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Fever Pitch

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“GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!”

Completely decked out in green, the crowd stood up from their seats. They were screaming and cheering, hugging each other as they went. The entire stadium buzzed with excitement as the ball hit the back of the net with nothing the goalie could do but stand there and watch.

Niall Horan was the most excited of all, of course. He took off on a rapid dash around the pitch unable to contain his utter delight. The smile was bright on his face and the blood was pumping through his veins. He barely felt the wind against him – at this moment he was lighter than air.

The announcer's voice came through the loudspeaker.

“A massive, massive goal for Ireland by number nine forward Niall Horan – with just seconds to spare in extra time! He's done it, and for the first time, the Republic of Ireland will be taking the cup home!”

Niall punched the air and fell to his knees just in time for his teammates to catch up to him. They toppled on him, becoming a sea of green jerseys and cleats. The crowd was still screaming and chanting, but this time it was all for him. He was the one who'd done it. He was the one who'd brought it home.

“Hor-an! Hor-an! Hor-an!”

The grin was still plastered on his face, and honestly he didn't think it would wear off.

“Horan!”

Niall stirred a little but didn't wake up.

“Horan!”

The slight tinge of a smile was on Niall's face as he slept in the airplane seat with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Horan!”

He readjusted himself in the seat a little but didn't wake up.

“Niall!!”

At that, his eyes opened and he was met face to face with Sean Cullen – his best friend and teammate. Niall swallowed the sleep in his throat a little and rubbed his eyes. Once quick glance out the airplane window told him that they were on the ground.

“Mmph,” Niall muttered, still recovering from being awakened from the best dream imaginable. “Are we here?”

Sean rolled his eyes. It wasn't unlike Niall to be completely clueless as to what was going on around him – and even more so for him to just fall asleep without giving a shit about anything else. “We're here,” he said, but even in his slight annoyance at Niall's flippant attitude, he couldn't contain his smile.

Neither could Niall apparently, because the grin returned to his face. He stood up and stretch, thanking his lucky stars that he actually had room to do so on an airplane, given he's only 5'7” and all. “Man, I can't believe it,” he said with absolute awe. “We're finally in Brazil.”

“We will be once we get off the plane,” their coach said, looking back at the two boys who were too busy gabbing and musing to make any sort of motion to leave. “Come on then, we've got a long day.”

Niall nodded, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and following Sean down the aisle and off the plane. As tired as he had been when they got on the plane from Ireland that morning, it was all washed away now. Instead, he was filled with excitement and hope. His eyes lit up as he glanced at the ads on the side of the tunnel that led out to the gate. One of them for the very event they were here to participate in.

It was a simple ad for some kind of financial company that Niall was well aware was a big sponsor. It said something in Portuguese he couldn't really understand, but the patchwork ball and cleated foot atop bight green grass was enough to get his blood pumping even more.

“Look at that,” he said excitedly, grabbing Sean's shoulders and pointing towards the sign.

They were nearly past it when Sean looked, because they couldn't stop walking amidst everyone else who was getting off the plane. “Yeah,” Sean grinned. “Kind of surreal, isn't it?”

“Kind of?!” Niall gaped at him as though that was the understatement of the century. “Sean,” he said seriously, shuffling his backpack onto his other shoulder.

Niall wasn't usually one to get serious, so Sean just raised his eyebrow and waited for his friend to continue.

“We're here to play in the World Cup. This is the biggest sporting event in the world, millions of people are going to watch it and cheer for us. Everyone in Ireland is counting on us.” Niall paused and gulped a little as he realised the uncharacteristic gravity of what he was saying. “Things like this don't happen to people from Mullingar.”

Sean studied Niall for a moment as they continued to walk silently, chatter abuzz around the two of them. Then he busted out into laughter. “Class, Horan. Real class. If things like this aren't going to happen to people from Mullingar, then where exactly are they going to get all these Irishmen to play for their team?”

Niall grinned as he considered that, and just like that his fleeting moment of seriousness was gone. He threw his head back with laughter. His laugh was infectious – it was loud and airy and always managed to fill whatever room he was in. “I guess you're right.”

“Of course I'm right,” Sean said, grinning at him.

“But you have to admit,” Niall said, his eyes shining with pure excitement. They were walking through the terminal now. People probably would have been stopping and looking at them, but no one paid them that much attention. Likely because they'd already seen loads of football players walk through the area in the past few days. “We'll be training on the very same fields that in one week, we'll be playing on. That we might win The Cup on.”

“Don't jinx it,” their coach cautioned, walking past the two of them so he could be at the front of the group.

“Aye Walshy,” Niall said, rolling his eyes with a slight laugh. “Someone's got to win it, who says it can't be us?”

Louis Walsh softened a little at the use of his affectionate nickname. One that he only allowed the players to use. “It's going to be a lot of hard work,” he said with a nod before picking up his pace to walk with the other managers at the front of the group.

“Someone's got to win it?” Sean asked, brushing his long brown bangs out of his face.

Niall shrugged, because it was true. Someone did have to win it. He glanced around the airport again. His heart was aflutter as he saw another advert, and another, and another...

After years of training, qualifying matches and draws, they were finally here.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

***

“Pass me another one of those buns, will you?”

Liam Payne looked up from his meal, mid-chew at Louis Tomlinson. Louis, his teammate who was just sitting at the table, eyeing the wicker bread basket.

Louis raised his eyebrow and nodded towards the bowl.

Liam sighed. He swallowed his food and reluctantly passed Louis the basket from across the busy table. It was supper time – their first big meal as they had just arrived in Brazil earlier that afternoon. Tomorrow they would start training on the field as a part of the English National Team. But tonight?

Well, tonight was the first and last night of relaxation.

“Are you sure you should be eating that?” Liam asked in a slightly condescending parental tone. It's the tone he always used, and it's what's earned him the nickname among his teammates and fans as “Level Headed Liam.”

Louis rolled his eyes and proceeded to take a bun out of the basket and start buttering it. “Yes Liam, I think it'll be fine. Carbs are good for athletics you know.”

Liam shrugged because he knew that too many carbs would just bloat Louis, and he'd be hearing about it the next day when he was unable to run at practise.

“I eat like this on the regular season,” Louis said, taking a bite of his bun and obviously feeling the need to keep defending himself.

“Okay,” Liam said. “I didn't say anything.”

“You had that look on your face,” Louis said with a grin, and Liam knew exactly what he was talking about. Even when he hadn't voiced his thoughts, whatever he was concerned about at a particular moment was always written in his eyes and pursed together lips.

Liam just shrugged again and took a sip of his water.

“Oi, lighten up Liam!” Louis laughed, ripping off another large chunk of the bun with his teeth. “We're in Brazil! On the English National Team no less. Millions of people are going to be cheering for us.”

Liam eyed him. Yes, he was excited. Of course he was excited – it was the World Cup for God's sake. The biggest sporting event in the world. He wouldn't allow himself not to be excited. However, he was also a realist. “That's what you said about the Euro,” he pointed out. “And yet millions of people were horrified and angry with us.”

It was Louis' turn to shrug, finishing his bun and clearly contemplating having another. “Well, yeah, but that's what it's like to play for England, you know. The fans are never happy.”

Liam nodded. Oh, how he knew that all too well. Playing for Chelsea, the 3rd rank team on the English Premier League didn't help that either.

“At least we don't play for Manchester United,” Louis said with a cheeky grin.

Liam had to laugh at that. No, that much was true. He watched as Louis buttered another bun and couldn't stop himself from making a comment. “Are you sure you should be eating that?”

“There it is,” Louis said with a sly grin, as though he was almost happy Liam had chastised him. “It'll be fine, I promise you.”

“And what do you think Simon will say when you can't run tomorrow morning at practise?”

Louis shrugged as he stuffed the bun into his mouth. “He'll probably say the same thing he always says. 'Absolutely dreadful. Not your best performance, boys.'” He laughed as he replaced his thick Doncaster accent with that of their coach's slight American one.

“Because it won't be,” Liam said seriously.

Louis rolled his eyes. “All this over a bun, Payne? Really?”

“Three buns, actually.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “You're far too uptight. You need to get laid.”

At that, Liam rolled his eyes. He sincerely doubted that getting laid, as Louis had put it, will solve Louis' carb bloat problem.

“Maybe it'd help you relax a bit,” Louis said, drinking half of his glass of water in one gulp. “Because, you know, the sex. Besides, there are loads of cute boys here. And they speak Portuguese,” he winked.

Liam gave Louis a look, because not only was he completely uninterested in whoring himself out to the locals as Louis had suggested, he also didn't think that would solve any of his problems. “The reason I'm so uptight all the time is not because of a lack of sex, I assure you. It's because you drive me mad.”

“You love me,” Louis affirmed with a grin, leaning backwards in his chair.

Liam couldn't really argue with that. The two of them had been best friends for years, after all. Ever since Liam signed on to play with Chelsea and they met – they instantly clicked and it was love at first sight.

Completely platonic love, that was. Despite his demeanour, Louis was as straight as they came. There was speculation of course, given that he and Liam were so close and all. But their friendship was nothing more than a close brotherly bond.

“Yeah,” Liam nodded. “You're lucky.”

Louis grinned and picked up the bread basket, shaking it a little, as if to offer one to Liam.

Liam rolled his eyes, but he sort of really did want to eat a bun. So he chuckled slightly and picked up the smallest one of the bunch.

“Simon is going to murder us,” Liam said with a nod as he buttered the bun and took a bite.

Louis shrugged nonchalantly. “Yeah, but it'll be worth it.”

Liam took another bite of the bun. He had to admit – it was pretty good. No wonder Louis had eaten three of them. “I suppose it will.”