlighter down in the spine of his textbook.
“I’ve got a paper due tomorrow but we’ve been so busy with practice that I haven’t had a chance to start it. I went to get some coffee and saw you sitting back here alone, so I thought I’d join you,” Harry’s voice is quiet and deeper than normal, and it calms Louis listening to him talk. “If you don’t mind, that is.”
“No, I don’t mind.”
Harry smiles before reaching down and pulling his laptop and a notebook out of his bag. They settle into an easy silence and it’s nice, not awkward or uncomfortable. Louis feels like he’s sitting with an old friend, not someone who literally despised just a few days ago. Maybe it should be weird that they’ve settled so easily into this new place, but Louis doesn’t mind.
Louis looks up through his lashes to watch Harry, his lip between his teeth like always, and he‘s suddenly overwhelmed with the need to get to know Harry. He spent so much time hating him, and he didn’t even know Harry at all. He wants to know what made him decide to play football, what his favorite color is, what he likes to eat for breakfast, just everything there is to know. It’s strange, he thinks, that a few weeks ago he was fighting with Harry over the cafeteria table.
“You’re staring,” Harry says, interrupting his thoughts, and Louis blushes, not realizing he had been looking at him the entire time.
“What are you thinking about?” Harry is watching him over his laptop, his brow furrowed and curiosity in his eyes.
“Just about how I had you by the collar in the cafeteria a few weeks ago.” Harry laughs at him, making Louis smile.
“And you wouldn’t do that now?”
“Nah,” Louis mutters, casting his eyes down to his book, “you’re starting to grow on me, I reckon.”
Harry puts his pen between his teeth and grins.
“I have that affect on people,” he says and Louis rolls his eyes dramatically, making Harry laugh again just because Louis likes the way it sounds.
“You really are quite the charmer.”
Harry is silent, just watching Louis across the table, before he uncaps his pen and writes down some numbers in his notebook and rips the page out. He hands it to Louis, and when he turns it over in his hand, he realizes it’s a phone number. Louis raises his eyebrows.
“What is this?”
“My phone number. We’re friends now, and friends text right?”
“Who says we’re friends?” Louis asks, biting his tongue around a laugh, and Harry sticks his tongue out at him.
The next few games go by fairly easy, and Tennessee is playing better than ever. Louis makes a few amazing catches, and gets his fair share of bruises, but he’s having more fun than he ever has. He finds himself smiling more in practice, making more and more friends, and really enjoying everything. Louis even gets closer to Harry over the next few weeks and eventually, Harry and Liam are joining Louis, Niall and Zayn more often than not.
On the Friday before Tennessee’s first open date, Louis gets a text around 9 from Harry.
You and Z should come by the Sigma Nu house, they’re having a party
Louis looks over at Zayn, who’s sleeping face first into his English book, and sighs.
Zayn is asleep, but I’ll come by. You already there?
Yeah, meet me out back :)
Louis changes clothes, going for some skinny jeans and a t-shirt that’s actually clean, and walks the few miles to frat row. The whole street is littered with people, and music is blasting in every house. Louis finds the house, a giant one with the Sigma symbol in black and gold, and walks around to the back. It’s a bit quieter back there, as mostly everyone else is inside, but he sees Harry sitting in a lawn chair by the pool.
“Howdy there, Styles,” Louis shouts and when Harry turns to face him, he’s smiling already. Louis notices a red solo cup in his hand.
“Thank God, Liam left me out here over an hour ago for one of the cheerleaders.”
“I think her name is Sophia,” Harry says.
Louis reaches over and grabs Harry’s cup before taking a giant drink. Its strong and spicy, definitely more Jack Daniels than Coke, and Louis winces as he swallows.
“What the fuck Harry, is this straight Jack?!”
Harry laughs at him and grabs his cup back, tipping it back and draining the rest, before throwing the cup to the grass.
“Almost. I like my drinks strong.”
“How about you make me one?” Louis asks, leaning towards Harry as his head already starts to buzz. The drink makes him feel warm, and Harry looks pretty underneath the lights. He wants to lean over and kiss him, suck on his tongue and feel his chest underneath his hands, but he just stares up at Harry with big eyes until Harry finally breaks the eye contact.
“Sure, let’s go inside.”
Five drinks later and Louis is beyond buzzed. He feels fuzzy and loose, and when a few girls from the spirit team ask him to dance, he doesn’t say no. Niall has completely taken over the DJ stand and is blaring a remix of an old Ke$ha song, and Louis knows he’s probably making a fool of himself but he doesn’t care. Everyone is laughing or dancing with him, and when he feels hands on his hips from behind him, he just leans in to the stranger. Then there are lips by his ear and a husky voice sending a chill down his back.
“You look really good.” Louis turns his head and meets green eyes, pupils blown wide from the alcohol Harry’s been drinking, and Louis just smirks.
“You’re just saying that cause you’re drunk,” Louis is practically shouting and he’s slurring his words, but his heart is stuttering and he feels like every romantic comedy cliché that ever existed.
Harry just moves his hands, letting his fingers latch on to Louis’ belt loops, and grips tighter. They’re not really dancing anymore, just standing back to chest, and Louis swears he can feel Harry’s heart against his back. He’s nervous now, and Harry’s hands are heavy against his waist, but he can’t focus on anything but Harry’s mouth right by his neck and his voice humming a song into his ear. When Harry lifts his head and meets Louis’ eyes, neither of them are breathing and Harry has his bottom lip buried between his teeth, so Louis lifts his hand and pulls it from his teeth, turning Harry’s lip a beautiful cherry red.
“You shouldn’t do that, it’s bad for your lips,” Louis feels like he’s whispering now but Harry hears him and moves impossibly closer, his hands gripping his waist even harder. The energy is charged and Louis feels like if he touches Harry, they’ll spark and burn. When he puts his hands over Harry’s, he smiles at Louis and leans in. Louis barely has time to think or process anything before someone is screaming “STYLES!” and Harry jumps back, letting go of Louis like he’s been shocked. A few members of the football team are waving him over, and Harry waves them off before looking at Louis with apologetic eyes.
“I’ll be right back, okay?” Louis just shakes his head, trying to clear his mind of everything that just happened.
“No, it’s okay. I think I’m gonna walk back.”
“Oh,” Louis hates the look he’s put into Harry’s eyes, like he’s hurt him or kicked him, so he just turns away from Harry and doesn’t look back as he walks out of the house and back to his dorm. He can’t feel much of anything except the cold places on his hips where Harry’s hands had been resting.
The big weekend is finally here, Tennessee versus LSU, and the team is pumped. Louis is excited, and he’s fighting back butterflies while he gets dressed. As he’s finishing up, Harry walks beside him and leans against the wall while holding an eye black pencil in his hand. Harry already has black lines underneath his eyes.
“Come on Tommo, let’s get your game face on,” he says.
Ever since the party at Sigma Nu, Harry has been using a various assortment of nicknames when he’s talking to Louis. He pretends it bothers him, but he secretly loves it when Harry’s deep voice calls him ‘Lou’ or ‘Tommo’.
Louis rolls his eyes and faces him, lifting his chin up high. Harry grabs his face gently, and his rough hands are warm on Louis’ cheek. He sucks on his bottom lip as he starts drawing a thick line of black under Louis’ eyes.
“What is the point of these anyway?” Louis asks, and Harry shrugs.
“It’s supposed to stop the sun from getting in your eyes, but they debunked it on Mythbusters a few years ago,” he mumbles, and he turns Louis’ face to the right, drawing the second line of black on his face. “I think it’s just supposed to add to the whole ‘badass’ vibe we have going on.”
“You’re about as badass as a baby kitten,” Louis says, and Harry chuckles underneath his breath.
“All done,” Harry grabs Louis’ chin and tilts his head back a bit, so Louis’ eyes meet his. He smiles wide at Louis and every butterfly Louis had fought off comes rushing back.
“See you out there,” Harry says.
Pregame is the same as always, and when the team walks out on the field for the first play of the game, Louis feels different than he has all year. He’s excited, and there’s adrenaline pumping in his veins, and the crowd is so loud that it’s just a buzzing in his ears. The team lines up, Harry calls the play, and the game is starting.
The first half is rough, and both teams start out a bit shaky. No one but defense gets much playing time because no one can move the ball, and by halftime, the score is still 0-0. Louis has sweat in his eyes and a pretty big bruise forming on his arm from a rough tackle, but he’s still in high spirits. When the team finally gets to the locker room, Butch stands on a bench and waits for them to be silent before he starts to talk, his voice already hoarse.
“You’re doing good out there, but we’ve gotta make some changes if we wanna win this game. Defense is getting too much playing time, so the offense needs to step up and make some plays. Make sure you keep the pocket clear, we can’t afford for Harry to have less time to throw the ball. He’s already been sacked twice, that’s absolutely unacceptable. Just get out there, do what we’ve practiced, and we can walk away with a victory.”
When the second half starts, there’s a shift. LSU is losing focus and Tennessee is on fire. They move the ball right down the field, and Harry runs in the end zone to get Tennessee their first six points.
LSU gets the ball and scores, matching Tennessee, right as the third quarter is ending. The pressure is on, and when the offense gets in place on the twenty-five, Louis hears Harry call an end-around play, much to Butch’s disapproval. When he notices their formation, he calls time-out.
“What in the hell are you doing, Styles? We can’t have risky plays right now!” Butch yells as the offense runs up, Harry leading the pack.
“But they won’t be expecting it! We haven’t run this play at all this year, and if I give the ball to Louis, he can outrun every single one of their defensive linemen. We could score quickly, and if we can hold LSU off, we could win.”
Louis’ eyes are wide and he can fill his heart starting to beat rapidly in his chest. He’s excited and nervous and beyond scared. If this play doesn’t work, if he can’t outrun the defense, they could lose yards and hurt their chances at winning. The game is riding on his shoulders; on this play that Harry wants to do and wants Louis to complete. He looks to Butch, who’s pinching his nose and letting out a groan.
“You sure about this? If you’re wrong, this could cost us big time,” Butch says.
“I’m sure.” Harry looks over to Louis and gives him a small smile, which he tries to return but his face feels like stone and he’s sure it’s coming out as a grimace.
“All right, get back out there. Don’t let me down.” Butch slaps Louis on the back, and Louis can only hope he does just that.
They line up, and Louis listens for the call and the snap, and when he hears it, he makes a break for it. He moves behind the line of scrimmage, back towards Harry, and takes the handoff. He looks over, and the defense is confused. They don’t see him running around the opposite end of the line, and Louis tucks the ball to his side and sprints.
When the crowd notices, they’re screaming so loud Louis swears he can feel the ground shaking. His feet pound on the grass, his heart thumps and his chest heaves, but he runs as hard as he can. He doesn’t look back, just watches the end zone as it gets closer and closer, and this is it. He’s scored his fair share of touchdowns in his life, but this isn’t like anything he’s ever felt. He’s never run 75 yards on a trick play in front of 100,000 people. When he’s at the ten-yard line, he struts the rest of the way into the end zone, a smile on his face the entire time, and the stadium is deafening.
Louis can’t see anything but orange as his teammates run towards him, smashing into him and hugging him tight. He can hear Niall yelling, and Nick is singing Rocky Top along with the crowd, and Harry’s there too, bright smile lighting up his entire face. Louis pushes past everyone else and wraps his arms around Harry’s neck, pulling him down into a hug, and feels like he might cry from the pure adrenaline pumping through his bloodstream. This is the feeling he has missed. This is the game Louis has loved since he was five and standing in this very stadium. Louis feels like his body is buzzing, electricity surging through his skin, and he can’t ever remember feeling better than this.
There’s only a few minutes left of the game, and they hold LSU off and win by 7. The entire stadium is still there, singing while the band plays, and Louis can feel tears gathering in his eyes as the team runs by the band and sings along with everyone else. Butch even stands by the drum major and conducts the band, a smile on his face and tears in his eyes.
Louis’ never felt anything like this before. Sure, his team has won games and that always feels great, but when Liam and Niall hoist him into the air and the whole team is chanting his name because he scored the winning touchdown, Louis is crying and his heart wants to burst in his chest. Fans are running on to the field, tearing down the goal posts and hugging members of the team. Liam and Niall let Louis down, and when Harry is running up to him, a giant smile on his face, he runs into his arms, grabs his jersey by the collar, and pulls him into a kiss in the middle of all of it. There’s screaming fans and too much padding between them, but he doesn’t care. Harry pulls him closer and when Louis runs his tongue along Harry’s bottom lip, Harry opens his mouth wider and deepens the kiss. He feels Harry drop his helmet by their feet and then put his fingers in his hair, tilting Louis’ head back, and Louis grips his jersey tighter.
“Oi! Is now really the time?!” Niall yells from somewhere beside them, and Harry laughs against Louis lips.
When they pull apart, Louis feels like he can see the stars in Harry’s eyes and even though the stadium is loud and there are over 100,000 people running down on the field, he can’t see anyone else or feel anything but Harry’s hands gripping his hair. It’s just green eyes and the orange on their jerseys. It’s the pounding of their hearts and Louis’ breath coming out ragged and heavy between them. Everything is outrageous and wild, and it’s so loud that Louis can’t think, but he’s oddly calm and so fucking happy that he just stands there breathless, watching everyone as they celebrate one of the best victories in years.
The next day when Louis wakes up, he has over 30 texts and a few missed calls. He opens the first one, which is from Harry.
Check espn.com NOW!!!!
Louis frowns, and then opens Safari on his phone, typing the website in the address bar. It only takes a few seconds to load but when it does, Louis is jolting up from the bed and slaps a hand to his mouth, covering a gasp.
TENNESSEE WINS OVER LSU! TOP PLAYERS CELEBRATE WITH A KISS.
Underneath the headline is a crystal clear image of Harry and Louis, lips pressed together in the middle of the crowd. No one else around them seems to notice, aside from a few players on the team, but they’re smiling.
Louis scans through the article, and it seems harmless enough until a quote from Butch Jones stands out among the black font.
“While I’m very happy with their success and help in winning the game, team relationships are strictly prohibited and both players will be spoken to shortly regarding the issue at hand.”
Louis feels tears stinging his eyes as he dials Harry’s number, the ringing barely a hum in his ears.
“’Ello?” Harry murmurs.
“Who sent you that article?” Harry sighs on the other end of the line.
“Liam. Apparently after the game, the press talked to Jones about the picture.”
“What – “ Louis’ voice cracks over his words, a few tears finally falling from his eyes. “What are we supposed to do?”
“I don’t know, Lou.”
After receiving a very formal email from Jones, not hearing from Harry all weekend, and crying into Zayn’s shoulder for most of Sunday, Louis makes the dreaded visit to Butch’s office on Monday morning. When he knocks and opens the door, Harry is already there. Louis looks at him while he takes a seat. Harry’s eyes look tired, light circles purpling underneath his bottom lashes, and Louis wants to reach over and grab his hand.
“Alright boys, here’s the facts.” Butch says, breaking the silence. “I can’t allow this to go any further.”
Harry stares down at his feet, his curls falling over his eyes. Louis can’t stop staring at him, begging Harry to look up and acknowledge him.
“It’s not that I’m against gay couples, because that isn’t the case at all. But this thing you guys have going on won’t sit well within the conference or the NCAA. Tennessee already faces more scrutiny than every other team in the SEC; this is only going to make it worse. Football is the most homophobic sport around, and I need this team to be respected. Do you understand?”
Louis is biting so hard on his tongue that he can taste blood, and Butch is staring at both of them waiting for an answer. Harry’s knuckles are white where he’s gripping the chair.
“I’m sorry, boys.” Louis closes his eyes tightly, hoping this is all a dream, and then Harry finally lifts his head to look right back at Jones.
“Louis and I aren’t even together, Coach. The kiss was just – it was a ‘heat of the moment’ thing, it didn’t mean anything.” Louis eyes snap open and his face whitens.
“It sure didn’t look that way through the pictures.” Butch raises his eyebrows at them, his voice practically teasing them.
Louis can’t move his eyes away from Harry. He thinks back to Saturday, and Louis kissing Harry replays over and over in his mind. He couldn’t have imagined it, could he? He couldn’t have imagined the look in Harry’s eyes when he had pulled away. He couldn’t have imagined Harry laughing against his lips while everyone cheered around them. Louis feels bile rising in his throat as he thinks back to it, knowing now that he’d imagined the entire thing. Harry didn’t really care about him at all, he had just gotten caught up in the moment.
“It was nothing.” Harry is finally looking at Louis now, but he wishes Harry would stop. He can’t stand the look in his eyes, so Louis stands up from his chair and faces Jones, waiting for his reaction.
“Well, eh, just make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve got plenty of second string players that would love to get out on the field.”
Louis doesn’t wait for either of them to say another word. He walks straight out the door, not daring to look back or even acknowledge Harry’s existence. Their relationship started that way, so Louis reckons it can end that way, too.
The walk home is humid, the air hanging thick all around, so Louis takes a tiny detour through the library. He walks past the stacks and the Starbucks, and then finds a bench around back close to his dorm. As soon as he sits down, he can feel tears threatening to spill over. He can’t understand how he’d misread all of the signals, how he’d forgotten just how manipulative Harry is.
Louis thinks back to the weeks previous, wondering what Harry was thinking while pretending to be his friend and feigning feelings for him. Had it been his plan all along? Was he trying to get Louis kicked off the team? Suddenly, the library door opens so Louis wrenches his eyes shut, trying to hold back tears, just in case someone recognizes him.
“Lou,” someone says, and Louis clenches his fists when he hears the low hum of Harry’s voice. He turns to Harry and sees nothing but red.
“You stay the hell away from me,” Louis snarls.
“Just listen – “
“No!” There’s nothing stopping the tears now, so Louis brushes them away quickly before glaring into Harry’s eyes.
“I can’t believe I actually thought you’d changed. Just – stay away from me, Harry.”
Louis can hear Harry yelling for him as he walks away, but he doesn’t stop or even look back, no matter how much he wants to.
The next practice is more than eventful the next day. Most of the team thinks Harry and Louis are together, so when they won’t talk to each other and even stand on the same side of the field, it draws attention. Niall comes over to Louis right after stretches with a confused look on his face.
“What’s going on with you and Harry?”
“Nothing.” Louis sighs as he picks up his helmet and gloves from the grass.
“That’s funny, cause Saturday y’all were making out in front of everyone and now you won’t even make eye contact.”
“Fuck off Niall,” Zayn says when he catches up with them. He punches Niall in the chest lightly before wrapping an arm around Louis’ shoulder.
Louis looks over to where the rest of the offense is standing, watching Harry’s back as he stands alone. His hair is down today, his chocolate curls falling past his shoulders, and he’s tossing a football lightly in the air. Louis thinks about how Harry’s curls felt between his fingers and thinks he might vomit.
Louis and Niall finally make it over to rest of the boys, and Harry is already giving instructions.
“ – so just set up for a simple draw play, we’ll start off easy.”
Louis runs in quickly, slamming his helmet on quickly so he can get in line. This play is easy for him because it’s a fake pass play, so he eases his way through the line and watches as Harry hands one of the upperclassman the ball. They run a few more plays until Louis realizes Harry hasn’t called a single passing play yet.
The rest of the practice is the same, and even Nick and Niall begin to notice they aren’t getting any practice time. When Jones gives his evening pep talk and ends practice, Nick approaches Louis with a dirty scowl on his face.
“Way to go, Tomlinson. I guess since you broke Styles’ heart, he’s just gonna make all the receivers suffer,” he snears.
Louis winces and feels his face flush. Nick’s voice has captured most of the team’s attention, causing a few people to stand back and stare at the exchange. Even Harry is standing towards the far end of the field, his eyes wide and his knuckles white as he grips his gloves in his fist.
“You better fix this, Tommo, or you’re not gonna like what happens.” Nick walks away without another word and Louis feels sick. He runs straight for the far gate of the field, not bothering to change or even grab his bag.
He runs halfway across campus and up to his dorm, his pads heavy against his shoulders and chest, and when he makes it to his bed, he collapses on it still dressed and wants to rip his heart from his chest. Everything feels dense and thick, and Louis can’t catch a deep breath but he lays flat against his sheets, his staggering breaths dampening the fabric against his face.
It feels like hours before Zayn finally comes in. He throws his bag against the wall by his bed and then sits next to Louis. He pushes lightly on Louis’ shoulder, making him roll to his side, and then pushes Louis’ hair from his eyes.
“You okay?” Zayn asks, his voice small.
“What do you think?”
“Yeah,” Zayn sighs loudly, “that was a stupid question.”
Zayn lies beside Louis, his brown eyes locking with Louis’ blue ones, before giving him a tiny smile.
“Niall cussed out Nick in the locker room for a good five minutes after you left, so he’ll probably keep his mouth shut.”
Louis laughs softly but doesn’t respond. He just rolls on his back and closes his eyes.
“What happened with Harry, Lou?” Zayn asks.
Louis sucks in a breath and bites his lip. He hasn’t told Zayn about the talk with Jones yet. Louis dreads the looks of pity and the pep talks, how much it’s going to hurt, and how pathetic he’s going to sound. He wants to forget about Harry, forget about the kiss, and forget about everything he thought he knew about Harry and himself. Louis swallows the lump in his throat.
“He told Jones we weren’t together, which is true; but then he said that the kiss was a mistake, that it didn’t mean anything.” Louis wants to cry just saying it.
“Wow,” Zayn says, shock tracing his words. “I’m really sorry, Lou.”
“Can we talk about something else? Like literally anything else?” Louis asks, already tired from talking about it. His head feels fuzzy so he lies back against his pillow before closing his eyes.
Zayn nods, and they spend the rest of the evening watching TV and eating too much junk food before collapsing into a dreamless sleep.
The next Saturday, Tennessee plays a small school in Georgia. Everyone knows it’ll be another win, but when Tennessee walks down Peyton Manning pass for the Vol Walk, not one fan throws their hand out for Louis to shake. He can even hear boos from the back of the crowd, so he puts his head down and throws on his headphones that are wrapped around his neck. Nothing is even playing through them, but he pretends it blocks out every dirty word, every whisper, every disgusted voice.
The game starts easily enough, and before the fans have time to get comfortable, it’s 7-0 to Tennessee. The crowd cheers happily, the band plays Rocky Top as always, but Louis stands to the side with his arms crossed, feeling nauseous and miserable.
Harry mostly calls running plays throughout the game, so Louis doesn’t do much when he’s actually on the field. Jones mostly keeps him on the sidelines along with the other receivers, and Nick takes that time to glare at Louis from the bench. After half time, when Tennessee is up by over twenty points, Jones pulls every starting offensive player from the field except Harry. The game goes by slowly and painfully for Louis. He stands on the sidelines for almost the entire game, his helmet by his feet, and doesn’t say a word to anyone.
Louis thinks about quitting for the entire game, hating how this sport has betrayed him in every way. Football was what always made him happy, but now it’s a nightmare. Louis can’t touch the ball, or make a play, or even stand on the field. He thinks about last weekend when he made the game winning score and wants to throw his helmet across the field.
When the game is over and the fireworks burst over Neyland, Louis walks slowly back to the locker room alone. Louis can’t ever remember feeling like this after a win. He’s been through some heartbreaking loses, but nothing compares to this. He feels empty and numb, and he can’t even muster enough energy to cry.
The locker room is loud when he walks in, a few players celebrating the victory. Louis heads straight to his locker to grab his bag, planning on changing and showering in his dorm like he has all week. When his bag is safely on his shoulder, he goes to shut his locker before another hand smacks the door closed.
“Where you headed?” Nick says teasingly.
Louis ignores him and puts his eyes to the floor. He barely makes three steps before Nick grabs his shoulder strap and yanks, causing Louis to stumble against another player and fall to the ground. The crash makes everyone stop and look, watching Nick as he stands over Louis.
“I don’t appreciate sitting on the sidelines for an entire game, Tomlinson.”
“It’s not my problem!” Louis says. He tries to stand up but Nick kicks him in the chest, pushing Louis back to the ground with a loud thud. Nick leans down, his face inches from Louis’ face.
“It is. My playing time shouldn’t have to be affected because you stuck your tongue down the star player’s throat!” Nick is screaming, and Louis just sits on the floor horrified.
“Nick, knock it off – “ an upperclassman cuts in, but Nick cuts him off with a loud ‘No!’
Nick throws back his shoulder, his fist curling, but before he can hit Louis, he’s being pulled up by his jersey. Louis looks up as Harry’s fist collides with Nick’s cheek. There’s a loud crack before Nick collapses on the floor by Louis’ feet. Louis can’t hear anything but his thundering heartbeat and Harry’s ragged breathing. Harry’s face is blood red and his hair has fallen over his eyes. He looks absolutely terrifying. No one says a word as he turns to face Louis with his arm stretched, palm up so Louis can grab his hand.
Louis stares at his hand for a second before meeting Harry’s eyes. He’s biting his lip and his face is still bright red, but his eyes are wide and glassy. Louis’ heartbeat begins to settle, the steady thumping in his forehead easing away, so he takes a deep breath before shifting his eyes to Zayn. Louis knows he must look insane, he can feel how wide his eyes are and can feel his breath making his chest heave. Louis meets Zayn’s eyes, pleading for an answer, and then Zayn shrugs his shoulders lightly.
Before he can convince himself not to do it, Louis grabs Harry’s hand. Harry lifts him from the ground, takes his bag that is barely hanging from Louis’ arm, and leads him out of the locker room, Harry’s hand heavy on his lower back. They walk silently until they’re outside the stadium. Harry finds them a bench and motions for Louis to sit down. When he does, Harry bends down in front of him.
“Lou, I’m –“ Harry chokes on his words, so Louis lifts his arm a bit to cut him off completely, not wanting to hear anything he’s about to say or his pitying words.
“It’s fine, Haz.”
“But it’s not!” Harry shouts exasperated. “I shouldn’t have told Jones what I did, I’m such a fucking idiot.”
Louis sputters and his brain short circuits. He thought Harry was going to apologize for Nick’s behavior, not talk about the meeting with Jones. Louis lowers his eyes to meet Harry’s.
“Wait, what? This isn’t about Nick?” Louis questions. Harry rolls his eyes and grips Louis thighs roughly.
“No, you idiot. It’s about me, or well, us.”
Harry doesn’t let go of Louis’ thighs, so Louis puts his hands on Harry’s, waiting for him to speak again.
“I’d been wanting to kiss you since I saw you, and when I finally got the chance, I blew it. I really like you, Louis. I have for a while, actually.” Harry says defeated. Louis’ mind races, his thoughts scattering rapidly, and he’s scared as hell he’s going to get hurt again, that this is all another lie.
“I really like you, too. But I don’t know if I can trust you.” Louis says.
“Let me prove to you that you can.” Harry begs, gripping Louis’ legs tighter.
Louis looks up, trying to gather his thoughts. He wants to trust Harry more than anything, but he can’t forget how he felt in Jones’ office. Louis wants to be able to hold Harry’s hand around campus and kiss him after practice, but he can’t. Not with the SEC watching and definitely not with Butch coaching the team. But more than that, he wants Harry in his life regardless.
He remembers how he’s felt the past few weeks, and a few butterflies flutter in his chest at the thought. Kissing Harry at the game had made him feel more alive than he had felt in months. Louis wants that all the time, every single day. He can’t fathom quitting the team, not seeing Harry every day, or not playing football at all. Harry, football, all of this: it’s everything Louis has ever wanted for himself. Even if he can’t have Harry and football together, he wants them both in his life anyway.
Louis leans over quickly and kisses Harry lightly. He feels Harry’s eyes flutter closed and him smiling into the kiss. Louis cups Harry’s face tightly between his hands, deepening the kiss and pulling Harry closer. Louis’ chest feels tight but in the best way possible, so he lets the feeling take over and decides he’ll do anything it takes to keep that feeling.
Over a few days, a number of things happen.
Jones makes Louis and Harry give a statement about the kiss to ESPN and various other sports networks. They both tell them it wasn’t anything serious, it was merely an adrenaline rush, and under no circumstance will it happen again. Louis smiles when he tells the reporters Harry is just a friend even though he knows he’s much more, and when they finally get to leave, Butch gives them a pat on the back before he walks away.
Practice goes back to normal, except Nick stays away from Harry and Louis unless he’s forced otherwise. Harry tells Liam, Niall and Zayn about them, says that they’re ‘dating’ and working things out, and Louis smiles wide when he hears it. They act naturally in practice, just like friends would, and everyone assumes they’ve moved past all the fighting.
On the first open Saturday of the season, Louis wakes up to banging on the door of his dorm. Zayn groans and throws his pillow over his head, muttering something Louis can’t make out. Louis rubs his eyes before looking through the peephole and seeing a bubbly Harry in the hallway. Louis glances at the alarm clock by his bed, noticing it’s not even 9 am, before opening the door with a groan.
“Good morning sunshine!” Harry shouts gleefully, a bright sunny smile poking dimples into his cheeks.
“It’s 9 am, Haz.”
“I know, we have to start early! Get ready so we can go,” Harry says, pushing Louis carelessly towards the bathroom.
“Go where?!” Louis stands confused as Harry picks him out some clothes from his closet and thrusts them into his arms.
“It’s a surprise! Now hurry up, we haven’t got all day.” Harry grins at him again before smacking his bum and walking away, slamming the door behind him as he leaves.
“What the hell was that?” Louis says, mostly to himself, but Zayn cuts in anyway.
“No idea, but he better think twice before bursting in here again.”
Louis gets ready quickly considering he’s half asleep and has no idea where he’s going. He styles his hair messily, decides on wearing the outfit Harry picked out for him, and is met by Harry’s face when he finally exits the bathroom. He still looks like the sun is shining out his ass, but when he sees Louis he smiles even brighter.
They talk to Zayn briefly before heading to the parking garage outside the dorm. They shove themselves in Harry’s car, a tiny, beat up green Honda Civic, and head out of Knoxville. Harry doesn’t tell Louis where they’re going, but when they keep heading straight down I-40, Louis can tell they’re aiming for Nashville.
“So,” Louis says as he leans his seat back so he can prop his feet on the dashboard. “I just realized something.”
“I don’t really know anything about you, other than that you’re damn good at throwing a football and you’re stubborn as a mule.”
Harry chuckles at him and reaches over to turn down the radio that’s been blasting country music for over fifty miles. He grips the steering wheel tightly in his left hand and clears his throat.
“Well, there isn’t much to know. I lived in Alabama my entire life until now.”
“Sounds miserable,” Louis says, couching over fake gagging sounds. Harry just rolls his eyes.
“It’s not that bad, Lou.”
“Sure, sure.” Louis grins at him and then reaches over the center console, grabbing Harry’s free hand that’s sitting lazily on the gearshift. Harry looks over and smiles at him, and the sun coming through his window makes his curls look like a halo.
“I actually wanted to play at Alabama since I was really little, but obviously changed my mind at the last second. I visited here and loved it, which earned endless teasing from my entire high school team, but I’m glad I came here instead.”
Harry smiles, eyes still facing the road, and squeezes Louis’ hand a bit.
“How long have you been playing football?” He asks, taking Louis off guard.
“Eh, since I was almost six. My dad took me to a game in Knoxville when I was five, I fell in love, and that was all it took. I’ve been playing ever since.”
Harry throws his head around, eyes wide.
“Wait, what game did you go to?”
“South Carolina, why?”
“You can’t be serious! I was at the game, too!” Harry laughs before squeezing at Louis’ hand again, much tighter this time.
“You were at that same game? Why were you at a Tennessee game when you lived in Alabama? Isn’t that some sort of sin?” Harry just giggles before meeting Louis’ eyes briefly from the driver’s seat.
“My step-dad is from Tennessee, and he drove me up here to see them play. That was actually the first game I ever saw.”
Louis can’t believe what he’s hearing, and he huffs out in surprise.
“Me too!” Harry looks over at him and grins over a bit lip.
“Sounds a bit like fate, huh?” he says. Louis’ heart gives the tiniest flutter as he looks into Harry’s eyes, feeling like Fate herself is in the car with them.
“Yeah, yeah it does.”
In two more hours, Louis is proved correct as he can see the rising buildings of Nashville coming into view. They drive straight to downtown and Harry finds them a place to park close to LP Field, the stadium where the Tennessee Titans play. Harry takes Louis’ hand and leads them straight into the city. It’s early October, so it’s warm and breezy, and the leaves on the ground are the prettiest shades of red and orange. Fall has always been Louis’ favorite time of year, so he takes in the breathtaking sights of the city as they walk.
Musicians litter the streets, singing country songs and playing the guitar, trying to get spotted and made famous. They stand on the concrete, no shoes on their feet or a penny to their name, and play until their fingers bleed and the sun goes down. Louis remembers the first time he came to the city, and he watched a young girl play the guitar for hours, her case open in front of her waiting for someone to drop a dollar.
“So I told you about me,” Harry says interrupting the silence. “Tell me about you.”
Louis looks at their intertwined hands and swings them as he thinks.
“Well, I’ve always lived here. I have five sisters and a brother, and I’m the oldest. I love it, though, it was never lonely in our house.”
“Anything else?” Harry asks teasingly. Louis racks his brain a second before flushing.
“Eh, well, I did musicals in high school?” Louis says timidly. Harry’s eyes widen before he smiles and tugs at Louis’ arm, pulling him into Harry’s side.
“You were a regular Troy Bolton, huh?”
After they visit every t-shirt shop downtown, Harry leads them back to the car and drives them to 12 South. It’s a quaint little neighborhood settled in the middle of everything, with cute houses and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. There’s a fall festival in progress, so hundreds of people are walking the streets. Children are lighting sparklers and playing tag in the grass while locals sell BBQ and knick-knacks from booths lining the street.
Once they’ve parked, Louis grabs Harry’s arm and pulls him towards the middle of the festival. There’s a large stage set up near the back of an open field, and a boy who can’t be any older than twenty is tuning his guitar. There are people everywhere around the stage, most of them sitting on blankets in the grass, just waiting for the show to start. Louis can see more musicians around the back of the stage, practicing or talking to friends and family.
“I didn’t know there was a festival going on this weekend.” Harry mumbles. Louis furrows his brows as he turns to look at him.
“This isn’t why he came here?”
“Nah, I was gonna take you to Josephine. It’s a restaurant near the end of town.” He says. Louis opens his mouth to speak but Harry cuts him off. “But if you’d rather do this, I won’t object.”
Harry nods right as someone taps the microphone on stage. They turn to face the stage and the boy introduces himself before starting his first song. Louis knows it instantly; he’s known the words since he was old enough to sing, so he mutters the lyrics along with the guitar as the music plays.
In the town where I was raised, the clock ticks and the cattle graze
Time passed with amazing grace, back where I come from
You can lie on a riverbank, or paint your name on a water tank
Or miscount all the beers you drank, back where I come from
Harry pulls Louis into his chest and wraps his arms around his neck. He lays his chin on Louis’ shoulder, swaying them slightly to the tune. Louis sings quietly, just barely whispering the words as the sun starts to set around them. The weight of Harry’s arms on Louis’ shoulders is warm and comforting as they listen to all the sounds around them. Crickets are chirping loudly, people are singing along, someone is shooting fireworks near the far end of town, and Harry is breathing lightly in Louis’ ear.
Blue eyes on a Saturday night, tan legs in the broad daylight
TV’s, they were black and white, back where I come from
Harry turns his head and bites his bottom lip, green eyes staring at Louis’ lips. Louis’ skin is thrumming, his heart beat so loud in his ears that the music is starting to fade, and he can’t see anything but Harry. It’s nothing but green eyes, dimples, and cherry teeth-bitten, red lips.
“What if someone notices us?” Louis hears himself ask, nervousness tinting his voice.
“Let them see.”
Two seconds pass where Louis is just staring at Harry, waiting for him to lean forward. He’s so nervous and he feels like this is their first kiss, like he’s only known Harry for a few hours. The music gets a little louder suddenly and everyone is singing along now, and then Harry is leaning in and kissing him calmly, not rushing to deepen the kiss.
Back where I come from, I’m an old Tennessean,
I’m proud as anyone, that’s where I come from
The kiss is lingering, never more than their lips moving softly against each other, but Louis’ skin is on fire. Harry’s chest is still against Louis’ back, so he can feel the soft thumping of his heart. Louis can taste ice cream on Harry’s tongue from the chocolate ice cream cone they had shared earlier. Louis lifts his arm so he can touch Harry’s loose curls he let hang around his shoulders. A firework booms loudly in the distance, shaking them apart, and Louis feels a giggle escape his mouth and then Harry is laughing too. He leans in and kisses Louis’ neck lightly, chuckles tickling Louis’ throat as more fireworks go off.
Harry told Louis he’d show he could be trusted, and Louis can’t help but think he did exactly that.
Before Louis realizes, it’s the third Saturday in October. In Tennessee, it’s the biggest weekend of the year; it’s the weekend UT plays Alabama. It’s the Saturday where everyone in the state sits in front of their TV or in the stadium watching one of the biggest rivalries in the country. Every practice in October revolves around this game. So when it’s finally here, Louis is an absolute nervous wreck.
This year, UT travels to Alabama to play. Louis has heard horror stories for years about playing down there, which aren’t limited to name calling and throwing various food items on the field at players. Louis tries to spend the entire bus ride asleep on Harry’s shoulder but mainly sits there biting his nails and worrying. Harry’s nervous too, but he mostly comforts Louis during the ride.
Everything is fine until they walk on the field for warm-ups and everything turns into a nightmare. Fans are throwing cups, booing as loud as they can, and even football players are taunting from the other side of the field. Louis knows football can be a nasty sport, and football fans are the worst around, but he’s never been to a game this bad. It makes it worse that Tennessee is a pretty big underdog in this game, despite having a winning record so far and a vastly improving team.
All the receivers line up and start practicing plays with Harry. They’re mostly catching short passes, which isn’t challenging, but with almost 100,000 people booing from the stands, it gets difficult. Louis runs for his last catch and loses focus at the last second, dropping the pass that goes right to his palms. The entire crowd behind them laughs and Louis wants to crawl into the grass and die. Jones calls the team to go into the locker room and as they’re walking off the field, Harry walks up to Louis and grips his shoulder.
“Don’t let the crowd get to you, Lou.”
“I know I shouldn’t but it’s hard.” Louis’ voice is practically covered by fans yelling their way. He just casts his head down and pretends not to hear it.
Time passes way too quickly and barely anyone is listening to Jones’ pregame speech. ESPN has been saying all week that Tennessee doesn’t stand a chance, even though they keep getting better and better. Alabama is just a powerhouse and the whole team knows it. Louis watches as Liam’s hand shake while he tries to put on his gloves and feels sick. Jones gives up about five minutes until they have to leave the locker room and gives them time to think, so Louis stands up and walks towards the showers.
He leans his forehead against the cold tile, breathing through his nose heavily trying to force himself to calm down. All he can think about is this game, how important it is, how much every single fan is going to be relying on them. It’s been such a rivalry for years and there’s so much pressure to finally break a losing streak that’s only getting longer.
Louis feels hands ghost over his waist and then lips to his neck.
“You need to relax.” Harry’s deep voice rumbles against his skin and it’s doing everything but relax Louis.
“I can’t with you doing that.” Louis doesn’t pull away, just bends his neck so Harry can reach him easier. His lips glide over his skin, leaving damp places where he’s placing open-mouthed kisses.
“Everything’s going to be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Harry pulls away from his neck and spins Louis around so he can place his lips against Louis’ lightly. They kiss casually and slow, lips barely brushing, just enough to leave them both wanting more.
“My stepdad used to say he’d get gut feelings about games, like he’d know days before how the game was going to turn out. I never really believed him until I started playing.” Harry smiles down at him, his tongue just barely poking out between his teeth. “I’ve got that feeling today.”
Up until now, time has moved too quickly. Now Louis feels like time is standing still as he stands on the sidelines, watching the first play of the game. Tennessee lost the toss, so they’re defending. The quarterback goes to throw the ball and Louis watches as Liam sees it in the air, cuts off an Alabama running back, and intercepts the ball.
The entire crowd is on their feet in less than a second, especially the tiny sliver of orange in the visitor section, as Liam sprints towards the end zone. Louis never gets to see plays like this but hears about them all the time from his dad. It’s the very first play of the game and Liam is about to score their first six points, his long legs carrying him almost thirty yards with the entire team screaming at him from the sidelines.
The rest of the game goes exactly the same way. No one is sure if Tennessee is lucky or just good, but they do everything right. The stadium grows more and more quiet as they go on, except for the Tennessee fans that are rocking the visitor section. When the clock hits zero, the entire team runs over to them, climbing over the walls so they can hug fans. Louis watches as everyone around him cries tears of joy, including Jones, and fans raid the field to try to bring down the goal posts.
He spends more time watching Harry though, as he was the star of the show. He couldn’t miss, threw the ball with a precision Louis has never seen, and when Louis wasn’t on the receiving end of his throws, he couldn’t help but just stand and watch. It’s like the entire night, Harry was just completely on fire.
The team is still fired up on the way back to the hotel and when Louis reaches his room and plans on telling Harry goodnight, he pushes him into the room, lips locking with his instantly the second the door slams shut. Louis looks around, noticing his roommate isn’t here yet.
“Harry.” Louis practically moans when the other boy pushes into him, lying kisses all down his neck, sucking purple bruises into his skin. “Someone could come in.”
Harry’s hands push his hips against the door and Louis’ head flings back, banging it against the wood. He runs his hands down Harry’s arms, gripping his biceps tight as Harry continues to suck on his neck, his teeth baring down every once in awhile.
“We’ll be fine.” Harry pulls the string on Louis’ sweats he’d changed into before leaving the stadium. “I paid Zayn thirty bucks to switch rooms with me.”
Louis chuckles even as Harry is pushing his hands underneath his pants, his hands gripping his waist underneath the clothes. Louis feels hot underneath his hands, like his fingers are leaving trails of fire on his skin. His tiny hands grip the hair on Harry’s nape letting a groan fall from his lips. Finally Harry bends down and kisses Louis, not wasting any time in tracing the seam of his mouth with his tongue.
Harry bites down on his lip and Louis moans loud. He grips on to his shirt and pulls him impossibly closer, grinding his hips up when they meet. Louis feels like his entire body is on fire, wants to move closer but he’s afraid they’ll burst into flames.
“Get these off,” Louis mumbles against Harry’s lips, pulling at the jeans he’s wearing. Harry chuckles and unbuttons them before pushing the jeans down to his feet. He doesn’t even have time to kick them off before Louis is pushing his hand into his boxers and gripping his cock, earning a lovely groan from Harry.
Harry’s hands tighten on his hips as he groans into Louis’ mouth. The sound is beautiful and has Louis growing harder and harder in his own jeans. Louis strokes Harry’s dick once, twisting his wrist at the end. Harry thrusts up into his hand and leans down, letting his face rest in the crook of Louis’ neck.
“F-uck, Lou,” Harry moans. He bites into Louis’ neck and sucks as Louis strokes him, almost unable to speak from how good it feels. Louis has wanted to get his hands on him all night, from the high of winning and watching Harry play so well. He’s practically been hard since kick off.
“Come on baby, come for me.” Louis whispers, biting lightly on Harry’s earlobe as he speaks. Harry practically wails and comes instantly, painting the inside of his jeans and Louis’ hand in white. He strokes him through it, all the way through the aftershocks, until he’s finally breathing somewhat normally.
He doesn’t even speak before he’s moving down, meeting Louis’ eyes as he yanks down his sweats. Louis bites down on his lip, watching as Harry moves closer to mouth over his cock nestled in his boxers. Louis whines and grips the curls falling down Harry’s shoulders. He doesn’t lose eye contact with the other boy as Harry pulls down on his boxers and takes his whole length into his mouth.
Louis practically sobs and his head crashes into the door. He struggles to find purchase, and ends up gripping the doorknob as Harry takes his cock into his mouth. His mouth is so warm and tight, and he doesn’t waste any time letting it hit the back of his throat. Louis is almost embarrassed when he barely lasts a minute and comes right there, one hand in Harry’s hair. Not that Harry is moving as he swallows around him, tasting every last drop and making Louis roll his eyes into the back of his head.
“What was that for?” Louis asks, his voice embarrassingly high.
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“We just broke a 10 year losing streak to Alabama, I thought you deserved it.” Louis grins. Harry laughs loudly and then stands, leaning forward so he can kiss Louis on the mouth.
“I guess you’re right.”
After a particularly challenging practice before Tennessee’s next big game against South Carolina, Louis drags his feet into the locker room and falls to a bench beside the showers. Everyone else files in, most of them changing and heading straight back to campus. Louis just closes his eyes, feels his muscles tingle underneath his pads, and lets himself drift as he listens to the water run in the next room.
It gets quiet after a few minutes, so Louis stands up and walks to his locker to grab his clothes. He shuts the door and turns around, thinking about where him and the rest of the boys can go for dinner, when he sees Harry across the room in nothing but a towel. He’s smirking at him, arms crossed across his chest, and Louis’ eyes drift straight to his v line. There’s two ferns printed across his hipbones, and Louis feels hot.
“I didn’t know you were still here,” says Harry as he walks over to Louis.
“Eh, yeah, I thought I was alone,” Louis stutters.
Harry’s hands find Louis’ hips, so he pulls him into his chest, making Louis drop his laundry. Louis wishes he had changed already as he feels his clothes land by his feet. He can feel sweat gathering on his neck and his pads feel extra tight and heavy.
Harry leans down and captures Louis lips roughly, pushing them into the lockers behind them causing a crash of metal to echo across the room. The kiss is dirty and messy, Louis’ hands all over Harry’s chest and back, tracing all his tattoos. The ferns, two birds across his chest, a birdcage across his ribs.
“I didn’t know you had these tattoos,” Louis practically moans into Harry’s mouth. He pulls away and outlines the swallows on Harry’s chest with his tongue. Harry’s skin is still wet, and his hair is dripping water all down his torso. Louis moves down, kissing and marking Harry’s skin with bites and purple bruises.
“Yeah, I –“ Harry sucks in a breath when Louis nips at the fern on his left hip, and Louis grins into his skin. “I got them this summer.”
“Hmm,” Louis murmurs. He fidgets with the towel around Harry’s waist, suddenly nervous. He looks up at Harry, and his green eyes are dark and glassy. Harry laces his fingers in Louis’ hair, massaging his skin, reassuring him. Louis pulls at the towel and lets out an embarrassing moan.
“Fuck, are you kidding me Styles? You can’t be a perfect quarterback and have a flawless cock, it isn’t fair to the rest of us!” Louis slams his head against the lockers and Harry laughs loudly. After Alabama, Louis hadn’t seen it because the room was dark and Harry’s jeans barely left his legs. Now that it’s right in front of his face, Louis could die.
It’s thick and long and hard, and there’s a vein running along the length teasing Louis, begging him to lean down and lick it. He bites his lip tightly between his teeth and tries to compose himself. Someone could walk in any minute and see them, but Louis can’t seem to pull himself away. So he doesn’t waste another second before licking a big fat stripe up Harry’s cock.
Harry moans loud and grips Louis’ hair tight in his fist. Louis palms at himself, now rock hard in his pants, before taking Harry completely into his mouth. He flattens his tongue and sucks hard, and his eyes flutter closed as he listens to Harry pant above him. Harry thrusts lightly into his mouth but Louis takes it, enjoys it actually, and grips Harry’s legs tightly.
Then the locker room door opens, followed by someone yelling, so Louis pushes away with a yelp while Harry reaches for his towel.
“Shit, what the FUCK,” it’s Liam, who has resorted to covering his eyes with his hand. He’s blushing furiously, his entire face a bright, cherry red, and Louis bites back a giggle.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Li?” Harry barks.
“I forgot my ipod on my locker, I’m sorry I didn’t know you guys were here, I’m so sorry.” Liam peeks through his fingers and sighs when he sees them separated.
“Even though,” Liam says, walking over to his locker, “you really should find another place to do that, this isn’t a brothel.”
After the last few years, Tennessee going 10-1 is virtually unheard of. As it stands though, they are and the team is fired up. Their winning schedule has them on top of the SEC East and a guaranteed ticket to the championship game in Georgia. They’ve got new recruits coming every single day, committing left and right, and a sold out stadium every single Saturday. Right before the last regular season game, everyone is in high spirits.
There’s a practice on Thursday as usual and as they run their last play of the evening, everything is fine. They aren’t working too hard, as the last game is a sure fire win. It’s just a simple running play so Louis is attempting to block a defensive lineman when he sees it. Harry twists his ankle wrong when he moves to hand the ball off right as the defensive end makes contact with him, sacking him to the ground. Harry screams and it sends a nasty chill down Louis’ spine. The entire team halts right in their steps except the defensive end, Derek. He’s yelling apologies as Butch runs from the sidelines, pushing people away.
Louis is right behind him, shoving Derek so hard he falls to the ground. He’s trying to hold back tears as Harry clutches his ankle and it looks bad, so bad that Louis wishes he could look away. Instead he’s falling to his knees beside Harry, trying to pry his fingers away from his ankle before he hurts it more.
“Tomlinson, step out of the way. I can’t look at his leg with you in the way.” A team medic is looming over him, eyebrows raised as if to say ‘well?’. Louis snarls, moving closer to Harry.
“I’m not leaving.”
“Tomlinson! Move.” Butch is there now, glaring down at him with a face the whole team dreads.
Louis can hear Liam practically begging him to move, but then Harry meets his eyes and suddenly Louis is weighed down so heavy he might just sink through the grass.
“I’ll be fine, Lou.”
The tears brimming at Harry’s eyes tell an entirely different story. His ankle is twisted funny and Louis knows it can’t just be a sprain. He shakes his head and that’s when he realizes he hasn’t even taken his helmet off. He tosses it to the ground beside him.
Butch grabs Louis by the pads, pulling him to his feet. He makes sure the medic can take care of Harry alone, promising to check in with them in a few minutes. Louis can’t hear what’s going on though. His mind can only think of the scream Harry let out when he fell to the ground, the heavy weight of Butch’s hand on his pads, his feet practically dragging on the grass.
Butch walks him over to the complete other side of the field, away from everyone and when he turns to look at him, dread pools in Louis’ stomach like a puddle.
“What’s going on?” Butch asks, raising his brows.
Louis swallows the lump in his throat but can’t manage any words. His body is wound so tight, like a rubber band about the snap, and he doesn’t have a clue what to say. Jones just watches him with careful eyes before taking a deep breath and relaxing, his hand massaging the back of his neck.
“I’m not going to pretend this is even remotely okay. You, Harry, the entire university could raise a huge stink if word gets out about this. You understand that, right?”
Louis nods, his eyes meeting his shoes.
“So I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to say.” Jones touches his shoulder lightly, making Louis lift his head to meet the coach’s eyes.
“This thing, this relationship you boys have going on… you have to keep it quiet. No more slip ups at games, no telling anyone that doesn’t have the right to know, no talking to the media.”
Louis’ heart flutters in his chest, the tight knot in his gut starting to loosen.
“Sir?” Louis can hardly breathe right now, so overcome with emotion he’s afraid he’s going to vomit all over his cleats.
“I can’t be that guy, Louis. This team, we’re all family here. It’s clear to me that you have something special, otherwise you wouldn’t have been sneaking around this whole time. It wouldn’t be worth losing your position on the team. I know that.”
Louis nods, still unable to form a simple sentence. Jones giving him permission has never been a thought that even crossed his mind, almost positive that they’d be hiding this for good, or at least while he’s on the team.
He looks over and they have Harry standing up now, but they’re practically dragging him off the field. He isn’t putting any weight on his leg. Butch watches as well, biting down on his lip as he does.
“While we’re here, we need to discuss the more pressing problem. We’re going to need a quarterback.”
Louis head spins around so fast he should get whiplash.
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“We don’t have a back-up right now. Our depth is lacking and you’re the next best option we have. I know it’s last minute, and we’ll have to schedule some extra practice, but are you willing?”
Louis pulls his bottom lip between his fingers, thinking it over. He hasn’t really thrown a ball in ages, hasn’t played quarterback since last spring. He looks over at Harry again, watching as he finally sits down on the bench, and wonders what he’ll say. Will he be angry with him? Will he be hurt? Louis can’t go through all this again, where they fight over this stupid position and let it destroy them when things are finally going well.
“I don’t know, Jones. Can I talk to Harry? Does he even know he can’t play?”
“I’m sure he already knows, but yeah, go talk to him. I just need to know before you leave the field.”
Jones walks away from him then, leaving Louis alone. He follows after a few minutes, still pulling on his lip. The heavy weight of his pads is starting to make his neck and shoulders hurt, and he really just wants to shower and take a long nap.
He reaches the benches and they’ve got ice on Harry’s ankle. He doesn’t look nearly as bad now, less pale and all the wetness from his eyes gone. He tries to smile at Louis when he sits down next to Harry, but it comes out as more of a grimace.
“How’s your ankle?”
“They think I’ve cracked a bone, I’ve got to have it looked at.”
Louis frowns and leans over, letting his fingertips brush the skin around Harry’s ankle. It’s swollen and angry red, and Louis wishes he could fix it. He wishes he could kiss the skin, make the bone heal and make everything all right. There’s just one game left, then the SEC championship where Tennessee is going for the first time in forever. Louis, for the first time in a long time, doesn’t even want to play or be the star. He wants it for Harry; wants him to win the game for them, be the name all over the papers.
“They told me I’ll probably be out for the rest of the season,” Harry mumbles, the hurt so visible in his voice that Louis wants to shrivel up and die.
“They also said… that Jones will probably ask you to play quarterback.”
Louis looks up into Harry’s eyes, expecting to see hurt or anger there but doesn’t find it. If anything, he looks hopeful, and it hits Louis like a ton of bricks.
“He did,” Louis whispers.
Louis stands from the bench, looking around the field like he’s lost. He is, that’s the thing. He doesn’t know what to do, feels like he’s going to bend and snap at the lightest touch. When he first came here, this is what he wanted, and now it feels wrong, like he’s taking the glory all from Harry and he feels disgusting for it.
“I told him I’d talk to you about it.”
“Why?” Harry sounds exasperated, like Louis is the one being ridiculous. Louis runs a hand through his damp hair, pushing it away from his forehead, blaming it for him not being able to think straight.
“Because I don’t – I don’t know what to do. You being the quarterback is what’s made us such a good team, it’s why we’re going to the championship, but it’s also why we hated each other for so long. I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to disappoint everyone and be the reason we lose, I can’t handle all of that pressure.” Louis splutters, his emotions running over like water in a sink and he’s just so tired.
Harry grabs his hands with his own, pulling him forward until he’s as close as he can be.
“You aren’t going to disappoint anyone. You’ll do great, Lou. I’m not the only reason we’ve got this far, it comes down to all of us.”
“But – “
“But nothing,” Harry grins for the first time, his eyes finally starting to light up and shine the way Louis loves. “Please do it, for me at least. They need you to do it. I need for you to.”
They have one last minute practice where Louis runs through the plays, just as quarterback instead of wide receiver. He’s pretty rusty, throwing a few bad passes at first, but he gets the hang of it pretty quickly. He falls back into place, a good rhythm and speed, and he feels good. Harry watches from the sidelines, ankle in a cast, and just smiles. That alone makes Louis confident, strong, everything he needs to be for this team.
They win the last game of the season, and then it’s finals week. Louis pours over textbooks, his notes, lies in bed at night and reads flash cards until his eyes hurt. Harry, Liam, Zayn, Niall and him set up a huge study group, going over everything together, laughing and smiling whenever they aren’t staring down at their notes. It’s nice, and they’ve become amazing friends over the semester. Louis loves them all a lot, is grateful for them even.
When the team goes to Atlanta for the championship game, hopes are high. They play Alabama again, and the game is tough. Harry bites into his nails so much that they’re bleeding by half time, and the medic has his hands wrapped up by the time they go back to the field. Louis plays the best game he ever has, and when they beat Alabama by a field goal that Zayn makes by the grace of God, the entire team is crying.
The fans flood the field, bringing down the goal posts. Butch conducts the marching band, like he always does after big wins, and the team hugs fans, random strangers they’ve never met, because if they can win more game, they’re going to the national championship. When Harry hobbles over to Louis on his crutches, a breathtaking smile lighting up his entire face, Louis pulls him down by his neck into a spine-numbing hug. He’s high off the energy, wanting to kiss him so bad he can’t stand it, and the only thought floating through his mind is I love this, I love this feeling, I love football, I love you.
They play Clemson in the semi-finals and barely scrape by with a win. The announcers on ESPN call it a Cinderella story, the SEC network says it’s luck, and Jones calls it a fucking miracle, but they’re on their way to the national championship in Florida. It’s the first time since 1998 and when they board the plane in January, it feels like the entire state of Tennessee is cheering them on at the airport.
Louis throws his carry on into the overhead and slides in next to Harry, smirking when he pulls the blanket from his lap and into his own.
“Come on Lou, it’s cold,” Harry whines, pulling it back a little so the blanket covers his legs too.
Louis lifts the armrest between them so he can snuggle closer, pressing his thigh into Harry’s. Everyone is seated and the flight attendant is going over the safety procedures. Louis doesn’t pay her any mind as Harry slips his hand under the blanket, letting his palm cover the top of his thigh. The pressure is nice and warm, and Louis gives Harry a flirty look through his lashes.
“Trying to cop a feel?” Louis asks, earning a laugh from Harry.
“Maybe a little. You have nice thighs.”
“Thighs?” Louis snorts and he can hear Zayn giggling from behind them. He must have overheard.
“Yeah, your thighs. Now that I don’t have much to do during practice, I’ve noticed. They look nice in compression pants.” Harry waggles his eyebrows and Louis shoves at him. Zayn full out laughs this time, and Louis spins around in his seat.
“Do you mind?” Louis scoffs and Zayn just rolls his eyes, a laugh still playing on his lips.
They get to spend a week in Florida, which is mostly practice but when they aren’t busy, they have a bit more freedom to roam. One day when they don’t have much to do, most of the team heads to the beach closest to their hotel. It’s pretty private and the middle of January, so a lot of people aren’t getting in the water.
It’s warm though, almost eighty degrees, and Louis lies back against the sand, listening to the waves crash near his feet. Harry is beside him, snoring lightly as the sun puts him to sleep.
“How far do you think we could bury him before he wakes up?” Niall asks, poking Louis in the side.
“Probably at least to his head, I’d say,” Liam mutters, sounding half asleep himself.
“Fuck off,” Harry mumbles, their voices waking him up, and they all laugh lightly. Louis rolls over to his side and runs his fingers along Harry’s bare chest. Little love handles poke over his shorts and Louis pinches one, making Harry squeak.
“You’re such a pest.”
“You love it.” Louis smiles when Harry meets his eyes. They look blue today, probably from the water and the bright sun shining down on them, and Louis’ mind starts to wander as he stares into them.
“Do y’all think we can win?” Zayn asks, and everyone just shrugs.
“I figure we can. Notre Dame is good but so are we.” Harry mumbles, still looking directly into Louis’ eyes. “Plus we’ve got Louis.”
Louis flushes deep red, looking away from Harry intense gaze.
“True.” Liam says, and Louis huffs.
“Would y’all stop?” Louis groans.
“It’s true though!” Niall says, sitting up from the sand. “You’ve done really well considering. Maybe you’ll be the new starter.”
“Heyyyyyy,” Harry whines and everyone laughs.
“I’d never take your place, babe,” Louis says, leaning over and placing a kiss on Harry’s nose. Zayn makes gagging noises behind them and Harry giggles.
“Bunch of jealous fuckers,” Louis mumbles, scooting closer so he can capture Harry’s lips with his own. Harry’s hand finds his hair and he tugs gently at the strands. He tastes like sunscreen and corona, and it’s the best thing. They kiss lazily for a minute until someone shouts a ‘watch out!’. Louis barely has time to open his eyes before a wave crashes over Harry and himself, soaking them completely. Niall is cackling when they stand up, clothes dripping, and seaweed hanging from Harry’s bun.
“Justice is sweet.”
Louis kicks sand in his face.
Louis would like to think he’s over getting nervous. Playing football is like second nature to him at this point, something that comes as easy as breathing. When he runs through the band and on to the field for the championship game though, it’s all he can do not to throw up into his helmet.
They’re defending, so Louis looks over the playbook. Harry is looming over his shoulder, pointing at the ones he thinks would work. They’ve been watching videos of Notre Dame since they got the Florida, analyzing their moves, the way they defend. Harry’s good at this too, knowing exactly which plays could work and which ones don’t stand a chance.
Tennessee manages to hold Notre Dame off, and when Louis runs on to the field to start the first play, he wants to be sick all over again. He’s nervous and his hands shake as he calls the play, the words fumbling over his lips. Niall misunderstands his words and runs to the wrong spot, resulting in Louis having to throw the ball away.
It’s annoying, frustrating, and on the next play he’s so aggravated that he throws the ball too hard and overthrows Nick. Notre Dame fans are cheering loud from the stands and Louis hates himself, hates that this is getting to him. Harry would be better, he’s the one who should be out here. On third down, Louis hands the ball off but they only get five yards and they have to punt.
It goes on like that for a while, neither team able to put any points on the board. Finally, after the first two quarters are almost over, Louis manages to throw a pass right into the end zone where Niall is standing. The stands erupt like a volcano, the Tennessee fans screaming themselves hoarse.
Defense manages to hold off Notre Dame again, and then it’s halftime. Louis stands back, waiting on Harry as he hobbles over on his crutches. Harry smiles at him, but Louis can see in his eyes that he’s worried. The whole team is, huddled in the locker room barely saying a word. Jones talks the whole time and Louis should probably listen, but he can’t find it in himself to do it. It’s not until he hears his own name that he jolts his head up.
“Sorry?” Butch rolls his eyes at Louis, but cracks a smile.
“I asked you, what’s your favorite memory from playing football?”
“I guess… when my high school won state. Or when we beat Alabama.”
A few players nod in agreement. Jones asks a few other people the same question before someone cuts in.
“No offense, but why does this matter?”
“It matters because I want you to remember that feeling when we go back out.” Butch stands on a bench, his hands resting on his hips. “I want you to remember how it feels to win, to be proud of the team you’re on, to do something great. It’ll fuel you, make you a better player, and make you want to win. That feeling… it’ll carry us all the way to a national championship.”
And that’s exactly what it does.
Louis remembers when his high school walked out of the stadium after winning the state championship and he thought this is it, nothing else will feel like this. He remembers not coming down from cloud nine for probably three months, walking into the weight room and seeing the trophy gleaming from the case. He remembers that feeling when he throws the first pass of the second half right to Nick, who runs almost seventy yards straight to the end zone.
Notre Dame doesn’t let up though, finally getting points on the board and tying up the game before the fourth quarter starts. When Louis isn’t playing, he’s studying the playbook so hard his eyes go fuzzy. There’s only a matter of minutes left in the game and if they play this right, they can score and not leave a single second for Notre Dame to score. Louis is about to step on the field before there’s a TV timeout called, and he stands there by the sidelines waiting.
Harry walks up beside him, his orange shirt shining bright under the lights of the stadium. Louis looks over, too nervous to even manage a smile. Harry shoots him one though, his dimples making a crater in his cheeks.
“How you feeling?”
“Honestly?” Louis asks. “I’m shitting myself.”
Harry smirks, then reaches up and squeezes Louis shoulder. He can’t feel it through his pads, but it comforts him anyway. Just seeing Harry, having him close to him, is enough to keep him grounded.
“Do you remember the first day of practice over the summer?” Harry asks, and Louis nods his head.
“When I saw you, I remember thinking how hard it was going to be to hate you.”
Louis huffs out a laugh and so does Harry, his hands gripping on to his crutches tightly.
“I thought the same thing, actually.” Louis says. “You were the prettiest quarterback I’d ever seen, and I fucking hated you.”
Harry barks out a laugh and Louis feels warm all over, something like love floating through his veins.
The offensive does everything they can, but Notre Dame keeps them held back. With only about ten seconds left on the clock, Tennessee is still lingering around the fifty-yard line on third down. Louis has to swallow around the bile in his throat, so sick and wanting so badly to win. Butch uses their last time out and brings them all in. Harry even stands in the huddle with them as they talk plays.
“We’ve got to try a hail mary, that’s the only way.” Nick says, and a few players nod in agreement.
“What if we tried something else?” Harry butts in, the playbook in his hand. He’s got the play from LSU pulled up, the trick play that Louis managed and won them the game.
“Styles, I don’t know if that’ll work again.”
“Why not?” Harry is practically begging everyone to listen, his eyes wide with excitement. “We haven’t ran this play again, I doubt they’ve even thought about it. All Louis has to do is hand the ball off to Niall. He’s the fastest runner we’ve got and he can score as time runs out.”
Jones throws his visor on the ground, his face red from spending half the night on edge and yelling. His voice is hoarse when he finally responds.
“You’re trying to give me a heart attack, Harry.”
“Is that a yes?”
Louis palms are sweaty, his fingers vibrating with nerves as he calls the play. Louis knows instantly it’s going to work, as he hands the ball to Niall and he starts to sprint. The entire defense is confused, losing the ball as Niall runs as hard as he can go. Louis starts running behind him as the entire stadium gets on its feet, screaming so loud Louis thinks the roof on the stadium might lift off.
When Niall’s feet hit the end zone, it’s so loud that Louis can’t think or hear anything but a loud buzzing in his ears. Bodies are crushing him as they climb on top of each other, celebrating as much as they’re allowed before they have to kick the extra point. Tears practically blind him and he doesn’t register anything, not Zayn kicking and making the point, not the team flooding the field, or anything else.
It’s not until he feels familiar hands on his hips that he turns off autopilot, turning into Harry with a smile that would make the sun cower in his light. Harry is radiant, tear tracks on his face and his eyes wide and starry. He pulls Louis into a hug, placing a light kiss on his neck as he does. Louis sobs into his chest, so deliriously happy that he can barely think straight.
If someone had told Louis at the beginning of the year that this would be his life, he would have laughed in their face. He never dreamed, not for a single second, that this would happen. Winning the national championship, being the quarterback and making all the plays, those things pale in comparison though when he looks back into Harry’s eyes.
This boy, this man, that he hated so much places a fire in his chest he never though he’d ever know. Louis places a hand in Harry’s curls, letting them run through his fingers as he stares into his eyes. Louis loves him so much his heart wants to cave in and explode, and he isn’t quite sure when that happened. Harry is so beautiful and everything he’s ever wanted, and the only thing he’s ever loved this much. For a long time, football was Louis’ true love. Now he’s pretty sure he could never play again if it meant having Harry right here.
“Would it be really cliché if I told you I love you right now?” Harry asks and Louis clutches Harry by the t-shirt, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Yeah, it really would.”
“That’s too bad.”
Louis would love nothing more than to stand on his toes, kiss the living daylights out of Harry, but he settles for smiling up at him. Niall is being lifted into the air by a few of the defensive lineman, pretty much everyone chanting his name. Louis ignores it though, letting the hundreds of people around him swarm and scatter. He only moves when Jones enters the people, holding the giant glass trophy over his head, tears in his eyes.
“I really do love you, you know.” Harry says, making Louis shift his eyes back to him. Louis smiles and lifts on his toes, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck and pulling him closer.
Louis throws the last of his things into the suitcase by his bed, finally done packing. Spring semester just finished the day before and Louis has to be moved out in a few days. He looks around the room, only Zayn’s things left because he’s a lazy piece of shit who is waiting until the last day. He’s currently sitting on his bed, a joint lit between his teeth.
“You know if they catch you with that, we’re fucked right?”
“What are they gonna do, kick us out?”
Louis rolls his eyes, closing the lid of his suitcase and zipping it. As if on cue, Harry opens their door and slides in, a backpack hanging from his shoulder.
“Finals finished?” Zayn asks.
“Yeah,” Harry says, grinning at them. “I just thought I’d come grab Lou so we can get going.”
“Ohhhhh, getting shacked up already I see.”
Louis rolls his eyes again, for what feels like the millionth time today, but he’s smiling anyway. Harry pulls Louis close to him, grinning down at him.
“It’s a love shack, you imbecile.” Louis says and Zayn scoffs.
“Still a shack.”
It’s actually an apartment right beside campus, on the nicer part of town. Harry and Louis decided pretty early on that living in dorms wasn’t going to cut it, after way too many incidences of Zayn, Niall or Liam walking in on them. Besides, Louis feels bad when the sock on the door forces Zayn to sleep on the floor of someone else’s dorm.
Louis lifts himself up on his tiptoes, because it seems like Harry never stops growing these days, and presses his lips to Harry’s. Harry is smiling into it, and then licks into his mouth briefly before pulling away with a grin.
“I love you,” Harry says, because ever since they started saying it, Harry can’t seem to stop. When they brush their teeth, studying, making coffee at two in the morning so they can stay up and do homework, it pours from Harry’s mouth like smoke. Louis doesn’t mind it though.
“I love you too.”
Louis pulls away so he can grab his suitcase.
“I’ll miss you Zee,” Louis mumbles, looking over at Zayn with a pout.
“No you won’t.”
Louis laughs and then grabs Harry’s hand with his free one. They walk quietly to the car, both tired from finals and moving in general. Louis notices Harry wearing the championship shirt from the game in January, and Louis smiles. He feels like Harry is always wearing it, holes already appearing near the hems from where it gets over washed.
They climb in the car after putting their bags in the trunk. It’s crammed full, all of their luggage wedged into every bit of available space. Louis is practically sitting on the gearshift because Harry’s shower curtain rod is pushed up into the front seat, taking up a ton of room. It’s stuffy in the car from the warm May heat, and the air in Harry’s car stopped working in April.
Louis looks over at Harry, long hair pulled back into a ponytail, sunglasses perched on his face, and he smiles before leaning over the middle console and kissing him.