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Unbelievers

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Louis is drunk, and heavily so. He’s got a feeling that he passed his consuming limit a while ago, stomach queasy and head almost spinning. He closes a hand over his mouth, breathing hot air into it to try to stifle himself.

The music is pounding, Jasmine’s house full of people. He shouldn’t have come, honestly. People are looking at him, certainly knowing he’s far gone where he sits in the corner of the living room on the second floor. He’s on a couch, eyelids drooping. He’s fairly certain the people he was talking to—surely some time ago now—have left their spots next to him. He guesses he was too drunk to keep the conversation flowing.

He can’t lean back on the couch because then his stomach would to convulse, his head already swimming. He keeps resting on his hand, his elbows digging into his own thighs as he watches the scene play out before him.

Harry is playing beer pong. He’s smiling, shirt lifted to show off his stomach, the hem tucked into the neckline and shaping his shirt into some sort of bra. The hickey Louis sucked below his bellybutton is gone, and neither are there any other marks visible on him, showcasing that Louis has touched him, felt him, had him buried inside himself.

They haven’t talked since the game, properly. Or at all. Louis can still see the look of utter shock on Harry’s face as Louis leaned in and pressed their lips together, if only chastely.

Louis played it off. It was just an impulse of a victorious moment. All the lads were hugging and kissing each other—perhaps not on the mouth, but nobody really caught on anyway. Only, Harry looked like his life was flashing before his eyes, and Louis thought he was going to puke at the sudden realization of Harry’s rejection.

Just thinking of it now makes another wave of nausea wash over him. He squeezes his eyes shut, only for a second. He should find his way to a bathroom, and sooner rather than later.

There’s a loud laugh—Harry. Louis instantly opens his eyes, succumbing to how deeply his body is aching for him. Harry just won the BP round together with Ed it seems, and they’re triumphantly cheering. Louis doesn’t even know if Harry knows he’s here, watching him. There are loads of people in the room, and Louis is keeping a fair distance, but not too far.

He misses him. It’s been almost a week. The match was on Sunday, and this is the fifth day since. Louis hasn’t dared to call or text, and Harry hasn’t made a move to contact him either. In the locker room at practice they’re tense, dancing around each other, scared of making eye contact. It only feels worse each day.

Louis is fairly certain. Harry has understood that Louis has feelings for him, and now he’s awkward. He doesn’t feel the same. It’s evident. Louis remembers how awkwardly they parted, brushing off their kits before jogging to take their positions to play off the last bit of the match. Louis could barely celebrate the victory afterwards, anxiety taking over entirely.

In a way he supposes this moment was inevitable. In some way, eventually they would have had to figure out what they’re doing together. Now, Louis knows that it isn’t a romantic thing. He’s just glad he never sat down and told the other boy how far fucking gone he is for him.

Louis sits up a little straighter as Harry walks over to group of lads, now standing closer to Louis than before. He’s still exposing his lovely belly, his beautiful little love-handles on display for Louis as his back faces him. The dimples there are prominent, and Louis can still perfectly picture how he looked when golden glitter was snowing down across the small of his back.

Louis wants to hold him. He wants to touch, kiss him, feel him and especially his soft, soft skin against his fingertips.

Over by the other wall, Harry’s hand settles on someone’s waist. Louis accidentally kicks a beer bottle, and it falls over on the floor. The touch is innocent, only lasts for a second, but for that moment Louis only sees green.

“Louis!” someone calls then, voice loud through the crowd of people. It’s Stan, towing a group of people with him, Oli the only one Louis can make out in the moment.

Louis doesn’t react, but suddenly Harry turns around, eyes skimming the crowd and then they’re locked on him. Their gazes meet. Confusion tumbles over Louis, because Harry looks so unsure where he’s standing. His eyes flicker, filled with uncertainty and apprehension. He looks awkward, shuffling on his feet, perhaps even shy. Louis can’t look away.

Harry does, tearing his eyes from Louis quickly and turning back to his friends. His shoulders are still stiff, Louis can tell.

Stan and the rest settle down around him on the couch, Louis looking up to find Jasmine by his side. She smiles, and Louis tries not to display how uncomfortable he is.

“No need to look like you want to run away. I know you’re not into me. I’m over it.”

Louis swallows, trying to force away the inebriation from his bones. “Really?”

“Yes, silly. I know where I’m not wanted.” She giggles prettily—maybe she’s somewhat affected by the alcohol, too. Louis’ eyes stay locked on her mouth, her lipstick color the only thing he can focus on now that Harry’s not facing him anymore. The color is dark purple, matches her dark eye shadow and black blouse. She notices his gaze. “Are you okay, sweetie? Have you been drinking much?”

“Yes,” he says, but he isn’t sure to what he’s answering. Her hand sifts into his hair, the touch oddly comforting as he tries to fight the alcohol in his system.

“Louis, honestly,” Stan says, cooing, only partly sarcastic. “You’re an adorable drunk.” The boys laugh, and Louis would roll his eyes if he didn’t currently lack of eye-coordination. If that’s a thing.

“Somebody get him a kiss. He deserves one,” someone else says. “He scored the goal and he looks so bloody miserable. Someone cheer him up.” It’s possibly Oli. Or Lee. Or anyone.

“I don’t need one,” Louis says, still trying to focus on the color of Jas’ lipstick. He doesn’t want to pass out.

“Everybody needs a kiss!” Stan proclaims. “Claire? Where's Claire? There you are! Kiss, please?”

Louis didn’t know there was a Claire around. But, diner. He thinks of the diner.

Stan gets a kiss. The girl is seems rather adoring of him. Louis has a weak thought that he would applaud if he had the energy.

“Louis, now you go!”

“He’s drunk, you fucking idiot,” Jasmine chastises Stan, who isn’t very sober either.

“On the cheek then.”

Louis glances over at Harry’s group. He wishes he would come and get him. He quietly hopes Harry will see how out of place he feels, walk over and rescue him. Harry probably wouldn’t even do that if Louis hadn’t kissed him. He would steer clear of Jasmine.

Louis continues to look at the other boy. As if by some miracle, Harry turns around and stares back at him. Once again their gazes meet, but this time Harry’s eyes darken almost instantly. It confuses Louis at first, but then he feels the press of lips against his cheek. He’s fairly sure it’s Jasmine.

Louis wants to say something. He wants to stand, walk over to him and tell him he’s the only one. One and only. For the moment he doesn’t care that Harry didn’t like that he kissed him on the footie pitch; he just wants to Harry to know he doesn’t care about Jasmine. But Harry has turned around, and he’s swiftly pacing away. He disappears down the stairs, Louis still able to see the way his eyes burned.

Maybe he’s just drunk, but he suddenly doesn’t understand. Why does Harry care that she kissed his cheek? He doesn’t love Louis. He’s not in love with him, he doesn’t want Louis the way Louis wants him.

But then, of course he’s angry. He hates Jasmine. Perhaps Harry doesn’t love him, but that does not mean he doesn’t (didn’t?) consider Louis his friend. Because they were friends, weren’t they? They talked. They took care of each other. Louis loves Harry. Louis loves Harry so much he feels like he’s going to rip apart—hence the miserable, drunken pining.

“I need to go,” Louis mumbles to his friends.

“Somebody take him to the bathroom,” Lee says, frowning. “He doesn’t look good.”

Louis is grateful when he feels a pair of hands hoisting him up, securely keeping him upright. The person leads him through the room, someone else directing them to a bedroom down the hall, the opposite direction of the stairs. Louis wants to tell them to help him to Harry, but he can’t. Harry is probably gone anyway.

“This way.” The door to the room opens with a key, the hands firmly helping him inside. “Bathroom is over there.”

The lights in the bathroom are too bright, making him squint and blink rapidly. He’s set down in front of the toilet, a soft hand brushing his fringe from his eyes. “It’s okay.”

“Lime?” Louis asks.

“Yes, Lou. You’ll feel better once you’ve gotten that shit out of your stomach.”

“Don’t wanna.” He hates puking. “Can’t.”

“Yes, you do. I promise it’ll be fine.”

“Help.”

Liam, lovely and fucking gross Liam, grips Louis’ neck presses two fingers into his mouth. Louis doesn’t need more than the brush against the roof of his mouth, before his stomach starts heaving. It’s horrible and he hates it, spluttering, unable to breathe for long moments. It feels as though it goes on for ages, until finally he only can dry-heave poignantly.

He feels gross. Pathetic.

“Can’t believe you stuck your fingers down my throat,” Louis rasps, coughing, still spluttering. The corners of his eyes are watery, and he feels practically boneless.

“Love you, mate, ” Liam chuckles, probably already having washed his hands thoroughly.

“Love you,” Louis replies, tired and hopeless.

“Let’s wash you off.” Liam gets a soaked towel and starts cleaning his face, softly brushing it around his mouth and cheeks. Louis lets him manhandle him out of his shirt, helping him into the bedroom again.

“Hey.”

“Hi. He’s alright. Just tired, I think? Can we put him here?”

“Of course.”

Lipstick. Jasmine.

Louis has never been so grateful for a bed. Liam tucks him in, putting his head against the pillow and pulls the covers over his shoulders. Louis could sleep for a year.

Liam leaves soon, giving him a wave and tells him to try to remember to call him in the morning. Louis’ not sure if he will, but nods tiredly against the pillow. He’s about to close his eyes when he feels the bed shift. Jasmine’s still sitting at the end, legs crossed and arms wrapped around her stomach. She is starting to get up, but abruptly, Louis can’t let her.

“Jas,” he says, voice throaty and sore. She stops from getting off the bed, sitting back down and meeting his eyes, her own looking possibly exhausted. “Why does Harry hate you?”

He can’t help it. He has to ask.

He’s surprised when she looks down, shoulders suddenly hunching in obvious distress. For a moment it seems like she isn’t going to answer, but then she sighs, a sound that makes Louis’ chest feel tight. Her voice is low, almost a whisper, but not quite. “I did something.”

Louis blinks. “What did you do?” he asks, voice barely a sound due to the hoarseness.

She turns to look at him, regarding him carefully for a moment despite how vulnerable she looks. “You've got a thing don’t you?” she asks, voice soft.

Louis’ mouth opens, but nothing comes out. Jasmine doesn’t wait for an answer, already knowing it. She looks away, eyes on the door leading out of the room. “We used to be friends, you know,” she says instead, voice vapid. “Like, proper. Then in sophomore year we started dating.”

Internally, Louis winces. It feels kind of sick, thinking the two of them have been with the same boy. That Harry has been with anyone else but him at all, really. It’s fucked up, but in his head, Harry is his. Nobody knows him like Louis, and nobody knows Louis like Harry does. They’re each other’s person. Harry is Louis’ boy, the only one who seems to be able to repair all the shatters in his head.

“Well,” she continues, stuttering uncomfortably. “We broke up pretty soon. You can relax, Lou. Nothing... happened between us.” She bites her lip. “‘Cause... erm. He—couldn’t, you know.”

Oh.

Oh.

“It was a pretty hard blow, you know? And just the fact that it wasn’t me, but that he’s… gay. Imagine dating someone and realizing they weren’t really themselves with you?” She shakes her head, pursing her lips.

Louis doesn’t know what to say.

“I guess I was stupidly in love and heartbroken,” she whispers. “And then I... told him I’d tell everyone.” Her voice turns into a whimper as she speaks, sounding utterly miserable.

Louis looks up at her where she’s sitting by his side. Her hair is falling over her shoulder, hiding her face as she stares at her hands in her lap.

“I'm not proud, not at all. Sophomore year me didn’t have fucking clue to anything.” She chuckles, but it sounds sad. “I was a bitch. What I did was really hurtful, especially since we were friends. I was supposed to, you know, help him through it. Not even sure he understood why he couldn’t do it when it happened.” Her lips press down into a firm line, before she says, “He hates me now. To this day won't forgive me.”

It's a lot to take in.

“He told me you went after me to get to him.”

“At first, maybe. The first time I said hi to you, he and I had had a fight. It was a new year, new times, you know? I wanted him to forgive me, but of course he wouldn’t. So, I guess I tried to befriend you to irk him, because he used to hate you.” She looks at Louis, meeting his eyes seriously. “I changed my mind. You’re all... no offense, but you’ve got a load of shit surrounding you it seems, so I didn’t want to make things worse for you.” Her lip twitches, smiling just a little. “Also, I kind of like you, as a friend, perhaps. But you like Harry, and he hates me.”

“So we can't be friends,” Louis murmurs, and she nods. Louis’ entire face feels heavy to uphold. “Harry’s mad at me, too.”

“Why?”

“Kissed him. He doesn’t feel the same. We just...” He lifts his hand, then lets it land heavily on the bed again.

She’s quiet for a moment. “Are you sure about that?”

Louis doesn’t answer, only lays his head back on the pillow. He feels her hand patting his back softly.

“I've been mean to you. Mostly because of Harry.”

“I don’t care. Clean slate?”

“Yeah,” he whispers.

She nods, giving his back a last stroke. She stands from the bed, sighs, heading for the door.

Louis’ chest suddenly tightens, a miserable feeling grabbing hold inside him. “Can you stay?”

“What?” She stops by the door, hand on the knob.

“I hate sleeping alone now when... you know.”

She smiles, properly this time, eyes crinkling. “You're sweet, Louis, but Harry wouldn’t like it one bit.”

No, he would not.

“You sleep here. I'll let you stay until tomorrow, even have some breakfast before you leave.”

“Thanks.”

He closes his eyes as she quietly closes the door, and he thinks he can hear her locking it from the outside so that no drunkies will stumble inside.

Louis lies down.

What she did was bad. Pretty fucking mean, frankly. Louis understands why Harry’s hurt and angry. On the other hand, it was two years ago, and as far as he knows she hasn’t told a soul.

It’s their shit, he decides. Louis can’t deal with more. But, he won’t be friends with her if Harry wants him, perhaps even if he doesn’t. Fuck, Louis would do anything for him. Anything at all. If only the other boy would talk to him.

He doesn’t understand. He thought they were on the same level. The shocked expression on his face when Louis kissed him shouldn’t have been there. Hell, only seconds before Harry was looking at him like he hung the moon. (If he wanted, Louis would bring him a fucking star. Or maybe just buy him one. He’s heard you can do that.)

He’s fucking hurt. And confused. Harry reacting like that was completely off the charts. What did he do wrong? Nobody even saw it.

Louis falls asleep, chest churning with worry.

**

In the morning, Louis wakes up with a head pounding like a fucking bongo drum. It’s annoying, is what it is. Somebody might as well pick up a loudhailer and breathe through it into his ear incessantly for two hours straight. He’s going to punch the first person he sees today.

As it is, the first person he sees is Jasmine. His head is throbbing as he makes his way downstairs. He wasn’t able to find the shirt he wore the night before, feeling awkward as he sneaks towards the front door in only his jeans. He smells disgusting, too.

There are remnants of the house party everywhere; plastic cups in every corner and on every table, empty packs of cigarettes, furniture disarrayed. When he passes the kitchen—which is placed similarly to Louis’ house by the front door—he’s stopped by the sound of the tap running in the sink.

“What are you standing there for?” Jasmine asks, and Louis turns around, finding her with a bowl of waffle mixture. Her dark hair is in a bun, Abercrombie & Fitch sweats and an old grey t-shirt on. She looks somewhat like a female version of Harry, and Louis thinks if he were into girls (which doesn’t seem to be the case) he’d be attracted to her.

“Was going to sneak out,” he says truthfully.

“Hmm, too bad. I was making waffles.”

Louis is ravenous, stomach completely empty and growlingly craving substance. He doesn’t want to linger here, though. He wants to go home and fill his veins with Advil.

He doesn’t know what to say. He clears his throat. “Can’t find my shirt.”

“I’ll find it and put it in the wash,” she shrugs. “You'll get it back.”

“Alright,” Louis says awkwardly. “Alright.”

He nods to himself before he leaves, opening the front door to be met by a tepid morning breeze. It’s already warm, despite only being the end of April. His nipples harden against the breeze, but other than that he’s fine as he leaves the house, traipsing down the stone path. He isn’t entirely sure where he parked his car the previous night, but it can’t be far away. He starts looking, heading down the street.

His phone starts buzzing after ten minutes, which is also when he realizes that he didn’t even drive to the party last night. He caught a ride with Oli. Christ. He turns around, realizing he’s going to have to hike home. Might as well start walking then.

“Hullo,” he answers his phone, shoes scraping against the asphalt.

Are you still drunk, mate?

“Oh, hey.” Louis clears his throat, shaking his head to try to shake himself awake. The sun still feels too bright for his eyes. “Were you there last night, Ni?” he wonders in confusion.

Nah, although Zayn told me you were pretty messed up.

“Right. Zayn,” Louis mumbles. He didn’t know he was there either.

Yep.

They’re silent for a moment. “Can I ask you something?” Louis asks as he treks. He feels a bit strange strolling about the area, half naked on a Saturday morning.

Sure.” Niall’s voice is easy, just like it used to be when they were close friends. Maybe they still are.

“Why did you become friends with him?” The question should be loaded, should bring on an awkward silence filled with tension. It doesn’t. When Niall answers he seems composed.

Louis,” he says calmly. “I have to admit something to you.

“Okay?” Louis frowns.

I’ve known Zayn for a while.

“A while?”

Like, since sophomore year.

Louis literally stops walking. “You’ve what?”

You know how Liam always has friends around on the weekends because his parents always go to their country house?

Louis swallows. “Yes.” There’s a fat rock resting by the sidewalk, a big abandoned grass lawn splaying out before it where the houses thin out. He sits down on top of it, knees feeling a little weak. It’s not from fatigue, but sometimes he need things to settle him.

You never wanted to come because you didn’t like Harry’s friends, but well. Zayn was always there, since apparently he and Liam went to kindergarten together and stuff. So, like, he used to bring stuff to the parties you know, and then when he didn’t show up sometimes, people wanted the stuff. So, it all began with us asking if we could buy from him. After that it all just became the way it is now.

“Zayn is your dealer?” Louis summarizes incredulously.

And close friend.”

If it had been September, months ago, Louis would have been angry. He can’t be angry now though, and he doesn’t blame his friend. Maybe he should be little itched that he’s been keeping this from him all along, but hypocrisy is neither attractive nor is it one none of Louis’ traits.

He sighs, closing his eyes for a brief moment. His voice is slow, and it takes a bit of strength pushing the words out. “Do you think we could somehow put everything behind us?

No judgment, no grudges, and no more lies?

“Yeah,” he whispers.

Yes,” Niall says. He sounds serious, yet bright. “But first we have to talk about you.

Louis nods, and keeps nodding. “That is something I’d like to do in person,” he murmurs quietly.

Now?

“Now?”

Now,” Niall affirms.

“Right,” Louis coughs. “I’m on a street somewhere near Jasmine Parks’ house? Maybe you could bring a shirt and pick me up? Perhaps some deodorant.”

Niall laughs, and Louis is rather certain he keeps laughing after they’ve hung up.

Looking back at these last months, Louis feels like a completely different person. If someone would have told his junior year self that his senior year was going to be the ride of his life, he wouldn’t have believed them, at least not to this extent. Guess what, Louis? You’re going to lose half your family for a year, your best friend for a few months, but also realize you’re in love with your idiot nemesis, who’s actually one of the most perfect human beings you’ll ever meet, and become a better football player at eighteen than you ever thought possible.

His phone buzzes again. Want to come over and hang out? The house is empty, just us lads :)

It’s Mark. His Dad. Is it silly if Louis wants to go? Is it silly if he really, really wants to see him? He’s itching for normalcy. He’s itching for things to be less problematic. He’s also, erm, he’s willing to talk.

The thing is, last week they were all there. The entire family was watching him play his match, even Fizzy, his sister who he hasn’t seen since before Christmas. It’s fucking April and he’s tired of missing her. Everyone else is making an effort, and maybe like Lottie said once, if he tried like everybody else, things would fall into place. Maybe the pieces won’t form together instantly, but those things will come with time.

Louis smiles a little to himself. He’s wise, eh? Old and sage now, isn’t he? Lottie would say that.

Niall’s car turns up down the road only a few minutes later, stopping by the sidewalk. He pushes the nearest car door open, smiling at him. “Oi, oi!”

“Oi,” Louis grins, getting off the rock. He climbs into the passenger seat, easily taking the t-shirt and hoodie Niall is holding out for him. His blond friend is snickering a little at him, but Louis only shoves him in the arm, before treading the navy jumper on top of the simple white tee. It feels like they’re good again. Somehow they’re good. Maybe they’re both just as tired of not being friends.

“I honestly never thought we could go this long without being friends,” Louis murmurs as Niall maneuvers the car back down the street. He leans back in the seat, snuggling into the sweatshirt, sleeves covering his hands and hoodie hiding half his face. “Thought we’d crumble too soon.”

“I always thought we were the physically fighting types?” Niall says, which has Louis arching his brows. “Silent treatment was never our thing. Like, I thought we’d go from cuddling to tearing each other’s hair out. Biting, that kind of stuff.”

“Biting? You’d bite me?”

“I’ll bite you right now.”

Louis cackles. The boy is completely serious. “I’ll bite you, too.”

Niall grins, but keeps his eyes on the road. “Missed you.”

“Missed you, too, pumpkin.”

“New nickname? I like it. You can be my cauliflower.”

“Can I just be your flower instead?”

Niall shrugs. “Of course, my sweet lily.”

They fall into a soft silence, comfortably watching the scenery flash by at the sides of the road. Sitting here with Niall, no tension clinging at their bones, feels so fucking good. It’s like inhaling fresh air for the first time in weeks. Louis feels lighter, even though there are still monsters gnawing at his feet.

When the houses start forming blocks once again, Louis remembers.

“Niall,” he says, looking at his friend hesitantly.

“Yes, flower?”

“Dad texted me.”

He turns to face him slowly. He knows how hard the divorce has been for Louis’ entire family, and he knows how much Louis’ relationship with his father means. “Oh?”

“He wants me to come over, like, now.” He hopes Niall understands that it doesn’t mean he’s ditching him.

“Do you want to go?”

Louis looks down at his hands, brows knitted. “I think so.”

Niall’s voice is soft when he speaks, and Louis looks up. “Should I drop you off?”

Their eyes meet for just a moment. “I’d like that.”

“It’s okay, mate,” Niall says reassuringly, because he simply knows Louis. He knows what makes his brow furrow and he knows why. “Good even. I’ll just wait in the car, and if you want to run out I’ll whisk you away.”

He loves his best mate to the moon and back. He wish he could convey it a better way.

Louis directs Niall the rest of the way to his father’s new house. Well. He’s been living there a little less than a year now, so. His dad’s house.

It’s not until they’ve parked just outside that his pulse starts to pick up pace, finally beginning to bother him.

“It’s alright. Just take a moment to brace yourself, mate.”

“I know, I know,” Louis answers, but his leg is still jumping up and down restlessly.

“Do you want me to do something? Like, an encouraging speech?”

Louis doesn’t know if it would help, because he wants to do this, he’s just scared of what might happen once he walks inside. He nods.

“Alright,” Niall hums, obviously thinking up something. Louis almost rolls his eyes. “Oh! Yeah! Okay.” He clears his throat. “One time when I was little, before we met, I went away for a weekend and Greg was supposed to take care of the hamster we shared while I was gone.”

Louis watches him dubiously.

“It gets good!” Niall complains indignantly. “So—if you let me finish—when I came back, it had died of age, right? But I thought he’d killed it. So, I cried for literal days, but when I finally told Greg why I was sad, I found out that that wasn’t what happened at all.”

“What kind of bullshit story is that?”

“I don’t know. It was the only thing I could think of!”

They stare at each other in annoyance for a few moments, before Louis gives in, sighing.

“What was the hamster’s name, Ni?”

“John.”

“Right. I think I'll just go inside then," he leers. Niall shoves him in the shoulder.

“Just fucking go inside, Louis.” He gives him an encouraging smile, and Louis rolls his eyes, but swallows and opens the car door before he can change his mind.

The stone path up to the house is familiar to his own house’s. Although all houses in town are rather similar, this yard is different, because this is the only place Louis has ever genuinely feared.

The small steps up the porch and to the front door make his knees wobbly, and it reminds him of stepping into the bathtub a week ago. It’s different now, because then he was sure that Harry would make him feel alright. He doesn’t know what to expect on the other side of this door.

Somehow he always expected it to be Harry to hold his hand through this moment, maybe perhaps only because he has been here since Mark actively started to seek contact in person. But Harry is avoiding Louis, and Louis is avoiding Harry. The situation is just strange, awkward and uncomfortable. Louis wishes they would talk, if only to know where they stand. It’s terrible not knowing.

He inhales deeply, squaring his shoulders, ringing the bell.

The moment Mark opens the door, Louis feels fucking silly. His father is smiling, his eyes wide and soon crinkling in the corners.

“Louis,” he says warmly, and it’s obvious he didn’t think he’d show up.

“Hi,” Louis mumbles self-consciously, looking up.

He doesn’t try to hug him, and he’s grateful for that, because he doesn't think he would have been able to survive an awkward moment like that. Louis hesitantly steps out of his shoes by the door once inside, following Mark into the kitchen.

“I’m so happy you’re here, son,” he says, grinning. “Missed you.”

He nods. “Yeah.” He can’t say it back. Not yet.

Louis hesitantly sits down in one of the kitchen chairs as Mark starts looking through the walnut colored cupboards. He still remembers the first time he and the girls saw the new house. Louis hated it. He hated the smell of new furniture, he hated the new clock on the kitchen wall, he hated how the couch in the living room wasn’t in worn leather, and he absolutely detested the fact that all of it was real.

“Should we make some lunch? Get that hangover out of you?” He grins knowingly, nodding at him.

Louis’ cheeks warm. Just thinking of the miserable previous night makes him feel the heat of mild humiliation. He can’t believe that he basically told Jasmine that he’s head over heels for Harry, when the only thing connecting him to said boy this past week is the angry glare he was given.

Louis misses him so much it feels like an iron fist is clenching down on his insides each time he thinks of him. The fact that Harry has pretty much dumped him is both embarrassing as it is heartbreaking. Although, he can’t exactly feel like he’s going to cry yet, because he hasn’t been explicitly told the truth yet. Perhaps he’s protecting himself a bit, imagining that if Harry hasn’t officially told him that he’s pathetically and unrequitedly in love, it isn’t real yet.

The house isn’t that intimidating anymore. The house doesn’t matter.

“I can’t do this without talking,” Louis whispers, shaking his head clear of Harry’s face. “I need to know first.”

Mark nods, understanding that the conversation needs to be held, but there’s a confused wrinkle in his forehead. “Know what, Lou?” He walks back to the table slowly, sitting down on the opposite side of the table.

“Why you didn’t want me?” It feels like his voice is one word from trembling. He hates sounding this insecure.

Mark opens his mouth. “Why I didn’t want you? What do you mean?”

“The divorce?” Louis says, voice getting a fraction louder as he starts to feel upset. “When you were talking custody over the girls you didn’t even mention me.” He still remembers feeling like he wasn’t there. In house filled with seven people, he felt like he was invisible.

Mark looks completely nonplussed. “Louis, sweetheart—”

“Why?” He shakes his head. “I wasn’t even asked what I wanted. Just tell me why.”

“Louis, biologically you’re not mine,” he starts, looking at him with warm eyes. It doesn’t make sense. “There wasn’t a chance in a million years that would I have gotten custody over you if there would have been a fight. My lawyer told me not to get into it. You were going to be eighteen in just a few months, and your mother and I were certain that you’d want to live with us both anyway. We thought that we’d come to an agreement by ourselves.”

It’s fucked up hearing it like this. It sounds like a simple version of what was Louis’ personal hellhole for months. His throat is thick, a lump forming. He hates the feeling. It always makes him feel so powerless, all of his feelings out on display.

Mark’s voice is softer. “But then you refused to speak to me after the divorce was finalized and—”

“Maybe I wanted you to fight for me,” Louis whispers. He can’t look up to meet his eyes. It’s too hard. He has to fight every word out of his mouth. “You made me feel like I wasn’t important. You and Mum were having constant arguments over the girls.” Mark opens his mouth, but Louis has to continue. “Do you realize how insignificant that made me feel?” he asks, finally looking up. Mark is staring back at him in distress. “I thought you didn’t want to be my dad anymore.”

The tears spill over, just a few, falling down his cheeks. He brushes them away swiftly, angrily. He sniffles, shoulders shaking with his uneven breaths.

Mark gets up from his chair, walking around the table quickly. He sinks down on the floor to Louis’ level, taking his wrists softly. He stares up at him, and even though Louis wants to, it’s hard to pick his head up and look at him without the safety of space.

“Louis,” Mark says slowly, entirely serious, yet mild and reassuring. “I love you so much. I don’t want to ever not be your dad.” He watches Louis for a moment, squeezing his arms. “Do you remember when Lottie was born? You held her little hand in the hospital, looked up at me with your blue round eyes,” he chuckles, “and then you asked me if this meant that I was your dad too, and—”

“And you said yes,” Louis interjects, voice hoarse and his mouth is pulling down with emotion.

Mark nods. “And I said yes. Exactly.” He squeezes his wrists again, making Louis meet his eyes. “Listen to me, Lou. You’ve always been my son, and you still are now. I’ll still be your dad when you’re thirty and have five kids of your own, yeah? Always.”

“Okay,” Louis whispers. He nods, and then nods again. “Yeah.”

“Good,” Mark smiles, and pulls him into a hard embrace.

Louis clings to him. It’s hard to comprehend how idiotic these months have been. All he can think of is how good it feels to be wrapped in his dad’s arms, how long it has been since he’s felt his scent, how he’s missed him. He doesn’t know for how long they hug, but when they let go it feels like a balloon has burst around them, and for the first time the room is entirely free from tension.

“Want some lunch then?” Mark asks, standing up, smiling down.

“Actually,” Louis says, looking up sheepishly, “Niall is waiting in the car. We were gonna hang out. Haven’t in a while.”

“Oh, well. Next time then,” he shrugs.

Next time.

“Alright,” Louis says, smile tugging at his lips. “Next time.”

He leaves only a few minutes later, Mark repeating how much he loves him and waving at Niall from the porch before going inside. Louis slides into the car, chest warm, slumping against the seat.

“Wow,” Niall says. “You look happy, but weary. Exhausted?”

Louis nods.

“Hug?”

“Yes, please.”

He leans over, and then Niall encompasses him entirely in his arms. Louis feels the tears start to prickle in his eyes once more, but this time they’re coming faster, heavier, more. His chest starts to heave rapidly. He can feel Niall patting his back, trying to placate him, but it only makes him shake more. He presses his eyes closed, but it doesn’t keep the tears from coming. He’s bawling his eyes out, sniffling disgustingly into Niall’s neck.

“What is it, flower?” Niall murmurs. “Thought it went fine?”

Louis shakes his head, exhaling raggedly, sniffling. He’s ugly crying, unable to stop, everything coming over him. He doesn’t even know why.

“Louis?” Niall asks, voice serious now. He keeps his arms just as hard around him, not letting him out of the cocoon.

“I'm in love with him,” he cries.

Niall stills. “Mark?”

“No!” Louis shakes his head, snot running down his chin. He can’t help the twitch of his mouth, but the sadness crashes over him instantly. “Harry. I’m in love with Harry.”

Niall stiffens, seeming to suddenly realize what he said. He’s in love with him. He’s in love with Harry.

Louis cries more. His friend doesn’t say anything, but he still keeps his hold around him. He’s stiff, and Louis wails like a child.

“What?” Niall asks, voice leveled but shocked.

“We’ve been having sex,” Louis coughs up. “I love him.”

It’s a rather succinct summarization. It does the job, though.

Niall leans back, staring at Louis with wide eyes. He’s gripping his upper arms, but keeps a distance. Perhaps because Louis is crying up a flood, hiccupping and shaking almost violently.

They sit in silence, contemplating what Louis just said.

“Shit,” Niall whispers. “Right, we gotta talk!” He sounds strange, and Louis coughs disgustingly, wiping his face with the end of his shirt. Niall’s nose wrinkles. “Okay, Jesus. Breathe.”

Louis can’t talk. He’s just crying, shaking and snotting, and he can’t do anything about it. God, he just—Harry. He loves Harry and suddenly that makes everything about Louis and his life even more pathetic.

“Louis.” Niall’s voice softens. “Is this what everything has been about? You and Harry?”

He nods, and just keeps nodding, wiping at his eyes.

“Louis, you have to talk. You have to tell me.”

He’s not exactly eloquent. He jumps in timeline, interrupts himself in the middle of sentences to cry and splutter and show texts on his phone. It’s a little messed up, but Niall understands in the end. The tears won’t stop falling, but his shaking ceases eventually.

“So,” Niall says, scratching his hair as he frowns. “Like, I can understand why you didn’t say anything about the job thing. I get it, it’s embarrassing—”

“Thanks, Ni.” Louis leers just a little, wiping his chin.

“But the Harry thing? Like? What even?” He shakes his head. “Like, that’s huge. That’s bigger than huge, it’s... What’s bigger than huge?”

“This?” Louis sniffles.

“Yeah! That’s a huge part of your life, and it’s Harry. Did you think I’d be mad or something?” he sighs. “‘Cause this beef with him has always been yours, not mine. I don’t care that it’s him, but just the fact that you thought you had to hide it? I honestly can’t believe you didn’t tell me the moment it happened. You know I don’t give a fuck about the gay—”

“Queer.”

“—thing. I support you no matter what, because I am your best friend!” He stops for a moment, looking down at his own hands. “I just... I’m a little disappointed. A lot hurt.”

Louis’ lip wobbles “I’m so sorry.”

“No more lies,” Niall says firmly, looking up to meet his eyes.

“Technically—”

“—or withholding of information.”

“Yeah,” Louis says. “Promise.”

“Okay,” Niall nods. He smiles. “Let’s hug it out and go home, yeah?”

Hugging him feels like a year of exhaustion and anxiety being released from his gut. Everything is out in the open. He doesn’t have to hide from Niall anymore, he’s got him back on his side, and he didn’t lose him. He’s on the way to being on good terms with Mark as well. Some things are falling into place.

“We’ll figure this out, yeah? It’s not entirely fucked up with Harry. We’ll fix this.”

Louis doesn’t know if he believes him, but he feels infinitely better after hearing him say it.

They drive home in comfortable silence, fatigue starting to cling at Louis’ limbs. He can see where Niall’s t-shirt is ruined from his crying, but his friend doesn’t seem to mind. Louis loves him so much, and at the moment he can’t quite believe Niall is real, that he’s a person that Louis gets to have in his life.

Niall parks the car outside Louis’ house, sighing heavily. “Let’s just order pizza and watch movies with Lottie? I’ve missed her, too.”

Louis nods, opening the car door and trudging towards the house, Niall not far behind. He reaches him before they walk inside, gripping his arm.

“Hey,” he says, meeting his eyes. “Not to be cheesy, but I love you.”

“We’ve always been cheesy, Ni,” Louis smiles. “Love you, too.”

Louis opens the door and they take off their shoes, heading into the kitchen to find the takeout menus. Niall comes up behind him, and they end up discussing pizza toppings. Louis can’t stop smiling.

“Hey!”

Louis and Niall turn around, finding Lottie standing there with an open mouth. “Hello,” Niall grins right back.

“Where the fuck have you been!” Lottie exclaims loudly, and runs over to embrace Louis’ friend. Niall meets her halfway, swinging her around. It’s slightly movie-esque, and Louis finds it a little strange, but his smile almost hurts.

“And you!” Lottie says once Niall’s let her go, pointing at Louis now. She walks up to him. “You text when you stay out the entire night! Where the fuck have you been today?!”

Louis clears his throat awkwardly, smiling down at his feet. He looks up, unable to keep a straight face. “I was at Dad’s.”

Lottie’s face shapes into the embodiment of a surprised emoji—which is a quite hilarious way to put it, Louis might add—and then suddenly it crumbles. She takes the small step and her body collides with Louis’ solidly. He wraps his arms around her, keeping her tucked safe against himself.

“Thank you,” she whispers, and he realizes just how much he’s been hurting her by being stubborn and scared this whole time. She’s just a little girl, and he’s her big brother, supposed to protect her. He thinks the family can finally start to heal properly.

“Love you.” There have been too many heartfelt moments in one day, but Louis has to say it. His gates have opened it seems. He almost rolls his eyes at himself, but that’s what it feels like.

“Love you, too.”

“Should we form a group hug?”

“Shut up, Niall,” Lottie says, squeezing Louis closer.

**

One would think that after such a groundbreaking weekend that Louis has had, things would start changing for the better. Personally, Louis considers himself having had quite the crappy year, so if God would stop being a little bitch and send Harry on his merry way to talk to him, then he’d be grateful.

Yes, he’s angry. And God never listens, as usual.

Neither does Harry.

Louis tried to talk to talk to him during practice. It was embarrassing. He wanted to cry.

It wasn't even about them, it was about footie. Like, the team that they’re both captain of. It’s been another week of sneaking around each other, Friday already having come back around. He thinks it’s rather absurd how slow the days pass without Harry. Suddenly he has all this free time, and nothing to do. He’s got Niall, but he doesn’t take up all the time Harry did, because Harry was constantly by his side. Louis is so bored, wanking isn’t even making him feel good.

He walked up to Harry today during morning practice on the pitch, where he was sipping from his bottle of water. Louis said hello, like the polite mannered person he is. Harry stared at him awkwardly for three whole seconds before he walked away without a word.

Louis should feel rejected, but he’s in the next stage: annoyance. (He’s still very much heartbroken and confused, but that’s not to be mentioned.)

There’s been an obvious change of dynamic, and everyone has noticed. Two weeks ago they were closer than ever, and now they can barely look one another in the eye. It’s fucking annoying is what it is. None of the lads on the team say anything, but Louis is quite sure they’re worried about the upcoming game, afraid whatever is going on between Harry and Louis will shake how good things have been going. Louis isn’t worried, but he’s a little bit worried.

They’re on the way to the pizza parlor, about to get pizzas before heading over to Liam’s house. Louis is being social, because Niall is actually bringing out his social butterfly (which is still also in love Harry who is also being a dick).

They order six pizzas, and end up waiting by the counter.

“Seeing Harry now is kind of fucked up,” Niall says conversationally. Louis turns to look at him. He doesn’t know why, because Harry hasn’t been there for him in weeks, but mentioning Harry in a negative manner irks him. He needn’t worry though, because apparently Niall didn’t mean that. “Like, knowing that you and him get off together. Can’t even picture it. Imagine you and him snogging…”

Oh god. Louis should definitely not tell him about the time he ate Harry out.

“You’re weak.”

“I can see the chemistry, though. Hate sex. Nice.”

“It was only hate sex in the beginning. They weren’t even the best times,” Louis mutters.

“Which was the best time then?” The blond wiggles his brows.

“Not telling you, I don't even know.” Definitely when he rimmed Harry and they held hands, or their last time.

“Okay, but tell me what he’s like then, when you’re not fighting.” Louis squints at him. “Come on, I want to know. Lottie has told me, but I want to hear it from you.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Fine, he’s lovely. Can we not talk about him, please?”

Niall suddenly frowns, clearing his throat. He inches his head to the side, obviously having spotted something. “Err, okay. But, um, he’s here.”

“What do you mean ‘here’?”

“As in here,” Niall hisses.

Louis swiftly turns, eyes widening as he sees Harry walking inside the parlor with his mum and dad. This is all too familiar. Louis can’t deal with this.

“I’ll be back,” he hisses to Niall, then scurries away towards the bathroom. He hurries inside, throwing the door shut behind him.

Jesus. He is such a pussy. No matter how annoyed Harry makes him, he still has him running and hiding. How the fuck did this happen? (He also can’t believe how many times he has asked himself this very same question.) He is standing in a fucking bathroom, hiding like a scared freshman on the first day of High School.

In four years his relationship with Harry has brought out a lot in him. Hate, annoyance, indignation, anger, but also love, worry, and adoration. However, never has he been scared. Louis has had some pretty low moments this year, but he thinks he detests this one the most.

Maybe mostly because he knows Harry isn't scary, never mean, wouldn't hurt a fly. So, that would mean he’d be entirely honest telling Louis how he really feels if it came to it. Louis doesn’t think he wants to know the answer anymore.

The bathroom door opens. Louis turns around, giving his back to the entrance, hiding his face.

“Oh.”

It’s unfair how Louis can recognize his voice by such a small sound. He winces, turning around.

“Hello.” He keeps his eyes down, shuffling on his feet. Part of him wonders if Harry is even going to answer, or just turn around and flee.

“Hello.” It surprises him how nervous Harry sounds. He realizes then, as he watches Harry fiddle with his fingers, that he is just as awkward and unsure as him. He doesn’t understand why. He doesn’t understand anything when it comes to Harry these last two weeks.

They stand there, partly looking at the floor, partly glancing up to each other.

Harry is finally the one to take the step. “I’ve seen you’re friends with Niall again. He knows?”

Louis purses his lips, nodding. “Yep.” He can’t look up completely. Harry has watched him? Maybe that’s exaggerating. Of course, he’s noticed.

“Good,” Harry whispers, barely making a sound.

More than two minutes must pass by, both of them uncomfortably silent, not knowing how to act. Louis hates this. He needs to know what happened. He needs to know why the kiss on the pitch ruined everything.

Harry carefully walks towards the sink, stepping around Louis, whose gaze follows his every movement. He washes his hands, slowly and thoroughly, as if he wants to drag it out. Is Louis being self-righteous? Thinking that Harry actually wants to be in here with him? Or is he just optimistic? Maybe Harry always takes five minutes to wash his hands.

Jesus Christ. Shut up.

“What’s your problem?” he asks then, voice clear. He sees Harry still, swallowing. He straightens up stiffly, stuffing his hands into the pocket of his navy hoodie. He looks tired, Louis notices. He’s in black Adidas track pants, a pair Louis usually would borrow, hair loose. “What happened?” Louis asks again. “I don’t understand what happened.”

Harry doesn’t say anything, just frowns at his own feet.

“Harry.”

“Harry.”

For the love of God.

“Harry, for fuck’s sake—“

Harry reaches out and winds his hands around Louis’ neck, bringing their mouths together.

“Mmpf.” Louis’ hands fumble, clasping at Harry’s hoodie as he pushes Louis back against the sink, lips hot on his. It doesn’t take long until his tongue is in Louis’ mouth, and he whines, arching into Louis’ body as he grips Harry’s waist.

It feels too good. All too good.

It’s all so natural, every movement coming so easily. Louis pushes at the small of Harry’s back, making him press closer to him. Harry follows Louis’ direction without thought. His tongue in his mouth is the best taste in the world, both of them moaning as the kiss deepens.

Harry exhales, whining when Louis breaks apart from the kiss. The sound is so delicious, and Louis has missed it so much it drives him crazy.

“I can't stay away from you.” Harry shakes his head, drawing Louis in once more by his neck. Their lips mesh together so well, fitting perfectly. God, he can’t believe they’re doing this, not when—

Louis suddenly falters, leaning back slightly. Harry follows, but Louis sets a hand against his chest, keeping him from re-connecting their lips.

“What do you mean?”

“I—”

“You've been purposely keeping away from me. Why?”

Harry leans back slightly, eyes flickering. “I didn't mean—”

“Yeah, you did.” He stares at the other boy. “I don’t get this,” he nods down, gesturing at how they’re curled around each other. “I don’t understand what happened between the footie match and right now.”

Harry blinks rapidly, lip wobbling just a fraction. Louis sees it, but he doesn’t understand it. Harry opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. His eyes are so clear and green, pleading. He doesn’t know what to say, that much is obvious. Harry starts to say something again, but then the door to the bathroom opens, ruining everything.

Louis steps back, leaving at least two feet between them.

“Oh, Louis! Haven’t seen you in a while!” It’s Des, Harry’s father.

“Hey,” Louis mumbles, crossing his arms with a sigh.

Des strolls over, reaching out to shake Louis’ hand. “Glad to see you! And nice to see you both together for once. Harry’s been miserable lately, missing you. Where have you been?” He chuckles, clapping Harry’s back warmly.

Both of them stare at the older man, Harry’s cheeks hot.

“What? I notice stuff,” Des smiles, hand fatherly squeezing Harry’s shoulder.

“I gotta go,” Louis whispers, and ducks away. He leaves the room, finding Niall leaning against the counter outside, pizza cartons under his arm. “Niall, we're leaving,” he says, stalking towards the exit.

“Whoa, wait, what happened?” Niall follows him outside and to the car, jumping into the passenger seat, pizza cartons on his lap. “I saw Harry go inside, what’s going on?”

“I don’t get him.” Louis shakes his head vigorously. “I don’t understand what is going on in his fucking head.”

“Well, ask him?”

“I did, but his freaking dad walked in!” He sighs, but it turns into a groan. “I don’t know how to explain. With us you never get the whole thing. We just understand each other, but I feel like I am at a point where he needs to just hand it over, because I don’t get it anymore.”

He’s been keeping away from him, but now he just grabbed him and kissed him? It doesn’t make sense. Does that mean he doesn’t want to stop being whatever it is that they are? Louis doesn’t want to lose Harry, but he thought kissing him on the footie pitch would mean something on a bigger level. Is that why Harry kept away, because he knows Louis has feelings for him? He tried to keep away so he wouldn’t end up hurting Louis’ feelings, but in the end the temptation kicked his knees in?

Fuck. The fuck does Louis know. He doesn’t understand shit.

Niall nods, frowning. “Let’s just drive over to Liam’s.”

Niall says it as if to dismiss the situation, that Louis should think about something else for the moment. Well, easier said than done. Louis frowns, confused anger painting his face somber. He suddenly feels more hurt than he has this entire week, simply because he doesn’t understand. What did he do? Did the kiss really ruin everything? He thought all those kisses they’ve shared meant the same thing. He thought when he trusted Harry with himself that that meant exactly the same thing.

“Don’t cry, Louis,” Niall says. Louis turns to look at him. “You’re more than him. Even if it might feel like he’s a big part of you, he’s not all. You’re you, and if he’s done something that isn’t cool, then you can’t let him drag down all of you.”

“Thanks, Ni,” Louis whispers, but it only helps a little. Niall hasn’t known for long about them, and he doesn’t get the whole Harry and Louis concept quite yet. It’s not that Harry done something, it’s what he isn’t doing. Louis needs him to do something.

They arrive at Liam’s house just past eight, walking inside without knocking. It’s been a while since Louis’ been at his house, but the interior and the colors of the walls are familiar. The house always seems to have a distinctive smell of home cooked meals, and Louis has always had a habit of feeling at home here. Not that he’s been over that much, but it happens now and then. Liam’s mum adores him, he’s pretty sure.

Liam and a few people are already in the living room, slouching on the couches. There are a few opened beer cans and crisp packets on the table, the TV playing music off someone’s Spotify account. Louis recognizes Sophia, Liam and Ed, then notices Zayn sitting in one of the armchairs. Louis nods in greetings, reciprocation coming in the form of a smirk and a military salute. Louis is fairly certain that Zayn finds Louis’ relationship with Harry hilarious for some reason, or maybe he just enjoys Louis’ struggle. Maybe he likes watching people struggle in general.

Louis shakes his head. The only one he’s ever known to be described as sinister is himself, and that’s not even by someone who dislikes him. His mum actually loves him very dearly.

He takes a seat in Liam’s lap (because where else?) and gives Sophia an exaggerated smile. She rolls her eyes, but he knows she’s only endeared. He once again wonders if she knows about Harry. Probably.

Niall dumps the pizzas on the table, sits down on the couch and instantly steals an unopened beer from the bunch. Ed punches him in the arm subsequently, so the owner of the beer is found quickly. Louis watches in amusement as they bicker, leaning back against Liam’s shoulder.

“Are you okay?” Liam asks in his ear, arm wrapped securely around his stomach.

Louis keeps his eyes on the boys. “Yes.”

“Louis.”

“Harry.”

“I’ve noticed.” Liam’s voice is just a murmur, but he’s serious and warm at the same time. Louis can smell on his breath that he’s had at least one cigarette and a drink of something harder. He’s not drunk, though. “Wanna tell me?”

Louis bites the inside of his cheeks. “I don’t know where we stand.”

“Ask him.”

“It’s a little hard when he’s all ‘kiss and go’.”

“He’s doing that?” Liam frowns.

“Not really. Just today.”

“When?” Louis can feel Liam’s stubble against his jaw.

“You’ve got a beard.”

“I’m gonna be nineteen soon, I’m allowed.”

“Harry’s nineteen.” Ah, logic.

“You need to stop thinking about him all the time.”

“I know.”

“Want to smoke pot?”

Louis shakes his head. “Not in the mood.”

Liam looks at him. “What exactly happened between you?”

Louis sighs, looking away and shaking his head. “Nothing,” he mutters, slumping back against Liam so they’re resting back against the chair. Liam lets it go, because he’s nice like that. Sophia arches a brow at Louis’ disgruntled face and his grumpily crossed arms. “What, Mummy?”

“You’re adorable when you’re sulking,” she laughs.

Louis rolls his eyes, and eventually everyone falls into another conversation, suddenly discussing Stan and the Claire girl for some reason. Apparently something went down on Thursday. Louis couldn’t care less. He’s feeling a rather annoyed with the boy for the moment. He very much dislikes the way he keeps pushing Jas in his face. Pretty uncool, especially when he was that drunk last weekend.

“He’s coming round later,” Ed says. “He’s at hers at the moment, I think.”

“He’s getting round,” Zayn says offhandedly.

“What do you mean?” Liam squints.

Zayn shrugs. “He was with Hannah the other day.”

Louis snorts. “Hannah Walker?” That’s the last girl Louis snogged before Harry. He rolls his eyes. For some reason it sounds pretty silly. Hannah’s lovely, but come on.

“Yeah.” Zayn shrugs again, reaching to pop a crisp into his mouth.

“And you think that’s cool?” Liam asks.

“I don’t consent to cheating if that’s what you’re implying,” Zayn says in annoyance, leering at Liam, but then for some reason his eyes flicker to Louis. Louis arches his brows, completely nonplussed. What the hell is that supposed to mean? “I don’t consent to it, but that’s his business, I suppose.”

Louis frowns in indignation, once again crossing his arms. What the fuck was that supposed to mean?!

The front door to the house opens, and not long thereafter someone pokes their head into the living room, holding up a case of beer. “Brought some—oh.”

Fantastic. Louis is thrilled.

He’s in the same clothes as before, and Louis wonders if the other boy thinks it’s appropriate to show up to a binge in a hoodie and track pants. The fact that he pulls it off is irrelevant. And Louis hates that as soon as he sees how sad Harry looks, Louis’ insides turn to goo and he can’t be even be the slightest bit annoyed anymore.

He meets his eyes, and Harry swallows when he sees Louis’ sour face. The other boys greet him, but he looks uneasy as he sits down on the couch on the opposite side of Louis and Liam. The conversations keep going, but Louis is unable to join in. He finds himself staring at the table in the middle of the circle, gaze unwavering, because he doesn’t want to have to look up and meet Harry’s eyes.

Sometime in middle of someone’s sentence, Louis gives in, looking up for the first time since meeting Harry’s eyes when he stood in the doorway. Instantly his eyes flit to Harry (because they’re treacherous) and he finds Harry isn’t looking at him—he’s staring at his stomach, more precisely at Liam’s arm wrapped around him.

Fuck. No. Louis can’t deal with this. For the first time he realizes that sitting on someone else’s lap with his… whatever Harry is, in front of him is a really stupid idea. The longer Harry keeps his eyes downcast, but surely looked on the touch, Louis feels more and more jittery.

He can’t be sitting here in Liam’s lap when Harry is right in front of him. It’s wrong, especially when the only one’s lap he’d rather sit on is Harry’s. Or better, Harry should be sitting on Louis’ lap. He should have him tucked against him, be able to feel his curls tickling his temple and cheek, drown in his boyish scent, and feel his soft, pliant body against his chest as he breathes. That’s what should be happening.

“Going to the bathroom,” Harry mumbles then, dolefully standing and heading out of the room.

Louis starts to stand immediately, taking the chance relocating from Liam’s lap to Harry’s spot on the couch, but he feels Liam’s arm tighten on him, Niall shaking his head just a fraction. Louis stills in confusion, wondering what he means, and why both of them are acting the same way. Is there some sick telepathy thing going on?

“Stay put,” Liam says. “Don’t move because of him.”

“Can you read my mind or something?” Louis asks.

“No, but you got all tense when you saw him watching you. Louis, stay relaxed.”

“I can’t relax!” he exclaims. Before he knows it he slaps a hand over his mouth, wondering what the hell has gotten into him. “Shit,” he whispers, realizing everyone’s looking at him. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Liam says, nonplussed.

Louis looks up, and great. Harry is standing in the doorway, looking at him.

Louis just walks away. He disentangles himself from Liam’s arms, grabs one of the beer bottles on the table, ignoring everyone’s looks and brushes past Harry. He shakes his head, exhausted. He heads up the stairs, shoulders slumping and shaking his head at himself. He finds Liam’s room upstairs, closes the door behind him and falls back on the bed, covering his face with the nearest pillow.

He screams, kicking his legs dramatically. He’s fucking tired. He’s acting like a child, but he doesn’t know how else to let out his frustration. Usually going to the pitch and kick a ball around helps, but he can’t do that right now.

It doesn’t take long before he hears the door into the room open and soon closing again, steps reaching the bed. The bed sinks next to him, but he doesn’t want to look up. He knows it’s him. How could it not be?

He feels his hand on his knee. It’s just there, resting, fingertips a tiny weight on his jeans. Nothing happens. Louis breathes hotly against the pillow, arms squeezing it tightly, muscles tense. Harry’s hand moves an inch to start with, then he strokes his knee, palm flatly patting his leg. Louis doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he’s not sure that Harry would know either if he asked.

Louis thrusts the pillow away, sitting up, hair disarrayed. Harry’s hand remains where it is on his thigh. Louis stares down at it, sitting still.

“What are you doing?” he asks carefully. He doesn’t know what he means. What are you doing with your hand? What are you doing with me?

Harry keeps his eyes downcast, brows knitted and his shoulders tight. “Want you,” he whispers.

Louis doesn’t know how to translate that. He needs to know what it means. “Harry, what’s going on?” he asks, filled with fatigue.

Harry looks at him, swallowing, eyes flickering down to his lips. “I want you.”

He reaches out once again and clutches Louis’ jaw, holding him in place as he plants a kiss to his lips. Louis doesn’t know whether to give in or stop it. He opens his mouth out of habit, because Harry kissing him always makes him want more. This time Harry kisses him earnestly, then with urgency. There’s something not right about it. He seems almost desperate. He’s not himself right now. Louis can feel it. It’s a distraction.

He breaks apart, pushing Harry back forcefully. “What are you doing?” he asks, and this time there’s anger behind it.

Harry’s face crumbles. He inhales shakily, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

“What do you mean?” Louis asks, cautious now.

“I can’t tell you,” Harry whispers. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

No.

It hurts more. It hurts more this way.

“You hurt me more by not telling me the truth,” Louis begs, eyes starting to itch. If it is what Louis thinks it is, then just do it. Be done with it. Be done with him. He doesn’t have to drag it out, just end it.

“Fuck, Harry. Just fucking say it.” Harry’s tears roll over the edge, flooding down his cheeks, leaving tracks. It makes him angry, voice sharp. “What the fuck happened? On the pitch? What the fuck made you look like I’d just destroyed everything?”

Harry inhales, crying as he speaks. “That’s not what I was talking—“

“Harry.”

Harry shakes his head, giving in, but now his posture is different, like they’re talking about something else entirely. He looks up, but as soon as he meets Louis’ eyes he averts his, entirely hapless once more.

It takes another few moments, then he whispers, “At the match you looked at me like...” He stops. He fumbles for words, opening and closing his mouth, but can't seem to come to anything.

“Harry,” Louis says, urging him. Harry looks up, meeting his eyes for real this time. The anger suddenly passes within him, because Harry is fucking miserable, and he looks at Louis like he is everything to him. Louis doesn’t dare to hope, but…

“It’s silly,” Harry says in despair, hiding behind his hands.

Louis catches them, keeping them safe in his between them on his lap. “It’s not silly,” he whispers.

He keeps pushing him to say what it is he wants, because he can feel that it’s big. He can feel that it’s something involving what Louis is feeling inside. His butterflies are going crazy, flapping their wings and making his entire chest flower with anticipation. His pulse is ticking wild, no speeding limit. Couldn’t catch him if you tried.

Harry shakes his head, exhaling. He’s halfway to tears again, and Louis so desperately wants to know what it is that’s making Harry feel like this.

Before he says it, the room feels more silent than ever.

“You looked at me like it meant something,” Harry whispers, eyes shining with tears as he looks up.

Louis’ heart pounds so hard he can feel it in his throat. He can feel a lump forming, thickening his airways. The muscles in the corners of his mouth forcefully pull down.

But Harry continues.

“And I’m scared that it means what I think it does, because...” He inhales shakily, gasping for air between his hiccups. “I don’t know if I’m right, Louis, I don’t. I’m so sorry—”

Louis leans in and kisses him, softly, reassuringly. He needs to convey that it did mean something. Harry hiccups against his mouth, and it's a little weird, but Louis stays, fingers slipping into the hair at his neck, thumbs stroking his jaw. He looks him in the eye, lips soft against his.

Harry understands. He stares back at him. His shoulders move up and down, chest heaving. There’s something that’s wrong, though. He doesn’t seem placated, nor does he seem relieved.

Louis feels like he’s been running hot and cold interchangeably. One moment he thinks Harry’s going to break his heart and the next it seems like he loves him back.

“I got into Manchester University, Louis,” Harry whispers. “I'm so sorry.”

Have you ever felt like you’re suddenly trapped in vacuum? It’s just silence, you and your thoughts. It feels quite like that, the few seconds after Harry stops speaking. They stare at each other, blinking, entirely still as if one movement would shatter them both like glass.

Louis finally leans back. His mouth is ajar, shock flooding through his entire system. His hands drop from Harry, the room feeling like crystal, fragile.

“I found out this morning,” Harry says then, crying, words desperate. “I’m so sorry! You can still get in, Louis! But I, I have to accept, because I— There’s nothing here for me, and my parents won’t pay for anything other than business school, but I got a full scholarship. I can’t not take it, Louis. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” His words end in a whisper, shoulders shaking with tears.

You’re also not the only player on the team looking to get into Manchester.

Louis remembers when Coach told him. Back then he didn’t even consider who it could be. He should have realized sooner, because it makes sense.

“Oh my god,” he whispers to himself.

“Louis,” Harry sobs, taking his hands. “They could still call.”

It’s not realistic, though. It’s not realistic at all.

The shitty part is that he gets why they’ve called Harry already, not even having seen the last game of the season. Harry’s brilliant. He’s got the leadership, the team play, coveted skills, and he’s dedicated and resolute. Most of all he’s consistent. Louis would be a risk. He’s got ups and downs, too fiery and sparking. Untrustworthy.

Louis presses his lips together, shaking his head. It won’t happen. He untwines his hands from Harry’s.

The door opens then, Stan barging in, finally having arrived it seems. Zayn and Niall are hot on his heels, looking like they were trying to stop him from walking inside. Louis wishes they would have. He doesn’t have the patience for him at all.

“Yo, there you are!” He grins at Louis, throwing a shirt onto his lap. “Jas asked me to pass it on. Nice one. About time you got laid!” He laughs and leaves the room again, whistling as he strolls away through the hall, having no idea what he just walked into.

Louis looks down at his lap, stuffed up t-shirt, newly washed but wrinkled, causing a form of silence that makes the room quiver like a chandelier during an earthquake. He can still feel Harry’s thigh against his, feel him shake from tears by his side.

Louis stares out into the room. He looks around like it’s holding some kind of curse.

Harry blinks, looking down at the shirt and up at Louis. “It’s yours,” he whispers, voice barely a sound, but the shock is evident, as if he didn’t think it actually was.

“Harry, it’s not what you think.” Niall’s voice is firm.

“What is it supposed to mean?” he sniffles, wiping at his eyes. They’re so clear and green, and it hurts Louis to the bone.

The icicles in the room melt, disappearing as wild, hot fire flowers up instead.

“This is fucked up. This whole situation is fucked up,” Louis declares loudly, angrily. He stands, ripping up from the bed and leaves. Niall follows him, leaving Zayn, Harry and the shirt behind.

**

Louis doesn’t know what he’s doing. There’s a week left until the championship match and here he is, skipping practice. The Manchester scouts will be there. Three weeks ago Louis wouldn’t have been able to even comprehend a single person on the team skipping two minutes of practice the week leading up to the match. He’d skin that person alive, quite literally.

He didn’t feel good, he told Coach this morning. He’s sick, unable to attend. Can’t have that, no. Don’t want it getting worse before the match.

Louis receives texts from eleven people on the team, asking if he’s alright. He feels sick with himself for not pulling through for them. He’s their bloody captain. He should be there through thick and thin. He should be strong.

Truth is, he’s faltering. He doesn’t feel well. Worry eats at him, anxiety rolls over in his stomach, and his heart feels like it’s wrenching apart. He put on his jogging shoes this morning and it felt so wrong he had to go take them off. Not moving felt much better.

Existential crises seem to be handed to him on the regular, even though he doesn’t deal with them well. Maybe God wants him to learn. By the way, he’s done with God. He’s done with believing in things. If you do, then you hurt. Fact.

“How’s footie going?” Mark asks him over the phone while he’s at home during the afternoon. “Can’t wait to watch the match. It will be a close one, eh?”

Of course he hasn’t told anyone that there’s a zero percent chance of him getting into Manchester. They rarely accept more than one player from one school, and the exception is too unusual. It’s also Monday and Harry was called on Friday. If they were calling all their choices the previous week, then it’s done. Louis isn’t getting into Uni and I won’t be going anywhere in life. Fact.

“Fine,” he answers. Everything is so bloody fine.

“Are you going to be captain? Or Harry?”

Louis wishes he wouldn’t mention him, but it’s inevitable. “Harry. I was last game. We take turns, so.” It's Harry’s moment to shine. The people he will be playing for at university will be watching him for the first time in a while, so it fits, Louis supposes.

They talk a bit more about the upcoming game. Louis feels stupid, because it doesn’t excite him like it would have a few weeks ago. They end the chat after another ten minutes of talking, Louis stumbling downstairs in sweats and ski socks (because they’re comfortable, alright) to bring up some tea to grumble into in his bed.

He stops dead in the entrance to the kitchen, his mother calmly sipping on a cuppa herself.

“You’re home,” Louis observes, awkwardly still.

“Yes, I am,” she says calmly. “You didn’t notice me when you walked in an hour earlier than you should from school.” She arches a pointed brow. “I also found these this morning.” She nods at the table in front of her, specifically at the small packets placed there.

Louis turns beat red. “It¬—”

”Has something to do with all the strange pieces of clothing I’ve been finding? That don’t belong to you?” Louis swallows, no fucking idea of what to say. His mother picks up one of the small packets, clearing her throat, before reading what it says. “Durex. One latex condom. Rainbow colors.”

Leave it to his mum to be the most awkward person in the entire world.

“It was a joke,” he says weakly. Harry had said something about popsicles…

She looks at him meaningfully, before she waves him forward, holding out her arms. “Want to tell me, darling?”

He nods slowly, and fits himself into her lap, feeling like a five-year-old as he snuggles into her chest. “There’s a boy,” he mumbles.

“A special boy?” she murmurs back, her cheek pressed to the top of his head.

He nods silently, pressing closer to her, wanting her to wrap him up and hide him.

“Are you skipping practice because of him?” she wonders, and he knows that she knows it’s Harry.

It’s hard to answer, because it isn’t solely because of him. It’s a mix of things, but mostly it’s football. Football feels symbolic for a lot of disappointing things at the moment.

He shrugs, blinking slowly. “Very tired today.” He doesn’t have to say more. His mum understands. She sways them back and forth for a moment, keeping her arms around him tightly.

“Mark says you’ve been talking things out.”

Louis nods. “Yeah. We talked.”

“He told me how you felt.” She pauses for a moment, her swaying stilling. “I didn’t know you felt that way.” He can’t answer, because he doesn’t know what to say. “Sweetie,” she sighs. “We should have talked about it. We should have explained what was going on. Things were so complicated back then, and must’ve been much more confusing for you and the girls. I’m so sorry we never talked.”

He nods, unable to do much else.

She kisses his cheek, keeping her face snuggled to the side of his. “Do you want a party for your graduation?” she asks.

He squeezes his eyes shut. “No, please,” he whispers. “No party.” She just nods and starts rocking them side to side again, humming some old lullaby she used to sing when he was a kid. It should be silly, but it’s not.

He receives a text from Harry before he goes to bed later that night.

Louis please come to training, don’t think the match doesn’t matter it matters very much a lot

His stupid way of talking shines through his texts so clearly, and it pricks at Louis how much he’s going to miss him when he leaves. He already misses him.

**

He goes to training on Tuesday. He owes the boys that much. It’s the last footie match in High School, the last one with this team, with his boys. Even if he isn’t getting into his university, he still owes the lads to play his best. Winning the championship might mean a little something to him anyway, even if it won’t lead him to something bigger.

Little things. Just because some things go to hell, it doesn’t mean other lose meaning. It’s not because of Harry that he’s here. It’s just… he’s got nowhere else to go, so. Or that’s what he tells himself.

It’s obvious why Harry looks sad and awkward each time their eyes meet now. Louis still doesn’t know why he kept away from him before he got accepted to Manchester, but every time Louis catches him staring at him now he looks miserable and apologetic.

Louis knows Harry didn’t take his spot. He almost rolls his eyes at how silly thinking that would be, but he knows that Harry’s scared that’s what Louis thinks. He doesn’t. This is all just... unfortunate.

He knows Harry wants to walk over and talk, apologize and apologize again, because he can see the way he looks at him. Louis can’t take that. He can’t take Harry being sorry for getting what Louis wanted. It only makes him feel worse.

“I miss Harry,” Lottie says pointedly that afternoon, after practice. The three of them are slouching in the living room, Niall scratching at her scalp where she’s fitted her head onto his lap.

“Well, suck it up.”

“What he means to say is, he’s waiting for Harry to woman up and tell him if he loves him back or not,” Niall says, and receives an approving arched brow from Lottie.

Harry’s afraid that Louis hates him because of football. Thing is, Louis could tell him that he isn’t, fuck, he should tell him that, but. He can’t talk to him, and especially not about where they stand anymore. How many times do you have to ask somebody to be clear with you and they never give you an answer, until you realize that they don’t want to tell you? Obviously, the answer you want is not one that they can give.

There’s the other thing. Harry is leaving. He doesn’t know when, but some time before September he’ll be gone. Louis doesn’t know where he himself will be, but he knows where he won’t. It’s unfortunate.

“I’m getting another glass of water,” he says, getting up from his chair, walking out into the kitchen.

He lets the tap run for a few seconds, waiting for the water to turn cold. He sips down the entire glass, refilling twice before he walks back to the living room.

“Did he ever tell you anything?” Niall’s voice is low, murmuring. Louis stops in the hall, frowning.

“Not really. It was just small talk about random things. When Louis slept in late he’d come down and have breakfast with me, or just make me tea and we’d sit at the table for a bit.”

Louis didn’t know this. Harry was always by his side when he woke up. He was always there, nose pressed to his throat. Does that mean he always went back up, slid in under the covers and fitted himself back into Louis' side?

“That’s so strange,” Niall mumbles, sounding like it seems a bit unbelievable to him. Louis stays silent, listening intently. “Do you think he loves him back? You know, like Louis loves him, I mean? I’ve understood that they’re friends too, but are they romantic?”

“Never really saw them acting like a couple, but they were affectionate. They saved private things for themselves, I guess. But...” her voice ceases for a moment. Louis listens harder, brows knit. “I really think that they can be good together.”

She’s wrong. They can’t be good together. There are too many outer factors fucking everything up. It’s fucked up, realizing that however Harry actually feels for him, it won’t matter. In three months Harry will be gone anyway.

Honestly, Manchester can go fuck themselves. Not because they didn’t pick him, but because they chose Harry and only him, whisking him away from Louis.

Louis is going to play for Liverpool solely in spite.

He walks back into the living room, making every sound conspicuous. Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking.

**

Wednesday.

The silence, the awkward skipping around each other, the shy apologetic looks during classes, they all stop on Wednesday at practice.

The lads on the team are gathered in the locker room, sitting on the benches in a circle. Louis is placed on one of the short ends, between Ed and Liam. Harry is on the opposite side, directly in front of him. Louis is fumbling with the laces to his shoes, trying not to look at the boy. He doesn’t know why it matters if they work things out or not anymore.

Louis finishes his left shoe, looking up at where the lads beside Harry are laughing about something. Stan has got his phone up, pointing at the screen while Oli is cackling beside him. They’re scrolling past pictures from some party it seems. Louis’ annoyance with Stan is over the top. He scowls down at his shoes, continuing with his second cleat.

He once again hears his cackle after a couple of moments, and he snaps his head up, barely keeping himself from saying something nasty. He bites his tongue in the last moment, closing his mouth. Fighting within the team before the match is not good for their team mentality.

Instead his eyes wander to Harry, who’s glancing down at Stan’s screen as the other boy scrolls. His face is impassive, tired blues under his eyes prominent. Louis wants to smooth them out, kiss them away. Can’t do that, no.

Louis doesn’t know what it is that happens, but suddenly the boys quiet down, Harry’s entire posture turning stiff as they all stare at the screen.

Stan and the boys burst out laughing after a second, but Harry doesn’t laugh. His entire face displays clear shock, mouth open just a little. Then he shuts lips together, suddenly turning to face Louis. His eyes are cold, but Louis can read the hurt in there like an open book.

The whole team goes silent as Harry abruptly stands up in a scarily fierce movement, disrupting the chatter. He stands in the middle of the circle, eyes piercing Louis’, whose heart is beating so hard it feels like he’s going to crack a rib. Harry’s never looked at him like this. He’s just standing there, eyes filled with anger and hurt, staring at Louis like he’s broken him in two.

“Did you fuck her good then?”

Louis’ mouth falls open.

Harry’s voice is void of any emotion, yet his eyes disclose everything at once.

“What?” Louis fumbles. “Who—”

“Jasmine! That’s who!” His voice is one word from breaking. He points back at the phone Stan his holding. Stan is just sitting there, startled just like the rest of the boys.

“I didn’t,” Louis whispers.

“Zayn saw you! You were in the bathroom with her. The fucking shirt!”

Bathroom? What—fuck, that’s over a month ago.

Liam’s voice is like the calm spot within a hurricane. “Harry, he didn't sleep with her. She washed the shirt because it was gross after the party.”

Harry swallows, arms wrapping around himself self-consciously. He blinks quickly, like he’s fighting off tears.

“You don’t trust me,” Louis realizes.

Louis stares at Harry. He realizes that it does matter if they talk or not. The point is that he’s head over heels in love with Harry, and Harry may or may not feel the same. It fucking matters.

Harry gives up any pretense of seeming composed. “I do, Lou,” he whispers. “But it’s scary, because you don’t trust me back.”

It’s not fair. At the match, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Harry shouldn’t have looked at him in that way, and then left without explanation. Every other reaction would have been fine. Louis trusted Harry. After their night together he trusted him completely, but after his reaction he’s been faltering, not knowing where they stand anymore. He still doesn’t.

“It’s not true,” Louis says. “Trusted you with me.”

The room is eerily silent, Louis vaguely aware of the other lads sitting around them.

He knows that it is beyond Harry’s control if he’ll hurt him. Louis will end up hurt however this all plays out, because in the end Harry will go.

“Pitch, boys,” he orders, gaze locked in Harry’s. Nobody moves an inch. “I said, go to the pitch!”

After an awkward moment, there’s rustling of clothes and scrapes of studs against the floor. The boys file out of the room, Harry and Louis remaining put until every last person has left, the silence the only thing left in the room.

Louis stares at him, voice hard. “Don’t think for a second that I would hurt you like that. You and Jasmine need to sort your fucking shit out. Leave me out of it, because I’ve been nothing but loyal to you.”

He turns around leaves the room, the door loudly clashing closed behind him even though he didn’t mean to slam it. He doesn’t ever want to see the way Harry’s eyes looked when he spoke again. He doesn’t think they’ll sort this out. He just doesn’t see it happening.

He walks out onto the pitch, seeing how his teammates murmur among themselves. Louis doesn’t say anything, and Harry doesn’t come back for the rest of practice.

**

The next couple of days before the championship final are weird. Louis knows there are talks going around school about him and Harry. Nobody seems to actually know what it is they’re talking about, but the fact that there’s something going on between Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson is evidently out there. It’s not the usual talks either. It’s not “Harry pushed Louis over at practice” or “Louis yelled at Harry for not doing his drills and called him a miserable twat”. It’s very hush-hush, A-list gossip.

Maybe the talks seem different because Louis and Harry aren’t going back to normal like they usually would after a fight. Through Louis’ vision Harry doesn’t exist, and Louis isn’t even on Harry’s radar. They don’t talk, they don’t look at each other, and they don’t even see each other. As far as anyone would know they don’t think the other even exists.

Only Harry’s always there. He’s in Louis’ periphery, jogging across the pitch, sitting at his desk in class, and leans against his car next to Zayn in the parking lot.

Louis wonders if this is it, if it’s over now. It feels like a book with an enormous lead up, the anticipation over the top, having your skin prickling, and then when you’re done and close the book you feel unfinished, because the ending wasn’t even that great. Louis wonders if their story is one of those, completely and utterly disappointing.

Luckily there are only two days left of school until the weekend and the big match, and pretending he doesn’t see Harry only lasts for two entire days. It feels like a lifetime. At least when they were only avoiding each other they acknowledged one another through lingering looks. Now they don’t even pretend the other is there.

Dramatics have always been Louis’ strong suit, so obviously he feels strongly that his life is pretty much over. He’s not filled with excitement and anticipation for the upcoming game, but he itches in a different way. He feels almost disappointed, because he always imagined the last game of the season to be something happy, something everyone would enjoy. The team should be in a state where the aura is comfortable, much like it was just before the semi-final. Now everything is awkward and wrong.

He doesn’t understand the point of the scouts even coming to the game anymore either. It’s unfair how he thought he’d be given a chance to as least prove himself before they decided if he was worth a shot or not. He resents them already.

Saturday night before the game he’s at the football pitch, letting his frustration buzz around him like a field of snapping electricity. He lines up ball of after ball in front of the goal, kicking and kicking, chest burning and sweat wetting his hair. He shoots until he has to fetch all of them again and start over, and then again and again, over and over. The balls fly into the net, they clash with the posts and crossbar, they rustle the fence behind the pitch, but he never feels relieved.

Nights like this, when he feels like nothing is okay, footie always finds a way to relieve his system. Running up and down a pitch used to clear his brain of the cluster, but it isn’t helping tonight. Nothing is helping.

He lands another hard shot into the very low of the left goal post. It hits the inside of the post, but it’s too hard and bounces off diagonally, out into the dark on Louis’ right.

Louis sighs and starts lining up the footballs once again. There’s still this unpleasant energy lingering inside his veins that won’t dissipate. He needs to get rid of it, but it doesn’t go away.

“Of course you’re here!”

Louis stops in the middle of landing another shot to one of the balls. He closes his eyes in frustration.

“Of bloody course you’re here…!” He’s singing. Louis turns around, watching Harry half walk-half dance towards him from the side of the pitch. “You’re always here.”

“Jesus Christ, have you been drinking?”

“Just a little,” Harry says indignantly. He stops a few yards away, clasping his hands behind his back and manages to look almost entirely sober.

“Fuck, Harry, we have a game tomorrow.” Louis turns in aggravation, blowing another shot to the nearest lined up ball, sending it straight into the crossbar, making the entire goal shake slightly with the impact.

“It’s just a few beers, and I don’t get hung over.”

Louis snorts. “As if. Didn’t you spend an entire morning in my bathroom after we drank too many shooters?” He kicks another ball into the net.

“I don’t get hung over on beer,” Harry corrects himself in annoyance.

“Why do you always show up when I’m here?” Another ball rustles the net.

“It’s not your pitch.”

“Why are you here?” Another kick.

“Okay,” Harry says, holding up his hands. “Will you just chill with the shooting for a bit? Relax… God.”

Something flares within him.

“No, I will not!” He yells, vehemently turning around and stalking up to him, literally screaming in his face. “How the fuck am I supposed to relax?! Do you have any idea what it feels like losing the only thing that’s going to fucking save you from this fucking hellhole?!”

Their faces are inches apart, Harry gazing down at him. In a way he’s unwavering, but he looks the furthest thing away from cold. “You haven’t lost, Louis,” he says, taking a small step back, swallowing. “They can still call.”

“Don’t be so fucking naive, Harry.” His voice is filled with venom.

“Louis, the game hasn’t even occurred yet! Stop thinking that everything is over when you’re not even close to the finish line!”

“But it is over!” he yells. He kicks another ball, this one flying far above the goal, rustling the fence behind the pitch.

Harry’s voice when he yells back is something Louis has never heard before. The raw emotion in there is staggering, and his heart pounds like a hammer.

“You act as if you have nowhere to go when you do! It drives me crazy!” He gestures vividly with his hands, as if he wishes he could rip a limb from his body in pure frustration. “You’ve got one thing in your head! You don’t see anything clearly! Even if Manchester doesn’t pick you, you’ve got fucking options! Your grades are good, Louis. Your football is far above mediocre, and there are other programs! You’ve got job experience, the teachers love you, and Coach respects you so much. You have people falling in love with you from left and right, and you don’t even notice any of it!”

Louis blinks. “Who’s in love with me?”

Harry wavers. He swallows and shrugs. “I don’t know, girls? Greg?”

Ouch.

Fucking asshole. He can't even say it, can he? Can't fucking tell him that he doesn't feel the same.

Louis wants to force it out of him. So you’re not? You’re not in love with me then?

“Greg has a girlfriend, you fucking piece of shit,” he whispers instead.

He turns back to his footballs, sending one of them flying into left top corner of the net. It rustles, but it isn’t satisfying him.

Harry’s voice is lower, but he’s still talking like he’s begging Louis to listen. “Don’t stop until it’s actually over.”

“Harry, for fuck sake—”

”It’s not over!”

”I don’t believe you!”

“Trust me, goddammit, Louis!” Harry exclaims in anger.

He stalks over, suddenly gripping Louis’ arm and hauling him back. Louis stumbles, but quickly straightens up, ripping his arms away from Harry’s touch.

I trusted you and look where it got me. He’s got him heartbrokenly in love without a chance at a happy ending. He wants to say it.

“Louis,” Harry says, sighing in a hopeless kind of way. “It’s been months, babe, just trust me on this.”

“Don’t call me that! And I don’t trust people. I trust myself.” Sometimes it feels like he can’t even do that. “I trusted you, Harry, and look where it’s gotten me.”

Harry’s face turns hard, but at the same time it doesn’t look like he believes the words he’s letting out of his mouth. “It’s not my fault that—”

“I’m not talking about the fucking scholarship.” I’m in love with you, you fucking idiot.

He goes back to the footballs once again, but instead of kicking he picks one up with his hands and throws it across the pitch instead. It disappears into the darkness.

“Louis!” Harry says then. His voice is serious and honest, tone scarily earnest. “You’ve got everything on a leash. You’ve been killing yourself doing what you’re doing. You have a job, school, footie, all this shit with your family and—me. You’re going to hit a wall if you don’t stop. It drives me insane watching you.” He pauses, but only for a second. “You’re never completely at ease. You worry so much, and I can’t think of one moment where you’ve just let everything be.”

Louis stares up at him, unable to speak.

“Sometimes it’s better to let go.”

They look at each other, and Louis thinks they both know how what he just said could be interpreted. The double meaning is clear.

“Do you want me to let go?” Louis asks, arms crossed over his chest, raising one of his brows. His voice is even, but inside he’s gathering up a storm.

Harry’s eyes don't tell what he's thinking for once. At least, Louis can’t read him.

Louis should. He should let him go because after all he’s going anyway. Maybe not now, but he’ll be gone. Trying to keep him will only make them both suffer.

Harry still doesn’t say anything.

“I don't know what you want from me.” Louis shakes his head, taking several steps backwards.

“I want you.” The words stumble out of Harry's mouth in a rush, as he takes a step forward.

“See, you say that,” Louis says. It’s the only thing Harry has told him each time Louis’ asked for the real thing. “But it’s not enough. And it won’t make any part of us okay.”

He backs away.

“See you.”

**

Louis has all of his things packed. His cleats, towel, fresh clothes, and shin-guards (which are newly washed, because they smelled terrible so Louis decided to throw them in the washing machine, and it worked) are all stuffed neatly into his training bag, waiting by the door.

The game is in two and a half hours, and Mark is supposed to come by and pick him up soon. He isn’t nervous, but his stomach feels strange. This is the game the entire senior year has been leading up to, and now he doesn’t know how to feel about it.

It’s strange to think that the semi-final was almost a month ago. Everything is so different now, it feels like the last time he slept with Harry didn’t even happen. It’s fucked up, but then again, everything is always a little fucked up. He should be used to it.

“Louis!” Lottie calls from the kitchen. “Dad’s here!”

“Wait! Wait, wait, wait!” His mother comes running from the living room, stopping him from picking his bag up. She grabs his head between her hands and plants a loud kiss on each of his cheeks. “Good luck! You’ll do great! And we’ll be watching all together. If you want to find us, look for the pink, sparkly sign with your jersey number.”

Louis grimaces as she lets his head go. “You made a sign?”

“The twins did it. Mark sent me a picture.”

Louis shakes his head, hiding his smile as he bends down to strap his bag over his shoulder. “I’ll just go now.”

“Hold on!” Lottie comes out into the hall and wraps her arms around him in a brief hug before he goes. “Good luck, bro. Don’t suck.”

“You make me feel so loved.” Louis smiles, then turns around and strolls out the door, waving a hand behind him. He pulls his hoodie over his head, quickly traipsing down the stone path to the dark blue Volvo waiting at the curb. He jumps into the passenger seat, closing the door and putting on his seatbelt as Mark turns on the ignition.

“Hi,” Louis greets after a moment.

“You don’t sound nervous at all. What’s wrong?” Mark asks instantly.

“What do you mean?”

“Your foot isn’t tapping and your posture isn’t tense. Come on, what’s going on?” He gives him a frown, reminding him that he knows him so well.

Louis looks at his father. “You can’t tell anyone if I tell you.”

He’s still frowning, but nods nonetheless. “What is it?”

“D’you promise?”

“You have my word.”

Louis sighs. “I didn’t get into Manchester. This match doesn’t matter.” He turns back to staring out the window. Mark is quiet for a few moments, but he can’t do anything but simply open his mouth before Louis interrupts him. “I know.”

He doesn’t have to say more and his dad’s hand reaches out and squeezes his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmurs. Louis can’t see his face because he refuses to face him. “It’s going to be fine,” Mark says then, voice calming, and there isn’t a note of worry in his voice. It frustrates Louis immensely. “I know it will. Football doesn’t necessarily have to be everything, Louis, but there are other schools, love. We don’t have to talk about it now, but we can fix this, yeah?”

Louis doesn’t answer, but he knows he’s wrong. Footie is everything.

After a couple of minutes they reach the school. Mark drives him all the way to the building, stopping at the end of the parking lot.

“Louis,” he says, as Louis is about to close the door behind him. “Don’t give up just yet. After all, this is just one match. You and your boys just want to win the championship, yeah?”

Louis closes the door, Mark’s words poking something in him.

His boys. The lads. His team.

Of course they all want to win the championship. The boys are relying on him to do his best and lead the team as a captain should. They’re a team for Christ sake. Shit.

Mark’s car speeds away. He’s on his way to pick up Fizzy and the twins before heading over to Mum’s house. Apparently they’ve decided to try to spend some time together as a whole. His parents are not getting back together, Louis isn’t that dumb or naïve. But it’s nice. They’re making an effort. Louis’ team will be making an effort tonight, so fuck everything else, because so should Louis.

He starts walking towards the locker rooms, bag heavy on his shoulder. The booths for checking the tickets are already up, the bleachers decorated with the school colors, arrows put up pointing the opposing players in the right way of their given locker room. From a perspective it looks festive and fun, but really it’s far from.

Most of the lads are there when Louis walks into the room, grabbing a seat at the end of one of the benches. The atmosphere isn’t as sparked as before the semi-final, but Louis didn’t truly expect it to be. However, the lads are obviously nervous, walking around, bouncing on their feet, pulling up their socks with far too much concentration than needed. Louis feels traitorous, seeing as for once he doesn’t share the exact same feelings as the rest of the team.

Everyone gets dressed at their own rate, and it takes Louis fifteen minutes to even get his shorts on. As he’s just pulled off his shirt, the door opens and Harry steps inside along with Coach Abrahams. Harry’s eyes fleet Louis’ way, and Louis looks away promptly, focusing on treading his shirt over his head.

He keeps his body facing the wall of lockers, leaving his back to the empty circle in the middle of the room. He tries to psyche himself up, jumps a little to get his adrenaline running. He’s never felt this detached, so indifferent prior to a match. It feels entirely wrong.

“Louis.”

He turns around, finding Harry standing behind him. He’s fully dressed, jersey hanging low over his crotch, slightly loose from his shoulders. He’s timidly looking down at him, tummy leaning forward slightly as he fiddles with something in his hands. It’s the captain armband, red and white with black, thick script.

“Here,” he says, biting his lip like a toddler, handing it out.

“It’s not mine. I was last game, Harry,” Louis says, brows knit.

“Want you to have it.”

“Harry…”

“Please.” His eyes are deeply earnest. “I talked to the lads, we all agree,” he says quietly. “You should be captain on the last game of the season. You’ve made us a better team this year, and you’ve been entirely devoted to us. You deserve it.”

Louis regards him in total silence for a moment, swallowing as Harry pushes the band into his hands. He grips it when Harry lets go, watching him give a tight nods at it, before turning around and walking back to his spot by one of the other benches.

Louis doesn’t know if it’s true that he deserves it. Maybe any other game this year, but tonight… Though… He could earn it. The match hasn’t even started yet, and already he’s disappointed with himself. It doesn’t need to be that way. He can still turn it around.

He bounces up on his toes, hands squeezing around the armband forcefully before he finally decides that, fuck, okay. He can do this. He reaches up and fastens it around his left upper arm, feeling the tight material press around his bicep. It feels good. It feels like it belongs there.

Coach talks to them before the match, just like last time. Louis doesn’t listen too closely, too busy feeling his pulse tick rapidly in his veins. He can do this. Right. Of course he can.

Harry meets his eyes sometime during the speech. He nods at the band around Louis’ arm, giving a tiny smile. Louis forces himself to look away.

Coach sends them out of the locker room soon enough, blowing his whistle for symbolic reasons, giving them all high fives and claps on their backs. As they step out of the locker room, Louis amongst the last group of boys leaving, someone calls from their right. Most of the team continues towards the pitch, but Louis stops, the few lads behind him.

“Oi! Tomlinson!”

Louis turns to see a group of guys from the opposing team, five of them ganging up just a yard away. They’re clad in green attire, arms crossed as they size up Louis’ team, the one in the middle twitching a brow.

“Y’alright, mate?” Louis says, arching a brow right back at him. He crosses his arms as well, biceps tense, captains armband not needed for a second to show who’s in charge on this turf.

The one in the middle, dark hair, a few inches taller than Louis, smirks and takes another step forward. Louis instantly feels the boys behind him close in. He isn’t completely sure (yes he is, he’s a thousand percent certain) but he thinks Harry’s immediately to his right, flanking him not an inch from his arm.

“You’re up by three in the scoring league.”

“Damn right I am.”

He snorts. “Shouldn’t be so confident, since I’ll be taking that spot after tonight.”

Louis snorts, laughing, then turns completely serious. “Your self-righteousness is disgusting.”

“And your holier-than-thou attitude is appalling,” Harry adds. Louis almost rolls his eyes.

He continues. “Maybe if you practiced your free kicks a little more you wouldn’t have ruined your chances at getting through to the final match properly, instead of playing bingo with penalties.” He sees how the lad’s eyes darken. Yes, Louis has been reading up. “Maybe you wouldn’t need to walk over here to rile people up if your footie was actually above mediocre.”

He scowls, tone dark. “You can talk, Tommo, but it won’t earn you a golden trophy.”

“That’s exactly what I said, you incompetent moron.”

His eyes narrow, anger obvious on his face. It looks like he’s going to argue further, but instead he turns to leave, ending with a last sentence. “Nice braid, princess,” he snorts, nodding at Harry.

Louis isn’t having that. The whole team isn’t having that.

Almost as if practiced, every single one of them takes a step forward, jaws and fists clenched. Louis’ voice is ice cold. “Why don’t you take the homophobic piece of shit language you just threw at my boy and shove it up your fucking arse, before I punch you in the fucking throat.”

Maybe it’s the fact that Louis’ eyes are burning that makes him walk away, but it’s probably just because Coach Abrahams is walking up to the huddle. The lads scatter, heading towards the pitch instantly.

“Oi, lads! What are you doing? Get to warm up. Now, let’s go!”

Louis sighs, grumbling as he watches the opposing team’s leader go. He hopes to break one of his ribs with a lovely, subtle elbow before halftime. He turns around and starts to follow the boys to the pitch, but Harry stops him with a hand on his shoulder.

“What?”

“You called me your boy.” His voice is soft, eyes looking up at him with a glint. Hopefulness.

Louis bites his cheek, crossing his arms once again. “Don’t let it get to your head,” he sighs, before he hurries to get away.

Warm up seems to flash by in two minutes. Before Louis knows it it’s time to take positions and greet the referees and shake hands with the other team. The boys get ready by the bench, taking a last sip of water and stretch some more. Louis has spotted the pink sign in the crowd, at the right corner by the ground. He didn’t wave or try to gain their attention, knowing they’re there is enough.

“Louis.” Coach taps his shoulder. Louis turns and faces him, finding the older man nodding him to the side. He follows, stopping a few feet away from the team. Coach nods at his arm, brow rising.

Strangely, Louis feels like blushing, his neck warming. “Harry gave it to me.”

“I see.” He clasps his hands in front of his stomach, staring at him seriously. “I want you to know that it’s okay to be nervous. The scouts are here to watch you, specifically. I didn’t want to tell you like this, but I’ve seen how unfocused and far away you’ve seemed this entire week, never mind not showing up at one of the sessions. It’s going to be fine, Louis. Don’t let your nerves affect you. If you just play like you normally do, it will be okay.”

Louis pales, swallowing thickly. “Are lying to me?” he whispers.

He snorts. “Why would I ever lie to you?”

That’s a good question. A really good one. Coach Abrahams claps him on the shoulder encouragingly, giving him a tightlipped smile before strolling off towards the bench.

The crowd is already loud on the bleachers, waving signs and scarfs around, cheering for their respective teams. The referees have taken place at the centre of the pitch, hands clasped behind their backs, shoulders squared.

Holy fuck, they’re here.

Louis turns around, eyes scanning the crowd. He can’t spot the scouts, or anyone who could potentially be one of them. His chest feels tight, throat thick.

He’s evidently pale as he walks up to join the lads by the middle circle, taking place at the front of the line. He feels Liam’s gloved hands pat him on the back in reassurance, but everything around him seems blurred.

The coin flipping is fast, Louis winning, choosing to pick side instead of starting with the ball. He’s always had this thing, wishing to start with the ball in the second half, just in case they’re down. It’s not much, but it always makes him feel more optimistic. It hasn’t been needed in a while though, because they haven’t been down by a goal in ages.

When the game starts, it feels like someone is blowing a horn into his ears, whitening out every sound. The ball is illuminated to him, tunnel vision. The match is intense from the start, everybody suddenly on their toes and splitting at the seams with energy. Louis doesn’t know how, but somehow they’ve all gone from circling around each other in a strange atmosphere, into playing like a team. Maybe it’s because if their hard practice, because no matter what is going on within in the group, they come together, playing like a team because it’s the only way they know how to do it.

Louis swipes the ball from the opposing team’s captain twenty minutes in, flitting down the field through a piece of open space. He’s nearing the penalty box, sensing the other boy closing in on him from behind. He passes Jonah on his left, ready to take a new position, but as soon as he’s passed the ball on to his teammate, he feels his knees fold he’s tripped somewhere in the middle in front of the penalty area. He lands harshly on his left side, the whistle from the referee loud and clear over the pitch. The crowd’s furious, booing.

“Oi!” Louis yells, scowling up at the lad in the green jersey and red armband. “Keep your fucking feet aimed at the fucking ball, will you?!”

The ref comes up, holding out a hand to warn Louis from keeping such language. He then turns to the other lad, face grim. He holds up a yellow card, making the entire green clad team groan in frustration.

Louis smirks, lifting his brows once, then grabs the hand Stan is holding out for him to help him up. However, he manages to catch the dark look in the boy’s eyes before he turns away, and he knows this is far from over.

Everyone starts taking place for the free kick, three defenders staying behind, the rest gathering in the penalty box. Louis, Harry and Lee are left by the ball, staring at it in contemplation.

“Louis takes it,” Lee says, taking a step back.

“Should I?

He quirks a brow. “When have you ever asked?”

That’s true. Louis used to simply walk up and line the ball up like it belonged to him. He frowns, nodding.

“I’ll line you up,” Harry says, nodding right back at him. Louis doesn’t need to answer, because Harry simply knows.

Louis takes a couple of steps back, taking in the position of the wall the defending players have formed in front of the goal. The keeper is standing just a foot too much to the left. It’s a tiny technicality that would go unnoticed, but Louis is good at punishing where the mistake has been made.

The adrenaline is pumping in Louis’ ears, and he feels his heart pound against his chest in hard motions. The referee blows his whistle, and Harry nods, poking the ball just a little forward, before Louis takes three quick steps forward and kicks it straight over the wall.

The keeper is five inches short as he throws himself, hands not able to reach far enough as he reaches toward the right upper corner of the goal. The ball goes in, top corner, rustling the net satisfyingly.

It’s strange, because the joy doesn’t come instantly like it normally would, and for a second Louis feels weirdly numb. He feels the boys hug him and kiss his head, clapping him on his shoulders and back. He sees Coach throw a fist in the air, yelling in praise, but he feels detached from it for so long that it takes Ed’s loud voice in his ear to wake up.

“Two of the most important goals! You’re fucking insane! Not a chance you’re not winding up on a wall of fame somewhere!” He cackles, the sound sharp in Louis’ ear.

He scored.

But as things go, they don’t hold the lead for long. Only five minutes later one of the defenders makes a tiny mistake, letting one of the green players slip past. They succeed a goal, and suddenly it’s tied once more.

After that the match turns into something else entirely. The frustration is evident, the tackles harder and the foul elbows and pinches worse than ever. Louis knocks a midfielder over with a hard shoulder in the back just a few minutes before halftime. It’s too shady for the referee to make out what happened, but it was definitely not clean play, and everybody knows it. Coach warns him to cool it, but it isn’t easy. The more Louis’ team gives, the more they get back. The entire pitch feels like a minefield. One wrong step and it’s going to turn ugly.

Louis swipes his sweaty fringe off his forehead during halftime, only to pour water over his entire face, wiping it off with the end of his jersey. He feels like a soaked fucking otter, his muscles are sore and his calves are burning.

If he thought first half was rough, then he doesn’t know what the second part of the match is. Three more yellow cards have been distributed and Louis can’t even remember how many completely unnecessary free kicks. When the opposing team scores thirty minutes in, everything goes dark for Louis. He can feel his boys fuming, Liam spitting at his gloves in frustration. It feels like they should have burst ages ago, and it’s long overdue.

Louis knocks over another player only a few minutes later. It’s foul and his sportsmanship isn’t exactly thriving. He’s late into the situation, tackling down one of the guys that stood by their captain as he spat homophobia over Harry. Not to be cold, but Louis thinks he deserves it and lot more.

The referee instantly whistles, stalking forward. He stares at Louis grimly as he raises the yellow card, making Louis roll his eyes. It’s not that he didn’t see it coming, it’s that he did it and he didn’t care about the consequences.

“One more thing and you’re off the pitch,” the ref warns, and Louis knows how serious he is. He can tell he’s pissed that he missed Louis’ last foul (Louis could gladly let him know that he’s missed a couple more, but he isn’t asking. He is fairly certain that the entire opposing team hate his guts) and he would send him off the pitch if he could.

Someone pulls at his arm, dragging him away from the huddle of players that’s formed where the pathetic idiot is still sitting on the ground.

“Focus,” Stan says, grabbing his head in his hands, holding him still and stares into his eyes. “Relax. Focus. Screw that guy, don’t make this personal, Louis. Who gives a shit what they said about Harry? They’re homophobic piece of shits who can shove a dildo down their throats, but we’re not going to let that affect us, alright?”

Louis rips apart from him in frustration, but he stays put, staring back at Stan. He’s right. He knows that.

He’s playing the strangest game of his life. He doesn’t know what he’s playing for. Is he playing for the scouts that are sitting on the bleachers? Is he playing for his mates, or for the trophy, or for Harry who wants to prove himself to the people having taken him on, or is he playing because he has to? He’s never felt like this about football. He always used to play for himself.

He slaps himself on the cheek. It burns, but he feels better. Focus. It doesn’t matter what he’s playing for. Whatever it is, winning is the sole goal in either case.

He takes place with the rest of the lads in the penalty area, leaving Jonah and two other boys in the blocking wall. The guy who’s going to take the free kick lines up, and the others bounce in their spots, positioning themselves.

The lad takes the shot. It flies directly into the left goal post, flying right out in front of the goal. Louis can hear the gasp of the crowd, the green players moaning in frustration. But the ball is still free in the area. Quick like nobody else, Liam scoops it up and flings it to the left side of the pitch, creating a fast turnover as it lands by Lee’s feet.

Everyone is in action once more. Lee flits down the field, Louis heading up in front of him to give him an alternative. There are only two defending players in front of them, and Lee passes Louis the ball.

It feels like going back eight months. It’s the exact same situation, Louis alone with two defenders in front of him. He dribbles past the first one, the step-over coming naturally before he fakes left and goes right. Only one player ahead, and then the keeper.

“Hey!”

Harry is on the far right, because bloody hell, of course he is. Where else would he be?

Louis nears his player, who is torn between attacking him and making sure he can’t pass Harry. The moments flash by, and the inevitable decision to stop Louis first takes only a nanosecond.

It’s silly how big it feels, but, fuck it. Louis trusts Harry. He passes him the ball. Harry is left with the keeper, and there’s no doubt about what happens next. Harry scores.

Louis almost laughs as he hears Coach Abrahams yelling voice over the crowd, and he looks over to see him throw his large notebook to the ground in pure elation. Louis chuckles, and with a grin hugs his boys back. It’s once again a draw.

The intensity of the game continues through to the last minute. When the referee ends the second half, it’s still a draw. Just the thought of playing overtime is draining, but there’s not much to do about it.

Louis’ calves are aching, his heart is beating rapidly with fatigue from running up and down the pitch for almost two hours soon. The first half of the overtime period resolved to nothing, and the second part feels more or less hopeless. Each time there’s a goal chance for either team, there’s some misfortune. A goal post, someone saving their team in last moment, losing the ball out of exhaustion, or like when Harry tries to round his defender he’s pulled back by his shirt, obviously because the defender is too tired to keep up, which is naturally how games turn fouler.

When the ref blows off the game, Louis feels almost relieved for a second, until he realizes what it means.

“Oi, Tommo,” the other team’s captain says, smirking. He’s muddy and his face is red from running, but his haughty smile seems to have prevailed throughout the match. “Take a deep breath, lad. Luckily for us, we’ve got penalties in our favor already.” He grins wickedly, then turns around to join his team.

Louis would punch him. Any other day and he’d break his nose to match the rest of his ugly face. But he doesn’t say a word, only turns around to face his boys. They’ve all gathered in a circle around their coach, nerves trickling in their veins, chests still heaving heavily from exhaustion.

There are five shots to be taken per team. Coach looks resolute as he declares each name. “In order,” he says, watching them all listening intently. “Lee. Harry. Jonah.” He gives each player a nod. “Stan… Louis.”

The last shot.

Coach must see the panic in his eyes because he steps forward, hands gripping his shoulders. “Louis. It’s just a silly footie game.”

“It’s not silly. It’s my life,” he breathes.

“Is it going to kill you, taking the penalty?” he asks.

“No—”

“Then it’s not your life.” He lets him go, shrugging.

“You can do it,” Liam says next to him. “You’ve taken a penalty against me hundreds of times. I may know your corners and sneaky tricks, but they don’t. Use that.”

Liam is going to be faced with five penalties, and yet he’s calmly trying to cool Louis down. Thing is, Liam works well under pressure. Louis never has.

Soon enough they have to gather at one of the goals. The tension is peaking as Liam and the other keeper flip for who begins. Liam loses. Louis watches with his heart beating in his throat as he walks over to the goal, positioning himself in the middle. As the player who is the first to shoot walks up to the penalty spot, Louis grips the nearest person, clinging to his side, finger digging into his arm. He feels the reciprocating squeeze around his wrist.

The whistle goes off, and it takes two seconds before the green clad player sinks his left foot into the ground next to the ball, the other kicking a confident shot at the goal. The ball goes left, Liam goes right.

0-1.

Lee leaves his place among the lads, walking up to the spot with an unflinching expression on his face. Louis wishes he could pull that off, but he knows he won’t. Louis doesn’t dare blinking as he watches him shoot. A gigantic breath of relief escapes his lungs as Lee nets. His body looked entirely confident as he landed the shot, but when he turns back around, Louis can see exactly how pale he is as he exhales shakily. They’re all just as nervous.

The next shot is for the opposing team. By some miracle Liam manages to reach the ball just as it’s about to go in on his left bottom corner, and knocks it out. The boys and the crowd burst into a loud scream, fists in the air. Louis is certain that tonight is going to be the end of him.

Next, Harry breaks away from the team, somewhere on Louis’ left. He walks up to the penalty box slowly, every step tense and uncomfortable. He leans down and positions the ball the way he likes it with his hands, carefully placing it on the grass in an almost sacred manner. No one within the ten mile radius would blame him.

The ref blows the whistle. One deep breath.

Harry scores, because of course he does. Louis still remembers how angry he was when Harry wouldn’t do nothing but shoot penalties during Coach’s practice. “Penalties occur in three of fifteen games,” he said to him, silly and indignant. It seems the championship final is one of those three.

Harry comes back to them, exhaling like he’s just run a mile. The boys reach out and pat him wherever they can reach as he walks by, but in the end he comes to stand on Ed’s other side, nervousness suddenly evident on his entire face. Louis reaches out behind Ed’s back and grips the back of Harry’s jersey, just holding on, something to ground him. He doesn’t know if he means himself or Harry.

But it’s going to be fine. It’s going to be fine. It’s going to be fine.

The opposing team scores. Jonah misses. 2-2 with two penalties left each.

Then the other team scores again, and Stan nets his shot. The other team scores once more, and suddenly it’s Louis’ turn. It’s currently 3-4. If Louis scores they go to another round of penalties. If he doesn’t, they lose.

He doesn’t meet anybody’s eyes before he walks up to the spot. His ears are pounding with his heartbeat, the feeling of pressure from not only the entire school and half the town, but from his boys, Coach, and not least of all himself hanging over him. His skin already itches, feeling cold even though he’s still sweating from running himself drained for two hours.

It’s not your life, he thinks. It’s not your life. It’s not your life.

The thoughts don’t work, because how is it not?

He adjusts the ball on the ground, but he can’t bring himself to take his time like Harry or Lee did. He needs to get it done. Thinking too much will only make it worse.

He takes a couple of steps backwards, refusing to meet the keeper’s eyes. Louis knows he’s smirking, trying to psyche him out just like any goalie would in this situation. Louis stares above his head, waiting for the sound that tells him to shoot. It comes a moment later, and Louis takes three determined steps forward and shoots.

He knows the second he touches the ball that something is going to go wrong. He feels almost nauseas, a sick trickle of something crawling through his stomach and up his chest, as he watches as the ball flies towards the goal.

The shot is too hard. The ball flashes like lightning, flying straight into the underside of the crossbar. Louis watches in complete horror, and the whole place feels eerie with silence, as the ball bounces directly down to the ground, just beneath the bar. It’s like watching in slow motion, gaze following every step of the movement.

Is it going to bounce into the goal or out? The keeper has already thrown himself in the wrong direction, and can do nothing but watch as the ball touches the ground.

It goes out.

He stands there, completely still, mouth open. He missed.

He feels paralyzed with the shock that he didn’t see coming, even though he knew this was a very plausible scenario. No goal.

The tears flood to his eyes in an instant. He can’t hear what the people around him are saying, neither can he hear the crowd, and it’s good. He doesn’t want to hear a word.

He turns around and walks away. He doesn’t run, but his muscles ache with how badly he just wants to disappear. He knows the other team is yelling in joy and that his own is standing still, having nothing to say.

Maybe if it was a different time, he thinks. If he hadn’t kissed Harry at the last game, if Manchester had waited to call Harry until this game was over, then maybe he would have scored. Then perhaps everything wouldn’t be what it currently is.

Reality check: you can’t change the past.

Coach Abrahams grabs him by the shoulder when he’s halfway off the pitch, before he can run away from everyone. “Louis.”

“No,” he cries, shrugging out of his hold.

“It’s—“

“No, it’s not okay!” he yells back, backing away from him. This time he’s actually running as he hurries to get away from this place.

He knew it. He knew it wasn’t going to happen. Jesus, he fucking knew, so why does it come crashing down as fucking hard as it does? Having had his hopes murdered a week ago already, he wasn’t supposed to feel like this. He was prepared. But as it is, that doesn’t matter for a fucking second. It hurts just as much.

He can’t be here. He can’t meet anyone’s eyes. He doesn’t want to see any one of these people again. Can’t face them.

Louis missed. He told Harry he didn’t trust other people, that he trusts himself, but it seems like he can’t even do that. Fuck he¬—he knew. It wasn’t going to happen, it never was.

There are people everywhere, some celebrating and some with their heads hung in disappointment. Louis runs until he reaches the parking lot, heading towards the street that leads him home where he can hide.

“Louis!” Harry catches Louis’ hand just at the corner of the parking lot. Louis shouldn’t be surprised, really.

He pulls Louis to his chest almost strenuously, and before Louis knows it he’s wrapped up solely in Harry. His arms are tight, his lock firm, making sure Louis can’t get anywhere. He knows that Louis was running away to hide, and he isn’t having it.

Louis’ shoulders are shaking with tears, but for a moment everything just seems to dissipate and all he can feel is Harry encompassing all of him. He cries, body quivering and convulsing. He coughs, sniffles, and his eyes itch horribly as he snivels, his hands gripping Harry’s shirt in painful clutches.

Harry’s breath is warm over his ear, his arms are protecting and Louis feels himself almost disappearing into him. He wishes he could. He smells like mud and grass, sweat and salt. For a second he wishes that this were the place he could hide.

“It was only a few inches, baby,” Harry whispers into his hair. His hands on Louis’ back are squeezing him so tightly it hurts. Not only physically. Louis can feel his rising chest expanding against his own, loose strands of his hair brushing his bare neck. He wishes he could stay here, but he knows he won’t be able to.

“Close, but no fucking cigar, innit?” he whispers, tearing himself away from him and hurrying away.

**

One day. Two days. Three days. Four.

Thursday. Louis is sitting on his porch. He hasn’t heard a word from Uni.

It’s inevitable that it happens, because it has to, hasn’t it? The talk.

His entire family is inside the house, spending time together as a whole for the first time in literally a year. They ate Spaghetti Bolognese, and now they’re all inside making dessert. Team effort. It was nice for a while, when he could forget everything else. He can’t do that for long.

It’s warm out even though it’s dusk. It’s May, and May means there’s roughly a month left of school. Roughly a month until Harry is out of Louis’ life for good.

Louis could try to make him stay. He isn’t going to. Harry deserves going to uni and he deserves to go play at one of the best schools Louis can think of. He’s not angry that he’s going, he’s just sad.

So, the inevitable happens. He’s sitting on the porch, hands in his own hair, knees pulled up to his chest.

“Hi.”

He looks up.

Harry is standing on the sidewalk, just where the stone path down to the porch starts. He’s in his navy hoodie, his usual track pants on. He looks so normal, yet everything feels different from any other time he’s showed up out of the blue.

Louis hasn’t spoken to him since the match. Hasn’t been to school much. The exams are finished, practice doesn’t hold any significance anymore, and facing people in school seems like a much too hard task.

“Gotta admit my timing is good,” Harry says. His voice is airy, but it’s like he’s trying too hard to seem casual. It’s silly, because they both know what he’s here for.

Louis gets what he means. Harry’s timing is good because Louis is already sitting on the porch, almost like he was expecting him.

“Not really.” Good timing would entail not leaving the moment they seem to both know where they stand.

“Maybe not then.” He shrugs, lips pressed down not too hard, cheeks just a little puffy. They’re rosy too, as if he’s already embarrassed. He’s nervous, Louis realizes. He musters up a small smile, trying to seem unintimidating, but just turns out tired and hopeless.

Harry inhales, fingers trembling just a little. “Remember how you said that you trusted yourself with me?” he starts, voice uneven. He swallows, and as much as Louis wishes that he could walk up to him, take his hands, look into his eyes and calm him down, he knows he can’t. “I know that you’ve been trying to talk to me about… us?” He inhales, muscles tense. “I’m sorry that I haven’t been very… erm, accommodating. Just… sorry.”

Louis watches him, lump already starting to thicken in his throat.

He shuffles awkwardly, looking down at his own feet, curls covering half of his face. Louis can see his mouth moving, lips delicately pink in the slowly darkening evening. “Well, you said that you trusted yourself with me, and it sounded like you thought you couldn’t anymore? And I guess, what I’m trying to say is…” He looks up, eyes impossibly green as they meet Louis’. “You can?”

It comes out like a question, but Louis knows it’s a statement. He squeezes his eyes shut for only a moment, trying to muster up some strength to get through this.

“Why?” Louis asks. “Why did you just go away after the semi-final? Really?”

Harry bites his lip, eyes knitting. He’s quiet when he speaks. “Because you looked at me like that, and I was scared that you didn’t mean it afterwards. You acted so strange and I was scared to take the first step. I was surprised, I mean, wouldn’t you be? If I kissed you in front of everyone?”

“Nobody saw.”

“Ed saw.”

“Oh,” Louis breathes.

Harry fiddles with his hands where he’s standing in front of Louis, continuing. “I waited for you to make the first move and then you didn’t, so I thought you regretted it. And then I couldn’t make the first move and the longer you stayed away the less courage I had to go back to you.”

Louis swallows, trying to force away the heaviness pulling at the corners at his mouth. His bottom lip wobbles anyway.

“I thought you didn’t feel the same.”

Harry’s quiet for just a moment, bracing himself. “I do,” he whispers, barely audible.

Louis feels the tears fill his eyes before he’s even said it. “You’re leaving.” He closes a hand over his mouth, biting his cheeks, just trying to keep everything inside, even though he knows his barriers won’t hold.

The other boy takes a small step forward, voice small. “We can work it through, yeah?” He sounds like he’s scared of hurting Louis, knowing that it’s a sensitive subject. He takes another step forward, but abruptly stops when Louis shakes his head, hand still covering his mouth. “What?”

“Can’t,” Louis forces out.

“What?” Louis wants to die as he sees the utter confusion on Harry’s face.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers weakly. “It won’t work.”

“Louis, please,” Harry says, face torn with distress. “Trust me, trust that this can work.”

“It’s not about us, it’s about the fact that you’ll be gone.”

“But¬—“

“Harry!”

Harry’s gaze is suddenly hard, but the frowning expression on his face is tinted with anguish. “Take off your fucking seatbelt for once, Louis.”

Louis looks back, teeth gritted harshly, heart pounding in hard strikes. Their gazes turn into scowls as they glare at each other, Louis’ jaw locked tight and Harry’s hands balled up in fists. The look is unfaltering, and just for the moment it feels like neither of them is ever going to give in. But Louis is the first one to do so. His entire chest is knotting up with anxiety, making it hard to breathe correctly.

He closes his eyes, and sighs. Elbows resting on his thighs, he covers his face with his hands, taking a moment to inhale and exhale. “I can’t,” he whispers. Watching Harry go will be too hard. He opens his mouth to say it again, but Harry won’t let him.

“Louis, you can’t give up now!”

“You’re leaving!” Louis says loudly, looking up at him through the tears. “For three years, Harry!”

“So what?” Harry takes a step closer, but it’s like he doesn’t dare to touch. “We feel the same!”

“But you’ll be gone! I’ll be here. We won’t work.”

“You won’t know, Louis, if you don’t fucking try!” he exclaims angrily. He’s standing almost just a foot away from him now. Louis is still sitting down, shoulders hung and nose stuffy.

It’s like a pathetic, miserable fucking movie.

But he can’t do it. It will be too hard.

“It doesn’t matter, Harry,” Louis says slowly, shivering. “It won’t matter in the end, because you’ll still be breaking my heart every moment you’re away.”

Silence. Then Harry whispers something through his tears, but it’s too low for Louis to hear.

“What?” he asks, wiping at his red eyes in frustration.

“I love you.”

Hearing him say it feels like flowers green inside him, a balloon of fresh air filling him up. Yet it breaks heart. It rips it to shreds, just tears and tears and tears. The hurt just doesn’t stop. It just throbs even more because he knows there won’t be a happy ending at the horizon.

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, but it doesn’t keep the tears in. It pains him to say it. His voice is colored by the uncontrollable teardrops rolling down his cheekbones. “Harry, it won’t work,” he whispers, voice broken. “Not because I’m being cynical, but because you’re the only one I’ve ever loved like this and I can’t stand the thought of missing you every single day.”

The silence between them that seems to come in frequent waves is heavy over their heads. Louis leans on his thighs, hands lined up and covering his nose and mouth. His eyes itch from the unstopping flow of tears, heart throbbing with heavy aches.

Eventually someone has to say something.

“Is that your answer then?” Harry’s voice is uneven, strained.

Louis presses his lips together, unable to meet his eyes.

Harry doesn’t say anything, and when Louis finally looks up, Harry’s face is blank, deprived of any feelings. Only his green eyes are staring at Louis, and they’re shiny. When he opens his mouth it’s barely a whisper. “I would rather fight with you, than love anybody else.”

The silence is eerie this time. Louis’ skin prickles, shivers jolting down his spine. It feels like the silence before the end, when everything just stops being. Louis covers his eyes with his hands.

Harry says something then, his voice clear and his words scarily sobering.

“So what would you have done then? If you got into Manchester and I didn’t? Would you still give up on me then, or are you just bitter?”

His question shoots a hole in his gut. Suddenly there’s a huge part of empty space, leaving him with the feeling of free falling. Breathless.

He never thought of that.

He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. The cold chill down his back makes his every hair on his body stand on end.

Harry waits.

Nothing comes out.

Harry walks away.

**

“I’m fine.”

Louis is more tired of that phrase than anyone will ever know.

“No, you’re not. You’re miserable.”

Louis closes his eyes in frustration. There’s no need to tell him that. It’s as obvious as the hickey Niall is sporting on his collarbone, red and glaring. Louis doesn’t say anything about it, because they both know exactly how obvious it is.

People have been asking him if he’s fine at least three times an hour. When he walked inside the house after Harry left last Thursday, he stopped by the kitchen, for a second watching his family. Lottie, Daisy and Phoebe were crowded around Mark, laughing as they tried to pull him down to the floor. Jay and Fizzy were dotting whipped cream in one another’s faces. Picturesque.

Mark and the girls stopped as they saw him standing there. “Hey,” his dad said, his broad smile falling as he saw Louis’ red-rimmed eyes. “What’s up, kid?”

“Harry and I broke up,” he said, before he rushed away. Lottie and Fizzy came knocking on his door a few minutes later, hugging him until the tears eventually dried away. He didn’t feel any better then, and he isn’t expecting to in the foreseeable future either.

So people ask him if he’s fine, because he’s obviously not. Louis grumbles in answer, scowling away their concerned second question. It’s been eating at him for days. It’s Monday, first day back in school since the talk (he didn’t go on Friday).

He and Niall are strolling behind the school building, heading towards a small lawn hidden behind the gym. They used to go there a lot in junior year, just being together, Louis fiddling with a football, Niall rambling about something without meaning, smoking just to smoke, talking just to talk. It feels weird going back now that it’s been so long since the last time.

They settle down on the grass, the sun streaming in behind a couple of trees. Louis leans his head back against the ground, Niall’s hand patting him twice on the stomach, before he starts whistling good-naturedly. Louis’ mood can’t be swayed, and he should be annoyed, but he’s not. The melody is just there. It’s summer soon, so it’s only appropriate.

“Can you believe senior year is over?” Niall says. “It’s flashed by so fast.”

“Yeah.”

“If anyone told me we stopped being friends for a few months I’d never believe them.”

“Me neither,” Louis murmurs. He’s put his shades on, hiding his eyes from sunlight and the scrutiny of other’s gazes.

“I wouldn’t believe them either if they told me that all of that happened just for you to throw the reason away later.” He side-eyes him meaningfully, brow arched.

Louis looks away. As if he hasn’t thought about that. As if it hasn’t been gnawing at his bones how useless and meaningless it seems now. But at the same time it’s not, because now he knows himself a little better. He’s conflicted.

“Can we not talk about it?”

“No?” Niall says, the sound soft, but he’s looking at him seriously. “You can’t keep shelving things up inside of you. You’ll just keep being miserable. I think you should just admit to yourself that you made the wrong choice. We both know you did. You’re still in love with the kid, and that won’t change even if you’re apart.”

Louis swallows, blinking behind his sunglasses. Harry going away will hurt him more than anything, but the words he spoke before he left him on the porch are burning in his head. Would you still give up on me then? Or are you just bitter?

They walk back to the main school building in silence.

There are only five days of school left, graduation holding place on Friday. He expected it to feel huge, but it’s been overshadowed by everything else. They have their last footie practice today as well. They won’t be doing anything serious, just mess around, talk about the season that just passed. Louis is going to miss playing footie with these boys, and he’s going to miss Coach Abrahams. He’s always been good to him.

Sitting down in the locker room, surrounded by the lads for the last time is depressing. They are all smiling knowingly at each other, bittersweet looks in their eyes. Louis can’t really taste the sweetness. He loves them so much. The first practice he came after the championship final they all gathered up in a big group-hug, squeezing him half to death. He’ll miss them immensely.

People soon start to trickle out of the locker room, but Harry is standing by one of the benches, footie kit on, curls out and free, one strand tucked behind his ear. He’s pretty. His lips are full and pink, eyes a lovely color of jade, hair dark and skin milky. Louis loves everything about him.

Harry smiles at something Stan is saying to him, and it aches in Louis how admirable he is. He’s just dazzling, so firm yet so neat. He’s the most delicate flower of the bunch, entirely enthralling.

That’s why he has to let him go, Louis thinks. Because he deserves happy things. He deserves proper love, attentiveness, care. Being apart, Louis won’t be able to give him those things. It will only hurt.

“Congratulations mate,” Stan says to Harry when Louis tunes in, watching him slap him lightly on the shoulder.

Harry’s smile is bashful, sweet, yet obviously he isn’t entirely happy. Louis swallows thickly. “Thank you.”

“Don’t forget us, babe,” Stan grins, patting him on the chest before winking. Harry chuckles, and the sound is soft. His eyes slide to Louis, eyes turning sad almost instantly. He looks down. Something is scratching through Louis’ chest.

“I’ll try not to,” he murmurs, following Stan outside.

The room is empty.

So, Louis thinks to himself. If this is the end of their story then that’s fine, because everything isn’t always like the books, or the movies. Everything doesn’t have a happy ending. Louis’ life is reality. Harry will go on to do great things, surely. Louis will try to take courses at the local university, and figure something out. They’ll live their separate lives and eventually everything will be okay.

Louis groans loudly, tearing at his own hair.

Who the fuck is he kidding? All of that is bullshit. Fuck, all of that is utter, pathetic, crap. It suddenly angers him that he’s even trying to pretend that it’s going to be okay, because it won’t. Lying to himself only resolves in catastrophes, he should know that by now. Niall just fucking told him, too.

He sits on the bench in the locker room, hands covering his mouth and nose, breathing in and out.

The door opens, just for a bit. “Louis, are you coming?” someone calls.

“I’ll be right out!”

The door falls shut a couple of seconds later, leaving him alone in the quiet room.

Shit.

He knows.

He is bitter. And it’s not fair. It’s not fair at all. He loves him, and Harry loves him back—and Jesus Christ. Harry doesn’t want him to let him go, and isn’t that a better solution to his happiness? Harry wants him and Louis wants him back. He wants to fucking try. He has got to try. He didn’t spend a month and a half scared shitless that Harry didn’t love him back just to shove back in his face the moment he told him what he wanted to hear.

Fuck that.

Fuck Manchester and their fucking program, because they are not keeping Louis away from Harry any more than they already have. No fucking way. The program made Harry scared to tell Louis he loved him in the first place because he was afraid that Louis would hate him for getting accepted. It drove them apart.

Footie is not everything. Despite what Louis may have believed through his four years of high school, football is not the key to life. It might be part of you, like a huge, enormous, gigantic part of you, but it does not control you. There’s not a way in hell that a fucking sport is keeping Louis from Harry.

He storms out of the locker room, half walking-half running towards the pitch where the lads are lazily stretching and warming their sore muscles in a circle.

“Styles,” he calls, voice hard as he steps onto the grass, making a beeline for the boy.

Harry looks up, eyes filled with confusion, the rest of the boys stilling in alarm. This is exactly how Louis would approach Harry when they’d have a fight when they hated each other. He would have stalked up to him, fists balled and eyes burning, shouting at him.

Right now he is burning, but it’s not anger. The lads must see something in him, though, because they part ways for him like scared mice. Harry stays put where he is, standing still, waiting for Louis to come at him.

Louis comes at him.

He takes three quick steps just in front of him, hands gripping his shoulders and hauls himself up, legs wrapping around Harry’s waist without effort. The boy stumbles back from the impact and in surprise, but his hands go his hips automatically not to let him fall.

Louis stares at him, hands sliding into his hair, carding his long curls firmly away from his eyes. Harry looks back at him in confusion, mouth a little open from shock. He manages to keep them upright, leaning back slightly as he exhales nervously.

Louis continues to stare.

“Don’t think for a second you’re ever getting rid of me, you dick.”

Harry’s eyes widen for just a split second before Louis leans in and presses their lips together.

He can hear the surprised sound he makes, along with the shocked gasps from his teammates. He doesn’t listen anymore after that. He keeps his hands wound in Harry’s locks, insides fluttering with the feel of Harry’s lips against his.

It’s like resurrection. Or like every dark part of him gets illuminated by the touch of Harry’s fingers clutching his hips and his mouth on his. His lips are sweet and gentle, yet Louis wants to mold them into his own until they bruise. He feels like he can breathe again.

He notices how paralyzed the rest of Harry’s body is, and he tugs softly at one of his curls. He leans back just an inch, mouth still brushing Harry’s as he whispers. “Don’t forget me, please.”

Harry shakes his head, swallowing. “Could never.” He looks dazed, eyes still wide. They glance down at Louis’ lips, and with a swooping sensation in his belly Louis leans down and kisses him once more.

He could get used to this feeling. Kissing Harry like this without worry is the best feeling in the world. Louis loves him, Harry loves him back. They can do this.

The kiss turns urgent soon, Louis pressing his tummy against Harry’s chest, making him shuffle unsteadily on his feet.

“Louis Tomlinson.” It’s Coach Abrahams. For a second there, Louis forgot other people exist. He doesn’t think making out with one of the co-captains is a very proper thing for a co-captain of the school’s footie team to do.

“Yes,” he says, giving him a sheepish smile. He’s not ashamed, but he just realized he just snogged Harry boneless on the footie pitch in front of everyone. And he is still in said boy’s arm, who is stumbling weakly. He unlatches his legs from Harry’s waist and slides down, landing with wobbly knees on the ground. He manages to catch the look of Harry’s beaming face, before he turns around and clasps his hands behind his back, smiling, widely and guiltily. “Did I do something?” he asks.

Coach shakes his head, rolling his eyes. “No, you just gave everyone a show of that,” he waves his hand around in the direction of Harry, “but that’s not what I was going to talk to you about.”

“Oh.”

He can feel Harry’s chest pressing against his back, his nose just inches from the back of his head. Louis’ body is still weak from their kiss, heart still beating hard. He feels Harry’s soft fingers stroke one of his own behind his back. He thinks his butterflies have gone into cardiac arrest.

Louis swallows. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Coach comes to stand proudly in front of him, shoulders squared and hands clasped behind his back just like Louis. He blinks, staying comfortably calm as he watches Louis’ confused eyes for a moment.

“I received a call from Gary Cooper up at Manchester.” Louis’ mouth opens in bewilderment, but Coach goes on. “They finished their discussions this morning, and they thought you’d like to know that you’re going to be offered a place at their football program.”

Louis’ knees feel weak. He feels how Harry’s hands grip his waist, literally keeping him upright.

Coach smirks. “They said something about winning a scoring league and coming second in the championship is rather impressive.”

It’s like a reward. After daring to take the big step, God gifts him with the only thing he’s ever wanted—apart from Harry.

Louis is so done with God.

He breaks into a big smile. “Are lying to me, Abe?”

“Why would I lie to you?”

“Oh my god.” He blinks back the tears, but they’re coming in masses. It’s impossible, and soon they’re flooding down his cheeks. “I got in?” he whispers.

He nods, smile big and genuine. “You got in.”

“I got in.”

And then Harry’s arms are wrapping around him from behind, face burying into his neck, nearly choking him to death. Louis can’t even think, but everything inside him has turned into greenery and pink flowers and blue skies for some unfathomable reason. His pulse just flew past seven stationed police cars, and he can feel Harry placing kiss after kiss to his jaw and cheek, squeezing him mercilessly.

There are teammates patting him where they can reach and telling him congratulations, but his eyes are closed and Harry’s face his clouding half of his vision anyway.

“I love you so much.”

“I love you,” Louis breathes. “I do. I love you so much.”

Harry hugs him so hard he can barely breathe, hands gripping his jersey tightly. “Can’t believe this is real. I thought you didn’t want.”

“I want. I want, I promise.”

Harry exhales into his neck, pressing a kiss to his pulse point. Louis turns around in his arms—somewhat hard due to Harry’s grip on him—and winds his fingers tightly around the hem of his shirt.

“I’m sorry for—”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine,” Louis insists. “I was bitter and I wasn’t thinking clearly. I know I want this, even if I hadn’t just found out that…” He closes his mouth, unable to say it out loud. He can’t believe it’s true. “We’re going to uni together. Can you believe that?” he whispers, looking up at him, disbelief coloring his words. It's still so incomprehensible. Harry’s face is almost breaking with his smile.

“You came to your senses,” he grins, voice soft. “Finally.” There’s a glint in his eyes when he laughs, and Louis grins, leaning in and burying his nose in his chest, fingers gripping his jersey.

“Let’s be clear here, Styles”, he murmurs, but he can’t keep his grin off his face. “I still hate you and you’re still my antagonist.”

“That’s okay, as long as you love me too.”

“What a fantastic book,” Louis murmurs, reaching up on his toes, faces only an inch apart. “You’ll be glad to hear I love you very dearly.”

“Aren’t you the next Oscar Wilde.” He arches a brow, then purses his lips, asking for a kiss.

“I cannot believe you ruined that moment for me.”

They watch one another for a sweet moment. Harry’s words are low and warm. “Are we really going to fight?”

Louis purses his lips. “I suppose we’ve fought enough for now.”

Harry grins down at him, dimples forming gigantic craters in his cheeks. He wraps his arms around Louis’ shoulders, crushing him against himself, swaying them. “So, you have a crush on me, huh?”

Oh my god. He’s in love with a complete dork.

Louis is weak.

“You had a crush on me first.” He arches a brow. “Or did you not?”

“You will never know, baby.”

He leans down and kisses him.