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A Reptile Dysfunction

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Leigh-Anne forgot to tell them where to meet, but it doesn't matter. They sense each other, and one by one, appear on the shore of the lake by the edge of the forest. The waves roll in strong but calm, and a few stars poke out of the clouds as they're pushed along by the wind.
"You were supposed to be here 15 minutes ago," Jesy says to Perrie as she arrives, shivering and half asleep.

"Daylight savings time," Perrie says with no further explanation.

"Perrie, come now, have a seat," Leigh-Anne says.

"It's dirty," Perrie whines.

"The floor in your room is dirtier than the ground out here," Jesy says.

"It's midnight. I'm tired," Perrie says. "And hungry. And cold."

"You shouldn't have worn your pajamas," Jesy says. "And it's fifteen past midnight."

"I'm sorry I don't have my witchy wardrobe ready for autumn like you lot have already," Perrie says.

"We all have places we'd rather be, all right?" Leigh-Anne says. "There's a party at Stan's right now that I'm missing for this."

"How come I didn't get invited?" Perrie says.

"Come on," Jade says, as Leigh-Anne and Jesy roll their eyes and groan. Jade stands and strips her cloak off and places it around Perrie's shoulders. She takes Perrie's hand and tugs at it until Perrie sits in her place.

"Hmph," Perrie says.

"I promise after this we'll go to McDonald's," Jade says. "We'll get one of those 40-piece McNuggets."

"All right," Perrie says, "but I'm not sharing." She takes her place on the ground across from Jesy, and Leigh-Anne and Jade are across from one another, forming four points of a diamond.

"Okay," Leigh-Anne says. "Everyone shut up. We're out here for a reason. Jesy?"

Jesy goes to speak, but Perrie interrupts her. "I don't see why we have to do this."

"Perrie, we've discussed this," Leigh-Anne says. "Something has to be done."

"He's always been nice to me," Perrie says.

"He has not," Leigh-Anne says. "He stole your date to the winter formal last year, remember?"

"He sold you that hair dye that made your hair look moldy," Jesy says.

"He said your make-up makes you look mannish," Jade pipes up.

"Oh, right," Perrie says. "Well, he's not the nicest person, but --"

"And that's just what he's done to you," Jesy says. "He's pantsed practically everyone in the school. We could've all been expelled for exposing ourselves! And he's the one who exposed us!"

"I rather liked that one, actually," Jade says.

"He ruined the year-end musical," Leigh-Anne says. "I don't think that poor Olly boy will ever be the same."

"He spiked the drinking fountains with laxatives," Jesy says.

"He wore a disguise and pretended to be a substitute teacher for whole month to give himself a higher mark than everyone," Leigh-Anne says.

"He made fun of my scar in front of everyone," Jade says, rubbing her throat self consciously.

"And he always, always gets away with it!" Jesy says. "It's totally unfair!"

The overcast sky has turned dark and ominous with storm. The stars are blacked out by clouds now, and thunder rumbles in from every corner of the world. The waves of the lake crash against the shore, loud enough that it would roar above their voices if they were not connected deeper than the water. An enormous gust of wind sways the trees this way and that. A flash of lightning illuminates each of the girls' faces for a moment, but not one of them flinch. They promised each other when they first began this, they'd use their powers for good. Tonight is finally the night. They all know it now. Something must be done.

Jesy retrieves a cup from her bag, an unmarked bottle of dark liquid, the pouch containing Louis' hair, and a naked Barbie doll with a mangled haircut.

"Is that supposed to be him?" Leigh-Anne says.

"I did the best I could," Jesy says. "It was short notice."

"Looks a bit like Ken's butch sister," Jade says.

Jesy wraps some of the hair around the waist of the doll like a little fashion belt and tosses it onto the flames. It melts into a grotesque shape and drips onto the ground. Jesy pours the liquid from the bottle into the cup and sprinkles the remaining hair in along with it.

"We have to drink hair?" Perrie says. "You're making us drink hair."

"Relax, it'll dissolve," Jesy says.

"Not like you've never had hair in your mouth before," Jade says with a naughty glimmer in her eye.

"Ugh," Perrie says. "This is different."

"It'll dissolve! Calm down!" Jesy says.

They pass the cup around, each drinking of it. Jesy throws the dregs of it into the center of their diamond, and a fire starts from nothing. They each press their palms against one another and link their fingers together, forging their bond even tighter.

They all begin to warm up, exercising their vocals and getting ready to sing. Their riffs soon meld together into a beautiful, haunting harmony. The storm around them grows. They are in control of it.

"DNA, it's in his DNA," they all sing in perfect unison. They continue to sing it over and over until the space all around them is filled with it, as if protected in a bubble of their song. It swells and fades until they're all singing in a low hum.

"Simon," Leigh-Anne calls out. "We call on the power of Simon."

"Simon," they speak together. "We ask for the ability to do harm against those who have harmed us. We ask that his true form be revealed."

The sky opens up and rain pours down around them, but they are kept dry by Simon's protection. The fire between them grows and shrinks, like an otherworldly, all-powerful being is nodding to them.

"Nothing more to say," they sing. "It's in his DNA."

"Let's neuter that fucking cold-hearted bastard!" Jesy says.

The fire goes out. As soon as it does, their bubble is gone, and the rain soaks them.

"Jessica!" Perrie says. "You were supposed to wait until the fire was gone to say anything!"

"Sorry," Jesy says, shrugging like she doesn't really care that much. "I think I had more wine than you all."

"It probably won't hurt anything," Leigh-Anne says. "Whatever happens, happens."

"Let's get out of here," Jesy says. "I didn't bring an umbrella."

"Under my umbrella," Jade sings.

"Under my umbrella, ella, ella," Perrie joins in as they all make their ways back through the forest and home to their beds.

~*~

Louis wakes up freezing. It's end of summer and school's just started up again, so he sleeps with his window open and the covers off everything but one of his feet so he doesn't sweat to death. He touches his own skin, but he can't tell how cold he is because his fingers feel like they're icicles about to snap off. He doesn't feel ill, or clammy, or anything like that. Just chilled to the bone. He's never had this kind of hangover before, but he's getting older now, and his body is changing. He lifts his head and he doesn't have a headache like he normally does, and he doesn't want to vomit. He's just cold.

"Yesss," he celebrates to himself.

"Louis!" His mum calls. "Time to get up! You're gonna be late!"

"I can't, Mum!" Louis says. He throws in a cough just for good measure. "I'm sick!"

Louis' mum bangs in without knocking, thermometer in hand. She shoves it in his mouth without saying a word and stands with her arms folded waiting for his temperature to show. After a minute, she rips it from his face and looks at it.

"Impossible," his mum says. "You've had ice in your mouth. It says your temperature is 10."

"Umm," Louis says. He knows he should be more concerned with why his body is apparently deteriorating and freezing from the inside out, but he really just wants to skip school. "No, I really don't feel good, Mum. Please. Mum. Mummy. Let me stay home. Feel my forehead."

He grabs her hand, which almost burns his icy fingers, and presses it to his forehead. He feels like it'll stick to his head like a frozen pole, that's how cold he is. His mum makes a deeply troubled face and feels all over his head.

"Hmm," she says.

"I really ought to stay home," Louis says. He sniffles.

"Fine," his mum says. "Put some clothes on, for god's sake. And a blanket."

"Yes!" Louis fist pumps. "I mean, yes. Yes, madam. Thank you, sir."

"All right," Louis' mum says. She still looks looks suspicious, and Louis feels almost proud that he has made her this distrustful of him. "Feel better, darling."

She tucks Louis in and kisses him on the forehead. Her lips feel a hot poker. He holds in a hiss of pain and she leaves to drop the girls off at school and to go to work.

Louis has so many plans whirling through his brain already. Firstly, he's got to get out of his bed. It seems impossible. The blanket covering him isn't doing anything. It feels like his body isn't giving off any heat at all. He grabs his phone from his nightstand and brings it under the blanket, but the light of it stabs his eyes like the flash on a camera, and he has to blindly adjust the brightness of it to the lowest setting. He didn't think he drank that much last night, but maybe he's wrong. He doesn't know his limit and he really should learn. Oh well.

He looks up causes of "cold skin" but doesn't come up with anything conclusive. There are a hundred possible things that could be wrong with him, up to and including that he's a corpse. He lays his hand over his heart to make sure it's still beating and that's he's not patient zero in the zombie apocalypse and finds it there, steadily pumping along. He's not a corpse, then.

The brightness of the sun rising through his window cheers him and motivates him to get up. He feels like he's been out in snow for hours, but he can feel a warm breeze coming in through the open window. It glides over his skin like a fog and it does nothing to heat him up. He rubs his hands together and breathes into them, and he can feel his skin warming under his lips, but then it goes cold again in an instant. He carefully holds the blanket wrapped around his shoulders and goes to the window.

The sun is even more blinding to him than his phone screen was. He covers his eyes with his hand and reaches outside, and each beam of sunlight that touches him warms him up almost instantly. He drops the blanket to the floor and opens the window, sticking his head out and spreading his arms. He hears people getting into their cars for the morning commutes and stepping outside to get their morning papers.

"Good morning!" Louis shouts to the world.

"Put some clothes on!" Mrs. Edwards shouts back from across the street.

Louis turns around to toast his buns in the sun. He's feeling much better now. Must've had a temporary vitamin deficiency. All he needs is a little relaxation and fun to feel better.

It's Louis' week with the van, so sends Zayn a text to meet him outside the school in 10 minutes. As soon as he steps out of the sunlight, he gets extremely chilly again, so he puts on a cozy sweater, even though the very idea of it in summer makes him want to sweat. He can't bear the thought of wearing long pants, though, at least not until October, so he still puts on his jorts. He can't really feel his legs anyway, so it doesn't matter. The sweater doesn't warm him up, but it makes him feel better. The sunlight is still rendering his vision useless, turning everything bright white whenever he looks outside, so he puts his sunglasses on and drives over to the school and parks out front to wait for Zayn.

Zayn shows up after 30 minutes, when everyone is pouring out the doors for lunch.

"Goody two shoes!" Louis screeches at him out the passenger window.

Zayn slides into the passenger seat of the can and shakes his head, pulling the cigarette out from behind his ear and going to light it. Louis tears it from his mouth and flings it away before he gets the chance.

"No smoking near the baby," Louis says, petting the ceiling.

"I paid for that cigarette!" Zayn says. "You could've at least let me keep it!"

"You probably owe me money," Louis says.

"It's half my van anyway," Zayn says. "You shouldn't be driving it here. They'll spot it from a mile away and you're supposed to be home sick."

Last year, in celebration of them both getting their licenses, they co-bought a beat up old van. It used to be one of those white vans that child snatchers ride around in, but Zayn's painted it, so now it looks fucking sick. It's like his neverending art project that he just keeps adding to and removing from and adding to again. This van is Zayn's Sistine Chapel. It's been through many phases - aliens, monkeys, eyeballs completely covering the entire exterior, Iron Man by Louis' request.

Currently it's a swirl of colors to cover up everything else, and a giant tiger on the side in a pouncing stance. Zayn's right, he's not exactly conspicuous in this thing.

"Let's jet, then," Louis says, shifting the van into gear. "Where to first?"

"I need get back," Zayn says.

"What's wrong with you?" Louis says, outraged. "Where's your sense of fun? Your lust for mischief? Your boner for adventure?"

"I'm gonna get in trouble," Zayn says.

"What?" Louis says. "You love trouble. Don't you have gym next? You don't want to participate in that, do you?"

Zayn stays quiet.

"Oh my god," Louis says. "Is this about old donut head?"

"He's not a donut head," Zayn mumbles.

"You wanna change in front of everyone and do physical activities in public just to impress a donut head?"

"Liam's nice," Zayn says. "And he wears these shorts. You can see, like. You know."

"Ugh, stop right there," Louis says. "We need to get you out of here ASAP. This isn't you at all. You've changed, Zayn. You're in too deep."

"Fine," Zayn says. "Let's just leave before we get caught."

Louis steps on it and peels out, nearly running over several of his classmates making their way back from lunch, including those fucking witches. Perrie's hair is a different color than it was the day before, and her icy eyes lock in on his as he's speeding away. A chill runs down his spine, but he shakes it off. There’s no reason to ruin his good mood, not when he’s gotten everything he wanted so far today.

~*~

Louis drives them to their spot. It's a little secluded area in the woods right next to the lake, and the trail to it isn't marked or well-tread. Louis had just memorized it and had to figure out a new way completely when they got the van. When they get there, there are footprints all over their little beach, and the remnants of a bonfire are left behind.

"What in fresh hell?" Louis says. "Who's been here?"

"I dunno, mate," Zayn says, picking up an empty wine bottle. "Looks like just some partiers or something."

"Illegal," Louis says. "Immoral. This is supposed to be just me and you here, Zayn. How dare they? How dare they desecrate our secret spot?"

"You're telling me you've never desecrated anyone's secret spot up here before?" Zayn says.

"Well," Louis says. "Maybe I have brought a couple people up here. But I blindfolded them first."

"Maybe it was you up here last night, yeah? Heard when you left you were three sheets."

Louis tries to think, but he doesn't remember being here last night. He remembers he was over at Stan's house for a small get together, a few dozen or so. He remembers talking to Zayn, he remembers getting his bum touched by someone, he remembers creating a new dance craze that he no longer remembers now, he remembers seeing Harry from across the room, he remembers drinking so much he couldn't feel any part of his body, and he remembers someone helping him vomit into what he believed at the time to be a toilet but could've been anything. He doesn't remember much else. Nothing really out of the ordinary for him.

"You weren't the one holding my hair back while I vomited?" Louis says.

Zayn shakes his head. "No, I'd left before that."

"Maybe I did come up here," Louis says. "But unlikely. Keep your eyes peeled for trespassers and usurpers."

"all right," Zayn says.

Zayn goes over to his usual spot, which is a huge rock just by the water. Louis has never seen someone wear so many clothes by the water in summertime as Zayn. He doesn't even take off his shoes. He likes to sit there and pose and pretend that he's gazing thoughtfully into the vastness of life. Louis would normally be swimming by now, but he can't even bring himself to want to be in the cold water. Instead he strips down so he's wearing nothing but his shorts and sunglasses and jumps up onto the hood of the van, climbing up the windshield to lay on the top of it.

"Watch it!" Zayn says. "You're gonna dent her!"

"Fuck off," Louis says. He lies down on his back on the roof of the van and spreads his limbs out so they're all catching sun. He feels it start from the inside and unfurl outwards, the heat of it warming him. It makes him feel amazing, like he's glowing with it.

"Jesus, I knew you were cold-blooded, but wow," Zayn says. "Aren't you sweating to death up there? Must be like a hot slide in the park."

"I said, fuck off," Louis says. "You're the one who's wearing a leather jacket to the beach. And I never sweat."

Louis twists around and flops over so he's lying on his stomach, his back getting its chance to be sunned. He lowers his chest slowly to the surface of the van, which is getting pretty hot sitting there. He doesn't want to burn his nipples off. It feels nice, once he settles, probably how a pancake feels, if it could feel anything.

Zayn's got his phone out and is paying no attention to Louis at all.

"Who's it you're texting, then?" Louis says.

"Liam," Zayn says. He doesn't even try to act guilty about it.

"You're not telling him where you are, are you?" Louis says.

"No, Louis, I'm not."

Louis watches Zayn type away at his phone and smile stupidly at whatever stupid thing that stupid donut head is sending to him for a couple more minutes before he can't take it any longer.

"I don't know what you see in him," Louis says.

"What?" Zayn says. He finally puts his phone in his pocket and he gets up, walks over to the van to lean his elbow on the hood in a way that he probably feels looks cool.

"Liam," Louis says. "I don't know what you see in him. He's nothing like me."

Zayn laughs at him. "That's right, he's nothing like you."

"You should want to date me," Louis says with a pout. "Everyone should want to date me, in fact. Liam should want to date me as well. The entire world."

"Don't really fancy dating my best mate," Zayn says.

"Why not?" Louis says. He sits up and scooches to the edge of the van, so his legs are dangling down and over the windshield. He's starting to feel overheated, a stark contrast to where he started this morning. "What's the difference? You're friends with Liam as well, correct?"

"It is different," Zayn says. "Like, we're really good friends, but we're not like. I dunno, we're not like that."

"Really good reasoning, Zayn," Louis says. "Excellent presentation.”

"It's different," Zayn says again. "Besides, you already tried dating your best mate, and see where it landed you."

"We just established you've never dated me," Louis says.

"That's not who I mean and you know it," Zayn says.

"Well, then!" Louis shouts louder than he should.

He slides down the windshield of the van and kicks Zayn in the chest, nearly knocking him over, but Zayn sets himself right before he falls. Zayn never falls when Louis pushes him, for some reason. He always retains his balance. Zayn never fights back, either. It can be very frustrating, because Louis likes nothing more than setting people up and knocking them down. Zayn never seems to take it personally. He just lets Louis be Louis.

A fly flits by Louis' ear, and it infuriates him. He swats at it but it keeps coming back for more.

"Just leave it alone and it'll go away," Zayn says.

"That's bees," Louis says.

"Come on, little fly," Zayn says, patting his knee like the fly is a dog. "This way. Come on."

The fly starts moving towards Zayn like Zayn's calling really worked, but before it can go any further, Louis snatches it out of the air with his bare hand and stuffs it in his mouth. He feels it buzzing around and throwing itself against his sealed lips before he folds his tongue around it and crushes it. He swallows it.

"Uh," Zayn says, his face twisted up with disgust.

Louis feels sick. Not because of the fly. He enjoyed eating it. It tasted good. It felt good catching it. It felt like a natural thing to him. He wants more, like when you're eating crisps. You can't have just one. His mouth waters. He wants to vomit.

"Are you feeling all right?" Zayn says.

"Ha-ha!" Louis forces out. "I'm so quirky!"

"Eating bugs isn't quirky, mate," Zayn says. "It's pretty disgusting."

"It was pretty cool how I caught him though, right?"

Zayn stares at him. "Yeah, it was ninja," he admits.

"Exactly," Louis says. "Just part of my ninja training."

"Maybe you should go home and get some rest," Zayn says, though he looks like he wants to ask more questions.

"Yeah," Louis says. "I’m not feeling too well.”

Louis curls up in the passenger seat and lets Zayn drive him home. He's hungry, but the idea of putting food in this mouth repulses him. He thinks of eating that fly and his mouth waters. He tries to lay his head against the window, but they're still on the forest trail, so he just ends up knocking it into the glass before giving up and sitting back in the seat. Getting out of the sun hasn't helped him feel less overheated. He thinks about Zayn earlier, asking him if he's sweating to death. Louis would never admit it aloud, but he does sweat a lot. He's not sweating at all right now, like his skin is keeping all the moisture in his body and it's boiling.

"What's that thing where you don't sweat?" Louis says.

"Hypothermia?" Zayn says.

"Isn't that where they dangle a watch in front of you and make you walk around inside your memories?" Louis says.

"Hypnotherapy," Zayn says.

"That's not it," Louis says.

He feels unsettled and uncomfortable. He's kept his sweater off, so he uses it as a blanket and pulls it up to his chin, even though he's too warm now, just as a comfort. He watches quietly for a while out the window as Zayn navigates through the trees and back onto the road. His skin doesn't feel burnt, but he feels hot through his core, and it radiates outward like he's going to burst with it.

"Harry and I were never together," Louis says suddenly, closing his eyes so it's like he's not speaking to anyone. He just has to say it.

"Hm?" Zayn says. The volume of the radio goes down.

"We weren't," Louis says.

"What were you, then?" Zayn says.

"Nothing," Louis says. "We weren't anything."

Zayn knows him too well, so he knows exactly which questions to ask and things to say to press his buttons. Louis doesn't want to give him the chance, so he reaches over and turns the radio back up himself.

"If that's not together, I'd like to see what you think is," Zayn says.

Louis pretends not to hear him and starts screeching dramatically along to the song playing, singing in Zayn's face until he's forced to join in.

~*~

Louis climbs over the middle to the driver seat.

"You look really classy driving barefoot and shirtless," Zayn says, leaning through the window. "Try not to eat any more bugs, yeah?"

"Yeah, okay," Louis says. He has no smart retort to that, because it's all too true. "Let me know if you need the van, or if you wanna work on it or whatever."

"Will do," Zayn says.

Louis gets home right before his mum does. He was only going to feign sleep so they'd leave him be, but he realizes when he lies down that he's exhausted. He's probably got sun poisoning or something. He closes his blinds to make it as dark as possible, and he strips naked and tries to fall asleep as spread out as possible to cool down. What an awful sick day it's been.

~*~

Louis wakes up after a few hours completely wired. His temperature feels normal, but he can feel that it's gone down a lot since he's been out of the sun. He looks at his phone and he has a hundred missed calls and texts, from several different people. He dials back whoever called him last and gets Stan.

"What's going on?" Louis says. "Someone die?"

"Greg is throwing a fucking massive bash!" Stan shouts into the phone as if technology hasn't advanced since 1962.

"What?" Louis says, bolting upright and flinging himself out of bed. He scrambles to dress himself as quick as possible. "Why wasn't I notified?"

"It was a surprise!" Stan says.

"Fucking legend," Louis says reverently. "What's it for?"

"His little brother's birthday," Stan says. Then it sounds as if he's talking to someone else, "what's his name? Nail? Noel?"

"Niall," Louis says, but Stan isn’t listening. He feels his stomach drop, but he doesn't know why. He feels like he hates Niall for some reason, but he can't recall what. Oh well, forgive and forget.

"Nail is such a cool name," Stan says.

"I'll be right over," Louis says.

~*~

Louis just barely steps in bounds of the yard and is immediately handed a drink. He slams it back on the doorstep, and has a new one by the time he's in the hall. Greg's parties are the best. He's almost entirely forgotten what was bothering him in the car.

Zayn is just inside the house, always as close to the exit as possible. He's not much of a partygoer, but he's been going to more lately, and Louis sees the reason why when Liam brings Zayn a cup. Zayn accepts it, looking shy, and Liam rests his hand on Zayn's arm as they talk, Zayn leaning against the wall.

Louis makes his way over and throws himself at Zayn, knocking Liam's hand away in the process.

"Fancy seeing you here!" Louis screeches. "It’s been ages!”

"Fuck off," Zayn says, pushing him away. He gives Louis a look that says, you have ruined my entire life.

"Hi Louis," Liam says. "Can I get you a drink?"

"Already got one," Louis says, holding up his cup.

"I mean, if you wanted another, or," Liam says, gesturing to vaguely towards the kitchen. He seems a little nervous and fidgety, which is exactly how Louis likes people in his presence.

There's cheers and hollering coming from the lounge, and Louis immediately needs to be part, if not the center of the commotion. He puts his hands on Zayn and Liam's chests to part them like swinging doors and walks through them to wherever the source of entertainment is coming from.

Already in full swing is a rousing game of spin the bottle. It looks like they've pushed all the furniture back, like it's a dance floor, but it's only so everyone can fit in a huge circle. It's perhaps the largest spin the bottle circle Louis has ever seen in his life.

Niall, whose cheeks are ruddy with drink and probably embarrassment, leans into the circle and gives the bottle a spin. The poor lad, probably never kissed anyone in his life. Little brace face child with no fashion sense. Always eating. Smells kind of funny. Louis called him a garbage can once, but he wasn't even intending to be rude about it, just stating facts. Louis watches as the bottle goes round and round, while those in the circle, oohing and ahhing and calling out bets of who it'll point to.

It slows, and slows, and finally comes to a stop. The room explodes with shouts and applause and whistling. Louis can see the commotion, but can't hear any of it.

It's landed on Harry.

Louis didn't even notice Harry was in the circle, let alone at the party at all. He slugs back the drink in his cup all in one go and watches Harry hide his face in his hands, like he's the embarrassed one. Niall crooks his finger, beckoning Harry to come forward. Harry peeks through his fingers and throws his head back, laughing helplessly, wide open mouth, eyes scrunched closed. He unfolds his legs to get up on his hands and knees and crawls like a panther over to Niall.

Louis can't take his eyes away, even though it feels like his skin is going to fly apart and his insides are burning up. He hasn't seen Harry all summer, and he's changed in small, subtle ways. He has shorter hair now, but not too much shorter, and it's pushed back from his face. He has a tan. The lines of his body are long, and his legs look clumsy, like he's not used to them yet. His back is broad, and with him on all fours like that right now, Louis thinks he could probably put a saddle on him and ride him like a stallion. He can see the tattoos poking out from under the rolled up sleeves, curling out from under the unbuttoned neckline of his thin, white shirt, and wrapping around his wrists. He wonders where Harry got them, and who with, because some of them have got to be illegal. He's so young, Louis thinks, even though he's not that young anymore, and he certainly doesn't look it. He looks fucking good.

Niall checks an invisible watch and whistles. Harry laughs at him and continues his kitten crawl. They're so playful together, so easy, like they spend a lot of time together, maybe, like they know each other really well.

Louis suddenly remembers why it is he hates Niall.

Harry sits up and grabs Niall's face between his two big, wide hands. He plants one right on Niall's mouth, still with a smile on his face, and he even closes his eyes, so tender and familiar. Niall pulls Harry into him, pretending to deepen the kiss, even dipping him back a bit, much to the loud screaming delight of the onlookers, but Louis can see it's still chaste. They're just playing and having fun.

He watches Harry press his lips against Niall's ear and whisper something. It makes Louis want to commit crimes against humanity.

"All right, Louis?" Zayn says.

Louis nearly jumps out of his skin. He was so focused on what was happening in front of him, he doesn't know how long Zayn's been there, or how long Zayn's been watching him watch this spectacle.

"Wow," Liam says, pointing at Louis' face. A common reaction, yes, but Louis hasn't done anything special to it tonight. Liam stands in front of Louis' face so his view of the spin the bottle game is blocked.

"Please step back, Liam," Louis says, pushing him aside. Harry and Niall have both settled back into their spots in the circle, folding themselves up across from each other. Harry is giggling and bright, unable to take his eyes away from Niall. Louis can't see Niall's face, but the back of his head looks happy. Louis feels a fresh surge of rage course through his entire body. His teeth hurt with it, but he can't do anything with it. Not yet.

"Cool contacts!" Liam says. "Did you just put them in?" He sticks a finger in Louis' face and starts moving it closer and closer to his eyeball as if he's going to touch it.

Louis slaps his hand away. "Please do not stick your finger in my eye. Who knows where it's been." Then, "Wait, what do you mean? Contacts?"

"Sorry," Liam says. He's making direct eye contact with Louis and it makes Louis uncomfortable. "Are those your natural eyes? I didn't mean to say anything. Do you have like a condition? What's that, where you've got different colored eyes? Homo sapien eyes?"

"Heterochromia," Zayn says.

"It looks cool either way, though," Liam says. "Really edgy. Are you a goth?"

"Zayn, what is he on about?" Louis says. "I haven't done anything to my eyes."

"Let me see," Zayn says. He takes Louis' face in his hands and moves him into better light, and whatever he sees makes him take his hands away like something bit him.

"What?" Louis says. "What is it?"

Liam sticks a phone in front of him with the front-facing camera on. When he sees himself, he flinches, but he forces himself to look again, because he can't believe it. His eyes, usually the color of the most beautiful shallow sea on the clearest day, are gone. In their place, staring back at him through the camera, are dull golden eyes split down the middle with a slitted black pupil. Even the whites of his eyes are gone, completely filled in with gold. The longer he looks, the more the pupils shrink into a thin line, until his both his eyes look like hideous yellow marbles.

"Oh, god," Louis says.

"What's going on, Louis?" Zayn says, sounding nervous.

He feels cold again for the first time in hours, the dark of the house and of the night seeping into him. Liam dutifully puts a cup in his hand, and he chugs whatever's in it. He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, hoping when he opens them again he'll be back to normal. No such luck. He stares and stares. He moves his head this way and that, looking from different angles. He pushes his fringe back, then pulls it down over one eye. Not that bad, actually.

"I don't know," Louis finally says. "But I have to agree with Liam, here. It does look fucking sick."

"Are you joking?" Zayn says.

Louis puts his hands on both of their faces and shoves them away.

"Make way, boys," he says. "I have a game of spin the bottle to catch up with."

He charges into the lounge and is greeted in the celebratory way he always expects. Ecstatic calls of "Tommo!" and vigorous applause ring throughout the room. It's a fact, Louis is beloved by all. He's the life of the party, and they all know it. God, he doesn't know how they made it this far in the game without him.

He's very aware of Harry's eyes on him as he wedges himself in the seat next to Niall, shoving some girl out of the circle and making room for himself. It creates somewhat of a domino effect, so everyone has to move over so as not to be completely knocking knees with the person they're next to. It's exactly what he's aiming for: the entire room catering to his every wish. He doesn't let his glance move towards Harry at all, but he can feel him looking. He wonders what Harry's face looks like, if he's shocked to see Louis, if he's embarrassed at having kissed Niall while Louis surely looked on, if he's angry, nostrils flaring.

The teen witches are out to play tonight as well. Louis notices them only because Jesy is sitting next to Harry, and she touches his shoulder to balance herself so she can scooch over and not be sitting on his lap. Jesy notices Louis too, and she immediately begins frantically whispering and slapping at the other three. They all point at each other and at themselves accusingly, with the occasional gesture over to where Louis is sitting, but then suddenly hush all at once, just as if someone conducted them to.

"Love the look," Jesy says to him. The rest of them cackle.

"Shouldn't you be out riding your brooms?" Louis says.

"We're not witches," Perrie says as she darts her eyes back and forth.

"It's my turn, isn't it?" Louis says, ignoring them.

"Actually, Tommo," says Niall from beside him. "We were going - the other way."

"Well, someone new - me - just joined, so we're going the other way now," Louis says. "Right?"

"Okay," Niall says. He looks away and squirms nervously. Louis doesn't know why, because he's not being that mean, until he remembers what he looks like right now. If these weird snake eyes make it possible for him to strike fear into hearts even more easily than before, then he's all for them.

"Right then," Louis says. "Let's have a go."

He gives quick look around the circle, finally allowing himself to really have a look at Harry. Harry's not looking at him anymore, but appears as though he's trying very hard not to. He's staring hard at the floor, where the bottle is, seeming unsure. Louis knows he won't leave the circle, even though he wants to. He knows Harry better than Harry knows himself. He can see Harry's mind being made up plainly on his face. He stays put, even if it means he'll have to watch Louis kiss someone else, just as Louis had to watch Harry kiss someone else. He stays put, even if it means he might have to kiss Louis, one more time.

Louis tries to decide who he wants to kiss the most first so he can figure out what kind of force to put into his spin. He's got this down to a science, almost, and he knows just how hard to flick his wrist and how soon to let go and the way he needs to lift his fingers from the bottle. Louis is surprised to notice Liam has joined in, but he's even more surprised to see Zayn sitting a few people over from him. He tries to decide which kiss would make Harry look at him again.

He doesn't think he'd be able to spin the bottle in such a way that it would land on Niall, since he's right next to Niall. Louis doesn't much fancy kissing Niall, but he knows that'd make Harry feel something, judging by the performance the two of them gave earlier.

Ah, well. He gives it a spin and lets fate decide. The bottle turns and turns, the shouting and cheering picking up again. It looks like it's about to land on Cher, which, while not Louis' first choice, would be fine, but something strange happens. The bottle's speed picks up, almost as if it was spun again. Then it suddenly stops short, like someone had put their hand on it. He looks around the room, and everyone else is doing the same, seeming puzzled. The teen witches are all sitting there with their eyes closed, holding hands in a chain. Before he has time to think of anything to even say, the noise in the room explodes.

The bottle's finally landed on Liam, of all people.

The first thing Louis' eyes snap to is Harry, who is, Louis is both furious yet gutted to notice, sighing in relief and rubbing his palms on his knees. Then Louis realizes what kissing Liam means, and he looks at Zayn. Zayn is livid in the way Zayn always is: blank-faced and solemn. He won't even look at Louis, as if the bottle landing there is all his fault and he could've done something different to prevent this from happening. It's the same way he looks after Louis does something to get Zayn in trouble with his mom; it's the same way he looks when Louis does something forgivable, but not forgettable. Zayn hasn't even kissed Liam yet, and here Louis is getting to it first.

Louis puts on his best apologetic grimace and tries to get Zayn to look at him, to see how sorry he is for having to do this. But do this, he must. Rules are rules, and spin the bottle rules matter most of all. You have to kiss on whosever the bottle lands, lest you suffer the consequences. He's seen people forced to kiss dogs. He's witnessed kissing cousins, literally.

You don't disobey the bottle, and so Louis knee-walks over to Liam, who he hasn't even taken into consideration yet. Liam seems good-natured about the whole thing, and gives him the quickest peck possible on the lips. The waiting crowd is disappointed and boos them loudly for the poor show. Louis keeps his eye on Zayn, who's watching them now. When the kiss is done, Louis mouths, "I'm sorry," to him. Zayn shrugs, waving his hand.

"You’re given the gift of being allowed to kiss the Tommo hisself while you’re alive on this earthly plain, and that's all you do?" Stan says to Liam, slapping him on the back.

Liam ignores him and pokes his head around all the people sitting between them to catch Zayn's attention, and they shake their heads at each other, somehow communicating something Louis can't read. They both sit back and lift their shoulders up and fidget, rubbing their faces and smiling to themselves bashfully.

The game goes on, several more odd couplings made. Perrie has to kiss Zayn, and it somehow turns her hair from light purple to deep purple, or maybe it's a trick of the light. The room can’t decide if the bottle’s on Bressie or Niall after Josh spins it, so they’re forced to perform some sort of erotic threeway kiss for the pleasure of the onlookers. Half the circle spins before it’s Harry's turn. The room blows up, shouting at him to top that last one, encouraging him with applause. Louis stares at him, and frankly, he’s surprised Harry hasn’t left the game yet. Ever since Louis sat down, Harry’s hasn’t said a word to anyone, a sure sign that he’s nervous. Louis watches as Harry scans the room, chewing on his lip, but apparently he decides not to escape. At the last second, Harry looks up, and their eyes meet. Harry fumbles the bottle and it flies across the circle, so everyone backs away from it, making room for it to spin. You can't double spin if you fuck it up, so round and round it goes. It does the same jerky motions as when Louis spinned it, slowing down and picking up speed, and it lands suddenly on Louis.

The warm press of the people in the room and the bodies around him have kept him warm this whole time, but now Louis feels a sick chill go through him, colder than he's felt all day, straight to his heart. The room goes silent for a moment, then bursts open with sounds of yelling, whistling, hooting, clapping, and stomping. Harry looks shook up and devastated, and when he sits up, getting to his knees, Louis thinks he's just going to get up and walk away, rules be damned. He doesn't, though; he doesn't move closer, but he doesn't leave. He sits there, and he waits for Louis.

Louis feels the hairs of the back of his neck raise, and he can almost feel his pupils expanding, turning his eyes completely dark. Louis is the one who gets to his feet, then, not wanting to be undignified and clumsy in this moment, not wanting to crawl on his knees to Harry. He stands above Harry, whose head is bowed, his hands clenched into fists by his sides. Louis puts his finger under Harry's chin and tips his face up with no resistance. Harry looks at him, dead in the eye, and Louis almost can't bear how much he loves it, how much he loves how upset Harry looks, how much he loves that he can affect Harry in this way, how much he loves that he can tell Harry still wants him, regardless.

Louis gives him what he wants. He bends down, giving the crowd a good look at his ass if the wolf whistles have anything to do with it, and presses his mouth to Harry's, softly. Harry gasps into it, a hurt sound, but it allows Louis to slip his tongue against Harry's parted lips, making the kiss as deep as he wants it to be, and Harry lets him. It only lasts for a few moments, then Louis starts to pull away, scraping his teeth against Harry's bottom lip and tugging on it, making Harry chase his mouth.

It's as if Louis is operating on instinct when he bites down, hard, and sinks his teeth into Harry's lip. He can feel his sharpest teeth going through the soft, lush skin, and Harry whimpers. Louis starts to freak out. This isn't what he wants to do, but it's like his body is doing it without his mind telling it to. He's biting hard enough to break skin, he can tell, and Harry finally opens his eyes when Louis doesn't stop biting him after several seconds, just letting his teeth stay embedded in Harry's lip for way too long. A hint of panic makes its way to Harry's gaze, maybe the glaze of a tear there, and he darts his eyes around the room, as if looking for someone to help him get the crazy person eating his lip off of him. Nobody seems to notice anything is strange, just a slightly longer kiss between two people.

"Louis," Harry whispers against Louis' biting mouth. "It hurts."

Louis closes his eyes and concentrates very hard on not hurting Harry, on not treating Harry like a threat, of all things. Finally, his teeth obey him, and they slip out of the wet plush heat of Harry's lip, which is plump now and slick with spit, abused. Harry lifts his hand and touches it lightly with his fingertip, checking for blood, probably, but there's nothing. Then his eyes roll back inside his head, and he collapses backwards, completely passing out.

The crowd goes wild. It's not often someone faints and swoons during spin the bottle, and nobody can hold him their applause and and people declare the game over and won by Louis Tomlinson, master of spin the bottle and expert kisser. The circle breaks up, and Louis crouches down next to Harry, touching his face and trying to wake him. He's gentle with Harry, shows him kindness he reserves only for when Harry can't see him. Zayn and Liam gather round Harry as well, and they all jiggle Harry's shoulders and legs, trying to get him to open his eyes, but nothing happens. Louis presses his ear to Harry's chest, and his heart is beating steadily, so at least Louis knows his kiss isn't deadly.

"What did you do?" Zayn says.

"I don't know," Louis says. "I bit him. It was like - I couldn't help it."

"You never can," Zayn says.

Louis opens his mouth to explain, that's not how it was, that's not what it was like, but Zayn moves up by Harry's head and gets his hands under his armpits.

"Liam, help me get him up."

Liam and Zayn each put one of Harry's arms around their shoulders and carry him through the house, as he's not awake at all and certainly not helping them walk him. Louis follows them at first, then gets ahead of them, making way through the people to clear a path. Nobody seems to care that Harry is out cold. The witches are kind of casting nervous glances at them, but they're making no move to help, just talking amongst themselves. There's a corner bedroom with some people in it, but Louis throws them out so they can get Harry settled on the bed.

"Harry, wake up," Zayn says. He slaps him on the face, hard enough that Louis can imagine the sting of it on his own cheek.

"What do we do?" Liam says. He's pacing around the floor, clutching his head in his hands. "I can call my dad."

Louis stops him and slaps Liam across the cheek as well, probably just as hard as Zayn slapped Harry.

"Get ahold of yourself, man!" Louis says.

"Did you give him something?" Zayn says.

"What?" Louis says. "You think I'd slip him a mickey?"

"I don't know," Zayn says. "What else could it be?"

Just then a mysterious voice comes through the cracked open door.

"Give him this," it hisses, a gloved hand holding a cup poking in.

Liam is the one who's closest to the door, so he takes it without question and sniffs it.

"What is it?" Liam says. "Smells like cat pee."

"Just give it to him!" The voice on the other side of the door says, slightly less mysterious and more like an exasperated girl. "It will heal him."

"What happened to him?" Louis says. "What did I do?"

"You've got a venomous bite to go with your cold-blooded heart," the mysterious voice says. "Best be more careful in the future."

"What does that mean?" Louis says, but there's no answer.

Liam hands the cup to Zayn, who presses it to Harry's lips and carefully pours the liquid into his slack mouth.

"What are you doing?" Louis says. "You accuse me of poisoning him, but now you're just giving him something a glove handed to you through a door at a party?"

"Couldn't hurt," Zayn says.

Nothing happens for a couple minutes, and Louis begins to feel panic for the first time. He doesn't want to have to take Harry to hospital and face Harry's mum and explain himself. There is no explanation, really. He only wanted to have a bit of fun, and now this. This isn't what he wanted. Then suddenly Harry opens his eyes, rolls over, and vomits all over the side of the bed and a little bit on Zayn's shoe.

"I thought it was supposed to make him feel better, not make him sick!" Louis says.

"Inducing vomiting helps purge toxic substances from the body," Zayn says. "This will probably help him."

Harry lies flat on his back again. There's a light sheen of sweat glistening on his skin. Even in the low light of the room, Louis can see Harry's eyes seeking him out, staring at him from under heavy lids, accusing him, asking him for something. It makes Louis angry. He hasn't really done anything wrong. He's not going to apologize, and he's not going to comfort Harry, no matter how he’s made to feel like he should do.

"all right Harry?" Zayn says.

"He's fine. Some people just can't handle all this," Louis says, gesturing to his body.

"I'm fine," Harry says. He struggles to sit up, and when he stands, his legs are wobbly and he flops back onto the bed, like he's drunk.

"Louis, why don't you drive him home?" Zayn says.

"What? No way," Louis says. "The party's just got started. I can't --"

"You have the van," Zayn says sternly. "And you did this to him. You should take him home."

"I didn't do anything," Louis says.

Harry falls asleep with his legs hanging off the side of the bed. Louis can tell because he knows what Harry sounds like when he's fully asleep, makes little whimpering and grunting noises like a tired puppy.

"Just leave him here to sleep it off, yeah?" Louis says, back away towards the door. "Perfect. See you two later."

"Louis," Zayn says, grabbing his arm and forcing him to stay.

"Fine!" Louis says, getting in Zayn's face. Zayn's annoyance with him is only making him angrier. He has no right to be annoyed with Louis. "Even though I've done nothing wrong and he's not my responsibility, and I don't really care about the situation either way, I will drive him home."

Liam calmly and silently breaks them apart and scoops Harry into his arms without having to be asked. He carries him like a baby all the way through the house and out the door and to the van while Zayn and Louis follow dumbly behind him.

"Could someone open the door? I don't wanna stuff him through the window," Liam says, waiting next to the van.

"What?” Zayn says, distracted. He's not looking at Harry or the van, instead looking at the flex of Liam's arms, like maybe he's jealous Liam isn't holding him.

Louis opens the door and allows Liam to settle Harry into the passenger seat. He even buckles Harry in. Louis almost expects Liam to give him a kiss on the forehead and pull a blanket over him, but he only steps back and awkwardly tugs at his shirt, like a little boy who's unsure of the situation.

"All right?" Liam says.

"Sure," Louis says. "Thanks."

~*~

The drive is relatively quiet. Louis hopes Harry stays asleep the entire way, because it's not that long, and then maybe he can just give Harry a shove and roll him out of the van and into his yard. It's pleasantly warm out, even with the windows rolled down all the way, though the heat doesn't go deeper than the surface of his skin.

A moth flits into the van while they're sat idling at a traffic light. It flies jerkily towards Louis' face, and Louis has an enormous urge to just open his mouth and let it waltz right in, but he lets it land on the dashboard. He cranks his window up before traffic starts moving again, in case it tries to escape. There's nobody around, nobody awake anyway, and in the dark of night, Louis is going to eat this moth without shame. He snatches it up in his hand just as he did the fly earlier that day and it twitches between his fingers, trying to get away, but Louis pops it in his mouth before it can, like it's a tasty biscuit.

"Did you just eat that moth?" Harry says.

Louis nearly veers off the road.

"Harry," Louis screeches. "I didn't know you'd joined the living again. Hi."

"Hi, Louis," Harry says.

Harry's voice is deeper than he remembers it ever being. The sound of his name in that voice scrapes against his skin. He feels more distant from Harry than ever, though they’re just inches away from one another.

"All right?" Louis says.

"I'm okay," Harry says. "Did you really eat a moth, though?"

"So?" Louis says.

"I don't remember you ever doing that," Harry says.

"Well, we've both changed a lot, haven't we?" Louis says.

He feels cold all over again, almost how he felt when he woke up this morning. Louis wants to lay his hands on Harry's body, feel the heat coming off his skin. He wants to be warm. He wants Harry to comfort him, but he doesn't quite know what even for, and it frustrates him that he wants it at all to begin with. As if Harry could give anything to him. As if Harry could fill whatever void is inside him and stop his sudden craving for insects and cure his eyes and whatever else is wrong with him.

"I've noticed," Harry says, gesturing to his own eyes to indicate the change in Louis'. "What's happened?"

"I don't know," Louis says honestly.

They're quiet for a minute, the wind whipping Harry's curls into his eyes so he has to hold it up against his forehead.

"You can roll -- " Louis says.

"No, it's -- "

"Bit windy," Louis says.

"It's fine," Harry says. "I like it. It's the exact same in here, isn't it? I saw the outside the other day. Looks sick."

"Tell it to Zayn," Louis says. "He's planning a whole Batman theme next, I think."

Harry crinkles his nose up thoughtfully. Being in this van with Harry is like a muscle memory. They've had some times here, together. Louis can't believe they're in here, just being civil to one another, like they're the best of friends again.

Then Harry says, "Hey, do you know if I said goodbye to Niall?"

For one unhinged second, Louis wants to flip the fucking van. He wants to stop and tell Harry to get out. Here he is, speaking to Harry for the first time in months, committing a good deed towards him, which he didn't even want to do in the first place, and all Harry can think about is someone else. But Harry is still soft and sleepy, his voice like gravel hitting Louis in the face, and Louis did poison him with his teeth earlier, so he lets the feeling go for now.

"I'm sure he can deal without you," Louis says. "Gave him the old Irish goodbye, yeah? Sure he'll appreciate that one."

"Yeah," Harry agrees with a note of amusement.

They both keep their mouths shut until Louis pulls up in front of Harry's house. He doesn't even put it in park, just keeps his foot on the brake, waiting for Harry to get out of his life already.

Harry's hand closes over top of Louis' on the gear shift and Louis feels it like he's gripping his heart and squeezing it into a pulpy mess that slips through Harry's long fingers. His palm is soft and dry, and the heat of it doesn't burn Louis but rather seeps into his skin and warms him down to his bones.

"Thank you," Harry says.

Louis peeks at him, his curls windblown like a deranged clown, his green eyes as warm as his touch, even after all the things Louis has done to him. He thinks of his creepy, unnatural eyes, the dull gold peering out of his face, slitted pupils fat in the dark. Harry doesn't flinch away or gawk the same way Louis did when he saw himself, though, like Louis expects. He just - looks. Looks at Louis like he always has, like nothing's different, like nothing has changed between them, let alone in Louis' general appearance.

Louis can't help but let his creepy unnatural eyes travel down to Harry's mouth. Earlier, it's true, he didn't intend to bite Harry; it was just something that happened and he truly had no control over it. Now he wants to sink his teeth into Harry's lip with full intent. He wants to wreck his pink mouth so he can't say anything to Louis at all, especially not something kind, especially not words of gratitude.

Harry tilts his face up expectantly, like he's read Louis' mind, welcoming it. Even after all this. Even after he tried to break Harry's heart again earlier, even after he could've killed Harry, even after Harry witnessed him eating a bug.

"You're welcome," Louis says. He extracts his hand out from underneath Harry's and puts it on the steering wheel and looks ahead like he's bored of this. He keeps staring out the window even as Harry unbuckles himself and gets out.

He waits to make sure Harry gets safely through the door, though.

~*~

Weeks go by without any incident. Louis scams a couple more days off school out of his mother, just because he knows he can, and because his inconsistent temperature sticks around. Luckily fall is settling in, so he can wear as many clothes as possible without seeming odd.

His main problem is his weird eyes. At least nobody at school gives him any trouble, neither his fellow students nor his teachers - not after the last time they tried to force him to change the way he presented himself. Even Grimshaw skirts around him like a dumb dog around a cat with these eyes. His teachers and his mum all pass it off as some kind of a phase, something he's glad to go along with for now.

He sees Harry a few times, in the corridors between classes, or rather, he knows Harry sees him. He can feel him staring. Harry doesn't look away when he sees Louis looking back.

There's an assembly at school one day. Normally Louis would collect Zayn and they'd blow it off, but this time Zayn wants to stay for it, and Louis doesn't really feel like blowing off on his own. He goes to the auditorium and scans the crowd, trying to figure out where to sit. He's a bit early and there's not many people in their seats yet. Louis has been forbidden by every authority figure on the premises to sit next to several people, including Zayn, so he doesn't know why he's sticking around if he can't even have a bit of fun. He spots Harry the middle of a row, and Louis thinks, maybe. He's not been banned from sitting near Harry, at least not officially. He straightens his back and starts scooting past other people in the row before he sees Niall join Harry from the other side.

Louis stands there, unable to move, watching them like an idiot. He feels genuinely stuck, his heart pounding like he's about to flee or fight. Niall whispers something in Harry's ear, his mouth pressed close enough that his lips drag across Harry's earlobe, probably close enough to get his stupid braces stuck on the curls that hang over Harry's ear. Whatever he says makes Harry throw his head back and laugh, open-mouthed and bright. Louis can't stop looking at them, like a slow motion trainwreck, and he feels his heart crunch like the shrieking steel impact of a crash.

Distantly he hears Zayn calling his name, and he can hear in Zayn's voice that Zayn knows what Louis has seen and what he's about to do.

Louis straightens his spine and finishes stomping over to stand in front of Harry's seat, leaning against the chair in front of Harry's and crossing his arms. Harry has to tuck his knees in to make room for Louis, fold up his long legs so he's taking up less space and letting Louis fill it. Harry is so long. He looks right at Louis, his green eyes pinning him and almost making him forget why he's over here.

"Hi, Louis," Harry says, cheerful. Like everything is normal. Like Louis hasn't done anything to hurt him.

"Hey, Louis," Niall says.

"Hi, boys," Louis says, not knowing what he's going to say next. "You all right?"

Niall puts his arm around the back of Harry's chair. Louis wants to rip it off and beat him about the head with it. More people are shuffling in, and Louis notices Grimshaw ushering kids around.

"Yeah, I'm all right," Harry says.

"How're your grades?" Louis says, loud enough so everyone around can hear him. "Heard you've been fucking Grimshaw, so they must be pretty decent."

Louis likes seeing it. He likes seeing Harry's face fall and his cheeks redden, and he likes seeing his mouth turn down and his eyes lose a little bit of their light. He likes watching Harry become smaller. He looks crushed, and Louis likes that he's crushed him. He doesn't know why and he doesn't think about it. He just can't stop himself.

"Come on, Louis," Zayn says from behind him. He's made his way down the row to Louis and he tugs at his arm to get him to leave.

"You've got something," Harry says to him as Zayn leads him away, gesturing to his neck.

"Give Grimmy a kiss for me," Louis calls out, or really half the auditorium, since he's shouting now, still unable to stop looking at Harry, still unable to not have the last word when it comes to them.

Zayn leads him out into the corridor, which is nearly empty, the last students running into the auditorium so they don't miss it. Liam files in line behind Zayn, following them out.

"Christ, I don't know why you have to do that to him," Zayn says.

"Do what?" Louis says even though he very well knows what. "He started it."

"How?" Zayn says. "By enjoying the company of someone else? And it’s Niall, for fuck’s sake. Niall is the best.”

"I'm bored of this conversation," Louis says. "What was this assembly about, anyway?"

"Bullying," Liam says.

One of the doors to the auditorium slams open, and out walks Grimshaw with a vengeful look on his face. He looks like the Grinch when he gets the idea to steal Christmas.

"Hey Grinchaw," Louis says. "I mean, Grimshaw."

Grimshaw ignores him, but Louis sees his eye twitch. Liam looks like he's going to be ill, the poor lad, probably never gotten in trouble in his life. Zayn pats Liam's back, comforting him. He's got to learn to be in danger if he's going to roll with these lads.

"Well, well, well," Grimshaw says. "If it isn't Kelly, Michelle, and the one who isn't even in the group anymore," he says, looking at Louis, Zayn, and Liam.

"Technically none of them are in Destiny's Child anymore," Liam says. "If we're being, you know. Technical."

"Uh, no," Zayn says, deep disgust etched onto his face. "I'm Beyonce."

"I fancy myself more of a Solange," Louis says. "Bit quirky and all that."

"Ooh, can I be Jay-Z then?" Liam says.

"Oh, shut up, all of you!" Grimshaw says. "What are you doing out here? You're supposed to be attending the assembly."

"We're -- " Zayn begins.

"I'm going to be sick," Liam moans. Louis thinks he's just making up an excuse, but when he looks more closely, he can see the sweat on Liam's upper lip and how he's clutching at his stomach. He must've remembered they were in trouble again.

"And you need two other people to help you with that?" Grimshaw says, his big rubbery face twisting up into a sneer.

"We're all going to be sick," Zayn says.

"We ate the food here," Louis says. He leans heavily on Zayn and pretends to vomit in his own mouth, then swallow it again.

"Jesus, all right," Grimshaw rolls his eyes. "Go to the nurse if you're sick."

Louis coughs into his hand, then forcibly shakes Grimshaw's hand with it.

"Thank you, sir," Louis says. "I'll think of you as my gut empties itself into the toilet."

"Ugh," Grimshaw says, wiping his hand off on his shirt.

Louis, Zayn, and Liam all stumble away, holding each other up until Grimshaw is out of sight.

~*~

The next morning, Louis is woken up by an insistent itch that he needs to scratch. It's in the very top middle part of his back that he can barely reach, so he wiggles and rubs it against his sheets for a minute to see if that'll get it, but it doesn't. He bends his spine forward and his arm back as far as he can until he can get to the itch, but when he finally digs his fingernails in and goes at it, he discovers there's something on him. God, he hopes there's not like a blood sucking insect on him as revenge for eating their kind. It's the weekend now, and he doesn't want to spend it with a rash.

He gets up and goes to the mirror in his room to get a better look. In the daylight his eyes look even more like marbles, like someone plucked out his eyes and replaced them with glass, but his vision is clear. His slitted pupil is thin now in the brightness of the morning. He twists to see his back and is expecting at worst he has fleas, and at best he has chicken pox again and can get off school for a week, but nothing could prepare him for this. All along his spine, little spikes are sticking out, as if the knobs of the bones there have each sprouted little seedlings. The spikes are short and when he touches one he can reach, it's soft like a blade of grass. He tries to rip it out, but it pulls at his skin like it really is attached to him good.

He notices the colors then. It's like someone took a bunch of paintbrushes and dotted his skin with watercolors. The dots span across his entire back, up around his shoulders, and they go down to the very top of his bum. He pulls down his pants to see if it goes further, but it stops there. They're up the back of his neck and into his hairline, and down his arms up to his wrists, though the colors are lighter here. The tops of his feet and his ankles have the lighter colors as well. He runs his fingers across the dots on his bum, and it doesn't feel like just paint. They have a raised texture to them, and he can feel through them just like it's his own skin.

He feels completely violated. What kind of sick joke is this? Who'd glue stuff to him and paint his naked body as he slept? He runs to the shower and turns the water on as hot as he can stand and lets the water run over him, hoping the color will just come off, but it doesn't. He blindly reaches out of the shower and grabs hold of someone's toothbrush on the sink - he thinks it's his, but - now that he thinks about it, he doesn't really know what his toothbrush looks like, and -

He scrubs at the bumpy dots on his wrists with the toothbrush, expecting them to chip off like paint. He feels it like he's scrubbing his own skin, like that's his skin. He reaches out of the shower and picks up a hand towel and wets that, violently scrubs at his neck and shoulders until he feels raw. He expects paint to be on the towel when he looks at it, but there’s nothing. It’s not coming off.

There's a little spider in the shower that distracts him. It swings down from the ceiling on a silk thread to get a closer look, dangling in front of his face, taunting him. His mouth waters. This isn't the time for a snack, really, but what could it hurt? He jumps at it, mouth-first, and catches it on his tongue like a snowflake. He makes sure to give it a nice chew before swallowing it, to punish it for making fun of him.

Well, it's official, he's out of his mind.

He calls Zayn.

There's no answer the first six times he calls, because it's Saturday and Zayn doesn't wake up on Saturdays. On the seventh try he finally gets an answer, but it's Zayn's little sister.

"Waliyha, put Zayn on the phone," Louis says.

"He's asleep," she says.

"Wake him up," Louis says.

"Zayn said not to wake him up unless there's a fire," Waliyha says.

"Well, start a fire then!" Louis screeches. "This is important!"

"Okay," Waliyha says. It sounds like she puts the phone down, but he can still hear voices in the background.

"Wait!" He shouts. "Wait! Don't start a fire! It was a joke!"

"Did you tell my little sister to burn the house down?" Zayn's voice says across the line.

"It was only a metaphor," Louis says. Then he remembers he's the one who should be outraged, as his person was messed with last night. "Did you break into my room and paint my body? And what are you doing up already?"

"I’ve been awake," Zayn says. "Your body is painted?"

"I don't know," Louis says. "I'm having a lot of issues. Can you meet me at the place. You know, the place? The place, Zayn!"

"I know the place," Zayn says. "I'll be there in an hour."

Louis starts to get dressed. What the hell? He touches every part of himself that has the dots, and they all feel the same. They're bumpy and soft, like new leather. Most of them are a bright lime green, but here and there goes a blue dot, like a freckle. He digs his fingernails into the bumps on his arm and scratches. He picks and picks until some of them come off, and he gets a fleeting feeling of relief, thinking the shower loosed up the paint and the glue that's obviously been applied to him. He feels much better until he realizes he's ripped a chunk of skin off and is bleeding, same way he does when he's popped a pimple a bit too soon.

He puts a plaster over his scratch and tries not to pick at anything else, though he really wants to, and he puts on clothes that cover as much of him as possible.

~*~

Louis is surprised to see Zayn at their spot by the lake before he pulls up there in the van, already waiting on his gazing rock and gazing soulfully into the water, but then he sees the reason why.

"Hi Louis," Liam says with a shy wave, coming up from the shore, his legs bare and wet up to his knees.

"You brought him here?" Louis says to Zayn, not even acknowledging Liam's presence. "You brought him to our secret spot? Our special area? Our criminal sanctuary? Our Batcave? Our playboy grotto?"

At least Zayn has the good graces to look guilty. Louis may be trying to play it off, but he's feeling genuinely hurt, and he knows Zayn can see it. He always thought it would be only the two of them here. Bringing Liam here, someone Louis barely even knows, is a deep betrayal of his trust and friendship.

"Liam's cool," is all Zayn says. "Besides, we had plans to hang out already."

“You got Zayn out of bed on a Saturday,” Louis says in disbelief. A pang of jealousy pokes him in the chest; he hasn’t been able to get Zayn to hang out with him in the weekend daytime for at least a decade. “He must really like you.”

"Zayn said you were having some trouble," Liam says, apparently not comprehending him. He lays his hand on Louis' shoulder and lifts his considerable eyebrows in concentrated sympathy. "How can we help?"

"Great, now you're telling my business to everyone," Louis mutters. "You know I'm a private person, Zayn."

"Aha!" Zayn laughs. "Good one."

Louis brushes Liam's hand off his shoulder. The touch makes his sweatshirt catch on the bumpy dots underneath and he feels itchy again. He doesn't really want to do this anymore. He just wants all his problems to go away with no effort on his part. He wants to look and feel normal again. But he knows realistically, that won't happen, and he's not on sure enough ground to figure this one out on his own. He needs help, so he strips off his top to show them the problem.

The colors of the dots appear more vivid in the sunlight, and he can see they even go all the way up his fingers and reach his fingernails, though there they're not as densely placed there. It's like he has little blue and green moles, little splatters of paint that are embedded in his skin and won't come off. Louis gives a twirl, like he's just trying them on at the store and showing his friends.

Zayn stands and comes closer, reaching his hand out and silently asking to touch. Louis offers his hand, and Zayn brushes his fingers along the thin bumpy skin at Louis' wrist. He can feel it, like the skin isn't covered by these dots but is in fact his own skin. Louis realizes he's not cold like was the previous day, like he's been for weeks, and that his temperature inside and out feels balanced and regular. When rays of sun hit the dots covering his skin, he feels like he's sucking it in through his pores like a straw and absorbing it.

"Wow," Liam says as takes in the colorful dots, touching them as well though Louis didn't invite him to. Louis reluctantly lets him because at least all the rubbing makes him feel less itchy.

"How did this happen?" Zayn says.

"I don't know," Louis says. "I woke up and these dots were just on me."

"Those aren't dots, mate," Liam says. "They're scales."

Zayn and Louis stare at him.

"What?" Liam says. "They are."

"How would you know?" Louis says.

"I used to have turtles," Liam says.

"Do turtles have scales?" Zayn says.

"No," Liam says. "They have scutes."

"What is he on about?" Louis says to Zayn, who is too busy paying rapturous attention to every single thing that falls out of Liam's dumb donut mouth.

"My dad made me research every reptile before I was allowed pick out one as a pet," Liam says. "I might be really bad at math and spelling and all that, but I know a lot about turtles and snakes and stuff."

"That's amazing, Liam," Zayn says, his eyes wide and sparkling as they gaze amorously at Liam's nonsense talk. "I'm so glad you're here."

"Thanks," Liam says, blushing. "You're amazing too."

"Thank you," Zayn says.

"Can we get back to me, please?" Louis says. "I'm having a crisis."

"That would explain a lot, actually," Zayn says. "Like, Louis. Lots of strange things have been happening to you, yeah?"

"No," Louis says. "Well, maybe. Well, yeah. I can't stop eating bugs. I've got scales, apparently. And the eyes. And the whole - biting incident. And I keep getting hot and cold - "

"You're hot then you're cold, you're yes then you're no," Liam breaks into song.

Louis and Zayn stare at him, each for very different reasons.

"Sorry," Liam says.

"So what's wrong with me then?" Louis says.

"Well, I'm no expert..." Liam says. "But in my opinion, I’d have to guess, well. Yer a lizard, Louis!”

“Oh my god, what?” Louis says. “Does this mean I’m in Slytherin?”

"You’re gonna have to sort that out yourself, mate," Liam says, clapping him on the shoulder.

"Don't touch me," Louis says. Liam lifts his hand away slowly.

What Liam is saying is absurd, and yet it makes so much sense. He's exhibiting all the symptoms of transforming into a lizard, but he doesn't understand how it could be happening, and to him of all people. He realizes he's been absent-mindedly clawing at the scales on his arm when Zayn lifts Louis' hand away and there's blood where he's been scratching.

"Don't," Zayn says. "You'll hurt yourself."

"It's itchy," Louis whines. "And I'm half hot and half cold, and I want to eat a big plate of bugs. Feel sorry for me."

"I've got a couple heat lamps you can use," Liam says. "They used to be in my turtle's cage, but it died. Or escaped. It only had three feet."

"That'd be great, Liam, I'd love to use the heat lamps that killed your turtle," Louis says.

"No problem," Liam smiles.

"God, what am I supposed to tell my mum?" Louis says. "The eyes were whatever, but this is a bit much."

"Hmm," Zayn says, looking all over the place, like maybe if he camouflaged Louis in sand and rocks he'd be okay. He manhandles Louis to stand beside the van and squints his eyes at him. "What if you tell her I got paint on you? You're like the same color scheme."

"Wow, he really matches," Liam says. "Like, a lot."

Louis looks down at himself. The scales on his body have changed colors: there are pinks and oranges now, different blues than before. He turns back to check out the van, then himself, then the van again.

"You're like," Zayn says. "Blending in."

“These superpowers are terrible,” Louis says.

He plants himself in front of Liam and spreads his arms, but he has to stand on his toes to cover Liam's entire height with his own.

"What happens when I stand in front of Liam?" Louis says. "Do I look like a twat?"

"No, you just are a twat," Zayn says. "They're just going back to how they were before."

"Do I look like a twat?" Liam says.

"No," Zayn says. "Louis, what are we gonna do?”

Louis is comforted in the knowledge that he is not alone in this. Zayn includes himself in Louis' troubles, oftentimes whether he is asked to or not. He's got his best friend, his best friend's friend, and himself, and that's all he really needs.

"I dunno, mate," Louis says. "But I'm gonna have one sick fucking Halloween costume."

 

~*~

 

The scales turn out to be not that difficult to hide. He conceals what he can in the clothing he wears, and he slaps some fake tanner on the rest of it. Patches of his skin might look a little lumpy, but it's better than the alternative of explaining to everyone you meet that you're transforming into a lizard for reasons you don't understand.

Liam's deceased turtle's heat lamps do the trick of keeping him warm when he's out of the sunlight. He's noticed the scales absorb and retain the heat very well, and they keep him warm throughout the day after a night's rest under the lamps. It makes him think of those glow-in-the-dark stars he used to have on his ceiling, the ones you'd have to charge with light before they'd glow. He remembers Harry nabbed some, when Louis was in the middle of taking them down last year, trying to have a more mature and grown up bedroom. No room for such childish things in a young adult's life. He wonders where Harry put the star, if it still glows in the dark. If he thinks of Louis when he looks at it.

He finds it a bit difficult to sleep at night now, taking longer and longer to slip into peaceful slumber, and only when the sun rises does he start to feel tired enough to drift off. He doesn't know if it's the lamps being on, or if it's happening internally, another symptom becoming a lizard.

He's been looking at himself in his phone camera for who knows how long, shutting his eyes and opening them, watching his pupils thin in the brightness of the light. For some reason he can't bring himself to just take a picture and look at it, not wanting to document this time in his life. He's almost used to all this, the eerie gold looking back at him out of his own face, the scales traveling up his neck. He sleeps naked with the blankets off so his entire body can get some light off the lamps, and he can't stop looking at his skin, where it's still his and where it's not. If he allows himself to think about it too long, Louis starts to freak out. Things are happening to his body that he can't control, and he hates it.

He's hardly been able to get himself off since the scales appeared. It looks weird, with his hands all inhuman like that. Like he's not himself and some lizard person is jacking him off. It just doesn't seem natural. But he's a healthy young lad, and he has needs, and he's restless and wide awake in the middle of the night.

Louis switches the heat lamps off for a bit, deciding he's warm enough for the time being. He feels comfortable in the darkness, enough to be able to slide his hand down his body, feeling the scales but not seeing them. Touching them actually feels good, better than his own skin, like the patches of soft scales are more sensitive than the rest of him. The fingertips of one hand brush along his throat, down his belly, over his hip to where he knows the scales climb around his sides. Even though it's his own hand, he feels it as intensely as if someone else was touching him.

He imagines of what he must look like, lying there on his back, touching himself. Probably like a sexy circus freak. Some people are into circus freaks, he thinks. Covered in beautiful, colorful scales; pupils wide and making his eyes appear like black marbles; not another creature like him on this earth. He crooks one of his knees up and lets it rest up in the air, so he can trail his fingers along the back of his thigh, to the fleshy part of his ass where it meets his leg. The scales there are smaller and they feel like velvet, and he digs his fingers into his flesh, resisting the urge to scratch, pressing back into it as he takes his cock in his other hand in a loose grip.

It feels so good, touching himself after days of not. Louis mind blanks and he groans, spreading his thighs a little more and stroking himself slowly. He wonders who'd touch him while he looks like this, if anyone. He wonders if Harry would mind.

The last time he was with Harry - he shouldn't think of it. There's plenty of other things to think about. In fact, somewhere inside him, he knows he doesn't even really deserve to think about Harry like that, not anymore. He forces his brain to flip through other things, to other people.

But it's so dark, and he's alone, and thoughts don't hurt anyone. If he thinks about Harry's deep voice, and pink mouth, and glassy green eyes - it can't hurt him. The last time he was with Harry -

Louis rubs a sliver of skin covered in scales with just the right amount of pressure, and he gasps, arching his back and twisting up into the hand on his cock, his grip tightening as he starts to come.

Louis' dick snaps clean off in his hand.

He's still for a moment, just staring and trying to comprehend what he's looking at. Louis is holding his dick in his hand, for sure, but it's nowhere near attached to his body in any way.

He shrieks and drops it on the bed next to him. It lies there, lifeless. He flicks the lights on to look at it, as if feeling it weren't enough. It looks just like his dick, except it's not on him. Also it's a little too flushed, like it's been dipped in fuchsia food coloring or something. He reaches between his legs where it should be, not wanting to look at himself yet, and he expects there to be a bleeding, gaping wound, since he's apparently just ripped his dick out by the root. There's nothing there, just smooth skin. He forces himself to look. Where his dick should be is just an uneven circle of flesh, a little stump left over where it came off.

"Ummm," he says out loud, waving his hand over the stump like he'll feel something, like his dick is just invisible. There's nothing but air.

Louis gives what used to be his dick, still lying next to him on the bed, a little poke. Maybe it's like the brooms in Fantasia and will come to life on its own and start cheerfully sweeping the floor and re-attaching itself to his person. But it doesn't do anything. It's stiff and unmoving when he touches it again. He wants to cry, not out of sadness, but out of anger. The eyes - okay, whatever. Even the scales are easy to deal with. But this - parts of his body just falling off. This is totally unfair. He uses that dick, and now it's just gone.

The worst part is, he's still turned on as hell. He doesn't feel like he's got off at all, and now he can't, because he doesn't have anything to get off with.

He thinks of calling Zayn, because that's what he's done with all his problems so far. This one is a little more embarrassing, and he doesn't even know where to start explaining this one. Besides, Zayn isn't awake right now anyway. He scrolls through his phone, trying to figure out if he has anyone. He scrolls right past Harry's name, because he knows he doesn't exactly have the right to ask Harry for anything, least of all help with something like this. Part of him wishes he could talk to Liam about it, as Liam has been very happy to help.

Liam's name is in his phone, actually. He doesn't remember being close enough to him to exchange numbers, but when he looks at Liam's info, there's a note where his company information would be:

Liam Payne
I Had Zayn Add My Number To Ur Phone Hope You Dont Mind :)

Liam it's Louis, Louis texts him.

Hiiiii Louissssss :), Liam texts back fairly quickly.

Have you ever got a dick pic sent to u?

Noooo whyyyyy

Louis takes a picture of his magically castrated penis and sends it to him.

WHAT is thattttt

What do you know about lizards willys falling off ??

There tails fall of sometimes but they grow back !!

Dyou think mine will grow back ?

He doesn't get an answer for a while and worried he's scared Liam off. He didn't think he cared that much what Liam thought of him, but he realizes he rather likes Liam. Anyone who cares this much about his well-being is someone he cares about right back.

Probably.. Soak in a warmmmmm bath

I can't go have a bath it's nearly 5 in the morning !!

Put a VERY hotttt cloth over were your willy shod be, it will help

Louis gets up and runs flannel under the tap until it's steaming with hot water. He doesn't wring it out and goes back to bed with it and lays it across his crotch. The warmth of it is soothing, and his eyes drift shut just as the sun starts to rise.

~*~

When Louis wakes up the next day, he almost thinks last night was some kind of nightmare, because his dick is both hard and between his legs at the same time. He texts Liam first to tell him it worked. When he rolls over to take care of himself, something digs into his back, and he furiously searches for it in his sheets until he comes up with - his dick. His other dick. His first dick.

"What in the world," he mutters. He puts the dismembered dick in his nightstand drawer like some kind of grotesque sex toy, unsure of what else to do with it. He'd feel odd just throwing it in the bin. Flush it down the toilet? Burn it? Bury it in the backyard with a little tombstone?

"Here lies Little Louis," Louis sighs, settling back into bed.

He tries to bring himself off again, this time handling his cock a bit more gently. He doesn't want to take this one for granted like he did the last one. He holds onto the base of his brand new cock, which is very obviously flushed a vivid fuchsia this time, and strokes himself as carefully as he can manage. He teases himself more than he usually likes, running just his palm along the length, until he can slick himself better with a little bit of precome. He's just getting going, allowing himself to tighten his fist just slightly, twisting his wrist when he strokes up, just like he learned he liked it, when Harry used to -

His dick pops off again, and not in the good way. This time it's broken in the middle, so his dick stump is a little taller than last night. He starts laughing and can't stop, it's bubbling up out of him until he has tears in his eyes and his legs are kicking because he doesn't know how else to let out this wired energy. Louis so fucking turned on and he can't do anything about it because his dick keeps breaking because he's a lizard. What a life.

The third time it happens, he snarls furiously and throws his broken off dick across the room, where it bounces off the wall and lands in his trash bin. The fourth time it happens, he only wants to cry. It happens again and again, no matter what he does, no matter how he does it, no matter how careful he thinks he's being. He can't keep a dick on his body for more than a day to save his life. He starts putting them on his desk all in a row like some kind of oddity trophy display. They're all different sizes, depending on where his hand was when he pulled them off. They're all different shades of pink. They all remind him of what a useless, horny idiot he is.

Louis tries a different tactic, one time. He wonders if he can get off without touching his cock at all. He rubs at his nipples, which thankfully stay attached to him, tugging at them and rubbing soothing circles them when they get too tender. He runs his hands along the sensitive scales on his skin, the ones at the dip of his waist. He gets hard, but it isn't nearly enough. There's no way he can get off just by touching his torso.

He keeps one hand on his nipple, pinching and rolling it between his fingers, and he digs the fingers of his other hand into the soft scaly flesh of the back of his thigh, rubbing it up and down, back and forth. He thinks he can feel it going against the grain, like when you rub a velvet cushion, and it makes him shiver. He rolls his hips, fucking up into the air, but it doesn't do anything to ease the ache in his cock. He moves the fingers on his thighs higher and squeezes his ass, and he groans, rolling onto his side to be able to reach behind himself better. Above his tailbone is a good patch of scales, and he drags a single fingertip along it, crying out at how good it feels. He trails his finger down between his cheeks, finding his asshole. Even the slightest pressure at his hole makes him gasp, turning his head and burying his face in his pillow. A thin dribble of pre-come leaks out of his cock and onto his sheets. He wants to touch himself so bad, but he knows he can't. He can't even rut against the bed - he tried before and he ended up putting that dick on his desk along with the others.

He presses his finger more insistently at his hole, steady and slow, until his finger starts to slip inside. But it's dry, and it hurts. His cock throbs, wanting more, wanting release. Louis lets out a sob and pulls his finger out, frustrated tears stinging his eyes. He’s too much of a coward to risk it. The last time he was with Harry -

The last time Louis was with Harry, Louis hurt him, in so many ways. He hurt him before that, and he's hurt him after. The last time he was with Harry, he said he didn't care. He wanted Louis, even if it hurt. Louis can't - he just can't.

He gives up, turns the heat lamps back on, and stuffs his head under his pillow. He's just not meant to get off ever again and he'll have to accept that.

 

~*~

Louis wracks his brain and tries to figure out why all this is happening to him. It started - when? It's been so long now, or at least he feels like it has been. It started - the night after that party at Stan's. Someone could've poisoned him, maybe, with some kind of crazy drug. Maybe he was bit by a radioactive lizard and he's got superpowers now. That theory seems unlikely, since all he can do is be cold or have his dick fall off. Not much use in a fight against a nemesis unless he can aim his throwing of one of his dicks just right at their skulls enough to knock them out.

No, it must be something else. His transformation didn't happen all at once, either; he's acquired each trait over time. He tries to think if there's any sort of common thing. The day after Stan's party - well, he still can't recall that party very well. The night of Niall's party, that's when his eyes changed and he bit Harry. The day after he talked to Harry at the assembly, that's when he got his scales. He was thinking about Harry the first time his penis broke off.

Dear god, could Harry have done this to him? He imagines Harry with some sort of voodoo doll in his likeness, painted up like a lizard, stabbing the crotch of it with a knife every night. Harry probably doesn't have that kind of power in him, that kind of dark thought. He's not a witch.

A witch. Witches could've done this to him. Memories slap him across the face, of the four girls whispering about him, pointing at him. It's early in the morning, but Louis doesn't care. He has to know what they did to him.

The Edwards family has lived across the street from him for almost his entire life, and he used to play with Perrie when they were little, but they grew apart as they got older. He marches through his yard and up to their door and bangs on it until Perrie answers in her pajamas. She's clutching a teddy bear in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other.

"Oh, it's you," Perrie says. Her hair is a bright pink, different from the pink it was just days earlier. He wonders how it all doesn't just break off and die.

"I know you did this to me," Louis says.

"Did what?" Perrie says, taking a bite of her pizza.

"This," Louis says. He gestures to his entire person.

"Oh, yeah, that," Perrie says. "So what if we did?"

"Well, why?" Louis screeches. "What did I do to deserve this?"

Perrie opens her mouth and takes a deep breath, but Louis stops her.

"Don't answer that," he says. "I don't care about the why as much as the making it fucking stop."

"We can't," Perrie says. "There's not a way to reverse the spell. You have to just let it runs its course.”

Perrie shuts her eyes and winces, like she's given away too much. She stuffs her mouth with the rest of her pizza slice.

"What?" Louis says. He masks his total despair in righteous anger. "You put a spell on someone without a reversal spell ready? What kind of witches are you?"

"We're not experts yet, all right?" Perrie says. "It'll just wear off eventually."

"Eventually," Louis scoffs. "Great. I'll just get on with my life eventually, then."

"Look, Louis," Perrie says seriously. "I'm sorry, but what's done is done. We asked for your true form to be shown, and this is it. Maybe if you change yourself, you'll go back to the way you were. Or you'll turn into something else. I'm not really sure."

"My true form?" Louis says, outraged. "My true form is a lizard?"

"Sure," Perrie says. "Cold-blooded. Rough exterior. All that."

"I'm not rough," Louis says. He self consciously touches the scales on his wrists, feeling how soft they really are. "I'm not - cold-blooded."

"Well, Simon seems to think you are," Perrie says. "Have a nice day, Louis."

"Wait - who’s Simon? " Louis says, but her and her teddy bear are already closing the door.

He thought he'd feel better if he knew for sure why this is happening to him, but instead he just feels even more helpless. He's stuck like this, for who knows how long, all because some powerful girls wanted to teach him something about whatever. There's nothing he can do but go home and try not to think about any of this at all.

 

~*~

His sexual frustrations start to bleed out into his everyday life, no matter how much he thinks he's hiding them.

Louis' mum barges into his room one day and just crosses her arms and squints her eyes at him. He's been coming home from school and going straight upstairs to flop down in bed, shutting the blinds and covering himself as much as he can, lying in the heat lamps until he can't take it anymore. He hasn't been spending as much time with his mum as he used to, because he doesn't know how to talk to her, not about this. He doesn't think she'd know what to do, either; there's never exactly been a book written on how to deal with your teenager who's turning into a lizard.

"My god, you're grumpy," Louis' mum says. She starts to sit on his bed beside him, so he rolls over on his other side. She doesn't leave him alone like he wants her to and only pets the back of his head.

"When was the last time you got laid?" She says.

"Mum," Louis groans.

"You haven't gone out with anyone in such a long time," she says, like he's being the embarrassing one. "I'm just concerned."

Zayn tells him just as much one day at school, when Louis is walking around the corridors bumping into people so angrily he doesn't notice he's bumped into Zayn.

"You need to get laid, mate," Zayn says to him.

Louis grits his teeth against what he wants to say, that is, he does need to get laid, but he can't because he has a collection of his own dicks sitting on his desk. Liam, who always seems to be with Zayn now, gives Louis an eyebrowed look of concern. Louis hasn't told Liam that he's still having the same problem he texted him about weeks ago, but somehow he thinks Liam still knows.

Even Grimshaw gets in on the you-need-to-get-laid brigade.

"Looks like someone needs to get laid," he chuckles to Louis when he stumbles by Louis slamming his locker and then shoving people against theirs to get by.

"You offering?" Louis says. He gives Grimshaw the scariest look he can manage. He's been practicing in the mirror and he knows exactly how to tilt his head and glare so his eyes look just the right amount of menacing. Grimshaw leaves him alone after that.

~*~

When Halloween rolls around, Zayn drives them to their party of choice - Stan's again. Louis bursts out of the van like somebody owes him something, and maybe somebody does. He has so much pent up arousal, even the slightest brush of anyone against him jolting him into a state of dazed lust. He can't get off; he can't ask anyone for help, either because they can't or they won't believe him; and he can't help himself. So he does the next best thing.

After a little while at the party, Louis is blitzed out of his mind, but he's still positive this has been the Halloween costume contest this year. He hasn't really seen anyone else's costumes, but he just has a feeling. His costume is definitely the most realistic out of everyone's. He's gone as a lizard in a shirt and trousers. A lizard that thinks it's a person. His true form.

As soon as he walked through the door he started grabbing drinks from other people's hands whether they were offering them to him or not. He stays in the kitchen most of the night, and every time someone comes in for a drink, he takes one as well. He drinks until his gums are numb, until his feet feel like they're floating when he walks, until he doesn't know where he is. He stumbles from room to room talking to people he doesn't recognize, about things he forgets a second later when he moves to the next person. He slow dances with Niall for a while, their heads resting on one another’s shoulders until he stumbles and has to go sit down. He talks to Zayn for a while. He makes Zayn hold his hand as Louis speaks to him at length about something very urgent. He wishes Zayn were here. He has to piss.

"Are you a joke?" Louis says to Liam, who he's been yelling at for who knows how long. Liam has a stupid mask on and fake muscles - or real muscles. Louis boops him on his nose and Liam makes a honking noise with his mouth, which startles Louis into backing into someone and almost falling over before Liam rights him.

"I'm Batman," Liam says. "Can you go in by yourself?"

Liam's brought him to the bathroom door. God, he has to piss. Of course he can go in by himself. He can hold his own dick while he pisses. He just has to be careful it doesn't come off.

"I'll help him," someone says. There's a brief exchange between Harry and Liam, some laughter at his expense. It's Harry, that's who's offering to help him. Louis isn't gone enough, because he wants to refuse. He wants to turn Harry away, because he doesn't want Harry to see him like this. He wants to turn Harry away, because he doesn't want Harry to do anything for him.

Harry snakes his arm around Louis' waist and guides him into the bathroom. Louis wants to be sick.

“I’m a lizard,” Louis says. “I’m Lizard Man. I’ve got amazing lizard powers. I’m a superhero. Or a supervillain.”

“Supervillains are much cooler,” Harry says.

"I need to vomit," Louis says. "But I need to piss at the same time."

"Well, which can you hold for longer?" Harry says.

"Piss," Louis says. He falls to his knees and bends over the toilet to vomit.

Harry brushes Louis' hair back from his face. He lays his cool palm on the back of Louis' hot neck and shushes him, of all things.

"I can't vomit any quieter," Louis says angrily into the toilet.

"Shh," Harry says. "I've got you." He rubs his hand soothingly against the scales on the back of Louis' neck, right under his hairline. Louis groans and pushes up into it, not caring if he's being shameless. It feels so good, to have someone else's hands on him. To have Harry's hands on him again.

"Harry," Louis says.

Harry flushes his puke for him, then leaves Louis slumped on the floor. Louis whimpers, not wanting him to stop touching, but he's back in a moment with a damp cloth. Louis wipes his face with it and leans back against the toilet and starts to fall asleep, but Harry forces him to stand up. He digs his fingers into the dip of Louis' waist and half-carries him out of the bathroom.

"I still need to piss," Louis slurs.

"Piss outside," Harry says.

Harry guides him outside, and they don't get far before Louis is getting his stupid pink lizard dick out and pissing on whatever's closest to the door. He hopes it's a person. He starts to wander away out into the yard before Harry grabs him again and gently pushes him along.

"Where are we going?" Louis says. "Is my dick out?"

"You put it away," Harry says. Louis can hear the laughter in his voice. It's all in his nostrils. Louis loves Harry's nostrils.

"Your nostrils are so big," Louis says.

"Thanks," Harry says.

They end up at the van. Harry unlocks the back doors and shoves Louis in until he lies down. Zayn keeps the back of the van stocked with blankets and pillows like a hotel closet, because he never knows when he'll get tired and want to take a nap. Louis blesses him as his skull hits a pillow, his head spinning. He wants to be asleep more than anything else in this world.

"You're not gonna leave, are you?" Louis says.

Harry's got black paint on his face, like on his nose. He shakes his head and sits down next to Louis, not touching him at all. Maybe there's one thing Louis wants more than to be asleep. He desperately wants Harry's hands on him again, but he doesn't know how to ask.

"This is a lot better than the last time," Harry says.

"Yeah, I'm sorry about all that," Louis says, thinking Harry meant the last party they were at together, when Louis bit Harry and knocked him out.

"You don't have to apologize," Harry says. "I don't mind. Making you vomit is kind of like, my thing, I guess."

"What are you talking about?" Louis says.

"Don't you remember?" Harry says. "Stan's party? It was a few months ago. You were pretty out of it."

Louis only has bits of memories from that night, the last party at Stan's house. He remembers someone brushing his hair back as he vomited that time, too. Learning that it was Harry makes something break loose in Louis' chest. He feels a lot more sober already.

"That was you?" Louis says.

Harry nods. He's wearing all black and Louis can barely see him. The dim light from outside shines through the windows of the van and make Harry's eyes shine in the dark.

"What are you supposed to be?" Louis says.

"I'm a cat," Harry says. He licks his hand and pretends to wash his face, smiling happily. It's adorable and sickening. "I've got ears on as well. Niall was a dog."

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, willing his skull to collapse in on itself. He doesn't want to think about Harry wearing some sort of couples costume with Niall.

"We've got a pretty good zoo going, then," Louis says. "I'm a lizard."

"You’ve told me," Harry says.

"No, I mean like," Louis says. He tries to sit up, but his head is too heavy and he falls back onto the pillow. He feels suddenly frantic to tell Harry what he really is, everything that's happened to him.

"Like my eyes, and - I've got scales," Louis stammers, unsure how to articulate it. He feels self conscious explaining it to Harry. "I can't stop it."

"I know," is all Harry says. Like that's it. That's all he needs to accept Louis, just like that. He knows what Louis is, what Louis' true form has been this whole time, and he doesn't judge it or reject it the way Louis has been doing to himself. He stays with Louis as he is, unconditionally.

"These are real, then?" Harry says. His hand comes to rest on the crook of Louis' neck, his thumb brushing along the scales creeping up from his shoulders.

Louis shudders and turns his head sideways, offering his scales to Harry, not caring how much he wants it. Harry's touch is more intoxicating than anything he's felt tonight, or probably ever. He takes his hand away too soon, after he's touched just enough to verify for himself that Louis does indeed have scales, and Louis arches his neck, begging without words for him not to stop.

"Yeah," Louis says but it sticks in his throat. He shakes his head and closes his eyes, trying to calm himself down. He can't do this, not with Harry, even though Harry seems more than willing.

"Oh, hey," Harry says suddenly. He gets on his knees and leans over Louis, the front of his shirt hanging down and brushing against Louis' fingers, looking at something in the corner of the ceiling. "My star is still here."

"What?" Louis says, twisting around to see.

"My star," Harry says. "I stuck it there - it was that day we were rearranging your room, and we went outside to take a break, and your mum brought us out that mint tea, do you remember? You gave me some of those glowy stars. I stuck one up here, so I could look at it."

Louis' heart feels full and heavy, almost as much as his head. Of course, that star. He remembers that day very well, though not as fondly as Harry seems to. He remembers being annoyed with Harry for some reason, like Harry wasn't doing exactly what Louis wanted and was just being a bother to him. Rearranging, Harry said. They were just supposed to be rearranging, not getting rid of. Not throwing away. He had no idea Harry's star has been in this van the whole time, glowing along with him everywhere he went.

"I remember," Louis says.

Harry begins to settle back down, his body bumping up against Louis' in the dark. Louis puts an arm around his back, keeping Harry there lingering above him. Louis pulls him down so they're chest to chest, and Louis can feel Harry's heart beating hard through their clothes, through his own skin.

"Louis," Harry says.

Louis surges up against Harry. He cranes his head up to capture Harry's lip. Harry freezes, almost out of reach before he gives in, crashing his mouth into Louis’.

Louis thinks he taught Harry how to kiss, or maybe they learned from each other. Harry has always made Louis want to kiss, made him hot and hungry for it, out of his mind, too urgent. Harry's the one who showed him how to slow down, to put his affection into the kiss. There's no rush. Kissing Harry again is remembering something he thought he forgot forever.

Harry moans into Louis' mouth when Louis brushes their tongues together, but he pulls back almost immediately. Louis is careful to keep his teeth tucked away, not wanting a repeat of their last kiss before this.

"You're drunk," Harry says. His lips drag across Louis' and even this barest of contact goes straight to Louis' dick.

"I'm not anymore," Louis says. He's desperate to get Harry to stay, to get Harry to touch him and relieve his ache.

He's not sure who crushes their mouths together again first, but it doesn't matter. Harry kisses so sweetly, his mouth soft and yielding. He rests his weight on top of Louis, pinning him by his chest to the cushions on the hard floor of the van, and Louis doesn't want to get let up for anything. They carry on like this for a while, Harry shifting himself closer and closer, only breaking away to breathe into Louis' mouth for a second before starting again. Louis slides his lips along Harry's cheek, feeling how puffy and used they are, and he drags his teeth along the side of Harry's jaw. He wants to bite, to sink his teeth in until Harry has Louis coursing through his veins, but Louis refocuses and just snaps lightly at Harry's neck, where the skin is the softest.

A tremor runs down Harry's spine and he presses his hips down against Louis', his cock obviously hard. Louis feels it bump against his own and he gasps into Harry's neck before remembering -

He shoves Harry off of him in a panic. He rolls off of Louis but sits back up quickly.

"What?" Harry gasps. His breathing is heavy and Louis can see the outline of one cat ear in the backlight streaming through the van windows, his headband knocked askew. "What's wrong? If you're worried about - someone seeing, or. You are drunk, aren't you? We don't have to - "

"It's nothing," Louis says, catching his own breath. They haven't even really done anything and he feels like he's run an entire football field and back. "I mean, it's nothing you did. It's me. There's something wrong with me."

"I don't care," Harry blurts, practically pleading to him. "I like the scales, actually. They're really pretty. They're soft."

"That's not what - "

"And your eyes are cool," Harry barrels on. "I mean, I liked the old ones too. You're gorgeous no matter what, Louis. I don't care."

Louis has to shut his eyes against Harry's assault of kindness and compliments. He doesn't deserve them. Louis looks this way basically because he's being punished, and Harry likes it anyway. Harry likes him, even after all he's done. Harry's willing to kiss him, just as he is.

"That's not what I mean," Louis finishes. "There's more."

"What is it?" Harry says, his eyebrows furrowed seriously.

Louis struggles with how to word it delicately, but decides to just say it. He's never been that delicate with Harry, anyway.

"My dick falls off," Louis says.

Harry's eyes bulge out and he honks a laugh before he can contain himself, then he tries to cover it up by putting both his hands over his mouth, like he's trying to shove the laugh back in. His eyes are glittering in the dark.

"It's not funny!" Louis says, though he can't help but laugh a little along with Harry. It's not funny-funny, but it is funny in a cruel sort of way. If it were anyone else, Louis would think it was hilarious.

"What do you mean, your dick falls off?" Harry says, laughter still in his voice.

"I mean, it just falls off," Louis says. "One minute it's there, and the next it's gone." He mimes jerking off and makes a pop! noise with his mouth to demonstrate. "I haven’t been able to get off for ages."

Harry crawls back to hover over him and kisses him with his open, laughing mouth. Louis breathlessly kisses him back, unable to help himself when it comes to Harry coming to him first. Harry cups Louis' dick without warning and Louis sucks in a breath through his teeth and stays perfectly still.

"What's this then?" Harry says. He squeezes Louis' aching cock and Louis arches and grips Harry's shoulders because he doesn't know what else to hold on to. Harry is the sturdiest thing here. His resolve to not let Harry touch him, to not allow Harry to be good to him, is falling apart under Harry's hand.

Harry undoes Louis' fly and rests his hand just above where Louis wants it, in the trail of hair leading to his dick. Louis thrusts up, not wanting to wait any longer if this is going to happen, but Harry rubs his palm along the velvet skin that covers Louis' hip, making Louis moan and twist towards him, wanting more. Harry’s hand spans nearly the entire expanse of Louis’ hip and his fingers curl around his side, but he isn’t rough like Louis has been with himself, he doesn’t dig in like Louis would. Harry lifts Louis' shirt up until it's around his armpits and just stares at him. Louis tries to curl his knees up, to hide himself, but Harry keeps him still with his touch.

"Let me help," Harry says. He pets Louis' hip over and over with his palm, going back and forth, and Louis breaks out into goosebumps holding back trembles at how good it feels, how badly he wants to cry out.

"They're so soft," Harry murmurs.

Harry finally gets inside Louis' trousers, but instead of moving his hand to Louis' cock, he just rests it there, cupping him firmly. Louis tilts his hips up into Harry's palm, hoping to move him along, but Harry only slips his thumb into the waistband of Louis’ underwear and pulls them down the barely an inch.

"Come on," Louis says, frustration clouding his mind. He’s so desperate for anything, he’d probably feel better even if his dick did pop off in the middle of Harry touching him, just so long as he felt something.

Harry only rubs his palm over Louis' cock, the hard length clearly visible but completely covered until he shifts his hips up again, begging with everything but words for Harry to touch him. His pants slide a little lower so just the tip of his cock is poking out, resting against his bare belly.
Harry leans down and kisses him, licking into his mouth at the same time his fingers brush over the exposed tip of his cock.

“Fuck,” Louis exhales sharply, his whole body gone tense with desire. His mouth hangs open around a gasp as Harry touches him again, then trails his fingers back over to Louis’ hip. His fingers are wet with the pre-come leaking from Louis’ cock. He kisses Louis’ open mouth, capturing his slack lips over and over between his own.

Harry is glassy-eyed and unfocused, breathing through his mouth, puffs of hot hair hitting Louis’ cheek and swollen lips. Louis can feel Harry’s cock hard against his side as he presses against him. He wants to haul Harry on top of him and rut against him, like how they used to, fully clothed and hiding and young. But - Louis is different from how he was then, and Harry is, too.

“Please,” Louis says, finally, unable to help it.

Harry cups his hand over Louis’ cock again, the tips of his fingers slipping around the slick head. Louis rolls his hips up slowly and fucks into the the warmth of Harry’s skin, wishing he was completely naked and that Harry would touch all of him, would jerk him off hard and rough like how he wants. It’s unfair that Harry is basically making him rub off in his underwear when he has two perfectly good hands on him.

Louis whines, thrusting up more frantically, so Harry digs the heel of his palm down gently, giving Louis a little more pressure. Then he realizes, Harry is doing it like this on purpose. Harry is trying not to hurt him, the way Louis has been hurting himself this whole time. Harry is trying to keep him whole and in one piece.

Louis fucks into Harry’s cupped palm, the cloth of his underwear dragging against his wet cock and the slide of Harry’s fingertips against him makes Louis huff out a sob. He spreads his legs wider and tries to get Harry to grip him harder, but even just this slight contact feels so good. His hips stutter up and he comes suddenly, hot wetness spurting up his belly and all over Harry’s fingers. Harry goes tense next to him, and Louis can tell from the familiar noise he makes that Harry’s just come in his pants.

Harry drops his head down to rest in the crook of Louis’ neck and breathes heavily for a minute before sighing and relaxing fully into him. His dips his fingers in the come drying on Louis’ belly and smears some over the scales on his hips, like he’s putting sunscreen on him.

“Stop that,” Louis says, slapping Harry’s hand away.

Harry looks at him, square in the eye, and starts laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Louis says. He puts his arm around Harry and pulls him close. He can’t resist a cuddle after sex, never has been able to.

“Your dick didn’t come off,” Harry says. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Louis says. “I’ve been a tit.”

Harry cups Louis’ breast and his nostrils flare with a giggle at his own visual gag.

“I care about you, Louis,” Harry says. “I’ll be here for you. Whatever you want.”

“Well, for starters,” Louis says. “You can drive us home.”

“Well,” Harry says. “Do you want to sit up front with me or lie back here?”

“Much as I like to be chauffeured around, I don’t fancy getting sick again,” Louis says. “I think I’ll join you.”

Harry smiles at him, his eyes bright in the dark, practically glowing. Louis almost can’t stand it, being under that kind of fond gaze. But he stands it for now, and Harry drives himself home. When he gets out of the driver’s seat, Louis climbs over into it, and Harry leans in through the window to kiss him one more time.

“Have you still got my number?” Harry says.

“No,” Louis lies, the idea of Harry knowing he’s been holding onto him this whole time seeming embarrassing and silly all of a sudden.

“Well, I’ve got yours, so I’ll text you.”

“All right,” Louis says.

Harry can’t stop turning and looking back his entire walk up to his front door, and Louis can see how happy Harry looks even from where he’s parked at the curb. Why he’s so happy after being with Louis, that’s something Louis will never understand, but he doesn’t think Harry can see him from here, so he allows himself to look and smile back.

~*~

Harry texts him, hours later, as Louis is in the middle of struggling to fall asleep and thinking about getting up and doing something awful like homework. Ever since he got home and crawled into bed, he’s felt like he’s in some sort of dream. His body feels like his for the first time in a long time, or rather it feels like it’s his because it was Harry’s again, for a short while at least. He can’t stop thinking about Harry, every single thing Harry’s ever said to him, everything he said tonight. Harry cares about him, even now.

Missed you .x, Harry says.

Louis feels a warmth ignite and spread throughout him, and he doesn’t think it’s his heat lamps.

You too, he says.

~*~

Liam is in the middle of teaching Zayn how to skip stones across the water, and Zayn is in the middle of teaching Liam how to skip school. Liam agreed to come with them, but only if they missed just the first half of the day and got back after lunchtime. Liam stands behind Zayn and holds onto his wrist, showing him the proper way to flick it to get the stones to skip as many times as possible. The way they exchange touches is so easy and light.

“You all right?” Liam says, breaking Louis out of his daze.

Louis has taken a place on Zayn’s sitting rock and is busy staring down at his own hands trying to do anything but think about Harry, or turning into a lizard, or his life. He still hasn’t told anyone that this is a spell, that a group of people dislike the way he’s been behaving so much they decided to take matters into their own hands and reveal him. He hasn’t wanted to share this information with anyone else, because he’s ashamed.

“You’ve got a mullet,” Zayn says to Louis. “Did your hair grow out?”

“I’ve got to tell you something,” Louis says.

“Is it that you’ve got a mullet?” Liam says.

“I fooled around with Harry,” Louis says, looking at Zayn.

Liam’s face lights up, as if Louis has just announced he and Harry’s engagement. Zayn’s face, however, melts into disappointment. He knows what Louis’ habits are, his cycles. He knows what trouble Louis is in now.

“Why?” Zayn says.

Louis shrugs. He doesn’t have an explanation. He just - wanted to. He wanted to be with Harry, so he was. Zayn looks like he wants to say something else, but he holds back.

“You’re on your own with this one, mate,” Zayn says. “I can’t do that again.”

“What?” Liam says.

“Last time Louis broke up with - “ Zayn says.

“We weren’t together,” Louis interrupts him.

Zayn sighs. “Last time Louis stopped talking to Harry - “

“He stopped talking to me,” Louis says.

“Because you told him to,” Zayn says. “Ugh. I’m not picking you up from the airport this time. If you wanna steal a plane, then go ahead.”

“What?” Liam says.

“I partied too hard and I tried to steal a plane,” Louis explains quickly. God, he can’t stand it when somebody doesn’t know everything there is to know about him already. “This story circulated around for months, Liam! Were you living under a rock?”

“I don’t like gossip,” Liam says, scrunching up his nose in distaste.

Louis shakes his head. He can’t believe he’s allowing Liam to even be around him. Then he gets back to setting Zayn straight. “So what? That didn’t have anything to do with Harry.”

“Right, it didn’t,” Zayn says. “Whatever you say, Louis.”

They get back to the school just before lunch is over, and also just in time for Louis to see Niall leaning against the corridor wall with his eyes shut as Harry delicately places something in his waiting mouth. Niall crunches down on whatever Harry’s fed him and grimaces, not liking whatever it is, and Harry throws his head back and laughs.

Louis emits a furious screech from deep within his throat before he can contain himself. He’s never made a noise like that before, not even when he was trying to. People turn to stare at him, including Harry, whose brows are furrowed in alarm. He feels all the hair on his body stand up, even the hair on his head. He goes to smooth it down, he can feel it’s out of place, but it’s stuck there. The longer hair on the back of his head is sticking up and out like it’s been styled into immovable spikes.

He runs away to hide in the nearest bathroom and locks himself in a stall. Humiliated tears sting his eyes and he furiously scrubs at them with the back of his hand, but the scales catching on his eyelids only make him want to cry more. His entire body is a reminder that he is not control of himself, and he wonders with dread what else could possibly happen to him. Part of him wishes a mob of people would flood in after him, asking him what’s wrong, if there’s anything they can do for him. Part of him wants to be left alone until he dies in here. He hears the door open and he hopes if it’s anyone, it’s Zayn, but a single pair of feet appear from behind the stall door in boots that could only belong to one person.

“Hi, Louis,” Harry says cheerfully. “You all right?”

“I’m fine,” Louis says. He feels trapped, stuck in a tiny space with a toilet on one side of the door and the thing he wants most on the other. He could flush himself down the toilet, maybe. Once again he tries to smooth down the spikes sticking every which way, but they’re stiff and won’t go down. He really hopes this isn’t permanent; his hair is almost as important to him as his dick, and he already knows how that’s worked out for him.

“Come on out of there,” Harry says.

“No,” Louis says. “My hair’s a mess.”

“I’ve been looking for you all day,” Harry says. “And I did call. You didn’t answer.”

“I brought you some snacks.”

Louis flashes back to Harry feeding Niall with his fingers and how it wasn’t him. Well, whatever. He can’t be nice to Harry once and then all is forgiven and Harry will pay attention only to him.

Harry’s eye appears at the crack in the stall door.

“Jesus, what are you doing?” Louis says. “Peeping Tom. What if I’d been having a shit?”

“So what?” Harry says. “Everybody poops.”

Louis wipes his face off one more time with his sleeve, stands up straight, and comes out of the toilet. Harry chews his lips, obviously trying to hold in his laughter at the state of Louis’ appearance. He reaches into the bag on his shoulder and pulls out a tin.

“I got these,” Harry says, presenting the tin to Louis. “I googled what lizards eat, but they all eat like, different foods. I didn’t know what kind of lizard you were, but I remembered you ate that moth. And like, you’re not like, full lizard.”

“Chocolate covered crickets?” Louis says.

“Yeah,” Harry says, excited but trying to hold it in so he just comes across as weird. “They have live crickets at the pet store, but I thought these would be better since, like, ‘cause you’re still a person.”

Harry lays his hand on Louis’ forehead and even though Louis’ instinct is to shake it off and hide again, he reminds himself that Harry is not a threat. Harry thinks he’s a person even though he looks like he’s not. He feels himself relax under the touch, and Harry cards his fingers through Louis’ hair, combing the spikes down until everything is back in its place.

“I also learned, from the internet, that the fear of lizards is called herpetophobia,” Harry says.

“I haven’t got herpes,” Louis says. “I promise.”

“And a lot of the times, people are scared of lizards,” Harry says. “But they’re more scared of us than we are of them.”

Louis has never explained himself in plain words; he’s never said to Harry, I am afraid of what you do to me. Louis can’t tell if Harry is speaking in metaphors or not right now, but maybe he’s understood Louis all along. Maybe he knows.

“Are you afraid of lizards?” Louis says.

“Nope,” Harry says. He pulls Louis close to him and leans back against the wall, getting his hand underneath Louis’ shirt and rubbing at his hip scales, and kisses him. Louis gasps shuddery into Harry’s mouth, rolling up helplessly into the pressure on his hip and kissing him back fiercely. He hasn’t got off since the last time Harry got him off, and he hasn’t known if it will happen again, or when. He doesn’t want it to happen in a public bathroom at school, so he forces himself to pull away and rest his head under Harry’s chin. The pulse in Harry’s neck flutters against Louis’ lips, and Louis kisses there with his open mouth, promising him later.

“No, lizards are really cool,” Harry says breathlessly. “They’re not slimy, and they’re soft, and they’re good kissers.”

“How many lizards have you kissed?” Louis says.

Harry pulls back and counts in his head.

“Oh, fuck off,” Louis says.

~*~

Louis decides to go out au naturel in public on a non-fancy dress day for the first time since he acquired his scales. He’s been concealing them with fake tan lotion and clothes, but he doesn’t want to hide himself anymore. Maybe Harry’s admiration of his lizard looks has given him confidence, or maybe he just doesn’t care what other people think about it at this point, but he forgoes the bronzer and wears his scales proudly. If all this is meant to teach him a lesson, then he’s going to learn it, and he’ll teach everyone else as well. What’s the worst that could happen? They expel him for having a skin condition?

He parks the van in the school parking lot and struts his lizard self through the doors. People point and stare, obviously whispering about how bizarre his appearance is, but he’s determined not to let it bother him.

But by the time he’s halfway down the corridor, all his courage has dissolved, and he’s hugging his arms around his body to make himself as small as possible, hoping people will stop noticing him and stop talking about what a freak he is. He keeps his head down, but he can hear snatches of things as he walks by, and they swirl around him in a tornado of despair.

“Has Tommo got leprosy or something?”

“Looks like an STD.”

“Your shoes are ugly!” Bugg yells.

“Jesus, Bugg, haven’t you got the memo? I’m a damn lizard!” Louis shouts. “You’ve completely missed the point!”

“Sorry,” Zayn says, after he literally bumps into Louis.

“Zayn, it’s me,” Louis says, examining the color of his skin. He’s a pasty white now, like he’s been rolling around in chalk, the same color as the walls. “Shit, I must be blending in. Everyone’s staring at me.”

“When have you ever not liked people staring at you?” Zayn says.

“Since I became a lizard,” Louis says. “Will you come outside with me?”

With Zayn beside him, he starts to calm down, and his skin fades back to what it was, the green and blue scales returning to normal, or as normal as they can be on him.

“Sick style, mate,” Stan says, popping out of nowhere to throw his arm around Louis’ shoulder and walk with him. “Where’d you get it done?”

“Oh, well - “ Louis says.

“Nah, nevermind,” Stan says. “My mum would never let me. Looks fucking sick though, bro. Cheers, yeah?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Louis says.

When they get outside into the wintry fresh air, Louis starts to feel better. They go stand around the van, a familiar comfort and a shield from the cold. He had no idea that’s what it felt like to walk around getting talked about. He’s had a few laughs at other’s expenses himself in his day, and he’s always thought he was harmless enough, but who knows who he’s hurt?

“Zayn, have I ever hurt your feelings?” Louis says.

“No,” Zayn says.

“What’s going on, boys?” Liam says, walking up to them. “Ah, Louis! Decided to come to school naked, did you? You look great, honestly.”

“Thank you,” Louis says. “Liam, have I ever hurt your feelings?”

“Well,” Liam says.

He starts to rattle off a few instances where Louis has apparently been a prick, but Louis tunes him out. Harry is off in the distance, moseying up to the school with Niall alongside him. Harry’s got on a pea coat with the collar turned up, and it hides most of his face, but Louis can tell he’s smiling and happy, puffs of steam floating out of his face as he laughs. He knows for sure that he’s done nasty things to him, to the both of them. He’s got to do more than just stop; he’s got to make it up to them. He has to change.

“And then there was the time you dumped hot tea down my pants - that didn’t really hurt my feelings so much as my - “ Liam says.

“Jade!” Louis calls out, spotting her hurrying along to get inside.

Jade’s got a wicked scar on her neck, like some kind of animal bite, and Louis remembers making fun of it on several occasions. He never even asked how she got it. He feels awful about it now, and he wonders if it’s too late to apologize. All things considered, he should be furious at her, since she’s one of the witches who had a hand in making him this way. But it hasn’t been all bad, really. Apart from some of his extremities coming off and feeling bad about himself for a few minutes, it hasn’t really affected his life that much.

“Oh, Louis,” Jade stops for him. Her lip begins to wobble pitifully and tears well up in her eyes as she looks at him, at what he has become. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Louis says earnestly. “It’s fine. I understand.”

“You do?” Jade says, sniffling and wiping her eyes.

“Yeah,” Louis says. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, and to treat others the way I’d want to be treated and whatever. There’s nothing I can do, so the show must go on.”

“Well, I’m glad,” Jade says. “You’ve been a total ass, to me and to everyone else.”

“I know,” Louis says. “I am a victim of my own demise. And I’m going to make it up to you, and to myself. To everyone. Everyone who’s ever felt like they were different. We deserve to have a space to be ourselves without the cruel barbs of an unaccepting and intolerant society being hurled at us. We deserve respect!”

“What?” Jade says.

“Well, you’ve got your scar, right?” Louis says. Jade nods, touching her neck self consciously. “And I’m this.”

“Think you got the market cornered on looking like a lizard, mate,” Zayn says.

“Liam, what do people make fun of you for?” Louis says.

Liam sucks in a huge breath.

“Keep it limited to one thing, please,” Louis says.

Liam deflates. He points at the mole on his throat. “I have this birthmark people make fun of sometimes.”

“Can I be involved?” Zayn says.

“What’s wrong with you?” Jade says.

“Sometimes people say my face is too perfect,” Zayn says sadly.

Jade and Louis both roll their eyes, but Liam presses a hand to his heart and gasps in horror.

“Zayn, that’s awful,” Liam says. “Nobody should make someone else feel bad just for the way they look.”

“You nailed it, Liam. That’s exactly my point. There’s nothing here in this school for us to support one another.”

He turns dramatically and spreads his arms wide, addressing the indifferent passers-by.

“Nobody should make fun of someone else for how they look, be they perfectly symmetrical, scaly, scarred, or covered in moles!”

“Zayn,” Louis says, turning to face the van. “I need you to do something. Can you paint like - “

“Like a - “ Zayn says, pointing and making shapes.

“Yeah, like,” Louis says, making different shapes with his fingers in the air. “And do this - “

“I see it,” Zayn says. “I see it.”

“And oh, can you make up a couple of fliers with the same design? Like - “

“Yeah, like that,” Zayn says. “With the -”

“Wow, you guys know a lot about art,” Liam says.

"Come on, let's jet," Louis says.

He jumps into the van with Zayn and they peel away, leaving everyone behind to wonder at their magnificence.

~*~

They park the van at their spot by the lake and work until it's dark and the stars are out, pausing only so Louis can warm up in the headlights once in a while. Louis helps by sitting back and telling Zayn what looks good and what doesn't, and Zayn paints his heart out all over the side of the van, wiping sweat away and smearing paint on his face, like this is his life's work.

"Looks sick, bro," Louis says, when it's finally finished.

"Thanks, bro," Zayn says.

“Is that a taco?” Louis says.

“Yeah,” Zayn says. “And some eyes.”

“Brilliant,” Louis says. He smacks a big kiss on Zayn's cheek, his mind whirring like an idea fan.

When he drops Zayn off and finally gets home, it's way later than he thought it was and he's in so much trouble. He doesn't exactly have a curfew, because he can't be tamed, but he realizes he hasn't checked in at home all day. Last time he did that was - well, he ended up at the airport. He hopes he can just tip toe up to his room, but his mum is waiting for him at the kitchen table with a disappointed look on her face.

"Where have you been?" His mum says. "You haven't called. I was worried sick."

"Mum," Louis says desperately. "I can explain."

"I bet you can," his mum says. She stands and wags her finger at him, raising her voice as much as she can without waking the girls. "Don't even try that with me."

"Mum, please," Louis says. He goes to her and holds her hand in his. She doesn't let go. "I have something I need to tell you."

"What is it?"

He hesitates, his heart beating against his chest so hard he feels numb. He's never been so scared to tell her anything in his entire life. They've always been so close, but this is something that's entirely new and strange to him, and he's of a much younger, more open-minded generation. He doesn't know how she'll react. He doesn't know if she'll be able to accept him like this.

Louis looks down at their hands, her soft motherly ones clasped in his soft lizardly ones. He can't look her in the eye when he says it.

"Mum, I'm a lizard," he says.

"Oh darling, I know," she says.

"What?" Louis' head snaps up.

"I've known ever since you were born," she says. "Hatched out of an egg, you were."

Louis is stunned into silence. Everything he thought about becoming a lizard is a lie. His thoughts spiral in an endless tunnel of despair until all he can see is his mother finding a giant egg in the snow on Christmas Eve, next to some sort of hell crater dug by the devil himself to wreak havoc on the people of earth, until - his mother bursts out laughing.

"You should have seen the look on your face!" She shrieks.

"That is not funny," Louis says. He struggles to get out of her grasp, but she pulls him in and hugs him hard.

"Oh, Louis," she says. "I have eyes. You can't hide anything from me. I know you're a lizard, and that's okay. If you're a lizard for now, or a lizard forever, I'll love you no matter what. All right?"

"All right," Louis says. "Thanks, Mum."

 

~*~

The next morning, Louis arrives earlier to school than everyone else, or so he thinks.

“Van looks sick,” Niall says to him, startling Louis so that he drops a bunch of fliers on the ground. Niall bends to help him pick them up.

“Thanks,” Louis says.

“What’s this all about?” Niall says, squinting to read the flier. “Z-A-P?”

“ZAP!” Louis screeches excitedly.

“What’s it mean?” Niall says.

“Well - “ Louis starts, speech prepared, but he gets distracted by Harry’s arrival. Other people are starting to pull in and park or get dropped off, so he gets out the megaphone he has tucked into the van and fires it up.

“What’s all this?” Harry says cheerfully, obviously delighted by Louis and his dealings.

Louis rocks back and forth on his feet with pride. “It’s my new personal venture. I designed the whole operation - well, some of it was Zayn, but I supervised.”

“Wow,” Harry says. “What’s it mean? Zap?”

“It means whatever you need it to mean,” Louis says. “Like, say, what about you, Niall? You ever get made fun of for anything?”

“Actually - “ Niall says.

“Your braces? Poor dress sense? Non-stop eating?” Louis says.

“Well - “

“Dyed hair? Baby face? What is it, Niall?”

“I’m Irish,” Niall says. “People laugh at the way I talk.”

“The way you talk?” Louis says, instantly outraged on Niall’s behalf. “That’s terrible, Niall. Nobody should make you feel bad because of the way you naturally are. The way you were born!”

“It doesn’t make me feel bad, really,” Niall says, shrugging. “Like, it’s true. I am Irish. I do say ‘turdy’. They’ve made an observation and said it with their mouths. Big deal.”

“Interesting approach,” Louis says, nodding. “ZAP could really use someone like you. How about it? Wanna join?”

“Sure,” Niall says.

Louis gives Niall a flier of information in exchange for his signature pledging to become a member.

“And you, Harry?” Louis says. “Anyone make fun of you for anything?”

“Not really,” Harry says. “Everyone loves me.”

“Oh, I dunno about that, Harry,” Niall says. “You fall over a lot.”

“God, he does,” Louis agrees. “And these tattoos - what are they?”

“Right?” Niall says. “Looks like he let a toddler draw on him. And he can’t tell a joke to save his life.”

“He talks so much shit!” Louis says. “He never makes any sense!”

They go back and forth listing all the things they love to hate about Harry with escalating enthusiasm until they’re laughing with tears in their eyes and their arms around each other like two lads leaving a pub, drunk on nothing but hearty insults.

“Thanks,” Harry says, humiliated in a good-natured way.

“Well, boys, I gotta go,” Niall says. “I’ll be representing Ireland at this meeting later, yeah?”

Niall kicks his heels up in a leprechaun jump just as Louis does the same, and they cackle together.

“You’re a great dancer,” Niall says, winking at him.

“Oh, fuck off!” Louis says, remembering the time he was drunk and Niall allowed him to slow dance with him for who knows how long. “I forgot all about that!”

“See ya, lads!” Niall shouts, jogging off to join a bunch of people shouting his name.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Harry says. He smoothly takes a flier from Louis’ hand, the barest brush of their fingers making Louis feel like he could rip the whole stack in half. Harry kisses Louis on the corner of his mouth, then hides his face in his coat, though Louis can tell by his eyes that he’s beaming.

Louis feels like Harry picked him up and tossed him in the air. Harry walks away and leaves him floating.

“Wow!” Liam says, running up to the van and putting his hand on it, startling Louis out of his thoughts. “Is it dry? Can I touch it?”

“Of course you can,” Zayn says, following after him.

“You already are touching it,” Louis says. “Here, boys, take one. I expect to see you both at the first ZAP meeting.”

“Are these tacos?” Liam says.

“And eyes,” Zayn says proudly.

“This is amazing,” Liam says. He indicates Louis’ megaphone. “May I?”

“Go nuts,” Louis says.

“Hey!” Liam shouts into the megaphone. It squeals hideously and everyone glares at him. “Zayn, your hair looks great today!”

“Thanks!” Zayn says.

“Hey babe, love your outfit!” Liam shouts at a random girl walking by. “Wanna join ZAP?”

“What’s it stand for?” The girl he was shouting at shouts back.

“Uh,” Liam shouts into the megaphone. He digs in his pocket and comes up with his phone. Louis can see he’s looking up words that start with ‘z’, which makes his heart swell with friendship. “Zucchini And Parmesan. No, wait. Zombies And Pussycats. No, wait! Zits And Pimples!”

“Zayn And Payne,” Zayn says, which makes Liam hold his heart and awww.

“Give me that,” Louis yanks it back out of Liam’s hand and shouts into it himself. He spins around dramatically and spreads his arms wide, addressing the passers-by with his megaphone. “ZAP is for the people who feel they have nothing that stands for them! It stands for truth! It stands for understanding! It stands for love! ZAP stands for acceptance of yourself and acceptance of others! Um, it’s - it’s when you feel like a lizard, or maybe you are a lizard, or you’ve got scars you’re afraid to show, or you’re Irish, or you’re clumsy, or too pretty, or you don’t know how to spell. If you don’t know what ZAP means, make something up for yourself. ZAP is for zappers. ZAP is for everyone!”

A crowd slowly gathers around them, and they’re silent for a moment after Louis’ rant, but then Louis spots Jade in the middle of it, along with the other teen witches. They all have surprisingly pleased looks on their faces, like they’re happy what they did to Louis got them exactly what they wanted. Jade starts the applause and everyone follows. She pushes her way up to the front and puts her name on the sign-up sheet, a line of people forming behind her and grabbing fliers.

“You did good,” Jade says.

“Will there be snacks at this meeting?” Perrie says.

“Yes!” Liam shouts.

“What kind of snacks?” Perrie says skeptically.

“I dunno, cake or something,” Louis says.

“I love cake!” Liam and Perrie say in unison.

Once their fliers are all gone and they’ve got loads of signatures of people pledging to join club ZAP and attend their first meeting, they finally go inside to huddle together and warm up.

“This is so exciting,” Liam says.

“Jesus, Liam calm down,” Louis says. “Where are your eyes? When you get all excited like that your eyes disappear. You look like one of them wrinkly dogs.”

“It’s cute,” Zayn says.

“Thank you,” Liam says. “Louis, I just can’t believe you got approval that fast.”

“For what?” Louis says. “Can’t I do anything I want?”

“Louis, you can’t just up and start a school club,” Liam says as though it’s obvious. “You could get in massive trouble. You’ve got to go through the proper channels. Speak to the proper authorities.”

“Ugh, fine,” Louis says. “Who’s the proper authority?”

Somebody clears their throat behind them, and Louis can almost tell who it is by the sound of smugness rattling in the phlegm of it.

“Mr. Tomlinson,” Grimshaw says, holding up one of Louis’ fliers with a phlegmy smug look on his face. “Does this belong to you?”

“No,” Liam says defiantly, stunning Louis, Zayn, and even Grimshaw into silence. “It’s all of ours. ZAP is for everyone who’s ever had anyone be mean to them, or experienced - bullying. For people who need - courage.” He seems to become confused about his intended message and loses steam, but the idea that he’d stick up for Louis and his cause at all is very touching.

“Well,” Grimshaw huffs.“As much as I’d hate to give you any power, Tomlinson, I can’t really refuse. That assembly? Remember, the one you all just had to miss? It was basically about doing this. So I guess… well done. But maybe you should put all that anti-bullying stuff Payne just said instead of - are these tacos?”

“Yes,” Zayn says.

“Go to the office and fill out a bloody application to start a club,” Grimshaw says with a sigh. “And go to class, for god’s sake.”

~*~

Louis is high off the excitement of adjourning an important ZAP meeting, the one where they decided what the theme of their winter dance will be: unity. The point is that people are encouraged to ask someone to go with you whom you wouldn’t normally think to ask, which wasn't his idea, but he doesn't remember exactly whose it was so it might as well have been his idea. He's been running on fumes the last few days, because he and Zayn have been staying up late designing more posters. Mostly it's him who's been up and waking up Zayn every couple hours to force him to draw whatever Louis wants, but they're a definite team.

Louis has become somewhat of a symbol around school. When he walks through the school, he sees dozens of people with makeup on their faces and necks to make it look like they have scales. Perrie has been going around with her hair dyed green and blue in solidarity of ZAP. A few people have even started wearing gold contacts. Louis enters a room and people look to him with a newfound respect, rather than with the fear he previously inspired.. He feels more beloved than ever.

Harry hangs back, waiting patiently as people take their turns talking to Louis individually. Harry has been very patient with him, almost too patient. He's been letting Louis come to him. Between organizing ZAP meetings and trying to keep his body from falling apart, Louis has been pretty busy. Harry comes to the meetings and stands in the back, and Louis can’t help but focus on him, speak to him. I’m doing this for you, he tries to say. I’m trying to do better for you. Harry’s face is always so bright and full of pride and adoration when he looks at Louis, like a spotlight shining on him. Louis doesn't want to let him down.

"Come on," Harry says when everyone is done shuffling out. "I'll take you out for a milkshake."

"You mean I'll take you," Louis says. "You haven't got a license."

"Neither have you," Harry says.

Harry helps Louis carry the stacks of papers, posters, and pamphlets to the van.

“Aren’t you freezing?” Harry says. There's a light snowfall, enough that it sticks to Harry's curls but doesn't stay on the pavement. "You're cold-blooded."

“No, actually," Louis says, surprised he hadn't even thought of it before. "I'm not. I mean, I am. But I feel okay. I’m just fucking itchy.”

Louis drives them to the McDonald's closest to the school. It was kind of theirs - when they had things together. He's not sure Harry will remember it, but Louis does every time he goes there. He hasn't been there since the spring.

"Oh, does that weird guy still work here?" Harry says as they pull up in line for the drive-thru.

"I hope so," Louis says. "Remember when we saw Grimshaw here?"

"Eating alone?" Harry says.

"Yeah," Louis says. "It was quite sad, really."

"And then you parked and waited for him to come out so you could throw a nugget at him," Harry says.

"I was trying to cheer him up," Louis says. The car behind them honks because they haven't moved up at all, Louis too distracted by Harry smiling at him to notice. "What kind of milkshake do you want?"

"Strawberry," Harry says.

"Disgusting," Louis says. "That shouldn't even be an option. Fruit in ice cream. The only flavor of milkshake should be chocolate. Don't you agree?"

The voice on the other end of the speaker says, "Um."

Louis orders Harry his disgusting milkshake and a chocolate one for himself. He doesn't feel like taking Harry home yet, enjoying his company probably more than he should be allowed. He drives them through the woods to his and Zayn's spot. The trees are dusted with a light snow and the wheels crunch over it pleasantly. The lake is still, but Louis has never seen it freeze before.

Harry leans over to kiss him fiercely. Louis kisses back at once, this being his plan all along though he didn't know it. Louis gets Harry to open his sweet mouth, tasting of milkshake, and Louis' mouth floods with strawberry flavor and melted ice cream.

"Ugh!" Louis shrieks. "God, why?"

Harry throws his head back, laughing maniacally.

"Why would you do something like that?" Louis says. "Jesus, that was the worst thing that's ever happened to me. And I'm including becoming a lizard."

"Sorry," Harry says, though he's clearly anything but. "Let me make it up to you."

The last time they hooked up in this van, it felt more like Harry was doing Louis a favor. Now, it’s Louis’ full intent to get off with him, to be together. Now, they climb into the back of the van, making slow work of it, unable to stop kissing each other.

It never used to be like this, before. What seems now like ages ago, Louis couldn't get rid of him; Harry was always around. It used to bother Louis, for some reason. Harry was too clingy, too nice. He shoved Harry away with words all the time, and he believes the last time they talked, before summer, the phrase ““I never want to see you again”” was said. Even as he was living it he remembers thinking, god, what a cliche. He just hated the sensation of being smothered with Harry’s unquestioning adoration, the feeling of being pinned by Harry’’s unconditional love.

And that’s exactly where he is now, pinned underneath Harry in the van, pouring every feeling he’s got for Harry into his kiss. Harry lays out pillows and blankets over the stacks of posters and presses Louis back into them, kissing him while trying to take Louis’ coat off and not succeeding much.

“Hold this,” Louis says, coming up for air. Harry holds on to the end of Louis’ sleeve so Louis can extract his arm from it.

“I feel bad fooling around in here,” Harry says. “Isn’t this like, a government vehicle now?”

“I’m the president, babe,” Louis says “No worries.”

Louis just wishes he wasn’t so itchy at a time like this. He keeps scratching at himself through his clothes so he doesn’t rip his scales off, but he really wants to get his nails in there.

“I haven’t got an STD, I swear,” Louis says. “I must have winter itch or something.”

“Oh!” Harry says. He reaches for his bag and comes up with a small bottle. “I forgot. I went to like, a boot store to ask what the best way to care for snake skin is. I know you’re not a snake, but I’ve never heard of like, lizard skin boots, do you know what I mean? I don’t know if that’s a thing they make. There was a guy there named Arnie, and at first I thought he worked there. When he left I saw him step off the curb into traffic and get hit by a car, but he was okay. I think it was just like, the air from the car passing by. He seemed a bit drunk. There’s a special brush you’re supposed to use so you don’t like, lift up the scales.”

“What are you talking about?” Louis says. “A drunk man gave you advice on how to take care of boots?”

“He knew a lot about boots,” Harry says. “He just went on and on.”

“I know the feeling,” Louis says.

“This lotion will help your skin not feel like, as itchy and dry,” Harry says. “I made it myself.”

Louis takes the bottle from Harry and opens it to take a whiff and nearly chokes. “Jesus, what’s it made out of? Have you smelled this?” He holds it under Harry’s nose, but Harry seems pleased by the scent. “It smells like garbage potpourri.”

“It’s just regular lotion with avocado oil and lavender oil in,” Harry says. “Arnie told me to use some other oil for boots, but since you’re not a boot yet, I figured I’d go like, the more organic route.”

“Planning on skinning me and making me into a boot?” Louis says. He gets his hands inside Harry’s coat and under his shirt, skimming his hands over Harry’s sides.

Harry nods and giggles, squirming under Louis’ tickling.

“How many things you got in that bag of yours?” Louis says. “Is it like a lizard nappy changing bag?”

“Do you need your nappy changed?” Harry says.

“Shut up,” Louis says.

“You know, I’m really proud of you,” Harry says, and he’s obviously telling the truth. “Like, with all the things you’ve done, with ZAP and everything. I think it’s really improved like, morale. It’s really cool.”

“Yeah, well,” Louis says. “I’m trying to do something, at least. I’m not really good at anything.”

“That’s not true,” Harry says passionately, nostrils flaring. “You’re good at a lot of things.”

Louis scoffs. “Like what?”

“You’re good at - pranks,” Harry says.

“You’re right about that,” Louis says.

“You’re good at taking care of people,” Harry says.

Louis laughs bitterly. He’s been the one who’s needed taking care of for a long time now, so how could he be good at care for someone else?

“And you’re a good leader,” Harry plows on. “People do whatever you ask.”

“That’s true,” Louis says. “I should be using my powers for evil.”

“And you’re very good at kissing,” Harry says breathlessly, fitting his mouth to Louis’.

“No denying that,” Louis says against Harry’s wet lips.

“How are we doing here?” Harry says. He tucks his hand against Louis’ crotch, and Louis can feel the warmth of his palm through his trousers.

“All there,” Louis says, trying to hide the trembling in his body.

Harry helps Louis out of the rest of his clothing, planting kisses on the skin he reveals. Louis still can’t believe Harry’s so unflinchingly not disgusted by what he looks like.

"You know tortellini?" Harry says.

"What?" Louis says, taking a second to catch up, because that’s not what he was thinking about at all. "Like the pasta?"

"Yeah," Harry says. He kisses down Louis' belly and hip, dragging his tongue over the scales. Louis's hips rock up against his mouth, asking for more. "They were modeled after a woman's belly button."

"Are you saying I have a womanly belly button?" Louis says, slurring a bit as Harry fist curls around his cock.

"Just something I learned," Harry says. “Have you - since we?”

Louis shakes his head. He’s been waiting for Harry to want to again, too scared to try on his own.

Harry's soft cheek rubs along Louis' cock, and he hesitates with his mouth open against it, resting the head of it at the corner of this mouth, rubbing his pretty pink lips against it, staring up at Louis with his bright eyes. Louis groans and his head falls back as Harry opens his mouth and sucks just the head of his cock, circling his tongue around it. He starts to take Louis deeper, and Louis’ hand flies to his head, tugging lightly at Harry’s curls. He wants to hold Harry there and fuck his mouth, and he thinks Harry would let him, but suddenly Louis has this flash of a vision of his dick falling off in Harry’s mouth, and he panics and forcibly pulls Harry off with a wet pop. Harry whines and tries again, but Louis pushes him off.

“What?” Harry says. His breathing is heavy and he looks almost out of it, like sucking Louis off is really doing it for him. “What is it?”

“I don’t - want you to, like,” Louis struggles to explain. “Like, you know. Bite my dick off.”

“Oh,” Harry says, then laughs, then forces himself to stop laughing as Louis glares at him. “Oh! I get it. What if I - “

Harry still has his grip around Louis’ cock and he drags his lips down his entire length, down farther, until his head completely disappears between Louis’ legs.

Louis wants to ask Harry where he learned how to do this, how to handle his body this way. He wants to know if Harry learned with somebody else. Louis always thought he'd be the one to show him how to touch, the same way they learned to kiss each other. Harry was supposed to wait for Louis to want him. It's a shame, Louis thinks, that he had to turn into a lizard to figure out just how bad he wants Harry.

"Lift up," Harry says, but Louis apparently takes too long to follow this order, because Harry puts his hands on the scaly underside of Louis' thighs and pushes them towards his chest.

Louis squirms uncomfortably at being so naked and exposed in front of Harry like this. Harry's watched him turn from a very good-looking boy to a repulsive half-reptile, but somehow his body being laid out and open like this is more humiliating.

"Getting a good look?" Louis says, feeling embarrassed and overheated, flushed from head to toe.

"Come on,” Harry laughs, his voice gone deep and rough. “Spread ‘em.” He sucks a kiss into Louis' thigh and digs his fingers hard into the flesh just below his ass. Louis moans as Harry's fingernails scrape against the sensitive scales there and opens his legs more so Harry can fit between them.

Harry ducks down and presses his tongue to Louis’ hole, licking once, making Louis let out a surprised cry and clamp his thighs together, trapping Harry’s head.

“Don’t,” Louis groans.

Harry rubs his palm soothingly up the back of Louis’ thigh to his knee and just holds on. He uses his shoulders to push Louis’ legs back open, asking with gentle silence for permission to be in Louis’ space in this way.

“Let me,” Harry says, and Louis does as he’s asked.

Harry takes his time, slowly trailing his tongue from the curve of Louis' ass back to his hole, giving him little teasing licks.

"Oh, fuck," Louis gasps. Breath catches in his throat and his cock leaks against his stomach, so clearly he likes it more than he thought he would.

"Hang on, hang on, hang on," Harry mutters, pulling completely away.

"Don't stop now," Louis whines, hips working against nothing.

"I can't do - two things," Harry says incoherently. Louis looks down and watches as Harry's shaking hands undo his belt and push his trousers down just past his hips, allowing his cock to spring free. He settles back down between Louis' legs and Louis holds himself open this time, his sweaty hands cupped behind his knees, so Harry can jerk himself off.

Part of Louis feels frustrated that he can’t jerk off like that, rough and fast, or that Harry can’t put his hands on him, lest something terrible happen to his dick. But it’s hard to think angry thoughts when Harry grips Louis' ass cheek with his free hand and flutters his tongue over Louis' hole for a few seconds, then pauses to breathe hotly against him as he works his fist over his own cock. It drives Louis out of his mind, the teasing start-stop of Harry's mouth, but he doesn't ever want it to end.

Harry's entire body shudders and his face pinches with pleasure as he comes silently, taking his mouth away from Louis' ass to bite into his thigh gently.

"God, Louis," Harry breathes heavily.

Harry only needs a moment to recover before plunging back in, pointing his tongue and fucking Louis with it, sloppy with how eager he is. Harry mouths around his hole, now slick with spit, and Louis writhes, rocking his hips down into it.

"Come like this," Harry slurs into Louis' skin before continuing to fuck him with his tongue,.

The hand he used on himself, wet with come, slides up over Louis’ thigh and his hip, then rests between his cock and his belly. Louis pants in shallow breaths, his hole quivering around Harry's tongue. All Harry has to do is stroke his slick fingertips down the hot length of Louis' cock before he's coming with a strangled moan.

Harry crawls and and collapses next to him with his arm thrown around him. He leans in and kisses Louis on the corner of his eye, then tilts Louis’ face towards him.

“Get your ass-mouth off me,” Louis wiggles and tries to fight, but it’s no use. “No way! Strawberry shake was one thing, but this is another!”

“Kiss me!” Harry shouts. He peppers kisses all over Louis’ cheeks and nose and chin. “It’s not that bad!”

Louis relents and kisses him, with his mouth open, and they stay that way until Louis remembers it’s still daytime and they’re in the van in a technically public area.

“Well?” Harry says. “How was that?”

“Fantastic,” Louis says. “I never should’ve let my mum make me get rid of that ‘if this van’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’’ sticker.”

Harry laughs and snuggles closer into his arms. The snow falling around them outside is just visible through the foggy little windows in the back of the van. It’s pleasantly cozy, and Louis never wants to get out, never wants to stop wasting fuel just so he doesn’t have to let go of Harry.

“This is nice,” Louis says. “Just us.”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “It is.”

~*~

Zayn holds a little grey jumper with a pink heart and two horses running on it up to his chin. He stares at himself in the mirror contemplatively. The bottom of the jumper only reaches to just above his navel.

“Isn’t that a bit small for you?” Louis says.

“Would this fit my sister, do you think?” Zayn says. “I don’t know how to buy clothes for other people. I don’t even know how to buy clothes for myself.”

Louis is shuffling around the rest of the late Christmas shoppers and trying not to get shoved to the ground. He’s bored out of his mind. He tries on a few pair of sunglasses that look like they might fit his head, but he doesn’t like looking at himself in the mirror for too long. When he woke up this morning, his right eye was back to normal, with its round pupil and normal blue, but the left is still yellow. He thinks he looks more freakish now than ever, but nobody seems to think anything of it. Even Zayn’s only comment on it was “looks sick, bro” and that was that.

He’s moved on to touching every piece of fabric within range as they make their way through the racks. They’ve been at the mall for hours, and Louis’ feet are killing him, and the bags on his arms are cutting into his scales. He’s done shopping for pretty much everyone, but Zayn is dragging his feet making decisions.

“Jesus, just get it,” Louis says. “She’ll love it because it’s from you.”

His hand comes into contact with a particularly nasty-feeling shirt.

“Ugh, touch this,” Louis says, picking it up and forcing Zayn to put his fingers on it.

“It’s not that bad,” Zayn shrugs.

“It feels like cold pubes,” Louis says, tossing it to the floor. “Who would ever wear that?”

Finally Zayn settles on a pair of leggings with ice cream cones on them and they get in the queue to pay. Louis likes this time of year; people aren’t even staring at him because they’re so focused on frantically buying gifts. A half-lizard boy walking around is nothing compared to how terrible some other shoppers are being.

“I’m gonna ask Liam to the dance,” Zayn says.

“Are you stupid?” Louis says. “That’s completely against the point of the dance. You’re supposed to ask somebody you would never ask. Like - like Max or something.”

Louis and Zayn shudder at the same time.

“Sorry,” Louis says, patting Zayn on the shoulder apologetically. “Some things should never be joked about.”

“My point is, I wouldn’t ever ask anyone, yeah?” Zayn says. “So me asking anyone at all is something I would never do. So asking Liam is still in accordance with ZAP.”

Louis squints at him. “Solid reasoning, as usual.”

“What about you?” Zayn says with a nudge. “Are you asking anyone?”

“Haven’t thought about it,” Louis says, looking at the little merchandise displays so avoid making eye contact with Zayn. “Hey, look, this hat has a Batman logo on it. Did you already get something for Liam? It’s probably too small for his head.”

“You’re joking,” Zayn says.

“No, he has kind of a big head,” Louis says. Louis shoves the hat onto his own head until it covers half his face and he can’t see anything.

“I already got Liam something,” Zayn says.

“What’d you get him?” Louis says.

“A nice jumper,” Zayn says.

“What?” Louis shouts. “I can’t see you!”

Zayn snatches the hat off Louis’ head. The people in front of them turn back and glare, shaking their heads, while the people behind them chuckle. Louis so does enjoy offending and amusing the masses.

“Why’d you get him a jumper?” Louis says. “You just said buying clothes for other people is hard.”

“I thought maybe, like, I could wear it,” Zayn says. “Like, borrow it. Stop asking me questions. You’re not taking Harry to the dance?”

“Who knows who’s taking anyone to the dance?” Louis says, his voice cracking. He feels stripped naked and vulnerable, and he doesn’t want to think about it anymore. He just wants to get on with his life and not have to make a thing about it.

Zayn gives him one last look of disbelief, but he drops it.

“Hey, can we go into - “ Zayn says.

“No,” Louis says. “You are done for the day, mister.”

~*~

“What,” Harry says, gesturing to Louis’ crude display of his fallen dicks sitting on his desk, “are these?”

Louis has been itching badly in more ways than one for days. The patches of scales on every part of his body feel loose, like a stretched out piece of fabric. He wonders if they're coming off, but when he tries to pull at them, it feels like he's ripping his skin off. Maybe he's just getting old, by lizard standards, and he just has loose floppy scales now.

He scratches at the scales on his arm distractedly as he watches Harry take his shirt off. His curls lift up briefly then fall back against his forehead. It’s a lot different seeing Harry’s body naked than it is seeing it with clothes on, even though all he seems to wear are thin shirts. He’s sturdy, less like a kid than Louis was expecting. He’s practically grown.

“Those are my penises, Harry,” Louis says. “I’d ask you kindly not to make fun.”

“I’m not,” Harry is quick to say. “What are you gonna do with them?”

“Dunno,” Louis says. “I don’t want to throw them away. I was thinking about putting them all in glass cases, or maybe donating them to a museum.”

“You could always,” Harry says, picking up two of the dicks and holding them over his eyes, “make fashion sunglasses out of them.”

“Stop,” Louis says, biting his lips and trying not to laugh.

“Earrings,” Harry says, hold the dicks up to his ears.

“Clip-on or pierced?” Louis says.

“Necktie,” Harry says, and everything he says he strikes a catalogue model pose with the disembodied dicks and models them for Louis, his eyes shining with mirth. “Belt.”

“Bikini,” Louis says, and Harry immediately places the dicks over his nipples so it just looks like he has outrageously huge ones. Louis holds himself and kicks his feet, unable to keep a straight face anymore.

“Sexy bunny ears,” Harry says. He puts two dicks on top of his head so he looks like he has dick antennae.

“No, it’s over,” Louis says. “Nothing can top your big penis nips. You look like a penis alien.”

“Women are from Venus, men are from Penis,” Harry says, looking very pleased that he’s made a joke. He moves one of the dicks so it’s in the center of his forehead. “Peni-corn.”

Louis shakes his head. “Maybe you could fry them up and eat my dick.”

“Wouldn’t be the strangest thing I’ve eaten.”

Harry carefully sets the dicks back where he got them and slinks over to the bed. When he climbs on to straddle Louis' bare thighs, all the muscles in his body flex. Louis is naked and lying back comfortably against his pillows, and he feels soft and grotesque compared to Harry's sharp, smooth body.

"Do you want the lamps on or off?" Harry says. "Are you cold?"

"Are these real?" Louis says, touching one of the swallow tattoos on Harry's collarbone.

"About as real as these," Harry says, touching the scales along Louis' throat.

"Mine feel like they're about to come off," Louis says. Harry's fingers are too light and ticklish. Louis knocks his hand out of the way to scratch viciously.

"Don't," Harry says. He grips Louis' wrist in his hand and pulls it away, keeping it bound in a loose grip above Louis' head. “Are you itchy? Haven’t you been using the lotion I gave you?”

“Not really,” Louis says. “Don’t fancy walking round smelling like a flower.”

“It’s supposed to help,” Harry says. "Can I leave the lamps on? I want to see." He leans down and presses an open mouth kiss to where Louis was scratching, his tongue fluttering against the bumpy scales.

Louis draws in a shaky breath and bares his throat to Harry's hot mouth, even though if he thinks about it, it's kind of disgusting. He doesn't know if he'd lick his own scales, let alone someone else's.

"You're a freak," Louis says. "You're into weird reptile sex. Have you looked up lizard porn? Kiss any frogs?"

He goes to take his hand back, as his wrist is still ringed loosely in Harry's grasp, but Harry grips tighter and holds it down. Louis arches up into the press of Harry's body so his hard cock drags across the cloth covering Harry's.

"So?" Harry says. "Is it weirder to be a reptile or be into reptiles?"

"I am what I am," Louis says. "I wanna see you too. Go on, get it out. Let's have a look."

"Okay, doctor," Harry says.

Harry lets go of Louis' wrist to undo his trousers, so Louis takes the opportunity to sit himself upright and rest back on his hands. He rolls his hips impatiently as Harry fumbles trying to get his trousers off. They’ve never been completely naked together. He remembers having a notion that it would be too much, for both of them. Louis didn't want to be responsible for him like that. Now he feels desperate to see all of Harry.

"You're staring," Harry says. He repositions himself so he's lying across Louis again, holding him down with his weight. His naked cock fits nicely against Louis’ hip.

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

He rolls his hips again, and the wet drag of Harry’s cock against his sensitive scales makes him swallow heavily, and he falls back against the pillows and spreads his legs without thinking, making more space for Harry to fit into.

“Louis,” Harry says.

He kisses Louis deeply, one of his hands wrapping around Louis’ cock and jerks him off in steady strokes. Louis closes his eyes and grabs Harry’s other’s hand to bring it to his waist, the scales there, and hopes Harry gets the hint. Harry digs his fingers into the soft flesh, his short fingernails scratching just enough, and it feels so good, Louis almost wants to twist out of it. He fights to hold in little whimpers, overwhelmed by Harry everywhere he wants him to be.

Harry holds onto him, rutting against Louis in long, slow thrusts, his mouth yanking away from Louis’ to fall open on a gasp. Louis thrusts back to meet him, their hips colliding. He wants to just fit their bodies together, to rub off against each other like this, but he likes the feeling of having Harry’s hand on him more.

“I’m gonna,” Harry says, his breath hitching. He’s frantic now, his hips slamming down erratically, their kisses turning into breathless puffs of air against each other’s wet mouths. A shudder rolls through Harry and his noses scrunches up adorably as he comes all over Louis’ hip, his cock smearing it into Louis’ scales.

Harry collapses further on top of him, moaning weakly and pressing a sloppy kiss at his neck. His grip on Louis’ cock tightens and he jerks him furiously, Louis fucking into his fist and choking back a whimper as - as he -

As his dick breaks off in Harry’s hand.

Harry’s hand is still moving up and down, but he sits up suddenly when he realizes he’s no longer tugging at Louis’ cock but is stabbing the air with it.

Harry laughs.

“Fuck,” Louis says. He was so close. His spine is bowed, off the bed like he’s strung up. He forces himself to relax, to lie flat and still. Embarrassingly, he can feel himself wanting cry, frustrated tears stinging at his eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen with Harry, but he should’ve known.

“I’m sorry,” Harry practically squeals. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, you seem very apologetic,” Louis says. He struggles to get up, wanting to hide his broken body, but Harry’s huge dead weight still covering him, and he lets out a loud sigh of despair.

“Stay,” Harry says. His eyes are glassy with recent orgasm and laughter, exactly what Louis wants but didn’t get and can’t have.

Harry cups the stump left by Louis’ broken off dick and presses the heel of his hand against him, rubbing it in a torturously slow rhythm.

“Ah,” Louis cries out and jerks up against him. His fingers scrabble helplessly in the sheets, trying to get ahold of something, until Harry’s hand finds his and squeezes. He can feel his balls tightening, but he can’t come.

“Have you touched yourself like this?” Harry says.

His hand moves over what’s left of Louis’ cock, and it’s almost painful because there’s nowhere for the pleasure built up inside Louis to go, no release for him. He doesn’t know if he wants Harry to keep going, to draw out this ache with no possible relief in sight, just this build up with no climax, or if he wants to rip Harry’s arm off. He draws in a long breath and exhales shakily.

“No,” Louis says thickly.

Harry finally stops and Louis sobs and curls his legs up to his chest. Harry wraps his long arms around him and pulls him close and breathes steadily into Louis’ hair, until Louis’ breathing matches his and he can calm down. Harry runs his hand soothingly up and down Louis’ back, his fingertips plucking lightly at the little spikes along his spine. He feels like a cat, or well - like a lizard, he supposes. He didn’t know lizards liked being petted so much before he became one, or maybe it’s been him all along who likes it.

“You’re like a big octopus,” Louis says into Harry’s chest. “You’re all arms.”

“You’re like a lizard,” Harry says, his voice rumbling against Louis’ cheek. “I really am sorry. I didn’t know that was gonna happen. I thought we were being careful.”

“It’s all right,” Louis sighs. “Another one for the collection. It’ll grow back.”

“Have you ever like, watched it grow?” Harry says. “Is it like one of those sped up videos of flowers? Do you know what I mean?”

“Yes, and I haven’t,” Louis says. “I usually just fall asleep. I think my body only has enough energy to either grow a penis or be awake, but not both at the same time.”

“How does it grow back?” Harry says.

“I don’t know,” Louis says. “It just - does. A hot bath helps, I’ve heard.”

“Look,” Harry says. Louis looks down and Harry’s got Louis’ most recently detached dick next to his own so he looks like he has two. “2 Wangz.”

“Fuck off,” Louis says, ripping it from Harry’s hand and tossing it behind him.

“Have you ever - “ Harry forms a hole with his fingers and puts his other finger through it and makes a slide whistle noise.

“Have I what?” Louis says, outraged. He sits up and starts beating Harry about the face with a pillow. “Have I ever fucked myself? Is that what you’re asking?”

“No!” Harry shrieks, giggling and attempting to shield himself from Louis’ blows.

Louis holds the pillow over Harry’s face, pretending to smother him. Harry flops around like a fish a bit more, then goes limp. Louis takes the pillow off his face and Harry opens one eye to peek at him, and such bright happiness and love pours out of his gaze, even with just one eye.

Louis clears his throat and lies back. He half-hopes Harry doesn’t look at him with both eyes, and half-hopes he will, not knowing which he’ll be able to handle more.

“We should take a bath,” Harry says. He absent-mindedly rubs circles into Louis’ hip, the one his come is on. Louis twitches with uncontrollable itchiness, and he can’t help but knock Harry’s hand out of the way so he can scratch.

“Stop that,” Harry says. “You’re gonna - oh.”

Harry lifts his hand into the light, and there are scales all over it.

“Oh, great,” Louis says. “Have you got what I’ve got now? Sorry, I didn’t know it was sexually transmittable.”

“These aren’t mine, Louis, they’re yours,” Harry says. He wipes his hand on the sheet and the scales come off easily. “I think you’re moulting.”

“Moulting?” Louis says.

“Shedding,” Harry says, a shy blush creeping into his cheeks. “I researched it. Like, your skin comes off to make room new skin.”

“Maybe we should have that bath,” Louis says.

~*~

“I have seen dogs more graceful than you,” Louis says as Harry lifts his long clumsy legs up and steps into the tub.

“Ah, ah!” Harry yelps, grimacing at the hot temperature of the water. He slips a little and nearly falls, but he holds onto Louis’ naked shoulder to steady himself and climbs the rest of the way in.

Harry stands there with his hands on his hips, considering. “Are you sure we can both fit?”

“Who cares?” Louis says.

Harry drops down into the tub and splashes half the water out onto the floor, but thankfully none of the bubbles make it out. Louis dumped as much bubble bath into the tub as he could without making too huge a mess. The bubbles come up to his chin, as if he’s just poking out of a fluffy cloud. Louis folds his legs up, making room for Harry to fit so they can sit across from one another comfortably. Harry’s legs are so long, and they fit the length of the tub, bracketing Louis’ so his feet come to rest up around Louis’ hips.

“It’s so hot,” Harry says. He slicks his hair back away from his face and it stays there with the power of steam. “It’s supposed to help with - you know. Right?”

“My penis?” Louis says and Harry nods. “Yes, it’s supposed to help with my penis, Harry.”

“Why’d you put so many bubbles in?” Harry says. “Don’t you want to watch?”

“No,” Louis says. If he could just be a bubble monster, like a couple of eyes poking out of the bubbles, he would, but he doesn’t exactly want to inhale them into his lungs and suffocate naked in the bathroom on them.

Harry scoops up some bubbles in his cupped palms. He sits up on his knees and places a dollop of bubbles on top of Louis’ head, then sits back down, splashing more water out of the tub.

“Louis Tomlinson, captain of ZAP and lizard prince,” Harry says, bowing his head slightly.

“Thank you, Harry,” Louis says. “My first order now that I am your royal lizard overlord is to never put anything on my head again.”

“Yes, your majesty,” Harry says.

Something touches Louis’ foot, and he screeches and tries to get up.

“Relax,” Harry says. “It’s just me.”

Harry places his hand on Louis’ foot and gently strokes the arch of it with his thumb, back and forth for a moment, until Louis yanks it out of his grasp.

“Stop it,” Louis says. “I don’t like people touching my feet. It’s weird.”

“I just had my hand on your penis,” Harry says. “And your penis came off. That’s pretty weird.”

“That’s different,” Louis says. “Feet are like - more intimate. More personal.”

Harry’s face falls just a little bit, but before he can say anything, Louis’ mum yells through the door.

“Louis!” she says. “Is Harry in there with you?”

Louis flies forward and covers Harry’s mouth with his hand. A muffled ‘hiii’ is breathed out against his palm.

“Drown,” Louis hisses, looking Harry straight in the eye. “Drown rather than say anything.”

“Louis?” His mum says.

“How did you know Harry was here?” Louis calls back. “Uh, he left a while ago.”

“His shoes are still here,” she says. “Nobody else has feet that big or shoes that ugly. What’d he do, climb out the window barefoot?”

“Maybe he took a pair of yours by mistake,” Louis says. Harry snorts against his hand and Louis has to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

“Very funny,” his mum says. “Well, don’t fall asleep in there.”

“Good night, Mum!” Louis says, letting his hand slip from Harry’s mouth too soon. Harry laughs like he can’t hold it in or he’ll die.

“I’m gonna kill you,” Louis says, shaking his head as Harry laughs and laughs.

“Good night, you two,” his mum says, sound amused, before retreating downstairs.

They stay in the bath until the bubbles are all gone and the water is bordering on cold. There are huge flakes of scaly skin floating all around them. The little spikes from his spine are in the water, like blades of cut grass in a puddle. Louis rubs wonderingly at some of the patches still on his arms, and they slide off easily. Underneath the scales is pink, soft, fresh skin, like a baby, or more importantly, a human baby. He can feel himself getting emotional, but he tries to contain himself. He doesn’t know if he’s overcome with joy that his skin is back to normal, or if he’s upset because the scales are gone. When he examines each patch of skin floating by, he thinks he can identify which part of him it covered. Those are the scales from my hips that Harry touched. Those are the scales from my neck that Harry kissed.

Harry picks at a patch on Louis’ ankle, and his hand comes up out of the water holding it pinched between his fingers.

“This is really disgusting,” Louis says. “It’s cool, and I’m okay with it. But it’s really disgusting.”

“Yes, it is,” Harry agrees, dropping the skin the was holding. “I wanted to say, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Can we get out now?”

“Close your eyes,” Louis says.

“It’s nothing I haven’t - “

“Close your damn eyes,” Louis says.

Harry shuts his eyes and Louis pulls the plug on the drain and gets out. Louis suddenly feels self conscious in front of Harry, even more naked than before, without his scales now for the first time in a long time. It’s like his shell is gone, like his armor’s been stripped from him. He watches as the smaller bits of scales swirl in the bath water and circle down the drain and like he’s watching half his identity disappear along with it. Something that’s helped him become more popular than ever, something that’s made him realize what a fool he’s been, something that’s brought Harry back to him in the most unexpected way - all gone.

Bigger patches of skin are stuck to the sides of the tub, and it looks like someone has skinned him alive. He certainly feels that way. Louis touches his new, pink skin - after so long with the bumpy green, it’s this that feels alien to him. Absurdly, he wonders if Harry will still like him like this, or if it was the scales that did it for him, or what.

Louis wraps a towel around his waist and waits until the water is all gone before he tells Harry it’s okay to open his eyes. Wet scales stick to Harry’s skin, little sequins with no shine to them, and he shakes them off and gets out.

“You need that new pair of boots?” Louis says. “Plenty of lizard skin to go around.”

“It looks like some kind of reptile murder scene in here,” Harry says, looking down at the tub. “Should we like, clean it up or something?”

“Just leave it for the next person,” Louis says. “My mum leaves hair in the drain all the time. This is a house of slobs.”

Harry grabs Louis around the waist with a slippery palm. It’s distracting enough that Harry is able to loosen Louis’ towel and let it drop to the floor.

“Well, look who’s back,” Harry says, smirking. He wraps a hand around Louis’ cock, which has apparently grown back in the span of their hot bath.

“Ah,” Louis keens. “Be careful.”

“That was fast,” Harry says, loosening his grip slightly and working it up and down Louis’ length. Louis shudders and bites his lip, thrusts into Harry’s hand. “Is it normally so fast?”

“Dunno,” Louis says. “Let’s go test this one out.”

The sheets are disgusting and covered in flaked off scales, so Louis strips them off and dumps them on the floor before flopping down onto his stomach. The mattress scratches at Louis’ skin in a way it never did before. It almost feels as though all the hair fell off his body and he’s unprotected and fragile.

“Where’s that lotion?” Harry says.

“On the desk,” Louis says. He’s buzzing with anticipation, though he’s not even sure what’s happening. He just knows Harry is here and he’s not leaving.

Harry settles down next to him. Now he feels rough and sharp against Louis’ fresh, tender skin, like he could pierce straight through Louis. He runs his hand from the bottom of Louis’ spine, all the way up to the back of his neck. Louis fights to hold in a groan. Even he can tell how silky he he is now, almost feeling it under Harry’s hand.

“God, you’re soft. It’s softer than the scales,” Harry says.

“Feels like I shaved everything,” Louis says.

The scent of lavender fills the air as Harry opens the little bottle of lotion.

“What are you doing?” Louis says.

“Got to take care of your skin,” Harry says.

Louis doesn’t want to question why his scales have come off. Harry is the first person to touch his new skin, and that’s all that matters. The heat Harry’s transferring to him, and the sweet smell of fruit and flowers from the lotion, makes him feel like springtime in the dead of winter.

Harry dollops some of the lotion on Louis' lower back. Harry's big hands start massaging it in, up the length of his back and down again, down over the top of Louis' ass cheeks and around over his hips where the scales were most present. He slides his slick fingers down the crack of Louis' ass until fingers run over his hole. Louis tenses up, but he doesn’t want Harry to stop.

"Okay?" Harry says.

Louis nods. He back into the stroke just a little bit, bending his knee up and hauling himself onto one hip, silently asking Harry for more. Harry kisses the back of Louis' neck and rubs his fingers back and forth, pressing softly, until his fingertip slides inside.

Harry pushes his finger inside, and Louis lets out a shocked, soft cry. It hurts, but Harry pulls out slowly and the pain fades. His fingers come back slicker with more lotion and Louis opens his legs as far as he can, angling his hips so he can get more. Heat pulses through his entire body, and he's so turned on he can't think what to do, so he lets Harry do it for him.

Louis twists back so he can see Harry, their mouths colliding sloppily from this angle. Louis can feel Harry shaking. His fingers trace over Louis' hole again, not pushing inside, just barely applying pressure.

"Come on," Louis says. He angles his hips back, trying to take Harry's fingers.

Harry groans and pushes in again, this time with two fingers. Louis gasps loudly, then licks into Harry's mouth to hide it.

By the time Harry's got him stretched, Louis is crazy for it. Harry's hot, hard cock rubs between his ass cheeks, his breathing turned to harsh sobs.

“I wanna fuck you,” Harry slurs into his skin.

“Yeah,” Louis says, heat roiling through him at the words coming out of Harry’s mouth. “God, do it.”

Louis reaches back and wraps his hand around the back of Harry’s neck, breathing hotly on Harry’s throat as Harry lines his cock up. He fits the tip of his cock into Louis’ soft, stretched hole and pushes inside, slow and steady.

“Fuck,” Louis gasps, tossing his head back.

Harry starts to move, thrusting carefully, pulling halfway out before driving back in. There’s a burning pain that ebbs the more Harry fucks into him, but it feels so good just to be filled, to be touched. Louis is used to not paying attention to his own cock, more afraid of it breaking than anything, but it throbs now, leaking pre-come onto his bed and getting his stomach wet.

Louis thinks to hell with it; the worst that could happen is his dick will fall off again. He gets a grip around himself jerks himself as roughly as he wants, alternating between fucking into his fist and rutting back into Harry.

Harry grunts, putting more force into his thrusts. His hand is sweaty where it grips Louis’ thigh, pulling it back to open Louis more, fucking him deeper. Louis is out of his mind, the drag of Harry’s cock inside him and the steady tugging at his own cock bringing him close already.

Letting go of Louis’ thigh, Harry reaches around to close his hand around Louis’, fingers grasping Louis’ cock and squeezing harder. Louis chokes back sobs at the wet slide of both their hands on him.

“Come in me,” Louis heaves, not even thinking about what he’s saying until he’s said it, a heated flush swooping through him. He’s desperate for it, wants Harry inside him deep, as deep as he can go, filling him up completely.

“In you,” Harry grits out, trembling.

He puts more force into his thrusts, rutting into him hard and letting out choked off little moans. Harry shudders and groans quietly, coming inside Louis after a couple more thrusts, spilling hot and wet.

“Don’t, stay,” Louis cries out as Harry slips out suddenly.

He spreads his legs needily, whimpering, just shy of begging for Harry to be back inside him. He hasn’t got off at all with Harry tonight, and he doesn’t know what he’ll do if he can’t. Harry shifts them so Louis is on his back and Harry can get both his hands on him.

His cock is quickly replaced by three of his fingers pushing in, through the sloppy come leaking out of Louis’ hole. Harry jerks his other hand on Louis’ cock as fast as he can and fucks him with his fingers, his rhythm erratic and perfect. Louis feels hot and open, Harry’s fingers able to glide in on the slick heat of his come.

Louis fucks himself back onto it until he comes, arching his back and moaning as quietly as he can. His body jerks, twitching for a long moment at how good the release feels. Harry keeps fingering him through it, spreading the slickness between Louis’ thighs, until Louis feels so sensitive he thinks he’ll burst into flames and he’s forced to push Harry’s hand away.

“God, Louis,” Harry pants into Louis’ neck. “You’re so good.”

“Hey,” Louis says. He rolls over so he’s facing Harry. Harry is flushed from his neck to his chest, and he’s sweaty and glowing and gorgeous. Louis kisses his throat, up to his chin, until their mouths meet and they’re breathing nothing but each other.

“Hey,” Harry smiles at him, all dopey and soft-eyed.

“I’m just glad my dick didn’t fall off this time,” Louis says.

Harry laughs and holds him close. Something in Louis wants to break free of Harry’s arms and fall down onto the floor, or throw Harry out the window, or whatever he usually does to settle the frantic pounding of his heart. His scales coming off, and being with Harry; it all feels like so much, and he doesn’t know if he can handle it all at once.

He falls asleep under Harry’s heavy arms anyway.

~*~

Niall and he are in the middle of putting up the posters advertising ZAP dance coming up, just before winter holidays. Niall’s been acting as Louis’ vice president, though originally Louis offered Zayn the position. Zayn’s exact words were, “I’m more of a chiller than a leader,” so now he’s mainly in charge of art design.

Niall and Louis have become fast friends. Louis finds out that Niall is basically the most popular person in school. Everyone is always saying hello to him and patting him on the back like he’s the best just for existing, and he’s always winning some award for doing something or getting mentioned for being great at assemblies or over the announcements in the morning. The people love Niall, and Louis is happy to count himself as one of them now.

“You’re a good right-hand man, Niall,” Louis says. “Or should I say - left-hand man?”

“Hahahaha!” Niall laughs loudly. “Amazing! I’m left-handed! So good!”

“You got a date for the dance?” Louis says. He holds a poster to the wall and Niall places tape in the perfect places so it stays up beautifully.

“Nah,” Niall says. “There are too many people I could ask out.”

“You devil,” Louis says. “You sly little leprechaun. Come on, who are you gonna take?”

“You looking for another dance?” Niall says. He takes Louis by the hands and takes him for a spin around the floor, loudly singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

“I’d never go with the likes of you,” Louis says as he goes along with an elaborate twirl Niall puts him through, both of them laughing and completely oblivious to whoever they may be annoying.

“May I cut in?” Harry says from behind Louis. He puts his mittened hands over Louis’ hips and stills he and Niall’s dancing.

“Well if it isn’t Harry Styles, with a voice as deep as of the dulcet rumbling of the earth itself,” Louis says. He snatches behind him and tickles Harry as best he can while Harry’s got hold of him.

“He’s all yours,” Niall twirls him one last time and gives him a strong shove straight into Harry’s chest.

Harry nearly falls over, but he wraps his arms completely around Louis, trapping his arms and holding on for balance. Louis is afraid Harry will start twirling him around next, but he’s not entirely sure why he’s afraid. He and Niall were just dancing without a care in the world, like nobody was watching them at all, but Louis feels conscious of the eyes that could possibly be looking at Harry and him. With Niall it was nothing, it was just a bit of fun. With Harry, it’s different. It’d be serious; it would mean something more.

“I’ll just take care of the rest of these posters, yeah? Let you two chat,” Niall says with a wink, gathering up their supplies and whistling as he walks away.

“Thanks, Niall,” Harry says, looking grateful for some reason.

“Why, what’s up?” Louis says.

“I made something for you,” Harry says. He’s practically bouncing up and down as he digs in his bag. He presents Louis with a square with a pin on the back, and the fabric looks strangely familiar.

“What is it?” Louis says. He reaches out to touch, but doesn’t take it. The fabric feels soft, and he realizes he’s felt it before.

“It’s a piece of your scales.”

“You took my scales?” Louis says.

“Only a little bit,” Harry says. “I looked up how to preserve them. First I pressed it in a book, like a flower. There were a lot of weird things. I ended up doing a glaze. You make it with egg whites and - “

“You made me a broach of my own skin?” Louis says.

“Well, it sounds weird when you put it that way,” Harry says. “It’s just that I knew you were missing them. I could tell they were important to you. Even if you didn’t say. Here.”

Harry pins the square of scales to the front of Louis’ shirt, and Louis feels old nerves creep up into him, nerves he hasn’t felt with Harry in a long time. Harry knows him so well, he knew exactly what Louis needed. The scales did mean a lot to him, and he hasn’t had the heart to think about it too much, and Harry knows about all of it, just by observing him. It scares Louis, that someone could have such possession of him. The pin on his shirt suddenly feels like it’s going straight through him, like a railroad spike keeping him nailed to the ground. He doesn’t want to feel obligated to Harry. They’re not like that. They’re not even really together.

“You could wear it like a boutonniere,” Harry says. “Like, an homage to your lizard history. Or I’ve seen this thing people do - like, wear it inside your jacket, like over your heart, so only you know it’s there, and it doesn’t have to be like a big deal.”

“I don’t think we should go to the dance together,” Louis blurts out.

“What?” Harry says.

“It wouldn’t be right,” Louis says. “I’m in charge of the whole thing. And I don’t think we should go together. We’re not really like that. You know?”

Harry inhales sharply and holds it in, breathing like he’s getting a shot, his nostrils flared as he swallows hard, gulping down whatever words he wanted to say, whatever feelings he can’t bring himself to express. He won’t look Louis in the eyes, instead focusing anywhere else. When his gaze lingers on the patch he just pinned to Louis, the thing he worked so hard at giving meaning, he shakes his head and sighs harshly. He’s angry, and Louis is glad in a sick way. He wants Harry to be angry at him. He wants Harry’s anger more than he wants Harry’s hands on his body or his surprise gifts or his extraordinary tenderness.

“All right, Harry?” Louis says. He doesn’t even feel like he’s saying anything. It’s like his words are coming from the past or from the future, but not from him right now. Louis thinks Harry is walking backwards away from him until he feels a wall against his own back and realizes he’s the one who’s backing away.

“All right,” Harry says, finally looking at Louis. Louis is too aware of what a freak he looks like right now, his eyes mismatched and horrible. Harry scrubs at one of his eyes, catching the furious tears there before they can roll down his cheek. “Whatever you want, Louis.”

But Louis is already running.

~*~

Zayn drives him home after Louis finds him. Louis is shaken, not fully realized what he’s done until he’s distanced himself from it. He sits quietly in the passenger seat in the van, a place where not so long ago he was so happy with Harry, and tries to think about why he does what he does. Every time he forces himself to remember Harry’s face and the unhappiness written on it by Louis, this time and the last time and every other time, heartache floods through him and he can’t bear to think about it any longer. Zayn tries to ask what’s the matter, but Louis can’t talk about it, not even to Zayn. It doesn’t make any sense to him, so he doesn’t know how to explain it to someone else.

All he can think of is he rejects Harry because he doesn’t deserve the goodness of Harry. He rejects Harry because Harry doesn’t deserve the carelessness Louis will give to him.

The pin Harry made for him is still pinned in his shirt, over his heart. He forgot to give it back.

“You sure you’re all right?” Zayn says when he pulls up to Louis’ house to drop him off.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Louis says. “Just a bit tired.”

“I know you’re having some trouble getting back to normal,” Zayn says. “But you’re doing great.”

“Thanks,” Louis says, smiling bitterly.

“You wanna go chill somewhere?” Zayn says. “Get out of here for a bit?”

Louis wants to go chill somewhere with Zayn very badly. He never wants to leave the van. He wants to drive off a thousand miles with Zayn and stop thinking about everything. He almost wants to be a lizard again, just so he can have that to focus on rather than anything else he’s done.

“That sounds - “

Louis’ entire body convulses and the deepest chill he’s ever felt sinks into his bones. His eyelids feel heavy and he tries to keep them open, but every time he does the light outside pierces them and he squeezes them shut again. He’s so cold and tired, and he feels dizzy. It’s like somebody just conked him over the head with a blunt object. Zayn is shouting at him and shaking him, trying to get him to stay awake, but he slumps to the side and lets himself pass out.

~*~

When Louis wakes up, it takes his eyes a moment to adjust to the bright light, then he sees it’s actually nighttime, and his heat lamps are on. He hasn’t had to use them since his scales came off. He picks his hand up to rub the sand out of his eyes, and that’s when he notices his hands. There are scales completely covering his hand, his arm. His fingernails are long and pointy, like - like claws.

“Oh, fuck,” Louis says, scrambling to get up. “Fucking shit.”

He flings the blanket off him and stands carefully, wobbly on his feet and instantly cold without the heat from the lamps. He’s in nothing but his underwear, and he wonders who got him up to his room. The last thing he remembers is Zayn shouting at him, and now he sees why.

There’s enough light in the room that he can see himself in his mirror. His eyes are deep gold and his pupils slitted, and when he blinks, his eyelids are sideways and don’t close but rather shutter like the lens of a camera. His nose is almost completely flat, so it’s mainly just two thin nostrils in the middle of his face. He sticks out his tongue, and it’s dark blue and pointy. There are bright green and blue scales all over his face and neck, but as he’s looking upon himself in horror they change colors to match his walls. He’s covered head to toe in the scales. There are bigger pale ones on his belly, and they get smaller and deeper in color the further they go up his limbs. He lifts the waistband of his underwear and peeks in, he has to look, but there’s nothing - his dick is gone. He turns around to inspect his back, and the little spike along his spine have returned, but longer now. Something else protrudes from the bottom of his spine, and he doesn’t want to touch it, but he can’t help himself. He stifles an agonized sob when he works out the shape of the beginning of what feels like a tail growing there.

Worst of all, his hair is gone. In its place is some sort of scaly webbing folded close to his skull that frame all the way around his face, like some sort of weird, frilly crown. He lifts his hand to touch, to make sure this is all real, but the soft, hairless scales on his head are very real indeed.

Louis can’t breathe. When these things happened before, it seemed a lot more reasonable to deal with. The lizard traits came it stages that he could process and figure out and live with. But now this - all at once, and a million times worse than before and completely out of his control - he doesn’t know what to do.

He begins crying, hot frustrated tears streaming down his face before he can stop it. He’s wrong about one thing: he could have controlled it. He could have stopped this from happening. This may have begun with a spell cast by others, but his true form is his own doing. He is this lizard. He does have a rough exterior and a cold-blooded heart, and now his body matches his insides better than ever.

“Louis!” His mum cries from his doorway. She runs to him and gathers him in her arms. “I can’t believe it! You’re awake! Oh, god!”

“Mummy,” Louis wimpers. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Look,” his mums says. She points at the calendar on the wall.

“December - 2015?” Louis reads out, then he emits a screech louder than any sound he’s made before.

His mum laughs. At first it’s a tiny giggle, and she tries to hold it in, but it bursts out of her in a cackle.

“Why are you laughing?” Louis shouts.

“It’s only been a couple of days,” she laughs, wiping away tears and holding onto his shoulder so she doesn’t fall to the floor in a fit. “It’s still 2014. I’m sorry, darling. I didn’t know your mullet would get all blown up about it.” She can barely finish her sentence, she’s laughing so hard.

Louis doesn’t know whether to laugh with her or to crush her like a bug and eat her.

“That’s it,” Louis says, pushing her hand off him. “I’m running away to the circus.”

She catches his arm and takes him back over to his bed, and he only goes along because that’s exactly where he wants to be.

“Shh, Louis, it’s okay,” his mum says. She presses him back against his pillows and rubs his belly in a circular motion, but he pushes her off, not wanting anyone to look at him like this, let alone touch him. “You’re all right, boo bear.”

“You bought a fake calendar just for this?” Louis says. “You’re awful. You’re way worse than me.”

“You learned from the best,” his mum says, clearing her throat. It’s true, though: he sees himself reflected in the evil glint in her eye. Somehow hers are softened with love and not as cruel as he’s capable of being. He has to work on that. “Besides, you don’t feel that bad about your appearance now, isn’t that right?”

“Oh, so you tricked me into thinking I’d been in a lizard coma for a year just to make me feel better?” Louis pouts.

“It was actually Zayn’s idea,” his mum says. “Smart boy.”

“Zayn’s been here?” Louis says.

“All your friends have been here,” she says. “You should shoot them a text and tell them you’re all right.”

Louis rolls over and pulls his knees up towards his chest and tries to make himself as small as possible. One of his clawed hands rests over his heart and he wants to dig into the flesh and rip his scales off.

“Don’t you dare scratch,” his mum chastises. “Ugh, you were just as bad when you had the chicken pox. I’ll tape mittens to your hands, don’t think I won’t.”

“Mum,” Louis says, sniffling pitifully. Tears goes sideways down his face and seep into his pillow and into his ears and mouth. He feels like a little kid and he hates it. “Mummy. What do I do?”

“Do you want to go to hospital?” She smiles mischievously. “Or maybe the vet?”

“Mum,” Louis whines, but he can’t help but laugh too, and they both slump over into a fit of giggles.

“That’s better,” his mum says. “Laugh to keep from crying, darling, isn’t that right? We’ll get through this.”

“I can’t go out in public like this,” Louis says. He gasps. “The dance! I missed the dance, didn’t I?”

“I’m afraid so,” she says. “And why can’t you go out? Isn’t that what the club you started is all about? Accepting people? Why wouldn’t everyone accept you like this as well?”

“I dunno,” Louis says. If he’s being honest, he’s only thinking of one person. He can’t help but imagine what Harry will think of him now.

“You’re as adorable as ever,” his mum says cheerfully. “You just need to accessorize to hide the bad and accentuate the good. Like a - like a nice scarf.”

“A nice scarf,” Louis says. “Sure, Mum.”

~*~

Louis can’t bring himself to get out of bed. Every reflective surface he passes is a reminder of what a monster he’s become, so he decides he’s not going to pass any at all and just stay under the covers and wears the most amount of clothes possible. A hoodie that used to fit him is now long and loose, but it’s cozy, and he walks around with the hood up and cinched tight around him. He wonders if he’s shrunk.

“Mum, how tall am I?” Louis shouts downstairs. He tries measuring himself against the markings his mum made on his door when he was little, but it doesn’t tell him much. He’s still at least bigger than he was when he was 8 years old.

“As tall as you want to be, darling,” his mum shouts back.

He’s afraid of what will happen to him next, if he’ll lose himself completely to the lizard within him. The food his mum brings to him is bland and unappetizing to him. He finds the chocolate-covered crickets Harry gave him and dumps them into his mouth, devouring them like he’s starving. His mum catches him hanging out the window and muttering to himself about how he wishes it weren’t bloody winter so there’d be some good eats flying in.

“I’m gonna go to the shop,” is all she says, and she comes back with a variety of snacks. She’s very excited about all of them, particularly the little orange cubes that taste like bugs but look like cubes, and the little pink cubes that taste like fruit but look like cubes.

“I wasn’t sure what you’d like,” she says.

“This is great, Mum,” Louis says. “Thanks.”

~*~

Louis has been stewing in his own frustration all day, the day of his birth. Normally his birthday is his favorite holiday of the year, and he always does something amazing for it. Now, he can’t. Now he’s a freak of nature and can’t show himself in public. He’s so furious that he has to deprive himself of being showered with attention, but he doesn’t know who to direct that fury towards. The witches started him off, but he thinks he gave himself a good push towards full lizardhood. And Harry - Louis wants to say Harry did this to him. Harry made him this way, by being good to him when Louis asked him not to with so many actions. But Louis knows Harry’s not to blame. It’s no one person’s fault that Louis is a hideous reptile creature who can’t bring himself to go out in public on his birthday.

He’s just staring at the ceiling and thinking maybe he should get some new glow stars when he hears footsteps pounding up the stairs, and he only has time to duck under the covers before his door slams open and what he believes to be a giant dog jumps onto his bed in a flash and tries to kill him.

“Louis!” Niall shouts from on top of him. “Happy birthday! I missed you!”

“Get off,” Louis says. He kicks blindly, but it does nothing to shove the big dumb weight off him, so he throws the blanket up and traps Niall in it as best he can.

“What’s the matter, can’t even get out of bed to greet us?” Zayn walks in a second later, followed by Liam. Liam is struggling to hold a bunch of presents in his arms and he dumps them on top of Niall, who’s still struggling under Louis’ blanket.

“Why bother?” Louis says dramatically. “What’s the point of getting out of bed when you look like this?”

“Like what?” Zayn says. “I don’t see any difference.”

“Fuck off,” Louis says, but he’s laughing. Seeing his friends and their treating him like he’s normal is an unexpected shot of merriment, and it’s just what he needed. “I look like Voldemort but worse.”

“You look sick,” Zayn says.

“Yeah, mate, you look fucking sick,” Niall says. He unrolls himself from his blanket prison to the foot of the bed and stays there, gazing at Louis upside-down. “Proper lizard now. Louis the Lizard. Louzard!”

“Louzard!” Liam repeats with a laugh.“You are a Louzard!”

“Soy un perdedor,” Niall breaks out into song. Liam’s face lights up and he shakes Niall by the shoulders excitedly.

“I’m a Louzard baby, so why don’t you kill me?” They sing in perfect unison.

“Great,” Louis rolls his eyes. “Glad you all are having fun at my expense.”

“Shut up and open your presents,” Zayn says.

“All this, for me?” Louis feigns surprise. He knows they know if they didn’t bring him gifts he’d never speak to them again.

“You’re like the little baby Jesus,” Niall says. “It’s Christmastime and we’re all bringing you gifts.”

“Too true, Niall,” Louis says. “I am your lizard lord and savior and you’re right to treat me as such.”

“We didn’t bring you frankincense and mirth, though,” Liam says.

“Myrrh,” Zayn says.

Louis tears into his presents without further delay. Zayn’s is first. It’s a stylized portrait of a half-lizard, half-boy that’s clearly supposed to be him but doesn’t quite resemble him enough to be obvious.

“Sorry,” Zayn says, scratching the back of his neck self consciously. “I thought you were like, going back, so I painted this like, in memory of.”

“Looks sick,” is all Louis has to say, along with some deep eye contact that Louis is sure Zayn understands even though Louis’ eyes are different. They nod at each other, and Zayn grabs Louis’ head and kisses him on his temple, unafraid of Louis’ scales.

Liam gives him a small, flat, smooth rock.

“My turtles used to like laying on that,” Liam says. “I thought you might too, but I can see now it’s a bit small.”

“Thanks, Liam. I guess,” Louis says.

Niall gives him a framed ZAP club poster from the dance, signed with well wishes by what looks like every single one of his classmates. The thought that everyone is thinking of him lifts Louis’ spirits, but he thinks they could’ve done more.

“You want to see pictures from the dance?” Liam says. He hands Louis his phone and Louis immediately starts going through all of Liam’s texts.

“Ooh, kinky,” Louis says as he reads Zayn’s texts to Liam.

Liam snatches his phone back and shows Louis the pictures himself. Seeing everyone he knows having fun without him absolutely guts him.

“I can’t believe you went to the dance without me,” Louis says.

“What’d you want us to do?” Zayn says. “Not go?”

“No,” Louis says. “You could’ve brought me with you. Put some sunglasses on me and passed my lifeless body round the dance floor.”

“We made sure it all went smoothly,” Liam says. “Three of us is like one of you, mate.”

“Yeah,” Niall says. “Everyone was asking after you. We told them you were violently shitting.”

Niall and Zayn are occupied with reading off everyone’s signatures on the poster when Liam gets to a picture of Harry. He’s dressed up in a suit and wearing a funky shirt underneath, but Louis can’t quite tell what the pattern is. It looks like Niall is trying to drag him out to to the dance floor, but Harry is adorably resisting. Louis’ chest aches seeing him.

“He asked about you,” Liam tells him quietly.

“What’d you tell him?” Louis says.

“The truth,” Liam says.

Louis nods, and Liam pats his clawed hand. Zayn and Niall flop over on Louis’ legs and Louis has to kick their asses. The room is full of laughter and joy and friendship, something Louis wasn’t sure he’d still have. He looks around at his friends, all huddled around him, not freaked out by his terrible visage or the abrasively mischievous personality that caused it, and he thinks this isn’t a bad birthday after all.

 

~*~

 

Louis is in the middle of finishing wrapping Christmas presents by the light of his heat lamps - you can always tell he wrapped them by how terrible they look. He can never get the amount of paper right; there's always too much, so it's lumpy and ugly, or too little, so he has to patch it together, which makes it ugly. It's become his signature way, though, so he feels that it's important to do it like this every year. His bed is covered in tape and scraps and he's lost a pair of scissors in his sheets that he'll worry about finding later. Going through the motions of this normal holiday ritual is calming him down. Not even being a lizard can ruin Christmas for him.

Zayn's painting and the poster Niall gave him are propped up so he can look at them whenever he wants to. Even the rock Liam gave him is actually pretty comfortable. He obviously can't fit his entire body on it, but he tucks it under his leg and lets it warm up underneath him.

When he thinks about it, they're the most perfect gifts anyone's ever given to him. They all really capture what he's going through, and his efforts to evolve as a person. He laughs bitterly to himself; maybe he's evolved a bit too much.

It's strange to imagine that he'll ever get past this point in his life, that there will ever be a time when he's not like this anymore. That he'll grow up and out of; that he’ll go back to how he used to be; that he'll be different. He doesn’t want to take this experience for granted. He wants to believe that someday this will be profound.

He's just getting into the groove of cutting and taping, anticipating a long night of not going out and not having any fun and, when there's a small knock on his bedroom door.

"Louis, you have another visitor," his mum says.

Louis sighs. It's nearly half nine and he's tired. All the hospitality has been drained out of him already, and he doesn't feel like dealing with whatever weirdo is out away from home this late on Christmas Eve.

He arranges his hoodie so it's up, but he's sick of trying to hide totally hide himself when he's in his own damn house.

"Okay," Louis calls, wondering if he can use his looks to scare off whatever misguided idiot is here.

Harry walks through the door and Louis' heart goes from steady beating to hammering painfully in less than second. Louis wasn't expecting him at all, and seeing him is literally a sight for sore eyes, like the sun coming out after a long stretch of storm clouds. Harry is the picture of winter: flakes of snow melt quickly on his coat and scarf, and his cheeks rosy and nose bitten by the cold. There's even a red Christmas stocking tossed over his shoulder, filled with gifts. When he brushes the hair out of his eyes, he takes one look at Louis, at what Louis has become in his absence, and his face immediately crumples with pitiful sadness. He doesn't come any closer than the doorway.

"Oh, Louis," Harry says, his voice thick with tears. "I'm so sorry."

Louis springs out of bed for the first time in days and goes to him. He smells strongly of nutmeg and rum.

“Are you drunk?” Louis says.

“Your mum made me drink some eggnog before I came in,” Harry says, unable to hold back a sob bubbling up in him.

Louis isn’t sure he's allowed to touch, but he pulls Harry into a hug anyway, and Harry lets him, wrapping his arms tightly around Louis as hot tears spill down his cheeks and onto Louis' neck.

"What?" Louis says in a hushed voice, his throat tightening. "What is it, love? What have you got to be sorry for?"

"I should have been here," Harry sniffles. "I should have been with you."

Harry lets go and scrubs at his eyes with his mittened hands. Louis cups Harry's face in his palm and wipes away the tears still flowing out of his closed eyes with his thumb. Harry nuzzles into it, and when he opens his eyes and looks at Louis, it stops his crying.

"Am I that ugly?" Louis says. He removes his hood. If Harry can come here and be so open about his feelings, then Louis can reveal himself as well. "Ugly enough to make you cry? Come on, it's all right."

"No," Harry says vehemently, his gaze unflinching. "You know I think you’re beautiful no matter what. I just know - I know you don't like it. And I could've helped. Did it hurt?”

"It didn’t hurt. And there's nothing you could've done," Louis says. "Honestly. It’s just got to - run its course.”

Harry nods, seeming to accept Louis’ word for it. “Can I stay a minute?”

“Of course,” Louis says. “Take your coat off.”

Louis awkwardly goes to sit back on the bed. It feels like just hours ago they were here together, kissing and touching each other like it was the easiest thing in the world. Harry sits across from his, his long legs folded up and tucked far away enough that they don’t come anywhere near Louis’.

“Pardon my lack of hair,” Louis says, flipping his neck skin back.

Harry snorts, forcing snot to shoot out out of his nose. He wipes it on his sleeve.

“My sister says I won’t have hair for much longer either,” he says, a small smile blooming on his face. He pushes his hair back to show his hairline, which does indeed have an impressive widow’s peak.

“Good lord, you’ll be bald before you’re 20!” Louis says.

Harry bends over laughing. The curls at the top of his head tickle Louis’ fingers where they’re resting on his knees, and Louis feels it like it’s caught in his throat. Louis joking with him has obviously made Harry more comfortable, because he unfurls his legs a bit and visibly relaxes. The bottom of one of his bare feet touches the bottom of Harry’s. Harry glances down at their intimate position and wiggles his toes, perhaps asking Louis if it’s okay that they’re touching this way. Louis allows it.

“What’s in the stocking?” Louis says.

“Oh!” Harry says. He hands the gifts over to Louis one by one. They’re wrapped impeccably in pretty paper tied up with perfectly curled ribbons and topped with bows. “I wrapped them myself.”

You should do mine as well,” Louis shows Harry some of his handiwork.

“It’s not that bad,” Harry says with a grimace. “Go on, open them. It’s not much.”

Harry gives Louis some more chocolate-covered crickets, Godzilla on DVD, and a book called Lizard Care from A to Z.

“Sorry,” Harry says. “These all seem a bit mean. Like, I’m not making fun of you.”

“I know,” Louis says.

“I thought the book might be like, a self-help book. You know, like, to learn about the changes happening to your body.”

“Are you there, God? It’s me, lizard?” Louis says.

“Yeah, like that,” Harry smiles shyly.

“Thank you,” Louis says. “I - I didn’t get you anything. I didn’t think we’d be exchanging gifts, since, like.”

“It’s fine,” Harry is quick to say. “You don’t have to give me anything.”

“But I should have,” Louis says. “This isn’t a one-sided thing. You know? I shouldn’t get everything while you get nothing.”

“What do you mean?” Harry says.

“You’re so good to me, Harry. And I’ve only - I’ve only ever been mean.”

“You haven’t been mean to me,” Harry says stubbornly. “You’ve just been honest.”

Louis’ heart pounds painfully at that, the thought of Harry not knowing what Louis really feels, somehow, like through some sort of secret brainwave only they share. He thought Harry knew, maybe, by the way Harry looked at him sometimes. The way he’s looking at him now. It must just be Harry, then. Harry is the one who wears every emotion on his face. He hasn’t been honest with Harry at all, actually. He’s been quite the opposite most of the time.

“I haven’t,” Louis says. “I haven’t been honest with you at all, actually.”

He scoots up so he’s closer to Harry. Louis can hardly bear looking at him. His gorgeously messy hair, the puffiness around his clear, green eyes that shine in any light. The tattoos on his chest peek out of the top of his shirt, like fingers curling out from his heart and tugging Louis towards him. His familiar, pink mouth looks a bit shiny, like maybe he put some lip balm on before he came here, hoping for a kiss.

“I care about you,” Louis says, his voice shaking. “So much.”

Louis leans in to feel if those lips are as soft as they look. Harry takes a shocked breath and hesitates, a shiver running through him, before he kisses back. The kiss is dizzying - literally. Louis literally gets light-headed and woozy. It’s like all his blood boils up to the top of his skin and settles there. He can’t breathe between the feverish presses of Harry’s mouth to his.

“God, is it hot in here, or is it just me?” Louis says, pulling away. “It’s like a sauna in here.”

“Louis,” Harry says.

“Hang on, I need to talk,” Louis says. “I have so much to say. And more kissing.”

"Louis," Harry interrupts. He forcibly grabs Louis’ head in his hands and jerks it away.

"No, Louis, wait,” Harry says, and Louis stops pushing when he sees the look of shock on Harry’s face.

“What?” Louis says. “What is it? Is it worse?”

“Louis, look,” Harry says.

He grabs Louis’ hand and holds it up, and it’s completely free of scales and claws. Louis’ hand immediately fly to his head, and his hair is back, though still a bit longer than he likes it. His face is smooth; he’s not itchy or cold for the first time in a long time. He stares wonderingly at every bare part of skin on him, and it’s all changed back. He’s himself again more than ever.

“You're not a lizard anymore,” Harry says. “It’s - it’s gone.”

“Well,” Louis says. “I’m still a lizard, somewhere. The spell probably ran its course.”

“Or,” Harry says, grinning. “I’m not saying that I’m like, a prince, and like, and I came in and kissed you and the spell went away. But it seems like - “

“That’s exactly what you’re saying,” Louis says. “And I won’t have it. I’m the only prince here.”

Louis feels free in his own body; he’s no longer fragile, and he won’t hurt anyone, either. He pulls Harry in close and kisses him as hard as he can. He sinks his teeth into Harry’s lip until Harry whimpers and slows them down. Louis licks into his mouth, their tongues meeting softly.

“The point is,” Harry says. “Happy birthday, Louis.”

“Yeah,” Louis says. “Happy birthday to me.”