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but me, i'm not a gamble

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I hear the crowd count down until the bomb gets dropped

I always figured there'd be time enough

- Easy/Lucky/Free



There’s a reason Harry Styles became a musician and not an athlete.

(Namely: coordination.)

But also because he gets it.

Music, that is.

To him, music is a dichotomy— a clear separation of in tune and out— and thus is much easier to understand than, say, the advanced maths course he mistakenly signed up for in secondary school. Music is literal black on white: the notes on the page intermingling to create the melody and the harmony, and words upon words strung together in seemingly limitless permutations, forming the verse and the hook, the chorus and the bridge, and tugging at the heart and at the soul.

Music comes naturally to him, in the way his voice always stood out amongst the others in his school choir, husky and deep, but undeniably pure; and in the way it is heard now, soaring high above tens of thousands of screaming fans, filling stadium after stadium as it blends seamlessly with three others of equal talent and passion.

So yeah, Harry gets music. He is in a band after all.

But what he doesn’t get is footie.

And yeah, so what if this undoubtedly makes him the most un-English Englishman ever to be born, like, ever? That claim was long ago confirmed (after his very public coming out) by the majority of the UK’s idiotically homophobic straight male population, whose 200,000+ troops once signed an online petition to have him and the rest of the band Fed-Ex’d to Canada to, and he quotes, “Be Gay with Bieber”. Some people are shitty, yeah, but if the millions of dollars in his bank account have anything to say about it, the band still has plenty of fans who are not.

While the rest of the world— with the exception of the United States, probably— is inexplicably obsessed with the sport, even staging a massive tournament every four years to celebrate its international reputation, Harry just cannot see the appeal. Football is boring, painfully so, with ninety or more minutes spent waiting for a goal that, more often than not, will simply not happen. Maybe if teams were scoring ten or twelve goals a match he would be more interested. For now, however, he’ll stick to what he does best— songwriting and performing— and leave the fake dives and massive egos to the men on the pitch.

So, understandably, when his best mate and bandmate Niall Horan arrives at his doorstep to present him with a ticket to the Manchester United game against Swansea City that very afternoon, he’s not exactly thrilled.

“But Babs can’t go, and Zayn and Liam are busy too,” Niall begs, blue eyes widening with cartoonish puppy dog sadness, “You’re my last hope!”

“You don’t even like Man United,” Harry argues, “You’re Irish.”

“These tickets were a gift,” the Irishman explains, waving the shiny pieces of paper in Harry’s face for added emphasis, “I’d hate to waste them.”

“And I’d hate to waste my afternoon watching footie,” Harry retorts, ignoring Niall’s devastated pouting.

“You are unbelievably boring,” Niall grumbles, stalking out of the room in a huff.

Harry watches him go, the ugly guilt growing steadily beneath his ribs. But no, he won’t let Niall win this time. Absolutely not. He’s strong. He can resist.

He can’t resist.

And so, due to a combination of Niall’s emotional manipulation and his own apparent lack of willpower, Harry ends up in a sideline seat at Old Trafford just as the opening whistle blows.


Match 1:
16 Aug vs Swansea City

For the first fifteen minutes or so, the game is predictably uneventful.

From what Harry can tell with his limited knowledge of the football game, Man United is clearly the better team, kicking the ball amongst themselves much more frequently than the Swansea men. Niall cheers loudly and obnoxiously beside him, dressed in a Derby County shirt that has unremarkably earned him an array of strange looks from the fans around them (all die-hard Man U supporters, of course, who paid upwards of a thousand pounds for the seats they currently occupy).

Niall narrates the match aloud, pointing out some of the team’s best players (Rooney and Kagawa and Evra among others) as well as the shitty ones who are sure to be transferred by season’s end.

“Van Persie is an absolute cock but he’s spectacular on the pitch,” Niall explains, cheers erupting all around them as the Dutchman narrowly misses a header on the cross.

“He looks like Ben Affleck,” Harry remarks, earning a loud cackle from Niall and a not-so-subtle eye roll from the heavily invested spectator to his left.

“What? He totally does,” he tells the man who succinctly replies (in a thickly Manc accent) that he has no fecking clue who ‘Ben Fleck’ is and that he doesn’t want to.

Harry just nods and turns back toward Niall with a heavy sigh. His pop culture knowledge is clearly wasted on these people.

Ben Fleck? Honestly.

Another fifteen minutes pass without incident, Man U still controlling the possession but not without a few close calls from the Swansea side. With their recent changes in management, Niall tells him, the team hasn’t really been up to form, which explains why their previous season record was quite pitiful in comparison to their past league performances.

“They don’t seem to be doing that badly,” Harry remarks in response, which is the exact moment that one of the ‘Red Devil’ midfielders lands awkwardly after leaping up to challenge a header. He remains on the ground, clutching at his ankle, and the entire stadium lets out a collective cry of distress.

“Fucking shit!” Niall swears, turning toward the fan to his left, “That’s Carrick, innit?”

“Yeah, mate,” the young man replies, looking quite devastated at the fact, “His bloody Achilles injury s’got to be acting up again.”

“Who’s Van Gaal gonna bring in, then?” Niall asks, watching with concern as the medics rush out to cart the grimacing midfielder off the field, “Fellaini’s out on loan, and god knows Cleverley can’t play in anything but a midfield three.”

“They’ve got a new trade-in this season, up from Donny,” the fan says thoughtfully, “His stats are off the charts brilliant, but he’s spent most of his career at Championship and even League One. I’ve no idea if he’s Premier worthy.”

“Tomlinson,” Niall reads, eyeing the board as the substitution is announced, “That’ll be him then.”

Harry cranes his neck to catch a glimpse of the new recruit, a few sporadic bouts of clapping heard around the stadium as ‘Tomlinson’ rushes onto the field. The announcer’s voice enthusiastically supplies that this is number twenty-eight Louis Tomlinson’s first official cap with the team. The hush that follows speaks volumes; clearly the Red supporters don’t have much hope for this one.

The match progresses still scoreless through the fortieth minute, Tomlinson having had a few good touches but nothing yet spectacular enough to support his reputation. In the forty-fourth, however, a foul on Van Persie just outside the 18-yard box has half the squad squashed into the space in front of the keeper, the Swansea men forming their own wall of players ten yards out.

“And Tomlinson will take it,” the announcer says, all eyes falling to where the new midfielder and his counterpart ‘Jones’ stand around the ball as they wait for the referee’s whistle.

From where he and Niall are sat sideline near the corner flag, Harry has a perfect view of the Man U men involved in the set piece. Van Persie and Rooney jostle for position on the line of the 6-yard box, with Kagawa positioning himself just outside the main tangle (to catch any ricochets, Niall explains dutifully). Tomlinson himself, however, appears oddly casual for someone who’s currently playing in his first Premier League match, sporting a small, knowing smile with his hands placed saucily on his hips.

At the official’s go-ahead, Tomlinson takes one short leap, knees jumping up to touch his chest in the same bizarre warm-up action Harry always sees the players repeat before the attack. Jones taps the ball softly to the left, lining it up, and Tomlinson connects— a long, perfectly-timed stroke sent sailing over the heads of the Swansea defense, and over the leaping Man U attackers as well. Time seems to move in slow motion as the ball curls toward the goal, narrowly sliding past the goalkeeper’s fingers and somehow, remarkably, into the top left corner of the net.

The stadium literally explodes, Niall letting out a string of gleeful curse words that would leave a sailor blushing.

“And it’s an absolutely sensational strike from the newcomer!” the announcer cheers, the Stretford End responding with fervor.

Harry can’t help but feel a bit excited as well, what with the thunderous sea of red and white celebrating gleefully all around him. But he’s absolutely not enjoying himself. One admittedly spectacular goal hasn’t made him loathe footie any less. Nope, not at all.

Just as Harry is attempting to calm his slightly increased heart rate, Tomlinson comes running toward his and Niall’s corner of the stadium, sliding down on his knees with a manic grin as the rest of his team gathers around him to pat his back and ruffle his hair in congratulations.

It’s at this very moment, with the midfielder just a few yards away, that Harry feels something stir deeply within him; not because he’s found a sudden passionate love for football, but because Manchester United’s newest star is unexpectedly and breathtakingly beautiful.

Their eyes meet just as Tomlinson is standing back up to return to the center of the pitch, the rest of his team having already jogged off after their shared celebration. The midfielder’s expression shifts to one of recognition as he appears to take in the popstar’s face fully, and Harry finds his breath catching in his throat at the intensity of the gaze that passes between them.

Louis Tomlinson is golden, literally glowing with pride and success, and the cheeky wink that he throws Harry’s way totally does not have the popstar letting out a little squeal of delight. In a moment of undeniable lameness, Harry flashes the midfielder a thumbs-up in reply, his cheeks burning with embarrassment as he attempts to duck back into anonymity amongst the crowd. When Harry chances another peek, Louis is chuckling openly, his own right hand curved unmistakably into a thumbs-up of its own. Harry grins back stupidly as the midfielder gazes up at him wearing a toothy smile, his incisors sharp and dangerously charming. Louis’ sweat-slicked, nearly too-long hair is plastered to his forehead, the ends tapering messily at his neck and along his sharp jawline, and yet Harry can’t remember having ever seen someone more deliciously alluring in all his life (and he’s met more conventionally beautiful fellow performers and models and actors/actresses than he can ever attempt to recount).

Harry revels in what can’t be more than five seconds of eye contact with the gorgeous midfielder—though it honestly feels like an eternity— before the spell between them is broken as Van Persie jogs by and knocks hips with Tomlinson, returning his focus to the match. In a split second of irrational anger at the interruption, Harry can see exactly why Niall considers the Dutchman such a cock.

He watches forlornly as Tomlinson jogs back to midfield alongside the silver-haired, statuesque striker who makes the transfer look quite tiny in comparison. What Louis lacks in height, however, he makes up in sheer, compacted power, and Harry can’t help but eye the other man’s thick, muscular legs as they flex beneath the white shorts of his home kit. He imagines spreading those very legs wide open atop his bed, a hand on each knee as he presses teasing kisses to the insides of the midfielder’s gorgeous golden thighs…

And, if his sex-starved mind barrels on past that little visual and into more X-rated territory, well, he sincerely hopes that Niall hasn’t secretly been a mind reader all these years.

Then again, the Irishman probably would’ve left the band long ago if he possessed that sort of power, especially in the early days when Harry thought he fancied the handsomely chiseled Zayn Malik.


Those cheekbones were totally crush-worthy.

Harry blinks back into reality just as the whistle blows for Swansea City’s resultant kickoff, Niall’s voice filling his ears with renewed shouts of excitement. When he turns to address his bandmate, however, he’s met with a ridiculous shit-eating grin instead.

“Thought you didn’t like footie?” Niall teases with a knowing expression, gesturing to the corner of the pitch where Tomlinson is lining up to take a corner kick.

Harry pretends not to notice, shrugging nonchalantly in response. Not a moment later, however, and he’s groaning right along with the rest of the fans around them, shouting “Oh for fuck’s sake, it was right there!” when Rooney fails to connect with Louis’ perfectly placed ball.

“Suppose you found some incentive, then,” Niall remarks, eyebrow raised, and Harry flushes deeply at having been caught out.

“It’s understandable, though,” his bandmate continues with a shrug in the midfielder’s direction, “He is a rather fit little thing, isn’t he?”

The look Harry gives him must be slightly more threatening than he intends because Niall is throwing up his hands in pacification with a hurried, “Relax, mate. He’s all yours.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry replies primly, turning his attention back toward the pitch and ignoring the cackle Niall attempts to muffle with the back of his hand.

When the whistle blows for halftime a few minutes later, Harry can hardly contain himself; an electric current of anxiety runs beneath his skin and his heart beats at a rate that would probably beget hospitalization in any other circumstance.

In the forty-seventh minute (because overage time is still a thing, apparently, and it’s awful), Swansea’s Spanish star Michu— their only star, Niall had supplied— had capitalized on a break in Man U’s defense and tapped an easy ball past the keeper to level the score.

“Hey, chin up, mate!” Niall says, patting Harry on the shoulder when he sinks down into his seat despondently, “There’s still a whole second half left.”   

“But now Louis’ goal was all for nothing,” Harry bemoans, putting his head in his heads.

“Louis?” Niall asks, eyebrows scrunched up in confusion, “Oh! You mean Tomlinson, yeah? Don’t worry about that. He’s playing really well, and with Carrick out on that Achilles injury again, he’s got a real shot at starting.”

“Oh,” Harry replies softly, perking up a bit, “So he might get to play again?”

“I reckon he will,” Niall affirms, an easy grin spreading across his face, “but you’d have to ask Van Gaal about that to say for sure, as he’s the one in charge and all.”

He pats Harry’s back again chummily. “And hey, look on the bright side! I’m a Rams supporter obviously, and you don’t even like footie, so it’s not like either of us will be at another Man United game anytime soon.”

“Yeah… right,” Harry agrees slowly, trying to ignore the strange sense of displeasure he feels at the thought of not seeing Louis, er, the team that is, play another match.

When he leaps to his feet to cheer loudly as the Man U players return to pitch to begin the second half, he can feel Niall regarding him with a strangely searching look.

“What?” he asks, watching as the bottle-blonde just flashes him another knowing smile.

“Nothing,” Niall replies easily, “Just glad you’re having a good time, that’s all.”

Manchester United ends up losing 2-1 after a fresh-legged Routledge subs in to hit Michu with an admittedly brilliant cross.

Though the season opening loss is quite devastating for the Red Devils (and for Harry too), the next day’s coverage is focused almost entirely on one Louis Tomlinson’s spectacular set piece in the first half. The papers immediately peg the Doncaster Rovers transfer as Man U’s greatest hope for a winning season, and the TV sports show hosts spend hours replaying the clip of his goal and dissecting his every touch of the ball leading up to it, each one hailed as more brilliant and breathtaking than the next. It’s an actual media frenzy, with even The Sun jumping in to supply a lovely conspiracy theory regarding the injury to the midfielder that Louis replaced.

Even Van Gaal, when pressed, admits that he was stirred by the transfer’s impressive first performance, though he’s hesitant to confirm that Tomlinson will be offered the starting position over the veteran players in line to take Carrick’s place. All the sports analysts seem to agree, however, that it would be a foolish move not to give Tomlinson another go, especially with all the excitement he’s generated amongst the fans after the team’s subpar 2013/14 season.

When it’s announced officially a few days later that Tomlinson will be in the starting lineup for next week’s away game against Sunderland (and for the foreseeable future as Carrick’s out a minimum of six weeks), Harry quietly phones his agent and asks her to buy him a pair of season tickets. Right on the sideline. By the corner flag. South Stand.

Not that he prefers those seats over any others in the stadium, of course.

Absolutely zero sentimental value.

He still doesn’t like footie, okay?

He’s just… mildly interested, that’s all.


Match 4:
14 Sep vs Queens Park Rangers

When the band is finally graced with a weeklong break after a grueling month of promotional interviews and travel for their upcoming tour, Harry finds himself— totally unexpectedly, mind you— on his phone googling the date of the Red Devils’ next home match. When Harry calls Niall and asks him if he has plans for that Sunday, the Irishman doesn’t even pretend to be surprised.

“I’d love to go to another United match with you, I really would,” Niall replies, his accent inexplicably thicker, “but I’ve just been on the phone with me mum and she’d like me to come ‘round this weekend since we’re starting even more promo for our Asian tour soon.”

Well, that explains Niall’s nearly indecipherable brogue, but it surely isn’t a good enough excuse for the Irishman to make Harry go to the match alone. How is he supposed to understand the game without Niall’s patiently helpful commentary?

“Tell her you already have plans,” Harry whines, but Niall just laughs in response.

“Mate, this is me mum we’re talking about,” he emphasizes, “She’d kill us both the minute the gossip rags reported where we’d been.”

This, Harry concedes, is unfortunately true. He’s met Maura after all, and although she appears to be quite sweet and diminutive, she’s certainly a force to be reckoned with if you get on her bad side. Case in point: the absolute tongue lashing Niall received after he skipped a Saint Patrick’s Day dinner in favor of going out with the band. No partying for six months after that, or she’d off him herself.

“Why don’t you ask Liam or Zayn to go with you?” Niall suggests, chuckling at Harry’s resultant groan.

“Zayn hates sports, and like, the outdoors in general, you know that,” he protests, “and Liam would want to bring Sophia, and god knows I am not third-wheeling it with those two face-suckers again.”

Niall sighs, clicking his tongue thoughtfully. In the subsequent silence, Harry can hear him toying with the idea of a nice round of pints and footie with a mate instead of another family meal spent in dreary Mullingar (or at least that’s how Harry sees the debate) but unfortunately for him, Niall has much, much better self-control.

“Sorry mate, I truly am booked,” Niall says eventually, disregarding Harry’s tragic cries of traitor, traitor to the Queen!

“But listen,” he continues, “I’m good mates with a few of the lads on the team and I’ll see if I can’t get us into the locker room after their next home match. Fair trade?”

“Fine,” Harry grumbles, ignoring the way that his heartbeat quickens at the thought of possibly being in the same room as Lou— many of the Premier League’s finest players.

“Perfect,” Niall replies cheerfully, “and hey, this weekend’s match is televised on Sky Sports so you won’t even have to fire up the old private jet to get to see this one.”

Harry doesn’t have the heart to point out that the whole purpose of having season ticketsis precisely so he can see the matches in person, and not from his sofa as he’s viewed the last two away games. Plus, he definitely doesn’t want his best mate to know that he even bought the passes in the first place, as Niall— who is much smarter than he’s usually credited for— would no doubt pinpoint the primary motive for the purchase. He also can’t tell Niall that the main reason he won’t go to the match alone is because he’s not prepared to deal with his steadily growing, embarrassingly juvenile crush on the team’s newest star player, and that he feels much less like a creepy love-struck fan with another person in attendance.

“Well I’m off to bed then,” Niall says eventually, citing his early flight the next morning, “Good luck to your team tomorrow. Twenty times, twenty times, and all that.”

“Goodnight, Ni,” Harry replies, too embarrassed to ask Niall what he means by ‘Twenty Times’ as he’s sure it’s some sort of reference that only true supporters of the team would understand.

He’s quite unashamedly a bandwagon fan, and like most of Cristiano Ronaldo’s fanbase, has adopted a tolerance for the sport mostly because he finds one or more of the players inordinately attractive. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… He just, you know, still doesn’t really care for the actual football game as much as he does for a grinning Louis Tomlinson lifting up his shirt to celebrate his latest goal against Burnley (and to reveal his drool-worthy abdominal muscles, of course).

A later google search of the ‘Twenty Times’ term leads Harry to an unofficial website with lyrics to all of the songs and chants sung by the Red fans at home and away games. If he maybe, unashamedly listens to and memorizes every one of them while clicking through pictures of Louis in his Youth appearances for the League… well, no one has to know.

Harry still doesn’t like footie.

He absolutely swears.   

United wins 3-0, two of the goals coming off of the right foot of none other than twenty-two year old football phenom Louis Tomlinson.

Harry doesn’t speak to Niall for a week afterwards, rerecording his voicemail to simply state “I could’ve been there” after the Irishman’s tenth call.

It’s only when his bandmate mentions that he’s got a post-match locker room tour lined up for the next home stand that Harry deigns to forgive him.

If he maybe, possibly asks the band’s hairdresser, Lou, and their stylist, Caroline, to make sure that he’s looking his absolute best for an unspecified but highly important event occurring in a few weeks’ time… well, no one has to know that either.  

And Harry still doesn’t like footie.

But he might, possibly favor a certain player just a bit.


Match 6:
27 Sep vs West Ham United

Harry feels strangely at home back in Old Trafford, tucked into his now familiar sideline seat and singing passionately along to the “Glory, Glory, Man United” tune that someone’s started up nearby. Niall stands beside him, of course, dressed for a second time in head-to-toe Derby County attire. Harry dreads the thought of what might happen if Derby were to ever move up from their Championship ranks (they get closer every year, Niall swears), but for now the fans around them continue to tolerate the Irishman’s misplaced team shenanigans.

Despite a sloppy start to the first half (including an uncharacteristic own goal off the boot of Irish center-back Jonny Evans), the Red Devils manage to level the playing field with a hard-fought come back from behind, finishing out forty-eight minutes of grueling football with a score of one to one.

Interestingly enough, Louis hadn’t started this game, a decision which came as an obvious shock to every United fan and seemingly the rest of the nation’s viewers at home as well. Social media was rife with criticism for the Dutch manager’s starting lineup, with even West Ham fans tweeting their ecstatic but admittedly confused reactions to the star midfielder’s absence.

idk wtf van gaal was thinking, one such response read, but i can’t say i’m upset about it

Instead, the United manager had apparently opted to give the towering Marouane Fellaini (back from his month-long loan to a lower tier club team in his native Belgium) a chance at Carrick’s coveted center-mid position. Harry couldn’t help but giggle despite his vexation as the former-Everton player jogged out onto the pitch sporting his— signature, according to Niall— massive black afro.

Despite having caps in the majority of United’s matches last season, Fellaini managed to look like a complete amateur out on the pitch, losing possession after possession and completing only a handful of his passes to the frontline. Van Persie, especially, looked livid about the midfielder’s performance and continually motioned toward the bench where Tomlinson sat stoically in his black and red sideline tracksuit.

By the twentieth minute, the entire stadium had started up a cheer; one which Harry screamed with the best of them, much to Niall’s loud, cackling amusement.

We want Tomlinson, Tomlinson, Tomlinson!
We want Tomlinson, because we want to win!

Amazingly now, however, even as the referee signals the start of the second half, Louis has yet to take to the pitch.

Harry watches with frustration as Fellaini reassumes his position, a slight shake of Rooney’s head and the slump of Kagawa’s shoulders indicating the rest of the team’s equally as disappointed attitude toward the sudden switch.

The next fifteen minutes of football are absolutely excruciating to watch, even for Harry who, after six matches, has just begun to catch on to the more subtle nuances of each Premier League squad.

Man United looks worse than ever, disjointed and lethargic and totally jilted by the gaping hole that has appeared at the midfield line. West Ham’s own offensive line has made quick work of Louis’ absence, weaving easily past Fellaini and a fatigued Jones, and once past Vidic as well— that ‘once’ being enough to earn them a sizzling second goal, sent from long range to strike the net right between De Gea’s normally impenetrable palms.

Even Van Persie is in poor form, watching chance after chance fly by as he struggles to outwit the Hammerheads’ defensive backs with dead-end runs and stunningly unelaborate footwork. Rooney is bright red and murderous, and Evra looks like he might aid the Englishman in a homicide at any moment, especially if West Ham’s left winger makes one more run unchallenged by Fellaini’s lackadaisical defense.

Finally, in the sixty-fifth minute, Harry’s eyes are drawn toward the Man U dugout where a familiar number 28 shirt can be spotted warming up along the sideline. The reappearance of the midfielder spurns the fans on, and by the seventieth minute the crowd’s chanting has reached a fever pitch. At seventy-one, the sideline official holds up the electronic substitution sign, the visible bright green twenty-eight programed onto it sending the stadium into an absolute frenzy.

Louis waves modestly as he jogs out onto the pitch, accepting a throw-in from Evra a moment later and darting through half of West Ham’s defensive side to send a beautiful ball sailing into the box. Van Persie leaps high above his opponents, and— with an easy flick of his head— smashes the ball into the back of the net.

“Robin Van Persie scores off a glorious ball from the late substitute!” the announcer cheers, his voice barely heard over the roar of the crowd.

Harry grabs Niall immediately, tugging his bandmate to his chest for an ecstatic, celebratory hug. Niall squeezes him right back, saying “If I weren’t so loyal to Derby, I might actually root for this awful, heart attack of a team.”

Meanwhile, Tomlinson has leapt onto Van Persie’s shoulders at the corner flag, thrusting both arms up into the air. His right hand, most notably, is curled into a triumphant thumbs-up— one which Harry gleefully returns. The midfielder’s gaze falls upon him once more, and for a split second, Louis’ face lights up like the sun.

Harry’s phone vibrates in his pocket, momentarily distracting him from their shared celebration. He dutifully switches the mobile to silent without sparing the interruption a second glance, too caught up in Louis’ brilliant smile and the frenzied shouts of the fans all around him to care about whatever his manager needs in regards to the band’s upcoming tour schedule. By the time he looks back up, however, Louis has already turned away and is jogging back to his rightfully earned place at midfield.

Harry feels a strange sense of pride at the stranger’s accomplishment, and wonders idly if this is what being a sports fan feels like…

He still doesn’t like footie though.

Nope, not a bit.

Unsurprisingly, after Tomlinson’s return, the momentum shifts heavily back toward the home team. With a score of 2-2 and less than ten minutes left in regulation, the Manchester United offense suddenly unleashes an absolute barrage of shots directed at the West Ham goalkeeper, nearly all of them fed through by Louis’ graceful touches.

“Tomlinson is truly proving his worth to this squad right now,” the announcer supplies, and by the fans’ eardrum-shattering reaction, they appear to be in agreement.

In the eighty-eighth minute, Tomlinson cuts off West Ham’s attack with a stunning slide tackle, dribbling up the field in a breathtaking display of speed and agility.

“And it’s Tomlinson again, to Rooney, to Kagawa, back to Tomlinson… who scores! Manchester’s newest transfer has done it again folks! Truly spectacular!”

Harry leaps to his feet, thumb held high, and looks around with surprise as a number of his fellow fans adopt the gesture as well. Louis looks well chuffed as he soars across the pitch, arms spread wide like a bird in flight, and one thumb curved up toward the crowd.

The stadium echoes with chants of Louis’ name— Tom-lin-son, Tom-lin-son! — and every single fan is on their feet as the clock slowly winds down to the game’s end.

The massive grin that fights its way onto Harry’s face as Man U earns their 3-2 victory has absolutely nothing to do with loving footie. It’s pride for Louis Tomlinson, pure and simple.

At least, that’s what he tells himself.



Harry’s heart is about to beat right out of his chest in anticipation as a bored looking employee in an ill-fitting grey suit guides him and Niall through the stadium’s tunnel system, eventually reaching a door marked ‘Locker Room A’. He ushers the both of them inside with a tiredly spoken, “Twenty minutes tops” and disappears just as quickly as he’d come to meet them earlier after the match.

Nodding in confirmation, Harry and Niall enter the locker room with slow, hesitant steps, or, well, at least Harry does; Niall just barges right inside in his typical brazenly Irish fashion. The site that awaits him as the space comes into full view, however, is enough to take Harry’s breath away.

The locker room itself is almost entirely done up in polished wood-paneling, from the wraparound benches to the spacious lockers themselves, the majority of which hang open as the starting XI and the main substitutes change in front of them. The entire room smells like men— musky sweat and deodorant and someone’s awfully-scented but no doubt designer cologne— and the air is thick with humidity from the adjacent showers to the left. About half the team are still dressed in their full kits, though just as many have already washed up and stroll casually about with their intimidating twenty-packs on full display.

Tearing his attention away from the massive Dutch cock himself Robin Van Persie, who sports an admittedly drool-worthy set of tanned abdominal muscles, Harry watches as Niall scans the room and eventually waves excitedly at a pair of figures huddled together in the right corner.

Upon further inspection, Niall’s mates turn out to be none other than reserve center-forward Danny Welbeck who’s scored a meager 29 goals since his first start in 2011 (so Harry’s maybe been doing a bit of research on the team, sue him) and the towering Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea. who actually stoops down a bit to embrace the grinning Irishman as he rushes over to greet them. Harry stands awkwardly on the fray as Niall chats animatedly amongst his friends, Welbeck’s loud, raucous laughter close to rivaling Niall’s own.

Just as Harry feels he’s amassed the confidence required to start up a chat himself with the legendary Wayne Rooney who stands not five yards to his left, a smaller but thickly built body comes barreling into his own with forceful abandon.

“Aye, watch it, bastard!” an unmistakably Yorkshire accent snaps, though there’s a light, teasing lilt behind it.

When the owner of the accent and Harry himself meet eyes, however, both men immediately turn a brilliant shade of red.

“Fucking shit,” the Northerner swears, just as Harry is mumbling a hurried apology.

They both pause respectfully at the other’s words, a synchronicity that only serves to create a prolonged silence which stretches for several painfully awkward beats between them.

“You’re Harry Styles,” Louis Tomlinson, otherwise known as ‘Man United’s Next Best Acquisition since Ronaldo’, eventually remarks in obvious surprise.

Harry, who is not fairing much better in the eloquence department, simply blurts out, “I’m looking for the restroom!”

Raising an eyebrow and with a small smirk gracing his lips, Louis dutifully points out that they are, in fact, standing in a locker room at this very moment, and that the restrooms are located quite clearly not several meters to the left.

“Right, I knew that,” Harry stutters, searching blindly for some sort of explanation for his momentary lapse in cool, “but, erm, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to use them?”

Louis’ smirk is out in full force now and he’s so unbearably, obscenely more beautiful up close and in person that Harry might actually be experiencing some serious heart palpitations. Louis shrugs casually in response to his question, replying with an offhanded but undeniably cheeky, “Be my guest, Curly.”

Harry, having traded in his chance at a uni degree for international superstardom, has never actually experienced the legendary Walk of Shame; though, as he hurries off toward the loos and away from the midfielder’s amused little grin, he’s more than sure that he knows the feeling. 

By the time Harry returns from his unneeded wee (with a probable concussion from repeatedly banging his forehead against the stall doors in self-punishment for his complete lack of basic social skills), Niall’s little group has seamlessly accepted a familiar number 28 shirt into their circle.

This, unfortunately, leaves Harry with no other choice than to rejoin the four men, even if it’s only to ask Niall how soon he can make a quick getaway.

“Ah, welcome back, mate,” Niall greets cheerily as Harry approaches, sliding a heavy arm around his shoulders, “Lads, this is my best mate and bandmate Harry Styles, though you’ve probably seen his ugly mug on your TV once or twice.”

The looks on De Gea and Welbeck’s faces are oddly calculating, although they too greet Harry with handshakes and friendly smiles. Louis, however, appears to be silently rooted to his spot across the circle and makes no move to reintroduce himself properly.

“Louis here is a massive One Direction fan,” Welbeck supplies with a smirk, elbowing the Doncaster midfielder who’s left gaping at the jibe, his mouth hanging open in comical surprise.

“That’s lovely to hear, Tomlinson,” Niall remarks, addressing Louis with a knowing smile of his own, “and who’s your favorite member then?”

“Oh, uh, Zayn,” Louis stammers, looking almost immediately as if he regrets his words. His two teammates wear similar expressions of disbelief, but make no attempt to correct the midfielder’s response.

“Mine’s Liam, obviously,” Welbeck admits with a shrug, “as he’s a well-muscled lad like myself.”

“You wish,” the goalkeeper retorts in a distinctly Spanish accent, dodging the forward’s playfully affronted swing with a laugh, “We all know that Niall here is el guapo.

“Hey, what about me?” Harry protests, finally finding his voice amongst Niall and his mates.

All four pairs of eyes turn to give him obvious once-overs, before Niall, Welbeck, and De Gea are all shrugging in response.

“Eh, you’re alright, I guess,” Niall says fondly, reaching over to pinch Harry’s cheek.

“I’d give you a solid 4,” Welbeck continues teasingly, though De Gea immediately protests that Harry is at the very least un seis.

“What about you, Tommo?” the forward asks, that strangely knowing look appearing on his face once more.

“Nine-point-five,” Louis supplies with an easy shrug, apparently having regained some of the casual confidence that Harry’s watched ooze out of him on the pitch.

His teammates all “ooh” and “ahh” boisterously at that pronouncement, though Louis’ eyes remain locked on Harry’s own. Harry can feel his face heating up and an anxious sheen of sweat forming at the base of his neck at the intensity of the midfielder’s gaze. Louis’ irises are an indecipherable storm of blue-green-gray, heavy-lidded and framed by long, dark lashes. Harry thinks idly, if given the opportunity, he would willingly drown in an ocean of Louis Tomlinson without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a dangerous thought, a thought that has him considering what the other man would look like beneath him as Harry slowly sank down, deeper and deeper until his skin touched gold.

Niall coughs once loudly, both Harry and Louis jumping back as if they’ve been electrocuted. That comparison is not far off base, though, if the erratic thumping of Harry’s heart has anything to say about it.

“Well, we best be off, gents,” Niall announces after grouping them all together for an Instagram selfie, “I’ve got a fifty-five minute flight back to London, and a late dinner with me girl after that.”

“Treating Barbara right, then?” Welbeck asks with a grin, one which De Gea mirrors brightly, “She’s quite the catch.”

“That she is,” Niall agrees, slapping the footballer on the back heartily, “Thanks again for the tour, Dans. Harry was dying to meet you all.”

“It was, por supuesto, a pleasure meeting him as well,” the Spanish goalkeeper enthuses, though his eyes drift over to where Louis stands with his hands in his trackies, looking strangely disappointed.

“You played wonderfully, all of you,” Harry comments, his eyes lingering predictably on the midfielder as well.

“Ah, gracias,” De Gea replies, reaching out to firmly clasp the popstar’s hand one last time. Even Harry’s massive palms— generally considered to be abnormally large by the standards of nearly every person he meets— are dwarfed by the goalkeeper’s own.

“You deserved that win, despite the rough start amongst the original lineup,” Harry continues honestly, hoping that he doesn’t sound too far out of his depth.

The goalkeeper’s broad smile seems to suggest that he agrees, an opinion confirmed when Welbeck remarks ardently, “Without Tommo’s brilliant playmaking in the final twenty, I’m positive we would’ve finished with another loss.”

“I had help, of course,” Louis interjects modestly, running a self-conscious hand through his thick brown locks.

“Nah, don’t be so humble,” Niall orders, “You looked great out there.”

“Er, thanks,” Louis replies genuinely, though he still looks quite embarrassed to have been thrust into the spotlight once more.

“Anyway, good game again, you ruddy lot,” Niall finishes as he guides Harry toward the door, “Nearly gave poor H here a heart attack, but you pulled it off in the end.”

Just as the blonde begins to turn the handle to leave, a hand appears on Harry’s shoulder, swiveling him around easily.

“Wait,” Louis Tomlinson himself says a bit breathlessly, “You’re coming to more matches, right?”

Harry takes in the other man’s slightly disheveled appearance and rapid heartbeat with an air of awestruck confusion. It’s certainly not possible that he, arguably the most awkward and embarrassing celebrity in the known universe, has somehow caused Manchester United’s star player to become all flustered in his presence. No, it must be something else. Maybe Louis’ just tired from the game, that’s all.

“You are, aren’t you?” Louis asks again when Harry doesn’t immediately respond, his eyes wide and puppy-like.

“I have season tickets,” Harry admits sheepishly, ignoring Niall’s snort of surprise next to him.

“Oh, well, good,” Louis replies with what sounds like a sigh of relief. He chummily pats Harry’s shoulder where his fingers have yet to dislodge themselves, taking a step back and saying easily, “Later pal! See you at the next game!”

“Yeah, see you, uh, later… dude, bro…” Harry trails off uncertainly as Niall drags him out of the locker room with a loud cackle.

“Pal and dude-bro,” Niall wheezes, still laughing to himself an hour later as they’re debarking their private jet back in London, “What a day.”

“Oh shut it,” Harry bemoans in reply, “I don’t think I’ve ever received such a clear dismissal of interest in my life. Pal? Honestly.

Niall just gives him another patronizing look, mumbling, “You two are so oblivious, I swear.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asks, searching for clarification.

“Don’t worry about it,” Niall replies easily, waving him off, “I’ll leave this one to you and Tomlinson to figure out.” 

Niall’s words only serve to puzzle him even further. He’s not exactly sure what’s left for them to figure out, considering Louis was clearly freaked by Harry’s miniscule display of interest (despite rating him a 9.5 what the fuck) and also because he basically admitted to having a crush on Zayn Malik, of all people, instead.

It’s not like Louis is straight or anything, a fact that had sent Harry reeling when he’d discovered it not a week before. So why won’t he like me back? Harry’s inner angsty teenager laments. What am I missing?

In addition to being England’s newest football phenomenon, Louis Tomlinson is and has been officially out to the public since several years ago when his Youth manager at the Academy encouraged him to be honest with himself and with the team. The midfielder’s coming out caused a minor scandal at the time, though certainly nothing as chaotic as it would have produced had he announced his sexuality at the height of his Premier League superstardom. Because he hadn’t done anything to hide his sexuality in the past and because he’s bloody brilliant at football, the majority of fans remained unfazed even after the Daily Mail’s reminder that the transfer wouldn’t be obtaining a suitable model WAG anytime soon.

For those few this fact did bother, there was a lovely article published about it on The Guardian’s website last week, with Louis quoted saying that he’d simply continue to play his best for his team no matter what sort of prejudiced vitriol the charmingly homophobic dark-side of British footie decided to hurl his way.

“My sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to play football,” he’d boldly (and rightly) declared, “Van Gaal was aware of my orientation when he contracted me, and expressed his willingness to prevent any further discrimination related to what I had previously faced at the Youth level. The few minor incidences of discomfort experienced in the locker room since my arrival at Manchester United have already been dealt with in an easy and professional manner. I hope that through sharing my own personal story of triumph, I can inspire other young LGBT athletes to continue to perform well in their chosen sports without seeing their sexuality as a weakness or a detriment to their success.”  

So, yeah, in addition to being disgustingly, unfairly attractive, Louis Tomlinson is also an excellent human being in general.

It’s completely and totally unjust, is what it is.

It also does nothing to lessen the intensity of Harry’s pathetic little crush.

But he still doesn’t like footie.


Match 7:
5 Oct vs Everton

Manchester United ties Everton 1-1 in a grisly, quick-paced, and incredibly physical match that passes by in a virtual blur of yellows and reds.

By the end of regulation, it seems as if both squads are missing half their players, which is really not as much of an exaggeration as it sounds. Most of the men in Man U and Everton’s starting lineups had ended up on the bench by halftime, and after that, the match quickly devolved into a pure and simple contest of ‘who’s got the better reserves?’ Even Louis, whose clean and precise defense has been lauded by the analysts for weeks, ended up with a yellow after a particularly sloppy slide tackle. Harry could tell that it was more out of frustration than a malicious intent to cause injury, but of course the referee can’t waive cards based on who’s a nice guy at heart.

Though United had finished out the first half with a one-nil lead, Everton’s fresh-legged, substitute offense was quick to capitalize on Evra’s subbing out from the back field. The remainder of the match was all De Gea, who made six brilliant saves in order to keep the score level, even as the defensive line fought valiantly to keep the dangerous Belgian forward Mirallas out of striking distance.

When Niall, after asking the Spanish goalkeeper out for semi-celebratory pints over text, offhandedly inquires if Harry would like to tag along, Harry is quick to agree. Niall seems surprised at first, but shrugs and rattles off the name of the club as they hop into a taxi just outside the stadium.

Harry finds that he likes Niall’s footie mates quite a bit, even if their chosen profession involves as many hysterical theatrics and gimmicks as a particularly bad soap. Though he’s warmed up to Welbeck considerably (despite the forward’s pitifully average record for the club), he finds that he gets on with De Gea the best, even though there exists a considerable language barrier between them.

Harry has come to respect the Spaniard and his less aggressively English style of play, as he at least dives with a purpose, being the goalkeeper and all. Plus, his sultry accent makes everything sound good, even when he and Niall are clearly saying insulting things about Harry in Spanish. Harry’s tried to tell them that it would be decidedly less obvious if they wouldn’t look at him and giggle like a pair of naughty children afterwards, but the pair doesn’t seem at all bothered that he’s picked up on most of their teasing.

Even now, seated as they are around a tall table in a noisy club in the heart of Manchester, Niall and De Gea— David, as he insists Harry call him now— are whispering into each other’s ears and laughing delightedly, glancing in Harry’s direction often enough that he just knows they’re off to the races with their bloody gossip again.

“You’re not subtle, you know,” he says, shouting a bit to be heard over the thumping electronica in the background.

“Not trying to be,” Niall replies loftily, David leaning over to snicker into his shirtsleeve.

Harry just sighs loudly, hopping down off his chair and wandering over to the bar for another much-needed drink. He’s leaned up against the counter, head bobbing lightly to the music as the bartender hands him his glass, when a familiar voice speaks up from behind.

“Fancy meeting you here, Styles,” the Yorkshire twang greets teasingly, shocking Harry enough that he whirls around in surprise, vodka tonic held loosely in hand, and proceeds to dump the entire contents of his glass all over the shirt of one very famous footballer. 

“Holy shit, I am so sorry,” Harry blurts, grabbing a handful of napkins and doing his best to dab up the wet streaks that have appeared on Louis Tomlinson’s probably very expensive top.

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Louis replies, waving him off with a chuckle, “S’my fault for scaring you.”

Despite the other man’s reassurances, Harry continues to scrub hopelessly at the stain with his saturated wad of napkins; that is, until Louis’ smaller, rougher fingers encircle his own and gently tug his hand away.

“Really, it’s nothing,” the midfielder repeats, leaning in to avoid yelling over the din of the room.

With their fairly pronounced height difference, Louis’ lips end up just inches from Harry’s neck, close enough to nip at the pulse point there which flutters erratically at the older man’s sudden proximity. Harry’s heart is beating double time as Louis slowly drops his hand back to his side, the lingering emptiness around Harry’s fingers leaving him nearly dizzy with the loss.

Louis looks different like this, outside of his United kit, and Harry finds his eyes wandering down and back up tantalizingly slowly in order to memorize every inch. The midfielder is decidedly more punk than Harry would’ve expected from a posh multimillionaire, foregoing nice trousers and a dress shirt for a tattered black tank top (now covered in liquor, thanks to Harry) and a pair of equally as ragged black skinny jeans which hug the older man’s thighs in a deliciously suffocating fashion. His feet sport a set of black and white checkered VANS, jeans cuffed at the ends to reveal sockless anklebones and two enticing slivers of golden skin. He’s covered in considerably more ink than what is normally visible from under the sleeves of his Man U shirt, the neckline of his vest dipping just low enough to reveal an “IT IS WHAT IT IS” scripted across his collarbones (a gorgeous tattoo which Harry desperately wants to bite, and to trace its cursive letters with long laves of his tongue).

Louis’ thin, pixie-like fingers toy with the edges of his top, drawing Harry’s eyes to his midriff as he tugs the fabric up past his bellybutton to squeeze a bit more of the spilled alcohol out of the dark cotton. The few droplets of vodka he successfully frees trickle slowly down his stomach, running into the lines of his toned muscles and tracing them with glistening moisture. The footballer pops a thumb in his mouth, wetting it, and gingerly swipes away the mess before lowering the hem back down unhurriedly. 

Harry lets out a choked breath, feeling a sudden sharp sting. He’d been biting his lip the entire time without realizing it, his tongue now coated with the taste of iron and crimson. He idly licks away the blood from the soft inner skin of his bottom lip; the feeling of the fragile, birdlike bones in Louis’ wrist and fingers as they encircled his own still replaying in the back of his mind. The image shifts: Louis’ thumb parting those thin oh-so-kissable lips, a pinkish tongue poking out to lick slowly, teasingly around the pad…   

Harry is really, really not drunk enough for this right now.

“What brings you here then?” Louis inquires after a moment, his eyes a curious marble blue in the smoky haze of the club’s lowlight.

His energy is much more subdued here, Harry notices; the older man effuses a soft silver moonlight instead of the fiery rays of golden sunshine that flare off of him on the pitch… though, of course, he glows brightly all the same.

“Niall and De Gea are here,” Harry explains, motioning over toward the corner table where the two blonde men are currently halfway through a second row of shots, “I decided to tag along.”

Louis nods once in understanding, leaning back against the bar to accept the drink the bartender slides his way. Harry’s own replacement arrives a moment later, and he digs quickly through his wallet, producing a twenty pound note and tossing it lazily onto the counter between them.

“Please, let me,” Harry interjects when Louis opens his mouth to protest, “It’s the least I can do.”

The footballer’s frown remains in place, though he appears to relent, taking a long sip of his pint. Harry can’t help but trace the rise and fall of the other man’s Adam’s apple, Louis’ neck and jaw covered in a thin patch of stubble that would no doubt produce the most delicious friction. An awkward beat of silence follows, and Harry quickly gulps down a bit of his own drink, if only to put his mouth to better use than accidentally blurting out his sexual fantasies involving the ridiculously fit man in front of him. He sighs contently, feeling the sweet relief of alcohol tear down his throat, swirling his senses in a blaze of fire.

“And you?” he asks eventually, the vodka’s warmth spreading slow and easy beneath his skin. At Louis’ raised eyebrow, he clarifies, “What brings you here?”

“Honestly? You’ll laugh,” Louis replies, downing another quarter of his pint as he does so.

“Promise not to,” Harry swears, placing a hand over his heart.

Louis hesitates, taking another long drink before he finally says, “I’m lonely.”

“Lonely?” Harry asks, his voice colored with disbelief.

The midfielder sighs, gazing down into his pint with a maudlin expression. “See, I told you it was stupid.”

“No, no, it’s not,” Harry interjects quickly, grabbing the other man’s wrist to still him, “I was just surprised, that’s all.”

Louis blinks, expression indecipherable, his eyes flickering down to where Harry’s fingers encircle his tiny wrist completely.

“I think I understand what you mean,” Harry barrels on, reluctantly pulling his hand away, “I mean, shit, that sounds pretty fucking presumptuous of me, but I know what’s it like to… to wonder if people only like you for your fame or your money or your good looks. I used to come to places like this all the time when One Direction first started gaining popularity— dark, anonymous clubs where I could blend in, where I could feel like myself instead of my reputation.”

“It’s nice to just be Harry, sometimes, you know?” he continues, shrugging his shoulders, “Instead of, like, Harry Styles of One Direction.”

When he finishes, Louis is gazing back at him openly, his eyes blue-grey like a thundercloud. Cumulonimbus, Harry decides. The potential for rain.

“Yeah,” Louis says softly after a moment, the tension in his shoulders relaxing visibly, “It’s like ever since I transferred here to Manchester, people have been treating me differently. Back in Donny, the Rovers were my family. Yeah, we played professional footie together, but we also knew each other. Like the proper next door neighbor, went to primary together, our mums are best friends sort of knew each other. But this is Premier League. No one gives a shit about me as long as I’m helping them win. Rooney didn’t even know how old I was until he read it in an article a few days ago and we’ve been playing together for months now.”

“The lads are great, don’t get me wrong,” Louis adds hurriedly, “and the pay is fantastic as well, it’s just… we aren’t friends; we’re like coworkers who tolerate each other or summat. And I’m lonely. I’m living my dream playing for a club like Man United, obviously, but I’m still so stupidly lonely.”

“Is that…” he hesitates, meeting Harry’s eyes, “Is that horribly ungrateful of me to say?”

“Of course not,” Harry replies ardently, wanting nothing more than to ease the worries of the man in front him. A man who is no more than a boy, really, just twenty-two years old and thrust so suddenly and unexpectedly into the spotlight.

Harry gets it. He does. He was a naïve, awkward sixteen year old once, auditioning for a singing competition he had no reason to believe he would ever succeed in. I just wanted an opinion, he would tell the interviewers a year later, after their little ragtag four-piece band had come in third on the X Factor and signed a record deal with the great Simon Cowell himself. The interviewers would laugh at that, as if he were telling a joke. Oh but surely you knew how good you were, they’d say, expecting him to agree, surely someone told you. But that wasn’t true.

No one had been there to cheer Harry on in the beginning. No one had encouraged him to chase after such a wild, improbable dream. The fans only appeared once his success became a clearly outlined path; people he’d never even spoken to claiming that they’d always known how talented Harry Styles was, how they just knew Harry Styles would be famous someday. But, when the very same young boy was left sobbing his eyes out in the bathroom after his voice cracked in the middle of one of the band’s first performances, those ‘fans’ disappeared just as quickly as they’d come.

“We may lead a life more privileged than most,” Harry continues, swallowing at the memories. Why do you hate me? What have I done?  “But our popularity doesn’t invalidate our feelings. It’s lonely at the bottom, and it’s lonely at the top, and it’s lonely every place in between. You just need to find people who like you for you, as cliché as that sounds. People you can be just Louis around, and not Louis Tomlinson, Player of the Century and Beyond.”

Louis snorts at that title, though he fights a smile as he does so. “And what about you, popstar?” he asks, nodding over at Niall and De Gea in the corner, “Do you like just Louis? Or is he too boring for your sort of company?”

Harry smiles back, soft and teasing, as he says, “I suppose we could make an exception.”

“Oi!” Louis snaps, a hand placed on his chest in deep offense, “I’ll have you know that it is an honor and a privilege to count just Louis Tomlinson amongst your list of friends.” 

“Ah, there’s that cocky footballer attitude I was waiting for,” Harry remarks, giggling delightedly at Louis’ affronted expression. “Fame has changed you,” he continues solemnly.

“And you too, Styles,” Louis ripostes, launching into an explanation at Harry’s raised brow, “I saw you on the X Factor all chubby-cheeked and fluffy-haired, wearing those pastel polo shirts and blazers and what not. You were much too cute and sweet to have ended up like this.”

“Like what?” Harry asks distractedly, his mind still caught up on the fact that at one point in his life Louis Tomlinson thought he was cute.

“You know, this,” Louis shrugs, gesturing up and down Harry’s body, “This cool, rich kid look. Silk headbands and ripped jeans and your shirt unbuttoned down to your bellybutton. You look proper hipster grunge, mate, but it’s all a lie. Anyone who’s spent more than a minute talking to you knows that you’re just a big softie.”

“I am not,” Harry argues, reaching up to pat at his much more subdued mop of curls, “and my hair wasn’t fluffy. It was just… freer. The headband is a practical item.”

“You are too,” Louis singsongs childishly, “You’re just a big curly teddy bear who gives motivational speeches to lonely strangers in bars. Look at the doodles on your arm. A clear sign of softie-ness, if I’ve ever seen one.”   

He reaches out to touch the ship tattoo on Harry’s bicep with light, teasing fingers; dragging the pads of his fingertips along the sinewy muscle and further down to trace the rose’s intricate petals.

“I bet these aren’t even real,” he murmurs, thumb stroking softly over the tiny little padlock on Harry’s wrist, “Probably Sharpie ‘em on yourself every morning.”

Louis Tomlinson, Harry is beginning to realize, doesn’t have a lot of boundaries when it comes to physical contact. This could be slightly problematic in the future, especially seeing as Harry’s body can’t help but respond to said contact, becoming loose and pliant under Louis’ roaming hands.

His breath hitches when Louis asks, “Can I see?” and gestures at the two birds partially hidden by his the collar of his shirt. Harry nods hastily, unsure as to whether this level of intimacy is normal in Louis’ world or if he really is being blatantly felt up by an attractive man in a nightclub. Because, you know, if it’s the latter… he definitely would not object. But the former isn’t a bad deal either, in retrospect. He’d let Louis Tomlinson touch him anyway and anywhere…

Harry maybe lacks a few boundaries of his own.

“Hey H,” a voice calls from behind him, interrupting just as the midfielder is reaching Harry’s collarbones. Louis snatches his hands back quickly, wrapping them around his mug as Niall occupies the space between them.

“You ready to go?” the Irishman inquires, raising an eyebrow when he finally notices Harry’s company, “Or not. I’m sure Tomlinson here would be more than willing to take you home.”

The euphemism is not one of Niall’s slyest, and Harry can feel his cheeks flushing in response. Louis, however, just laughs loudly at the suggestion.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think Harry and I live that close,” the footballer replies, “London’s a bit further south than my flat from here.”

“Eh, close enough,” Niall says with a wink, “but you’re right. I better get this one to the airport.”

Louis nods, eyes flickering to where one nearly comatose David De Gea is draped across Niall’s other shoulder. “I should probably take that one, then. Trade?”

“Oh! Good call mate,” Niall enthuses with pleasant surprise, as if he somehow forgot that a six-foot-three Spanish goalkeeper had spent half the night clinging to his neck like a koala. He carefully dislodges the Spaniard who grumbles loudly at the loss of contact, passing David unceremoniously into Louis’ waiting arms.

“Alrighty then,” the Irishman says with finality, wiping his hands together, “My work here is done. It was nice seeing you, Tomlinson. You’re playing great as always.”

“Thank you,” Louis replies earnestly, then motions to the goalkeeper in his arms, “The four of us will have to get together sometime. David likes you, and I trust his judgment… even if I don’t understand what he’s saying a solid ninety percent of the time.”

Niall laughs loudly at that, slapping Louis on the back heartily, “How about after the next game me ‘n Harry here make it out to?”

The footballer nods agreeably, reaching up to clink his mug against the rim of the nearly empty pint in Niall’s hand. “Until then?”

“Until then,” Niall approves, downing the last of his beer and sliding the finished glass across the bar with an unmannerly belch.

Niall and Louis both turn and look at Harry expectantly after their little exchange, an unspoken message passing between them.

“Say goodnight,” Niall mouths forcefully after it becomes clear that Harry has absolutely no idea what’s required of him in this current situation.

“Oh, um, goodnight then,” Harry says quickly, watching as Louis’ smirk curves around the rim of his glass.

“Goodnight, just Harry,” Louis replies softly, tipping his mug with a teasing smile, “You made tonight less lonely. Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry manages before Niall is tugging him away once and for all.

He makes Louis Tomlinson less lonely, he thinks giddily as they step out of the club and onto the busy sidewalk. Even though Louis just wants to be his ‘pal’, has some serious personal space issues, and is still harboring a potential crush on Harry’s fellow bandmate Zayn Malik which requires further investigation, Harry finds that in the end he much preferred the midfielder’s company over the gossipy blondes he arrived with.

And, best of all, he managed to hold an actual conversation with the intimidatingly attractive footballer without throwing up, passing out, or asking where the bathroom was like the first time they met face to face.

He’ll count that as a win.

“Why couldn’t you be a fan of a football team not located across the bloody country?” Niall asks, yawning loudly as the plane’s engines whir noisily in preparation for takeoff.

“I’m not a fan,” Harry argues, ignoring Niall’s patronizing look, “and besides, you’re the one who dragged me to the match against Swansea in the first place. It’s not my fault I ended up slightly more invested in Manchester United than the average person.”

“Slightly?” Niall snorts, “You bought season tickets.”

“For the both of us obviously,” Harry supplies, “What? I can’t find ways to spend time with my best mate?”

“Your best mate appreciates the effort, really, he does,” Niall ripostes, gesturing to himself, “but he would also much prefer a night out drinking or a film premiere to watching you drool all over yourself every time Louis Tomlinson jogs by on the pitch.”

Harry gasps. “I do not drool.”

“Whatever you say, mate,” Niall replies with a shrug, his smile a mile wide, “I saw what was going on between you two before I walked up to the bar. Steamy.”

“Nothing was going on,” Harry corrects immediately, his cheeks flushing at the memory of Louis’ fingertips on his skin, “He was just… looking at my tattoos, that’s all.”

“He had his hands on your tits,” Niall deadpans.

Harry’s hands shoot up to cover said ‘tits’, his face contorted into an affronted expression.

“Nothing’s going on between me and Louis Tomlinson,” he repeats, “We hardly know each other, and he’s not even interested in me. He likes Zayn. He said so. You were there!”

Niall blinks. “You’re shitting me, right?”

“No?” Harry asks, confused, “Don’t you remember? In the locker room after the match against West Ham? You asked Louis who his favorite was and he said Zayn. As in Zayn Malik, our gorgeous bandmate, Zayn?”

“Yes, I remember that conversation,” Niall replies, rolling his eyes, “I just can’t believe that you… You know what? Never mind. I said I’d leave this for you to figure out.”

“Do you think I should bring Zayn to a match and introduce them?” Harry muses.

Niall just sighs exasperatedly and turns to look out the little round window, ignoring Harry’s question completely.


He was just trying to ‘figure things out’.


Match 9:
26 Oct vs Chelsea

“Why am I here again?” Zayn asks for what must be the billionth time.

“I told you. It’s a surprise!” Harry explains, whooping loudly as the Reds regain possession in the back field.

“I hate surprises,” the raven-haired man grumbles, patting at his quiff with concern when a nearby fan jostles up against him.

“This is a good one, I promise,” Harry assures, laughing delightedly at the image of his disheveled bandmate— dressed in all black and wearing a sour grin— surrounded by hoards of enthusiastic Man U supporters.

“You know I don’t like sports, right?” Zayn asks, tugging his dark pea-coat more tightly around himself to escape the late autumn chill.

“Oh c’mon Z, live a little,” Harry says, nudging the other man’s shoulder. He spreads his arms wide and gestures out toward the pitch where United have taken an early 2-0 lead.

“I am living,” Zayn ripostes, “I do it all the time, in fact, inside my house— where it’s warm and less crowded and interesting.”

Harry frowns. “You can’t be a recluse all the time.”

“You clearly underestimate me,” Zayn argues, sighing deeply when the crowd erupts into cheers as the officials signal the end of the first half, “Christ. How long does this thing even last?”

“About another hour or so,” Harry answers honestly, rewrapping his recently-purchased, bright red club scarf around his neck.

Zayn eyes the offending accessory warily and sighs again. “I thought you didn’t like footie. Why are you suddenly so interested in it?”

“I have a few mates on the team,” Harry replies evasively.

It’s not exactly a lie… He and Niall have been out with David and Danny a few times since United’s last home match, and he certainly likes both of them enough to consider them his mates. Louis is his friend too, he thinks tentatively, his uncontrollable attraction to the man notwithstanding. He hasn’t seen the midfielder since he got a bit handsy in the club a few weeks ago though, but that of course is all about to change.

“So that’s why you dragged me out here,” Zayn surmises, looking absolutely thrilled at the prospect of meeting new people.

“Well, yes… and no,” Harry replies with a bit of hesitance, continuing his explanation quickly as Zayn’s eyes narrow, “See, one of the players has a little crush on you, and I thought it would be nice if I maybe introduced you to him? He’s really great, quite witty which I know you like, and incredibly attractive. I just figured since you’ve been all cooped up for months now since you and Perrie called it quits, that you might like to… I dunno, expand your horizons a bit?”

The absolutely murderous look that the dark-haired boy levels him with in return suggests that Zayn is possibly not as supportive of the plan as Harry thought he would be.

“If I meet this friend of yours,” Zayn says lowly, “will you promise to stop coddling me?”

Harry immediately opens his mouth to agree, but Zayn cuts him off with another glare. “And,” he continues, “you’ll stop mentioning the breakup, which I am recovering from just fine, thank you very much.”

“Agreed,” Harry says, unable to stop the wide grin that finds its way onto his face, “You’re gonna love Louis, Z, I promise.”

Zayn blinks. “Wait a minute. Louis? As in Louis Tomlinson?”

“Yes?” Harry replies slowly, cheering loudly as the players return to the pitch for the start of the second half.

“The same Louis Tomlinson that grabbed your tits in a bar a few weeks ago?” Zayn remarks offhandedly, looking surprisingly disinterested for someone who’s just accused his bandmate of public indecency.

“Okay, first of all, Niall really needs to work on his wording,” Harry splutters, shaking his head at the Irishman’s audacity, “Louis just wanted to see my tattoos. And second of all, Louis likes you. He said so.”

“Did he now?” Zayn asks doubtfully, nudging Harry as he points out a lone paparazzi roaming the crowd, “Smile, princess.”

Harry throws his arm around his bandmate and tugs him close, eliciting a displeased groan from the other man. There’s a bright flash and then the pap is waving up at them gratefully, disappearing back into the crowd after he checks the photo on his camera. Harry releases Zayn in order to wave back, laughing at Zayn’s sour expression which has replaced the forced smile almost instantaneously.

A nearby fan shouts, “Yes, Tomlinson!” and Harry’s eyes return to the pitch where Louis has stolen the ball at midfield and taken off down the sideline.

He feels that irrational sense of pride once again as Louis sends a perfectly timed cross sailing over the heads of the Chelsea defenders and right to Van Persie’s waiting left foot. The Dutchman is unfortunately caught up in the box, the ball cleared out easily by the blob of blue kits, but Harry can’t help the smile that blossoms on his face at the midfielder’s contribution.

“He’s good, yeah?” Zayn remarks, waving a gloved hand toward the pitch. His other hand remains shoved in his coat pocket as it has all match-long— the pocket where Harry knows that his bandmate keeps an extra pack of smokes— and by the slight tremor in his shoulders, it’s clear he’s not taking Old Trafford’s smoking ban very well at all. For my anxiety, Zayn always mutters defensively when questioned, though Harry’s not entirely convinced that he doesn’t just light one up occasionally because it reinforces his ‘bad boy’ status.

“Louis’ one of the best, Z,” Harry replies, “Haven’t you watched any news recently?”

“No,” Zayn replies succinctly, “I haven’t.”

Harry sighs, returning his full attention to the game once more. “Remember when you used to be fun?” he mutters after they spend several more minutes trapped in uncomfortable silence.

“I’m fun,” Zayn protests halfheartedly, “Liam and I hang out all the time. And Niall likes me too.”

“Yes, but that’s because Liam is the lucky recipient of a gene that allows him to put up with your bullshit— one which I apparently did not receive,” Harry ripostes, thinking back to the early X Factor days when Zayn and Liam were inexplicably and disgustingly attached at the hip, “and Niall likes everyone, so that doesn’t count either.”

“Louis will be good for you,” Harry continues cheerfully, “I’m so excited for you two to meet.”

Applauding politely as Rooney narrowly misses a third goal (serviced by Louis, of course), he dutifully ignores Zayn’s grumble of “at least one of us is” and puts the rest of his energy into enjoying the match.

The 2-1 result that follows twenty-minutes later is the unspoiled reward for putting up with Zayn’s infallible melancholia. Enough so that, as he drags the gloomy raven-haired man toward the locker room where his destiny awaits, Harry can’t help but smile satisfactorily.

Louis, he’s sure, is the perfect antidote to all his bandmate’s brooding.

He just has to hope that Zayn thinks so too.

And it’s like, yeah, so he happens to find Louis Tomlinson inordinately attractive… He also happens to find Johnny Depp inordinately attractive, for example, and that’s certainly not going to work out either. Besides, he and Louis have chatted a total of two times quite unsuccessfully: their first conversation lasted all of five seconds and involved Harry stuttering like an idiot, and their second ended well enough but was unfortunately initiated by Harry dumping his drink all over the midfielder’s shirt. He’s sure that Louis is just humoring him at this point and probably joins Niall and the Spaniard in their little gossip sessions about Harry’s many faults. How much could they really have in common anyhow? Harry doesn’t even like footie, after all.

Louis and Zayn will be perfect together, he reasons, ignoring the nagging feeling of disappointment that flares in his stomach at the thought. Louis is loud and enthusiastic and confident, just the sort of person that Zayn needs to balance out his more reserved mannerisms. Plus, they’ll look spectacular together, all sparkling eyes and tattoos and cheekbones. The gossip rags won’t know what to do with themselves.

It’ll be… good, Harry tells himself.

His minor crush on the midfielder is just his dick talking, obviously. He just needs to get laid and it’ll all go away. And Zayn and Louis will ride happily off into the sunset together. He thinks, idly, of Jane Austen’s Emma and wonders if he’s not overestimating his matchmaking abilities. Quickly dismissing that thought as romantic nonsense, he leads Zayn around the last and final corner, ignoring once again the sense of dread and reluctance bubbling up from within his chest.

It’ll be good, he repeats, pushing open the door and leading his bandmate inside.

He has to believe that.

Louis spots Harry almost immediately and the grin that appears on his face is absolutely blinding. Harry ignores the butterflies that threaten to flutter in his stomach at the golden footballer’s obvious delight.

“Hey, just Harry,” Louis greets teasingly as he approaches, placing an easy hand on Harry’s lower back to guide him back toward his personal space in the locker room. Harry absolutely does not sink into the touch, his nerve cells mapping out the area of Louis’ hand and reacting with blinding heat; he has plenty of self-control, thank you very much.

Louis doesn’t seem to register Zayn’s presence until they’re all standing together, blinking once in palpable surprise as he pulls a sweatshirt over his head. When his face reappears a moment later, he’s practically gaping, eyes flickering between Harry and his sullen companion with obvious confusion.

“Oh, um, hello,” Louis says after a moment, holding out a hand to Zayn who shakes it thoughtlessly.

“Louis, this is my bandmate Zayn Malik, but of course you know that,” Harry remarks with a wink, elbowing Zayn and hissing at him to put on a smile, at the very least, “and Zayn, this is Louis Tomlinson. He’s a good mate of Niall’s.”

“And of Harry here, as well,” Louis supplies, smiling again brightly, “Though we’ve only recently become acquainted, I find him quite wonderful. It’s the curls, I think.”

Harry swallows, doing his best to disregard Louis’ pleasantries.

“Anyway, I brought Zayn here to meet you today,” Harry blurts without preamble, shoving the dark-haired man forward, “You did mention that he was your favorite.”

“Yes,” Louis replies slowly, his eyes widening at Zayn’s sudden proximity, “I did, didn’t I?”

Taking one quick step backward, the midfielder attempts an uneasy smile. “Hello Zayn.”

“Hello, again,” Zayn replies drolly, and for god’s sake, Harry bemoans, the moody twat’s not even trying.

“Er, are you a fan then?” Louis chances, looking supremely uncomfortable.

“Not particularly, no,” Zayn answers civilly, shifting from foot to foot with equal discomfort, “but I did enjoy the match today. You played… well.”

“Oh, thank you,” Louis says, overtly cordial.

Zayn just nods.

The two men lapse into an uneasy silence, Louis turning away to dig through his locker and Zayn glaring down at his feet as if willing himself to disappear.

Harry sighs deeply. It’s almost painful watching these two dance around each other when they’re both clearly fighting a deep attraction. Luckily, they have him to enact some damage control.

“So, Louis,” he ventures, “you’re single right?”

There’s a spark of something in Louis’ eyes at the question, though the footballer nods with clear hesitation, taking a long sip from the water bottle he’s produced from his duffel.

“Perfect,” Harry remarks boldly, patting Zayn on the back, “because Zayn here is also very available and very willing to take you out tonight.”

There’s a loud, distressed noise as Louis promptly spits out his mouthful of water— all over Harry himself coincidentally.

“Is he?” he splutters, still choking a bit.

Harry,” Zayn hisses, his cheeks turning bubblegum pink at the suggestion.

“Yes, he is,” Harry assures, ignoring Zayn’s distraught nonverbal protests from beside him, “So, what do you say?”

Louis looks like he might throw up at any moment, flailing a bit and gesturing vaguely at one of the adjacent doors leading to a series of offices.

“I’ve… I’ve got to go, sorry! Team meeting! Bye!” he blurts, tearing off down the hallway without another word.

“Don’t worry Z, he really likes you, I swear,” Harry remarks regretfully, watching Louis’ retreating form, “He’s probably just nervous.”

When he turns back, Zayn is staring at him blankly.

“You’re an idiot,” the dark-haired boy replies, shaking his head and stalking quickly out of the room.

(Harry, for the life of him, can’t surmise why he keeps getting that lately.)

“Harry, hello!” a familiar accented voice greets, David de Gea himself approaching with a smile.

“Oh hi, David,” Harry replies quizzically, glancing around the locker room which remains oddly full of players, “Aren’t you missing a meeting?”

The goalkeeper blinks. “I hope not?”

“Then where did Louis get off to?” Harry asks, frowning.

Quite suddenly, the Spaniard’s face contorts into a dazzling smile. “Oh, you’re here to see Louis? He’ll be thrilled! Pobrecito hasn’t stopped going on about you since West Ham.”

“Oh no, I’ve already spoken to him,” Harry corrects, trying to disregard the fact that Louis has apparently been recounting the embarrassing nightclub situation to his teammates, “He just mentioned that he had a… You know what? Never mind. It was nice seeing you, David. Good match today.”

“Okay, mi amigo,” the goalkeeper replies amicably, waltzing back toward his locker with an easy stride.

Harry waves lamely and turns on his heel, exiting the locker room with a deep frown.

He’s possibly a bit more fit for a Jane Austen novel than he previously thought…


Match 11:
8 Nov vs Crystal Palace

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, mate,” Niall says easily, pausing a moment to hurl some insults at the Glazier forward currently lining up a corner kick, “So what if your matchmaking attempts were a bit off base? Zayn’ll find someone eventually. He just needs time. You know how he is.”

Harry sighs, watching the forward’s kick sail straight into De Gea’s waiting hands. “I’m not worried about Zayn,” he replies honestly, “It’s… Louis. He definitely thinks I’m an idiot now, if he didn’t already.”

“I doubt Louis has anything bad to say about you,” Niall reassures, looking pensive, “Why don’t you try being friends with him first before, ya know, attempting to set him up with strangers? You might be surprised by how much the two of you have in common.”

Harry hums thoughtfully. “I guess I could try talking to him again?”

“That’s the spirit,” Niall enthuses, cheering loudly as De Gea makes a fantastic save following a Crystal Palace free kick, “I’ll text David afterward and let him know we’ll be stopping by.”

Harry nods, thinks about facing Louis again and promptly buries his face into Niall’s shoulder.

“There, there,” the Irishman comforts, “I’m sure it’ll all be fine.”

Manchester United wins 3-1.

Harry still feels like a loser.

An actual team meeting leaves De Gea and the rest of the squad caught up until six, Niall and Harry agreeing to meet for dinner at a local sit-down place that evening.

Louis arrives about fifteen minutes late, looking a bit harried as he rushes in and pulls up a seat at the table that the three other men already occupy.

“Sorry lads,” he apologizes breathlessly, running a hand through his slightly squashed quiff, “There was an absolute mob of fans outside. God knows someone must’ve tweeted or instagrammed or what not.”

“Sorry ‘bout it,” Niall says, raising a guilty hand, “My burger was too beautiful not to share.”

Louis just chuckles, popping open his menu without a second glance in Harry’s direction.

“So how is everyone then?” he asks cheerily after the waiter comes to take his drink order.

“I’m alright, yeah,” Niall replies, continuing tactlessly, “though I think Harry here has something he’d like to share.”

“I do?” Harry asks, sitting up with surprise. Louis just raises an eyebrow as Niall throws a particularly painful elbow right into his ribs. “Oh! Oh yes. I do.”

“Are we getting married or are you apologizing?” Louis asks, his stormy eyes sparkling with intelligence.

De Gea and Niall snicker childishly at the show of wit, laughing even harder at the glare Harry sends their way.

“Apologizing, or attempting to anyway,” Harry replies, scratching the back of his neck, “I may’ve been a bit forward with my, er—”

“Please refrain from hurting yourself,” Louis interrupts before he’s even really started, “You look like you’re in pain, babe. Apology accepted, don’t worry about it. I was just a bit taken aback by the suddenness of it all. And by the fact that your admittedly beautiful bandmate looked ready to murder you at any moment.”

The footballer shrugs, leaning forward to take a sip from his water glass. “As much as I love slasher films,” he continues, cracking a smile, “I really didn’t want to be around to witness that.”

“Good thing you weren’t around for the lecture Zayn gave me later,” Harry jokes tentatively, sighing in relief when Louis laughs at the anecdote, “Truly gruesome.”

“I propose a toast,” Niall interrupts, holding up his glass, “To new friendships, and Zayn not murdering Harry in his sleep… yet.”

Harry rolls his eyes at the Irishman’s brashness, but lifts his drink anyhow, clinking glasses with Niall and then De Gea in subsequent fashion. When he gets to Louis, however, something changes. There’s a strange sort of seismic shift in the universe, a rift in the continuum that somehow brings them crashing together with the force of gravity multiplied millions of times over. Like somewhere in another universe, in a multitude of other universes perhaps, the many permutations of Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson all let out a collective sigh.

Harry’s pretty sure he’s just fantastically pissed, as he normally doesn’t psychoanalyze momentous life-changing moments using his tenuous grasp on metaphysics and string theory, but maybe there’s just something about Louis Tomlinson that alters his perception of the natural world, that breaks the monotony of his life just enough to leave him feeling misplaced and breathless with all the possibilities blooming in vivid Technicolor behind his eyes. The footballer gives him hope, he realizes, makes him consider a quiet domestic life outside of fame where he settles down in a little cottage on the coast with a husband and three children and at least one cat… And this all sounds like a particularly fluffy Mills and Boon novel summary, but hey, let no one accuse Harry Styles of not being romantic.  

Back in reality, he and Louis’ eyes meet over the rims of their glasses as their lips form a synchronized ‘cheers’, time itself moving in infinitesimally slow increments as Harry takes in the man seated before him. It’s like something out of a bloody romance film, the lights of the pub flaring around the midfielder and illuminating him like some beautiful, holy being beamed down to earth in the glow of an Angel’s tear. Or something as equally metaphorical (or is it simile-ish?) like that. Harry’s certainly not a poet, although he did fancy himself one during his brief-but-brooding scene phase in Year Eight.   

Anyhow, he’s frozen, staring at Louis Tomlinson’s face as if he’s gazing into the face of God himself. This is probably a sacrilegious comparison, but once again, not a poet. Louis’ eyes are blue, blue, blue, and his skin is flecked with gold, and he’s smiling like toasting to his and Harry’s newfound— er, renewed— friendship is the greatest thing he’s ever heard. He’s wearing the same smile he does when he scores goals or when Van Persie doesn’t fuck up and miss the cross for the hundredth time because, really, there are only so many chances Louis can create per match, for god’s sake.

It’s wonderful, being on the receiving end of such a look of pure, unadulterated adoration; so wonderful, in fact, that Harry feels like he’s drowning in it. And there’s that drowning/ocean metaphor again. The hurricane and the drizzle and what not. He might as well write young adult romance novels at this rate. Louis could be his muse, and he would compose entire sonnets dedicated to abdominal muscles outlined by sweaty football kits, and to long, pretty eyelashes framing dazzling turquoise oceans. Wow, he’s good.

Time chooses that moment to rubber-band back into place, and he and Louis are clinking their glasses together and their drinks are sloshing over the edges and they’re smiling, still smiling, and Harry is inordinately happy. It’s all rather disgusting, really.

But he feels a spark of something just the same.

So Niall cracks jokes and they chat a bit about Manchester United and a bit about One Direction, and Louis turns out to be not only unfairly beautiful but also unfairly intelligent as well, witty and opinionated and passionate. And if Harry was completely and unwillingly enamored before, he definitely is now, and that’s quite the problem. Especially seeing as Louis, when pressed by Niall, mentions that he’s not currently interested in anyone and that he has no plans to date anytime soon.

David’s eyes go positively buggy at that and he splutters a bit into his drink, though he just waves Harry off when asked if he’s alright.

Louis’ words echo hollowly inside his chest— I’m not really looking for a relationship right now— and he feels undeniably and foolishly disappointed at the fact.

It’s a crushing blow, but Harry’s quite sure that he never stood a chance in the first place. Much less when the object of his affection is constantly surrounded by gorgeous fellow footballers from all over the world with dreamy accents and tanned skin and an obvious love for footie which Harry still denies that he possesses (no matter how much he’s come to learn and appreciate about the sport in the last few months).

No, he and Louis are obviously destined to be good mates and nothing more. If only he could get his lust-addled body and aching heart to agree with his mind on that fact…

“Anyway, David and I’ve got early practice tomorrow morning,” Louis mentions after another fifteen minutes or so spent chatting amicably amongst themselves. “We should probably head out.”

Harry tries not to look too obviously disappointed at the prospect but he apparently fails miserably, judging by the smug look that Niall shoots his way.

As they all pause in the conversation to pay their bills, Louis remarks offhandedly, “Mind if I get your number, popstar?”

At Harry’s embarrassing, gaping look, he continues, “You can text me the next time you make it out to a match, and we could do something like this again afterward?”

Harry continues to sit with his mouth hanging open, suspended in a state of disbelief.

“I’ll send you his contact card,” Niall supplies helpfully, elbowing Harry hard in the side once more.

“Great, thanks,” Louis replies easily, though he glances at Harry with palpable concern, “When do you think you lot will be back in Old Trafford again?”

“Unfortunately, we’ve got a tour coming up in a few days,” Niall answers, flicking through his phone, “We probably won’t be back ‘round ‘til close to New Year’s at the earliest.”

“Ah, that’s no good,” Louis remarks, frowning deeply as he stands, “I mean the tour thing is great, don’t get me wrong, but we really love having you in the crowd.”

At that, De Gea snickers loudly, leaning down to whisper something into Niall’s ear which has the Irishman in stitches in an instant.

Louis just rolls his eyes, throwing on his jacket and patiently waiting for the goalkeeper to do the same.

“Take care, lads!” Niall says cheerily, “We’ll see ya soon enough.”

“Keep in touch, mi hermano,” David instructs in reply, throwing an arm around Louis’ shoulders.

There’s a pause as the midfielder’s eyes meet Harry’s own, the older man shifting from foot to foot expectantly. Harry can only swallow nervously, drowning again as he is in blue, blue, blue. Niall elbows him in the side for a third time, glaring at him urgently, which finally seems to snap Harry out of his Louis-induced daze.

“Bye Lou… is,” he splutters after a moment, resisting the urge to smash his reddened face into the plate of chips remaining on the table in front of him.

Louis just smiles fondly, like he’s used to dealing with complete idiots perhaps. “Bye just Harry.”

Harry waves lamely as he watches the two footballers exit, Niall— in what has become startlingly common fashion— cackling by his side.


Never had a chance.


Matches 12-16
22 Nov—19 Dec

For the rest of November and December, One Direction are officially on their Asian tour, which includes three stops in Japan, four in China, three in South Korea, one in Hong Kong, two in the Philippines, and two in Thailand.

The tour itself is brilliant with every single stop being completely sold out. The tour’s timing, however, is decidedly less than brilliant as Harry misses a whopping five Manchester United matches, three of them staged at home in Old Trafford. He’s not completely torn away from it all, of course; even halfway around the world technology does its best to soothe his aching faux-Manc soul.

He manages to catch a few of the matches on the band’s off-days, but relies for the most part on his precious iPhone to get him through. He receives nearly nonstop text updates (despite the expensive international charges), and dutifully pours over the play-by-play reports and statistics after every match. If he mainly checks for a certain star midfielder’s minutes played, pass completion percentages, assists and number of goals scored… well, no one has to know. Except for Niall, obviously, who continues to humor Harry’s pathetic obsession with cheerful enthusiasm.

Louis had texted Harry a few days into the tour wishing him luck and instructing him ‘not to break too many hearts’ followed by the blowing-a-kiss emoji— a text that Harry still hasn’t found the guts to reply to.

Niall laughs hysterically every time he notices Harry with his phone out, staring forlornly at the message and willing something anything clever to appear in his mind.

Zayn appears as sullen as ever (especially since Niall has taken to humming Little Mix tunes whenever he walks by) but Harry can read the gentle concern in his eyes just the same. He’s always gone to Zayn for comfort in the past, mainly because Zayn appreciates silence and doesn’t ask questions, and he can tell that his bandmate is a bit on edge just waiting for Harry to come knocking on his hotel room door, teary-eyed and in desperate need of a cuddle. He’s not quite at that point yet, but he takes heart in knowing he has someone to turn to if he ever reaches that level of neediness again.

Liam is by far the worst of them all, mostly because Liam has no idea what’s been bugging Harry lately and because all of his advice starts out the same: “Well Sophia says…” or “Sophia and I usually just…”

It’s not that Harry doesn’t like Sophia because he does— she’s intelligent and gorgeous and undeniably classy, after all— it’s just that, you know, he doesn’t really care to hear about Liam’s rainbows and butterflies, happy sunshine relationship when he’s crushing hard on his professional footballer ‘pal’ who will never, ever in a million years consider him date-worthy.

So, he puts on his best face, performs every night, and sleeps in until noon on the days that he doesn’t, dreaming pathetically about weddings on the pitch in Old Trafford or swimming in oceans of a familiar hue.

He even tells Niall that he hates sunsets one evening out in Tokyo (after he’s had perhaps way, way too much to drink) because they’re gold and blue and also fuck Louis Tomlinson. It’s not his best logic, but it seems true enough, especially when Niall recounts the story to the lads over breakfast the morning after.

“Who’s Louis Tomlinson?” Liam asks, and this is exactly why Harry doesn’t come to him for advice.

Who’s Louis Tomlinson? Honestly.

They’ve been out of the country for twenty-three days by the time Harry finally texts Louis back.

Sorry! I’ve been terribly busy. How are you?

It’s not exactly a lie. He has been busy… just, you know, not so terribly busy that he never had time to send a reply. He prays that Louis doesn’t follow him on Twitter considering the fact that he’s tweeted from ‘mobile’ about his shows nearly every night is a bit of a dead giveaway… At least he has his read receipts off, right?

When Louis texts him back a few hours later, presumably following his match against Hull City that evening, Harry is eating breakfast with Zayn and trying valiantly not to stare at the offending mobile device which sits in mocking silence on the table next to his cereal bowl.

The loud chirp of a message has him nearly spilling milk all over himself in surprise, Zayn just blinking tiredly as Harry flails.

“Expecting some bad news?” Zayn asks slowly, after he watches Harry spend several minutes biting his lip and debating whether or not to read the message in its entirety.

“Uh, no, all good here,” Harry replies, smiling tightly.

Zayn just nods agreeably. “So it’s from Louis, then.”

“No,” he says quickly, “Why would you assume that? Because it isn’t.”

His annoyingly perceptive bandmate just raises an eyebrow. “Why are you freaking out then?”

“I’m not freaking out,” Harry states, shaking his head, “Who’s freaking out? Not me!”

Zayn just smiles knowingly and holds out his hand. “Yeah, alright. Let me see it then.”

Harry panics, taking a few steps backward and clutching his mobile to his chest possessively. Okay, so that may not have been one of his more subtle performances…

“That’s what I thought,” the dark-haired man remarks easily, returning to his bowl of cereal with marked disinterest, “You shouldn’t be worried, you know. He likes you.”

“He thinks I’m an idiot,” Harry protests.

“So?” Zayn questions, pointing his spoon Harry’s way, “I also think you’re an idiot, and we get along just fine.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Z,” he replies, rolling his eyes.

Three more minutes pass.

Zayn finishes his cereal in silence.

Harry fights the urge, but in the end it overcomes him. Right as the little digital numbers on his phone shift to signal a fourth minute, Harry opens the message. Louis’ words are simple and friendly and contain nothing to convey his probable disdain for Harry’s lame excuse in regards to ignoring him for nearly a month.

No prob mate! And I’m good, yeah. Just smashed it against Hull City :)

Harry spends several minutes contemplating a non-creepy way to say “I know. I get all the match results sent to my phone because I’m embarrassingly, hopelessly enamored with you.”

In the end, he goes with: Really? That’s amazing. Congrats!

Louis responds almost immediately, their respective time zones having apparently lined up, and this is really not something that Harry was prepared for.

Thanks Curly :) How’s the tour been?

And okay, yeah, this is something he can answer. He’ll just phrase it like he’s answering an interview question. It’ll be fine.

Good. Very fun, he responds after another moment’s consideration.

He’s feeling fairly confident about that one when he hears Zayn snicker from behind him, the other man having apparently read the conversation from over his shoulder.

“You text like my gran, mate,” Zayn teases, empty cereal bowl in hand, “Better hope Louis’ into that.”

Harry lets out a devastated sigh, head sagging down onto the table.

It’ll be fine?

Apparently not.

It turns out that things are fine, in the end.

After nearly another month spent touring the Asian continent (and consequently another month spent texting greater Manchester’s beloved Louis Tomlinson), Harry’s actually feeling quite confident about it all.

Having eventually adjusted to Louis’ particular brand of dry wit, he finds that he can dish it back quite effectively, now without spending several agonizing minutes between each text wondering if he’s offended Louis with a too-mean comeback or something. Offended is apparently not a concept that exists in the footballer’s world in application to himself or to other people, much like the equally important-to-proper-social-conduct idea of personal space— as Harry’s increasingly more juvenile dreams keep reminding him.

Now that it’s common knowledge to him that Louis is most definitely not into Zayn and never was, Harry’s mind cannot help but continue to deeply analyze their interaction in that nightclub all those months ago. Whatever emotion was actually present in those piercing ocean-blue eyes has been effectively replaced with lust and unbridled desire in every version of Harry’s memories regarding the event. He feels a bit like a young girl writing first person narrative fanfiction about his semi-imaginary encounter (a type of literature he’s quite familiar with given the overwhelmingly dominant gender of his fanbase).

Louis bit his lip, eyes dropping down to my chest. My heart was beating so fast… I could tell he wanted to touch me. Oh wow. He is so beautiful, I thought!

He grimaces, waving Niall off when the Irishman leans over to ask if he’s alright.

“Just sad to be leaving, I guess,” he lies easily, ignoring how his heart flutters in his chest at the thought of seeing Louis face to face again (or, well, in person on the pitch from his seat in the South Stand, at least).

Niall nods agreeably from his chair across the aisle, peering out the little round window where the London skyline has begun to fade into view.

“It was a good tour, wasn’t it?” he remarks with a wistful sigh, though— in typical Niall fashion— his expression brightens immediately at his next thought, “But it will be nice to be home for Christmas.”

“Six days,” Harry reminds happily, a giddy laugh escaping his lips as the plane dips a bit going through a pocket of turbulence.

“And we’ve got the Aston Villa match tomorrow,” Niall adds, adopting his now trademarked ‘knowing smile’ when it comes to all things Louis Tomlinson related.

“Yes, that too,” Harry agrees, unable to fight a grin.

Still wearing that same damn smile, Niall continues, “And you’ll see him afterward?”

Harry flushes, thinking back to him and Louis’ most recent conversation in which the midfielder had ever-so-casually invited him out for a post-match dinner the following evening. He still feels nervous about being in Louis’ presence again for the first time in literally months, and he still doesn’t understand how his brain has decided that meeting a cute footballer is more intimidating than performing onstage for 70,000 screaming fans, but he had agreed to the night out in the end (of course he had).

And so, with poorly suppressed enthusiasm, he replies, “I believe I will.”


Match 17
20 Dec vs Aston Villa

There are certainly a number of exciting things that happen on the pitch leading up to Man United’s 2-1 win against Aston Villa— exciting things that Harry undoubtedly witnessed (having been at said match against Aston Villa) but nonetheless he remembers nothing of them.

Though he had tried his best to remain focused on the footie, he simply could not keep his mind off of the plans he had for that evening. Even as Louis himself darted about on the pitch, Harry couldn’t even look at the number twenty-eight shirt without lapsing into another hazy fantasy about their delayed reunion. Niall’s nearly constant cheering (or booing) from beside him was really the only thing that kept Harry even remotely aware of the match’s proceedings.

Finally, finally, the last whistle had blown and Harry was rocketing up out of his seat with a hurried but hesitant goodbye to his bandmate. Niall just waved him off, smiling gently, and said something which— though muffled by the din of the crowd— sounded remarkably like, “Don’t worry about me. Go get your boy.”

Though Louis was (and is) decidedly not Harry’s ‘boy’, he had darted off to the locker room rather quickly to find the footballer anyhow.

He’s understandably more than disappointed when the attendant at the locker room door informs him that the team is having an important mid-season meeting and that no visitors will be permitted. Harry sends Louis a text letting him know that he and Niall have rented a hotel room for a long weekend (before Niall flies to Ireland on Monday) and that he’ll meet Louis at the restaurant in a few hours.

Nonsense, I’ll pick you up Curly, Louis replies almost immediately, followed by a pouty-faced selfie with the caption: This meeting is booooring! Want to see you :(

Harry’s heart flutters at the footballer’s adorable little pout, sending back a dopey grinning selfie of his own.

He continues to swap pics with Louis even as their hired car takes him and Niall back to the hotel, silently thanking his wonderful bandmate for not judging the number of duck faces and peace signs he manages to produce during the fifteen minute drive.

Approximately three hours later, Harry gets another text from Louis instructing him to meet him in the hotel’s lobby. He checks his hair in the mirror one final time, debating whether or not to roll up the sleeves of his suit jacket. Eventually deciding against the change— Louis had said semi-formal, after all— Harry pockets his wallet and leaves the room, his stomach twisted in nervous knots.

It’s not a date, he knows that. It’s just… two mates getting a bite to eat at a nice restaurant, that’s all. Never mind that the restaurant is apparently quite nice (with a dress code of all things) and that Louis had quote unquote wanted to ‘surprise him’ by not revealing their dining location (which is sort of a very romantic thing to do but Harry is not dwelling on that… not one bit). It’s all semantics, really, he tells himself, trying valiantly to calm his nerves.

He’s feeling quite alright when he steps off the elevator and heads toward the lobby, having done a number of his yoga breathing exercises on the short ride down. Unfortunately, no form of therapeutic respiration could have prepared him for the site that awaits as he rounds the final corner…

Louis Tomlinson is sat— no draped— across one of the lobby couches, dressed in all black (black blazer, black band t-shirt, and inordinately tight black jeans cuffed at the ankle). His hair is still as long as Harry remembers, maybe longer in fact, but is swept back and around his face with artfully disheveled sophistication. He’s gazing up at Harry with a small but confident smile, the same cocky little grin that had enamored Harry back in August during his Man United debut.

A few nervous-looking concierge staff hover around him, refilling his drink and fluffing pillows and the like, and Harry can’t help but swallow at the image it inspires— Louis lying across the settee like exotic royalty as his attendants wave palm fronds and feed him grapes from the bunch.

He swallows again, his feet suddenly immobile as Louis Tomlinson, looking positively sinful as he is, waves off the staff and invites Harry over with a beckoning finger. The footballer stands quickly as Harry arrives, swaying up onto his tiptoes to wrap Harry in a surprising but comfortable hug.

“Missed you, just Harry,” Louis says in greeting as he pulls away, flashing Harry another brilliant smile.

Harry just nods, still in shock from the unexpected contact, and mumbles something that hopefully sounds like “Missed you too”. His English isn’t that great at the moment, brain all soupy from the lingering sensation of Louis’ fingers pressed into his upper back.

“Shall we?” Louis asks, and Harry nods again, even managing an audible “yes” this time, though it comes out about an octave and a half higher than he’d intended.

The paparazzi presence is insane, and as they walk through the doors to where Louis’ car is parked on the curb, Harry can hear both their names being yelled with equal measure.

“Respond to rumors that you’re the next Posh and Becks?” someone shouts, and Harry can’t even fathom the number of assumptions that had to be made to bring that question to light.

“Just two mates going out for dinner,” Louis replies politely, his hand pressed to the small of Harry’s back as he guides him to the car.

Which, yeah, the car.

Louis’ car is small and sleek and black, and has a fin, for god’s sake; and Harry really, really should not be surprised that the footballer’s vehicle is as beautiful as he is. Louis opens the door and Harry slides into the passenger seat, letting out an admiring sigh at the gorgeous leather interior.

He’s going on a not-date with a Manchester United player in a fucking Bugatti.

What is his life?

Louis, unsurprisingly, is a terribly fast driver and Harry’s nerves about the not-date are pretty much nonexistent seeing as his mind is mostly focused on them not hurtling to their deaths around the next corner.

When they arrive at the restaurant (Rosso, the sign reads), Harry can’t help but gape a little; one entire wall is covered floor to ceiling in photos of all the famous celebrities that have dined there before them, Wayne Rooney himself even gazing back at Harry with a gruff smile. The waitress who seats them seems professional enough, but she does squeak a bit when she asks if she might take their picture for the wall after they’ve finished their dinner. When Louis looks back at him and shrugs, Harry just nods agreeably, smiling gently as the waitress blurts her thank you’s and hurries off to fill their drink orders.

The place itself is gorgeous, upscale Italian and lavishly decorated, an actual live singer crooning swing hits in the corner. The ambience has nothing on his current dining companion, however, who looks like a live Renaissance painting with the current backdrop. Louis is bright and giggly after United’s win (and especially after two glasses of Rosso’s finest wine) and the conversation flows easily and electrically between them.

Louis asks him about the tour, Harry throws in some casual references to the midfielder’s most recent footie appearances, and it’s good. Really good. Too good, in fact, as Harry’s annoying conscience can’t help but attempt to stomp out his heart’s lovesick fluttering with a number of cutting remarks.

It’s not even a date.

You hardly know each other.

He doesn’t want a relationship, especially not one with you.

He tries his best to ignore his brain’s protestations, but it’s hard when Louis Tomlinson is sitting right across from him looking so painfully beautiful and so painfully not his.

Imagine his surprise, however, when Louis takes a long sip of wine and says, “I’m going to ask you something crazy. Like really crazy.”

Yes, Harry’s heart replies instantaneously, whatever it is… Yes. A million times yes.

“You’re probably aware, being a season-ticket holder and all,” Louis continues, Harry frowning at the odd preamble to what he’d foolishly hoped would be some film-worthy declaration of love, “but United’s got a match on Boxing Day, the twenty-sixth.”

“Right, against Newcastle,” Harry replies easily, still confused by the conversation’s strange turn.

Louis swirls his finger around the rim of his glass, looking oddly nervous for someone simply relaying his match agenda. “Due to some unfortunate scheduling, my family planned a Christmastime vacation that doesn’t return until the twenty-eighth.”

“So you’ll be stuck in Manchester?” Harry asks when Louis doesn’t immediately continue.

“Exactly,” Louis supplies, taking another deep hesitant breath, “so in order to see my family for the holiday, my mum has asked if I’d drive down to Doncaster tomorrow for an early visit before they leave on the twenty-third. I’d also have time to stop by and see some of my old teammates, and the like, you know?”

“It sounds like a lovely trip?” Harry offers, still not getting what the point of all this is.

“Oh it will be,” Louis replies, smiling oddly, “but the drive is, you know, a bit… boring?”

Harry frowns. He knows the area well, his hometown being just forty minutes south of Manchester, so he doesn’t quite understand Louis’ reluctance. “It’s only an hour and a half or so, right? On the M62 north, or the A628 through Sheffield.”

“Right,” Louis agrees, looking at Harry pointedly, “but don’t you think that road trips are more exciting with another person along for the ride? Such as, say, your lovely, wonderful mate who may or may not be a popstar?”

Harry’s fairly certain his lower jaw has completely detached itself from his face and fallen into his pasta dish. Louis just gazes back at him imploringly, eyes as blue and as wide as the ocean and his cheeks flushed a dusty rose.

“Louis Tomlinson,” Harry teases, having quickly surmised the extent of the footballer’s offer, “are you asking me to meet the family?”

“It’s not just for me,” Louis argues, blushing even more deeply when Harry raises an expectant eyebrow, “My sisters, I’ve got four of them, you know… well, five, but Doris is a baby so I doubt she’ll be excited… Anyhow, I’ve got sisters, and they’re massive One Direction fans obviously, so I thought it’d be a nice Happy Christmas gift if I brought you along?”

Harry assumes that the smile he’s currently sporting probably looks ridiculous, but he can’t help it. Imagine. Bloody football star Louis Tomlinson asking him to spend an early Christmas with his family. Incredible.

Louis hasn’t stopped speaking yet, blabbering on about this and that in an apparent attempt to convince Harry to go. It’s hilariously unnecessary and Harry tells him so, watching as Louis’ mouth snaps shut and his eyes widen in surprise.

“You’ll go?” he asks, astounded, “Really?”

“Of course, I will,” Harry replies, levelling him with an obvious look, “We’re mates, aren’t we?”

Louis blinks. “Yes, yes, obviously.”

“Well then,” Harry says with finality, “I’d better start packing.”

“He asked you to what?” Liam asks in disbelief, his voice rising enough that Harry has to hold his phone away from his ear.

“To accompany him to his hometown for an early Christmas,” Harry repeats.

There’s a long pause. “And you called me… why, exactly?”

“Because you’re obviously an expert on romance,” Harry explains, switching to speakerphone in order to send a text to his agent, “Sophiam is a disgusting but successful concept.”

“Thanks, I think,” Liam replies slowly, “So what you’re telling me is that Louis took you out to a romantic restaurant, bought your food, and then proceeded to invite you to spend a few days with his family?”

“Yep. That about sums it up,” Harry affirms.

“Well it certainly doesn’t seem platonic to me,” Liam remarks after a moment’s contemplation, “but, you know, Sophia always says—”

At that particular warning phrase, Harry is interrupting with a “Yeah, thanks, bye Li!” and shoving his phone into his pocket. 

As soon as an assistant arrives with his luggage tomorrow morning, Harry’s off to Doncaster.

It feels surreal.

But it’s happening.

And all because Louis Tomlinson asked him to.

Louis meets him in front of the hotel at half-six the next morning, early enough to avoid the previous night’s onslaught of paparazzi.

As he helps Harry load his luggage into the trunk, Harry can’t help but give the older man a subtle once-over. He’s dressed in an oversized white sweater and dark jeans, his hair lying flat against his forehead in a lax fringe that Harry desperately wants to feel between his fingertips. He looks beautiful like this, too, soft and warm and unbearably sweet as he whispers a soft ‘good morning’.

“Hi Lou,” Harry breathes, and his words leave a trail of condensation in the cold December air.

“You’re sure about this?” Louis asks, once they’re tucked safely inside and waiting for the car to warm up, “My family can be a bit… overwhelming, at times.”

“I’m sure they’re wonderful,” Harry assures, patting Louis’ thigh in what he hopes is a comforting gesture.

Louis looks pained for an instant, before he’s shaking his head and chuckling lightly. “I’ll let you decide that for yourself, I suppose.”

And with that, they’re off.

Louis keeps the radio on as they cruise down the M62, singing along softly as he drums his fingers against the steering wheel. Harry’s surprised to find that the footballer has a lovely voice and tells him so, laughing delightedly when Louis blushes bright pink.

“I did a bit of musical theater back in secondary,” he admits, still flushed, “Thought I wanted to be a drama teacher for a while, in case footie didn’t turn out.”

“I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Harry replies with a shrug, eyes tracing the grey, lifeless countryside as they speed into South Yorkshire, “but everything seems to have worked out for the both of us, hasn’t it?”

Louis hums in agreement, singing along to a bit of ‘Feliz Navidad’ before adding, “Proper Posh and Becks, we are, or so I hear.”

Harry laughs loudly. “That reporter was out of her mind. As if I’m anything like Victoria Beckham.”

“At least One Direction and the Spice Girls are both successful groups,” Louis counters, “As if I’m at all comparable to David Beckham. He’d probably be insulted.”

Harry raises an eyebrow at that. “I dunno, Louis. I think you’re well on your way.”

“Oh shut it, you’re obviously biased,” Louis argues, but he’s smiling at the encouragement nonetheless.

“How am I biased?” Harry implores, grinning back.

“Because you like me,” the footballer replies, waggling his eyebrows, and Harry swallows audibly at his teasing words. If only he knew just how true that particular statement was… Quite a bit past ‘like’ at this point, in fact.

Louis doesn’t seem to notice Harry’s jilted reaction, just continues, “All the people who don’t like me find plenty of reasons to critique my footie technique. They say I’m having a fluke season, and that I’ll be awful come next year.”

“Well I think you’re great,” Harry remarks honestly, shrugging, “and I don’t even like football.”

Louis tears his eyes from the road for a moment to gape back at him. “What do you mean you don’t like football? You have season tickets.”

It’s Harry’s turn to blush. “I find it boring, to be quite honest. Niall had to force me to go to that first match, and I complained nearly the entire time.”

“What changed?” Louis asks, eyes returning to the stretch of motorway in front of them.

Harry smiles softly at the memory. “You came out on the pitch as a substitute,” he explains, watching as Louis’ eyes widen at the confession, “and you were confident and brilliant and… quite good-looking, and I suddenly found myself a lot more interested in the sport.”

Louis is quiet for a long time, and Harry’s heart can’t stand it, protesting each beat of silence with a loud beat of its own. ‘Feliz Navidad’ ends in a flair of trumpets and maracas, the opening chords to ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ fading in.

Finally, Louis speaks, soft and hesitant and slightly awestruck as he says, “You bought season tickets to watch me play?”

Harry just bites his lip and nods. “Is that… odd? I’m sorry.”

Louis shakes his head almost violently at that, his fingers tightening around the steering wheel. “No, god, Harry, no. That’s… that’s probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

“Oh,” Harry says dumbly, voice catching in his throat as Louis turns again to gaze at him with those devastatingly blue eyes, “You’re… welcome then.”

“And you’re wonderful,” Louis replies, his smile widening as they pass the large pink sign welcoming them to Doncaster.

If Harry just smiles back, hopelessly lovesick, well… no one except Louis has to know.

There’s screaming the minute they walk through the door, a literal herd of children gathering around Louis, hugging and giggling and asking questions. The house is decorated with all the traditional dressings, though it’s immediately clear that this is a female-dominated household (Barbies and dresses and the like scattered about haphazardly).

“Where are the little ones, then?” Louis asks, already holding a blonde twin in each arm.

Not a moment later, a lovely brunette woman with red cheeks and a wide smile comes ‘round the corner, a baby in both of her arms as well.

“Louis, darling,” she breathes in a voice so fond Harry feels as if he’s intruding. Her eyes fall on the two young girls clinging to his sides, and she sighs tiredly. “Daisy, Pheebs, let your brother rest. You’re getting too big to carry!”

Louis smiles gratefully as he sets the twins back down on their feet, both of them running off toward the kitchen shouting something about Christmas biscuits.

“And who’s this then, love?” Louis’ mum asks, gesturing to where Harry is still hovering awkwardly in the entryway.

Louis looks back and chuckles lowly, ignoring the panic-stricken look on Harry’s face as he tugs him forward.

“Mum, this is Harry,” he introduces easily, “He’s a good mate of mine.”

Harry shifts his weight back and forth nervously, though he does manage a smile and a friendly little wave. Louis’ mum waves back, a knowing smile tugging on her lips.

“And quite the popstar if I’m not mistaken,” she remarks, raising an eyebrow. Harry just blushes deeply as she continues, “Hello, darling. I’m Louis’ mum, Johannah, but please call me Jay.”

“And I’m Lottie, well, Charlotte,” a second voice pipes in.

Harry turns to meet yet another one of Louis’ sisters, though this one is clearly in her teenage years with long blonde hair and a shy smile. Which, yeah, okay… children he can deal with. The strangely delighted look that Louis’ mum keeps giving him? Not so much.

“Lovely to meet you, Charlotte,” he says with all the grandeur he can muster, pleased when a red stain appears across her cheeks and nose. She daintily shakes the hand that he offers her, giggling softly before she too disappears around the corner.

“Come into the kitchen, please,” Jay beckons, placing a delicate hand on Harry’s shoulder and guiding him down the hall, “The girls and I’ve just baked for brekkie.”

Harry allows himself to be led, the enticing smell of gingerbread and cinnamon wafting from the oven.

Louis, he notes, has remained oddly quiet beside him; that is, until they’re all seated around the large kitchen table and the girls are peppering him with questions about the team and the players and Manchester too. Louis is patient and enthusiastic and Harry can tell that he’ll be a wonderful father someday (which he means as an honest observation until his mind runs wild with images of he and Louis’ future children instead).

The girls ask Harry plenty of questions too, ‘Fizzy’ notably announcing that Niall was her favorite but now that Zayn is single she’s switched back.

“Niall will be crushed,” Harry remarks, laughing when the poor girl looks positively devastated at the thought.

They tell Harry all about their upcoming Christmas trip to the States, asking him if he’s ever been to Disney World and following up with even more questions after he tells them that yes, he has.

Throughout all of this, Jay remains eerily silent, just working in the kitchen and smiling secretively to herself every now and then.

Harry just hopes she likes him.

He thinks her son is pretty great, so that should count for something right?

The day passes by quickly, Harry caught up in a whirlwind of food and activity.

By evening, Jay’s husband, whom she married in the summer, has returned home from work, taking some of the load off her hands— namely, the little babies she’s been toting about all day long (except for when Harry had spent an hour or two with them, remaining completely and hopelessly enamored even with spit up all over his top). 

He shakes Harry’s hand firmly when introduced, thankfully choosing not to comment on the bows and glitter that have made their way into Harry’s hair over the course of the afternoon.

“You look truly lovely, princess,” Louis had remarked earlier, before dissolving into a fit of giggles at the sight.

“I think I look cute,” Harry had protested, pouting a bit until Louis had agreed that yes, he did look cute even with five tons of glitter and a tiara stuffed into his curls.

Louis’ teasing suggestion that they sell some pictures of Harry’s new look to the gossip rags in order to reveal to the public his ‘sensitive feminine side’ was met with a frown and a stuck-out tongue.

“Just one for me then?” Louis had begged, and Harry— powerless to the older man’s charms— had begrudgingly allowed a single snapshot of he and all the girls.

“This goes nowhere,” he threatened darkly, met only with Louis’ delighted cackle in reply.

Even now, lying silently as he is in the guest room bed musing over the day’s events, he can’t seem to quiet the excited beating of his heart.

He’s happy here, he realizes, surrounded by Louis’ family.

But most of all, he’s happy with Louis.

And that’s a thought he just can’t allow himself to ponder.

Sometime around midnight, there’s a soft knock on his door that has him jolting up out of bed.

“Yes?” he calls out in a near whisper.

“Harry, it’s me,” Louis’ voice replies, scratchy and warm with sleep, “Can I come in?”

Harry’s heart definitely can’t handle the idea of Louis walking into his temporary bedroom in the middle of the night, but his brain manages to tell the other man yes.

The door cracks open, revealing a thin sliver of light from the hallway as Louis tiptoes inside. He’s fully dressed, Harry notes, in a long-sleeved white practice shirt and sweatpants, a thick headband pushing back his hair.

“I have a surprise for you,” the footballer says with a secretive grin, “if you’re up for it?”

“Yes, sure,” Harry breathes, though he frowns at Louis’ attire, “I’m not sure I have anything like that to wear though.”

Louis just laughs quietly, holding up a finger for Harry to wait as he darts back out of the room. Not a moment later, he’s returning with a large wrapped box held in his hands.

“Happy Christmas,” he says cheerily, setting the box in Harry’s lap.

“Louis, what?” Harry gapes, staring down at the gift with a mixture of hesitation and disbelief. He flushes a deep, guilty red, “I… I can’t accept this. I didn’t think to get you anything.”

Louis just levels him with a stern glare. “You accompanied me on this trip and spent all day putting up with my sisters. That’s giving enough, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry agrees slowly, still resolving to have something sent Louis’ way when he goes back to Holmes Chapel for Christmas Eve.

“Open it,” Louis urges impatiently, and Harry laughs at his eagerness, resolving to tear off the wrapping paper as slowly as possible. When he’s finally freed the present from its confines, he nearly faints at what lies inside.

He gapes again, holding up a red and white Manchester United home shirt.

“Turn it ‘round,” Louis instructs softly, and Harry laughs in delight when he sees ‘Tomlinson’ and the number twenty-eight printed on the back.

The gift also includes a pair of black warm-up bottoms, which Harry slips on over his pants eagerly. He whips off his top and tugs on the player’s shirt as well, not caring that Louis’ eyes stay on him the entire time.

“Thank you,” he whispers, reveling in the feeling of the light fabric against his chest.

“So you can be a proper supporter,” Louis explains, grinning back at him, “Now get up! We’ve got somewhere to be.”

‘Somewhere to be’ turns out to be none other than Keepmoat Stadium, home of the Doncaster Rovers.

Louis leads him hurriedly through the winding hallways and finally out onto the pitch which, although the time is approaching near one in the morning, is strangely and fully lit up. When he asks Louis about it, the midfielder just shrugs, explaining that he ‘pulled some strings’.

“Rumor has it you don’t like footie,” Louis says once they’ve arrived at center field, producing a football out of the duffel he’s been toting.

Harry gasps. “What? Who told you?”

“Niall,” Louis teases, dropping the football to his feet and beginning to juggle expertly, “See, I have this theory.”

“And what’s that?” Harry humors him, watching with a bit of nagging jealousy as Louis continues to bounce the ball from foot to foot with relative ease.

Louis grins devilishly. “I think… the reason you don’t like footie is because you weren’t very good at it.”

“Niall did tell you!” Harry replies accusingly, and Louis nods with a loud laugh.

“He said you didn’t make your town’s youth team as a child and that you’ve been bitter ever since.”

“I’ve not been bitter,” Harry argues, sounding, well, quite a bit more bitter than he’d intended.

“But I figured you can’t really be that bad,” Louis continues, ignoring his protests, “so I thought, how about a game of one on one? Just to see.”

Harry frowns. “You’re a professional footballer, Lou. That’d hardly be fair.”

“I figured you’d say that,” Louis remarks easily, transferring the ball from his left foot to his head before allowing it to land into his waiting arms, “That’s why I think we should shoot penalties. Niall did tell me they’d let you on the team as a goalkeeper but you refused.”

“I found it boring,” Harry explains with a grimace, “and they only put me in goal because I was terrible everywhere else.”

Louis just chuckles lowly. “So what do you say, keep? Best out of five?”

Harry eyes the goal at the end of the field and nods slowly. “Alright, then,” he agrees, “but absolutely no teasing me when I lose.”

Louis pretends to gasp in surprise. “Have some faith, young one!” he says sagely, reaching into his bag to produce a pair of goalkeeper gloves, “You shoot first.”

Harry sighs long-sufferingly as he follows Louis to one end of the pitch, placing the ball down on the little white circle marking the penalty kick as the other man moves to stand in the goal.

“You’re not allowed to laugh!” he calls, watching as Louis crosses his heart in response.

He looks down at the ball, takes a deep breath and kicks, watching with displeasure as the football rolls across the grass and right into Louis’ waiting arms.

“Angle your hips!” Louis instructs as he tosses the ball back, shouting a few more instructions that mean absolutely nothing to him.

Harry sighs, lining up for his second kick. Predictably, it remains on the ground, and Louis scoops it up easily. Instead of throwing the ball back this time, Louis himself comes jogging across the pitch.

“You’ve got the power,” he explains easily, placing a hand on each of Harry’s hips and tilting them slightly upward, “Just need to fix the form.”

Harry swallows as Louis drops suddenly down to his knees in front of him, taking a hold of Harry’s right foot and turning it so that the laces of his trainer will connect with the ball.

“There,” he says cheerfully, jogging back toward goal, “and swing straight through!”

Harry nods dazedly, mind still focused on Louis’ gentle touches. It’s late-December and a bit nippy out, but his skin feels as if it’s on fire. Louis must be a bit warm as well as he’s tugging up his shirt to wipe at the sweat on his forehead, Harry’s mouth falling open a bit at such a close view of the footballer’s gorgeous stomach.

He gulps, arranging his body in a way he hopes is similar to what Louis instructed, and takes a few steps back in preparation. Louis flashes him a thumbs-up and a brilliant smile from his place in the goal, and Harry starts his run, planting his left foot next to the ball and swinging through. Unfortunately, his swing is both ill-timed and a bit too forceful and his entire body is suddenly up in the air, legs flying out from under him in a blur of limbs and chunks of grass.

He lands hard, his back connecting with the pitch and his head smacking down a millisecond later. He hears Louis shout his name, but he’s powerless to move, just groaning softly from his place on the pitch.

Not a moment later, Louis’ shadowy face is leaning over him, asking if he’s alright through bouts of poorly-muffled laughter.

“Did I score?” he asks slowly, wincing as Louis helps him to his feet.

“Unfortunately not,” Louis replies with another giggle, motioning toward the stands behind the net, “though you likely would’ve knocked out an unlucky audience member with the force of that kick.”

“You promised not to laugh,” Harry grumbles, his cheeks flushed a brilliant pink, he’s sure.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says genuinely, placing a hand on each of Harry’s shoulders, “Are you alright?”

Harry blinks, the puff of condensation from Louis’ words filling the space between them. The midfielder’s lips are just centimeters away from his own, and his eyes flicker down to said lips on their own accord. Louis is silent, mouth parted just slightly as he gazes back into Harry’s eyes, his grip on Harry’s arms tightening ever so slightly.

Now, Harry’s heart screams, do it.

Louis’ stormy eyes are dark, the pupils wide and wanting, and Harry wants too. He wants more than anything…

Louis is swaying up onto his toes, the space between them lessening, when out of nowhere there’s a sprinkle of freezing water hitting the back of Harry’s neck. They break apart instantly, the moment gone, and Louis swears loudly.

“Who the fuck turned on the sprinklers?” he shouts, “It’s winter!”

“Who the fuck left us for the bloody Mancs?” a man’s voice shouts back, and Louis is whipping around with a sudden manic grin.

“Fucking Stanley,” he says, holding up his arms in surrender, “Get over here you git!”

The other man cackles loudly, shutting off the sprinklers and running across the pitch. He and Louis embrace in a long hug, Louis whispering something in his ear that has him laughing again loudly.

“Harry, this is Stan Lucas,” Louis introduces once the two have broken apart, “He’s one of my former teammates, and also my proper dick of a best mate.”

Stan sticks his tongue out, punching Louis in the arm, and the two men wrestle for a moment still laughing happily. Harry just pastes on a smile, feeling suddenly like the third wheel amongst them.

“You didn’t tell me you knew Harry Styles,” Stan says accusingly, holding out his hand, “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Styles. You’re a legend.”

Harry flushes a bit at the attention, shaking Stan’s hand with a hesitant ‘hello’. Stan just grins widely, all plump cheeks and droopy brown hair, and slaps him on the back.

“How’d you know I’d be here?” Louis asks, diverting his old teammate’s attention.

Stan just rolls his eyes. “Special order to have the stadium open and lit in the middle of the night? Who else would ol’ Dickov have granted that to?”

Louis smirks. “Eh, fair enough.”

“So how’d you meet lovely Lou here then?” Stan inquires, addressing Harry once more.

It’s Harry’s turn to smirk. “I got dragged to a Man United match by one of my mates,” he explains, shrugging, “It was terrible, but Louis was alright.”

Stan laughs delightedly. “I like this one, Lou.”

At Harry’s inquisitive look, Louis sighs. “Stan’s a Liverpool supporter, born and bred,” he enlightens, “He’s yet to forgive me.”

“That’s right,” Stan says proudly, pretending to shed a tear, “My best mate… a bloody Manc. It’s horrifying, really.”

Harry laughs at the aside, though it’s followed by a deep shiver, the chilly December wind freezing his sprinkler-wetted back.

“Hey, let’s get you inside and warm you up a bit,” Louis remarks with concern, having noticed Harry’s reaction.

Stan nods in agreement, apologizing for the fact that Harry ended up as collateral damage in the attack. Harry just shrugs mildly, fighting another shiver as the two footballers guide him toward the stadium’s locker rooms.

Once inside, Louis points Harry in the direction of the loos and instructs him to stick his hands under the hot water while he finds him something warm to change into. Harry just nods obligingly and makes his way around the corner to the row of sinks. As he’s waiting for the water to warm up, however, he hears Stan’s voice echo from around the back row of lockers and Louis’ loud ‘shh’ in response. Leaving the sink running, Harry creeps around the corner, surprised when he immediately hears his name in the conversation.

“Listen, I know that you like this guy. I can tell,” Stan is saying, and Harry feels an irrational flutter of hope in his chest. Are they… they couldn’t possibly be talking about him, could they?

“How?” Louis questions, “How could you possibly understand my feelings when I can’t even figure them out myself?”

Stan sighs deeply, his voice much softer as he replies, “Because you look at him like you used to look at me.”

“Stan,” Louis says brokenly, “You know I never meant—”

“It’s okay, Lou,” Stan interjects, though his resultant laugh is tinged with bitterness, “I know you never felt the same way as I did. I accepted that long ago. It’s just… you can’t keep stringing Harry along while you’ve been seeing this other guy. You’ve got to choose, and I think we both know who you really want.”

“Harry can’t know about this,” Louis replies immediately, “He won’t understand if I tell him.”

“He won’t understand if you don’t,” Stan counters, and Harry winces as Louis slams one of the lockers shut.

“God dammit, Stan, I don’t love Harry,” Louis spits, “I hardly know him! And Aiden he’s… he’s good for me. It’s just sex with him, no stupid feelings involved, and that’s what I want. Not… not whatever this thing with Harry is.”

“I just don’t think you’re being truthful with yourself,” Stan replies, voice eerily calm, “I know that you went through some shitty stuff in youth camp but you can’t honestly believe that—”

“I can believe whatever the fuck I want,” Louis interrupts, slamming the locker once more, “This conversation is over. Get out.”

“Louis, I—”

“Get. Out.”

Stan starts to say something in reply, but Harry doesn’t hear it, already darting back to the sinks with hot tears stinging his eyes. He’s so fucking stupid. He honestly believed for a moment that a gorgeous footie player like Louis Tomlinson actually wanted him? Took him on this trip because he liked him? Wanted to… to kiss him? He pumps five squirts of soap into his hands and scrubs hard, savoring his skin’s raw prickling redness. He’s an idiot. A pathetic, lovesick idiot.

“Harry?” Louis’ voice calls, and the wavering concern in it makes him physically ill, “About finished?”

The midfielder walks casually around the corner, all traces of his and Stan’s conversation gone with the easy smile he wears. He stops in his tracks, however, upon noticing Harry’s red, tear-streaked face.

“Harry… Jesus, are you—”

“Why did you bring me here?” Harry hisses, relishing in the brief flash of hurt that appears in Louis’ eyes.

“Harry, what are you talking about?” Louis asks slowly.

“Why did you bring me here,” he repeats, “if you don’t like me?”

Louis blinks. “Of course I like you, Curly. We’re mates, aren’t we?”

“Yeah, we’re mates,” Harry spits, drying his hands, “Super great fucking mates.”

Louis reaches for his arm but he yanks it away viscerally. “Harry, I… I don’t understand?”

Harry just laughs bitterly, throwing the hand towel to the floor. “Tell me about Aiden,” he requests, voice dripping with saccharine disdain.

The footballer’s face falls under the weight of Harry’s accusatory gaze. “Aiden’s a writer for a magazine,” he explains softly, “We met over the summer when I first moved to Manchester.”

Harry’s eyes narrow. “And do you love him?”

“Harry, that’s not fair,” Louis replies immediately.

“Do. You. Love him?” he repeats.

Louis hesitates. “I… I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Maybe’s not good enough,” Harry growls, taking three steps closer.

Louis shrinks back, his blue eyes wide with hurt and confusion, and Harry just can’t take it anymore. He hates the feeling of drowning, of helplessness, of months and months more spent staring into Louis’ eyes and seeing absolutely nothing in return.

“Kiss me,” Harry demands, watching the footballer’s mouth fall open in surprise.


“Kiss me,” he says again, taking three more steps, “like you wanted to out on the pitch.”

He stands absolutely still, Louis’ mouth just centimeters from his own, watching the other man take two ragged breaths. They’re close enough that Harry can feel the air on his lips, can hear the loud pounding of a heart that is not his own.

“I can’t,” Louis says softly, turning his head and stepping away.

Harry deflates, all his passionate anger channeled into one final vitriolic goodbye. “That’s what I thought.”

Louis looks absolutely broken, small and meek and unmoving.

“I’ll drive you to the train station in the morning,” he offers quietly, not meeting Harry’s eyes.

“Fuck you,” Harry replies scathingly, “I’ll get a cab.”

Louis sends him approximately a hundred text messages during the two-hour train ride into Cheshire East, all of which Harry dutifully ignores.

He powers off his phone completely, not turning it back on until he’s arrived at the station in Wilmslow. His mum is certainly surprised to be getting a call from her son at five in the morning from a town twenty minutes away, but she agrees to send Robin to pick Harry up nonetheless.

Harry likes Robin. He’s quiet and a bit gruff, but he doesn’t ask any questions, even when Harry bursts into a fresh round of tears when they pass a billboard in town advertising Manchester United’s latest season.

His mum is a bit more intuitive than that, and although she hugs him happily when he walks through the doorway, he can see that her eyes are full of concern.

“Why on earth were you in Doncaster, sweetheart?” she asks, when he tells her where he’s been, “We certainly haven’t any Yorkshire relatives.”

“I was with a friend,” he replies softly, more tears springing up in his eyes, “and I thought he liked me. In fact, I was quite sure he did, but…” He pauses, choking back a loud sob. “It turns out he’s been seeing someone else this whole time.”

“Oh, love,” his mum breathes out, wrapping him tightly up in her arms once more, “I’m so sorry it didn’t work out. Louis seemed like such a lovely young man.”

Harry pulls away, blinking in confusion, “How did you—”

His mum smiles warmly. “Niall sends me lots of updates, dear,” she explains, tapping him on the nose, “I’ve known about your crush for months now.”

Harry sighs, burying himself into her shoulder. “It’s not a crush anymore,” he mumbles, “Louis made it quite clear that he wasn’t going to choose me.”

His mum pats him on the head gingerly, saying, “Louis shouldn’t have to choose, love. He’s allowed to have a boyfriend and a friend, no matter how much you wanted to be both.”

She has a point, Harry has to admit, but it doesn’t make the pain of the recent rejection hurt any less. “I just don’t think I can be his friend right now, though,” he says honestly.

“Wounds take time to heal, my darling,” his mum agrees, “Now let’s get you out of these cold clothes, and maybe start a fry-up, hmm?”

“I love you,” Harry says, his tears threatening to start up once more.

“And I love you,” she replies, guiding him toward the kitchen, “and H?”

“Yes, mum?”

“I’m glad you’re home.”


Match 18
26 Dec vs Newcastle United

When Harry returns home in the evening from a Boxing Day spent out with his sister, they’re immediately greeted by the sounds of Robin screaming at the telly.

“The match is on,” Gemma infers wisely, setting her shopping bags down on the table in the entryway.

“Who’s winning, Robin?” she calls, shaking her head when Robin reports the score as 3-1 Newcastle with just a minute left to play.

At Harry’s inquisitive look, she explains, “That means Man U’s slipped down to second place, and Liverpool’s on top.”

“Fucking Tomlinson’s been nonexistent in midfield today,” Robin shouts, “Move your arse, you lazy git! If Rooney doesn’t murder ya, I’ll do it myself!”

Harry walks into the kitchen and pours himself a glass of water, listening to Robin’s narrative for another few minutes up until the match ends.

He swallows, wandering slowly into the living room and plopping down next to his stepfather just in time for the press conference following the game. Van Gaal is seated in front of the reporters, looking as stately as ever in a club scarf and a dark coat with the collar turned up, though he’s clearly disappointed by the result. He answers a few questions about the team’s strategy for the rest of the season, practice regimens and the like, and it’s all very tame… that is, until a reporter from The Sun is granted the next question.

“Your newest transfer, Louis Tomlinson, has recently been linked to Aiden Grimshaw, a columnist for OK! Magazine,” she prefaces, and Van Gaal’s expression has already taken on an unsubtle air of disdain, “Respond to rumors that relationship troubles may’ve been responsible for the midfielder’s subpar performance in today’s match.”

“Tomlinson’s personal matters will be sorted out readily, I’m sure,” Van Gaal remarks coolly, “One poor performance should not discredit the wonders that he has done for this team.”

The reporter frowns. “So you don’t believe that heartbreak was a contributing factor?”

Sighing exasperatedly, the manager states, “The only thing Tomlinson should be heartbroken over is today’s result. He will remain in the starting lineup as I see fit.”

And with that, the conference comes to an end, coverage switching over to a local rugby tournament. Robin switches off the telly and turns to give Harry a level look.

“Perhaps you should talk to him, H,” he suggests, sighing when Harry shakes his head, “A true friend would.”

“Good thing we’re not friends,” Harry replies succinctly, picking up his packages and stalking upstairs.

Yeah, his heart echoes weakly, good thing.


Match 19
28 Dec vs Tottenham Hotspur

Harry takes another long sip of his pint and tries valiantly to ignore the cheers of the Spurs supporters all around him.

“And Tomlinson has lost the ball again,” the announcer remarks, “He’s really not playing up to form lately, is he?”

“Not in these last two matches, that’s for certain,” the other announcer agrees, pausing as the referee blows his whistle and motions toward the sideline, “And here’s the call we’ve been anticipating: Van Gaal is signalling for a substitute. Looks like it’ll be Fellaini again, and ooh, the United supporters are not loving that switch.”

“Sixty-five minutes in with a score of one-one, what could the Belgian possibly offer at this point?”

The other announcer shakes his head onscreen. “Not much,” he says solemnly, “Reds fans better hope that Rooney or Van Persie have another goal or two up their sleeves. They really needed Tomlinson to perform today.”

“Fuck Tomlinson!” a Tottenham supporter shouts, and the rest of the pub erupts into cheers.

“Ignore them, Haz,” Niall says, leaning over to touch his shoulder gently.

“It’s fine, Niall,” Harry replies, gritting his teeth, “It’s all fine.”

Niall just frowns. “Mate, I don’t know what happened between you and Louis, but you need to fix it. The poor lad’s so distressed, he can’t even play properly. Welbeck walked in on him crying in the locker room the other day.”

“S’not my fault,” Harry mumbles, staring into his beer despondently.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” Niall replies, “but you owe it to him, as his friend, to figure your shit out.”

Harry doesn’t say anything, just gnaws on his bottom lip and stares back up at the screen. He’s sighing in relief a few minutes later when Van Persie scores a late second goal to win it.

“David invited me to a New Year’s Eve party,” Niall says, as they stand up to leave, “I’ve already got plans with Babs, but he gave me two tickets anyhow. I think you should go.”

Harry laughs bitterly, paying the bartender and shoving his wallet into his coat pocket. “Who would I even go with?”

Niall just sighs. “Speaking of lovesick bandmates, I hear Zayn’s free.”

Niall turns out to be absolutely right: Zayn is free on New Year’s Eve.

And, because Harry begs him for three days nonstop, Zayn agrees to attend.

When they arrive at the posh hotel hosting the party, they’re directed to the master suite on Floor 48. It’s all one massive area with multiple bars, a dance floor, a myriad of couches and loveseats, and several private rooms located down a long hallway to the left. A sign taped to a staircase assures partygoers that the same layout can be found on the forty-seventh and forty-sixth levels, in case the top floor becomes overcrowded as the night progresses.

With the clock already reading close to ten, the place is indeed quite full, stuffed to near capacity with all walks of celebrity: athletes, musicians, radio and TV personalities, and more. Zayn is almost immediately snatched from Harry’s side by a gaggle of models, and he offers up a laconic ‘see you’ as they guide him toward one of the bars.

Harry sighs, now alone, and heads to the bar in the opposite direction which is thankfully slightly less crowded. He hops up onto a barstool and orders a rum and coke, surprised when someone taps him on the shoulder and says, “Harry Styles? Hi, big fan!”

He swivels around with a sigh, prepared to pose for a quick photo op and move on with his life. What’s he certainly not prepared for is David fucking Beckham grinning back at him and holding out a hand. Harry flounders a bit and stands up, shaking David’s hand with his mouth arranged in an unflattering frog-like gape.

“I’m a big fan as well,” he says, flushing when David shakes his head.

“Not of me, you aren’t,” the older man teases, “I’ve seen the pap pictures of you in Old Trafford. You look bored to tears.”

Harry laughs at David’s perceptiveness, nodding as he says, “In all honesty, I really dislike football. I only go to support my mates on the team.”

“Good man,” David replies, chuckling as well, “I don’t suppose I could get a picture with you? My kids would go mental.”

“I don’t suppose I could get a picture with you,” Harry counters, and David smiles widely at that.

They snag a slightly star-struck passerby who gladly takes the photo for them, asking afterward for one with each of them separately as well. Spotting two empty seats at the bar, David invites him back over and Harry obviously obliges, feeling quite a bit star-struck himself.

They chat for a while about their respective professions, both bemoaning England’s less than stellar performance in the summer’s World Cup.

“I was counting on an excuse to travel to Brazil,” Harry admits, smiling sheepishly.

“I had to be there,” David replies with a laugh, “My sons wouldn’t have allowed us to stay home.”

“You and Victoria have been together for so long,” Harry muses, “How do you do it?”

“Is the once rumored lothario Harry Styles really asking me for relationship advice?” David teases, taking a long sip of his drink, “What’s his name?”

Harry ducks his head. “I can’t say that, no.”

“Alright, fine, I won’t press,” the ex-footballer replies easily, “I’d always had quite the crush on Victoria, or ‘Posh Spice’ as she was to me before I knew her, and I actually asked to be introduced to her when I was playing for United. We met in the locker room, I was disgustingly sweaty and she hardly gave me the time of day, but it turns out she was quite enamored with me too. She started showing up at all my games even though she also wasn’t a big fan, and that was that. Five dates later and I was hopelessly in love. I’m eternally grateful that she chose to love me back.”

David pats Harry on the shoulder and downs the rest of the drink held in his opposite hand, “I suppose my best advice is to always take the risk, and try, try again if doesn’t work out the first time. If you keep finding yourself drawn back to the same person, even if you’ve fought or broken up with them in the past, there must still be something there. You can never forget that something once you have it, and that’s why I think Victoria and I have lasted. We love each other and we don’t forget that. That’s special.”

Harry sighs softly, his heart fluttering in his chest at the older man’s passionate words. He can’t help but dwell on all the similarities between Posh and Becks’ love story and the way he and Louis came to know each other. David and his wife, however, are happily married with four children, and he’s… well, alone on New Year’s Eve, as it were. An incoming text has him pulling his phone out of his pocket, and he immediately notices the time, asking David if Victoria is in attendance at the party.

The older man smiles wistfully, gazing out into the crowd, “She is.”

“Well, then, you better go find her,” Harry instructs, patting him on the back, “It’s getting quite close to midnight after all.”

“Ah, you’re right,” David replies, glancing at his watch. He straightens his suit jacket, and shakes Harry’s hand once more. “Lovely to meet you, Harry Styles. It’s been a pleasure.”

“It really has,” Harry agrees, completely enraptured by Becks’ legendary charm.

David grins, touching his shoulder, “Whoever he is, he’s certainly missing out.”

And before Harry can even process the compliment long enough to reply, he’s off, disappearing back into the crowd like some strange, inordinately attractive enigma.


Harry ends up leaving the bar after he finishes his drink, wandering down the stairs to explore the lower levels which are predictably just as crowded as the top. He keeps his eyes peeled for his missing bandmate, but sees no sign of Zayn anywhere. Probably in one of the private rooms, surrounded by his new model friends, Harry reasons, and continues weaving carelessly through the crowd.

He chats briefly with a few old acquaintances, though he finds no one to solidly occupy his time. Spotting some wide double doors at the end of the room, he darts over, pleased when the passageway exits out onto a large balcony.

It’s bitterly cold but better than being trapped inside with the masses, and so he blows warm air into his hands and shoves them into his trouser pockets.

“Oh, hello, Harry,” a familiar voice says from the other end of the balcony, startling Harry enough that he nearly tips over the edge (and wouldn’t that be a tragic way to go?).

“David,” he greets, crossing the space between where he stands and where the goalkeeper is leaning against the railing, “How are you?”

“Honestly? I am very… comó se dice… unsettled?” the Spaniard answers, gazing out over London with sad, empty eyes.

“Unsettled is right,” Harry answers, gesturing behind him where the loud laughter and even louder music can be heard, “I feel a bit lost amongst tonight’s crowd too.”

De Gea nods, looking morose. “I feel a bit lost here, in England,” he admits, drumming his fingers atop the railing, “The language, the people, la comida… It is not where I belong, but it is where I must play.”

“Where do you belong exactly?” Harry asks.

“With my girlfriend,” David replies easily, “She is back in España for her work, and I am here in England for mine. But I… I wish to be with her more than anything.”

The Spaniard turns to look at him, his green eyes sharp and inquisitive, “And where do you belong, cantantito?”

Cantantito… little singer, Harry understands, his few years of basic Spanish coming back to him. “I don’t know,” he replies honestly, “Over the last few months, I’ve found that I’m happiest with a certain person, but we had a bit of a falling out as of late.”

“Ah yes, pobre Louis,” the keeper gathers, “He is missing his amigo too.”

“But that’s just it,” Harry says, running a hand through his curls, “I don’t want to be just his amigo.

“Then tell him so,” David replies with a shrug, as if it’s just that simple.

“I did,” Harry explains, thinking back to their ill-fated trip to Doncaster and shouting ‘Kiss me’ in the locker room of Keepmoat Stadium, “but he doesn’t want a relationship. I mean, why would he? He’s got the entire nation fawning over him, and he’s got footie. His one true love.”

“Football isn’t everything to him,” De Gea says easily, “It isn’t everything to any of us. It is our job, not our duty. There is room for real love too.”

“We live in two separate worlds, David,” Harry remarks softly, “I can’t pretend to understand yours and Louis’ like I understand mine.”  

“My girlfriend is a popstar, you know,” David tells him, “Edurne loves the music, and I love the sport. I do not have to know her completely to love her. I do not have to understand every little bit.”

Harry just gapes a bit at that, suddenly at a loss for words as the Spaniard’s simple advice sinks in.

Es posible, Harry,” De Gea continues, and of course Harry knows that phrase, “but first, you must try.”

It must be a sign, he thinks, now that two Davids have told him the same thing in one night.

“I’m going to go find Louis,” he resolves aloud, “and talk to him, at least.”

“Feliz Año Nuevo,” David says, smiling gently, “Last I saw him, he was at the top.”

“Thank you, and Happy New Year to you too,” Harry replies genuinely, leaving the Spaniard out on the balcony as the sounds of the first fireworks pierce the quiet night.

Nearly everyone is in some form of lip-lock when he walks back inside (whether with another human being or the rim of their glass), and he fights his way through all the celebrating couples, thankfully reaching the staircase in one piece. As he climbs, his heart begins to thump loudly in his chest, and the prospect of seeing Louis again becomes less and less attractive as his nerves get the better of him.

From his vantage point at the far end of the room, he can see virtually everyone, eventually spotting a familiar head of dark hair. Louis is singing along raucously to ‘Auld Lang Syne’ with a brightly colored cocktail in hand and his arm around a stiff brunette who looks mildly disapproving of the footballer’s antics.

“Harry!” Louis cheers as he approaches, freeing his companion and wrapping both arms around Harry instead. He’s absolutely sloshed, and Harry frowns when some of Louis’ drink spills onto the sleeve of his jacket.

“Oh, Harry, I’ve missed you,” Louis slurs, pressing a sloppy wet kiss to his neck, “You were mad at me, and it made me so, sooo sad.”

“Ah, so you’re that Harry, then,” the brunette man interjects, his gaze dark and unfriendly, “I’m Aiden.”

Harry blinks, shoving Louis off of himself unceremoniously. “Right, hello,” he says pleasantly enough, holding out his hand.

Aiden glances down at Harry’s fingers with marked disdain, smiling almost victoriously when Louis stumbles away from Harry and snuggles back under his arm.

“He chose me, you know,” he says easily, his words brash and direct.

Harry raises an eyebrow. “Chose you for what exactly?” he asks, smiling sadly, “For a casual fuck on the side? You don’t mean anything to him. None of us do.”

“That’s not true,” Aiden replies defensively, though his voice wavers, “He loves me.”

Harry just nods. “Has he ever said that?”

“Fuck you,” Aiden hisses, and that answers his question for sure, “Why did you even come over here?”

“I just wanted to speak to Louis,” Harry says honestly, “To apologize to him actually, and to ask him if he thinks we could be friends again.”

“Of course we’re friends!” Louis mumbles from where he’s pressed into Aiden’s chest, “I love you, Curly.”

Harry’s breath catches in his throat and Aiden freezes, his eyes going wide at Louis’ words.

“But you love me, right?” he asks, voice shaking.

“Mm yeah,” Louis replies easily, “Love your dick. S’good.”

Aiden looks positively devastated at that, muttering, “You’re just pissed, Lou. That’s all.”

Harry bites his lip and looks away. “I’m going to go now, I think.”

The writer doesn’t even deign to respond, just grits his teeth and nods begrudgingly, the pissed footballer still plastered to his side and giggling happily.

“Bye Harry!” Louis shouts, and both he and Aiden wince.

“Bye Lou,” he replies softly, turning around and making his way back out of the room.

He pulls out his phone and sends Zayn several texts as he walks toward the elevators, none of which his bandmate responds to. Sighing deeply, he presses the button for the lobby, watching dispassionately as the chrome doors slide slowly shut. He sighs again when a hand shoots between them, and the elevator opens once more, though his frown is quickly amended at the sight of David and Victoria Beckham standing in the hallway.

“So we meet again,” David teases as he and his wife step in, “Vic, this was the lovely popstar I was telling you about.”

“Pleasure,” Victoria says, adopting a prim smile. She holds out a dainty hand, which Harry takes in his own with wide-eyed disbelief.

“Any progress on the romantic front?” David inquires, smiling knowingly.

Harry sighs for the third time in a single minute. “Unfortunately, the object of my affection was disastrously drunk and also with his friend whom he, er… benefits from. So no, not quite.”

“Oh, so he was at the party then?” David asks, eyes glimmering with interest. He hisses a loud ‘ouch’ when his wife slaps him on the arm.

“Don’t meddle, dear,” Victoria scolds, her eyes falling on Harry once more, “Here’s a little tip from me, darling. Men are often unforgivably dense when it comes to feelings. I should know, I live with one.”

She ignores her husband’s protests, and continues, “But if you’ve found a good man, it’s very important that you not let him get away. Until it’s really absolutely hopeless, you’ve got to fight for love, as cliché as that all sounds.”

The elevator dings loudly, announcing their arrival at the lobby level, and Victoria leans in close to whisper in his ear, “Especially if it’s that new Man United player you were photographed with. He’s quite fit, indeed.”

That said, Victoria steps out of the elevator, looping one arm around her husband’s and waving goodbye with the other.

Posh and Becks, Harry muses, truly a wonder.

He makes his way to the front desk where the hotel concierge is happy to call him a car for an added fee (“it’s a busy night, sir, you understand”). Harry doesn’t complain, just sighs tiredly and hands the man a thick wad of cash. He plops down on a sofa and waits for the car to arrive, hurrying out to the curb at the doorman’s signal a few minutes later.

The driver is polite and cheerful, singing along to some oldies tune as he steers Harry back toward his Kensington residence. His only fault is the distracting red keychain that he has dangling from his rearview mirror. When Harry inquires as to what it is, the man turns it around to proudly reveal the Manchester United logo.


Just lovely.

Back in the sanctuary of his own flat, Harry dials Gemma who picks up on the first ring.

“Happy New Year, donut,” she greets cheerily, “Aren’t you supposed to be at some fancy party in Knightsbridge?”

“I left early,” he explains succinctly.

“Ah, Louis problems?” Gemma infers, and Harry sighs in affirmation, “He’s just another slaggy footballer, H. You can do much better.”

“I don’t want to do better,” Harry bemoans, all too aware of how pathetic he sounds.

“Oh Harry,” Gemma says, and he can envision her shaking her head in disappointment, “Why don’t you try and separate yourself from all things Louis Tomlinson for just a little while? You need a break, love.”

“Okay, Gem,” Harry replies sleepily, snuggling deeper under his covers, “I’ll try.”

“Love you, H,” she says, “Sleep tight, and keep that resolution.”

“Love you too, Gem,” he tells her, hanging up and tossing his phone over the side of the bed.

And with that, Harry Styles’ New Year's celebration is over as he drifts off in three tired blinks.


Match 20
10 Jan vs Southampton

It’s no surprise when Louis continues to text him after the New Year’s Eve party, but Harry does his absolute best to keep his promise to Gemma. She has a point, after all. If he maybe just steps back for a little while and allows himself to heal, then perhaps he can get over Louis properly.

It’s easier said than done, however.

Which is why he ends up back in Old Trafford nine days later, Niall dressed in Derby gear and cheering at his side. The Irishman is something of an enabler when it comes to, well, anything really, and Harry’s quite sure that Gemma would not approve.

Speaking of lack of approval, Harry may or may not be wearing his ‘Tomlinson’ home shirt— to blend in with the other fans, obviously, not because of some silly personal attachment to it. He figures if he keeps telling himself that he’s not pathetic, then maybe he’ll eventually believe it.

(It’s really not working out well so far.)

Louis hadn’t started today and Harry still feels horribly guilty about it, as he really never intended his own issues to affect Louis’ playing, much less the rest of the Manchester United squad. He just wants to talk to the footballer— preferably a sober version of him— but he knows that the minute he gazes into those blue eyes again, he’ll be back in the same lovesick trap he ended up in in the first place.

He thinks back to a scandalous article published in OK! Magazine a few days ago, entitled “What to Do When Your Boyfriend Isn’t in Love with You”. It was written, unsurprisingly, by one Aiden Grimshaw, and quite obviously penned for and about one Louis Tomlinson. Harry would probably feel a bit sorry for Aiden if the man hadn’t been such a dick to him at the party. Poor thing had gone on and on about ‘he chose me’ and ‘mine, mine, mine’ when Louis had obviously never considered Aiden his boyfriend, made quite clear by the way he spoke of their ‘no strings attached’ relationship with Stan back in Doncaster. However, the last tip on the article’s list was “dump his sorry arse” so Harry can only assume that Aiden at least got himself out of that particular arrangement. Harry also assumes the article (and the associated media frenzy it caused) may be one of the main factors as to why Louis Tomlinson is not currently out on the pitch.

In the end, Man United cruises to an easy 4-0 victory even without their star midfielder’s assistance, but then again it is Southampton… Not exactly a major threat.

By the slump of Louis’ shoulders as he walks off the field, however, it’s clear that he had wanted to be out there with his team.

And it’s probably, mostly Harry’s fault that he wasn’t.

Harry and Niall decide to head to their favorite local pub after the match.

And, because fate apparently hates him, Louis just happens to be there too.

Niall swears up and down that he had nothing to do with it, but by the nervous, hopeful look on David De Gea’s face as he arrives at their table, Harry is absolutely not convinced. Plus, Louis is sitting at the bar with Danny Welbeck, another known member of Niall’s little friend group; and honestly, nothing about this plan is subtle, like, at all.

“Why don’t you go talk to him?” Niall suggests, and David nods his assent.

Harry just sighs deeply. “I highly doubt he wants to talk to me.”

“I highly doubt he doesn’t,” De Gea counters, gesturing to where Louis is slumped morosely with his elbows atop the bar.

“What would I even say?” Harry asks, frowning.

“’You’re an idiot but I’m in love you’ might be a good start,” Niall suggests simply, shrugging.

“Or you could just spin him around and kiss him,” David adds, “Very romantic, no?”

Harry sighs again, not even finding it within himself to deny that he would very much like to pay heed to their advice. “You are both operating under the assumption that Louis loves me back,” he argues, “which has never been confirmed, mind you.”

At the aggressively patronizing looks that both men level him, he’s rolling his eyes and standing up, “Fine. Fine, okay. I’m going.”

Gemma won’t be pleased, but maybe, just maybe, his sister’s not in the right on this one.

He walks hesitantly over to the bar, sitting atop the barstool next to Louis without any preamble. Danny not so subtly hops off his seat and crosses the pub to join Niall and David at their table, and Harry can see Louis’ eyebrows furrow in confusion. He clears his throat, watching the other man swivel around on his stool and blink in surprise.

Louis smiles hesitantly, greeting him with a soft ‘hello’.

“Hi,” Harry replies slowly, “Um… how are you?”

Louis chokes out a bitter laugh. “Not particularly great at the moment.”

Harry swallows. “I’m… I’m sorry. I feel like this is all my fault.”

“God no,” Louis replies forcefully, his voice softening again as he stares down at his drink, “You did absolutely nothing wrong, Harry.”

He pauses, sighing when Harry motions him to continue. “In the back of my mind, I knew I was leading you on, especially when I already had Aiden. And Aiden… well, he was just my stupid attempt at distracting myself from the feelings that I had for you. It was like a cycle of poorly-timed romantic realizations.”

“Feelings?” Harry prods gently, his heart beating double-time within his chest, “What sort?”

Louis turns to look at him, blue eyes piercing as ever. “Let’s just say that when you asked me to kiss you, well I… I just... In twenty three years of living, I’ve never ever wanted to kiss someone so desperately before.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because I was scared,” Louis admits, “and because you suddenly appeared in my life, and strangely enough, I wanted you to stay there.”

“You know,” Harry replies after a moment, “a wise footie player recently told me that if you keep finding yourself drawn back to a certain person, then it means that there’s something between you. Something undeniable.”

Louis hums thoughtfully. “Do you think we have something, just Harry?”

“I think people keep telling me to stay away from you, and yet here I am.”

Louis bites his lip and fights a smile. “Why does everything about you always seem so inevitable?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Harry replies easily, the tension between them fading with every word they exchange.

There’s a mischievous glint in Louis’ eye as he stands up quickly, holding out his hand and asking, “Do you trust me?”

Harry laughs, surprised. “Not if you keep talking like we’re in some romantic film. Something terrible always happens to the girl after she says yes to that question.”

“Good thing you’re not a girl, then,” Louis counters, and Harry really can’t argue with that.

They decide to sneak out the back entrance, their exit certainly not going unnoticed by Niall or by Louis’ teammates who all holler as they depart.

Louis’ black Bugatti is parked conspicuously along the curb, and a few paparazzi mill about nearby. There are several camera flashes as he and Harry hop inside, but Louis manages to drive away quickly enough to avoid a major onslaught.

Harry sighs happily, sinking into the familiar black leather seat and watching the streets of Manchester pass by in a blur. It’s certainly not London, but it’s nice, he thinks. Being with Louis again is… nice.

“Where are we going?” he asks eventually, his burning curiosity getting the best of him.

Louis just smiles secretively. “Somewhere familiar, don’t worry,” he assures, glancing in his rearview mirror as he makes a sharp right turn, “where I can explain everything to you, properly.”

Harry just nods complacently. An explanation for all of this mess would be quite nice.

Not a minute later, Louis announces that they’re nearing their final destination. “Close your eyes, okay?” he instructs, “Or better yet, put that scarf to good use.”

Harry pouts but reluctantly lowers the silk fabric over his eyes anyhow. He feels Louis park the car, and listens as the driver’s side door opens and shuts with the other man’s exit. A moment later, his passenger side door is opening and Louis is reaching in to grab his hand and help him out.

They walk outside for a few minutes, then inside for quite a while longer, and then finally back outside again, the cold January wind blowing lightly against his cheeks.

“Okay,” Louis breathes, tugging at Harry’s scarf, “Open your eyes.” 

When he does, he can hardly believe the sight.    

They’re standing in front of the Manchester United dugout, the entirety of Old Trafford spread out before them in reds and whites and a wide expanse of green.

Harry blinks in surprise, gaping up at the empty stands, his eyes quickly finding his seats in the South section. He thinks of all the matches he’s watched from that little spot, sees Louis’ brilliant smiles and thumbs-ups as the midfielder darted across the pitch.

When Louis moves beside him to tug him out onto the field, Harry is quick to resist, saying, “Louis, no! There is absolutely no way we’re allowed to be out here right now.”

The footballer just does a quick spin, mimes looking off into the distance, and replies, “I don’t see any signs, or people for that matter, telling us that we can’t be. Plus, I work here, don’t I?”

Harry just sighs in resignation as Louis takes off at a sprint, collapsing on the grass in the middle of the pitch and waving back with a manic grin. He reties his scarf around his head, pushing back his curls, and jogs out to join the five year old he’s unfortunately quite enamored with.

He lies down on the pitch next to the footballer with another long sigh, gazing up at the dark winter sky above them. It’s peaceful like this, just the two of them, their quiet breathing coming out in little puffs of condensation that dissipate into the frosty night air.

“You promised an explanation,” he reminds gently, reaching over to touch Louis’ arm.

Louis makes a noise of affirmation, surprising Harry when he grabs his hand and threads their fingers together. Their arms fall back down between them, and Louis speaks, his voice raw and scratchy and wavering thin.

“I’ve had a crush on you since you were on the X-Factor, I think,” he starts, and Harry snorts in disbelief at that, “No really! I was eighteen and just starting out with the Rovers’ first team, and I used to hurry home from practice to watch each new episode. I’d never really been interested in the show before and I kept telling myself that that one cute, curly-haired contestant wasn’t the reason I suddenly couldn’t miss a single minute of it.

When I got to Manchester, David and Danny were the first people to befriend me, and they invited me out for drinks after our first practice together. They started talking about their celebrity crushes and managed to get me to admit that mine was… well, you. Then, when I first saw you in the crowd at the Swansea game, something odd came over me. Like suddenly, everything else around me didn’t matter. Not the fans, not the other team… It all just became so clear. You were the person I needed to impress, and my mind became laser-focused, fixated on achieving that goal. It was just me and the other United players and the ball, and I was playing brilliantly as a result. Your smile every time I did something right was the most wonderful bonus a player could ask for.

I spent weeks after that first match thinking up ways that I could meet you, wondering if my newfound celebrity footballer status could possibly be enough to catch your attention. I played my heart out in each and every match, just in case you ended up in the crowd once more. It felt pathetic and desperate and I was embarrassed by how enamored I was with you having never even met you face to face. So, when Aiden, a man I’d bumped into at a nightclub in early August, started flirting with me, well… I eventually took him up on his offer, mostly because he wasn’t just an idea. He was a real person that I could talk to and touch and you weren’t, not yet anyhow.

But then you and Niall showed up in the locker room, and I thoroughly embarrassed myself because I had this thought in my head that you’d be just awful in person… that there was no way someone could be so gorgeous and so talented, and also be nice and funny and quirky too. But I was wrong. I was terribly, terribly wrong, and that night in the bar after the West Ham match was when I finally let myself have a little taste of the interaction I was desperate for. I was quite buzzed at that point and I think you were too, and you let me touch your tattoos and flirt with you and, after that, I thought I had a chance.

But then you tried to set me up with Zayn, and I interpreted that as a pretty clear dismissal of my advances and it hurt; I’m not going to lie, I was quite miserable after that. And then you came back again and you apologized for that whole awkward incident, and I thought ‘okay, this is it, then: a perfect opportunity for the both of us to start over and just be mates’. But the more the time we spent together, the more I realized that my feelings for you weren’t going to go away that easily, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that you’d never be interested in someone like me… that you probably dated male models and actors and singers, and that I was wasting my time, just torturing myself trying to be around you all the time and act like… like I didn’t want you as much as I did.

So I kept going back to Aiden, over and over again, trying to make myself love someone who I’m not sure I even liked, because, hey, at least here was a man who wanted me. But he wasn’t you. You were the one I took out for dinner and introduced to my family. You were the one whose face I always wanted to see in the crowd. And you were the one I loved, pure and simple. I just couldn’t admit that to myself, not even when you were standing right in front of me asking me to kiss you, because in the back of mind I kept thinking about how disgustingly selfish I was. I told myself then and there that I was a bad idea for you, that you’d be settling, and that you’d realize after just days of being with me that I wasn’t the person you thought I was. I knew I needed you in my life, always, and trying to be with you romantically felt like it would have put an expiration date on our friendship.

And anyhow, I had a lovely man back in Manchester, one who was always waiting around for my text to come over, never pushing me to take him out on dates or to let him introduce me to his friends. It seemed like the perfect arrangement. I only used him for sex, dialed him up and said ‘I need you’ each time I went back to the thought that I could fuck you out of my system.

Rightfully, you started ignoring me after the Doncaster trip and I couldn’t handle it. Normally the thought of you in the stands was what motivated me to play well, whether you were really there or not. But, after our falling out, it was like a curse. I knew you wouldn’t be there, for certain, and I suddenly just lost it. I couldn’t play well, couldn’t get out of bed… It was pathetic, really. All my teammates kept treating me like I was made of porcelain, never confronting me about my poor performances as if I’d completely shatter if they did. I was miserable without you, Harry, completely and totally miserable. And, honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, but now here you are.”

Louis lapses back into silence at that, and Harry lets out a breath that he must’ve been holding for a long time. He turns onto his side to meet the midfielder’s eyes, his heart pounding erratically in his chest. Their hands are still connected, Louis’ grip squeezing tighter and tighter with the growing tension between them.

“Here you are,” Louis breathes again, his eyes wide with disbelief. He reaches out a shaky hand and touches Harry’s cheek, as if he can’t quite fathom that Harry’s willingly returned after all they’ve been through.

Sinking into the touch, Harry smiles gently and whispers, “Here I am.”

And with that, the other man is tugging him closer and smashing their lips together with a bruising force. Harry's entire body is freezing cold and there’s grass all over him and they’re still holding hands so his arm is yanked backward and stuck at an odd angle, but it’s perfect. It’s absolutely fucking perfect, and Harry cannot believe he stupidly denied himself this simple pleasure for so long.

Louis rolls over so that he’s lying on top, their entire lengths pressed together from end to end, and Louis’ tongue is in his mouth and Louis’ hands are on his face and Louis’ half-hard cock is pressing into his thigh and this is everything Harry’s ever wanted. He could die right here out on the pitch and die perfectly happy.

“I always had a stupid crush on you too, idiot,” he says into Louis’ mouth, and the footballer just laughs delightedly, his stomach rumbling against Harry’s own.

“You never told me,” Louis protests, sliding down a bit to nip at Harry’s neck.

“You called me your pal,” he argues, a quiet moan slipping from his lips at the other man’s teasing ministrations, “I thought that meant you weren’t interested.”

“You called me dude-bro,” Louis counters between kisses pressed to his collarbones, “I thought the same.”

“Right, so we’re both dumbarses,” Harry settles, arching up with a loud gasp when Louis sneaks a hand down low to palm at his hardening length, “Also, not that I don’t love what you’re doing, but it’s sort of fucking freezing out here.”

Louis hums in agreement, though he doesn’t stop idly rubbing Harry through his jeans as he says, “Also I’m ninety-nine percent sure there are cameras all over this place.”

“Louis!” Harry gasps, sitting straight up and consequently knocking the other man off of him, “You can’t be serious.”

“Um,” Louis replies sheepishly, and with that Harry is hopping to his feet, tugging the other man up as well.

“Please tell me your flat is nearby,” he says breathlessly, sighing in relief when Louis nods, “As much as I’ve come to love Old Trafford, I don’t think she’s ready for a sex scandal.”

“She?” Louis laughs, raising an eyebrow.

Harry shrugs. “Yes? All stadiums are obviously girls.”

“You’re an idiot,” Louis mumbles fondly, tucking himself into Harry’s side, “but I like you quite a bit anyhow.”

“And you’re not getting a blowjob if you keep this up,” Harry counters, laughing at the affronted expression on the midfielder’s face as they slowly meander across the pitch, “but, for the record, I like you quite a bit too.”

And as Louis giggles, rising up on his toes to press another lingering kiss to the corner of his mouth, Harry has his silliest, most irrational thought yet.

If Old Trafford could see them now, she’d probably be smiling.

When they finally get back to Louis’ spacious flat after the most painful car ride of Harry’s entire life, Louis is immediately crowding him up against the door, kissing him once again until his lips feel red and swollen and raw with it.

“What do you want?” he asks Harry breathlessly, voice barely a whisper as he bites the shell of Harry’s ear.

“Less clothing,” Harry manages to gasp, and the other man quickly obliges, working diligently to strip them of all of their many winter layers.

“Better?” Louis asks, and Harry nods, wrapping his arms around the footballer and digging his fingernails into the soft expanse of skin across his back.

They eventually make their way toward the bedroom, a desperate flurry of mouths and limbs and breathy moans. Harry sighs happily as his back hits soft down, Louis crawling on top of him to mirror their original position out on the pitch.

“Want to blow you,” Harry manages after a moment, chuckling softly when Louis responds with an enthusiastic nod.

He nudges Louis’ side, instructing him to turn over, and the older man obliges easily. Now on top, Harry can’t help but smile disbelievingly at the site of the footballer laid out so raw and vulnerable before him. Louis’ pupils are wide and dark with desire, his stormy eyes the deepest blue that Harry’s seen them yet. He keeps his eyes locked on Louis’ own as he makes his way down the footballer’s body, taking his time and pressing kisses to every bit of the beautiful man underneath him. He pays special attention to Louis’ muscular golden thighs, biting and nibbling and licking the insides of them until the other man is squirming and begging loudly. Harry smiles devilishly and moves on, sighing at the sight.

Louis’ cock is just as perfect as the rest of him, not extraordinary in its length but deliciously thick, the skin all around it a light golden brown. Louis gasps loudly when Harry takes him in hand, relishing in the weight and the warmth of it. He runs a thumb lightly over the head, smearing the little bead of precome that has gathered there and eliciting another pleased moan. He pauses for a moment, dazed, still not entirely sure that this isn’t just a feverish dream… that he gets to hear Louis make these sounds in real life, that he’s allowed to kiss and touch and love the man he’s wanted for so long. At Louis’ impatient whine, he ducks his head and licks a long, painfully slow stripe up the entire length of Louis’ cock, feeling the older man shudder beneath him.

“Fucking tease,” Louis breathes, wriggling his hips, and Harry just laughs lowly.

Wrapping one fist tightly around the base, he gently suckles the head as he pumps up and down, taking a bit more of Louis into his mouth with each passing minute. He’s good at this, or so he’s been told, and judging by Louis’ loud, pleased reactions to his work so far, he feels quite validated in that claim. Louis’ fingers find their way into his hair and he glances up in surprise, nodding when Louis gives a hesitant tug. The older man’s hands touch his scalp, pulling sharply at the roots of his curls, and Harry moans happily around Louis’ cock in response.

He opens his mouth wider and relaxes his jaw, feeling the head hit the back of his throat and swallowing it down. Louis’ hips jerk up reflexively and Harry gags a bit, waving Louis off when he begins apologizing profusely.

He pulls off for a moment, his voice rough and cracked when he says, “Fuck my mouth.”

Louis looks hesitant, his gaze searching, and Harry nods again forcefully.

“Tell me if it’s too rough,” Louis instructs, gasping loudly when Harry dives back down to take him fully once more. His hips snap up again reflexively and Harry hums, relaxing his throat completely as Louis slowly fucks in and out.

Harry’s eyes are watering and his jaw is getting sore, but he can’t imagine being anywhere else, or with anyone else for that matter. He’s always felt happier in a submissive role and he idly wonders if Louis might be up for something a bit more intense in the future. For now though, he continues to swallow Louis’ down, humming happily as the older man mumbles nonsensical praises above him.

"Harry, you are so good, Jesus fuck," Louis manages, his fingers scratching against Harry's scalp with a burning blend of pain and pleasure, "I'm close. Really close."

Yes, I’m very good, Harry thinks, and suddenly Louis is shaking hard, spilling down Harry’s throat with a loud cry. Louis’ fingers tighten in his hair and then relax completely as the footballer sinks languidly back against the bed.

“Holy shit, H,” he mutters, and Harry practically purrs at that, sliding back up Louis’ body to curl under his arm.

“No, no, not done yet,” Louis says, sliding out from under him, “Need to do something special for you in return.”

Harry nods agreeably, his own cock still hard and aching. He lets out a low moan when Louis whispers, “Gonna put my tongue in you, okay?”

Because yes, okay. Definitely okay.

Harry hasn’t been eaten out in ages and he feels all weak and dizzy at the mere thought of it, turning over quickly and spreading his legs apart with obvious eagerness. He lets Louis arrange him on his hands and knees, sighing happily as the older man’s small, calloused hands rub up and down his thighs.

“So, so beautiful,” Louis says reverently, pressing openmouthed kisses to Harry’s ass cheeks, “Are you clean, darling?”

Harry nods— he’d showered just before he met up with Niall and the others at the pub— and Louis hums his approval, licking a stripe from the top of his thigh all the way up to where the curve of his lower back begins. He repeats this across the other cheek as well, lightly slapping the area when Harry wriggles a bit too much.

“Do you like that?” he asks, and his voice has taken on a strangely authoritative tone that makes Harry’s flesh prickle with desire.

“Yes,” Harry breathes, moaning when Louis’ hand smacks across his right cheek a bit more forcefully this time. The sting of it brings tears to Harry’s eyes, but they’re purely from the pleasure. He loves this feeling more than anything, of letting someone else make him feel so good. Louis immediately bends back down to press soft kisses to the reddened spot, licking all around it.

“We’ll have to try this more later, hmm?” he suggests, and Harry nods vigorously, his curls flopping down over his eyes.

Louis is quiet for a long moment, his breath ghosting over Harry’ skin until he suddenly bites down hard on the fleshiest part of his bottom. Harry moans long and low as the older man licks the spot gingerly before returning to his original playful kisses. Harry trembles as Louis’ mouth edges closer and closer to where he needs it most, the older man’s tongue finally circling the puckered ring with light, teasing flicks that have him pressing his face into the comforter with a groan.

Louis spends quite a while continuing to wind him up before he’s finally poking the very tip of his tongue into Harry’s relaxed hole. Harry lets out his loudest cry yet, trembling even more violently as Louis presses in deeper. His cock throbs painfully, leaking everywhere, and he nearly screams when Louis’ hand reaches around to begin pumping it gently. The other man manages to perfectly time the up and down motion of his hand on Harry's dick to match the wet thrusts of his tongue, and Harry feels absolutely dizzy with the synchronicity of the combined sensations.

He knows he won’t last much longer, sobbing loudly as Louis’ tongue flattens out within him, the ring-shaped muscle of his anus clenching tightly around the intrusion. One last long lick and he’s babbling a combination of ‘fuck’ and Louis’ name as his orgasm slams into him like a freight train. His legs slide out from under him as his cock spills milky white across Louis’ sheets, trapped still-throbbing and sensitive beneath him as the other man collapses on top of him a moment later.

Louis presses gentle kisses to his shoulder, muttering “Jesus Christ, Styles” in a sleepy, scratchy voice that has Harry’s head spinning.

“Nope, just Harry,” he says into the pillow, smiling when Louis laughs brightly at their little inside joke.

“You were never just Harry to me,” Louis replies easily, turning over to flop down beside him, “Took me way too long to figure that out, but I am so, so glad that I did.”

“Shh,” Harry says instead, snuggling against Louis’ side, “Let’s sleep.”

“Okay Curly,” Louis whispers, leaning over to press a gentle kiss to his forehead.

And if Harry has the best sleep he’s had in ages, well… no one but Louis has to know.


Match 28
14 Mar vs Tottenham Hotspur

“Your boyfriend’s playing well again,” Niall remarks, gazing out over the pitch where Manchester United’s star midfielder makes another brilliant defensive stop.

Harry hums his agreement, though he’s admittedly more focused on the way Louis’ legs look in his white shorts than how the match has progressed so far. A mushy grin finds its way onto his face as he remembers that he knows exactly how those thighs taste, and the flavors and smells of everything beneath Louis’ shorts too.

“You totally got laid last night,” Niall accuses suddenly, and Harry just shakes his head, smiling furtively.

“I’m his good luck charm, that’s all,” he replies easily, cheering loudly as Louis dribbles toward the goal, dishing the ball off to Van Persie who unfortunately sends his shot sailing just over the crossbar.

“A little lower, Robin!” Niall shouts, before he turns back to eye Harry’s brilliant smile suspiciously, “Something’s changed. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to find out.”

“Louis asked me to move in last night,” Harry reveals, unable to keep it to himself any longer. His self-control, as previously stated, is really quite poor.

“Oh thank god,” Niall replies, slapping him on the back, “This whole flying back and forth from London every other weekend thing was really starting to get old.”

“Please, tell me how you really feel,” Harry deadpans, and his bandmate just flashes him a saccharine grin in return.

“Honestly though, H, I’m thrilled to hear it,” Niall says, and fakes wiping away a few tears, “It only took you two, what, like six months to get your shit together? That must be a new record for you.”

“Oh shut it,” Harry snaps, rolling his eyes fondly, “You act as if I didn’t attend an appalling number of fashion shows with you, until you finally worked up the courage to ask Barbara for her number.”

“Fine, fine, we’re both pathetic sods,” Niall replies hurriedly, “but at least we’re not as disgusting as Sophiam over there.”

Harry grimaces, glancing at the lovely couple who are currently sharing Liam’s jacket, taking selfies and giggling like schoolchildren. A group football outing was maybe not one of his better ideas…

“If you two ever end up like that, I’m leaving the band,” Zayn mutters darkly from Harry’s left, glaring at Niall when the Irishman cackles loudly at the declaration.

“Oh, stop your brooding,” Niall says, reaching across Harry to pinch Zayn’s cheek, “Maybe if you smiled a bit, you’d attract more potential lovers.”

Zayn responds to that little suggestion with an even deeper scowl.

Meanwhile, out on the pitch, Louis’ managed to snatch away the ball again, weaving through the Spurs’ defense and sending a screamer straight into the top left corner. The crowd erupts into cheers, and Harry watches smugly as even Zayn seems unable to fight a small smile.

Harry thrusts his arm skyward, brandishing the now signature thumbs-up, and grinning as the fans all around him do the same. Louis comes sliding into the corner, Van Persie and Rooney at his heels, and Harry feels his heart swell with pride. The midfielder meets his eyes and they share a small private moment, a moment where it’s just the two of them and Old Trafford again, lying on their backs and gazing up at the stars.

The spell is broken as the midfielder leaps to his feet, his hand curled into a triumphant thumbs-up as well. As Louis jogs back toward the middle of the pitch for the kickoff, Harry feels Niall wrap an arm around his shoulders.

“You picked a good one, H,” Niall remarks, and Harry nods, his cheeks flushing at the Irishman’s kind honesty.

“Yeah, Ni,” he replies fondly, “I think I did.”


Match 36
24 May vs Hull City

One final 3-0 win against Hull City is enough to clench Manchester United the third place spot in the League. They won’t be playing for the title this year (that’ll be decided between Arsenal and Liverpool), but they do manage to improve upon their horrific seventh place finish from the season before.

When Harry and Louis arrive at Rosso for a quiet celebration dinner, they’re immediately greeted by a hundred flashbulbs and questions being shouted from every direction.

“They’re calling you the new Posh and Becks!” one reporter calls out, reminding Harry of all those months ago when they’d embarked on their first and only ‘not-date’ of the season.

This time, though, Harry just grips Louis’ hand a little bit tighter as they weave through the crowd, offering up a teasing reply, “You’ll have to ask David if he minds giving up his title.”

Later, as Harry is stuffing his mouth full of pasta, Louis will say in a horrendously stuffy posh accent, “Sorry I didn’t win you a trophy this year, darling.”

“Well, there’s always next season, right dear?” Harry will reply easily, and then, because Louis has turned him into the cheesiest, sappiest boyfriend of all time, he’ll tease, “And, although you might be a loser, I’ve clearly come out with a win. My handsome footballer boyfriend made a lovely consolation prize.”

And because Louis’ always been a bit of a sap himself, he’ll reach across the table and nick one of Harry’s noodles, saying, “Well I think we’re both winners this year.”

And they are. Undeniably.

We’re Harry and Louis, he’ll think, smiling widely, Posh and Becks, eat your hearts out.


(or six months later)

If Harry Styles were a gambling man, he’d lay down his life savings on any and every bet made speculating the longevity of his and (Manchester United star midfielder) Louis Tomlinson's high-profile relationship. He knows deep down, even after just fifty-four Premier League matches spent together, that he and Louis will last a long, long time— forever, probably, or maybe even longer than that.

(It says a lot about the strength of their bond that he's started measuring time exclusively in football seasons.)

When he tells Louis as much, the older man just laughs delightedly and presses a sloppy kiss to his cheek.

“No need to worry, babe,” the footballer— his footballer— reassures, declaring fondly, “I’m a sure thing.”

And he is.

Harry knows.

He's pretty damn sure about him too.