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teenage dreams in a teenage circus

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Why does it feel the same
To fall in love or break it off?
And if young love is just a game
Then I must have missed the kick off
Don't depend on me to ever follow through on anything
But I'd go through hell for you and
I haven't been this scared in a long time
And I'm so unprepared so here's your valentine
Bouquet of clumsy words, a simple melody
This world's an ugly place, but you're so beautiful to me
(Blink 182, “Going Away to College”)

---

“You alright?” Gemma asks Louis, sliding in next to him in the common room. Her fingers fiddle with the label on a water bottle, and Louis fights the urge to reach out and stop them.

“Alright,” he agrees. “You alright, babe?”

Gemma nods, tucking back the strand of her dark blonde hair behind her ear.

Noises of confusion from the corridor flare up just as Perrie squeezes by a teacher in order to slide into the common room.

“There are some Year Eights out there,” she says to Louis and Gemma.

“Interesting,” Louis says, sly grin pasted on his face.

They all hover around the doors, peeking through windows to see children from the lower school wandering through the sixth form corridors.

“They wouldn’t let me into the library,” one whinges to her friend. “Miss said it was all full, but I don’t know where to go because that’s what’s on my timetable.”

Louis watches in gleeful horror as another child hurls his notebooks to the floor and kicks them away.

“Well, that one will require an attitude adjustment before he makes it to sixth form,” Louis says under his breath.

“Oh please,” Perrie says, laughing. “That one’s practically a Louis Tomlinson Junior.”

“Oi,” he protests. Gemma laughs next to him; even she knows Perrie’s completely right.

Almost directly in front of them, a girl in Year Eight bursts into tears out of frustration. Her friend kindly pats her arm, but looks just as lost. Practically all of the children are backed up in the corridor, causing a huge mess for teachers and upper school students to navigate.

Louis spots the lower school headmaster pushing her way through the crowd. She towers over the twelve year olds, but for the most part, the space is so crowded, it’s difficult for her to get the children to stop panicking.

Louis sympathises for the headmaster as he sees her try to get their attention. Her gestures work for the children closest to her, but for the ones who are furthest back, spilling into the library, it’s still loud and chaotic. Her voice doesn’t quite project that far as she tries to call for silence.

Louis’ footie coach barrels through children, knocking into them to try to get to the headmaster. The coach blows his whistle, the noise interrupting both the panic of the younger kids and the laughter of the older ones. He reaches over to pass his megaphone to the headmaster.

“There’s been a misunderstanding and a technical error on your timetables for today. Please return to the other building. We will sort everything out there,” she says. The pre-teens scramble to leave the building, leaving behind dumbfounded teachers and cackling sixth formers.

“Well, that made for an interesting morning,” Mel says as she passes by Gemma, Louis, and Perrie. Gemma rolls her eyes while Louis and Perrie exchange knowing looks.

The three of them move back towards a set of chairs, Louis quickly claiming one. Perrie drops her bag on the table in front of them, and perches herself on the edge.

“In other news,” Gemma says dramatically, “Sam’s being a right prick now that he’s taken up with Mel. Honestly, I’m just mad I let him distract me.”

“Babe, nothing’s going to distract you from becoming MP by the time you’re 30,” Perrie says, leaning forwards to pinch Gemma’s cheeks. Gemma shakes her off, but the smile returns to her face.

“Cheers,” she says.

“But if it’ll make you feel better,” Louis sing-songs, his hand dancing up Gemma’s arm, “I can come ‘round later and we can hatch some plan to get back at him.”

Gemma lights up, and then it’s Perrie’s turn to roll her eyes.

“I need better friends,” she murmurs, but it’s lost in the noise of the common room, Louis and Gemma already wiggling their fingers at each other in agreement.

It’s been like this since they were in Year Nine, and Louis and Perrie set out on their mission to get back at Liam Payne for that one time he had laughed when Perrie tripped on the playground when they were in Year Four. As it turns out, Perrie can hold a grudge when she feels like she’s being put on, and Louis is a menace that enjoys riling others up. Gemma, having overheard their plan during registration, had immediately invited herself along for the prank, and since then, the three have been almost inseparable.

Even with Gemma on the warpath for a top-tier university, and pulling down more lessons than either he or Perrie, she still finds the time for a little mischief. It’s one of Louis’ favourite things about her, along with her sardonic wit and her stepfather’s second home.

Perrie takes out a notebook, and worries the end of her pen with her teeth. She flips it open and starts jotting notes down, presumably for homework that she hadn’t completed the night before.

“What’s your timetable today, love?” Louis asks.

Perrie looks down. “Music first. I got a free at the end, which is ace. You?”

“Drama, P.E.,” Louis starts listing, before Gemma cuts him off.

“What did your mum say again when you told her you were doing an A level for physical education?”

Louis shakes his head. “It was a dark time, but it’s in the past. If you’re all bent up about it, you can find somewhere else to sit,” Louis teases.

Perrie looks up to see Zayn across the common room, feet drawn up on the heater, focus clearly on the pad of paper in his lap.

Ever since the beginning of the school year, she’s been looking around, catching notice of different people. She’s known some of these people her whole life. She’s seen these people go from little to big, and this might be her last chance to get to know some of them. Gemma and Louis are all too eager to leave school, what with Gemma already packing her bags to uni, but Perrie wonders if she missed out on getting to know some of these people.

Zayn’s got a charcoal pencil in his hand and a lead pencil tucked behind his ear, but he’s staring at the paper like it’s going to unfold all of its secrets to him. From here, Perrie can’t even see if there’s anything on the paper to begin with.

“Pezza,” Louis says, and Perrie jumps at being caught, redirecting her attention to her mates in front of her. “You’ll still love me even if I’m shit at all my lessons, right? And you’ll still invite me over for tea even when Gemma’s in Downing Street ignoring my calls?”

“Wouldn’t dream of a life any other way,” Perrie laughs, and pulls out her makeup case to touch up her eyeliner before Music. “By the way,” she adds, dropping her voice low so no one overhears, “nice work with the Year Eight timetables, Lou.”

---

Louis spins around on the computer chair a few times to distract himself while Gemma tears through her own belongings. Her mission is to find an appropriately sexy outfit to wear to the pub, because she knows Sam will be there with Mel.

“Look what you’re missing out on,” she mutters, “but not like I’m trying too hard.”

Louis looks up from his copy of The Tempest as Perrie storms into the room, huffing as she does.

“Gem, can I knick a tampon off you?” she asks, as Louis’ eyes bulge.

“Of course, love. Top right drawer,” Gemma responds, not looking up from the shirt she’s judging. “Hey, wait,” she says as she drops the shirt and spins away from her drawer. “I thought we were synced up?” Perrie shrugs and retreats back into the toilet, leaving Gemma to pick her shirt back up, and Louis to make faces at no one in particular.

It’s not a big deal, it’s just that Louis hates when they get like that... all girly. He slaps his paperback shut.

“Is Robin around, Gem? I need to talk about footie or something,” he scoffs.

Gemma rolls her eyes, even though Louis can’t see it. “No. Afraid there’s only H here to reassert your manhood,” she says coolly. “Fair warning, though, his favourite topic of conversation of late has been the patch of vegetables he’s going to plant come spring, so there’s that.”

Gemma pulls out another top, black, plain, and carefully considers it.

Louis hurls himself out of the chair and stumbles to the door, the play all but forgotten on the desk.

He moseys down the stairs, past the rows of family portraits, holding shots of Gemma, Anne, Harry and Robin at various ages. There are pictures from Anne and Robin’s holidays, a variety of sunsets and romantic scenes. There’re a few photos of Harry all goofy and undergrown, eyes half shut, but still grinning. There’s the one of Gemma as Louis remembers meeting her, all dark straight hair and choppy fringe, complete with a crooked overbite. Gemma hates that picture, threatens to take it down and hide it whenever she has friends over.

Louis walks into the kitchen to help himself to a glass of water when he sees Anne at the stove and Harry at the counter, both their backs turned to him. Music plays in the background, something slow and tinkling that Louis doesn’t quite recognise, but Anne hums under her breath easy enough.

Only when they hear Louis shut the cupboard do they notice his arrival.

“Oh hello, Louis, dear,” Anne greets, leaving her station at the stove to give him a hug hello. “Didn’t realise Gemma had you locked up there in her room.”

Louis chuckles as he moves to the tap.

“Oh, Harry, watch what you’re doing,” Anne gasps, Louis quickly turning to see Harry with a flush high on his cheeks. “You’re going to chop a finger off, honestly.”

“No, m’not,” Harry mumbles, eyes flicking to Louis and then back down to his hazardously chopped leek.

“And how are lessons going, Louis? Have you submitted your uni applications yet?”

Mums love talking about this stuff, Louis thinks to himself.

He sits down at the island in the kitchen, right across from where Harry’s supposed to be chopping, and takes a sip from his glass.

“Um, no, not really,” Louis starts. It’s the beginning of a fight he and his mum have had many times of late. “I think I might have to re-sit exams already, maybe pick up another subject next year. Didn’t do so well last year, not sure a uni in their right mind would want me,” Louis laughs. It’s self-deprecating, of course.

Harry’s eyebrows furrow but he remains silent, instead reaching over to grab at a still-wet aubergine.

“Oh love, don’t worry yourself over it. You’re a clever one, and if you have to re-sit, then so be it, but I wouldn’t count yourself out.”

Louis smiles kindly at her. Anne is always someone Louis can trust to give a helpful pep talk. Wise, but relatively impartial. Louis doesn’t know how to bring up the fact that more and more, he doesn’t want to go to uni. He wants to travel, he wants to work, he wants to fucking act. He doesn’t want to wait for another three years to go by before he gets a chance to do that.

It has been all the more apparent this year, Louis only looking forward to his time at his Drama lessons. He tolerates P.E., mostly because of practicing for football, but he actually has to drag himself to his English Language and English Literature lessons.

“You and Perrie are staying for tea, yes?” Anne asks.

“We’re making loads,” Harry adds quietly, and Louis looks again at the miniature mountain of leek and aubergine.

“I’d hate to--” Louis starts, quick to politely decline.

“Oh, come off it,” Anne laughs. “You’ve been here long enough to not interfere. Besides, Harry’s taking food development, so really, count this as helping a Year Eleven revise.” Harry flushes red but doesn’t protest.

Louis laughs, fingers curling tight around the glass. “Alright,” he agrees. “S’probably for the best since I think Gem and I are going for a quick pop ‘round the pub tonight.”

He stays and chats with Anne until Gemma and Perrie come looking for him. Harry stays hush, but Louis has always known him to be quiet. Gemma and Perrie set the table and the five of them gather round, filling their plates up.

Gemma, Perrie, and Louis help clean up, quickly shoving dishes into the washer before shuffling out the door and walking down to the pub in the village they know everyone will be at. Louis hates this kind of thing, these appearances, but he also doesn’t want people to forget who he is or think he’s some friendless loser, so he always goes.

He’s bundled up tight, the January night wind whipping across his face. He shoves his scarf further up his face, feeling his nose hairs actually freezing. Louis wishes he had gone home instead.

“I should have driven,” Perrie says.

“Nonsense,” Gemma responds, butting her shoulder against Perrie’s. “Lou and I will sneak you a pint.”

The pub is full of others from their school, sixth formers spilling out of their seats, taking up lots of useless space along the walls. There’s a group of middle aged men that seem to hate their choices as they hustle to pay their cheque and leave. Louis suspects they might not have the worst idea.

The three of them find a corner as Gemma tries to not-so-subtly glance around for her ex-boyfriend.

“I don’t see Sam,” Perrie says, tucking a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear. Gemma shakes her head.

“Neither do I,” Gemma admits, though she quickly backtracks, “not that I want to see him.”

“Of course not,” Perrie laughs, as Gemma slips off to the bar. She orders a round for them, waiting as the bartender pours them from the tapped keg.

Louis helps her bring the drinks back to the table.

“Gem, your newest enemy is here,” Perrie says.

“Who? Mels?” Gemma asks, taking a sip from her beer.

Perrie laughs and shakes her head. “No, James,” she whispers, jerking her head back to where their classmate is standing in the opposite corner.

“Ugh, that prick,” Gemma says, her mouth twisting.

“Not that I disagree,” Louis cuts in, remembering that time in Year Ten James had refused to play Spin the Bottle because Louis had been in the circle, “but what’d he do to make him your newest enemy?”

Perrie shoots Gemma a warning look, but Gemma’s too busy shooting eye daggers over at James to notice.

“You know Niall, in lower sixth?” Louis nods. “He had that party a few weeks back, and H went because they’re quite close. Anyway, James snogged Harry in Niall’s parents’ room and then tried to say that Harry initiated it because he’s just that full of self-loathing.”

“Did you know this?” Louis asks, looking at Perrie.

“Of course I did,” Perrie laughs.

“What a knob,” Louis says, shaking his head.

He takes a sip from his glass to distract himself from the exclamation points popping up in his stream of consciousness.

He’s known Gemma for years, the Styles-Twist family for just as long, but never has he known that quiet and odd Harry was the sort to snog blokes at house parties.

A sudden panic comes to him, as he hopes that they haven’t snogged the same blokes. Their town is quite small, the likelihood of boys who are interested in boys even smaller, and Louis feels the walls of the pub close in on them a little.

He suspects that Gemma has been hiding this tidbit from him, but he’s not sure why.

The door opens and Louis gets a clear view of Sam and Mels breezing through the door.

“Oh shit, it’s them,” Louis says, as Gemma drags her attention away from James.

Gemma doesn’t do anything outlandish, choosing in the moment to take the high road. But if Louis orders an extra couple rounds and convinces the bartender to charge Sam, well, no one’s the wiser.

---

Perrie slides in the seat next to Zayn during Music, ignoring the way he freezes up with her presence.

“I’m really struggling with this composition,” she says, voice light. He looks up and over at her, confusion written all over his face.

He looks behind him, glancing to see if there’s a possibility she’s talking to anyone else except him.

“Me too,” he responds, holding up his notebook. He’s got a whole mess of lines, a few notes that Perrie assumes makes out a melody.

“Pants,” she laughs, “I was hoping you were really good so you could help me.”

Zayn smiles and laughs, and Perrie grins.

“Nah, I was just wondering if I could get away with just adding a triangle and calling it,” Zayn admits.

“I think that sounds inspired,” she grins, and it’s not, it sounds completely terrible, but he’s ridiculously handsome when he’s joking around.

Zayn laughs, and Perrie beams, and they sit there, just smiling at each other, as if they were friends. As if this weren’t the longest conversation they had ever had, despite having classes together for years.

---

“I thought you went into the shop to buy gum while I was filling up, but instead you came out with a bag full of sweets and cakes,” Louis maintains, as he pulls into the Styles’ driveway.

Perrie shrugs and offers him a bite of her packaged cupcake, which he takes. He puts the car in park as he makes sure he doesn’t have any cream on his upper lip.

“You owe me money for petrol, by the way,” he laughs.

“No,” she argues as she gets out of the car. “I’m paying you back with cakes.” She holds up the bag as if to prove her point.

Perrie rings the doorbell as Louis locks his car up, not that anyone in their right mind would try and take anything from it. The bumper doesn’t match the boot, there are stickers left over from its previous owner, and the leather seating is buckled and ripped.

Harry opens the door, eating a banana, which has basically come to be Louis’ worst nightmare.

Louis had tried very hard to ignore the information about Harry’s sexuality from the night at the pub… but he was getting paranoid. Had Gemma been keeping that from him on purpose? Had he and Harry snogged some of the same blokes?

That was the most frequent worry in Louis’ life the last few weeks.

Now with Harry standing in front of him, eating an impossibly phallic fruit, a new fear creeps into the front of Louis’ mind.

How much experience does Harry even have? Has Harry given a blowjob?

Louis hopes his face isn’t pale, but Harry just blinks and lets them in.

“Gem’s in her room,” he says, as the two of them move to take off their shoes. Louis slips off his canvas shoes easy enough, even though they’re wet and cold and soaked through to his socks.

It takes Perrie a little more time, what with her unlacing her precious Doc Martens. Louis tut-tuts impatiently. Harry swiftly disappears back up the stairs without another word.

“You should wear better shoes in the winter you know,” Perrie laughs.

Louis laughs, because he’s stubborn and she knows it.

“Yes, well, you put all your earnings from the shop towards those boots for months. I’m not even sure why,” Louis says.

“Because they make me look badass,” she argues, and then she bangs on Gemma’s bedroom door.

“Stop revising,” she calls. “Open up!”

Gemma swings the door open and lets them in, flopping herself back down onto the bed.

“Aw, what’s wrong, Gemerald?” Perrie asks, crawling up towards the head of the bed. Gemma rearranges herself so her head lies in Perrie’s lap. Louis plops himself down at the foot of the bed and gives Gemma’s ankle a warm pat.

“Nothing’s wrong; I’m just stressed,” she says. There’s a moment of quiet before she adds, “Also Sam stopped by this morning.”

“What?” Perrie gasps.

Gemma nods. “He basically came over because he felt weird about how things were going with Mels and I just, ugh,” she says, letting out a noise of frustration. “I let him get to me and I don’t know why. Why should I have to listen to him complain about his new girlfriend?”

“You shouldn’t,” Louis says, poking firmly at her shin.

“Ouch, fuck off,” she replies. “Well, basically, that’s it. I’m officially over him. New plan of action: the best revenge is success, so basically I’m going to wipe the floor with exams, get into the best uni possible, and make him regret ever being born. Edinburgh or bust.”

“I thought that was already the plan,” Louis says. His eyes find the small calendar of Scottish landscapes that Gemma hangs above her desk.

“Of course, but this just made me realise it more, right? That boys hold us back and distract us from doing our best. If I hadn’t been dicking around with Sam last year, I could have picked up another A level.”

“You’re kind of maxed out, silly,” Perrie says, stroking Gemma’s hair, but shooting Louis a wide-eyed look.

“I think we should make a pact,” Gemma says, sitting up, Perrie’s hand falling to the bed. “Like no boys until uni.”

“That won’t be too difficult,” Louis laughs, “at least for me.” He looks over at Perrie. “Slim pickings.”

“Okay,” Perrie says slowly. “I probably should focus on revising.” She doesn’t sound convinced, but Gemma’s not paying too much attention.

“Good, that settles it.”

“I brought sweets,” Perrie says, leaning over the bed to try and grab at the bag she had discarded in her haste to soothe their friend.

Louis gets up and helps her out.

“I’m going to use the loo,” he announces awkwardly, handing over the bag.

“Alright, thanks for sharing,” Gemma laughs.

Louis lets himself out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. The toilet is to the right, Harry’s room straight across, and Anne and Robin’s room to the left. Harry’s door is slightly ajar, and it sounds like Harry’s playing some kind of video game.

Louis steels himself and presses forward, pushing Harry’s door open and walking in.

“Oh?” Harry says, looking up from his controller. Harry’s not alone, though. Niall and Liam, two boys in lower sixth are perched on his bed, with Harry himself down on the floor.

“Hey, Louis,” Liam says, waving. Liam and Louis play football together during the season, and Louis sees Niall along the hallways, so there’s no reason it should be awkward.

Except for the fact that he had just barged in the room without knocking.

Worse is that Louis looks down and Harry’s still blinking up at him owlishly, his lips parted in confusion.

“Oh, sorry,” he stammers. “Is this not the loo?”

Harry huffs out a laugh, and Louis contemplates dropping out of school now if this is what an A level in Drama will get him.

“How many times have you been over this house, Tommo?” Niall laughs as he continues to press buttons.

“Toilet’s to the left,” Harry says kindly. Louis almost hates that.

“No, I mean, I thought there was another toilet,” Louis says. He hopes his confused face is convincing, but he doubts it. He should have planned better; he’s far, far, too impulsive.

“No, just the one, m’fraid,” Harry says and smiles.

Louis takes another step in, gesturing to Gemma’s closed door.

“Your sister’s having a right fit,” Louis says. “Swearing off men forever.”

“Good,” Harry laughs. “I like the sound of that.”

“Come play FIFA, Lou,” Niall says, pointing at the fourth remote. “It’s not fair when Harry gets the computer player on his side.”

“Hey,” Harry says, indignant.

Louis laughs, but settles in next to Harry on the floor. No one mentions anything about the toilet, which is nice. He doesn’t even have to pee, so really, he’d just end up standing in the room, staring at himself in the mirror.

“Start again,” Liam demands, kicking Harry’s back.

“Alright, alright,” Harry says, as he pauses and goes back to the main menu.

It’s weird for Louis to see, because for as long as he’s known the Styles clan, Harry has always been this background figure, silent for the most part. Louis knows Harry has friends, obviously, they cross paths at school and Gemma will throw a mention every now and then about something Harry’s friends said, did, or ruined. Never have they been around while Louis is, since either group will lock themselves up in a bedroom.

Louis is glad to have the buffer, at least. It seems that being with his friends makes Harry more open, more comfortable.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Niall grunts, smashing at the buttons on his controller with seemingly little technique.

“Oi! Yes!” Harry cheers, as Louis’ player kicks it straight into the net.

Louis whoops, reaching behind to punch Liam in the shin a few times.

It happens again, of course, this time with Harry’s player scoring a goal, and Harry and Louis high five.

Liam and Niall try to beat them, of course, but most of their shots go wide, or Harry and Louis manage to tackle them, or something, to the point where Niall and Liam just get frustrated.

“Dream team,” Louis laughs, clapping a hand on Harry’s shoulder. It should seem like a friendly gesture, but the way Harry stills pops the bubble of their bond from their match. Louis might have crossed some sort of line, even though it seems like the sort of laddish behaviour he’s done with the other two.

Neither Liam nor Niall notice, though, too busy grumbling over their loss. Perrie opens the door of Gemma’s room to immediately spot Louis with the boys.

“Oi,” Perrie shouts, crossing over, “Gemma’s gone back to revising. I think I’m going to call me dad to come get me. Too cold to walk home.”

“Nah, Liam has his mum’s car, if you want to ride with us,” Niall says. “We’re just heading out.”

Louis’ eyes widen.

Harry puts back the other two controllers, and Louis sits and wonders what his next move should be. Would it be too awkward to go back to Gemma’s room? Or would that give Harry the idea that he only was interested in spending time with Niall and Liam?

Or would staying be more awkward? Maybe Harry wanted some time alone, to browse facebook or watch porn or something.

Louis squeezes the bridge of his nose.

Harry watching gay porn was not on his list of acceptable thoughts.

“Text me when you get home,” Louis says to Perrie, kissing her on the cheek. He turns to Niall and Liam. “Just a warning, Liam, she doesn’t pay back for petrol.”

“I live right down the road, idiot. It’s just cold,” she laughs.

The three of them leave, and Louis sits quietly even as he can hear the muffled radio from Liam’s car roll down Harry’s street.

“Want to play another game?” Harry asks, cocking his head. “I mean, or Gem maybe needs help revising.”

Louis throws his head back and laughs, catching Harry by surprise.

“Oh, you know as well as I do that Gem doesn’t need help revising. And if she did, I certainly wouldn’t be the one to help.”

Harry smiles at that and shrugs. It’s cute.

“Resident Evil?” Harry suggests, showing him the case.

Louis nods, and definitely doesn’t stare as Harry shuffles forward and replaces the disc in the machine. He’s 15, Louis reminds himself. Even if only for a couple of weeks more. He’s 15, and Gemma’s little brother. He’ll always be Gemma’s little brother, so therefore, he’ll always be outside of Louis’ perv zone.

“Why is she revising on a Saturday night anyway?” Harry asks as he settles back in next to Louis, both their backs pressed up against Harry’s bedframe.

“She’s convinced it’ll be a good way to get back at Sam,” Louis says, frowning at the tv screen. “By going to uni.”

Harry nods. This feels safe, talking about Gemma. This is something they have in common.

“Is she really swearing off guys, then? I don’t have to worry about chasing them away with cricket bats?” Harry asks. It’s an interesting mental image, of course, young Harry chasing upper sixth formers away with sports equipment.

Louis laughs and shakes his head.

“Yep,” he says, popping the ‘p’. “We took a pact, even.”

At that, Harry turns to look at Louis. “A pact?” he asks incredulously.

“Sadly so,” Louis agrees. “Not that it makes a huge difference in my life.”

He hammers away at his controller, shouting nonsense at the screen as he shoots, theoretically, at a zombie.

Harry jumps in and shoots the zombie for him, thankfully. Louis’ talents lie elsewhere.

“You haven’t snogged James in upper sixth, right?” Harry asks, eyes still glued on the game.

Louis smirks.

“No,” he says slowly. “So I suppose that just makes one of us.”

“So you did hear about that,” Harry says, turning away to look at Louis.

“Just from Gem,” Louis says. “It’s not, like, making the rounds. I’m sure James would hate that.”

“He is such a knob,” Harry says, shaking his head and going back to the game.

“I feel like we should, um, compare notes or something,” Louis laughs, though it’s forced. “Just to make sure we haven’t overlapped.”

Harry barks out a laugh, but Louis can see from peeking over at Harry that his cheeks are flushed.

“Well, that’s about my list, then,” Harry admits. “Not very scandalous.”

Louis audibly breathes a sigh of relief. “Well, that’s good,” he says. Harry blinks at him. “Well, not for you, really,” he backpedals. “Just that we haven’t, like, inadvertently snogged the same blokes, s’all.”

“That’s true,” Harry replies, smiling slowly.

After a moment, Harry breaks the quiet.

“Your list, then? You know, just so I know who to avoid,” Harry adds with a wink.

Louis laughs. Harry is far cheekier than he’d ever expected.

“Um, not much bigger, I’m afraid. Greg, who you may not remember. He was two years older-- he’s at uni now. And George, who’s in lower sixth. Nothing serious, just snogging.”

“Oh, I know George,” Harry mutters off-hand. “I think he takes Chorus with Liam and Niall.”

Louis hears Gemma’s door swing open, and she appears, complete with joggers and slouchy socks.

“Oh, good. I was going to be so mad if you left without saying goodbye,” she says to Louis.

“Nope,” Louis laughs, “though I should be going. Mum wants to go do the shopping in the morning.”

He pulls himself up to stand, handing the controller back to Harry.

“Alright, babe, don’t revise before bed,” he winks at Gemma. “Thanks for saving my arse with the zombies, Harry.”

Harry smiles.

Louis stumbles back down the stairs, tugging his still-damp trainers on before hustling back through the cold to his car. He sits in the driveway for a few moments, just waiting until his car is warm enough that he can grip the steering wheel without wanting to die. He looks up as he puts the car in reverse, and he sees Harry staring out his window.

Harry waves, knowing he’s been caught.

Louis smiles and offers a wave in return, before turning in his seat and focusing on backing out of the driveway safely.

---

“They say it’s your birthday!” Gemma sings out, banging on the table as if it were her own personal bongo drum. “We’re gonna have a good time!”

Harry laughs but pulls Gemma into a tight hug, pressing a kiss to her temple. Robin and Anne are there too, a regular family celebration.

“This is sick, Gem,” Harry says, beaming at the cake sitting on the table. She swears it’s triple chocolate-- chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate frosting. She had even piped out “Happy 16th, Harry!” though the cursive looks a little shaky.

“If Gemma made it, I think it might make us sick,” Robin laughs.

Gemma pretends to be affronted, but really, she’s wrinkling her nose up in guilt.

“The important thing, before we cut into it and taste it, is that I tried. It’s very hard to live up to the fact that the favourite child is also the best chef in the house.”

Harry shrugs. “You speak the truth,” he says. Gemma swats at his shoulder, as he pretends to be wounded.

“Children,” Anne says, exasperated. Harry swoops in for another hug, lifting Gemma clear off the ground as she squawks in protest.

“Harry,” she laughs as she kicks her legs uselessly.

Harry puts her down, muttering another ‘thanks’ as she fixes her blouse.

“Yes we’re going to a party, party,” Harry sings to himself as he moves to grab the knife.

The cake slices easy and relatively clean, minus the frosting that clings to the silver of the blade.

“Just a small piece, dear,” Anne says, which is why Harry cuts a thick one, heaving it onto the paper plate with a smile. “Oh honestly, Harry,” she adds, reaching for a plastic fork, “I’m not saying it for a diet, moreso since Gem baked it.”

“Oi, some family you are,” Gemma says, but she’s laughing, smile wide, used to their family’s ribbing.

Anne takes a small bite while Harry cuts Robin a slice, smiling politely.

“Oh no, it’s terrible,” Gemma says.

“No, no,” Anne insists. “I just need some milk.”

Robin holds on to his plate, but doesn’t move to dig in.

Harry passes a piece to Gemma quickly and then cuts one for himself. He’s determined to eat it all anyway, since this must have taken a lot of effort from his sister. He knows she’s been down recently, and the last thing he wants is for her to think he doesn’t appreciate her.

“Oh, Christ, it’s dry,” Gemma says around a mouthful of cake.

“The frosting helps,” Harry points out, shoving the fork in his mouth. It’s sickly sweet, that much chocolate will do that, not to mention that some of the proportions are off. He casts a glance over at the tap, wondering if it’ll be too obvious that he needs about a litre of water to get through the slice.

“How’s that A level in Chemistry going, Gem?” Robin teases, taking a bite.

“Alright, I’ll have you notice that the cake is fully formed as it’s supposed to be. Chemistry clearly isn’t the problem.”

Harry holds the plate right under his chin, lifting small bites into his mouth. His mum smiles warmly at him. Harry can’t tell if she’s just having a normal proud mummy moment or if she’s cottoned on to his plan on finishing the piece. He doesn’t get enough credit for being a good brother, honestly.

“I remember when I had you,” Anne starts.

“Oh no,” Gemma sighs.

“You were a bit of a surprise, to be honest, and when I was in labour, the doctor looked down and saw you with your hand sticking out.”

“Attention seeker from birth,” Gemma laughs. Harry pouts at her.

“Had to go into an emergency caesarian, then, but you were worth it,” she finishes, leaning over to give Harry a sloppy kiss on the cheek. Harry wipes it off indignantly.

“My babies are all grown up,” she sighs, looking over at Robin. “When did that happen?”

---

Zayn spots Perrie across the car park, standing next to a car he thinks belongs to Louis Tomlinson.

She’s bundled up in a thick wool coat and a tan scarf that sits on her neck but extends up to her chin. Her hands, covered in fingerless gloves, type away at her phone.

Zayn hustles across the pavement, calling out to her before he can even stop himself.

“Perrie,” he says, and he cringes, because it sounds breathless even to his own ears.

“Hey,” she greets, lifting her eyes up off her phone to meet his. “You alright?”

“Yeah,” he agrees, blowing on his hands to keep warm. “Class was well dull, yeah?”

“Deffo,” Perrie agrees. “Why is Chris doing Music A level when his voice makes me want to, like, I don’t know, hurl myself into a wall.”

Zayn laughs. “Don’t get too violent now,” he says.

She laughs and tucks a strand of her hair beneath her tan beanie. “It’s all I could think of in the moment.”

“What are you doing right now?”

“Waiting for Tommo to get out here and drive me home. He’s quite slow despite the blistering cold.”

Zayn nods. He looks down at their matching boots, smiling. Perrie kicks at a little pile of snow with hers.

“I could give you a lift, if you want?” Zayn asks, tentatively. He’s not sure if he’s crossed a line, since they’ve barely talked, can’t really be considered friends, even. He mentally thinks to the state of his car, doesn’t know the last time he could afford to take it for a wash, and he shudders at thinking how many wrappers and scratched CDs line the backseat. “I mean, if you’re sick of waiting.”

Perrie glances up at the door of the school and decides she is sick of waiting for Louis.

“Yeah, thanks. I can direct you to my house from here.”

She taps away at her phone, and Zayn assumes she’s telling Louis that she’s ditching him.

He leads her over to his car, and he suddenly feels very uncool. He knows he’s lucky to just have a car, really, but it’s not something that would impress anyone. Not something that would impress Perrie, more off.

“Thanks again,” Perrie says, as she opens the passenger side door. Zayn mentally slaps himself-- he should have opened it for her.

“Of course,” Zayn says. “Can’t have you freezing now, can we?” Zayn flushes and hopes Perrie’s not looking as he shimmies his key into the ignition. It’s an elaborate procedure: one that has to be done in a precise way, and sometimes requires the use of a spare pen.

Perrie watches him go through the motions, though.

“Well, that looks intricate,” she laughs as the engine roars to life and the heater sputters on, blasting cold air at them for a moment.

“I’m trying to save up for uni, so this is the best I could do,” Zayn shrugs. He tries to play it off like it’s no big deal, like it’s romantic and edgy to have a dying piece of metal for a car.

“Looks alright to me. Much better than my imaginary car, anyway,” she shrugs.

The air finally gets warm as Zayn backs out of his parking space.

“Oh, wait,” he says. “I remember I found this book at the library on composing songs. I haven’t looked at it yet, really, so I don’t know if it’s rubbish, but do you wanna take a look? Since you said you were having trouble with composing.”

“Oh yeah,” Perrie says. “Definitely.”

“Do you have to be home straight away?” Zayn asks. “We can pop round to mine.”

“No, that’s great. Thanks for thinking of me,” Perrie says. Zayn flashes a smile over at her.

“Did you have a nice weekend?” she asks after a moment of silence.

“Yeah, it was alright. I just went to the library, like I said, and then watched my little sisters. And I was at the restaurant, helping out, so not a whole lot of time for homework,” Zayn says. He suddenly becomes aware that he sounds like he has no life. “Not that I’m a nerd,” he adds.

Perrie’s hands twist on her lap as she lets out a laugh. “Okay. You work at a restaurant?”

Zayn flips his direction signal and checks his blind spot. “Er, sort of. I don’t get paid. It’s my mum’s restaurant.”

“Oh my god, I didn’t know that,” she says. “Is she good?”

Zayn chuckles, “Yeah, she’s really good.”

“Oh, you’ll have to tell me the name of it so I can go,” Perrie says. Zayn tries not to notice the way her right leg is bouncing to the low hum of the radio. Zayn can’t even make out the song, but Perrie can pick out the beat.

“You can come around for tea some time, if you want,” Zayn says.

“Wicked, thanks,” Perrie says.

Zayn pulls into the driveway of his house, parking behind his older sister’s car, but leaving space for his dad.

“If you want, you can stay today,” he says, fiddling with his keys. “There are always leftovers. My younger sisters are picky eaters.”

Perrie smiles warmly, and it almost makes Zayn feel like winter’s already passing. Her smile reminds him of new beginnings.

“Are you sure?” she asks, unlocking the door and stepping out, looking upwards at Zayn’s house.

“Yeah,” Zayn nods, locking the car behind them, more on instinct than anything else.

Zayn’s little sister eyes them warily from her corner of the sofa when they enter.

“You’re late,” she says drily.

“Are you my keeper?” Zayn shoots back.

Zayn leads Perrie up the stairs to his room, and he can hear his little sister scurry to the stairs to watch them leave.

He can practically hear the ‘mum said no girls’ cry now.

His room is thankfully in an okay state, mostly due to his insomniatic fit last night, where he folded and put away his clothes in the dull lamp light. He had organised his desk, even, shuffling drawings around until it seemed like a coherent pile.

“And you said you weren’t a dork,” Perrie laughs, tugging the beanie off her head and pointing at the Marvel poster above his desk.

“That’s different,” he says. “Comics are cool.”

Perrie laughs and perches herself on his desk. She’s clearly interested in the drawings there, but trying to be respectful. Zayn appreciates that.

“You can look, if you want,” he says, gesturing. Perrie’s eyes light up. “I’ll find that book.”

Zayn tries so hard not to watch Perrie as she looks at his drawings. He hates people seeing them, but he wants to judge her reactions. Will she think they’re stupid? Or awful?

“Oh my gosh,” she gushes. “This is sick!”

Zayn turns slowly. “What?”

“I love this,” Perrie says, gesturing to the caricature of their chorus teacher, Mrs. Shah. She looks like a superhero. Zayn isn’t overly fond of her, but he was bored in class one day and decided that it’d be better to draw her than another student. Especially not another student that might find his work in his bedroom.

“Is this the kind of stuff you do?” Perrie asks, peeling her eyes away to look up at him.

He shrugs. “I dabble.”

“So cool,” she says, before flipping to the next picture.

Zayn doesn’t look for the composition book.

Waliyha must have tipped their mum off about Perrie’s presence, since his mum makes her way upstairs as soon as she gets home.

“I’m making kebabs, I think,” she says. “Perrie, will you be staying?”

Perrie looks to Zayn again, and Zayn nods encouragingly at her.

“Yes, if you don’t mind,” Perrie says. It’s the politest Zayn’s heard her yet, an entirely new side of her. His mum blissfully leaves them alone after that, though she does send a stern glance to the open door.

“My mum works evenings a lot, so I tend to eat supper at Louis’ or Gemma’s,” Perrie says, shrugging. “I hate cooking.”

Zayn nods. “I do too. And well, you’re always welcome here if you can stand the annoying kids.”

“I’m sure your sisters are sweet,” she says.

Zayn’s sisters, of course, love Perrie, and spend almost all of dinner complimenting her dress, her boots, her accent. They ask what her favourite movie is, what kind of music she listens to, which celebrity would she choose to marry if she had the option. Zayn grins at his lap for most of it, mostly because Perrie takes it all very seriously. She weighs her options, thinking carefully.

“Seal,” she says, though none of Zayn’s sisters know who that is.

“Seal? What?” Zayn laughs. He can’t stop getting over how Perrie insists on blindsiding him.

“He’s ruggedly handsome and mature,” she argues. “Oh, fine. Who would you say?”

“Rihanna,” he laughs, matter-of-fact. “No question.”

“Fair enough,” Perrie says. “I might have to change my answer.”

Zayn accidentally, and coincidentally, inhales his water.

---

“Why does your stepdad even have a pool?” Louis asks as he dumps the bag of groceries he had been carrying on the table.

Gemma does the same, and then quickly steps through the living room to the sliding door.

“Don’t insult the bungalow,” she says.

“Not an insult,” Louis says, coming up to hug her from behind. “Just not sure why there are even pools in England, much less in one’s second home.”

“I’ll never be able to explain Robin,” Gemma laughs, “but I’m not complaining.”

“Especially not when this place also comes with a hot tub,” Perrie cheers from her place on the sofa. It hadn’t taken her long to get comfortable.

Gemma’s phone buzzes, so Louis lets go to let her answer it. He takes a running leap on to Perrie, as she squeals and tries to push him off. She gives up and lets him cuddle in, patting him on the head fondly.

“Okay,” Gemma says, “Harry and his friends are almost here. Friendly reminder that my parents think this is just brother-sister time at the bungalow. So don’t break anything,” she says slowly, staring purposefully at Louis.

“What?” Louis asks, affronted, while Perrie giggles beside him.

Gemma laughs and squeezes herself into the other end of the sofa, arranging their legs in her lap.

“I’m tired from driving,” she announces. “Louis, I think it’s your turn to unpack the food for the weekend.”

“Fuck no,” Louis says, until Gemma takes it upon herself to pull one of his trainers off and tickle the bottom of his foot.

Louis squirms and kicks, which of course leads to Perrie groaning and yelling, until the two girls manage to upheave Louis onto the carpet.

He grumbles as he stomps back to the dining room area, pulling the items out of the bags and putting them either in the refrigerator or the shelf, one by one. They’ve got sweet waffles, salt and vinegar crisps, about half dozen avocados, a can of garbanzo beans, some pain au chocolat, and a bag of cherries. The list goes on, of course, but nothing resembles anything that could form a meal. He should have tried harder to keep Perrie away from the cart itself. He can only hope that Harry and his friends fare better.

He’s balling up the plastic bags when he hears the front door handle shimmy and open. Within seconds, Harry, Niall, and Liam bustle through, rucksacks on their backs and grocery bags weighing them down.

“Hi,” Louis chirps, sneaking behind them to close the door before too much cold air gets in. The place is still warming up-- Perrie had found the heating switch right away-- but they didn’t need to help it get colder by any means.

“Hi,” Harry breathes.

“Hey, Tommo,” Liam says, clapping him on the shoulder. Niall nods his hello, and hurls the groceries down as fast as he can.

“Glad I didn’t give you the bag with the eggs,” Harry says quietly, as he moves to unload his bags as well. He grabs Niall and Liam’s rucksacks, and carries them over to a spare room.

Louis unpacks those groceries, while he’s at it, pulling out the carton of eggs, the onion, the milk, the box of Cheerios, the bananas, laying them out on the counter.

Liam and Niall move away to chat with the girls, and Louis hears the dull sound of their conversation mixed with Niall’s loud laugh.

Harry rounds back into the kitchen to see Louis putting the milk in the fridge.

“Oh, you didn’t have to,” Harry says. Louis looks up at him.

“It’s no hardship, mate,” Louis says.

Harry smiles, and moves to put some of the non-perishables in the cabinets. Louis’ not sure why, since they’ll only be here for two days, not nearly long enough to move in, but he chalks it up to nesting.

“I’m glad you guys did some shopping as well. If it were up to Pez, we’d be eating bickies the entire weekend.”

Harry laughs, his nose crinkling. “Liam would have cried.”

“Oh, I wish you hadn’t done shopping then,” Louis laughs. “He takes our coach’s diet so seriously.”

Harry glances over at Louis, and Louis feels Harry’s eyes look him up and down. Louis’ not quite sure how to take that. Sure, Harry’s grown up a bit, lost a little of the baby fat that filled out his cheeks, and sure, he snogs blokes at parties now, but Harry’s not… sexual. Not in Louis’ eyes at least.

“I’ll make sure to cook up something really unhealthy then,” Harry says, turning back to the cabinets.

Harry opens and shuts each cabinet, rummaging through their remains. “Didn’t need that pasta,” he mutters to himself, holding an extra box of fettuccini. “Good, good, plenty of oil. Oh god, who knows how long that box of Coco Pops has been there.”

“You are aware you’re talking to yourself, yeah?” Louis asks, leaning up against the counter.

“No, I’m not,” Harry laughs, but he’s turning red. “I’m talking to you.”

“Will you be cooking supper or will we be ordering takeaway?” Louis asks while he picks at the bed of his nails.

Harry hops down from the counter, and Louis looks up, startled from the noise. Harry’s face looks affronted, as if the mere mention of takeaway undermined all of Harry’s being.

“I’ll cook,” he said. “Would hate to have done all of this shopping just to eat Chinese for two days.”

Louis grabs one of the several cases worth of beer from the fridge, and holds it out to Harry. Harry takes it, and Louis grabs another one for himself. He pops the top off with the opener he keeps on his keychain, and passes it back to Harry.

“Fair enough,” Louis says with a wink. “Trust me, you don’t want me near an open flame.”

“How do you feel about something with pasta?” Harry asks. “I’ll make something fancier tomorrow, maybe, but that’ll kind of please everyone, I think.”

“I’m fine with it. Should I ask the others?”

Harry waves him off. “They’ll eat what I give them,” he sighs.

Louis stands there awkwardly as Harry gathers the onion and peppers and pulls the chicken back out from the fridge.

“Do you need help?” he asks, even though he had basically just told Harry that he was a walking disaster in the kitchen.

Harry looks over, smiling, and nods. He looks very… endearing, Louis decides. Endearing is the word.

“Can you boil water?” Harry asks.

“Oh, can I,” Louis repeats. “Actually, that’s a good question,” he finishes with a wink. Harry rolls his eyes.

Harry kicks his leg out to gesture to Louis where the pots and pans are, and Louis goes digging for one that looks about a good size. The clanks and bangs are overwhelming and annoying, and Louis just grabs a big one, even without its lid.

He fills it up with water and puts it on the stovetop, turning the burner until the flame flickers up.

“Can you put a little salt in that?” Harry asks as he’s washing the raw chicken.

“The water?” Louis asks. Harry nods.

“And a splash of oil,” Harry adds, though he looks like he doesn’t want to say it.

“Of course,” Louis says, reaching around for the bottle of olive oil. His wrist slips a little, so more comes out than he wants, but Harry doesn’t say anything, so he shrugs it off. He grinds some salt into the warming water, and then turns back to Harry.

“Is that some fancy technique?” Louis asks with a wink.

“Oh yes,” Harry responds dryly, “fancy technique they teach in GCSEs.”

Louis laughs, and Harry grins at him.

“Are you going to do A levels for food, then?” he asks.

Harry nods.

Louis is not surprised. As long as he’s known Gemma, and by proxy Harry, Harry has always been in the kitchen, whether it was helping his mum cook supper or baking fresh biscuits. Every now and then Gemma will show up to the canteen at school with a baggie of something sweet.

“I mean, granted I get in to sixth form,” Harry adds.

Louis laughs, loudly.

“Oh, please. You’re a Styles, of course you’ll get in. You’re nothing like me, who with some divine force of Something, scraped enough GCSEs to get in. You’ll be fine.”

Harry shrugs, but smiles anyway.

He moves to slice the chicken, his blade sliding effortlessly through the breasts.

“I’m feeling the urge to make jokes about you being good with breasts,” Louis says. “Does that happen to you often?”

Harry completely cracks up, has to put his knife down really, and he looks at Louis like he’s lost it.

“Good with breasts?” he repeats, sounding winded, as his giggles slow down. He gets very serious. “No.”

Now it’s Louis’ turn to giggle.

“My mates make breast jokes a lot, though. ‘Are you a thigh man or a breast man?’ Stuff like that. You’re much funnier, though,” Harry adds quietly.

Louis, of course, lives for the times where he’s called funny, so he preens.

He notices the water start to bubble, so he nudges Harry.

“Holding a knife,” Harry reminds him.

“It’s boiling. What should I do?” Louis asks.

Harry’s eyes are bright as he laughs at Louis. “Put the pasta in.”

“Which pasta?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Harry says. “Do the fettuccini, I suppose.”

“Nice, thank you for the direction,” Louis says. “I think you overestimate my kitchen skills.”

“I really don’t,” Harry says, and Louis grins.

Louis loves this version of Harry. Harry’s been so quiet ever since Louis first became friends with Gemma, Louis had no idea that this wry side of him existed. Giving each other shit like this makes Louis feel more like Harry’s friend and less like… the out-of-place friend of a sibling. It’s nice.

Louis pours the pasta in, stepping back as some of the boiling water splashes.

“Oh, go sit over there,” Harry says, placing his hands on Louis’ waist as he pushes Louis away from the stove.

Louis hates how long it’s been since he’s kissed a guy. That’s the excuse he’s using for why he can feel Harry’s hands on him long after Harry’s turned back to the stove.

Niall comes bustling in the kitchen as soon as he hears the sizzle of the chicken hitting the hot pan, bits of hot oil spitting angrily at Harry.

“What are you making?” Niall asks, peering over Harry’s shoulder.

“Out,” Harry says, pushing Niall away with one hand, not bothering to take his eyes off the pan.

Niall makes a face at Louis, and Louis grins. Niall grabs a banana and an armful of beer bottles and bolts back to the others.

Harry pulls what looks like pre-minced garlic out of the fridge with a pained look on his face. “It’s for the best,” he says, to himself or to Louis, and he drops some on to the hot pan. It pops and sizzles, and Louis breathes deep, because there’s nothing he loves more than the smell of cooking garlic. Harry throws the onions and peppers in there, and lets them heat up. Louis watches the curve of Harry’s shoulder blades as he grinds the salt and pepper over the food.

“Seasoning is the key,” Harry says, sparing Louis a glance over his shoulder. Louis looks up quickly, hoping he hadn’t been caught. But Harry’s attention focuses again on his pan, stirring the ingredients.

“I didn’t realise this was a lesson,” Louis says.

“First one’s free,” Harry responds, turning again to give Louis a quick wink. “Drain the pasta? Please?”

Louis nods and searches for a colander. He holds the pot steady as he pours the cooked pasta into it, letting the steam rise up and blind him momentarily. He breathes in, letting the steam clear his sinuses, at least.

“Cheaper than a facial,” he says, which has Harry snorting.

“Well, that really depends,” Harry snickers, eyebrows wagging.

“Harry Styles, is that a sexual reference?” Louis laughs.

“I’m only human,” he defends. “You’re the one who said it!”

“You’re the one who made it dirty,” Louis says. “I’m appalled.”

“Oh hush,” Harry says, “get that over here.”

Louis brings the cooked pasta over to Harry, muttering ‘ged ‘ere’ in his most dramatic voice in an effort to make Harry laugh. It’s successful, of course, but Louis suspects it wouldn’t take much effort at all to make Harry laugh.

“Mix, please,” Harry says, handing the wooden spoon over to Louis, while he slips away to rummage through the fridge again.

Louis stares down at the pan, unsure of what to do.

“Mix,” Harry says again, his head fully immersed in the fridge. He stands up, holding a block of parmesan cheese. “I have no idea how long this has been in here,” he admits. He takes a tentative sniff, then another, before he shrugs and moves to get the grater out of the drawer.

Harry takes the pan back from Louis, hip bumping him to the side. He stirs the vegetables and meat and pasta again, before holding the cheese and grater over the pan, and liberally adding cheese on top. Louis looks on approvingly.

“Oi,” Harry calls out. Gemma must recognise it as Harry’s dinner call, because she’s first in line, cuddling up to Louis’ side.

“Louis, you didn’t cook, right?” she asks warily.

Louis just looks at her and takes a sip of his beer.

“You know, Harry,” he says, “your sister is quite rude. I don’t think she deserves any food.”

“Don’t I know it,” Harry mumbles, laughing as Gemma kicks out at his bum.

She turns to Louis, narrowing her eyes. “Stop that. You’re supposed to be my mate.”

Louis smirks, bumping into her hip. “Load up your plate, Gem. You’re holding up the line.”

They eat dinner sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, letting the hum of syndicated Friends episodes play in the background. Louis sandwiches himself between Gemma and Perrie, but he can’t help but stare as Niall practically inhales the pasta and vegetables.

“Are you even tasting that?” Liam asks sarcastically. Niall doesn’t even waste the time to respond.

Louis looks down at his plate and forks more of it in his mouth, but he can feel someone’s eyes on him. If it’s not the girls, it must be Harry, and Louis focuses in on the plate. He doesn’t look up.

He closes his eyes after he finishes, tilting his head back to use the couch cushion behind him as a pillow. He feels someone lift the plate off his lap, and he cracks an eyes to see Perrie and Liam carrying plates to the kitchen. He hears them loading up the dishwasher, and he closes his eyes again, tuning out the argument that Gemma and Harry have over the television.

He ends up heading to the guest bedroom not long after, the combination of the school day, the drive up to the bungalow, and a couple of beers making him exhausted. He knows himself, and he knows that if he tries to stay up much longer, he’ll get cranky and turn everyone against him, so he decides to call it earlier than he normally would have.

Of course, this leads to Louis waking up at three with an overly full bladder. He rolls out of bed to see that Perrie had climbed in next to him at some point, if the mass of blonde hair on the other pillow is anything to go by.

He drags himself to the loo and takes a leak, the brightness of the overhead light waking him up. He flushes, and washes his hands of course-- he’s not an animal-- and splashes a little water on his face. He’s feeling better now, but it’s still just gone 3 and he’s wide awake. He peeks out into the living room area to see Niall sprawled on the sofa, the remote control snug under his armpit. He grabs a couple of year-old magazines from the holder by the television and moves back towards the kitchen.

He rifles through the refrigerator and freezer, trying to figure out what to eat as his midnight snack. There was some leftover pasta, some of the crisps and cakes they bought earlier, and some of that fruit, but Louis always held a belief that any midnight snack had to have an illicit feel to it. He spots a pint of ice cream sitting at the back of the freezer, and Louis digs through the bags of frozen peas to get at it. No one would miss it, he tells himself.

After sparing a glance at the stools in the kitchen, he wanders back to the toilet, lowering himself into the bathtub. It’s more comfortable than the stools, at any rate, and he doesn’t feel bad about keeping the light on.

He flips open the outdated House and Garden, and starts to thumb through it. His set-up is intricate, with the magazine propped up against his knees as he balances the pint of ice cream on his chest. Lesser men would not be able to handle it.

“What the-- oh.”

Louis looks up, caught in the act. He’s not even remotely surprised to see Harry standing in the doorway, rumpled and confused.

“Oh, hi,” Louis says, the spoon sticking out of his mouth.

“Hi,” Harry says, rubbing at his eyes. His voice is even raspier than usual.

“Just enjoying some ice cream that comes with a layer of frost about a centimetre thick,” Louis says.

Harry just nods, and moves to the toilet. Louis averts his eyes, but he can hear Harry peeing. He tries not to hear, hoping that he can at least preserve some form of toilet etiquette, but it’s useless. Harry flushes and washes his hands, for which Louis silently commends him, but instead of leaving and going back to bed, Harry moves to climb into the tub with him.

Louis blinks repeatedly at Harry, who just holds out his hand for the ice cream container.

Louis passes it over without a word, and pulls the spoon out of his mouth to do the same. He watches Harry poke at the ice cream before scooping a bit for himself.

“Wow, that really is frozen,” Harry mumbles.

“It’s thawing a little bit,” Louis says quietly, watching the way the spoon fits in Harry’s mouth when he goes for a second bite. Harry’s tongue comes out to flick at the ice cream before the spoon even goes in his mouth, which Louis finds strange.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Harry asks, looking up from the carton.

“No, no, I’ve just been dying to catch up on my House and Garden reading.”

Harry smiles.

“You did go to bed early.”

“I was exhausted,” Louis admits. “If I get too tired, I get really grumpy.”

Harry nods and takes another spoonful before passing the carton back to Louis.

Harry’s fingers are cold as Louis brushes over them to grab the ice cream.

“How’s your no-boy pact going?” Harry asks.

“What?” Louis asks. “Oh, right. Well, trust me, I don’t need a pact to keep the boys away.”

Harry laughs. “Stop,” he says.

“No, I’m serious. Obviously, I don’t want a repeat with George, and god knows James is off limits now, not that I fancied him before anyways. I can’t think of anyone else,” Louis says offhanded.

Harry smiles. “I know what you mean. But I suppose, like, it’ll get better with university,” he says trailing off.

“I don’t think I’m going to university,” Louis says, staring down at the ice cream.

Harry exhales. “Shit, I think I do remember you saying that. But I wasn’t sure if that was, y’know, decided.”

Louis shrugs. “I mean, I didn’t apply anywhere, so definitely not this year. But I don’t think I’m going at all. I don’t even really want to. I want to save up and move to London, try my hand at acting for real.”

“That sounds cool,” Harry says, reaching out and snatching the ice cream back. He even goes so far as to take the spoon out of Louis’ mouth.

“Don’t know what else to do with this Drama A-level,” Louis says, resting his head against the porcelain.

“You should act,” Harry says resolutely. “Why waste money at uni if it’s not going to be what you want, right?”

“It’s like you’re not even a Styles,” Louis laughs, nudging Harry’s knee. Harry smiles around the spoon.

“Just because Gem has been obsessed with uni since Year Nine doesn’t mean I think everyone has to go. Just go if it makes sense, you know?”

“What if I’m rubbish, though?” Louis wonders. “What if I get stuck in a job that’s complete rubbish and can’t do anything else? What if I can’t get any acting gigs and end up being a waiter for my entire life?”

“You can be a waiter, then, though between you and me, that’s probably the highest you’ll get in the restaurant field.”

“Even if it’s your restaurant?” Louis asks.

Harry grins, his dimple peeking out.

“Well, we’ll see about that. I could make you a sommelier, I suppose.”

“I don’t even know what the fuck that is,” Louis moans into the porcelain.

Harry reaches out and squeezes Louis’ calf.

“That’s okay. Actors don’t need to know that stuff. And when you’re raking in the roles in West End, I’ll come see you. I’ll even drag Gemma away from her coursework.”

Louis chuckles.

“I’ll be sure to set you up with all my actor friends.”

“Mutually beneficial,” Harry laughs. “I approve of this plan.”

“Yeah,” Louis says with a yawn. “What’s your preference? Blond? Brunet? Muscley? Lanky?”

“With a dick,” Harry laughs. “Um, brunet, I suppose. Not lanky, but not a gym rat. But someone into sports. Maybe more masculine than me, but not a crazy macho guy, you know?”

“No,” Louis says. “That was the vaguest description I’ve ever heard.”

Harry laughs, shaking his head because he knows Louis is right.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking with James, mate. He’s a brickhouse.”

“Don’t I know it,” Harry says. “Like you said, slim pickings.”

“Why’d you snog him then?”

“‘Cause I was turning sixteen and hadn’t snogged a boy. Opportunity presented itself.” Harry shrugs again. “It’s not like I found him unattractive. He’s got, y’know, abs, and like, his legs are nice. Good thighs.”

Louis gulps, and hopes it’s not noticeable. The temperature of the space between them spikes, thick with something he’s not willing to put his finger on.

“Thighs are good,” Louis agrees, though it sounds idiotic even to himself. How could he make a break from this room without it being ridiculously awkward?

“Is George your type then?” Harry asks.

Louis shrugs. “Kind of. Sort of dull, though. I don’t know. I don’t know what my type is.”

“Good thighs?” Harry laughs.

Louis nods. “Something like that.”

Louis waits a beat before unfolding himself from the tub, careful not to kick Harry. Harry blinks up at him, the spoon sticking out of his mouth.

“I’m going back to bed,” Louis says, snagging the ice cream carton. “I’ll take care of this. See you in the morning.”

Louis books it out of the room, not looking back to see Harry’s confused face, spoon still firmly in his mouth. Louis throws the ice cream back in the freezer, and practically jogs back to the guest room, where he crawls back in beside Pezza and wills himself to think of anything except Harry.

It proves easier said than done, since the rest of their weekend is made up of the boys in varying shades of undress, hopping in and out of the hot tub. The beer doesn’t help to clear his mind.

“It’s cold out here,” Perrie says, shivering in her bikini as she looks around the screened-in sun room.

“It’s February,” Gemma says. She’s not in the hot tub, but she’s cozy with a big, heavy blanket swathed around her.

“It’s warm in here,” Louis says, splashing about a little bit. Harry’s in the other corner of the hot tub, and Louis would very much value Perrie coming in and distracting him from the fact that Harry, in the last year, has lost a lot of that baby fat.

Perrie hastily slides into the tub, floating over to where Louis is.

“Much better,” she agrees. “Why are the Twists so great?” she asks Louis.

“Because their last name isn’t Styles?” Louis guesses, which earns him a splash from Harry’s corner. Louis grins over at him.

Perrie’s jeans buzz over on the floor by the doorway. Her head snaps over to look at them.

“Do you want me to get that?” Gemma asks from her chair outside the water.

“No,” Perrie says hastily. “It’s probably just mum checking up on me.”

Still, Louis notices Perrie sneak another couple glances over at it. He opens his mouth to call her out on her obvious lie, but then Harry stands up, and Louis shuts it, for fear of saying something else entirely.

Gemma throws a towel at Harry without a word, sighing as he shivers and leaves the sun room to go find Niall and Liam.

“Finally,” Gemma sighs. “So, I’ve been thinking about getting some revenge on that idiot James. What do you say?”

“I’m in,” Louis says, before Gemma even finishes voicing her thought.

Chapter Text

Gemma wouldn’t say she is overprotective, really. She had never liked the looks of that James kid anyway, and he was a right prick to Louis for years, so this was just payback for the years of knobheadedness that he had been doling out on them.

Then again, she would rather punch baby animals than see someone hurt Harry. It would probably be less emotionally painful, she reasons to herself.

She remembers the night in the late autumn when Harry had stumbled back upstairs to his bedroom grumpy and sloppy. Gemma had been in her bed, on her laptop but still awake, and had gone over to Harry’s room to see what the fuss was about. She certainly hadn’t wanted him to wake up their mum and Robin.

Needless to say, the next few days played out with a bitter Harry who had curled up to Gemma in a way they hadn’t done in years. It broke her heart, really, to see her baby brother sad, and even though he had argued that he didn’t even fancy the guy, Gemma knew that he was cut up about it all.

It was her duty as older sister to enact revenge. Even further, it was her role as a visible prankster and her general don’t-fuck-with-me demeanor that essentially made it law that she was going to have to fuck with James. It was like every moment in her life was leading up to this prank.

Which is of course why she finds herself, 11:30 on a Friday night, curled up in bed hunting through websites where she could find Visible Stain Detection powder on the cheap.

She pulls out her phone and sends a group text to Perrie and Louis.

plan almost hashed out. kill the fuck out of his car with theft detection powder. when it comes into contact with his skin or clothes, it’ll turn whatever bright purple for at least a couple days…

She puts her phone right next to her, and goes back to searching. She is contemplating a spray bottle that looks promising, when her phone buzzes with a response.

you evil genius you, Perrie’s response reads. Gemma smiles down at the screen.

you are terrible!! i love it!!, Louis says.

Louis’ response takes longer, which Gemma thinks is odd, since she can’t think of what else he’d be doing on a Friday night. He had bagged off hanging out tonight, giving a weak excuse about helping his mum, followed up by a cough as if he were sick. They’ve been friends for years, and Gemma knows that Louis can’t lie for shit. At least to her.

delete this message, she sends. She locks and drops her phone to her side.

Gemma leans over the side of the bed to find her purse, completing some truly acrobatic moves in order to avoid actually having to get up. She settles back against the pillows, flipping through it until she pulls out her credit card.

She presses ‘add to cart’ and smiles to herself. She’s a damn good older sister, if she does say so herself.

---

Harry isn’t stupid. He may not be on Gemma’s level of cleverness, but he’s fairly in-tune with the world. So after their weekend at the bungalow, Harry composes a list. He hides it in the middle-to-back of his Child Development notebook, and he purposefully makes his handwriting messy just in case someone were to happen upon it in the future.

Louis May Fancy Me or He May Barely Acknowledge My Existence: A List
-- cooking → complementary
-- def flirting when we were making pasta
-- he touched my shoulder? (may have been wind)
-- stared at me in the hot tub
-- said hi to me first before liam and niall
-- the bathtub!!!! what was that??
-- his fingers shook when we passed back the ice cream
-- hasn’t been coming around after bungalow (could mean he doesn’t like me at all)
-- but!! keeps saying there’s no other guys for him to hook up with?? doesn’t see me as an option? or a child? MUST FIX

Looking down at it now, Harry decides upon a course of action. He underlines those last two words in dark, angry strokes. Louis doesn’t really see him as an option because he thinks of him as Gemma’s baby brother. In the last couple months, Harry notices Louis’ come around more, and they’ve had loads of conversations that had nothing to do with Gemma. Maybe Harry just needs to take it further.

He had heard Gemma on the phone earlier convincing Louis to come around, so Harry knows it’s the perfect chance to implement his new strategy.

He waits in the kitchen, taking note of all of the most phallic food items they have in stock. He panics when the doorbell rings, grabbing a banana and tearing it open, racing to get to the door before Gemma.

He collects himself quickly, and then opens the door to see Louis on the other side.

Louis, of course, looks effortlessly cool in his dark jeans and canvas shoes, shivering in his thin t-shirt.

“Hi,” Harry says, and takes a bite of the banana. He does not deepthroat it, mostly because he doesn’t want to run the risk of accidentally taking too much in and choking on it. That would probably have the opposite effect of what he wants, really. He really should have practiced this one out in the privacy of his own bedroom.

“Hi,” Louis responds. “Gem’s around, yeah?”

Harry nods and steps aside, leaving just enough space for Louis to shimmy right by him and take off his trainers.

Even with his head down and focused on his laces, Harry can feel the way that Louis’ eyes keep furtively flicking back toward him.

“You’re eating that wrong,” Louis says as Harry finally shuts the door behind them, keeping out the chill.

“What?” Harry asks, taking another bite. Slower, he tells himself. Slower is sexier, kind of. That’s what he hears, at least.

“You peeled it the wrong way,” Louis says, reaching out to poke the half-eaten banana and its peel.

“No, I didn’t,” Harry protests. “It’s the scientifically correct way. The way monkeys do it.”

Louis chuckles. “Oh, yeah, you’re a regular monkey.”

Louis glances up the stairway to where the bedrooms are, where Gemma is expecting him, but he doesn’t move to go up.

Harry takes another bite. “Rude,” he says around a mouth of mashed banana. It occurs to him that the fact that he’s talking with his mouth full in front of a boy he fancies may be part of the reason that Louis doesn’t think of him as a sexual being.

Harry swallows and tries again. He sees Louis gulp almost in unison, and it sends a little jolt of possibility through his veins.

“You’ve been scarce,” Harry says, going for nonchalance.

Louis nods. “I’ve been trying to get my arse together for exams.” It sounds rehearsed, and Harry doesn’t want to let Louis get away with a shit excuse.

He raises his eyebrow in doubt.

“Also creating a dastardly plan,” Louis says, scratching at the back of his neck. “Can’t tell you anymore than that, unfortunately. It’d incriminate you, and we can’t have you risking your bright culinary future.”

Harry rolls his eyes and opens his mouth just as Gemma appears at the top of the staircase.

“Haz, I think Lou--” she starts, before looking up and seeing them chatting in the doorway. “Oh, you’re here. I didn’t hear the doorbell.”

“Just got here,” Louis says, smiling. “Catching up with Harry. Don’t worry, haven’t given too much away.” He throws a wink at Harry, and Harry feels his knees turn to mush themselves. He can only take so much attention from Louis without feeling like he’s about to hurl himself into traffic. In the best way, of course.

“He’s lying,” Gemma says to Harry. “Whatever he said was a crock of shit.”

“Good job, Genius Gem,” Harry laughs. “Now you don’t sound suspicious at all. I’ll leave you two to your not-evil plans.” Harry pulls himself away reluctantly, sliding across the floor back to the kitchen to throw away his banana peel.

When he heads back to the living room, Louis and Gemma have already disappeared upstairs. He hurls himself down onto the sofa with an unsatisfying whump, grabbing his phone off the coffee table as he lies back.

He pulls up Safari and does a quick Google search. How do I seduce my sister’s best friend?

Yahoo answers does not give him the results he wants. He doesn’t think ‘telling her she looks fit’ is exactly appropriate for his situation. No, Louis doesn’t give him massages, which is kind of a point against him, but then again, Louis has never uttered the words ‘I see you as a little brother.’ Of course, there’s the whole list of answers that are focused on ‘talking about your feelings’ and ‘honesty’ but none of them are going to help Harry in his situation.

“Okay, Styles,” Harry whispers to himself. “Time to turn the charm on.” He moves to the kitchen to practice his blowjob technique on an ice lolly. At least that would help him feel productive, instead of just sitting in the living room agonizing about the boy he fancies being upstairs.

He finishes a grape flavoured one and leaves the wrapper beside him on the counter as he swings his feet back and forth. He’s not sure why he perches himself on the counter-- he puts food here for God’s sake-- and his mother would scold him if she knew. But sometimes he needs to look at things from a new perspective, so sitting on the counter will have to do for now. He goes for another ice lolly from the freezer, positive that now his throat is all cool and numb, he’ll be able to push himself a little bit more without gagging. He wants the blue one, because those are always delicious, but he hates the way his teeth go blue, so he grabs a cherry and hoists himself back onto the counter.

He’s kicking his ankles together, too focused on his fake blowjob technique to notice Louis enter the kitchen.

“Oh,” Louis says, which shocks Harry into actually choking on the lolly.

Harry enters a coughing fit, one hand pressed against his throat.

Louis rushes over to the tap to fill up some water, pressing a glass into Harry’s other hand, prying the ice lolly away.

Harry gasps again, taking a small sip of the water, trying to hold his breath so he doesn’t spiral into another coughing fit. His entire face flushes red, ears heating up like he’s spent four hours in the July sun. He’s not sure he’s ever been so embarrassed in his life. He spares a small, tiny, thank you to whatever deity made it so that Gemma didn’t witness this, because she would never, ever let Harry live it down. They’d be in a retirement home and Gemma would still be telling the nurses about this.

“Are you okay?” Louis says, though his smirk speaks volumes.

Harry nods, bitterly grabbing the lolly back.

“Were you practicing your bj technique?” Louis asks, leaning in like he’s asking for a secret.

Harry ignores him.

“Oh, come on. We can talk about this.”

Harry sighs. “Don’t pretend you haven’t.”

“Oh, ‘course I have. Just because I haven’t done the real thing doesn’t mean I don’t want to be prepared. I’m not taking the piss. Well, not really, at least.”

Louis looks at Harry’s lips, something which Harry notices when he goes to finally look at Louis.

“Right, except there’s no one around to practice for,” Harry says, voice tinged with… something. It’s softer than bitterness but harder than insecurity.

“Right,” Louis agrees hesitantly, eyes still trained on Harry’s mouth.

“Why do you keep saying that?” Harry asks.

Louis’ eyes shoot up. “Say what? You said it first.”

“No one’s around. No options. Like I’m not here-- like I’m not an option.” He abandons the melting ice lolly in the sink.

Louis gulps. “Well, you’re not an option,” he says slowly, like he knows what he’s saying is hurtful.

“Are you serious?” Harry asks. “I’m not a baby. Guys have wanted to kiss me.”

Louis’ eyes skate around the room, like he’s looking for some kind of escape route.

“I know. It’s not--,” he cuts himself off. “I know you’re not a baby.”

“At the bungalow, you stared at me.”

“You stare at me all the time,” Louis shoots back.

Harry rolls his eyes. “I just don’t get why I’m not an option, that’s all.”

Louis braces himself on the counter. “I know you’re not a kid, Harry, trust me. I don’t mean to be a prick, but you’re not an option because Gemma would literally string me up by the testicles.”

“She would not,” Harry protests.

“Uh, you have no idea what she’s planning for James.”

Harry claps a hand over Louis’ mouth.

“I don’t care about James. I don’t care about Gemma.”

Harry slowly removes his hand, waiting for Louis to come up with another excuse as to why he isn’t attracted to Harry. But Louis sits quiet, eyes wide and staring at Harry, like back at the bungalow, but different. He stares at Harry’s face like he sees something there, and Harry briefly wonders if there’s juice or sugar staining his cheek.

Harry exhales, and hunches over, slowly closing in over Louis, vertebrae by vertebrae. It’s when Louis lifts himself up, though, bracing his hands on the counter and moving up to tippy toes that Harry pushes forward, and lightly presses his lips to Louis’.

It’s strange, of course, because it’s his first time kissing someone sober, and he probably should be doing something different than he is. But Louis kisses back, and he’s not changing direction or anything. Harry’s stomach flips like its being kneaded, like it’s hard to breathe. With James, it had all been convenience, whatever. There hadn’t been any feelings attached. He hadn’t felt like he was flipping. But with Louis, it’s as if he’s earned something. Like kissing is a prize, the best prize, and he’s lucky to have been afforded it. Like Louis wants to kiss him, even though he acted like he didn’t, which Harry just can’t wrap his mind around.

Louis takes a breath and with a smile, goes back for another kiss, bringing his hand to the back of Harry’s neck. Harry shivers, and hopes Louis can’t feel it, but Louis smiles again, which has Harry smiling, which makes kissing tricky.

“Stop smiling when I’m trying to kiss you,” Harry murmurs.

Louis nods and lets Harry kiss him, kisses him back. Louis melts as Harry’s fingertips thread into Louis’ hair. That was a thing that Harry caused.

Harry pulls back to take another breath, trying to focus his eyes in on Louis, whose eyelids flutter open.

“What do you mean ‘what Gemma is planning for James?’” Harry asks, tilting his head.

Louis drops his head, laughs loudly, much louder than their fierce whispers earlier. “I don’t care about James, he says. I don’t care about Gemma, he says,” Louis mocks.

Harry opens his mouth for the comeback when he hears Gemma stomping down the stairs. He and Louis shoot each other wide, panicked looks, and Louis jumps back until he’s a respectable distance away.

“Get your own best friend, Harry,” Gemma says as she bounds into the kitchen. “Stop trying to steal mine.”

Harry laughs. “I was trying to get details out of him about your apparent upcoming prank,” Harry lies smoothly, rubbing his nose.

“I refused to give in,” Louis says to Gemma, hand over his heart, mock serious.

“What did I do to deserve this life?” Gemma wonders as she leaves the kitchen to go back up to her bedroom.

Louis moves to go follow her, and he turns back to shoot Harry a look before he leaves. Harry’s smiling though, mischievous as ever. Harry points between Gemma and Louis, then makes a gesture like he’s slicing across his own neck. Louis rolls his eyes, but smiles. Harry doesn’t think he’s ever seen Louis’ eyes crinkle up in such delight before. He didn’t need Google’s help for that.

---

Perrie locks her bicycle up in front of the restaurant and wanders in, spotting Zayn right away. He looks handsome and older, with his pressed black trousers, white button-up, and actual, proper, dress shoes. He doesn’t see her, at least not right away, but when he turns away from customers he spots her by the door and grins.

She offers a wave in return.

“Hey,” he says as he gets close enough to talk.

“Hi,” she says. She hitches her bag on her shoulder. “You alright?”

Zayn nods. “Yeah, you?” Perrie nods. She’s not sure why she even came to the restaurant, just popped up unannounced while Zayn’s working. “What are you up to today?”

“Not much. Just going for a bit of a ride while the weather’s nice,” she says, gesturing to the bike he can spot out the window, the crate perched perilously on the back.

“Mum says I can leave in 20, if you want to hang around a bit. I’ve got my skateboard.”

Perrie grins, and nods, and Zayn sits her at a small table by the kitchen. He leaves and comes back with a small plate of samosas, dropping them off with a wink as he goes to check on the couple finishing up their meals in the opposite corner.

Perrie bites into the shell, trying to catch the crumbs with her palm before they fall into her lap. Zayn hadn’t been lying when he said his mum’s samosas were good. Perrie had loved having dinner with Zayn’s family before, and his mum’s kebabs were tasty, so Perrie should have known that everything else would be delicious, too.

She blows at the samosa before taking another bite, letting the potatoes mash in her teeth as she chews around the mincemeat. She scrolls through her facebook newsfeed, making a mental note to listen to the song Gemma posted later.

She also sees the rumblings of a party at some kid in lower sixth’s house next weekend. It turns out to be at Liam’s, but people are pretty buzzing about it, so it might be worth checking out.

Zayn grabs the plate from her when she’s done, and when he reemerges from the kitchen, he’s back in street clothes: the ratty t-shirts and high-tops she’s come to recognise as being ‘Zayn’. He slings his rucksack around his shoulder and tucks his skateboard under his arm.

They head off down the street, neither of them really sure of where they’re going. Perrie bikes slowly, but Zayn doesn’t need it all that much, since his kicks are powerful enough to keep up.

Perrie speeds up as they approach the tunnel in the middle of town, shrieking with glee as she pedals through the darkness. Even if she squints, she can just barely make out the colours and shapes of the graffiti on its walls. She hears the tear of Zayn’s wheels close behind her, so she focuses on the sunlight at the end.

“Let’s head to the brook,” he says, and Perrie can just make it out over the loud scratching of the pavement and the train approaching the overpass.

There’s a brook that runs through their town, and sometimes Perrie can spot a couple of homeless men fishing out of it. She hasn’t been since she was 13, about the time that her older brother started scolding her for going places alone.

Perrie ends up walking her bike up and over the small hill that secludes the street from the brook. She supposes it’s got to do with flooding in the spring, but her house has never had more than just a small bit of water in the basement, and that was after a really wet spring.

“Freakishly warm, innit?” Perrie says, though she nestles into her coat. She plops down onto a rock by the water, looking as she can see the water moving underneath the thin top layer of ice.

“It’s late March,” Zayn says, laying his skateboard delicately next to the trunk of a tree.

“Still England,” Perrie says.

“So what’s going on with you, then? You seem all… this,” he says, gesturing at the way she slumps over.

“What do you mean?” she asks defensively.

“Well, you know how you’re normally your bubbly, cheerful, random self? Right now, you’re not,” he says, crossing his arms across his chest.

“It’s nothing big at all,” Perrie says. “It’s just dawning on me that this is it. Like, this is my last chance to get to know everyone, because then people are off like rockets, and yeah. What if someone dies next year, and all I’ll be thinking about is how I should have tried more to get to know them in school.”

“Jesus,” Zayn says, all low. “Morbid Mary over here.”

Perrie reaches out to hit him lightly. She barely grazes his leather jacket.

“I don’t know what’s going on with Louis, but he’s always distracted, and Gemma’s just so focused on exams and uni. Everything’s changing, me included, and I worry that we just won’t fit much more. Like, I’m still bubbly and dorky, but I also like writing music, and I like wearing these boots, and I like being independent, and I like hanging out with you. I’m not sure how these things come together.”

Perrie looks down at her hands that she perches on her knees. Her nails are all chipped.

“Perrie,” Zayn says, stepping in close, “Who told you you had to only be one thing?”

His hand rests on her shoulder and she looks up, blinking as Zayn crouches down to get on her level. His boots crunch with the hard earth beneath them.

“You can be into music, and dresses, and boots, and your friends, and me. You can keep your hair blonde, or dye it pink, or write rock metal if you want. You should have different layers of yourself.”

Perrie shrugs. “I suppose it just feels like there are these different versions of me, and whoever I’m with, I have to choose a version I think they’ll like best, you know?”

Zayn smiles kindly, and it warms Perrie up a little. She doesn’t see him smiling often in school, only when they’re in Music talking about writing shit instrumentals. Most of those smiles, smiles like this even, are for his family, and it dawns on Perrie that she knows this about Zayn. Knows where his smiles come from.

“I don’t want you to feel like that about me. I’m sure I’d adore all versions of you, Pez.”

Zayn’s eyes seem earnest, and that’s enough for her.

---

A lot of pairs of eyes fall on Gemma, Perrie, and Louis as they enter the common room. It’s not quite a hush that falls over everyone, but there is a sense of attention that they seem to get. Moreso than usual, that is.

Most of the seats are taken, so they shuffle over to the side and prop themselves up by the window, bags knocking into each other noisily as they move. Eyes follow them, though it seems like people have returned to their other conversations.

“Strange,” Perrie says, which has Louis nodding along.

“Can’t really explain the people we study with, though, can we,” Louis muses as he rifles through his bag to find his crumpled Literature assignment. He finds his loaned paperback even further down in his bag, the spine all curled over and edges tucked.

Louis inspects his book, and he’s about to ask Gemma’s opinion on whether his teacher will accept it back bent up, when an actual, real hush falls over the common room.

Louis’ eyes shoot up to see James-- tall, built James-- with bright purple splotches all over him. They’re on his arms, his back, his clothes. His hands are practically purple in and of themselves.

But not, Louis notes, the purple that comes with gripping something too tight, or sitting out in the cold too long. It’s a purple unseen in nature, but it reminds Louis of the brightness of fireworks.

Essentially, he looks a fucking mess.

“Why do I feel like everyone’s looking at me?” Perrie asks, her eyes widening at others in the common room turn to gauge the three of them.

“Because they are,” Gemma murmurs.

“I thought I was going to help you,” Louis whispers. He finds it hard to not stare at James’ fluorescent arse.

“The stuff came in earlier than I thought,” she responds. “Spur of the mo’ decision to just do it. Don’t look guilty.”

“Why do I feel guilty, then?” Perrie whispers urgently, her wide eyes still trained on the others in the room.

“Don’t worry. If the Headmaster talks to us, I have an alibi ready to go. Besides, aren’t you two saying I never leave my room these days?” She pulls out a cosmetics case and not-so-subtly files her nails.

---

Louis lounges on Gemma’s bed, while she and Perrie sprawl out on the floor. Gemma recounts the entire day for the two of them now that they’re out of earshot of administration who would have Gemma’s head for tampering with someone else’s property.

“I was really fucking nervous that my hand would, like, shake and I’d pour it all on myself,” Gemma confesses, just as Louis’ phone vibrates with a new text. He muffles it with his leg, but the girls still raise their eyebrows at him.

“I don’t know who gave Lotts a cell phone,” he says awkwardly, holding it up so he can see the text. It’s not from his sister, of course. It’s from Harry.

Harry, who is awkwardly texting him from a room away.

what’s this about you pranking james today???

Louis wants to drop his face into his palm, but he’s trying to play it cool. He doesn’t want to explain to Gemma why he’s texting her brother even though he’s a few feet away, theoretically.

LIES, he responds quickly. He doesn’t wait to tap out a second message: that was all gemma. do you see why she is scary over protective

He looks up at Gemma, who grins at Perrie while Perrie explains the project she’s working on in Music. With Gemma smiling broadly, chin in her hands, and hair dipping to drag along the carpet, it’s hard to picture her as plotting out some grand vendetta against some guy who snogged her brother.

Then again, Louis has known her for a while, and knows that she does have those layers.

In fact, Louis has always suspected that the school’s complete apathy to his sexuality had a lot to do with having Gemma on his side. She’s always made the claim to fuck up anyone who messed with someone she loved-- she just knew how to hide it, and get straight As while doing so. It was the same kind of ambition and leadership that made her a star in class, so faculty never suspected a thing. Or if they did suspect something, they were likely to turn a blind eye.

omg i was giving you an in to pretend to be all macho and stuff… fail.

Louis tries to suppress a smile.

i’m macho all the time, though. football player, remember??

Harry texts back quickly.

how could i forget?

Before Louis can even type out a response, Harry’s door opens and he comes bounding into the hallway towards Gemma’s room. He hangs back at the doorway though, reaching up and stretching so that his hands grasp the tops of the doorframe.

“Gem, what’s this about you torturing someone on my behalf?”

Gemma rolls her eyes, but Louis doesn’t notice, as he’s too busy trying to not pay attention to the small patch of skin exposed by Harry’s shirt shifting with his arms.

“Don’t flatter yourself, H. Also, go. You’re not invited to this party.”

Harry rolls his eyes, in a strikingly similar fashion to Gemma, and turns to leave.

“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to,” she finishes ominously.

Perrie snorts into her hand. Louis hears Harry’s light laughter even as he stomps heavily down the stairs.

Louis’ phone buzzes again, but he doesn’t feel brave enough to pick it up and check what Harry said.

Instead, he only sees it hours later, as he’s lying on Gemma’s floor listening as Perrie and Gemma get settled into Gem’s bed, the sheets rustling as they find a comfortable co-sleeping position. Louis is, unsurprisingly, relegated to the floor. Anne and Robin have long since accepted the fact that Louis stays over a lot, and they’re fine with it, but even they feel weird about Louis sleeping in the bed. Besides, Louis has a mum and sisters; he knows how to be polite and respectful to women.

“You know,” Robin had mused one evening, when he and Gemma and Perrie were fifteen, “claiming to be gay would make for a convenient excuse to sleep in a girl’s bed and hang around a girl’s room without any suspicion of intent.” He had stared Louis down at that, checking to see how much Louis flinched.

Gemma had laughed so hard, two actual tears had run down her cheek.

Of course, he’s reminded of this when he finally gets the chance to look at Harry’s text without the girls looking over his shoulder.

sneak away and come see me ;)

Louis’ guilt gnaws at him-- he hopes Harry hadn’t been waiting for him somewhere. He lies there and waits, thinks about what the fuck he’s doing, and listens until he hears Gemma’s even breaths and Perrie’s tell-tale muffled exhales.

Robin had been worried about Louis seducing Gemma, and here he is, counting the moments until he can steal away and snog Harry instead. Louis hopes Robin is a fan of irony.

When the coast is clear, he sits up, slowly easing out of the nest of blankets on the floor. He tiptoes out the door, turning the door handle as carefully as possible. He shuts the door behind him incrementally until he’s positive it’s not going to make any noise when it clicks shut.

He’s less careful going into Harry’s room, but he still tries to keep quiet, until he sees Harry passed out on his stomach, arms stretched out across the bed.

He kneels on the mattress next to Harry, and briefly wonders if he’s crossing a line. Well. He’s definitely crossing a line, probably several, but he wonders about whether he’s crossing one of Harry’s lines in particular.

He drags his finger along the bridge of Harry’s nose lightly until Harry’s eyelashes flutter and he blinks up at Louis, confused.

“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey,” Louis sings, poking at the side of Harry’s nose. Harry swats his hand away half-heartedly.

“What time is it?” Harry croaks, and well, that’s interesting to Louis.

“Time to pay attention to me,” Louis laughs, climbing up further on Harry’s bed.

“More like time for you to pay attention to me,” Harry shoots back.

They smile at each other for a moment, and Louis isn’t sure how to continue. They haven’t really spent a lot of time together since the kiss in the kitchen. Louis mostly gets his Harry updates either by text or via Gemma’s stories in the morning before registration.

Louis opens his mouth to say something completely bland, something about the weather or James’ car debacle, but Harry quickly clamps a hand over his mouth.

“I can tell you’re going to say something inane,” Harry starts, “and you should know that Gemma gives me a constant feed of everything to do with Louis Tomlinson. So I feel like with a fit boy in my bed, I should be making use of that.”

Louis laughs, but it’s muffled against the skin of Harry’s palm. He peels away Harry’s hand, but doesn’t let go.

“Alright, no time for pleasantries. I see how it is,” he says as he leans down.

He realises when their lips connect just how much he has been wanting this. He feels that jolt in his gut that makes him pull back just to take a breath. Harry takes the chance to roll over onto his back, tugging Louis back down with him, giggling as they move. Louis very purposefully avoids aligning the lower halves of their bodies.

Louis pushes into the kiss, eager to show Harry up.

“Stop smiling,” Harry says through the kiss, though he can’t talk; he’s smirking too.

“No,” Louis says, dipping back down to kiss him, cupping the back of his neck.

Louis drags his mouth across Harry’s cheek, and presses a few light kisses at the point where his neck meets his ear. Harry shivers, so he nips lightly.

“No marks,” Harry says, though he sounds remorseful as he does so.

“True,” Louis says, and he moves back to Harry’s lips. “You don’t taste like juice this time.”

“Well, that’s good,” Harry responds, trailing his finger along Louis’ hairline.

Harry arches up to kiss Louis this time, carding his fingers back into Louis’ hair. Louis’ elbows stutter, and he drops down onto Harry with an ‘oof’. Harry, bless him, doesn’t miss a beat, just digs deeper into Louis’ scalp and kisses that much harder.

Dropped down and pressed together like this makes it that much harder for Louis to ignore the way Harry’s legs press against his own. Louis becomes so aware of Harry’s body, it seems like he can feel Harry’s leg hair through his own flannel pyjamas.

The problem comes when Harry starts rocking against him. Things from there move pretty fast.

He feels it just on his thigh, the rhythmic push and pull of Harry’s hips.

Louis knows he should put a stop to their snogging, but he’s not in a much better position. Harry moves to kiss his neck, moves further up right behind Louis’ ear. Louis can’t help the shiver that runs through him, and he momentarily squeezes his eyes tight in embarrassment. Harry huffs a laugh, and the breath near his ear does something to him. He can’t let Harry have the upper hand here.

He grasps at Harry’s naked back, then tangles his hand in Harry’s hair and tries to gently pry Harry’s lips off his ear. Harry falls back against the pillow and Louis practically attacks. While Louis loses most of his inhibitions with this current level of desperation, he hears Harry’s muffled groan behind the darkness of his screwed-shut eyes.

“Shit, H,” Louis says, the words slipping past his mouth into Harry’s collarbones before he can stop them. Harry’s not the only one rocking now, Louis’ hips moving back and forth at this point like they have their own consciousness. He doesn’t know what to do from here, the ‘should I should I should I’ thought of slipping his hand into Harry’s pyjamas repeating itself with every push forward of Harry’s hips on his upper thigh.

Harry’s grip on Louis’ t-shirt tightens, and he’s pressing them so tight together, their bodies shift and align, and the only other sound in the room other than Louis’ panting is Harry’s soft gasp when their crotches line up.

Of course, Louis had been trying to avoid that in the first place because now Harry’s not rocking back against his thigh, they’re rocking against each other, every movement multiplying and echoing in his head like one big loop track. Harry’s knuckles turn practically white with how tightly they grip Louis’ t-shirt, and Harry vibrates in a way that makes Louis vibrate too, full of energy that he’s never even fathomed before.

Harry’s legs suddenly splash out around Louis, his knees digging into Louis’ lower back and the rest of his lanky legs coming to wrap themselves under Louis’ bum. Harry’s cold bare feet rest against his calf.

Louis lets out a low moan, desperately hoping the rest of the house is asleep. They’re not so much rocking now as grinding, and Louis knows he’s helpless at this point. They’ve basically crossed the threshold. Louis has a wild stray thought that they’re basically fucking with the way that their kisses have gone sloppy and the force of their motions is causing the headboard to thump lightly against the wall.

Louis makes the decision, and just as he’s peeking down at Harry’s flushed body, Harry’s eyes flash open, Louis’ hand hovering over Harry’s pyjamas. They’re still moving, though, all pretense of stopping ignored, and Harry looks fraught. It’s a look Louis’ never seen on him-- his hair completely dishevelled, his lips red and swollen, his eyes watering, and skin stretched tight and blossoming pink. And of course, there’s the erection, something that Louis’ never seen from Harry at all.

His hand shakes as he moves it down, just barely making contact with Harry’s dick when Harry’s hand shoots up suddenly and clasps Louis’ wrist. Harry arches up off the bed, keening, almost knocking their heads together, and comes. Louis blinks rapidly, unsure of what to do, as Harry flops back and covers his face with his abnormally large hands.

Louis keeps rocking though, since his brain won’t fire enough synapses to tell him what else to do. He pulls back just enough and removes his hand from Harry’s joggers in order to hastily stick it down his own. He should be self-conscious, he knows, having never masturbated in front of another person before. He hears stories of circle jerks, but his best friends are girls, and having an actual gay kid on the football team would make that particular group bonding practice pretty gay. So he’s not sure it’s entirely polite, but Harry’s still in recovery, so he just goes for it. It’s only a couple of pumps, really, until he’s coming over his own hand, winded and blindsided.

A few minutes ago, he was just coming over for a cheeky snog. They may have just had sex.

Shouldn’t he know for sure whether or not they had sex?

He wipes his hand across his own pyjamas, and looks up to see Harry peeking at him through fingers. Harry slowly removes his hands from his face, and the only sound now is their tandem breathing.

“Um, oops,” Harry says. He looks so ridiculous, all wide-eyed but completely ruined, and it sends another shock through Louis that he was part of that. He ruined Harry. It makes him feel sick with power for a minute until he realises that Harry did the same to him.

“I swear,” Harry starts again, “When I rub one off, it usually takes like ten minutes, really.”

Louis drops his head down onto Harry’s chest and lets his shoulders shake with laughter.

Louis lifts his head back up and kisses Harry sweetly. Harry smiles into it, lets his hand rest lightly against Louis’ cheek.

“You should probably go back to Gemma’s room,” Harry whispers. “In a minute.”

Louis nods in the dark, the only light coming from the streetlamps outside, filtering in through Harry’s broken shades.

“In a minute,” he agrees.

---

Perrie waits at the Styles’ door, listening as she hears the rhythmic thump of someone running down the stairs. Unsurprisingly, Harry opens the door, greeting Perrie with a stiff smile.

“Hi, Perrie,” he says, quickly glancing past her. “Looking for Gem?”

Perrie nods silently, and slides past Harry to get into the doorway. She can tell Harry’s been acting a bit off the last couple of weeks, kind of fidgety whenever she’s around. Perhaps Harry secretly hates her and is plotting a way to turn Gemma against her.

“Are you going to the party tonight at Liam Payne’s house?” Harry asks, perching himself on the arm of the sofa.

Perrie blinks and slowly turns back towards him to make sure he’s really talking to her.

“Think so,” she says. “Gem didn’t answer my texts earlier, so I’m going to try and drag her by force.”

Harry’s smile turns warm at that. “Cool. She needs it. She’s been locked up all day. I tried telling her that exams were months away. She didn’t appreciate that. Turns out that she was ‘behind on her revising timetable,’” he finishes.

Perrie smiles. “That settles it. I am getting her out of here, even if it is to some lower sixth houseparty.”

Harry nods. He moves to open his mouth like he’s about to ask something else, but then abruptly shuts it.

“Cool,” he finishes, before turning and scurrying off toward the kitchen.

Perrie stomps up the stairs and gives a few quick raps on Gemma’s bedroom door before barging in. Gemma, unsurprisingly, is sitting at her desk, pen stuffed into her top knot, highlighters and sticky notes forming some kind of colony on the tabletop.

“Oh, this just won’t do,” Perrie says, causing Gemma to turn suddenly.

“Oh, hi,” Gemma greets, smiling widely.

“You didn’t return my texts, bumface,” Perrie says, flinging herself onto Gemma’s bed.

Gemma looks around wildly and starts rifling around on her desk until she finds her phone, which had been nestled underneath one of the covers to a book she had been reading from.

“Oh look,” Gemma says, “You texted me.”

“You don’t say,” Perrie laughs, plucking a magazine off the floor and lying back. She flips through it idly as Gemma scans her texts.

“A party, Pez?”

Perrie nods without looking up.

“At my little brother’s friend’s house? Can’t we just go ‘round the pub?” Gemma asks.

Perrie shakes her head.

“Why do I have to spend my night watching my brother get drunk on alcopops?”

Perrie laughs. “We’ll buy him something better, then. You’ve been cooped up here all day. We’re getting out of here. And besides, Liam is at least in sixth form, and has some fit friends. Excluding Harry, of course.”

Gemma makes a noise akin to a cat trying to rid itself of a hairball.

“It’ll be fun,” Perrie says in that sing-songy way of hers.

Gemma hesitates.

“Besides,” Perrie says, sitting up and scootching towards the foot of the bed, closer to Gemma’s desk, “I’m worried about all of this revision. It’s going to make you well boring.”

Gemma barks out a laugh. “Rude.”

“You know what I think?” she says, but doesn’t wait for Gemma’s response before she bowls on. “I think you hate feeling like you don’t have control over your uni applications at this point. You feel like the only thing you can do is make sure you don’t bomb your exams. But I think if you keep putting all this pressure on yourself, you’re going to self-implode. You have months, Gem. Breathe.”

Gemma stays quiet for a moment, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth.

“You’re a keen observer, you know that?” Gemma asks. Perrie grins.

“I am, aren’t I?” Perrie says, grinning, leaning back on her wrists. “Now let’s talk about what you’re going to wear.”

Gemma smiles as she slams her book shut.

“I think my black skinnies are clean,” Gemma says, as she moves to dig through her drawers. “Is that what you’re wearing?” she asks, looking at Perrie.

Perrie glances down at herself, feeling a little self-conscious. Sure, her outfit looked a little silly without her boots, but she couldn’t exactly wear them in the Styles’ house, so she dealt with her mismatched striped socks.

“You are aware it’s March, right?” Gemma laughs. Perrie pats her midriff and then flicks Gemma the v.

“Yes, I am aware, thank you,” Perrie laughs. “We’re going to a party. Tart up a bit, will you?”

“If you insist,” Gemma sighs, though she’s clearly teasing. “Can you help me with my eyeliner, though?”

“Of course,” Perrie responds, beaming.

“And my hair.”

“As if I’d let anyone else touch it,” Perrie agrees.

“Why are we doing this again?” Gemma huffs.

Perrie kneels on Gemma’s bed, reaching out to grab Gemma’s forearms.

“Because you are turning into a recluse, Gem. I remember when you did stuff, like, y’know, dating.”

“Why would I do a stupid thing like that?” Gemma asks, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She holds up a fuchsia top. “How’s this? Not trying too hard?”

“No, that’s cute,” Perrie agrees. “I mean, anything would be better than this ratty raglan look you have right now.”

“Hey,” Gemma says, fake stubborn-like, “I was just revising, minding my own business, until you demand I go out with you. Which, like, first of all, I still don’t understand why. Do you fancy someone?”

Gemma drops the top she had been holding in front of her chest.

“Is it Liam?” She asks, shocked.

“No,” Perrie is quick to say.

“So there is someone!” Gemma laughs, that evil glint back in her eye.

“No,” Perrie says. “Don’t push me. I’m the one doing your eye makeup.”

Perrie rolls off the bed and looks at Gemma’s shoe collection. She should have brought some over for Gemma, knowing her wardrobe as she does. Perrie is proud to have an almost catalogic memory of both Gemma and Louis’ wardrobes. So even before looking, she knows that she’s leaning toward the pair of black flats that Gemma practically never wears.

“This’ll go, yeah?” Perrie asks, holding the pair up for Gemma’s approval.

Gemma tilts her head to the side and observes them. She nods.

Perrie lets out a little whoop of joy knowing she’s been successful in the first part of her mission. She scrambles back for her phone.

“Alright, I’m texting Louis now,” Perrie says as she taps out her message.

“You didn’t already text him?” Gemma asks.

Perrie grins. “No. He’s always up for a party. You’re harder to convince. Love you,” Perrie tacks on, her affectionate lilt taking over.

---

Harry watches from his post on the arm of Liam’s sofa as his sister, Perrie, and Louis bustle into the house. Louis hands off the bag of drinks to Perrie and moves around trying to find a spot for their coats out of the way of any possible spewing locations.

Harry holds off approaching for a few minutes, instead leaning close to Niall and pretending to hear about his Maths class. Harry nods along, but most of Niall’s words get lost in the thump of the bass and the fact that Harry’s eyes keep squirrelling around the room, clearly looking for someone else.

He clutches his bottled cider a little harder and pushes himself off the sofa when he spots Louis entering the room again. Now that he’s separate from Gemma and Perrie, Harry knows it’s safe to go over.

“Why did you let my sister out of the house like that?” Harry asks, waiting right behind Louis.

Louis smiles as he turns, clearly cottoning on to whose voice the comment belonged to.

“So you are here,” Louis says, ignoring the question. It’s okay, of course, Harry really was just looking for an opening line.

Harry nods and takes a sip of his drink.

“Of course I am. It’s my best mate’s house. I’m on clean up duty tomorrow.”

“How sweet of you,” Louis says, smirking.

Harry’s stomach feels all knotted up, like one of those massive balls made entirely out of rubber bands.

“H, do you think Liam’s parents care about the vase at the top of the stairs?” Gemma asks, sliding up against Harry’s side.

Harry tries to school his face into something less… obvious.

“Probably,” Harry drawls, looking at the crowd of people crossing paths on the flight. “Did you both just get here?” He hopes his voices sounds unaffected, like he hadn’t been watching Louis’ every move since they walked through the door.

“Few minutes ago,” Gemma responds, pinching Harry’s cheek. He shoves her hand away, blushing before he can stop himself, that familiar pressure in his chest. “There are a lot of lower sixths here,” she comments.

“That is what would happen with someone in lower sixth hosts,” Louis laughs. Louis’ eyes hover over Harry’s for a moment, like they’re trying to send some kind of message, but Harry can’t pick up on it. Despite having known Louis his whole teenage life, Harry can’t read him, especially now.

“Who knows how Harry manages to get himself in these situations,” Gemma wonders, and Harry can’t help but feel his annoyance grow.

“Not everyone thinks of me as a child like you do,” Harry sighs. He shoots Louis a look, hoping that at least Louis can read him. Harry’s been told many times that he’s an open book, but that doesn’t mean that Louis can pick him apart like the average novel.

Harry backs away before Gemma says or does something that really bothers him, and he moves to the kitchen just to avoid having to do the sulk of rejection back to the sofa arm.

He finds a couple of other people from his year in the kitchen, people he recognises by face but doesn’t really spend time out of class with, so he talks to them about their Maths class and their teacher’s strange penchant for faeries. He smiles and finishes off his bottle when a pair of hands grab his shoulders.

“I need to talk to you,” Louis says, glancing at the others who Harry had just been speaking with.

“Okay,” he responds. He waves at the others as Louis leads him away, ditching the empty bottle on the countertop. He contemplates putting on a show, making it seem as if Louis’ pulling him away from a really important conversation. But as it is, Harry practically would drop an important conversation for even the most inane topics with Louis.

“I’m not really sure where to go,” Louis confesses as he peeks out the back window. There are small groups of people hovering in the garden.

“Liam has a loft,” Harry suggests. Harry points behind him, and Louis nods uselessly.

“Okay,” Harry agrees, and drags Louis by the sleeve through the living room and up the stairs. The party seems to be in full-swing at this point, and Harry estimates they have another hour before the neighbours phone the police.

Harry reaches for the doorknob of Liam’s parents’ room. Even just looking at it feels forboden, but he turns and pushes in.

“It’s in-- oh sorry, sorry,” Harry says, shielding his eyes and tiptoeing through to the closet.

Louis laughs, but shields his vision and does the same, knocking into Harry’s back once they hit the closet. Harry shuts the door behind them, encasing them in darkness.

“Um, didn’t think that there’d be people racking it up in there,” Louis laughs awkwardly.

“What?” Harry gasps in the darkness. “Racking it up? What on Earth does that even mean?” He sounds incredulous, and Louis can feel Harry’s body shake with laughter.

“I have no idea why I said that,” Louis laughs, embarrassed. “Racking it up? Honestly.”

Harry blindly gropes the wall until he finds the switch he’s looking for. The closet space lights up and Louis immediately takes in Harry’s bright eyes and pink cheeks, his smile wide with genuine laughter and affection. It sets Louis off again, and he clutches his stomach with the effort to not laugh loud enough to disturb the twosome on the other side of the closet door.

Louis does his best to calm down, and only then does he take in their surroundings.

“This isn’t a loft,” Louis says slowly.

Harry shakes his head and slides around Louis to where he knows the second door is.

“Oh what is this,” Louis sighs, exasperated, and Harry really does chuckle this time, trying to usher Louis through the second door.

“No way am I going first,” Louis insists. “I don’t know what’s up there.”

Harry grins and shrugs, moving up the steep stairs carefully, bent over so that his hands are braced on the next step as opposed to the walls around them.

“Jesus, this is dangerous. H, where are you taking me?”

Harry crawls to the top of the landing and turns to see Louis’ eyes directly on his bum. He normally cringes thinking about someone ogling his bum, but Harry can’t help but smirk when Louis discovers he’s been caught and quickly averts his eyes.

“You’re the one who wanted to talk,” Harry reminds him, as he stands and shuffles over to the corner of the loft with the old rug.

He plops down on the rug unceremoniously, looking over to see Louis looking carefully around the loft. Boxes line the walls with things scrawled on the side like ‘Ruth’s trophies’ and ‘Liam’s baby books’. There’s a Christmas tree leaning in the opposite corner, with big plastic bins surrounding it that Harry always assumed were filled with ornaments. A creche balances on top of the bins, complete with a little ceramic holy family, with the baby Jesus tipped over on its side.

“What if I had dust allergies?” Louis teases, settling in right across from Harry.

Harry shrugs.

“It’s not that bad up here. This is the spot where I got high for the first time,” Harry adds.

“And when was that? Last week?”

Harry laughs and reaches out and shoves playfully at Louis’ shoulder. Louis barely moves.

“Oh hush up. It was like, two years ago,” Harry says. Louis cackles more. Harry tries to stare him down, but all semblances of intimidation crumble with the corners of his mouth trembling in an effort to not join in. There’s just something about Louis that makes him want to laugh all the time.

“Because you’re so old and worldly, right,” Harry chuckles, lying back on the carpet. “Just because Gem sees me as a baby doesn’t mean I am.”

Louis’ giggles slow down. “Oh trust me. I noticed.”

“I would hope so, you perv.” Harry reaches out to pat Louis’ calf. “What did you want to talk about?”

The music that thumps below rattles the floorboards beneath them, the ancient rug just barely soaking up the shocks.

“What?” Louis asks. “Oh, nothing. Just felt weird not being with you.”

Harry blinks at him, lets the words simmer in his head for a minute.

Sometimes, Harry tries to separate what he’s feeling with what he’s doing. He doesn’t want to give the game away, really. He knows that for all they joke about it, Louis actually is a couple years older than him. Even though Louis refuses to talk about uni, the idea that Louis should be moving out and on in a couple of months lights a certain fire in Harry. He’s seen Louis for all these years but hasn’t known him. He’s only observed from a distance, but here and now, he’s within grasp. Harry would hate himself forever if he let his chance to explore Louis Tomlinson slip away.

So even though Harry feels himself drifting, lost in a fantasy world where things like this can work, he tries to remind himself that Louis doesn’t want the same thing he does. Louis wouldn’t want to tie himself to someone who is essentially a child. Someone whose naked baby pictures he has seen many, many times.

Louis wants experience. Louis wants someone as a warm-up boyfriend: all the practice without the commitment. Louis needs someone to be the appetizer before he can find someone else to be his coq au vin. Harry can be that person.

Really, he could make a good hors d’oeuvre. If this is what Louis wants to have, Harry is more than willing to give that. This way, Harry knows, there’s something that proved that this happened. If Harry can be Louis’ first in some way, this whole dance wasn’t imagined. Harry knows how twisty that is, but it’s only because he’s willing to be honest with himself.

It’s not as if snogging Louis is a hardship for him.

“Oh,” Harry teases, keeping his voice light, “Looking for a snog, then.”

“Shh, I said no such thing,” Louis argues.

“I inferred it. Gem’s not the only one who has been revising. I’m awfully clever.”

Louis chuckles, leaning forward on his elbows at this point. “Clever enough to realise someone’s dragging you away for a snog, even.”

“So you do admit that’s what this is?” Harry asks with a wink. “Or are you trying to, how does it go, ‘rack it up’?”

“I don’t know about how you define snogging,” Louis teases, “but this doesn’t feel like it to me. Maybe that’s why things didn’t work for you and James. You thought you had snogged, but really, you just stared intensely at him and made fun.”

“Low blow,” Harry says, sitting up and hovering over Louis. He leans in and smiles down at Louis, whose smile slowly drips off his face like he can’t remember why he was laughing to begin with.

They breathe, and for a moment, the whole attic surges, as if the sheer force of Harry’s want could light up that Christmas tree on its own.

“See? Intense staring,” Louis whispers, and Harry cracks, dropping his head down, tickling Louis’ face with his curls as he laughs.

Louis pretends to spit out the hair when Harry looks back up, but something about the way Harry looks must get to Louis because Harry can practically see the laughter die in his throat.

Louis tugs at the sleeves of Harry’s jumper.

Harry leans down and kisses Louis like he means it. Which, of course, he does. He puts his weight behind it. He doesn’t want Louis thinking all of his kisses are feathery and innocent-- they’re rough and passionate and… masculine. Definitely.

Harry flashes back to the last time they had done this, and how that ended with both of them coming a little faster than expected. Harry doesn’t like when things happen to him. He much prefers to either make things happen or let things happen, but either way, he has some call. With last time, his orgasm came so fast and so sudden, he didn’t even know how to stop it, much less warn Louis.

But even worse than that, it left them in a nebulous place. Harry didn’t really feel like a non-virgin, though he’s not sure what that’s supposed to be. Louis has, in the recent past, insinuated that he’s not much more experienced than Harry himself. Did Louis consider the night in Harry’s bed sex? Harry wasn’t even sure yet if he considered it sex. The thought disturbs him; this should be more clear cut than it is.

He thinks about this house suddenly going ablaze, which is admittedly an odd thought to have when kissing someone. The point from his bizarre subconscious is this: he would hate to die not knowing if he were a virgin or not.

He isn’t sure if what’s essentially dry humping counts.

Louis pushes up and rolls Harry over, tracing letters and shapes over Harry's tongue. It sends a spark up Harry's spine to think about Louis wanting this. Louis tries hard to impress Harry, at least with his kissing skills. Even if he's just warming up with Harry, it's still better than nothing. He's still trying, at least.

Now on his back, Harry reaches around to place his hands on Louis' back, slipping them up under his black t-shirt to feel at the hot skin underneath. It's surprising to Harry, that a person can be so warm all the time, especially when it's not really spring yet, and most people need coats and jumpers.

Harry bends his knees, lifting them and causing Louis to fold over more into him. Louis' body falls forward, causing him to slide right through the gap in Harry's legs, leaving his hands on either side of Harry's head. He recovers fast, acting like it's a move he meant all along, which causes Harry to giggle a little bit. Louis smiles, but neither of them say anything, and it doesn't take long before Harry's reaching up to reconnect their mouths like they were meant to be attached.

Harry squeezes his legs together, just to be cheeky. Their position is reminiscent of the time in Harry's bed, really, with his knees digging into the soft flesh above Louis' hips.

"Mmmph," Louis murmurs as he litters Harry's neck with light kisses, nipping just the littlest bit. Harry bends his head back, baring his neck as encouragement. He doesn't even know why he bothers pretending; Louis knows that his neck is sensitive. He feels himself harden, knows that Louis can absolutely feel it. He only hopes that Louis responds in turn. He can't imagine anything more embarrassing than being fully stiff in front of a boy only to have him flopping about.

He tugs on the belt loop on Louis' jeans, pulling Louis even closer to him. Louis huffs out a breath on the side of Harry's neck.

He is hard, Harry notes triumphantly. It's a pleasant surprise. Harry’s memory flashes to Louis touching himself in his bed, and he swears, if possible, he hardens even more. He gulps at the thought of how Louis' dick might look once its been released from the boxer-briefs. Not that Harry didn't appreciate the view before, but he really, really wants to see Louis' dick. Among other things.

"Would," Harry starts, and he immediately clamps his mouth shut, because he didn't really expect his mouth and brain to make the decision so quick for him.

"What?" Louis breathes, pulling back. Harry removes his hands from Louis' hips, and watches sadly as Louis tugs his t-shirt down to cover his lower back.

Harry flushes. He knows he should be able to say this stuff, that if he can't communicate what he wants, then he shouldn't be having sex. But he's not having sex, he reminds himself. Not yet, at least, but if he wants to, he needs to put it out there in the universe.

"Would I be able to, um," Harry starts, feeling his face get redder than he'd ever felt before. He's thankful for the relative darkness of the loft, only the glow of the soft stained-glass lamp sitting on the floor feet away differentiating their bodies.

Louis waits quietly, but he reaches out a hand and runs it down Harry's arm, causing all kinds of shivers to run up Harry's spine. Not that that's helping his ability to get words out, but it does make his desire just that bit stronger.

"Would you let me blow you?" Harry asks softly, and for a moment, he's not sure if Louis will let him.

Louis huffs out another breath, like all of it leaves his body, and suddenly he's back on Harry, kissing him with such a ferocity that it takes Harry a moment to catch up. Harry finds himself clutching at the back of Louis' neck, arching his back up and trying to fit himself into Louis' embrace as much as possible. Louis pulls his mouth away just enough to start nodding furiously, feeling the ends of his hair tickling against his ear.

"Yay," Harry says weakly, and he's surprised, really. Louis, with the body, is going to let Harry look at him. Touch him. Lick him, Harry thinks to himself, eyes widening. His mouth dries up, and although it's possible he's never wanted anything more, he suddenly feels terrified.

What if he chokes? What if he tries to go so far that he gags and ends up spewing on Louis? What if he accidentally bites Louis' penis and they have to go to hospital? How on earth would they explain that? How would Harry ever be able to look Louis, or any male ever, in the eye again?

"You don't have to," Louis says, sensing Harry's stillness.

"Trust me," Harry laughs, "I want nothing more."

Louis smiles down at him.

"I'm just nervous," Harry explains, and while he hates showing weakness, it's probably better that Louis knows the truth.

"Me too," Louis says, worrying his own bottom lip.

"You're nervous for me to go down on you?" Harry laughs. "Like, even you think I'm going to be so bad at it, you're nervous?"

Louis barks out a laugh.

"No, what the fuck," he chuckles. "I'm nervous that I'm going to, like, thrust into you too much, or come in your eye, or, like, taste gross."

Harry lets that sink in for a minute.

"You're nervous that you're going to mess this up?" Harry asks, incredulousness seeping into his voice.

"Uh, yeah," Louis answers, as if he were responding to a very obvious and stupid question. "I'm not exactly brimming with blowjob reception knowledge, Hazza."

Harry reaches up to kiss him again.

"I think you just made my day," Harry chuckles.

Louis laughs and shakes his head. "I'm pretty sure by offering a blowie, you've made mine."

"Even before the offered blowie?" Harry asks.

"Even then," Louis agrees.

Harry reaches up to push Louis on his back, rolling them back the way they came from. He rucks Louis' t-shirt up so that it bunches up around his armpits, and Harry leans down to press kisses across Louis' abs. He's seen this done in movies, even. He remembers all the times he's seen Louis lounging out in their garden during the summer, he and Gemma and Perrie all splayed out in their bathing suits as if they were actually going to tan in England. Even before he understood his sexuality, and even before he kissed Louis in their kitchen, he's been fixated with Louis' chest and stomach.

Louis lifts his neck up to try and see Harry, but Harry only notices out of his peripheral vision. He's really focused on unbuttoning Louis' jeans, dragging the fly down, painfully slow.

"You look sexy like this, H," Louis murmurs, gesturing to Harry's mussed up hair, and twisted around button up. Louis isn’t the only one with his shirt rucked up. For Harry, all the rugburns in the world wouldn't ruin the experience of going down on Louis Tomlinson. He wrinkles his nose at Louis, and then focuses on the task at hand.

He can do Sexy.

---

Downstairs, Perrie searches fruitlessly for a cup to pour herself a drink. She assumes that Gemma wouldn’t be happy if she just chugged out of the Malibu bottle herself.

She sees what appears to be an empty cup balancing delicately near the sink, and she lifts it and rinses it out. She glances around quickly to make sure no one’s about to witness her actions, and then she sets the cup down and pours herself a drink, about 50/50 Malibu and OJ.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

She lost track of her mates a few minutes ago, and looks around, recognising the faces of the people around her, but no names spring to mind. She’s never had a problem in the past of just walking up to people and having a laugh, but lately, she finds it all so… exhausting.

Performing, a voice in her head echoes. The voice sounds suspiciously like Zayn.

Zayn, who has taken up permanent residence in her head. They haven’t done anything, nothing worth reporting at least, so she doesn’t feel too guilty about not mentioning anything to Gem or Lou.

She itches to slide her phone out of her bag and text him, but she resists, forcing herself to focus on the evening ahead. She’s been off lately, thinking about her Music classes and Zayn, spending a lot of time at Zayn’s mum’s restaurant, drinking glass after glass of ice water and waiting for Zayn to take breaks to entertain her. She’d feel guilty, but she sees Zayn’s smile when he notices her, so she assumes it’s okay.

There’s a lot about Zayn she feels guilty about, but nothing’s come to a head, so she ignores it. Healthy coping, that.

Liam Payne appears in her line of vision.

“Hiya, Pez,” he greets, slightly wary. He’s still partly scared of her from that time a few years ago, she knows, but she sort of gets a charge from being intimidating.

“Hi, Liam,” she says, taking another swig of her dubious drink. “Thanks for hosting,” she says.

“Of course,” Liam grins, and on anyone else, he’d look like an innocent teddy bear, but she’s known him since he was in Reception, so she’s no fool.

“I lost track of Harry,” Liam comments, looking slightly concerned. “I was supposed to keep an eye on him tonight. Make sure he doesn’t go off and snog any lower sixths this time ‘round.”

Perrie chuckles. “But who would be our next victim if Harry didn’t do anything that needed avenging?” Her voice echoes in the plastic of the cup.

Liam raises his eyebrows.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Perrie barrels on. “I don’t know where Gem is either, so I’m presuming she dragged him by the ear to lecture him on something.”

“I think Zayn’ll be here in a ‘mo,” Liam says, naturally, as if that completely followed their conversation.

Perrie blinks, confused.

“Oh,” she says.

“I know you’re friends these days,” Liam continues. “So I hope you stick around until he gets here.” He says all of this with some kind of mysterious air, as if he wants to let Perrie know he knows something. But Perrie herself doesn’t even know. She didn’t even realise Payno and Zayn were friends.

Her stomach flips at the new information. If Zayn and Liam are mates, then Zayn could easily tell Liam about their flirting seshs. If Liam knows, then it’s an easy leap for Harry to know, and Harry can never keep anything from Gemma, so basically, she’s screwed. Gemma might already know about her fancying Zayn Malik, and the reason she hasn’t said anything is because she’s deeply disappointed. Or she’s plotting something. She’s almost definitely plotting something.

Of course, despite the sheer statistical unlikelihood, she looks up at the doorway at the exact moment Zayn Malik squeezes through the door. Their eyes meet quickly, and Perrie knows it's too late to bolt now that she's been caught, but if only. She's sure she looks like some kind of rabbit caught in the road at night, eyes wide, with Zayn's stare as the headlights. Zayn breaks into a smile, though, and she lets herself exhale just the tiniest bit.

"Oh look," Liam says pleasantly, and his voice doesn't even sound forced.

"Hey," Zayn says as he gets to the two of them. "Nice turn-out, Payno."

Perrie looks back and forth between them for a moment, still not even sure how they're mates. Sure, they all go to school together, but Zayn and Liam aren't even in the same years, much less sharing the same lessons. Zayn's in art societies and Liam's on the football team. They don't make sense.

Kind of similar to her and Zayn, she reminds herself.

"You're probably going to be warm in here with that, mate," Liam says, gesturing to Zayn's leather jacket sitting neatly on top of a zip-up sweatshirt. Layers. "Want me to take that and hide it in my room for a bit? Don't want to risk someone pissing all over it."

Zayn laughs and shrugs it off, handing it over to Liam with a serious expression. Zayn takes his leather jackets seriously, if Perrie knows anything. It's real leather and everything, buttery to the touch with just enough wear that it looks authentic. Zayn found it at a charity shop, she knows, and the woman behind the till hadn't known it was real and worth more than the few quid she was selling it for. Perrie knows this because Zayn's told her the story, confessing to the guilt he feels to this day over practically stealing that thing for far less than its worth.

Liam disappears quickly, and Perrie finds herself wishing for a conversation topic. Any conversation topic.

"You been here long?" Zayn asks.

Perrie smiles and looks around.

"Long enough to lose me friends," she says. "I think someone brought pie."

"Only Liam would invite the kind of people who bring baked goods to house parties."

"Well, other than pot brownies," Perrie laughs, feeling more confident.

"Are we sure there's no pot in the pie?" Zayn asks.

"Fair enough," Perrie says. She's just about to open her mouth and ask Zayn how he and Liam know each other, when he speaks first.

"Do you want to dance?" he asks, nodding his head over to the disastrous looking sound system Liam has set up in the corner. Everything seems to be running from his iPod, speakers amplifying to party-acceptable standards.

"I didn't realise you danced," Perrie chuckles. She remembers performance GCSEs and seeing Zayn take a zero on an assignment instead of dancing in front of their peers. Not that she had judged him at the time. Their classmates were ruthless at 15 and 16. Perrie herself had almost spewed on the stand-up piano in the classroom that day, and she had had dance training from the day after she took her first step.

Zayn shrugs.

"Sure," Perrie agrees. She has a personal rule, and this one is Gemma approved, so she can't even get fussed up about this. She has a rule that if a fit bloke asks her to dance, she does so. This came about from all those years she avoided boys at any cost, until Gemma and Louis had sat her down and convinced her she was going to end up alone forever if she didn't start taking chances on guys. So they had created a pact that night, just one of many pacts that they attempt to see through, that if there were a boy that they were at least physically attracted to, they had to give him a chance.

Plus, Perrie just wants to be near Zayn.

They make their way closer to the shoddy stereo system, where there's a modest group of people dancing and swaying. Liam's house is the right size for a party-- lots of bedrooms-- but the living room space is a little cramped. Normally too cramped to act as a dance floor.

Perrie presses her back against Zayn's chest and starts moving. She assumes Zayn's probably nervous about dancing, so avoiding eye contact may help him feel more at ease. Possibly.

She tries not to freeze when Zayn hardens against her lower back. She keeps moving, reminding herself that it's only natural. She hears that boys get erections over the silliest things even, like breast-shaped clouds or a particularly well-seared steak. These are the insights into the male psyche that Louis gives her, at least. He may not be the best representative.

At one point, she looks up and sees Gemma near the staircase, watching her and Zayn dance. She freezes at that, knowing there's no way to get out of the inquisition now.

"I think you're a better dancer than I thought," Perrie shouts over the music.

Perrie looks up again, relieved to see Gemma's attention taken up by Harry, who's gripping her forearms and looking generally flustered and concerned.

Gemma looks over and waves at Perrie. It's not, like, their normal friendly wave. It's clearly a wave that indicates that she wants to leave. She looks over at Harry and says something that Perrie can't make out. She really doesn't want to peel herself away from Zayn. Not when she can feel the heat of his body through his button-up and hoodie. There’s even that stretch of skin on his lower hip, which was revealed as his shirt shifted while he danced, that rubs up against her bare midriff. It lights Perrie up in a way that she hadn't felt before. With previous boys, there were only echoes of desire, all focused in on her minimal sexual experiences in Year Nine. Then, anything was exciting because it was new and dangerous and she felt cool having sex. Now, she thinks, anything is exciting because it's Zayn, and it's that anticipation of the fact that something could happen that makes it all better. She knows she's in too deep.

She sends Zayn an apologetic smile, but doesn't actually explain, instead dragging herself over to where Louis and Gemma are now standing, Harry apparently off doing... something.

"Harry's seeing if he can plate the rest of the pies on something else," Gemma explains, rolling her eyes. "He doesn't want his favourite pie plate to get cracked or something from someone's drunken stumblings."

"Harry is the one who brought the pies," Louis deadpans, as if he can hardly believe it himself.

"Of course," Gemma laughs.

"What's his favourite pie plate look like?" Perrie asks, but Gemma doesn't answer. They step outside, waiting for Harry to find his plates. Perrie's ears adjust to the quiet of the neighbourhood, finally letting the music be reduced to a quiet thumping behind a door and some walls.

"Pezza, don't think I didn't see you dancing on Zayn Malik, you minx," Gemma laughs. Perrie flushes, not knowing how to respond.

"We danced," Perrie says. If she can fake enough of a slur and stumble routine in order to pass off the 'I'm too drunk to be held accountable' act, she might get away without the inquisition.

"He's such a strange bloke," Louis says. "I'm not even sure I know what his voice sounds like after he hit puberty."

Gemma opens her mouth again, but Harry miraculously chooses that moment to rush outside.

"Thanks for the ride home, Gem," Harry says, as he returns to the group. "Didn't feel like staying at Li's after all," he explains.

"I thought you were supposed to be a good mate and help clean up tomorrow," Louis teases. Perrie smiles, happy to see Harry coming out of his shell more. He seems happier since his illicit snogging session with Sixth Form James. Perrie thinks it has to do with coming out more. Apparently, Gem's known for ages, but Harry's still getting used to the idea of other people knowing. Perrie feels as if she’s watched Harry grow up a bit.

"I'll just walk back over in the morning," Harry rasps. "I'm proper knackered."

Chapter Text

Louis sits in the driver’s seat of his car, letting the heat rumble lowly, mostly drowning out the adverts on the radio. He stares down at his phone, waiting for Harry to text him back.

He knows he’s in a little bit of trouble. He thinks of it like this: snogging at Harry’s house is one thing. They’re both there, it’s easy pickings. If the urge strikes, the urge strikes. Snogging and sexual… things… at a party is another matter. There’s alcohol, people all around are hooking up-- it’s peer pressure, in a way. It’s not like there’s some other bloke Louis is going to find to snog at one of those things.

This is different, and he knows it. He wonders if Harry knows it, too.

He probably does. Harry’s far cleverer than him, anyway.

This time there’s intent. There’s planning involved. He’s actively sitting in his car, around the corner from Harry’s house, away from a street lamp, covering his face in case anyone happens by. This is literal textbook sneaking around that they’re about to do.

He isn’t the one lying, he reminds himself. That’s all Harry. Louis has no idea what Harry’s going to tell his mum he’s off to do, but it sure isn’t ‘hang out with Louis’. Luckily, no one ever asks Louis where he’s off to these days, so he’s sure if someone asked, he’d feel more anxious. Especially Gemma. He’s not sure he could handle Gemma’s line of questioning right now.

Gemma hasn’t texted, however.

Gemma’s been wrapped up with revising, even more so than before the house party a few weeks ago. Perrie had literally had to drag her away from her highlighters, and even then, she’s re-buried herself since.

Louis looks up to see a tall dark figure running towards his car, limbs flailing slightly. Louis assumes that he’s either about to be murdered, or Harry found a way out of his house.

Once he’s at the other side of the car, Louis can make out Harry’s face grinning at him through the passenger window. He leans over and unlocks the door, chuckling as Harry folds himself into Louis’ car.

“You made it, then,” he says, winking.

“Feeling like James Bond, innit,” Harry laughs, nose wrinkling as he turns to face Louis.

Louis’ not sure of protocol. General knowledge from film and telly taught him that in this moment, he should lean over and kiss Harry... but that’s not who they are. It’s not what they do. They’re gropes in the dark, and kisses sloppy from sleep and beer. They’re not kisses hello. Too domestic.

“Where to?” Louis asks, turning back to stare at the dark road in front of him. He switches his beams back on, watching as the road lights up.

Harry just shrugs and makes a noncommittal noise, so Louis changes gear and pulls back onto the road.

Louis wracks his brain for a moment, trying to remember where he’s heard stories of other kids going to shag. He’s far too broke-- and far too vain-- for some kind of sleazy Travelodge. There are too many girls at his house and too many Gemmas at Harry’s house. He’s heard of some people parking in back of the Thai place close to the edge of town, but he wonders if that’s just some crazy elaborate ruse.

In truth, he has no idea where he’s heading when he decides to take a left just for the hell of it. After flicking his blinker, it’s as if his own mental light bulb kicks in as well.

“There’s a scrap lot, just round here, yeah?” Louis asks.

Harry grins. “You’re asking the wrong person, mate. No car.”

“I noticed,” Louis laughs. He follows the road until he sees a sign swaying in the early spring breeze. ‘Used Scrap Lot and Auto Salvage,’ the faded letters present.

“This seems dubious,” Harry says lowly, chuckling as Louis idles into the lot. There’s no one around, and while Louis knows whoever owns this should probably set up some kind of gate or something, right now, he’s kind of thankful.

His piece of shite car is the perfect camouflage for this rendezvous.

He slowly comes to a stop amongst the junk, peering around to make sure there’s no one coming through ready to chase them away. It’s practically abandoned at this hour.

“This is some evil genius maneuvering,” Harry admits, unbuckling his seat belt. “Unless you’ve lured me here as a distraction and you’re about to murder me. If that’s the case, I want you to know that I do not approve.”

“Oops,” Louis laughs. “Your comment is noted.”

He takes his keys out of the ignition and places them on the dashboard, where he knows he’ll find them later.

“Hurry up, slowpoke,” he teases as he hauls himself into the backseat, grunting as he slips and hits the cushion face-first.

Harry laughs-- Louis suspects more at him than with him-- and decides the long way is better. He unlocks the passenger side door and pops quickly around to the back door, sliding in far easier than Louis.

“What are we doing back here?” Harry asks, all faux innocence, and Louis can’t help but grin. The more he gets to know Harry (and Harry’s mouth), he learns just how dry and clever he is. He’s cheeky, definitely. Now that they’re past the initial awkward period, Louis sees more of that cheek. He loves when Harry dishes it, really.

“So, Harold, just thought I’d take you out to discuss your opinions on genetically modified organism-type things,” Louis says, stretching, letting his arm fall across Harry’s shoulder. He figures the best way to actually attempt these moves is to make it seem like a joke. Works for all of the other areas in his life.

Harry throws his head back and laughs, those three quick ‘HAs’ that come rushing out of his lungs. “Be careful,” he teases, “I have real opinions on that.”

“I should have known,” Louis says, smiling, and he twists his body to kiss Harry.

Harry must have been expecting it, of course, since he opens his mouth up immediately. Louis uses his spare hand to cup Harry’s jaw, feeling the slight stubble brush up against his thumb. He didn’t even realise Harry shaves.

He’s not sure how they turn, but Harry’s hands leave his hips and move to prop himself up. Louis takes the moment to breathe, and then effectively crawl onto Harry’s lap, letting the top of his quiff rub against the ceiling of his car. He’s sure there will be hell and static electricity to pay, but with Harry’s thick tongue in front of him, he’s easily distracted.

He takes care not to mark up Harry’s neck, but he can’t resist tugging down the collar of Harry’s t-shirt to suck lovebites into the space beneath his collarbone. He expects Harry to push him off, whinge about him stretching his clothes out even, but Harry just pants a little bit, trying to hold back.

“Just take it off, if you’re gonna do that,” Harry huffs, trying to get it out around a laugh. Louis smiles, despite the way his hands shake. They’ve obviously done… stuff… but already, the undressing seems so intimate. Like lovers. He rolls his eyes at himself at that-- lovers is a term for old people and people who hold overly romantic ideals about relationships and ‘make love’ instead of ‘have sex’. It’s ridiculous.

He smiles down at Harry as Harry tries to lift himself up to make the shirt removal process easier. While Harry’s hindered by the fully-grown boy in his lap, they manage to lose the shirt, flinging it over the passenger seat headrest.

As Louis moves to dive back to kiss Harry’s chest, Harry puts a hand out to stop him.

“Is it…?” he starts, his hands coming to rest at Louis’ hem. Louis pauses. Well. He can’t say he’s surprised at the turn of events, but the rational part of his brain tries to send some warning signals. The rational side knows that the less clothing on their bodies, the harder it would be to quickly redress if someone were to happen upon them.

However, the desperate 18-year-old side of his brain says to hell with that and nods furiously as Harry tries to suffocate him with his own shirt.

Harry’s hands almost immediately dig into Louis’ naked back, causing Louis’ eyes to flutter shut.

“Lou,” Harry chuckles in Louis’ mouth. Louis has no idea what Harry’s laughing about, but there must be something funny, whether it’s the way their belt buckles clink together or their complete disregard of the law in the name of sex...ual type stuff.

Louis peels Harry’s jeans down, whacking his head against the ceiling of his car as he does. He clutches at his head, and only when he dares to peek does he see Harry grinning at him, reveling in his bruised ego. And also, possibly cranium.

He’d considered just a quick handie, but he feels so drunk on this slide of skin against skin, he wants more. At this point, it’d be obvious to anyone they’re shagging, so really, this is just being thorough.

Louis gets Harry’s jeans down to his ankles before he gives up, too folded up in the tight space to do much more. He shoves his own jeans down with haste, getting them just below the knee before he just has to get back in Harry’s space.

Harry anticipates his return, hand already ghosting his lower back as Louis grinds back down on him, laying them both across the back seat of the car. Harry kicks out and Louis hears a painful thunk against the door.

Louis tries to prop himself up with one hand, using the other to pull Harry out of his pants. He reaches for his own erection as well, and then does his best to line them up.

Another huff comes out of Harry, and then a moan, and Louis retracts his hand to lick at his palm a few times. He’s seen it done in pornos, and he doesn’t have any lotion on hand, so he hopes that might help stave off some of the burn.

Harry moans and tries to grind upwards, sending heat up the back of Louis’ neck. He grips his knees tighter into Louis’ side, and some of his dusty leg hair brush up against him. Every sense feels magnified in this moment. Every brush of hair seems more erotic, every inhale of breath sounds like echoes in a cave.

“Can’t get enough of your body,” Louis mutters into Harry’s chin.

It’s easy to forget that they exist outside of this bubble. Outside of this hunk of scrap metal Louis calls a car, they’re not together, but somehow, in this moment, they couldn’t be more in tune.

It’s like Louis can predict Harry’s move to tug him down for a blistering kiss; how Harry reaches out to grab hold of Louis’ cock; and how Harry’s groan when he comes sounds deep, like it comes from the very core of him. Can Harry predict Louis’ own moves, noises? He probably can.

They sit in quiet for a moment, just letting the sound of them both catching their breaths surround the car. The windows predictably steam up, and Louis can’t help but shake his head when Harry sits up and slides his hand dramatically down.

“Like in Titanic,” he beams.

When Louis’ skin starts feeling less superhuman, he starts handing Harry his clothing, throwing the come covered napkins to the floor beneath them.

He drags his t-shirt over his sweat-covered torso, and smiles up as Harry nearly brains himself trying to get out of the backseat.

When they silently drive out of the lot, Louis’ stomach rumbles, and he decides to make a quick pit stop before trying to sneak Harry back into his house.

Parked behind Macca’s, Harry throws a spare chip at Louis, laughing as it bounces of his cheek.

“That salt could have got in my eye,” Louis sighs dramatically.

“Diva,” Harry chuckles, leaning forward to lick the offending salt.

Louis blinks, but doesn’t protest.

Harry takes a sip of the Coca Cola perched on the dashboard and then peers over at Louis.

“Don’t complain,” he says, smiling. “I’m clearly a cheap date.”

Louis laughs, but he can feel his stomach trying to revolt. He had sworn his mother taught him better than to take someone on a date to McDonald’s for dinner and a salvage lot for a sneaky shag. So clearly, he reminds himself, it isn’t a date. They aren’t dating.

This way, he can ignore the way his hands ache to claw at Harry, or the way he twitches at the sound of his name. He never used to be this bad. He used to be able to ignore Harry around the Styles’ house, and now it’s as if his primary thought is Harry’s location. He keeps an eye out in his periphery at all times.

Louis parks in almost the same spot to drop Harry off, killing his headlights just in case. Harry leans across the gear, leading them to snog for another few minutes before Harry reluctantly pulls away. Harry hustles back down the street towards his house, leaving Louis alone in the car to feel the results of the evening.

The car still smells like jizz, first of all.

He sincerely hopes that none soaked into the cushions, or else Gemma will sense it first thing the next day, and everything will immediately unravel.

When he finally finds the energy to start up his engine again and make his way home, his mind betrays him, and it replays every last detail of their not-date tonight, from the way Harry felt against him to the sound of the two of them breathing heavy in their aftermath. He internally groans at remembering the things he said and how high his voice got when he came.

At a red light, he drops his head down onto the steering wheel, giving himself a moment.

“Did I really tell him I couldn’t get enough of him?” he asks aloud, jabbing his finger angrily at his radio presets.

Some new radio hit comes on, but it’s just a pop song, so it can’t answer his question.

---

Zayn opens the front door of his house, holding the collar of his little sister’s blouse to prevent her from bolting outside.

To his surprise, it’s Perrie on the other side, not the pizza person he had been expecting, with a Tesco bag in hand, and her wet hoodie drawn up around her head.

“Oh shit,” he mutters before he can filter himself, stepping out of the doorway to let Perrie in.

“Perrie!” his little sister squeals, wriggling out of his grasp and affixing herself to her new obsession.

“Hi, bug,” she coos, pulling the hoodie down to show off her stringy hair.

“Sorry,” she says to Zayn, “I meant to text you, but then I saw your car.”

"No worries," Zayn hums as he shuts the door behind her. He pries Safaa off Perrie just long enough for her to unlace her boots and drop the Tesco's bag she had been lugging. "I see you got caught in our lovely April weather."

Perrie grins. "England for you," she responds.

"Perrie, will you help me with my maths?" Safaa asks.

"Sweetie, I'm rubbish at maths," Perrie laughs, "but I can take a look at it."

Zayn groans. "Pez and I need to revise for Music. Reread your textbook or something."

"Later," Perrie whispers, which seems to pacify his sister enough that she flops on the sofa and ignores them.

They trudge upstairs, and Zayn offers Perrie a towel from the cupboard to help dry herself off.

"Do you want some clothes?" he asks, gesturing helplessly at his dresser. He's sure he can come up with something for her, even if he has to rummage through his mum's clothes.

Perrie shakes her head. "I'm fine," she says, peeling off her hoodie. He hangs it up on the rack behind his door, mostly shutting the door. He still keeps it open a crack in case one of his sisters decides to start setting things on fire. He's still technically supposed to be watching them, after all.

"So," Perrie starts, rummaging through her plastic bag. She pulls out a bottle of bleach and a box of hair dye. "How do you feel about an art project?"

Zayn laughs out loud.

"I hope you're not coming at me with that colour," he muses, staring at the bright pink on the box.

"No, for me," she gushes. "You said it yourself-- it doesn't matter if I have blonde hair or pink hair, I'm still me. So I want pink hair. And trust me, I've learned from trying to dye Gemma's hair enough times that you can't do it yourself. Always have a spotter," she says, wagging her finger at Zayn.

"So I'm your spotter."

"If you're up for it," Perrie laughs, passing the bottle of peroxide from hand to hand. It all looked a bit ominous to Zayn.

"Oh, I'm up for it," he says. "What do we do?"

"Yes," Perrie crows, pumping her fist. "Well, can I borrow a comb first?"

Zayn nods, grabbing one of his combs from his bedside table.

"Should we be documenting this?" Zayn asks, holding up his phone. Perrie nods vigorously, posing for the first picture. The pictures shows her sitting crosslegged on Zayn's floor, hair dripping into her own lap, with a pout that could rival any adorable child. Zayn swallows down the fondness.

Perrie doesn't comprehend, of course, her own merits. It's all Zayn can do sometimes not to shake her and list all of the things he fancies about her: her silliness; her complete lack of propriety; her willingness to do anything to crack a smile on someone's face; and on. He wants to show her just how friendly she is-- that even when she labels herself a tag-on to Gemma and Louis, she's the one that almost everyone in school considers the nicest. She smiles at everyone. She'll start up a conversation with anyone. She makes anyone she's having a chat with feel cool and funny. Not just anyone can do that, and not just anyone would march up to Zayn and start a talk like they'd been friends for the past four years.

But being friends with her has shown him that she doesn't see all that. And as much as he wants to tell her that, he wants her to catch on first. It's better that way.

"Okay," she says, getting the last of the knots out of her hair. "Before I can do the pink, I need to bleach my hair."

"But you're already blonde," Zayn answers dumbly.

"I must be blonder," Perrie says, as if she's offering up a secret to the universe. "Okay, clips and cotton balls? Actually, no," she says, reaching into her handbag, "just cotton balls?"

Zayn nods and heads over to the toilet, looking behind the mirror. He knows he's seen some around here before. He sees the bag stuffed chockablock of them, and he lifts it triumphantly.

"Check," he says, handing them over to Perrie, who beams. She's in the middle of separating her hair. Zayn honestly had no idea that there were actual steps involved in dying hair. He thought she'd just lean over a bucket of dye and just... dip her hair in. Apparently it's important.

"Is this permanent?" Zayn asks, staring at the box. "I see it says semipermanent, but what does that mean? Like, how is something semipermanent? It's either there forever or it's temporary."

"Okay, Aristotle," Perrie laughs. "It just means that it lasts longer than temporary dye. It'll be a few washes and then I can either redo or let it fade."

Zayn nods.

"So, I think I'm ready to start bleaching," she says. Zayn looks up and hastily snaps a picture with his phone. Perrie looks like some kind of nineties pop star with her hair all done up in small clips, sectioned off, with one chunk hanging down around her shoulder.

She grabs the bottle and then freezes.

"Pants," she laughs. I don't want to ruin your towel. I forgot a ratty shirt from home."

"Oh," Zayn laughs. "I've got plenty of those." He crawls over to his dresser where he tries to find a shirt. He can't even lie to himself-- he's putting far more effort into choosing a shirt than necessary. He can't help but picture Perrie in each ratty shirt he grabs, thinks about how her breasts would fill each one out, and how it'd drag wide around her soft shoulders and too long past her waist. His mental picture for each of them looks fit, but he can't just hand any one to her. It has to be a cool one. A cool, ratty, old t-shirt. Right.

He feels her gaze on his back, so he grabs an old Mickey Mouse top he had found at a thrift shop. He hands it over, and doesn't make eye contact to gauge her reaction.

"Cute," she mumbles, shedding the towel from around her neck.

She drags it on over her crop top, the one that Zayn had been trying hard to ignore, and the whole picture is just as painful as Zayn had imagined. It's big on her, of course, and the neck sits wide to reveal some of her collarbone. Even the ridiculousness of her hair isn't enough to dilute how attractive Zayn finds her. He may be in more trouble than he ever imagined possible.

"Okay, watch," Perrie continues, as if she can't see the panic starting to rise on Zayn's face. She grabs the cotton ball and stuffs it into the neck of the brown bottle, tipping it to soak up some of the peroxide.

"Is it okay that your hair's wet?" he asks.

She nods, taking the wet cotton ball to the root of the section she has hanging. She repeatedly drags the cotton over the section, and then runs a comb through it. She does the same with the other section that she can reach, and then she nudges the back of cotton balls towards Zayn.

"All on you," she says, wiggling her eyebrows.

"Easy," he laughs, though he really hopes he won't fuck it up. He splashes a little peroxide on his wrist, but Perrie doesn't notice, so he shakes it off and hopes it doesn't stain his trousers. He takes down one of the sections of hair from a back clip, and combs it out, then soaking it with peroxide. Perrie doesn't stop him, or say anything, so he moves to another section and does it again. When he finishes the last section, he offers the comb back to Perrie.

"Alright?"

"So far, so good," she squeals. She looks in the mirror that Zayn has propped up against the wall.

"Have to give it a little time to dry," she says. "And then we can do the pink."

They head downstairs so Zayn can pay off the pizza delivery guy.

“You look silly,” Waliyha deadpans.

“Stuff it,” Zayn says, though Perrie cracks up.

“It’ll be pink when all’s said and done,” she confesses.

Waliyha and Safaa sit up immediately, eyes wide.

“Cool,” they mouth, breathing it out in unison. Zayn chuckles, pouring both Perrie and himself a glass of juice.

“What if I did my hair pink?” he asks his sisters.

“Ew,” they cry.

“What?” he teases. “It’s only cool if Perrie does it?”

“Obviously,” Waliyha sighs.

“What about blond?” Perrie asks. The girls’ faces twist grotesquely, as if they had smelt something particularly foul.

“That answers that, then,” Zayn laughs, and they head back upstairs.

“I think you could do with, like, a cool streak or something,” Perrie says, tilting her head and eyeing Zayn’s hair. She takes a sip of her juice, and then reaches forward and twists a lock of his hair.

“Yeah?” he asks, voice almost catching.

Perrie smiles and nods.

“Yeah, just one streak right up front. I think it’d be sick.”

Zayn grins.

“Alright,” he agrees.

“What?” Perrie laughs.

“Let’s do it. Streak my hair.”

“Are you serious?” she gasps.

“Why not?” Zayn shrugs, picking at the carpet.

Perrie squeals again and claps, causing Zayn to grin.

She reaches for a couple of clips and pins some of his hair back, leaving a tuft up front falling in front of his forehead.

Perrie’s enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s all Zayn can do to sit still while she works. Her tongue sticks out of the corner on her mouth while she focuses, wetting Zayn’s hair with a cloth and moving to grab the peroxide.

“You’ll need more than I do,” she mumbles.

“You don’t say,” Zayn teases. She sticks her tongue out in earnest this time.

She soaks the cotton ball in peroxide and takes it to Zayn’s hair, squeezing it and forcing it onto Zayn’s roots. She’s careful to not let it drip all over, but she repeats her actions so many times, Zayn starts to worry that she’s fucked up. She sits back on her heels and smiles at him.

“Cool.”

He stretches to see himself in the mirror. It’s… well. It’s not what he expected. It’s kind of cool, actually, now that he looks at it. As long as Perrie doesn’t try to convince him to go pink, he thinks it’s cool. His mum will hate it, and his sisters will call him a skunk, but it’s different.

“Cool,” he echoes.

He turns back only to have a bright flash momentarily blind him, as Perrie cackles away.

“Got you,” she teases, waving her iPhone. Zayn doesn’t even attempt to steal her phone and delete it.

“You’re freakishly photogenic,” she muses, staring at the picture. “Alright, ready for pink? We need some gloves.”

She pulls some plastic gloves out of her bag. “Stole these from Lou’ house. His mum’s a nurse-- always the place to be if you need a plaster or summat.”

Zayn produces a cheap plastic bowl from the bottom of his wardrobe and moves to rinse it thoroughly. He used it as his secret ash tray to hide his occasional smoking from his mum.

Perrie pours some conditioner into the bowl, and then squirts in the bright pink dye until it looks like the colour of his older sister’s lipstick. He mixes it together, and it makes him feel like he does right before he draws or paints. He likes mixing two things together to make it something entirely different and special.

“Lather it on,” she says. He slaps a glob on top, and he instantly feels foolish. Surely there must be a smarter technique. Perrie continues to grin, so he runs his hand through her hair, mixing the dyed conditioner down to the tips. He keeps slowly adding more and more, until her hair is all piled on top of her head, covered in pink paint.

Zayn sits back and holds up his pink gloves as a sign of surrendering.

“Let it sit,” Perrie says, “and then we’ll wash it out.”

Pulling the gloves off, he looks at Perrie’s hair, and admires his work.

“Not bad for a first timer,” he laughs.

“Well, you had a good assistant,” Perrie giggles, nudging his leg with her foot.

Zayn grins and wonders when the last time he felt so full was. It might’ve been when his teacher complimented him on his charcoal self-portrait. That thing had tortured him for days until he pulled it together. Perrie didn’t come with nearly that much anxiety. Only moderate levels of anxiety, really.

He pulls out his phone, aiming the camera to take another shot of their process. Perrie shifts her grin into a duck face, posing for the lens as if she were some kind of couture model. It’s Zayn’s favourite shot yet.

---

 

Louis treks to the back garden of the Styles’ house, wanting to see Harry first before he heads inside.

Harry’s text to him earlier implied that he’d be on his hands and knees and very dirty.

Louis didn’t quite know what to make of that.

“Oi,” Louis calls, a smile blooming across his face before he can even stop it. Harry’s eyes shoot up at the sound of his voice, and for a moment they just grin at each other. “You know, when you said ‘hands and knees’ and ‘very dirty,’ this isn’t quite what I envisioned.”

Harry barks out a laugh and wipes across his forehead, leaving a dirty streak behind like some kind of blessing.

“That’s all your fault, then. I’m a simple gardener with no time for your perverse thoughts.”

“Aw, I remember when you didn’t speak when I came around,” Louis says.

Harry’s face twists as he’s trying not to smile.

“You’re a little too close to the spinach,” he says.

Louis looks down to where he’s standing, his canvas shoes digging into the pile of dirt. A small, packed mound of dirt sits about a half-meter from where he stands.

“Really,” Louis says dryly. Harry nods, schooling his face into something attempting earnestness.

“You’re such a shit,” Louis laughs as he hops closer to where Harry is, making sure to dodge anything he suspects to be a plant.

Harry sits back on his heels, his jeans torn and absolutely filthy, and he peels off his floral gardening gloves at Louis approaches.

“What are you making?” Louis asks. Harry rolls his eyes.

“I’m planting spinach--” he points a little to the left “--broccoli and cauliflower--” and then he points to a spot in the far end of the garden, “and some rhubarb.”

“Cool,” Louis agrees, crouching low next to Harry.

“I was suppose to plant and transpose a few weeks ago, but I kind of cocked that up,” Harry adds. “Maybe my summer plants will be better. I’m thinking about a tomato plant.”

Though he would never, ever confess this to Harry, Louis secretly loves when Harry goes on and on about something he’s interested in. He loves the way Harry’s slow, ambling way of talking mixes with the excitement that sits behind his eyes.

“Or maybe some berries?” he says, looking quizzically at Louis. As if Louis actually had any manner of expertise in this area.

Louis glances up to the house, checking the windows quickly before he dives in and kisses Harry quickly. He tries to pull back just as quick, but Harry’s bare hand comes up to his jaw to chase the kiss. Louis only has so much power, after all, and Harry’s mouth feels so warm against his.

Harry slowly lets his eyes open after, his smile still affixed to his face. Louis’ heart pangs at the sight. He has no idea how he let this happen. He was supposed to be the strong one-- and yet he can’t even say hello to Harry without wanting to snog him.

“You look right fit in your gardening clothes,” Louis jokes, gesturing to the torn flannel shirt and headband pulling his fringe back.

“You look right fit all the time,” Harry says back, tilting his head as he gauges Louis.

Shit.

“I should go check in with Gemma,” Louis says, standing and backing away from Harry.

“I do need to finish planting these before it rains,” Harry agrees, finally looking away and back down to his piles of dirt.

The back door to the house swings open, Gemma sticking her head out.

“There you are!” she exclaims. “I saw your car out front.”

Her smile stutters.

“Why do you have dirt on your face?” she asks, eyes narrowing.

Louis’ balls shrink instantaneously.

“Your brother threw dirt at me,” he says, mentally patting himself on the back for how he didn’t stammer his way through that.

“Harry!” Gemma says, angry.

“You’re next,” Harry teases Gemma, holding a ball of dirt in his hand, moving at if he’s going to hurl it her way.

“Fuck off,” Gemma says, just as Perrie comes through the door.

“Did you find-- oh, hi Lou!”

“Christ on a cracker, your hair!” Louis exclaims, gesturing wildly.

“What about my hair?” Perrie teases, skipping forward to give him a better look. “D’you like it? Did it last night.”

“It looks sick,” Louis agrees. He drags her inside without saying bye to Harry. “What brought this on?”

“Just needed a change, suppose,” Perrie shrugs, shutting the door behind them as they step back inside.

“I think she looks like a proper punk rock princess,” Gemma gushes.

“Yeah, the whole boots and flowers thing is well cool,” Louis agrees.

“Dismantling the dress code one day at a time,” she laughs.

Louis takes a bright pink strand and runs it through his fingers.

He feels a little lost, momentarily. There’s Perrie with her new vision of herself, and Gemma whose future is so bright she’s practically setting off a solar flare. And of course there’s Harry, who at sixteen is planting fucking rhubarb in his garden. He has no idea what these people see in him, when they’re so special and he’s got fuck all going for him.

---

Harry sits in butterfly formation on Louis’ carpet, petting Louis’ cat, as he tries very hard not to send himself into a fit.

Harry had known that he’d be up to no good by sneaking away, making up some shit about walking to Liam’s, and finding Louis’ car a few streets over. He thought it’d be another secret date repeat-- over-salted chips and snogging in the back of some car park. And of course, it is still secret, but it’s different. It feels different. There’s a bed here, and even if Harry isn’t sitting on it, its presence weighs on his nerves.

“That cat is needy as fuck,” Louis says from where he’s spinning in his desk chair. “You’re only enabling its behaviour.”

“It’s a cat,” Harry laughs. “She just wants to be touched.”

Louis snickers at that, and Harry blushes at the implication. He hadn’t thought of the double entendre when he said it, but Louis’ cheeky grin is connecting the dots for him.

Touching. Bed.

“Where did you say your mum is?” Harry asks, eyeing the door. Harry even feels guilty looking at the closed door, but probably not guilty enough to prevent him from getting his hands-- or mouth, Jesus-- on Louis’ cock.

Since that time at Liam’s party, the one where Harry and Louis stole away and Harry proceeded to give his very first blowjob ever, he has been insatiable. His masturbation schedule has upped itself-- which he just didn’t think was possible after the way the summer he turned 13 ended up. Every stretch of an arm reminds him of something, and every sigh brings him back to being in between Louis’ legs or beneath Louis’ body, listening to the little exhales he’d let out even when he was trying to hold back.

Most of all, he likes that they’re doing this together, basically. For as much as Harry’s brain revolves around dicks these days, it’s clear that Louis’ not that far off either. He can feel Louis’ stare across the car park at school, and the way that Louis’ fingertips shake when he touches Harry. It’s just all a bit much, and Harry finds it reassuring that he’s not alone in this new burst of hormones. As it turns out, sex is just as all-consuming and society-collapsing as it had been made out to be all along.

“She’s taking the girls out for dinner and a movie. They do girls’ nights,” he laughs, waving his hands. “No Louises allowed.”

Harry smirks. “What a shame.”

Harry shakes his legs out and stands, stretching to feel the pops in his back. He looks back at Louis, whose eyes are tracing the spot where Harry’s skin meets his trousers.

Louis pulls his eyes up to meet Harry, still grinning away, like the cat that got the cream, which well...

Louis’ cat meows loudly, as a kind of ‘fuck you, I’m still here,’ which makes Harry chuckle.

Louis stands quickly, leaving the chair spinning in its wake, as he crosses the room, picking up the cat and cradling it in his arms. The cat’s legs hang straight down, her face generally confused, as Louis uses one hand to wrench open the door and unceremoniously dump the cat into the hallway. She lands on her feet, of course, but she glances back at the boys disdainfully. The cat looks betrayed, even. Harry only lets the guilt simmer momentarily, because, well, house. Alone. Bed.

Harry swings his arms, whistling, casting his eyes around the room until he hears Louis laugh. Louis steps in close, his eyelashes fanning down onto his upper cheekbones. “So,” he says, slowly, opening his eyes to grin up at Harry. “Feel like a round of checkers?”

Harry cackles, tugging Louis into a fierce kiss before he’s even done laughing. He doesn’t know why kissing Louis is so fun all the time. It must have something to do with Louis’ natural humour and his own ability to laugh at any stupid thing ever said or done, but he feels like kissing shouldn’t be this fun. And sexy stuff isn’t supposed to be this fun. It’s supposed to be serious and sexy. He’s seen it in practically a million and a half films.

Louis pushes them back to the bed, with no complaints from Harry.

Harry finds himself scootched back so his head lies back onto Louis’ pillow as Louis climbs on top of him and continues to kiss him senseless.

Louis rolls off for a minute and on to his side, trying to catch his breath. Harry hadn’t realised they were kissing so intensely, but he’s feeling a bit winded too, even.

Harry flips over onto his side and lets his ankles knock against Louis’. They smile at each other, which makes Harry want nothing more than kissing, so he leans forward and leaves a gentle, lingering kiss on Louis’ lips. Harry watches as Louis’ eyes stay shut, a smile forming from his slightly puckered lips.

Harry’s heart makes another attempt to oust itself from its protective barrier.

“Do you want,” Harry starts, licking his own dry lips before he can continue. Louis smiles. Louis must read him like a book-- knows that every time he restarts his thought process, it means that he’s nervous or that he’s about to put himself out there. “I mean, do you want to make use of having this bed around?”

Louis’ face doesn’t flicker. He just keeps smiling, as if that was what he expected all along.

“Of course, H. Wouldn’t just keep you trapped in my lair for no reason,” he mumbles, nosing along Harry’s jaw line.

“Yeah,” he breathes, “but I mean, like, sex.”

Louis huffs again, causing Harry to shiver, before pulling back. Harry sees Louis slowly come into focus in front of him.

“Sex? Obviously.”

“Like, sex sex,” Harry says, flicking his wrist, as if his explanation clears anything up.

“Oral sex is sex,” Louis argues, being purposefully obtuse. “It’s right there in the title.”

Harry grins and pokes at Louis’ ribcage.

“Penetration,” Harry whispers conspiratorially, and Louis scrunches up his nose and laughs.

“Singlehandedly the worst word in the English language,” Louis gasps.

“Shut up,” Harry whines, cuddling closer to Louis.

Louis runs a hand through Harry’s hair, scratching a little behind the ear, just like Harry had been doing with his cat earlier.

“Yeah, definitely,” Louis breathes. “It’s just-- well, we haven’t talked about it, have we? Like what do you want to do? And how it changes things.”

Harry peers up at Louis, who is deliberately avoiding eye contact.

Some of Harry’s bravery shrinks away. It’s not, like, a big deal, he tells himself. He doesn’t really feel too much like a virgin these days, but he also doesn’t feel too different than he did before. The biggest change is the fact that he’s done so much lying lately, and normally he hates doing that.

Still, he finds the words ‘I want you to put your cock in my bum’ catching in his throat a little bit, so he just shrugs.

Louis nods along, even though Harry’s not saying anything.

“Flip a coin, yeah?” Louis says, and Harry wants to laugh with the ridiculousness of it.

“Are you serious?” Harry asks. Louis smirks and shrugs.

“Okay,” Harry says, finding a ten pence coin sitting heavily in the pocket of his jeans.

He holds it up in front of Louis, twirling it in his fingers.

“Heads is heads, tails is tails,” Louis calls.

“So predictable,” Harry laughs, sitting up. He moves to flip and then pauses.

“Wait, who is this for?”

“You,” Louis says, definitively. “You’re the one flipping it. Heads, you do me, tails, I do you.”

Harry nods.

He flicks the coin with his thumb, watching as it somersaults in the air. He moves to catch it, but it slips right through his fingers and lands without any noise on top of the bedspread between them.

They both peer over at the coin, looking as the lion stares up at them.

“Tails,” Harry grins, trying his best not to do some kind of fist pump.

“Dork,” Louis says, dragging Harry in by the neck to kiss him.

They kiss for a few more minutes, and Harry lets himself sink into the feeling of Louis' lips against his. The more they do this, the more his brain swirls as if he were drunk. His fingertips curl instinctively into Louis' arms. His body acts on its own accord, and none of it bothers him.

He hums and pulls away.

"So do you have all that stuff?" Harry asks. He doesn't know why he's blushing, why embarrassment claws at his chest when it's nothing abnormal. He just feels awkward. Even though he knows Louis' got just the same experiences as him, he still worries that Louis' going to cock his head one minute and decide he doesn't want to shag a kid.

Harry would be in better shape if he had previous experiences to build from. He'd definitely feel more confident if he had had some warm up shags, blokes who didn't mean that much to him, whose opinions on his inability to take a cock all the way down without sputtering meant nothing to him. But this is Louis, Harry thinks, who he's known ages and who had always had some kind of strange pull on him. He wants Louis to be impressed. He wants Louis to be ruined, and he wants to know that Louis is every bit unearthed as he is.

Which is of course, a problem, he realises as he watches Louis' face drop. Louis was supposed to be the warm up.

It's like he gorged on too many hors d'oeuvres and ruined his appetite, Harry thinks in horror.

For a moment, they stare blankly at each other, though for different reasons. At least, Harry hopes that he didn't just say all that out loud.

Except Louis' face is in response to his earlier question.

"Oh, shit," Louis says. "No, I don't have anything. Didn't really think I needed it, did I?"

"What do you use when you wank?" Harry blurts.

Louis gestures helplessly at the scented lotion on his dresser. Spring Showers.

"Okay," Harry says. Louis pulls away and watches as Harry digs out his phone and unlocks it.

"Scents might be a bad idea," Louis mumbles, staring at the lotion as if had personally offended him.

Harry nods, and places a cool hand against his forehead.

"Um, anything else?"

Louis stands up and looks around the room frantically, his boner flagging but still evident through his trousers. Harry can't drag his eyes away.

"Oh!" Louis exclaims, stopping suddenly and throwing his hands up. He scurries out of the room, leaving Harry lying on the bed with his head whirling. Harry can hear cupboards and drawers banging about in the toilet.

Louis comes back in the room, holding up a small tub of Vaseline in his hands.

"Do you think this would work?" he looks at it waringly. "My mum makes my sisters use it for their chapped lips."

Harry chuckles nervously. "I have no idea," he confesses. He pulls up the internet on his phone.

vaseline okay for anal? he types out, trying not to fidget.

He taps quickly at the results that come up, speedreading to the best of his ability.

"Okay," he says. "Vaseline is good to go, but can't be used with a condom."

"Alright," Louis responds slowly. "We haven't got one of those."

Harry frantically looks down at their wrinkled clothes. "Well, we don't really need one?"

Louis nods. "I know. I know. We're super inexperienced, yadda yadda, I'm not going to get you pregnant. But reading enough gay forums and blogs makes me feel super guilty about not using one." He blurts this all out quickly. It takes Harry a minute to catch up.

"Do you not want to?" Harry asks. He'd be okay with anything, really. He just wants to have Louis in any way possible.

"No," Louis says quickly. "I really do. Are you okay with this?"

"Yes," Harry breathes.

"Okay," Louis says again, approaching the bed. Harry’s eagerness grows with each step Louis takes closer.

He drops the tub on the bed and crawls over to Harry. Before they can even kiss, Harry tugs the hem of Louis' shirt up. Louis lifts his arms up obediently, but it still takes a second tug to get it over his head, Harry casting it off to the side without a second glance.

Harry runs his hands over the smooth plane of Louis' chest, dragging them down so they fit nice and snug against Louis' rib cage, like puzzle pieces.

"You too, Haz," Louis murmurs, before tugging Harry back up to a sitting position. Harry grins, loving the feel of Louis undressing him. As much as Harry loves being naked-- really doesn't need to be asked twice-- being undressed by Louis is his new favourite thing. It's a reassurance that someone else wants him naked just as much as he himself wants to be naked. To have Louis be the one doing the undressing, well, Harry might have to start believing in a higher power.

He shifts as Louis' eyes stare at his body. Louis' hands twitch at wanting to reach out and touch Harry's mostly-there erection, but Harry's more focused on getting Louis completely naked.

"Fuck," Harry mumbles, mouth awfully close to Louis' hip as he tugs the waistband of Louis' trousers, getting them around Louis' bum.

He hears Louis gulp, and Harry’s hands shake in response. He looks up at Louis, who's still kneeling over him, his trousers pulled down near his knees.

They grin at each other, and Harry flops back onto the bed, head hitting the pillow, as he pretends to be done.

"Seriously?" Louis asks, laughing, as he kicks the legs off his trousers and climbs back over Harry, bending down just as Harry reaches up to place his cool hand on Louis' back.

It reminds Harry of the first time in the car, when his thighs shook with want, and his brain couldn’t keep up with his heart.

Louis hovers so close they’re practically fused, and with every time they rock together, their cocks graze skin, and Harry has to keep his eyes closed, has to block out every other feeling except the feel of his and Louis’ skin touching every possible place.

He’s stiff, they both are, and as Louis sucks kisses on his neck, he starts to worry that he’ll let go before Louis gets a chance to actually get inside him. Inside, Jesus, his mind whirls, and his cock twitches impatiently, dribbling, an ever persisting reminder that as much as he wants to pretend he’s an old soul, his body is still sixteen.

“Lou,” Harry whines, and he briefly hates himself for how needy he sounds. But Louis practically mewls at the sound, so Harry knows he’s not the only one who’s turned on right now. Harry has the evidence pressing seriously against his stomach, but still. It’s a good reminder.

Louis sits back, staring down at Harry, and for a moment, they just look at each other, chests rising and falling with more difficulty than usual.

“Are you sure?” Louis asks, moving slowly to grab the Vaseline.

“Are you sure?” Harry shoots back, quirking a smile despite the rush of exclamation points bobbing around in his brain.

“Can you put some music on, or summat?” Louis asks, gesturing to Harry’s phone. Harry pulls up a playlist, he doesn’t remember what’s on it, but it’s named ‘indigo blue,’ so it might be appropriately sexy. If sexy were indigo.

Louis turns the cap off the tub, sticking two fingers into the jelly. His face twists unpleasantly, and Harry can’t help the laugh that escapes him.

“Oh, that’s nice,” Louis says, “Laugh at a bloke before he’s about to bum you.”

Of course, this only sets Harry off more.

“Well, that’s not really the face I want to see when someone’s about to have sex with me,” Harry teases, pulling his face into an exaggerated version of Louis’.

“Nonsense,” Louis says, leaning forward to kiss Harry, though Harry suspects it’s a ploy to get him to stop laughing. It doesn’t work, not really, but when Louis reaches down and confidently drags the two vaseline-covered fingers between his cheeks, that effectively shuts him up.

Louis circles the rim, which has Harry squirming. Louis reaches out with his left and places it on Harry’s hip, his thumb pressing lightly into the bone. It roots Harry a little bit, a pleasant distraction for when Louis starts to push the first digit in.

“Okay?” Louis asks, looking up at Harry.

Harry nods. “Feels fine. Keep going, please.”

Louis meticulously makes sure Harry’s lubed up before he slowly thrusts the one finger in and out. Harry doesn’t really feel anything yet, not like he thinks he’s supposed to at least. The combination of Louis’ thick cock rubbing against his thigh and his finger inside of him is enough to send a shiver up his spine.

“More, please,” Harry sighs.

“Impatient,” Louis laughs, but his voice sounds rough, different.

Louis adding the second finger is more along the line of what Harry had been expecting, really. There is a bit of a stretch, a much more physical reminder of what they are doing.

“I’m not really sure,” Louis mumbles, trying to spread his fingers, causing an unpleasant hiss from Harry.

“Oh, shit,” Louis says. His eyes flick up to meet Harry’s, and Harry almost laughs from the sheer panic in Louis’ eyes.

“Hey, don’t take the piss,” Louis says, but even as he teases, Harry remembers that his fingers are currently up his arse, which starts him laughing again.

“Do you think this counts as ‘racking it up’?” Harry whispers, beside himself with the absurdity of the moment.

Louis snorts, and looks minorly horrified with the situation.

“Oh Christ,” he continues, “Are you okay?”

Harry nods, smiling, and Louis bends down to kiss him sweetly as he pushes in, slowly, again.

“Okay,” Harry nods swiftly, nudging his knee into Louis’ side, trying to convince him to move along.

“I think one more,” Louis says, eyebrows furrowed. Harry’s never had someone stare at his body with that much concentration before.

Harry whines at that, but Louis tut-tuts him, and when Louis slowly starts adding a third finger, Harry holds his breath. It’s definitely more, and his breath hitches as his body gets used to the feeling. It’s so strange, he thinks to himself, that his body can accommodate this. That his body is going to have Louis soon.

He moans out loud without meaning to.

He blushes almost immediately, embarrassed by his lack of control, but Louis picks up on it right away, grinning to himself.

Louis’ hand moves from Harry’s hip to his cock, pumping a few times. Harry hears his own breath echo in the room, feeling his mouth slack.

Harry scratches at Louis’ back, trying to get him closer, trying to get him to get a move on.

“Fuck,” Louis groans.

Harry positively lights up now, his skin starting to feel as if someone stretched it out and tucked it at different spots.

The bed shifts as Louis moves to grab the Vaseline, and he swipes some over his cock, the squelch firmly cementing the belief in Harry’s mind that sex involves the weirdest sounds.

Harry suddenly worries that he’s not being sexy enough. Should he moan more? Louis seemed to appreciate the last one. Was he supposed to be doing something right now? He was kind of just lying back and taking it. Maybe he is supposed to be thrusting back. Maybe there’s a big part of the sex equation that no one ever told him and he’s completely missing out on it. He’s making a mess of this.

“Okay,” Louis says. “Do you want to, um, move? Or like this?”

Harry blinks up at him.

“Like this,” Harry decides. He wants to feel the weight of Louis on top of him, wants to look up and see Louis’ face as he comes. It’s his favourite facial expression of all time.

Harry spreads his legs wider, feeling wanton as Louis pulls them over his shoulders. There’s something different about this kind of intent, heavier somehow, more significant than their romps in the car and in Harry’s bed.

Louis starts to push in a little too hard at first.

“Wait,” Harry says. Louis immediately stills. He goes to pull out, but Harry reaches out.

“Don’t you dare pull out,” he says before he can stop himself. Louis chuckles. “Just hold on a tic. Slow.”

Harry tries to coach his breathing into something calm and relaxed, even though his whole brain is racing and his body wants nothing more than to be touched and fucked.

Louis’ arms shake as he holds himself up, trying to hold himself still.

Harry can’t remember if he’s ever seen Louis so still.

“Okay,” he whispers, and Louis slowly, shaking even more violently, pushes a little bit more in.

“Are you okay?” Harry asks.

“Yeah, fuck,” Louis says again. Harry reaches an arm up to loop around Louis’ neck, pulling him in for a kiss, tongue tracing dirtily in his mouth. Louis pushes further into him with the momentum, and he groans into Louis’ mouth.

“I’m really not going to last,” Louis croaks out. Harry’s eyes shoot open. They had barely got started-- he’s not sure Louis has even bottomed out yet. “You’re so-- shit--- I’m sorry,” he mutters.

His arms are still shaking but Harry doesn’t feel anything happen.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Can you please fuck me?”

Louis breathes deeply for a moment, staying still. Then he nods vigorously.

He pushes all the way in, earning a gasp from Harry. This time, it’s pleasant, welcome, and Harry chases the feeling as Louis pulls back. Louis pushes back in, shakily, and all of the doubts of his not-really virginity fly out, because as Louis’ hips snap again, and the lube eases the way, they’re well and truly fucking.

Harry wraps his own hand around his cock, knowing that Louis is a little preoccupied on both thrusting and not coming. He moves his hand with eased practice, trying to get lost in the various sensations. How many times had he envisioned getting fucked? Thinking about it only works him up more, and with his inhibitions lowered, he bares his neck and huffs noisily.

“Fuck,” Louis says again, and this time he can’t control it, and Harry feels Louis come in him.

It’s everything he ever thought it’d feel like. He can practically feel the heat run through him. It makes him feel dirty, and sexy, like someone wanted him enough to claim him. Louis’ hair tickles his chest, the sweat beading at the roots the evidence of how hard Louis had been holding back.

Louis looks at him helplessly, but Harry decides against stopping, so he continues to pump himself as Louis comes down.

Louis pulls out tenderly, some of the come slipping out.

He pushes two fingers in Harry, easily this time, and crooks his fingers, trying to coax Harry to an orgasm.

“Haz, this is the sexiest you have ever looked,” Louis mumbles. It’s the praise Harry craves, the attention, which does it for him, causing him to groan and shoot out his come, painting a mess on his own stomach.

They sit in silence for a few minutes while Harry comes back to himself. As much as he loves his newfound joys of sex-- and he really does-- he always hates the blackouts associated with his orgasm. He could have probably made a really gross declaration without knowing, so he tries to wrack his brain as to what horrific noises he could have let out.

Louis flops onto the other side of the bed all dramatic, and Harry turns to face him. They just kind of stare at each other, which might be a bit strange. They don’t really look at each other often-- they’re fairly familiar with each others’ features, having known each other for a few years.

It’s the first time Harry has ever seen Louis look… upset.

Panic courses through Harry as he assumes that Louis regrets what they just did.

“Was that not okay?” Harry asks.

Louis laughs, and it sounds a bit watery to Harry, but he won’t mention it.

“Ugh, that was well embarrassing, mate,” he says.

“What? Why?” Harry asks, his eyebrows climbing in confusion.

“That was practically a two-minute sex thing. I completely fell apart like an amateur,” Louis rants.

“Well,” Harry says, drawing the sound out, as he leans over to kiss Louis.

“Hey,” Louis says, mock affronted, but he lets himself be kissed.

“That was pretty cool,” Harry says, rubbing his nose against Louis’ cheek. “I like the way our bodies fit together.”

In the moment, it sits too much like a confession, and Harry almost wishes he never uttered it to begin with.

“Me too,” Louis says, smiling, “I promise I’ll last longer next time.”

Harry cocks his head to the side and laughs, lets his sweaty curls flop to the side. A little more come and lube slip out with the laugh, and it makes him cringe.

“I might have to shower for ages,” Harry says, twisting and trying to get a good look at his own arse.

“Yeah, that or you’ll be shitting Vaseline for days,” Louis quips.

Harry’s eyes spark in horror. “I didn’t even think of that,” he whispers. Louis cracks up, and Harry’s face instinctively turns into a grin as he burrows into Louis’ neck in embarrassment. Louis’ arm comes around to keep him held there tight.

Harry focuses in on the music still playing in the background, still trilling out of his phone on the floor.

you got something to say? why don’t you speak it out loud, instead of living in your head?, it lectures.

Louis hums along all wrong.

Harry burrows in closer and mentally lists of all the benefits of shagging in a bed. They hadn’t had too much ‘after’ time before. Post-coital Louis may be one of his favourite Louises yet.

Chapter Text

Perrie sits, digging her toes into her duvet, staring at her phone impatiently.

what's up for tonight? stares back at her. It's the last thing she sent Gemma a few hours ago.

Gemma hasn't responded, which isn't too strange in and of itself. Gemma's always been rubbish at responding to texts, but it's been more apparent lately that she's just not into doing anything that isn't reading or plotting.

Then again, Perrie reminds herself, they haven't even been doing any plotting together either.

She scrolls up their message history and it's all the more apparent. Lots of sent messages from Perrie, very few responses from Gemma. Not that Louis has been much better, but even if it's to bag off, he at least responds.

She sprawls out on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. It's late April, which means that as much as things are thawing, she still hasn't felt that sense of 'newness' that Spring normally brings. Maybe it's the fact that she has exams in less than a month, and Uni results, but it feels more like things are ending.

She grabs her phone again and looks at her recent conversations. Mum, her brother, Gemma, Louis, and Zayn… basically who her life revolves around these days. Sure, she has people in classes that she talks to, but she doesn't do things outside of school with anyone else.

She kicks her legs out, impatient and grumpy by Gemma's indifference. She pulls up her conversation with Zayn and types out the same question to him.

what's up for tonight?

She isn't surprised when he texts back a moment later.

working on some art. you?

Perrie pauses. She's not sure whether that is an invitation or a polite excuse. Zayn doesn't seem the type to enjoy company when he's making art. Sure, he lets Perrie look at the results, but even she knows that there's a harsh difference between letting someone see the end product and someone see the process. It takes a lot of trust for that.

proper bored at home. :\

She opens a new tab on her laptop and starts looking up makeup tutorials, figuring that the rest of the evening will be her and her mirror.

Her phone buzzes on the bed beside her and she looks to see Zayn's response.

you wanna come for an adventure then??

Perrie immediately snaps her laptop shut and moves to find actual trousers to put on.

yes! :)

ace-- wear dark clothes

Perrie's eyes widen at that. Were they about to go on some kind of heist? Were they going to get arrested?

"I'm too young for prison," she mumbles to herself. But then she remembers her alternatives for the evening, and suddenly, sneaking around with Zayn doesn't sound like such a horrible idea after all.

When Zayn's car comes chugging in front of her house fifteen minutes later, she's pulled together something that's appropriate: dark, but still cute enough for a mugshot if need be.

"Alright?" Perrie greets as she slides into the seat. "What kind of crimes are we getting up to tonight?"

Zayn rolls his eyes fondly.

"Art, I told you."

"Crime and art," Perrie repeats slowly. "I don't believe you."

"Art isn't art if it doesn't push boundaries," Zayn argues.

Perrie grins, knowing how passionate Zayn gets about this stuff. Once she made the mistake of calling her previous Art History course well dry, and Zayn started pulling out random facts about artists being imprisoned and persecuted. It makes Perrie grin to know that quiet Zayn can completely nerd out about something.

"Okay, we'll park over here and walk the rest of the way," Zayn says, pulling over and cutting the engine. With the music off, the quiet suddenly sits heavily around her. She still has no idea what they're up to.

"Here you go," Zayn says, handing a knapsack over to her.

Perrie wastes no time in unzipping it and peering inside. Spray paint.

"Oooh," Perrie sighs. "Just some minor vandalism."

"I think you hang out with the Tommo too much," Zayn chuckles.

"Are you kidding, he'd be way too into this," Perrie laughs.

They start off down the pavement of one of the main roads in town. No one's about right now, the light just coming from the street lamps and the red and green of the driving signals.

"Want to see something cool?" Zayn asks, breaking the silence. Perrie nods her response.

Zayn steers them down towards Oldham Road, the spot where the train tracks go up and over the road. They stand in the darkness of the tunnel and Zayn pulls out a torch. Perrie remembers flying through here on her bike last month with Zayn right behind her.

"Sick, innit?" he says, aiming the stream of light on the wall. There's graffiti everywhere, swirls of red and black and blue. Perrie can make out some cartoonish characters, some harsh lines that might possibly form letters, and some impressive shadowing on some creepy looking ghouls. She's seen it all in the day, no doubt, having passed through this tunnel countless times, but night seems to bring it alive. There's a haunting quality to all of it.

"This is wicked," she says, and she means it.

"I did it," Zayn says simply, and Perrie can't even help the squeak that comes out of her.

"You what?" she shouts, swatting at his shoulder. He grins wide, impossibly big, like he's relieved that she said it was good.

"This is so different than the stuff in your book," she murmurs, stepping closer to drag her fingertips along the cement walls.

"I told you I dabble," he shrugs.

"I can't believe this," she sighs again. "You are something else."

Zayn blushes, and looks down at his boots.

"Thanks for saying you liked it. That would have been awkward if you said it was shit."

Perrie chuckles, and pushes herself away from the wall. "I'd never say that."

Zayn nods. "That's true. You are nothing but effortlessly nice."

Perrie smiles and tucks a strand of her pink hair behind her ear.

"So I had something else in mind," Zayn says, swinging his rucksack around to the front of his body. He opens it and pulls out a stencil.

"What's that?" Perrie asks.

"It's a stencil. So a lot of this was done freehand, which is like when I paint and stuff. But this is more uniform. Kind of like a calling card," he reasons, tilting his head to the side.

"Cool, like a signature?" Perrie asks, reaching out for the stencil. It's a portrait of a superhero, it looks like. If Perrie had to guess, she might think it's Batman, but really, it could be anyone.

He grabs the tape from his bag, and moves to tape the stencil against the wall, on a black spot down at the bottom of the wall. He kneels on the ground to get low, and Perrie sees the dirt clinging to his trousers. No one ever said art was clean.

"Can you grab the white paint from your bag?" he asks.

Perrie moves to hand him the can, but he doesn't take it.

"Why don't you do it?" he asks, grinning.

Perrie looks at the can.

"Shake it like hairspray," Zayn instructs.

"Oh stuff it," Perrie teases, but she uncaps it and shakes the can, listening as it rattles. She leans in close to the wall, just as Zayn backs away.

She presses down and the 'tssss' of the paint startles her. When she steps away, Zayn pulls off the stencil gently.

Batman stares back at her.

"Not bad for a first timer," Zayn says, nudging her.

"I hate you," she responds. She pulls out her phone and opens the camera, flipping it out so that her own face comes whirling into vision. "Let's document this," she mutters as she crouches on the other side of the tag. She opens her mouth in shock, and Zayn copies her, pointing at the character between them. The flash blinds them; Perrie blinks several times before she can see again.

She opens the picture and stares at it. The flash was so bright it turned everything blue, but it's still priceless. She thinks about how many times she's walked by this, driven by this, and she never knew that Zayn had been the one to do it. She knows so little about everything.

Zayn stands up and brushes the dirt off his knees. He extends his hand down to help her up. She takes it, of course, letting his rough skin press against hers.

She wants to kiss him. She wants to try and convey just how much she values his friendship, and how amazed she is that he trusted her with this. She wants so much, but she's frozen. Zayn is so cool. Too cool.

"Want to do some more?" Zayn asks, pushing himself away from the wall. He shuts the torch off, cutting the light in the tunnel, before he reaches for her hand again.

"Definitely," she says, and then they move, Perrie just remembering to grab the rucksacks before they're off to their next act of vandalism. It's funny, because she doesn't feel like she's doing anything wrong.

---

"I think mum's trying to put a time limit on how long you can be here," Harry says, shutting the door behind him. He second-guesses himself and opens it up a crack, rolling his eyes at Niall's raised brows.

"I don't want them thinking anything's happening that's not," Harry clarifies, face heating up. Niall snorts, but doesn't respond.

"Your mum pushing for revising?" Niall asks, flipping through the stack of video games.

"Yeah," Harry sighs heavily. "Gem's gone off the deep-end, but apparently that's encouraging behaviour. I think I'll be okay with GCSEs, yeah? Loads of people less clever than me have done alright."

"I should slap you just for that comment," Niall says. He throws a game box at Harry, cackling as it bounces off his head.

"Prick," Harry says, rubbing at his temple.

The door across from them opens and shuts, and they hear Gemma disappear into the toilet.

"She lives," Harry shouts, trying to annoy his sister.

"Don't make her angry, Haz. She scares me."

Harry turns, looking delighted. "Oh! She'd love to know that."

Niall rolls his eyes.

"I'll have you know, I always fancy the scary ones."

Harry presses start on the game, but Niall's comment all of a sudden sits uneasy with him.

"What do you mean, 'fancy'?" Harry says, eyes narrowing.

"Well, not 'fancy', but like, 'think fit'. That doesn't sound right," he reasons.

"You think Gemma's fit?" Harry asks. He feels a little ill, to be honest.

"Uh, yeah," Niall says, as if it were obvious. "Everyone thinks your sister is fit."

"Oh gross," Harry says, wrinkling his nose up. "I don't approve."

"Too bad," Niall says, choosing his character. "Not that I'd ever do anything like that without your approval. Bro code and all that."

Every single iota of blood runs out of Harry’s body.

"Bro code," he echoes, but his mind is already racing.

"Bros before hoes," Niall says, nodding. "Not that your sister is a ho," he hastily adds.

Harry groans and keels over, letting his remote control clatter on the ground.

"What's wrong with you?" Niall asks skeptically.

"I've made some bad choices in life."

Niall nods.

They sit in silence for a minute.

"Aren't you going to ask me about them?" Harry asks, sitting up and resting on his elbow. He blinks up at Niall, hoping that Niall can at least decipher the pain in his eyes.

"Oh!" Niall says. "Was that what you wanted me to do?"

Harry blinks.

"Tell us about them bad life choices, then," Niall says, putting aside the controller and turning to face Harry.

Harry leans back and presses the door shut, letting it click soundly.

"I hooked up with Louis Tomlinson."

Niall's eyes grow instantly, brows climbing up into his hairline.

"Several times," Harry adds, before he loses his courage.

"How many times is several times?" Niall asks.

Harry shrugs. He's lost count at this point.

"Kind of regularly," he says, fiddling with the hole in his jeans.

"You shithead," Niall laughs.

Harry smiles, but it still doesn't calm the riot in his stomach. He feels slightly more relieved that he doesn't have to lie to Niall anymore, but really, Niall's previous comments about the bro code still sit in his mind.

"What's hooking up mean?" Niall asks next, hand in his chin. Harry is glad to have a friend like Niall. Niall is someone who is completely unfazed by even the most outrageous of behaviours, so really, Harry couldn't have picked a better friend to confess to.

"All sorts of things, I suppose," Harry mumbles slowly. "Snogging mostly. And, well," he trails off.

"What?" Niall demands. "Blowjobs?"

"Do you really want to hear this?" Harry asks.

"I don't give a fuck. You're being shady as shit right now." Niall chuckles, but still, Harry shifts like he's avoiding a microscope.

Harry sighs, belaboured.

"Yes, blowjobs, but also, like, anal," he says, the last part coming out in a pained whisper.

"No way!" Niall gasps. "Who did who?"

"No," Harry says, shaking his head.

"What?" Niall asks. "I can't get over this. Here I am thinking you're all innocent and wide-eyed and you're seducing 18 year-olds. You devil, you," Niall laughs, reaching out to punch Harry in the thigh repeatedly.

Harry grumbles and shuffles away.

"Anyway, I sort of, y'know, fancy him a bit, so that's kind of a problem."

"Oh god, your sister is going to murder him," Niall laughs, clapping himself on the knee.

Harry sighs.

"Wait, what do you mean you fancy him?" Niall says.

"Y’know, I... feel... stuff for him," Harry says stupidly, gesturing toward his stomach.

Niall stares at him.

"Does he feel stuff?"

Harry shrugs.

"You haven't talked about this?" Niall asks.

Harry flops over again, letting his cheek smush into the carpet.

"Of course not," Harry snaps. "When we have time together, we don't really talk."

"So he's using you," Niall says.

"No," Harry argues.

"So he fancies you."

"No," he sighs.

"I don't get it," Niall says, throwing his hands up.

"Me neither," Harry says. "I fancy him, but he's, older and, y'know, moving on with his life. I'm... just me. I'm his mate's brother. And we're basically half the gay population in town, so really, that's probably the reason."

Niall looks thoughtful for a moment.

"Do you really think that's it?" he asks.

Harry nods sadly.

"He did say, like, before we snogged, that there were no options for him. So I'm basically the only option."

"What a shit," Niall says.

"What?" Harry asks, sitting up again. "You're mates, kind of."

"Nah, you're my mate. I don't think you should mess around with him if that's the attitude he's gonna have," Niall says firmly. "If that's the case, yeah, you're going to get hurt.You want someone to shag that wants to shag you, not just because you're a warm hole, you know?"

Harry nods.

"I hear what you're saying," he says. He's not sure if he's quite that strong, though, to say 'no' to Louis. It would be easier if he weren't so attracted to Louis, but unfortunately that is not life, and Louis' piercing blue eyes, fluffy fringe, and trim body are enough to torture Harry at night.

He is being a shit brother. He's lying to his sister, and deliberately sneaking around with her best friend. No matter how impossibly fit, and funny, and gentle Harry finds him, that's just not okay.

Harry's mum calls up the stairs a few minutes later, her polite way of kicking Niall out of the house.

"Good luck on exams," Niall says, tugging on his trainers. "I'm assuming I won't see you much before."

Harry shrugs.

"We'll get pissed after the last one," he whispers, nudging Harry in the ribs. "Text me with updates on that other situation, yeah?"

Harry nods dumbly.

Niall holds out his fist for Harry to bump. Harry does so, a smile squeaking across his face. Even though he can be a shit mate, he has some pretty good ones himself.

---

Gemma and Harry sit across the table from each other, not making eye contact. Gemma notes that the kitchen looks like a tempest blew through it; each of them taking up more than their fair share of counter and table space. Even though she's been at this for months now, Harry's just finally started cracking down. She has no idea what lit a fire underneath him, but she's proud anyway.

She leans back to take a sip of water, swishing it around in her mouth a little before she swallows. Her first exam is next week, so she's been trying to keep up proper hydration. She's convinced mum to stock up on lots of brain food, as well, and she's upped her water-drinking to at least two litres a day. She's had to pee more, which is the down side, but she's quite focused on her work.

She contemplates forcing everyone around her to speak en francais for the next week-- at least, until her French A Level is over.

Her phone buzzes on the table and she doesn't move to answer it right away. She chuckles when she notices out of the corner of her eye, Harry instinctively peeks at his phone.

"No one's texting you, loser," she teases, eyes still down on the page.

"Well, check yours, then," he says testily.

Gemma looks at her phone, only to notice that it's not a text at all. It's an email.

Regarding the Change in Your Application

"Oh my god," Gemma gasps, immediately taking her hands back off the phone and looking widely at Harry.

"What?" he asks, his face looking as if he couldn't care less about what Gemma's going on about.

"It's a decision, I think."

"What does it say?" Harry asks, his face splitting into a grin.

"I don't know!" Gemma responds, panic flooding into her voice.

Their mum and Robin come bounding into the kitchen at that, looking between the two of them as if they're not sure how to intervene.

"What's going on?" Anne hedges.

Gemma shakes her phone at her mum.

"Gem just got an email about uni!" Harry explains.

Anne and Robin's faces light up, looking eagerly at Gemma for an explanation. Their smiles falter, though, when she just opens and closes her mouth uselessly.

"Open the email, Gemma!" Harry urges, chucking a highlighter at her.

With a shaking hand, she presses the link and her phone sends her to the UCAS website.

"I don't remember my password," she moans.

"You've been logging in every other day," Anne says.

"My brain isn't working," Gemma says petulantly. She presses what she hopes might be right into the login and then hopes for the best.

It's from Edinburgh.

"Is this what having a stroke feels like?" she asks Harry.

"I'm going to hit you," he says seriously.

Her eyes skim the notice, barely taking in the words and just looking for the key phrases.

She stands out of her chair before she even tells her feet to move.

"Gem?" Anne asks.

"Conditional acceptance!" she screeches.

Harry is up and out of his seat before she realises it, and he swings her around like some rag doll.

"Holy fuck," she breathes, pressing a hand to her forehead.

"Gemma, language," Anne admonishes, but the effect is ruined by the tears brimming in her eyes.

"So fucking proud of you, Gem," Robin says, gathering Gemma into a hug. Gemma barely sees her mum rolling her eyes through her own tears. Edinburgh was all she ever wanted. Now that she's one step closer, she can practically taste it. It kind of tastes like haggis.

"So clever," Anne coos, gently brushing her hand through Gemma's hair.

At that, Gemma starts to shake harder. She really doesn't want to cry, but she's so relieved. She might actually be able to do this. She might be able to escape this town and meet all sorts of brilliant people and have all sorts of uni adventures.

Nobody mentions the way she tries to subtly swipe under her eyes, which is generous of her family. She takes a breath and looks at her phone again, trying to pick apart the message more.

"I need at least AAB to really get in," she says. She looks over at her books. "Is that possible?"

"Oh shut it," Harry says, curling his arms around her from behind. "You're clever enough for AAA, donut."

"You're the donut," Gemma responds lamely, swatting him.

He dodges it and presses a swift kiss to her temple. She hates how he's grown so tall in the last year-- it really messes with her ability to fight back.

"Alright," Anne says, "I think this calls for a pop ‘round Sainsbury's for a cake. I'll let the wine breathe for a mo."

Harry looks up hopefully.

"Don't look like that, Harry. Of course we'll let you have a glass."

Harry smiles at Gemma.

Gemma folds herself against the counter for a moment, using it for support.

"Is this really happening?" she asks.

Harry nods enthusiastically.

"The best part is that you heard from Edinburgh first,” he says. “So now, all the others are less pressure, you know? You heard from your top choice, so now you don't even have to worry about getting stuck at your insurance pick."

Gemma grins at that, pushing off the counter and grabbing Harry by the wrists. She forces him to dance dorkily in excitement, which is, of course, no problem for Harry. As excited as she is to pack up for Scotland, and as freaked out as she is that she might not do well enough on her exams to get a full offer, she can't imagine being any more euphoric than in this moment.

To have the love of her family, that was all she ever wanted.

When her mum comes back and slices a shop-bought cake and pours them each a glass of wine, she notices Harry tapping away at his phone, but she makes no mention of it. He has a small smile on, but there's a distinct possibility that it has everything to do with the wine.

"Cheers, Gem," Robin says. "May you always find the road to success. We're very proud of you."

The prickle behind her eyes picks up again, but she doesn't let it go.

"Cheers," they chorus, and Gemma tries to lock away the sound of the glasses clinking for a rainy day.

---

Louis Tomlinson has never felt numb a day in his life. Since his first memory, he has felt things fiercely, and has reacted accordingly. Whether he's having a laugh or he's ranting about something, he's nothing if not passionate.

But right now, Louis feels numb.

He stares at the text from Harry and literally can not find a response within himself.

BEST NEWS GEMMA GOT INTO EDINBURGH!!!!

He stares and blinks at it a few times, practically begging the text to unfold and lead to more information.

He hates himself for a moment, because he isn't happy. He should be happy. His best mate got into her top choice uni program. There should be nothing more exciting than that.

He mentally runs through appropriate responses. His fingers almost itch to type out a 'yay!' or a 'congrats!' but it rings so false, he hates himself for even thinking it. But then again, he hates himself for not being able to summon up the proper emotions to begin with.

He buries his face into the pillow, listening to the quick thumps of his sister's music from her room. Perhaps if he suffocates himself, no one will have to know what a shit friend he is.

Because right now he's not thinking about Gemma's success, he's thinking about his own failures. Bile runs up his throat, and while he doesn't think he's going to vomit, the acid hovers uncomfortably in his esophagus.

Gemma's offer is just the first of the offers that will be rolling in. He just can picture it now, classmate after classmate talking about their offers across the board, while he sits out of the way and thinks of the part-time jobs he's going to have to pull together so he can pay his mum rent. Soon it'll be Perrie, and then Sam, and then Mels. Then the guy he sits across from in his Literature class, and the girl he sometimes acts across from in Drama. He doesn't even know much about some of these people, but they'll still be moving on with their lives while Louis will be stuck here. It's with horror that he realises that even James will get into uni and move on before he does.

He feels like a failure, if he's being honest with himself, and the thought alone hits him so hard it claws at his throat.

He waits for the buzz of his phone to alert him from a text from Gemma. It'll be easier to pretend to be excited for her to her. Harry, Louis is sure, can see straight through him these days, can see all the dark bits hidden in his soul.

The text from Gemma doesn't come.

He tells himself she's probably celebrating and that she's too busy crying up a storm to see her keypad on her phone. He makes these excuses up to help himself feel better, even though he knows Gemma would have never left him out of the loop on her life a few months ago. When Sam had broken up with her for Mels, she had texted Louis and Perrie before Sam had even left her house.

Louis feels a hot stab of jealousy and contemplates calling Perrie. His instant paranoia tells him Gemma rang Perrie up immediately with the good news, and then the two of them had a right laugh. He hopes not, as sick as that is. He wants to pin this on Gemma, make it her fault for not sharing this news. Had he seemed closed off in some way? They used to be able to tell each other anything. Now, Gemma's off to Scotland come September and Louis' falling for her brother.

He groans into his pillow at the thought. He's in so deep right now with Harry, he doesn't know what else to do. Part of him hopes that he can just wait out until Gemma heads off to uni, and then when she comes back for a weekend, Louis can spring it on her and make it seem like a recent development. Because at this point, he's not sure how he's going to talk himself out of something he's been lying about for months now.

He can't even revise, he thinks, staring angrily at his pile of literature books. He's not cut up about his Drama practical exam, but he is nervous about the written portion of all of his exams. He's never been the kind of bloke who tests well-- he's all movement and action and using his hands. He's not book smart like Gemma or Harry.

He rubs his eyes, hating the way they prickle and betray him. Truth is, he doesn't know the first thing about revising. He has no study skills. He wants to ask Gemma for help, but anger rushes through him just thinking her name, so he doesn't.

He doesn't know why he's bothering at this point. A levels mean shit for him. He could come up with nothing and it still wouldn't matter because he still wouldn't go to uni.

He flips over on his back and counts to ten. He needs help with all of this, but he doesn't know who to talk to. Gemma is not an option, and Perrie's been extremely focused on her Music practical composition lately and doesn't take Literature A Level. He's far too proud to ask help from a Year Eleven, even if said Year Eleven is frighteningly clever. Besides, even if he did ask Harry for help, he's not sure he can stand to be in the same room as Harry for more than thirty seconds without wanting to take him apart. It's all Louis can think about most days. It's part of why he’s in this situation to begin with.

He holds his thumbs over the keys. He wants to talk to Harry, but he doesn't know what to do or say. He knows Harry's expecting some response about Gemma's news, but Louis can't find it in him.

He ends up sending a heart emoji instead, hoping it's vague and mysterious.

He hopes Harry interprets that as a sign of enthusiasm for Gemma. Louis just wants to tell the truth for once.

---

“I can’t do this,” Perrie whines, tugging her earbuds out and letting herself go boneless and flop down on the carpet.

She hears Zayn’s soft laughs, more huffs of air than anything else, from a few feet away.

“Of course you can,” he says, holding one side of his headphones away from his ear.

Perrie sits up and looks over at him. She pouts.

Zayn’s mouth twitches, and it’s moments like this where she realises what a softie he is. He tries to put up this front at school, like he’s mysterious and doesn’t need friends, but he’s actually sweet and friendly. And also, as she’s found out, quite popular. Not with kids at their college, but his phone is constantly buzzing, and it kind of makes Perrie wonder what she’s taking Zayn away from.

They’ve been working for about an hour or so, maybe an hour and a half, just kind of existing in the same room. She’s not sure why, really, but she feels more able to focus with Zayn here, even if it is just for moral support. They’re not talking, mostly just to grunt over their laptops when one of their programs fucks something up, only to them giving each other sympathetic eyes. It’s been the same cycle since they started, but really, the same cycle whenever they get together under the ruse of working on their practical submission.

“I’m never going to be a composer,” she says. “Do you think it’s too late to not do the course?”

Zayn hangs his headphones around his neck. “I’d say so, yeah. Let’s hear it, then.”

Perrie wrinkles her nose and pulls the headphones out from the jack.

“Okay, please be nice,” she says. “I’m so shit at this.”

She presses play and lies back, covering her face with her arms so she doesn’t have to see Zayn’s reaction. She couldn’t help herself, she had recorded herself singing a few days ago, added an audio track even though that wasn’t part of the composition originally. To be fair, she argues with herself, her favourite part about music is singing and interpreting the lyrics, so of course she wants to add that skill to her final project. Besides, art means risk-taking, at least that’s what Zayn’s always preaching, so this adds a whole other depth to this assignment.

She lets the music start out slow, just the simple keys tinkling, before strings join in and a large, thrumming drum kit, beating out a rhythm she created herself. Her voice comes in, slow at first, fragile, and then rough, trying to get to the depths of her vocal chords.

It’s not what she wanted, really. She wanted something a little more subtle, quieter, but she had also had to beg and borrow and straight up threaten people to help her with this assignment. Otherwise, she never would have added the strings in there. Without those, she may have given up on A levels altogether.

She waits until it fades out, wondering if she should shorten the bit with the piano at the end. Maybe she should actually fade earlier. Maybe she should cut the vocals altogether.

“That’s ace, Pez,” Zayn says, and Perrie is pleased that he sounds earnest. “Your voice is proper amazing. I’ve heard you sing before, obviously, but it’s incredible each time.”

She tries to subtly fan at her face, cool down some of the blush before he notices. She gets embarrassed easily when complimented.

“Your turn,” she says, popping up and turning to him with a grin.

His smile falters a bit.

“I don’t think so,” he says, moving to put his headphones back on and block away the rest of the world.

“No, please,” she says, reaching out and stilling them.

“It’s not ready,” he insists.

“Neither is mine,” she pouts. “Besides, you’ve shown me your drawings before they’re done. This is totally the same.”

Zayn sighs, fidgeting.

“Fine,” he says. He wordlessly hands the headphones over to Perrie. She feels his eyes on her as the headphones swallow up her ears.

He presses play and Perrie shuts her eyes and tries to take in the whole composition.

It starts off slow, very slow, almost to the point where Perrie thinks it froze. But before long, the snare drum kicks in, calling to her like a war cry. It gets really intense, but then everything cuts out.

Some chimes, a flute, a few light sounds come in before the strings hit, sounding sad and distant. Perrie aches a little at the sound. How could Zayn doubt his abilities to compose when he’s able to create such a layered complex piece? Perrie’s embarrassed that he heard hers at all, to be honest.

She takes the headphones off and passes them back to Zayn, letting her mouth hang open. She’s sure she looks like a fish, but she’s not sure how else to react.

“That was unreal,” she gushes, reaching out to shake Zayn’s shoulders.

“I don’t know how to end it, though,” he confesses. “My plan was to have it be a big, boisterous, kind of jazzy ending, almost like taking it through different genres, but I feel like it’s not right anymore.”

Perrie crosses her legs and leans forward, putting all of her attention on Zayn.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Just like, maybe the emotional arc of the piece needs to be quieter. I’ve been thinking lately that there’s a real strength to being quiet and vulnerable.”

Perrie looks away from where Zayn is wringing his hands and meets his eyes. Zayn’s eyes sparkle with something hidden, and for a moment, Perrie’s smile falters.

Zayn sees her, really. That’s part of the problem. Sometimes he knows her better than she knows herself, and that’s just plain unnerving.

Where she sees fickle, he sees complex. Where she sees weakness, he sees strength. She’s not sure she understands him, but with his brown eyes peering over at her, she can’t help but tilt her head and stare back.

His structure is just so god-like, all hard lines and shadows. She’ll never understand how she didn’t see it before.

“So what are you going to do?” she asks, the words sticking to her throat.

“I’m gonna text my mates,” he says, reaching for his phone. “I’ve got some friends who go to the girls’ college next town over. Painfully clever and musically gifted,” he adds.

“I know how that goes,” Perrie chuckles, thinking of Gemma and her nonstop revision schedule. She’s not sure when Gem’s first exam was, but it must be within the week, because everyone, Perrie included, has been losing just that much more sanity as of late.

“Anyway, they can help me add a different layer to this,” he says. He grabs his phone. “Besides, you need to meet them. You’ll love them.”

Perrie’s grin widens. She loves meeting new people.

---

Louis sits his first exam tomorrow, and he can’t revise. He can’t do anything, really. His thoughts are plagued with Harry. Harry had already had his first GCSE earlier in the week-- French. They had snuck away last Saturday afternoon in broad daylight and Louis drove his busted up car to the forest, where they practiced frenching against the rough trunks.

Harry had been nervous about going-- he kept saying that he needed to revise or he was going to choke. Their session had been brief, but it had clearly relaxed Harry.

At least, Harry seemed to have relaxed enough to do well on his exam. He texted Louis a ‘merci beaucoup’ and all was well.

Except now, Louis’ blood burns up because he can’t focus, and all he can think about is Harry’s tongue and how he had mewled when Louis had pressed him against the tree, how rubbing against the bark seemed to spur him on.

i’m coming over right quick, he sends Harry.

He grabs the keys to his car without thinking twice. His mother peeks her head around the corner on hearing the keys jingle in the dish, her eyebrows raising in her disapproving mum fashion.

“Just popping over to the Styles’,” he says. “I’ll be right back.”

His mum sighs. “Don’t be too long. You’ve got a big day tomorrow-- early, too. Love you.”

He starts up his car without much trouble and rolls his window down. Now that it’s May, the rain takes on a lot more humidity, making it hard to breathe sometimes.

The ride over to the Styles’ is quick and Louis doesn’t even bother to turn on the radio for it.

When he climbs out of his car does he realise he may have to confront Gemma for the first time in weeks, but he quickly shakes that feeling off. Gemma hasn’t left her room since New Year’s-- there’s no way she’d linger about, keeping an eye out of her window, waiting for Louis to come find her.

He presses the doorbell, hoping frantically that Harry received his text message, that Harry’s expecting him. He’s not sure what he’d say to Anne, maybe make up something about looking for a lost book.

He hears the door unlock and it swings open. Louis smiles, expecting to see Harry on the other side.

It’s not Harry.

“Oh, hi,” Gemma says, hiding her body halfway behind the door.

Louis blinks.

“Hi.”

“Come in,” she says, and it sounds stilted. She leans back and lets him through.

Louis’ eyes immediately find Harry’s.

Harry’s eyes widen in surprise to see him. Harry’s an open book almost all the time.

Harry fumbles for his phone and Louis sees the tips of Harry’s ears turn pink as he reads Louis’ message. Well, shit.

Harry’s not alone, though. Niall and Liam are also sat on the carpet, holding bowls of ice cream in their laps.

Niall’s eyes flash between Harry and Louis a few times, which makes him feel transparent. He feels foolish, really foolish, all of a sudden. What was he thinking coming over here? Harry certainly doesn’t exist in some kind of vacuum, where he’s only around when Louis needs a play thing. Louis knows this.

Gemma clears her throat behind him and he spins back around.

Gemma just looks blankly at him. It’s the first time in all their years that they don’t have anything to say to each other.

That is, of course, a load of shit, because Louis has tonnes that he has to say to her. It wells up within him, a cacophony of resentment.

“When the fuck were you going to tell me about Edinburgh?” he asks. It’s not the first thing he meant to come out of his mouth, but well, there it is. The question of the hour.

Out of his peripheral vision, he sees Harry’s head snap up and to attention. Of course, Harry had no idea that Gemma was withholding information.

“What?” Gemma asks. “How did you--?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Louis tries to deflect, his voice getting firmer. “Why haven’t you said something to me?”

Gemma blinks.

“I didn’t want you to feel bad,” she admits.

Louis scoffs, sick, because that’s exactly what he pictured, and his worst insecurities are working their way up to daylight.

“Feel bad,” he echoes.

“Because you aren’t going anywhere,” she clarifies.

In that moment, Louis hates her. Despite all the laughs they’ve had together, she has taken one of his sorest nerves, and pinched it. In front of an audience, no less.

“Right,” Louis says, and his voice goes cold. “I thought we were best mates. Best mates don’t hide shit like that, and best mates actually make an effort to see each other.”

“Right,” Gemma shoots back, hands on her hips, getting defensive, “Because I’m the only one in this friendship. You haven’t exactly been coming around to see me. You’ve been bagging off for months, so don’t for one second think I’m the only one holding something back. Just because you’re stuck in the way things are, doesn’t mean I am.”

Louis stands there, shocked.

“Honestly,” Louis says, “I say this with every piece of my heart: Go fuck yourself, Gem. You don’t care about anyone who’s not doing something for you in return. I hope someone at uni finds all your weak points and exploits them the way that you do to other people. Fuck, I’ll even provide them with a detailed list.”

“Fuck off,” Gemma spits, flapping her hands at him.

Louis reaches for the door, Gemma all too quick to usher him out. He hears Harry make some kind of broken noise behind him, and he chances a look to see Harry completely slack-jawed, staring at the two of them.

Louis has no idea what the fuck just happened. He starts his car up and smashes at his radio presets until something angry enough comes on.

He barely makes it to the stop sign around the corner before he has to pull over.

---

Perrie finally feels a small burst of inspiration, picturing notes before her eyes as she transfers them down onto her composition paper.

She doesn’t take notice of the small piles of crumpled up rejections that rise up around her.

She’s been at it for hours, knowing that her time before she has to submit her materials to her board is closing in. She never thought of herself as a procrastinator before, but she apparently needs the eleventh hour in order to produce art.

Her phone buzzes next to her, and she ignores it in favour of her piece. She counts out the bar, flicking her fingers like she’s trying to conduct the music.

It’s shit, she sighs to herself. She’s not sure what Past Perrie was thinking, signing up for Music A Levels. She loves to sing, sure, but she’s not sure she’s a writer at heart. She only knows how to channel emotion into others’ words. She can’t find them herself.

“Crap,” she mutters, hitting herself in the head with the notebook. She unlocks her phone to see a message from Zayn's mate Jade.

pls say you’ll come round and do smthg w me next week… i’m rubbish at garage band?

Just as she finishes reading the text, Louis’ face pops up on her screen. Perrie stares at it, shocked, as the phone vibrates expectantly in her hands. She stares dumbly at it, unsure of whether to answer. She doesn’t know why he’s calling her, since he and Gemma have been wrapped up in their own things as of late.

She really needs to focus on this piece, she reminds herself, looking down at the smudged composition. Her phone eventually stops buzzing as it sends Louis to voicemail. She only feels a little guilty.

Without thinking, she switches over to her messages, pulling up Jade’s.

Perrie responds with a smiley face.

---

Harry stumbles into his bedroom and thumps the door angrily. He throws himself on top of his bed and groans into the pillow. The pillowcase pongs, a reminder that just because his life is in shambles doesn’t mean that he can stop doing laundry. He wishes he had a mum that would do it for him. If his mum saw him cry right now, he might get lucky and she might coddle him a bit. It’s not a bad plan, really, and with the way his week is unfolding so far, it wouldn’t take much to get him going.

He had just sat through the worst exam of his life. His exam room was sweltering, for some insane reason, and no matter how much he rolled the sleeves of his jumper up, he still felt as if he were two minutes away from passing out. The girl behind him kept tapping the end of her pencil against her desk, and it was so rhythmic, Harry felt like pulling a Tell Tale Heart and confessing to murder. Anything would have been better than sitting through that.

Not to mention, of course, that he was just plain tired. He had been up late with Gemma as she cried over her argument with Louis.

It was really awkward, though Harry doesn’t reckon that Gemma cottoned on to that fact, thankfully.

“He’s been ignoring me,” she had said, smashing her fist into her duvet. “He can’t handle my success because he’s jealous.”

Harry had rubbed her back, making noises of agreement, but his mind had raced ahead of him.

He couldn’t bear the thought that he had done this to his sister, really. If he hadn’t been off sneaking around with Louis, then Louis and Gemma would still be two peas in a pod.

After Gemma had kicked him out of her room so she could mope and sleep, Harry had crawled over to his own room. He, too, moped, but sleeping was a whole different issue. He had lain awake last night, watching the darkness of the room turn in on itself, and he felt the guilt gnaw at him.

So now he’s working on very little sleep, the fact that he very well might have pissed on his exam, and the knowledge that he’s a terrible brother.

Life isn’t going Harry’s way.

He makes a split second decision and rolls onto his back, pulling out his phone before he thinks too hard about it. Checking the time, he decides that Louis’ probably free. He can’t remember if Louis was supposed to have an exam today, but by this time, they’re in the clear.

Louis answers on the second ring, though he sounds about as good as Harry feels.

“Hi,” Louis greets him, slow and kind of weary.

“What’s going on?” Harry asks. He hears the uncertainty in his own tone. “I mean, not right now. But like, what are we even trying to do here?”

There’s a moment of silence that hangs uncomfortable on the other end of the line.

“What do you mean?” Louis asks. Harry hears him shuffling and moving things around from here.

“I’m not even sure how we got to this place, Lou. Like, I thought there was no one here for you to shag, and yet, here we are.”

“Harry,” Louis says slowly. He sounds exasperated. Well. Harry’s exasperated too. “What are you going on about?”

“Why did you start up with me?” he snaps. “Was it because you knew there was no one else to shag and that I’d fancied you for long enough that I’d be easy? Or was it because you couldn’t accept that things were changing?”

“I’m not sure what you’re saying, but I kissed you because I wanted to. I kept kissing you because I liked it.”

Harry sighs, and stares down at his shaking hand. He tries to hold a pen to still it, but he ends up tapping it against his own thigh. He drops it to the floor in frustration.

“After dealing with Gem last night, it got me thinking. It seems like this separation between you two is kind of a big deal. And like, according to her, it’s been months in the making. So I feel like you took up with me as some kind of last ditch effort to hold on to her, since she’s taking off and out of here as soon as she can.”

“What?” Louis gasps. “Harry, you’re wrong.”

“Am I?” Harry asks, dropping his head into his hands. His throat tickles and betrays him, and he tries his hardest to keep that out of his voice.

“My shit with Gemma is because I was spending time with you and not her. And now that she doesn’t have Sam to distract her, she’s clinging onto me.”

“She and Sam broke up months ago,” Harry mumbles.

“I didn’t take up with you as some kind of Gemma replacement,” Louis says.

Harry breathes deep.

“But you did take up with me as some kind of desperation attempt,” he says.

Louis stays silent on the other end. Harry can’t tell if it’s out of choosing his words carefully or pain at being called out. He doesn't want to wait to find out.

“Yeah, well I can’t do that to my sister anymore. Or myself,” Harry adds, and he hangs up before Louis says anything. He presses the power button on his phone and shuts it off for real, shoving it under his nasty pillow. His face crumples before he can stop it, and he lets himself feel proper rotten for a few minutes.

He sits up and wipes at his eyes, embarrassed at himself. He’s not even sure why he’s crying. He and Louis weren’t together, really, but Harry let himself think that Louis felt something. Harry wanted anything from Louis, so much so that he let himself hurt the people he cared about most.

He runs a hand through his hair, shoving it to a big nest on one side of his head. He knocks lightly on Gemma’s door before peeking in, unsurprised to see her perched at her desk.

“Hi,” Harry says.

Gemma looks up, instantly alarmed at the tone and gravel of his voice.

“Are you poorly, Haz?” she asks, her words squeezing out from behind the red pen tucked between her teeth.

“I need to talk to you about something,” he continues, sitting down at the edge of her bed.

Chapter Text

Perrie can’t help but shoot nervous glances over to Zayn, who sits suspiciously still next to her. Jade, Leigh Anne, and Payno are sitting on the ground, and Perrie gulps, wondering if she should have been a better host and sat on the floor herself.

The movie plays on, but Perrie can’t focus on it. If she focuses very hard, she swears she can feel Zayn’s arm hair brushing against hers, like there’s some shared heat between them.

Beyond the window, she spies some movement and she hears a car in the driveway. She sits up to stretch her neck to get a peek, and spots Louis getting out of his car. She frantically checks her phone, but he didn’t text, so she freezes.

The doorbell goes and she shoots her friends a frantic look. They keep watching the movie, only Zayn sparing a glance back to her.

She untangles herself from the sofa and shuffles over to the door.

“Heya,” she greets Louis. If she’s being honest, he’s looked better, so she puts whatever weirdness on the backburner to console her friend.

“I need to talk to you,” Louis says, stepping into the living room. He stills when he sees the group of people in there watching the telly.

“Hey, Louis,” Zayn greets, although they’ve not spoken in years, not for any malicious reason, just lack of social necessity.

Liam’s head pops up at that.

“Hi Lou,” Liam says. Jade and Leigh Anne give a perfunctory wave out of politeness, but they quickly tune back to the film.

“Payno,” Louis says, his voice tight.

Perrie distinctly gets the feeling she’s missing something.

“We’ll be right back,” she says, wrapping her hands around Louis’ upper arm, and tugging him down the corridor to her bedroom. It’s a walk they’ve done many times. Louis certainly doesn’t need Perrie guiding him.

Perrie shuts the door behind them, leaning against the door.

“What’s happening?”

Louis drops his head in his hands dramatically, flopping back onto her bed.

“A lot,” he mumbles. “Who’re those girls?”

“Some mates of mine,” she responds, peering down at her nails.

They sit in silence for a moment. Perrie tries very hard to not tap her toes.

“I’ve been shagging Harry,” Louis says suddenly.

Perrie blinks.

“Harry who? Oh, shit,” she gasps.

Louis cracks his eye open to gauge her reaction.

Perrie can tell her mouth is wide open.

“For how long? Does Gemma know? Oh my god,” she says, threading a hand in her hair.

She clambers over to the bed, settling in near the pillow. She tucks her feet under her and waits.

Louis rolls over and they look at each other, the first moment of understanding they’ve shared in months. She feels a small kick of guilt at the fact that she didn’t spot it sooner, even worse since she’s been withholding information of her own.

“Since maybe February-March-ish. Gemma doesn’t know. I don’t fancy telling her I took her brother’s virginity, really. All the way around. Besides, I don’t think that it’s going to happen anymore. I think Harry’s, like, done with me.”

“You proper shagged?” Perrie asks, chin in hand. Louis nods pathetically.

“I was rubbish, but it felt right. I kind of thought I was falling for him.”

Perrie breathes in deep at that. Louis has never been the one to fall in love. It’s always been hard for him to trust and let people in.

“Wow, dorky little Harry?” Perrie laughs, nudging Louis’ shoulder. “The one that threw up all over Gemma that time we were coming back from her birthday dinner when we were fifteen?”

Louis cracks a smile at that, embarrassed, but fond. “I know. It’s proper embarrassing, innit? Getting rejected by a sixteen-year-old who spends his free time cross-fertilizing plants.”

“Why d’you think he rejected you?” Perrie asks, cocking her head to the side.

Louis shrugs and looks thoughtful.

“He said that it was a last ditch effort thing. Like, no other options so might as well shag each other type deal. I think it’s ‘cause before we started up I said that there weren’t any guys around and what have you. So he thinks it’s just whatever for me, but I think that’s crap. He was there all those times. He can’t think I’d just do that for anyone.”

Perrie stays quiet and lets him rant.

“And then he was all, ‘you’re trying to hold on to my sister and not me,’” he continues, mimicking Harry’s slow drawl.

“What does that mean?”

“I think he meant that I was only taking it up with him because I was going to miss his sister. That’s stupid, though. They’re nothing alike and that’s creepy.”

Perrie rearranges herself and crawls toward Louis pulling him into a hug as she should have done earlier.

“He makes me feel so nervous all the time,” Louis says. “He’s going to be so successful, and I’m just… here. I’m a lump. Like, what’s the point of shagging an older guy if one, they’re not even sexually experienced, and two, they’re going nowhere in life?”

“What are you going on about?” Perrie coos.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a lump.”

“It’s okay to not know what you’re doing,” she says.

“Have you decided what you’re doing?” he asks, sitting up suddenly. Perrie’s hand drops down to the bed.

“Yes, but only just. I decided to do an apprenticeship with a hairdresser. Me mum knows some people. Reckon I can get a certificate, and then maybe my Business A levels can help me start up or manage a place.” The words come out very shaky. It’s still a new plan, and it’s certainly liable to change, but it’s better than a uni course she wasn’t particularly buzzing for.

“Wicked,” Louis says, nudging her. “You’ve always been the hair and beauty girl.”

Perrie smiles shyly and tucks her hair back. It’s time for a redo anyway, but she’s been so focused on exams, she’s let it slide, ironically enough.

“Did Gemma tell you she got an offer from Edinburgh?” Louis asks.

Perrie’s eyes go wide and she grips his wrists. “She got in?”

Louis nods. “Conditional, but with all the focus on her revision lately, I think she’s not going to fuck up those exams. Um, she didn’t tell me. Harry did. I kind of called her out on it, and that blew up in my face. Payno saw it, even.”

Perrie grimaces, and it’s no real surprise, actually, considering how strange Liam had been all evening.

“We can fix it. We’ve been friends for ages, the three of us.”

Louis shrugs. “I fucked her brother, Pez. Like, several times. And lied about it.”

“Don’t put it like that!” Perrie laughs. “You fell in love with her brother. You can’t mess with fate, mate.”

“Oh, you sound like a proper sap,” Louis laughs, letting their giggles die out until they’re just sitting in each other’s presence.

“I know you’re freaked, but, like, you have a plan, too,” Perrie says. “It’s just a bit delayed. You’re going to work for a year or two, save up a bit of money, and then go land all them roles in West End. And I’ll come see them, even though I know shit all about theatre.”

Louis smiles.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a shit friend,” Louis says.

“Me too,” Perrie says, “I’ve been trying to collect friends like Pokemon cards. But you’re a first edition, Lou.”

“Dork,” Louis laughs, leaning forward to hug her tightly. He pulls so hard, they both go tumbling off the bed, squealing and landing with a rough thump on the carpet.

The two of them emerge from Perrie’s bedroom, and head back to the living room. She stuffs herself on the sofa on the middle cushion, tugging Louis down so he’s on the other side of her. Zayn gives her a small smile, and it seems like the movie’s still the main captivator.

Liam’s eyes shift over to them quickly a couple of times, like he’s not sure whether or not he should say something to Louis. Now that she’s learned more, and knowing that Liam and Harry are good mates, the tension makes a little more sense.

“Oi, eyes on the screen, Payno,” she says. “You don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.”

---

When Louis pulls up in front of his house, the first things he spots is Gemma’s car in his driveway. It’s Robin’s car, really, but Gemma’s the one who does most of the driving in it.

He parks behind his mum, and takes a minute to roll up his windows before stepping out.

As soon as he’s in the doorway, his mum accosts him.

“There you are!” she says, swatting at him with a dish towel. “Where’ve you been?”

“At Perrie’s,” he says, and he smiles, relieved not to lie for once.

“Okay, well, Gem’s upstairs. She and I caught up a bit. Don’t think I haven’t noticed her absence,” she says, looking seriously at Louis. “Gemma’s been your friend for years, dear. Don’t mess anything up.”

“I didn’t do anything,” he groans, which is of course, a bold-faced lie. Apparently he can only work on this ‘not lying’ thing in small doses.

He trudges up to his bedroom feeling like he's a soldier off to war. His last conversation with Gemma did not end well, and since, his days haven't been getting brighter, either. He takes a deep breath at the door and turns the knob, pushing in to see Gemma sitting cross-legged on his bed, a book in her hands and a pillow on her lap.

"Hi," he says, awkwardly hovering near the doorway.

Gemma's eyes snap up. Her face, which had looked peaceful as she read, now looks like she smells something particularly out-of-date. See, this moment was exactly what Louis had wanted to avoid all those months ago. He's seen Gemma at her most vicious, and this ranks up there.

She drops the book off the side of the bed, not flinching as it bounces and loses the page.

She untangles herself and strides easily over to where Louis stands. She clutches the pillow even tighter, and without warning, starts whumping the everloving shit out of Louis with it.

"What?" Louis shouts, cowering.

"You--" whack "--slept--" whack "--with--" whack "--my brother!" double whack.

"Stop," Louis gasps.

Gemma holds immediately, but the pillow is raised above her head, as if at any instant she may bring the mighty hand back down again.

"He told you?" Louis asks, although at this point, it doesn't matter. She knows.

"Yes, he told me," she says. "He cried over you, fuckface." She brings down the pillow again, giving Louis a stumble.

He grabs onto the other end of the pillow this time, some kind of tactic so she doesn't keep hitting him with it.

"Why was he crying?" Louis asks.

"Because you used him," Gemma says, tugging at the pillow. Louis grips tighter, his knuckles going white.

"I never did," Louis protests. "I think you have the wrong idea, Gem."

"Don't 'Gem' me. I'm mad at you."

"I'm sorry," Louis says, and he's surprised that he means it.

"What are you even sorry for?" Gemma shoots back, ready for a battle.

"I'm sorry for lying to you, and hiding what was happening between Harry and me from you. I'm sorry I wasn't supportive of you getting into Edinburgh. I do think that's wicked. I'm sorry I let my own insecurities get in the way of you feeling like you could tell me stuff."

"Are you not going to apologise for breaking my brother's heart?" Gemma asks.

"Well, you're not the one I need to talk to about that, I suppose. I'm sorry that you got dragged into it, but I'm not sorry that I kissed him. And stuff. I'm not sorry about that other stuff, either."

There's a moment where they just look at each other, and Louis can feel how much has changed over the last four years.

"Oh god," Gemma breaks, laughing and letting go of the pillow to clutch at her ears. "I could have lived my entire life without picturing you and my brother snogging."

Louis laughs too, unsure whether it's okay for him to, and drops the pillow on the floor behind him.

"I don't know how it happened, but I'm kind of stupid over your brother."

"Oh god, that's what I was afraid of," Gemma says, collapsing on the bed. "He's annoyingly charming."

"Great genes," Louis adds hopefully.

"Too right."

Gemma sits up. Honestly, Louis just feels grateful that she's not hitting him right now.

"I'm sorry that I hit you," she says, ticking the list off her fingers. "I'm sorry that I haven't been very communicative lately. I'm not sorry I got into my dream university, but I am sorry I made you feel less worthy of respect. You're pretty swell, Tommo, and I don't show you that enough."

"You know," Louis says, "it's been you, me, and Perrie for so long, I don't think we know how to handle all these outside forces. Like, even when you were with Sam, Pez and I still got to see you. And we had each other and you had Sam so it was all fine. But then, like, you just had books, and books can't love you like people love you, Gem."

Gemma rolls her eyes.

"And I had Harry, but not really because no one knew about it," he continues. "If no one knows about it, is it real? We never even said anything to each other about it. We just fumbled along, literally and figuratively, mind you." Gemma makes a face.

"Perrie won't admit to it," Gemma interrupts, "but she's been totally swept away by Zayn Malik."

"It's true," Louis says. "I was just at her house. I wanted to tell her about all this, and yeah, he was there. And some girls I didn't recognise. And Liam Payne."

"Payno," Gemma echoes happily.

"But it was like, how did Perrie become someone I didn't know? I mean, you and I were just angry with each other, but I've always been able to recognise Pezza."

"And what's going on with her?" Gemma asks, lightly trailing a finger along the bedspread.

"She's good. She's still the same old Perrie, I realise. I just let myself lose sight of her, I suppose," he finishes with a shrug. "She just has so much love to give people."

"Yeah," Gemma agrees, nodding. "Not like you and I, the bitter fucks."

Louis snorts into his hand.

"You do know what this means, right?" Gemma asks, staring at Louis as if he can follow her train of thought. Fair enough. He used to be able to.

"Not really."

"You are now required to marry my brother," Gemma says.

"What? That's awfully fast," Louis chuckles.

"Nope, you are required to get married, and this is my case. First of all, you need to stay together, because if I come home from uni and see that my best friend and my brother are being all awkward and can't be near each other, I will be greatly, greatly displeased. Second, this is convenient for me because if I have to get in touch with either of you, I'll just ring one of you. Knowing both of you as I do, I'm sure you'll be glued to each other's side, so I'm saving time," she adds thoughtfully. “And third, he’ll be able to take care of you while I’m away.”

“Have you quite finished? Besides, I’ll take care of him.”

“Don’t be obtuse, Lou.”

Louis rolls his eyes. He's not sure how he's going even remotely approach talking to Harry, but apparently Gemma's on her way to planning their wedding, complete with colour scheme and adoptive children's names.

"After a bit of thought," Gemma concludes, "I've decided to support your seduction of my brother. Quite frankly, you could do a lot worse."

---

Zayn walks out of his music exam like a load of weight has been pulled off his shoulders. In fact, he drops his bag to the ground to make his metaphor more literal.

He hoists himself onto the railing and sits there, watching the rest of the students come streaming out of the building.

His fingers itch for a cigarette, just to help ease the leftover tension away.

He sees Perrie leap out of the building, her smile as bright as if she hadn’t just tortured herself with a written exam for the last two hours.

“Oi,” he calls out to her, and instantly cringes. She’s not some kind of animal or something. At least he didn’t snap his fingers at her to get her attention. He’d never have a chance after that.

Perrie’s grin widens and she prances over to him, leaning against the railing.

“How was that, then?” she asked.

“A special form of torture known as the British education system,” Zayn says drily.

“I feel great,” Perrie says, flailing her arms. “It’s a beautiful day, I just finished up with my exam. I can leave Music A Level behind me. And one day, when my future spawn want to take Music A Level, I will think back to these last few months and I will tell them no.”

“Now that’s a crime,” Zayn laughs. “Any child of yours is guaranteed to be coming out belting high notes at birth.”

“If so, I’ll have to stick them in composing lessons early or something. I don’t think I had ever been so relieved to turn something in as I was that practical.”

“Yeah,” Zayn agrees. “I was happy to get mine out the door, as well.”

Zayn fidgets and looks over at the fences that line the property. It’s a mediocre school complex, but for some reason, the school insists on having those fancy iron fences. Almost like they’re trying to convince the outsiders that they’re a really posh college.

“Did you end up submitting that song that you showed me at your house?” Perrie asks.

Zayn stills for a moment. See, if he were to tell her the truth, she might call him out on his obviously-more-than-friends affections. But he also doesn’t want to lie.

He’s going off to uni come autumn. Sheffield. He’s proper excited of course, chuffed to not have to constantly work shifts at the restaurant and take care of his sisters. The point is, if he were to tell the truth to Perrie, the worst that could happen is that she could reject him. That, and laugh in his face, and make sure everyone else around them laughed in his face, too. But that wouldn’t happen. Perrie’s much too nice to do something like that, even if she didn’t return his feelings. And that would be okay.

“Yeah,” Zayn breathes.

“Good,” Perrie says, eyes gentle. She reaches out and places her hands on top of Zayn’s. “It was really good. Heartbreaking.”

“I’m glad,” he says, clocks whirling in his brain. “It was for you.”

He wants to slap his own forehead as soon as the words slip out.

“Well, not for you,” Zayn corrects, “but, like, inspired by you.”

Perrie’s smile turns shy, for a moment, and it reminds him of that time they walked by the stream. Perrie had seemed so confused, so pulled apart.

“I know,” she confesses. “But to tell you the truth, I don’t feel broken.”

Zayn turns his palms upward and looks down as her dainty hands slip right on over his. The mismatched polish on her nails complements the flecks of paint dried on his knuckles from his late-night art sessions.

She leans over and kisses him lightly, the barest pressure ghosting over his lips.

His eyes flutter open, just to see hers shut, so he knows there’s intent.

She pulls back and he quickly shuts his eyes, slowly reopening them so she doesn’t know he’d been looking.

“I hope that was okay,” she says.

Zayn laughs. “Really.”

Perrie chuckles, staring down at where their hands are still balanced, not intertwining, just sitting.

“I feel good,” she says again, and that’s all Zayn needs.

He slowly bends down, fitting their mouths together again. It’s still light, sweet, but there’s more pressure there, and Perrie’s hand lifts away from his and cups his jaw.

“Oi! Oi!”

Zayn ignores it for a moment; there are many people around them, after all. There’s no reason that anyone is shouting at them. People could be shouting out of relief to get out of their exams.

“Zayn! Perrie!” They both still at that, pulling away.

Zayn peers around her to see Liam and Niall about fifteen feet away, Harry in tow, making a fuss. Harry’s uniform tie is loose and his shirt sleeves rolled up, his Year Eleven get-up making him stand out amongst the sixth formers.

Perrie laughs, slightly embarrassed, looking over to Zayn to gauge his reaction. He flips them the v, but his own smile stretches across his face, probably wider than it's ever been at this school.

---

“Mum!” Louis shouts, tugging one of his shoes on. “Mum!”

“Stuff it,” his sister shouts at him.

“What?” his mother asks, sounding exasperated as she rounds in from the stairway.

“Where do I buy a tomato plant?”

“What?” his mother asks. “Like, tomato plant seeds?”

“No,” Louis says, shaking his head. “Proper already planted pot with a stick and tomatoes already growing on it.”

Louis mum thinks on it, and then shrugs. “I can make some calls to some girlfriends of mine to check if they have any spares. What’s all of this about then?”

“No, nevermind,” Louis sighs. “I’ll check the garden centre.”

“Probably your best bet, love. You know, I don’t understand half the things you do these days.”

Louis rushes forward to press a kiss to her cheek.

“Then you’re doing better than me. See you later, mum,” he says, as he rushes out to his car.

He rolls the windows down immediately and tries to get the stale air out of his car.

The first garden centre he can think of is nearby, but of course, they don’t have what he’s looking for. The man behind the till keeps telling him that it’s early enough in the summer to plant his own, but he just doesn’t accept the fact that Louis can not plant anything for shit.

“I kill plants, sir. I don’t think you understand.”

“Well, better to plant seeds that don’t flourish than to kill an already thriving plant, don’t you think?” he says, looking smug.

“No, I don’t think.” Louis taps away at his phone looking for the next closest garden centre. “You’re ruining my grand romantic gesture. I don’t have the weeks to plant something and wait.”

“May I suggest some flora?” he says, gesturing to the rows and rows of small potted plants and large bouquets.

“No,” Louis says grumpily, before rushing back out to his car.

The second garden centre that his iPhone brings him to is closed. In fact, it doesn’t look like anything living has existed there in a couple years.

Louis pinches the bridge of his nose. He backs the car out of the dirt lot, not having turned the engine off to begin with.

The third place, luckily, is open and well-kept. When Louis stumbles in, an older woman comes up to help him immediately.

“Tomato plant,” he says. “Not seeds, dirt in pot. Already planted.”

“Oh dear,” the woman says, “the plants haven’t started producing any buds yet, but I think this might be along what you want.”

They slowly shuffle over to a crate of dirt-filled planters. There’s a stick and twine sticking out of the pots. Without the sign proclaiming them to be ‘alicante tomatoes’, he’d have no idea what the hell they are.

“I’ll take it,” he says, grabbing one.

Her wrinkled fingers press the buttons on the till. “That’ll be forty pounds even, love.”

Louis chokes back on some vomit.

He slowly pulls out his wallet, just to make sure the old bag isn’t trying to pull a prank on him, and he counts out some notes.

“Ta,” he says, carrying his new tomato plant out to his car, but leaving behind his pride.

He drives over to the Styles’ house, thumbs rapping against his steering wheel.

Harry opens the front door moments after Louis shuts his car door, balancing the stupid plant in his left arm.

“Hi,” Harry says cautiously.

“Hi.” Louis stands still, about fifteen paces away from the front door. He doesn’t want to get closer if Harry doesn’t want him closer.

“How are you?” Harry asks. It’s so formal, and for a moment, Louis wants to drop the plant and run. If he runs, Harry never has to know about how he’s nestled under Louis’ skin. Harry never has to know how he’s crumpled Louis up like notebook paper.

“Oh, you know,” Louis says, nodding along.

“What’s that?” Harry asks, pointing to the plant.

“It’s a tomato plant,” Louis sighs.

“Oh?” Harry asks. The door opens wider, and Louis sees that Harry’s just lounging around in a ratty sleeveless t-shirt and shorts of a questionable length.

“It’s for you,” Louis says. He looks down at the plant out of a need to look at anywhere other than Harry.

“Bring it here, then,” he says. Louis looks up to see Harry reaching out.

He shuffles up to the door, foisting it on Harry.

There is a distinct possibility he’s never felt so awkward around someone ever.

“Did you want to come in?” Harry asks.

Louis nods.

Harry guides Louis up the stairs to Harry’s room, though the house is quiet and still around them.

Harry places the tomato plant on the floor by his tiny window.

“Thank you,” Harry says, finally breaking a smile.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Louis says, fiddling with his fingers.

Harry nods. “I wanted to talk to you, too. I’m sorry I went bonkers like that. I had a rough exam day, and just took it out on you. You didn’t deserve that.”

“No,” Louis says, interrupting. “I was kind of shit. I really should have made it clear earlier. I mean, you should know by now that I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Harry mouth twitches a little.

“I thought we were figuring stuff out at the same time,” Harry says.

“Together,” Louis adds. “I don’t know, Haz. Somewhere along the line, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I don’t know.”

“You’re confusing,” Harry says.

“So are you,” Louis counters. “You’re sixteen, but secretly eighty.”

Harry drops his head down in an effort to hide his smile. It gives Louis hope.

“You were always off-limits, even before I got that you were a possibility.”

“So you admit I’m a possibility?” Harry says, a wry grin taking over his face.

“You prat, at this point, you’re the only possibility I want.”

Harry smiles wide, almost like he can’t believe it.

“You knew me when I had that awful buzzcut when I was in Year Nine. The fact that you let me kiss you after you witnessed that means I have to keep you,” Louis jokes.

“Don’t forget that phase you went through when you tied your school tie as short as possible,” Harry points out.

Louis groans. “Need I point out, your sister went through a phase when she completely penciled in her eyebrows. Badly.”

“You encouraged her on that,” Harry laughs, stepping closer.

“I caught you giving a fake blowjob to an ice lolly, which you then choked on,” Louis says, laughing.

“But you kissed me about 45 seconds after that!”

“You spewed on Gemma when we were in Year Ten.”

“You once sat through a supper here while you forgot you had a very hairy penis drawn on your hand.”

“It was Sharpie,” Louis adds. “I can’t believe you remember that.”

“I could list a million embarrassing stories about you,” Harry says, his voice dropping to a whisper.

“And do you still want to kiss me?”

Harry nods.

“Too right,” Louis says, laughing. “I’m a right catch.”

Harry shakes his head, giggling, before moving in.

Louis expects a kiss, but Harry keeps pressing, enveloping him into a hug instead. Harry’s shoulder blades flex beneath his hands, and he lets himself breathe for a moment.

As soon as he centers himself, he pulls back just far enough to lift himself to Harry’s mouth, and he kisses him in earnest.

Harry’s muffled surprised noise gets swallowed in the kiss, and Harry’s fingertips dig into Louis’ back.

Even with his limited experience, Louis knows that the way Harry kisses him is incomparable. Louis craves the plumpness of Harry’s bottom lip, the way his tongue darts out when they break away as if he’s trying to chase it.

“I can’t stop thinking about you, either,” Harry whispers into the space between their mouths. “I realised I didn’t say it.”

“Cool,” he whispers back.

Harry pushes him gently until he gets the message, giggling as he falls back on Harry’s bed. He scrambles back towards the pillows, and Harry, laughing, crawls up and settles on his lap. Harry’s hands hold both sides of his face, thumbs coming up to swipe at his cheekbones, as he pulls Louis into a sweet kiss.

Louis hauls him a little closer, hands settling on his waist. Harry groans a little as he does so.

The kissing doesn’t turn frantic, but it does, Louis notices, become more serious. It’s not like their car trysts or fumbling around in Liam’s loft, but it’s slower, more deliberate.

Harry starts circling his hips slowly, just enough to remind Louis of all those lapdances he’s never received. Louis hands skirt up just under the hem of Harry’s shirt, feeling the soft flesh underneath.

Harry shivers at the touch, grinning into the kiss, and trying to get impossibly closer to Louis. One of Louis’ hands slip to Harry’s back, caught between the shirt and Harry’s skin, and he presses in, trying to fuse them together.

Rolling his eyes to feign self-consciousness, Harry pulls back momentarily to tug off the offending t-shirt. He looks pointedly at Louis, like a challenge.

Louis laughs and launches himself at Harry, knocking them both over and facing the foot of the bed.

Harry cackles, loud and clear, and in a swift motion, pulls Louis’ t-shirt right off. It doesn’t even snag on Louis’ monstrous head, so really, they’re improving their technique.

He throws it somewhere to the side, but Louis leans down and starts sucking lovebites on Harry’s neck. It’s the first time he doesn’t care if he leaves marks, because Gemma already knows. He spares a moment to think about Anne and Robin’s response, but that’s a problem for a different day, because the way Harry whimpers when Louis sucks under his jawline is worth every iota of attention he has.

Louis breathes out, “Can I blow you?” just as Harry voices his own request.

“Can you fuck me again?” Harry says, high strung and needy.

It takes Louis a moment to catch up and realise Harry wasn’t answering his question in the first place.

“Yeah, that,” Louis says, shaky. “That’s a good one.”

Harry uses his hand to cover half his face. “I actually have stuff here,” he says into the quiet of the room.

“Where?” Louis asks, pressing kisses to Harry’s chest.

Harry waves his hand uselessly toward his dresser. Louis backs away, staring down at Harry’s form lying the wrong way on the bed, erection straining against his jeans. Louis adjusts himself slightly, but he feels fairly calm. Acceptance settles in his bones.

He presumes Harry means the sock drawer, and sure enough there’s a small bottle of water-based lubricant and a pack of condoms.

“Can you use the condom?” Harry asks. “The hours after that were kind of… weird,” he finishes.

Louis laughs, and Harry joins in.

“Yeah,” Louis says, and jumps back on top of Harry, throwing the other stuff back on the bed.

Louis focuses on Harry, peeling his jeans down, kissing across his thighs. He has no idea if it’s even a sexy move. Thigh-kissing seems awkward, a little bit, but Harry squirms like he’s into it, so Louis keeps at it.

He rubs his palm against Harry’s crotch, feeling his dick twitch in his pants, until Harry’s breaths start to sound shallow.

Louis’ vision blurs, drunk on power, especially with the way Harry’s eyes stay glued to him when he stands up to tug his own trousers off.

Harry gives him a small smile, kind of secretive, when Louis crawls back over him. Harry reaches up to kiss him again, and Louis blindly searches around for where he ditched the lube.

He opens Harry up slowly, feeling less shaky than the first time they had done this. Harry mewls when Louis uses two fingers, and Louis is careful not to repeat the accidental scissoring motion of the first time. Let it never be said that Louis Tomlinson was not a fast learner. At least with hands-on stuff.

“God,” Harry groans into his own forearm, Louis’ own erection dribbling at the sound.

Louis fingers slip when he moves to grab the condom.

“Oh, fuck,” Louis sighs.

Harry cranes his head to see what’s going on.

“Whazz?”

“I’m a prat. My fingers are too… lubey…,” he says.

He shoves the condom at Harry.

“Urgh,” Harry says, face twisting up. He wipes the wrapper on the bedspread as Louis tries not to laugh.

Harry’s face wrinkles in concentration as he tries to open the wrapper.

“Aha!” He says, grinning. He discards the empty wrapper and rolls the condom down Louis’ cock.

“Okay,” Louis says.

“Okay,” Harry echoes, smiling, wagging his eyebrows.

Louis grips himself and pushes in Harry slowly. Louis resists pushing in all at once, even though every fiber of his being wants to be enveloped by Harry completely.

Harry lets out a breath when Louis bottoms out.

“You good?” Louis asks, bending down to kiss at Harry’s mouth, chin, jaw.

“Yeah. You good?”

Louis laughs and nods, moving his hips little by little.

“I think this is the part where you start thrusting,” Harry teases. Louis might feel embarrassed, but he sees the pink high on Harry’s cheeks, and the way his eyes are watering, and he hears the whine in his voice.

The condom helps, he thinks, as he pulls back and pushes back in. He snaps his hips, earning a whine out of Harry, whose erection is back to being thick and full.

Louis tries his best to multitask, using the hand that’s not propping himself up to reach down stroke Harry’s cock.

“Keep going,” Harry says, just as Louis realises he’s let his rhythm falter.

“Shit,” Louis mutters as he pulls out and thrusts again, inching them toward the edge of the bed with every push.

He picks up his pace, feeling the flush crawl slowly up the back of his neck, listening to the obscenity of skin slapping against skin.

Harry’s ‘uh uh uh’ echoes in his mind as he grips Harry’s shin tighter and tries his best to keep his rhythm. His orgasm comes as a punch to the gut, and he only hears Harry’s whine as if someone were holding a pillow over his ears.

He doesn’t pull out, but he goes soft, starting to slide out of Harry as he pumps Harry in earnest.

He nips at the skin behind Harry’s knee, the one perched over his shoulder, and Harry comes, shooting over his hand and climbing up Harry’s ribcage.

“What,” Harry says into the stillness of the room, both of them huffing to catch their breaths.

Louis looks down to where Harry still has his eyes closed, flushed completely, mouth parted and ribcage expanding and contracting as he breathes. Harry’s head dangles upside down over the foot of the bed, his hair flopping back.

“Your head’s going to go fuzzy,” Louis says stupidly, poking Harry in the shoulder.

“My head’s already gone fuzzy,” Harry murmurs with a smile, but he sits up anyway. He flops down immediately at the head of the bed, letting his cheek smush against a pillow, and he grins at Louis dopily.

Louis peels off the condom, grimacing, and ties it into a shoddy knot before dumping it in Harry’s bin near his desk. He curls up next to Harry, and for a moment they just look at each other, and it reminds Louis so much of the time in Louis’ bed, his chest aches.

“So can we be boyfriends, then?” Louis asks.

Harry smiles, lips closed but brilliant, his dimple popping. He nods.

“You wouldn’t feel weird about dating someone in college?” Harry asks.

“It’s not ‘someone’, H, it’s you,” Louis says, tracing the freckles on Harry’s naked shoulder. “You wouldn’t feel weird dating a boy in a shop?”

Harry shakes his head vigorously. “It’ll be great. We’ll jet off to London as soon as I’m done with school.”

Louis smiles, dipping his head into the space between Harry’s neck and shoulder.

“I’m sorry to say that our deal with me setting you up with my actor friends is now off.”

“Oh darn,” Harry says sarcastically. “Now what will I do?”

“You’re stuck with me.”

“I’ll manage,” Harry sighs.

They’re quiet for a moment and Louis continues to trace words into Harry’s skin with his finger.

“Gemma thinks you’re going to take care of me this year,” Louis says.

“She’s probably right. I’ll have to cook for you so you don’t starve,” Harry says, peeking down at Louis.

“Hey, you should let me cook for you for a change,” Louis says indignantly.

“What can you cook?” Harry asks, eyes kinder.

“I’ll have you know I have something in mind that will sweep you off your feet.”

“Well, that’s not exactly hard, is it?” Harry laughs.

“How do you feel about chicken?” Louis asks.

“I feel good about it,” Harry says, nodding.

“And ham?”

“Delicious,” Harry nods.

“And cheese?”

“Best food group there is,” Harry says, grinning.

Louis pulls Harry into another kiss.

“Well, just you wait. I have a treat for you,” Louis responds. He can see the twinkle in his eyes reflecting in Harry’s own.

---

Gemma and Louis sit in Louis’ car, waiting for the others to show up.

“I’m not sure how many times I can apologise, Gem,” Louis says, twisting to look at her. “I genuinely didn’t think you were home.”

“Sure,” she says wryly, twirling her phone in her hands.

“Trust me, I didn’t want for you to hear that.” He rolls the sleeves of his black shirt up to the elbow.

“I’m just scarred for life, no big deal,” she says, but even she can’t hold back from the way her mouth twitches.

She’s sure Louis notices that.

“I mean,” Louis says, “you did say we had your approval.”

Gemma laughs and shakes her head. She takes note of this day so that when she finds an intelligent and fit boyfriend in uni, she’ll make sure to force her brother and Louis to listen to them shag all the time. It would serve them right.

Actually... this could make for a hilarious story for a maid of honour speech. She makes a mental note of that as well.

A pair of headlights turn on to the street, and as the car gets closer, she can make out the bodies inside. The car parks behind them, and Perrie and Zayn step out of the front two seats. Perrie tucks her pink hair under a black skull cap. The back doors flick open and Harry, Niall, and Liam stumble out.

Gemma and Louis get out of their car.

“You’ve got the stuff?” Gemma says, tugging her own black cap down further over her ears.

Perrie laughs and nods, gesturing to the knapsacks they’re all carrying. She passes one over to Louis with a wink.

Louis unzips it and peers inside.

“Pink, Pezza?” he says, pulling out the can of spray paint that looks a shade even Pepto Bismol would be embarrassed of.

“Classic,” Harry says with a wink.

Louis rolls his eyes fondly, and Gemma needs to interject before they start snogging in front of her. She really doesn’t want that right now. They’re on a mission.

“So, we’re aiming for just the outside gates and fences. Nothing on the building,” Perrie explains, looking at Gemma for confirmation.

Gemma nods.

“Okay, we should have enough then,” Zayn says quietly. Perrie nods at him and smiles.

The crickets sound around them as they shuffle towards the school grounds. Pebbles crunch under the weight of Zayn and Perrie’s boots. Even though part of her suspects having a group this large is risky, Gemma knows it’ll certainly help speed things along.

They stand at the entryway of the school grounds, taking in the iron fence that lines the building. Everything’s quiet, no cars in the park or people milling about skipping lessons. It’s unnerving. Gemma will probably never see this building again, and certainly not like this.

“Should we split up?” Niall asks.

Gemma nods.

“I think you two,” she says, pointing at Niall and Liam, “should start at the far end. Then you two,” she directs Zayn and Perrie, “start there.”

Gemma turns toward Louis and Harry. “Oh, no way am I leaving you two alone.”

“What?” Louis gasps at the same time that Harry lets out a begrudged, “Heeeey.”

“We’re on a mission. This isn’t a date.”

Louis turns and nudges Harry with his shoulder.

“She just doesn’t understand romance,” he says, causing Harry to grin absurdly.

“Focus,” she says, and leads them to another part of the grounds for them to get started.

As they trudge across the damp grass, she hears Harry and Louis whispering behind her.

“Are you sure you should be here? What if we get caught and you can’t do sixth form?”

Harry shrugs.

“Well, someone has to take over the reigns. Better start learning now,” Harry whispers back.

Then, Gemma hears a giggle and she doesn’t turn because she doesn’t want to see their mating ritual in action.

“Okay, this looks like a good spot,” Gemma says.

Louis nods.

“I’ll take up here,” he says, grabbing the knapsack. He uncaps the first can he gets his hands on, shaking it up with a wicked glint in his eyes.

Gemma peeks over and makes out Harry's shape in the dark getting close to the iron fence. She hears more than sees the paint rushing out of the can and coating itself on the metal.

Gemma shakes her wrist, watching as the paint starts to unevenly unfold onto the fence. Perfection isn’t the key, and they need to move as quickly as possible if they have a shot at getting out of here unobserved.

“Harry,” she whispers, “don’t worry about it being uneven.”

“How did you know?” he laughs from a few feet away.

After about twenty minutes, the group find themselves getting closer together. Gemma hears the others’ whispers and footsteps, and chokes on the overwhelming smell of acrylic paint wafting through the air. It’s hard to see at night, but she bets that when she drives by the school in the morning, it’ll look like Barbie’s sixth form.

Suddenly, flood lights pop on closer to the building, giving just enough light to let them get a look at each other.

“Run,” Zayn says, and they take off, rushing as fast as their legs will take them back to their cars.

Niall and Liam are the fastest out of all of them, bar Louis, and are the furthest ahead, though they keep peeking behind them to make sure everyone’s still there.

Harry grabs about three of the rucksacks from the ground up in his impossibly long arms.

Louis bolts right there behind him, pushing him along even though his own feet want to tangle up and trip him.

In the midst of all of it, Gemma hears Louis start laughing, and it fills her up with such a sense of love and appreciation she’s blindsided by it. From here on out, she won’t have Louis and Perrie, and Harry, by her side as she commits these minor acts of crime. She can’t imagine that she’ll find anyone at university who will love her as much as those three do. For the first time ever, she finds herself mourning the fact that in a few months she won’t see their faces every day.

But for now, she looks up and sees Perrie’s bizarre run, legs flailing as she tries to keep her cap on her head. With the streetlights she can make sense of Louis’ portrait, just enough so she can see his eyes crinkled up and teeth bared with the size of his grin. He’s clutching his stomach as he runs, and while she can’t see Harry’s face, she knows it well enough to imagine the kind of fondness seeping out of his pores.

The laughter bursts out of her before she can stop it, so she copies Perrie in an effort to keep her hat firmly placed on her head, and she books it just that much more, her giggles drifting back towards the school.

--fin