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Never Let Me Go

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PROLOGUE

2 nd January, 2007

 

Friends don’t treat me like you do
Well I know there’s a limit to everything
But my friends won’t love me like you
No, my friends won’t love me like you
          — Friends, Ed Sheeran 

 

 

 

“C’mon, baby. I’m so close…”

Louis shuts his eyes, letting the pleasure of the moment overtake him. A mounting tension and warmth in his belly threaten to explode any minute now. He fucking loves getting his cock sucked - sue him - and boy, oh boy , this bloke’s really good. And he’s definitely fit, too. What’s his name again? Hendrick? Harrison? Something like that. Wasn't Hershel, that's for sure. That one was last week.

Louis tangles his hand in the guy’s hair, tugging slightly, his hips thrusting faster and harder into the guy’s mouth, fucking it relentlessly. And he’s got such pretty lips, so rosy, so glossy…

“I’m gonna… Oh God, I’m gonna come,” he pants, before emptying his load into that pretty mouth. A moan eases out of his throat. Damn. That was nice.

The guy swallows, then meets Louis’ gaze. He licks his lips seductively. He’s got nice hazel eyes, too. Too bad green eyes are his personal favourite. Well, you can’t always get what you want, can you?

“This was aces, man. Cheers,” Louis says, stretching to high-five the guy.

Just then, the tones of SexyBack by Justin Timberlake and Timbaland blasts in the room. Louis jumps at the sound.

“Shit, Hector, have you seen my phone?” he asks, starting to check his trouser pockets.

“It’s on the desk,” the guy says, heading to the bathroom. “And, by the way, it’s Hayden.”

Louis raises a thumb to acknowledge him, not bothering to apologize. He’s concentrating on the contact name flashing on his phone screen.

“Hey, H,” he says, grinning. “Guess what I’ve been doing? Or, well, who… this guy is, like, amazing at giving head, seriously. It’s a…”

A stunted sob from the phone stops his ranting. A crease forms on Louis’ forehead.  

“Haz? Harry, are you okay?”

“Lou, Josh… He d—” the voice over the phone breaks.

“Harry?” Louis frowns harder. “Talk to me, Haz, I’m getting worried here. What has he done?”

“He dumped me, Lou.”

Louis can hear sniffling.

“Oh, H,” he sighs. “I’m so sorry, babe. Where are you now?”

“I’m at this restaurant he brought me to. We had a fight, and then he broke up with me, and he just left.”

“Text me the name, will you?” Louis starts pulling on his trousers, looking around for the shirt he chucked somewhere in the room. “I’m on my way, okay? We’re gonna get pissed, and we’re gonna have fun, and you will forget about that twat in a heartbeat. I promise, love.”

Harry sniffs one more time. “Thanks, Lou,” he says sadly before hanging up.

Louis slips into his Vans without bothering to tie them.

Where the fuck did he put his shirt, for God’s sake?

His eyes wander through the room, meeting Hayden’s unimpressed gaze.

“You’re leaving.”

Louis shrugs his shoulders. “Sorry, mate. Something came up.”

Oh. Here it is, the bloody shirt, hidden by a stupid pillow.

“You owe me an orgasm, mate.” Hayden crosses his arms on his chest.

And… why did Louis hook up with him again? The guy’s so fucking boring. And his voice sounds as flat as day-old Coke. What had he seen in him? Louis rolls his eyes. That must be the reason he only let him suck his cock.

“Like I said, something’s come up,” Louis fakes a grin. “I’ll make it a double next time, darling.”

“There’ll be a next time?” Hayden says, lifting his lip with a thin hope.

Dear God, boring boring boring.

Louis pats him on the shoulder.

“Ha. Sorry, mate. Nice blowie, though. Really enjoyed it,” he says, before leaving the guy’s flat without turning back.

 

 

 

 

Less than an hour later, Louis enters the restaurant where Harry should be, looking for his friend.

Louis locates him almost immediately, sat all by himself, playing with the headscarf in his hands. He also looks so, so lovely. He’s in a red and blue plaid shirt, left unbuttoned on a simple white tee that shows off his collarbones and the sparrows he got tattooed just below – that represent himself and Louis, by the way, ‘cause yeah, they’re the kind of friends who get matching tattoos – paired with extremely skinny jeans and dark chocolate brown Chelsea boots. Just a shade darker than his hair. Louis’ heart breaks a little at the thought of his friend dressing up for a cunt who clearly did not deserve him.

“Hey, Haz,” he greets, slipping in to sit next to him. Louis can't help smiling when he sees that Harry’s frown disappears as soon as he spots Louis.

“Lou!” he exclaims, dimples deep as a canyon, making Louis’ insides melt. He might or might not have a soft spot for Harry’s dimples. So? Sue him. Who doesn’t?

“You came,” Harry says, inching closer.

“Of course I came, silly,” Louis bats him on the nose, and then he pulls him in for a hug, leaving a kiss on Harry’s curls. The curls are getting longer and longer these days...

Harry leans in in the touch, hugging him back, sighing happily. He rests his head on Louis’ shoulder, closing his eyes.

“How are you doing, baby? You seemed pretty upset on the phone, got me a bit worried.”

“Awww, sorry, Lou. I’m much better now that you’re here, though.”

Louis grins, hugging him tighter. “Glad to hear it, love. Also, I brought you your birthday present!”

“But, Louis” Harry frowns, detangling from him in order to look him in the eyes. “There’s still, like, a whole month left before my birthday.”

“Whatever, Haz. You were sad. I needed to cheer you up so I quickly stopped at home before going back to you. And here you are, your early birthday gift.”

Louis gives Harry a disastrously wrapped present, knowing that Harry won’t care. In fact, the boy just beams at him and starts to open it.

As soon as Harry spots what’s inside the box, Louis can see some tears forming in the corners of his eyes. Harry scrunches up his nose.

“Oh, c’mon Haz, don’t cry! The waiter is gonna think I’ve just broken your heart, too.”

Harry seems offended at the very thought. “You would never,” he declares, leaning in to hug Louis again.

“This is beautiful, Lou. I love it,” Harry says, a secret smile on his lips. “I really do.”
Louis feels his cheeks heating up.

“Don’t go all sappy on me now. It’s not a big deal,” he shrugs. “It’s just an old picture.”

But that’s not true, and Louis knows it. It’s more than an old picture, that's why he picked it for a portrait. It’s one of the first pictures of the two of them, taken three years prior, just after they had met. Neither of them was looking into the camera. They hadn’t even noticed someone was photographing them, too busy staring at each other. Harry was pouting ridiculously, hair much shorter, shoulders way smaller. And Louis, sporting an incredibly embarrassing haircut, was laughing heartily at him.

Harry was sixteen when he had moved to Doncaster with his mum and sister. He had been the goofy new guy who enrolled in school in the middle of the year. He talked too slowly and sounded too posh, and that was enough for a bunch of kids to start making fun of him.

Louis was a flamboyant eighteen-year-old, with a passion for awkward red trousers and the musical Grease, proud of his status as a senior student.

After witnessing a scene of some guys heartlessly mocking Harry, Louis had decided to take the younger boy under his wing. And they had been attached by the hip ever since.

Even their mums and siblings had become friends, after being forced to spend so much time together because of their close friendship. One year Louis might or might not have insisted that his mother invited Harry and his family to spend Christmas with them as he might miss him. In fact, not a day went by without their hanging out together. After graduating, Louis had even waited for Harry to finish high school as well, sticking around in Donny for a bit longer, so that they could move to London together as they’d always dreamed of.

And that’s what they had done. Look at them now: older, and wiser (well, Harry was, at least), and tougher (well, Louis was, because Harry was still a ridiculous sap), and prettier (both of them, definitely, even if Louis had to admit that Harry might be a tad bit cuter. But Harry has dimples, so it’s not like it’s a fair game), and still very much the bestest of friends.

And right now, Harry’s looking at Louis like he hung the fucking moon.

“Lou,” Harry murmurs, his eyes glimmering, “this is the best gift I’ve ever gotten.”

Louis’ grin grows wider. He can’t help it. “I’m happy you like it, Haz. And just so you know, I got myself an identical one and put it on my night table.”

“Awww, Lou, are you saying that I’ll be the last thing you’ll look at before sleeping and the first thing you see when you wake up?” Harry teases. He nudges Louis with his elbow, smiling. “I’ve always known there was a hopeless romantic in you.”

Louis rolls his eyes in response. “Shut up, Harold. I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for yourself,” he mumbles under his breath. “I’m not the one who believes in soulmates and everlasting love and that kind of shit, thank God. Love is overrated anyway. Who needs a relationship when you can have a good fuck and then hang out with your best mate?”

Harry furrows his brows. “Everyone needs love, Lou. Don’t you know the song? All you need is love?”

“That’s a bullshit sentiment that may have worked back in the loved-up ‘60s, Harry, not now,” Louis replies. “I mean, how many long-lasting relationships do you know, anyway?” He raises an eyebrow. “Look at your mum. Look at me mum, for fuck’s sake, she got married three times and not one man has stuck around!”

Harry sighs, the corners of his mouth pointing down. “Just because it didn’t work for them it doesn’t mean we won’t find someone,” he whispers, voice getting thinner.  

“And maybe, just maybe, someday you’ll grow out this childish dream of a fairytale happily-ever-after, and realise that there’s only one thing that makes the world spin, and that’s good, great, fantastic sex,” Louis says. His tone is half serious, but there’s a smile on his lips. “But enough, Harry!” he adds, and smirks. “I promised you a night of alcohol and fun and that’s exactly what we’re gonna have!”

 

 

 

 

Four beers, two cocktails, and a couple of shots later, they definitely achieved the alcoholic part of the night. The fun one, though, not so much.

In fact, Harry has apparently managed to grow even more miserable and sad as the night proceeded.

Right now, he’s just glaring at the almost empty glass he has in front of him, shoulders low, brows knitted together.

“Harry,” Louis runs a hand through Harry’s hair. “I promised you fun and you’re not having fun right now, love,” he says, trying not to sound too worried. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s just…” Harry’s brows knit even more. “I was thinking about what you said before. About love, and soulmates, and relationships, you know? And… what if you’re right, Lou?” he adds, voice breaking. “What if I never find anyone?”

“Oh, c’mon, H. You’re being tragic now. I’m the entitled drama queen here,” Louis tries to laugh, fading to a sigh when he gets no reaction from Harry.

He tries not to focus on the other boy’s trembling bottom lip. He fails.

“Okay, look at me, Hazza,” he says, gently lifting his friend’s chin to meet his gaze. Harry’s eyes are big and innocent and trusting, an endless pit of green and gold.

“First of all,” he starts, “of course you’re gonna find someone, baby. Just because Josh is a blind, deaf, emotionless cretin, it doesn’t mean everyone’s like him. And I assure you, everyone in this world, every single human being, would be goddamn lucky to get the chance to love you and to be loved by you, okay? You’re an amazing person. Honestly. I have no doubts you’re gonna find someone worthy of you.” Louis smiles, tangling his hand with Harry’s and squeezing it.

“Actually,” he adds, “I'm not really sure about the worthy part. I don’t reckon there’s anyone worthy of you, Curly.”

“I dunno,” Harry mumbles, shaking his head. “What if I do end up alone, though? I can already see myself in ten years. I’ll be thirty – basically an old man – and lonely and unloved and unwanted by anyone except the four or five cats I’ll surely have.”

“Don’t be silly, H,” Louis scolds. “There’ll be at least seven cats.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “You don’t get it,” he whispers, frowning, letting his curls slip forward enough to partially cover his face.

And, c’mon. How is Louis supposed to handle it? He can’t stand this too soft and too sad version of Harry, so close to resemble the sixteen-year-old boy crying because everyone would make fun of him. He just can’t. He needs to do something. He needs to. Louis bites on his lower lip, trying to focus. He’s too drunk.

And then it clicks.

“Harry! I’ll tell you what,” Louis exclaims, clapping his hands together. There’s a big grin on his face. “If both of us are still single by your thirtieth birthday, we’ll marry each other.”

Harry’s head snaps up, eyes widening. “What?”

“Yeah! If neither of us will have found someone to settle down with, we’ll marry each other. It’s a wonderful idea, innit?”

Harry opens his mouth, and then closes it. And then opens it again. He really does look like a frog, but a cute one. An extremely cute one.

“Are you shitting me, Louis?” he asks, frowning, and what the hell? He’s not supposed to frown anymore. That was the whole point.

“Stop frowning, love, please,” Louis pleads. “I’m not shitting you. I mean it. I promise. I’ll swear it on me mum, if you want.” Louis brings his left hand to his heart, and nods. “Actually, you know what? You should put this down. You’re gonna become one fancy lawyer, right? Write a contract, and I’ll sign it.”

And Harry finally laughs, throwing his head back. “You got it, Lou! I’ll do it right now,” he says.

Harry stretches to grab a paper napkin and a pen from the next table. He starts writing, brows wrinkled, the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips.

“All right. Sign here,” Harry says. Louis, half smiling, takes the napkin and writes his name. His signature looks a bit shaky – too much alcohol – but it’s readable. It’ll do.

“There you go,” Louis hands him back the napkin, smiling broadly. “Show this to me in ten years, and I’ll marry you.”

“Lou,” Harry’s looking at him with stars in his eyes. “Are you serious?”

“Well, I signed, right?” Louis jokes. “Plus, you’re the only one who could possibly lead me to marriage anyway, Harry. Seriously. I would get annoyed by anyone else.”

Harry says tentatively, “Are we really doing this? Is this for real?”

“Yeah, Harry, I told you,” Louis nods, squeezing Harry’s shoulder. “This is a real deal.”

“So…” Harry clears his throat. “Should we seal it?”

And, well, has Harry always been this close? He’s so close to Louis, Louis could easily count his eyelashes, one by one. And his lips, what the hell? Louis never noticed how pink they are (okay, that's a lie. He has).

“Tell me, Curly, how do you suggest we seal it?” Louis says, smirking.

“A kiss would do, I reckon.” Harry’s voice is so damn low and husky. Louis swallows. 

“Yeah, I reckon a kiss would be appropriate,” Harry adds. His gaze lowers. Is he looking at Louis’ lips? Fuck. Louis’ enjoying this piece of information way too much.

“Well, you’re the expert here,” Louis tries to joke, but his own voice has dropped, too. “And tell me, Styles, are you planning on sealing all of your future deals as an attorney with a kiss? ‘Cause I think your clients might be willing to queue for that…”

“No,” Harry says, suddenly serious, no trace of a smile left on his face. “No. Just you.”

He leans in, touches his lips to Louis’, and they’re kissing. It’s sweet and tentative, at first, just lips brushing on lips, sheepishly chasing each other.
Louis can hear Harry sigh, and then Harry’s hand is on his neck, bringing him even closer. Harry opens his mouth and lets his tongue caress Louis’ lips, and Louis let go, allowing it. And suddenly, it’s that type of kisses where teeth collide.

Now, Louis has had a fair number of kisses in his twenty-two years of life. He's had lascivious, tentative, wet, sneaky, fast, hard, drunken, seductive kisses. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare to this one.

Harry takes control and Louis immediately grows pliant under him. Their lips are soft against each other, their tongues enlaced in a dance. Louis is trying not to moan aloud. The kiss is wild and hungry and fierce, but also so warm— no, it’s fucking hot, and Louis’ burning from the inside.

He doesn’t know how long they keep kissing, but when they untangle themselves from each other, they’re both breathless. They look away almost immediately, clearly taken aback.

Harry’s curls are messy, his cheeks rosy, his eyes dark. His pupils fill his eyes, rimmed by a halo of golden green. He looks amazing. So fucking handsome.
Louis’ head is spinning and he’s not sure it’s because of the alcohol.

“So,” Harry mumbles, his voice still rough. “Do we have a deal?”

“Yeah,” Louis’ breathing is still uneven. “Yeah, we have a deal.”

 

Chapter Text

Ten years later

2 nd January, 2017

 

 

Life can get you down so I just numb the way it feels

I drown it with a drink and out-of-date prescription pills

And all the ones that loved me, they just left me on the shelf

No farewell

So before I save someone else, I've got to save myself

And before I blame someone else, I've got to save myself

And before I love someone else, I've got to love myself

— Save Myself, Ed Sheeran

 

 

 

 

What Louis likes most about sex – correction, one of the things he likes the most about sex – is the absolute supremacy of the senses. He doesn't have to think, he just has to feel. He wants to feel it all.

Like, for instance, right now.

At this moment, he can touch the soft skin of the hips flexed in front of him. Feel the contractions in the muscles of the man’s arse cheeks. Touch the dimples on his back, deepened by this position.

And taste the come in his own mouth from when he gave him a blowjob, earlier. It's a bit sour, a bit bitter. It burns a little, but somehow it’s still good.

And he can hear the moans, the groans, the oh-my-god-yeah’s, the yes-right-there’s, the please-please-don’t-stop’s. And of course, he can hear the wet, rhythmic noise of his own cock pulling out and slamming back in the other guy’s arse.

There’s the unmistakable smell of sex, a mixture of sweat, body heat, fluids, and lube.

And he can see this handsome man on his hands and knees, his dark hair shaken by their thrusts, his legs trembling. He can see his own dick buried balls deep in his hole and he likes what he sees. Yeah. He likes it a lot.

He can feel all of this, and so much more . He can feel the tension gathering in his stomach, the sparks rushing through his bloodstream, and the heat pooling low in his groin, and he can feel himself breathing heavily, being on edge, the very edge… and then it’s too much, and Louis let go, and he’s coming, relief blowing up in his veins, eyelids shuttering, hot spurts filling the condom.

Once he’s come down, he collapses on the bed, panting. The boy cuddles up next to him. Louis ignores him, too focused on trying to recover.

What’s his name again? Fuck, why can't Louis never remember names? Certainly the ass is memorable. He’ll be thinking about this ass. The name, not so much.

He brushes a hand through his hair, his eyes closed. There’s just enough blood flow through his brain to enjoy the rush of the orgasm. Lucas? Luke? Ludicrous?

“God, that was great, Louis. You’re wonderful!” the guy says, smiling. Lube. Lumos. Luna Lovegood!

“Thanks Lu— uhm, thanks, man. You too,” Louis replies. Without turning, Louis pats him on the arm. His other hand drapes across his face, sweaty.

A marimba phone alert suddenly starts playing, making them both jump.

“Is that yours or mine?” Louis says, too tired to actually check.

The guy fumbles with the clothes piled on the floor. “Yours, apparently.” He picks it up, and takes a look at the contact name. “Someone saved as a banana emoji is facetiming you,” he says, raising an eyebrow.

“Give that to me,” Louis rushes. He takes his phone and slides his finger on the screen to accept the call.

Harry’s handsome face immediately appears.

“Hey, H!”

“Hi, Lou,” Harry smiles, scrunching up his nose. “Is this a bad time?”

“No, babe, it’s all good. I’ve already taken care of my duties,” Louis chuckles. “Twice, actually,” he adds, rotating the screen to show Luke’s (or Lucas’, or whatshisname’s) face. “He was quite good.”

“Hiii,” Harry says. He shakes his hand as a greeting. His cheeks are slightly reddened. “You guys—uhm— alright?” he furrows his brows. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you.”

“Don’t be silly, H. You never bother me,” Louis answers, waving his hand in front of the screen. “We’re done here.” Louis glances at his sex partner. “Right? So. Isn't Micheal supposed to be there already? Is he running late again?”

Harry takes a sip from a glass of red wine. “Yeah, about that…” he looks down at his lap. “He left.”

“What? Why? Weren’t the two of you supposed to have dinner together?” Louis frowns. “I thought you spent the afternoon cooking.”

Harry brushes a hand through his curls. He bites his lip and looks away, shrugging his shoulders. “We kinda broke up.”

“No way!” Louis exclaims.

“That’s shit, man,” the Luke/Lucas guy jumps in. Louis gives him a deadly glare.

“Well, that’s shit for him. I’ve always said he was an arsehole,” Louis says consolingly.

“I mean, I don’t know.” Harry wrinkles his forehead. “This one’s probably on me. And you know I try not to blame the boyfriends, I'm far from perfect myself.”

I’m far from perfect, he says,” Louis repeats, dramatically. His pitch grows higher. “You're wrong, Haz. You are perfect. In every way. Especially right now. You're better off without that self-centered, badly dressed, fuck-faced git.”

Harry laughs, opening his arms. “Do you wanna come over? I made dessert.”

“Of course, babe. I’ll see you in a bit,” Louis replies. There’s no reason to delay, isn’t it? Harry needs him. Louis clicks off and gets ready to go.

“Can I come too?” Luke/Lucas asks him.

“What?” Louis turns around. He frowns. “Why would you wanna come? You don’t even know him.”

“Are you kidding me?” The guy raises his brows and shrugs. “Your friend’s smoking hot, and he’s just broken up with his boyfriend. Maybe he’ll need a shoulder to cry on, you know?”

Louis’ eyebrows snap up to his hairline. “Yeah, he’s already got that,” he says, unimpressed. “And FYI, that would be me,” he specifies, sassiness clearly audible in his voice.

“Shit. Sorry, man,” Luke/Lucas raises his hands apologetically. “I didn’t know that you were— that it was like that. I didn't realise you had feelings for the guy.”

Louis almost chokes while slipping back into his trousers.

“I don’t,” he says. “Jesus. What makes you say that? I don't. But he’s my best friend and you should keep your distance, man.

Luke/Lucas snaps his tongue. “If you say so, Louis,” he laughs.

Louis rolls his eyes, tugging on his jean jacket. He swims in it because it used to be Harry’s, and maybe that's why Louis loves it so much. Harry had lent it to him one night, years ago. Louis had been complaining about the cold, being the little shit he always is, and Harry had silently draped the jacket around Louis’ shoulders. Since then, it has always been Louis’ favorite jacket. It might be a little too big on him, but it’s warm and smells like Harry. Somehow it reminds him of home.

Louis had never given it back, and Harry never asked about it. But a little smile always crept onto Harry’s lips any time he saw Louis wearing it, and Louis noticed.

“Well,” Louis says, addressing the other guy, “Thanks. I’ll see ya.” He turns around to leave.

“Call sometime!” the guy yells at him. “By the way, it’s Landon.” Whatever. You're in the rear view mirror now, pal. “Or tell your friend to call me!”

Yeah, dude.

What about no.

 

 

 

 

 

“Finally!” Harry beams at him as soon as he opens the door. “Get in here.”

Louis breathes a sigh of relief, noticing happily that his friend doesn’t look too heartbroken.

He follows Harry into his flat, and his eyes crinkles at the view of the portrait he gave him so many years ago. It’s prominently displayed on the shelf next to the door, visible as soon as one walks in.

“You know, it still feels weird we’re not living together anymore, even if it’s been like… two years already,” he observes.

Harry nods, handing him a beer. “I know, right? I don’t think I’m used to living on my own yet either. I still miss you no matter how many years have passed.”

“What a hopeless sap you are!” Louis laughs, slapping Harry on the ass.

“Heyyy,” Harry pouts, “You started it.”

Louis laughs, sipping his drink. He won’t admit it out loud, but he might miss Harry, too. They had decided to part when the owner of their previous flat had basically kicked them, and the other people they were sharing the flat with, out because he suddenly needed a place to move in with his girlfriend. Louis had been thirty and Harry twenty-eight, and both of them were earning enough money. It was embarrassing to still be sharing a place. It had seemed like the right thing to do.

“So,” Louis clears his throat, as he sits down at the dining table. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

Harry shrugs. “No, not really, to be honest.”

Louis nods. “Okay, Haz. But can I just ask why you guys broke up?”

“I mean…” Harry scrunches his cheek. “He said we weren’t really spending all this time together anyway…’cause, you know, we are both so busy with our jobs and stuff…”

“That’s not even true,” Louis interrupts him, shaking his head. “Was he talking only about himself? I mean, yeah, you’re super busy because of your career, but you always find the time to hang out with me, so you clearly know how to carve out time.”

Harry lowers his gaze, biting his lower lip. Is he blushing? Louis can’t understand what Michael's problem is. Harry is – was – Michael's boyfriend. If Michael couldn’t even invest a little time with Harry, couldn’t fucking protect his man, couldn’t fucking keep his man…

“Michael said I’m spending all my free time with you,” Harry admits. “He spent like twenty minutes ranting about how often I see you compared to how often I saw him.”

Louis opens his mouth. What the fuck?

“What the fuck?” Louis is fuming, “The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Well,” Harry clears his throat, and lowers his gaze. “I might have stood him up a couple of times to hang out with you.”

“And so what?” Louis replies. “How many times did that happen? Once, twice?” He rolls his eyes. “I bet he’s making a fuss over nothing.”

Harry seems suddenly very interested in the shape of his own nails. He mutters something indecipherable. Louis frowns. “What?”

A flush creeps down Harry’s neck. “I said, maybe a little more than that,” he murmurs.

“Like when, for instance?”

“Well,” Harry brushes a hand through his hair, still not looking Louis in the eyes. “There was one time when he had asked me to meet some friends of his, but you came down with the flu, so I couldn’t leave you alone, could I? And then when he surprised me with the tickets for Wicked, but I had already made plans with you.” He chews on his lower lip, and shifts his weight. “Then, you remember that time you asked me to watch the Sense8 Christmas Special together? I was supposed to go to a work dinner with him,” Harry chuckles awkwardly, “and I guess he didn’t appreciate that I preferred staying in watching Netflix with you.” He bites the inside of his cheek, and finally meets Louis’ eyes. “You know how much I love Sense8,” he adds, shrugging, his cheeks still reddened.

Louis nods, and pats Harry on his knee. “Of course I do, babe,” he answers, “we had been waiting for that episode for a lifetime. And it had been up for a week already! Of course you wanted to watch it.”

Harry blushes even more. “Exactly,” he mumbles, “it’s not like it was because of you or something.” He scratches his ear. “Michael completely misinterpreted. He doesn’t get how good Sense8 is.”

“See?” Louis opens his arms. “He’s a dick. You shouldn’t trust someone who doesn’t like Sense8.”

Harry giggles. “Shut up,” he says, but he’s still smiling, and it doesn’t leave his eyes, not even when he starts telling Louis about Michael again. “And then there was the whole Christmas Eve Eve mess, of course,” Harry adds. He starts playing with his curls, and hollows his cheeks in. And yes , Louis does remember the whole Christmas Eve Eve mess.

Harry had always spent the midnight of Louis' birthday with him, even if they would have seen each other the day after anyway. It was one of their traditions, one that Louis was most fond of.

So that year, like every year, Louis and Harry had spent the night together, going from bar to bar. Harry had sang him happy birthday Boobear and gave him his present, and hugged the shit out him. And then they had drunk some more.

Around one AM, Harry had mentioned that Michael was throwing a party at his place, and that maybe they could go say hi, and even if Louis hated Michael, he had been too drunk to refuse.

So they had gone to Michael's, only to find that everybody had already left. And Michael was sitting on his couch, in the dark, sipping on a glass of whiskey.

“Cheers, mate,” Louis had chuckled, and Harry had tried in vain to contain his giggles. But Michael had completely ignored him, cocking his head to look at Harry.

“Can we talk in private, Harry?” he had asked, and only then he had turned to look at Louis, his eyes sending daggers towards him.
Louis had felt Harry going tense next to him, but the younger man had nodded anyway. He had squeezed Louis' arm, and followed Michael into another room.
Louis had slipped on the couch, and sighed. And then the loud yelling started.

Harry was obviously trying to keep his voice low, but Michael wasn't.

“I can't believe you stood me up like this! There were all my friends here, all of them, and all of my colleagues, and you weren't!”

Harry had said something Louis hadn't managed to get, then it was Michael’s turn again. “I’ve never been this humiliated in my whole life, never—” he had started, but Harry must have interrupted him. And then Michael was screaming again. “I don't care, Harry, I'm your fucking boyfriend! Do you even remember that?”

A pause, Harry had said something. Some more yelling. “It mattered to me! Don't you get it? You matter to me. But I don't think you can say the same thing.”

Louis had rolled his eyes. God, Michael was being so overdramatic.

Louis had heard some sobs coming from the other room, and his first instinct had been to go and check on Harry immediately, but he had forced himself to stay still. He had clenched his fists, his nails hurting the soft skin on the back of his hand. If Michael made Harry cry...

For a while, the tone of the conversation had seemed to cool down, then Michael had yelled again. “You're not even arguing with me, you're just standing there like a statue! Do you even care?” His voice had been broken, and his breath uneven. “You missed my party, and look at you! You're completely drunk, and you were with him all night, like always... don't you see what he does to you?”

“Stop talking about him!” Harry had raised his voice for the first time. “You don’t get it,” he had added.

“Oh, I think I do,” had been Michael’s bitter reply. They had continued screaming for a few more minutes, then Harry had stormed out of the kitchen, and given Louis a poignant look. His eyes were dry, with no sign of tears in them – Louis had immediately noticed – and cold.

“C'mon, Lou, we're leaving,” that's all Harry had said, and Louis had stood up immediately.

Michael was looking at them with a miserable expression on his face. “You don't give a shit about this, do you?"

Harry hadn't even glanced at him. “I'm not gonna talk to you as long as you keep talking shit,” he had said, his voice sharp as a knife.

"At least I'm doing something!" Michael had exclaimed, shaking his head.

Harry had placed a hand on the small of Louis' back, and had led him to the door. “I hope you have a lovely Christmas,” he had said, icy, walking out, and then had slammed the door behind them.

He had crashed at Louis’ that night, and the morning after they had driven to Doncaster together. Harry's phone rang at least five times during the road trip, but he never picked up and, as far as Louis knew, Harry didn’t speak to Michael the entire time he stayed in Donny.

Louis stretches to take Harry’s hand, and squeezes. “That wasn’t your fault either,” he says, “Michael exaggerated. As usual. It was my fucking birthday, of course you’d stay with me.”

Harry smiles, but his eyes are sad. He squeezes Louis’ hand back. “Thank you,” he mumbles, “but I think you’re too biased, Lou. You never see my flaws.”

“Not true,” Louis retorts, “he’s a dick, H. That’s it.”

Harry slowly shakes his head. “What if I’m the dick here, Lou?”

Louis stands up, and takes Harry in his arms, hugging him. Harry leans in immediately.

“You’re not a dick, love,” Louis murmurs through Harry’s hair. Harry’s smell fills his nostrils, and Louis sighs happily. “And anyway, everybody is a bit of a dick from time to time,” he adds, drawing circles on Harry’s back. “Don’t stress yourself.”

Harry rubs his nose on Louis’ neck. “Thanks, Lou,” he whispers.

“Of course,” Louis answers, grinning, untangling himself. “That’s my duty as your best friend, right?”

Harry’s face falls. “Yeah, sure,” he sighs. He stands up, and shakes his head. “Let’s just drop it, Lou, okay? I don’t wanna talk about it,” he mumbles, and then disappears into the kitchen.

When he comes back five minutes later, with food, he’s smiling again. Thank God.

“How was your day, by the way?” Harry asks, starting to serve the main course.

“Oh, you know, same old same old,” Louis shrugs. “Being a cop is much less exciting than it may seem. What about you? Michael aside, I mean.”

“It’s been a good day,” Harry beams, dimples popping, “Perrie and I went to court for the hearing for the Fraser case, and…” he makes a pregnant pause, and takes a sip of wine. “We won.”

“Aw, look at you, goin’ all Annalise Keating on me,” Louis chuckles. “Congrats, love! This requires a toast.”

They clink their glasses together, and make small talk while eating, sharing stories and laughing with each other. When they’re done, Harry takes away the dirty dishes to the kitchen, and then comes back with a huge plate of strawberries dipped in chocolate.

“Dessert is served!” he beams. Louis notices the pride in his eyes.

“Wow,” Louis whistles at him, “you’ve really outdone yourself, H. Look at this. These strawberries are huge. Where d’you even find them?”

“Well,” Harry clears his throat, running his fingers through his hair, “Yeah. Took me half an hour to make this. Michael and I were supposed to celebrate our four months together tonight. I wanted to make something nice, since he was always complaining I didn’t pay him enough attention.”

“You know what,” Louis pounds his fist on the table. “Fuck Michael! Fuck him. Who cares about him. You’re better off without him anyway. I’ve always said he was a dick.”

“He was not, Louis,” Harry says, but he’s smiling, buoyed by Louis’ words. “I guess it is what it is, though, right? I’m much happier that I get to share these amazing strawberries with you. So it’s okay.” He winks at Louis.

“Of course you are,” Louis ignores the wave of heat he feels in his belly. “I appreciate them. And you.”

“I’ll eat to that,” Harry giggles, bringing a fruit to his mouth and, of course, tasting it tongue first.

Louis smiles, scrunching his nose, eyes crinkling. “Look at you, H, a grown man, a terrific lawyer, almost thirty-years-old, and you still haven’t managed to learn how to eat properly.”

Harry laughs. “Oh, piss off, will ya,” he pouts a little. “For God’s sake, don’t remind me I’m about to turn thirty in a month, Lou. I’m trying to enjoy the last gasps of my youth.”

And fuck, Harry’s turning thirty in a month. In a fucking month.

Louis freezes, muscles tensing up. This means just one thing. His memory suddenly brings him back to ten years ago, in a cheap bar downtown. Harry’s curls, Harry’s smell, and too much alcohol. A cry, a laugh, a kiss.

Louis swallows. The deadline for their deal is approaching.

Fuck.

 

 

***

 

 

A wooden Jesus Christ stares at him from the cross where he hangs. Despite everything, He looks peaceful. Louis feels calmer under his comforting gaze.

Louis looks around. He seems to be in what appears to be a church. He has no idea why he’s there, though; hasn’t put a foot in church in years. He’s not even religious. He wonders whether Jesus would still love him, knowing that. But probably, being Jesus, He already knows and doesn't mind. A flicker of guilt runs through Louis anyway.

His mother is sitting in the front row, wearing a lovely periwinkle dress. She’s beaming at him, and Louis smiles back. She looks beautiful.
Beside her are Ernest, Fizzy, Phoebe and Daisy. Lottie sits on the opposite side, in the front row, next to Harry’s mother, sister and stepfather. Doris is nowhere to be seen.

Louis wrinkles his eyebrows. Where is Doris? Where is his sister? She’s just a kid. She’s not supposed to be parted from her family. Louis can feel his stomach tying up and his heart beating faster. Where is she? Has something happened to her? Is she alright? Why does everyone seem so relaxed while his baby sister is missing?

He looks around the church, trying to spot his sister’s strawberry blonde hair.

He can’t seem to find her, but he does see Aunt Marge, a distant relative of Harry, floating in the back like an aged pageant queen. She’s wearing a ridiculous pastel dress, her gown shaped like a pastry, and a hat with a bloody feather on top. Oops. He’s probably not supposed to swear in a church.  

He keeps looking around, glancing at all the lilies decorating the desks. There’s also a beautiful composition of lilies and roses right beside him. The smell is so strong, it’s almost nauseating. Louis feels like he’s in a cemetery.

He scrunches up his nose, lips tight together. Harry would probably love it, though. Lilies are his favourite flower.

“Today is the day, mate!”

Louis turns around to find his friend Niall standing close. He’s wearing a black smoking. Louis looks down at himself, takes in the fact that he’s dressed all in black, wearing a smoking jacket, too. Very fancy.

“I can’t believe this is happening!” Niall is still talking, his hand moving fast while he speaks. “You must be nervous,” he pats Louis on the back. “I’m sure everything will be fine, Tommo. I’m so excited for you!”

Louis has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s about to interrupt him and ask him what he means, when the small orchestra in the corner starts playing the first notes to Schubert’s Ave Maria.

At that moment, the back door opens, and his youngest sister appears, wearing a baby pink dress. Finally! Here she is! Louis breathes a sigh of relief, his eyes crinkling looking at her.

Doris smiles at him and starts walking down the aisle, casting petals to the ground.

And behind her comes Harry. He’s absolutely stunning in a white tuxedo, his shirt all buttoned up for once.

So this is a wedding. Harry must be getting married. Louis must be the best man, then.

But who’s the husband?

Louis meets Harry’s gaze, and the latter beams, dimples showing. And then Louis gets it.

He is the husband. This is his wedding. He’s getting married.

He’s getting married.

Fuck.

Louis feels his mouth go dry, his stomach twisting into a knot. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Fuck!

He can’t do this. He doesn’t believe in marriage! Marriages are just lies and more lies; they never last; they only bring pain, and heartbreak, and misery. They’re just a charade, a mockery, a fraud.

He can’t do this.

Harry reaches him, still smiling.

“Hi, Lou,” he murmurs, softly, but Louis stays silent. His tongue feels like a dead weight. He tries to swallow. He fails.

“Dear brothers and sisters, we are all gathered here today to witness and celebrate the love between these two men, and to allow them to be joined in holy matrimony,” the priest starts, voice smooth and clear.

And where did he come from? Louis’ eyes grow wider. He’s pretty sure there was no one near the altar a few seconds ago except for him and Niall.

Louis zooms out, completely petrified. He glances at all the people sat in the pews. His mother and Lottie are crying, and so is Harry’s mum. Even Fizzy, usually stoic, looks emotional. Gemma, Harry’s sister, is subtly trying to adjust her make up.

This can’t be happening this can’t be happening this can’t be happening this can’t be happening this can’t be happening.

Seriously, this can’t be happening. It can’t.

“Louis?”

Louis snaps out of the train wreck of his thoughts only to realise everyone’s staring at him. Harry looks slightly concerned.

“What?” he whispers.

The priest gives him a long glance of disapproval. “I asked,” he says, “Do you, Louis William Tomlinson, take Harry Edward Styles as your wedded husband, to live together in marriage?”

The priest makes a pregnant pause, looking at him, then continues: “Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honour and keep him for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him, for as long as you both shall live?”

Louis bites his lower lip. “I…” he starts. He can feel little drops of sweat on his forehead. Harry’s looking at him, eyes wide and earnest. He looks beautiful.

Louis can’t marry him.

“Young man, I don’t have all day, and I can’t move on if you don’t say yes first,” the priest prompts. “Do you?”

“Do you, Lou? Do you?” Harry’s voice is quiet and on the verge of breaking. “Do you?”

 

When Louis jolts awake, he’s completely covered in sweat – okay, gross – sheets tangled between his legs. And he feels something in his stomach. Fluttering.

What the fuck.

He decides to ignore it. His eyes fall on a plastic necklace placed on his night table, an ugly little thing with a black drawstring, but he smiles anyway, the way he always does when he sees it. Harry had given it to him many years ago, back when they were still living in Donny, and it kinda has been Louis’ lucky charm ever since.

It was a cold and grey November night, and Louis had sneaked out of his house after witnessing yet another argument between his mum and Dan. Louis knew they wouldn’t last any longer, just like the previous marriages hadn’t. Marriages never do, apparently. Fed up with all the screaming and the fighting, he had left his place and gone to Harry’s. It was late, so the younger boy was already in bed. Louis had lifted the cover and rolled next to him. Harry had let him tuck in close, and he had held him even closer. Harry was the only one who knew what was going on, and he would always made sure to let Louis know that he was there for him, no matter what. Louis had cried, not caring how he looked, and Harry had whispered sweet nothings in Louis’ ear for an endless time, caressing his arms and his back, trying to calm him down. And then Harry had wrapped a necklace around him. “This can be your amulet, so that you can hold onto it whenever things get nasty, and you can think of me. I’ll always stand by you, Lou, I promise”, he had murmured, and Louis had believed him. He had learned to never believe in forever, but he believed in Harry. And he had in fact held onto his H-amulet and his Harry for all these years.

Something warm fills his stomach at the memory, and Louis shakes his head, forcing himself to snap out of it. It’s such a small thing. Harry probably doesn't even remember it anymore.

Louis grabs his phone from the night table and takes a look at the notifications on the screen. Someone tagged him on a picture on Instagram (whatever), someone commented on a post of his on Facebook (who even is this guy), he has some new matches on Tinder (hopefully someone hot), Harry has sent him something on Snapchat (why is his stomach doing this funny thing again?), and Niall has sent him a text .

Louis chooses to open just the latter, ignoring the rest (he’ll reply to Harry later, of course, just… not now).

Tommo u up for some pints tonight w/ me and Payno?’

Louis sends him a thumb up-shaped emoji, smiling. That’s exactly what he needs, a night out with the lads, without Harry, without thinking of Harry’s upcoming birthday and… the whole deal thing.

Plus, Niall is exactly the kind of person he needs to in order to have a fun night out, with him being the quintessence of Irishness and all that.

Louis met Niall at work a couple of years ago: Niall had been a newbie just like him, and they had bonded right away, had been each other’s partner for a couple of years – at least, until Louis had been paired up with Liam, the sweetest puppy you’ll ever meet. When Liam first arrived, Niall had been reassigned to Nick, the biggest pain in the arse on Earth (and he might have been a  pain in Louis’ arse for some time, but that’s another story).

 

 

 

 

 

The Prospect of Whitby is one of Louis’ favourite pubs in London. Located in Wapping, it’s the capital's oldest riverside pub, dating back to 1520. Old barrels and ships’ masts are built into the structure, making it look like a proper pirate’s vessel.

And yet, not even its relaxed atmosphere seem to help Louis’ relentless mind.

Louis looks at his half empty pint and, for the hundredth time (just in the last hour), he sighs.

“Oi, Tommo! What's wrong with you?” Niall asks, cheeks reddened by the alcohol and the warmth of the pub. “You look like your puppy’s just died! I'd be ready to give you my deepest condolences if I didn't know for sure you don't own a puppy."

Louis frowns, a hand brushing his fringe. “Harry and his boyfriend broke up last night,” he explains.

“Oh man, I’m sorry,” Liam answers, patting him on the arm.

Niall furrows his eyebrows. “Hmm? I'm sorry, Tommo, but... aren't you happy about that? You were always going on about how much you hated the guy and what a dick he was.”

“And he is! He proved me right!” Louis exclaims.

“Then what's the problem?” Niall asks.

Louis sighs again, a finger circling the border of his glass. "Harry’s turning thirty in a month. Twenty-eight days to be precise," he mutters.

“And...?”

“And!” Louis snorts. “The deal is approaching.”

“What are you talking about?” Liam rubs his head. “What deal?”

The deal, Liam! How could you forget?” Louis urges, his voice getting higher. “Jesus.”

“Indeed, Liam, how could you?” a fourth voice jumps in. “Louis has been obsessing over it for the last three years at least. One might think he actually wants to marry Harry for how much he thinks about it.”

Nick has the worst smug face in the whole universe and Louis wants to punch him. How could he even? What does he know.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Niall, tell me again why you brought him with you?”

“You told me to, Tommo,” Niall grins.

“Aww, Louis, really? I'm touched,” Nick coos, pinching Louis’ cheek. “You do love me after all.”

“Fuck you, Grimmy,” Louis mutters under his breath, beating his hand away. He crosses his arms on his chest and pouts. Nick just laughs and nudges him with his shoulder, a bright pink cocktail in his hand. Of course he’s too fancy for a simple fucking beer. Louis wants to strangle him.

Louis’ attention is momentarily stolen by a loud group of ladies entering the pub, all big smiles and red cheeks. This must not be their first stop for the night.
Louis glances at them, looking at the one located at the middle of the group, all her giggling friends surrounding her. She has just taken her coat off, revealing a short white dress - definitely inappropriate for London’s winter - and, on the top of her hair, a bloody bridal tiara with a lace veil. Fucking fantastic, a Hen Do party. As if there weren’t enough weddings on his mind.

Liam clears his throat and brings him back to the present. “Well, Lou,” he says, “Grimmy might not be wrong, you know? You always talk about Harry, and you basically hate all of his boyfriends...” he stops for a second, licking his lips. “Are you sure you don't have feelings for him?”

“Please, do try talk some sense into him!” Nick sighs, shaking his head as he dramatically throws his hands in the air.

What the hell. Louis feels attacked. And betrayed.

He knits his eyebrows together and purses his lips. “Of course I'm sure! I don't even know what you guys are trying to imply.” He lowers his gaze. “You should know better,” he adds, in a thinner voice.

“I mean, Tommo,” Niall replies, “You and Harry are attached by the hip. You already act like a married couple. Are you sure marrying him would be that bad?”

“It's not about him, Niall. He’s lovely, of course. It’s the whole situation,” Louis yells, heating spreading on his cheeks. “I don't do relationships, and I don't do boyfriends. How could I ever stand having a husband? It’s–”

“Lou, are you even sure he remembers it?” Nick interrupts.

“Of course he does!” Louis seems offended by the idea that Harry could have forgotten.

“Then why don't you just tell him that you regret making the deal, and that you don't wanna marry him?” Liam asks him.

“I can't,” Louis shakes his head. “I could never do that. He'd be hurt and I can't hurt him.”
He brings his hands to his head, starting to massage his temples, closing his eyes.

“So what are you gonna do?”

“Well,” Louis shrugs. He drinks a sip from his beer, throat a bit sore from all the talking. “I'm gonna find him a fiancé, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Nick repeats, blinking. “And you think that knowing that you've been going behind his back in order to find him someone to date just because he won't have to marry you is any better?”

“Oh, shut up, will you?” Louis hisses, “I have a plan.”

Nick arches an eyebrow, his lips twisted in a half smirk. “And what would that be?”

“I told him to download Tinder last night, so he can find some cute guys on there,” Louis says, grinning, and, wow, he would have expected a better reaction, thank you very much.

Liam’s looking anywhere except at him, Niall seems desperately trying to hold back a laugh, and Nick’s mouth has legitimately fallen open, and he’s glaring at him like he's the dumbest person on Earth.

Well, fuck them.

Fuck you,” he mumbles between his teeth.

“Wait, are you serious?” Niall seems a bit taken aback.  

“Yeah, why?” Louis snorts, rolling his eyes. “What's wrong with Tinder?”

“You know people use Tinder mostly to hook up, right?”

“Yeah, so what?” he opens his arms.

“And you think your friend Harry, who, according to what you say, doesn't do one night stands, will find the love of his life on Tinder?” Nick questions. “Tinder, Lou?”

“He’s right, Tommo,” Niall agrees, nodding. “I know Harry, and he just doesn’t seem the Tinder type of guy.”

“He just needs to go on a date with someone hot and then it’ll be done!” Louis replies, waving his hand into the air as he was trying to swat a fly. “They will all fall for him, I'm sure,” he plays with his half empty glass, looking down. “Who wouldn't?”

"Louis, look,” Nick begins with a sigh. “I don't wanna sound rude, but your friend Harry doesn't seem very good at keeping a man.”

“How dare you!” Louis exclaims, jumping on his foot, his eyes sparkling with anger. “You don’t even know him! He just hasn’t found the right person yet. I'm sure of it.”

"Calm down, love. I didn't mean it in a bad way and I didn't mean to offend him, or you,” Nick clarifies, raising his hands in front of him. “I'm just stating the truth. Judging by what you tell us, his relationships don’t seem to last that long. Almost like, well, he’s not really that into them anyway.”

“That's not his fault. They're the ones to blame for that. They’re never right for him!” Louis retorts, shaking his head. They just don’t get it. He sighs, sitting back, letting his gaze wander on the rest of the pub. From their table, he can see through the backdoor to the beer garden and the terrace. They’re both lovely in the summer, decorated by thousands of tiny sparkling lights that give the place a magical atmosphere. The wooden banister used to belong to a proper sea vessel, with a bollard that has a rope hanging from it, originally meant to tie up two ships.

The view is breathtaking, especially after the sunset, when you can see the city lights reflected on the water of the River Thames.

Louis smiles, remembering the time Harry made them late to a party because they had stayed too long at this pub. Harry had been too caught up in taking one picture after another. They simply forgot the time. It had been a gorgeous summer night.

When he brings his eyes back on his friends, they are looking at him, weird expressions painted on their faces.  

Why are you looking at me like that?” he asks. And okay, he knows he can get very defensive when it comes to Harry, but… Harry’s his best friend, and the other people will never fully understand what they share. They’re two sides of the same medal, two parts of the same equation, LouisandHarry, HarryandLouis… It’s the two of them against the world.

Always have been, always will be.

He distractedly caresses his own wrist, his fingers brushing the infinity knot inked there. The rope to Harry’s anchor. Because an anchor without its rope cannot function correctly, and a rope without an anchor is just meaningless.    

“Louis…” Liam begins, his fingers drumming the table. “It’s just that…”

“Look, lads, never mind,” Louis interrupts, sighing. “I came here to have a good time, and I'm honestly feeling so attacked,” he tries weakly at a joke. He had come here to try to avoid thinking about Harry, and instead, he’s spent the last twenty minutes talking about him. Nice job, Louis.

“I know you wanna help, but it’s okay.” Louis raises his beer and takes a long drink under the silent stare of the other men. “I’m sure he’s gonna find someone.”

 

 

***

 

 

“I will probably just never find anyone,” Harry laughs, shaking his head.

Louis bites his bottom lip, shifting uncomfortably on his chair, his eyes wandering around.

It’s been a week since they last saw each other – an unusual long time for them – so they made plans to go out for lunch together, and here they are now, in a salad bar recently opened, not far from Harry’s office. It’s quite small, but it’s all furnished in white and silver, so it looks spacious and bright. Famous Pop Art reproductions hang from the walls, while soft indie music plays in the background. It must be some hipster playlist, because Louis hasn’t been able to recognise a song yet. No wonder Harry likes the place.

It’s still a bit early, but the whole room is crowded. Louis gazes at the dark-skinned man and ginger-haired woman sitting at the table next to them. They’re clearly a couple, all yearning looks and doey eyes. He’s just taken her small hand in his way bigger ones, and kisses it. Louis takes in the huge diamond on her ring finger. He has to contain himself from gagging or rolling his eyes. Or both.

Ha, see you in a few years, darlings. When all the romance will be gone and there will be nothing left but a dry desert of lies and accusations and regrets. The flaws that you now find so endearing will become unforgivable faults, and you’ll fall out of love for all the reasons you fell in, in the first place. Because this is the truth, this is what happens. This is all love ever does: it breaks, and it burns, and it ends.

Louis sighs, slightly shaking his head, bringing his attention back to Harry, who’s still looking at him.

He furrows his eyebrows. “What makes you think that, Haz?” he says, trying not to bitterly smile at the situation. How ironic is that a cynic like him must be playing the role of Emma Woodhouse? Louis snorts on the inside. He’s never liked that book.

“It’s just that…” Harry sighs, shrugging. “Never mind. And I deleted Tinder, by the way. It’s not really my thing, Lou.”

Louis feels like he may be the shittiest friend ever. Nick’s words echoing in his mind.

“Hey, love, look at me,” he whispers, his fingers going to adjust one of Harry’s curls behind his ear, freeing his face, and then brushing through his hair. “It’s okay if you didn’t like anyone on Tinder, or if you didn’t like the whole thing at all. You have to do what makes you comfortable.”

“I suppose most of the guys over there are after just one thing, and you know, I’m not really a one-night-stand type of guy,” Harry observes quietly, a rueful smile on his face. “I went on three dates with people I met on there last week, but they were all complete disasters.”

Louis’ mouth gapes open. He closes it quickly, hoping Harry didn't see him. “Wow,” he clears his throat, “you must have had a lot of requests.”

A strange feeling settles in his stomach, and suddenly he’s not really hungry anymore.

“I mean,” Harry shrugs, “I have to admit I got matches with almost everyone I swiped right for. A lot of them texted me.”  

“And none of the ones you hung out with was nice enough?” Louis asks, raising a brow.

“Well, let’s see,” Harry starts, counting on his fingers. “The first guy literally spent an hour and a half just talking about himself, barely bothering to ask what I even did for work. I had to pretend I had an emergency so I could sneak out,” he said. “I was afraid I would die of boredom.”

“Oh, H,” Louis sighs.

“No, wait, Lou. It gets better,” Harry grins, apparently unbothered by his unsuccessful string of dates. “The second was quite cool, I reckon, at least until his boyfriend joined us.” Louis’ eyebrows shoot up. “Yeah. Two good-looking guys. They said I was the perfect guy to have a threesome with. Can you believe it?” he laughs. “Too bad I’m not into that.”

Louis whistles softly. “Yeah, that is too bad, Haz. It could have been interesting!” Louis nudges Harry. “What about the third, then?”

“And the third…” Harry rolls his eyes, “The third was just a creep,” he concludes, shaking his head.

“What do you mean? What did he do?”

“Well, we went to this bar, and he sat next to me,” Harry plays with the food on his plate, his fork moving the salad around. “We didn’t talk much. I got this weird vibe from him, just a weird feeling. At some point he puts his hand on my thigh, you know, getting more intimate, and then starts moving closer to my groin…”

Louis feels sick, his insides knotted together.

“So I shift a bit, try to get a bit more distance between us…” Harry continues, unaware of the storm that’s crossing Louis’ mind, “and he just doesn’t get the hint, or ignores it, I don’t know. And I had left my shirt mostly unbuttoned, so my chest was showing, and he starts asking about my four nipples, and then he goes and pinches the right one.”

Harry goes to take a bite, still looking completely placid, while Louis slowly turns white.

“Jesus,” he says, “what did you do?”

“I stood up and left,” Harry replies, shrugging, “What would you have done? Not before telling him he was a wanker, of course,” he adds, smirking. “He didn’t appreciate it, though. He yelled that I was just being an arrogant twat and a cock tease, and that if I didn’t mean to do anything I shouldn’t have gotten dressed like that.”

Louis starts shaking, hands closed in fists. If this guy was in here, he would probably kill him without thinking twice.

“I’m so, so sorry, love,” he says, standing up and then slipping into the chair right next to Harry. He goes for a hug, and Harry immediately leans in. Louis nudges Harry’s neck with his nose, breathing in Harry’s expensive cologne. He usually alternates between Terre d’Hermés and Fahrenheit, and must have gone with Dior today.

“You know you’re not the one to blame. You know that, right? He is a real dick and he should have never acted like that, no one’s entitled to assume anything because of what you’re wearing. Fuck that.”

Harry’s face softens. “Of course I know, Lou,” he says. His mouth gently brushes the crook between Louis’ neck and collarbone as he speaks. Louis feels a shiver radiating from the bottom of his spine. His eyelids flutter closed. When he opens them again, he sees the couple sitting next to them standing up to leave. He meets the girl’s eyes, and she beams, winking at him. Louis blinks. His smile fades. What the hell is she on about?

“I know the whole thing is fucked up,” Harry continues, unaware of the exchange, a sigh escaping his lips. “It’s 2017 and people still feel entitled to judge you because of what you wear. But I’m fine, I promise. His words didn’t hurt me, and I put him back to his place anyway,” he smiles, nodding at Louis. “Also, I stopped caring about what people think about me a long time ago.”

Louis lets out a breath of relief. “So you don’t want me to go and kick his ass?” Louis grins mischievously. “Because I would be totally up for it, you know.”

Harry laughs, throwing his head back. “Nah, baby, I’m good,” he answers, untangling from Louis’ hold and raising his hands in front of him. “I don’t need you to protect me, you know. I can take care of myself.”

Louis bites his lip, lowering his gaze, knowing Harry’s right. He might still look like the lost kid he was from when he first moved to Donny, but he’s not a kid anymore.

“I’m sorry about the whole thing,” Louis mutters, not meeting Harry’s gaze, “and I should’ve known better. I should’ve known Tinder was just not right for you.”

“It’s okay, Lou,” Harry says, shrugging. His hand goes to rest on the top of Louis’, his fingers ever-so-slightly caressing Louis’ wrist. “You were just trying to help me getting back in the game. Not your fault if people are assholes.” Harry grins at Louis, his dimples popping.   

Louis looks at their hands joined together, and he goes to lace their fingers. Their tattoos mirror each other, the anchor and the rope matching.

“You’re not angry at me?” Louis asks, his voice thin.

“I’ve got nothing to be angry for,” Harry says. “You care about me. That makes me happy.” Louis searches Harry’s face, but there's only a gorgeous, innocent smile.

“Okay,” Louis mumbles, biting his lip. “So, no dates for a while?”

“I mean,” Harry laughs, “hopefully I’m just done with Tinder, not with relationships in general.”

And just then, an idea hits Louis. But of course! How could he have been so stupid, so blind?

“How could I not think of this earlier?” he exclaims, “I know the perfect guy for you!”

Harry coughs a little, and runs his free hand through his hair. “You do?”

His eyes are wide and expectant.

“Yes!” Louis grins, “You should go out with Liam!”

“Liam?” Harry frowns, his brows knotting together, mouth falling open, “As in your partner, Liam?”

“Yeah! I don’t even know why you guys haven’t met yet, but you’re basically perfect for each other, I promise,” Louis assures, nodding confidently, “You’re both looking for stable relationships, and you’re both nice, and clever, and good-looking, and—”

“You think I’m good-looking?” Harry interrupts him. He gazes at Louis intensely, inquisitively.

Louis tries to return his gaze, but has to look away, eventually. Harry’s eyes are burning a hole into his soul. “Come on,” he replies, laughing it off. “Of course I do, Haz.”

“Thank you, Lou,” Harry beams. Louis thinks there might be a flush of red in Harry’s cheeks. “I think you’re good-looking, too, by the way.”

“Well, obviously you do, Harold! Since I’m the most handsome man on Earth,” Louis winks at him.

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, laughing, “you are.”

“Anyway,” Louis says, shushing him, “don’t change the subject. You, Liam, dinner. What do you think?”

“I mean,” Harry shrugs, “if you believe it’s a good idea…”

“I do,” Louis replies. “He’s a good guy, H. And I’ll talk to him. I’ll do anything to make it perfect. You’ll see.”

“Okay then,” Harry accepts, scratching his ear. He breathes in from his nose, hollowing his cheeks. “I have one condition only,” he cranes his head on one side, suddenly looking smug. He moves his chair to inch closer to Louis, putting an arm on his shoulders.

“I’ll set you up with someone as well,” Harry says, his lips twisting into a Cheshire cat smile.

Louis arches his eyebrows. “You want me to go on a date?”

“A double date, with me and Liam,” Harry answers, a close-lipped smirk on his face. “All right?”

Louis laughs, shaking his head. “Let’s hear it, then. Who would you set me up with?”

“Zayn,” Harry grins.

“Zayn?” Louis’ voice falls flat. “I already know Zayn though,” he observes.

“Exactly, and you think he’s funny, so you’ll get along easily. And he doesn’t usually do dates either, so that’s one more thing in common, and he’s outrageously handsome, he’s—”

“You think Zayn’s outrageously handsome?” Louis inquires. Louis can't help the small frown on his face.

“He’s objectively–um, how do I put it? Super hot,” Harry answers, taking a sip of water. “Radioactive. Right? You have to admit that.”

“Whatever,” Louis shrugs. He doesn’t know why, but the thought of Harry thinking this bothers him more than he’d ever admit.

Harry and Zayn have been friends for ages, and Louis’ always been low-key jealous of their relationship, not that he’d ever say it out loud . And yeah, Zayn’s a great guy and he’s always been nice to him, and to Harry, and well, he is objectively super hot, he supposes, still, he doesn’t like that Harry thinks so, too. And, wait a heart-stopping sec. Have they shagged?

“Have you shagged?” he blurts out. Louis feels instantly ashamed for asking.

“Once maybe,” Harry answers, continuing on eating his salad nonchalantly. “Once or twice. Can't remember. There are so many.”

Louis’ mouth falls open.

Harry looks at him and burst out laughing, clapping his hands together, his head thrown back. Louis just looks at him, a deep frown on his face.

“You should see your face right now, Lou, it’s hilarious!” Harry exclaims when he finally recovers, swapping away the tears gathered at the corners of his eyes. “And,” he continues, “I was just kidding, you know. We’ve never shagged. But you know? It's not any of your business.”

Louis snorts, rolling his eyes once more, trying to play it cool. Too late for that, probably.

“Fuck off,” he says, pouting.

Harry grins, unbothered. “Are you gonna do it, then, Lou? Are you going out with us?”

Louis shrugs, starting picking at his salad again. “If you really want me to, I’ll do it,” he sighs.

“Yes, please,” Harry smiles, batting his eyelashes, “it’d be nice to have you there. It’d make me more comfortable.”

“Well,” Louis announces, “it’s a date then.”

 

 

 

The next day, Louis waits for Liam in their car, a huge grin on his face, with cups coffee still hot for the both of them ready in the appropriate holders. The police radio buzzes in the background.

“Good morning, Lou,” Liam beams at him as soon as he climbs in the car, and immediately the smell of his aftershave fills the passenger compartment. “You got me coffee.” Liam frowns lightly. He knows Louis and his shenanigans. “What's the special occasion?”

Liam looks the same as usual, and that means annoyingly perfect. Louis has never seen his uniform less than on point, always neat and well-ironed, and his shoes are so clean one could see one’s reflection on them. The funny thing is, the more formal and strict he looks when he’s working, the more casual and laid-back Liam dresses when he’s not, all print t-shirts and snapbacks. Last time they went clubbing together, he dared to wear a bloody chain around his neck. Something no one should ever wear, unless he’s Kanye West, especially not a grown-ass, thirty-year-old man. Like, ever.

“Morning to you, Payno.” Louis turns to look at his partner. “I’ve got good news.”

“Yeah? What’s up?” Liam asks, starting to sip his drink. He looks skeptically at Louis.

“You’re going on a date on Thursday,” Louis announces, a huge grin on his face.

“A date?” Liam raises a brow. “With whom?”

“Harry,” Louis says, starting the car. It’s still very early in the morning, but London is already rising and shining – well, of course that’s just a metaphor, because London is definitely not shining today, with all those grey clouds covering the sun – and has been for a few hours already.

Liam coughs, sputtering out his coffee.

“Liam, that’s disgusting,” Louis observes. He takes a napkin beside him and hands it to Liam, without taking his eyes from the streets. “Clean yourself up.”

Liam just looks at him, not moving a muscle. His mouth has fallen open, his eyes wide.

“What?” Louis gives him an unimpressed side gaze. He starts to wave the napkin in front of Liam.

Liam swallows, and then finally moves to accept it. “You set me up with Harry? Your friend Harry?” his voice sounds higher than usual.

“Yep,” Louis smiles, “I think this could really work. You guys will love each other. In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t come up with this earlier.”

“Look, Lou,” Liam starts to protest, a hand brushing through his hair, slightly messing up his tall quiff, “I don’t know how to say this, but I don’t think this is a good idea. I really don’t want to go out with Harry.”

“What do you mean?” Louis gently hits the brake, stopping at a traffic light, and turns his head to look at Liam, an icy stare into his eyes. “Why wouldn’t you? And before you start, be careful what you say, I’m warning you.”

Liam sighs, lowering his eyes. He brings his hand to his clean-shaven chin and rubs it. “This is exactly why I don’t want to do this. I just… the whole thing makes me uncomfortable.”

“Nonsense,” Louis shushes him. “You and Harry are perfect for each other. You’re both sweet, and caring, and you both love a long term commitment.”

Liam chews on his lip. “I don’t know, Lou…” he mumbles, lowering his gaze. “I feel like I know too much about him.”

He starts to bite on his nails, something Louis knows he tends to do only when he’s nervous. But why would he ever be nervous? It’s just a date they’re talking about, and with Harry ! It’s like winning the lottery. No need to be nervous at all. In fact, he should be excited.

“You should be excited!” Louis exclaims. “Oh, c’mon Payno, please,” he adds, changing his strategy. He bats his eyelashes, and pouts. “Do it for me, alright? Just once. We’re gonna have fun!”

The light turns from red to green, and Louis starts the car again. London’s buildings unfold outside the window, people crowding the sidewalks. It’s easy to spot the tourists: they’re the only one who aren’t running, their noses up in the air, taking pictures of everything and everyone.

Liam frowns. “What do you mean, we?”

“Yeah, I’m coming too,” Louis smirks at him. “Harry asked me to. Couldn’t really say no, could I?”

Liam frowns deeper. “You want me to go on a date with Harry and yourself? Do you not see a problem here, Lou?”

“Ha! Oh God, Payne, seriously,” Louis laughs. “You're like, so scandalized right now? It's not a ménage à trois, you idiot. Don't worry. Harry’s bringing a friend so it’s gonna be like a double date,” Louis says. “Told you, it’s gonna be fun.”

“You mean a double date between you and Harry, and me and this other guy?” Liam’s voice settles hopefully.

Louis snorts, rolling his eyes. “Of course not, Liam! Jesus, are you listening to me at all?”

“Well then, scratch what I said before,” Liam whines. He’s still biting on his nails. “This is worse than not a good idea, Lou. It’s a fucking terrible idea.”

“I don’t know what all this fuss is about, honestly,” Louis scolds, shaking his head. “You know I don’t usually do this either, but a friend asked me, so I said yes, and now I’m asking you and you’re making a scene. Harry’s lovely! Why on Earth wouldn’t you wanna meet him?”

“I’m sure he is, and I do want to meet him, especially since you talk about him all the time,” Liam replies. He rubs at his neck, not making eye contact with Louis. “It’s the whole dating thing I’m not sure about. You’re my partner. He’s your best friend. Do you not see three million ways this could go wrong?”

“Don’t worry about it, mate. You’ll see, it’ll be fun.” Louis exclaims, grinning widely. “Just trust me, I have a good feeling about this.”

Liam looks at him, eyebrows knotted together. He sighs. “Yeah. You see, you keep saying fun, but I feel like maybe the word doesn't mean what you think it means. If by good feeling, you mean the ten biblical plagues, then I agree. What's this going to look like, then? Water turning into blood? Frogs? Locusts? Talk to me, Tommo.”

“Oh, cut your dramatics, Payno,” Louis says. “A few nice drinks. Small talk. Maybe a goodnight kiss. What could possibly go wrong?”

 

 

***

 

 

On Thursday night, Louis and Harry arrive at the restaurant together. It’s an Italian place in Shoreditch, Harry’s pick, located in a quiet side alley.

Harry holds the door for him, and Louis walks in, taking a good look around. It’s nice and warm, with a cozy, understated atmosphere, and thank God there’s no trashy red and white tablecloth in sight. There’s a small hall, with a counter and a closet, black and white photographs showing views of Italian cities hanging on the wall, and a room with little more than a dozen tables. It’s not too posh, but it’s still a fine setting. Louis spots a fireplace in the corner dancing with light and warmth.

“The owner is an Italian man who moved here a couple of years ago, and the food is spectacular, you’ll see,” Harry’s right behind him, whispering in his ear, as if he’s just read his mind. “I thought you might like it, Lou.” His breath brushes against Louis’ skin.

Louis shakes a shiver off. He’s probably just adjusting to the change of temperature. Yeah, that's it.

“I do,” he smiles. “I already like it, H.”

“I’ve been wanting to bring you here for a while, actually. Thought about us coming here, you know, on our own. Was just waiting for the right occasion,” Harry says.

They look into each other’s eyes, blue fading into green. Louis can feel something fluttering in his stomach. Something like… butterflies.

Harry opens his mouth to say something. But then the maître approaches them, and just like that, the moment’s gone.

“May I help you, gentlemen?”

“Yes, please,” Harry says. He clears his throat. “We have a reservation for four people.”

“What’s the name, sir?”

“Styles,” Harry’s lips adjust into a polite smile.

“Ah, yes,” the man nods. “Please, come this way. I believe one of your friends has already arrived.”

He guides them to the dining hall. Their table is in the left corner, partially hidden by a column. Two beautiful portraits of the stairs in Piazza di Spagna, Rome, are hung on the wall next to it.

Louis can recognise Liam’s back.

His friend is sitting at the table, phone in his hands. Hearing their steps, Liam turns around, immediately standing up to greet them.

“Hiya, Payno!” Louis says, going for a quick hug. “This is me mate, Harry,” he adds, pointing at Harry who’s just behind him. “And this is Liam,” he says to Harry.

“Hi, Harry” Liam smiles. He offers his hand. “It’s very nice to meet you. You should know you’re basically everything Louis talks about.”

Louis’ mouth fall open. That’s not even true, is it? He’ll kill Liam later.

“How do you do?” Harry shakes his hand. His dimples make their appearance. “I hope he doesn’t say too many terrible things.” Harry scrunches up his nose, his cheeks slightly reddened.

“On the contrary,” Liam’s grin is fully on now, “only positive stuff about you. You must be an angel or something.”

Harry laughs. “Nah.” He cocks his head to the side, “I’m afraid Louis overestimates me. I’m not half as good as he thinks I am. I’m just an ordinary guy.”

“Okay, enough, the two of you,” Louis jumps in, eager to cut off the conversation. He doesn’t like its direction. Not one bit.

“Shall we sit?” he says, going for one chair. Harry follows him, sitting next to him and in front of Liam.

“So, Harry,” Liam clears his throat, rubbing his left ear. “You’re a lawyer, right?”

“Yep, that’s right,” Harry nods. “I’m a divorce attorney. And of course you’re—”

“Oh, by the way, H,” Louis interrupts him. He puts his hand on Harry’s arm. “Didn’t you have a hearing today? How was it?”

“A fucking mess. That’s what it was,” Harry groans, his hand on his face. “Our client’s ex-husband is a bloody nightmare.”

He shakes his head, widening his eyes, and pretends to shudder. Then he turns to Louis and half smiles. Louis chuckles. Harry’s such a dork! He looks like a distressed frog.

Harry turns serious as soon as a waiter gets to their table to take their drink orders, bringing two pitchers of waters with him.

“Anyway,” Harry says as the waiter leaves, "Liam, I know you work with Louis. So you're a policeman.” He smiles politely. “How did you decide to become one?”

Louis groans softly. His hand reaches out to tug on Harry’s shirt.

“H, why would you ask that? Don't,” Louis says. “Now he’s gonna rant for forty minutes about how he’s always dreamed of becoming a policeman 'cause he’s got some terrible hero complex.”

“What?” Liam pouts. “I don’t rant. And I don't have a… superhero complex or whatever.”

“Just ignore him, Liam,” Harry says. "The surest way of disappointing Louis is not to pay him any attention.”

“Ignore Louis? Are you kidding me, mate?” Liam laughs. "He’s like Tinkerbell. He needs attention to live.”

Harry sighs, nodding gravely.

“True,” he says. "Lou’s a little shit.” He turns to look at Louis, his dimples like chipmunk craters. Louis smiles back. “My sister always says he’s the biggest pain in the arse on the whole Earth.” He hasn’t broken eye contact with Louis.

“Oi, shut up, you!” Louis snorts. “Leave me alone, your sister loves me more than she loves you anyway.”

“He’s not even lying,” Harry addresses Liam as he sighs dramatically.

Harry crosses his legs under the table, the tip of his boot slightly brushing against Louis’ calf and ankle. Louis subtly moves his chair, and inches closer to Harry, leaning into his touch.  

“Speaking of Gemma,” Louis nudges Harry. “How is she? Haven’t see her in ages.”

“You literally hung out with her a couple of days before Christmas, Lou,” Harry answers. “That's not even three weeks ago.”

“Well, I miss her, Harold,” Louis curves his lips into a pout. “And by the way, she’s much better company than you.”

The waiter returns with the menus and their drinks: two beers for Louis and Liam, and a gin & tonic for Harry. He places them on the table, before quietly disappearing again.

“I’ll try to arrange something with her next week,” Harry says, “so you can stop whining.” He takes a sip from his glass, and licks his lips right after it. Louis’ gaze carefully follows its movement.

Liam shifts on his chair, and coughs. “Has your friend dumped us, Harry?” he asks. He’s laughing, but an embarrassed expression is still recognisable under his mask of amusement.

Louis blinks, and Harry turns to glance at the empty seat.

“You’re right, he’s late,” he frowns. “I didn’t notice so much time had passed. Can you please excuse me? I’m gonna go call Zayn,” he says as he stands up, heading outside the restaurant.

When Harry’s silhouette disappears beside the door, Louis turns to Liam. Liam was already looking at him.

Louis grins. “So,” he says, “what d’you think of Harry?”

Liam bites his bottom lip. His fingers play with the label on his beer bottle. “He seems like a nice enough guy, Lou, and he’s funny, too.”

“‘Course he’s nice, you dim wit,” Louis says. “I told you he was. Didn't you believe me?”

“And very good-looking,” Liam says tentatively.

Louis’ brows stand up. “Hey. Have you been ogling him, Payno?”

“What?” Liam’s eyes widen, “Of course not, Lou! I mean… you set up the date. Was I not supposed to? He’s hot, alright? Legit a blistering hot guy.”

Louis rolls his eyes and shakes his head lightly. Liam purses his lips in consideration.

“But you know what,” he adds, lowering his voice, “I still think something’s off.”

Louis takes a sip of his beer, and observes Liam from above his bottle. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Liam shrugs, opening his arms, and avoids his gaze. “Don't you think it’s weird? You and him have this—”

Just then, Harry returns with Zayn by his side. They’re talking. Louis can see Harry laughing at something Zayn said, and Zayn’s hand is placed on Harry’s arm.

And fuck, Zayn might be here as Louis’ date, but he can’t help but feel his stomach knot up at the sight.

As the two men walk to their table, Louis notices heads turning to glance at them. He has to admit that Harry and Zayn are a vision. They look like two models straight out the pages of a fashion magazine.  

“Louis, you already know Zayn,” Harry says once they’ve reached the table.

Louis stands to greet him, forcing himself to smile. Zayn smirks at him, a hand brushing through his perfectly styled hair. “How do you do, mate.”

“And this,” Harry continues, addressing Liam, “this is Louis’ work partner, Liam.”

Oh boy. Liam’s face is just priceless. His mouth has fallen open and his cheeks have gone red. He blinks, looking at Zayn, then jumps up.

“Hiii!”

Zayn takes a good look at him, from the bottom to the top. A corner of his brow lifts, and his upper lip quirks the tiniest bit.

“Well, well, well,” he says. “Liam, is it? It’s nice to meet you.” His voice growls, low and sexy, and he looks at Liam like a panther looking at his prey.

Liam swallows. His cheeks have turned completely red. “I—” he stutters. “Me too.”

“And you’re a cop, too?” Zayn arches an eyebrow, going to sit next to him. “I’d definitely put myself in danger in order to see you in your uniform.”

Liam blushes even more. “I... uhm…” he stammers. “I mean, that wouldn’t be wise. I wouldn’t advise that.”

Zayn smiles. “Good on the outside and on the inside. Scrumptious.”

Harry throws his head back and laughs. He points at Zayn, and wave his index at him. “Behave, Z,” he warns, but his eyes are sparkling.

The waiter approaches them again, asking if they’re ready to order, and they end up starting with some appetizers: a platter of bruschette with different toppings –  fresh tomatoes and rosemary, beans, marinated anchovies, grilled aubergines – and four plates of Italian cold cuts and cheeses, and some fried specialties. Harry takes care of the wine, asking for a bottle of a 2008 Taurasi barricato.   

After a little, the waiter comes back with their food and they dig in. Louis tries the bruschetta with the anchovies first, taking a bite, and let's out a small moan.

“You were right, H,” he says, his mouth still full, “This is amazing.”

“I knew you’d like it, babe,” Harry grins. “Have you tried the ricotta salata yet?”

He takes a bit of the cheese with his own fork, and goes to feed Louis, who swallows.

“Mmm,” his eyes shutter, and he moans again. “Amazing, Harry, absolutely amazing.”

Louis can feel Harry’s gaze on him. He licks his lips.

Zayn snaps his tongue, smirking. “What is this?” he asks. “Are you re-enacting that scene from the Meg Ryan movie? When Harry Met Louis?” He turns to wink at Liam. “Should I start feeding you, too, baby ?”

Liam blushes immediately. He clears his throat, taking a long sip of wine, and then changes the subject, too embarrassed to come up with a smart reply.

“So, Zayn,” he starts, “are you a lawyer like Harry?”

Zayn genuinely throws his head back as he bursts out laughing, showing his pearly white teeth.

“God, no,” he says. He wipes away tears from the corners of his eyes, smile still intact. “I’m just an artist, I’m afraid,” he shrugs, “and I also work for a gallery in Camden, because unfortunately painting doesn’t really pay bills.”

Liam’s eyes grow comically wider. “Oh my God, are you serious? An artist?”

He brings his left hand on his heart, mouth open in awe. “That’s so… God, that’s so fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever met an artist in my whole life.”

“I’m afraid I’m not a big deal, though,” Zayn says, suddenly looking sheepish. “I’m no Michelangelo.”

“Nonsense,” Harry cuts in. “Zayn’s just being modest. He is incredibly talented, Liam, you should see his paintings, they’re so deep. I actually have one of them in my living room, and another one in my bedroom.”

“Harry’s my biggest supporter, probably,” Zayn says, smiling at Harry. “That’s actually how we met. He came at my first exhibition and offered to buy one of my works. My first real client, he was. We became friends after that.”

“Was it like… five years ago? Summat like that?” Harry brings his index finger on his lower lip, playing with it.

“Yeah, four or five years ago,” Zayn confirms, “I remember thinking ‘God, what does this hipster kid want from me? Will he criticize my work ‘cause it’s not indie enough?’” he adds, laughing. “You were all long curly hair and band tees back then.”

“Heyyy,” Harry pouts, tossing a bite of bread at Zayn. “I still wear band tees, by the way. They’re cool.”

“And his hair was amazing,” Louis jumps in. He crosses his arms on his chest, brows furrowed. “In fact, I’ve been telling him he should let it grow back for ages.”

“I will, eventually, I reckon,” Harry says, sipping his wine. “It’s already longer than usual. My hair looks quite meaningless, these days.”

“Nah,” Louis replies immediately, “you look good, H.”

“Awww, babe,” Harry looks at Louis curiously. Louis doesn't meet his eyes but quickly looks down.
“Thanks, Lou.” Harry pats Louis’ hand with his own.

Louis feels Liam’s gaze on him, and can feel himself blushing. Whatever. Harry and him have always been like that, and there’s nothing wrong with showing affection.

“So do you hold your own art shows, Zayn?” Liam asks, turning the attention back to Zayn.

“I do,” Zayn nods. “I mean, they’re mostly group exhibitions, but it’s something, you know? It means a lot to me to be able to show my pieces.”

“I understand. You must be so proud.” Liam’s eyes sparkle, a little smile on his lips. “I mean,” he adds, biting his lower lip, “to be honest I’m not really an expert at art. I do love comics, though, for what it’s worth.”

“Well,” Louis says, “he’s no expert in comics either, since he prefers Iron Man to Captain America, which is just offensive.”

“What?” Zayn and Harry exclaim at the same time.

“How can someone choose Iron Man over Cap?” says Harry.

“Truth to be told, I’m a massive Iron Man supporter myself,” says Zayn.

Liam’s face melts into the biggest grin, resembling a kid opening his gifts on Christmas Day.

“What the fuck?” Harry mouths to Louis. Harry shakes his head incredulously.

“I know,” Louis rolls his eyes, “rude.”

They turn to look at Zayn and Liam, now deeply absorbed in a conversation, all whispers and giggles. They are both facing each other now, food long forgotten.

“Lou,” Harry says, lowering his voice. He shifts closer to Louis, nudging him. “Should we leave them alone?”

Louis brings the last bite of salame napoletano to his mouth, chewing it, and turns to look at Harry. He blinks. “You wanna go?”

“I mean,” Harry shrugs, “Liam clearly likes Zayn better, and Zayn seems to be into him as well. We should just leave them so they can enjoy the rest of the date.”

Louis glances at the other two boys, and sighs. “You’re right,” he nods, putting his napkin back on the table, and stands up.
Harry stands too. “Hey, guys? We’re leaving,” he announces.

“What?” Liam’s brows snap to his forehead, looking at Louis, slightly panicked, but Louis gives him a thumb up.

“I recommend the pasta alla norma or the carbonara,” Harry grins, “and the caprese cake as dessert.”

Harry slips some bills on the table to pay for Louis and him, then puts a hand on the small of Louis’ back to lead him to the hall and collect their coats. Louis can feel Liam’s gaze linger on him as they walk away. So what? Harry is a tender person. He touches everyone intimately. No big deal. Doesn't mean anything.

But Louis need not worry about Liam: instantly, Liam and Zayn are completely absorbed in each other, becoming soft, indistinct murmurs behind him.

 

 

 

 

 

Once they’re back out in the London cold, wind whipping their faces, Louis chews on his bottom lip. His hands are in his coat pockets, and his brows are furrowed.

“I’m sorry, H,” Louis mutters, looking at the ground.

“Sorry?” Harry says. “What for?”

“You know,” Louis’ voice is thin and low. “For how this went.”

Harry turns to look at him, a smile on his face. “No need to be sorry, Lou,” he says, putting his arm on Louis’ shoulders and nudging him closer. “I’m happy for them. You did a good thing.”

Louis glances at him under his lashes. “You’re not disappointed that it was a failure then?”

“A failure? Why would you say that?” Harry says. “I’ve had a nice night so far: I went out with you, got the chance to see Zayn, met a new friend. It was pretty good, in my opinion.”

“So you’re not sad?” Louis’ eyes widen.

“The only reason I’m sad is that we couldn’t eat more, to be honest,” Harry says. They look at each other and start laughing.

“Rip,” Louis says. A smile lingers on his lips. “Those appetizers were sinful, I can only imagine how the rest would be.”

“I’ll bring you there another time, I promise,” Harry’s hand starts playing with Louis’ hair at the back of his neck, “and we’ll order the whole menu.”

“I’ll hold you to it, Harold,” Louis grins, leaning naturally into his touch. “The whole menu.”

“So—” Harry clears his throat, “do you wanna get a drink or something, maybe?”

“Yeah, sure,” Louis nods immediately. “Where do you wanna go?”

Harry beams at him. “There’s a cool bar not far from here, it’s in—”

“Hey, wait!” Louis exclaims, suddenly stopping in the middle of the street. He points at somewhere on their right. “We should go there,” he says, his eyes sparkling.

Harry follows his finger, and smiles reading the place’s sign.

“A karaoke bar,” he grins, dimples showing, “perfect.”

As soon as they walk in, they can feel the dense humidity from the many bodies packed into such a small space. On one side of the room, there are a few tables, but most people are dancing in front of a small stage where a long-haired girl is currently singing a Guns‘n’Roses tune. She’s not very good and insists on screaming too much, but people still seem to enjoy it, probably too drunk to care.

“Do you wanna get something to drink?” Louis asks, raising on his tiptoes to try to get closer to Harry’s ear.

Harry gets the hint and lowers himself immediately, bending his knees. He leans into Louis’ space and rests a hand on the small of his back. “What?” he yells.

“Do you wanna get something to drink first?” Louis repeats.

“Sure,” Harry nods, “go to the bar and order something, I’ll go get our name on the list of the performers.”

Louis does as he’s told and heads to the bar, making some room for himself among the crowd of faceless silhouettes moshing to the music.

A couple of minutes later, he’s joined by a smiling Harry.

“Fucking finally,” Louis says. “Was starting to get scared you got lost.”

“Nah,” Harry brushes his hair away from his face. “There’s just a lot of people.”

“I can see that,” Louis grins. “Now drink up!” he adds, pointing at the several shots on the counter.

Harry raises a brow. “Four shots each, Louis? Seriously?”

“What, are you afraid you can’t hold them down, Curly?” Louis chuckles.

Harry smirks, getting the first small glass in his hand. “I can drink you under any day, Lou. You’re a lightweight.”

“We’ll see about that,” Louis replies as he puffs out his chest. “Cheers.”

They look into each other’s eyes as they toast, letting their glasses clink together, and then start drinking the shots, one after the other.

The girl on stage is replaced by two middle-aged men, who start singing a cover by Walk The Moon.

Oh, don’t you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me, I said ‘you’re holding back,’ he said ‘shut up and dance with me.’ This man is my destiny, oh, shut up and dance with me.

Harry leans in, grinning. “Do you wanna dance?”

Louis nods, and Harry takes him by the hand, leading him in front of the stage.

We were victim of the night, the chemical, physical, kryptonite. Helping to the bass and the fading light, oh, we were bound to be together, bound to be together.

They start dancing, messily jumping around, following the rhythm of the crowd. Harry’s still holding Louis’s hand, and spins him a couple of times. Then he nudges Louis closer. Louis’ head is spinning from both the alcohol and their dance. He smiles, feeling happy, light, and carefree. Harry grins like a madman, his dimples deepening one mad millimeter at a time. He’s singing along to the song, his head nodding to its tempo.

He took my arm, I don’t know how it happened, we took the floor and he said ‘oh, don’t you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me’. I said ‘you’re holding back’, he said ‘shut up and dance with me’.

And that’s what Louis does, he shuts up and dance, enjoying the moment like he got no worry at all.

After a few more songs, Harry grips on his hand again, dragging him to the stairs located on one side of the stage.

“C’mon,” he says. “We’re up.” Louis blinks. Someone must have called  their names, but he was too deep into the music, the dancing, Harry, to notice.

Louis follows him on stage, where they’ve provided of two microphones. Harry leads him to the middle of the platform, their hands still tangled.

Louis turns to look at the crowd, lights too bright to really separate the shapes.

“Hello!” he chuckles, and he’s greeted by screams and encouragements.

“So,” Louis continues, clearing his throat, “what are we singing exactly, Curly?”

He can hear the people laugh, but he’s too busy watching Harry. Harry’s watching him back, of course, cheeks flushed and lips rosy.

“You’ll see,” he says. At that moment the music starts, and Harry starts singing immediately.

Louis’ grins grows wider, as he joins right after him.

Now I’ve had the time of my life, no, I’ve never felt this way before, yes, I swear, it’s the truth and I owe it all to you. ‘Cause I’ve had the time of my life and I owe it all to you.

Harry starts moving his hips to the rhythm, wiggling his eyebrows in a fake-seductively way. Louis laughs, endeared, and he places a hand on Harry’s chest, left bare by his opened shirt, and starts circling him around.

Now with passion in our eyes, there’s no way we could disguise it secretly. So we take each other’s hand ‘cause we seem to understand the urgency.

Louis stops to face Harry, his hand still resting on Harry’s chest. They keep singing like this, staring into each other’s eyes, oblivious of the people dancing all around them.

Just remember you’re the one thing I can’t get enough of, so I’ll tell you something: this could be love because I’ve had the time of my life.

With my body and soul, I want you more than you’ll ever know, so we’ll just let it go don’t be afraid to lose control.

‘Cause I had the time of my life and I’ve searched through every open door till I found the truth, and I owe it all to you.

When the songs ends, the crowd still going crazy, they wait a few more seconds to collect their breaths. They put their microphones back on the stands and get off the stage.

“That was amazing!” Louis yells. “We should have re-enacted the dance scene, though,” he adds, tugging on Harry’s shirt. There’s a huge grin on his lips. “Would you do it, Haz? Would you catch me if I jumped?”

Harry’s eyes shine as bright as the stars in the sky when he answers. “Always,” he says, serious.

Louis smiles so wide his face starts hurting, and Harry grins back.

“Did you like the song I chose?”

“I loved it,” Louis nods, “I know it sounds kind of lame now, but I really had the time of my life, H.”

Harry beams at him, and Louis can’t help himself. He stands on his tiptoes and leans in to place a kiss on Harry’s cheek.

“You’re cute,” he says. “I’m gonna get us something to drink.”

He winks at Harry, then walks to the bar, Harry’s huge smile inked behind his eyelids forever.

Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of people have had the same idea, so when he reaches the bar, Louis has to join a queue.

He picks his phone from his pocket, giving a distract look at the screen. There are a few notifications, and some texts (one from Liam, Louis notices. ‘Please Tommo don’t be mad! I’m sorry!’), but Louis doesn’t really bother opening any of them. His vision is blurry and his head is spinning, he doesn’t seem to be able to focus on anything and the bright colours of the screen make him squint his eyes.

When he puts away his phone, five minutes have passed – or maybe ten, he’s not really counting. And time feels like a funny thing now. A wibbly wobbly timey wimey… stuff – and there are still three or four people in line in front of him.  Louis rolls his eyes, and then let them wander through the crowd, looking for Harry. He smiles automatically when he spots him, but his face falls as soon as he takes the whole scene in.

Harry is not far from the bar, and he’s not alone. In fact, there’s a man, a very attractive man, a straight-outta-magazine-model-faced man, right beside him. He’s a bit taller than Louis, tanned, with light brown hair styled in a short quiff, his eyes look blue but Louis can’t be sure because the dance floor is too dark, but his teeth are so white that seem to light up the whole place. He’s wearing a black skin-tight t-shirt, probably one size too small, that shows off his muscles and abs.

The two men are smiling at each other, and Louis watches this guy leaning in and whispering something in Harry’s ear. Harry throws his head back to laugh, dimples popping.

Louis tightens his hands into fists, his nails marking up the skin. His heart starts beating faster and faster, his cheeks heat up, and his stomach tangles into a knot.

His first instinct is to run to them, interrupting whatever is going on, but he knows he can’t. He knows he’s not allowed to. If Harry wants to pull, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t. It’s not like Louis could do something about it. He’s not entitled to. He’s not.

He exhales through his nose, closing his eyes. When he opens them again, he forces himself to stare straight ahead without turning to check on Harry. It doesn’t last long. After a few seconds, he turns. He has to look again.

The two men have inched closer, and now the guy is touching Harry’s bicep, his fingers wrapped around it. Louis knows very well what he’d do to those damned fingers. Harry has his hands on the bloke’s waist, gently brushing the skin left uncovered by the shirt. Louis’ going to be sick.

“What do you want, my pretty?”

His head snaps again, the woman behind the counter is looking at him with an eyebrow arched, lazily chewing on a gum.

“Two gin & tonics, please,” he mumbles. “Dirty.”

The stranger and Harry are dancing, Harry’s hands have moved up to the guy’s hips, singing along to some song about Starbucks lovers and insane ex-girlfriends performed by a girl on stage. Louis recognises it as a Taylor Swift tune. He swallows. He fucking hates Taylor Swift.

“Here you go,” the bartender’s voice brings him back to the present. Louis mutters a thank you, leaving some bills and collecting the two glasses.

He walks straight back to Harry, slipping between the two men and forcing them to part.

“I got your favourite, babe,” he says, giving one drink to Harry.

“Cheers,” Harry smiles and takes a sip, hollowing his cheeks.

The guy clears his throat from behind Louis. Louis turns, looking at him, an eyebrow arched.

“Hey, I was talking to him,” the guy says.

“Were you?” Louis brings his free hand on his hip. “Very nice of you to keep him company while I was gone,” Louis fakes a grin. “You’re dismissed now.”

He turns back to Harry, who’s watched the exchange with a little smile on his lips.

“Do you wanna have a cigarette, H?” Louis asks, drinking his cocktail.  

The guy pats on his shoulder.

“Maybe you should…” he starts, but Louis interrupts him.

“Look, mate,” he says, “no offence, but why don’t you just fuck off? He’s taken. Go away.”

The guy seems uncertain. He gives a look at Harry, who’s silently standing behind Louis. Harry is observing the scene with an indecipherable expression on his face, the ghost of a grin on his lips. When he realises the man’s waiting for his response, he snaps back and shrugs his shoulders apologetically.

“Whatever,” the man mumbles. His eyes are cold as he leaves.

Louis watches him walk away, his heart threatening to explode in his chest. Shit. What did Louis do? He told that bloke that Harry was taken. Why did he have to say that? Harry’s not taken. That’s the furthest thing from what he wants to say. In fact, his plan was to find someone for him. This shouldn’t have happened.

“So,” he coughs, looking at Harry again. Maybe he didn’t hear it. Maybe he’ll just drop it. “Do you wanna that cigarette, Haz?” Louis’s eyes widen hopefully.

“You said I was taken,” Harry chases, a smirk on his lips. Shit. “Yet last time I checked, I was still very much single.”

Louis lowers his gaze. “I—” he stutters, “I mean—uhm, I just… Harry, he looked like a creep. I didn’t want him anywhere near you,” he admits.

“Didn’t you?” Harry raises his brows. “Why’s that?”

“I’m sorry,” Louis sighs, “I shouldn’t have said that. I don't know why I did it. It was wrong. I was a dick. If you wanna go look for him, it’s okay.”

Harry opens his mouth to answer when someone calls his name.

“Harry Styles on stage, please. Harry Styles.”

Louis frowns. Is Harry going to perform on his own?

Harry just looks at him for a couple more seconds. “It’s okay, don’t apologise, Lou.” Harry leans in. His lips touches Louis’ ear, tickling him. “You were defending my honour. I thought it was kinda hot,” he says, barely above a whisper. His breath is warm on Louis’ skin. It's as if Harry is trailing his breath on Louis on purpose, so that Louis has the sensation of Harry on him without actual contact. Louis’ heart beats furiously in his chest, threatening to escape any moment now. He’s got goosebumps from Harry’s proximity. Harry still has a Cheshire cat smile on his lips when he turns around to head to the stage.

Louis stays frozen on his spot, following him with his eyes. Shit. Harry turns his head around, probably still feeling Louis’ gaze on his back, and winks. He fucking winks at him. Louis heats up, and tries to swallow, in vain. Harry just grins, looking smug as fuck.

He climbs on the platform, taking the mic and putting it on the boom, and adjusts it to his height.

The first notes of the song hit Louis immediately, the guitar riff thundering in his veins. Oh-oh. This is getting shittier and shittier every second.

Harry stands tall in the middle of the stage, eyelids closed, head tilted on one side. He starts singing, his voice deeper and raspier than usual, but still as smooth as velvet.

Have you got colour in your cheeks? Do you ever get that feel that sticks around like summat in your teeth?

Louis gets unconsciously closer to the stage, drawn to the boy up there like Ulysses from the sirens’ song, but without ropes to tie him down.

Harry opens his eyes, seeks through the crowd, stopping only when he finds Louis. Their eyes lock.

I’ve dreamt about you nearly every night this week. How many secrets can you keep? ‘Cause there’s this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow…

Harry’s voice rises into a falsetto on the first line of the chorus, dropping low right after, as he keeps singing. He brings his hands into his hair, fingers curling, head thrown back.

He’s got the mic stand between his open legs, and as the music urges, he thrusts into it.

Louis’ throat goes dry. Harry is pulling an Elvis. Harry is legitimately standing on a stage in front of at least fifty people simulating a sexual intercourse with a mic stand. And he doesn’t look embarrassed by it at all. In fact, he looks like he's enjoying himself. Immensely.

Louis’ feels his cock surge in his pants, pulled by an invisible string toward Harry. Fuck. This was not supposed to happen. He’s not supposed to be turned on by his best friend.

Louis tries to ignore it, shifting uncomfortably under Harry’s gaze.

Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new, now I’ve thought it through, crawlin’ back to you…

And no, no, thank you , Louis does not need the image of Harry crawling anywhere. He briefly closes his eyes, trying to recollect his breath, but he can’t stay like this. He needs to see. He needs to watch.

Harry’s fumbling with the mic, taking it off from its stand, and then he walks to the edge of the stage, swinging his hips.

I’m sorry to interrupt, it’s just I’m constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you, I don’t know if you feel the same as I do. We could be together, if you wanted to…

The crowd seems completely in love with this gorgeous, gorgeous man, everybody screaming, and dancing, and moshing to the rhythm of the tune. Harry’s a true rockstar. He’s the Pied Piper. Every person is enchanted by him, ready to follow him wherever he’ll lead. He’s on a whole new level of charmer.

Do I wanna know if this feeling flows both ways? Sad to see you go, was sorta hoping that you stayed. Baby, we both know that the nights were mainly made for sayin’ things that you can’t say tomorrow day.

As the chorus begins again, Harry starts to touch his body, his free hand lingering on his bare chest, left uncovered by his unbuttoned shirt. And then his hand inches lower, and lower, and lower, reaching his groin, as his hips sway to the music.

Louis’ mouth fall open, his eyes darkened. He can’t help himself and, as he watches Harry teasing himself on stage, he let his own hand cup his crotch. He means only to adjust himself, but the friction is so good, and he’s more than just half hard by now. He grinds the palm of his hand down, breathing shallowly to the pleasure of it. There’s something ridiculously beautiful about being hard in public while responding to Harry's voice, as if the two of them were lifted out of the crowd into a virtual private room. Louis moans out loud, grateful for all the people surrounding him that will hide what he’s doing. His eyes dilate. He's glad it's dark. He probably looks destroyed.

Maybe I’m too busy being yours. Ever thought of calling, darling?

Harry licks his lips while staring at Louis, his face serious, his eyes sparkling. He thrusts his hips once more before falling on his knees.

Do you want me crawling back to you?

He literally starts crawling while he sings the last line of the song, his back arched. Louis can’t last much longer.

As the last notes play into the room, he sneaks out, running to the loo and locking himself into a cubicle.

His jeans are so tight against his cock that he struggles to open the zipper, groaning in relief as soon as he manages to lower them. He pushes his pants down his legs, finally closing his fist around his cock, and squeezes. A moan escapes his throat as he starts to move his hand. His eyes shutter closed and he bites hard on his lips, trying not to make any more noises. He tastes blood.

He thumbs over the head of his dick, only to find out he’s already slick. Louis spreads his own precome on the whole length, as he would with lube, and keeps on pumping himself faster and faster. The friction feels fulfilling, the stimulation urging him to succumb.

He can feel his knees getting weak, his free hand flat on the wall to support himself. He lowers his face on his arm and bites on his shoulder.

Behind his eyelids, he can see kaleidoscopes of images of Harry flashing by. Harry covered in drops of water just gotten out the shower, just a towel around his hips. Harry at the beach with teeny tiny yellow swim shorts. Harry thrusting his hips on that stage looking at Louis. Harry touching himself and looking at Louis.

Louis feels deplorable.

He’s going to come.

His breath hitches as he jerks off, his hold too tight and dry, so that it burns a little, but it’s still good. So fucking good. He whines between his teeth as the continuous waves of pleasure threaten to make him drown. And Louis wants to drown, he wants to drown so badly, ‘cause it would be so sweet in such a sea .

He thinks of that kiss Harry shared with him so many years ago. He’s never let his mind wander this far, but he’s too weak now to keep himself in line. He thinks of how it felt like to kiss Harry, and he thinks of how it would feel like to kiss him now, after ten years. How it would feel to wreck Harry, to watch him come undone, to overpower and succumb to him.

He thrusts into his hand once, twice more, and then he’s spilling all over his fist for what feels like ages, Harry’s name on his lips.

He stays like this for a few more seconds, breathing in and out, his hand still wrapped around his now sensitive, softening cock. He grabs some tissues and cleans up, tugging himself back into his pants, zipping his jeans, and then he finally opens the door.

He meets his own eyes in the mirror. His cheeks are flushed, his eyes bright, his lips rosy. He looks completely fucked. He looks like a monster.

He repress the urge of throwing up, starts washing his hands with scalding water. He keeps on scrubbing them until they’re wrinkled and red, but he can’t stop. They still feel dirty. They still feel like they’re covered in come. Come provoked by Harry.

He groans, and that’s when the door opens. Harry enters the loo.

“Lou!” he exclaims, relief showing on his face, “You’re here, thank God. Couldn’t find you, I was getting worried.”

Louis looks at him and just bites on his lip, fearing he’ll start to cry if he dares to try talking.

Harry notices Louis’ expression and comes by his side in an instant, eyebrows knitted together.

“You okay, babe?” he asks as he cups his cheeks, “Do you feel sick?”

Louis would like to stay stronger, but he just leans into Harry’s touch and closes his eyes. He nods.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you,” Harry says, and starts fumbling with his phone, “I’ll call a cab. Let’s get you home.”

He takes him by the hand and leads him outside the toilets and outside the bar, stopping only to recollect their coats.

The cold hurts his face, but it feels good somehow. Louis starts looking for a cigarette in his pockets, lightens one as soon as he finds it, fingers trembling.

“The taxi’s on its way,” Harry tells him. “By the way, Lou, you shouldn’t smoke if you’re feeling sick.”

“I’m better now,” Louis lies.

Harry looks at Louis long and hard. Something passes through his face. Louis turns away from him sideways.

“So,” Harry clears his throat, and he inches closer, “did you see my performance? Did you like it?”

Louis swallows. The cigarette tastes sour in his mouth. Jesus Christ, Harry. It was the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.

“It was amazing, H. You’re so talented,” he mutters softly. He can feel Harry beaming.

At that moment, their taxi arrives, and they climb inside.

Louis is too aware that their thighs are touching, not an inch apart between them. He can feel Harry’s body heat radiating through his clothes.

Harry clears his throat. “Lou,” his voice breaks the silence, “are you busy tomorrow night?”

Louis can feel his gaze on him, but he doesn’t look back. “No,” he answers, “don’t think so.”

“There’s this thing— this party I need to go to,” Harry chews on his lower lip, “a work party. I was supposed to bring Michael but… well, you know,” he stops for a sec, and coughs. “Would you be my date? I don’t wanna go alone. If you don’t mind, of course…”

“Sure,” Louis blurts out. “Yeah, okay, Harry. I mean, if you want me to.”

He doesn’t wanna talk. He needs silence so he can keep telling himself he’s nothing but scum.

“Thank you,” Harry smiles. His cheeks have gone red.

They get to Louis’ flat quickly after that. He fumbles with his wallet to get the money, but Harry just puts a hand to stop him.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “I got it, Lou. Do you want me to get you upstairs?”

His eyes are wide and innocent and Louis can’t bear to look at them.

“No, thanks,” he mumbles. “I got this. Thanks for taking me home. Goodnight, H.”

He slips out the car into the night, and doesn’t look back.

 

 

***

 

 

Louis spends the following day trying not to think about Harry, or about what happened last night, or about what he did last night, at all. It works quite well, at least until Harry texts him.

Are we still okay for tonight, aren’t we? Can you be ready around 7ish? It’s a suit and tie occasion, just so you know what to wear. I’ll pick you up. x’

Louis stares at the screen for what it feels like an eternity, an unsettled feeling in his stomach. The thing is, he knows this is a bad idea, and he knows he should just come up with some excuse and not go because he’s feeling weird, and he’s not ready to face Harry yet, but he can’t bring himself to say no. He can’t just ditch Harry like that.

So Louis texts him back a thumb up emoji, and goes to pick his old smoking from his closet.

Less than two hours later, Harry sends him another text, letting him know he’s waiting for him downstairs. Louis sighs, putting on his jacket, catching his own reflection in the mirror. He pauses to check himself out, a critical look in his eyes. He doesn’t look that bad, he supposes. In fact, he looks good. He’s wearing a black jacket he originally bought for a wedding he ended up not attending anymore – he doesn’t like weddings; sue him, they give him anxiety – and a simple white button-up shirt, a burgundy and metallic blue striped tie around his neck. Harry gave him the tie a couple of years ago, saying it would make Louis’ eyes standing out. The black trousers he’s wearing – not too classic, but not too casual either – wrap around his thighs perfectly. They might be a bit tight around his crotch, but it’s probably worth it. Louis turns to look at his arse, and smirks. Yeah, definitely worth it.

Not that he’s trying to pull or to impress Harry. None of that. It’s just Harry.

And that’s what he tells himself, before giving one last glance to his image and heading out.

Harry is waiting for him just outside his building, standing next to his black Audi A3 Mythos, his elbow lazily resting on the car’s roof, and holy shit. Just—wow.

Louis stops to take in his figure fully. His mouth hangs slackly like a marionette.

Harry looks more than handsome. He looks absolutely sinful. He looks like a curse whispered by the lips of a god, like the perfect Muse for poets and artists, like someone people would willingly go to war for. A modern and even more beautiful Helen of Troy.

He’s wearing a midnight black, one-button tuxedo jacket with thin satin lapels and a crisp white shirt, with a loose scarf tied in a square knot around his neck, exposing his throat and chest. Black trousers, cut close, with satin piping along the seams, accentuate his long, muscular limbs. They lead down to black velvet-heeled Saint Laurent Chelsea boots that probably cost more than Louis’ rent. Harry’s hair is slicked back at the top, reflecting the light, waved naturally like a tide in the moonlight. The hair at his side is combed back, accentuating a jaw sharp enough to split atoms. It's a look to fuck things up. Harry must be aware of it .

Unconsciously, Louis licks his lips.

Abort! Abort!

This is what heaven and hell both look like. This is what dreams are made of. This is going to be Louis’ death and, well, it’s like in that old song, isn’t it?, the pleasure, the privilege will be his. He’s always known that, for everyone, death has a look, but he had never thought that, to him, it would come with Harry’s eyes.

Louis should leave now before it’s too late.

In that moment, Harry notices him and smiles, his dimples popping in the middle of his cheeks, waving his hand as a greeting, and Louis knows.

It’s already too late. And he’ll go down the abyss in silence.

He prints a fake grin on his face, forcing his legs to walk to Harry.

All is fine, all is well. Everything is under control.

Harry beams at him, cheeks reddened, going for a hug. He wraps his toned arms around Louis, his chin on Louis’ hair, and Louis knows he should just squirm away, accusing Harry of ruining his quiff, but he can’t. In fact, he relaxes automatically, leaning into the touch, breathing in Harry’s smell.

“You look gorgeous, you know,” Harry mumbles through his hair, his finger gently circling his back.

“Thank you,” Louis answers. In his stomach, something starts fluttering. Fucking butterflies. Again. “You look quite good yourself,” he adds, trying to sound light and amused, but his throat is too dry, his voice too low. He untangles himself from Harry, putting some space between their bodies, hoping to breath better, and opens the door to climb inside the car. Those butterflies must be killed, one way or another.

They drive to the party in silence. Louis looks outside the tinted window for the whole ride, refusing to meet Harry’s gaze. What he did last night was too heavy on his consciousness, what he feels now is too confusing for his heart. His hands are dirty, and so are his thoughts. The Deed is done, the doer undone.

Harry seems completely oblivious to Louis’ internal struggle, singing along to Lady Gaga’s latest single playing on the radio. You’re giving me a million reasons to let you go, you’re giving me a million reasons to quit the show. I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away, but baby I just need one good one to stay.

Louis subtly side-eyes him, his gaze falling on the strong hands currently holding the wheel, fingers adorned by even more rings than the usual and nails painted in black. Louis swallows, and shifts uncomfortably on the seat, as a wave of heat hits his insides, a pit of tension forming in his low belly.

Harry must feel his gaze on him because he turns to look at Louis.

“We’re almost there, love,” he smiles. “It’s my boss’ birthday, by the way. Julia, I mean, not James, but James’ the one who planned the party. Isn’t it romantic?”

“Sure,” Louis mutters. He looks away, fidgeting.

“They’ve been together forever, a proper power couple they are,” Harry continues. He pulls over and parks the car, and applies the hand brake. “It’s gonna be fun, you’ll see, the whole firm is gonna be there, and friends and family too, of course. And a couple of important clients, I reckon.”

Louis nods, hand already on the door, ready to get out.

“Is there gonna be alcohol?” he asks, more serious than not, but Harry just bursts out laughing.

“Of course, Lou,” he says, still giggling. “It’s a posh party. No thirst goes unquenched.” Harry winks conspicuously. “You know?”

“Then it’ll do,” Louis comments, and then gets out.

 

 

 




The party is in the dinner hall of a Mayfair five-stars hotel, specially rented for the occasion.

Harry was right, it’s definitely a posh party. Louis lets his eyes wander around the beautiful venue, taking in the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the huge windows, taller than his flat. Flower arrangements decorate the whole place, pastel peonies and roses on the top of each table. Women are wearing couture dresses, while men are in fancy tuxes, all of them polished and cleaned up pretty. Waiters quietly move around the room, bringing platters loaded of champagne flutes.

Louis grabs a glass, gulping it down in one long sip. Harry looks at him, an eyebrow arched.

“What?” Louis asks, sounding sharper than he wanted to. “I was thirsty.”

Harry opens his mouth to say something, when a high-pitched, harmonious voice with a thick accent calls his name. They both turn, taking in the tall woman walking towards them. She’s sporting a classy blonde bob and a white and golden jumpsuit that underlines the curves of her toned body.

“Hi, baby,” she says, kissing Harry on both cheeks, and then turns to look at Louis.

“Lou!” she exclaims, and goes to hug him. “I’m so freaking happy Harry brought you.”

“Hi, Perrie, I’m glad to see you too,” Louis chuckles, and hugs her back.

“It’s been too long since we’ve all hung out,” she pouts, puckering her shapely lips. “Harry keeps you all to himself these days.”

Harry possessively puts his arm on Louis’ shoulders, and nudges him closer. Louis can feel his fingers burning through the layers of clothes.

“Get off him,” Harry says. He turns to look at Louis, a malicious sparkle in his eyes. “He’s already taken.”

Louis coughs. He can feel his cheeks going on fire as he recognises his own quote from the other night. He wishes for a hatch to open in the middle of the floor and devour him, making him disappear forever. He also wishes that that sentence didn’t sound so good on Harry’s lips.

“Pezza, here you are,” a fourth voice jumps in, saving him from the embarrassment of finding an appropriate come back.

A woman reaches them, copper wavy hair and a huge smile on her luscious lips. She’s wearing a cream lace tube dress, with a deep V cleavage showing off her décolleté. She kisses Harry and Perrie as a greeting, then turns to Louis, and offers him her hand.

“I’m afraid I don’t have the pleasure of having met you,” she says, “I’m Jessica, but everyone calls me Jesy.”

Louis shakes her hand and smiles back. “I’m Louis, nice to meet you.”

“So,” Jesy starts, lowering her voice. She brings a hand next to his mouth, a mischievous gaze in her eyes.  “Have you seen what Camila is wearing? She looks like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman , and I mean before she goes shopping.”

Harry and Perrie both turn, as their eyes start wandering through the hall, probably looking for the girl Jesy has just mentioned. When they spot her, Harry just hallows his cheeks, while Perrie rolls her eyes.

“Oh, c’mon,” Harry says, but his lips break into a smile nevertheless, “leave the poor girl alone.”

“Poor girl my arse!” Perrie exclaims, a frown twisting her beautiful face.  She delivers a light punch on Harry’s bicep. “She’s a cold bitch, always acting like she’s so much better than anyone, always thinking of her own interest. And she’s rude! Jesy’s right, her outfit is completely inappropriate for the occasion. This isn’t a nightclub.” Perrie shakes her head, and goes to elbow Harry. “Have some self-respect, girl. I can’t stand her fake ass. And just because she’s got a crush on you, it doesn’t mean you have to defend her.”

Harry growls and blushes, and he brings his hands to cover up his face.

Louis raises a brow, giving him a look from his shoulder, and unconsciously slip closer to Harry. “She’s got a crush on you?” he asks, his pitch getting higher.

Perrie’s eyes grow wider. “What? You didn’t tell him?”

She claps her hands together, and throws her head back, loudly bursting into a laugh. She gets closer to Louis, a conspiratorial smile on her face. “Basically, this Camila girl had the biggest and most embarrassing crush on Harry. It was quite creepy, to be honest. She was always following him around the office, coming up with new excuses to go talk to him, and she’s not even a divorce lawyer like us, she works on the business side.”

Perrie waves her hand into the air as she speaks, her long, almond-shaped, shining golden nails catching the light.

“And you know what our Harry is like,” Perrie continues, and smirks at Harry, “flirting with everything and everyone, a true charmer.”

“Piss off,” Harry whines. “I thought she knew I was gay.” He pouts, and crosses his arm on his chest.

“I know, love,” Perrie coos. Her face softens as she looks at him, and she goes to pat his arm. “I was just messing with you. We all know you’re cheeky and sweet to everyone, but again, she’s so full of herself she thought she was special. Anyway, she decides to take the first step, and writes this awfully cheesy text to Harry and…”

Perrie pauses on purpose, letting the suspense fill up the moment. Her face is twisted into a grimace as she looks at her audience, one by one.

“She ends up sending it to the man she was currently dating!” she concludes, her eyes widened with humour.

“No way!” Louis exclaims. His hand goes automatically to his fallen open mouth to cover it.

“Yes way!” Jesy hysterically laughs, shaking her hair. “And he is an high-tech lad who works at the firm, so he just interrupts the meeting we were all having, and starts reading the text out loud, and when he’s done, he looks at her and goes ‘Well, the joke is on you anyway because he’s gay, Camila’ and walks out.”

“No way!” Louis repeats. He starts laughing, his shoulders shaking. “What did the text say?”

“It was terrible, believe me,” Perrie rolls her eyes, and brings her hands dramatically on her chest. Her voice grows higher as she starts mocking Camila’s pitch. “Something like ‘I want to make you fall in love with me like I made all the other boys fall in love with me, it is a celestial destiny for us to be together, I don’t long for anything else and I know you don’t either, blah blah blah’.”

She looks at Louis wiggling her eyebrows, and snaps her tongue. Louis laughs even more, tears gathering at the corners of his eyes.

“Stop making fun of her. It was awkward as hell,” Harry whines, but he’s smiling too. “I was so sorry for her.”

“I felt pity for her too,” Jesy agrees. “Maybe we all did. But that lasted for, like, two days. Then she tried to screw her colleague Lauren over on some case, and we went back to hating her.”

“She sounds like a real nightmare,” Louis says, swapping away the tears. He fakes a shiver, a huge grin on his lips. He elbows Harry in the side, and pouts. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me, you’re supposed to tell me everything.”

Harry shrugs, a hand brushing through his hair. “Too much secondhand embarrassment,” he laughs.

“I’m a better narrator anyway,” Perrie says, showing him her tongue. “We should make a toast,” she adds, and stops a waiter in order to get some champagne for the four of them.

“To not being like Camila, thank God!” she exclaims, and this time they all laugh, clanking their glasses together, and proceed to gulp them down.

“Your boots are amazing, by the way, Harry,” Jesy says, her eyes shining, looking at Harry’s shoes as a man would look at an oasis in the middle of the desert. “Are they Saint-Laurent? And your shirt is beautiful, too. Always getting your titties out, you!”

Harry laughs. His free hand starts to rub on his chest, where his butterfly tattoo is inked. “You know me,” he says, “I can’t wait to show them as soon as we leave the office.”

“Harry has a thing for being naked,” Louis observes, nudging him with his shoulder, and then brushing some lint off Harry’s jacket. “He just can’t keep his clothes on, can he? He’s always been like this since he was a teenager. I don’t know how many strokes his sister’s friends have had.”

Louis turns to smile fondly at Harry, only to find Harry already looking at him.

“Leave me alone,” Harry says. He scrunches up his nose, his dimples in plain sight on his cheeks. “Should I tell them about that time Lottie’s best friend caught you naked?” He softly pushes his fingers on Louis’ hip to tickle him, and Louis giggles and tries to squirm away, but Harry keeps him still.

“Stop it, you bastard!” he shrieks, laughing, “You know that’s my sensitive spot.”

“Exactly,” Harry grins and tugs him closer, his arms wrapping around Louis’ waist.

“Awww, you two are the cutest,” Jesy coos. She brings her hand on her heart, a huge grin on her lips. “How long have you been together, exactly?”

Louis can feel his smile vanishing from his face as soon as he realises what she’s said, and his cheeks go immediately red. He looks down, tensing, and uncomfortably moves his weight from one feet to the other. His heart starts to beat faster, and Louis doesn’t even know why.

An awkward silence falls onto the group, broken only by Harry’s cough.

“Ehm,” he says, offering a little smile, “we’re not a couple, actually.” He starts rubbing at the back of his neck, but he leaves his other hand on Louis. “We’re just friends.”

“Oh,” is all that Jesy says. She looks taken aback, her mouth fallen open. Louis sees her and Perrie exchanging a look.

“I’m sorry, guys.” She has an apologetic smile on her lips when she speaks again, after having a big sip of champagne. “You look so close, I just took it for granted. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Harry says, and shrugs. Louis can see he has gone red as well.

“It’s not a big deal,” Perrie jumps in, trying to laugh it off, but she sounds too loud, too amused, her grin is too big. “Everyone mistakes them for a couple at the beginning.”

And, yes, she might be right. This might be quite a common mistake, but still. And yes, maybe friends are not supposed to get off thinking about each other but it was a one-time thing. Just a one-time thing. He is probably overreacting. Not a big deal, said Perrie. Not a big deal at all.

He tries to smile again, like nothing’s happened, but the atmosphere has definitely turned awkward.

Harry clears his throat, and starts looking around. “You know, we should probably go look for James and Julia. We haven’t said hello yet,” he says. “We’ll see you ladies later.”

He brings his hand on the small of Louis’ back, leading him away.

 

 

 

 

Louis had never met Harry’s bosses, but Harry always spoke highly of them. Harry had started working for their firm a few years after graduating from uni. He had started at the very bottom, but in less than ten years, he had managed to bust his ass enough to gain James’ and Julia’s trust, apparently, and become an important contributor to their corporation.

The couple is having a conversation with a middle-aged man in a grey tux. James brings his hand up to stroke the reddish beard on his large chin as he sips on champagne. His small, aquamarine eyes shine as soon as they spot Harry and Louis walking towards him.

“Harry!” he beams. He pats Harry heartily on his shoulder. “Glad you made it, son.”

The man in the grey tux excuses himself and walks away. Julia, in a stunning, long, silver dress, turns toward Harry.

“My darling,” she says, touching Harry’s elbow. Her lips open in a genuine smile. “Thank you for coming, and for the flowers and the present you sent. They were lovely and so sweet. I appreciate your thinking of me, Harry.”

“It was my pleasure,” Harry says, dimples popping, leaning in to kiss her on the cheek. “Happy birthday again, Julia. You look beautiful tonight.”

Julia laughs. She places her hand on Harry’s arm and squeezes. “You’re a doll,” she gushes. She tucks a lock of ice blond hair behind her ear, and cocks her head on one side. “And I have to admit, you’ve really outdone yourself tonight, Harry. You look so dashing.”

Louis lags behind Harry, not wanting to intrude, looking on quietly at the exchange. He has a small, proud smile on his face. Lottie would call it his Harry fond face. Everyone seem to love Harry, everyone seem to be endeared by him. Not that it comes as a surprise, of course, Louis is basically Harry’s biggest fan and has been since day one, but it’s nice to see how much everybody appreciates him.

In that moment, Harry turns, and his eyes immediately land on Louis. His dimples look even deeper now.

“C’mere, Lou,” Harry mouths, and offers him his hand. Louis accepts it, tangling their fingers together and squeezing them, and get closer to the couple. He suddenly feels sheepish and doesn’t even know why. It’s just weird. It’s like when you have to meet your partner’s family, except that he met Harry’s family years ago and that Harry is not his partner. So, weird.

“Awww,” Julia coos, a huge grin plastered on her face, “aren’t you the cutest?”

She immediately goes in for a hug, and she kinda smells like Louis’ mother, and she kinda hugs him like a mother, too, so Louis just relaxes into her arms and holds her back.

“I’ve heard you’re turning twenty-seven,” he jokes, impish. “Happy birthday.”

Julia bursts out laughing. She brings one hand to cover her mouth as she throws her head back.

“He is the cutest!” she giggles.

When he untangles himself from her, he meets James’ bright eyes.

“He is indeed very cute,” James comments. He grins and extends his hand to Louis. Louis complies immediately.

“Well done, young Harold,” James says. “I have to admit, though, I’m a bit hurt.” He raises his eyebrows and wiggles them. “How could you keep us from such a pretty boyfriend for so long?”

For the second time in less than fifteen minutes, Louis feels his face burning up. Somebody call the firemen, please. Louis didn't know he had this many blood vessels in his skin.

He breaks eye contact and bites on his lower lip. He can feel Harry stiffen on his side as well, and then laughing it off.

“Err— he’s not,” Harry takes a pause to clear his throat. “He’s not my boyfriend. He’s Louis, my best friend.”

A frown falls on his beautiful features. He brushes a hand through his hair, moving the weight of his body from a foot to the other.

“Louis, meet Julia and James,” Harry continues. He’s not even looking at him, just intently staring at the floor.

“What?” James has his mouth fallen open, wrinkles on his forehead. He’s looking at Harry like the latter has just started explaining nuclear fission to a classroom full of eleven-year-old kids. “But you two… well ,” James interrupts himself sharply and coughs in his hand. “You said you’d bring your boyfriend with you to let us meet him.”

“Yeah, I did say that,” Harry shrugs, “before we broke up.”

His hand goes to his tie as he would like to loosen it up, only to find out it’s already loose. His fingers wrap around the knot nevertheless, and tug just a little.

“I’m sorry I’m not a big deal,” Louis chuckles, faking glee, and opens his arms. “I’m just a replacement, I’m afraid.” His voice sounds flat to his own ears.

He can feel Harry rolling his eyes more than actually see him.

“You’re not a replacement, Louis,” he replies. “You know that.”

Louis senses a note of annoyance behind an intended neutral tone. He knows it’s his cue to leave.

“Well,” he says. He plasters a huge smile on his face. “If you please excuse me, I’m going to have a smoke. It was nice meeting you.”

Still grinning, he turns and heads to the long balcony. Harry does not follow him. Louis does not care.

He doesn’t.

The air is fresh and sparkling outside. Louis’ grateful for it because he can finally breathe. There isn’t Harry’s cologne to intoxicate his nostrils, there isn’t Harry’s silhouette to catch his eyes, there isn’t Harry’s rasp to fill his ears, and definitely there isn’t Harry’s taste anywhere near his mouth. And maybe all these things might still be in his mind, but at least his senses are free.

Louis takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He messes up with his tie trying to loosen it up and rests his head on the wall behind him.

He’s fine, everything’s just fine. Things are weird because of last night, but Harry doesn't know that, and nothing’s changed. He just needs some time to forget, and maybe to forgive himself, and then everything will go back to normality. Nothing has changed, everything is fine.

He lights up a cigarette, and if his hand trembles a little, no one needs to know.

He comes back inside only when the dinner is served. His place is next to Harry’s, of course, but thank God joining them at their table are Perrie and Jesy, with four other people he doesn't know. He makes small talk, he smiles, and he drinks too much wine. He also ignores Harry as much as he can, and he keeps on sneaking out to smoke after every single course.

He’s just finished dessert – actually, he’s given up his chocolate brownie covered in custard barely just after three bites, but those are details – and he’s again on the balcony. His gaze wanders over the sky. Of course there are too many lights in London to properly see all of the stars, yet some of them burn so brightly that they just can't be ignored.

He feels Harry before really seeing him.

Harry stops by his side, and starts playing with the rings around his fingers.

“You’re smoking quite a lot, tonight,” his voice is low, almost a whisper. Harry’s eyes linger on Louis’ features, but Louis doesn’t acknowledge him.

He just shrugs, and keeps looking at the horizon. “It’s been a long day at work,” he mutters out eventually.

Harry stays quiet for a while. He fidgets with the ring he wears on his pinkie, letting his finger slipping in and out of it. Louis’ pretty sure he gave him that.

“Would you offer me one, please?”

Harry throws at him a sideway glance. Louis hands him his packs of cigarettes and a lighter, Harry accepts it and lights a cigarette up.

“It’s true what they say, innit,” Louis says. He takes a long drag, letting the smoke going through his bloodstream. He exhales slowly from his nose. “If you sleep with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas.”

Harry laughs humorlessly. “Funny that you say that,” he comments, “I was just thinking about a dog.”

Louis can’t resist any further and gives in, giving Harry a glance. He lingers on the way Harry’s lips wrap around the cigarette, his hollowed cheeks, his jawline. There’s one hair on Harry’s jacket, and Louis immediately goes to brush it away. Harry’s chest is warm and Louis’s hand burns from the contact. Harry’s eyes follow his movements.

Louis clears his throat. “What dog?”

Harry shrugs. He lets a little bit of ash fall into an ashtray near to them.

“A dog from a book.”

Louis rises an eyebrow and cocks his head on a side. “Are you thinking about Marley and me, Styles?”

The corner of Harry’s lips stand up.

“Nah.” He exhales a cloud of grey smoke, and turns to look at Louis. “Love is a dog from hell.

Louis knows that book. In fact, Louis read that book more than once. Still, he just rolls his eyes.  

“That stupid ol’ book you insisted on carrying around in your hipsterest phase?”

“It’s not stupid at all,” Harry pouts, his hand stopped at mid-air. “And you should know it’s my favourite book.”

Of course he knows. That’s why he read it in the first place, eager to understand better that gorgeous boy of his who was growing up too fast.

He leans over Harry to tap his own cigarette off. He can feel Harry’s gaze following his movement.

Harry takes a drag and licks his lips. “Don’t undress my love / you might find a mannequin,” Harry says, and it’s almost a whisper that gets lost in the dead of the night, stolen by people’s laughters and  cars’ noises. But Louis hears it nevertheless.

Don’t undress the mannequin / you might find / my love. He swallows.

His mind brings him to a sunny Sunday afternoon of many years ago, back when Harry’s hair were long and there were less crinkles by his eyes, but his smile was just the same. They spent hours chilling in Kensington Gardens laying on the grass, Harry’s back held against a log and Louis’ head on his lap. Harry read aloud random poems from that volume with voice raspy and slow, and he was such a good reader, he put so much passion into his tone that Louis could actually feel the words, and not just hear them.

He had bought Love is a dog from hell the day after, but now, now he just shrugs and pretends he has never spent nights up till late consuming those pages.

“Those are just poems for lovestruck people,” he mumbles between his teeth. He would like to lit another cigarette, but he knows Harry will give him shit for it, so he just put his hands in his pockets, and hold onto the fabric.

Harry stays silent. He looks at Louis silently, the corner of his mouth slightly lowered. Louis does his best to ignore the knot in his gut.

“So,” he clears his throat, “how’s your love life going, then?” He tries to make his voice sound gleeful. He fails.

Harry arches his eyebrows. “Well, you know how my last date went,” he says in a flat voice. “You were there.”

Louis lowers his eyes and mentally curses himself. That was definitely not his smartest move. “I’m sorry about that,” he mutters, still looking at his shoes.

Harry sighs and puts his cigarette out. “It’s okay, Lou,” he says. He tries to meet Louis’ gaze. “I don’t mind, I had fun last night. I told you.”

Louis nods. He bites the inside of his cheek, looking at Harry from under his eyelashes.

“What about—” he starts, but his voice breaks a little. He coughs, and feels his face going red. “What about Michael? You’ve never talked about him since you guys broke up, so I was wondering how you’ve been coping.” He rubs at his neck, and shifts his weight. “I know I’ve never asked before, and I’m sorry for that, because… well, you know he wasn’t exactly my favourite person in the world, so I wasn’t this sad when you broke up,” He clears his throat again, and dares looking at Harry. There’s a small smile on Harry’s lips, so Louis goes on. “So how are you? For real. Are you still hurting for him?”

Harry brushes a hand through his hair, and then he starts massaging his brows.

“The truth is that I knew he wasn’t right for me, just as I wasn’t right for him, and I’ve known this from the start, but I decided to give it a chance anyway,” Harry admits. He chews on his lower lip. “I wanted to make it work, you know, I wanted to make it work so bad, and I tried so hard. I tried to be attentive, and romantic, and to make him feel that I cared… but then I realised I was trying too hard. It wouldn’t come natural, to me, to be like this with him. And when your feelings are real, you’re not supposed to try that hard, aren’t you? It should be easy, but it wasn’t. My heart just wasn’t there. So I stopped trying.”

He shrugs, and starts playing with his rings again.

Nick’s words play in Louis’ head. Harry’s relationships don’t seem to last that long. Almost like, well, he’s not really that into them anyway .

Louis swallows. “How did you know he wasn’t right?”

There’s a shadow that darkens Harry’s eyes when he replies. “I just did.” His tone is dry, his voice is cold. All the signs tell Louis to stop inquiring, but he can’t.

“Yes, but why?” His pitch is higher than necessary, and a few people nearby turn to look at them, annoyed looks on their faces. Louis ignore them, and keeps looking at Harry. “And if you knew he wasn’t right, why did you even bother?”

There’s some blush creeping down Harry’s neck, Louis can spot it. Harry lowers his gaze, caught off guard. “He was a nice guy,” he says under his breath.

“So that’s what you’re looking for? Someone who’s nice?” Louis shakes his head. “Do you even know what kind of person you’re looking for, Haz?”

“Yeah, someone who’s nice,” Harry shrugs again. He fidgets with the knot of his tie as his fingers wrap around it. Louis notices his ring finger has been left unpainted. “Someone who’s funny, who I can get along with easily. Someone I can just do nothing with, because just the fact that we’re together is the whole thing.”

Louis rises an eyebrow. “All this sounds quite generic, H.”

Harry raises his eyes and the look in them burns a hole in Louis’ soul. There’s something in there, like a spark, Louis can’t quite figure out what is.

“You’re wrong,” Harry says, “it’s not generic at all to me.”

He moves a step towards Louis, and Louis forces himself to stay still and not back up. Harry brings his hand up in the air, then let it fall again. His fingers seem to wrap around something invisible.

“What about you, Louis?” he inquires, and his eyes are still burning. “What are you looking for?”

“Me?” Louis laughs humorlessly. The smile on his face is bitter. “I’m not looking for anyone, Harry, you know that. I’m not relationships material. I don’t even know why people bother with love in the first place, because it never lasts.”

Harry opens his mouth to reply, but Louis raises a hand to stop him. “You might be an exception to the rule, Harry, and I mean this,” he continues, “I do believe you’ll find someone, eventually. I do believe you might be that Gigi girl from He’s just not that into you, but not me. I’m no exception, and I’m okay with that because I don’t want to be an exception.”

Harry frowns, and little wrinkles appear on his forehead. “But you know,” he says, and his voice sounds more raspy than usual, “you could be like Connor. He didn’t do relationships either, he wasn’t a believer until he met Gigi. You could be him, you might just need someone to remind you that. You might just need your own Gigi.”

Louis shakes his head, and shrugs. “My life is not a movie, Haz,” he mumbles. He places a hand on Harry’s arm and squeezes. “We should go back inside, now. It’s cold out here.”   

Harry sighs, and lower his gaze. The corner of his mouth raises as he spots something.

“Wait,” he chuckles, “your tie is completely undone, Lou. Let me fix the knot.”

He gets closer and suddenly he’s in Louis’ space and it’s not cold anymore and no no no, he’s too close, abort abort abort!

Louis takes a sharp breath in but he breathes just Harry; the air is intoxicating. His eyes linger on Harry’s features, the tip of Harry’s tongue popping up from his lips, like it always does when he’s focused on something.

Harry adjusts his tie and raises his eyes. There’s a little smile on his lips, but it disappear as soon as he meets Louis’ gaze. He licks his lips, and Louis can’t help himself and just follows the movement.

The silence surrounds them, even if the balcony is anything but quiet, yet noises have never been this dull.

Louis and Harry just stare at each other. Electricity flows through the wires.

Louis thinks he might inhale Harry, could feel him floating inside. There are stars in Harry’s eyes, and his pupils are blown away.

And then an iPhone’s trill warns them someone has gotten a new text.

Louis lowers his gaze and takes a step back, too aware of the blush that must be reddening his face. Harry clears his throat and takes his phone from his back pocket. His finger taps on the screen as he starts reading.

Louis looks at him, and there’s something weird in Louis’ mouth. Something sour that tastes a bit like disappointment. He fidgets, and Harry raises his eyes to look at him.

“It’s Zayn,” he says, as he brings a hand to his mouth to caress his lips. Louis forces himself not to gaze at them.

“He’s going to a new club with some friends tomorrow night,” Harry continues. “Liam’ll be there, too. He asked me to join them.”

“Great,” Louis says. He hollows his cheeks and bites on the insides. There’s a knot in his gut that won’t go away. “Sounds fun.” His tone is pettier than it should be.

Harry brushes a hand through his hair. “Do you wanna come?”

Louis chews on his lips, and shrugs. Alcohol and Harry seem not to match too well together, lately, creating a dangerous combination. But then, Louis thinks of Harry in a dark club, dancing with some faceless stranger, and his stomach falls. He tightens his fists. Maybe he should go, just to keep an eye on him.

“Okay,” he mutters, “why not?”

He won’t make it awkward, he promises. It’s just Harry, after all.

Harry nods at him. “Let’s get inside,” he mumbles, before turning. Louis sighs as he stays still, looking at Harry’s back walking away. He passes a hand on his face and massages his temples.

We know God is dead, they told us, but listening to you I wasn’t sure.

 

 

***

 

 

The next evening, Louis hasn’t even been home for ten minutes when the doorbell rings. He gives a look at the clock hung on his kitchen’s wall and sighs. He knew he shouldn’t have let Niall talk him into going for a pint after work. And he should have known a pint would have turned into two, and that he would have ended up being late – Liam warned him – because now it’s past ten, and Harry’s already here, and he’s ages away from being ready.

He goes to open his door, his lips already forming an apology, but his words die in his throat as soon as he sees Harry.

Harry’s wearing a red wool coat. He’s wearing a bloody red coat. Louis didn’t even know Harry owned a red coat. Who the fuck goes around wearing a red coat except for that girl from bloody Pretty Little Liars? It’s so over-the-top, and so damn Harry , Louis just wants to sit, hold his knees and weep. And then maybe do something not very chaste and definitely not appropriate and why does his mind even go there, for fuck’s sake?

Louis swallows. Harry is standing on Louis’ landing with a red coat and a small smile on his lips, and he’s looking so damn cute and hot at the same time, and Louis hasn’t even managed to say anything yet. And the thing is, the coat is so fucking long, it goes all the way to Harry’s calves, and it makes him look even taller and leaner, all long limbs and toned muscles, and Louis really needs to regain control of his own mouth.

He clears his throat. “C’mon in,” he croaks, and he knows his voice is one hundred times lower than the usual.

Harry walks past him and enters his flat. He looks at Louis and knits his eyebrows. “You okay?” he asks. “You’re not coming down with a cold, are you?”

Louis heats up, and immediately turns to lock the door, turning his back to Harry. He fakes a cough. “Maybe,” he mutters.

“You still up for clubbing? If you’re not feeling like it, we could just stay in,” Harry says as he starts removing his coat, and he sounds genuinely concerned. Louis wants to run away and hide forever. And then Louis turns, and takes in what Harry’s wearing underneath the coat, and suddenly he needs to run away .

Harry has his signature ripped-at-the-knees, black super-skinny jeans and black Chelsea boots, worn with a see-through white shirt, with the first buttons left undone as usual so that his butterfly’s wings are on display. He’s looking devilishly handsome.

And the thing is, Harry has always worn things like these, but it feels like since the karaoke night, Louis can’t stop ogling him. Of course he’s always been very aware of Harry’s appearance, he’s always found him attractive – hot, even – even when he was a sixteen-year-old boy with round cheeks and softer edges, but with time Harry’s only gotten better. Just like those fancy wines he likes so much.

And if Louis has to be completely honest, it’s not like he’s never thought of Harry like that, but he’s never let his mind wander off too much, and now he knows why. Because all it took was one time letting himself go and think about his most secret fantasies, and now he doesn’t know how to stop anymore. It’s like that old poem about that girl who goes to the goblin market and eats the goblins’ fruits, only to discover that one time was enough to become addicted to it. Exactly like Louis now.

He sighs, and forces himself to snap out of his mental trip. He finds Harry sat on his couch, with his legs wide open. Harry’s eyes are unfocused and he's looking at Louis with a different, intensely unnerving gaze.

Suddenly, Louis feels self-conscious, because he hasn’t changed yet, and he hasn’t even showered. He feels himself going red.

“What?” he asks. He brushes a hand through his hair. He hopes it doesn’t look too messy.

Harry’s eyes widen for a second and then he recovers, slightly clearing his throat.

“Nothing,” he says, and shrugs, “it’s just that I don’t get to see you in your uniform this often.”

Louis spots the blush creeping on Harry’s neck and oh. Okay. Louis can do this. He can deal with teasing.

Louis raises a brow. “So that’s it?” he smirks, “You’re getting weak in the knees for a man in uniform, Styles?”

Harry laughs, and his smile is relaxed, but his hands are tight on his knees. “You look like you’ve just left the set of Magic Mike,” he says, and winks.

Louis cocks his head on one side, grinning. Harry wants to play? Bring it on. He fumbles with his phone, and opens the Spotify app to pick a song. Drake’s Hotline Bling starts playing in the room.

Louis can feel Harry’s gaze on himself as he starts loosening up his tie and unbuttoning his shirt. And then he starts dancing.

It’s slow at first, Louis only moves his hips, but as the chorus starts, he begins doing it for real. He’s always been a mean dancer.

As the song proceeds, Louis gets closer and closer to Harry, who seems unable to take his eyes off Louis. His pupils are slightly dilated, and his lips are luscious and shiny.

When the second chorus starts, Louis jumps on his lap, knees placed on the sides of Harry’s thighs. Harry licks his lips, and widens his arms on the couch’s backrest. Louis starts moving his hips, and that’s when he feels it. Harry’s half hard. As soon as the realisation falls down on him, his dick twitches in his pants, interested. Shit.

Louis stands back up immediately. His cock protests.

Harry clears his throat and crosses his legs, his hand not that subtly adjusting himself. Louis pretends not to see that, and pretends not to feel his own cock filling up, and occupies himself by turning the music off.

“I should probably go shower before it gets too late,” he mumbles. He rubs at his neck and lowers his gaze. His throat is suddenly as dry as the Sahara desert. He waves his hand in the air. “Help yourself with something to drink, if you want to. I’ll be right back.”

Harry just nods, and Louis slips away, going to lock himself in his bathroom. Shit shit shit shit.

He spends too much time under the water in a desperate tentative to calm down his overheated spirit. He forces himself to refrain from touching his cock because he doesn’t want to give in to the thoughts that are currently crossing his mind.

He dresses quickly, opting for a black pair of skinny jeans and a simple white tee, but completes the outfit with his favourite jacket of the moment, a dusty olive suede motorcycle jacket, and fringed brown ankle boots. He styles his hair into a messy fringe, and then brushes at the stubble he’s decided not to shave. He breathes in and out as he looks at his own eyes in the mirror. It’ll be fine.

When he gets back to kitchen, Harry’s on the same spot Louis had left him earlier. On the coffee table are a bottle of Jack and a used glass. Louis takes in Harry’s rosy cheeks and his glassy eyes and wonders how many drinks he has already had in his absence.

“You ready?” Harry asks, “I’ll call us a taxi.”

There’s a tentative smile on his lips, but there are clouds that darken the green of his eyes. Louis grins back, trying to look reassuring. He doesn’t want Harry to feel weird or whatever. It was Louis himself who started dancing, after all. It was just a bit of a banter, nothing more. Not a big deal.

“Pour me a drink, Lou, please,” Harry says as he fumbles with his phone. Louis complies, and then gets a glass for himself as well.

He makes his own whisky a double. He has a feeling he’ll probably need it. He gulps it down without thinking twice.



They arrive at the venue about thirty minutes later. It’s a small club in Camden, with a very hipster vibe. Then again, Louis’ not surprised since Zayn is the one who chose the location.

It’s dark inside, lit only by psychedelic blue and green lights. There are a few small black leather couches and acrylic see-through tables alongside the walls, an old electric guitar above the bar counter, and a quote spray-painted in front of the entrance: without music, life would be a mistake. Louis rolls his eyes when he sees it. How extra is it to quote Nietzsche in a club.

People are dancing along the last Steve Aoki tune, faceless boys and Harlequin girls grinding on each other. The bass pumps hard and Louis can literally feel it in his veins.

Harry puts a hand on the small of his back and leads him to a corner, and Louis spot Zayn and Liam shamelessly making out sitting on a couch. He whistles between his teeth, but the sound gets lost in the music.

“Someone is having fun, I see,” he says. Liam slightly jumps, then blushes as soon as he taken in Louis and Harry. A Cheshire cat smile appears on Zayn’s face, who doesn’t even bother getting off Liam’s lap.

“Harry,” he says, “glad you’re here, man.” His pronunciation is a bit slurred. He hiccups. “And you brought Louis,” he winks. “Maybe tonight is the night, then.”

Louis raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” he asks. His tone is probably a little sharper than it should, but Zayn just grins at him.

Louis turns to Harry, who’s looking at Zayn like he’s currently plotting a hundred ways to murder him. Louis raises the other eyebrow as well.

“What does he mean?” he repeats.

Harry’s head snaps towards him, and his frown melts into a smile a bit too quickly to be genuine.

Harry shrugs. “I have no idea,” he says, a hand brushing through his hair. “He’s drunk. Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s talking shit.”

Liam coughs and Zayn shifts on his lap. His grin widens even more.

“Sure I am,” he laughs, “but you know what they say. In vino veritas.”

“In wine, maybe,” Harry replies, and Louis can see him tensing, “but that’s vodka, so you have no excuse for being a wanker”. He clenches his teeth, and his mouth twists into a thin line. He brings his hands on his hips, and Louis mourns for the emptiness that replaces the warm touch on his back.

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Relax, H, it’s all good.”

Louis meets Liam’s gaze, but the latter just lowers his eyes and clears his throat. Louis tilts his head on one side. There’s something going on here, but it’s like he can’t quite catch up.

Zayn gestures at the two opened vodka bottles on the table in front of him. “Have a drink. Make yourselves at home,” he says. Liam pinches him on the side and Zayn jumps, going to massage the spot. “Heyyy!” he exclaims, “What was that for?”

Liam just pinches him again and Zayn widens his eyes. He turns to look at Louis, and smiles. “I meant nothing, Louis. Don't overthink it, all right?” He looks over at Harry and blows him a kiss. “Don’t be mad at me, Hazzy, you know I love you.” Zayn grins knowingly, then returns to sucking Liam’s face off.

Harry snorts and rolls his eyes. He stays silent, biting the insides of his cheeks, eyes lowered to the ground. Louis can spot the hint of a blush on his face. Louis watches him closely as he goes to pour two fingers of Redbull into a glass, and then fill up the rest with vodka. He gulps it down without even bothering to get a straw. Louis knits his eyebrows, and coughs. He slips closer to Harry when he sees him making another drink. Louis hands him a strawberry pink straw. Harry accepts it in silence.

“You okay, Haz?” Louis asks as he starts pouring himself some vodka and mixing it up with lemon soda. He forces himself not to follow with his eyes the way Harry’s lips mercilessly wrap around the straw as he sucks up the liquor. The room feels suddenly very hot. Louis tugs at the neck of his tee, trying to loosen it up.

Harry nods, and pats on the couch next to him for Louis to sit. Louis cuddles up next to him. Harry immediately nudges him closer, breathing into his hair, and Louis relaxes into his touch. They stay there for a while, drinking and chatting with Zayn’s friends.

Louis is discussing Man United’s last match when Harry elbows him. “You wanna do shots?” Harry whispers in his ear. His lips brushes against Louis’ skin and just that minimum contact is enough to make Louis feel funny things in his stomach. His eyelids flutter closed as he heats up. He exhales sharply, standing up before his knees go too weak to support him, and offers Harry his hand.

“C’mon,” he says, and he drags Harry to the bar.

They order four tequila shots, and Louis starts fixing some salt on his hand, in the crook between his thumb and his index finger. He’s just about to bring his hand to his mouth when Harry catches it, and sucks the salt straight from it. Louis can feel Harry’s tongue licking his skin and the ghost of his teeth barely marking him. His mouth falls open and something warm gathers in his low belly. He swallows.

Harry smirks at him when he’s done, then pours some salt on his own hand and gives it to Louis.

“Your turn,” he says. His voice is deep and there’s something dark and dangerous in his eyes. Louis would be smart to walk away, but Harry’s like quicksand.

Louis clears his throat, starts to suck on Harry’s hand. He hollows his cheeks and never breaks eye contact. Harry blushes, his eyes following Louis’ lips. Louis makes sure to give one more lick to gather all the salt left. He can feel Harry’s hand tremble, his body involuntarily shuddering.

They drink up their shots in silence. Louis bites hard on the lemon, the acidic taste filling his mouth.

“Let’s dance,” Harry says when he’s done, and enlaces his fingers with Louis’. They’re a bit sticky, but Louis doesn’t care, and he follows him on the dancefloor. He’d follow him anywhere.

They start dancing, and it’s all innocent at first, just two friends moving to the music, but the atmosphere changes quickly.

A remix of Ed Sheeran’s latest single starts playing when Harry makes Louis shifts on his own feet and spins him around, so that Louis’ back is attached to Harry’s chest. Not even one inch is left between their bodies. Harry is hot and sweaty, and his breath is warm on Louis’ neck, and his hands burn Louis’ flesh when he places them on Louis’ hips.

Your love was handmade for somebody like me, c’mon now follow my lead, I may be crazy, don’t mind me.”

Harry sings along the lyrics and his mouth brushes against Louis’ ear. They’re swaying in time with the music, a chemical attraction building up between their bodies.

Say, boy, let’s not talk too much, grab on my waist and put that body on me, c’mon now follow my lead.”

Louis tilts his head back and leans into Harry’s firm figure. Harry’s lips hover all the way from Louis’ jaw to his neck and Louis wants to feel them on his skin, and under it. He wants to devour Harry, and he wants to be devoured.

He grinds his arse back onto Harry’s crotch, and he can feel Harry’s already half hard. He bites on his bottom lip to keep a moan from escaping, and grinds up with more intent.

Harry nudges him even closer, his fingers probably leaving bruises on Louis’ hips for how tight he’s holding him, and thrusts forward.

I’m in love with the shape of you, we push and pull like a magnet do, although my heart is falling too, I’m in love with your body.”

Louis shivers as Harry’s voice, that must be deeper than the Pacific Ocean right now, goes straight to his dick. He can feel it filling up inside his pants, already slick with precome, and he regrets wearing such tight jeans. He moves his hips back and forth, getting more turned on by Harry’s hard-on pressing into him from behind and desperately trying to get some friction on his cock.

Harry’s hands inch closer to his groin. They stop on the V formed by his pubic bones and start massaging the skin there. Louis moans and pushes back just as Harry rocks forward.

“Lou,” he groans, and bites on Louis’ earlobe. Louis whimpers. He feels high on Harry, it’s like Harry has gotten into his bloodstream and Louis has no idea how to get clean from him. He doesn’t even want to.

Harry spins him so that they’re facing each other now. His eyes are the darkest Louis has ever seen them, and his pupils are completely blown up.

C’mon, be my baby, c’mon.

Harry licks his rosy lips, making them shiny with spit. Louis follows the movement and suddenly feels hungry. He wants to taste them so bad. That’s how Eve must have felt back to the Garden of Eden. You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.
Louis doesn’t care about good and evil right now, though, and he wouldn’t even mind dying, if he was allowed to eat Harry first. It would be such a heavenly way to die, after all.

Harry’s hands slip on Louis’ arse and squeezes it hard. They both moan.

“Louis,” Harry mumbles, and he sounds already so wrecked. Louis wants to destroy him even more.

Harry leans closer, and Louis lifts his face. His eyelids shutter closed and he opens his lips. He’s going to kiss Harry. He’s going to kiss Harry. He can already feel the phantom of his mouth on his own, and shivers. It’s been so long, it’s been so long.

“Guys!”

They both snap back and turn towards the voice. Zayn staggers his way to them, and then leans into Harry to support himself. Louis tighten his fists. He’s probably shaking, but he feels like he has never hated someone so fiercely in his whole life.

Zayn’s eyes are red and unfocused when they shift between Harry and Louis, and his smile is silly.

“Well,” he says and then starts coughing. Harry pats on his back. Louis bites on the inside of his cheek and tries not to roll his eyes.

Zayn grins at Harry, and continues. “I wanted to tell you that Liam and I are leaving, but maybe you two prefer to stay,” he winks.

Louis glances at Harry and takes in his glossy eyes and red cheeks. He’s currently supporting Zayn but he doesn’t look any better. Together, they don’t seem very stable at all.

“We’ll leave too,” he decides. He can feel Harry’s gaze burn into him but Louis doesn’t look away from Zayn. “Lead the way.”

He takes Harry’s hand and starts following Zayn, but Harry trips on his own feet almost immediately. Louis sighs, and stops to help him.

“C’mon, baby, lean on me,” he whispers. He takes Harry’s arm and lets it slip over his own shoulders, and grabs firmly on Harry’s waist. They collect their coats and head outside.

“Take me home, Lou,” Harry mumbles as they climb in the backseat of a taxi.

 

 

 

 

 

When they finally get to Harry’s flat, Harry is still completely pissed. Like, shitfaced pissed. He can barely stand, and falls on Louis’ body just to stay up. Not that Louis cares. It has happened millions of times, and he’s glad to help. It’s totally normal for them to be this close. What has happened earlier at the club doesn’t change anything . It’s not like Louis is suddenly too aware of Harry’s biceps on his shoulder, or of Harry’s abs pushing to his side, or of his hand touching Harry’s love handle in a desperate attempt to keep the other boy straight. Not that that is possible anyway.

“C’mon, Harry, give me your keys so I can open the bloody door,” he grumbles between his teeth.

“They’re in my back pocket, Lou,” Harry giggles, and turns around to let Louis get them.

Louis inhales abruptly. Snap out of it, for God’s sake . He breathes out from his nose. It’s just Harry.

Louis forces himself not to ogle Harry’s small but so, so toned bum and gets the keys, and then he finally opens the door.

“Let’s get you to bed, drunk boy,” he mumbles, and takes Harry’s hand to lead him to his bedroom.

“Why don’t you start taking off your clothes while I get you some water?”

Harry smirks. “If you wanted to get me naked, Lou, you just had to ask.”

Louis rolls his eyes, ignoring the fact that he is in fact blushing, and disappears into the kitchen to find a bottle of water. When he comes back, Harry’s already tucked into his bed, just with his pants on, and his clothes are lying in a messy pile on the floor. He looks up at Louis as soon as he enters the room.

“You came back,” he beams. “I was starting to miss you.”

“I’ve been gone for like five seconds, H.” Louis nudges closer to the bed as he places the bottle on the nightstand.

“And it’s five seconds too many,” Harry pouts, and pats on the mattress beside him. “C’mere. You’re spending the night, aren’t you?”

Louis sighs. He’s starting to feel dizzy due to alcohol and tiredness, and the only thought of getting out in the cold to return to his own flat makes him yawn.

“Yeah,” he mutters “yeah, I’m staying.” He shrugs off his shirt and jeans, and then slips under the covers next to Harry. “Goodnight, H,” Louis whispers. He stretches in order to turn off the light and yawns again, dead to the bone. Half of Louis’s brain is already dreaming.

Clearly, though, Harry isn’t on the same page. Ten minutes later, Harry is still restless: he keeps tossing and turning, unable to find peace.

“Haz,” Louis sniffs, giving up on trying to ignore Harry’s movements. He finally forces himself to opens his eyes. “What is wrong? What's with all the moving around?”

Harry turns once more, this time facing Louis, and gets closer to him. He tangles their legs together.

“Lou,” he whines softly, “I’m so hard.”

He rocks his hips forward, and ruts against Louis’ thigh. Well, Louis can definitely feel it. Harry is rock hard. He must have been like this since the club.

Louis swallows. Suddenly he doesn’t feel so tired anymore. His own dick twitches in interest in his pants.

“Hazza,” he repeats, and licks his lips. He doesn’t really know what to say.

Harry’s frowning. His eyes are closed and he’s chewing on his bottom lip. He rolls his hips one more time, apparently unable to control himself, and then one more, and one more, and one more .

He is building a rhythm.

He is grinding against Louis’ thigh, and he’s making these whimpery, hurt little noises, and Louis is getting harder and harder by the second. The warm twists of want and desire and HarryHarryHarry gather in his stomach, low and deep, and Louis can feel his toes curling because of it.

He sighs, and his eyelids shutter closed. His hands grab on Harry’s waist to tuck him even closer, then slip to Harry’s bum and grips it, holding on for dear life.

“Louis,” Harry pants. He starts rutting faster.

Louis turns to press their hips together, so that their erections can finally meet and, God, oh God, oh sweet Jesus, this isn’t supposed to feel this good .

Louis rolls on top of Harry and tangle his fingers through the younger boy’s curls. He pulls, hard. Harry moans louder, and buck his hips up.

“Look at you,” Louis whispers. His voice is unusually low. “You’re so lovely. So desperate for it, aren’t you? So needy.”

“Lou, please,” Harry groans. His movements become frustrated and chaotic. He’s so beautiful. There’s a tiny drop of sweat in the crook of his neck, and Louis can’t help himself, goes to lick it. His tongue burns against Harry’s warm skin.

“What do you want, Harry? Do you want me to touch you?” he murmurs. He starts to lick the skin on Harry’s collarbones, and a noise escapes from Harry’s lips. “Do you want me to suck you?”

Harry nods, his lips parted, and angle his head in order to expose more skin for Louis to bite on, and Louis complies immediately, marking the tender skin on Harry’s throat.

“Harry,” he says, “Haz, look at me.”

Harry sighs but obeys. His eyes are glassy and unfocused, and he’s frowning so prettily. He’s the prettiest thing Louis has ever seen.

“I’m not going to touch you, baby,” Louis says. His tone is as sweet as honey. He suddenly stops and stays still.

Harry’s reaction is immediate. “Lou,” he cries. His eyes widen and the corners fill up with tears. “Please, I— I need…” he tries to reach for Louis’ hand in order to guide it below, towards his crotch, but Louis grabs on Harry’s wrists and pin them above his head.

“And I’m not going to suck you off either,” Louis continues, and shakes his head to stress his words. He sucks a mark on Harry’s neck. Harry makes a hitched noise at the back of his throat, and rolls his hips, seeking for any kind of friction.

“Be patient, love. I’m not gonna leave you like this because I’m not that evil,” Louis grins, and then finally, finally, returns to move his hips. He bites on Harry’s lobe, and licks into his ear.

“But I’m gonna make you come just like this”, his voice is a mellow whisper, as smooth as Tennessee whiskey. Harry just whimpers as Louis keeps talking.

“I’m gonna make you come in your pants while you dry hump me, like the desperate, needy boy you are,” he says, and then proceeds to flip them over.

He lies on his back and wraps his legs tight around Harry’s waist, pulling the younger boy closer.

“Lou,” Harry whines. “You're so gorgeous.” He leans down in Louis’ space and smashes their lips together forcefully. Louis’ eyes widen at the gesture, and he sharply inhales from his nose. Harry is kissing him. This is really happening. This is not a drill.

Louis stills, tensing, too taken aback to reply adequately, and too afraid to do so. Harry’s lips are soft against his own as they move hungrily, eager for more, greedy and desperate to get more, more, and some more. And then Louis can feel Harry’s tongue making its way into his mouth, and licking into him, enlacing Louis’ one into a wicked game of tag. Louis’ moan is muffled by Harry’s mouth, and that’s when Louis understands that there’s no point in trying to hold back anymore. He doesn’t want to swim upstream, he just wants to let himself drown into this sea of lust, and passion, and Harry.
He cups Harry’s jaw, his ring and pinky fingers tangling into Harry’s curls. He kisses back with everything he has, his teeth sinking into Harry’s bottom lip, making Harry moan and shiver. Reality can’t even begin to compare with what Louis had imagined this would be like. This is so much better.

Harry starts to rub himself against Louis, and his fists clenches the sheets, while Louis returns to work on Harry’s neck, and he sucks, and kisses, and licks. He hopes the bruises he’s leaving will last for days. He also hopes the darkness will help cover up his blush. Harry thinks he’s gorgeous.

He swallows and rocks his hips up, tugging at Harry’s hair, and spreads his thighs wider to let Harry sink into the warm cradle of his hips.

Harry’s almost sobbing as he ruts like a madman back and forth, seeking his relief. He’s riding Louis’ hips like there’s no tomorrow. There could be a World War Three going on outside, and Harry probably wouldn’t give a damn about it. His fists are white from holding the sheets too tight. “I’m close,” he groans.

And the thing is, Louis is close too. Embarrassingly close.

“C’mon, baby,” he urges, “let me see you come. Let me see how beautiful you are when you come.”

Harry’s moans are getting louder and louder. His lashes flutter closed again, projecting a shadow on his flushed cheeks. He grinds down frantically, and Louis rolls his hips up to meet Harry’s at every thrust.

Louis wraps his index finger around one of Harry’s curls and tugs hard, and that is it . Harry suddenly tenses, and then comes in endless spurts. He wets his own pants and Louis’, and sobs in relief in Louis’ neck. Louis swallows. The image of Harry coming is forever imprinted in his memory because sure as hell, that has been, by far, the hottest thing he’s ever witnessed.

“God, you’re amazing,” Louis mutters, his voice low and eager. “You’ve been amazing. You’re so precious.” His eyes wander all over Harry, trying to take in every single detail. “C’mere, love”, he adds, holding Harry tight to his chest. His arms wrap around him and he starts stroking Harry’s hair.
Harry whimpers and leans into Louis’ touch. He brings their foreheads together, and goes for a kiss. It’s lazier this time, and slower, but still incredibly hot. Harry’s lips part as he licks into Louis’ mouth, heavily breathing, and Louis groans and nudges him closer. He thrusts his hips forward, desperately seeking for his own relief now.

“Lou,” Harry opens his eyelids to look at him, and his eyes are the size of the moon. “Come for me,” he pleads, and the tension in Louis’ belly finally loosens, and he’s coming. Hard. Harder than he has in God knows how long and this is just from some dry humping, Louis can’t even imagine how real sex with Harry would feel like. He moans loudly as the hot pulses of his orgasm leave him breathless and boneless.

When he comes down, Harry is still there, looking at him in awe, and Louis is too tired to think. He pulls the younger boy impossibly closer and sighs. Harry cuddles against him and hums contently, a smile painted on his bitten lips. He raises his head and puckers his mouth for Louis to kiss. Louis complies immediately, their tongues falling into their rhythm. Their tastes have mixed up so much Louis can’t tell them apart anymore, their mouths taste like alcohol, and Harry’s cherry chapstick, and Louis’ cigarettes, and just them. Their teeth collide together, but it’s not awkward, it’s merely an attempt to satisfy their hunger. Harry whimpers into the kiss, his eyelids slightly trembling, and Louis holds him tighter, and tangles their ankles together. It’s only the fourth kiss they’ve shared, but it already feels like the most familiar thing. Kissing Harry feels like coming home. Louis could easily get stoned on his kisses. And he could easily get used to them, too, and he should be scared, but right now he can’t bring himself to think about it. He places a last peck on Harry’s lips, just a delicate brush, and nudges their noses together.

Harry’s hand strays into the nape of Louis’ neck, his fingers swimming through Louis’s downy hair. Harry’s eyes are relaxed and dreamy, and he looks at Louis’ lips with a sated wonder. His hand comes to rest on Louis’ jaw. It curls in a half cup around Louis’ chin, and his thumb gently, tenderly touches Louis’ scruff. The corners of his mouth curl into a quiet smile. His eyelids close, the most relaxed and satisfied expression printed on his face. He looks like a Michelangelo painting.

“Sleep,” Louis says softly, and then he shuts his eyes and everything fades to black.

 

 

***

 

 

The morning after, Louis is woken up by the sunshine creeping in. He slowly swims back to consciousness as he slips out from a state of dull bliss.

He rubs his hand over his crotch and he growls low in his throat when he realises that his pants are sticky. He opens his eyes at last, and takes in the surrounding. And then he remembers. Shit.

Louis brings his hands to his face and curses between his teeth. He hides under the duvet, his eyes shutting again. He just wants to go back to sleep and never wake up again.

The air smells like coffee, and he can hear noises of crockery coming from the kitchen. The radio is playing an old Oasis song and Harry is humming to it.

Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday, I’ve got a lot of things to learn. Said I would and I believe in one day, before my heart starts to burn.  Stand by me, nobody knows the way it’s gonna be.

Louis sighs. He definitely feels nauseous now. He forces himself to stand up from the bed and slips on some grey sweatpants from a chair. Shoeless and shirtless, he heads to the kitchen.

Louis is welcomed by the image of Harry’s lean, naked back. Harry’s facing the stove where he’s frying up something. He’s wearing just a clean pair of tiny Calvin Klein boxer briefs. Louis swallows and stumbles on his own feet.

Harry turns and beams as soon as he sees him.

“Lou,” he says. His cheeks are pink and his smile has something sheepish in it. “Breakfast is almost done.”

“Cheers,” Louis grins as if he hasn't got a care in the world. He pours himself some coffee that’s already steaming on the table.

Harry makes the bacon flip in the pan as he starts dividing the scrambled eggs into two separate dishes. His movements are a bit rushed, and he keeps on brushing a hand through his hair.

His face reddens when he brings the plates to the table.

“I hope you like it, Lou,” he says, shy and soft.

Louis cocks a brow as he starts chewing on some bacon. “Of course I do, Haz. You’ve made me breakfast countless times. They were always marvelous.”

“You’re right,” Harry blushes even more and he lowers his head, starting to move the food in his own dish. He clears his throat. Louis hands him a cup of coffee.

Harry takes a long sip from it, then licks his lips. “Should we talk about last night, then?”

Louis chokes on his eggs and starts coughing. Straight to the point, huh?

Harry’s looking at him. His eyes are widened and he’s chewing on his bottom lip.

Liam Gallagher’s throaty voice is still singing, and Louis finds it deadass ironic.

There is something I could never give you, my heart will never be your home.

Louis drinks some coffee and shrugs. “There’s not really anything to talk about, is there?” He forces himself to keep a smile on his lips. He watches Harry closely. “What happened wasn't a big deal.”

He can see Harry’s face fall. Harry immediately lowers his gaze. Color drains out of his face.

“I mean,” Louis adds, and his smile starts to falter, “it was just sex, right? We were drunk and horny, we were sharing a bed. In hindsight, it was almost bound to happen.”

He rubs his chin anxiously.

Harry is refusing to meet his eyes, but Louis can see his knuckles turn white holding his fork. Louis takes a deep breath.

“Look, I’m sorry for the whole thing,” he mumbles, “I should have stopped you, or I shouldn’t have reacted, or whatever. But there’s no need to make it awkward.” Harry still isn't looking at him. Louis shifts uneasily. “Can we not make it into a big deal? It was sex between two adults, and, I mean, you’re my best friend…”

“What’s the matter with you, Louis?” Harry asks, sounding a thousand times harsher than he’s ever sounded. He’s looking straight at Louis now, and his eyes are shining, but they’re as cold as a January night.

“What?” Louis’ mouth falls open. “I was just saying that I don’t want to ruin our relationship or whatever. Harry, I’m sorry, I really am. I don’t want us to be embarrassed just ‘cause we had sex, because there’s no need to be…”

Harry rolls his eyes. “You’re doing it,” he mutters, shaking his head slightly. “Stop doing it, Louis. You don’t have to.”

Louis stops mid-sentence, taken aback. “Doing what?” he asks, arching his brows.

“Treating me as I were made of glass.” Harry’s mouth is a thin line. “I’m not going to break, Louis.”

“What are you talking about?” Louis frowns, and his pitch grows higher.

“You know what I’m talking about,” Harry says. His food is still intact on his plate, long forgotten.

“No, I actually don’t, Harry,” Louis retorts, his hand brushing through his hair. He crosses his arms on his chest.

Harry straightens his back and pushes his dish away. “You’re treating me as if I were a kid,” he says. “You always do. Well, breaking news, Louis: I’m not a kid anymore.”

Louis opens his mouth to reply, then closes it. He bites his lip. “I know that,” he whispers eventually, and cocks his head to one side.

“But do you?” Harry inquires. His face softens slightly. “Look, I know you have good intentions, but I’m a grown man. I’ve already told you a thousand times: I can take care of myself. I don’t need you to protect me anymore.”

Or, a nice way to say “I don’t need you”, period. Louis lowers his gaze and chews on his bottom lip. He knows. He knows Harry’s right. He knows he tends to do that. But the thing is, he can’t help himself. He doesn’t know how to not do that. And he doesn’t know how not to obsess and overthink every single thing regarding Harry, and he doesn’t know how to stop the urge of protecting him from everything bad in this world. Not that he’s done a good job so far anyway. But still… Harry must be so done with this attitude, he must want to just detach himself from him…

“Louis,” Harry’s voice brings him back to reality, “Look at me.”

Louis obeys, his eyes meeting a well of green.

Harry sighs.

“I know this is what you do. You look after people. I mean, you’re a cop, you literally do this for a living,” he shrugs his shoulders, but his lips are shaped into a half smile. “You’ve always looked after your family, you’ve taken care of your mum, you’ve taken care of your siblings, and you’ve taken care of me. You carry people, Lou, you carry me. ” Harry stops for a second, and bites on the inside of his cheek. He brushes his hand through his hair. Harry’s voice is deep and emotional, and there’s a full smile on his face now. “That’s pretty amazing, you know? I appreciate it alot, I need you to know that. But I also need you to understand that I don’t need and I don’t want a knight in shining armour.”

Harry pauses and takes a deep breath. His hands goes to slowly massage his temples. “In fact,” he continues, “I hate the whole concept, because that would mean I’d be idealising you, and I’m not.” He shrugs again. “Yes, I think you’re a great person to just, I don’t know, sit and admire what you’re like, but I also know you’re human. You’re far from perfect, and so am I.”

He rests his hand on top of Louis’ and squeezes. It’s warm, and comfortable, and Louis automatically laces their fingers together. Louis knows that his cheeks must have heated up. He wants to lower his gaze, but at the same time he can’t look away from Harry.

“I initiated it all last night, first at the club and then in bed. I know that, and I’ll take my responsibilities,” Harry sighs. “You said it was just sex between friends, and that’s okay. I accept that. And I agree on not making it awkward,” he shrugs but his brows are knitted together, “but you’re making it awkward now, over-talking about it and all.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispers, his voice small. He bites on his bottom lip.

It all feels wrong. It all feels weird. He feels weird, too. And he’s not supposed to feel weird. He’s used to just sex, for God’s sake, he’s used to not having any strings attached. His face is on fire and he can’t hold Harry’s gaze any longer. Then why does it feel weird when Harry says it?

“Are we okay, then?” Louis asks. His stomach feels knotted. Louis regrets eating whatever he’s put in his mouth.

“Yeah, sure,” Harry smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “It’s not a big deal, right? That’s what you said. I'm fine. We’re fine.” His voice is kept purposely light, but he’s not looking at Louis. Abruptly, Harry stands up. He takes his plate and empties it in the rubbish. He hasn’t eaten anything.

Louis looks at him with his guts crumpled.

“Look, Lou, I don’t mean to be rude,” Harry says, turning around again, “but I really need to work on some cases.” He glances quickly at the clock on the wall. “Also, your shift is starting in forty minutes. Shouldn't you be going?”

Louis swallows. His own spit tastes bitter. He takes a sip of the coffee, long cold, in order to sweeten his mouth.  

“Yeah, you’re right, as usual,” he says, trying to sound gleeful. And not like he’s dead inside. Cause he’s not. He’s got no reasons to be.

He probably fails anyway.

He goes to the bedroom to retrieve all of his stuff, and forces himself not to glance at the unmade bed.

When he comes back to the kitchen, Harry is turned to the counter, his lean shoulders on display.

“I’ll see you later, then,” Louis says, tentative.

“Bye,” Harry replies. He doesn’t turn around.

Louis sighs and leaves, shutting the door behind him.

So what’s the matter with you? Sing me something new. Don’t you know the cold and wind and rain don’t know, they only seem to come and go away. Stand by me, nobody knows the way it’s gonna be…

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday bloody Sunday, goes the song, and Louis couldn’t agree more. What a bloody Sunday has been. From its very shitty start with Harry, to a dreadful, boring shift at work. He’s been stiff all day and he’s even managed to argue with the poor Liam after one too many sharp replies, and Liam never argues with anyone.

Louis had offered to buy him a beer to apologise properly, but Liam had told him he had a date with Zayn. Again. And Niall had to hang out with some girl he’s seeing. Whatever. So what if Louis is the only one who doesn’t have a sparkling love life at the moment? He doesn’t need one. He’s never been interested in any of that stuff.

He heads to the closest pub as soon as he gets off. After all, he can enjoy a pint of two on his own, too, thank you very much.

The pub is emptier than Louis would expect on a Sunday evening, but he prefers it this way. Some old men are loudly discussing the latest football match, yelling and laughing, two girls are giggling between each other, and there’s a middle-aged man sat at the counter reading a newspaper. Louis orders a pint of Guinness, and then goes to sit down on his own at a table. The place smells of wood and alcohol. There’s an old Fleetwood Mac song playing on the background. Louis lulls his head to the melody and takes a long sip from his drink. It’s cold and bitter, and it has a light aftertaste of coffee. Harry loathes it. He doesn’t like beer in general, but he really hates Guinness. Louis smiles thinking about the way Harry’s face twists when he drinks it. “Honestly, how can you like this, Lou? It tastes like the shitty cousin of a Starbucks iced cappuccino,” Harry once said. Louis’ free hand goes to grab his phone from his pocket. He’s tempted to ask Harry to join him, and his fingers linger on Harry’s contact for a moment. Eventually, he gives up. Probably not the best idea at the moment. He sighs and locks his phone again. He closes his eyes and brings his hands to his head and starts massaging his temples. Would Harry even kiss him with Guinness on his breath? Louis chews on his bottom lip and shakes his head, trying to get rid of these thoughts.

His finger caress the wooden surface of the table where two letters are carved into it. A+M, followed by an attempted heart. Clearly, the artist was no sculptor. Louis let his index linger on them. It looks quite old. Maybe they’re still together, these two mysterious people, living their happily ever after… He bites on the inside of his cheek until he can feel the blood. Probably not. He has another sip.

That’s when a lean figure slip on the bench in front of him. Louis raises his eyes, taken aback, and rolls them when he recognizes the intruder. He throws a disappointment glance at the dark-haired man sat in front of him.

“What do you want, Grimmy?” he asks with a flat, monotone voice.

Nick grins at him and wriggles his eyebrows. “Aw, hi, Lou. It’s so nice to see you, too. Always a pleasure, man. You’re always radiant.”

Louis snorts loudly and crosses his arms on his chest. “I’m not in the mood,” he grumbles. His face is dark and his forehead furrowed.

Nick stretches his long legs, wrapped into a skin-tight pair of blue jeans, and raises an eyebrow. “You’re so grumpy lately,” he observes, crossing his hands on the table. “I mean, you’ve always been a grumpy kitten, but you’re even grumpier, these days.”  

He sucks on the green straw in his mojito and hollows his cheeks. Who on Earth orders a bloody mojito in a bloody pub? Louis rolls his eyes some more. Nick lives his life like it’s a party and he’s always on the list. Louis had even told him so once. Nick had just thrown his head back and laughed. “But I am on the list, darling,” he had said, and then winked, for good measure, “I’m on all the lists”.

“Fuck off,” Louis says. “Just let me be.” His glass is wet from the condensation, and his fingers start tracing abstract arabesques on it.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” Nicks asks with a smug look on his face. “You can tell Uncle Nick, c’mon.”

“Oh my God, don’t refer to yourself as Uncle Nick ever again,” Louis shudders and pretends to throw up. “It’s creepy as hell.”

Nick rolls his eyes, but he’s still smirking. “I’m just trying to be nice here.” He raises his hands in front of him. “I do care about you, you know,” he adds, and there’s a softer expression on his face, “even if you act like you hate me all the bloody time.”

Louis snorts and brushes his hand through his hair. “Are you trying to make me diabetic, Grimshaw?” he asks. The tips of his mouth raise nevertheless. “I don’t hate you for real, you know that. Not too much, at least.”

Nick laughs, and shakes his head. Tiny little crinkles form around his eyes. “Cheers,” he says, and takes a sip from his drink.

The beep of a new notification makes Louis jump. He immediately checks his phone. His stomach curls on himself, and there’s a pit of tension that feels too much like expectation and hope in his belly.

It’s just a random someone doing a live on Instagram. Fuck that. Louis chews on the inside of his cheek and puts his phone face down.

Nick raises an eyebrow, following his movements, and clears his throat. “So, do you wanna tell me what’s going on in that pretty little mind of yours, Tommo?”

Louis sighs. “It’s just… Harry,” he admits, and lowers his gaze. “We kinda slept together.” He tries to ignore the wave of heat that suddenly feels on his face while he mimics the quotation marks with his fingers.

Nick chokes on his Mojito and starts coughing loudly. “What? What?” he yells. He dramatically brings a hand to his chest. “It’s been eighty-four years…” he says in a mock crying voice.

Louis just rolls his eyes.

Nick grins at him and pats him on the arm. “Fucking finally, Tommo!” he exclaims, “I’m happy for you. And for me, ‘cause now Niall totally owes me fifty quids.”

Louis’ mouth falls open. “Are you kidding me?” he hisses. “You guys bet on me? On whether I would sleep with Harry?”

“Of course not, you sweet summer child,” Nick snorts. “We bet on when you would.” He winks at Louis with the worst smug face ever. Louis wants to kill him.

“So, now what?” Nick continues, unbothered. “Will you run away with him into the sunset, in slow-motion? Will you bear his children? Can I be the godfather?”

Louis blushes. The thought of a baby Harry creeps into his mind. A sweet, adorable baby Harry, with green eyes and curly hair. And dimples, of course.

Louis swallows, and goes to take a long sip on his beer. His throat feels suddenly very dry.

“Definitely not,” he mumbles, and lowers his gaze. He returns to draw silhouettes on his glass. “I haven’t changed my mind.”

Nick gives him a long glance and sighs. “You know,” he says, patting Louis's hand on the table, “only fools never change their minds.”

Something in his voice makes Louis want to meet his eyes. Nick’s are kind and sympathetic.

“It’s okay to let go, and it’s okay to be scared,” he shrugs. “We all are. At the end of the day we’re only human. And being scared, being heartbroken… these feeling are all part of being human. And it’s okay to have feelings.”

There’s a knot stuck in Louis’ throat, and he swallows down half of his beer trying to loosen it up. His insides are tightened together.

“Quite the judgment coming from you, Grimmy,” he tries to joke, but his voice sounds flat to his own ears, “since you’re even older than me, and lonely, too.”

Nick shakes his head. “No, Lou, I’m not,” he sighs, frowning, “I’m not lonely, I’m on my own. It’s different. I’m not forcing myself out of a relationship, I just haven’t found the right person yet, and I’m okay with it. But you can bet that if I found him, I’d hold tight to him.”

Louis chews on his bottom lip and shrugs. “I’m okay like this too,” he murmurs, trying to sound confident. His fingers trace a H on the glass, then scratches it immediately. “I don’t have feelings for Harry. I don’t.”

Nick raises his eyebrow. “Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?” he says.   

“I don’t,” Louis repeats, and looks Nick in the eyes. “He’s just my best friend. It’s not a big deal that we slept together. It was just sex.”

Nick plays with his straw, stirring what’s left of his Mojito. His brows knit together and his mouth points down. “If you say so, Louis,” he mumbles, shrugging his shoulders. “So what are you gonna do now? Are you still looking for a boyfriend for him?”

Louis swallows loudly. He hadn’t thought of that. He should, though. That was the plan from the start. Hook Harry up with somebody and let them live their happily ever after. Yet, that scenario doesn’t look that happy anymore.

“Sure,” he mutters. He sips on his beer, but it’s too warm now and it tastes bitter.

Nick peers at him with a thoughtful look on his face. His finger tips his chin at an angle. He snaps his tongue. “You know what,” he starts, and there’s a mischievous grin on his lips. “You should give me Harry’s number.”

Louis’ eyes widen and his mouth falls open. “ You?” he asks. “Why on Earth would I give you Harry’s number?”

“So that we can hang out.” Nick smiles and he scarily resembles the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Louis blinks a few times.

“I won’t give you Harry’s number,” he says. His pitch has grown higher and he sounds outraged.

“Why not?” Nick cocks an eyebrow, finishing his drink. Louis wants to scratch that smug look off him. He regrets every single nice thing he’s ever thought about him. “You’ve just said that you don’t feel anything for him and that you’re just friends, and you’re looking for someone to set him up with,” Nick winks at him. “I could be that someone.” He shows Louis his completely green tongue and Louis rolls his eyes.

Nick grins. “Were you lying, then? Did you not mean what you said a while ago?”

“Of course I meant it,” Louis snorts. He fumbles with his phone and hands it to the other guy. “Here you are. You can bond over your common passion for fancy drinks, but just so you know, Harry’s more the French red wine kinda guy. Call him, or whatever.”

Louis can feel the heat creeping on his cheeks and on his neck, but he ignores it, and does his best to appear stoic. His heart is beating faster and he suddenly feels like he wants to break something. Maybe Nick’s head. He forces himself to breathe in and out slowly.

Nick takes his phone from his hand and smirks. “Oh, I will,” he says. There’s a huge smile on his lips. “I think Harry and I will have a lot to talk about.”  

 

 

***

 

 

On Monday night, Louis is bored and miserable. He lays on the couch in his living room, lazily zapping with the remote. He found out that there’s a new show on Netflix, but he can’t bring himself to watch it. He was supposed to watch it with Harry, because they always watch Netflix together, and because Harry is a bit in love with Neil Patrick Harris, but now the show is out and Harry is not with him.

Louis longingly glances at the empty spot next to him and sighs. His fingers start to play with his phone, opening Whatsapp and locating Harry’s conversation. Apparently, Harry was online until seven minutes ago. Louis chews on his bottom lip and brushes a hand through his hair. He locks the phone and throws it somewhere on the couch, but two seconds later he collects it back. He clicks again on Harry’s contact. Fuck it. It’s just Harry.

His fingers start moving on the keyboard and he sends the text before he’s got the chance to change his mind again.

‘Hey do you know a series of unfortunate events is out?? Wanna binge watch it together 2night?? Popcorns & beer for me and wine for you???’

Louis sees Harry appearing online two seconds after he has sent the message, and leaves the conversation open, staring at the screen. There’s a pit of tension in his stomach. When Harry starts typing, Louis almost chokes. Where did all this anxiety come from, for fuck’s sake?

He closes his eyes and opens it again only when he hears the typical buzz of an incoming message.

Sorry, Lou, but I’ve made plans with Nick. Do you wanna join us?’

Louis’ mouth falls open.

Nick ??????? You mean Grimmy ????????????’

Harry’s reply is immediate.

Yes? Why? I thought you were the one who gave him my number.’

Louis sucks in his cheeks and starts biting them.

Yeah that’s right I just didn’t realise you guys were hanging out. Whatever it’s gonna be just me and NPH then have fun :)’

‘You too.’

Louis turns off his phone and starts the first episode. He doesn’t think about it.

He doesn’t.

 

He doesn't talk to Harry at all on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Louis feels like he’s going to go crazy. Louis and Harry text each other all the time, but he hasn’t heard from him in almost forty-eight hours. His stomach seems to be perpetually tied up in knots. He doesn’t even remember the last time he had a proper meal. Maybe he could ask Harry to grab something together.

He licks his lips as he goes to their Whatsapp conversation, that last message burning into his soul. He writes and then promptly deletes a text at least four times, but on the fifth he’s pretty satisfied with the form.

Hey what do you say about dinner 2night? How do you feel about Chinese? xx’

Louis licks his lips as he stares at the screen. It’s not cold or passive-aggressive at all, it doesn’t show he’s been kinda pining after Harry, and it’s not too lovey-dovey either. It’s a perfect ordinary message a friend sends to another friend.

Actually, I promised Nick I’d go to this thing with him. A friend of his is launching a fashion line, how cool is that? There’s gonna be a proper runway show and even an after party later! If you want I could ask him if you can tag along too.’

Harry adds a single ‘x ’ after three seconds.

It’s three seconds too many.

Louis’ stomach sinks to his feet. He tries to ignore the disappointment that fills his chest.

Nevermind it’s not my cup of tea anyway’.

So, apparently he’s gonna be on his own tonight. Not that he cares, it’s not a big deal at all. He loves being on his own. He’s not bitter about the whole thing, and he’s definitely not sad.

He forgets to get dinner and ends up eating just a pack of crisps with four or five beers. Harry has nothing to do with it at all.     

 

On Friday, Louis is supposed to hang out with a new guy he met on Grindr, but he’s not excited at all. The truth is that he misses Harry, and that he would dump this bloke in no time if he was able to see Harry. It feels like a lifetime since the last time they saw each other, and Louis might or might not have spent the past week creeping on Harry’s Instagram profile, watching his stories and his new pictures, careful not to double tap them. The new additions are a hipster-y, fake-deep, obviously black and white shot of Nick drinking a cocktail, an artistic, always black and white picture of a fashion show, and a selfie of Nick and Harry, all crinkly eyes and gigantic smiles. In colour. And Harry basically never posts photos in colour. And of course there have been new not-so-funny videos on his Snapchat, a couple of new tweets and he’s even been tagged in a new album of pictures of some fancy party on Facebook. Yeah, so Louis might have stalked all of his social networks. So what? That’s what social networks are for. Kind of.

He has also obsessively checked Harry’s latest accesses on Whatsapp, hoping for Harry to text him. He never has.

Louis sighs as he checks on Harry’s conversation one more time. He hasn’t logged in in almost an hour. Is he on his own? Is he still upset about their argument? Or maybe about the whole Saturday night thing ?

Louis hollows in his cheeks and starts biting on them. It hurts a little, but he doesn’t stop. The skin is tender and swollen because he has chewed on it too much lately. He taps on the gallery on his phone and clicks on a selfie Harry and he took at the club, before all hell broke loose. Louis’ pointing at Harry in his characteristic way, and his smile is stupidly big, so big that his eyes look small and full of crinkles. Harry, on the other hand, is pouting at the camera, and his eyes are comically wide. He looks like the cutest frog of all time. Something in Louis’ chest tightens up and hurts. He can feel the rusty taste of blood in his mouth. He forces himself to close the picture.

He hasn’t thought much about the Saturday night thing, of course. He hasn’t spent the last five nights up till late, changing sides in his bed over and over again, dwelling on it, and he hasn’t replayed every single moment in slow-motion in his mind. He hasn’t because it wasn’t a big deal.

He returns to Harry’s chat and frowns, rubbing on the back of his neck. He sighs again.

Whatcha doing?’ he types.

Harry takes eight whole minutes before answering, but who’s counting .

Nick’s here, we’re watching Love, Actually. Can you believe he has never watched it before?’

Louis can’t avoid the feeling that settles in his stomach. He feels left behind. Love, Actually is Harry’s favourite movie and they always watch it together, at least five or six times a year. It’s one of their traditions. Any time Harry’s feeling blue, they watch that movie, and eat junk food, and cuddle. And now, Harry’s watching it with Nick. Well, fuck Harry, and fuck Nick.

He pours himself a beer and lights up a cigarette, taking a long drag. Right then, his phone beeps again.

‘Do you wanna come over? We can put in on pause till you get here, or we can watch it from the start if you don’t wanna miss the beginning.’

Louis stares at the screen until his vision get blurred. He blinks a couple of times, and his eyes burn when he can properly see the text again.

No thanks I have a guy to fuck.’

Harry doesn’t reply anymore.

 

Not even two hours later, Louis finds himself on this guy’s couch, sipping on his fourth beer of the night. Or maybe it’s the fifth. He’s not really counting.

The lad’s name is Connor. He matches Louis’ type perfectly: he is a few years younger than Louis, he’s tall and lean, and he’s got nice biceps, nice legs, and even nicer thighs. His hair is dark chocolate brown and they softly fall on his eyes, which are of a beautiful shade of green. He’s hot, and he’s funny, and Louis’ having a great time. And he’s not thinking about Harry at all.   

Louis’ lips wrap around the neck of the bottle as he drinks the last drops of beer. When he’s done, he places it on the coffee table, the glass clicking against the crystal surface.

Connor follows Louis’ movements with his eyes, and when Louis meets his gaze, uses a hand to pull Louis closer, kisses him.

Louis responds automatically, cocking his head to the side to lean into the kiss. Connor brushes his hands in Louis’ hair, and pulls slightly. His tongue is wet, maybe too wet , and Louis can’t seem to find the right angle so that their teeth keeps on colliding in a not-very-pleasant way. Connor bites a bit too harshly on Louis’ bottom lip. His mouth tastes too much of Heineken and olives. They can’t fall into the right rhythm and Louis is getting frustrated. This kiss sucks.

His mind wanders to the last kiss he’s had. Boy, was it different. With Harry, everything had worked from the start, they had just clicked, in kissing as in life. Louis hadn’t had to try too hard. It had been natural. Their tongues had immediately found their way to chase each other, their lips had fit as if they belonged to each other since the beginning of time, and even if Harry had been drinking all night long, he had tasted so damn good. Louis can see glimpses of Harry’s wrecked expression behind his eyelids, he can see Harry’s big, glassy eyes, and his swollen, luscious lips, and Louis kinda wishes he had seen his pretty cock, too.

He swallows into the kiss, and forces himself to open his eyes and to keep them widened, afraid of the images that might appear if he shuts them again. He inhales deeply from his nose, a familiar cologne filling his nostrils, and his head starts to spin as the realization sinks in. Connor is wearing Dior’s Fahrenheit. Shit.

The guy moves his lips long Louis’ jaw, and he starts placing open-mouthed, wet kisses all the way down. He moans in the crease between Louis’ neck and collarbone, and it’s Harry’s deep, velvety voice that Louis hears instead, mercilessly ringing in his ears. He bites hard on his own lip.

Connor puts his hands on Louis’ waist to pull him onto his lap, then proceeds to squeeze his arse cheeks. They return to kissing, and Louis grinds down on Connor’s crotch.  He can feel Connor’s already half hard under him, while Louis is still undeniably soft in his jeans. Truth to be told, he’s not even aroused. Not even an ounce, not even a little. Not even nothing. It’s like his body is there, but his mind is elsewhere…

Connor groans against his mouth, and Louis thinks of Harry’s broken sounds when he had started to rut against Louis’ thigh. Louis thinks of the flush that had crept on Harry’s face and chest, he thinks of Harry’s lean body under him and on top of him, and he thinks of how good Harry’s cock had felt sliding against his own erection, and for the first time tonight, Louis’ dick comes alive, twitching a bit.

Connor starts licking on his neck as Louis let his eyelids shutter closed once again. In his mind, there’s Harry frantically thrusting his hips against Louis, a pained frown on his beautiful features, purple love bites darkening his chest. Louis sighs, and automatically rocks down. Warm waves of arousal start spreading in his low belly, making him dizzy, as his toes curl up in his shoes. In his head, Harry’s coming apart on top of him, and Louis grinds down, this time more intently. And then he abruptly stops. He widens his eyes, and his mouth falls open. He’s thinking about Harry to get turned on in order to have sex with another guy. Louis swallows. That’s on a whole new level of fucked up. The realization falls on him like an iced shower, and it’s worse than that time Harry talked him into doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.

He jumps on his feet as he’s just gotten burnt, and in some ways he has.

“Fuck,” he curses under his breath. He brings his hand to his mouth to wipe it clean.

Connor looks at him, taken aback. He rubs on his neck, frowning.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

“I—” Louis mutters, “I can’t do this. I can’t.”

He knows he’s blushing hard, he can feel the heat warming up his cheeks.

Connor cocks an eyebrow and tilts his head to a side. “What, are you one of those ?”

“What are you talking about?” Louis asks.

“Did you believe you’d find your Prince Charming tonight?” Louis is motionless. “We met on Grindr, for fuck’s sake, darling.” Connor’s voice is bitter and his lips are pursed into a thin line.

Louis just looks at him, and blinks. There’s a mess in his head and in his heart he can’t quite begin to understand.

“I don’t know what to say,” he admits, voice thin, more to himself than to the other guy.  

Connor softens his expression a bit. “Did you expect me to wine and dine you, baby? I’m sorry, I’m just not into that, you know?” He shrugs. “I’m not into relationships, I don’t do boyfriends. I’m sure you’re nice, though.”

His words burn into Louis’ mind because he recognizes them as his own. That’s what he says all the time. That’s his line.

Louis brushes a hand through his hair, and shakes his head. “You don’t understand,” he says, sounding slightly panicked. “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Connor’s brows snap to his hairline. “I think you got it wrong,” he jokes. “Usually it’s the other way around, baby. It’s not you, it’s me. That’s how it goes .”

Louis brings his hands on his hips. “But it is you! You’re not him,” he exclaims, his pitch growing higher. “And I’m not your baby,” he adds, snorting.

Connor rolls his eyes, and waves his hand into the air. “It’s even worse, then. You’re one of those,” he says, and his voice is as sour as a week gone bad yogurt. “One of those loved-up people pining over someone else,” he continues, wrinkling his nose. “Did you get your heart broken, kitten?”

He mockingly pouts, then proceeds to shake his head. “I will never get the reason why love seems to be so appealing to people. It’s painful, pointless, and overrated, if you ask me.” He snaps his tongue and goes to look at his nails.

Louis just stares at him, tightening his hands into fists. There’s a bitter taste in his mouth. He swallows.

Connor sounds like an empty shell. A pathetic, sad shell of a human being, and God knows a shell of a man could never be his best. He also sounds like a bit of a douche, too, and that’s how Louis must sound when he talks about love.

His stomach ties up as waves of nausea suddenly hit him. He’s going to be sick.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, lowering his eyes, and he doesn’t even know what he’s sorry for. For his own behaviour, for Connor, for himself.

For Harry.

Connor shrugs. “It’s okay, little dove. You’re welcome to stay, if you want, and I can help you to get over the boy you’re in love with.” He wriggles his eyebrows seductively. Louis wants to gag.

“I’m not in love. I’m not into—” His voice breaks before completing the sentence his mouth has automatically started to form. He’s a bit of a douche, too. He sighs. “I’m not in love,” he repeats.

“Whatever,” Connor rolls his eyes. He spreads his legs and points at his groin. “I have a situation going on here, love. Will you help me or shall I take care of it myself?”

Louis shakes his head. “I have to go,” he mumbles, quickly recollecting his denim jacket from the couch.

The cold hurts his face when he leaves Connor’s flat, but Louis doesn’t mind. What has just happened means nothing at all. It’s not a big deal. It’s not.

He lights up a fag as he slowly walks toward the tube. He refuses to wonder why his words feel like a lie to his own ears.

 

 

***

 

 

On Monday, it’s been more than a week since the last time he saw Harry, and almost seventy-two hours since the last time they spoke. Louis is basically hanging on by the rings around his eyes, drinking beer after beer every night in order to knock himself off and get at least a few hours of sleep, but even his dreams are haunted by piercing green eyes and velvet-soft rosy lips whose taste he doesn’t seem able to forget.

Louis feels like he’s losing his mind. Indeed, the first thing he thinks when he sees Harry outside the police station, when he gets off from his shift, is that he’s officially going crazy.

He stumbles on his feet, blinking a couple of times to make sure he’s not hallucinating.

He’s not. Harry is really there, leaning on his Audi, looking handsome as hell.

He’s wearing his signature black Chelsea boots and dark skinny jeans, with a long, elegant, black overcoat, and a soft, light grey jumper underneath. He has a bluish, dark grey scarf draped loosely around his neck, hanging straight down below the waist, and black sunglasses in his hair, even though the sun hasn’t been seen for hours now. His hair is messy and unruly, and some ringlets are cutely curling around his ears, almost brushing his jaw.

Something inexplicably warm spreads inside Louis’ belly, making his toes curl in his old Vans.

Harry is looking at his phone, but it’s like he almost senses Louis’ presence, as he raises his eyes immediately and meets Louis’. Louis thinks his heart might miss a beat or two, and his face breaks into the biggest grin.

“Hazza!” he exclaims, and walks toward him. Louis goes to hug him, because he has really, really missed him, already anticipating Harry’s scent filling his nostrils, when he realizes they haven’t touched since… well, that night. As the realization sinks in, he heats up, and stops his movement last second, opting for an awkward pat on the arm instead.

Harry seems to notice, but doesn’t comment. He pursues his lips, and nods briefly.

“Hey, Lou.” His voice is as blank as his face, but Louis decides to ignore it, and keeps his own smile intact.

“You didn’t tell me you were coming,” Louis says, trying to sound cheerful. “Not that I’m not happy to see you, of course,” he quickly adds, more softly. “Wanna go for coffee? Or anything? Dinner, maybe?”

Harry clears his throat, and shrugs. There’s a light blush colouring his cheeks. “Err—” he rubs at his neck, “I’m actually waiting for Nick. We’re going to a pub nearby to get a beer with some friends of his.”

Louis’ face falls. “You don’t drink beer,” he observes flatly.

Harry rolls his eyes. “I’m not really getting a beer, Louis, am I?” he answers, and his tone is lecturing and pedantic, as if he’s talking to a little kid. “I’m just gonna order something else, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Louis repeats, voice mocking, and actually feels like a proper six year old. Judging from the look on Harry’s face, he must think the same. Louis shifts his weight on his feet, and starts biting on his cheek. “So, you and Nick get along?”

“Yeah, he’s nice,” Harry shrugs again. “You should have introduced us earlier.”

Something sour must have crawled up in Louis’ mouth when he wasn’t paying attention. Otherwise he can’t explain the bitter taste he’s currently experiencing.

“You know we used to fuck, right?” Louis blurts out. “Me and Nick.”

Harry cocks an eyebrow. “Yeah, he has mentioned you fucked a couple of times,” he says, chewing on some gum, and goes back to lazily scrolling on his phone. “He said it meant nothing to either of you.”

“Yeah, I suppose he’s right.” It’s Louis’ turn to shrug his shoulders now. He grabs his packet of cigarettes from his pocket, and hands it to Harry, who silently shakes his head. Louis lights one for himself and takes a long drag. “You like him? Grimmy, I mean,” he brings himself to ask, and doesn’t know why he’s suddenly scared of the answer.

“I told you, he’s a nice guy,” Harry replies, and Louis doesn’t know if he should feel relieved or not.

He retorts. “Well, you must like him, since you’re spending all your free time with him lately.”

Harry’s head snaps back up, and he finally meets Louis’ gaze again. He frowns. “Well, since I only met Nick a little over a week ago, it seems impossible to me that I’m spending all my free time with him.”

“You are, though,” Louis mutters underneath his breath, crossing his arms on his chest. “We haven’t hung out at all in, like, the last eight days.” He forces himself not to pout. “And we haven’t even been in touch as usual.”

Harry blinks a couple of times, then raises his eyebrows. “Are you jealous, Louis?” he asks. He throws Louis a long, inquisitive glance, and snaps his tongue. “And just ‘cause I haven’t contacted you, it doesn’t mean you’re lost to me.”

Louis laughs humorlessly,  waving his cigarette in the air. “Of course not, Harold, don’t be ridiculous,” he says, and rolls his eyes for good measure. “Why would I be jealous?”

Harry looks at him, quiet, for a few seconds. He’s biting on his bottom lip, his pearl white teeth marking the tender flesh, and Louis desperately tries not to ogle too intently.

“Then why are you bothered by the fact that I’m hanging with Nick?” Harry says eventually. The words slip out of his mouth slower and deeper than usual, as sweet as molasses.

“’m not bothered,” Louis shrugs. He takes another drag from his fag. “It’s just that you’re being a dick, and it’s my best friend’s duty to let you know.” He watches the grey clouds of smoke twisting up in the air, refusing to meet Harry’s eyes, but still incredibly conscious of his movements in his peripheral sight.

“Excuse me, did you just call me a dick?!” Harry exclaims.

“I didn’t call you a dick,” Louis points out. “I just said you’re being a dick, which is different.”

Harry crosses his arms on his chest, and shakes his head. “Well, then we agree on something, ‘cause I think you’re being a dick, too.” His eyes are throwing daggers at Louis, and his cheeks are flushed. He’s unfairly beautiful. Louis blinks, trying to stay focused.

“Look, I’m just saying that just ‘cause you met someone new, it doesn’t mean you have to forget about your other friends, that’s all,” Louis grunts, keeping his gaze fixated on the dirty pavement. He balances his weight on his right leg, starting to rub his left shoe against a darker spot on the ground. “It’s not a big deal,” he adds, voice barely audible.

Harry hears him nevertheless. He laughs, throwing his head back. “Nothing is a big deal to you, Louis, isn’t it?” he asks, bitter. “You’re making a scene. We’ve just spent one week apart. This is not a big deal.”

Louis exhales loudly. “‘M not making a scene, ‘m just stating facts.”

“You know, Louis—” Harry stops, sighing. He seems to consider what he’s about to say, then shakes his head and continues. “Do you know what Michael said when we broke up? That we,” he makes a gesture between them, “that you and I are codependent, and that it’s weird.”

Louis’ eyebrows snap to his hairline. “Are you being serious, now?” he asks, his pitch getting higher and higher. “Why are you even mentioning this? Who cares about what that prick said? He knows nothing about us!”

He lowers his gaze, trying to hide how hurt he is. He takes the last drag from his cigarette, then proceeds to throw it away.

Harry looks at him. His face has an impassive expression. The only sign that he’s as affected as Louis is the slight flicker of his nostrils.

“I’m starting to think he might have been right,” he retorts. “Maybe some time apart will do us good.” His voice is calm and flat, and hurts even more than a thousand screams.

Louis turns his face away, as he’s just received a punch. He closes his eyes for a bit, and when he opens them again, they’re shining.

“Are you telling me we need a break, Harry?” his own voice is cool, now, sounding foreign to his own ears. “‘Cause, let me remind you, we’re not dating. We can’t take a break.”

Harry’s mouth falls open. A betrayed look appears on his face, but he recovers quickly. “I’m perfectly aware that we are not dating, Louis, believe me,” he mutters between his teeth.

“Are you?” Louis urges, taking a step closer to Harry. “I thought you might get confused, since you’re always dealing with a new relationship.”

Harry automatically takes a step forward too. He puffs out his chest like he’s never lost a war, like a modern Achilles, unafraid and unbent. Louis wonders briefly what does that make him, if Patroclus or Hector. Right now, he’s leaning toward the latter.

“What are you implying?” Harry asks, and his voice is low and mellow, as viscous as quicksand, and Louis might as well drown in it.

“That you’re always dating someone, always looking for someone to love!” Louis almost screams.

Harry gets even closer, leaving only a few inches between their faces. Louis could just raise on his tiptoes to close up the space between them. Harry’s eyes are currently digging a hole in Louis’ soul, but he couldn’t look away for his life.

A thunder resounds in the background. Raindrops start to fall to the ground, but neither of them make a move. They both stay absolutely still while water begins to get them wet.

“And why do you think I do that?” Harry whispers between his teeth. He licks his lips, leaving them shiny with saliva. Louis can’t help but follow the movement, his own mouth automatically half-opening. Harry notices, his own eyes lingering on Louis’ lips, and abruptly inhales from his nose. Louis swallows.

“I don’t know,” he answers, frustration filling his tone. He chews on his bottom lip, Harry’s gaze never leaving it.

“Why am I always looking for someone?” Harry presses. He furrows his brows. His hair curls up even more against his face, heavy because of the water. A tiny raindrop has fallen on his Cupid’s bow. Louis wants to lick it away.

“I don’t know!” Louis repeats. There’s a whining note in his voice he can’t cover up. He opens his arms, shrugging. He nervously brushes a hand through his wet fringe, trying to move it away from his face. Rage and tension are clouding up his mind, he can’t even see clearly. “It’s like you can’t stand to be on your own,” he adds, his pitch growing higher.  “Maybe it’s ‘cause you’re desperately trying to fill a hole in your soul, because you can't stand being alone. But you know what? It only makes you look pathetic,” he spits out.

He regrets it as soon as these words leave his mouth, but it’s too late to take them back. His eyes widen as he realizes what he’s just said.

Harry’s mouth falls open, colour slips away from his face when he registers Louis’ accusation. He stills, even stops breathing for a couple of seconds.

Louis tries to swallow the knot that is closing up his throat, and miserably fails. He frowns.

“Look, Harry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

He raises a hand to place it on Harry’s arm, but the younger man abruptly takes a step back.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” he hisses. His face is an ice mask, his eyes empty and emotionless. He pursues his lips together, hardens his jaw.

“C’mon, H, I’m sorry, I swear,” Louis knows he’s whining, but he can’t help himself. Harry just shakes his head.  

“You know what,” Harry starts. A cruel grin twists his features. “Maybe I am, yeah. Maybe you’re right, Lou. But guess what? You're as pathetic as I am. Maybe even more so. Pathetic, and terrified of not being worthy of love, of being left behind. So pathetic and terrified you’re not even trying anymore. So what’s worse, huh?” Harry’s nostrils tremble vehemently. “You’ve got a hole inside, too, Louis, and it’s even bigger than mine.”

Louis feels like he’s just got punched. He’s hurting both on the inside and on the outside. Harry’s words burn his flesh and his heart, making his stomach dropping to his feet, because deep down, he knows they’re true.

“You don’t mean it,” he stammers. He furrows his brows. “You don’t really mean it, and neither did I.”

Harry looks down on him, colder than the rain drenching them. He slightly puckers his upper lip in a disgusted expression.

“I think you should leave,” Harry says, his voice slowly emphasizing every single word.

Louis’ heart beats so fast, he feels like he’s going to come apart. He can feel tears gathering at the corner of his eyes. He tries to swallow, desperately trying to hold them back.

“Please, H,” he begs, “please, let’s not do this. I’m so sorry, please.” He takes a step closer to Harry, but Harry takes another one back, putting some distance between them again.

“Don’t,” Harry says. His face is like a wall.

At that moment, the doors of the police station open up, and Nick gets out. He smiles as soon as he sees Harry and Louis, and walk towards them.

“Hiyaaa!” he exclaims, the usual grin on his lips. Nick looks between them, and wrinkles furrow his forehead. He takes in Louis’ reddened eyes and Harry’s lifeless expression. He shifts his weight on his feet.

“Err—” he clears his throat, “are you joining us, Tommo?”

Louis opens his mouth, but Harry beats him.

“No,” he answers, flatly. “Louis was just leaving.”

He throws Louis one last glance, then turns on his feet. He places a hand on Nick’s elbow, and smiles. “Let’s get outta here, Nick. I’m soaked,” he says, before climbing in his car.

Nick gives Louis an apologetic look.

“You okay, Tommo?” he asks, rubbing his neck.

Louis pushes his nails in the back of his hand so hard, he knows he’ll leave marks.

“Sure,” he answers. He tries to smile, but it physically hurts.

Nick sighs. He briefly nods his goodbye, then follows Harry inside the Audi.

Rain falls mercilessly on Louis as he remains standing, watching the black vehicle disappear from view.  

 

 

***

 

 

For the first time in their lives, Harry is holding a grudge against Louis for more than twenty-four hours. In fact, a whole week passes, and Harry doesn’t return any of Louis’ calls, doesn’t answer any of his texts.

Louis doesn’t dare to go straight to Harry’s flat, too afraid that a door might stay closed in his face.

He has never felt this shattered in his whole life, not even when he was a kid and his dad left his mom, his sisters, and him. Louis has never felt this lonely, this hopeless, this deeply, utterly sad.

It’s just seven days, for now, but they are by far the worst seven days in Louis’ existence. He wonders how he could ever lead a life without his Harry in it. It’s like he’s mourning the loss of a limb, or a hand, or something that just belongs to him, ‘cause since the very beginning, Harry had belonged to him. And Louis had belonged to Harry.

Harry was right, Louis does indeed have a hole inside, a Harry-shaped hole. It's a hole that Harry left in Louis’ soul, in Louis’ life.

In the morning of the eighth day after their fight, Louis knows he’s gonna lose his mind. The night before, he had fallen asleep around four AM, drunk on Jack and with no real food in his stomach, after crying his heart out watching He’s just not that into you. He knows he’s a mess, and maybe if he wasn’t this messed up, he’d feel ashamed of himself, but right now every single bone in his body aches for Harry, so he can’t really bring himself to care.

He’s wearing his Ray-Bans even if the sky is as foul as his mood, in order to – or at least try to – masquerade his real face.

Apparently, it’s not really working, because Liam throws him a worried glance as soon as he enters the car.

“Wow, Lou,” he says, wriggling his forehead, “you really look like shit, mate.”

Louis doesn’t bother with a reply, just purses his lips together. He barely glances at Liam, and cocks an eyebrow. “Is that coffee for me?” he asks.

Liam smiles tentatively, and hands him one of the two cups he’s holding.

“Yeah,” he says, “just the way you like it.”

Louis nods his thanks and takes a sip. There’s too much sugar in it, but Louis doesn't complain. Harry has never gotten his order wrong in thirteen years.

He tries to smile. Thank God he’s wearing sunglasses, because he knows it doesn’t reach his eyes. “This was very nice of you, Liam,” he says instead. “If I had known pity was the key to your bringing me coffee, I would have made you to feel bad for me much sooner.”

It’s supposed to be a joke, but it comes out flat and sounds undeniably sad. Louis really is that pathetic, after all.

Liam doesn’t laugh at all, doesn’t even smile. Actually, more lines appear on his forehead.

“I don’t pity you at all, Louis,” he claims, “I would never!”

Louis just shrugs without commenting. He can feel Liam’s gaze. He tries his best to ignore it.

Liam clears his throat, sipping on his own coffee. “Look, Lou…” he starts. “Speaking of Harry…”

Louis tenses immediately. His muscles go rigid, and he starts holding his paper cup so hard he’s afraid he’s going to crumple it.

“Who’s speaking of Harry,” he mutters under his breath, no inflection at all in his voice.

Liam sighs. “I know he’s the reason why you’re like this, mate,” he says, “even if you don't want to tell me why you guys argued.”

“Whatever,” Louis mumbles. The caffeine is burning his stomach, probably adding one more reason to why his gastritis seems to be running wild, lately, but Louis doesn’t mind.

“Anyway,” Liam continues, “speaking of Harry…”

Louis rolls his eyes.

“He’s throwing a party, tonight,” Liam concludes.

Louis cocks an eyebrow. “Cool,” he comments, flat. Why is even Liam telling him? Why does Liam even know this? He didn’t even know Harry, for fuck’s sake, till two weeks ago, and now he’s the one informing him on Harry’s life.

“I really think you should come, Lou.”

There’s something in Liam’s voice that makes Louis turn to look at him, a serious tone, a worrying nuance in his words, but Liam is looking at his hands, playing with the plastic top of his cup.

“Why would I do that?” Louis inquires, frowning. His first instinct is to take his phone out of his pocket and check if he’s gotten an invitation to the party, even though he knows he hasn’t. “I’m not even invited,” he adds, and he knows he sounds bitter. Well, he is.

Liam chews on his bottom lip. “I know you and Harry aren’t in the best place at the moment,” he starts, and there it is again, that seriousness in his voice that’s making Louis’ stomach knotting together. “That’s why I think it’s important for you to come tonight,” he raises his eyes, and there’s a sad shade in them, “so you can talk.”

Liam closes his mouth, but it feels like there’s something unsaid left in the air. Something that feels like before it’s too late.

Louis swallows. His insides are so crumpled up it’s getting hard to breathe. “Okay,” he nods, trying to sound normal. “I’ll come. I’ll be there.”

Maybe this party is what he was waiting for, maybe it’ll be the right occasion for Harry and him to make up.

Maybe they’ll work everything out. It’s Harry and him, after all. They must work everything out.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s 7.30 PM. Harry’s party supposedly started an hour and a half ago, but Louis’ wasted too much time wondering if he should go. In fact, he’s taken so long to decide, he doesn’t even have the time to come up with a decent outfit now. What he’s currently wearing is, indeed, not his best fashion choice, but it definitely matches his mood: he’s dressed in total black, head to toe, with a soft, loose-around-the-neck jumper that shows off his collarbones, his typical jeggings, a matte leather pair of Paul Smith sneakers, and an Adidas baseball cap, ‘cause of fucking course this is the day his hair has chosen to look bloody awful.

He’s been fidgeting outside Harry’s flat for a couple of minutes now, without really having the guts to ring the bell. He sighs, cursing under his breath, and is about to knock, when the door opens and a slender figure bounces out.

“Lou eeehhh, my friend!”

Louis forces himself not to roll his eyes – not too hard, at least – at a quite tipsy Nick, who places his arm on Louis’ shoulders and brings him in for a hug. He smells like posh cologne and alcohol, and Louis twitches his nose.

“I’m glad you came,” Nick says, patting Louis on his upper arm.

“Hey, Grimmy,” Louis answers, flat. “You already leaving?”

Nick shrugs, and smirks. “Oh, you know, young Louis, I’ve always got places to go, people to see. The night is young and full of terrors!”

Louis snorts. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how that line goes,” he replies, the tip of his lips cracking into a half smile. He feels weirdly relieved by the fact that Nick won’t be there. “Have fun, then,” he says, raising both of his thumbs.

“You too, love,” Nick winks, starting to walk away, “I hope everything goes right.”

Louis cocks an eyebrow. “What?” he yells to the man’s shoulders. “What should go right?” he repeats, but he’s left with no answer.

Fucking Nick and his fucking mysteries. Louis exhales loudly, and pushes the door open, entering Harry’s flat.

The living room is crowded. At  least forty people seem to be in it, and another dozen are in the kitchen. An indie rock song that Louis doesn't recognize is playing in the background. It must surely belong to one of Harry’s hipster playlists, but the music is muffled by a loud chatter.

Louis blinks, feeling lost for a couple of seconds. He doesn’t know most of the people he sees – they’re probably Harry’s colleagues – and he can’t seem to find the host himself. He’s about to head to the kitchen when he finds himself with an armful of platinum-haired girl.

“Louis!” She screams, holding him tight. “You’re here, finally.”

A genuine smile appears on Louis’ face as he returns the hug. “I’m so happy to see you, Gems,” he murmurs among her hair. “I’ve kinda missed you.”

“Aww,” Gemma coos, “me too, darling.” She untangles herself from his arms, and delivers a punch to his shoulder.

“Ouch!” Louis exclaims, massaging the sore area. He frowns. “What was that for?”

“You know why,” Gemma replies. She crosses her arms on her chest. “I can’t believe you’re letting him do such a thing.”

Louis raises his eyebrows. “What do you mean?” he asks, but Gemma doesn’t seem to hear him. She’s shaking her head, her blonde lob moving in tempo. “I love you like you were my own brother, Lou, you know that, but you guys really fucked it up this time.” There’s a sad expression in her eyes. “Please, you two need to fix it before it’s too late,” she adds, and her voice is just a shaking whisper, now.

Louis’ stomach ties into a knot. “What are you talking about, Gems?”

Gemma opens her mouth to reply, but her phone starts ringing. She takes her iPhone from the back pocket of her jeans, and throws a glance to the screen.

“I really need to take this,” she says, an apology in her eyes, “but don’t think this conversation is over, boy!”

Louis remains still, his brows still knitted together, watching her walking away towards the balcony. He clicks his tongue. This was weird.

He heads to the kitchen table, covered in drinks and food. He should probably eat something, because he hasn’t had anything except a shitty sandwich for lunch, and he’s already gulped down two beers at home. His fingers linger on some veggie mini quiches, but he ends up grabbing an iced Stella instead. Feels like I’m falling in love, when I’m falling through the bathroom floor. Louis smiles thinking of an old song him and Harry used to sing all the time, drunkenly getting lost through London streets. Just another reason I could never forget you. Down we go, the room’s spinning out of control.

He swallows down a sip from his beer, blocking the memories. His eyes search the room, looking for his favourite curly-haired boy, but in vain: Harry is nowhere to be seen. Louis sighs, and goes back to the living room. He spots Liam and Zayn chatting by the French windows.

“Hello, boys,” he chants, trying to seem gleeful. There’s a plastic grin printed on his face that feels faker than Donald Trump’s tan.

Liam melts into a smile as soon as he sees him, but Zayn just frowns, his eyebrows snapping to his hairline.

“What the fuck, Liam?” he mutters, looking at the man standing next to him.

“Hi, Lou,” he greets. He brings his bottle against Louis’ to clank them.

Louis raises a brow, unimpressed. “What’s good, Zayn?”

Zayn takes a long sip from his wine glass, licking his red-stained lips. He just shrugs, eventually. “It’s all good, mate,” he says, “just wasn’t expecting to see you here, that’s all.”

Louis opens his mouth, ready to sass him back, because if there’s someone expected to be seen hanging at Harry’s place, that’s definitely him, but that’s when Harry chooses to enter the room, straight from the balcony next to Louis.

Louis stills looking at Harry. His lips are still parted, his unvoiced, and now meaningless, words caught on the tip of his tongue.

Harry is so handsome, and Louis has missed him so much it physically hurts .

He’s wearing a yellow wool jumper with contrasting black trim, paired with his usual black skinny jeans and his Saint Laurent fringed Chelsea boots in tan suede. There’s a pair of black round-frame eyeglasses in his hair that keep his curls away from his face. While Louis would mock anyone else for wearing sunglasses indoor, in winter, at night time even, but not Harry. Never Harry.         

Harry’s speaking with a petite, pretty Asian boy, but as soon as his eyes fall on Louis, he freezes completely. For a few seconds, the whole room turns into mere background noise. It feels like there’s no one else except Harry, Louis, and the electricity of their locked gazes. Louis stays defenseless and helpless, trying to keep himself from dramatically running into Harry’s arms and throwing away what’s left of his pride. Harry swallows, looking back, and before he has time to regain control of his features, Louis recognizes the pained expression of a broken man. Louis has learnt to know it well, after all.

Harry is extremely pale, even for his standards, and he’s got vibrant purple rings around his eyes, but those still shine of the brightest green Louis has ever seen, and his lips are still rosy and soft. The tip of Louis’ tongue hurts from wanting to taste them so badly, over and over again. Too much would never be enough.

Harry lowers to whisper something in the Asian boy’s ear, his hand brushing on the other guy’s arm, and Louis’ stomach turns over. He tightens his hands into fists. Who even is this lad?

Harry smiles at the guy one last time, and then heads towards Louis, his expression slightly hardened.

“Louis,” he says, nodding his greeting. Louis wants to cry. He wants to cry, and he wants to scream, and he wants to shake Harry by the shoulders, and he wants to hug him and disappear into his arms. He wants to kiss him senselessly, and be kissed in return, and he wants to make love to him.

Louis shudders under Harry’s gaze. His nails sink into the tender flesh of the back of his own hands. He clears his throat.

“Harry,” he retorts, and his voice trembles just a little. “I would have brought you a bottle of wine, but I had no time to buy anything,” he adds. There’s a lifeless, humourless grin on his face. “Unfortunately, I was informed about this party just this morning,” he shrugs. “My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.”

Harry lowers his eyes, biting on his lower lip. “Must have,” he mutters under his breath. Louis bloody hates this cold war.

Harry briefly looks at Liam and Zayn, a couple of feet away from them, and hints at them with his chin.

“Liam told you about it?” he asks. He brings his right hand to fix a rebel, single ringlet behind his ear. Louis follows his movement with his eyes, and tightens his fists even more. He wants to be the one fixing Harry’s curls .

“Yeah,” he asserts, laconically.

Harry brings his eyes back on Louis again, and nods. He’s chewing on his bottom lip so much it’ll probably end up bleeding, and Louis wants to touch it, wants to tell him to stop hurting his pretty mouth, but he just bites on his tongue and keeps quiet.

“I’m glad he did,” Harry mumbles eventually, and his voice is so thin, Louis thinks he’s imagining it all. “I suppose it’s only right that you’re here, too,” Harry adds after a few seconds, and there’s more confidence in his tone, and now Louis can be sure he heard correctly the first time, too.

His eyes widen slightly, and a little, insecure smile appear on his face. His heart beats faster.

“I’m glad, too,” he hurries to say. His fingers wrap around Harry’s wrist, right where the jumper’s sleeve uncovers his milky, velvet-soft skin, and he can feel Harry’s quickened heartbeat under his touch. He squeezes. Harry doesn’t move away, and Louis feels so relieved he could really cry.

“Look, H” he starts, and in the same moment Harry murmurs his name. They both stop, taken aback, and laugh. For the first time after more than two weeks, Louis can finally see Harry’s stupidly cute dimples again, and his heart misses a beat. He has probably never missed something more.

“You go first, Lou,” Harry says, still smiling.

“I know this isn’t probably the best place,” Louis starts, softly brushing his thumb on Harry’s palm and on the veins on his wrist, “but I was wondering if we could talk in private?”

Harry turns serious again, but nods. There’s a strange expression on his face, and Louis can’t quite decode it, but he doesn’t like it.

“Yes,” Harry agrees, “I think it’s time for us to talk.” He bites on the inside of his cheeks, and moves his eyes away. “There’s something I should tell you,” he adds, in a lowered voice. Louis frowns. Here it is again, that uncomfortable knot at the pit of his stomach.

He ignores it, and tugs on Harry’s arm so they can leave this room. And this party, and this city, so it can be just them, Louis and Harry, running away, following the sun.

They start heading to another room, when the noise of a fork clanking on a glass makes them stop.

It’s Perrie, standing in the middle of the living room, with reddened cheeks and messy hair. “Hello, ladies and gentlemen, hello!” she exclaims, grinning, “If I could have just two minutes of your attention, please.”

The chatter slowly dies down, and everybody turns to her. Perrie grins harder.

“For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Perrie, Harry’s work partner, and I’m lucky enough to be his best friend, too.” Her eyes falls on Louis, and she smirks. “Well, one of his best friends, at least.”

Louis forces his lips into a smile, wishing for this – whatever this is – to be over soon, so that Harry and him can slip away somewhere quieter and talk.

“Starting to work for James and Julia has probably been one of the biggest strokes of luck in my life,” Perrie continues, “not just because I’ve had the possibility to get a job that inspires me and fulfills me every day, but also ‘cause it gave me the chance to meet this wonderful boy.” She stops to take a breath, and everyone cheers. Harry smiles, and sheepishly cocks his head on a side.

“Harry Edward Styles is not only one of the most intelligent people I know,” Perrie reprises, getting closer to Harry and Louis, “he’s also terribly cultured and educated. But he never brags: on the contrary, he’s always kind and humble. Harry brings joy to the lives of everyone who knows him. He’s happy when he can make people happy. He’s an ambitious, hard worker, and an amazing friend, and he’s always there when you need him.” She stops again, her voice breaking a little. Louis raises an eyebrow. She must be really pissed.

“Harry, you’re one of the best people I know, and there’s no denying you’re golden. So go and conquer the world.” Her lower lip starts to shake violently, and her eyes fill up with tears, but Perrie keeps smiling nevertheless. “I have no doubt in my mind that every single Italian will fall head over heels for you, but please, don’t forget about us when you’ll be eating delicious pasta dishes in Milan,”  she concludes, and finally bursts into tears.

She runs into Harry’s arms, sobbing, and Harry holds her to his chest, petting her hair.

“I will fucking miss you, you giant dork,” she cries, sinking her face into his neck.

Suddenly, all the people in the room crowd around Harry, tugging on him and pushing for one more hug, one more shake, one more kiss.

Louis stays still, completely frozen, his place next to Harry long lost. His head is spinning, and his stomach has fallen to his feet. He can’t breathe properly, his lungs can’t work, and he can’t manage to get air to pass through them. It can’t be true, it can’t be true, it can’t be…   

He doesn’t know how long it takes for Harry to be by his side again, but at some point, he reappears. Louis turns to look at Harry just once, and gets it. It is true.

He frowns, wrinkles gathering in his forehead. “You’re leaving,” he says, and it’s not a question. He doesn’t add me, but it still flutters in the air.

Harry bites on his lower lip. “Yeah,” he replies, and his voice suddenly sounds foreign to Louis’ ears. “I’m moving to Milan.”

There must be an earthquake somewhere, because Louis can clearly feel the ground starting to tremble, oceans and mountains moving into a single scream. Maybe tectonic plates will swallow him whole.

His legs falter, and Louis places his hand on a wall to keep himself from falling. Harry immediately extends his arms to support him, but Louis takes a step back.

He opens his mouth, but he can’t form a sentence. He swallows, and closes his eyes for a second. “How—” he starts, but his voice breaks immediately. He clears his throat. “Why?”

“A friend of James has a law firm there, and was looking for someone,” Harry answers, his tone as calm as if he were saying what he had for lunch. He’s trying to appear unbothered, but his jaw is hardened, and he’s even paler than before. “James and Julia offered me the position before Christmas, and I refused, but they told me to think about it. And I did,” Harry shrugs, “I thought about it, and then I accepted. It’s a great opportunity for me.”

Louis just nods, staying silent. Every second that passes, every tick of the clock is a new mile apart between him and Harry, every heartbeat feels like a whole new country pulling them apart. Soon enough, Louis will be nothing but history, a fading memory waiting to disappear. He can’t deal with this. He can’t deal with a life without Harry in it. He needs Harry by his side.

“Do you really have to go?” he mumbles, lowering his eyes. His guts are knotted together.

Harry sighs. “I told you,” he shrugs, “it’s a great opportunity for me, going to Milan. I’m honoured James thought of me in the first place.”

But I am not in Milan, I’m right here!, Louis wants to say. Don’t you see me? I’m right here.

“Why are you asking?” Harry adds, an inscrutable expression on his face.

“I don’t want you to” Louis starts, but immediately interrupts himself, biting on his lower lip. He pauses in order to take a breath, desperately trying to recollect some sense. “‘Cause we’ve always been together, you and me, haven’t we? It’s weird thinking you’ll be gone,” he says, eventually.

“It’s– weird,” Harry repeats. A shadow crosses his eyes, but he’s quick to make it disappear. “It’s not that weird, if you think about it,” he continues, “people move all the time.” Harry licks his lips. His fingers close around something invisible, and clench. “Why would you think it’s weird, Louis?” he inquiries. “And what did you say initially? You don’t want me to…?”

Harry’s eyes are bright and intense, and they burn a hole into Louis’ body. Well, an even bigger hole than the one Harry has already left in his soul, at least.   

It’s Louis’ turn to shrug now, because he doesn’t really know what to say. Or better: he does know it, but he doesn’t know how to say it.

“When are you leaving?” he asks instead, his throat incredibly dry.

“Tomorrow,” Harry pursues his lips together, and Louis feels like choking.

“Tomorrow?” he repeats. It can’t be real, it can’t be real, it can’t be…

Harry nods, rubbing at his neck. “It’ll be just for a few days, I’ll sign a deal, and discuss some details,” he says, “I’ll be back in England by next week, but I’ll probably go to Donny to spend some time with mum. Then I’ll leave for good by the end of February.”

His words echo in Louis’ mind. Good has never sounded this bad. His heart is breaking in a million tiny pieces inside his chest, and he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t even know where to begin. He hasn’t been without his Harry ever since he was eighteen, and he doesn’t want to start now. Louis tightens his hands into fists. Harry belongs here, with him.

He’s got a lump in his throat, but he refuses to cry. Not here, not now. Not in front of Harry.

Louis furrows his brows. “You said you refused the offer, initially,” he mumbles. He lowers his gaze, not being able to bear Harry’s eyes. “What made you change your mind?”

Harry sighs. “I’ve got no reason to stay, do I?” he replies, and his voice is suddenly as hard as iron. He’s ice cold, the prince of ice castles and glaciers. “I don’t have anything keeping me here.”
Yes, you do, Louis wants to scream. You have me, you have to stay for me. With me. Aren’t I a good enough reason? Stay with me. Don’t let me go. Don’t give up on me.

Words form on the tip of Louis’ tongue and urge to come out, but Louis fights them, and forces them back in. He chews hard on the inside of his cheek until he can taste the blood. Only then he dares speaking.

“I suppose you don’t,” he says. What he hasn’t said, hurts him from the inside.
He manages to raise his eyes, and meets Harry’s again. Louis has made many mistakes in his life, but none of his crimes come close to the look on Harry’s face right now.

He sinks his nails into his palms and let the pain takes over.

“I hope you’ll be happy in Milan, H,” he says, trying to smile, “I already know you’ll do wonders. They’ll be lucky to have you.” He stands on his tiptoes to give Harry a hug, and it’s cold and formal, at first, but then Harry puts his face in the crook of Louis’ neck, and they both melt into it.

“I” Louis starts, but his voice breaks. He coughs, trying to regain some control. “I’ll fucking miss you,” he admits against Harry’s collarbones, barely whispering.

Harry whimpers, and loudly breathes in from his nose. His fingers press on Louis’ hips so hard they’ll probably leave bruises, but Louis doesn’t care. He inhales Harry’s scent and closes his eyes.

“Lou…” Harry murmurs, and his voice is broken and soft, and suddenly it’s all too much, and Louis’ lungs are not working correctly once again.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles, untangling from Harry. His eyes are empty, and there’s a knot in his throat that won’t go away. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, shaking his head, “I gotta go.”

He turns on his heels and runs away, not daring looking back. Harry doesn’t chase him, and maybe it’s for the best.

Louis needs to let him go.

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of hours later, Louis is fucking pissed, and possibly fucking heartbroken, too. There’s something in his chest that keeps hurting like a bitch without any break. Actually, everything in his body hurts: from his limbs to his back, from his head to his stomach. Why calling it a broken heart if everything hurts like it’s fucking broken?

Louis downs the last drops of his Jack, and slams his glass back on the counter.

“Can you believe he’s leaving, Joey?” he whines, slurring each word. He frowns at the ginger bartender. “Can you believe he’s leaving me ?” He shakes his head. His fingers are still wrapped around the empty glass, whitened from holding onto it too tight. Louis hiccups. “He said he’d stay,” he adds, and his voice slightly breaks, getting thinner and thinner. “He said he wouldn’t be like everyone else. He should have stayed. Why won’t he stay?”

Louis’ eyes fill with tears for the thousandth time that night, and he brings his fist on his face, rubbing at them and wiping them away. All the alcohol hasn’t helped loosening the knot in his throat.

Louis pushes his glass towards the bartender, and hints at it with his chin.

“I should have known Jack was meant to be the only one for me,” he mutters, “give me another one, please.”

Joey furrows his eyebrows. There’s a worried expression painted on his face, but he complies anyway. “You know, drowning yourself in whiskey won’t get your boy back,” he comments.

Louis drinks a generous sip of the golden liquor, and wipes his mouth with his hand.

“Unfortunately, yes, I do know,” he replies, sour, “but maybe it’ll help me to stop thinking about the fact that the only person who’s been like an anchor for me, for my whole life, is leaving me, too.”

The redhead snaps his tongue. “I’m sorry, mate,” he says, raising his hands in front of his chest.

Louis doesn’t bother answering, and looks away. He lets his eyes wander through the crowd dancing in the middle of the bar, and that’s when he sees him. Nicholas fucking Grimshaw. Grinding against some faceless man.

What the fuck.

“What the fuck,” Louis mumbles, and snaps back on his feet, his drink long forgotten on the counter.

In the blink of an eye, Louis gets to him and violently put himself between the two men, pulling them apart. He can’t see straight, and sure as hell, can’t think straight either. There’s a red fog that clouds his sight, and his blood is boiling in his veins. His hands start shaking for the rage he’s feeling, so he does the first thing that comes up to his mind. He punches Nick on the nose.

“The fuck?!” Nick screams in pain, jumping back. He brings his hands on his face to cup his nose. He looks at Louis, and recognizes him, and frowns even more. “The fuck is wrong with you, Tomlinson?” he whines. He looks at his hands, and finds them stained with blood. He gets scarily paler. “I’m fucking bleeding!” he exclaims, eyes widened.

“The fuck is wrong with you, Grimshaw!” Louis yells back, unimpressed. He pushes Nick back with vigour. “How could you do this to him? He’s the best fucking person on Earth, and you’re cheating on him. Aren't you ashamed?” Louis pushes Nick once more, even more strongly. “He’s a fucking angel, and he’s leaving tomorrow, and you’re what? Already cheating on him with some random guy in a bar? You’re scum, that’s what you are. Shame on you!”

He goes to push Nick again, but the taller man grips on his wrists and stills his movements. “What the fuck are you talking about, Tommo, have you lost your mind?” he asks. He furrows his brows. “You’re not making any sense, and you should really calm down.”

Louis inhales deeply from his nose, desperately trying to get rid of Nick’s hold. Angry tears again make their appearance behind Louis’ eyelids, threatening to escape.

“You’re full of shit, Grimmy, you don’t deserve him!” Louis shrieks.

“Will you stay still and calm down, for fuck’s sake? You’re making a scene,” Nick retorts, trying to keep his voice cool. He throws a glance at the people around them. “I’m not cheating on anyone, Louis.”

When Nick’s last words sink in, Louis finally stops fighting him back. He gives Nick a suspicious look. “What do you mean?” he asks.

“Let’s get out of here first, shall we?” Nick replies, releasing Louis’ wrists, and putting his hand on the small of Louis’ back, leading him outside the bar. Louis follows him in silence, chewing on his bottom lip.

Once they’re back in the cold London winter, Nick releases a long breath from his nose. He digs in his pockets, collecting a paper napkin and a pack of cigarettes. He starts plugging his nose, and offers the latter to Louis, who gladly accepts it. Louis lights two fags, and gives one to Nick.

Nick takes a long drag, and side-eyes Louis. “You know, you’re lucky you didn’t break my nose, Tommo,” he says, and he sounds weirdly cheerful. “You would have gotten yourself into a lotta troubles, otherwise.”

“I thought you were cheating on Harry,” Louis murmurs between his teeth.

Nick rolls his eyes. “I wasn’t,” he replies, “I can’t cheat on Harry, Tommo, ‘cause Harry and I aren’t dating.”

Louis inhales the smoke from his fag, and lowers his eyes. “You’re not?” he asks, and his voice is weak and barely audible.

Nick shakes his head. “Of course not, silly.”

“But—” Louis frowns, “you’re spending all that time together, he was with you anytime I texted him, and all those posts on Instagram… and you asked me his number to take him out on a date…”

“We’ve hung out together a couple of times, and he’s nice, but that’s it,” Nick shrugs, “we’ve hung out as friends. I would never date him, Louis, I wouldn’t do that to you. And he’d never date me either, I’m afraid.”

Louis bites on his lower lip, and meets Nick’s eyes. “Why not?”

Nick sighs. “‘Cause he’s in love with you, you twat.”

Louis widens his eyes, and his mouth falls open. “I—” he stutters. He feels like choking. “What?”
Harry is in love with him. Harry is in love with him. Harry is in love with him.

“Oh, c’mon,” Nick rolls his eyes again, “don’t tell me you had no idea! That boy is head over heels for you, and it was painfully obvious even before I met him.”

Louis opens his mouth, and closes it right after. His fag is long forgotten between his fingers. He blinks, suddenly feeling like a lost child. “I don’t even know what to say,” he admits. Harry is in love with him!

“You should say that you love him back,” Nick answers, looking sympathetic, “because you totally do, you know.”

Louis parts his lips to reply, but Nick raises his hands in front of him to stop him. “Don’t even try denyin’ it, Lou, it’s pointless. You were literally willing to smash my face, and maybe even lose your job by doing so, just ‘cause you thought I was cheating on him,” Nick continues. “You’ve barely looked at me in the past two weeks ‘cause you thought I was dating him, and you always hate on all of his boyfriends.” Nick opens his arms and shrugs his shoulders. “You worship the ground he walks on, always have. You’re in love with him, and you’ve been since I first met you.” Nick takes another drag from his cigarette, and exhales the smoke in small, concentric circles. “In fact,” he adds, “I think you’ve been in love with him since you first met him.”

Louis swallows. “I’m— I don’t…” he stammers. All the lies he has told himself for years seem suddenly just plastic-made illusions, and all the walls he has built seem on the verge of crumbling down. Harry is in love with him, and he is…
The lump in his throat finally unties, and tears start streaming on his cheeks.

“He’s leaving, Nick,” he sobs. His hand wraps around Nick’s shirt, and tugs. “He’s leaving me.”

Nick is immediately there, hugging Louis, and holding him tight to his chest.

“He is leaving, Lou,” Nick murmurs among Louis’ hair, “it’s time for you to face your feelings.” He starts petting Louis’ head, and his voice is soothing and calm when he talks. “He thinks he’s got no hope with you, that’s why he’s leaving. He thinks you don’t want him. He hopes he’ll get over you, in another city,” he continues. Louis only cries more. His tears wet Nick’s fancy shirt, but the older man doesn’t even blink, and keeps holding Louis to his heart.

“That’s not true,” Louis stammers, “that he’s got no hope. It’s not true.” He’s barely breathing, barely keeping himself from falling to pieces even more. After all, it’s true when they say that it takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart. “I am” he murmurs, but a sob interrupts his trainwreck.

“I know,” Nick murmurs among Louis’ hair, “and I know Harry does too, deep down. You just need to remind him.”

Just when Louis stops weeping, and when his breathing evens, Nick pushes him slightly back. He places his hands on Louis’ shoulder, and looks at him in the eyes.

“I know you’re scared, Lou, but it’s time for you to decide if you wanna keep being scared, or if you wanna take a leap of faith, and maybe win everything.”

Louis lowers his gaze, not standing to keep Nick’s. One single tear slips down his cheekbone, all the way to his jaw. Louis sniffs.

“You have to face your ghosts, Tommo,” Nick continues, frowning. “You have to man up and admit you’re in love with Harry, otherwise, you’re gonna lose him for good.”

Louis shakes his head, not really making any sense, looking completely upset. He untangles from Nick’s arm, and rubs his face with his hands, desperately trying to dry up the tears.

“I gotta go now,” he murmurs, “I got to get away.”

Nick just looks at him, and sighs. “You won’t be able to run away forever, Louis,” he says, “you’ll have to stop one day, and you’ll have to face the consequences of your actions.”

Louis takes a step back, and shakes his head again. He puts his hands in his pockets, and starts walking towards the nearest tube station.

Not today.

 

 

***

It’s a nice, sunny day, and the sky is definitely too clear to be somewhere in England. England skies are never this shade of blue.

Louis is on a beach. The sand under his toes is warm and soft. He can hear the sound of the waves crashing, and his nose is filled with the deep smell of the sea.

He doesn’t know where he is, but this time around, he knows exactly what’s going on. There’s a wedding in action.

Weirdly, Louis doesn’t feel tense at all. On the contrary: he feels quite relaxed, profoundly serene, almost like he’s… happy. He taked a deep breath, thankful for this beautiful location. The sun shines kindly on him, surrounding him like a halo. Louis smiles, humming contentedly, and opens his eyes, taking in the whole place.

There are around thirty chairs, each one of them decorated with a delicate ivory organza ribbon. The chairs are divided into two halves, in order to let an empty aisle in the middle, and pink rose petals are spread on the ground. To either side of Louis, there are two huge flowers arrangements, made up of roses, lilacs, and lilies of the valley.

Harry’s family is sitting in the first row, and Louis’ is split between the second and the third one. Jay and Anne are quietly chatting together, both of them smiling happily. Lottie is reapplying Gemma’s red lipstick and laughing at something Fizzy said. Doris and Ernest are simply adorable in their matching baby blue outfits, and they’re cutely holding their pinkies together, chanting something under their breath. The older twins are discussing something with Gemma’s boyfriend.

Louis’ heart swells, and his eyes crinkle at the sight. He’s so happy to see his and Harry’s families so united, as if they were one.

He moves his gaze through the crowd, still smiling. He doesn’t know many people, but he doesn’t really care. He recognizes James and Julia, Harry’s bosses, and some of his colleagues as well: there’s Jesy, with her long, copper hair, and standing next to her, Perrie, stunning in a dusty rose dress. Liam and Zayn are there too, somewhere in the back rows, whispering into each other’s ears . Louis smirks at them. Nick is not far from them, wearing a hideous Hawaiian shirt, and he winks at Louis when their eyes meet. Louis wonders lazily where Niall has gone. Surely he’s Louis’ best man, so he should be by his side, but apparently, he’s nowhere to be seen. Louis shrugs. He can’t really be bothered by his absence. He knows Niall will appear eventually. He’s too deep into a state of bliss to dwell on it.

Louis stretches his arms and back, enjoying the sunshine like a cat. They must be somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, like Spain or Greece. Or perhaps Italy… He brushes a hand through his hair, feeling oddly but pleasantly excited, and that’s when the small band on his left start playing a song. Louis recognizes the tune immediately, and shakes his head, smiling nevertheless. Only Harry could be so cheesy to have All you need is love played as his entrance song at his wedding, partially re-enacting his favourite movie .

Louis raises his gaze, and he sees him. His heart misses a beat, or maybe even stops for a good few seconds, he couldn’t tell. Harry is fucking handsome, the most fucking handsome man he’s ever laid his eyes on, and Louis is so, so lucky. The luckiest man in the whole universe, probably.

Harry is barefoot, and he’s wearing white Capri trousers that show his ankles and calves. Louis can spot the Never gonna dance again tattoo, and smirks. Oh, of course he will dance later… Louis will personally make sure of it.

Staying true to his style, Harry has left his white cotton shirt unbuttoned down to his belly button, and all of his chest tattoos are on display. The sleeves are wrapped around his biceps, showing off his beefy arms. Louis’ mouth waters at the sight. He really can’t wait for their first wedding night.

Harry’s hair is wild and unruly, and he’s got a green scarf wrapped around his head that brings out his beautiful eyes. He’s holding a single, carmine red rose between his hands, and for once his fingers sport no ring. He’s so gorgeous Louis could cry, and maybe his eyes do tear up a little looking at him, but Louis will never admit it.

Louis’ mouth has fallen open, and he’s too taken aback to say anything, so he can only hope his expression will tell Harry how genuinely affected he is. Harry meets his gaze, beams at him… And walks past him.

Louis’ face falls. What the fuck? He promptly turns around, following Harry with his eyes, and sees him walking to a faceless, tanned man Louis hadn’t noticed before.

Louis frowns. His heart is beating so fast he can hear it ringing in his ears. He looks around, desperately trying to make sense out of the situation, and then he gets it. This is not his wedding, that’s why he doesn’t know anyone. This is Harry’s wedding. He’s only… the best man. His throat dry up, and Louis clears it subtly, trying to loosen up the knot he feels.

A minister has started his sermon, but Louis can’t bring himself to listen to what he’s saying. What’s his supposed to do? This had started as the perfect daydream, but has turned into the worst nightmare.

Louis can’t let this happen, he can’t let Harry go. He can’t lose him to another man, he just can’t lose him… Harry is the anchor to his rope, the only true, meaningful thing in his life, his personal ray of sunshine, the most important person of all. And Louis is supposed to guard him, Louis is supposed to be the dagger to Harry’s rose… and he can’t let this happen .

“If anyone feels this couple should not be united in Holy Matrimony,” the minister says, his voice calm and serene, “speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

Louis licks his lips, and dares throwing a glance at his mum. Jay is already looking at him. Her eyebrows are furrowed, but she smiles at Louis, and nods slightly. Louis inhales deeply. His hands are sweaty and shaking, so he tightens them up into two fists.

This is his moment. He clears his throat, and opens his mouth…

 

Louis widens his eyes, jolting awake. The sheets are messily wrapped around his legs.

He kicks them away. He sits in the middle of the bed, and brushes a hand through his sweaty hair. His heart is beating so fast, Louis is afraid it will jump out of his chest.

He stretches to collect the bottle of water on his night table, and his eyes fall on his H-amulet, and on the twin portrait he gave Harry so many years ago. An adorable fetus Harry pouts from the picture, getting straight to Louis’ heart.   

“Shit,” he murmurs under his breath. His alarm clock says it’s 6.42. Maybe it’s not too late…

He grabs his phone, scrolling through his contacts, and presses on Grimmy.

“Please, please, answer your goddamned phone,” Louis murmurs between his teeth.

Nick answers after five rings.

“Louis, what the fuck, man, it’s not even 7 AM…” he mumbles, voice still sleepy.

“Nick,” Louis says, heatedly, “I fucked up.” His breathing is uneven and his hands are shaking. “I fucked up really bad.”

Nick sighs from the other end of the line, and Louis can hear him cursing under his breath.

“Yes,” Nick replies eventually, “yes, you did.” Louis hears him fumbling with his own phone, and then Nick is talking again.

“His flight leaves at 9.30 from Stanstead,” he says, “you'd better hurry the fuck up if you wanna get to him before he checks in. I’ll tell everyone you’re sick.”

Louis closes his eyes for a second, mentally thanking all those gods he doesn’t really believe in. He presses a hand to his face.

“Thank you so much, Grimmy,” he cracks out, throat dry. He gets up from the bed, already heading to the bathroom. “I’ll call you later.”

“You’re welcome,” Nick answers. Louis can hear the smile on his voice. “And, Tomlinson?”

“Yes?” Louis asks.

“Go get your man,” Nick says, and then ends the call.

Louis smiles for two seconds at the dark screen of his iPhone, then he jumps in the shower.

He really needs to hurry, he has the love of his life to get back.

 

 

 

 

 

He will never get to the airport in time.

Louis exhales loudly from his mouth, nervously glancing one more time at the digital watch in the dashboard of his car, and bites on his lower lip.
It usually takes around fifty minutes to go from central London to Stansted, but apparently this morning the city decided to get even more busy and congested than the usual. It’s already 8.01, and Louis hasn’t gotten there yet. He is three or four kilometres away from the airport, but they feel like a thousand. Hopefully, Harry will still be there…

On the radio, Ed Sheeran is singing Shape of You, and its chorus echoes in Louis’ car. The last time he heard that song, Harry was plastered against his back, his hot breath on Louis’ neck, his hands on Louis’ hips, and his hard-on pushing against the crack of Louis’ arse. Louis sighs. Quite a different context, that one was.

He abruptly changes the station, not able to bear hearing any more of that tune. Taylor Swift is playing on the next one, and Louis rolls his eyes, changing station again.

There’s a guy speaking on the third station, and Louis leaves it, listening absently while trying to focus on the road. The deejay is laughing at something his co-host has said, but he sounds quite sarcastic.

“Mmmh,” he says, snapping his tongue, “I’ll tell you what, Jake. My opinion is quite different from yours.”

“Yeah?” the other lad asks. “Why’s that?”

“Love is good only for making music,” the first one continues. “That's it, I said it. Love is useful for writing powerful songs, and that’s all.”

“What are you talking about, Marcus?” the Jake guy sounds incredulous. “You can’t be serious. Haven’t you heard? All you need is love. Love lifts us up where we belong.”

Marcus just laughs. “Oh, c’mon, don’t tell me you really believe to these kind of things,” he replies with a mocking tone. “That’s what society wants you to buy, but it’s not true. In my opinion, those who flee from love are the real winners.”

Louis’ palms slightly sweat. He tightens his hold on the wheel. His fingers turn white.

“Ladies and gents, I sincerely apologize for what my colleague here is saying,” Jake announce, “I do hope there is someone who still believes in love out there. Otherwise the human race would be over.”

The Marcus guy laughs again. “You’re being tragic, now.”

“So that’s it for you? Love is just a game?” Jake inquires, sceptical.

“I mean,” Marcus says, “it is what it is.” He’s probably shrugging, too. Louis hardens his jaw. Dick . “In some ways, love is a game, you know? A game of easy come, easy go.”

Louis shakes his head. This guy doesn’t know. He doesn’t know a thing. Louis bites the inside of his cheek. He has probably never felt like this, he has probably never felt what Louis is feeling now. The butterflies in the stomach, those funny butterflies that come alive anytime he’s next to Harry, he has probably never felt them. Louis is sorry for him. He knows better now. He knows love is not a game, Harry taught him that. Harry taught him to love.

Louis puts his foot down on the gas pedal. He can finally see the airport. He just needs to hope it’s not too late, he just needs to hope he has the chance to let Harry know.

Louis changes the radio station again. A song has just started, and Louis recognizes it immediately. It’s fucking Oasis.

As the day was dawning, my plane flew away with all the things caught in my mind. And I want to be there when you’re coming down, I want to be there when you hit the ground.

Louis snorts. Clearly, there must be a conspiracy of some sort going on today, with all these fucking tunes and speeches on the radios.

Damn my education, I can’t find the words to say about the things caught in my mind.

Louis start chewing harder on his cheek. He must find the right words to tell Harry. He must convince him to stay. Louis can’t lose him. He can’t.

Me and you, what’s going on? All we seem to know is how to show the feelings that are wrong.

Louis breathes a sigh of relief when he manages to finally enter the airport’s park, and he immediately spears into the first free spot he sees. Thank God he didn’t have to drive in circles for hours, desperately looking for a place to park. He puts the handbrake on, unbuckles his seatbelt, and gets out of the car as the final notes of the song ring in his ears. Louis locks the car and inhales deeply. He’s here. He just needs to find Harry, now. Louis nods to himself, and rushes to the airport entrance. He’s got this.

So don’t go away. Say what you say, but say that you’ll stay forever and a day in the time of my life, ‘cause I need more time, yes, I need more time just to make things right. So don’t go away.

Louis bursts through the huge doors of the airport, and immediately starts looking around among the crowd, trying to spot a tall, curly-haired, vaguely hipsterish man. Louis’ gaze wanders from a girl with a lilac bob nodding her head to a song she’s listening to with her pink headphones, to a woman wearing a red pantsuit and spotted high heeled boots, from a man in dark blue flannel and a fedora on his head, to a family with matching grins and too-big suitcases, to an old couple holding their rugged hands together.

Harry is nowhere to be seen. Trying not to let the panic sink in, Louis sighs, and heads to the board where all the departing flights are posted.

Truth be told, Louis has always loved airports. All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?, the Beatles used to wonder, and Louis likes to think that maybe they all belong to airports. Airports are places where lives, stories, circumstances, and different perspectives all tangle together. They all mix into an unique kaleidoscope of colours and voices. Airports are like unstoppable, flooded rivers of people, each of them with their own world, their own worries, their own well-guarded luggage. Airports are the tangible proof that love is everywhere. It’s always there: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. Hugh Grant was right. Love, actually, is all around.

A little kid with huge green eyes and curly hair is standing next to the large blue board listing all the flights. He’s holding a bigger-than-him stuffed frog with his chubby hands. Louis smiles down at him, and the child smiles back. One of his front teeth is missing, an empty window at its place.

“Your eyes are very beautiful,” the kid says. “You look kind.”

Louis smiles even more. “Why, thank you, buddy,” he answers, distractedly looking at all the listed flights. “I think yours are prettier, though. Green eyes are the most beautiful in the whole world.”

The kid’s eyes widen, and he blushes with pleasure. “Are they? Really?”

Louis nods confidently. “Absolutely,” he confirms.

“Henry!” A young woman in her twenties comes toward the child. They’ve got the same freckles and the same smile. “Don’t bother the gentleman, my love,” she says, ruffling the little boy’s hair.

“I wasn’t bothering him, mum,” Henry pouts. “We were complimenting each other.”

Louis laughs. “It’s okay, ma’am. He’s lovely.”

The young woman’s face melts into the sweetest smile. “Thank you,” she says, cocking her head to the side. “He really is.”

Henry beams at Louis, visibly proud. “Mum is bringing me to Disneyland,” he announces, still grinning. “Where are you going?”

“I’m not going anywhere, love,” Louis replies, “I’m looking for someone.” He bites on his bottom lip. “You see, I made a mess, and now I’m trying to fix it. I hurt someone who’s very dear to me, and now I have to apologize.”

The little kid wriggles his eyebrows. “But do you love them?”

Louis sharply inhales from his nose. He lowers his gaze for a second, then nods. “I do,” he whispers, “very much.”

“Then it’ll be alright,” Henry answers, smiling. “Just tell ‘em, and it’ll be alright.”   

At that moment, a voice from the intercom makes Louis jump. “Attention, please. Cynthia Johnson! Passenger Cynthia Johnson of the flight RyanAir London Stanstead – Milano Malpensa FR6682, please check in. The flight is reported to take off in fifteen minutes.”

All the colour fades from Louis’ face. Is it too late? Is he too late? Has Harry already boarded?

“I—” he stutters, “I have to go, I’m sorry.”

The young woman looks at him with sympathetic eyes. “Good luck,” she says, as Henry waves his small hand in the air. Louis sighs, and starts running toward the entrance of the gates.

There are a couple of airline attendants in front of the security controls. Louis swallows . He doesn’t have a ticket. There's no way he’ll get through. This isn’t a movie. Maybe he should buy a ticket…

“I have to buy a ticket,” he blurts out.

One of the attendants raises a perfectly groomed brow. She says in a formal, business-like voice, “I’m afraid you can’t buy tickets here, sir. You’ll have to go back to—”

“You don’t understand,” Louis interrupts her. “I don't have time. His flight is leaving, I have to pass through security so I can find him. I can’t let him leave…”

The attendants exchange a glance. The one who spoke smiles coldly at Louis. “You have to possess a ticket to go through the security controls, sir,” she says. “You can buy a ticket at

“Oh, fuck off!” Louis interrupts her again, not caring about being rude, and turns on his feet, heading in the opposite direction. He has to hurry. He needs a Goddamn ticket, and he needs it now. They said the flight was leaving in fifteen minutes. He could still do it…

He starts running, eyes lowered to the ground, and immediately crashes against someone’s chest.

“Louis?!”

Louis raises his gaze, and his eyes widens. Harry’s facing him . Harry is standing right here. Harry is here, he hasn’t left yet. He’s here .

“Harry,” Louis breathes, and brings a hand to Harry’s arm, squeezing it, as to make sure he’s not just a make-believe. “You’re here.”

Louis looks at Harry, still in wonder, and smiles. He can’t help but smile.

Harry looks amazing as always, even in his departure outfit (that is a thousand times cooler than anyone else’s everyday outfit anyway). Something warm spreads inside Louis, and butterflies start fluttering in his stomach.

Harry’s wearing his black Saint Laurent boots with black super-skinny jeans, his beloved old Randy’s Donuts grey sweatshirt, with the laces tied up in a bow under his chin, and his classic long black coat. He has a blue scarf around his neck that rests loosely on his chest. His hoodie is up, with his fluffy curls peeking around the edges. A pair of black sunglasses on top of his head keeps his hair away from his face. In one hand, he’s holding his pink laptop, a black Moleskine, and his passport, while the other hand is carrying his duffel bag.

“Where else would I be?” Harry asks, wriggling his brows. “You know I’m leaving today.”

“But you haven’t left yet. You’re not already on your plane,” Louis clarifies.

“My plane doesn’t leave for another hour, and I only have a carry-on. That's why I’m still here,” Harry explains. “It wasn’t my flight the one they called,” he adds.

He unzips his duffel, and carefully puts his laptop in his case, and then closes the bag again.

Louis observes him in silence, and shakes his head. “You can’t leave,” he blurts out. “We can’t get married if you’re in Italy, and I refuse to marry someone who lives in another country. So you can’t leave.”

Harry’s brows snap to his hairline. “What?” he asks. He blinks a couple of times. There’s a worried expression on his face. “Are you high, Louis?” he adds, suspiciously. “What are you talking about?”

Louis stays quiet, and digs in the back pocket of his jeans, collecting his wallet. He opens it, and takes out a ruined, old, carefully folded piece of paper. He hands it to Harry.

Harry frowns. He lowers his gaze on the document, and starts reading. His eyes widens immediately. “I thought I lost this years ago,” he mumbles under his breath. He looks up at Louis, still amazed. “I can’t believe you kept it all this time,” he says, scrunching his nose.

There’s a secretive smile on Louis’ lips. “I found it among my stuff after we moved away from our old place,” he explains. “I don’t know how it got there.” He shrugs his shoulders. “I thought, might as well keep it, you know?”

“Can’t say I’m not surprised,” Harry comments. His voice is low and soft. “Didn’t even think you remembered about… the whole thing.”

“Of course I remember, Hazza,” Louis replies immediately. “I haven’t stopped thinking about it for the past few years, to be honest.” He gets closer to Harry, and places his hands on Harry’s forearms. “You get it, now?” Louis asks. “You can’t leave, Haz. You can’t leave me. You promised you’d marry me, so you’re stuck with me.” Louis wraps his fingers tighter against Harry’s arms. “So, will you stay?” Louis inquires. “Will you marry me?”

Harry’s expression tenses up. He hardens his jaw, and clenches his teeth. “So this is what it’s about? An old deal?” Harry spits out. “Is it just another whim of yours, Louis?” he shakes his head, laughing bitterly. “I should have known it was just a game to you.”

“It’s not!” Louis exclaims. He brings his hands on Harry’s chest, and tugs on the sweatshirt. “It’s not a game. It would never be a game with you.”

“You’re asking me to stay because of an old deal,” Harry retorts, flat. “And I should stay and fucking marry you because we said so ten years ago when we were drunk as fuck?”

“No,” Louis corrects him. “I’m asking you to stay because– I love you.”
Harry’s mouth falls open, and his eyes widen in surprise. “What,” he whispers, and it’s not even a question. He seems too astonished to put any kind of inflection in it.

“I love you,” Louis repeats, more confidently. “I’m in love with you, Harry Styles. I love the way you bite your lip when you’re thinking about something. I love the fact that you cry every time we watch Love, Actually. I love the way you turn into a sentimental sap when you get drunk. I love that you’ll play football with me even if you can barely walk straight. I love that you make me eat kale, and tofu, and fruit and vegetables, even if I’d rather spend all my days at McDonald’s. I love that you do that. I know that you do it ‘cause you care about me.” Louis’ voice cracks. He pauses to take a deep breath. His eyes shine with tears, but he’s smiling. “You take care of me, Haz. You always have, and I wanna take care of you too, for the rest of my life.” Louis sniffs, forcing himself to go on even if the lump in his throat is getting tighter and tighter. “I know you don’t need me to, but I wanna do it anyway. Growing up, watching out for you it’s kinda been my job, you know?” Louis shrugs. “But more than that, somewhere along the way, it has kinda become who I am.”

Louis pauses again to prevent his voice from breaking. Harry is looking at him, quietly, with a shocked expression on his beautiful features. He’s visibly affected, and his eyes, too, are watery.

Louis swallows hard, and continues. “I have loved you since I was eighteen, probably. I just couldn’t bring myself to admit it because I was scared,” he admits, voice low and trembling. “During all these years, I’ve built a shell for no one to get in, but you have. Actually, I think you’ve always been here.” Louis’ fingers ever-so-gently caress Harry’s tummy from above the jumper, tracing the edges of the butterfly whose location he knows by heart. “You’re my weak spot, Haz, my Achilles’ heel, and maybe it should make me vulnerable, but it doesn’t.” Louis places his hand on Harry’s heart. He can feel Harry’s pulse bounding through his clothes. “I don’t know much, Harry. I don’t know about deals, and contracts, and laws, and I can’t make a declaration of love the way it’s meant to be,” Louis says. He smiles sheepishly. “I just know you’re all I’ve got, all I want, all I need. I’m done with being scared of love, Harry. You make me strong.”

Harry sniffles, chewing on his lips. Tears threaten to escape from his eyes.

Louis’ not any different. He blinks hard to clear his eyes. But he isn't going to stop. He needs to say it all.

“I realize now I’ve spent so much time pretending to be an enemy of love ‘cause I was terrified by it,” Louis reprises. “I thought love could only bring pain. I swore I would have never believed in Forever ‘cause I didn’t think it could exist, but you proved me wrong. My walls were up, but you brought them down, and brought light into my life. I’m not scared anymore. I think if I gave you my heart, you would treat it tenderly.” He makes a pregnant pause. “You truly are an exception, Haz. You're my exception. You’re the ship to my compass, the anchor to my rope, and you’re the lighthouse that guides me home at night. And most importantly, you’re my home.”

Tears finally start streaming down Louis’ cheeks, and he bites violently on his lower lip, trying to make his chin stop trembling. Harry automatically places his hands on the small of Louis’ back, nudging him even closer to his chest. He’s crying, too.

He opens his mouth to say something, but Louis raises his hands to stop him.

“Wait,” Louis mumbles. He clears his throat, trying to regain at least some control. “You said I have a hole inside, but you were wrong. I don’t,” he says. His voice is still a shaking mess. “You filled that hole a long time ago, Harry,” Louis admits, sheepishly. “You, with your dimples, with your curls and your smell, with your stupid puns, and your hipster songs I never know, and your ability to make me laugh even when I feel like dying, and you just being there for me whenever I need you.” He smiles with tears in his eyes and wet cheeks. “I don’t have a hole in my soul anymore. I have you.”

He finally stops, inhaling deeply from his nose. Harry is a mess: he’s flushed, and his eyes are puffy, and he’s got a runny nose, and he’s the most handsome man Louis has ever seen.

“Lou,” Harry sobs. His hands leave Louis’ waist, and Louis immediately feels their absence. Harry desperately tries to dry up the tears with his sleeves. “I don’t even know what to say,” he whispers.

Louis turns pale. His stomach sink to his feet and his ears start ringing. He feels nauseous, close to throwing up.

His arms fall to his sides, and he suddenly feels unsteady. “Harry,” he begs, “say something. Please. Anything.”

Harry sniffs again. He hands Louis the paper napkin with the deal scribbled on it. Louis swallows, and accepts it in silence.

“You know that contract is not valid, right?” Harry says, after a pause.

Louis wants to die. He chokes up. “What?”

“It’s not valid,” Harry shrugs his shoulders. “It would come into force by my thirtieth birthday, but I’m not thirty yet,” he explains.

Harry scrunches his nose, in a desperate attempt to hide his fondness, but the corners of his lips inevitably and unmistakably rise up. “My birthday’s tomorrow. Remember?”

Louis can finally breathe again. Oxygen rushes back into his head and intoxicates him. He exhales a sigh of relief.

“Is it?” He smirks. He brings his hands back to Harry’s chest, tugging on the grey fabric. “Then I guess I’ll have to find something to entertain you with for the next twenty-four hours, so I can keep you here.”

“Yeah?” Harry’s voice deepens, and gets as smooth as whiskey. Harry places his hands on Louis’ back, and leans into his space. “Any ideas?” he asks, throaty and raspy.

“A few,” Louis replies, before raising on his tiptoes and closing up the inches between them with a kiss. It’s shockingly familiar, and Louis immediately melts into it, growing pliant under Harry. Harry’s lips are soft and warm, and Louis can slightly taste Harry’s too-sweet cherry chapstick.

Harry kisses Louis as if his life depends on it, Harry kisses Louis like a thirsty man in the desert suddenly coming upon an oasis. Their bodies align, and Louis can feel his knees getting weak, but Harry’s hands are firm on his hips, holding him for dear life, so tightly that it will probably leave bruises, but Louis doesn’t care. In fact, he likes it. He wants it.

He gasps into Harry’s mouth, barely holding back a moan, and licks into it. He immediately finds Harry’s tongue, and enlaces it into a never-ending dance. Their teeth clash together, but neither of them mind.

Louis feels like he’s going to combust, his skin suddenly too tight for him, and every single nerve in his body is singing for Harry. His fingers are wrapped around Harry’s sweatshirt, desperately trying to pull him closer, so that they can both melt into one body. Harry’s hands wander all over his back, then he brings them on Louis’ shoulders, and then on Louis’ jaw, cupping his face.

They pull apart reluctantly, both in need of air. Louis pants, his lips still parted. He brings his arms around Harry’s waist, hugging him, and Harry leaves his hands on Louis’ neck, ever-so-slightly caressing his cheeks. Harry nudges their noses, bringing their foreheads together, and Louis hums contently.

“I love you,” he mumbles against Harry’s lips.

Harry beams down at him. “I love you too, Lou,” he replies, “so very much.” His voice breaks. His eyes are clear and serene, and Louis can spot oceans, and mountains, and whole galaxies in them.

“You’re the most important person in my life,” Harry adds, softly. His fingers gently brushes Louis’ lips.

Louis smiles. “Will you stay, then?”

“Of course, baby,” Harry grins back. “You know, I think I might give up everything if you asked me to.”

Louis wriggles his eyebrows. “I don’t want you to,” he clarifies, “I want you to be happy with your life and your job.” He pauses, briefly lowering his gaze, and bites on his bottom lip. “You know, I’d still support you if you still wanted to go to Milan. I’d still love you, and I’d still be there for you. We could manage, somehow.”

Harry shakes his head. “I never really wanted to go to Milan, Lou,” he admits, sheepishly. “I just wanted to get over you, and I thought moving to another country could help.” He places a chaste kiss on Louis’ lips, on his nose, on his cheeks. “But there’s no escape from you, is there?” he murmurs against his jawline. “I could never have gotten over you, I love you too much. I’m so glad I don’t have to anymore.”

Louis’ eyelids flutter shut, and he sighs under Harry’s kisses. “Love you, too.”

He feels more than sees Harry’s smile against his neck.

“You’re forever inked on my skin and in my heart, baby,” Harry whispers. “I’m so happy, Lou. I was afraid you would never catch up. I thought you’d never ask me to stay.”

Louis opens his eyes, looking at Harry. He frowns. “I’m so sorry it took me so long, Haz,” he says, “I’m so sorry I hurt you. I never wanted to. I promised you I would never break your heart, but I did, didn't I? I’m sorry.”

“Shhh,” Harry shushes him, smiling. He caresses Louis’ jaw. “It’s okay,” Harry answers. “We both hurt each other, but look at us now.” He kisses Louis’ lips. “You were worth the wait, my love,” he murmurs. He kisses Louis again, then smirks. “Maybe we should postpone the wedding, though, and just date for a while.”

Louis giggles, his eyes crinkling. “What a shame,” he replies. “I had just come around to the idea of being a married man.”    

Harry cups the back of Louis’ neck with his hand, and grins. “You’ll definitely be a married man, eventually,” he says. “Just give us some time.”

Louis places a kiss at the corner of Harry’s mouth. “We’ve got all the time in the world,” he mumbles. “We’re in this forever.”

Harry’s smile grows bigger. “We are,” he agrees. “Now let’s get outta here, you promised me twenty-four hours of entertainment,” he winks at Louis, “and what I have in mind can’t be done in front of other people.” Harry’s eyes are deep and honest, and Louis could drown in them. “I want to make love to you,” Harry adds, his voice lowered.

Louis flushes. He feels his chest expanding under Harry’s gaze, and suddenly his entire body crawls with want.

He takes a trembling breath, and links their hands together. “Let’s go home,” he says, and squeezes. Louis smiles.

He’s never letting go of Harry again.

Never, ever again.

 

Chapter Text

EPILOGUE

2 nd January, 2018

 

 

Every night, I'll kiss you, you'll say in my ear:

“Oh, we're in love, aren't we?”

Hands in your hair, fingers and thumbs, baby

I feel safe when you're holding me near

Love the way that you conquer your fear

You know hearts don't break around here

Hearts Don’t Break Around Here, Ed Sheeran

 

 

 

 

If there’s something Louis really loves, it’s that state of bliss where he thinks he’s still dreaming. That warm, soft bubble where he has no worries, and everything feels just right, and lazy, and happy. And also lovely, and sensual, and cool, and goddamn sexy.

Louis isn’t even sure who he is, or where he is. And he doesn’t even care that much, to be honest. He just cares about the fact that he’s half hard, and that there’s a body sprawled next to him, someone’s arse pushing against his groin. He doesn’t even bother with opening his eyes. He just lazily bucks his hips forward, looking for friction.

Only half awake, Louis lets out a hiccupping pant that turns into a proper moan when his cock slides into the crack of the other man’s arse. He falls into a clumsy rhythm, rutting against this marble arse.

His cock is already licking precome into Louis’ pants, making him move his hips faster. Arousal gathers in his belly, low and deep. His toes curl into the sheets. Louis groans into the crook of the man’s neck.

Everything is blurred, and wet, and hothothot. Louis’s head is dizzy with want. He jerks his hips forward again and again, desperately looking for relief, and a startled, frustrated moan leaves his mouth. And that’s when the other body starts arching back, steadying Louis’ rhythm. The man grinds back his arse, going along with Louis’ movements, and helping him into an easy ride.

Louis rocks his hips forward, white lightings appearing behind his closed eyelids. He feels like he’s climbing a mountain, and he’s on the top, on the very edge, and he just wants to fall. He thrusts once more, twice, three times… and then he’s falling.

He comes with a low groan deep in his throat, hot pulses of semen wetting his pants. He’s left boneless and ecstatic, and he sighs happily.

The man turns around, faces Louis, and smirks.

“Good morning,” he says, his voice velvety and low.

Louis finally opens his eyes, and smiles.

“Indeed a good morning, my love,” he mumbles, before leaning to kiss Harry on the lips.

It escalates quickly, tongues chasing each other, who gives a damn about morning breath anyway. Harry’s hands go to Louis’ hips, and squeeze the soft flesh so hard they’ll probably leave bruises. Louis doesn’t mind.

He tugs on the ends of Harry’s hair, the way Louis knows will make his boy crazy, and in fact Harry goes immediately pliant, moaning into the kiss. Louis grins. He wraps Harry’s curls around his index finger. The curls have gotten long once again, now about an inch lower than Harry’s chin.

Harry tangles their legs together, and his hard-on presses against Louis’ thigh. He lazily ruts against it a few times. Louis nudges him closer. Harry lets his left hand wander around Louis’ naked chest, ever-so-gently brushing his tummy. He starts playing with Louis’ nipples. The cold metal of Harry’s rings brush against Louis’ warm skin, and makes him shiver.

Louis lowers his gaze, and smiles instantly. There’s a new ring on Harry’s fourth finger. In a few months, it’ll be replaced by a yellow golden one. A proper wedding ring.

Louis’ eyes crinkle and sparkle at the thought. Who would have guessed it? He, Louis Tomlinson, is getting married.

He had popped the question six months after Harry and he had started dating, during a summer trip to Jamaica. Louis had planned every single detail, and had bought the ring almost a month prior. Liam had looked at him with worried, weary eyes when Louis had asked him to go ring shopping.

“Isn’t it a bit rushed, Lou? Shouldn’t you wait some more?” he had said, but Louis had thrown his head back, and just laughed.

“I’ve waited for so long, Liam,” he had replied, “I’ve wasted so many years. I’m done waiting, I don’t want to wait any longer.”

So, Louis had proposed during the most romantic dinner ever, on their five-star hotel’s private beach. Harry and he had both cried a lot, and they had laughed a lot, too, and obviously Harry had said yes. A thousand times yes.

“I can’t believe you’re the one who proposed first,” Harry had pouted, later, when they were back to their room.

“Technically, Harold, I also proposed ten years ago, when we made the deal,” Louis had shrugged, smirking. Harry had thrown his pillow at him, and then had kissed Louis fiercely, and fucked him slow and gentle into the mattress all night long.

 

 

 

 


Louis snaps out of the flashback when Harry bites hard on Louis’ lower lip, and kisses him again. Louis nudges their noses together, breathing in Harry’s scent.

Harry sweetly smiles at him, his eyes still sleepy and soft. His cheeks are slightly flushed. Louis’ chest warms up with want, and happiness, and love. Harry is so unbelievably beautiful. With his unruly and messy curls, his emerald eyes, and his bubblegum pink lips, he is by far the most handsome man Louis has ever laid his eyes on. But Harry is even more than that, he’s actual poetry come to life. Louis is sure he must have inspired writers and painters in his past lives. After all, Louis himself could write at least one hundred sonnets about the way Harry’s ringlets curl behind his ears. And, who knows, maybe Louis has indeed written sonnets about him in his past lives, maybe Louis has written tons of poems about Harry’s eyes, and the way his eyelashes flutter at morning when he wakes up and he hasn’t gotten enough sleep. Maybe Louis has written about Harry, and made a thousand people fall in love with him as well.

He clears his throat, gazing at Harry.

“Do you think that we have loved each other before?” he asks, sweetly caressing Harry’s back. “Like… in another life. In alternate universes, or whatever.”

Harry smiles, and his eyes shine. “Of course,” he says immediately, “I have loved you in every single age, from the Ancient Greece to the French Revolution, all the way through the First and Second World War.” He tangles their ankles together, slipping even closer to Louis. “Maybe I was a soldier in Dunkirk, and you were my secret lover back home, who knows?” he continues, his voice dropping low like he’s revealing an important secret. “And I will love you in all the future ages as well, ‘cause there is not a single universe where Harry Styles is not in love with Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis can feel his cheeks going red. He lowers his gaze, and places a kiss on Harry’s forehead, on his nose, on his lips.

“Yeah?” he murmurs. “In parallel universes, too?”

“Yes, of course,” Harry nods confidently. “Always.” He cups Louis’ jaw, looking at him intensely. “I love you in an universe where you’re a concertmaster and I’m a conductor. In an universe where we’re doctors living in Boston. In an universe where we work in fashion.”

“In one where you’re a prince,” Louis interrupts Harry, giggling. “My personal Prince Harry. And in one where you’re a rock star.”

Harry laughs. His eyes crinkles, but his wrinkles make him only more beautiful. “And in one where you’re a popstar,” he replies, playing along. “Maybe we’re in a boyband together, can you imagine?”

Louis grins. “And everyone thinks we’re singing cheesy love songs about some random models, but we’re just serenading each other all the time.”

“Mmmh,” Harry mumbles. He bites softly on Louis’ jaw, going all the way down to his neck, leaving a wet trail of open-mouthed kisses behind. “Tell me about it,” he adds. He starts marking Louis’ collarbones.

Louis shudders, and his eyes flutter shut. He throws his head back, giving Harry more room. “We met when we were kids, sixteen and eighteen, and we fell in love right away,” he starts. His voice trembles only slightly. “But our management did everything in their powers to stop us,” he continues.

Harry sucks on Louis’ left nipple. Louis can feel the tip of Harry’s teeth, just the right amount of pain to make the pleasure more intense. He moans, already feeling his cock twitching again in his pants. Harry ruts lazily against Louis’ thighs, and Louis can feel he’s rock hard.

“But we stayed together no matter what, didn’t we?” Harry asks. “The boybanders-us, I mean.”

His breath is hot against Louis’ skin.

“Of course,” Louis replies. His voice is at least one octave lower than the usual. “Even against all odds, we’ve always stayed together.”

Harry’s smile against Louis’ tummy, licking into his belly button. “I love you,” he murmurs, before lowering Louis’ boxer briefs down Louis’ thighs and to his ankles. Louis kicks them away.

“I love you too,” he answers, softly. He opens his eyes in order to watch Harry placing a wet kiss on his hipbone, and then nudging his nose against Louis’ cock.

Harry smirks, then wraps his sinful lips around Louis’ head, hollowing his cheeks, and starts to suck.

Louis sighs, his eyelids shuttering closed again. He tangles his hands into Harry’s curls, and tugs. Harry moans around Louis’ cock, and the vibrations of his throat do magic to Louis’ head, sending shivers all over Louis’ back. Harry bobs his head obscenely, his full, sensual lips around Louis’s soft skin, his cheeks hollow but for the outline of Louis’ dick weaving in and out. And honestly, Louis could come just from this visual. Harry looks fantastic giving head. Giving head to Louis, more specifically. It is goddamn art. Harry giving head could rewrite the history books.

Harry’s tongue ever-so-gently caresses all the length of Louis’ dick, then Harry moves to the sensitive skin behind Louis’ balls. Then further .

Louis automatically wraps his legs around Harry’s neck, and pushes his ass up in the air, and towards Harry’s mouth. Then, at last, Louis can feel the tip of Harry’s tongue finally, finally entering his body, and he sighs happily. Harry starts tongue-fucking Louis’ hole purposefully. Louis thrusts his hips back and forth in tempo. At each lick, Louis swears he will die. He just loses himself into it, into Harry, losing track of time. He’s just chasing the pleasure, wanting more, more, more.

“Harry…” he murmurs, not managing to form a complete sentence. He hopes Harry will understand.

And Harry does understand, Louis can feel him smirking against his arse cheeks. Suddenly, his tongue disappears, but Louis doesn’t even have the time to miss it because it’s immediately replaced with one cold, bare finger. There’s no lube on it, so it hurts a little, and somehow that makes it even better. Harsher. Realer.

Louis shamelessly groans out loud, moving his ass forward. Harry curls his finger a couple of times. Until Louis’ legs start shaking.

“You’re the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Harry murmurs against Louis’ skin.

Louis forces himself to open his eyes, and glances at Harry through his lashes. The funny thing is that Harry looks absolutely wrecked just from pleasuring Louis. His eyes are glassy and unfocused, and his lips are swollen, shiny with spit. Even his chin is wet. His curls are wild and unruly, and his cheeks are flushed.

“You are, baby,” Louis replies, voice low. “You are so very handsome.”

A muffled, disappointed sound escapes his throat when Harry’s finger leaves his ass, and Louis frowns.

Harry stretches to the night table, collecting a pink bottle of lube from the first drawer. He spreads some on his fingers, then goes back to Louis, this time penetrating him with two.

Louis moans again, thrusting his hips. He can’t help but make little impatient noises, the funny feeling in his tummy getting stronger by the second.

“More,” he begs. “I need more, Harry.”

Harry complies quietly, adding a third finger. Louis can feel Harry’s ring brushing against his cheek. He pushes his arse backward as Harry buries his fingers inside him.

Harry brings his free hand on one of Louis’ cheeks. He slaps it slightly, first, making Louis jump and hiss under his breath, then he squeezes it tightly.

“You’re mine,” Harry mumbles.

Louis nods absently. “I am,” he whispers, “I am yours, Styles, like you are mine.”

Almost immediately, hot, wet, peachy lips catch Louis’, and Harry is kissing him messily, hands tugging his hair. Louis groans, kissing Harry back, tasting himself on the other man’s tongue.

“Fuck me,” he manages to say, somehow remembering how to form words.

Harry licks into his mouth some more. He holds onto Louis so hard he’ll probably leave bruises. Louis desperately ruts against Harry’s tummy, looking for any kind of friction.

“Harry,” he urges, trying not to whine. Not too much, at least.

“Yes, baby,” Harry replies. He gives Louis one last peck on his lips, then proceeds to lube himself up.

He goes back to Louis, leaning over him. Harry steadies himself with two hands into the mattress on either side of Louis’ chest, placing himself against Louis’ entrance. Louis arches his back, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck.

“C’mon, H,” he basically begs, and finally Harry enters him.

Louis moans, closing his eyes. He can feel every inch of Harry’s cock burying into him, and he loves it. Harry’s so fucking huge. Every time it feels like he’s going to destroy Louis. And in some ways, he always does.

Harry starts moving, his hands gripping the sheets, holding on for dear life. He exhales loudly, trying to push his curls away from his face with his breath, and Louis helps him, placing his wild ringlets behind his ears.

“Beautiful,” Harry murmurs, looking at Louis with honest, wide eyes. He fucks into Louis with strong, earnest thrusts, going deeper and deeper. The drag of every movement stimulates Louis to move against it, to increase the friction. Louis is panting in short huffs, twitching his hips to the rhythm. Harry brings Louis’ legs on his shoulders, slightly changing the angle, and finally hitting Louis’ prostate. Louis gasps loudly.

Harry lowers himself onto Louis, marking his neck. Their chests align, and Harry’s abs brushes against Louis’ swollen dick.

Louis tries to thrust forward, grinding against Harry for some friction, but Harry puts some distance again between their bodies.

He keeps moving his hips relentlessly, mercilessly hitting Louis’ spot at every thrust. His eyes are blown and dark. He watches Louis with intensity.

Louis’ cock is pulsing, desperate. He moans in short, stuttering bursts. He needs to be touched. He needs to be jerked and pulled and caressed and wanked. He’s thick and he’s throbbing and there's no relief. Louis moves his hand to wrap it around his cock, but the minute he touches himself, Harry slaps it away.

“Not yet,” he says, voice firm and low, as smooth as red wine.

“Harry,” Louis begs. “Please. I need it.” Tears form at the corner of his eyes. The tension that’s been gathering in his stomach is threatening to explode.

Harry just kisses him tenderly, cupping Louis’ jaw. Slowly, he brings his hand on Louis’ tummy, playing with his belly button, then with the hair on his crotch area. He let it sink down further, finally caressing Louis’ aching dick.

Louis is flushed, warm as a summer day. He leans into Harry’s ever-so-gentle touch as though starved. Harry starts stroking him slow, slower.

“Babe,” Louis whines, desperate and frustrated. “Please.”

He snaps his hips back and forth. Harry smiles wickedly, but instead of speeding up his movements, he slows them down even further.

Louis’ head starts spinning, and he feels dizzy with desire. He could really start crying.
He cups Harry’s neck, hungrily nudging him closer for another kiss, and Harry complies immediately. Their tongues wrap together, and Harry groans into Louis’ mouth.

He starts fucking faster into Louis, and finally, starts moving his hand faster, too, jerking Louis in time with his thrusts. Harry thumbs Louis’ head, spreads the slick precome in a clockwise motion all around his tip. By now, his touch is electric. There has been enough edging, Louis is beyond overstimulated. Every movement is a mixture of ecstatic tension and pinprick pain. With the tips of his fingers, Harry jerks the foreskin slickly with Louis’s precome, quickly up and down, and a few pulls is all it takes. Louis groans obscenely as he starts spilling on his own belly and against Harry’s chest. One single spurt lands on Harry’s chin. Louis licks it away.

Harry smiles earnestly at him. Louis’ eyes are closed and he looks beyond fucked out. He's still moaning in soft, incoherent bursts, lost in orgasm world, all mmhm’s and oh’s from the back of his throat.

Harry takes pleasure in fucking Louis as he comes down, slamming into him as each thrust opens Louis more, his ass soft, wet, and open, his eyes furrowed in extended pleasure. Harry feels the familiar burst of pleasure as he gives in, and finally comes too, filling Louis’ arse. He groans, keeping on thrusting into Louis as his orgasm hits him, eyes closed, lips shaped into a ‘o’. He swears, and pounds Louis, riding his wave, fucking his boy.

And Louis let himself being fucked, pliant and serene, staring at Harry in awe, taking in every single detail. His heart beats furiously in his chest, full of love and fondness for the gorgeous man on the top of him.

Harry sighs one last time, then falls onto Louis, resting his head on the crook between Louis’ neck and collarbones. Louis wraps his arms around him, nudging him impossibly closer. They kiss lazily, both too boneless. Louis slowly strokes Harry’s back. His skin is as warm as sunlight.

“I love you so much,” Harry mumbles against Louis lips.

Louis grins, eyes crinkling.

“I love you more,” he replies, softly. He holds Harry tighter, and the younger man hums happily, closing his eyes. Louis places a kiss on Harry’s forehead. He feels foolish with happiness. He couldn’t even imagine being this happy.

They’re not perfect, of course, and there still are bad days, from time to time, for example when his job gets too stressful, or when his mum tells him she’s gone on a new date, or when he just wakes up nervous and angry at the whole world. But now, whenever his walls go up, Harry’s inside with him.

“Impossible,” Harry smirks cheekily. He kisses Louis on the lips again. “Should I make us some breakfast, baby?” he adds, looking at Louis.

Louis smiles down at him. Louis is the luckiest man in the world.

“In a minute,” he answers, caressing Harry’s cheek. “We’ve got time.”

Harry nods, going back to rest his cheek against Louis’ chest, and tangles their hands together. Louis looks at the ring on his fourth finger, and smiles.

The wedding was the first thing on his mind, now. Their wedding came before everything. And then, after that… who knows. A baby, maybe. Maybe more than one. Maybe twins. Louis’ family is full with cases of twins, after all.

Louis glances once more at Harry, and a smile starts to creep in.

He doesn’t worry, he knows they have the rest of their life in front of them.

He knows Harry and Louis are forever.