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***
Louis meets Harry in a club, in Blackpool.
***
"Louis, you twat, get your fat arse up here!"

Louis clutches his drink closer to his chest and tips his head back, searching for the familiar voice on the dark ceiling of the club. There are people pressing into him from all directions, but he can't seem to pick out a single face. He doesn't much care, though, because he's drunk and he's warm and he loves this song.

"Niall?" he calls back into the masses of bodies grinding together, covered in sweat and glitter confetti.

"To your left, mate!" Louis spins and spins and spins until he finds Niall, vest hanging halfway off his shoulders, standing proudly atop one of the swanky club tables and waving his hands to what Louis supposes is some sort of beat.

"Your tits are hanging out, Ni!" Louis yells over the roar if the bass dropping, stumbling over and bent in two from laughing.

Niall beams drunkenly and pulls his vest down past his nipples, all the way to his belly button. "Get on my level, Lou!"

“Buy me six more Jack and Cokes and I will be!”

It’s the start of the summer. Louis and his hopeless, directionless, wonderful friends have managed to make it three-quarters of the way through uni without killing themselves, sleeping with the same professor more than twice, making anything over minimum wage, or figuring out what they want to be when they grow up, and so they've all gone out to toast their success. The June humidity is creeping in, making the air heavy, and it’s the perfect weather to just exist in, suspended in time.

They'd woken up at around one and headed up from Manchester at two, six of them, all together, piling into Zayn’s beat up five-seater laden with too much alcohol and not enough regard for the future. When they got to Blackpool, they’d spread out blankets on the damp sand and breathed in the sea air and kicked around a battered football until it landed in the waves and Zayn had jumped onto Liam’s back and herded him into the ocean, the rest of the group in laughing pursuit. They'd carved breasts and a mermaid tail in the heaps of sand they buried Niall under, and left him there bitching and moaning as they'd proceeded to eat the little sandwiches that Eleanor made for them all- crusts cut off, of course, because they aren’t quite old enough to handle the alternative yet. Perrie and Niall squeezed sunscreen on their faces in lines like war paint and chased Liam around, demanding his scalp, and Zayn and Louis argued about the old Spiderman movies versus the new ones, and El suggested a game of charades that somehow morphed into a dirty round of Would You Rather.

At dusk, Louis’ jeans were rolled up halfway to his knees, his pockets were full of seashells, and his hair was getting too long, and he and Perrie decided to take a walk down the pier.

“Mr Tomlinson,” she'd asked him conversationally as she lit a cigarette, “Did you realise that this is the start of the end?”

Louis had caught the fag in between his fingers and taken a pensive drag, “That’s what they’ve all been telling us, Miss Edwards.”

“I can’t bring myself to care,” she'd told him, “can you?”

He’d studied the crashing waves below them, curling his hands tightly around the wooden railing and leaning over the side like he was always warned not to do. “Not in the slightest.”

At 11 or so, after their alcohol ran out and Eleanor and Perrie started complaining about the absence of Straight Men Who Are Not Niall, they'd filled up empty vodka bottles with salt water to douse out the small fire they’d huddled around, and stumbled up the beach and onto the flooded streets. There’d been light and music and people just like them everywhere in sight, and let’s go dancing, someone suggested, so they'd pushed their way into the nearest club with loud cheers and full hearts.

Eleanor and Perrie instantly disappeared into the crowd, searching for nameless blokes who may or may not be in their league, and Zayn and Liam had (predictably) headed straight to the dance floor, Zayn almost automatically flipping around to press his back to Liam’s chest, his arse to Liam’s dick. Louis had watched them for a second, watched how easily the motion came to them, how seamlessly they fit together, and wondered if he could remember Zayn without Liam, or Liam without Zayn, wonders how they came to be like that. When they'd been enveloped by the throng and Louis had lost sight of them, Louis thought that maybe they didn’t come to be like that, maybe they just came like that.

Now, as Louis lets Niall pull him up beside him onto the table, Louis thinks that maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

"I'm the king of the club, now!" he slurs, slinging an arm around Niall and raising his glass, toasting the club at large.

"Everybody must bow down to us!" Niall shouts. "You-" he points at a random pair grinding a few feet away. "Bow!"

They don't hear him, but it's completely irrelevant.

"I love you, mate," Louis tells Niall very seriously.

Niall throws his arm around Louis' shoulders, accidentally sloshing some beer down the front of Louis' shirt. "I love you, too, man!" he cries. "You're one of my favourite-"

Niall breaks off, as he is apt to do when drunk, and grins wolfishly at something across the room.

“You see a girl you like, Ni?” Louis teases, knowing the look well enough to start craning his neck to try to see what Niall's looking at.

Niall shakes his head, waves his hand excitedly in the direction of the bar, “Nah, mate, I’m more thinking that you could get lucky tonight.”

“What’re you talking-”

Oh.

And that’s when it happens.

There’s a boy leaning against the bar, a boy with a long frame and dark curls and bright eyes that dance from ten metres away, raising a beer to perfectly wicked lips, and staring straight at Louis.

Oh.

“Oh,” he says to Niall.

“Go,” Niall tells him.

First, it’s like this: Louis knows that the club is packed tonight- he can feel everybody’s combined heat, the thumping bass, the shaking floor. He knows that there are people everywhere, people who are not the boy at the bar who he’s started walking towards. But he’s a little bit drunk on liquor and a lot drunk on life, and here’s this person, see, and Louis wishes for the first time that he could write poetry, or even that he liked poetry, so he could have an excuse for taking in a thousand clichés about what happens when their eyes meet for the first time, but just- Louis does not believe in love at first sight but he needs to know what else this could be.

Then, when Louis reaches him, it’s like this:

“Hey,” he says, because he had a fabulous line on the tip of his tongue but this boy has green eyes that look red in the strobe lights of the club and he can’t really manage to be cheeky.

“Hey,” the boy says back. Even though he says it quiet, Louis can hear him clear as day.

“What’re you looking at, then?” Louis half stutters, because he’s not quite recovered.

The boy smirks a bit, and its positively sinful, because they both know exactly what he was looking at, and then he says, slow and deep and like- fuck it all, fuck Keats and Dickenson and Whitman and Cummings- like a song Louis already knows by heart, “I’m going to war tomorrow.”

“Really,” Louis draws out the word, lets it hang in the air between them- why is there air between them?

The boy nods, solemn, but his eyes are bright and mischievous and he’s just probably the prettiest thing Louis’ ever seen, “I’m risking my life to save your arse, love, I’m the noblest bloke you’ve ever met.”

“It’s an arse worth saving,” Louis tells him, “Or hadn’t you noticed?”

The boy throws his head back and laughs, now, and his laugh is low and rumbling and it sounds like dancing raindrops and secrets, and Louis is still shit at poetry but he wants to make him laugh like that for forever, “That it is,” the boy’s tone is fond, familiar. He straightens himself out, placing his beer onto the counter and standing tall and broad and directly in front of Louis, and then he offers his hand. “’M Harry.”

“Louis,” there are not sparks when Harry’s hand, large and warm, covers his own completely, because shit like that only happens in the books multiple people have told him to get his head out of.

“Louis,” Harry smiles, squeezing his hand before dropping it, “Louis, would you care to get out of here?”

It’s too much. The bass from the speakers is sending vibrations all the way up Louis’ spine, shocks buzzing rhythmically in his core, and people are pressing into him from all sides, and Perrie might be calling his name from somewhere to the far right, and he’s poor but at the same time he’s halfway to alright, and the most beautiful person on the planet has just asked him to get out of here, so.

“Noble, noble, Harry,” Louis says. “Lead the way.”

Harry beams again, too bright, and covers Louis’ small hand with his own giant, calloused one, and pulls him onwards.
***
Harry’s arm is heavy around his shoulders, and Louis feels light as a fucking feather.
***
“So,” Louis breaks the silence, “You’re headed to battle tomorrow.”

They’ve already been walking for a few minutes, and by now they’re past the crowded streets and the loud music and everybody that Louis knows, on a quiet street in a quiet part of town that Louis has never been to before. It’s very dark and probably very late, but every once and a while they pass under a streetlamp and Louis gets to look at Harry’s face, golden and glowing, so.

Harry bites his lip, and the shadows on his face indicate something akin to guilt. “No, actually,” he admits.

“You prat!” Louis has said many less true things to pull many less fit guys, but he feigns offence and pretends that he’s not glad that this near stranger is not actually headed out to a desert in the morning. “And here I agreed to come with you just because I thought you were a brave soldier- turns out you were using a line on me.”

“I am, though,” Harry says quickly, and he pulls on the chains around his neck, and, sure enough, they fall out to reveal shiny tags pronouncing him to be Private STYLES, HARRY E. “A soldier. Leaving tomorrow. But I’m just tagging along on a peace mission in Palestine as a part of the guard for the Ambassador- I don’t deploy again until August.”

For effect, Louis pretends to consider this for a minute, halts his steps to make out like he’s debating going back to the club, before shrugging and striding onwards. “Still noble,” he assures Harry. “Protecting our brave Israeli ambassador who, I’m sure, is a lovely, pasty bloke from somewhere in Yorkshire who can’t shield himself from a razor.”

Harry laughs again, and Louis is going to have to switch his major to Romantic Poetry, really, “You sound like you’re from Yorkshire.”

“Don’t be silly, I’m right posh,” Louis scoffs, turning his nose up and earning yet another laugh, this time a sort of giggle.

“Now you sound like me,” Harry jokes.

It’s cooled down, now, and so Louis draws a little closer to him, because Harry’s whole effect is like Christmas and summer and probably a bunch of other warm things, all at once. “You here alone, then?”

“Oh, no. A few of my mates and I decided to spend our last day off by the sea- we leave for a base in Harrogate in the morning, we’ve just been back from Kuwait for a week- they left the club to turn in early, yeah, but I-” he sort of blushes, it’s sort of adorable. “I saw you, and I stayed.”

“Quite the charmer, you are.”

“Yeah?” Harry’s grin is back, cocky and smitten.

“Oh, sure,” Louis hums. “The dimples, the lips, the hero thing- you’ve got a lot going for you, Harry Styles. If you didn’t have such a ridiculous name, you could sweep anybody off their feet.”

“How did you-” Louis points at the tags around his neck, and Harry groans. “These fucking tags are cramping my style, man,” Harry sighs dramatically, and this time, they laugh together, bright and loud in the middle of the night.

There’s a comfortable silence, in which they turn up yet another road, and Louis bothers to ask “Where we’re going?”

There’s a pause, and then Harry clears his throat, “I’ve, uh- I’ve rented a room, actually, for the night- a little pub just a few blocks down?”

He actually fucking asks it, like it’s a question as to whether or not Louis wants to go home with him, like it’s a question as to whether or not anyone would want to go home with him, and Louis can’t help laughing out loud at the absurdity of the notion that anyone could say no.

“What?” Harry sounds almost defensive.

Still laughing, Louis shakes his head, raises himself up on his tiptoes, and kisses Harry, right here, late nights under a streetlight in Blackpool, to answer his question.

Harry’s lips are chapped and worn, but against Louis’ they’re soft as velvet, and he’s so, so tall that Louis has to crane his neck to reach, and his hands move squeeze Louis’ waist, just once, and, like, it’s not a deep kiss, and it’s not a promise and it’s not a beginning and it’s not an ending- but it’s an answer.

“Oh,” Harry says, after Louis pulls away.

“Okay?” Louis asks him, soft and shiny.

Harry kisses him again, and, yeah, Louis’ got his answer.
***
Harry fucks like a contradiction, but Louis’ always appreciated antithesis.
***
“This is it,” Harry says, once the door is kicked open and they’re standing at square one. It’s a small, cramped space above a small, cramped pub. The sounds of the drunk scouses on the floor below drift up through the floorboards, mixed in with an old Thin Lizzy song. “Home sweet home.” He looks down at Louis for a second, mouth quirked in amusement at a joke Louis doesn’t understand, and then sweeps his hand forward in a grand gesture, “After you, love.”

Louis steps over the threshold, hears Harry do the same. The door quietly shuts behind them and they’re plunged into dark grey, alone in such a small space, and Louis is suddenly extremely aware of the fact that Harry is by far the fittest guy he’s ever been alone in the darkness with.

“Welcome,” Harry whispers lowly in his ear, and Louis was just.

Not ready for that.

“Give me a tour?” he asks, but his voice cracks a bit and the game is up.

Harry’s laugh is deeper, this time, as he brings Louis backwards slowly, using his height and frame to his advantage until Louis’ crowded up against the wallpaper and praying for his eyes to adjust soon so that he can properly see Harry’s lips from this angle. “Well,” Harry begins. “This is the wall.”

“Nice wall,” Louis manages.

Harry’s hand could probably cover Louis’ entire face, but as it is, Harry brings it up to rest against one of his cheeks, his thumb catching on Louis’ lips. “Nicer now that you’re against it,” Harry murmurs.

“Fucking corny as all fuck,” Louis breathes. Harry is so close now, so close that his eyelashes are brushing against Louis’.

“I’ll try harder next time,” Harry promises, and then, suddenly rough, he pushes Louis quick and fast a little to his left, and he’s pushed against some sort of table, the corner jamming into Louis’ lower back, a surprised hiss escaping his lips.

“Not that hard,” he protests.

“This is the desk,” Harry ignores him, and he slips a thigh between Louis’ legs and lets out a breathless little laugh as Louis involuntarily arches up.

Sturdy, Louis is about to say, but then Harry’s leaning down to press deadly kisses along the side of Louis’ neck and it’s all Louis can do to grip onto the back of Harry’s t-shirt and curl up into him. Louis’ jeans are getting tighter, but Harry’s grinding down, rubbing his own hardening cock against Louis’ thigh in slow circles, huge hands trailing up and down Louis’ arms, and with as much strength as he can muster, Louis tangles a hand into Harry’s curls and pulls his head back.

“What’s up?” Harry asks lowly. It’s dark, and all that Louis can really see are Harry’s lips, wet and swollen.

Louis surges forward to kiss him, and Harry meets him in the middle.

Harry kisses like he’s got twenty seconds to live but twelve and a half eternities to stay, like he’s drowning and he’s trying to bring Louis down with him, like nicotine and menthol and fresh air. For long moments, they just stay there, kissing filthy, and it’s hot, hot, hot, the way that Harry catches Louis’ bottom lip between his teeth, how he licks into Louis’ mouth with practised dominance, how once big hand traces down Louis’ body, brushing a thumb past a thinly covered nipple, ghosting over his waist, not stopping until he meets the swell of Louis’ arse and Louis can feel the smirk against his lips.

The last bus is long gone, Thin Lizzy croons from downstairs, and Harry’s hand curls around Louis’ thigh a little bit.

“Let me try something?” Harry mumbles against his lips. Louis is too dazed, too done to say anything, and so he gives a weak sound of approval, and suddenly Harry’s hoisting him up, Louis locking his legs around Harry’s waist and his arms around his neck instinctively, and Louis lets out a little shriek and then an elated burst of laughter, and their eyes have adjusted a little bit now, and Louis can see Harry grinning like a Cheshire Cat, and it’s so much, and Louis needs Harry to be naked yesterday.

“You’re ridiculous,” Louis laughs, breathless because Harry’s just slid his hands down to kneed at his arse.

“Ready to see the bed?” Harry asks.

“Born ready,” Louis huffs, and it comes out a little bit desperate, but it doesn’t matter because Harry is fucking carrying him to the neatly made double, knees hitting the frame of the bed and dipping down to deposit Louis across the bed the short way, leaving Louis’ legs dangling off the sides and his heart beating at three times the normal pace and his dick straining against his jeans.

“What’re you-” Louis whispers into the darkness when he doesn’t feel the expected weight of Harry plop down beside him.

“Shh,” Harry’s voice floats back, and Louis lets his head fall back and forces himself to trust. Zayn would be proud, Louis starts to think, but he never quite manages to finish because suddenly surprisingly gentle hands are pulling off his TOMS, nudging his legs apart, rubbing their way up his thighs, and then Harry’s face pops up between them, green eyes glinting devilishly, and long fingers pop open the button on Louis’ jeans. He drags the zipper down torturously slow and peels the jeans down and off as if he’s got an eternity to do so, and then Louis can feel Harry’s hot breath ghosting over his thinly veiled erection and he is done.

“So help me God,” he warns, his voice strangled with want, “If you don’t- fuck, Harry- just fucking- shit-”

“What’s the magic word?” Harry prompts, too coy, too smug for Louis to handle. He’s kneeling properly now, hands rubbing soothing circles into the insides of Louis’ thighs, head bent low enough for Louis to catch a shadow of his long lashes against his cheek as he looks down with a cat-got-mouse expression at Louis, spread out and frustrated below him. He looks like he can’t wait to wreck Louis; he looks like the hottest thing Louis has ever seen.

“You little-” Louis breathes out, but then Harry leans down to press a single kiss to the tip of Louis’ dick, poking out of the waistband of his briefs, and with a mumbled fuck, he surrenders, “Please, ok, fuck, please.”

And Harry, bless his soul, yanks down Louis’ pants and takes him into his mouth in a single, deadly swoop.

Louis can’t think, or see, or feel anything but Harry’s hot, wet mouth around his cock, going at it like he was born to do so, like sucking Louis’ brains out through his dick is all he’s ever wanted. He wastes no time in swallowing Louis all the way down, throat tightening as Louis’ dick hits the very back of it, but never stopping, spending long minutes setting a ruthless rhythm that Louis can’t properly match with desperate thrusts of his hips. He’s making absolutely filthy sounds, little groans and hums, deep vibrations that travel up Louis’ dick and reduce him to a writing mess, hands seeking solace in Harry’s curls, barely conceived whimpers escaping his lips.

“Holy shit,” he whispers reverently, as Harry finally breaks for air, breath coming in little bursts, and licks a slow stripe up the underside, flicks his tongue across the head, and then takes Louis down again. “Holy shit, holy shit, holy- fuck, Jesus.”

“Just Harry, actually,” Louis can hear the smirk in Harry’s voice, but he can also hear how raw it sounds, how wrecked, and he can’t help lifting his head to peek at Harry, lips swollen, cheeks hollowed, and fuck, he can’t help it, he groans at the sight, and Harry hears him, because he grins around Louis’ dick and brings his eyes up to meet Louis’, hooded and so, so intense, and Louis cries out to God or Jesus or somebody as he lets his head fall back down, stars erupting behind his eyes, hands yanking at Harry’s hair desperately, because this isn’t how he wants to come, not this time. Getting the message, Harry lets Louis’ cock slide out of his mouth slowly, fingers digging into Louis’ thigh as he rests his head against Louis’ hip.

“What do you want?” Harry whispers against Louis’ skin, nipping at his hipbone gently, bringing a huge hand up to loosely circle Louis’ straining, wet cock. Louis can barely think, because Harry’s hand moving up and down his shaft so gently, and his touch burns so good that Louis feels like his veins are on fire.

“I- you- inside,” Louis finally manages, and Harry’s breath seems to catch for a second before he’s nodding, and then he’s standing, so tall above Louis, peeling off his shirt while Louis weakly pulls himself up to do the same. Louis dimly registers that Harry’s fly is already undone, and his cock out, curving up, hard and long, registers that Harry must have pulled it out himself while he was blowing Louis, and has to flop back down on the bed because he can’t handle that shit right now. He closes his eyes instead, trying to ignore the fireworks pounding behind them. He feels Harry swing him round vertically, gripping his knees gently, feels cold as Harry disappears for a second, the sound of a drawer opening and closing alerting Louis as to why he’s been briefly abandoned, and feels warm, next, as Harry crawls up onto the bed, settling in the v of Louis’ legs, arms bracketing either side of his head, delicious friction as their cocks rub together.

“Hey,” comes a voice near Louis’ ear, and he opens his eyes slowly to find Harry hovering over him.

Harry’s eyes seem to move all over his face, roaming around leisurely, before coming to stop at Louis’ lips. Frustrated and overstimulated as he is, Louis can’t help twisting his mouth into a half-smirk, half-smile. “Hey,” Louis grins back.

“I’m just- I’m gonna- fuck, you’re so fit, and-” Harry’s stumbling over his words, and Louis brings up a finger to his ruddy red lips to cut him off.

“You can fuck me now,” Louis tells him, and Harry positively beams, leaning down to lick into Louis’ mouth, quick and dirty, before pulling back and resting on his thighs. Louis watches with hooded eyes as Harry reaches behind him for the lube, popping the bottle open with his thumb and squirting a decent amount onto his fingers.

“Gonna make it so good,” he promises, pressing a kiss to the inside of one of Louis’ thighs and lifting the leg up to rest on his shoulder. Carefully, he brings a slick finger to circle Louis’ rim, and then he’s pushing inside, and fuck. If Louis had admired Harry’s hands before, strong and huge and soft around his cock, it’s nothing now, because nothing compares to the way that Harry’s got a single, long finger inside of him, fucking him slow and burning and not nearly enough.

“More,” Louis grits out. “More, please- God, Harry-”

“Shh, baby, I’ve got you,” Harry mumbles, and he twists in a second, sucking in a breath as Louis arches back into it, rocking his hips desperately into the touch. “Shit, Louis, fuck, look so good-”

Louis lets out a long groan in response as Harry brushes past his prostate, “Fuck, yes, again-”

A flicker of realisation crosses over Harry’s face, followed by newfound determination, and he presses in a third finger, other hand coming back to grip Louis’ leaking cock, thumb smearing precome over the slit while his fingers press mercilessly against Louis’ prostate.

“FUCK!” Louis screams out, unable to keep quiet any longer, and Harry’s triumphant answering laugh is absolutely wrecked, and cut short when Louis breathes out, “Now, please, fuckfuckfuck, I’m ready.”

Harry scrambles up faster than Louis would’ve thought possible, and Louis’ so, so hard that he could cry but he can’t help but let out a sort of laugh as he props himself up enough to see Harry fumbling with the condom, dropping it twice in his haste, hissing as he rolls it on over his cock, and practically upending the bottle of lube onto it. Louis reaches out a hand to still Harry’s and meets his eyes, a smile breaking over his face that he probably couldn’t suppress, even if he wanted to.

“Hey,” he grins, and Harry lets out a breath he appears to have been holding and tosses the bottle aside and onto the floor, stretching himself out across Louis again.

“Ready?” he asks, and Louis kisses him and lifts his hips for an answer.

“Fuck,” Louis hisses. Harry’s going in slowly, but in the darkness Louis wasn’t able to fully appreciate how big he is, and now, as Louis feels his arsehole stretch around Harry’s length, he fears, for a second, once Harry’s all the way in and exhaling a soft ‘shit’, that he might split in two. But Harry is whispering praise into the crook of Louis’ neck and he’s sweaty and heavy and as Louis adjusts to it, the wonderful burn, it’s all he can do to whimper back and lock his legs around Harry’s waist and clutch at his broad shoulders desperately.

“Move,” he begs, and Harry groans, stays for another second, and then he moves.

Harry pulls out almost completely and then slams back in, and the headboard thuds against the wall. Louis can’t help it, he fucking screams, because Harry grits his teeth and does it again and again and again and again and again, panting against Louis’ collarbone, tongue flicking out to taste salty sweat, reciting a mantra of fuck fuck fuck and shit shit shit and tight tight tight.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Harry- Harry, Harry, Harry,” Louis chants back, a string of expletives falling from his lips every time their hips collide, clawing helplessly at Harry’s back when he hits his prostate spot on, fingernails dragging across pale skin, the sting of it only seeming to spur Harry on more. He’s a man possessed, Louis can see, knuckles white from gripping the iron headboard, head thrown back, exposing a white column of neck that Louis can’t help but lean up to mark, teeth and tongue leaving different shades of shadows.

“You’re fucking hot,” Louis grits out, and Harry doesn’t slow his brutal pace one bit as he leans down to press his open mouth to Louis’, tongues battling for absolutely nothing.

“Shit, Louis,” Harry breathes into his mouth. “So- shit- so tight-”

Louis twists up, searching for the friction of Harry’s flat stomach against his leaking cock, and clenches his arse even tighter around Harry, causing him to cry out.

“So close,” he whispers, voice breaking, “So fucking close.”

Louis closes his eyes, lets go as Harry fucks into him mercilessly, hitting his prostate every time, now, lips sucking and teeth nipping just under Louis’ jaw. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, Harry, gonna come, want- want you to-”

Louis can’t finish the sentence, but Harry’s got the message, and he’s gripping Louis tightly now, hand sliding up and down faster and faster, and it’s just so much and-

Fuck!” he shouts, and he’s coating their stomachs, and Harry’s fucking him through it while stars dance behind his eyes, and Louis’ body goes limp but Harry keeps going until he’s coming too, deep inside of Louis and shouting his name- louislouislouis- and Louis clings onto him too tightly and.

Fuck.

It’s Harry who starts laughing first, slow and deep, completely breathless and full of wonder, laughing into that space between Louis’ shoulder and neck that he seems to have claimed as his own. Louis fights it off for a second, almost too tired and too far gone to participate, but it’s impossible to fight off, and soon he’s joining in, amazed, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck and holding him loose and gentle as they shake together. Louis buries his giggles into Harry’s curls and breathes him in. He smells like sweat and sex and vanilla. Louis laughs harder.

“That was-” Harry pants, raising his head a little, smile impossibly wide.

“Fun,” Louis finishes, and they dissolve again, Louis’ gut starting to ache with it.

“Ow,” he groans, pushing up half-heartedly at Harry’s shoulder. Harry’s softening inside of him, weight crushing down on Louis, and he rolls off with an exaggerated sigh, grunting as he reaches down to peel off the condom. He ties it up with clumsy fingers and flings it off the bed with a flop of his arm, and it lands, Louis imagines, nowhere near the rubbish bin.

“You’re disgusting,” Louis snickers, and Harry turns his head to look at him, almost expressionless.

“That’s not what your mum said,” he says, very seriously.

It’s hysterical. Harry’s hysterical. This whole night’s hysterical.

Louis manages to pull himself up to upright position, resting his head against the cool headboard, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths to calm himself down. He’s racing, right now, adrenaline pumping through his veins like fire, high on sex, this night, this boy.

“‘M not tired,” he tells Harry, eyes still closed. “I know I should be tired, but I’m not. Are you?”

“Nope,” Harry’s voice seems to ring in Louis’ ears. “Not in the slightest.”

Louis opens his eyes, now. From where he sits, Harry’s in profile, and Christ, this kid doesn’t have a bad angle. His cheeks are flushed and his hair seems to shine with sweat and his long body hangs off of the bed just a little bit- huge feet, of fucking course- and he’s smiling like an idiot up at the ceiling. Louis moves his foot so that it kicks Harry’s leg, and Harry’s eyes snap over to Louis.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” Louis grins.

“D’you want a cigarette?”
***
They stay up all night, talking.
***
“Where are you from?” he asks Harry a little while later. They’re sitting on the floor naked, leaning against the bed and passing a fifth cigarette- Marlboros because Harry is, of course, an army man; Reds because Harry is, of course, a hipster- back in forth. “What’s your Zodiac sign? What’s your mum like? What’s your dad like? What do your tattoos mean? Why are you going to war? If you could do anything in the world, what would it be, and why? How do you like your tea? What’s your plan for the zombie apocalypse?”

Harry is 20, and he’s from Cheshire. He’s an Aquarius.

“Is that compatible with- wait, what’re you?”

“Capricorn,” Louis informs him.

“Right. Is that compatible with Capricorn?”

Louis has no idea. “Match made in heaven,” he promises, and Harry believes him.

In a wandering voice, Harry tells him that his mum makes the best Gingerbread in the world, that his dad’s long dead, but Robin’s a solid bloke. He tells him about how much it hurt when he got the sparrows inked along his collarbones, but how it’s so worth it, because this way, he’s never alone. He’s going to war partially because he wants peace and partially because he doesn’t like Uni and partially because it turns boys into men and, actually, mainly because his dad, and when he comes back he wants to own his own bakery. He likes his tea strong, and, in a zombie apocalypse, he’d stick with the geek, because the geek always makes it out in the end.

“My turn,” Harry says after Louis has blown him, quick and dirty, a reward for his shrewd plan for survival. “My turn to find out about you.”

They’re back in bed, now, tangled in the sheets, and everything is tinted a dark, silky blue.

“There’s not much to find.” Louis shrugs, settling back into Harry’s arms, head flush against his chest so that he’s left staring at the massive butterfly- “moth”- that graces Harry’s army-man abs.

Harry shakes his head, “I don’t believe it.”

“No, really, I’m quite boring,” Louis promises.

“I don’t care,” Harry is determined. “Make something up, if you have to.”

Louis laughs, leans up and over to reach for another cigarette, “You’re stupid.”

“I want to know about you,” Harry says simply, and maybe it is simple, because Louis kind of wants him to know, too.

And so Louis sits up, takes a drag, and tells Harry.

He tells Harry about the people he loves- his mum and his sisters and Zayn and Niall and Liam and some days even Nick. He tells Harry about growing up in Donny with Stan, about making the footie team and nearly failing his Maths A-levels, about breaking his first pair of glasses, about realising that he was different. He tells Harry all about how he wants to live in a house where there’s ivy growing up and down the bricks, like in the Madeline books he reads to his little sisters, and how he’s always been slightly disappointed that his birthday is the day before Christmas, because wouldn’t it be better to have it all nice and spread out? He tells Harry that he’s still not quite sure what he wants to be when he grows up, which is a bit of an issue because it’s possible that he actually already is a grown up.

Harry asks him if he’s ever been in love, and Louis replies that he doesn’t know how to go about doing something like being in love, and then Harry asks him if he’s afraid of it, maybe, and Louis doesn’t say anything, just kisses him quiet, and Harry understands it to mean, shitless, I’m scared shitless.
***
Harry has to leave at seven, and Louis watches the bathroom door for a long time after it closes.
***
Although Louis’ always preferred the brooding, existentialist Hamlet to the whinging, pitiful Juliet, at around five thirty, when the dark blue turns into a sort of light, morning grey, he begins to sympathise with Juliet’s unflinching insistence that it’s the ‘nightingale, not the lark’ outside of the window.

“I should shower,” Harry says at six, although he makes no move to get up from where he is, taking up most of the bed, his long body stretched out diagonally, feet dangling off the end, head on Louis’ chest.

Louis’ hands, which have been combing their way through Harry’s sweaty hair, creating and untangling the knots, still. “You should.”

“I’ll want to be looking sharp for all the boys down at the base,” with light fingers, Harry traces patterns that never repeat themselves down along Louis’ chest, connecting the trail of lovebites he’s left, his touch too careful and delicate for someone with such fucking huge hands.

“Mmm,” Louis agrees, “That is really all there is to the army, isn’t there? Masses of hot, sexually frustrated men in uniform. Remind me to sign up for the next war.”

“Altruistic,” Harry comments drily.

“You know me,” Louis gives Harry’s hair a last affectionate tug.

“I do,” says Harry quietly, and it isn’t true at all, is it, because Harry’s only just met him.

Harry lies there for another thirty seconds, and Louis has the odd urge to superglue his hand right where it is, tangled in Harry’s sweaty curls, so that they can’t be separated until a grown-up can send away for the dissolving solvent, but Louis doesn’t really know where to find superglue in Blackpool at this hour and the only adults in the room, funnily enough, are he and Harry.

Harry drops a single kiss on his sternum and slides off the bed with more grace than should be expected from someone who is so ridiculously proportioned.

“Coming with?” he asks Louis lightly.

Louis wants to and it scares him.

“I, um,” he says, “I should actually probably catch the early train home. They’ll all be wondering where I got to last night.”

Harry smiles like he understands, “Right.”

Louis’ throat feels dry, all of the sudden. Clearing it, he asks, “How long will you be in Israel, again?”

“I’m not sure,” Harry shrugs, “Depends how quickly the Ambassador gives up on understanding the conflict and starts blowing things up.”

“Well, you can certainly blow things,” Louis cracks half-heartedly. Harry doesn’t laugh, just hums and scratches the back of his neck.

“Will you be here when I get out of the shower?” There’s no plea in his question, no ‘don’t leave me’ and no ‘get out, I say, get out’, and, again, Louis wants to.

“Probably not,” the words are small and to Louis they seem cruel, but Harry hums again, steps to the bed, and kisses his forehead, short and sweet.

“Maybe I’ll be seeing you later, then, Louis-”

Louis laughs because Harry knows about how he used to have a recurring sex dream about his Year Ten World History teacher but doesn’t know his surname and certainly doesn’t where to look for him later, “Tomlinson.”

“Tomlinson,” Harry beams.

“Don’t, uh- don’t die?” an hour ago, Louis could’ve sworn that he would never run out of things to say to this boy, but reality is a bitch and Louis has no fucking clue what to do, what to say when your one-night-stand who feels like anything but your one-night-stand is going off to take a shower and then join the army, so.

“Eloquent.”

“You know me.”

A last flash of the dimples, a small wave, and then the bathroom door swings shut.

The water starts running as Louis is shrugging back into his shirt, and almost instantly, Louis hears a low, husky voice singing softly from behind the door.

Of fucking course he sings in the shower.

Louis catches himself smiling as he buttons up his jeans, smiling as he sees the 14 missed calls on his phone, smiling as he passes by a mirror on the way to the door and sees the smattering of red and purple marks along his neck. Just as he’s getting ready to walk out, he spies it, crushed and on the floor beside the bed.
***
Marlboros because Harry is, of course, an army man; Reds because Harry is, of course, a hipster.
***
‘Harry’, Louis scrawls out in his chicken-scratch handwriting on the back of the silver cigarette wrapper left folded, intact, inside the now empty box, and then crosses it out and writes ‘Private Styles’, instead.

‘Hey’ is all he writes before he signs it with a string of numbers, just in case, and leaves it on the pillow on his way out.
***

two

***
When Harry calls at twelve, Louis has been waiting for three weeks.
***
It’s nearing midnight, and it’s raining, and Louis’ just spent the entire day reorganising the back room of Grimshaw & Co Booksellers because Nick Fucking Grimshaw can’t be half-arsed to do anything but lounge behind the front desk and recommend Tolstoy and Thompson with an unparalleled air of superiority, and Louis’ rent is half a month late, and he probably couldn’t move up off his couch to get to his damp pack of cheap Mayfairs if his life depended on it, and he had a stupid dream last night about a stupid boy with stupid curls and stupid red lips, and none of it fucking matters because The Notebook is frozen, stopped, paused right in the middle of the breathtaking cinematic climax.

“Liam?” Louis clears his throat. “Liam, I think you’re sitting on the remote.”

Liam, who is less than a metre away from him on the other end of the threadbare couch, just makes a low sound in the back of his throat as Zayn’s hand disappears underneath the blanket again.

“Le-yum,” Louis attempts to sing-song, but Liam’s eyes are clenched shut and Zayn has started in on the side of his neck, just below his ear, and Louis does not want to know what is happening in Liam’s lap right now except probably the remote is in Liam’s lap right now.

“Zayn, please,” Louis tries now.

“Shit, Zayn, please-” Liam whines.

“Every fucking time,” Louis curses under his breath.

He’s not been having the best three weeks, see. It’s the weather, he thinks, definitely the weather. It’s been sweltering hot during the day and pouring rain at night, and just yesterday Louis had to walk 15 minutes home from work in the downpour, umbrella forgotten at home and carefully constructed quiff flopping into his eyes. In weather like this, Louis’ mum is always fond of saying, it’s quite easy to get a cold. Louis crosses his arms across his chest, glares at Allie’s tear-stained face, frozen on the tiny TV screen, and sniffles pointedly.

“My life is tragic,” he tells her. “My boss has a quiff higher than Mount Everest. My roommates routinely fuck while I am at arms length. I hate the rain and I’m going to get lung cancer by the time I’m 35. And my mum is the last person I texted. And also we’re completely out of fro-yo, so, there’s that.” Allie’s face just stares back at him, her mouth an agonised ‘o’, and Louis even feels a little bit better, until Zayn shifts beside him, swinging up to straddle Liam properly, and the DVD starts rewinding at the slowest setting.

“Fuck this!” Louis cries dramatically, finally jumping off the couch and ripping the blanket off of Zayn and Liam, averting his eyes and ignoring Zayn’s indignant shout. “All I wanted to do was watch the fucking Notebook, and you two can’t keep it in your pants for two bloody hours, and Zayn, you promised you would go grocery shopping three days ago, and I am tired and you won’t even-”

Louis is cut off by the shrill sound of his phone, and Zayn cracks up, burying his face into Liam’s neck. Louis is beyond done. He snatches his phone and box of takeaway up off the table and stalks off in the direction of his room, cursing the day that he cosigned any sort of lease with Zayn Malik.

“Sorry, Lou,” Liam calls after Louis’ retreating back, not sounding sorry at all. Louis makes sure to slam his door before gritting his teeth and sliding to answer the unknown number.

“‘Lo?” he barks, hoping that an initially aggressive tone will scare off any telemarketers.

“Is this Louis?”

The voice on the other end of the line is scratch and far away, but its also deep and slow and.

Harry?” Louis is cautious, disbelieving, and his heart is beating irrationally hard.

The man laughs, delighted, and Louis can’t help smiling. “Yeah, hey.”

“Hey.”

There’s silence, in which Louis becomes aware of his staccato pulse, Harry’s slightly laboured breathing, the box of lo mien in his hands.

They both start talking at the same time.

“Sorry if this is a bad time-”

“So are you back-”

They laugh again. Its a warm kind of awkward, with butterflies and bated breath. Louis is a teenage girl.

“Sorry, sorry, you go,” Harry says.

“No, hey, you called me.” Louis laughs. “Go for it.”

“Oh, yeah. Right. OK.”

There’s more silence, and this time, Louis is able to distinguish what he thinks might be the sound of rain hitting a pavement.

“Are you outside?” he asks before he can stop himself.

“Oh,” Harry says, “Yeah.”

“OK then.”

More silence. Then-

“There are people in my flat,” Harry says finally.

“Come again?”

“Like, OK, I rent this crappy flat over on Millbeck Street, for a place to go when I’m off duty- not like I’ve actually been here for, like, any amount of time, probably a combined two weeks, or something, but anyway, I like, let the landlord sublet it out when I’m not there, because I’m never there, but I guess they thought that I’d be going straight from Israel to Afghanistan, because, like, there are people staying in my flat.”

“You rent a flat on Millbeck? Like, in Manchester?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re home?”

“Yeah.”

“In Manchester.”

“Yes, Louis.”

Louis is still processing all of this information when Harry speaks again. “I guess I was just hoping- I mean, I don’t want to impose or anything, but like, you did leave your number- and, like, you said you went to Man U, so, like, if you’re here, in Manchester-”

“Hey, stop,” Louis laughs, because his brain has finally caught up and he’s just so fucking endeared. “Do you need a place to crash?’

Harry lets out an audible sigh of relief. “Just for like, a few nights, I swear, until it’s all sorted and I can get back in. My friend Cara’s down in London and Ed’s got his family staying over this week and so I really don’t have anywhere else to go, but I could totally just take the bus up to Cheshire in the morning and stay with my mum if you don’t want me crashing for that long, or-”

Louis feels very cold and very warm at the same time, “It’s fine, Harry, honest, you can stay as long as you need.”

“Thank God, I thought I was going to have to sleep at the station.”

Louis giggles a little, picturing Harry curled up at the station, blinking up at the police officer who comes to wake him up and tell him not to loiter with a confused sort of ‘who, me?’ smile, and getting away with it.

“No, I’m just on the other side of campus, and I’ve got a shower and bed. Or, like, a shower and a couch, like, no pressure, you can just come and sleep if you-”

“Shower and bed, please,” Harry sounds like he’s smiling.

“Alright, then,” Louis lets out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.

“Alright.”

There’s a few more moments of silence, wherein Louis just sort of stupidly grins down at his phone before he realises why Harry hasn’t hung up yet.

“Right, you’ll need my address.”

“Yeah, could be useful.”

“Sorry, of course.”

By the time that Louis has managed to give out his address and Harry’s estimated that he’ll be there in 10 minutes, he’s so flustered he doesn’t really know what to do with himself.

“Zayn!” he calls out desperately. “Zayn, I’m having a crisis!” he pushes out of his room and bursts back into the living room, only to find that, for once, Zayn and Liam have abandoned the couch in favour of their bedroom. Their takeaway boxes have been piled neatly by the sink, and the remote is perched atop of the folded blanket.

“Right,” Louis says aloud to the empty room. He wonders if he should hide the bong on the coffee table, and he snatches it up and puts it down.

Approximately nine minutes later, Louis is internally debating whether or not Harry is the type of guy who’ll appreciate the Kardashian poster that hangs over the kitchen counter. The buzzer rings just as Louis has decided that maybe he should take it down, and it makes Louis jump about a mile high. “I got it!” Louis shouts to the sleeping flat as he jumps up to press the buzzer. He counts to 30 in his head, prays that Harry has a thing for Kim's arse, and bends down to straighten out the shabby rug.

The knock comes. Louis runs to the door, takes three quick breaths, and opens it up.

Harry is standing there, all 6 feet plus of him; Harry, in what Louis imagines was a once-crisp uniform but is now soaking wet, water dripping from his curls and down to pool at his heavy boots; Harry, an army-issued duffel bag slung round his shoulder and a cardboard box marked ‘Styles’ with a houseplant sticking out of it clutched to his hip; Harry, a stupid, loopy smile on his stupid, loopy face; Harry, who Louis was 99% sure he’d never see again; Harry, Harry, Harry-

“Hey,” Harry says.

Louis cannot breathe, “Hey”

Harry lets out a sound that is halfway between a giggle and a snort, and its disgusting, “I like your glasses.”

Louis had forgotten about the square frames perched on his nose, and now he forgets to be embarrassed.

“I like your camo,” he says.

“I like your doormat.”

“I like your house plant.”

“I like you," Harry blurts out, cheeks a bit pink. "Like- well, I really liked the cigarette carton thing,” Harry’s cheeks are a bit pink.

“Yeah, it doubles as a good luck charm.” Louis’ cheeks are hurting from smiling so much, because he’s not been in the practice of smiling this much for the past few weeks.

“Of course,” Harry’s smiling too, impossibly wide- fuck, his dimples- cheeks pink, eyes bright. “I carried it with me wherever I went, my mates kept asking me for fags and I kept having to tell them it was empty.”

This is not happening, because things like this, things like Harry, only happen in Nicholas Sparks novels. “Did you hold it up and whisper little prayers of our reunion?”

Harry sets his box down on the floor, digs around in one of his pockets, withdraws a crushed Marlboro packet, brings it up to his lips, and murmurs “Bring me home.”

Louis was joking, he was fucking joking, and he must look as done as he feels because Harry suddenly looks concerned, too concerned.

“Louis?” he asks. “Louis, are you alright?”

Louis is not alright and he will never recover from this and he doesn’t know what to say or do. “I’m brilliant,” he hears himself say.

Harry’s grin gets even wider, lord help them all, “Then can I kiss you?”

“Okay.”

And Harry lunges at Louis, literally lunges, kisses him like he’s a man starved for air, like he’s really been off to war for months or even years and not just an embassy in Jerusalem, and like Louis is the love of his life and not a bloke he had a one night stand with a few weeks back, and Harry is really pretty drenched from the driving rain outside, and he’s getting Louis all wet, too, and Louis hopes, for a brief moment, that the crash he’s just heard wasn’t Harry’s poor houseplant toppling over, and Harry’s awkwardly tall, really, and their teeth keep clashing together, and, still, it’s quite possibly the best kiss of Louis’-

“Oi, Lou, who are you talking to, can you quiet- the fuck?”

Louis jumps about a mile high at Zayn’s voice, because he’d forgotten that Zayn was here- he’d forgotten that Zayn existed, actually, but Harry’s hands are right there to steady him and Louis is definitely dreaming right now.

“Zayn,” he says, his voice impossibly light. “This is Harry.”
***
Harry is tired and Louis likes mornings.
***
“So how was Israel?”

They’re in the shower now. Louis has promised to fill Zayn in in the morning and Harry has thanked him seven times for letting him crash. When Louis looks at Harry now, at the column of his neck as he tilts his head back under the water, Louis thinks that he can’t possibly accomplish all of the things he wants to do to him in a few nights, but that’s neither here nor there and for now Louis is content to just swap small kisses and tired giggles and pass the bar of soap back and forth.

“Hot,” Harry says, “You could- you could see the heat waves off the ground.” Harry’s voice is laced with exhaustion, even slower than usual. “And everybody there is so…” he trails off, watches Louis rub himself over with Zayn’s citrus scented soap with hooded eyes.

“So what?” Louis prompts, smirking a little as Harry reaches out to trail a hand through the suds on Louis’ chest, tracing the words etched along his collarbone with an odd sort of reverence.

“Angry,” Harry finishes. “They’re all very angry.”

Louis feels giddy, like he could fuck and laugh and talk and smoke all night, but Harry is soft and pliant in the rising steam, all water rivulets cutting paths through suds, wet curls falling into his eyes, a steady stream of mumbled ramblings as Louis passes him a bottle of shampoo, and Louis thinks that curling up and sleeping could be great, too.

“Gonna fuck you,” Harry mumbles as Louis reaches over to shut off the water. “All I could think about, in Israel. You.”

His eyes are drooping and he needs to lean on Louis in support as he steps out of the tub and the bathroom wasn’t made for two people and so when Louis brushes his teeth, Harry stands behind him and drops his head on his shoulder and they still barely fit.

“I’m gonna finish washing up, why don’t you go in and wait for me? First door to the left.”

Harry nods against Louis’ shoulder, half sleepwalking out of the bathroom, towel dropping off his waist as he goes. Louis watches him with an expression full of what is probably too much fondness for someone he barely knows, counts to 60, and follows. As he suspected, Harry is sprawled out on his stomach, over the covers, bare-arsed and possibly snoring. Louis slips into a pair of pants and gently lies down beside him. Harry turns his face towards Louis’, as if on instinct.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles, without opening his eyes. “I’m just- long flight, long few weeks.”

“It’s alright,” Louis whispers back.

“In the morning,” Harry says, half into his pillow. “I’ll blow you.”

Louis laughs, and reaches over Harry to switch off the light on the bedside table.

The morning.

He likes the sound of that.
***
Harry’s here and here’s Harry.
***
“So, Harry,” Liam starts, careful and measured, “You’re, uh, here.”

Harry’s answering laugh is so bright and lovely that even cautious little Liam looks disarmed for a minute.

“Yeah,” Harry says, a bit sheepish. “Yeah, I am. Sorry about storming into your flat, yeah, but they let me out early and I came home and there were, like, people shagging on my couch, and I didn’t really have anywhere else to go because all my friends are really back in Cheshire, so Louis really just did a wonderful thing by letting me crash for the night, really.”

“It’s fine!” Liam says quickly, sounding almost apologetic, “We’re just surprised to see you, is all.”

Harry made good on his promise of blowjobs earlier, and had it not been for Zayn pounding on Louis’ door and demanding explanations, Louis figures that they could have stayed in bed all day. But here they are, half past noon, cold pizza and Yorkshire tea. Harry is too big for their flat, but he doesn’t look out of place at all, tucked into the small kitchen table, his limbs folded up neatly and his curls flying every which way.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Louis says quietly.

Harry’s gaze is on him, open and hopeful and lovely, as he replies, “Me too.”

Zayn clears his throat, “Lou, pass the sugar, will you?”

Louis is not done looking at Harry. Maybe he will never be done looking at Harry, he’s not sure. “Get it yourself,” he tells Zayn.

“I like your flat,” Harry says softly, just for Louis.

It really is quite tiny, tucked into the heart of the student district. Zayn and Louis have decorated it somewhat painstakingly in the style of ‘whatever the fuck we want’, a belated teenage rebellion against their mothers and their ‘no more Pokémon posters allowed’ policies, and the couch is ratty and the beanbag chair rattier. Their DVD collection is half-porn, half-Molly Ringwald, and their refrigerator is plastered with pictures of their last three years- Zayn, Louis, Liam, Niall, the girls, and sometimes Matt and Aiden in various stages of drunken stupidity. Liam’s arrival at the flat brought in subscriptions to several manly magazines with pictures of cars on the cover, which Louis and Zayn have taken to reading upside down when high, and a beautiful wooden bureau in the kitchen that Liam says is supposed to be for plates and glasses but that they instantly filled with all of their drug related paraphernalia.

Louis likes his flat, too. He likes his flat with Harry in it best.

“When do you ship out?” he asks Harry.

“Six weeks,” Harry says.

“You got any plans?” Louis asks him lightly.

Louis keeps his gaze on the smile in Harry’s eyes, “Not really. I’ll probably just end up back in Cheshire, bumming around.”

Six weeks. Six weeks but like six weeks but honestly- six weeks?- but still, six weeks.

“You know,” Louis says carefully. “You can probably bum around in Manchester just as well as you can bum around in Cheshire.”

Under the table, Zayn kicks Louis fairly hard in alarm, but Louis ignores him. Louis isn’t inviting a near stranger to live with him for the next six weeks. He’s inviting a pretty boy with long legs and dogtags and nowhere else to go besides his mum’s house to maybe stay around the flat for a little bit.

“You know what?’ Harry leans forward on his elbows slightly, smiling a crooked little smile, “I probably could.”
***
It’s late and they’re children that won’t go to bed.
***
It’s been three days since Harry’s arrival at his doorstep, three days spent largely in bed- or in the shower, really, or on the couch or on the kitchen table or against the wall in the hallway between Louis and Zayn’s rooms or in Zayn’s room- three days, and they’re lying tangled up in sheets, and Louis is triumphant and Harry is in shock.

“You did not,” he gapes at Louis.

“Did to,” Louis shouldn’t be so proud of this, probably. He shouldn’t be so proud and he knows it, but he can’t help smirking as he absentmindedly runs his hand along Harry’s chest, tracing along the ink on his collarbones, pressing lightly along the smattering of lovebites leading downdowndown, coming back up to tweak a nipple.

Harry laughs, and Louis can feel it against his cheek where it’s pressed close to Harry’s heart. Harry tugs at Louis’ damp fringe with a sort of grudging admiration.

“As Long as You Love Me,” he murmurs, as if testing it out, “Lou- why?”

Louis could open his mouth and tell him exactly why- they’d been in the backseat of a car and the radio was playing and by the time The Backstreet Boys came on, Jaymi From the Theatre Department already had two fingers in Louis’ arse and it would have been a bit awkward for either of them to reach over and change the station- but, instead, he swings a leg over Harry and rolls almost lazily on top of him, reaches a hand up to grasp the strong jaw that his fingers have been trying so desperately to memorise, buries his face into the crook of Harry’s neck.

“I don’t care who you are,” Louis whispers into the damp skin, flicking his tongue out over a pretty purple bruise he finds where Harry’s neck meets his shoulder (I made that), “Where you’re from,” he presses open mouthed kisses up the firm column of Harry’s neck, “What you did,” he gently nips right below Harry’s jaw, and then he slides up, levelling their faces, raking his eyes over Harry’s face- flushed cheeks and hooded eyes- before bringing his gaze down to full lips.

“Bit desperate, that song,” Harry whispers, his voice already halfway to wrecked, his eyes staring into Louis’ with a look that’s too far gone, “When you think about it.”

The words ‘as long as you love me’ hang in the air around them as Louis brings his lips down to Harry’s.

Only after, after Louis rides Harry into the mattress with lazy rolls of his hips and Harry leaves finger-shaped bruises on Louis’ hips from digging in much too hard but not hard enough and the sun begins to peek through the curtains as they share a cigarette- only after does the subject come up again.

“What about you, then?” Louis asks Harry sleepily, curling into his chest.

“Hmm?”

“What song did you lose your virginity to?”

“Oh,” Harry blinks for a second, remembering, before his face splits into a wide, Cheshire grin, “Let’s Get it On.”
***
Harry orders coffee for them at the cafe down the block from Louis’, and he takes his black and Louis thinks that’s pretty disgusting so he dumps three sweeteners in when Harry’s not looking.
***
Tuesday morning finds Harry and Louis weaving through the back streets of Manchester, wearing more clothes than they have in six days. This is not Louis’ idea, not at all, in fact, he is seriously considering making it illegal for Harry to ever wear anything (mostly because he’s got such a pretty dick but also a bit because it appears that Harry really doesn’t know how to dress himself), but Louis has a job and a roommate and is running out of food and lube and so here they are, clothed and caffeinated and grocery shopping, and even, apparently, swinging by Grimshaw & Co Booksellers.

A block before they reach the shop, Louis tugs on Harry’s arm to stop him. Logically, Louis knows that their reintroduction to the world needs to include stopping in on the job he’s abandoned for a week, and so here they are, hauling Tesco bags and debating the legacy of Ringo Starr (“He was not ‘expendable’, Lou, they sought him out specifically because they knew his beats would hold the entire fucking band together!”). But Louis can’t help like feeling nervous, as if the 6 by 6 room covered floor to ceiling with dusty old paperbacks is his mum, and he just knows she’s going to embarrass him in front of his new friend.

“It’s, uh-” Louis scratches the back of his neck. He feels oddly vulnerable. “It’s not much.”

Harry tugs on Louis’ arm right back, urging him forward with the buoyant enthusiasm of a teenaged girl off to the prom, “It’s brilliant!”

Louis drags his feet to slow them down, but they’re closing in on the faded red awning and Louis can’t really do anything to stop it. “You’ve never been, Harry, please don’t get your hopes up.”

Harry shakes his head and his curls bounce every which way, “Honestly, Louis, the last book I read was ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’, out loud to a two year old. I’m in no position to judge.”

“There’s just...there’s a lot of dust everywhere because neither Nick or I really know how to clean and there’s a sort of fucked up organisation system but I swear we really do have a system and I can help you find anything you need and-”

Harry cuts him off with a cuff ‘round the head.

“Shut up,” he tells Louis, “It’ll be lovely.”

“And you’re so sure because of why, Private Styles?”

Harry looks at him as if he’s grown two heads, “Because you’re lovely.”

Harry grabs one of his hands and throws open the door to Grimshaw & Co as if he owns the place. He has to duck his head a bit to get through, and Louis wants to cry because Harry is so tall and adorable and lovely and now he is standing in the shitty little bookshop that Louis has given the past few years of his life to and it’s not enough.

“Louis!” Nick shouts, the second the bell rings and they enter, “Where the fuck have you been, you absolute fucking twat-”

“One second, Nick,” Louis says, and if he holds up a finger to stop him, he doesn’t even mean for it to be rude or sassy this time. “Harold?”

Harry is turning in a slow circle, almost tripping over his own feet to do so, and his eyes are wide and Louis needs to know what he’s doing.

“Louis, shh,” Harry hushes him, “I’m taking it in.”

Louis looks around the shop and, even though he’s spent a large portion of the last two and a half years in here, attempts to take it in, too.

It’s quite small, but it’s made tiny by the massive piles of books that have spilled out of the bookshelves to cover most of the floor space. There is a small, threadbare reading chair in the far left corner, which Louis has only ever seen occupied by good old Simon, who comes in every Thursday at 10 o’clock on the dot to read a newspaper that he brings in from outside- God forbid he ever buy a book or magazine from them. The checkout desk- which, bless it, is currently holding Nick back from jumping at Louis and covering him papercuts and squirting him over with lemon juice- is completely covered in piles of Nick and Louis’ personal favourites, a sort of “We Recommend” section that is actually decently well respected by the lit majors who come through, and all of the much loathed “Bestsellers” grace the shelf behind the desk, like government restricted items in convenient shops. The few visible bits of the walls are plastered and layered with UCL literature posters- poetry slams, book clubs, and author meetups- dating back to the 70’s, when Nick’s dad first opened the place. It’s cramped and messy and Harry doesn’t even like books, honestly, why did Louis take him here, and-

“I love it!” Harry claps his hands delightedly, “It’s like, a hipster bookstore!”

“How very dare you,” Louis cries, indignant, but what he means is thank you Jesus and where did you even come from seriously.

Harry’s got dimples when he smirks, too, apparently, “Louis, this ad is from 1974- it’s vintage.”

“Use that word again and you’re out on the curb.”

“Are those books over there first edition?” Harry asks, coy.

“I can’t take you anywhere,” Louis whines, hopeless.

“Who the fuck is he, Louis?” Nick snaps, ready to kill.

Louis chances a glance over at his boss, whom he has not seen in six days because, well, he has not been to work in six days. Nick’s quiff is as spiky as his glare. Louis gulps. “Nick, this is Private Harry Styles. Private Harry Styles, this is Nick.”

“I’ve heard loads about you, mate,” Harry chirps from Louis’ side, and a this point Louis really isn’t sure if Harry is brave at all or just out of his mind.

Nick flicks his gaze from Louis to Harry and back again, and when he speaks, his voice is dangerously and terrifyingly low, “So this is why you disappeared for a week, then?”

“I had a fever?” Louis resists the urge to bury himself in Harry’s shoulder and never look up.

Nick lets out a strangled, demented, and terrifying laugh, and Harry giggles quietly.

“Why are you laughing?” Louis demands under his breath, appalled that Harry finds his impending doom so hilarious.

“You did have a fever...a sex fever,” Harry snickers, and, wow, ok, he’s five years old and Louis is trying really hard not to smile.

“Shut up,” he manages, but then Harry shoots him an exaggerated wink and does a pelvic thrust, and they’re both laughing hysterically.

“I will end you, Tomlinson!” Nick yells, reaching his breaking point.

“And I will bend you over,” Harry whispers. Louis laughs harder.

“You’re working for free all week,” Nick is screaming, “And you’re on inventory, too, and you’re- you’re cleaning the bathroom for the entire fucking summer! I want it sprayed daily with air freshener so strong that it could cover the smell of your murdered body!”

“Working for free...at the strip club,” Harry says, and Louis is just.

Done.
***
They all go together like shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yippidie boom de boom and it makes Louis so happy that he just wants to sing.
***
“You’re in the army?” is the first thing that Niall says to Harry when they make it back home at around five. He’s got his feet kicked up on the coffee table and a game of FIFA paused on the TV, and he says it as if he finds the idea to be vaguely comical. “You look like you’d prefer working at an animal shelter.”

“Niall,” Zayn chides from where he's curled against Liam on the recliner, celebrating his night off with glasses perched on his nose and a porn magazine in his lap. “We didn’t give you a total rundown of the last week just so you could insult him, Jesus,” but Harry laughs out loud and loops over to give Niall a high five.

“I wish,” Harry sighs wistfully, and Louis isn’t even sure if he’s playacting or not. “But someone’s gotta teach yoga breathing to all of those hot heads out in Afghanistan.”

Everyone laughs after a second of surprise, and Niall says, quite seriously, “Thank you for your service, then, mate.”

“Anytime,” Harry winks and pokes his tongue out against the inside of his cheek, pantomiming a blowjob, and Niall lets out a bark of laughter.

“I like him,” Niall tells Louis plainly. “He can stay.” He looks up at Harry, “You can stay.”

“Niall,” Louis warns. “Please remember that you do not determine who can and cannot stay.”

Niall raises his eyebrow and Louis reevaluates the validity of his previous statement.

“I dunno, Lou,” Harry says sagely. “Niall here seems like a bloke who knows what’s up.”

Niall beams at that, “Harry,” he starts, “would you like to play FIFA with me?”

He holds out the second controller like he’s holding out the keys to his kingdom, and Louis can only look on in shock as Harry accepts it gracefully and falls onto the couch beside him.

"You didn't invite me to play for months," Liam manages, less hurt than stunned. “Not until I brought you homemade cookies and promised to cut off my own balls if I ever hurt Zayn.”

"I like Harry," Niall repeats.

“I like Niall,” Harry says, almost a bit shyly.

Niall smacks a kiss onto Harry’s cheek, and that’s that.

They stay in that night, but not in the way that he and Harry have gotten used to staying in, and not the way he and the lads have gotten used to staying in. Zayn moves to order Chinese food, but Harry says that he doesn’t mind cooking something real quick, and ten minutes later he’s standing in their kitchen with their only apron (a beautiful garment featuring a woman’s naked body) tied round his waist and he’s asking them all how they feel about fish tacos. While a blissed-out Niall takes on Zayn at FIFA for the twelfth time and Liam takes on his typical role of Zayn’s Only Cheerleader, Louis makes his way over to Harry.

“You need any help?” he finds himself asking.

Harry raises an eyebrow, “You are not allowed to touch anything.”

If Louis gropes Harry’s dick through the naked lady apron, Zayn is busy getting his arse whipped by Niall at computerised football and never needs to know.

During dinner on the living room floor with paper plates and a bottle of tequila, Harry is grilled and grills in turn, and Louis finds himself actually interested in Liam’s stories about the kids at the camp he’s working at this summer (“We went to the zoo today, and I had to, like, physically restrain this kid from running head-first into the snake habitat”), asking Niall about his first guitar lessons (he played violin first, actually), laughing at Zayn’s impression of his mother when, in year nine, he’d asked he if he could practise his graffiti on the kitchen walls (shrieks to rival Louis’ own mum when he’d come home begging to spray paint goal marks on the brown grass in their tiny backyard). It feels like it’s been a while since they talked like this- they’ve been a unit for so long that Louis sometimes forgets that friendship is something you have to work for and on, but Harry is sort of like a wake up call, a fresh start, and Louis thinks it’s cliché as fuck but he doesn’t really have any other explanations for why he suddenly feels connected again.

After they’ve finished eating, Niall crowns Harry King of the Kitchen in a mock coronation ceremony using his snapback as the crown and a box set of FRIENDS Season 3 as the bible. They flip on cartoons, and Harry knows a brilliant Spongebob drinking game, and so they take shots whenever Squidward plays his clarinet or Mr Krab discusses money or Plankton’s computer wife sasses someone or Patrick is a starfish.

(Patrick is always a starfish. They end up getting extremely drunk extremely quickly).

“Never have I ever tattooed my arse while drunk.” Zayn ends up saying at about two in the morning.

Louis and Niall clink their mugs of rum together like champions and tip them back.

“He’s got a shamrock,” Louis whispers to Harry so that he doesn’t feel left out.

“So do you,” Harry shrugs, and Zayn almost falls out of his chair laughing. “Alright, lads. Never have I ever made a sex tape.”

It’s no surprise when Niall cheers and takes a shot straight from the bottle, but when Louis looks over, Zayn and Liam are taking surreptitious sips, too.

“Gross!” Louis wails. “Ni, mum and dad’ve got it on camera!”

“NO!” Niall cries, and proceeds to fall into Louis, clutching his shirt and making horrible fake-sobbing noises that sound like dry heaves.

“Shut it, you two,” Zayn mumbles darkly, and Liam rubs soothing circles along his back.

“Never have I ever gone skydiving,” Liam announces, and Niall halts his animal noises and Louis and Harry stop laughing to stare at him incredulously.

“No,” Harry shakes his head. “No, Le-yum, its gotta be something kinky. Something bad.”

“Oh,” Liam blushes and goes quiet, and then a wicked grin spreads across his face. “Never have I ever wanked during Titanic.”

Liam will’ve been expecting Niall, Louis, and Zayn to all take shots, Louis supposes, but everyone’s surprised when Harry drinks, too.

“Harry Styles, you dirty bastard,” Zayn laughs. “Welcome to the club. Death and despair get you off, too?”

“Now we know why he’s going to war,” Niall chimes in.

“Leonardo Dicaprio literally steamed up a car,” is all Harry says, and then Zayn cheers and Liam shakes his head disapprovingly and Niall finishes the rum and Louis loves everything.
***
If Harry wants to stay, that’s fine by Louis.
***
Harry’s phone rings at 7:35 the next morning, much to shrill for the hour and the hangover.

Fuck,” Harry groans. Louis keeps his eyes squeezed shut, tight to keep out the morning light, and lets out a low moan as Harry accidentally squashes Louis’ face into the pillow as he reaches over to grab the phone from the table.

“Sorry,” Harry grumbles apologetically, before the ringing stops and Louis hears him answer a groggy, “‘Lo?”

“Yeah- sorry, that’s me, yeah,” he says next, voice thick with sleep. “Who’s this?” Some inaudible grumbling comes from the other end, and Louis attempts to pull the pillow around his head to block out the noise. “Oh, hey, Cal.” More rumbling. “Yeah, it’s fine, I’ve found a place to crash.” Harry’s barely talking above a whisper, but it’s positively ringing in Louis’ ears. “Oh, so they’re gone then?” Louis is never drinking again. “Alright.” Never, ever. “Um, could you hang on a second, mate?”

Harry’s voice stops- where’d you go?- but within seconds, a large hand is carding gently through Louis’ hair. “Lou?” he whispers.

“Mmmph,” Louis grunts is response, not opening his eyes.

“My flat’s empty. Do you want me to leave?”

Louis is all but dead to the world and can barely register what is going on, but the ‘no’ that rings through his head at those six words is clear as anything.

“No,” he says into the pillow forcefully, and maybe it doesn’t come out as clear as the alarm bells ringing in Louis’ mind, but Harry lets out a tired little laugh and sits back up, leaving his hand tangled in Louis’ hair.

“Actually, Cal,” Harry says, groggily but clearly pleased. “I don’t think I’ll be coming back all summer.”
***
They fall into a routine.
***
Louis forgoes his alarm entirely, because, a natural-born soldier, Harry seems to have an internal body clock that wakes him up at 8AM sharp every morning, and Louis discovers that it’s much better to wake up to a blowjob than Marimba.

They shower together to conserve water- the environment is in a terrible state, Louis tells Zayn solemnly when he’s questioned, or haven’t you heard? Then, Louis gets dressed like a respectable adult and Harry usually puts a pair of pants on, and they trail out of Louis’ room to the kitchen, where Harry is bravely attempting to teach Louis how to cook a proper English fry-up.

Apparently, the scent of bacon is ironclad incentive to rise at “ungodly” hours, and so, for the first time in three years of cohabitation, Louis is treated to the sight of a quiff-less, sleepy, and positively cuddly Zayn before three o’clock in the afternoon. Accompanied by a slightly amazed Liam, he emerges every single morning for eggs and fresh squeezed orange juice (Louis is pretty sure he goes back to sleep until he has to wake up for his shift at four, but, really, it’s all baby steps). Once Niall catches on to the fact that Harry’s cooking finesse is not limited to dinner, he starts inventing more and more excuses to sleep on the couch, and so more often than not, it’ll end up being the five of them around a tiny table, legs fighting for space and elbows knocking into each other as they pass dishes around. About a week into this, Louis realises that they are literally having household breakfast together, which he hasn’t done since he lived with his family back in Doncaster, and then he realises that maybe these ridiculous lads are his family, and it’s terribly domestic but it’s wonderful at the same time.

Louis works most days, and Harry sometimes comes in with him, and sometimes doesn’t. He loves having Harry in the shop, of course- loves sitting with Harry at the desk, reading aloud from Gatsby or Slaughterhouse Five or Oliver Twist or whatever other book Harry drops in his lap; loves how Harry will clumsily drop books on the floor and then make up for it by bending down to pick them up with over exaggerated winks and hair tosses; loves the growing collection of Sharpie doodles on the edge of the counter featuring stick figures with large quiffs dying in creative ways; loves the Best Coast Pandora station; loves the breaks they take out back every hour, lazily blowing smoke into each other’s mouths. Louis loves having Harry in the shop, but he also loves the texts Harry sends him on days that he chooses to fuck around with Niall or Zayn or Liam, or to fuck around with his friend Ed, who, apart from his landlord, is apparently the only other living soul that Harry knows in Manchester.

nialls feelin blue .xx’ Harry sends, with a picture of Niall holding a Joni Mitchell record to his face.

this cloud looks like ur dick’ he texts, followed by ‘miss u xxxxxxx’ and a picture of a white fluffy cloud that is, actually, decidedly penis-shaped.

will twerk for coffee’ and a selfie with the pale faced, red haired busker Louis recognises from outside of a cafe he’s fond of.

After Louis has paid his dues at Grimshaw & Co, they’ve got full nights and all of Manchester at their disposal, but most nights all of Manchester is Zayn’s bar. El and Perrie meet them there, too, sometimes, and Matt and Aiden and everyone else. El plays cheesy 90’s songs on the jukebox and Niall gets sloshed of tem beers and proclaims his undying love for everybody in his sights and Zayn pretends that they actually have to pay for their drinks and they’re doing exactly what Louis always does anyways, but it’s different because now Harry’s here, easily integrated into Louis’ group of mediocre delinquents (“It wouldn’t feel the same without you, mate,” Niall tells Harry sincerely one night, after he apologises for repeatedly ‘crashing’ their weekly B-movie marathon), and Harry is different. Louis suspects that his friends might actually like Harry more than they like him, mainly because Zayn tells him this on the fourth consecutive day that Harry makes omelets, but its OK, because Louis likes Harry loads better than he likes anyone else, too.

They’re home by one or two, usually, stumbling and then clinging to each other for support. Sometimes, they’re able to restrain themselves until they’re inside the flat, in the bedroom, and Harry opens him up slowly and there are glow in the dark stars on his ceiling, but sometimes Louis has to push Harry into the alleyway, underneath the fire escapes, and suck him off right there. Either way, they always end up in bed, so tangled up that Louis sometimes forgets which of his limbs are his own and which are Harry’s and if there should be any difference at all.

Louis could be OK with his life following in this pattern for the foreseeable future, honestly, because as much as he loathes routine things, it’s a routine of spontaneity, it’s a routine of Harry.

He hasn’t got forever though. He’s got six weeks.
***
Harry is a magician; Louis looks happy
***
When Simon comes in at 10 on Thursday, when Harry’s been shacked up with Louis for nearly two weeks and an unofficial employee at Grimshaw & Co.’s for one, Harry and Louis are behind the counter and bent over Louis’ phone, reading aloud from an article entitled “99 Facts about US Presidents”.

“Morning, Simon,” Louis greets automatically. Simon grunts. Louis, having spent three years exchanging grunts of hello with Simon and nothing else, has completely given up on attempting to interest him in something other than the moth-bitten chair in the corner, like, say, the piles of books for sale, the 50p tea, or Louis himself, and so he barely looks up to acknowledge him. Instead, he hums interestedly as he reads all about how the ‘S’ in Harry S Truman does not have a period after it, because the ‘S’ doesn’t stand for anything.

He does look up, though, when he hears Harry’s voice join the fray.

“Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was a registered bartender?” he asks brightly.

Louis’ head has snapped up just in time to catch the absolutely shocked expression on Simon’s face.

“Sorry?” he asks, as if he hasn’t heard right.

“Abraham Lincoln,” Harry repeats, pointing down at the phone clutched in his hand as if Simon can read it from all the way across the room. “He was the 16th President of the United States. He was a licensed bartender. Did you know that?”

Simon actually laughs. Louis has never even seen him smile, “I did, actually.”

“Seriously?” Harry’s eyes are comically wide. Simon nods, a bemused but very much tangible grin on his face.

“I’m a history professor,” he explains. “Early America.”

“I didn’t know that,” Louis blurts.

Simon raises his eyebrows, “That’s because you never asked.”

Harry goes out to get them lunch at twelve, just as Simon’s wrapping up for the day. Louis watches him closely from across the room. He’s not as old as Louis originally thought, maybe fifty, and his briefcase is the kind of briefcase that is only owned by the kind of man who has his shit together. For the first time ever, as he watches Simon fold up his newspaper and tuck it back into the pocket of his classic tweed blazer, Louis doesn’t feel annoyed that Simon has taken advantage of the empty bookshop, but glad that Simon has got a quiet place to do important things.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Louis calls out as Simon heads for the door. Simon stops, turns, and looks him over, scrutinises him for longer than Louis thinks it strictly necessary. Louis holds his breath as Simon walks over to the counter, slowly.

“How much for a Manchester Review?” Simon asks finally.

“Sorry?” Louis blinks up at him. Simon points at the dwindling stack of outdated campus lit mags on display next to Nick’s self-published novel Press Play (267 semi-autobiographical pages of behind the scenes drama at a uni radio station and, in Louis’ opinion, the gayest thing sold in these four walls, including the unabridged copies of Dorian Grey).

“Don’t think I’ve got a copy of that one,” Simon says, and it’s all that Louis can do to nod. “How much?”

“Oh, right, two quid,” Louis tells him, and Simon digs into his pocket and drops the change on the counter, taking the copy that Louis hands him, shell-shocked, with a nod. Simon doesn’t leave, though, and Louis looks up at him, questioning. After a minute, Simon speaks.

“You look happy…”

“Louis,” Louis cannot believe that this is happening right now.

“Louis,” Simon nods, and then, with a little wave and the Manchester Review tucked under his arm, he’s off into the street.

Louis is still frozen in shock when Harry comes in a few minutes later, clutching a paper bag that smells like his new favourite fish and chip shop around the corner.

“Third time this week, but they gave me vinegar packets,” he says cheerily , tossing the food onto the counter before leaning over to poke Louis on the cheek in way of greeting. When Louis doesn’t respond, Harry furrows his brows a bit. “Lou? You good?”

“Simon bought something. And then he said I looked happy. And then he asked for my name.” It sounds even weirder out loud.

Harry laughs, “What, he’s not done that before?”

“Never,” Louis shakes his head.

“Well then,” Harry says, “I guess we owe our pal Abraham Lincoln a big thank you for breaking the ice. Real miracle worker, that one.”

“And he makes a mean margarita,” Louis agrees, but what he really means is no, you are.
***
The next night, they all go out, and Louis needs new friends but he’ll let Harry stay.
***
“You have a diary?” a voice murmurs in Louis’ ear.

He nearly jumps. He’d been so engrossed in a game of I Can Hold More Liquor Than You with Perrie on his left that he’d nearly forgotten Harry on his right. It takes a second for him to relax against Harry’s chest, and then another second to register the words.

“ZAYN!” he hollers, and this time, he feels Harry give a start from his side, startled by Louis’ sudden shouting. Louis pays him no mind, he has more pressing matters to attend to. “ZAYN MALIK!”

“Jesus, Lou, what?” comes an amused voice from nearby, and Louis looks around the noisy pub for a second, the people all swimming together, before his eyes land at the end of their booth, where Zayn has abandoned his post at the bar in favour of sitting on Liam’s lap.

“Did you tell Harry that I keep a diary?” he hisses, because even when he’s drunk, he knows Zayn’s handiwork when he sees it.

Zayn has the audacity to laugh. It is unbelievably unfair that Zayn is nearly always sober whenever Louis gets sloshed at this bar, but a Zayn on the clock is a Zayn giving them free liquor, and so usually Louis finds it in himself to forgive him.

“Just wanted him to know ‘the real you’, L,” Zayn says, annoyingly smug.

“For the last time, Z, I don’t keep a bloody diary!” Louis cries, and maybe it’s louder than it needs to be, because Niall, who is simultaneously downing his sixth pint and chatting up a pretty girl at the bar, looks up with glazed eyes and yells back, “Princess Lou and his pretty pink diary!” and the entire table erupts into laughter, Harry coughing a little into his Cosmo.

“You are all traitors,” Louis declares, getting up to stomp his foot for emphasis. He overestimates the amount of space between the floor and his knee and underestimates his own strength when drunk, and so he ends up half collapsing onto Harry as he bangs his knee on the underside of the table, earning himself a sharp stab of pain and another round of laughter. “Fuck,” he grumbles, but then warm, large hands are pulling him in by his waist and rearranging him into a more comfortable position, leaving him free to bury his pout in Harry’s shoulder.

“You ok?” he mumbles into Louis’ hair.

Louis pulls back to study Harry’s face through a kaleidoscope of alcohol. His cheeks are such a lovely shade of pink, a really, really lovely shade of pink.

“Pretty Hazza,” Louis mumbles, leaning up to press a sloppy kiss onto the bridge of Harry’s nose. “You’re so pretty.”

Harry smiles at him. It’s not one of those giant, dimply ones, like- like the Sun, or something (Louis is trying to improve his poetry skills, really, the things he does for this boy), but softer around the edges, almost glowing- like a reflection of the moon across water and it’s just suddenly very hard for Louis to breathe and-

“Oi!” Niall’s voice sounds from somewhere a few inches away from Louis’ left ear. “I’m back! We still talking about how Louis writes in a diary every night?”

“I’ve definitely seen him whip it out during the day, Ni,” Eleanor chimes in, and, seriously, who’s idea was it to all sit in the same booth because they should never do this again.

“Bless his heart,” Niall sighs dreamily. Louis bravely lifts his head away from Harry’s to glare daggers at all his friends.

“If looks could kill!” exclaims Liam. If Louis didn’t know any better, he would swear little old Liam had stuck some sarcasm in there.

“It’s not a diary,” he growls.

“Sorry,” Zayn says. “Forgot. It’s just a small pink notebook that you carry around with you everywhere and won’t let anyone read.”

“To be fair to Louis,” Perrie cuts in. “It’s actually more of a purple. Like, I dunno. Fuchsia.”

“Wait-” Harry cuts in, a eureka in his eyes. “Wait, I think I’ve seen him writing in it!”

“It’s small so I can carry it around and that was the only colour they had, Christ,” Louis cries, but his explanation is lost in the chorus of laughter shaking the table.

Everybody’s combined laughter draws the attention of Zayn’s manager, who shoots Zayn a do you want your body to end up in a dumpster or are you just that stupid look to rival Nick Grimshaw’s. Despite the fact that this is the man who sometimes turns them away at the door with rude hand signals and vague death threats because of their slightly gigantic unpaid tab, Louis wants to send him flowers.

“He’s probably scribbled your combined surnames all over half the pages by now, in little hearts,” Zayn tells Harry solemnly in closing, before giving Liam a quick peck and going off to do his job.

Zayn’s leaving is the cue for Eleanor and Perrie to start discussing Princess Kate or vaginas or whatever girls talk about these days, and Liam to turn his Worried Eyebrows on Niall and ask him how good is it really for him to get this drunk this often, and Harry to gently bump Louis’ head with his own.

“Hey,” he says softly, “Hey, Lou.”

“Yeah?” Louis feels tired drunk, at this point, tired of his idiotic friends embarrassing him in front of cute boys and tired of his empty glass, and so he takes a sip of Harry’s stupidly pink drink and resolutely does not make eye contact with anybody.

“What do you write down?” Harry asks, voice laced with curiosity.

Nobody’s really asked him that before, but Harry’s not nobody. Louis is amazed that he’s able to form words, with this amount of alcohol in his system and this amount of perfect human sitting next to him, but he wants Harry to know so he says, “I write down things I want to remember. Things I want to keep. So that they can all, like- happen at the same time?”

It would make much more sense sober, really, but Harry nods like Louis makes perfect sense.

“Maybe you could turn them into something,” he says slowly. Harry says everything slowly, Louis notices. Harry’d once told him that people at home used to get annoyed at him for it in primary, said it took too long for him to get his words out, but Louis thinks that it makes it seem like Harry’s put loads of care and thought into what he says, like each word is deliberate, precise, special.

“Like what?” Louis asks, “A book?”

“Yeah. A book.”

Louis shakes his head back and forth, “No way. It’s not good, Haz, not at all.”

“How d’you know? I bet you’ve never let anybody read it.”

Louis hasn’t. “Guess not.”

“Maybe you could let me read it.”

The things Louis writes are the only things he has to himself, all to himself, and so he shrugs his shoulders noncommittally and Harry understands and whispers ‘it’s alright, love, keep it for you’ and buys him his own pink drink. But later that night, Harry asleep next to him, Louis grabs the little notebook from the pocket of his fallen jeans and writes ‘Maybe Louis will let Harry read it’ so that that moment can live on in harmony, too.
***
Louis is high and Harry makes the now sound like a wonderful place to be.
***
“Higher!” Louis calls. He hears Harry's low rumble of laugh below him, and then the wind is blowing against the back of his neck as he races back down, and then strong hands push, harder, on Louis' lower back as he flies up again, the swing set making a gloriously horrid metal screeching noise as he soars.

“High enough?” Harry asks, and then giggles at his own double entendre.

“Never high enough,” Louis says, right before he lets out a very manly squeal of delight when Harry pushes him even higher.

It's late- Louis can't be sure how late- but they'd been walking home from Harry's Friend Ed's flat when they'd passed the small playground a few blocks away from Louis’.

“We should swing,” Louis had said decisively, Harry's Friend Ed's weed making everything seem a little hazy.

“Alright, Lou,” Harry'd indulged him with a dopey smile.

They had fallen over twice trying to climb the fence before realising that the gate was wide open.

“Harry, I think I just kicked the moon!” Louis yells now.

“Did you score a goal?”

“I always do!”

It was a hot day, but the night is proving to be quite lovely, a warm breeze blowing Louis’ fringe into his eyes. He’s not been wearing much gel in his hair lately, not since Harry mentioned that he likes how soft Louis’ hair is first thing in the morning, likes it best when he can twist his fingers around through it when it’s not stiff with product. Louis kicks his legs out lazily as he soars up and swings down, thinking that if Harry told him he liked it best when Louis was bald, he’d keep his head shaved for the rest of his life.

Harry has stopped pushing him now, choosing, instead, to sit down on the other swing and blink up at Louis like he’s a particularly beautiful poem that he’d like to learn by heart, and Louis can feel himself slowing down, body flying lower and lower to the ground but mind still soaring up with the stars.

When he feels his feet start to drag on the woodchips, he laughs for no reason whatsoever, and Harry joins in.

“You’re fun,” he tells Harry, slightly breathless.

“I bet you say that to all the boys with dogtags.”

They laugh again, and then it’s quiet.

“Hey, Hazza?”

“Yeah?” Harry asks, turning to face Louis. One of his cheeks is squashed against the metal chain of the swing, and his eyes are lined with the sweetest bit of pink.

Louis was going to ask if he wanted to stop for ice cream in a bit, but instead, he blurts out, “Aren’t you scared of dying?”

Harry blinks, half-bemused. “’Course, Lou,” he says softly.

“Then why’d you enlist?”

Harry considers the question carefully, rocking slightly in the swing, moving himself in circles with the toes of his boots. “I guess I’m just more scared of other things.”

Louis hums, tilts his head back a little to spy the waxing moon hanging tantalisingly close. “Like what?”

“Like…” Harry says slowly, “Like, not living?”

Sober Louis would probably find this quite confusing, but High Louis knows exactly what Harry’s talking about. “So just existing is scarier than dying.”

“Exactly,” Harry nods, seemingly pleased that Louis understands. “War is very exciting, Lou,” he says sagely. “It’s very sad, but it’s very exciting.”

Louis supposes he has a point, he just doesn’t really agree with it. He struggles a bit with finding the words before he settles on the eloquent, “But you could die.”

Harry laughs. It’s an odd thing to laugh about, but laughing is always better than crying, Louis supposes.

“So could you, though,” Harry says. “You could be hit by a truck on your way to work in the morning and wind up in purgatory by dinner.”

It’s a very good point. “That’s a very good point.”

“That’s why I’m all for that whole ‘living in the now’ thing,” Harry is saying now. “The future is just so dumb to think about, because, like, you can plan and plan and plan, but in the end, we could all really be dead tomorrow. There’s just no point in it.”

“That’s sort of twisted and sad,” Louis tells him. Harry doesn’t look twisted and sad, nor does he act like it, but. It sounds a bit cynical, is all.

“No it’s not!” Harry cries jovially. “It’s just the truth that everybody lives with. It’s how some people live with it that’s twisty and sad.”

“How do you live with it, then?”

“I told you. I live in the now.”

Louis barks out a laugh and claps delightedly. “You’re so full of shit, Harry Styles.”

Harry giggles. “It’s true, though. I do. Every moment to it’s fullest.”

“Fucking hipsters,” Louis groans. “You must all be stopped.”

“We can’t stop,” Harry says solemnly, as if he’s quoting Lord Byron and not Miley Cyrus. “We won’t stop.”

Louis kicks some wood chips at him, and lives in the now.
***
Monday night, three weeks in, Louis’ got a sense of adventure, and Harry’s got a can of spray paint.
***
“I feel like this is illegal,” Harry says slowly.

“It’s vandalism, Haz, ‘course it’s illegal.”

“I see,” Harry says. He gazes off into the distance, spoonful of ice cream paused halfway to his mouth, looking very much like a man contemplating Sartre and only a little bit like a 20 year old hooligan blazed out of his mind, “And you’re sure about this Mission?”

“Yes, Captain,” Louis nods, sure of a lot of things now that the weed is seeping, syrupy sweet, through his veins.

“Alright then.” Harry says solemnly, setting the pint down on the coffee table next to the can in question and clasping his hands together. “The way I see it, we have two options.”

“Yeah?” Louis asks, leaning forward a bit in his chair.

“First, we could do it somewhere extremely public. Make a statement out of it.”

Louis nods seriously, considering. “The bloke who owns that shitty pub on Newcastle is for Man City, that dick. We could just do it right on the window, a giant, angry, red-”

Or,” Harry cuts across him. “We could do it somewhere that’ll piss off someone we know.”

Louis allows himself a second to truly appreciate the moment. Zayn is at work and Liam is with Zayn, and so they’ve got the flat to themselves tonight. They’re lying on the couch. Harry’s got on nothing but a pair of Louis’ own pants, Louis’ got on nothing at all, and they are plotting a crime. Louis isn’t sure what it says about him as a person that he’s so turned on by Harry’s conniving ways, but he’s too high to worry about it. “I like you on Mission Control, Private Styles.” Louis murmurs, trailing a hand down Harry’s arm.

“No time for that now, Tomlinson,” Harry says, and even though his pupils are blown and he giggles a bit at the end, his voice is mostly low and stern and Louis immediately has a vision of Harry in full uniform, pushing Louis down on his knees with a ‘down, Tomlinson’ and fuck. “We’ve got to focus.”

Right. Spray paint. Penis. Mission Possible. Charlie’s Angels. Louis is under control.

“Uh, we could- we could do it on Zayn’s door,” Louis suggests, “As a thank you for leaving his can out to begin with.”

“We could do it at Zayn’s bar.”

“Niall borrowed my copy of Clueless and hasn’t given it back,” Louis reports.

“Alright, so Niall and Josh’s is an option, too- hang on,” Harry breaks off, “I’ve got an idea. It’s brilliant. We’re decided. Get your kit on, up you go.”

Louis is unimpressed by the lack of information. “Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

“Pouting won’t get you anywhere,” Harry informs him. “Be sure to bring a balaclava for maximum secrecy.”

It is brilliant, as it turns out (Harry’s brilliant). Nick will probably shit bricks.

Louis is laughing when they tiptoe down the streets to Grimshaw & Co, dressed head to toe in black and brandishing their can like a weapon, even though it’s past midnight and the streets are empty and they’re outside, for christssake, and far too old to play ninja warrior. He’s laughing when Harry uncaps the can and sprays a large red penis on the bricks, pointing right at the door, he’s laughing when Harry drops the can and hollers “RUN!” at the top of his lungs, like somebody is around in the middle of the summer on Brunswick Street to catch them, he’s laughing as they tear down the streets, back home, and then he’s laughing into Harry’s mouth as Harry pushes him up against the bricks of their building.

“That was a close one,” he whispers against Harry’s lips. Harry laughs, too, slow and deep.

“Narrow escape,” he agrees, moving down to suck a mark onto the side of Louis’ neck, below his ear.

“You did well, Private Styles,” Louis breathes into his ear, sticking out his neck a bit to catch the lobe between his teeth. The little hitch in Harry’s breathing at the title doesn’t escape Louis, and a slow plan starts to form in his mind.

“It was such a pleasure to work under you,” he tells Harry, and Harry’s hands slide down to pull him closer by his arse.

He moves one of his hands from Harry’s waist, down and around, grips him quick and dirty. Harry shivers against him, pinning him tighter to the wall with his hips and biting down on his shoulder before moving his mouth back up to meet Louis’. He’s rough, nipping a bit at Louis’ lips and licking into his mouth without preamble, but that’s exactly what Louis wants.

“You know what would be hot, Private?” he asks Harry next, voice already halfway to wrecked.

“What?” Harry asks, hands curling to grip Louis tighter as Louis kisses right under his jaw.

“If you fucked me in uniform,” Louis finishes, standing on his tiptoes to kiss Harry’s opened-in-shock mouth. He stares down at Louis for a moment, eyes dark and lips swollen and hair wild.

“Shit, Lou.” Harry finally manages, “Upstairs.”

“Yessir,” Louis whispers back, and lets Harry pull him inside, vice-like grip on Louis’ arm and eyes flashing something Louis isn’t used to but doesn’t mind at all. The second they’re inside, Harry’s kissing him again, against the hallway wall, fierce and dominating and perfect. Louis just takes what Harry gives him, pulling him in closer and letting Harry’s tongue fuck into his mouth over and over.

“Wait here,” Harry tells him, and, for the first time, it’s not a request, but a command. Louis watches him as he starts to tear off towards the bedroom, then turns around, a somewhat wicked smirk playing on his lips, “Don’t move.”

Louis is frozen when Harry comes back.

It’s dark, but not pitch. Harry moves towards him steadily, his long and lanky frame transformed from that of a gangly teenager with little to no motor skills to six plus feet of man, boots heavy on the floor and shirt pressed neat and all movements measured and torturously slow. As he passes the window his face is thrown into light, and he looks positively feral, his eyes narrow and zoned in on Louis with a single minded focus that sends a shiver down Louis’ spine. Wordlessly, he draws closer and closer, until there are a mere two inches of space separating them, and Louis basically can’t breathe. Harry’s rolled up the sleeves of the canvas shirt, like in all of those pictures of Prince Harry, and the first few buttons are undone, tattoos peeking out from every direction. He slowly raises one arm to brace on the wall behind Louis’ head, and Louis doesn’t miss the biceps that ripple up to strain against the camo when he does so.

“H-hey,” Louis stutters into the centimetres of space between their faces. Harry’s eyes roam all over Louis’ face, expression uncharacteristically blank, and he feels so, so exposed, like Harry can read every thought that Louis’ ever had right there on his face.

“Turn around,” Harry says, and it’s low and dark and positively filthy, and Louis gulps.

“Haz-”

“Turn around,” he repeats.

“Fuck,” is all that Louis can say, before he slowly turns to face the wall.

“Good job,” Harry’s breath is hot on the back of Louis’ neck, a contrast to the cool wall that Louis has pressed his forehead against. Rough hands are everywhere, skirting up and down his arms, dragging at the thin fabric covering his chest. “Hands up,” Harry orders, and its all Louis can do to hold his hands helplessly above his head as Harry pulls his shirt off, casting it off so it lands somewhere that Louis can’t be half arsed to try to see. Harry gathers both of Louis wrists in one hand and presses them up to the wall above Louis’ head. “Stay.”

When Harry moves to take off Louis’ jeans and pants, he’s steady against Louis’ back. The canvas fabric of the uniform is rough against Louis’ back, and Louis bites back a moan as Harry shifts a little, his semi aligning perfectly with the swell of Louis’ bum. “You like this?” Harry whispers now, so, so dirty, as he expertly pops open the button and unzips the fly. “Me being in control? And you- just quiet, so quiet, ready to take it?”

Yes, Louis wants to scream, but he manages a little whine and shimmy of his hips instead. “So good for me,” Harry says, almost like he’s praying. Huge hands are peeling off Louis’ bottoms and Louis hisses, a little, as the cool air hits his arse. “Shh, love,” Harry admonishes, biting down on Louis’s shoulder a little- a sting of pain that shoots straight to Louis’ dick, embarrassingly hard already. “Just let me take care of you.”

Louis’ unspoken question of what next is answered when Harry drops down onto his knees and nuzzles into Louis’ thigh.

“Spread your legs, babe, c’mon.”

Shaking in anticipation, Louis complies, arching his back a little and bracing his arms against the wall.

“Shit,” Harry exhales, and Louis can feel hot breath on the back of his thighs. “You’re so fucking hot, Lou,” Harry tells him reverently, fingertips brushing over Louis’ arse. “So fucking hot,” he repeats, and then he spreads Louis apart and licks.

It’s not that Louis’ never gotten a rimjob before, fuck, it’s not even that Harry’s never given Louis a rimjob before, but everything is white hot, this time, because Louis can’t see him, can’t see anything, all he can do is feel Harry mercilessly tonguing him open, alternating between licking broad, flat across his rim and fucking into him without abandon. Louis wants to touch himself, wants to moan and wants to scream, but then he hears Harry’s voice echoing in his head- so good for me and Louis wants to scream even more but the only things that escape from his lips are whimpers.

Harry pulls his mouth off but doesn’t stand up just yet, and Louis isn’t left to wonder for long as he feels a spit-slicked finger start to slide in and out of his wet hole. Louis can’t stop the low whine that escapes from the back of his throat, and Harry’s finger stills.

“Louis,” he says warningly, voice barely above a whisper but all the more dangerous because of it. Louis holds his breath until Harry slides another finger in next to the first, and resumes.

It’s too much, really, the slow drag of Harry’s long fingers, the darkness, the commanding tone that Harry seems to access so easily. When Harry hits his prostate, Louis honestly thinks he might come, but right on time, one of Harry’s hands comes around to grip Louis around the base of his cock, and it stays there, unmoving but tight. “Want it to be when I’m inside you,” Harry tells him, and it’s all Louis can do to nod fervently.

After what feels like hours of teetering on the edge, Harry presses a kiss to the inside of Louis’ thigh and Louis feels him stand up, hears the drag of Harry’s zipper being pulled down and Harry’s heavy pants drop to the floor and the tearing of two packets in fairly quick succession before Harry’s folding himself over Louis again, the rough fabric of his shirt course against Louis’ back and his dick poking against Louis’ arse and his breath hot on Louis’ neck.

“Ready?” he asks. Louis nods, incapable of doing anything else at this point. Louis’ hands are still clutched in small fists at the wall above his head, and Harry reaches one hand up to cover both of Louis’ as he slides the other down Louis’ back. “Spread your legs just a bit more, then,” he instructs, and only then, once Louis’ spread and bent as far and low as he can go, does Harry finally push in.

Harry,” Louis hisses, unable to help himself as Harry slowly fills him up and his eyes flutter close. Harry doesn’t seem to mind, though, gripping his hands tighter and letting out a low moan of his own.

“Feel so good, Lou,” he grits out, and he keeps his chest flush to Louis’ back as he pulls back his hips ever so slightly, setting a brutally slow pace.

Louis is lost in his own flat, sanity seeping out of him slowly as Harry steadily fucks into him, gone with the burn and drag of Harry’s dick and the beads of sweat gathering on his own brow and the way that Harry’s pulling at his cock, lazy and slow and lose, like he could do this forever and ever. He’s vaguely aware that he’s mumbling Harry’s name over and over, vaguely aware that Harry is doing something similar with Louis’, but all that he can really focus on is the sensation building in his gut, gathering momentum with each down stroke, almost painful in it’s intensity.

“Harry,” Louis hears himself say. His voice sounds far away and completely broken. “Can I-”

Fuck,” Harry’s voice floats back. “Fuck, yeah, Lou, come on-”

When Louis comes, it’s blinding, like a wave that crests over and pulls him under. He cries out, he thinks, and it echoes in his own ears. He collapses, but Harry’s arms are right there, holding him up as he fucks him through it, faster and faster until he’s shuddering against Louis’ back and coming too.

“I think we should get high and commit petty crimes more often,” Harry will whisper to Louis hours later, when Louis has found himself again, found himself tangled up in white sheets that glow blue at two in the morning and a boy that smells like sandalwood and Friday night.

“Yeah,” Louis will mumble, eyes fighting to stay open and pillowcase cool against his cheek. “We should.”
***
The first time they talk about it, it’s just rained.
***
When Harry raps on the window at two on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, Louis is helping a girl with violently pink hair and a septum piercing locate an Anne Rice novel.

“The fuck is he?” the girl asks, turning her head in time with Louis and snapping her gum. Louis vaguely recognises her from Classic Lit two years back. He’s 98% sure that she found Dante’s Inferno to be cathartic.

Louis looks over the top of her head at Harry, who’s now tapping out a beat against the window and grinning like a lunatic, the small awning providing little to no protection from the driving rain. He’s got on one of his countless thin white t-shirts, and, Christ, Harry always indecent in his stupid skinnies and shirts that drape off his collarbones, but he’s wet now, absolutely drenched, and the shirt is clinging to his flat stomach and from yards away Louis can see the outlines of his dark tattoos. There are bloody butterflies in Louis’ stomach.

“Just some loser,” he assures her, and he hands her three quid change and shows her out with a flourish, a bow, and a please come again. He’s almost pleased when she shoots him a look of disgust as he holds the door open for Harry, who bends down to press a wet kiss on Louis’ cheek on his way in.

“You disgust me,” he informs Harry bluntly, once the door is shut and they’re safe from the terrible weather and terrible scene girl.

Harry doesn’t say anything, just grins extra wide, yanks off his beanie, and shakes his curls out like a dog. Louis lets out a shriek of laughter as he jumps back, shielding himself with a copy of The Communist Manifesto that crowns a nearby pile.

“What are you doing here, though?” he asks, ducking back behind the counter to retrieve one of the six jumpers that Nick keeps folded up in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. “I thought you’d want to sleep in today, after last night.”

Harry, who’s followed Louis over to the counter, raises his eyebrows and leans across the desk, “You saying that I couldn’t handle last night?” he asks, voice teasingly low.

Louis leans across too, so that there’s less than three centimetres of space between their faces. “What if I was?”

Harry smirks, leans even closer to whisper directly into Louis’ ear, “Then you wouldn’t be able to handle tonight,” before he pushes himself completely away from the desk and Louis, smirking at the deer-in-headlights expression on Louis’ face

“Tease,” Louis grumbles, and throws the jumper into Harry’s face. He catches it one-handed and tugs it on, laughing.

“Sorry, love. Just thought I’d surprise you- been a while since I got to swoon at the sight of Nick’s quiff.”

It’s a Wednesday, so Nick isn’t here, and, besides, Harry spent half of the day yesterday curled up in the chair reading Stephen King out loud in ridiculous accents, getting louder every time that Nick asked him, albeit fondly, to please, quiet down.

Louis looks outside at the sheets of rain falling from the sky; looks Harry up and down. His face is pink as if he’s just run a good part of the way here, his trainers are untied, and he’s wearing the same jeans as yesterday. Louis smiles knowingly, realisation dawning.

“Zayn and Liam are having superhero sex on the couch, aren’t they?”

Harry looks for a second as if he’s about to deny it, before he sighs and nods and groans, “And they complained about us?”

Louis privately thinks that he and Harry give Zayn and Liam a run for their money on their laziest Sundays, but he knows how traumatising it can be to hear Zayn’s high pitched shrieks of ‘oh, Batman!’ and so he copies Harry’s indignant expression and hops up onto the counter, dangling his legs over the front.

“We can send them the bill for the years of therapy,” he promises.

Harry bites his lip. “The army already covers that, though.”

“Well, don’t tell them that, and you can get a nice monthly stipend to spend on more jeggings,” Louis sighs, rolling his eyes.

Harry snorts. “Solid plan, that.”

He’s truly drenched, Louis realises, jeans plastered even tighter than usual to his legs and curls dripping onto the plastic carpet. Louis is overwhelmed with the urge to wrap him up in a warm towel and kind words for the rest of eternity. He settles for grabbing his keys and wallet from the edge of the desk and hopping off the counter to stride over to the window and flip the ‘open’ sign to ‘closed’.

“What’re you on about now, Lou?” Harry groans as Louis grabs his hand and tugs him towards the door. He eyes the place where the rain hits the bricks with distrust.

“Oh, stop moping,” Louis tuts fondly. “We’re going to the cinema.”

So what if Nick will kill him for closing early for the third time this month; so what if he promised Zayn he’d stop by Tesco and pick up three bottles of tequila for a boys night in; so what if they’ve not got an umbrella or two fucks to give- the way that Harry’s smile lights up his entire face makes up for it a hundred times over.

“Can we watch a French one?” he asks, lacing Louis’ fingers between his.

“You don’t speak French,” Louis reminds him.

Harry fixes him with a look to rival that of Louis’ 16-year-old sister.

“French it is!” Louis cries, and he holds open the door for Harry, who pulls him along into the downpour.

They run the whole fifteen blocks to the cinema hand in hand.

It’s cool and dry inside the movie- a French film, indeed, a true story about the love between the heroic son of some painter that Louis’ never heard of and the red-haired model who teaches him to dance. The tickets are exorbitantly expensive, of course, and so they’re out of money by the time they reach the concessions stand, but Harry winks at the blonde girl snapping her bubblegum behind the counter and is awarded with a bag of popcorn with a number scribbled on it in black sharpie. They pass it back and forth, and when Harry kisses Louis in thanks when he translates the few stray declarations of love that aren’t subtitled, it tastes like butter and adoration.

“Miracle!” Harry cries, once the credits roll and they exit the cinema to find the sun shining, albeit a bit weakly. The ground is still wet, though, little puddles forming between the uneven bricks. Louis kicks one such pool lightly, but at a perfect angle, and it splashes all over Harry’s freshly dried jeans.

“Bastard!” he shouts, and laughs and lunges, Louis jumping out of the way just in time.

“God, Harry, just let it go!” he cries dramatically, drawing the stares of several passerby and more laughter from Harry. “It was just one time, I swear, and he wasn’t even as hot as you!”

“But what about our two point five children!” Harry demands, his voice equally shrill and ridiculous. “And Oakley, our labradoodle!”

“Did you have to make the dog so gay?” Louis sighs, dropping the act to cast an exasperated glance over at Harry.

He merely shrugs, “Did you have to cheat?”

It’s coming up on six-thirty, and Louis had promised that he’d call Lottie before eight to help her with her summer coursework. Harry, for his part, had mentioned something about drinks with Ed, and Zayn and Liam will be done by now, expecting some sort of dinner once he and Harry get back. But Louis doesn’t want to give this up yet, he and Harry alone and dancing in the streets, and so he curls an arm around Harry’s waist and kisses his dimple.

“Let’s run away,” he whispers.

Harry’s arm tightens around him, and he rests his chin atop of Louis’ head, like he doesn’t want to let go, either. “Where to?”

Louis casts a glance around their surroundings, and his eyes land on the green just across the way, a quiet little key park with a wrought iron fence and an appropriate number of empty benches. “There,” he points, and he feels rather than sees Harry’s nod.

They find a spot illuminated by a small bit of yellow light, and Harry heroically whips off Nick’s jumper to wipe the remaining water off of the bench.

They sit with their knees touching and fingers laced, and they don’t talk for a while.

In the silence, Louis watches a little girl and her dad sitting on the grass a few feet away. She looks to be about three, and she’s got a mini flower crown in her wispy blonde hair. They’re close enough to hear her bubbling laughter as the dad, a tattooed bloke with kind eyes, leans over to blow a raspberry on her belly. Then, while he pretends to ignore her, she grabs a fistful of grass and tugs up with all of her strength, until she withdraws a few blades and shakes them in his face.

“Lux!” the man cries, shocked, pouting.

“OK, Da-da,” Lux assures him, and climbs up onto his lap and kisses his cheek.

Louis feels a familiar tug in his chest, but then he feels a foreign tug on his hand.

“You OK, mate?” asks a quiet voice in his ear.

Yeah, Louis is about to say. Just zoned out.

“My dad left when I was three,” he says instead, and now its out there, pink and new in the harsh light of day.

“I’m sorry,” Harry’s voice drifts back, and it’s gentle and sincere and almost like he could understand, maybe, someday.

“I just-” Louis struggles to put it in words for the first time ever, really, “I guess I just try really hard not to be like him.” Harry is quiet, but the silence is the space he gives Louis to fill up with the rest of the truth. “But sometimes it doesn’t work? Like, I want to run, a lot. Sometimes.” he takes a deep breath, and then turns his head to squint up into Harry’s eyes, open and focused on Louis just like he knew they would be. “Is that dumb?” he asks softly.

“Well,” Harry asks. “Do you want to run now?”

Louis shakes his head no and grips Harry’s hand tighter.

A flicker of a smile crosses over Harry’s face, and Louis feels a large hand tighten around his.

Harry presses kisses all over Louis’ face with his eyes. “Then it’s not dumb at all.”
***
Louis lives in an insane asylum and he doesn’t really care what it says about him that he belongs right there with them, on the kitchen floor.
***
Louis comes home Friday night that same week expecting to find the lads all raring to go out like they always do when Zayn’s got a night off, but instead he finds all of the living room furniture pushed into the kitchenette, Vampire Weekend blaring out of Niall’s cracked speakers, Zayn and Liam packing a bowl on the displaced couch, and Harry sprawled out on the living room floor like a starfish while he shouts out various yoga poses at Niall.

“And then we will transition into Standing Lunge, or Anjaneyasna, palms up to the sky, extending the left leg back,” he instructs.

“Fuck,” Niall swears as he extends too far and bangs his foot on the hastily pushed away coffee table.

Zayn cackles from the couch, “7.5, Ni, you can do better!”

“I give you an 8 for determination and perseverance!” Liam cries enthusiastically, and then lights the piece and takes first hit.

“Don’t you dare shotgun,” Louis warns Zayn and Liam in place of hello.

“Louis!” Harry cheers, flipping onto his stomach and making grabby hands for him, and Louis bends down and obliges him with a kiss before looking around in confusion.

“What happened to clubbing?” he asks the room at large.

“Postponed,” Harry tells him. “Niall made fun of my yoga sequence earlier and then Zayn bet Niall that he couldn’t get through a sun salutation, and so here we are.”

“This hurts, Harry, what’s the next step?” Niall’s tank top is hanging off of one shoulder and his face is bright red, bless him.

“Reverse swan dive transition into mountain pose,” Niall looks extremely confused, and Harry sighs like the annoyed mother of a particularly slow eight year old, pulls himself up and into the lunge position Niall is in, and proceeds to demonstrate. “Inhale, come forward on your right knee- slowly, Ni, you’re supposed to be relaxed- now bend your torso forward and bring your arms back, like a swan, and then exhale back into mountain pose.”

“Not to be rude, darling,” Louis interrupts, plopping himself on the couch between Liam and Zayn and ignoring their indignant cries. “But when are you demonstrating downward dog?”

Harry shoots him a Look. “Yoga is not all about sexy flexibility,” he scolds.

“Yeah- real sexy,” Zayn snorts, nodding in the direction of Niall, who is attempting to balance on one leg.

“Breathe, Niall, for fuck’s sake! Breathing is balance, breathing is balance!" Harry cries, and then demonstrates a deep breath, partly for Niall’s benefit, but partly, Louis suspects, to calm himself down.

Niall attempts a breath, a balance, and falls, crashing down onto the floor.

“You win, Zayn,” Niall groans. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Ha!” Zayn whoops, punching the air in victory. “Eleanor won’t know what fucking hit her.”

“What’s going to be hitting Eleanor, again?” Louis asks Niall mildly, but it’s Liam who answers.

“A picture of Niall’s junk,” he supplies helpfully. “You want some weed, Lou?”

“Oh,” Louis accepts the joint from Liam. “Okay.”

“You couldn’t fucking do it, either, you little cunt,” Niall mumbles darkly, glowering over at Zayn.

“Double or nothing?” Louis suggests, resting his head back on Zayn’s legs and closing his eyes for a brief moment as he waits for the rush to kick in. “If Zayn can praise the moon, or whatever, Ni, you have to send El and Perrie a dick pic. If not, the bet’s off.”

Zayn takes a superior hit and smirks when he exhales. "I'm pretty fucking flexible," he boasts. "Just ask Liam."

Over Liam's splutters and Niall's dramatic cries of disgust, Louis raises his head to meet Harry's eyes. He's in half lotus, now, his hair tied back with the bandana that Liam wore two Halloweens ago when he was an allegedly sexy pirate, and when he sees Louis looking at him, he flushes pink and bites down on a smile that’s already spread to his cheeks.

Hey, he mouths over to Louis.

Hey, Louis mouths back.
***
Harry and Louis go on their first date, and Zayn pays.
***
“I’m meeting Li at Rosso’s tonight,” Zayn says to them one night in late July. “So you’ve got the flat, this evening. And, Haz, mate, I’m not sure if that’s working.”

It’s pretty early- just past six. Louis is perched on the counter, beer in hand, while Harry fiddles with the decrepit speakers Louis stole from Stan’s basement three years ago. He’s seemed to abandon reasonable strategies, such as unplugging and replugging his phone, and is simply hitting them repeatedly in the hopes that The 1975 will magically start playing at normal volume and frequency.

“It will,” Harry says vaguely, and stops banging on the speakers long enough to push his hair out of his eyes and take in Zayn’s smart blazer, exposed collarbones, and dangerously high quiff. He lets out a low whistle. “Who’s Rosso, then? Your sugar daddy?”

Zayn looks torn between flattery and anger.

“High five me, Harry,” Louis praises, and Harry leans across the kitchen- Jesus, he’s so long to comply with a loopy grin.

“Seriously, though,” Harry says. “Who is Rosso and can I meet him?”

“Rosso’s is a restaurant, love,” Louis tells him kindly. “Zayn and Liam go there on special anniversaries. Like the one year mark of when they first met eyes. Or of when they first said I love you. Or of when they had their first date. Or of when Liam first gave Zayn a-”

“That’s enough from you,” Zayn says primly, but Harry is doubled over in laughter and Zayn’s face is scarlet. “Why are we friends?” Zayn whines.

“You love me for my mouth,” Louis winks. Harry laughs harder, and a smirk grows on Zayn’s face.

“Hey, Harry,” Zayn asks, still looking at Louis. “Would you like to meet Rosso?”

“Sorry?” Harry asks, still chuckling.

“I think it’s been like, exactly three and a half weeks since you’ve stayed here. I’d say that that calls for a celebration.” Zayn grins victoriously at Louis’ look of abject horror. “You and Lou should come with.”

Louis can’t remember the last time he actually went on a date, and for a good reason, too. Living with Zayn and Liam has done nothing to help his aversion to traditional relationships. He groans when Harry’s eyes light up.

“Haz,” Louis whines. “Do we have to stoop to their level?”

“What’s so bad about a proper date, Lou?” Harry asks. “Good food, good company.” Louis still doesn’t look convinced, and so Harry ups the ante. “Good sex, too, after. If you behave.”

“I don’t fuck on the first date,” Louis says moodily, but he crosses his arms over his chest and huffs out a ‘fine’ because Harry’s eyes are so blindingly bright.

“You’re a top lad, Harry,” Zayn tells him, sounding impressed. “That didn’t take you long at all.”

“Quick on the streets, quick in the sheets,” Harry grins. “What time are we leaving?”

“Soon,” Zayn says. “Although, you might want to change, first”

Harry’s wearing a flannel that he’s worn two other days this week, and his jeans have holes in the knees and his boots have holes in the toes; Louis is in one of Harry’s oldest band tees, and TOMS without any socks. Louis meets Harry’s eyes, and they have a brief, silent conversation in which Louis pleads if we have to do this, can we at least fuck shit up? and Harry gives him a resounding absolutely.

“Nah,” Louis says proudly, and Zayn looks wonderfully affronted, “I think we’re good.”

It’s a weeknight, so there doesn’t seem to be any need for a reservation. They meet Liam outside. He’s pleasantly surprised, albeit confused, to see Louis and Harry there, and he doesn’t even ask about their attire, which is a bit of a letdown. He’s similarly tolerant when they attempt to order ‘the most expensive kind of water you have in this fine establishment’, and when Harry feeds Louis bread from the basket whilst cooing obnoxiously loudly, but when Louis’ hand disappears under the table with a dramatic flourish and Harry accidentally-on-purpose kicks Liam when Louis starts to trace up his inseam, Liam breaks.

“What are you two playing at, then?” Liam sighs, sounding resigned.

“What?” Louis says innocently. “We’re just exhibiting normal dating behaviour.”

“I can count on one hand the number of actual dates you’ve gone on, Lou,” Zayn reminds him. “Where’re you getting your ideas of ‘normal dating behaviour’ from?”

“You, obviously,” Louis tells him sweetly. Harry chokes on his mineral water and Liam blushes and Zayn mutters ‘should have known’.

They get off track, a little, when they’re waiting for their food, forgetting to be completely ridiculous because Zayn and Liam are so good at dating by now that they manage to engage in typical date-night conversation, despite Harry and Louis’ best efforts to distract them, making everybody toast to Harry’s stay at the flat, telling each other in low voices how hot the other looks all dressed up, swapping stories about their days (Liam broke the Keurig coffee machine at Danielle’s office when he visited her at lunch, Zayn downloaded some G-Eazy songs that he’s added to their sex playlist), and, eventually, managing to pull the other two into the conversation, if only because Louis can’t just let the fact that Liam can’t even make a cup of coffee go, and Harry can’t resist spouting off five thousand reasons why the Arctic Monkeys are the only way to go when you’re fucking, really. But when Liam smiles and says that they should double more often, Harry and Louis are back on their mission to be as annoying as fucking possible about the whole thing, and Harry raises his glass and attempts to compose a poem about Louis’ arse on the spot.

At the end of the night, Harry and Louis mimic Zayn and Liam and make a big show of fighting over paying for the bill, ending with both of them shoving it over to Zayn, because, after all, he was the one who asked them out. Liam and Zayn look positively exasperated and walk home a good block behind them, but Louis and Harry practically skip home, arm in arm.

All in all, it’s the best date that Louis has ever been on.
***
Harry’s got demons; Louis wants to dance.
***
It’s a Saturday night, and Louis is bouncing on the balls of his heels.

“Harold!” he calls again, pounding on his door. “It cannot take you this long to put on a pair of jeans.”

“How long did you spend on your hair last night, love?” Harry’s voice comes through the cracks.

“That’s it, I’m putting you out on the streets.”

Louis checks his phone for the time. It’s 9:15, he’d promised El that they’d meet her at 9:30. Louis thinks of the last time that he was late to meet El, remembers the scalding look and the latte spilled accidentally on purpose on his favourite pair of jeans, and gulps. “Haz, come on.”

“Almost done!” he is a terrible liar, and he sounds oddly far away. Louis rolls his eyes, pockets his phone, and opens the door.

Harry’s clothes are strewn across the room, band shirts and button ups and neon pants and three pairs of black jeans with identical rips. It’s dark, the only light coming from the dusky sky and the glowing rectangle of Harry’s laptop, which is perched atop of the messy sheets on the bed, crackling out of the speakers. Harry himself is out on the fire escape, shirtless, surrounded by a haze of smoke.

“The fuck?” Louis asks, confused, and Harry jumps about a mile high and turns around to face him.

“Oh, shit, sorry, yeah, I’m on it,” he says quickly, a deer caught in headlights, and he snubs the cigarette out on the railing and loops inside, bending down to scoop up a shirt without even looking at it. “Sorry, I just needed a smoke break.” As he stands up, Louis thinks the light from the computer catches wetness on Harry’s cheeks. “I’m ready now, though, we can go meet El. She seems like the type to not tolerate lateness.”

He moves to push past Louis and out of the room, but Louis stops him with a hand on his chest. “Harry, are you ok?”

Louis watches Harry carefully, watches as his eyes dart around every which way, falling on everything but Louis’ face.

“Fine,” he says, a bit breathless.

“Harry.”

Harry sighs and flops down on the bed, and Louis flicks on the light as he copies Harry, follows him down so that they’re lying face to face. In the yellow of the artificial light, Harry’s eyes, rimmed with red, still avoid Louis’.

“I took a nap, when you went to talk to Lottie, and I had a bad dream,” he says quietly.

Louis curls his hand into the softness of Harry’s t-shirt. Harry’s heart is beating too fast.

“Were you, like...over there?” Louis asks gently, voice barely above a whisper.

When Harry looks at him, he looks fifty years older and a hundred times more broken.

“Yeah,” he says, and then he’s turning his face into the mattress to muffle his sobs and his shoulders are shaking and Louis breaks a little bit, too.

“Shh, Haz, it’s ok, I’ve got you.” he promises, and he combs his hands through Harry’s hair and bends down to press kisses to his shoulders. “You’re here. You’re with me. I’ve got you.”

Harry doesn’t stop crying, but one of his hands curls around Louis’, gripping it so tight Louis thinks it might fall off.

A few minutes later, a soft knock on the door reminds Louis that Zayn was the one who sent him to go get Harry in the first place. Harry burrows even further into the sheets, and Louis tears his gaze away from the curls at the nape of Harry’s neck to see Liam hovering by the door, wearing a snapback and his Worried Eyebrows.

“You can go on,” Louis tells him quietly. “Tell El that we’re not up for coming out tonight.”

Liam nods, casts a last worried look over at Harry, and leaves, the sound of the front door shutting behind him and Zayn echoing through the flat moments later.

“You should go after them, Lou,” Harry’s voice is thick but sincere. “I know you wanted to go dancing.”

Louis did want to go dancing. He wanted to feel the baseline reverberating through his bones, wanted a drink that flashed different colours in the strobe lights, wanted to be crowded against a wall in a dirty bathroom stall and made to feel hot all over.

“Not anymore,” he says lightly, and squeezes Harry’s hand back to let him know that he’s not even lying.
***
Harry is a journalist and Louis is a prince and they are hopelessly in love.
***
The launderette, Louis tells Harry as they sort out whites and brights, is the best place to be after eight on a Saturday night.

“Yeah?” Harry laughs from where he’s perched atop the spinning dryer (get me 50 Shades of Grey and a new husband and I’ll be a happy woman), tear tracks drying on his face. “Why’s that, then?”

“It’s clearly the social hub of Manchester,” Louis explains, tossing Zayn’s briefs along with one of Harry’s three white v-necks into the washer in the back corner that he and Harry have claimed.

There are about five other people in the fluorescent-lit room, most varying shades of miserable. Harry nods seriously. “Hottest spot, for sure.”

With the last of Liam’s socks thrown in, Louis closes the round door and twists the knob to start the cycle with a flourish, before hopping up next to Harry. “No, seriously,” Louis says. “I can make it fun.”

Harry raises an eyebrow, “How?”

Louis doesn’t say anything yet, just smirks, and starts looking around the room. His eyes fall on a man in an immaculate suit, sipping coffee and tapping his foot impatiently as he waits for his clothes to dry and checking his Rolex every five seconds. He doesn’t look like a man who’s ever set foot in a launderette in his life. Louis starts with him.

“See Grey Suit over there?” he whispers conspiringly into Harry’s ear, “He’s with the government. Highly trained killer. Real life James Bond. Usually gets all of his own clothes dry cleaned, but he’s just killed a man threatening the security of MI-6, and now he’s washing the blood stains off of the man’s shirt so his cleaners won’t get suspicious of his true identity- he’s told his wife and all of his friends that he’s got a desk job at a...at a paper company. Like, Bourne meets The Office.”

Harry gives a delighted laugh that sounds like a hyena, and Louis claps a hand over his mouth.

“Shh, Harold, we’ve got to keep his identity a secret,” he admonishes. Harry’s eyes are bright and he pokes his tongue out to lick Louis’ hand. “Gross,” Louis tells him fondly, dropping his hand only to tangle it with Harry’s.

“Do her,” Harry giggles, pointing inconspicuously at a uni girl in joggers, bobbing her head along to some music playing through her headphones. Louis tilts his head to the side and considers for a minute.

“She’s sleeping with her dean, that one.”

“No,” Harry gasps, putting a hand to his heart to match his scandalised expression.

“Unfortunately,” Louis nods. “He’s married, too. Three kids. But, you know, his wife is having an affair with the pool boy, and he’s got to enact his revenge somehow. Poor girl is just here because she’s meeting him later tonight, and she’s got to wash her luck knickers.”

“That’s truly tragic,” Harry sighs. “Now, them.”

An older couple. Louis knows that they own the place and live in a little flat upstairs because he brings them coffee, sometimes, in exchange for his frequently forgotten laundry detergent.

“Backpacking through Europe.” Louis says. “Crazy adventurers. Stopped here in Manchester to visit cousin Mary, grab a few pints, and do a load of laundry, but tomorrow they head off to the Midlands.”

“Wild,” Harry’s eyes are bright with mirth. “Do us, now.”

Louis laughs at Harry’s excited expression. “You’re crazy,” he sighs.

Harry crosses his arms across his chest and sticks his nose up into the air. “I’m waiting.”

Louis makes a big show of sizing them up in their reflection in the window, stroking his imaginary beard. “Well,” he says slowly, “I am, obviously, a handsome Dutch prince who’s escaped from my handlers to have a real commoner experience in the bustling metropolis of Manchester, England.”

“Mhm,” Harry nods seriously, “Go on.”

“You, young Harold, are the campus journalist who is ‘assisting’ me on my quest- only, I don’t know you’re a journalist, I just think you’re a sexy and rather oblivious man who is kindly showing me around campus. You’re actually planning on writing a shocking expose on me, only-”

“I’m falling in love with you.”

Louis’ entire world stops turning.

“Sorry?” he feels faint.

“I’m planning on writing an expose, but I’m falling in love with you. That’s what you were going to say, right? It’s just the plot of Roman Holiday.”

“Yeah,” he says, but his body is on autopilot and his brain is stuck on I’m falling in love with you.

“I like that you cast yourself as Audrey Hepburn,” Harry squeezes his hand and I’m falling in love with you.

“I am, after all, a very classy lady.” I’m falling in love with you.

“A timeless beauty.” I’m falling in love with you.

“Great hair, too.” I’m falling in love with you.

There’s a pause, in which nothing can really be heard except for Louis’ loudly beating heart and the crescendo of spinning cycles, and then Harry leans over to whisper in Louis’ ear.

“I am, though. You know?”

I’m falling in love with you.

“Yeah,” Louis says before he can stop himself. “I think- like, me too, maybe.”

I’m falling in love with you.
***

three

***
Harry should see other people.
***
“See other people,” Louis tests out the words, rolling them around in his mouth slowly as he carefully tucks a copy of Franny and Zooey back between Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories. The words taste foreign and sound harsh, and Louis does not understand them, not at all.

He looks over at Harry, sprawled out on the floor next to him, staring up at Louis with an almost pleading expression, his stupid hipster boots digging into the carpet. Louis rubs his hands along his own thighs and sinks down to sit on his heels.

“Where is this coming from?” he manages, and if his voice breaks a bit in the middle there, he sort of hopes Harry will notice.

“Oh- fuck- Lou, no,” Harry’s jaw drops in horror a bit, and he’s scrambling, crossing his legs and raising himself up to sit on Louis’ level and grabbing Louis’ hands roughly in his own, “You twat, I didn’t mean that I want to see other people. I mean, like, fuck, I should physically see- like, lay my eyes on- other human beings, like, back home, before I leave.”

Louis looks up from Salinger and meets a pair of bright, worried eyes.

“Fuck you,” he huffs out, but he’s fighting back a relieved smile somewhat unsuccessfully, and Harry lets out a laugh and tugs him in, peppering his face with little kisses.

“Silly, silly boy,” Harry shakes his head, “Silly, pretty Louis- you thought I wanted to see other people?”

Louis gives him a mumbled ‘no’ and Harry kisses him, soft and gentle, to say that he knows he’s lying.

“What I meant,” Harry says, “Is that I should probably-“ he breaks off, a bit guilty- “I should probably go up to Cheshire, for a few days- say goodbye to my mum, and my sister. My old mates.”

“Oh,” Louis says. Obviously. Sometimes, Louis forgets that Harry knows people who are not him and that Harry loves people who are not him and that Harry once spent time with people who are not him and that Harry should say goodbye to people who are not him. “Of course. You should- you should do that.”

“Do you-” Harry bites his lip- “Do you want to come?”
***
Harry makes a playlist called ‘RT with LT’ and they share a pair of headphones and listen to it on the bus to Cheshire the next morning.

It’s full of songs that sound like Sundays and Louis doesn’t like it.
***
Louis doesn’t really realise that he is meeting someone’s family until halfway through dinner around the round, light table in the breezy yellow kitchen or Harry’s childhood home.

“He kept wiping his palms along the front of his jeans and- I swear, Haz, this is not an exaggeration- you could literally see wet spots forming on the fronts of his thighs from the sweat,” Gemma is saying, finishing up her tale of last week’s disastrous blind date. Harry, who’s been suppressing giggles since Gemma’s lively impersonation of the unfortunate bloke’s posh accent that sounded a bit like shrieking banshees, breaks out into full-out, elated laughter.

“Does Jacob From the Blind Date From Hell take the prize of ‘Worst Date Ever’ from the reigning king, Mark From The Year Eleven St. Valentine’s Formal?” Harry asks her.

“Children,” Anne interrupts. “Mark From The Year Eleven St. Valentine’s Formal is not an appropriate table topic.”

“Untimely boner,” Gemma stage whispers in response to Louis’ confused gaze.

“Gemma Anne!” Anne scolds.

“Happens to the best of us,” Robin says dryly.

Gemma snorts and Anne smacks Robin lightly on the arm and everyone laughs and then Harry squeezes his hand under the table and Louis realises that he is meeting someone’s family- Harry’s family, to be exact- and he’s never done anything like this before, and he’s never done anything like Harry before and holy shit why isn’t he running away right now he should be running why can’t he run.

“So, Louis,” Anne says now. “Tell me about the man who’s stolen my son away a month and a half early.”

They’d arrived at half twelve, Gemma picking them up from the bus stop and whisking them off to a small bakery that gives them tea and pastries on the house to give them a rundown of ‘the state of things’. Before things turned too serious, though, Gemma had made numerous farmer jokes inspired Harry’s hat, complemented Louis’ ‘The Who’ raglan, and pulled up a Flashback Friday Instagram photo of Harry rocking one of his mum’s bras. Louis liked her instantly, from her smart mouth with matching dimples to her extremely helpful warning as to Anne’s current state of being.

“To put it bluntly, Haz, you are on thin fucking ice,” she’d said, after they were fed proper.

“But I brought a boy!” Harry protested, almost like a child, although Louis could see a flicker of real worry in his eyes.

“You disappeared on us, Harry,” Gemma’s voice was softer, weighty. “Right before you’re about to disappear again. Louis is cute, but even a fucking kitten couldn’t help you now.”

Gemma’s warning proved to be a nice heads up, but Louis doesn’t think anything could have really prepared him for the look on Anne’s face when she’d opened the door. Though Harry’d called ahead last night to tell her they were coming down, part of Louis suspects that Anne didn’t really believe she’d ever see Harry again. He felt guilty, watching Anne pull Harry into a hug that lasted three lifetimes and hearing things that weren’t for him to hear, things like ‘never again’ and ‘I can’t, Harry, I won’t let you’ and ‘why’. Gemma had tugged on Louis’ wrist and pulled him inside, leaving Harry and Anne out on the front porch, and Louis had wanted to run his hands through Harry’s curls and tell him that it’s all going to be OK but he knew that Harry needed to have this, Anne needed to have this, and that there are things that he himself is going to need to have when he says his goodbyes, and so he’d just followed Gemma in and shook Robin’s hand and watched the match with them whilst Harry and Anne talked on the porch until the sky turned a little bit rosy. They’d come in then, eyes lined with the same red and tired smiles on their faces, and Anne had introduced herself proper and Harry wrapped his arms around Louis’ waist for a brief second like he would never let go.

It’s takeaway, for dinner, served on pretty plates, and the company is nice and the conversation has stayed far away from Louis until now.

“Oh,” Louis says, nervous. “Um, what would you want to know?”

“Like- where are you from?” she prompts kindly, her eyes bright like Harry’s, taking a sip of dark red wine.

“Doncaster.”

“And Harry tells me you're for United?” Robin asks.

Louis smiles, “I’ve got good taste.”

“And yet you ended up with this twat, how tragic,” Gemma interjects.

“Harry says you’re a brilliant student.” Anne ignores Gemma, eyes zoned in on Louis. He shifts a bit uncomfortably and concentrates on being charming.

“Harry is full of it, but we all knew that already,” he cracks, a bit shyly, and Harry pouts at him. “But I’m alright, I suppose.” Louis shrugs, once the rest of them have stopped laughing. “I’m studying to be a teacher.”

“He’s a brilliant writer, though,” Harry speaks up. “A right poet.”

“Harold,” he rolls his eyes. “You’ve not read a word I’ve written.”

“You’ve got the cheekbones for it,” Harry says confidently, and suddenly Anne is nodding and her gaze doesn’t feel piercing at all, but warm, and the kitchen is yellow and Louis feels nostalgic for something he’s never really had before.

After dinner, Harry, Gemma, and Robin scurry off into the living room to pull out Scrabble, but Louis offers to help Anne clean.

“Thank you, Louis, that’s very nice of you,” she says, “But I’ll only be a minute, you can go on with the rest of them.”

“Are you sure?” he asks her softly, and he hopes she catches the apology in there, the apology for taking her son away too early and for never wanting to let him go.

“You’ve done a lot, already,” she promises him, and if anyone else had said it, Louis probably would think it to be snarky or passive aggressive, but Louis hears a genuine thank you, and he thinks he gets it, and he follows Harry into the den.

It’s a sweet room, with slightly worn looking blue and white wallpaper and a bookshelf next to the bay window. Either Harry’s plugged in his iPod or Gemma’s got the same penchant for bands that barely exist, because an acoustic, slow song that Louis vaguely recognises is drifting in through a small pair of crackly speakers on a table in the corner- flow sweetly, hang heavy. Robin sets up on the couch, beer in one hand and remote in the other, pretending to flick through channels (although Louis doesn’t miss the way his eyes keep flicking to Harry). Harry settles on the floor, setting his back against the armchair and pulling Louis down next to him, and Gemma spreads out across the soft carpet, unfolding a Scrabble board with a glint in her eye.

“You want to play, Louis?”

Louis rests his head on Harry’s shoulders and listens to the sweet, husky voice pouring out of the speakers- no wonder, no wonder, other half. “I’ll watch this one.”

“Alright,” Harry says, and then turns to Gemma, raising his eyebrows and smirking, “You sure you want to do this, Gem?”

She arches her eyebrows right back, and throws a handful of tiles in his face.

“Stop looking at my letters, you fuck!” Gemma is protesting loudly twenty minutes later, swatting Harry round the head as he cranes his neck to stare unashamedly at her wooden tiles.

“You could spell ‘rimjob’,” he tells her helpfully, pointing out the open ‘i’. She eyes him suspiciously.

It’s a truly rousing game of scrabble, Gemma and Harry at each other’s necks the way that he and Lottie always compete. He finds himself wondering if Harry would like Lottie as much as Louis likes Gemma. He’s almost positive that his mum would love Harry, what with his curls and his cooking and his day-glo trainers. Louis thinks that if they ever went to stay in Doncaster, Jay would make up the couch downstairs for Harry, as if she expected them to sleep apart, but leave the hallway light on so that Louis could sneak out of his room and down to his boy.
***
Louis reminds himself that white lies are better than black hearts.
***
“Just promise me, Lou,” Harry whispers into the darkness once they’re all alone, curled up in Harry’s childhood bed.

“Promise you what?” Louis asks him, absently tracing the lines over his chest.

“Promise me you won’t ask me to stay.”

Louis’ hand stills, and there’s silence for a second, no sound but ragged breathing and silent screams. He gulps, searching for an answer, “Harry, you know I- I want-”

“I know,” Harry says, “I know you want, but promise me you won’t ask.”

Harry’s so big and long and proud, but right now, curled into Louis’ side, cheeks wet, eyes wide, he looks so, so small. Louis buries his face in Harry’s hair, breathing in as much of him as can possibly fit in his lungs.

“I promise,” he whispers.
***
Anne says goodbye.
***
“It was so lovely to meet you all,” Louis says at three o’clock the next day, and he means it. “Thank you for having me.”

“I like you,” Gemma announces, and then pulls him into a hug. “Stay safe,” she whispers into his ear, and he gets what she means and squeezes her tighter.

“You’ve got our number, if you ever get lonely while he’s off gallivanting around the desert,” Robin tells him next, grasping his hand. These people are so kind, Louis thinks, and so lovely, and Harry is so kind and so lovely, and they must be living in a movie because things like war shouldn’t happen to kind and lovely people in real life.

Anne is last. She’s been crying on and off all morning- they all have (Louis felt a little bit like an intruder before he remembered that Harry wants Louis here, wants Louis to be part of his life and his family, wants Louis to see this and feel this and know this side of him- then, Louis felt nothing but grateful).

She doesn’t say anything to Louis, just pulls him in and sort of buries her face in his chest, and before he can think twice about it Louis presses a kiss to the top of her head and holds her tight. “I know,” he tells her.

They’re two sides of the same coin about to get left behind.

“Thank you,” is all she murmurs, before Louis falls back and Harry steps up.
***
Louis finds it hard to forget that Harry is going to war in two weeks.
***
Two days after they get back from Cheshire, a Sergeant James, a commanding officer who had become very fond of Harry during his Basic Combat Training two years ago, invites Harry over to supper. Harry shows Louis the email.

“A send-off,” James writes, and Louis resolutely ignores that because they’ve still got 12 whole days, thank you very much, and he’ll start thinking about things like send-offs when he actually has to send his boy off. He tells this to Harry, pouting a bit, and Harry draws him in and just holds him for a little bit, arms locked around his shoulders and chin atop his head, before gently reminding him that James’ offer is a kind one, and inviting Louis along.

“Are you sure about this?” Louis asks Harry nervously as they stand on the steps of the uptown home corresponding to James’ address. Harry’s got a blazer and a bottle of red wine, and Louis’ got a thousand and three things he’d like to do to him right now and always, chiefly running away to America with only the clothes on their back and becoming proper deaf-mutes like little old Holden Caulfield so that if the British Army ever comes knocking on their door, they physically won’t be able to answer any questions.

The ‘this’ Louis is referring to is their joined hands. He really wouldn’t mind if Harry just introduced him as a flatmate, or a friend- Louis knows what he and Harry are (mostly), and he doesn’t need Harry doing anything stupid, like outing himself to a mass of homophobes before even leaving British soil.

“Don’t be daft, Lou, of course I’m sure,” Harry says, and kisses him on the cheek to prove it. “Sergeant James will love you. “

Louis blushes a little, because Harry just does that to him sometimes, “I’m nervous,” he admits. And then, just to be a twat, he adds, “I’ve never been around a real military man before.”

“Oi!” Harry warns him. “I’ll take you out, Tommo.” But he pushes the bell and squeezes Louis’ hand and whispers ‘in bed’ just before the door swings open to reveal a sturdy man in his mid 30’s, wearing a sensible jumper and a megawatt smile. He instantly pulls Harry into a giant hug.

“Harry, kid!” he booms, accent thick, once he lets go. “Great of you to come.”

“Great of you to have us,” Harry beams back, bright and open. “This is Louis.”

Sergeant James spies their clasped hands, nods once, almost to himself, and then turns his smile onto Louis. Louis realises that James is, perhaps, even less intimidating than Harry, “Thrilled to meet you, Louis.”

“You as well, Sergeant James,” Louis smiles back.

“Greg,” he corrects, and ushers them inside. It’s really lovely, brick walls and soft carpets and pictures everywhere, “The wife’s in the kitchen, Harry. I’ve told her all the worst things and she’s still thrilled to meet you.”

He guides them into an open kitchen with light wooden countertops and a pretty blonde woman stirring something that smells positively delicious.

“Hello, darlings!” she cries when she sees Harry and Louis, abandoning the pot and rushing out to kiss them both on the cheek. She gives them both a once over before turning to Harry. “You must be The Incredible Private Styles.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry smiles, almost shy.

Ellie, Christ, don’t call me ma’am, makes me feel like an old mum!” she laughs.

“You’ve got three children,” Greg reminds her. She shoots him a Look, and he backs away slowly, throwing his hands up in mock surrender, “Right then, General, I’ll just retreat to the grill.”

Ellie watches him go fondly.

“Men,” she sighs, turning back to Harry and Louis. “Speaking of-” her eyes light up, “You are?”

Louis clears his throat, “Louis.”

“Louis,” Ellie repeats, “Welcome.”

“You’ve got a beautiful home,” he tells her.

She positively glows. Louis thinks that she might be some kind of domestic goddess, or that she's halfway to drunk. “You’re such a doll. Harry, you’d better be hanging on to this one.”

Harry’s hand is warm and strong in his, “Oh, trust me, I’m planning on it.”

They eat dinner out in the garden, meat and vegetables off the grill and a ridiculously delicious soup courtesy of Ellie. They talk about surprisingly normal things, really. Ellie is a music teacher at the nearby primary school, and she’s been helping to run the camp this summer, but she’s got a horrible twat of a principal, so she and Louis swap stories about bad bosses. Greg wants to know what Harry’s been up to this summer, and Harry’s deadpan response of ‘defacing public property and doing yoga on Louis’ kitchen floor’ earns two rounds of laughter, one when they think he’s joking, and another when they realise he’s serious. Greg is a huge United fan- see, Harold, some people have a sense of the important things in life- and so while Harry and Ellie bond over their favourite kitchen gadgets, he and Louis shoot the breeze for a while, talking about the summer leagues that Louis has honestly only really had time to catch glimpses of, what with Harry, and Greg says that the Guard gave him season tickets once, as a Christmas gift, and invites him along any time he feels like it.

“I knew that you had a decent reason for enlisting, Haz. Don’t even think about returning from battle until you’ve got me season tickets, yeah?”

They’re joined by Bella, Lucas, and David, aged twelve-and-one-half, seven-and-two-thirds, and five-and-three-quarters respectively, and Bella says that she’s excited to go back to school next week to see the class hamster, Whimsy, Lucas asks Harry how far it is to the moon, and David shows off his playground battle scars.

“That’s a nasty cut,” Louis tells him, “How’d you manage that?”

“A tiger bit me!” David cries, his eyes wide, and Louis gasps and turns towards him, fully, as Ellie chuckles quietly, catches his eye, and mouths ‘sandbox’.

“A tiger!” Louis exclaims. “Did you fight it off?”

David nods vigorously, blonde curls flopping into his eyes. “I was brave like a sold-er. Right Daddy?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Louis sees a hint of sadness in Greg’s smile. “Of course you were, darling!” he says, and lifts David into his lap. “The bravest ever.”

Things don’t get hard until Ellie excuses herself at half-nine, going up to put the kids to sleep, and Greg pulls out three cigars. It’s possibly the most adult Louis has ever felt, sitting here on a nice patio with a nice boy and a military man who can apparently blow smoke rings. Louis almost freaks out, but then he realises that maybe this whole summer is the most adult thing he’s ever had to deal with or do, air hockey and heavy drinking and copious amounts of semi-public sex aside. He’s in a relationship with Harry- a real relationship with trust and honesty and also probably an absurd amount of love- and somehow they have to be grownups about it because in twelve days Harry has to go and Louis has to let him.

“You get your shipment yet, Harry?” Greg asks after a little while of silent smoking.

“Yessir,” Harry says, “Afghanistan.”

“I suppose they couldn’t send you back Kuwait, not with how well you did,” Greg nods, but his voice sounds a little sad and Louis tries not to think about it. “You ready?”

“I-” Harry’s easy smile falters for a split second, and then returns, full force. “Sure, yeah. Been to see the family in Cheshire a few days ago, gearing up to go now.”

“Saying goodbye is the hardest part,” Greg sighs. “I’m home for two more months before I’m off again- just a small squadron to monitor the drones in Beirut. Ellie’s off her nut because I won’t be home for Christmas.”

“I won’t be, either,” Harry says.

“They let you Skype on holidays,” Ellie’s voice comes, and she’s reappeared on the patio, sans kids, cigarette in hand.

“That’s nice of them,” Louis hears himself say, but Harry won’t be here for Christmas and Harry won’t be here for his birthday and Harry won’t be here and Louis can’t breathe. “Sorry, excuse me- bathroom?” he asks in what he hopes is a light tone, and Ellie waves him inside and to the left and he can’t get there fast enough, honestly, can’t get away from the British Army fast enough.

The bathroom is painted in sea glass colours and the tiles on the walls are cool against his forehead. He lets himself rest it there for a few minutes, breathing deep breaths and forcing himself to focus on all the time he has left and nothing at all after it. Louis Tomlinson is a master of avoiding the future, everyone knows it. Louis Tomlinson can do this.

There’s a knock on the door.

“One second!” he calls, turning to check himself in the mirror. He hasn’t been crying, and with a quick twist of his fingers through his hair, the places where it’s been pressed up against the tiles fall back into place with the rest of his quiff, so nobody has to know about his mini panic attack in the bathroom.

“You done with your panic attack?” a voice drifts through lightly. Louis swings the door open to come face to face with Ellie, plates balanced in her hands and eyes all to knowing.

“I wasn’t-” Louis is sure his face is bright red.

“I’ve left the boys outside, talking about their war and destruction,” she says. “Care to help me with the dishes?”

Louis should say no, should say I’ve not got the faintest idea what you’re talking about, should say I’m fine, really, but Ellie smells like cigarettes and up close there are a lot of lines on her face and so Louis just nods, follows her into the yellow kitchen.

“Wash or dry?” she asks him lightly, voice low. Even though Ellie can’t be over 35, something about her reminds Louis of his mother, and he feels a pang of longing for his own kitchen: assorted ceramic mugs and a sturdy wooden table, feet dangling off the counter and mouth running a mile a minute as he dries the plates his mum hands over.

He swallows, “Dry, please.”

She smiles at him, sad and soft, as she hands him the dishtowel.

For a while, they work in silence. The faucet makes a soft hissing sound and Ellie presses the plates and glasses into his hands without really looking at him, but Louis doesn’t mind because there’s a window overlooking the garden, by the sink, and Louis can see half of Harry’s face from here, warmly lit by the patio light. His brows are furrowed in concentration as he listens to what Greg must be saying, lips pressed together in a firm line, and he’s nodding his head very seriously.

“We were 16,” Ellie says suddenly.

“Sorry?” Louis’ eyes snap away from the window, seeking hers, but she’s kept her gaze firmly on the plate in her hands, the steam rising up as the hot water runs and runs and runs, the suds bubbling along with it.

“When Greg and I met- we were 16.”

“Oh,” Louis says. His gaze strays back to Harry’s profile, and he doesn’t know why he’s here, and he doesn’t know what she’s saying, and he feels very, very, tired.

“He sat next to me in biology,” Ellie continues. “We were lab partners. He asked me to the formal the day we dissected a pig heart. I remember- I asked him what the hell he was on about, asking me at a time like that, with blood all over his rubber gloves and those horrible glasses on, and he goes- no better time than now, love. He was fucking ridiculous, of course, but then he smiled and I guess I just thought that maybe he could be right, about, like, everything.”

Louis turns his head to look at her again. She’s still watching the steam curl up from the metal sink, and she looks exhausted.

“I didn’t choose to be an army wife, Louis. I got pregnant right out of college. Greg- he’s not the brightest bulb, bless him, didn’t get far in Uni. But he loved- loves- me very much and wanted to support me, and the military- he thought it was the best option, because it’s a career, with benefits and a salary and a pension. I thought-” she breaks off, and her voice wavers a bit, a crack in the armour. “I was terrified, at first. I envisioned the cold side of the bed, the drywall that never got fixed, the friends’ weddings that you have to attend solo, and missed birthdays and holidays. But I- I was wrong, to be scared of those things.”

And this time, when she passes the silver over, she catches Louis’ hand in her own, and squeezes tight until he meets her eyes. Louis didn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t this. “Louis,” she says. Her voice is quiet, melodic, even, but her gaze is strong as anything. “I was wrong to be scared of those things because there’s so much more to be scared of.”

She drops his hand and returns to the sink. “I didn’t choose this,” she repeats quietly.

When Harry and Greg come in a quarter of an hour later, pink cheeks and smiles that stretch to their ears all that Ellie didn’t say is still ringing loudly in Louis’ ears.

I’m not sure that I would have.
***
Harry is leaving slowly, in bits and pieces.
***
“Eat up, boys!” Harry calls to the room at large at nine on Friday morning, with t-10 days left.

“You’re a magician,” Niall salivates as Louis carries the plates over to the table- crumpets with fresh jam, poached eggs, and sausages with no remarks from Zayn, please.

“This one was mainly Louis,” Harry practically boasts, tapping Louis’ bum in congratulations on his way to the table, dishtowel slung over his shoulder and smirk in place. “I’m a fucking fantastic teacher, though.”

“Here, here,” Liam raises his mug of tea and they all toast to their toast. Sleepy conversation settles over them, then, and Louis turns to Harry, bemused.

“Why aren’t you loading up, Haz?” he questions, a touch of concern creeping into his voice because Harry’s just peeling a banana and Louis has never seen Harry eat less than a cow in the morning. “You feelin’ OK?”

“Oh, yeah,” Harry waves a hand breezily. “I just have to get back in shape for next week is all.”

“Sexercise not cutting it for you anymore?” Zayn teases, spearing two sausage links at a time.

“Speaking of, Liam, Zayn, have you seen my uniform? I’ve looked everywhere,” Harry asks.

Zayn doesn't bat an eyelash, "Do you know how expensive role play can get these days?"

Louis laughs along with the rest of the table at Liam’s furious blush. Harry is not eating greasy foods anymore. It’s ok.
***
It’s not OK.
***
“Have I done something wrong?” Harry’s voice is soft and worried and it drifts over Louis at two am on Sunday, curling up into the air with the wispy smoke from Louis’ cigarette.

“Hmm?” Louis hums, sliding his fingers absently along Harry’s arm and trying to concentrate on something other than the fact that Harry is leaving. There’s a spider crawling up the far corner of the wall, towards the ceiling. Harry is leaving. Louis has to register for classes soon. Harry is leaving. Ellie invited him for tea next month. Harry is leaving.

“You’ve been off,” Harry states. “What’s the matter?”

The matter is that Friday night, when they’d gone out dancing and Harry blew him in the stall with the words ‘IT NEVER GETS BETTER THAN THIS’ scrawled in big black Sharpie, Louis had realised that it was their last weekend in Manchester, and then he realised that they’d only really had five weekends in Manchester in all, and what if they never have a weekend in Manchester again?

The matter is that Harry didn’t spend Saturday morning sleeping off his hangover with Louis, blinds closed and endless cycles of America’s Next Top Model British Invasion cued up, but jogging around the park in circles whilst Louis reread Lolita upsidown and talked himself out of crying a total of six times because Harry looked so fucking adorable, trying to get fit, his hair flopping all over the place and his brows furrowed a bit in concentration- really, its like sending a fucking puppy to war.

The matter is that when Louis comes home after work on Sunday, early because on Sundays he and Nick don’t actually open, just put on some soft music and silently sort out new stock for a few hours, Harry’s washing the dishes from the boys’ brunch at the sink, the pale orange light filtering in through the small, distorted kitchen window, and it’s turned the top of his hair gold, and he’s humming, humming with his soft tee and broad shoulders and honestly, Louis could spend forever and ever just watching the way his muscles ripple slightly as his hands move in circles under the warm water, but he’s not got forever and ever, does he, he’s only got another week- seven days, 168 hours- and he needs to tiptoe back out of the flat and smoke three cigarettes on the stoop before he’s ok to go back inside and ask Harry if he’d like to go on a walk.

“Nothing’s the matter,” Louis promises, leaning over to snub out his cigarette in the ashtray before curling even closer to Harry, putting his head right over the place where he can hear Harry’s heart beating, strong, like it couldn’t ever stop. “Nothing at all.”
***
On Wednesday, Harry is perfect, and Louis is broken in two.
***
When Zayn pops his quiff into Grimshaw & Co a few minutes before closing, Louis has not been having a good day.

“I’ve not been having a good day,” Louis tells him. Zayn leans over the counter to brush a bit of hair out of Louis’ eyes.

“Why not?” he asks.

Harry’s leaving Harry’s leaving Harry’s leaving Harry’s leaving.

“It's Nick's off day so I got stuck talking on the phone with the suppliers for three hours with nobody around to stab but myself.”

Zayn gives him a look comprised of a perfectly arched eyebrow and classically pursed lips that clearly states ‘I know you’re a giant fucking liar’, but he doesn’t push it, and Louis really, really loves Zayn sometimes.

“Tough luck,” he says.

“Yeah,” Louis agrees. “I’m staying in tonight. Going straight home and flopping down on the couch, and making Haz give me a foot rub while we watch Skins.”

“No!” Zayn says quickly. Louis’ head snaps up to find Zayn looking a little bit frantic.

“What’s up your arse, then?” Louis asks.

“I just- you can’t go home yet. I really need your help this afternoon.”

“Weirdo,” Louis sighs. “With what?”

“You’ve got to help me pick up a birthday gift for Li.”

“No,” Louis says shortly, turning the key in the lock of the cash register. “Absolutely not.”

“Please, Lou,” Zayn pleads. “I literally have no idea what to get him, and you’re so good with gifts.”

Louis is fairly certain that he’s gotten Zayn flavoured lube for his birthday for the last three years running. “What the fuck are you on about, mate?” he asks.

“It’s not like you’ve got anything better to do,” Zayn sounds unusually desperate.

“Rude.” Louis grabs his phone and his notebook (Harry is leaving) and pushes out from behind the counter, standing face-to-face with Zayn.

“I feel like I barely see you anymore,” Zayn wines softly, and it’s overdone and blatant and, frankly, not even true because they live together. Louis makes a frustrated noise.

“Fine,” he says, and Zayn smiles like he’s just won a BAFTA and pulls Louis out of the shop.

Forty minutes later, they’re standing in front of a selection of power tool combo kits at Pierce’s Hardware. Louis is hungry and depressed and doesn’t know a fucking thing about whether or not Liam would prefer an 18-Volt Nickel Cadmium Cordless Combo Kit or a 20-Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Combo Kit.

“I mean, which one do you think he’d get more use out of?” Zayn prompts.

Louis wishes that looks could kill. “Which one would you rather have shoved up your arse?” he grits out as Zayn’s phone buzzes.

“Good question, Lou,” he says brightly, squinting at something on the screen and frowning a little bit.

“Who the fuck are you texting?” Louis snaps.

“Nobody,” Zayn pockets his phone. “Now, where were we? Which one could be better used as a sex toy?”

“Zayn, I was joking.”

Zayn shrugs, “I wasn’t.” His phone buzzes again, and he shields it a little bit with his hand as he reads whatever’s on the screen, as if Louis gives a fuck about his sexting habits.

“You know what, Lou,” he announces suddenly. “I think I’ll just pick a nice new flannel out for him tomorrow, from the Gap or something. Let’s go home.”

Louis stares at Zayn incredulously. “We’ve been looking at power tools for half an hour, Zayn, are you fucking kidding me?”

Zayn shrugs. He doesn’t even look guilty, pocketing his phone and looping an arm around Louis’ shoulder, guiding him out of the hardware store. Louis is too tired to do anything but grumble as Zayn drags him home and Zayn, for his part, seems to know not to push it. When they reach the door, and Zayn pulls out his keys, he bumps Louis’ hip against his own.

“You’re a good mate, Lou,” he tells him.

“Thanks,” Louis says dully as Zayn turns the lock and pushes him inside the flat.

“SURPRISE!” yells everybody that Louis knows.

The flat looks like it’s been hit with an exploding party bomb. There are streamers everywhere- draped across the couch and the chairs and the TV, fluttering down from the doorways, tied around Niall’s head. A decently thick layer of glitter confetti carpets the entire living room floor, and scattered around atop of it all there are balloons of varying sizes and neon colours. The kitchen counters are overwhelmed by an assortment of liquor and crisps; the table has been taken over by a large cake with what looks like at least fifty candles sticking out of it. People are crammed into every available space- Zayn, Niall, Liam, El, Perrie, Matt, and Aiden, but also Nick, and Gemma, and Josh and Ed, and Ashton and Michael and Luke, who Louis and Liam sometimes play pickup footie games with in the quad, and also countless people from his course group and countless people from Niall’s course group, and also the neighbours from 5A and 5C. And in the middle of it all, under a giant banner that reads ‘Happy 21 and almost 7 Months Birthday, Lou!’, stands Harry, smile so big that it threatens to break his face and Louis’ heart in two.

“He says it’s so that you can have it all spread out,” Zayn whispers in Louis’ ear.

Louis is frozen. He is speechless.

“He’s speechless!” someone shouts, and the flat erupts in applause and laughter and someone starts blasting The Black Keys and Zayn demands recognition for keeping Louis out of the house and someone else grabs Louis by the arm and pulls him into the crowd and then everybody starts dancing.

It’s hot, and there are people kissing him and patting him on the back and shaking their arses and pouring shots into his mouth, and the whole time, like some sort of fucked up, cosmic, magnetic force, he’s getting closer and closer to Harry, who’s just been, like, watching him. Harry, with his shiny eyes and his giant smile and apparently endless perfection; Harry, who cares enough about Louis to remember something Louis said months ago in a tiny room in the heart of Blackpool; Harry, who’s reached him now, and is pulling Louis against his chest with his long, ropey arms, holding him there like he’ll never let go; Harry, who Louis is so, so in love with; Harry, who is leaving in three days to go fight in a war that Louis doesn’t understand; Harry, who may never come back.

“I didn’t want to miss it,” Harry whispers into Louis’ hair, “Happy birthday.”

It’s too much. Louis mumbles thanks into Harry’s chest, untangles himself carefully, calls, “I’ll go get us drinks,” over the roar of the party, and lets himself be swallowed up in the masses.

Here’s what Louis won’t remember at all:

Stan, bless his heart, passes out after the 10th shot, but Louis goes up to lucky number 13 before he sort of loses the ability to stand.

Somebody shoves the cake into Louis’ face, and Zayn licks all the icing off of him with the absolute shamelessness that he only possesses when he’s so drunk he’s halfway to Mars.

Eleanor and Perrie pass around their matching pictures of Niall’s penis to the entire room.

At some point, long after he’s broken his promise of getting drinks for Harry, Louis ends up sat in a corner with Niall, who is attempting to look up the skirt of Emily, one of the baristas at a cafe they frequent, and Niall says this is great birthday party for a great man, Lou, and Louis says no, actually, its not a birthday party at all and Niall asks well what kind of party is it then and Louis tells him that it’s a goodbye party.

Here’s what Louis will remember perfectly:

After everybody finally leaves, at about three in the morning, Harry finds Louis sprawled out on their- the- bed, eyes shut but a million miles away from sleep.

“Lou?”

The voice is soft and achingly familiar, and Louis squeezes his eyes shut tighter because he’s trying so, so hard to be angry right now, and if Harry’s face looks anything like Louis knows it does, brows furrowed with worry and eyes wide with guilt, his efforts will all be in vain.

“I hate you, Harry Styles,” Louis tries. It comes out an unconvincing slur, alcohol and adoration softening the blow, but if he says something enough times then maybe, hopefully, it will start to feel true.

“Oh, really,” Harry’s voice is getting closer, and over the remaining ghosts of laughter and music crowding the space outside of his room, Louis hears the floorboards creak, feels his heart rate pick up and his mouth go dry as Harry approaches. “Why’s that?”

His voice is slow and warm and almost patronising, like he knows the punch line to a thousand jokes that Louis has never heard. It isn’t fucking funny Louis wants to scream, isn’t funny that he wants to cry and throw things and tell Harry to get out but his stupid fucking heart will never, ever let him do something that smart, not in a million fucking years.

“I’m not joking,” Louis says now, and it comes out a little stronger then before.

“Wasn’t implying that you were,” Harry’s tone is too light, and he still doesn’t get it. Louis feels the bed dip down, feels gentle hands coming up to rub at his shoulders in the way that Harry’s learned Louis likes. And, well. That’s the fucking problem, isn’t it? Harry knows how to rub him in all the right ways but in a few days Harry won’t be here to rub him in any way at all and, actually, Harry might never be here to rub him in any way at all, never ever again, and it’s so fucking absurd and unfair and ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, and Louis is angry, he’s angry at Harry for leaving a little bit but mainly he’s angry at himself for letting Harry leave.

Louis screams into the pillow.

“Jesus, love,” Harry half-laughs, but it’s a nervous sound now, and there’s a hint of uncertainty in his eyes when Louis raises his head up to look at him. “What’s going on?” he softens, sliding down to gather Louis up in his arms, pressing his chest to Louis’ back and a kiss to the nape of Louis’ neck. “What can I do?”

Stay stay stay stay stay.

“Nothing,” Louis says, short and dull, and it’s the truth. Harry’s breath on the back of his neck is too hot, and so he sits up, swinging his legs to dangle off the side of the bed, focusing hard on not looking over his shoulder. He knows that he’s being petulant, knows that he’s not being fair, knows that he’s brought them to an inevitable fallout. He knows all of this, and yet he can’t help but search for an exit. “It’s fine. I’m fine. The party was lovely and you’re a doll. Let’s go to bed.”

“Don’t be a twat, Lou,” Harry says now, audibly frustrated. The mattress dips and Louis hears sheets rustle, and then suddenly, Harry’s beside him, so close that their thighs almost touch, gaze burning a hole through Louis’ profile. Louis fixes his gaze out onto the open window leading to the fire escape. It’s almost September, almost fall, and there’s a chill in the air that blows in.

Louis would kill for a cigarette.

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Harry,” Louis says finally, addressing the gossamer curtains fluttering yellow in the breeze and in the streetlamp.

When Harry speaks next, he sounds as tired as Louis feels. “Just say what you want, Lou.”

Harry’s towel- pink and striped, the one that Lottie gave to Louis when he left Donny for uni three years ago- hangs on the hook next to Louis’ own Man U one. Harry’s pants sit, clean and folded, on the top of the unpacked laundry basket near the door. Harry’s fedora is perched on the dresser, right next to Harry’s camera and a gaggle of Harry’s ragged friendship bracelets. Harry’s half empty mug is on the bedside table, next to the book that Harry’s reading- D’you have Carrie Lou, I can’t believe that that shit started out as a book- and on top of Harry’s book are Louis’ square glasses.

“I don’t really think,” Louis says quietly, “That it particularly matters what I want.”

There’s silence for a moment, in which Louis finally looks at Harry. Harry angry looks just as beautiful as Harry happy and Harry sad and Harry hungry and Harry tired. Louis takes a last moment to appreciate his wild curls, red cheeks, and dark eyes, before Harry springs off of the bed and Louis starts yelling and the dam just.

Breaks.

“How fucking dare you say I don’t care about what you want, you selfish prick-”

“Want to talk about selfish you absolute bastard? Gallivanting off to the fucking desert, making us do stupid things like promise you we won’t want you to stay-”

“Gallivanting, are you fucking kidding me-”

“Did you ever stop to think for just a second that maybe you could hurt somebody-”

“No, Louis, please enlighten me as to how I fucking destroyed my mother-”

“Nobody fucking made you do it, Harry, you don’t get to be the victim-”

“Well neither do you, because I’m not forcing you to do anything-”

Bullshit, like you think I could fucking just leave now-”

“Well, you seem to have had no problems with it in the past-”

“Oh, wow, that’s really fucking classy, isn’t it, really fucking swell of you to bring up-”

“For someone who needs to be in control all the fucking time, you sure do put a lot of blame on everybody else-”

“And you don’t take any of the blame, you’re so bloody self-sacrificing-”

“I do what I do for me Louis-”

“Bullshit, you do it for your fucking father-”

“If you even try to bring him into this, I swear-”

“-do you actually think he’d be proud, Harry, that you’re throwing your life away to fucking honour his memory-”

“Shut up, Louis, shut up now-”

“You know it’s true-”

“You don’t know anything, you fucking- you don’t even fucking know me, so just-”

“GUYS!”

Zayn and Liam have thrown open the door, eyes wide and shocked. Louis is panting heavily, like he’s just run a fucking marathon, and his world is swimming with red and he just feels hot all over. He doesn’t look at Harry, doesn’t need to know that he’s crying and broken just as bad as Louis. Instead, Louis looks at the nail sticking up from the floorboard that Harry snagged his sock on the other day when trying to order takeaway and carry two hot mugs of tea to Louis in bed at the same time.

“Sorry if we woke you,” he says, his voice scratchy and raw, and he pushes his way out of the room.
***
When Harry wakes up, Louis is gone.
***
Louis wakes up on the couch. There’s a crick in his neck and no smell of bacon and his bedroom door is closed tight.

Louis doesn’t think, doesn’t wait, doesn’t want.

Louis just leaves.
***
Louis can’t decide if he’s angrier with himself or Harry, and so he takes it out on Zayn.
***
“Could you please chew louder, Zayn?”

Zayn looks over from where he's sat next to Louis behind the counter, Shakespeare in one hand and a bag of crisps in the other. He very deliberately crunches down, sending a pointed look in Louis’ direction.

“Twat,” Louis grumbles, and then goes back to balancing the books, or, as Louis has called it of late, waiting for Harry to text him.

“Anything, yet?” Zayn asks gently. Louis shoots him a glare like it’s all Zayn’s fault, and Zayn’s alone, that Louis and Harry have managed to fuck things up this nicely in their last few days. “I shall take that as a no, then.”

“Can you get your fucking feet off of the desk?” is all that Louis says, and Zayn lets out a long-suffering sigh and plants both feet firmly on the floor. There’s a minute of silence, Louis glowering down at the tiny numbers on the page in front of him, before Zayn decides that enough is enough.

“Alright,” Zayn announces. “Time to cut the bullshit.”

Funnily enough, Zayn was not Louis’ original roommate. Initially, Louis had been paired with Sam, a quiet law major with a unfortunate Birmingham accent but all eight Harry Potter movies on DVD and an electric tea kettle. Louis and Sam had a mutual respect for one another, and Louis always made sure to restock the Twining’s when they were out and Sam never once complained about Louis’ six pair of TOMS stinking up the room. However, after meeting a blond Irish lad with an astronomically high alcohol tolerance and a penchant for wearing singlets that barely covered his nipples in his Intro to Mythology class, Louis started spending a lot less time watching X- Files Reruns with Sam and a lot more time passed out, hungover, on Niall’s floor. Louis was only slightly offended when Sam had approached him at the end of October and asked if they could switch roommates.

“My best mate lives across the hall, and he’s over here all the time and you never are, so I was just wondering-”

“It’s fine, mate, I get it,” Louis had waved a hand dismissively. “Just as long as the other bloke’s alright.”

“I think you’ll like him,” Sam had answered sincerely, and he looked so excited that Louis couldn’t possibly say no.

“I hope you’ve not got a problem with my Kardashian poster,” is the first thing that Zayn had said to Louis when Sam and Stuart had introduced them hopefully.

“Has it got Rob on it?” Louis had wanted to know.

Zayn’d laughed then, a secret little smile on his face when he looked over at him. “Unfortunately,” he sighed, and they were living together by the end of the week.

They had a lot of sex at first, and when they weren’t sleeping together, they were busy being desperately, stupidly in love- not in the romantic sense, but just in the way that two people sometimes become each other’s worlds in half a minute and stay that way for forever. They fancied themselves to be the kings of campus, spending their nights attempting to out-drink and out-sex and outsmart the other (Niall joining in with increasing frequency), and their days attempting to take all of the least useful classes imaginable. In the Spring, Zayn proudly took the cake with Golf Course Management and came out of it with a caddy license and a Sports Management major named Liam Payne. Zayn and Louis stopped fucking but kept fucking around, Louis and Niall detailed several descriptive methods of murder involving duct tape and box cutters to a terrified Liam, and they continued to exist in a sort of bubble.

Until, obviously, now.

“What, Zayn,” Louis is sighing now, resolutely ignoring the boy pressed right against his back. Thin arms loop around him, and a kiss is pressed to his temple.

“You need to either start crying or stop pouting,” Zayn says firmly.

Zayn knows absolutely everything about Louis, from his misguided Cheryl Cole obsession when he was 15 to how his mum still cries sometimes at night, to the birthmark on the inside of his right thigh, to which TV shows Louis likes to watch when he’s sick and which he likes to watch when he’s sad. Sometimes, it feels like a little much, like Zayn might know a bit more about Louis than Louis himself, but today, Louis realises, this just what he needs- someone to tell him what to do.

And so he drops his head down on the desk and sobs.

Zayn is there right away, rubbing circles along Louis' heaving shoulders, pressing kisses between his shoulder blades, whispering soft little lies about how it will all be ok, Lou, baby, just let it out. How long they stay like this, Louis couldn't say- but after hours or days or months or forevers, Louis wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and pulls himself up and tugs the sleeves of his jumper down to clutch in his fists.

He asks Zayn if any of this shit is even worth it at all.

"Yeah, Lou," Zayn says, carding fingers through Louis' fringe. "It's worth this, and a lot more."
***
Harry’s left all the lights on and Louis can’t believe he left Harry.
***
Harry is waiting on the stoop.

It’s dusk, by now. Louis took his time locking up and dropping Zayn off at work and even talking to his mum for a quarter of an hour, sat on a bench outside of the bar. He’d taken his time on the way home, too, made sure to step on all of the cracks and drag his feet along the long, winding route all the way around the perimeter of the campus. Six cigarettes and countless drafts of a halfway adequate apology later, he’d finally squared his shoulders and rounded the corner, the right words running through his head on a constant loop, just to come face to face with Harry himself and forget every single letter in the alphabet.

When he was eight, Louis got sent to the headmaster’s office for breaking a window by kicking his football through it accidentally-on-purpose. Mr Simmons couldn’t see Louis right away because he was in a meeting until noon, and so the administrative assistant, an old woman named Mrs Hoult, instructed him to sit in one of the grey plastic chairs and to reflect on his mistakes whilst waiting for his punishment. Louis dangled his legs off the chair and looked down at the worn linoleum where his Sketchers barely brushed the floor, looked out of the window at the brown grass and his classmates tackling each other into the dirt, looked over at Mrs Hoult, with her tight bun and tight shoulders and tight morals. Louis looked at all of these things, and then Louis ran.

He made it as far as the car park out front before Mr Simmons himself, heaving and panting, managed to catch up with him and drag him back screaming. His punishment was to be three lunch detentions and a written letter of apology to Mrs Hoult, Mr Simmons, and his mum. Louis decided that one letter copied out three times was perfectly fine, and so they all received an identical declaration of his sincerest sentiments.

I am very sorry that I broke the window with my football. All my love, Louis.

“You have to apologise for running away, Louis,” Mr Simmons told him.

Louis just shook his head, “I won’t.”

“I’m sorry,” is the first thing that comes tumbling out of Louis’ mouth when he finds Harry sat on the steps, fag in hand and a half buttoned flannel dangling from his shoulders. “I’m sorry I ran out, shit, I’m so so so sorry, Haz, baby, I’m sorry.”

Harry squints up at him, face unreadable, giving Louis a sort of silent permission to go on.

“I just- I do that, sometimes, and I know it’s bad, but, like, I’m working on it, and I’m back Harry, I’ll always come back, I promise.”

Harry is intent on keeping his eyes locked with Louis’, and Louis wishes more than anything that he could read Harry’s mind right now, that he could figure out what he needs to say to make it OK, but he just takes a deep breath, swallows the knot in his throat, drops his gaze to his shoes and plows on.

“You’re right, I’m a coward, and I can’t fucking- I don’t- I care about you so, so much, like, more than you could possibly realise, and I’m terrified, but that’s not- that’s not what’s important, right now, obviously, God, Harry, it was so stupid to say those things because you’re going to war and the last thing you need is for me to make you feel bad about doing something fucking useful while I’m just sat with Nick reading Wuthering Heights for the fifth time, and I’m sorry if I made you feel like you owe me anything because, really, I owe you, like, these past six weeks have been probably the best six weeks of anybody’s life, ever, and I’m just- I’m sorry I’m a twat and I’m sorry you’re a brave twat and I’m sorry that we met at the wrong time, or whatever, but mainly I’m sorry that-”

“Louis.”

Louis freezes. Harry’s voice is scratchy and raw, but it’s as firm as Louis has ever heard it, and when Louis meets Harry’s eyes again, there’s something different flashing in them, some sort of desperation.

“Please stop apologising.”

“O-Okay.”

Harry squints up at him for a second more, and Louis would kill, kill to be able to read minds right now, because as Harry lets out a resigned sigh and pushes himself up off the stoop, facing Louis head on with that same blank expression, Louis has no idea what the fuck is going on, and he has to shut his eyes tight to block it all out.

It’s an agonising few seconds, in which Louis braces himself for everything but the feeling of Harry’s thumb brushing over his jaw.

“Lou, love, look at me,” Harry says, and gone is the borderline authoritative tone, replaced with a gentle sound that’s enough to make Louis open his eyes slowly, carefully. Harry’s eyes are rimmed with red and his cheeks are damp, but he’s smiling this little, secret smile, just for Louis. Louis’ heart bursts and mends itself simultaneously. “We met just when we were supposed to meet.”

“Harry-”

“No, shh, it’s my turn,” Harry cuts him off with an odd, nervous little laugh. “I was...shit, ok, I picked up one of the bestsellers the other day, while you were out getting lunch? I thought it would be like, a funny joke, or summat, if you came back to find me reading Twilight. But, like, I picked up this book, see, and flipped to this random page- and it just, I don’t remember it exactly, but it was something about, like, falling in love really slowly and then really quickly? And I thought that that was kind of funny, because-” Harry takes a deep breath- “Because we did the exact opposite, didn’t we?”

“Harry.”

“It’s unconventional, Lou, and its odd, but I think I loved you from that first moment, and then, like, everything else just sort of fell into place- the reasons just sort of fell into place. Backwards, and shit. It happened backwards. But I think- I think that that’s exactly how it was supposed to happen. I don’t think it could have happened any other way. Like, with any other person. Or at any other time.”

Louis has a million things that he wants to say.

Sorry, he wants to say, over and over, because he knows, now, that he really doesn’t deserve Harry, doesn’t deserve anything about him, because Harry is- well, Harry is perfect, see, and Louis has known that for a long time but the significance of it just hits him all of the sudden, that Harry is so fucking perfect and he’s chosen Louis, for some odd reason, and now Louis thinks that they might be stuck together and he doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

I’m scared, he wants to say, because that’s what this whole thing boils down to, really- Louis being absolutely terrified of what could happen if Harry comes back and of what could happen if Harry doesn’t come back, and terrified that he’s terrified of all of those things.

I want you, he wants to say, because he does- he wants Harry now and he thinks he’ll probably want him in 20 years, regardless of whether or not Harry is around to want him back in 20 years.

“I love you,” is what he says, because he thinks that that probably says all of that, and more.
***
Zayn is not happy with the situation.
***
“Yeah, but Z, they’re not matching, just related,” Louis sighs into his phone.

“I don’t give a fuck, Lou,” Zayn hisses back. He’s at work, probably hidden out in the supply room, because Louis can hear a faint din over Zayn’s angry, gravelly voice. “The point is, you’ve known him for what, a month, and you’ve already got some gay-arse tattoo pronouncing your love, while you’ve been friends with me for years, and you’ve resisted every time I’ve so much as suggested getting some together.”

“How can a tattoo be gay?” is all that Louis asks. Harry comes back to the couch, now, holding out a mug of tea with a raised eyebrow and a bemused smile, and Louis accepts it gracefully and mouths, Zayn.

“What does he want, then?” Harry asks, sipping his own tea.

“To be a massive twat, basically,” Louis tells him, not bothering to cover the receiver.

“Excuse me,” Zayn stops in mid tangent about the homosexual implications of a ship and a compass, “Are you talking to him?”

“Yes, Zayn, we are at the flat together, we are obviously mates, we are obviously going to be talking.”

“Put me on speaker,” Zayn demands, and Louis sighs again, even more dramatically, and hits the speaker button.

“Harry fucking Styles, I would just like to inform you officially that I will not be talking to you or your idiot boyfriend for the next three days.”

“Lou and I are leaving for Blackpool in t-14 hours, though,” Harry reminds him, and Zayn pauses for the briefest minute.

“Fine, thirty minutes.”

Harry laughs, which, to Louis’ delight, seems to piss Zayn off even more. “What’s got your knickers in a twist, then?”

“Liam told him about the tattoos,” Louis says matter-of-factly, jumping in before Zayn has a chance to utilise every Shakespearean insult he can recall (247. He can recall 247). “Zayn’s been wanting us to get matching tattoos for years, he feels betrayed that I chose you over him in terms of violating my body.”

“Damn right, I violate your body,” Harry drawls, and Louis giggles as Zayn goes off on a tangent about how Louis is violating his own body, really, with that ‘bloody awful spiderweb’.

“How’s it feeling, then?” Harry asks him quietly, gently brushing his fingers over the white gauze taped over the compass on the inside of Louis’ right forearm.

“Peachy,” Louis says. “Yours?”

“It’s all smooth sailing.”

Harry is going to war in 72 hours, and he might come back broken, and he might come back hurt, and he might not come back at all, but when Louis’ fingers flit down to the compass again, he smiles ever-so-slightly.

He can’t make sure Harry’s safe, but he can make sure that Harry and his stupid puns can find a place to come back to.
***
Harry’s got an army regulated hairdo; Louis’ got a few more hours.
***
It’s 2AM on Harry’s last night in Manchester, and Louis and Zayn’s kitchen is officially a barbershop.

“I hope you realise that Louis has no idea what he’s doing,” Zayn tells Harry matter-of-factly. He’s perched on the counter, looking as soft as Louis’ seen him all summer- pants and one of Liam’s old college track and field t-shirts, hair flopping into his eyes without the help of his £20-a-pop gel, stealing bites of Louis’ half-birthday cake straight from the plate.

Harry, who is sitting on a too-small kitchen chair in the middle of the room, laughs, and Louis cuffs him on the back of his curly head.

“That is not true,” Louis says firmly. “I cut Liam’s hair in March.”

“It looked awful,” Zayn reminds him.

“Hey!” Liam calls from the sink, where Niall has enlisted him in touching up his roots with what appears to be a child’s paint brush and several strips of aluminum foil.

Louis ignores him and grabs the scissors from the kitchen drawer. “That’s just because Liam doesn’t look good with a crew cut.”

“You’re such a dick, Lou,” Liam sighs, but it’s fond.

They’re all being very fond, Louis notices, giving both him and Harry long, frequent hugs, treating them to pints, and rejecting even the suggestion of sleeping a second on Harry’s last night in the flat. Louis is torn between wanting to throw up and wanting to shower them all in champagne. Laughing along with them seems like a good compromise.

“You are what you eat,” Niall says sagely.

“Wow, mate,” Harry says. “You must’ve had some odd blowjobs.”

These are my boys, Louis thinks as he drapes the striped towel around Harry’s shoulders. These are my boys. Almost without thinking, he bends down to press a kiss to the crown of Harry’s curls.

“Hey,” Harry says softly, smiling. Louis can’t see his face, but he knows the exactly how Harry must look right now- a slightly crooked grin, left dimple more pronounced then the right.

Louis thinks that that’s what love is, maybe, when you can hear somebody’s smile.

“Hey.” Louis buries his nose in Harry’s curls and breathes him in. “You’re sure you want me to do this?”

“Well, it’s either you or Niall,” Harry tells him, “And I would much rather have it be somebody who speaks the Queen’s English.”

“Oi!” Niall calls, as if anybody could take a small Irish boy who is currently frosting his tips seriously.

“I love you,” Louis laughs.

Harry tilts his head back, looks at Louis upside down. His smile is infectious, and Louis is laughing again as he bends down to kiss him, proper Spiderman style.

“I love you, too,” Harry whispers into Louis’ mouth.

And as Louis picks up the scissors and lets the first curl fall to the linoleum, he hopes that that’s all that matters.
***
Harry says goodbye like it’s for good; Louis wants to drive into the ocean.
***
Harry’s bought all of the lads goodbye gifts.

Liam gets a Batman mask, or, as Harry calls it, a contribution to his sex life. Zayn gets an old fashioned, circular alarm clock from a charity shop that makes awful, screeching animal noises and seems to have been designed without a snooze button. Niall gets a gift card to Nando’s, and Harry’s Ray Bans.

Louis knew about it, of course, helped him pick everything out about a week past during an extended lunch break, but he’s grateful for the aviators that cover up his glassy eyes, because Lord knows that everybody will be seeing him cry plenty in these next few weeks, and he’s not eager to start before Harry’s even left the UK.

They’re all gathered outside of the flat, hovering around Zayn’s car, which is loaded with Harry’s duffel and ready to be driven off a cliff, if needed. The sun is shining on innocently, as if this is just another lovely day in a lovely universe and they’re going on a lovely adventure. Louis grips Harry’s hand tighter in his own and hangs on for dear life.

Harry starts with Liam. “You’re a good man, Li. Sorry I can’t leave you and Zayn any of my camo.”

Liam gives a slightly watery chuckle. “It’s all good, mate.”

Harry looks Liam straight in the eye. “You’re one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met, and I’m so glad that I got to.”

All Liam can do is blink. “Bring it in,” Harry tells him, and Liam lets Harry wrap him up in the arm that’s not attached to Louis.

“Please stay safe,” Louis hears Liam whisper before stepping back and rubbing a hand over his face.

“Zayn,” Harry says next. “Just- thank you. For everything. Like, your flat, and your time, and- and your boy.”

Zayn doesn’t cry, just holds Harry in a vice grip.

“Niall-” Harry starts, but before he can finish, Niall has launched himself at Harry, sobbing into his shoulder, and Louis relaxes his grip on Harry’s hand so that Harry can hold him up with both arms. Niall is saying ‘fuck’ over and over and Harry’s got his eyes squeezed shut and there’s a moment where Louis thinks that Harry might collapse from the weight of it all, and so, without thinking, he wraps his arms around both crying boys.

“It’s OK,” he whispers, to himself as much as Niall and Harry. “It’s OK.” And when Louis feels a slender arm wrap around his waist and a thick one flung across his back, signifying Zayn and Liam’s entrance into this odd little group hug, Louis allows himself to believe, for the briefest second, that he could be speaking the truth.
***
Harry wants a future, and Louis is all in.
***
They’re back at Blackpool, bags stored in the same room in the same pub playing the same song and towels spread out on the same beach in the same town where the same two people met amidst hundreds of moving bodies. It’s startling, though, how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time, how different it all feels. Louis isn’t sure what time it is, just that the sun hasn’t quite set yet and there are people scattered around in the sand all around them, but he can only really see Harry.

“Can we do something?” Harry asks him at one point when they’re just lying in the sand, side by side.

“We can do anything you want, Haz,” Louis tells him.

“I just- I know that nothing's guaranteed, and I swear to God, Lou, if something were to happen to me and you didn’t move on I would come back and haunt you, but, like- I kind of want to talk about the future, with you, I think.”

Louis rolls his head over to the side to meet Harry’s eyes. “You sure?” he asks carefully.

“Yeah,” there’s a small smile playing on Harry’s lips. “I am.”

“Alright, then,” Louis says. His heart is beating irrationally quickly because, OK, Harry’s leaving in a few hours but they’re doing this anyway. It feels practical and it feels reckless. “What do you want to talk about?”

“First, small things, I think,” Harry says. “Like- I get to call home. On Tuesdays.”

“Tuesdays,” Louis echoes.

“So next Tuesday- I could call you, yeah?”

Louis literally laughs at the question in Harry’s voice, the question, honestly, but it’s painful, because Tuesday is four days away but it seems so, so long to go without hearing Harry’s smile, and if he can’t make it to Tuesday, how is he going to make it to March? “You can always call, Harry,” he promises, his voice heavy with truth.

“I love you,” Harry tells him in a similar tone, twisting a little bit to drop a kiss onto the top of Louis’ head. “Alright, moving on. A little bit further.”

“How very daring of you,” Louis teases before he can stop himself. Harry pokes him.

“I’m not going to re-enlist for active duty,” Harry says plainly.

Louis’ breath catches in his throat. “No?”

“No.”

“Haz,” Louis forces himself to say, because compromise works both ways. “If this is about me, or us- you don’t have to stop doing what you want just because-”

“No, Lou,” Harry shakes his head, squints up at the sun as if the words he’s searching for words in the sky. “It’s not- like, I want to stay.”

“Alive?”

“With you.”

“Okay,” Louis says like it doesn’t make him the happiest person in the world. And then, because they’re being honest, he says, “You make me the happiest person in the world.”

Harry blushes crimson, a big, dopey smile stretching across his face, and Louis leans over to kiss him between the ears.

“So how much time do you have left, then?” Louis dares to ask.

“Two years of active duty,” Harry tells him. “Then four reporting monthly to a base close to home, in case of WWIII.”

Two years. Two years but like two years but honestly- two years?- but still, two years.

“Two years,” Louis says. “I can work with two years.”

“Yeah?” Harry asks, as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing. “You don’t have to. Honestly.”

Louis looks at Harry like he’s the craziest boy in the world, because he is, and runs his hand over Harry’s cropped hair. “What comes next then?” he asks firmly, hoping his tone puts the mere notion of him not waiting for Harry to rest.

Harry laughs, a little dazedly. “What do you mean?”

“After the army,” Louis clarifies. “What next?”

Louis studies Harry’s profile, taking in the sight of his furrowed eyebrows, his mouth tight as if he’s trying to keep in words that are fighting to come out.

“What next, Haz?” he asks again, softer.

Harry turns towards Louis, and his green eyes are as light as the ocean crashing in front of them, and they hold a sort of blind hope that Louis is not sure what he did to deserve.

“I’d like to- I’d like to stay in Manchester. With you. Could I- could I do that?”

Louis isn’t sure he’s ever smiled this wide. “Obviously, you dick.”

Harry lets out a deep breath, and a sort of awed smile, and more words start to tumble out of his mouth. “I was thinking- you’ll be teaching, of course, and even writing, but I could go to cooking school, maybe. Get proper qualified. Just a bakery, or a cafe, maybe, with brunch on Sundays, and- and a flat on top of it. Nothing fancy, just- a fire escape, yeah, and some sort of comfy couch that I’ll bring home from the side of the road and you’ll pretend you hate because it smells like hipsters, but we’ll fuck on it anyways, all the time, and- oh, we can paint the bedroom, like, a sage green- yeah, just something for us, homey and small-”

“Not too small, though,” Louis says, unable to stop himself. “We’ve got to have room for-”

“Kids,” Harry breathes.

The magnanimity of what they’ve just done hits Louis like a speeding train. They’re all in, all in in a world where the odds are ten against one against them, but when Louis closes his eyes he doesn’t feel anything but sheer bliss.

“I want to build a life with you.” Louis says quietly, and it’s all he has left and one, two, three, oops, it’s gone now, and Louis couldn’t be happier to see it dancing around in the air between their faces.

“Say it again,” Harry whispers, seemingly stunned, and, right, this is big for him, too, colossal, life-changing.

“I love you,” Louis tells him, “and I want to know you for forever.”

“Again,” Harry demands. “Louder.”

“HARRY STYLES!” Louis shouts, jumping up and screaming it to anyone who’ll hear him. “I WANT TO BE WITH YOU FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!”

“I LOVE YOU, LOUIS TOMLINSON!” Harry yells back, half-laughing, half-crying, and he’s jumped up, now, too, and suddenly they’re kissing, and there’s no technique involved, just the desperate press of their mouths together, promising each other things that aren’t theirs to say, and, well.

“You’ve got me,” Harry whispers, over and over, and each time he says it, Louis’ heart breaks again with how much he wants it to be true. “You’ve got me.”
***
When Louis is fourteen, he learns about the literary present.
***
“No matter what tense a book is written in, we must always discuss it in what is called the literary present,” Mr Davis, the slightly decrepit Introduction to Classic Literature tells the room at large, seemingly uncaring that very few are even pretending to give a fuck. “You say, ‘Elizabeth meets Darcy at a party’, not ‘Elizabeth met Darcy at a party’. ‘Lady Macbeth goes insane with guilt’, not ‘Lady Macbeth went insane with guilt’. ‘Gatsby dies’, not ‘Gatsby died’. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just discussed the end and now you’re using evidence from the beginning- once its written down, everything is always happening, all at once.”

It’s small, just a pointless rule in a pointless lecture, but it fits right into that empty place in Louis’ heart.

It’s because of the literary present Louis begins to write things down, before, after, during- so that everything is always happening, all at once.

Harry is leaving slowly, in bits and pieces, just as Harry and Louis go on their first date. Louis watches the bathroom door for a long time after it closes at the same time that Harry is a journalist and Louis is a prince and they are hopelessly in love. Harry is tired and Louis likes mornings, but then Harry says goodbye like it’s for good, and Louis wants to drive into the ocean. Harry should see other people but at the same time, Harry wants a future, and Louis is all in. Harry’s got an army regulated hairdo and Louis’ got a few more hours, just as Harry’s got demons and Louis wants to dance. Harry’s here and here’s Harry, and then Harry’s leaving Harry’s leaving Harry’s leaving Harry’s leaving. Harry’s left all the lights on and Louis can’t believe he left him, but Louis also can’t decide if he’s angrier with himself or Harry. Louis finds it hard to forget that Harry is going to war in two weeks whilst they get high and Harry makes the now sound like a wonderful place to be. Louis reminds himself that white lies are better than black hearts the same night that Louis’ got a sense of adventure, and Harry’s got a can of spray paint. When Harry calls at twelve, Louis has been waiting for three weeks, but when Harry wakes up, Louis is gone.

Louis meets Harry in a club, in Blackpool, at the very same time that Louis and Harry say goodbye.
***
Louis and Harry say goodbye.
***
Goodbye goes like this:

They’ve stayed up all night, again, and Louis still feels like Juliet tangled up in her sheets, still wishes he could will the sun out of the sky, still wants superglue his fingers in Harry’s curls- but Louis isn’t Juliet, and thank fuck, because she’s not got a very happy ending and he can’t afford to think that he’ll be the same, and willing the sun out of the sky would leave no light left for the houseplant that Harry’s left on Louis’ windowsill, and Harry doesn’t have curls anymore and he’s no less beautiful but Louis knows that he has to let him go, because if he doesn’t let him go he’ll never come back.

It’s not a question, this time, and Louis follows Harry into the shower and lets Harry fuck him up against the wall with suds and a few stray tears running down their cheeks and it’s warm and bittersweet and Louis doesn’t think about how easy it would be for Harry to box Louis up and pack him in his suitcase. Instead, he murmurs sleepy words of adoration in Harry’s ear and relishes in the feeling of Harry coming inside of him- this could be the last time a voice in his head whispers, but he pushes it away and grips the ship tattooed on Harry’s bicep hard enough to leave a bruise and forces himself to just be here, in the now, where he’s loved so fiercely and perfectly and this could be the last time and if it is then it’s going to be perfect, goddamn it.

They don’t speak, much, as they get dressed- Louis small and leagues away from courageous in trackies and Harry’s favourite Ramones tee (he’s not fond of their music, much, but it smells of cigarettes and rain and Harry), Harry tall and strong in his canvas, with his duffle across his shoulder packed full of everything Louis has to give. When they do speak, all they ever really say is ‘I love you’, because that’s all that’s left, really. The car ride to the base is probably the quietest they’ve ever been, because Louis feels like if he opens his mouth too wide, he’ll start screaming and never stop, and when Louis pulls up in the car park next to the tarmac, the only thing keeping him from breaking down is Harry’s hand, held firmly in his.

They’ve talked about what happens next. Harry was the one who brought it up- that they part on their own terms, their own time, that they don’t try to hang on to every last second as if it’s the last one that they’ll ever share together until some big, bad, army man rips Harry out of Louis’ arms- and Louis had found that the idea made him a fraction less nauseous, but. That’s not saying much. Harry comes to Louis rescue for the millionth time- not the last time, please, God, please, please, please- and leans across the seat to pull Louis into him, so tight that Louis can hardly breathe, but in the best way possible.

And when Harry kisses him, deep and thorough, it’s, well.

It’s staying up late on Tuesday nights, and it’s frozen yogurt with a hundred different kinds of fruit mixed in. It’s the way that the pavement smells after it’s just rained, and it’s deep laughs in dark pubs, and it’s dimples deep enough to get lost in. It’s French words that all mean I love you, and it’s jeans with holes in the knees and it’s humid days spent lying on the floor and pointing out constellations on the ceiling at two in the afternoon. It’s two laughs, one clear as day and one low and rumbling, harmonising together on a gritty fire escape in the gritty heart of a gritty city, and it’s happy tears and sad tears and angry tears and pretty tears, and it’s lazy mornings tangled up in soft sheets, and it’s everything that Louis wants for the rest of now and forever, and it’s Harry, it’s HarryHarryHarry, has always been and will always be, and when Louis slips the empty, crushed pack of Marlboro Reds into Harry’s pocket, it’s everything that he wrote on a tiny silver lining and nothing that he didn’t.

Hey, is what he wrote, what happened and what is happening and what will happen.

Goodbye , is what he didn’t.

***

four

***
Louis may not be a poet; but Harry loves him anyways.
***
Zayn and Liam get married one hazy day in late May.

It’s a gorgeous day, truly. When Louis wakes up, it’s to brilliant beams of white gold light filtering in through the blinds, illuminating random objects scattered around the room, natural spotlights falling on bits and pieces of Louis’ life- a small mountain of not-yet-graded essays on the dresser, a clay ashtray by the bed, a faded band t-shirt discarded hastily onto the relatively clean floor- bathing it all in a soft yellow.

“Morning,” Louis yawns, curling instinctively to his side and reaching out to pull Harry closer.

Harry isn’t there.

For a brief moment, Louis travels back in time, back to that first September, the left side of the bed untouched, frozen in the exact way that Harry left it because Louis couldn’t bring himself to change the sheets, for five whole months. He’s back to July, three years ago, when he’d slept starfished in the middle of the pillows until December because attempting to fill up the space with his own limbs was more comfortable than curling up onto the couch. And then, heaven help him, he’s back to two Januarys ago, waking up in their new flat but an empty bed to the shrill sound of the worst kind of phone call.

But when he reaches out to smooth his hand over the empty space that Harry’s left, it’s warm, and Louis can breathe again. He gives himself a few moments to adjust, a familiar ritual of deep breaths and he’s OK, and then he swings himself out of bed and pads down the hall.

Louis finds him in the kitchen- their kitchen. He’s standing over the griddle, in a pair of Louis’ black pants and nothing else, and he’s singing along softly to one of his dumb hipster morning playlists- woke you up with poetry and stones. He’s bathed in the light, too, and there’s a sort of halo cast around him, running from the top of his sleep-mussed curls, along the gentle slope of his nose, framing his strong shoulders and the dark lines of the ship on his bicep and the curve of his arse, illuminating the pink, shiny, jagged flesh that wraps around the back of his left thigh and down his calf. Louis thinks that Harry is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen- thought it when they’d first locked eyes at a club in Blackpool and thinks it now, four years later, as they stand in the flat they’ve bought in a run-down building in Manchester.

“Hey, love,” Louis says softly, voice still buried under a thin layer of sleep. Harry turns instinctively at the sound of Louis’ voice, and his answering smile could light the night sky.

“Morning,” Harry greets, leaning across the counter to give Louis a kiss. Harry tastes like strong coffee and home. “I made Italian roast,” Harry tells him, pushing Louis’ mug over (a garish orange thing that Niall got them as a housewarming gift that reads ‘DECAF IS FOR PUSSIES’). Louis tastes it and makes a face.

“There’s no sugar,” he whines.

“You’re sweet enough,” Harry winks, but he grabs the sugar from a cabinet to his left and sets it down next to Louis, anyways. The kitchen isn’t spacious, by any means- their combined resources couldn’t exactly buy them a palace- but, like the rest of the flat, it’s comfortable and warm and exactly what they want.

“Pancakes, huh?” Louis asks, stirring in a few more teaspoons full than strictly necessary.

“With strawberries, and whipped cream,” Harry nods.

“Big breakfast for a big day,” Louis hums as Harry sets a plate down in front of him. Louis can’t decide if Harry enrolling in culinary school is the best or the worst thing that has ever happened. On one hand, his skills in the kitchen, previously admirable, are now virtually perfect, but on the other, Louis has to go to the gym twice as often to keep his figure.

“Speaking of,” Harry says, sitting down next to Louis at the counter, “Zayn’s called, like, four times.”

Louis eyes the clock, hung above the sink next to the framed edition of the New York Times’ Modern Love with a black byline reading ‘by Louis Tomlinson’, warily.

“It’s before eight,” he says. “Why is Zayn up and calling before eight?”

“People do crazy things when they’re in love,” Harry sighs dreamily, and then he pulls a garish face that’s a cross between a demented Disney princess and Liam’s puppy dog eyes and Louis laughs.

“Don’t they ever.”

Louis waits an hour before he calls Zayn back, taking his time to eat a leisurely breakfast with Harry that may or may not end in someone licking whipped cream off of someone else’s chest, swap lazy kisses under the steady spray of the shower, and spend a good five minutes attempting to tie Harry’s bowtie before he remembers that he’s never quite learned how to do that (Harry calls him an idiot and blows him to prove it). Zayn will be livid, probably, but.

People do crazy things when they’re in love.
***
Harry does bikram yoga on Saturdays and he bought Louis a bedazzled flask last Christmas.
***
“Have you got the rings?”

Anybody but Louis would probably take Zayn’s tone as demanding, but Louis can hear the pure terror in his best mate’s voice, and he laughs because he loves him a lot.

“Yes, darling- I am the best man, that is my job.”

“That and to sleep with the bridesmaids,” Harry adds from behind the wheel, flashing Louis a crooked smile and an exaggerated wink.

Zayn ignores him and plows on, voice crackling through the speakerphone as Harry takes the next exit out of Manchester and towards the venue. “What about the desert?”

“You mean the cupcakes that I baked?” Harry chimes in again. “Zayn, mate, of course we do- calm down.”

Zayn will do no such thing. Louis pictures him pacing in front of a mirror, attempting to keep a straight face because if he frowns or cries or screams too much he could get Lines. “Harry, you’d better not be bringing the cane,” he warns next.

Harry grins slyly, because the mahogany cane with a curved handle is, in fact, in the boot, and Louis clasps a hand over his own mouth to stifle a laugh. Harry only really needed it for three months, but he’s kept around for two years purely because it looks like something out of the nineteenth century and everybody laughs when he brings it out at parties- everybody except for Zayn, of course, who finds hideous things to be personally insulting (Louis also suspects that he doesn’t like to be reminded of Harry’s injuries, but some things are better left joked about).

“I’m an injured soldier, Zayn,” Harry says innocently.

“You dick, it’ll fuck with the wedding pictures, you know it just clashes with the whole fucking colour scheme- why do you keep doing this just to mess with us, like, we do fucking bikram every Saturday and your leg is fucking fine and seriously I will kill you if- oh, and Louis, speaking of photos, if you even think about making that goddamn west side sign, I will cut off your balls and feed them to- Oh my God, wait, Lou, do you have Niall? Tell me you have Niall.”

“I can’t believe you asked about dessert before me,” Niall calls from the backseat, as if he wouldn’t do the same.

“Sorry, Ni,” Zayn sighs.

Louis takes pity on him and takes him off speaker.

“Zayn, love, relax,” he says. “You guys have been together since you were 18, honestly, you’ve got this.”

“What if-” Zayn’s voice is small, “What if he realises that it’s all a mistake?”

“Zayn Malik,” Louis says firmly. “In two hours and-” he checks the time on the car clock, 9:43- “17 minutes, you are going to get married to the love of your fucking life, and it is going to be bloody perfect.”

Zayn is quiet for a second, then, “I don’t deserve him.”

If he were there right now with Zayn, taking swigs of whiskey from the flask that he’s hidden in his jacket pocket and playing with his hair while Zayn attempts to come up with a thousand reasons why Liam is perfect and Zayn too fucked up, too dark, too twisty, Louis would probably shake him and yell at him. He’d yell about how Zayn is the most wonderful person on the planet, that he’s the most deserving person of everything, and then he’d yell about how he’s saved Louis’ life more times than Louis can count, like when he stopped Louis from getting a Cheryl Cole tattoo on his thigh when he was 18 and so, so drunk, and when he nearly burned down the kitchen trying to make Louis chicken noodle soup when he got pneumonia during finals, second year, and when he came up with a crazy plan to get the gang together and drive down to Blackpool together nearly four years ago to the day, and when he slept in Louis’ bed for two weeks after Harry left the first time because he didn’t want Louis to feel too alone, and when he stayed up with Louis for a month when Harry’s squadron was hit by a homemade grenade and Harry’s ribs broken and organs punctured and leg nearly blown off.

Louis thinks that, when they get there in 10 minutes and Harry and Niall go off to give Liam his own pep talk, that’s probably exactly what he’ll do.

“You do,” is all that he says, for now. “You do.”
***
Louis carries Harry’s heart with him (in his heart).
***
It goes off without a hitch, of course. Between Liam’s meticulous organisation and Zayn’s wild creativity and the warm, May sun, it’s impossible that it could be anything but perfect.

A pristine tent on a green lawn, white chairs set into neat rows, daisies in the lapels of the boys’ jackets and in the girls’ bouquets, a path of smooth grey stones leading up to Liam standing tall and proud under a pretty, white arch. Tricia gives Zayn away, and Ruth reads an E. E. Cummings poem. The vows are simple, and sweet, as long as we both shall live repeated in voices thick with adoration, and when it’s all pronounced and they’re allowed, they kiss like they were born to do it.

Over the top of Liam’s head, Harry catches Louis’ eyes, twinkling, and raises his fist to his mouth and pokes at the side of his cheek with his tongue, the universal pantomime for blowjob. Louis has to bite his cheek to keep from laughing.
***
Sometimes, Louis knows Harry like the back of his hand, but always, he’s hopelessly in love.
***
The second that Gemma leaves their little circle to go get another glass of champagne, Harry turns on Niall. Louis knew that it was coming, but he still finds it absolutely hilarious.

“She’s my sister,” Harry hisses. Niall has the decency to look away from Gemma’s retreating arse to offer Harry a half-apologetic shrug.

“She’s fit.”
***
Louis likes it best when Harry’s twirly and golden, but he doesn’t mind when he’s dark and twisty, he just holds him tighter spins them faster.
***
“I danced to this song with Mia King when I was 13,” Harry says thoughtfully as they turn in slow circles, a little buzzed and a lot happy.

“Stop, or you’ll make me jealous,” Louis laughs, head resting on Harry’s chest and hands locked behind his neck.

“You should be, though. She was a very good dancer, Mia. Wonderful twirler.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a word,” Louis tells him. “But if you’d rather be with her, I won’t hold you back.”

Harry wraps his arms tighter around Louis’ waist and rests his head on top of Louis’. “Well you see, Louis,” he says, and yeah, his smile is loud in Louis’ ears, a cheesy grin that overtakes his entire face. “I don’t see what anyone could see in anyone else but you.”
***
Louis is crying and happy, and before Harry he didn’t really know that that was possible.
***
Louis has been planning this moment for years, started gathering embarrassing stories about Zayn to resurrect for his best man speech since the day the Zayn introduced him and Niall to Liam, tripping over his words and looking so ridiculously over-his-head that Louis didn’t stop teasing him about it for days. And yet, when his glass of champagne is raised and the mic is secure in his hands, Louis forgets every drunken night, every bad hair day, every embarrassing sex position.

“Shit, guys,” Louis says instead. “I’m so happy for the two of you that I could cry.”

Harry tugs at his belt loop, and Louis looks down. He looks like sin, like this, jacket cast off and sleeves rolled up and white shirt washed in gold by the thousands of twinkling lights that they all so painstakingly wrapped around the poles yesterday.

“You are crying,” he tells Louis, and the mic must catch it because suddenly everybody is laughing and would you look at that, he is, but Zayn mouths ‘I love you’ over at Louis from where he’s curled up under Liam’s arm and floating on cloud nine, and Louis can’t remember a time where he’s felt this happy.
***
Harry, it turns out, is a poet enough for both of them.
***
It’s nearing one when Louis and Harry decide to take a walk.

It’s a posh venue, but pretty, a big estate with a rolling green lawn, surrounded by woods to keep the commoners out. They skirt around the edges of the property, Louis barefoot and Harry tipsy, clinging onto each other for no real reason except for that they can. The grass is almost purple in the moonlight and the air is cool and a little damp, and the smoke from the last cigarette in Harry’s pack seems to cling to their skin.

“Here,” Harry shoves the empty box into Louis’ hands. “Do your thing.”

Louis laughs, because it’s a thing, now, he’s probably written Harry a hundred little love notes on the linings of cigarette boxes, and he tuts at Harry’s demanding tone, yanks one of his soft curls a little too hard so that Harry yelps and tumbles to the ground dramatically, pulling Louis down with him as he goes. They crumble in a heap, Louis’ feet landing somewhere near Harry’s sternum and the box tumbling out of Louis’ hands.

“Oi!” Harry cries, but he’s laughing as Louis attempts to untangle himself from Harry’s long limbs, his teasing voice ringing out through the silence. “I wanted one of your little cigarette-wrapper poems, not your arse crushing my chest.”

“You love my arse, whether it’s crushing your chest or riding your dick.”

“You caught me,” he grins, wrapping an arm around Louis’ shoulders as Louis manages to roll off of his boyfriend and into the grass beside him, propping his head up on Harry’s chest and indulging in his very favourite past time of Listening To Harry’s Heartbeat To Make Sure He’s Really Here.

“I’m out of poems,” Louis tells him sleepily, too far gone for this night and this love and this boy. “It’s your turn.”

Louis lets out an indignant cry as Harry rolls over lazily, crushing Louis’ smaller body into the ground underneath him, and reaches a long arm over to snag the empty carton from where it’s fallen, a few feet away, in their little tumble. “Relax, you’re so annoying,” Harry sighs as Louis attempts to push him up and off to no avail. Harry sits up carefully, folding his legs up and gesturing for Louis to do the same, so that they sit face to face in the grass, far away from the white tent with the golden lights but lit up bright just the same. Harry turns the box over and over in his hands, a funny little smile on his face, and Louis crosses his arms impatiently.

“I’m waiting,” Louis informs him.

“So annoying,” Harry says again, and Louis doesn’t even bother to conceal his grin as Harry carefully tears the silver foil out before tossing the carton aside. “So, you want a poem?”

“Yeah,” Louis nods eagerly, and then, as Harry starts folding the foil the long way, so that it’s a thin, shiny, strip- “What are you on about, Harold? Have you learned nothing from all my carefully constructed stanzas?”

“No,” Harry half-slurs, brows furrowed as his fingers twist the foil into a clumsy sort of circle. “Please, enlighten me, Mr Pink Diary.”

“That’s Mr Modern Love, to you,” Louis says, putting on his best posh accent. “Now, the key to a nice, Tomlinson-style, good-luck, sorry-I-smoked-your-last-cigarette, I-love-you poem is that you always have to start it with-”

“Hey.”

Louis’ eyes snap up from Harry’s now still hands to meet his dancing eyes. There’s something in his gaze- some sort of intent, some sort of fire- that makes Louis shiver and stop in his tracks and just.

“Hey,” Louis breathes. They’re close, they always are, and even in the silky blue of the night, Louis’ eyes trace every contour of Harry’s face, from the sharp slope of his nose to the light catching in his eyes to the slow smirk spreading over his face.

“I love you,” Harry tells him. And, like, Louis probably hears those words a hundred times a day at this point, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of it.

“I love you, too,” he says.

It’s still, except for the quirk of Harry’s lips and Louis’ heart beating rapid fire against his ribcage because something is about to happen, something big, and Harry knows and he doesn’t and he hates not knowing (but he loves Harry, so maybe it balances out).

Slowly, very slowly, Louis feels one of Harry’s warm hand reach out to grab his own. He closes his eyes almost involuntarily at the touch, at how much bigger Harry’s hand is than his, at the gentle way Harry brushes calloused fingers over his knuckles, at the soft brush of lips that slide over his as Harry slides a tinfoil ring onto his left hand and- oh.

Oh.

“Wanna marry me?” Harry murmurs in his ear.

His voice is soft, but his smile is positively screaming.

Louis leans over, and kisses him for an answer.