LEARNING TO BREATHE: CHAPTER ONE
↳ University Football!AU. How did he get here? With a boy so far, so deep into his skin and bones that he’ll always be a part of him, always have the power to turn him inside out no matter how far he runs? How does your past fit into your present? Louis is still figuring it out.
Title: Learning To Breathe
Rating: PG-15 (M for later chapters)
Word Count: 2000-ish
Notes: So this is the fic i’ve been working on for about a solid month now. It’s my first chapter and AU fic! Please excuse my ignorance of the English school system (I trusted Wikipedia and I’m lazy). Also excuse any other geographical inaccuracies. Also excuse my limited knowledge about football (YouTube taught me everything I know youtriedstar.jpg). This isn’t really about football though; it’s just the backdrop. I’m in the process of making a ficmix for this so keep an eye out for that! If you’d like, this is also posted AT MY LIVEJOURNAL
The University of Essex | Practice pitch
Louis drops his bag onto the bench and grins at his friends as they barrel toward him, dodging Liam and Zayn’s attempts to pelt him with ice chips while Niall crows happily behind them.
"Oi! Is this any way to treat your captain? I’m insulted." Louis wipes at his practice jersey, flinging off the quickly melting ice.
Zayn laughs and Liam slaps his hand before pulling him into a half-hug, “Oh, captain! My captain! S’good to have you back, mate.”
"Feels good to be back," he laughs into Liam’s hair, returning the squeeze.
"And it was about damn time too," Zayn spits. He turns serious for a moment, eyes scanning the Essex practice field, "S’turned into a bloody circus ‘round here. We’ve not been drilling a week and Brewer’s already busted his ankle up and Sully’s chipping looks like shit!"
He shouts the last part as the aforementioned male jogs along the side of the field within earshot.
"I heard that, you dick!" But Zayn isn’t paying him any attention.
Louis laughs but then sobers, scrubbing a hand through his hair, “Brewer’s ankle serious?”
Liam shrugs, “Don’t know for sure. He’s been off it a few days but medic said we shouldn’t risk it.”
Louis sighs heavily, anxiety bubbling in his gut. Losing their best forward right now really isn’t an option.
"How’s the knee?" Louis’ eyes flicker to Niall. The Irish goalkeeper is taking long swigs of water from the cooler, eyes and cheeks bright.
Louis gives the knee in question an experimental shake as if to test its stability even though he knows by now it really is fine. His mind is still trying to catch up though, still a bit stuck in the immediate days after his accident earlier in the summer.
Louis always thought if he was ever unfortunate enough to get injured it would be on the pitch, not from being t-boned by some arsehole running a red light. Thankfully, his car had taken most of the damage (although his fractured knee would beg to differ). They’d done the surgery as soon as possible and his doctor had given him a clean bill of health a week ago. Today was his first day back to practice at Essex.
"Good as new, Nialler. Surgery went well."
"So you’re back from summer vacation for good then?" Zayn ribs.
Louis rolls his eyes, “Yeah, I wouldn’t call being trapped in a bed for six weeks much of a vacation, but yes.”
"I’m sure it wasn’t all bad, Tommo!" Zayn laughs and gives his shoulder a good tap, "I’m sure Calder was there to bring you breakfast in bed.” He wiggles his eyebrows for emphasis.
Louis coughs, “Yeah, uh, not exactly.”
Louis inwardly groans at the confused looks flittering between his friends. This wasn’t a discussion he wanted to have today, or um, ever.
"We, uh, we kind of…I kind of finished with her."
"Wha’?!" Niall squawks.
“You dumped her?” Zayn interrupts. Louis nods faintly after a beat of silence. He gives a cursory glance to the field beyond them where his other teammates are milling about waiting for practice to start and he can feel his skin buzzing with his own excitement. He really doesn’t want to have this conversation right now.
“And when did this happen?”
Louis breaks eye contact from his clearly shocked friends as he pretends to mull the question over. What? Was breaking up with his girlfriend that big of a shock? Sure, they’d been dating for more than a year but surely they couldn’t have expected him to stay with her forever or something? He honestly didn’t know what the big deal was.
"I don’t know. Like, over a month, maybe?"
"What? Why is this the first we’re hearing of it?" Zayn actually looks put out with the news of this and Louis would laugh if this whole conversation wasn’t making him itch.
They don’t look mad exactly. They’re friends with El, sure. But something tells him it probably has more to do with the fact that he’s kind of been ignoring them (or everyone, really) since his accident.
Louis shrugs, “Nothing to tell really.”
Niall shakes his head and offers a consoling pat to Louis’ shoulder, “You alright, mate?”
Louis laughs liltingly at his friends’ concern. They look even more confused but Louis just wraps his arms around Niall and Liam’s shoulders and gives a reassuring squeeze.
"Yes, i’m fine, you tossers. Never better, in fact. Now, can we get to practice before Cowell has our heads?"
His friends roll their eyes but concede, and before Louis can let go of Niall and Liam’s shoulders he feels his feet being pulled from underneath him and suddenly he’s up in the air (if an undignified squeal escapes his throat he’s not admitting to it).
"Put me down!"
"We can’t do that," Zayn quips loudly, gripping his ankles tighter around his neck as he walks them toward the center of the pitch.
"You’re our loyal and brave captain," Niall adds, "back from the fires of hell, a.k.a. the hospital, and we, your humble servants, shall carry you to midfield."
"Fucking weirdos, all of you. I got in a car accident, I didn’t die," he counters, but he’s laughing at their ridiculousness and gives up fighting them about halfway up the field. There’s not much he can do; these are his friends and he’s just going to have to make peace with that.
"Okay, lads, don’t go giving him any bright ideas. He looks a little too comfortable up there, if you ask me." Sully, their attacking midfielder, perks up from the huddle of football players standing midfield.
"Thankfully, no one did, Sully."
"Sod off, Tomlinson."
"Is that any way to speak to your king?" He only grins when Sully responds by flipping him off.
Zayn drops his feet then and before he knows it half the footie team have launched themselves at him and he’s hit with a chorus of Welcome back’s and Good to see you’s.
Louis closes his eyes and exhales, hugging his teammates and loving the feeling of the sun shining on his face again and the smell of wet grass in the morning because yeah, he really did miss this.
"Alright boys! Break it up!"
Louis snaps his head in the direction of his head coach’s unmistakable voice. At a quick glance he can see the man striding up the field from the direction of the locker rooms, clipboard tucked under his arm and a net full of balls dragging behind him. He’s not alone though; there’s a small group of at least seven or eight boys trailing behind him but Louis can’t be sure since they’re still a good distance away. He shields his eyes to get a better look but someone tugging on his arm distracts his efforts.
"Hey, can I talk to you a mo?" Zayn asks almost urgently from his side, sounding like he just remembered something important.
"Uh, yeah yeah, one second."
"No, now." His hand grips into Louis’ elbow.
"Who’s that lot with Cowell?" Louis reluctantly allows his friend to pull him to the back of the group.
"That’s what I need to talk to you about."
Louis’ eyebrows draw together, confused.
"Well? Out with it, Malik."
"Alright, boys!" Coach Cowell’s voice is loud and booming as it pulls both boys’ attention back to the group. Louis immediately catches the eyes of his head coach over the heads of his teammates and the older man offers a small but fond smile and a single nod of his head in return. Welcome back.
Louis barely registers Zayn’s resigned sigh as the boy draws away from him and wanders back over to where Liam is standing. Louis crosses his arms dutifully and prepares to listen to their coach. After weeks of being out of action, he can even say he’s missed the morning practice talk-up.
"Good to see you lot here bright and early. As you know, we conducted try-outs four weeks ago for the upcoming season."
Louis starts a bit at the reminder. Of course he knew try-outs were taking place. He was actually supposed to attend them himself along with the coaching staff and aid in the decision, but his knee surgery had inconveniently taken precedence.
"I believe some of you have already met, but before drills today I want to officially introduce you to the new members of our team. I trust you’ll treat them with respect. I don’t want any funny business. We’re national title contenders this year, boys, let’s act as such.”
Usually Louis might roll his eyes good naturedly and laugh at the seriousness of his coach’s spiel on team maturity, the light hazing that goes on year after year not nearly as bad as he makes it out to be, but today he’s just so thankful to be back on the pitch that he’s not even considering doing anything to jeopardize it.
Simon ushers for the new players to step forward and introduce themselves one by one. A stocky, scruffy looking guy steps forward first.
“Matt Cardle. M’from Southampton. I’m a central defender.” He doesn’t say anything else and Louis tries to pay attention as another steps in his place.
“Aiden Grimshaw. I’m from Blackpool. I’m a fullback.”
Louis glances to where his friends are standing to gauge their reaction to the new crop of players but startles to find Zayn already staring at him, as if he hasn’t even been watching the boys introduce themselves at all, but rather watching Louis the entire time instead.
Louis gives him a confused smirk but Zayn doesn’t explain himself so Louis just shrugs and re-focuses his attention.
He hears him before he sees him, the sound of his deep voice zipping up his spine and suddenly Louis feels everything stop.
“Harry Styles. I’m from Cheshire. I play forward.”
Louis can feel his heart dropping into his stomach and his feet are moving before he can think it through. He doesn’t catch the concerned look on Zayn’s face or even hear the rest of the new recruits introducing themselves. There’s a buzzing in his ears as he pushes through his teammates to stand toward the front of the group.
Once he’s in the direct line of sight of his coach and the new players, his body finally halts. His palms are sweating and his heart is rabbiting in his chest and he thinks he might throw up.
It takes only a second, maybe two, for those green eyes to meet his across the distance of the pitch. And when they do they go impossibly wide with something like fear, and then panic and then maybe a thousand different emotions in the measure of a second that Louis could never recognize from where he’s standing. But then his expression goes dark.
Louis doesn’t know if he ever expected to see those eyes again, let alone what he expected to find in them if he did. But he doesn’t think he’s prepared for what’s swimming in them now, because it’s an emotion he can definitely identify; it’s clear as day, as clear as if he were standing in the same spot he was in two years ago, where he received it for the first and last time.
Anger. Pure, unadulterated anger.