Louis was early, for once in his life.
His steps were almost careful, as if he was entering some kind of holy sanctuary instead of the dimly lit and musty smelling locker rooms of the Manchester University Alpha-Beta Football Team. Although, to him, this certainly was some kind of sacred place.
He never thought he’d actually end up here.
As the door fell shut behind him and he walked further into the room he realised he was the only one around. He used the opportunity and let his curious gaze wander — over high metal lockers and simple, sturdy wooden benches cramped into the rather narrow space, and across a doorway to his right that probably led to the showers.
It wasn't surprising that he was alone, really, since there were nearly thirty minutes left until the first practice of the term would commence and he figured most of the boys would only turn up shortly beforehand. He, though, he wanted to savour this for longer than a few minutes.
His heart was beating rapidly in his chest. This was so incredible! He was barely able to contain his excited smile as he took a seat on one of the benches near him, closing his eyes in the process.
This had been his fucking dream for years! A dream that had always been unreachable and still technically was. To be here now, to actually have a place on this phenomenal team — it was akin to a miracle.
And so what if he lied and faked his way in? He deserved this, he knew he did! And he wasn't going to accept being told otherwise just because he was born a fucking Omega. Yes, that might be his gender, his status, but it didn't define him. He refused to be content with a position and, most probably, the captain badge in an Omega team when he could do so much better, when he could do so much more, could go so much farther. He belonged into this team, he was good enough, he was fantastic, even. And it was the truth, too, because otherwise he’d never have been picked for the Manchester University A-B team in the first place and he certainly wouldn't have been offered a scholarship along with it.
It had been tricky, of course. Louis had broken a handful of rules and probably even laws on his way here, but to him it would always be fucking worth it. He would fake the gender certificate of his GP again if it came down to it, god damn it!
It was irrelevant now, anyway, he thought with a grim smile settling on his lips. He was here, and he was here to stay.
Louis had first touched a football when he was four years old, an overly active child almost always on the way to land himself in trouble even then. His stepdad had taken him to the backyard one late summer afternoon, probably in the hope of distracting him from destroying the living room, in the hope of tiring him out, and set a cheap, worn ball in front of his feet. Louis had kicked it, hard and straight, and that had been it, basically — Louis was a goner.
His dreams had always been big and he had never made a secret out of them. He wanted to go far and as the years went by he slowly, but surely developed into one of the most promising young players in his county, Yorkshire, and then, the whole north of England, too. There were other great players around, of course, but Louis had been a popular name as a forward in the junior leagues ever since he turned eleven.
Of course, everything just had been to good to be true.
It was shortly after his fourteenth birthday, on a grey, rainy January morning, that he woke up feeling feverish and sweaty all over, with a sticky wetness between his legs that could really only be interpreted in one way. His world crumbled in a heap of ashes and smoke in a matter of seconds as he came to realise what exactly was happening to him. His mum had found him eventually, crying and sobbing into his pillows, and the only thing he remembered clearly of that day now was how he had told her he wanted to die.
Him being an Omega destroyed everything, every plan he ever made, from one moment to the next, in the blink of an eye. He had been completely out of it, disgusted and disappointed with himself and the whole universe. He wanted to close his eyes and never open them again.
The thing is, as an Omega he could have easily continued playing football — there was nothing stopping him. He could have made it far career-wise, even. If he had succumbed and switched over the Omega league. And there was literally nothing Louis had ever wanted less.
It was stupid, really, that Omegas weren't allowed to play in the same teams as Alphas and Betas. The reasons were far-fetched and outdated, all along the lines of: Omegas were to small and weak to keep up, their smell was too provocative (to the Alphas especially), their heats would leave them indisposed for days (which was an invalid argument since Alphas had their ruts, too) — to just name a few. It was pure discrimination, in Louis’ eyes.
Louis could admit that he might have been happy playing in the Omega league and making his whole life about it. If only — if only anyone ever cared about the freaking Omega league. Their games, interesting and captivating as they might be, weren't broadcasted on any main TV channels and barely anyone actually showed up to the stadiums to watch them live. There weren't any lengthy or in-depth discussions about strategies or team development, nobody was intrigued by amazing wins or devastating losses. There was nothing really, no passion for any of it. And Louis didn't plan for this, he didn't want it this way.
Louis wanted to make a name for himself. He wanted to do what he loved and he wanted to be recognised for it, for his talent. It wasn't fucking fair that he had to be an Omega. He always had hoped he would turn out to be a Beta, since he knew he was too small and slender to actually be an Alpha, but still too fierce and headstrong to be typically Omega. Beta would have been fine, would have been perfect. He never understood the hype with all the soul-bonding and marking and knotting anyway.
He hadn't ever wanted to be a submissive, he wasn’t fucking submissive. He was independent and strong and clever and he was an amazing footballer and he wouldn't let that be taken away from him, full stop.
His mum, bless her soul, went to the closest pharmacy that day and bought the strongest suppressants she could find (they were incredibly expensive, too), along with one or two aids that were to help Louis along during his heat (they never talked about that embarrassment again).
After four agonising days that Louis had spent moaning and groaning and sobbing into his bedsheets, soaking in his own sweat and slick and cum, he took the longest shower of his life, washing his hair and every crevice of his body for a good two hours under the scalding hot stream. Afterwards, he looked at himself in the mirror with determination.
“This won’t stop me. I won’t let it stop me!“ He said, to no one but his own reflection, his eyes steely and his mouth in a tight line, an earnest frown etched on his forehead. He picked up the bottle of suppressant pills from the side of the sink and, without blinking or thinking about any of the consequences all this could entail, took the first one.
He had spent the entire rest of the day sniffing himself, sniffing the air, asking his family to sniff him, and only when he felt satisfied and secure in the knowledge that the suppressants actually did their job and concealed his gender properly, he exhaled a relieved breath and went to sleep, determined that in the morning he would pick up where he had left off before this unpleasant incident.
He hasn't ever, not even once, forgotten to take a pill since that day. He went to school the next day with a straight back, lying to his friends about how he had been at home sick with the cold. A few weeks later, when it hadn't been quite so obvious after his sudden “illness“, he claimed himself to be a Beta.
And that had been that, really.
Louis was startled from his thoughts when the door to the locker rooms fell shut with a dull thud. His head snapped up, his eyes instantly settling on the new person in the room. It took him only a second to realise who the boy was, because obviously he would recognise his new team captain, a second year by the name of Harry Styles.
“Didn’t think anyone would be here,“ Harry mumbled, face indifferent as he let his gaze wander over Louis’ form. He had chocolate brown curls that framed his sharp features, rosy red lips and bright green eyes. Louis swallowed, because the boy was actually rather handsome. “Are you lost?“ Harry added then.
Louis was taken aback at the brashness in his tone. “Um, no?“
“You are aware that these are the locker rooms of the Alpha-Beta team, yeah?“ Harry asked with a raised brow as he walked further into the room. He stopped in front of a locker not too far off from where Louis was sitting and let his Adidas bag slide to the floor carelessly. Then he turned around again, facing Louis with crossed arms.
“I know that, yes“ Louis replied, and he felt his heart rate picking up. Harry was actually a bit intimidating: he was incredible tall, he looked as if he wouldn't take any bullshit and he was an Alpha — that was clear as day from the way he held himself and moved around alone. And as much as Louis denied his true gender, an Alpha hovering over him still did things to his traitorous body. Made him feel inferior, for one. Made him want to be submissive, too. Louis hated it. “What are you implying?“ He asked therefore, his sassy self taking over, self-defence strong.
“I’m implying that you don't belong here,“ Harry said lightly, as if not at all impressed with Louis show of bravery. He proceeded to strip of his shirt, then, his bare upper body suddenly on display. Louis couldn't help but stare at the tattoos that littered Harry’s arms and chest. Also, there was a freaking butterfly on this boys stomach.
Louis turned away, gathering his wits in the process. So, Harry looked hot. Great! That didn't matter. “Sucks for you, then,“ he replied haughtily, “because since I am a new forward in this team, I have every right to be here.“
There was the rustling of clothes and Louis was quite sure that Harry had just stripped of his skinny jeans, about to change into his football shorts. He wasn't about to check if his assumptions were true.
“New forward in my team? For sure? Aren't you an Omega?“
Louis could feel his eyes widen upon hearing Harry’s words. Shit! That was impossible, he couldn’t know. There was no way! Could Harry smell him? Did his fucking suppressants fail? Was his dream supposed to be over before it even really began? Damn no!
“What makes you say that? I’m a Beta!“ Louis protested as soon as he found his voice. He wanted to finish off with an incredulous laugh, to undermine how ridiculous Harry’s words were, but the idea that it would come out as nothing more than a scratchy, breathless sound held him back. That would only make him seem suspicious.
Out of the corner of his eyes he could see Harry move, until he suddenly stood in front of him. Louis had no other chance but to look up at him. “Your size, mainly. You look dainty. And you have the face of an Omega, pretty and delicate,“ Harry shrugged.
Louis’ glared. “Gee, thanks! Also, knock yourself out with stereotyping people. Appreciate it, mate.“ If he sounded bitter, Louis figured he did a good job. Feigning offence was always a good way to get people to back off.
Harry had a furrow between his brows and his lips were pressed together. Louis wanted him to go away.
“Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you,“ Harry apologised eventually and although it sounded a little stilted, Louis was happy that they were dropping the topic now, apparently. “What’s your name then, forward?“
“Louis Tomlinson,“ Louis answered, exhaling lowly when Harry finally moved away from in front of him to get his football shoes on.
“You are Tomlinson?“ Louis didn't like the tone of surprise in Harry’s voice.
“Is that a problem?“ He asked, cooly.
Harry chuckled, but it didn't sound sincere. “Of course not. Just heard a lot of impressive stuff about you, so I hope you won’t disappoint me. Not every member of this team gets a full ride scholarship, you know.“
Before Louis could reply, Harry wiggled his fingers in an exaggerated wave and jogged away, through a door that most likely lead to the pitch. He left in a flurry of curls and cologne and Louis remained, stunned.
What the hell had just happened?
It took a moment for his heart to find back to his normal rhythm. This was a close call, honestly. Louis could have given himself away any minute during this talk, with just one wrong word or a badly timed flinch. Anything, really.
Maybe he should keep his distance from Harry, because the boy obviously wasn’t stupid. Louis had managed to fool scouts, coaches, teachers and teammates for years now, though, and he sure as hell wouldn't let Harry Styles destroy his hard work, just because the boy thought his face was to … pretty, or whatever. There was also something about Harry that rubbed Louis in the wrong way. He had seemed annoyingly self-confident and forward, but Louis wasn't about to let himself be bullied by a boy just a year older than himself.
Distance sounded like the way to go. It would make it easier to cope with Harry’s fucking smell, too. God, that smell! Louis hadn't smelled anything like him before; clean, strong and manly, extraordinary but familiar and homey all at the same time. He wanted to bath in that smell, he wanted that smell all over himself, clinging to his skin and sticking to his bed covers.
Wow. Fuck. Was he about to loose his mind?
So Harry smelled good. Many Alphas did. No reason to pop a stiffy, Jesus.
Louis let his head sink into his open palms and groaned. This was not the start he had envisioned for himself. Here was to hoping that the rest of the team wouldn't interrogate him the way Harry just did, really. He should probably square up and be the Beta he was pretending to be.
With a shake of his head he straightened up and looked around again. There were a few open lockers, probably those of the players that had graduated the university the year before and which were now free for the new team members to use. Louis chose one as far as possible from Harry’s and placed his bag before it. He made quick work of changing into his training clothes and lacing up his shoes tightly, and was ready just as the next boy entered the room.
“Hi mate,“ the blond boy said, taking a seat on the bench next to Louis and sticking out his hand.
Since he had read up on the Manchester A-B Team and followed their games and line-up closely for the last year and he didn't recognise the boy, Louis figured the guy was probably a new addition, just like he himself was.
“Hey,“ Louis nodded in greeting and took his hand to shake it. “I’m Louis.“
“Niall Horan, good to meet you!“ A sunny smile settled on his lips as he introduced himself to Louis, before he got up again and unceremoniously stripped off his shirt to shuffle into his football gear. “You new this year?“
“Yeah, actually. You?“
“Me too, yes,“ Niall confirmed what Louis already suspected.
Louis smiled, sort of relieved. “I’m glad I met another newbie before practice. Don't want to face all those judge-y returnees on me own, honestly,“ he said, and felt a blush spring to his cheeks a second later. Why the hell did he say that? He sounded like a baby. God!
But Niall only turned to him with wide eyes, nodding vehemently. “I know what you mean, man. Those uni footballers really are something else. Hard to believe I’m supposed to be one of them now.“
Louis bit his lip, thinking back to his encounter with their captain. Harry really was something else, there was no denying that. He said, “We can figure it out together, hopefully.“
Niall grinned and began gathering his discarded clothes and shoes together. He stuffed them into the locker next to Louis’.
“You want to get out there? Maybe we can leave a good first impression on the coach when we arrive extra early?“ Niall suggested, and it sounded like an all right plan to Louis.
“Let’s do this.“
Niall ran a hand through his hair and visibly psyched himself up. Louis felt connected to him already, so he held his hand up for a high five. Niall slapped in right away.
Coach Collins has been with the Manchester University A-B Football Team for quite some years and Louis was well aware that the man had a reputation. He wanted to see his team achieve greatness and there was certainly a reason why Manchester was always at the top of the list in the University Football Championship. Collins pushed each and every player to their limits, not forgoing punishments, everything from additional laps to banning players from games, if he wasn't satisfied with their performances.
Louis knew that being chosen by this man was a huge compliment towards his football skills but also a huge commitment. There was no time to slack off, but Louis didn't plan on it anyway. He wanted to succeed just as much as Coach Collins wanted them to succeed, simple as that.
When he followed Niall out onto the pitch, Louis didn't spot the Coach right away, not that he was actively searching him out. His gaze was held captive by the huge stadium they just entered. Louis had barely ever gotten to play in such venues before, only for the actual final games of some Teen League Championships, not that his old teams very often managed to get to the finals. And now he was here and he got to train on these grounds every weekday, for most of the year. How freaking amazing was that!
“Hey, Lou, I think that’s Harry Styles over there with the Coach, innit?“ Niall’s joyous voice pulled him from his thoughts. Louis turned to look in the direction that Niall was pointing out. It was in fact Harry, having a grand old laugh with Coach Collins. Louis swallowed. So long as Harry wouldn’t make a mention about the boy he met in the locker rooms that seemed so “omega“ to him Louis should be good. And for whichever reason would Harry bring that up? There was none. Which meant there was no need to worry. Or so Louis told himself.
“Yeah, I met him briefly in the locker rooms,“ Louis said absentmindedly. He had a hard time ripping his eyes from Harry’s lean form. That just wouldn't do, really. He needed to get over this asap.
“Oh, you didn't mention that. What was he like?“ Niall asked interestedly.
Louis shrugged. “Acted like a proper annoying Alpha,“ he answered truthfully, before abruptly biting his tongue and chancing a nervous look at Niall. Maybe he shouldn't be quite so blunt. He was trying to make friends, after all. What if Niall himself was an Alpha? Even if he really didn't smell like one Louis knew best that you shouldn't judge people too quickly.
Niall only cackled loudly, though, once again surprising Louis. “Was expecting something like that. In all the interviews I watched of him he seemed like a proper control freak, aloof and all too happy with being in charge of this team. He is an amazing player, no doubt, but I don't plan on letting him push me around just because he is an Alpha. We Betas should stick together.“
“We should indeed,“ Louis agreed, totally on board with Niall’s words and glad that the boy didn't question his gender like Harry had and just accepted the obvious — that Louis wouldn't be here if he was anything other than Alpha or Beta. “Let’s do some stretching, I feel weird just standing around here and staring at the Coach and Styles.“
They got to work, slowly warming up their muscles and getting their circulation going. They spent the time in between exercises talking about their backgrounds. Louis found out that Niall was originally from Ireland but that he had lived in Birmingham for most of his life. Like Louis himself he got offered a scholarship that made him ultimately decide to join Manchester University and their A-B Team.
Louis thanked the gods that Niall was the first boy after Harry to enter the locker rooms, because he felt it in his blood that the two of them would get along splendidly. That they already made plans to meet up for drinks at the end of the week only solidified this impression.
When the rest of the team trickled onto the pitch five minutes later Louis felt confident and positively excited to get started, not least of all because he was sure he made a new friend already.
A practice with a renowned university team couldn't be in any way compared to a practice with his old school’s team Louis realised two hours later, almost crying out in joy as the Coach finally blew his whistle to end their last round of squats. “Gather ‘round boys!“ The man yelled across the pitch, and Louis hauled his exhausted body over to him, following the slew of boys already on their way. As soon as he was close enough, he stopped and leaned forward, pressing his hands to his sides, desperate to catch his breath for a minute. His hair was sweat damp, his jersey clinging to his back and he felt utterly disgusting.
Louis knew that this was a strategy, because normally there was no use for this kind of extra hard training. It only resulted in a group of spiritless, limp young guys. They hadn't even touched a ball today, only done about a million fitness exercises. Louis knew the purpose of it all too well — it was the easiest and cleverest way for Coach Collins to get a feeling for the newbies, see who was really in it with all their heart and soul and mentally filtering out those who lacked the passion. Louis’ old Coach at school did similar practice sessions at the beginning of each new year. Louis had always hated it.
“Well, boys,“ Collins started off, clapping his hands together to secure their attention. He looked younger in person than he did on TV or in grainy Youtube videos Louis had noticed as soon as he had gotten close enough to him to actually make out his face at the beginning of practice. He had short, dark hair and stubble lining his jaw, also a very long nose. His most prominent feature were his steely eyes, though, serious, calm and collected. “Surprisingly, I’m not as disappointed in our new choices as I thought I’d be. Still, not all of you first years are going to get a position in the starting eleven, so if this is what you were expecting, I highly recommend you keep your feet on the ground. Some of you will be lucky to even get the chance to play half a game this season. Work hard and impress me, and your on. If you don’t, you can watch from the side until you graduate.“ He paused shortly to let his words sink in. Then he cleared his throat. “Same goes to everyone who’s been here before. If you suck, you’ll loose your position faster than you can formulate a protest. I hope that is understood. Okay, so far so good. You boys go shower and change, while I’ll go over some things with your Captain here, all right? See you tomorrow.“ And with that, he abruptly turned and walked off the pitch and to the trainer bench at the side of the field.
Harry gave everyone around a crooked grin, before jogging after the Coach, the red-and-white captain badge secured to his upper arm, curls up in a bun and looking not the least bit tired after the kind of practice they just had to survive.
Louis felt like dying. Not only was he completely exhausted, he also had to fight for a fucking chance to play a game, apparently. Fucking hell, he actually didn't ever contemplate the idea that he might not be out on the pitch scoring goals in every single game. He thought with his scholarship and all it was implied that he was promised a starting position. Good to know that for that to happen he had to fight and beat two dozen other boys. Fantastic!
As the team shuffled off towards the locker room, Louis noticed that Niall didn't look as thrilled as he did at the beginning of training, either. The news about the inner-team competition seemed to have caught him off guard, too. Well, at least Louis wasn't the only one frustrated about this.
They didn't talk, or at least Louis and Niall didn't talk. Most of the other boys were all too happy discussing the upcoming season, taking guesses on who would play the first games and generally turning Louis’ mood sour with all their speculation. Surely, Coach Collins wouldn't only choose the guys from the higher years, as most of the returnees were suggesting. Because then all the newcomers literally wouldn't even need to bother.
As the guys trickled off into the adjoining shower room, Louis and Niall were some of the only ones left in the main locker room, which was filled with the stink of sweat, mud, grass and Alpha. Louis wrinkled his nose as he pushed off his shoes.
“You don't think Coach will only choose from the older lads, do you?“ Niall asked him, probably feeling safer now that they were almost alone and nobody from the higher up years could mock them for their self-doubts.
“That wouldn't make any fucking sense. We just — we have to give our best tomorrow, Niall. We’ll get our positions. I didn't train for this my whole life long just to sit out on the bench now,“ Louis said, voice rough. He also suddenly remembered Harry’s words from before, how he had heard “impressive stuff“ about Louis — so he had a good reputation as a player. He would get his shot, then, wouldn't he? And Niall, too.
Niall nodded along to his words, seeming no less determined than Louis. “Everything will turn out fine,“ he agreed, even if his eyes were layered with uncertainty.
“Exactly. Let’s hit the showers, I feel nasty.“ Louis got up, stripped off his shirt and shorts and tried to blink away the embarrassment of being naked in front of an entirely new set of boys for the first time. He wasn’t shy about his body, mostly liked it, even. It was just that he was also aware that his entire physique was rather omega-y (as much as he loathed to admit it), and it was always daunting, the prospect that someone could make an offhand comment about his dainty hands, thick thighs or round, firm butt which would then lead to suspicion.
No one batted an eye at him, though, as he stepped into the shower room after Niall, and he exhaled a silent sigh of relief as he chose an empty spot and let the hot water run over his body, soothing his sore muscles and washing away the grime.
The thing with snatching a place on a team like the Manchester University’s Alpha-Beta one was that the players actually had a shot at making it really big. The University Football Championships alone were always pretty well received and attracted lots of spectators. The teams had their own solid fan bases and the Championship Committee even owned a TV channel that broadcasted the games nationwide. That alone was more than the professional Omega League could ever wish for, honestly, and it was sad to think about.
But apart from being a popular player during uni time, there was also always the possibility of getting picked out by a scout after a game and landing a tryout for a real team. A real, world class, famous football team which was cheered on by ten-thousands in a stadium and watched by millions around the world on TV screens, such as Manchester United itself was one. Scouts of grand clubs like Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal were attending games regularly, and even international top teams like Real Madrid or Bayern München would occasionally sent people over to check out the players.
For Louis this was the ultimate dream. But he wasn't delusional. He was more than lucky with what he got already and that he hadn't been found out yet. And although playing for a top team like ManU would be an opportunity he wouldn’t ever pass up on, it was unlikely that he would ever get so far. That didn't stop him from working hard for it, though, giving it his all. He hasn't denied his true gender for the last four years of his life to give up now.
Even if most uni players didn't get scouted for the premier league teams they could still always land a spot in one of the second or third level teams: they were a safe deal, payed well enough and still made you popular in the British football world. But that wasn't where Louis wanted to be, what he fought and took all these risks for.
He wanted all or nothing. If there wasn't a position for him in a premier league team, he would end his football career after university, so much had always been clear to him. He just wasn't a person for being second-best, second-choice, second-class.
It was all or nothing.
Funnily enough, Louis ended up being the last to remain in the locker rooms after showering. Niall had run of a few minutes ago, claiming he needed to grab some food before his evening lecture, and everyone else had left since.
Louis wasn't normally one to take so much time getting changed and ready after practice. Usually he wanted to get done as fast as possible so he could get to all the other stuff he needed to do. Today, he was stalling a bit, because although his first year of uni had only just begun a week ago, he already felt slightly overwhelmed with how much work all this was going to be. He always imagined his main focus to be on playing football, but he realised that, actually, he was a student and therefore his priorities should just as much be on his studies. Because if football didn't turn out to be the one thing he earned his money with, then his degree would be the thing to support him.
“What are you still doing here?“ The voice that roused Louis from his thoughts wasn't one he had heard often, but even after only a day it was familiar to him. He raised his head and settled his gaze on Harry who stood in the doorway leading in from the pitch, arms crossed in front of his chest and sweaty football gear still on his body. He must’ve just come in from his talk with Collins.
“Don’t think that’s any of your business,“ Louis replied, snappily, getting up from the bench he had been sitting on and snatching his bag from the ground. Something about Harry made him irrational and he loathed it. He wanted to be in control; in control of the situation and of himself.
Harry snorted, unamused. “I’m the captain of this team, Tomlinson. Everything going on here concerns me. Now go.“ And with that, he walked off to the showers, shedding his clothes on the way and dropping them to the ground as if he owned the place. Louis was repulsed — by his behaviour, not the sight that he offered. He turned away as soon as the thought crossed his mind.
If he could predict one thing from his and Harry’s interactions today it was that they would have a fucking hard time getting along peacefully. The boy’s ego was so fucking inflated, it was unbelievable. Not to mention his stupid comments upon first meeting Louis.
But Louis also wasn't stupid. Harry was the team captain and he clearly had a great connection to Coach Collins, so it would only take a few well-placed words by him and Louis wouldn't ever get to play a game, much less an actual position in the starting eleven, he was sure of that. But damn it, he wasn't ready to let Harry Styles destroy his dreams.
As Louis stepped out of the door and into the sunny September afternoon he thought back to his previous plan of action: avoiding Harry so as to not loose his patience and land on his bad side. Should be doable.
He was sure that thinking of Harry’s naked behind as he rode his bike back to campus meant nothing at all.