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From Eight Until Late, I Think About You

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Year One

 

Harry has been living in Brighton for three weeks, and he loves it - loves the salty smell of the air, the calls of gulls and starlings, the wonderfully eclectic collection of buildings that make up the university there. Autumn has not been friendly, though, and the mid-October wind coming off the English Channel is bitterly cold, with a humid bite to it that leaves his skin feeling clammy and his clothes damp. He keeps his head down as he jogs from his Reviewing Shakespeare course back to the dorms, a sorry attempt at keeping his eyes clear and his face from freezing. He makes a mental note to buy a thicker scarf and a beanie to replace the one he’d left on the bus last week.

It’s just as cold inside Phoenix Hall as it is outside, but the walls keep the wind out, at least. Harry takes the steps two at a time in an attempt to stomp some heat back into his limbs, scrubs mittened hands over his numb cheeks to try and defrost his face. It’s loud in the hallway, a few of the doors propped open so that Harry can hear snippets of conversations and snatches of songs, peals of laughter and the occasional clip of dialogue from a television show. His door is shut, though, and he has to tug a mitten off with his teeth so he can fish his keys out of his satchel and unlock the door.

Harry waves absently to one of his suitemates as he crosses the little common area towards his bedroom door. He’s scrolling through a whatsapp conversation his mum and sister have been having without him all morning when he pushes the door open, doesn’t realize until he’s dropped his bag on his bed that his roommate Niall is talking to someone. When he looks up, though, Niall is just staring at him. There’s a guitar cradled in his lap and his computer is open, and he’s saying, “Sorry, guys, that was just my roommate. C’mere, roomie.”

Harry stares blankly at him, incredibly confused as to who Niall is talking to, and why he’s waving him over with a hand gripping a guitar pick. His gaze drops to the back of the laptop screen and he freezes. “Sorry, d’you want me to come back? One of my classes was cancelled, so I’m back early. I can leave you -”

“Nah, s’alright, come here. Let them get a look at you.”

“Niall, if that’s your family -”

“Just come here, Styles.”

Eyeing the back of the computer warily, Harry shucks his jacket and smooths his jumper down nervously before crossing the small room to stand behind Niall. He’s sitting cross-legged on his bed with his computer in front of him, and instead of being met with one of the faces from the photos Niall has pinned to the wall behind his bed, or that of a friend Harry has never met but has probably heard about, he sees Niall and himself reflected back at them. Harry frowns, watches the smaller version of himself do the same on the screen, and says, “Niall, what is this?”

“Surprise, you’re on camera!” He strums a chord on his guitar, the sound chaotic and discordant, then continues, “It’s for my channel. Followers, this is Harry. Harry, followers.”

Harry scratches his shoulder, immensely confused, but before he can ask Niall what the hell he’s talking about, Niall says, “How was your day, bro?”

He shrugs and drops his arm. “Turned in an essay and got assigned a new book in Lit Theory.” He thinks through his day, oddly mesmerized by the way his eyebrows furrow on Niall’s laptop screen, and the way Niall is watching him watch himself. “A squirrel followed me from one building to the other between classes? Probably because I was eating peanuts.”

Niall reaches back to grasp Harry’s wrist and pulls him down onto the bed beside him, drapes an arm across his shoulders and points to the camera, thumb on Harry’s cheek to keep him looking forward. “Harry is studying English. He’s brilliant,” Niall coos, ruffling Harry’s hair, and Harry ducks his head, cheeks flushing. His head is forced back up, though, when Niall uses his other hand to cup his chin and turn his face toward the computer. “And look at this pretty face. ‘S fit for the cameras, innit? He’s a bit of a slow talker, though.”

Harry watches confusion cloud his features on the screen, is just about to ask what Niall means, when he drops his hands and grabs his guitar again, starts plucking out a meandering tune and singing along. “Harry is from Cheshire, he has a lot of hair, and when it’s just the two of us, he’s u-su-ally bare!”

Harry splutters at that, face burning with embarrassment, and he shoves Niall’s shoulder before clambering off the bed and back over to his side of the room, muttering, “Twat,” under his breath as he goes. He settles down onto his own bed and pulls a copy of Pride and Prejudice out of his bag even though he’s read it before. He tries to ignore Niall’s singing as he flips to the first page, grabs a pen, and settles back against his pillows to read and make notes in the margins.

He’s so absorbed in the book that he doesn’t even register when Niall shuts his laptop with a flourish and sets his guitar aside, doesn’t realize he’s done until Niall is crawling onto his bed and sitting on his thighs. Harry sets his book face-down on his chest and looks up at Niall, twirling the pen between his fingers while he waits for him to speak. Niall bounces a little on his legs, bony arse digging into the tops of his thighs, but Harry doesn’t even blink, doesn’t flinch when Niall digs a finger into his side and says, “Do you ever go on the internet?”

Harry frowns. “Of course.”

“YouTube?”

“Occasionally? I like cat videos. And that one of the babies eating lemons.”

“Y’ever watch video bloggers?” At Harry’s blank look, Niall elaborates. “People who start channels and then other people subscribe to them, and if they get enough, they can become partners with YouTube, get paid to post videos of themselves.”

“Oh.” Harry racks his brain, trying to think if he’s ever heard of anyone who does that sort of thing. “...No?”

Niall sighs, shoulders slumping, and splays his hands across Harry’s stomach, leans over them so that his palms dig in and he can loom over Harry. “Well, you’re looking at one of ‘em.”

“A YouTuber.” Niall nods. “You post videos of yourself?” Another nod. “Every day?”

“Yep,” Niall says cheerfully. “I have daily vlogs and then I post a longer video once a week. They’re all music based, of course.”

“Of course,” Harry echoes. And suddenly, it dawns on him. “Wait. Am I in your video for today?”

Niall beams at him, bright and sunny, and digs the tips of his fingers into Harry’s stomach. It makes him squirm, too ticklish by far, and Niall laughs, then settles back on Harry’s thighs and rests his hands on his own knees. “You were brilliant. Well, a little boring maybe, but you looked good.” He reaches out to pinch Harry’s cheek, and Harry just rolls his eyes and lays there. This is nothing new. “You’re gonna have all the girls swooning.”

“Is it too late to ask you to edit me out?”

“Sorry,” Niall says, shrugging unapologetically. “I already posted it. I’ll check the comments in a few hours, so we can see what everyone’s saying about you. Hey.” He bounces up and down again. “Let’s play Mario Kart. I think Andy and Sam are home, we can have a tournament.”

“I need to read,” Harry protests, but Niall is already scrambling off the bed and dragging at Harry’s wrist. With a sigh, Harry tucks the pen in between the pages of the book to mark his place and sets it aside, then follows Niall out into the common room.

 

;;

 

Year Three

 

Harry shoves his textbook aside and reaches for the laptop sitting at the foot of his bed. It’s only half six, but Niall won’t be back from class for another hour and he’s tired of reading about gender roles and Shakespeare, needs a bit of a break. He ruffles his hair while he waits for the computer to boot up and stares absently out the window. It’s just gone October and the trees are already bare, spindly branches trembling in the wind rolling off the water and whispering between buildings. He’s not had a very exciting day so there isn’t much left to talk about, but he always manages to come up with something for his daily videos.

Harry hums absently while he calls up his internet browser and opens YouTube. He’s always a bit nervous for this part, cares a little too much about his subscriber count. Chewing on his thumb nail, Harry clicks on his channel and lets his gaze travel to the left-hand corner of the screen. He doesn’t realize he’s been holding his breath until it whooshes out of him. 40,012. He only has a fraction of the subscribers Niall has, but Niall’s been making videos for four years now. Harry’s had his channel for less than ten months, has only been a partner for the last two, and he still can’t believe it. He stares at the number in stunned silence for a moment before shaking himself out of it and shifting over to his desk chair. Flipping open the flap of his satchel, he pulls out a camera.

“40,000,” Harry huffs out around a disbelieving laugh while he screws his little keychain tripod into the bottom of the camera and props it up at the edge of the desk. He takes a moment to fuss with his hair in the mirror hanging next to the window before getting started. It had been worked up into a nice quiff that morning, but it’s wilting a bit. Shrugging, Harry turns back to the camera, fiddles with the settings and lines the legs of the tripod up with the little marks he’d made so that it’s angled just right. He’s already got part of the vlog, recorded throughout the day as he walked from class to class and sat on a bench along Grand Parade eating his lunch, but he takes a moment to think about what he wants to say, finger hovering over the record button, before pressing play.

“Well, it’s only half six, but I can tell you that today has been pretty boring. One weird thing did happen this afternoon, though.” He scrunches his nose up at the screen, leans in and whispers, “I ran into an ex today. He pretended not to recognize me!” Letting out a disbelieving laugh, Harry leans back and runs a hand through his hair. “We dated for five months. Matt, if you’re watching this, you’re not as sneaky as you think. You look good, though. Next time come say hi, I promise I’ll be friendly.” Harry smiles self-deprecatingly and rolls his eyes at the camera before continuing. “Anyway, boring day, like I said, so there’s not really much else to tell. We’re starting work on Sunday’s video tomorrow, I’m really excited. I can’t give anything else away, otherwise it won’t be enough of a surprise, but you’re going to be shocked.”

He scrunches up his nose while he thinks back a moment, then says sheepishly, “Okay, maybe not that shocked. Anyway, I should probably go and get all of my coursework done beforehand, so. Thanks for watching, guys, I love you!”

Harry blows a kiss at the camera, then stops recording. It takes him a half hour to splice bits of his footage together into something short and interesting, then he reviews the video and brightens it a bit before loading it to YouTube, hands trembling as he types out the description. Ten months and it still makes him stupidly anxious, recording himself talking about his dreadfully boring days. He prefers his Sunday videos, likes that they’re a bit more scripted and that he can edit them just the way he wants, loves featuring other YouTubers in them and getting his followers involved.

He’s been working on this week’s video in bits and pieces. It’s a collab with Niall and one of the graduate students, who’s known for his music video parodies, and they’ve been working out choreography and practicing lip-syncing for the past four days. Harry sings the song under his breath while he presses upload and waits for his video to process, busies himself with checking comments and uploads by his personal favorites. He’s just starting Zayn and Liam’s latest - ‘firefighter for a day’ - when Niall walks in.

“Hey, bro.” Harry pauses the video and watches Niall shed layers as he walks across the room. His hair is damp, dark from the rain that’s coming down in sheets outside the window, and he shakes his head like a dog, sending droplets flying in all directions. “Who’re you watching?”

“Zayn and Liam. You seen it yet?”

“Nah, haven’t had time. Budge over, let’s see it. What’d they do this time? Is it the caricature artist this week?”

“That’s next week, I think,” Harry replies. “Firefighters this week.”

“Sick.”

Niall drops down onto the bed beside Harry while he works his trainers off, so Harry restarts the video from the beginning, bright white letters spelling out ‘DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME’ before the screen changes to the inside of Zayn and Liam’s flat. The camera pans the room slowly before coming to rest on two people tucked up against the counter, and Harry’s breath hitches when he recognizes them.

“Guess Liam is the firefighter,” Niall mutters, both of their eyes locked on the screen as it zooms in on Zayn and his friend Louis, huddled together over the stove frying bacon. Harry loses track of the video, too absorbed in watching Louis to pay attention to whatever else is going on. He vaguely registers a staged grease fire and Liam bursting into the frame in full firefighting gear, but all he sees is Louis standing off in the corner, eyes comically wide as he watches Liam put the fire out. Louis is a shit actor, he and Zayn both are, but the video is effective - amusing and over the top and, most importantly, fun, just like all of their videos. Especially when they feature Louis.

“They’re fuckin’ crazy,” Niall laughs once the credits have rolled.

Harry nods his agreement, then shoves at Niall’s legs, mutters, “Get your smelly feet off my bed,” while clicking back over to his own channel to check if his video has finished processing yet. It’s up, and he already has a handful of comments. Pinching his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger, Harry scrolls down to read them, a flush of pleasure working its way up his cheeks when he sees who the first one is from.

lit still sounds dreadfully dull. nice pompadour, though. queen elizabeth called, she wants her hair back. can’t wait for sunday’s vid, it’s gonna be brill .xx

Niall hmms beside him, and Harry quickly scrolls past the comment to read on. “You and Lou still talking through comments? You know it’s 2014, right? There’s this magical tool. It’s called texting. You should look into it.”

Cheeks burning with embarrassment now, Harry ducks his head and thumbs awkwardly at the inseam of his jeans where it’s starting to fray. Already time for a new pair, he thinks absently. “He hasn’t asked for my number.”

He can practically feel Niall’s eyeroll. “Then you ask for his, Jesus. You’re 20 years old, H, grow a pair already.”

Harry makes a noise of protest, but can’t really come up with a witty response. There isn’t one to be found, honestly. He and Louis have been commenting back and forth on each others’ videos for months now - almost five, he realizes with a start. Before this year, Harry had never even heard of Louis. Niall had been obsessed with Louis’ channel, though, to the point that he’d talked about Louis non-stop, and after two months of chatter, Harry had finally given in and watched a couple of his videos. It had been easy to see why Niall was obsessed, and why, after only two and a half years of vlogging, Louis already has over a million subscribers.

His weekly videos are hilarious - a random mix of asking strangers on the streets of London embarrassing questions, chatting to people using only song lyrics to see their reactions, and interviewing fellow YouTubers - and his daily vlogs are quietly charming. His high, lilting voice is captivating, his face expressive, and Harry had been transfixed from the start. Somehow, Louis had found out about Harry a few months after starting his own channel, had commented on some of his earlier videos, and they’d struck up an odd friendship, one that hasn’t left the pages of YouTube quite yet.

Chewing on his bottom lip in an attempt to curb his smile, Harry opens up the reply box and taps out a response. You try living by the sea and see how your hair fares. Ah, yes. You just can’t wait to see Greg and I in drag, can you? I’m onto you ;) xx

“Disgusting,” Niall mutters as he pushes to his feet. “I’m gonna go record my video in the lounge so you can wank over Louis’ daily in peace.”

Harry squawks in protest. “I do not wank over his videos, thanks.”

Niall just raises an eyebrow at him before grabbing his guitar and his camera and heading back out into the hall. Huffing out an annoyed breath, Harry starts to close his computer, then pauses. Louis’ video should be up by now. He glances quickly at the door Niall’s left gaping open, then back at the computer, flushing guiltily. He does not wank to Louis’ videos. Well, there had been that one time, but it wasn’t his fault, honestly. Louis had done a collab video with Perrie one week in preparation for a trip to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he’d let her dress him up and make him over. He’d looked so pretty in her bustier and garters and those tiny little shorts, Harry hadn’t stood a chance.

Shaking his head, Harry aims a glare at the door, then defiantly presses play on Louis’ video. It’s just a daily vlog. He can control himself, thank you very much.

 

;;

 

“Shouldn’t you be at work?”

Louis shrugs, not looking up from his phone. He’s been staring at it for the past three minutes, willing it to tell him he’s got a text. So far, though, it’s just sat silent on the duvet. “I called in. Not feeling well.” He pats his stomach with a crisp-greasy hand, then frowns down at the crumbs he’s smeared into the cotton of his jumper, mutters, “Bollocks.”

“Yes,” Liam says, tone dry. “I can see that.”

“Oh, piss off, I’ve worked the past eight days straight and I need to start filming Tuesday’s video.”

“Is that what you’re doing, then?”

Louis finally looks away from his phone, just so he can glare at Liam. “I’m brainstorming.”

“Brainstorming a sketch you’ve had planned out since last month,” Liam replies, deadpan.

Louis rolls his eyes and huffs out a breath. “Remember when you were afraid to sass me? Fine, I’m waiting for a text. What’s it to you?”

“Who’re you texting?” Liam asks, curiosity lacing his voice. He glances down at Louis’ phone, and Louis barely has time to shake his head no before Liam is lunging for it and unlocking it. Shit. Louis really needs to change his password. “Oh, just Niall.” He reads through the last few messages, eyebrows climbing higher and higher the more he reads. “Oh. Well then.”

His expression is incredibly smug when he lowers the phone and tosses it back onto Louis’ bed.

“Listen,” Louis starts, tone defensive and shoulders coming up around his ears. “We’ve been talking for five months now, it’s a natural segue.” At Liam’s unamused look, Louis scowls at him and adds, “He might have mentioned sending me a preview of his new video somehow.” The video involves Harry in drag. Louis really, really wants that preview. Plus, Liam and Zayn have been teasing him mercilessly about the conversations he and Harry have in the comments on their videos. What was it Zayn had said? ‘It’s like we’re watching your romance play out across the pages of YouTube.’ Arsehole. At least texting is more... private.

“It is,” Liam agrees, a smile flirting at the corners of his mouth. “But normally, you’d ask the person for their number directly, instead of through their flatmate.”

Louis rolls his eyes and doesn’t dignify Liam with a response. He doesn’t need to explain himself. He doesn’t. Embarrassment gnaws at the edges of his mind, though, so he stuffs his phone underneath his pillow and tosses the empty crisp bag into the rubbish bin, then pushes to his feet and shuffles out into the hallway toward the bathroom.

“You still going to film me on Sunday?” He shouts the question over his shoulder, so Liam can hear him over the water running in the sink.

“I always do.” Liam’s response comes from the doorway, and Louis jolts in surprise, splashing water down his front. He scowls down at his ruined jumper. He’s running out of clean clothes, but he’s been trying to avoid doing the wash for the better part of a week. He hates putting clean clothes away.

Sighing, Louis yanks the jumper over his head, then spins on his heel and trudges back into his room for a clean one. He leaves the dirty one on the back of his desk chair as a reminder to do laundry over the weekend.

“So, what’re you gonna do when you get Harry’s number, anyway?”

Louis straightens from where he’d been crouching in front of his wardrobe, a wrinkled jumper in hand. He’s pretty sure it’s actually Liam’s, but it’s been in his drawer for so long, he’s kind of hoping Liam won’t notice. He raises an eyebrow and says, slow, like he’s talking to a toddler, “I’m going to text him.”

Liam cocks his head, offers cryptically, “You know he’s in year three.”

Confused, Louis says, “And?”

“And that means he’ll be finished with uni in July. Finished with Brighton.”

Shaking his head, Louis repeats, drawing out the syllable, “And?”

Liam sighs. “You might want to work your way up to telling him you fancy him and want him to move to London so you can get married and have his babies. You know, before he finds a job somewhere else.”

Louis’ cheeks flame with embarrassment. He’s not - he doesn’t. “I don’t -”

“Mate. How many times a day do you check his channel and your inbox? You’ve got strangers on the internet who think the two of you are shagging.”

“We live in completely different cities!”

“You’ve promoted him in your videos. ‘Good lad, nice little body’,” Liam mimics in a high, breathy voice that sounds nothing like Louis, thanks. His face burns at the memory, though. He’d made the mistake of watching one of Harry’s weeklies right before recording a daily vlog that summer, when Harry had accepted a fan challenge to try and kite surf. The video had ended up being fifteen minutes of Niall laughing hysterically in the background while Harry fell off of a surfboard repeatedly, dressed only in the kite’s harness and tiny little yellow shorts.

He distinctly remembers watching the video with his nose nearly touching his computer screen, trying to get a clearer picture of the lines of Harry’s torso, the cut of his biceps every time he shoved his wet hair out of his face and took up the kite’s handlebar again. Most definitely remembers stammering his way through that day’s vlog and posting it anyway, too distracted to edit or re-shoot. It’s not one of Louis’ prouder moments, and Lottie had made fun of him for a month afterwards.

“I’m not asking him to move to London,” Louis mumbles. “We barely know each other. And I don’t fancy him.”

Liam opens his mouth to retort, but then thinks better of it, just rolls his eyes and walks away. Louis casts a longing glance at his pillow, fingers literally itching for his phone. He shouldn’t, especially now that he’s just insisted that he’s not interested in Harry at all. He glances toward the open door, then back at his pillow, everything in his body straining toward it before he gives in with a groan and lunges for the bed.

It’s not that he’s obsessed. It’s just that...well, he’s a bit obsessed. He’s been subscribed to Harry’s channel for nearly eight months now, tipped off by a text from his sister: chk out HarryIsBoring hes rly fit n awkward u’ll love him !! He’d watched Harry’s videos religiously for three months before he’d decided to leave a comment, had been surprised and charmed by Harry’s immediate, enthusiastic response. The thing is, Harry is fit. He’s very, very fit, and he’s also awkward and funny and self-deprecating and lovely. His voice is slow and deep and thoughtful, he uses minimal editing, and he just comes across as very real. He’s different, and it’s no wonder he’s already got over 40,000 loyal subscribers. Even though they’ve only communicated via YouTube comments for the past five months, Louis experiences a surge of pride every time he opens Harry’s page and sees that the number of subscribers has gone up.

Harry is nice and funny and smart and sweet, and Louis has been getting some rather embarrassing comments from people who’ve been tracking his and Harry’s conversations in the comments on their respective videos, and he’s ready to take those conversations to a more private platform, please and thank you. And, of course, he wants that preview - not that he’s going to ask for it outright. So when he unlocks his phone to a new text from Niall, his stomach flips over and nerves wrap themselves around his throat, squeezing a bit as he taps on the little speech bubble to open it up. He blows out an unsteady breath at the series of numbers and rather embarrassing combination of emojis tacked on, ignores the hearts and kissy faces resolutely as he saves the number into his contacts. He’s cool. He’s so cool, cool like a cucumber, he’s not even going to text Harry just yet. He’s going to let it stew, sit on it until he can come up with something witty and charming, so he can make a good first impression.

 

 

His resolve lasts about two hours.

Liam is on the phone to Domino’s, pacing over by the window while he orders them a pizza, when Louis gives in and tugs his phone out of his pocket. To his surprise, he’s got a new message from the newly minted ‘fit harry’.

Someone tells me you’ve been asking after me ;) .xx

“Bloody Niall,” Louis mutters, tucking his chin down against his chest so he can concentrate on his phone. He sucks his bottom lip into his mouth while he thinks up a response. In the end, he settles on, lies and slander, i’m sure. who is this, even? i’m just asking so i can fill out a restraining order, of course xx

He’s just about to put his phone away, too anxious to see Harry’s response just yet, when it buzzes in his hand. “That was quick,” he mumbles to himself. He flushes a little at the thought of Harry sitting around and waiting for his responses.

Your biggest admirer .xx

Louis frowns down at the phone for a moment, a little confused by Harry’s choice of words, but is rewarded not a minute later by another incoming message. It’s a photo, a grainy, badly lit selfie of Harry and Niall, their faces smushed together to fit into the frame. They’re both pulling faces - Niall’s eyes wide and the neck of a beer bottle in his mouth, and Harry’s got his hanging open, tongue poking out the side. Louis lets out a helpless giggle and types in, a face only a mum could love !

 

 

After that, it all kind of...spirals out of control. The only time the two of them aren’t texting is when they’re sleeping. Louis finds himself mentioning Harry during his daily vlog on Thursday - a silly, off-hand mention of a conversation they’d had that morning, and the number of comments he gets about Harry increase exponentially. It’s fine, though, it’s totally fine. He’s got it all under control. He tells himself that the way his heart rate picks up every time his phone buzzes is natural. It’s just excitement over communicating with intelligent human beings while he whiles away his day at the bookshop, ringing dull people up and drawing lewd pictures on old receipts. He doesn’t even read books, so how he ended up working in a bookshop is beyond him.

Harry entertains him, though, constantly sends him messages filled with inane chatter and details about his day, tacks on absurd selfies and abstract photos of the toes of his boots, treeless branches and a gunmetal gray sky, sleep-mused bedsheets, the blurry tail of a cat as it runs away. In return, Louis sends him snapshots of Liam slumped over a bowl of cereal, customers dressed in bizarre clothes, a man in a thong who’d been wandering the street outside the shop for an hour on Wednesday until the police took him away.

By Friday, Louis’ got an arsenal of photos of Harry on his phone, and every time he takes it out, Liam groans and says, “Bye, Louis, tell Harry I say hi.”

It’s a little uncalled for, Louis thinks. He’s got a handle on it. He does. He even manages to go a whole hour without checking his phone on Saturday when he and Liam head to Camden to film his weekly video, asking strangers on the street what their favorite sex position is. It’s a bizarre hour. Louis never really gets used to the way people are so free with the details of their private lives, and while it’s fun - especially when he asks some of the people he interviews to act some of the more outrageous positions out for him right there on the street - he learns a bit more about some of the strangers than he would like.

Louis makes himself wait until he’s edited the video on Sunday before he lets himself watch Harry’s new one with Greg James. They’ve re-enacted Crazy by Aerosmith, dressed up as Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone, and it’s. Louis is pretty sure he could have successfully gone through life without having ever seen Greg in a pair of lacy knickers and a skirt. Harry, though. Louis shifts awkwardly on his bed, throwing a glance at the closed door. He doesn’t think he’s locked it, but Liam isn’t home, anyway. Clearing his throat, Louis focuses back on the screen just in time to watch Harry appear in leather trousers and a cropped top, wiggling his bum at the camera while putting petrol in a car.

“Fuck,” Louis whispers. Harry’s legs are endless, his bum small and round and perfect in tight leather, and Louis swallows thickly when he straightens up, shadows collecting in the ridges of his abs.

The video is surreal and uncomfortably arousing. Greg looks absurd in a dress, but every time Harry moves, light shifting over the leather wrapped around his legs, lust curls in Louis’ gut. He shakes his head in amusement as he watches the two of them snog in a photobooth, has to close his eyes and press the heel of his palm against his dick where it’s throbbing against the fly of his jeans when Harry starts pole dancing, whimpers pathetically when the two of them strip down to their pants and jump into a lake. The last image he needed was that of a dripping wet Harry Styles emerging from the lake in a pair of tiny, clinging boxer briefs, honestly.

He shuts his laptop without turning it off and stares blankly out the window, trying desperately to ignore the ache of arousal thrumming through his veins and the images flashing across his mind. He and Harry are friends, he is not going to wank over that video. He’s not. Louis picks his phone up as a distraction and discovers three unread messages, all from Harry.

Did you watch the video? What did you think? .xx

Oh. Did you hate it? It was Greg’s idea, but it was really fun. Leather trousers chafed a bit, though. :/

The last text is a photo, and Louis nearly swallows his tongue when he opens it. It’s a mirror selfie Harry must have taken the day of filming - he’s shirtless, leather trousers undone and hanging precariously off his hips, with all of that glorious skin on display. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

Gritting his teeth, Louis tosses his phone to the end of the bed, shoves his trousers down around his knees, and resolutely blocks all images of Harry out of his mind. This is fine, he thinks as he wraps a hand around his dick. It’s cool. It’s not about Harry, not about his pretty face or his stupidly charming personality, it’s about his body. A body that could belong to any random stranger on the street. No need to feel guilty, absolutely none.

 

;;

 

Twirling a lock of hair around his finger, Harry scrolls through the comments on his latest vlog. He’d asked his subscribers to send in challenge suggestions for his weekly videos, but so far, nothing has really caught his eye. He’s scrolling past the cinnamon challenge (been there, done that) and the banana challenge (not really a challenge for him, considering he eats bananas by the bunch), when he sees it.

Louisville: Go for a skinny dip in the Channel.

A bark of laughter takes Harry by surprise. Shit. He fumbles his phone out of his pocket and taps out, you just want to see me naked ;) xx

All he gets in response is the smirking emoji, and his cheeks flush pink. He doesn’t let himself think about the implications of that emoji, or consider what he’s about to do, just calls out, “Nialler! Get your bony arse in here!”

Niall pokes his head around the doorjamb a moment later, an unlit cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth and a guitar pick in hand. “Wotsit?”

“I’ve got this week’s challenge.” 

 

 

“Are you sure you want to do this, H?”

Harry shakes his head quickly. No, he is definitely not sure. They’re standing on the beach, bits of shells crunching underfoot as he shifts his weight from foot to foot. It’s mid-November, and Harry is standing barefoot in the shell-littered sand wearing only a dressing gown. Niall has a bag of dry clothes resting at his feet, but the wind is sneaking through the gaps between the threads of his robe, crawling along his skin and working its way up underneath the hem so that his entire body is covered in goosebumps and he’s shivering before he’s even gotten wet. Shit, he’s going to get hypothermia and die, and it will be all Louis’ fault. No, all his fault for giving in so easily, too eager to please Louis.

“Maybe you should reconsider. Do something a little less dangerous,” Niall says, concern shading his voice. “What if you catch hypothermia? ‘S not really worth it, bro. Louis already fancies you, you don’t need to impress him.”

Ignoring that last statement, Harry shakes his head, jaw set in a determined line. Well, it would be, if his teeth weren’t chattering so hard. “It’ll be fine, Niall. I only need to go in for a few minutes, splash around a bit. It’ll be refreshing. Get the camera on.”

The look Niall is giving him is comical, but Harry just winks at him, glances around to make sure they’re still alone, then drops the robe. The wind is harsh against his bare skin, and he cups his hands over himself to try and shield his privates a bit from the cold as he picks his way across the sand. He stops right at the shoreline and twists his head around to look back at Niall. He’s only about a meter away, camera trained on Harry as he stands a few centimeters from the edge of the waves lapping at the shore.

“Right,” Harry shouts over the wind, hair whipping into his eyes and lashing his cheeks. “This challenge comes from Louis of Louisville, who suggested a skinny dip in the English Channel. It’s currently...” He pauses, looks around at the white sky and choppy gray water. “About five degrees out, even colder in the water, and I’m about to have a naked swim in the ocean. Wish me luck.”

He offers the camera a cheeky grin, then turns back to face the water. Sucking in a nervous breath, Harry aims a thumbs up at the camera over his shoulder, then plunges in. The water is like ice, lapping at his ankles, calves, knees until his legs have gone completely numb. He knows that if he stops, he won’t get started again, so he just goes for it - slogs on until he’s up to his thighs and keeps on going. It hurts when he gets up to his waist, feels like someone is sawing off his balls, but they go numb as well, soon enough, so, gulping in a lungful of air, Harry throws himself into the water until he’s completely submerged.

It hurts, everything hurts. It feels like there’s a vice around his lungs, like his ears are about to freeze and fall off, and his teeth are chattering so violently that he can’t keep his mouth closed underwater, so he surges to the surface. It’s actually worse once he’s broken it, the wind biting at his damp skin, but a challenge is a challenge. He squints his eyes nearly shut to protect them and splashes around for the camera’s benefit, calling to Niall that it’s quite warm, he should join him. Niall just laughs and takes a few steps closer for a better shot. By the time Niall waves him out of the water, he can’t feel his limbs, has to concentrate very hard on putting one foot in front of the other and almost forgets to cover up before he exposes himself to the entire world.

There’s a towel folded on top of the bag of clothes, and he grabs it as soon as he gets up to Niall, wraps it around himself before even attempting to speak into the camera. It feels like his entire face is frozen, and he can barely talk through the trembles, but he manages a weak laugh before saying, “Well, there you have it. Pretty sure I should change the name of my channel to Harry is a lunatic now.”

“That or Tomlinson’s Bitch,” Niall puts in, and if Harry had any warmth left in his body, he’s sure his cheeks would be flaming. As it is, he can’t even muster up the energy to reach out and flick his ear. Instead, he just says, “That’s being edited out.”

He has to stop for a rather violent shudder that wracks his body, clutches the towel tighter around himself and blinks rapidly into the camera lens. “Well challenge completed, now it’s time to get warm so I don’t die of hypothermia.” He casts a glance back at the water, says in as bright a tone as he can muster, “Don’t try this at home, friends. Felt like someone was jabbing needles into my skin before everything went numb. Maybe I should change my channel name to Harry is dangerous. I like to live on the edge.” Pitching his voice low, he growls, “I love the pain.”

Niall snorts at that, and Harry slips a hand out from under the towel so he can pinch his side.

“Robe me, Niall,” Harry says imperiously, before winking at the camera and saying, “See you next week.”

Niall shuts the camera off and tucks it back into the carrying case, then hefts the little duffle bag of clothes and leads Harry back up to the car. Harry uses the car as a shield while he wiggles into a pair of pants and some trackies, fingertips numb and clumsy as they slip-slide over the fabric. He feels infinitely better once he’s gotten some socks and a beanie on, at least, and the tremors are subsiding by the time he slides into the passenger seat, chin burrowed into the neck of his hoodie and hands tucked into the pocket.

“Home, Jeeves.”

“Tosser,” Niall mutters, but he throws the car into drive anyway. It doesn’t take long for Harry’s fingers to defrost in the toasty warmth of the car. Once feeling has returned to them, he fishes his phone out of the glove compartment and pulls up his text messages. You’re mental, I’m never taking challenge suggestions from you again. Pretty sure my bollocks have retreated for good .xx

Well that’s a shame. Could have put them to good use otherwise! x

Harry flushes bright red at that, heat flooding his belly, and fumbles the phone. It goes clattering to the floor, and Harry takes a moment - presses his back against the seat, closes his eyes, and takes three long, slow breaths to try and calm his racing heart.

“Y’alright, mate?”

Harry nods without opening his eyes, uncurls his hands from where they were gripping the edges of the seat, and reaches down for the phone. There’s another message waiting for him.

YOU. You could have put them to good use, fuck me. Clumsy fingers.

“God,” Harry laughs, pressing a hand to his belly to try and quell the butterflies.

There’s suspicion coloring Niall’s tone when he squints over at Harry’s phone and says, “The two of you aren’t exchanging dick pics right now, are you? Because I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of rule in the bro code that says -”

“Not!” Harry interrupts loudly. “I’ve never - I wouldn’t. We’re friends.”

The look Niall aims at him is laced with sympathy, and he reaches across the console to pat Harry’s knee. “Yeah, alright Harry. You keep telling yourself that.”

Harry scowls down at his hands where they’re clasped tight around his phone. It’s not that - he’s not under any illusions. He knows he fancies Louis, has from the beginning, really, and it’s only gotten worse since they’ve started texting, started really getting to know each other. Through some mutual, unspoken agreement, though, they’ve pointedly not brought up meeting each other in person. Not that Harry doesn’t want to, he just has this niggling fear that Louis’ idea of him has been built up, and that meeting face-to-face will shatter it. That he’ll be a disappointment. The thing is, he’s normally quite confident. But there’s something about Louis that worms its way through the cracks in his shell, and it’s disconcerting. At least Louis is just as committed to avoidance of the subject. For now.

 

;;

 

Louis told me a story about one of his customers today that reminded me of a joke -

“Whatcha watching?”

Louis presses pause and looks up from his computer. He can feel the smile stretched across his face, dopey and too wide, but he can’t for the life of him make himself stop smiling. “Just watching Harry’s video from today. What’s up?”

“Zayn and Pezza are here, you ready for dinner?”

“Oh. Yeah, alright.” He glances down at the screen, at the way he’s managed to pause it while Harry’s looking directly into the camera, eyes soft and the corners of his mouth pulled up into a warm, amused smile. He’s just so pretty it hurts. It takes him a moment to realize that Liam is still standing in the doorway, watching him expectantly. Louis clears his throat. “Let me just get changed, I’ll be out in a tick.”

The look Liam gives him is shrewd and calculating before he nods and turns out of the room, pulling the door shut behind himself.

“Shit,” Louis mutters. He sets his laptop down on the bed and pushes to his feet, makes his way over to the wardrobe. This is the third time in a week that Liam has caught him watching Harry’s videos. He’s going to get grilled at dinner tonight, he can feel it. They’re just going around the corner for a curry, so Louis hops into a pair of jeans and a oversized hoodie, crams a beanie down over his unstyled hair, and slips into a ratty old pair of Vans. He doesn’t even bother putting in his contacts, just watches himself in the mirror as he re-settles his glasses on his nose. Good enough. Out in the hall, Liam, Zayn, and Perrie are already bundled into their winter coats and scarves, Louis’ coat in Liam’s outstretched hand, so they shuffle out of the flat and into the frigid corridor without pause.

The restaurant smells like heaven, and they pick a table close to one of the radiators so that they can shed layers and make themselves comfortable. Louis watches with disgust as Zayn works on the handful of fennel seeds he’d grabbed from the bowl by the register, popping occasional pinches of them into his mouth. He can smell the seeds from across the table.

“So,” Perrie starts. She’s twirling the straw in her water glass absently, eyes locked on Louis. Louis shifts uncomfortably in his seat, already anticipating what she’s about to say. “You and Harry Styles.”

Louis opens his mouth to deny... something, he’s not entirely sure what, but Liam gets there first. “They’re inseparable.” He pauses. “Well, if you can be inseparable with someone who lives an hour away. And that you’ve never actually met in person.”

“Disgusting,” Zayn agrees. There are tiny shards of seeds between his teeth. Maliciously, Louis refuses to inform him of them.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he insists. His traitorous body flushes pink when all three of them raise their eyebrows at him in unison. “Shit,” he mutters. “We’re friends. Friends talk.”

“Yes,” Zayn agrees. There are still bits of seeds in his teeth, Louis notes with vindictive pleasure. “Friends do talk. Occasionally. Maybe even more than occasionally, but they don’t talk twenty hours a day, seven days a week. And then talk about each other in their videos with soppy, love-drunk looks on their faces.”

“What!” Louis protests. “Listen -”

“Show him,” Liam interrupts, and Louis watches, confused, as Perrie pulls her phone out of her pocket and putters around for a moment before turning it around for Louis to see. On the screen is one of Louis’ daily vlogs, paused at a moment where Louis’ face is soft and open, lips turned up into a private smile. Something hot twists in Louis’ chest and colors his cheeks.

“But I wasn’t...”

Shaking her head, Perrie turns up the volume and presses play so that Louis can hear himself - “...spent most of the day at the shop, where about three customers came by. Might have gone stark-raving mad, if Harry hadn’t kept me entertained.” On-screen Louis glances down at his lap, fringe shielding his face, but the tone of his voice when he speaks is enough. “At one point he dared me to go up behind customers and do the macarena without them knowing.” On-screen Louis looks up. His cheeks are stained pink from the memory, eyes sparkling he relives it in his head, and real Louis swallows around the lump in his throat. Shit.

“Is this.” He stops, swallows again and clears his throat. “Is this some sort of intervention?”

Zayn rolls his eyes and says, “No, you idiot.” He stops so that he can lick the last of the fennel seeds off his palm, and Louis wrinkles his nose and shoves a napkin at him.

“We think it’s cute,” Perrie coos. Louis can feel his ears burning with mortification.

“You know, there’s a London convention coming up,” Liam starts, but Louis shakes his head emphatically.

“No, absolutely not.”

“Why not!” Perrie is looking at him with wide eyes, forehead creased with confusion.

“First of all, I’m going to be in Donny while that’s happening. Second, we haven’t even talked about meeting up.”

“You’ve been friends for like six months,” Zayn says, shocked. “You only live an hour apart. How’ve you not even talked about this yet?”

Louis shrugs, grateful for the distraction when their food arrives. Everyone is silent while they tuck into their meals, and Louis lets himself relax a bit, hopeful that they’ve let it go for now. He’s only a few bites into his chicken aloo gobi, however, when Liam says, “You know Harry is mad for you, right?”

“What,” Louis splutters, a bit of curry sauce dribbling down his chin. He scrambles for a napkin to clean his face, swallows his food, then continues, “What? How do you - that’s not -”

“Niall says he talks about you all the time,” Liam supplies helpfully.

“Hmm,” Perrie laughs. “Sounds familiar, eh?”

“I do not -”

“Bro,” Zayn interrupts, and Louis sighs, shoulders slumping with defeat. Fuck.

There’s a moment of silence, then Perrie says, “Right, let’s change the subject, yeah? Liam, when are you going to come on my show? You have to let me do something about your eyebrows.”

Louis lets the conversation fade out, listens half-heartedly as Liam and Perrie squabble over the state of his eyebrows and facial hair.

“My eyebrows are just fine the way they are, get off me!”

“Zayn, tell him,” Perrie grouses. Zayn just holds his hands up, palms out, and shakes his head. Heaving a sigh, Perrie puts a hand on Liam’s shoulder and says, “Zayn came on my show last year, remember? He let me trim his beard and curl his eyelashes and put eyeliner on him -”

“Absolutely not,” Liam says firmly. “I’m not letting you anywhere near my eyeballs with your. Your torture instruments!”

Rolling his eyes, Louis tunes the two of them out. He’s itching to pull his phone out of his pocket and check his messages, but knows that would only prove their point. So instead, he forces himself to ignore it for the rest of dinner, doesn’t let himself check it until he’s back at the flat, face freshly washed, and tucked into bed with the lights off. The message reads:

Hey, sorry I didn’t message you earlier, I had loads of revising to do. I missed you today .xx

Something light and warm flutters in Louis’ chest, and he drops the phone onto the mattress with a groan. Screwed. He is so, so screwed.

 

;;

 

Christmas is a breath of fresh air, both figuratively and literally. He loves the heavy, salty Brighton air, he really does, but everything in Holmes Chapel smells so clean, like the woods and freshly cut grass and the promise of snow, and his skin doesn’t have that salt-tacky sheen from walking around outside like it does when he’s by the sea. Being home is lovely, as well. He gets to see his family and play with the cat, gets home cooked meals, can take more than three steps across his room and not hit the opposite wall. He still has to share a bathroom, but it’s just with Gemma, so he counts it as a plus.

“Who’re you talking to all the time?”

Harry looks up just in time to see Gemma’s hand closing in on his phone where it’s laying on the table in front of him, manages to snatch it away just before she gets her grubby fingers on it. “No one,” he says defensively. “A friend.”

“Ooooh,” Gemma drawls, eyebrows waggling. “A special friend?”

Harry rolls his eyes and tucks his phone safely into his pocket. “No, just a friend.”

Gemma brandishes a carrot stick at him and says with a grin, “Your blush says otherwise, pal.”

Harry snatches the carrot out of Gemma’s hand and shoves it into his mouth before she can get it back. He flees the kitchen to a string of curses, giggling around the carrot and pulling his phone back out of his pocket. Breathless with laughter, he snaps a quick selfie, cheeks bulging and the end of the carrot hanging out the corner of his mouth, and sends it to Louis. 

 

 

Harry wakes up at half one in the morning, face mashed into the couch cushions and legs numb from the way they’re shoved up against the opposite arm rest. There are old reruns of Friends on the telly, though it’s been muted, and it’s absolutely freezing in the living room. Rolling onto his side, Harry curls up into a ball and digs his phone out from between the cushions. The light from his screen is a bit blinding, but he squints against it as he unlocks it and calls up his text messages.

Add me on Snapchat already you twat x

Frowning, Harry rubs the sleep from his eyes before reading it again. It’s rather late and he’s not sure Louis will even be awake, but he taps out, I don’t have Snapchat.

Less than thirty second pass before his phone is buzzing in his hand.

Well download it then! I want to send you a video xx

Harry turns his face into the cushion to try and warm his nose up while he scrolls through the app store. While it’s downloading, he types out, Why can’t you just text it to me?

Just join the 21st century, harold, youll thank me later :)

He’s had the app for all of two minutes, is busy climbing the stairs to his room, when his phone lights up with a notification. He waits until he’s locked himself in his bedroom to open it up, finds a short video of Louis lying down in what he presumes to be his bed, pillow obscuring half his face. It’s just ten seconds of Louis blinking at the camera and the rustling of sheets as he pulls the pillow away from his face and smiles into the lens, but it makes Harry’s breath catch in his throat.

As soon as the video ends, it disappears, and when Harry tries to open it again, tries to get back to Louis’ pretty, sleepy-soft face, nothing happens. Scowling down at the phone, he jabs at the screen, trying to call it back up, but it won’t budge. He texts Louis, Why won’t it let me open it again?

Harry drops onto the edge of his bed and starts to pull off his jeans and jumper, is staring down at his phone waiting for a response, when it buzzes to life, one of the photos Louis had sent him the first week they’d started texting displayed on the screen. Harry’s heart stops. Louis is calling him.

They’ve only spoken on the phone once before, when Harry had gone out drinking with Niall and their flatmates, had gotten absolutely hammered and decided to call Louis while on the bus home. It had mostly just involved Harry serenading Louis while Louis laughed into the receiver, and he’d apologized profusely via text the next morning and it had never happened again. Harry’s fingers twitch toward the phone. He wants to talk to Louis, of course he does, loves the sound of Louis’ voice, but he’s nervous. They’ve been texting for a few months now, sure, but it’s like their relationship has existed in a remote sort of bubble up until now, and the prospect of talking on the phone makes it all more tangible. Like hearing Louis’ voice will make him more than just this person who exists inside of Harry’s computer and mobile phone and head, more real.

He needs time to prepare for this, some sort of warning so he can do calming breathing exercises and come up with a few clever puns to work into the conversation. He doesn’t want Louis to think he’s ignoring him, though, so he forgoes the puns and snatches his phone off the bed before voicemail picks up. His heart is hammering in his throat, voice wobbly, when he holds it up to his ear and whispers, “Hello?”

Do you really not know how Snapchat works? Are you twenty or eighty, Curly?

Harry chokes out a laugh, nerves and tension broken. This is totally fine. It’s just like texting, only with the added bonus of Louis’ pretty voice in his ear. Okay, it’s nothing like texting, but it’s fine. It’s great. He wishes he could see Louis’ face. “Twenty going on eighty, you caught me.”

I had my suspicions,” Louis muses. His voice is softer than usual, raspy and a little muffled, like he’s covering his mouth with his hand.

“What are you doing? Are you in a cupboard or something?”

A cupb- honestly -” Louis’ voice cuts out, and Harry pulls the phone away from his ear, frowning at the blank screen in confusion.

“He hung up on me,” Harry wonders aloud, shocked, but he only has to wait a moment before his phone is lighting up with a FaceTime request. “Oh. Bollocks,” Harry mutters, butterflies fluttering madly in his belly. He runs a quick hand through his hair and glances down at his bare chest, but the phone keeps buzzing, so he just chews on his lip and hits ‘accept’ with a trembling finger.

It takes him a moment to figure out what he’s looking at once FaceTime connects. It’s dim and fuzzy, and all he can really see is the outline of Louis’ head. At least, he thinks it’s his head. Harry squints at the phone. “Louis?”

Hiya, Harry.

Harry’s heart leaps at the sound of Louis saying his name, which is ridiculous. He’s said it in his vlogs dozens of times by now, but he’s never said it to Harry. He watches Louis shift about on the screen, the fuzzy outline of his head and shoulders wiggling back and forth in the dark. “Lou... where are you?”

‘M under the blankets. ‘S cold.

“I can barely see you.” He really, really wants to see him.

Oh, hang on.” There’s a thump, and then all Harry can see is darkness, all he can hear is the rustling of bedsheets, and then Louis reappears with a torch in hand. He flicks it on and sets it down on the bed beside his phone, so it illuminates his face. Even though it’s nearing two in the morning, he looks like he’s just woken up, and Harry makes a strangled noise when he realizes he’s shirtless. “Hey, why’ve we never done this before? ‘S nice, seeing your face.

“Oh.” Harry flushes with pleasure at the compliment, ruffles his hair self-consciously. “Thank you. You, too. You’re - I like the beard.”

Oh, yeah?” Louis makes a pleased little noise and scratches his nails through the hair dusting his jaw. “I’ve been too lazy to shave. Anyway, you can only see videos once on Snapchat, obviously.” His expression turns sly and he shifts on the mattress, rolls onto his side a bit so that Harry gets a peek of his chest and stomach. Harry swallows reflexively, scratches at his thigh. “Why, did you want to watch it again?

Harry lets out a nervous laugh, then tries to cover it up with a cough. “No, I just didn’t know why it shut off. Thought there might be more.”

Louis’ tone is amused when he says, “Right.” There’s a short lull in conversation, and Harry takes the opportunity to get in bed, himself. He’s going to have to get up again to shut the light off, but he’s kind of hoping they’ll talk for a while. “So, any big Christmas plans?

Harry shakes his head slowly, curls brushing the pillow and catching on the fabric. “Just home with my family. We’re going to Majorca for New Years, though. I won’t be able to post any videos that week.”

Louis lets out an outraged gasp. “You’re leaving us for a whole week with no contact? What will your subscribers think?

Harry buries a giggle in his pillow. “Aww, Lou. Are you going to miss me?”

Nah, it’ll be nice, getting a break from your ugly mug.” Warmth blooms in Harry’s chest at fondness written across Louis’ face. “Will you have your phone with you?

Harry shakes his head. “No phones, family holiday rule.”

He watches Louis’ face fall, but it only lasts a moment before he wipes his expression clean. “Oh. Well, then I’ll have a break from your insistent texting, as well. Lucky me.

The smile he offers Harry doesn’t quite reach his eyes. Harry can feel sleepiness creeping up on him, pulling at his limbs and weighing his eyelids down. He reaches his hand out, touches a finger to Louis’ cheek on the screen, and murmurs, “I’ll miss you, too, Lou.”

 

 

 

The first thing Harry does when he wakes up the morning of Christmas Eve is text Louis. HAPPY BIRTHDAY !!!!!!

He follows it up with half a dozen party popper emojis and a series of happy faces and sparkly hearts, then sets his phone aside for a bit so he can help his mum and Gemma in the kitchen. He comes back three hours later, smelling of turkey and apples, to three short text messages from Louis and about a dozen Snapchats of various gifts and his little sisters, as well as one Snapchat video of his youngest sisters tearing into one present with the excited fervor of seven year-olds to reveal a beautiful new camera.

They trade texts and Snapchats the rest of the day, as they each go about getting ready for Christmas with their respective families and dusk falls outside. An hour before dinner, Harry locks himself in his bedroom with his laptop and sets up a live stream. He babbles inanely for a few minutes about being home and getting ready for Christmas while he listens absently to the faint strains of Gemma’s music drifting through the wall.

“Anyway, I’m leaving to Majorca on Friday and I won’t have any internet, so no videos next week. I’m sure you’re all very upset, but.” He shrugs and offers the screen a self-deprecating little smile. “What can you do? Consider this your Christmas present from me - you don’t have to listen to me natter on about my day for a whole week.”

He freezes when his phone buzzes on the desk. It’s probably Louis. Harry hesitates for a moment. He should probably ignore it, Louis can wait. Instead, though, he flicks a quick glance at the webcam, then picks it up and keys in his passcode. His shoulders droop with disappointment. Just Niall. Frowning a little, he scrolls through his texts, realizes he hasn’t heard from Louis in over an hour.

“You know what, I’m going to call Louis Tomlinson.” Harry nods his head decisively, opens up his contacts, and presses on Louis’ number. He smiles at the camera while it rings in his ear, heart thumping double-time in his chest while he waits for Louis to pick up. It just keeps ringing, though, and with a frown, he lowers the phone and mumbles, “It went to answer machine.”

He can’t really help the way his bottom lip pushes out into a pout, disappointment swimming through his veins and weighing down the sides of his mouth. “I’m getting rejected on Christmas Eve.”

He drops his chin into his hand, elbow propped up on the desk, and tries to come up with something else to say. With a sigh, he mumbles, “Sorry this is such a boring livestream.” He glances down at the time counter. “I’ve gone and wasted eight minutes of your day. I’m just gonna... I’ll see you all tomorrow, yeah? Christmas day, woo.”

His cheer is half-hearted at best, and he’s just leaning in to murmur a goodnight to the camera and shut it off when his phone starts to vibrate. Heart in his throat, Harry looks down at the phone, can feel a smile break across his face when he sees Louis’ photo displayed on the screen. He picks up immediately, all thoughts about the streaming video forgotten.

“Louis,” he murmurs into the phone. He’s pretty sure he sounds completely love-drunk, but he can’t really help it. “Happy birthday, babe.”

There’s a sound of muffled laughter on the other end, and then Louis says, “Love. You do realize you’ve left your camera running?

“Oh, shit,” Harry curses. He glances back at the computer screen, calls a hasty goodbye, and ends the video. “Oh, how embarrassing.”

A bit,” Louis agrees, but he sounds pleased. “Your face was rather lovely when you realized it was me.”

“Oh, God,” Harry groans. Feeling a bit apprehensive, he turns off his webcam completely and opens his YouTube channel to see if the stream has posted yet. People were commenting throughout, anyway, so he’s not surprised to find a slew of new comments, but his face goes red when he reads them.

awwww, did you see his face when louis didn’t pick up? he loves him so much!!

lourry are the cutest!!! i can’t wait for them to record a video together! come on, boys, make us shippers happy!

They continue in a similar vein for several pages, much to Harry’s confusion. “Er, Louis? What’s a ‘lourry’?”

Ah,” Louis lets out an amused giggle. “I had to ask my sister about that one. Apparently, we’ve got quite a lot of fans, you and me.”

“Well, yeah,” Harry agrees, not really understanding.

No, I mean we have fans. You and I. Together. They, erm. They think we should... date.”

Harry’s heart stops for the span of a few seconds. “Oh,” he whispers. “They think -”

Yeah, apparently we talk about each other quite a bit.”

“Oh. Do you, erm.” Harry frowns down at the desk, runs his nail along the wood grain and tries to ignore the buzzing in his ears. “Do you want me to stop? Doing that?”

What?” Louis sounds shocked, and Harry’s muscles loosen a fraction. “Of course not. I don’t care what they say, it’s not. Do you mind?

“No,” Harry protests immediately. A bit more hesitant, he says quietly, “I think it’s nice. That they like our relationship so much.”

There’s a pause, and Harry thinks maybe he’s overstepped a boundary somewhere, is panicking a bit and trying to come up with some way to backtrack, when Louis breathes, “Yeah. It is nice.”

 

 

Harry’s stomach flips over with nerves as he turns on his laptop and pulls up Louis’ YouTube channel. He’s already recorded the coming week’s video and has given Harry access to it before he leaves for vacation. He knows what’s coming, as they’d discussed it beforehand, but it doesn’t stop him from blowing out an unsteady breath, finger hovering over the play button as he gathers up the courage to click it.

Hiya,” Louis greets cheerfully, but Harry can see the nervous tilt to his mouth, can hear the tremble in his voice as he draws out the ‘a’. “So, I have a bit of a different sort of video for you this week. As you can see by the title of the video, I’ll be talking about fanfiction. Which, er, if that’s not your cup of tea, you might want to turn the video off now.”

Harry buries his face in his hands and makes a distressed whining noise. No, he can do this. He agreed to this, it’s totally fine. He looks up just in time to watch Louis flick his fringe out of his eyes like he does when he’s nervous. Louis leans in toward the camera, light from the window behind it glinting off his eyelashes, and Harry finds himself leaning in unconsciously, as well.

Don’t worry, I’ve got permission from the writer, I’m not totally heartless. Anyway, some of you may have heard that there’s a group of people who think me and Harry Styles are in a relationship, or should be. We’re not, never even properly met, but we get comments sometimes and, I dunno, I was curious about it all and decided to look it up one day. It was, erm.” Harry watches his cheeks flush pink, amusement winning out over secondhand embarrassment. “Enlightening?”

On camera, Louis holds up an iPad and wiggles it at the lens.

Now, this is where it gets awkward. I had to ask my sister to find me a good one. I know, I asked my little sister to look up what was likely mentally scarring information about her big brother, but she’s a sport, and I bought her a bunch of makeup as a thanks, so everyone wins.” He scratches his nose, a wry little smile tipping one corner of his mouth up. “I’ll probably have to pay for therapy for her later on in life, as well, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I didn’t want one that was too long, you know, we’ve not got all day, so she found me this fanflick that takes place in an alternate universe, where Harry and I are in a world famous boy band.”

He makes a face at the camera, nose wrinkled and mouth scrunched up. “Me as a singer. Have you heard me sing?”

He shakes his head slowly at the camera, and Harry laughs. Louis is effortlessly charming, it’s no wonder half of the internet is in love with him.

Right, so I picked one that looks rather innocuous. Two pound word,” he says, winking at the camera. “Set during a world tour with our band - made up, of course, of Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Zayn Malik, good choice, ladies and gents.”

Clearing his throat, Louis holds the iPad up. Harry settles back in his desk chair, nerves thrumming anxiously as Louis starts to read.

Another Take Me Home tour ficlet, featuring lunch dates and intermission makeouts. Set in New York. That’s the summary, now for the story.” He glances at the camera and pulls a face before looking back down at the tablet. “Harry loves New York. It’s big and busy and so much easier to get lost in the crowd, because everyone walks with a purpose, eyes on the ground or straight ahead, too busy to pay attention to their surroundings.

Harry listens intently, chewing absently on his thumb nail as Louis reads about the two of them going out to lunch with Niall and a man named Preston and getting ready for a concert, about Harry teasing Louis on stage and Louis’ promise of retribution later. Louis imitates the other boys’ accents - horribly - and slows his words when he reads out Harry’s dialogue, pauses occasionally to comment on word choice or the plot and just to generally entertain the viewers. Harry shivers at the way Louis’ voice dips when he reads, “You’re going to pay for that one later, babe,” shifts in his seat as it all builds up to an intermission.

Louis’ voice is captivating, high and breathy and perfect, and Harry’s breath catches in his throat when he reads out, funny voices completely forgotten, “He can already feel Louis hard against his thigh, bends his knee and presses it up between Louis’ legs until he lets out a rough moan and starts to rut against him, one hand shifting around to grip at the pillar behind Harry’s head.” There’s a pause, then Louis mutters, “Blimey,” before continuing.

He’s watching a pretty flush work its way across Louis’ cheeks and down his neck, can’t stop shifting restlessly in his own chair, when - “He can’t really muster up the energy though, is just sliding a hand down to palm Louis’ arse and drag him closer when Liam appears out of nowhere with their shirts clutched in his hands and an apologetic smile on his face.

Louis glances up at the camera, eyes wide and dark, and Harry bites his lip, presses the heel of his palm against the zip of his jeans. Louis offers the camera a shaky smile and says, “Bloody Liam.”

That surprises a laugh out of Harry, and he watches the rest of the video with a dopey smile on his face, trying to ignore the way he’s uncomfortably hard in his trousers. “It’s just fanfiction,” he mutters to himself while Louis makes a show of shutting off the iPad and fixing his hair. “It’s not real, relax, Jesus.”

Well,” Louis says cheerfully, “there you have it. Adventures in fanfiction, with Louis Tomlinson. People are clever, aren’t they? Unfortunately, me in a band is not likely to ever happen, but I think I’d quite like a gyro now, so thanks for that. I hope you all had a lovely holiday, and I’ll see you next week!”

Bottom lip pinched between his fingers, Harry grabs his phone off the desk and taps out a text message one-handed. People are very...creative.

His phone rings a moment later, and Harry picks up without thinking. “What did you think? Too cringe?

Harry laughs and slumps over the desk, rolls his forehead against the cool wood. “A bit cringe, yeah, but it’s meant to be, isn’t it? It’s not like it’s any better than that time you went ‘round London asking people how many orgasms they’ve had in one sexual encounter.”

Louis hums, then says, “This one’s about me and you, though. Did it make you... uncomfortable?

“Nah,” Harry says, as nonchalantly as possible, fingers itching toward the fly of his jeans. “‘S flattering.”

Yeah,” Louis murmurs. They’re silent for a moment, and Harry plays absently with the button of his jeans, dick still throbbing against the zipper. He’s not going to have a wank while he’s on the phone with Louis, though, no matter how appealing his voice is. He does have some boundaries, thanks. Resisting gets a bit harder when Louis says, “Bit of a cocktease though, wasn’t she? Bloody Liam.

Harry bangs his head against the desk a few times before agreeing, “Bloody Liam.”

 

;;

 

Louis’ hand is halfway to his phone before he remembers. “Right,” he mutters, dropping his hand and pouting out the window. “Majorca.”

It’s cold enough outside that the windows are fogged up and frosted over, and even though he knows it’s not that much warmer in Majorca, he’s imagining Harry sunning himself in those tiny yellow swim trunks on a beach crowded with beautiful Spanish men, and. He takes a deep breath, lungs burning a bit as they fill up with the chilly December air, then lets it out slowly. He’s not jealous, he has no right to be jealous. He and Harry are just friends - friends who’ve never even met in person - no matter what people on the internet might say.

He’s still staring morosely out the window, chin propped up on his hand as he watches the snow fall quietly outside, when Liam gets home.

“Lou?” He hears Liam call from the hallway, and he turns around just in time for Liam to walk through the bedroom door. His brow furrows as he looks around the room. It’s a bit of a mess, clothes from Louis’ trip home strewn about, and his laptop is shut on his bed so that it’s painfully obvious he’s been sitting around doing nothing. “Louis, have you left your room today?”

Louis shrugs. “I had a cuppa this morning. Watched Niall’s weekly.”

“Mate.” Louis rolls his eyes and opens his mouth to defend himself, but Liam cuts him off. “Go shower, we’re going out.”

“Liam, I don’t want -”

“Louis, it’s New Years. I refuse to let you sit in this flat and mope about just because you haven’t spoken to Harry in five days. Go get ready, you’re snogging someone at midnight, even if that someone has to be me.”

Louis’ eyes go wide, and he holds his hands out, says, “Liam, I’m flattered, but I don’t think -”

“I was joking, you idiot. You think I’d snog you when Zayn’s invited Sophia to the party? You’re a good looking bloke, but you’re not that good looking. Everyone is going to be there, even Niall’s come up from Brighton. Now go shower.”

Liam tosses one of his gloves at him for good measure, and Louis bats it away with an irritated huff of breath, but he gets up nonetheless. He supposes he can afford to be social for a couple of hours, especially if there’s alcohol involved.

 

 

The party is a riot of noise and flashing lights. Zayn and Perrie’s flat is overflowing with people, and there are Christmas lights still strung up from every window and doorway, along with intermittent strobe lights in the living room that turn it into a facsimile of a nightclub. Louis has to squeeze through crowds of people dancing to get to the little table where Niall’s got his iPod set up.

“Here you are, mate, one Jägerbomb, as requested.” He passes Niall the glass of beer and shot glass of Jäger, keeps one set for himself, and waits for Niall to count them off before dropping the shot glass into the beer and chugging it. Niall beats him by a half second, but Louis just shakes it off and shouts, “Another? You grab them this time, your hands are bigger!”

“Watch the music,” Niall calls back, then disappears into the crowd so he can work his way toward the kitchen.

By the time midnight rolls around, Louis is a bit smashed, Jäger and beer sloshing around in his system while he makes his way out onto the balcony. He just needs some fresh air, needs to get away from the pounding music and the smell of alcohol and sweaty bodies. He can still hear the pounding bass of a Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z track out on the balcony, but it’s muffled, and the cool air swirling around him feels like heaven on his overheated skin.

Louis leans back against the railing while he fumbles his phone from his pocket, has to squint at the screen with Jäger-blurry eyes to find the correct keys before lifting it to his ear. It goes to voicemail straight away, and Louis smiles manically at his reflection in the glass door and says, “Hiya, Harry! I know you’re in Majjjjorca, Majorca, that’s fun to say. Anywayyyy, I know you’re in Spain having fun and getting tanned, but I’ve missed you lots this week.”

Louis sniffles and chafes at his arm. It’s cold out, and he hadn’t thought to bring his coat outside with him. The door opens, letting out a burst of noise - people shouting the countdown from ten - and he smiles lopsidedly at Aiden, who leans over the balcony ledge beside him, twirling an unlit cigarette between his fingers.

“Aiden is here,” he says into the phone, as if Harry is on the other line, listening to this in real time, instead of an answering machine. “You know Aiden Grimshaw, he did the - the sex partners poll with me last year. Aiden, say hi.”

Louis holds the phone out, vaguely aware of everyone shouting, “TWO! ONE! HAPPY NEW YEAR!” And before he knows what’s happening, warm, dry lips are on his. He makes a muffled noise of surprise and freezes, and when Aiden draws away, he smiles sheepishly at Louis and murmurs, “Happy New Year, Louis.”

Louis just fish-mouths at Aiden while he lights his cigarette and turns to face the street. “You...” His voice is faint, so he clears his throat, says more firmly, “You kissed me!”

Aiden shrugs, aims a small smile at Louis over his shoulder. “Everyone should get kissed at New Years.” His glance flicks down to Louis’ hand, hanging limp at his side, and he says, “I think you’re still on the phone, mate.”

“Fuck,” Louis curses, lifting the phone back up to his ear. “Sorry sorry sorry,” he says in a rush, turning away from Aiden and walking over to the far corner of the balcony, away from the smell of cigarette smoke and the warmth radiating off Aiden’s body.

“That was - a surprise. Christ, sorry. I don’t know why I’m even apologizing, we aren’t - anyway. I’m properly foxed.” Louis pauses, frowning at himself, then laughs, “I don’t know why I said that, no one under the age of seventy says foxed anymore. Anyway, I just wanted to say Happy New Year and that I miss you. Talk to you in a few days, love.”

Louis stares blankly at the screen for a few moments after he’s hung up, stares at it until it goes dark and he realizes he’s shivering uncontrollably. Cursing softly, he scoots past Aiden without a word and makes his way back inside.

 

 

By the time Harry gets back on Saturday, Louis feels like he’s still hungover from New Years. He’s slumped over the front desk at the blissfully empty bookshop, dreaming of tea and hash browns, when his phone buzzes to life by his ear. Grumbling, he lifts his head off the counter to stare blearily down at the screen. He perks up a little when he sees Harry’s face displayed, though, pushes his fringe out of his eyes and scrubs at his cheeks before remembering that Harry can’t see him. Rolling his eyes at himself, Louis hits ‘accept’. He can’t quite suppress a smile or keep the fondness out of his voice when he answers, “Babe.”

Hey, Lou.

Louis frowns and straightens up from his slouch. The hesitance in Harry’s voice has him on alert immediately. Heart pounding nervously in his chest, Louis says slowly, “Is something wrong? Are you alright? Did something happen in Majorca?”

No,” Harry whispers, and Louis presses the phone closer to his ear, straining to try and hear better. Harry clears his throat, a sudden burst of static, and says, “So... how was your New Years? I, er. Got your voicemail.

Oh.

Oh.

“That was -”

There’s a tinge of what Louis thinks might be despondency to Harry’s voice when he says, “Sounds like you had fun.

“No, I. I mean, I spent most of it with Niall, so that was alright, but midnight was just... I mean, I knew you were away and wouldn’t pick up, but I just wanted to spend it with you somehow, since you weren’t at the party with all of us, so I thought.” Louis scratches his nose, feeling awkward and unsure and sad and hopeful all at once. “Aiden kind of sprung that kiss on me, but it wasn’t - I didn’t kiss him back. And then I left. It didn’t, like, mean anything.”

You don’t have to explain it to me, I’m not -

“No,” Louis interrupts, panicking a bit. He wants Harry to understand, doesn’t know how else to get his point across without outright admitting that he fancies him. Fuck. He hasn’t even really admitted that to himself, yet. “It really wasn’t, I didn’t want him to kiss me, we’re just mates, I. I wanted to ring the new year in with you. Even if it just meant talking to your answering machine.”

Louis bites his lip and looks down at the countertop. It’s littered in stickers and flyers for various events around London, mostly ones that took place years ago, and he picks nervously at the corner of a Bob Marley sticker while he waits for Harry to answer. It feels - the moment feels significant, and the longer Harry stays silent, the more his throat starts to ache.

After a couple of minutes, though, he hears Harry breathe out a sigh, and the relief is evident in his voice when he says, “Me, too. I mean, Majorca was lovely, but being without my phone has never been that difficult, and New Years was a bit depressing.”

“No one to kiss at midnight?” He’s a little scared of the answer.

Harry snorts and says, “Unless you count my mum.

Louis has to bite down on his tongue to stop himself from saying, ‘good’. Instead, he says, “So, back to Brighton?”

Yeah,” Harry sighs. “I’ve got exams in three weeks, so I’ll be busy revising. Probably won’t be able to chat as much, I’ve got loads to do.”

Disappointment pulls at Louis’ gut. He’s just gone a week without talking to Harry, and now he’s got to go another three? He tries to keep the moroseness out of his voice when he says, “Oh, that’s. Uni’s very important, I understand.”

We can maybe... it’s kind of stupid, but Gem and I used to do this sometimes when she first went to uni? We would, like, sit on Skype, but just do school work together. So we weren’t really talking, except during study breaks, but it was kind of like we were together?” Louis doesn’t even get a chance to answer before Harry is rushing to say, “Sorry, that’s so stupid, it doesn’t even make sense -

“No, that sounds fun,” Louis interrupts, trying to infuse as much enthusiasm into his voice as possible. He’ll take the contact anyway he can get it. Pathetic. “I can test you on your Shakespeare knowledge or something.”

Harry sounds cautiously pleased when he breathes, “Yeah?

“‘Course, Curly. You don’t really expect me to go another three weeks without talking to you, do you?”

No,” Harry laughs. “I suppose not.”

 

 

The Skype thing is strange, but a lot more comfortable than Louis had expected it to be. He takes his laptop to work with him and sets it up behind the spare till no one ever uses so that no customers can see it, but he can see Harry where he’s bent over his desk, fringe hanging in his eyes as he reads and scribbles things down on paper. They chat aimlessly between bouts of Louis’ customers, and during Louis’ lunch breaks, he snags one of Harry’s assigned novels off a shelf and takes it to the break room with him so he can ask Harry questions about it while he eats.

After work, or on days off, Louis sets his laptop up on the sofa while he plays FIFA in the living room, or leaves it at the foot of his bed while he flips through magazines, or browses the internet in another window. It’s probably not very healthy, the amount of time they spend just being in each others’ virtual presence, but it’s comforting. He can do his own thing, just like he always has, but all he has to do is turn his head and there’s Harry - huddled over his books, muttering quietly to himself and glancing up at the screen every so often to shoot Louis a hazy smile, ask him how he’s doing.

Liam makes fun of him for it during the rare moments he’s without his computer, but Louis just shrugs it off. He knows it’s a bit pathetic, the lengths he’s willing to go to just to have a sliver of Harry’s attention, but he can’t really bring himself to care. Not when Harry takes the occasional study break and they each crowd in close to the camera, talk about absolutely nothing of importance that has them giggling and smiling stupidly at each other, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. Not when he watches Harry’s daily vlogs - shot while he walks to and from classes and study groups, or while he’s sat in his room with his books spread out in front of him - and listens to him talk about Louis quizzing him, Louis telling him a joke, Louis keeping him updated on pop culture while he studies his days away.

Their little slice of fandom is in heaven while Harry revises, and every time Louis gets a comment on one of his own videos about ‘Lourry’, his stomach flip-flops pleasantly in his belly and he thinks about Harry’s face in the live stream when he’d called him on his birthday, all bright and open with excitement and fondness.

 

;;

 

Harry scrubs his hands nervously over his thighs, denim rough against his palms. It’s been ages since he’s been to London, and he’s both nervous and excited. He starts a little when Niall knocks their elbows together, looks over to see Niall grinning maniacally at him.

“You excited, mate?”

“Yes,” Harry breathes. “Very. I’ve been wanting to see them for ages, I can’t believe you got us tickets.” He’s already thanked Niall and hugged him about a dozen times in the past week, but he stops right in the middle of the train station and does so again, pulls Niall in with arms around his neck and mumbles, “Thank you.”

Niall pats his back, chin digging into Harry’s shoulder, and says, “You’re welcome, bro. Again. Now come on, we don’t want to be late.”

They’re walking toward the exit, following the steady stream of traffic, when Niall taps him on the side and says, “Are you sure you don’t want to call Louis?”

Guilt settles in Harry’s stomach, but he shakes his head no, resolute. They’ve mentioned meeting up a few times in passing, but never really stopped to discuss it, and he’s just. Not sure he’s ready quite yet. Louis has no idea he’s in London for the night, actually, and it’s making Harry a little bit itchy. “Can’t.”

Niall is staring at him, brows furrowed. “You’re so weird, H. He’s already practically in love with you, I don’t think he’s going to find anything to be disappointed by when you actually meet.” He pauses to consider, then tacks on, “‘Cept maybe your pigeon toes and how hard it is to get your trousers off. And you know if you film this, he’s going to find out you were here, right?”

Harry bites his lip and nods sharply, then fumbles his camera out of his satchel. “I’ll tell him before I post it.” He takes a deep breath and shakes off all thoughts of Louis. “Come on, let’s start filming.”

He flips the screen around so that they can see themselves, angles the camera so the lens is facing them, and ducks in close to Niall until they’re both squared into the frame.

“Hey everyone, so, as I might have mentioned once or twice, today’s my birthday! Niall here surprised me with tickets to see The 1975, so we’re here in London,” he takes a moment to pan the camera around the street outside of the London Bridge train station, then turns it back on the two of them. “Getting ready to see one of the best bands in the world!”

He keeps the camera on while they hop on a bus to the venue, filming various people around them and recording bits of their conversations, flashes of the city passing by outside the window for him to splice and edit later. There’s a sizeable line waiting outside the Academy, so he chats to people in the queue while Niall chain smokes with the girls in line in front of them. By the time they get inside, he’s properly frozen, fingers numb where they’re clutching his camera, but they fight their way to the front of the venue, let the body heat from the people pressing in on all sides defrost them while they wait for the opening band to come out.

The opener is fun, but not particularly noteworthy, so Harry tucks his camera away and lets the music sweep him up, dances around like a fool with Niall and makes up his own lyrics as he sings along at the top of his lungs. Once The 1975 take the stage, Harry is completely pumped. He films snippets of every song and the entirety of his favorites, singing along while the music and the sound of Matt Healy’s voice swell up inside of him.

The concert is transcendent, and he feels like he’s floating when they stumble out of the venue and back onto the frigid street, breaths slipping out in plumes of white smoke that blur their vision. Niall slings an arm around Harry’s shoulders and squeezes him close in a one-armed hug, then snags the camera out of his hands and turns it on, walking backwards so he can film Harry.

“Fuck me, that was amazing,” Niall laughs. “Tell us what you’re thinking, Styles.”

Harry shrugs helplessly, still a bit overwhelmed. “That was the best concert of my life, without a doubt.” He focuses in on the lens, vision still a bit hazy from the flashing lights and smoke machines, says, “Matt Healy, if you’re watching this, I want to have your babies. Call me.”

Niall bursts out laughing, doubling over from the force of it, and Harry snatches the camera away before he can drop it, stores it safely in his bag. He’ll get one more shot once they get on the train back to Brighton, but they’ve got all they need for now. Rolling his eyes at Niall, who’s crouching down on the ground, still laughing, Harry bends over so he can grip his arm and pull him back up.

“Come on, you idiot,” he murmurs, fondness softening his tone. “We have a bus to catch.”

“Have his babies,” Niall giggles. He drapes an arm across Harry’s shoulders again and buries his freezing nose against the side of Harry’s neck. “Happy birthday, Hazza, I love you.”

Harry’s heart swells with affection, and he presses a kiss to the top of Niall’s head. “I love you, too, Niall.”

 

 

That’ll be fifteen-thirty. Seventy p is your change, thank you sir, have a nice day.” There’s a rustling noise, and then, “Haz, you still there?”

“Here.” Harry pulls his coat around himself, trying to ward off the late February chill as best he can. “Busy day?”

Nah. You headed home?”

Harry hums his response, stepping out onto the grass to get around the girl sitting in the middle of the walkway playing a guitar. “Zayn and Liam have already finished their video, they’re waiting at the flat with Niall.”

Louis huffs out an incredulous laugh. “I can’t believe they’re there and I’m not.”

Harry bites his lip as he comes to a stop at the corner. The pedestrian signal is flashing red while cars whoosh past, Brighton residents headed home after a long day of work. “Why aren’t you?”

Work,” Louis answers, though they both know it’s a weak excuse. “‘Least I didn’t come to town and not tell you,” he challenges, and Harry’s breath hitches.

“Lou, I didn’t mean -”

I know, I know. Sorry, that was.” There’s a clattering noise, and then Harry hears, “Hello ma’am, did you find everything alright? Is that all for you? That’ll be twenty-three ninety-five. Sign for me here, please. Thanks, have a lovely day!”

Harry squints up at the sky while he waits for Louis to pick the phone back up, waits for the sound of Louis breathing, then says, “You know why I didn’t call you, we talked about this. It’s not that I didn’t want to see you, I was just.” His voice drops into a whisper and he stares down at his feet, boots scuffed and worn, toes turned in. “Scared.”

You’re an idiot,” Louis responds, but his tone is warm, and happiness heats Harry’s belly.

“You love me,” he counters without thinking, and when he realizes what he’s just said, his heart stops. This - this isn’t really something they’ve ever said to each other before, even in passing - haven’t talked about how they feel at all, really. He thinks it’s understood that he fancies Louis, is quite sure Louis fancies him back, but then again, you never know.

The obvious pause in their conversation feels important, charged, and Harry has a moment of terrifying self-doubt, absolutely positive he’s overstepped a boundary, but then Louis murmurs, “You can’t prove anything,” and his shoulders unknit and his breathing evens out. His heart is still pounding in his ears, though, and it’s only when someone jostles his shoulder that he realizes he’s been standing on the curb for three walk signals.

Shaking his head, Harry crosses the street, conversation back to normal, and only hangs up once he’s jogging up the stairs to his flat. He shoulders the door open to find Niall, Zayn, and Liam sprawled out in the living room, playing a round of Mario Kart. He gets a chorus of hellos, responds without thinking, “Louis says hi.” All three heads turn to look at him in unison, and Harry flushes under their knowing looks, mumbles a defensive, “What?”

Zayn just shakes his head and mutters, “You two are disgusting.”

Harry flicks Zayn’s ear as he passes and trills, “Someone’s just jealous.”

“Of what,” Liam calls out so that Harry can hear him from his bedroom. “All you two ever do is pine from afar! You need to sort that out, mate, living with Louis is getting unbearable.”

He hears Niall scoff and mutter, “Try living with Haz.”

Harry ignores that while he puts his coat up, and only notices the package waiting on his pillow when he sits down on the bed to take his boots off. Frowning in confusion, he abandons his left boot in favor of picking the small package up to inspect it. It’s wrapped sloppily in newspaper, but he recognizes the handwriting on the notecard taped to the top. ‘To: Curly ♥’

Stomach fluttering with confusion and anticipation, he picks carefully at the sellotape and pulls the wrapping apart, laying it flat on his lap. He lets out a surprised laugh and picks through the bits of newspaper, lifts the iPhone case out and turns it over in his grip. It’s pale blue and printed with little bananas, and Harry giggles as he inspects it, heart swelling with affection so overwhelming that he’s slightly dizzy with it. It’s just a silly little gift, but he hadn’t been expecting one at all, and the fact that Louis thought of him, got him something this sweet and perfect... Harry sighs and rubs a thumb over the back of the case, wishes absently that he could thank Louis in person.

He’s an hour away, though, and they’ve discussed this - well, not in so many words, just vague mumblings about worries and fears, but it’s been implied that they’re just not ready yet. So instead, he grabs his phone to take a quick snapshot of himself holding the case up, eyes wide and tongue out, before locking his phone into the plastic. He’s had his phone for nearly a year and has never bothered to get a proper case for it, even though he’s dropped it half a dozen times in the past month alone. He’s admiring the case and waiting for a response to the photo from Louis when Zayn pokes his head around the doorjamb. “Hey, you ready to film? Niall’s got all of the stuff in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, ‘course.” Harry leaves his phone on his bed so he won’t be distracted or get food on it while they film. He follows Zayn out into the living room and toward the kitchen door, but they’re stopped by Liam before they can push it open.

“Sorry lads, you need to be blindfolded before you come in. Can’t have you seeing the labels.” They film the intro for the video standing outside the door, then Liam produces two bandanas from his back pocket and ties each of them off, and he and Niall lead Harry and Zayn into the kitchen and sit them down at the table side by side.

Harry listens to the sounds of Niall and Liam getting everything ready, starts a little when he feels someone nudge his side. “Hey,” Zayn murmurs. “D’you get Lou’s gift?”

Harry’s stomach twists with joy at the thought of the little present, and he can feel a smile bloom across his face, so wide it makes his cheeks ache. “Yeah,” he nods, rubbing his palms over his thighs and squirming happily in his chair. “I love it. It’s perfect.”

He hears Zayn snort, then say, “Yeah, we all know what you love. Or should I say who -”

“Okay,” Liam interrupts unwittingly, voice cheerful and brimming with excitement. “Niall’s filming, I’m going to feed you one by one, and we’ll keep score. None of these foods have been pre-tested by Niall and I, so good luck.”

Putting Zayn’s cut-off statement out of his head, Harry concentrates on the thump of glass against the wooden table top and the clink of a spoon against the jar, says, “Zayn should go first. Since he’s a guest, and all.”

He feels Zayn shift beside him, shoulder brushing up against his own, and then there’s a hand pinching his thigh. “What a welcome,” Zayn mutters. “First time in your house and you throw me to the dogs, I see how it is.”

“Stop bickering,” Liam chides. “Okay fine, open up Zayn. And try not -” He hears a clicking noise and Niall bursts out laughing. “Try not to move! I didn’t think you’d need a bib, chrissake, Zayn, you’re twenty-two years old. Control yourself.”

“Yeah,” Harry chimes in, smirking at what he hopes is the camera. “Where are your manners?”

“Piss off,” Zayn mutters, and then he makes a retching noise. “What is that? Tastes like garbage.”

“It’s your guess,” Liam laughs.

“Ugh,” Zayn coughs, and Harry tries to stifle a giggle with his hand. “Disgusting. Tastes like. Like Christmas dinner gone wrong. No, it’s like. Burnt cottage pie.”

“Eyyy,” Niall cheers, and Harry pouts.

“First one and he’s already got it. Hey, Liam.” He reaches out for where he last saw Liam. He has to feel around for a bit, but he manages to connect with what he thinks is Liam’s hip. “Liam, give me a good one, yeah? Something sweet. I know there’s banana flavored baby food, give me some of that.”

“Just for that, give him some cottage pie, Liam.” Scowling, Harry flails his arm out blindly and connects with Zayn’s chest with a satisfying thump. His hand slides through something wet and sticky, though, and he cringes and yanks his hand away.

“Jesus, Liam, how hard is it to get it in his mouth?”

“Shame we’re not playing innuendo bingo,” Zayn mutters.

 

 

“Okay, last one,” Liam announces. “Harry first. Open up, and don’t fucking move -”

Harry opens his mouth too late, and the spoon hits his chin, tipping the food down his chest. “Bloody hell, Liam, I think you’re doing this on purpose.”

“I’m not! You’re just too slow, can you just. Get your mouth open and leave it that way.”

Sighing, Harry obeys, knowing full well how ridiculous he must look at the moment - blindfolded with his mouth hanging open and baby food all down his front. This video is going to need some major editing. He feels Liam approach and stick the spoon in his mouth, closes his lips around it automatically. He’s past being apprehensive about the flavor - he’s pretty sure he lost his sense of taste after he had to eat the sweet potato and beef pie. This one, though.

“Mmm.” He swallows the food and sticks his tongue out for more. “‘S good, give me some more.”

He can practically feel the face Liam is making at him. “You’re disgusting, get away from me.”

“Liam,” Harry whines, stretching a hand out to try and grab him, but he hears something hit the table - Liam’s body, he’s assuming - and is only met with air. “I like it! It tastes like bananas.” He smacks his lips. “Bananas and mango.”

“That’s because it is bananas and mango,” Liam says, exasperated. “I won’t let you eat more baby food, you’re twenty-one years old, have some dignity. Now let me feed Zayn.”

After eight rounds of baby food tasting, Harry’s face and hands are sticky with bits of mush, and he tugs the blindfold off gingerly, trying not to get any of it in his hair. “Christ,” he exclaims, looking down at his shirt. There’s sauce-like baby food spilt all down his front, whites and browns and oranges running together so that it looks like he’s been sick all over himself.

He pokes at a bit of pink goo on his chest, stomach churning with nausea at the sight, and starts to pull his shirt off when Liam grabs his shoulder and says, “No, wait. Stay like that, we’ve got another challenge.”

“What,” Zayn squawks, sounding betrayed. He’s still got his blindfold on and is waiting for his last round. “If you say tin cans, I will hit you, Liam, I swear -”

Liam cuts him off by shoving the spoon into his mouth. Zayn splutters around it, spraying bits of food on Liam, and coughs out, “That is vile, did you give me cottage pie again? I’m going to -” He rips his blindfold off, expression murderous, but Liam just laughs and pats him on the head.

“There there, Zaynie, we’re on camera! Right, so Niall and I decided that a good follow-up to this challenge is the naked challenge!”

“I knew it,” Harry hisses. He squints over at Zayn, searching for some solidarity. “He got us dirty on purpose. He just wanted us naked.”

“Aww, Liam,” Zayn coos. “You could have just asked.”

Liam just rolls his eyes at the camera, then grabs one of Niall’s snapbacks off the table. It’s got folded up scraps of paper in it, and Harry stares warily at them while Liam shakes them up.

“Who chose these?”

“My subscribers,” Niall puts in cheerfully from behind the camera. “And don’t worry, I told them not to hold back.”

Harry watches apprehensively, breath held, as Liam holds the hat out to Zayn to pick first. Brow furrowed in concentration, Zayn rustles through the slips of paper and pulls one out. Holding it up, he reads, “Do the chicken dance.”

“Yes,” Harry crows, shooting to his feet. “Don’t think I don’t remember how much you hate to dance. I watch all of your videos.”

Feeling good about this challenge, Harry breaks out in an approximation of the chicken dance - what he remembers of it, anyway - while the others laugh and cheer him on. Not even willing to attempt the dance, Zayn just bends over and pulls off one of his socks and waves it at the camera.

“Right,” Liam says, holding out the hat. “Your turn, Harry.”

Harry plucks a piece of paper off the top of the pile and reads, “Chubby bunny.”

Grinning over at Zayn, Harry waggles his eyebrows and sticks his tongue out. Looks like his luck has changed.

 

;;

 

Louis has watched Harry’s video featuring Zayn and Liam about fifteen times in the past week and a half. The first time he’d watched it, he hadn’t caught what Harry and Zayn had been whispering about while Liam and Niall got everything ready, and he’d spent ten minutes fiddling with the sound settings on his laptop, trying to get it as loud as possible, had ended up on the floor on his belly with his ear pressed right up against the speaker in an attempt to hear them. After he’d realized they were talking about his gift, he’d watched that thirty second exchange over and over, just to watch the smile spread across Harry’s face, watch him fidget and beam at the camera while his own heart thundered painfully in his chest.

Once he’d been able to get past that bit, he relaxed and let himself enjoy the absurdity of the challenges. The baby food challenge had been weird and disgusting and strangely hot, though Louis will never, ever admit that to anyone. It’s just that Harry’s mouth is obscenely huge, and every time Liam had come near him with the spoon, he’d opened it up as wide as he could and stuck his tongue out, and coupled with the blindfold, well. Not much imagination needed there. And then, of course, they had gotten naked. It had started out well for Harry, a couple of easily won challenges, but then Zayn had come back from the bottom and dominated the rest, leaving Harry unabashedly naked on camera for the world to see.

Well, okay, they’d kept the camera above the waist, but he’d waved his boxer briefs around like a flag, grinning like a lunatic while the shadows played off his abs and the ridiculous v-cut of his hips, and really, it’s just unfair. He’s pretty sure Zayn and Liam rigged the game just for his benefit - something he will not be thanking them for, thank you very much - because they just keep smirking at him every time they catch him looking at his phone. It’s unnerving.

Louis pushes into the flat with a groan, not even cringing at the way the hinges, rusted over from this rainy spell they’ve had lately, squeak obnoxiously. “Liam?”

He toes off his Vans and leaves them by a pair of Liam’s ratty old Supras. It’s freezing in the flat and Liam’s clearly not been home for hours, as the lights are all off, despite the fact that it’s dusk. Louis skirts the coffee table on the way to his bedroom. It’s quite early, barely seven o’clock, but he’d kind of like to faceplant into bed. Tugging his jumper off, Louis groans at the stretch in his sore back. It’s been a long three days of unloading a new shipment of books, and his body is protesting. He whimpers pathetically when he bends over to pull off his jeans.

“I’m so old,” he groans as he straightens up, hand on the small of his back while he hobbles to the bathroom. His mum had told him to have a hot bath the other day, when he’d complained about his sore muscles, and he is going to do just that. He even bought a small bottle of sweet-smelling bubbles that he fully intends to hide at the back of his wardrobe so Liam will never find it.

He runs the bath as hot as he can stand, hopping from foot to foot on the frigid floor tiles, then sets his phone on the ledge and climbs in. The bubbles crawl up over his shoulders as he sinks in and lets his head rest against the back of the tub. It feels a bit like heaven, steam floating up around his face and leaving his skin damp, eyelids weighed down by the condensed droplets clinging to his eyelashes, and he can already feel his muscles relaxing and slowly unknotting. He ignores the occasional buzz of his phone in favor of leaving his arms in the water, only decides to check it once the bubbles have started to disappear and he feels like he can lift his arm without his shoulder protesting too loudly.

Guna be late, meeting sophia for dinner, c u laterrrrr

Louis ignores Liam’s text in favor of one from Harry. How’s the back feeling today? .xx

Humming quietly to himself, Louis taps out a response: I’m in the bath right now, so like a dream ;)

Oh really? (¬‿¬) I’m stuck in the library stacks. I don’t think there’s anyone else in this entire building.. Trying not to fall asleep..

Louis snorts. Well I’m not going to FaceTime you while I’m in the bath, if that’s what you were fishing for .xx

Louis looks down at the bathwater, considering. The bubbles have mostly popped, but there are still enough left that he can gather over his lap. Heart beating double-time with uncertainty over what he’s about to do, he opens Snapchat and lifts the phone to take a photo, framing in as much of himself as he can and pressing the shutter key. Lowering the phone again, he inspects it to make sure he’s not accidentally sending Harry a dick pic, then presses send.

He’s fiddling around, sending off a rambly text to one of his sisters and trying not to think about the fact that he’s just send a nude to his best friend, who he most definitely fancies, when a symbol pops up in the corner of his phone. Louis’ heart stops beating. He can hear the blood thundering through his veins, a dull roar in his ears as he stares at the little overlapping triangles and thinks about what they mean. He hasn’t sent out any other snaps today, so... Swallowing thickly, Louis pulls down the menu and reads:

 

Harry Styles

February 26 at 7:38PM - Screenshot!

“Oh my god,” he whispers. Louis shifts against the bottom of the tub, confused and shocked and a little bit amused. It takes him a moment to remember that Harry had no idea how to use Snapchat until two months ago, and that it’s likely no one has explained to him what happens when you take a screenshot, which means. Louis swallows again, arousal coiling in the pit of his stomach as he pictures Harry holed up in the library working on his thesis, hurriedly saving the photo of Louis in the bath before it disappears and he can never open it again. And it’s - well, he can’t really think of any reason Harry would want that sort of photo, unless he was going to use it for...

“Jesus,” Louis mutters. When he doesn’t get a return snap from Harry, he sets his phone carefully on the side of the tub and sinks lower in the water, until he has to tip his chin up to keep from submerging it. He tries to put Harry out of his mind, to stop imagining Harry pulling that photo up while he’s lying in bed that night and using it to bring himself off - maybe even while still at the library, oh God - but it’s no use. Cheeks burning a little with shame, Louis slips his hand into the water and wraps it around his half-hard dick, tugging himself to full hardness slowly, so the bathwater doesn’t slosh over the rim of the tub.

It isn’t difficult to picture it - he’s already seen Harry in tiny little swim trunks, even got a glimpse of his bum in the video of him skinny dipping in the English Channel, so, resigned to the fact that he’s getting off while thinking about his friend getting off, Louis lets himself go. Lets himself imagine Harry sitting in a study cubicle, slumped down in the chair with his trousers open as he works himself over, fist around his cock and Louis’ photo displayed on the phone in his other hand. Borne out of habit, Louis sinks his teeth into his bottom lip in an effort to stay quiet, tightens his grip on himself and swipes a thumb over the head of his dick in a practiced move that sends a shiver rocketing up his spine. Now that he’s given in, he kind of wants to draw this out, but the water is going cool around him and the idea of Harry being worked up enough over a photo of him to get himself off in public is heady and overwhelming.

Panting out into the cold air, Louis grips the ledge of the tub with his free hand, toes flexing and curling against the slick porcelain sides as pleasure spirals down his limbs and settles at the base of his spine. He works his hand faster as he pictures Harry wanking, sees that pretty mouth fall open in his mind, lashes sweeping his cheeks as his eyes slide shut, and then he’s coming with a gasp, body trembling and chest heaving. He lies there in the tub for a few minutes while his heart rate slows, mind sex-hazy as he thinks about Harry trying to focus back on his coursework afterwards, cheeks flushed pink and eyes glassy and unfocused.

He spends so long on the fantasy that it takes Louis a while to realize he’s soaking in his own watered-down spunk, and he pulls the drain plug with a grimace. He rinses off in the shower before toweling dry, then trudges back to his bedroom, suddenly exhausted. It’s already blissfully dark in his room, so Louis just drops his towel to the floor, crawls between the sheets completely naked, and passes out.

 

;;

 

“Niall, I -”

“I’ve already packed, Harry, no arguing.” Harry opens his mouth to do just that, but Niall cuts him off again. “Yes, I got your favorite pair of jeans and enough pants for the whole weekend. Now come on, the flight leaves in two hours and the cab is waiting.”

Harry just gapes at Niall for a moment, still not quite sure what’s happening. Rolling his eyes, Niall shoves Harry’s overnight bag into his arms and grabs onto his wrist, then drags him back out the front door.

“But Niall, I need my cam-”

“It’s in the bag.”

“And my charger -”

“In the bag,” Niall repeats. “It’s all in the bag, you’ve got shirts and pants and jeans and socks and your mobile charger and camera charger and your stupid bloody diary.”

“Journal,” Harry mutters reflexively, stumbling down the stairs after Niall.

There’s a cab waiting for them at the curb, door to the boot already popped open for their bags. Niall waits until they’re tucked into the car and it’s pulled out onto the street to add, “I also packed your inhaler, just in case.” At Harry’s confused expression, Niall offers him a shit-eating grin and says, “Louis is gonna be there.”

Harry’s stomach lurches, and it has nothing to do with the way the cab is weaving through traffic. “Niall,” he whispers. “What did you do?”

“I knew you wouldn’t go if I told you,” he shrugs, face the picture of innocence. “It’s just a meet-up, not a big convention. No one will care if you don’t go to the events, so if you don’t want to see him, just lock yourself in your hotel room or go to the zoo or something. But it’s in Dublin, mate. Real Guinness.”

Niall leans back against the seat with a contented sigh and lets his eyes slide shut. Stewing silently, Harry stares out the window, watches Brighton fly by. The road to the airport takes them along the coast, water a stormy gray under the weak March sun. He can see bright sails bobbing in the distance, and thinks the people on those boats must be feeling the same way he does, stomach churning like he’s adrift on a choppy sea, not sure what awaits him at the end of his journey. Well, flight.

The airport is packed full of weekend travelers, and Harry chews nervously on his thumbnail while they wait in line for their tickets, lets Niall’s excited chatter about their upcoming weekend wash over him, but it does nothing to calm him. By the time they get to their gate, Harry is thoroughly ruffled and is still half-undressed from the security check, and he drops into one of the seats in a huff to put his belt and boots back on.

“I’ve been texting with Zayn and the others, their flight leaves in a couple of hours.”

“God,” Harry mutters, dropping his head into his hands.

“Hey,” Niall says, concern woven into his voice. “It’s just a meetup, you’ve met pretty much everyone who’s gonna be there already, anyway.”

Almost everyone,” Harry reiterates, turning his head to the side so he can glare at Niall out of the corner of his eye.

“Mate. You and Louis have been friends for way too long to not have met yet. You live an hour from each other. We were in London. You’re being ridiculous.”

“Niall,” Harry whines, lifting his feet so he can flop over sideways in the chair and put his head in Niall’s lap. Niall settles a hand in his hair automatically, fingers threading through it, and Harry relaxes into it immediately. Grumpy and nervous, he turns his face into Niall’s thigh and bites at his leg through the cotton of his joggers. When he speaks, his voice is muffled by the fabric. “What if I’m not what he was expecting.”

“Haven’t we had this conversation before?” Niall wonders aloud, so Harry bites him again. Niall’s leg twitches and he laughs, tugging on Harry’s hair. “Jesus, fine, you dingbat. Okay, hypothetically, let’s say you’re not what Louis was expecting - which is ridiculous, by the way, it’s not like you’ve been posing as someone else this whole time, he’s watched your videos. Anyway, either you don’t live up to snuff and you just stay friends instead of becoming more, or you’re better than he was expecting and you fuck like bunnies all weekend, move to London after graduation, get married, and have a bunch of babies.”

Harry lets out a whine, but can’t quite help the laugh that bubbles out of his throat afterwards. “Niall, don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not -” Niall’s tone is incredulous. “Who the hell are you and where is the real Harry? Because real Harry is confident and doesn’t care what other people think of him. He goes skinny dipping in the Channel in the middle of winter and gets naked on the internet and sings stupid Miley covers with his best mate. Which is me, by the way. In case that wasn’t clear. Snap out of it, bro. He’s just a boy.”

Harry frowns, every fiber of his being revolting against Niall’s last statement. He’s not. Louis isn’t just a boy. The past ten months of Harry’s life have been Louis. Louis is one of the most important people in his life. He loves Louis. Harry’s stomach bottoms out at the realization, and he pushes himself back up into a sitting position, feeling distinctly light-headed.

“Harry?” Niall sounds worried, is suddenly sitting on the edge of his seat, one hand on Harry’s back and the other on his knee. “You okay? You’re all pale.”

Harry’s head is spinning. He closes his eyes, fighting to take a breath, and only once Niall shoves his head down between his knees does his airway open up. He sucks in greedy breaths, blinking back a panicky rush of tears as he fills his aching lungs.

“Hey.” Niall’s face appears in his line of vision, features blurred where Harry’s eyes are still hazy with unshed tears. “What’s wrong?”

Harry sits up slowly, wiping at his stinging eyes with his jumper sleeves. He shakes his head and takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, then presses a hand against the left side of his chest. Niall hums in understanding, offers Harry a sympathetic smile and pulls him into a hug. Harry tucks his chin over Niall’s shoulder and clutches at his back, heart still thumping wildly in his chest. He can feel himself calming down though, stomach unknotting and vision clearing, and he turns his face into Niall’s neck and breathes in the comforting, familiar smell of his shampoo and cologne.

 

 

The hotel is just outside of Dublin’s city center, a tall, narrow building built of stone with spindly, bare ivy growing up the front. There’s a sign at check in pointing the YouTube meetup attendees to a conference room in the back, and even though Harry knows there’s no way Louis is here yet, his grip on his bag goes white-knuckled as they near the double doors. The room is teeming with people, most of whom he recognizes from various conventions and collaborations, and he and Niall stop to chat every few feet as they make their way over to the sign in booth.

“Hiya, lads,” Greg greets, sat behind the check in table, and Harry relaxes a fraction more. “Alright?”

Harry and Niall mutter affirmatives while Greg flips through pages on a clipboard and slides two room keys out of a stack.

“Niall, you’re rooming with Aiden Grimshaw out of London. Harry, you’re with Louis Tomlinson, also out of London.”

“What?” Harry glances at Niall, wide-eyed, terror gripping his throat. This was not part of the plan. “Why can’t I room with Niall?”

“Sorry mate, we’ve got loads of singles coming in from villages and we didn’t want them left rooming alone, so we’ve gone alphabetical. It’s just for two nights, it’ll be alright. You won’t be spending much time in your rooms, anyway.” He offers Harry an encouraging grin and holds out his room key.

Trying to tamp down on the panic clawing its way up his throat, Harry takes it from him, stares down at it dumbly, and mumbles to Niall, “Just my luck.”

He looks up just in time to see Niall roll his eyes, and then he’s draping an arm across Harry’s shoulders and tugging him in, shaking him a little. “Relax, you idiot. It’s going to be perfect. And if it’s not, I’ll trade ya.”

They stay at the table for a few more minutes, signing in and picking up t-shirts and lanyards, then Greg sends them off to drop their bags up in their rooms and come back down for refreshments. “Ice breaker at six, dinner at seven,” Greg lists off. “There are packets in your rooms with locations and times for all of this weekend’s activities.”

“Thanks Gregory,” Niall says with a cheeky salute. “Right, let’s go wash up, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Harry sighs.

The room he’s been assigned is small and tidy, with two double beds and a view of the pretty courtyard. Harry claims the bed by the window and sits there watching people set up tables for a few minutes, rolling his bottom lip between his fingers nervously. In a matter of hours, he’s going to be meeting Louis. Louis, who he’s known for ten months and still hasn’t met. Has put off meeting, if he’s honest, too nervous to risk their friendship. In a matter of hours, he’s going to both meet Louis and be forced to room with him, and he’s absolutely terrified that Louis is going to end up hating him. He’s not sure he could handle that, not after his realization at the airport, and the more he thinks about it, the more he panics.

Disgusted with himself, Harry pushes up off the bed and turns to rifle through his bag in search of his toiletries. He smells like an airplane and feels grimy from a combination of salty Brighton air and Dublin humidity, and a shower sounds like as good a place as any for a meltdown. The bathroom is tiny but warm, with heated tiles and towel racks, and Harry takes a few minutes to strip off and open the little window to let in some fresh air before turning the shower on. He takes his time under the hot spray, letting it work out the kinks an uncomfortable airplane seat had put in his back and neck, rolling his head from side to side and propping his arms up against the wall so the water sluices smoothly down his back.

By the time he gets out, he’s feeling much better, apprehension reduced to a low simmer in the pit of his stomach. The open window sucks some of the steam out so that he can wipe the mirror down and comb his hair back from his face, study the flush the hot water left on his cheeks. There are still two hours until the ice breaker and he could do with a nap, so he wraps a towel around his waist and opens the bathroom door, and is immediately met with the sight of -

“Oh.”

Bright blue eyes are staring at him, wide and uncertain, and Harry’s brain goes fuzzy. Stupidly, he blurts out, “You’re early.”

Louis tilts his head to the side, and fuck, he’s beautiful. Even more beautiful in person than he is on camera, and that’s. Unfair, really, and is not helping Harry think clearly. “Er. No, not really,” Louis says, amused. “Why, were you expecting me later?”

“Niall said -” Harry cuts himself off, blushing. “Nevermind.”

He scratches his head nervously, suddenly incredibly aware of how very, very naked he is. His blush deepens when Louis’ eyes sweep down his body and a grin spreads across his face, exposing his sharp little canines and crinkling the corners of his eyes. Really, stupidly beautiful. Harry’s nearly forgotten nerves settle back into his bones, pounding through his veins and weighing down his tongue when he says, “So, um. Did you have a good flight?”

“It was alright.” He sounds amused, smile still curling the sides of his mouth, and Harry wants nothing more than for the floor to open up and swallow him whole. “Are you nervous?”

Harry immediately shakes his head, an automatic response, then hesitates for a moment. It would be stupid to lie, and this is Louis. He tells Louis everything. Shuffling his feet on the carpet, Harry crosses his arms over his chest self-consciously and nods slowly before dropping his gaze to the floor.

“Me, too,” Louis says quietly, and Harry’s head snaps up. He watches Louis rub the back of his neck, then sweep his fringe to the side like Harry’s seen him do so many times on camera, and affection bubbles up in his chest and spools out through his body until all he wants to do is shuffle forward, wrap himself around Louis, and never let go.

Instead, nerves forgotten in the wake of love and anticipation and a bolster of confidence as he realizes that this is Louis, for God’s sake, he points a thumb toward his duffle bag where it’s sitting at the foot of his bed. With a small smile flirting at the corners of his mouth, Harry tilts his head to the side and says, “I’ll just put some clothes on first, then we can talk?”

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, and Harry isn’t sure if he’s imagining the relief in his voice or not. “Yes,” he repeats, laughing. “Do that, yeah. Please. You’re. Your...” He waves a hand in Harry’s direction, indicating his bare chest. “Is very distracting.”

Harry tries not to smile, he really does, but the smug grin just kind of takes over, and he swings his hips a bit as he turns and ambles over to his bed to sift through the clothes Niall packed for him. The contents of his bag are a confusing mixture of winter and summer wear. He pulls out one pair of jeans, a small collection of vests and t-shirts, and a cardigan, as well as several pairs of thick, woolen socks. He frowns down at the confusing mixture of clothes for a moment before muttering, “This is the last time I let Niall do something for me.”

“Everything alright?”

Harry starts, whips his head around to see Louis watching him from where he’s still standing by the bathroom. He’s got his arms wrapped around himself, and he looks small and lovely, the setting sun slanting through the windows and hitting him just right, turning his tanned skin to honey. “Yeah,” Harry rasps, clears his throat and tries again. “Yeah, I just think Niall’s a bit confused as to what season it is.”

He looks back down at the clothes and picks a black vest out of the pile, makes a mental note to steal one of Niall’s hoodies later for warmth. Harry has a moment of pure panic when he realizes he’s not sure if it’s alright to get dressed with Louis in the room, or if he needs to get dressed in the bathroom. Louis is just standing by the bathroom door, though, looking down at the floor and shifting his weight awkwardly from foot to foot while he waits, so Harry just shrugs and drops the towel, steps into a pair of pants as quickly as possible while fighting a blush and trying desperately not to look over and see if Louis is watching him. He thinks he hears a snort while he’s hopping into his jeans, but he focuses on buttoning them and tugging the shirt on over his head, hangs the towel over the radiator, and tucks the rest of his clothes back into his bag before turning back to Louis.

The air goes a bit awkward again, and Harry coughs nervously into his hand. “D’you... want to sit?”

He takes a seat on his bed and watches Louis shuffle over and drop onto the other bed. They just kind of look at each other for a moment, then Louis says, “This is really awkward. Can we just -”

Harry barely gets a chance to nod before Louis is standing up and closing the space between them. Harry goes completely still while Louis crawls across the mattress, heart pounding in his ears when Louis brushes up against him. He smells like sunshine, like coconut and spring and fresh laundry detergent, and the scent wraps around Harry like a blanket, pulls at him even as Louis settles onto the bed and crosses his legs so that only his knee is touching Harry.

Harry swings his own legs up onto the bed and turns to face Louis, wiggles around so both of their knees are pressed together, then clasps his hands together in his lap. In this position, the sun is behind Louis, throwing his face into shadow and edging his body in gold. He opens his mouth, starts, “‘S funny, us being roomed together,” but he cuts off when Louis shakes his head suddenly and pushes to his knees.

“I need -” He doesn’t finish the sentence, though, just sort of throws himself at Harry. Harry catches him instinctively, arms wrapping around Louis’ back and pulling him close. He feels an enormous weight lift off his chest, one he hadn’t even been aware of. It feels like - it feels right to be touching Louis, to be this close to him, to be breathing him in and clutching at his sides where his own arms wrap completely around his slender torso.

Louis is straddling his lap, face tucked into the curve his neck, and one of his hands is buried in Harry’s hair, and without thinking, Harry mumbles, mouth pressed against Louis’ shoulder, “Can we just stay in here all weekend?”

He shivers when the gust of breath from Louis’ laugh washes over the bare skin of his arm and tightens his grip, sinks his teeth into Louis’ shoulder without thinking. Louis goes stock-still against him, then shudders, but doesn’t move otherwise, and Harry lets go reluctantly when Louis eventually pulls back with an embarrassed little cough. Louis’ voice is raspy when he says, “Right.” He drops back down onto the mattress opposite Harry and plucks at the denim bunched up over his knees. “Sorry, just wanted to get that out of the way.”

After that, it’s like the dam has broken. They sit on the bed and talk for ages, knees knocking together and the backs of Harry’s hands brushing against Louis’ calves as he plays with the stitching on the quilt underneath them. They’ve been talking to each other on the phone and Skype for four months, but it’s as if he’s hearing Louis’ voice for the first time, is fascinated by the cadence of it, the dips and swells and breathy pauses, can’t take his eyes off his pretty, mobile mouth. They lapse into silence every once in a while, too caught up in studying each other with greedy eyes, and Harry finds himself pressing his hands against Louis’ legs deliberately, biting down on a smile when Louis leans into it.

He’s working his way up to lifting his hand and sliding the pads of his fingers over Louis’ bare ankle, heart in his throat and eyes locked on the way fragile bone is pressing against Louis’ smooth skin, when someone pounds on the door and startles Harry out of his reverie. He swallows a disappointed whine, fingers literally itching for Louis’ skin, and, unwilling to look away from Louis just yet, raises his gaze to Louis’ face and shouts over his shoulder, “What is it?”

“Time for the ice breaker, fuckers!”

“Niall,” Harry sighs. It takes him a moment to muster up the strength to clamber off the bed, and he stumbles a little before he can right himself, ignores Louis’ giggle as he makes his way over to the door and pulls it open. Niall immediately bounces up onto his toes to try and see over Harry’s shoulder.

“Hey, Tommo. Time for the icebreaker and dinner, come on, lovebirds.”

Harry glares at Niall, but Niall just blinks at him and offers him a sunny, innocent smile. Harry starts when he feels an unexpected hand in the small of his back, turns to find Louis standing behind him with the cardigan Niall had packed in hand. “Here you go, babe. Thought you might need this, since it’s Ireland in March and you’re dressed for the beach.”

Harry ducks his head at the word babe, a flush working its way across his cheeks and down his neck. Louis has been calling him various terms of endearment for the better part of the last ten months, but it’s different, hearing it in person. He resolutely ignores Niall’s curious glances as they all shuffle out into the hall and make their way over to the lifts. Louis doesn’t drop his hand, fingers warm through the thin cotton of his vest, so Harry just drapes the cardigan over his arm, unwilling to give Louis an excuse to stop touching him.

 

 

The icebreaker is a bit pointless, considering pretty much everyone already knows each other, so it turns into social hour. Niall flits off to find his friend Josh the moment they step out into the courtyard, so Harry and Louis find Zayn and Perrie over in the corner and set up camp there. People come and go, making brief conversation then wandering off, and Louis drifts closer and closer as the hour wears on, until he’s plastered up against Harry’s side with one hand fitted around his hip. Harry doesn’t mind one bit, pretends not to notice that Zayn and Perrie keep looking down at the way Louis’ thumb is tucked through his belt loop.

When Greg announces that dinner is ready, Louis’ hand drops off his hip and Harry frowns down at the ground, skin going cold at the loss of contact. His pout doesn’t last long, though, because Louis cups a hand around his bicep a moment later and guides him over to the door, setting off butterflies in Harry’s stomach when he holds it open for him.

“What a gentleman,” Perrie coos from behind them, and Harry stifles a giggle behind his palm when Louis flips her the bird and lets the door swing shut in her face.

Dinner is casual, set up like a buffet, and they end up sitting with their friends, table laden with too many plates of food and everyone talking over each other. Harry is a few minutes into a conversation with Perrie about hair wax when he feels something wrap around the back of his ankle, looks down to see Louis’ foot hooked around his own. Warmth floods his belly, and he grins stupidly down at the tablecloth for a moment, completely losing track of the conversation.

“Harry, are you even - for God’s sake,” Perrie sighs. “Useless, the both of you.”

At Perrie’s statement, Harry sneaks a glance at Louis out of the corner of his eye. Louis is shredding a dinner roll to pieces, his right leg bouncing nervously as he bobs his head and pretends to listen to Liam on his opposite side. It’s clear he’s not paying attention, with the way his nods have nothing to do with what Liam is saying and his eyes keep darting to Harry’s leg. Amused, Harry scoots his chair closer, so that their legs are pressed together from hip to knee, and settles a hand on Louis’ thigh. His right leg stills immediately and his stance relaxes as he leans into Harry’s side instinctively.

It’s. A little heady, knowing he has this sort of effect on Louis, makes him wonder what other effects he might have on him, and he’s jittery the rest of dinner, ready for it to be over so they can go back to their room. Not that he wants to presume, but the air between them has been charged for hours now, and he’s antsy, heat crawling along his skin and making him restless. He can’t really control the way he keeps squeezing Louis’ thigh every time he gets pulled into another conversation that isn’t with Louis, doesn’t realize he’s stroking his thumb over the denim or scratching at his inseam until Louis grabs his wrist and hisses in his ear, “Quit doing that, we’re in public.”

But when Harry lets go of Louis, tucks his hand between his own knees so he won’t be tempted to touch, Louis scowls at him and slips his hand into Harry’s, laces their fingers together and turns his attention back to Niall and Josh like it’s no big deal that they’re holding hands for the first time. By the time dinner finally ends, Harry is keyed up, body strung taut like a bow string. He plasters himself to Louis’ back as they make their way to the lift with Niall, Liam, and Zayn, opens his mouth to protest the moment Liam suggests the hotel hot tub, but Louis squeezes Harry’s hip and says, “Yeah, that sounds fun. Meet you there in ten?”

“You know what,” Harry starts, voice a little tight, “I think I’m just going to -”

“Come on,” Louis wheedles, an encouraging smile hitching up one corner of his mouth. “It’ll be fun.”

Harry maybe hates Louis a little bit. Louis leans back against him in the lift, fingers tapping a staccato beat against the top of his thigh as conversation carries on around them. Every brush of Louis’ fingers against his leg is like a bolt of electricity, the press of Louis’ back against his chest spreading heat over his skin. Harry maybe hates Louis a lot.

Harry stands back while Louis opens the door to their room, bouncing up onto his toes impatiently. He can smell Louis from half a meter away, can still feel the imprint of his fingertips against his thigh, and he thinks maybe -

“You know what, I don’t have trunks, I’m just gonna have to go in my pants. I’ll wait out here.”

The look Louis aims over his shoulder is baffled. “What? You don’t want to come inside?”

Harry shakes his head quickly, sticking to his resolve. Louis turns to face him, hip cocked, and fusses with his fringe while he looks at Harry curiously. His eyes are dark in the dim lighting of the corridor, and his denim button-up is hanging open, revealing the curving lines of his torso where his t-shirt hugs his narrow frame. Harry swallows thickly. Yeah, no, definitely not going in. If he does, they might not make it back out.

“Okay,” Louis says slowly, brow still furrowed in confusion. “I’ll just be a moment.”

He aims one last look at Harry before disappearing inside. Once the door clicks shut, Harry backs up to the opposite wall and bangs his head against it once, twice, before slumping against the cool plaster. “Get it together,” he mutters, closing his eyes and thinking about... anything but the fact that Louis is most likely naked on the other side of that door.

He’s working on an elaborate analysis of the underlying gender roles in Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night in his head when the door swings open and Louis walks out. He’s wearing a pair of oversized joggers and a hoodie, and has two towels in his hand. “Ready?”

The trip down to the pool and hot tub is quietly tense. They stand too close to each other in the lift, hands brushing, and Harry is just about to wrap his pinky around Louis’ when the lift shudders to a stop and the doors slide open. The other three are already in the hot tub, talking loudly so that their voices echo off the walls, and they cheer when Harry and Louis walk in.

“We were taking bets on whether or not you’d show up,” Zayn announces, and Harry flushes bright red, aims a discrete middle finger at him before turning around to wrestle his jeans off.

“Oi, no skinny dipping in the hotel pool,” Niall calls out.

Rolling his eyes, Harry turns to glare at him. “You didn’t pack me any trunks, you twat.”

He strips down to his pants, then makes his way carefully across the damp tiles and slips into the hot water, moving automatically to sit between Niall and Liam in an effort to remove himself from temptation. Already in the water, Louis reaches a hand out to him, though, wiggling his fingers demandingly. Biting back a groan, Harry moves obediently to the other side of the hot tub and settles in beside him. So much for avoiding temptation. Louis is also in pants, leaving acres of tanned skin bare, and despite the temperature of the water, Harry shivers when their arms brush together. The heat of the water is soothing, though, the pounding of the jets against his back and legs even moreso, so Harry leans back against the lip of the jacuzzi and lets his eyes slide shut, lets the conversation wash over him and lull him into a lazy half-doze with only the press of Louis’ elbow against his own to anchor him.

He’s brought back to the present when he feels a hand slide over his knee, blunt nails scratching lightly at his skin. Harry’s breath hitches, but he wills himself not to react, just blinks hazily at the other boys and avoids looking directly at Louis. Because if he doesn’t look at Louis, he can pretend that it’s not Louis’ hand that’s drifting slowly up his thigh. He can pretend that Louis isn’t sitting beside him, flushed from the heat, fringe sticking to his forehead and temples, and a smug little smirk curving those pretty lips of his.

Harry has to slap a hand down over Louis’ when he reaches the hem of his boxer briefs, though, offers Liam what he hopes is a reassuring smile when he looks at him, alarmed by his sudden movement. The surface of the water is rippled and foamy from the jets, but Harry can still see the blurry lines of his and Louis’ arms, knows that the boys can, too. And while the prospect of getting off in a room full of unaware people is dangerously exciting, that is absolutely not the case here, and he wants to be able to look his friends in the eye tomorrow.

He keeps his grip on Louis’ hand while he tries to get involved in the conversation, a desperate attempt to make everything appear normal. “After graduation, Niall is going to move to London and busk,” he puts in. “All he needs is money for weed and pints, and he’s set.”

Niall shrugs. “I’m a man of simple needs.”

“And what are you doing after graduation,” Zayn asks, sticking a foot out so he can nudge Harry’s leg.

Chewing on his lip, Harry slides a look at Louis under his lashes, then shrugs. “Don’t really know. I’ve been exploring options, though. I’m waiting for the right offer.”

There’s an awkward cough from Liam, and then Louis’ fingers are digging into his thigh as he says, “You staying in Brighton, then?”

Inexplicably nervous, as if his response to this question will set the mood for the rest of the weekend, Harry tries to come up with the right answer. He bites back a sigh of relief when Niall beats him to it, cuts him off with, “Alright lads, I’m knackered. It’s off to bed for me.”

“Yeah, I think I’m off, as well,” Liam puts in, standing up so he can climb out of the hot tub.

Harry doesn’t miss the way he taps Zayn’s shoulder, or the way Zayn’s eyebrows jump before he forces a wide yawn and says, “Me, too. See you lads in the morning?” He wiggles his eyebrows at them and adds, “Don’t stay up too late.”

Harry ducks his head in an attempt to hide his reddened cheeks, fingers clenched tight around Louis’ where they’re still resting on his thigh. He only lifts his head once the sound of their retreating voices has faded, then looks up to watch their backs through the wall of windows as they walk down the hall toward the lifts.

“It’s not that late,” Louis mutters, and Harry is suddenly, painfully aware of how very alone they are. Louis’ hand is still on his thigh, palm hot against his skin - hot enough that the water around them feels cool, and goosebumps ripple across Harry’s torso. He suppresses a shudder and lets go of Louis’ hand slowly, not wanting to startle him into moving it.

“We should make a video later,” Harry murmurs, trying to distract himself with inane chatter while watching Louis out of the corner of his eye. “You know. For our followers.”

Louis turns to look at him slowly, and Harry can’t quite read the expression on his face. “You mean our shippers?”

He hadn’t actually been referring to that, but now that Louis mentions it... He shrugs and says, heart pounding in his throat, “I mean, I don’t think we should re-enact that fanfiction on camera or anything, but.”

He shrugs again, watches apprehensively as Louis shifts around on the bench and pushes up onto his knees. He’s much too close to Harry, skin damp and glossy under the weak halogen bulbs, and Harry feels like he’s been fighting arousal since he first stepped out of that bathroom. Without thinking, he reaches out, skims his fingers over Louis’ bare hip where his pants are riding low, watches the muscles in Louis’ torso shift as he sucks in a breath.

Tension spins out between them, thickening the air and making it hard for Harry to breathe. He can’t tear his eyes away from Louis’ body - the dip of his waist, the subtle vee of his hips, the softness of his belly - and he almost misses it when Louis murmurs, “I dunno, I’m a big fan of giving my subscribers what they want.”

Before he knows what’s happening, Harry has a lapful of Louis and there are hands fisted in his hair, dragging his head back so he’s forced to meet Louis’ eyes. Desire shudders through his body at the sharp tugs on his scalp, the strong bracket of Louis’ thighs around his hips, the dark, stormy gray of Louis’ eyes. His belly goes tight with anticipation, eyes locked on the part of Louis’ lips, and when Louis whispers, “Okay?” Harry can only nod and curl his hands around the backs of Louis’ thighs, cling tight while Louis bends over him and seals their lips together.

In all of the months Harry has imagined kissing Louis, nothing has even come close to this. It feels like he’s had the breath punched out of him, like he’s drowning, like he’s coming apart at the seams and the only thing holding him together is the way Louis’ lips fit against his and every point of contact between them. He slides his hands up over Louis’ bum so he can wrap his arms around Louis’ waist and pull him in against his chest, parts his lips under Louis’ and lets him take and take and take.

Ten months of watching and admiring this beautiful, magnetic boy have been leading up to this moment, and Harry can’t quite believe this is happening. He clutches at Louis’ sides, tipping his head back further and making a desperate noise in the back of his throat when Louis settles back against his thighs. He doesn’t let go for a minute, just drags Louis in again and lets out an embarrassing whimper when their hips meet. He’s already so hard - feels like he’s been hard for hours - and he can feel the line of Louis’ cock against his own.

It’s overwhelming when Louis grinds forward, pleasure sparking up his spine and buzzing through his veins so he has to drop his head against Louis’ shoulder and take slow, deep breaths to stop himself from coming right then and there. “Lou,” he says weakly. “We shouldn’t - hotel tub. Anyone could see -”

Louis just shushes him though, fits his hands underneath Harry’s jaw and lifts his head so he can kiss him again. Harry sinks into it automatically, fingers clenching and unclenching against Louis’ sides as he grinds down again, and it’s so much, he feels so overwhelmed by Louis, by his smell and his warmth and his taste and the strength of his thighs and the softness of his skin. Harry plants his feet firmly against the bottom of the hot tub and uses the leverage to rock his hips up against Louis’, holds him closer so that the pressure on his cock is just right.

There’s not enough friction through two layers of wet pants, but this is Louis, and there’s not much more he needs, so he clings to Louis as they rut against each other, listening to the soft sounds of water sloshing against the walls of the jacuzzi, the buzzing of the overhead lights, the hum of the jets, Louis’ soft, gasping breaths. It doesn’t take long before it all gets to be too much, pressure building at the base of his spine, in the pit of his stomach, behind his teeth, and he taps out a warning against Louis’ back, hisses, “Louis, I -”

But Louis just tightens his grip on Harry’s shoulders and rolls his hips harder, faster, until they’re both panting into the small space between them and Louis is shuddering above him, around him, the sound of Harry’s name spilling from his lips enough to tip him over the edge.

It takes Harry a minute to come down, and when he does, he realizes he’s crushing Louis against him, has to force himself to let him go. Louis’ doesn’t move, though, just clings to his shoulders and keeps sifting his fingers through the hair at the nape of Harry’s neck. He can feel the drag of Louis’ lips against his jaw, is just about to turn his head for a kiss when he hears laughter approaching from down the hall. Louis barely has time to clamber off Harry’s lap before the door to the pool is swinging open and a bunch of girls are walking in.

Harry hopes that he and Louis don’t look nearly as debauched as they feel, but he fears the worst when a few of them stop in their tracks and stare at the two of them, wide-eyed. He feels fingers spider-walk across his thigh, and then Louis is hissing, “We should go. Now.”

He can’t quite stifle a burst of manic laughter as they both scramble out of the hot tub and gather up their clothes as quickly as possible. They don’t even bother drying off, just snatch up their shoes and unused towels and high-tail it out of the room. It’s freezing in the corridor, but they can’t stop laughing and knocking into each other as they make for the lifts. Harry shifts his weight from foot to foot, so cold he’s shivering, while Louis jabs repeatedly at the lift button, muttering for it to hurry up, hurry up, hurry hurry hurry.

The moment they throw themselves into the lift, Louis tosses his clothes to the floor and flings himself at Harry, pushing him back against the wall and hauling him down into a kiss. Helpless to resist, Harry kisses back hungrily, too far gone to even feel the way the metal rail is digging into the small of his back or hear the chime as the doors open on their floor. He’s not sure how long they stand there, dripping puddles onto the floor while they kiss, before someone clears their throat and they spring apart.

Harry watches Louis, breathing too heavily to be able to speak. “Sorry mate,” Louis says brightly, lips swollen and eyes bright, and Harry thinks, I did that, I did that, that was me, Louis was kissing me. He follows Louis out of the lift blindly, one finger tucked into the waistband of his wet pants, and doesn’t even spare a glance at their intruder, doesn’t bother looking away from Louis’ back once. The skin is smooth and tanned, even after a long winter, subtle muscles shifting under his skin as he fights the room key out of the pocket of his bunched-up joggers.

“Bugger,” Louis mutters, trying and failing to wrestle the key into the lock. He lets out a slightly hysterical laugh, then turns to face Harry, eyes wide and expression a bit manic. “Put it in, get it open. We need to be inside that room before someone sees something a lot worse than snogging.”

Harry’s brain whites out at the thought, but he snaps back to attention when Louis waves the key in his face. He takes it from Louis’ trembling hand and fits it carefully into the lock, shoulders the door open, and stumbles across the threshold. Before he can go two steps, Louis is yanking him around and pushing him back against the wall, so Harry just drops his clothes where they stand and surrenders.

 

 

“Okay,” Louis giggles, face buried in Harry’s shoulder where he’s sitting half-behind him, body curved around Harry’s back. Harry is so blindingly happy, light as a cloud, cheeks aching from smiling so much. He shoves a hand through his shower-damp hair and turns to eye Louis critically over his shoulder.

Louis’ wet hair is falling in his eyes, cheeks still rosy from the hot water and Harry’s wandering hands, and he’s pretty sure they both look freshly fucked. “D’you think they’ll know?”

Louis shrugs, runs a hand down Harry’s spine and settles his palm in the small of Harry’s back. “We can be subtle. Casual. Just tell them we were swimming. It’s true, anyway.”

“Right.” Harry clears his throat and turns back to face the camera they’ve set up on the little table between their beds. They’re sitting on Harry’s bed, the window overlooking the courtyard at their backs. Louis’ bed is a mess of untucked blankets and pillows scattered across the mattress from the messy handjobs they’d given each other before showering. Best keep the camera on the clean half of the room. Leaning forward, Harry flips the camera on. “Okay. Hi everyone, I’m recording from Dublin, Ireland. Home of Oscar Wilde, the River Liffey, and, more importantly, Guinness. Niall and I flew up here for a meet-up, and imagine my surprise when I was roomed with none-other than Louis Tomlinson!”

Harry watches on the little LCD screen as Louis waves from where he’s draped over Harry’s back, chin resting on his shoulder. His eyelids are drooping and he looks sleepy, happy and sated and pleasantly worn out.

“We’ve just been swimming with some of the other lads, and thought we’d make a special weekend vlog for you guys before we go to sleep.”

“Sleep is very important,” Louis murmurs, chin digging in behind Harry’s collarbone with each syllable, and Harry bites down on a grin.

“Got to keep our energy up,” he deadpans. “Lots of activity coming up.”

Even though his heart is racing, Harry manages to keep his face straight, just blinks slowly at the camera when Louis bursts into laughter and hides his face against his back. He’s pretty sure the camera is angled so that no one can see the way Louis’ slides his hand around so it’s splayed against his belly, the other tucked up underneath the hem of Harry’s t-shirt and gripped around his hip. They are totally subtle. Casual. Laddy, even. They’ve got this.

 

;;

 

Something is buzzing. Something near Louis’ ear is buzzing, and it needs to stop. He flails a hand out in the direction of the noise, and hits something warm and smooth, instead. It’s only then that he realizes he’s curled on his side, and there’s someone spooned up behind him. Someone big and solid, someone with an arm banded across his chest and knees tucked up behind his own, and. Oh.

Happiness unfurls in Louis’ belly as the events of last night come flooding back. All five of them in the hot tub, his hand clamped around Harry’s thigh. He and Harry rubbing off against each other in the churning water. The two of them kissing frantically in the lift, Harry’s hand around his cock on this bed, pressing Harry back against the tiles in the shower. Louis’ got no idea what time it is, but he and Harry are probably supposed to be downstairs right now, participating in whatever events have been scheduled for today. The buzzing phone is most likely one of the lads trying to get hold of them. Louis should probably answer it.

Instead, he turns over so he’s facing Harry and drags the tip of a finger down his nose, swipes a thumb across his bottom lip that’s pouted out in sleep. He watches Harry’s nose scrunch up, tongue curling against the roof of his mouth when he yawns, and then his eyes are fluttering open, mouth stretching into a sleepy smile at the sight of Louis.

“Morning, love,” Louis whispers, arching into him as Harry slides his palm down his back and settles it on the curve of his bum.

“Mm, what time is it?”

Louis shudders at the raspy, sleep-rough quality of Harry’s voice. “Don’t know, don’t care.” He slips a hand beneath the covers, scratches at the waistband of Harry’s pants before dipping the tips of his fingers underneath it so he can get to the smooth skin beneath.

Harry rolls his hips back into Louis’ hand and leans in to nose along the cut of his jaw, nips at the stubble-rough skin and murmurs, “Let’s have a proper good morning, yeah?”

Louis doesn’t even get a chance to ask Harry what he means before he’s shoving the blankets back and shimmying his way down Louis’ body. Oh. Louis props himself up on his elbows so he can watch. Harry’s eyes are wide, irises a translucent green in the bright, late morning light streaming in through the sheer curtains, and Louis stares, transfixed, as Harry pushes his knees apart and settles between his thighs. He can feel Harry’s breath through the thin cotton of his briefs, warm puffs of air that slide over his skin, raising goosebumps along his thighs and torso.

He shivers when Harry ducks his head to nose at the outline of his cock through his pants, already half-hard with anticipation. Drops his head back when Harry mouths at him through the cotton, dampening the fabric so that it moulds to his skin, intensifies the feeling of Harry’s tongue against the head and leaves him dizzy from a rush of arousal. He shivers again when Harry rolls the waistband down carefully, just enough to expose the head of his dick, then bends down to press a kiss to the tip. His lips are soft, plush and warm, and heat curls in Louis’ belly, spreads out through his limbs as Harry works his pants down over his bum, enough to get a hand around the base of his cock, and then he’s sinking down without warning, all tight wet heat that has Louis’ hips twitching up and his fingers twisting in the sheets.

It’s so good. So unbelievably good. Harry’s mouth is like magic as he sucks Louis’ down, then pulls off, works up a rhythm in counterpoint with his hand where it’s pumping the base of his cock. It’s enough to have him completely overwhelmed almost instantly, and Louis makes the mistake of levering himself up again so he can watch. Harry’s eyes are closed, lashes casting feathery shadows on his cheekbones, red mouth stretched obscenely around him and cheeks hollowed as he swallows him down, and it’s too much, sensory overload, so Louis satisfies himself by sinking his hands into Harry’s sleep-matted curls and flopping back against the pillows. He squeezes his eyes shut so he can focus on the feeling of Harry’s tongue wrapped around the underside of his dick, the tightness of his mouth, and the achingly perfect way the head of his dick is hitting the back of Harry’s throat.

It’s so much, pleasure weighing his limbs down and coiling in his belly, toes flexing against the mattress as his orgasm builds, and when Harry pulls back so he can suck on the head, brushes a spit-slick finger over Louis’ rim, he comes with a shout, his entire body trembling as he spills over Harry’s tongue. He’s still shaking, fingers locked tight around Harry’s hair, when Harry slides back up his body to press a kiss to his jaw. His voice is wrecked, deep and slow and deliciously raspy, when he says, “How’s that for a wake up?”

“I think,” Louis breathes, “I wouldn’t mind this sort of wake up on the regular.”

I think,” Harry murmurs, punctuating it with a kiss to Louis’ temple, “that we might be able to work that out.”

His brain is still moving sluggishly, but that statement cuts right through the fog. Louis’ heart leaps into his throat at the same time that confusion furrows his brow, and he forces his eyes open so he can turn and look at Harry where he’s sharing Louis’ pillow. His hair is in even worse shape than it had been upon waking up, tangled and fluffed up around his head like a brown halo, and his lips are red and swollen. He looks like a debauched angel. Louis wants to wreck him.

He clears his throat, pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind for later. That’s not what’s important right now. Frowning, he asks, “What? What do you -”

Harry shrugs, the picture of nonchalance, but Louis can see the uncertainty behind his eyes, the hesitant tilt to the side of his mouth. “Only three months left to term, you know. I, erm. Applied to The Penguin Group in London? You know, as an editor.” He bites his lip and turns his face into the pillowcase so that all Louis can see is the side of it. There’s a flush to his cheek and the top of his ear, and he rushes to add, voice muffled by the pillow, “Sorry, that was probably presumptuous, I don’t even know if -”

“Hey,” Louis cuts in, closes his fingers around Harry’s shoulders to roll him over, force his head away from the pillow so he can look him in the eye. He smooths Harry’s hair back from his forehead and says, “You know you don’t need my permission to move to London, right?”

“Oh,” Harry frowns. “No, I. I know, London is quite big. I just thought maybe. That if I was near, you might want -” He cuts himself off this time, presses his lips together and drops his gaze, lashes sweeping down to hide his eyes. Louis’ heart swells, a devastating combination of love and longing and excitement at the thought threatening to choke him.

“Move to London,” Louis says, voice firm as he tangles his fingers in Harry’s hair again and drags his head back so he’s forced to meet Louis’ eyes. His nostrils flare, pupils widening, and Louis files that away carefully for future use. “I want you to move to London. I want you to be with me.”

He feels Harry relax instantaneously, melt into him, and he hadn’t even realized how tight his throat was until it loosens, relief and happiness and anticipation flooding his belly. Harry wants to move to London. Harry wants to be with him. He’s been waiting for this for what feels like a lifetime, has been waiting for ten months. He can handle another three, as long as there’s an end in sight.

 

 

Relaxed and happy, they order a massive breakfast to their room and eat it naked in bed, sheets pooled around their waists and forks and knives forgotten. Afterwards, they nap together, sprawled out across Harry’s bed with the sun streaming in through the window and painting bright lines across their backs. When Louis wakes up, Harry is already awake, sitting up in bed with his phone in hand and holding it over Louis’ face suspiciously.

“Harry,” Louis says slowly, “what are you doing?”

Harry just beams at him, big and bright and far too innocent for someone who had his mouth on Louis’ cock just a few hours ago. “Nothing,” he chirps. “Documenting.”

“Documenting,” Louis parrots, deadpan. Harry just nods and lowers the phone so he can stretch out alongside Louis and drop a kiss to the top of his shoulder.

“You know,” Harry says casually as he tucks his head into the crook of Louis neck, then raises the phone again, the camera pointed at the two of them this time, and snaps a photo. “For future use. Safe keeping. Memory making.”

Louis just watches as Harry flips the camera over to video mode, too charmed to resist when Harry presses play and offers the camera a cheesy grin. “Morning, friends,” he tells the phone, before looking off toward the window and laughing. “Well, afternoon, really. I know how this looks, me and Louis in bed together with no shirts on, only a day after we’ve officially met.”

He pauses and flicks a glance at Louis. His eyebrows are raised, smile a bit sly, but there’s adoration in his eyes, plain as day, and Louis kind of can’t breathe. He is so, ridiculously gone for this boy. Just madly, stupidly, arse over teakettle in love with him. Shaking his head, he turns his head to look up into the camera and says, “We only met in person yesterday, but this is exactly what it looks like.” He offers the camera an unrepentant shrug, watches the way Harry’s face contorts into a blinding grin, so big it looks painful. Louis’ heart is thumping painfully in his chest, wantwantneed thrumming under his skin like an electric current, so he reaches up to take the phone from Harry and says, “Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to have sex,” and shuts it off right on the tail end of a surprised bark of laughter from Harry.

Louis tosses Harry’s phone onto the other bed without looking and rolls over to face him, settles his hand on Harry’s side and strokes his thumb absently over his skin. Harry’s just watching him, eyes bright with amusement. Louis feels Harry’s foot slide against his calf, then nudge its way between his legs so they’re slotted together, goes easily when Harry tugs him closer with a hand on the small of his back. “You know,” Harry starts, leaning in to drop a kiss to Louis’ collarbone. “I was planning on using that footage for a vlog one day.”

Louis just shrugs and rolls his hips forward. Rearranging their legs, he slots their hips together, slides his hand down to grope Harry’s bum. “So cut that last bit out.” Pausing, Louis slides his hand lower, curls it around the back of Harry’s thigh and drapes his leg over his hip. He revels in the way Harry’s breathing starts to thicken, chest hitching and eyelids growing heavy with lust. Louis leans in to drag his mouth across the top of Harry’s chest, inches down so he can close his mouth around one of Harry’s nipples and bite down. Harry lets out a moan, hips canting forward, and Louis presses a smile to his chest, then murmurs, “Or don’t, I don’t care. Hey, do you want -”

“Yes,” Harry answers in a rush, not even letting Louis finish, and Louis laughs, tips his head back so he can look up at Harry. Harry’s eyes are shut, brows furrowed, lips parted, and he’s so beautiful that Louis loses his train of thought, just stares at him in a daze until Harry’s tongue flicks out to wet his lips and he opens his eyes. They’re hazy and unfocused, pupils already blown wide, and he mumbles, “Sorry, what?”

Louis just swallows thickly, slips his hand around so he can grip Harry’s bum. He opens his mouth to ask Harry if he has lube, but his voice fails and he has to clear his throat and try again. “Do you have...”

Harry nods jerkily and twists his head around to try and see where his bag is sitting on the chair in the corner of the room. “I found some in my bag when I was getting my camera last night. Niall...”

Louis chokes out a laugh when Harry rolls his eyes. “We’ll buy him drinks as thanks.” He drops a kiss to Harry’s shoulder before scrambling out of bed and padding over to Harry’s bag. He has to sift through a bizarre assortment of clothes and a tangle of cords before his fingers brush a plastic bottle, and when he pulls it out, it drags a strip of foil packets along with it, secured to the bottle with some tape. Louis snorts. “Subtle.”

When he turns back to the bed, he’s met with the sight of Harry sprawled out across the mattress, smooth, pale skin shifting over his bicep as he pumps his cock lazily. The sunlight is slanting across his torso, painting his skin a golden brown, and Louis hisses out a breath, whispers, “Look at you.” He doesn’t get a chance to finish his thought, mind wiped completely blank when Harry parts his legs and beckons him forward with a crook of his finger.

Too turned on to be embarrassed by his eagerness, Louis climbs back onto the bed, dropping the lube so he can crawl over Harry and tug him up into a kiss. Harry tastes like the strawberries they’d had with breakfast and a hint of tart orange juice, and Louis chases the flavor, thumbs under Harry’s jaw so he can deepen the kiss until they’re both panting and Harry is grinding against his thigh and clutching at his wrists. And it’s - God, Harry looks so good like this, cheeks pink and eyes blurry with lust, lips swollen and his muscles working as he rubs up against Louis, desperate for friction, pressure, anything.

“Hey,” Louis murmurs, stroking his thumb along the cut of Harry’s jaw until he lifts his eyes to Louis’ face. “It’s okay, we have time. Here.” He lets go of Harry’s face so he can work his way down his body and settle between his splayed legs. Harry’s cock is hard where it’s laying flush against his belly, the head shiny with precome, and Louis just wants. He reaches for the lube and squeezes some out onto his fingers, rubs them together to warm it up a bit while he fits his free hand around Harry’s cock and gives it a few strokes that have Harry sinking his teeth into his bottom lip and arching up off the bed. Jesus.

Desire crawling up the back of Louis’ throat, he shifts up onto his elbow and licks over the head of Harry’s cock, tongues at the slit before sliding down slowly. Harry gives a full-body shudder, legs closing around Louis’ shoulders to anchor him there. Louis looks up at him through his lashes. Harry is watching him hungrily, eyes dark and breath panting out into the still air of the room as he works up a rhythm. Louis hums around him, reveling in the way Harry sits heavy on his tongue, the way he tastes, the way he can smell the citrus shower gel the hotel has provided on Harry’s skin every time he sinks back down. He’s just getting into it, taking Harry deeper with every bob of his head, when Harry’s fingers scrabble at his shoulders and he says, “Stop, Lou, stop, I don’t want to come like this. Want you to fuck me.”

Disappointment battles with a flash of arousal, but he pulls off, unable to suppress a smug grin when Harry whines at the way his lips drag against the head of his dick. Louis drops a kiss to Harry’s hip before sliding back down the mattress, brushing his fingers over the inside of Harry’s thigh to try and settle him.

“Good?” He murmurs, and Harry nods, shifting his legs further apart and propping himself up on his elbows so he can watch. Brow furrowed in concentration, Louis brushes the pad of his lube-coated finger over Harry’s hole and watches the way his eyelids flutter before pushing past the rim.

And fuck, Harry is so tight. Louis freezes, not wanting to hurt him, but after a moment, Harry shifts restlessly against him, feet shuffling across the blankets and fingers scratching at his own thighs, and he gasps, “Lou, come on. Please.”

“Easy,” Louis murmurs, petting a hand down Harry’s leg. “I’ve got you.”

But Harry just flops back against the mattress and squirms again, grits out, “I haven’t - since we.” He raises his head to he can look down at Louis. His eyes are dark, nearly black even in the bright room, and his lips are bitten red, cheeks flushed and fringe clinging to his forehead and temples with sweat. Harry’s voice is soft and desperate when he says, “Louis. Ten months.”

“Jesus,” Louis mutters. Ten months. Harry hasn’t been with anyone since they started talking ten months ago. A jolt of possessiveness has Louis digging his fingers into Harry’s thigh without thinking, and he watches the way Harry’s torso arches at the pressure, mouth falling open on a gasp.

Overwhelmed, Louis buries his face against the inside of Harry’s thigh and takes a slow, deep breath to try and calm his racing heart before turning his attention back to Harry. Louis takes his time working Harry open, fucks into him with just one finger until he’s squirming and begging for more before working up to two. He waits until Harry has relaxed, the tense lines of his body melting back into the sheets and his legs falling open again, before he crooks his fingers, and - ah. Harry arches up, cock twitching against his belly, and Louis repeats the movement, loves the way Harry whines, high in his throat, and demands, “Again. More.”

Louis turns his head so he can press a kiss to the inside of Harry’s thigh, bites down on the soft skin and works on sucking a bruise into it while he tucks a third finger in alongside the other two. There’s a pretty sheen of sweat covering Harry’s body, Louis’ own cock is aching where it’s trapped between his belly and the bed, and the way Harry is squirming back against his hand and pushing his leg against Louis’ mouth is captivating. By the time Louis pulls his fingers out and reaches for one of the condoms, a flush has worked its way down Harry’s chest and one of his hands is fisted in his own hair, mouth hanging open as he lets out desperate little noises. He looks wrecked already, lips swollen and eyelashes wet, and Louis needs to be inside him now. The sound of tearing foil has Harry’s eyes flying open, and he untangles his fingers from his curls so he can wiggle them at Louis, trying to urge him up.

“Me, let me,” Harry insists, voice rough from all the noises he’s been making. He reaches for the lube and nips the condom out of Louis’ hand, so Louis shuffles up the bed and braces himself with his hands on Harry’s chest while Harry squeezes some lube out onto his palm.

He watches, rapt, as Harry’s long, narrow fingers slide the condom down over his dick, palm warm and grip firm as he slicks him up. Louis could come like this, feels dangerously close already, so he circles Harry’s wrist with his own fingers and pushes his hand away. “Too much,” he murmurs, “don’t want to come yet.”

Harry shakes his head, curls tumbling wildly about his ears, then flops back against the pillows and lifts his legs, knees bent with his thighs pressed against his chest. “C’mon,” he rasps, low and thick. “Been waiting so long, I need -”

“Yeah,” Louis whispers hazily, so worked up he’s dizzy with it. He swallows, settling a hand on Harry’s leg to steady himself. “Okay. Okay.”

It takes all of Louis’ concentration to line himself up and wait for Harry to nod before letting himself go, but all it takes is Harry draping one of his legs over Louis’ shoulder and digging his heel into Louis’ back to have Louis snapping his hips forward, going slow be damned. Harry is still so tight, but he’s so responsive, so devastating with his head thrown back against the pillow, the long column of his throat on display, and Louis can’t resist. He leans over Harry, pressing his thighs back against his chest, so he can bite at Harry’s throat, suck on the skin over his pulse point until Harry’s fingers are buried in his hair and his toes are curling against Louis’ back and he’s letting out breathy little gasps with every thrust.

Satisfied with the already purpling bruise high on Harry’s neck, Louis leans back so he can better the angle, drops one hand so he can get it around Harry’s cock and time the strokes with the rhythm of his thrusts. It’s too much, they’re both already so close, so overwhelmed by each other and the fact that this is actually happening, that it only takes a few tugs before Harry’s fingers are twisting in the Louis’ hair and he’s coming with a shout. He spills over Louis’ fingers and his own belly, tightening around Louis so unexpectedly that his own orgasm takes him by surprise, crashing over him like a wave so big he can’t breathe. He comes so hard he sees fireworks against the backs of his eyelids and his jaw aches with it, and he folds down over Harry’s legs, buries his face in Harry’s shoulder as he shudders through it.

Louis’ heart is still thundering, blood roaring in his ears, when he eases back so he can pull out and get the condom off. He disposes of it in the little rubbish bin by the window, then collapses on the bed alongside Harry, still riding the high, fingers and toes tingling with it. Harry shifts into him immediately, curling in on himself and trying to make himself smaller as he tucks himself up underneath Louis’ arm. Affection hammering at his chest and swimming through his veins, chest tightening like a vice around his aching heart, Louis draws Harry in, wraps around him and tucks his chin down over the top of Harry’s head. He can feel Harry’s hands splayed against his stomach, fingertips digging into his skin, can feel the soft drag of Harry’s mouth against his chest and the way he’s trembling, and he presses a kiss into Harry’s hair and tightens his grip, whispering quietly to him until the shivers subside and his breathing evens out.

 

 

Louis is jolted into awareness by the sound of someone pounding on the door to their hotel room. Harry is still passed out beside him, face-down in the pillow, hair still damp from their shower and curling wildly around his ears and the nape of his neck. They can’t have been asleep long, but the knocking won’t ease up. He’s about to call out to whoever is on the other side when he hears Niall’s voice say, “You two better not be naked, because I’m coming in!”

Louis has just enough time to scramble for the blankets and yank them up over his and Harry’s waists before the door is swinging open and Niall, Liam, and Zayn are pouring into the room. He feels Harry stir beside him, ignores the other three in favor of turning to Harry and smoothing a hand down his back, brushing his hair back from his face.

“We’ve been invaded,” Louis whispers down to him, and Harry smiles at him, slow and sleepy, tugging at Louis’ heartstrings so that he has to lean down and press a kiss to the corner of his mouth, the jut of his cheekbone, right over his hairline before he can even think about turning his attention back to the boys.

He turns back around just in time for a pair of jeans to hit him square in the face. Niall bursts into laughter, slapping at his knees like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen, and Liam just rolls his eyes while Zayn says, “Get dressed, tossers, we’re going out drinking.”

Before Louis has a chance to tell the boys to turn around, Harry throws the covers back and rolls out of bed.

“Jesus,” Niall hisses, and Zayn just rolls his eyes when Harry strolls across the room to his bag, unabashedly naked.

“I could eat a pub’s entire supply of chips, I think,” Harry mumbles into his bag, digging through it for something to wear. Louis can’t quite make himself look away from the long curve of Harry’s back. He wants to count the knobs of Harry’s spine, trace them with his tongue and suck bruises into the pale skin stretched tight over his hips. Liam and Zayn are staring at him pointedly, though, so Louis sighs and twirls his finger at them, waits for them to turn around before throwing his legs over the side of the bed and pushing to his feet. 

 

 

“Here we are,” Liam announces, angling the camera toward the front of the building they’ve stopped in front of. “This is our temple.”

“And we are here to worship at the altar of Guinness,” Niall purrs, stroking a hand over the heavy wood of the front door reverently before pushing it open. The pub is only a few blocks over from their hotel, a tiny little place finished in dark, polished wood so that the atmosphere is dim and warm. There’s an open table against the back wall, just big enough for the five of them to fit around, and Liam hands the camera off to Zayn so that he and Niall can go grab the first round of drinks. Louis pulls Harry’s chair right up against his before he can sit down, ducks his head so no one can see the way his face flushes in response to Harry’s pleased grin.

Zayn clears his throat and turns the lens on the two of them. “So, boys. How are you enjoying the meetup so far?”

Louis twists his head around so he can see Harry’s reaction. He’s biting his lip around a smile, cheeks rounded and stained pink, and Louis hides a laugh behind his hand before lifting his head so he can look at the camera and saying, “It’s going great, it’s -”

“Oh, yeah?” Zayn interrupts, smirking. “What’s been your favorite session?”

“Well.” And fuck him, Louis can’t remember the name of a single activity from the brochure in their room.

“We haven’t been to any yet.” Harry supplies, resting a hand on Louis’ knee and squeezing. “Louis wasn’t feeling well.”

Zayn’s amused hum has Louis narrowing his eyes at him, but Zayn ignores him and says, “What was wrong with you, Lou?”

Louis opens his mouth to respond, make something up about an upset stomach or a headache, but before he can, Harry says, “He had a bad back. Did something to it on the plane. Was bed-ridden, it was terrible.”

He’s got an expression of mock-solemnity on his face that’s actually rather convincing. Louis is impressed. He drapes an arm across Harry’s shoulders and leans into him. “It’s all better now, though. Harry here was.” He pauses to clear his throat for Zayn’s benefit, then finishes, “Taking care of me.”

Zayn’s smirk is positively filthy when he asks, “Oh? Are you good with your hands, Harry?”

Keeping his expression as neutral as possible, Louis looks the camera dead-on and, with a squeeze to Harry’s shoulders, says, “Very good.”

There’s a moment of silence, a pregnant pause where no one really knows what to say, but they’re saved from coming up with something by the return of Niall and Liam. Shaking his head a little, Zayn shifts the camera over to the two of them as they walk up to the table with drinks in hand.

“Ahoy,” Liam calls out. “The drinks have arrived!”

All five of them cheer, hands in the air while half the pub watches them curiously, before Zayn shuts the camera off and sets it aside for them to use again later.

“Greg kept asking where the two of you were,” Niall announces as he slides onto a bar stool. He pushes a pint of Guinness across the table toward Louis with a smirk.

Louis rolls his eyes and lifts the pint so he can take a sip. “I’m not even going to ask how today went, because I don’t care.”

Gliding a finger across the rim of his glass, Zayn asks, “Are you going to anything tomorrow, or are you going to spend the morning with Harry’s dick in your mouth again?”

Harry chokes on a mouthful of beer, but Zayn just blinks innocently at Louis, takes a dainty sip of his own drink, then reaches across Liam to pat Harry on the back.

“Dick in the mouth,” Harry wheezes, rubbing at his chest with the heel of his hand. He drops his other hand to Louis’ knee again, then just leaves it there, heat from his palm seeping through the denim to warm Louis’ skin. “Definitely.”

“Presumptuous,” Liam tuts, eyebrows raised at Harry, and Louis snorts into his drink.

Harry just shrugs, though, and says, “Well, someone’s dick is going to be in someone’s mouth.” He squeezes Louis’ knee, then shifts his hand a little higher, scratches at the inseam of Louis’ jeans and slides him a sly little smirk. “I’m prepared to make the sacrifice.”

 

;;

 

Harry skates his fingertips down Louis’ back and watches the way a shiver rolls down his spine and goosebumps spread across the smooth skin. They only have an hour before the taxi is due to take him and Niall to the airport, but Harry can’t bear to move just yet. He leaves his hand on Louis’ back, spanning the space between the wings of his shoulderblades, and uses the other to scratch at the dried come on his stomach, looks down at himself consideringly.

“Hey.” Harry drops his head to mouth at Louis’ shoulder, then nuzzles at his temple when Louis turns his head to look at him. “Let’s go take a shower. I’m itchy.”

Louis lifts his head so he can look down at Harry’s torso, a smug grin hitching one corner of his mouth. He rolls onto his side so he can trace a finger over Harry’s abs, murmurs, “Dirty boy.”

Harry gasps in mock outrage and slaps Louis’ hand away. “This is your doing, you possessive little -”

He’s cut off by Louis reaching around him and giving his bum a smack before rolling out of bed. It’s not a hard slap, but it stings a bit, heat spreading over his skin and flooding his cheeks, and he bites his lip against the sharp curl of arousal, gives himself a moment alone on the bed to take three slow, calming breaths before following Louis to the bathroom. He’s already got the shower running, is standing under the spray with his head tipped back so the water is slicking his hair back from his forehead. The lines of his body are relaxed, skin warm and inviting, so Harry slips in alongside him and pulls the door shut, crowds Louis against the wall and draws him up into a kiss.

Louis melts into him instantly, fingers tripping across his hips so he can settle his palms in the small of Harry’s back, splay his fingers over the curve of his bum. It’s warm in the small room, the hot shower filling it with steam so the air is thick and close and they’re both sheened in a fine layer of water. Harry widens his stance so that their hips align, skin gliding over skin, slick and easy. It’s not enough for proper friction, but Harry is content to plant his palms against the wall over Louis’ head and kiss his way down Louis’ neck, sucking tiny, fleeting marks into his skin that bloom bright, then fade.

He can feel Louis’ hands flexing against his back, can feel Louis hardening where his dick is trapped between them, so he ruts against him lazily, slow, rolling flexes of his back that have Louis tipping his head back against the wall so he can pant out into the swirling, damp air of the shower. The noises Louis is making are intoxicating, have need fizzing in Harry’s veins and tingling in the tips of his fingers, but he can’t get the right angle, the right amount of pressure, toes slip-sliding against the water-slick floor tiles.

Louis lets out a little growl of protest when he takes a small step back, chin tipping forward so he can look at Harry. Before he can even say anything, though, Harry angles their hips together and gets a hand around both of their cocks, water providing an easy glide that has heat pooling low in Harry’s belly. Louis curses, the sound bouncing off the walls before being swallowed by the mist hanging in the air, and grabs at Harry’s hips. He grips him tight, fingertips digging into the soft skin there, ten narrow points of pain that keep Harry grounded, focused, as he works his hand over them. He has to prop himself up with his free hand against the wall next to Louis’ head, toes curling and uncurling against the floor with every stroke. Louis’ hips are twitching forward, rocking into his fist, chasing pressure and friction and heat as he gasps out Harry’s name, babbles unintelligible curses and praises while his hands clench and unclench around Harry’s hips.

And he’s so beautiful with his head tipped back, lashes clumped together into spiky little points from condensation, resting heavy against the sharp cut of his cheekbones. Shadows have pooled in the hollows of his cheeks and the dips of his collarbones, the lean muscles of his arms and chest are flexing every time he squeezes Harry’s sides, and there’s a flush spreading slowly down his neck, and Harry wants him, needs him, loves him so much he feels like he’s drowning in it. He’s a beacon of brightness and warmth, Harry’s own personal sun, and Harry wants to reach out for him like a plant stretching its branches skyward in search of its life source. It’s overwhelming, too much, love and lust and the sharpness of Louis’ nails digging crescent moons into his skin winding tight around his spine and spreading through his body like wildfire, and he has to bury his face in Louis’ shoulder when it swamps him, while he spills over his own fingers and Louis’ belly and shudders apart.

There are hands in his hair before he can even come down, lifting his head back up and into a kiss. “Fuck,” Louis whispers, lips dragging against Harry’s, before tugging on Harry’s hair and sinking his teeth into Harry’s bottom lip. Harry’s cock twitches in his hand where it’s still wrapped around them, and he groans.

“Lou, let me,” he rasps out, letting go of Louis’ still hard cock and sinking slowly to his knees. He opens his mouth and looks up at Louis, waiting. Louis’ eyes are wide, lips red and shiny, and his chest is heaving as he struggles to breathe evenly.

“Fuck,” he repeats, voice high and awed, and he sinks his fingers back into Harry’s hair to hold him in place before pushing his dick past Harry’s lips. Harry moans, eyelids fluttering happily at the way Louis’ cock is sliding heavy over his tongue, the way he tastes, the way he can’t quite set a rhythm, hips stuttering and fingers tightening around locks of Harry’s hair.

Harry folds his hands into fists and tucks them between his thighs, then tips his head back and opens his throat so that Louis can thrust deeper. He breathes out harshly through his nose and blinks back tears when Louis’ cock nudges the back of his throat, swallows convulsively around him and has Louis hissing out a breath and doing it again. Closing his eyes, Harry squeezes his fists, nails digging into his palms, and curls his tongue around the underside of Louis’ cock, focuses on sucking in air every time Louis pulls out and then swallowing around him when he thrusts back in, until Louis’ hands are trembling against his scalp and he’s gasping Harry’s name over and over.

Hungry for it, Harry uncurls his fists and lifts his hands to curve around the backs of Louis’ thighs and hold him in place. He wraps his lips tight around Louis and swallows him down until Louis is cursing and bowing down over his head, the lines of his body tense and shivery as he spills down the back of Harry’s throat.

“Fuck,” Louis wheezes as Harry pulls off, wiping at the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. His face is hot, and he probably looks a mess, cheeks blotchy and lips swollen, lashes wet with tears, but Louis drops to the floor and crawls immediately into his lap, arms looped around Harry’s neck so that he can kiss him hungrily. Harry bands his arms around Louis’ back and squeezes him close, shuddering when Louis brushes his hair back from his forehead and whispers into his mouth, “Amazing. You’re amazing.”

Harry gives them a moment to calm down, slow their racing hearts and just breathe each other in before he rubs his hands up Louis’ back and whispers regretfully, “We need to finish up. Taxi will be here soon.”

“No,” Louis grumbles, clinging to Harry petulantly. “I won’t let them take you away.”

“Mmm,” Harry hums, pressing open-mouthed kisses to the curve of Louis’ jaw. “It’s only temporary, you know.”

He pats Louis’ bum, then pushes him back gently so he can stumble to his feet. They finish up their shower quickly, washing their hair and scrubbing themselves down, then towel off and get dressed in relative silence. Louis’ flight isn’t for a few more hours, but Harry’s leaves in less than two, and Niall is probably already waiting downstairs. They trudge down to the lifts, pinkies linked between them, and Louis leans into Harry the moment the lift doors close, burrows his face into Harry’s chest and closes his hands around Harry’s hips.

Harry’s chest aches. He rests his cheek on top of Louis’ head and lets his eyes slide shut, even though they only have a few floors to go. The doors ding open before Harry is ready, but there’s a small crowd waiting to get on, so he laces his fingers with Louis’ and tugs him out into the corridor. Niall isn’t in the lobby, but when they get to the front door, he spots Niall through the glass, leaning back against a parked taxi with his phone in hand. Harry’s stomach sinks. The cab is early.

Throat tight, he turns to Louis and says, voice thick, “I -”

“I’ll walk you out, come on.”

It’s cold outside - too cold for wet hair and a thin cardigan - but Harry would stand outside naked in the dead of winter if it meant he could stay with Louis just a little bit longer. The cab driver is snapping his gum impatiently, though, fingers fiddling with the meter as he glances at them through the window every few seconds, and they’ve got no time. He turns to Louis, desperation welling up in his chest, but Louis just takes a step forward and brushes his fingers through his fringe.

“Hey, have a good flight, yeah? We’ll talk once I land in London.”

Harry can’t say anything for fear that his voice will break, so he just presses his lips together and nods. He slides into the taxi when Louis opens the door for him and pulls his legs in, props his bag up on his knees so that Louis can shut it. He fumbles for the knob to roll the window down, counting down the seconds in his head as Niall lumbers around to the other side of the car with his own bag. His voice is embarrassingly heavy when he says, “Call me when you get in. Fly safe, okay?” He flicks a quick glance at the driver, at Niall where he’s fighting to get his bag into the back seat. “I -”

“Got it,” Niall announces, and Harry barely has a second to process what’s happening before Louis is ducking his head through the window and kissing him, hard and with an edge of desperation.

He doesn’t even get a chance to kiss back before the cabbie is snapping, “We gotta go, mate,” and Louis is drawing back. Louis swipes his thumb across Harry’s bottom lip before he takes a step back and straightens up, hand falling to his side, and then the cab is pulling away and, heart heavy, Harry is watching Louis grow smaller and smaller in the distance.

 

 

Harry goes through security in a daze quite unlike the trip there. Instead of irritation and annoyance fogging his mind, it’s images of Louis, naked and flushed and gorgeous and right there. It’s more than he could ever have hoped this weekend would turn out, and even though he wishes it could have lasted longer, he stills feels warm and sated and unbelievably grateful for the last three days.

“Hey.” Niall pokes him, finger drilling into his side underneath the armrest between their seats in front of the gate. “So?”

“So, what?” Harry plays deliberately dumb, batting at Niall’s hand.

“Was the weekend alright in the end?”

Harry heaves an enormous sigh. “Fishing for compliments, Nialler?” Niall doesn’t answer, just blinks at him expectantly, so Harry rolls his eyes and gives in, collapsing against Niall’s side and tucking his face into the crook of his neck. “It was good.”

“Good,” Niall repeats, voice flat. “Good.

Great,” Harry emphasizes. “Wonderful. Perfect.”

“That’s more like it,” Niall grumbles, reaching over to pinch Harry’s leg.

“Hey,” Harry whines, rubbing at his smarting thigh. They fall silent for a moment, then Harry leans back so he can look at Niall, says, “No, really though. Thank you. For making me come this weekend.”

Niall’s mouth stretches into a smirk and he says, “Sorry mate, I wasn’t the one making you come -”

Harry slaps a hand over Niall’s mouth, cheeks pink as he glances around to make sure no one overheard but unable to help laughing. “You ruin everything, you arsehole,” he grumbles, dropping his hand. “I was trying to be nice and thank you for everything.”

“Hey, no,” Niall laughs, wrapping his arms around Harry’s shoulders and dragging him across the armrest. It kind of hurts where it’s digging into his ribs, but Harry doesn’t say anything, just loops his hand around Niall’s wrist and nuzzles his chest. “I’m happy for you, Haz. Really happy. I love you.”

“Love you, too,” Harry mumbles into Niall’s sleeve. He’s just about to ease out of Niall’s grip so he won’t have an armrest-shaped bruise across his stomach, when his phone buzzes in his pocket, giving him an excuse to sit back. He wrestles it out of his jeans and unlocks it, stomach doing a slow loop de loop when he sees Louis’ name displayed on the screen. His thumb is only shaking a little bit when he opens the text message.

already booked my train, so there’s no backing out now ! two weeks. until then, there’s always skype ;) .xxxxxxxx

Warmth blossoms in Harry’s chest, happiness and anticipation and love and excitement so intense that he feels dizzy with it. Vision only slightly blurry, he taps out, Can’t wait! Do you think I should warn Niall? xxxxxx

He doesn’t have to wait long for a response, and he buries a giggle in his palm as he reads it, angling the phone away from Niall’s prying eyes.

nah, let him be surprised. he deserves it. ;)

He’s still trying to come up with a response when his phone buzzes again, and Harry nearly drops it when he reads the new text.

have a good flight, h ! see you soon love you ! .xxxxxxxx

Cheeks burning, blood roaring in his ears, Harry stares dumbly at the screen. It’s not that he’s surprised, really. They have been dancing around each other for the better part of ten months, and Louis has called him ‘love’ loads of times, has mentioned loving him for things offhand more times than Harry can count. And it’s only via text message, not terribly special, but now that they’re... doing this, it feels. Monumental.

Biting his lip, brow furrowed in concentration, Harry types out, Thanks Lou, you too. I love you, too, miss you already xxxxx

He buries the declaration right in the middle, just in case, then presses send before he can think himself out of it, drops his phone into his carry-on so he won’t be tempted to check it every five seconds. When he turns to look at Niall, he catches Niall watching him, eyebrows raised and a question written across his face.

“Everything okay over there, H?”

Harry nods, face stretching into a grin so wide it hurts. He doesn’t care though, feels so happy, so light, that he could just float away. Tucking his arm through Niall’s, he rests his cheek on Niall’s shoulder and sighs, “Perfect.”

 

;;

 

EPILOGUE

 

“Okay, and here we have the kitchen...” Louis pans the camera around the small space, satisfied with the way the sunlight streaming in through the windows is glinting off the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. “A nice upgrade from the old one, I’d say. Poor Liam is stuck with it, though.”

Humming quietly, Louis backs out of the kitchen and turns around, camera held at eye level. He aims it into the small living room, already furnished with an over-stuffed sofa, a long, low coffee table, and a television. There’s even a plant on the window sill, the little purple pot overflowing with ivy that the woman at the nursery had assured him needed minimal tending to.

“Living room,” Louis states obviously, letting the camera linger on the nice, big television he had splurged on. “Got all the essentials, as you can see. Comfy sofa, big telly, PlayStation, and something alive to instill some sense of responsibility. Through here is a linen closet... currently empty,” he demonstrates, opening a door in the short hallway to show off the bare shelves. “And the toilet. Not too bad. Nice big mirror so I can admire myself every morning, low enough that I can make sure my trousers don’t make my bum look too big. Very important.”

There’s a bathtub - something he’d been surprised to find, really - a wide mirror, and plenty of counterspace. There are even heated floors, which make him think about the weekend in Dublin and the creative uses he and Harry had put their hotel shower to. Smiling wistfully, Louis turns out of the bathroom and takes the few steps into the bedroom.

“Aaaaaand the bedroom. Only one in this flat - perfect excuse to tell your family they have to stay in a hotel. Get them out of your hair.” He turns the camera so the lens is facing him and wiggles his eyebrows. “Don’t tell me mum I said that. Here’s the bed, right. Most important part of the home, if you know what I mean. Drawers, where you can store your naughty magazines, a nice big closet... for clothes, of course.”

Louis leafs through the clothes hung up in there. There’s only enough to take up less than half of the rack, though he imagines that within a week, the hangers will stand empty and his shirts will be strewn across every bit of furniture in the place. Even though no one can see him, he shrugs, unrepentant. He’s always been messy, there’s just no changing him. Clearing his throat, he turns back around.

“And, as you can see, we’ve got a lovely view of London.” He walks over to the window and presses the camera to the glass. The sun is shining, bright and lovely, and they can see perfectly over the tops of the trees lining the street. The building across from them is short and squat, so that their view of the streets beyond is almost unobscured. He watches a pigeon make lazy figure eights over the tree to his left before settling in the branches, transfixed by the way the bright green leaves are trembling in the breeze. The camera is still running, but he can edit this quiet part out later. “Peaceful, isn’t it?”

He leans his forehead against one of the window panes and watches a woman walking a gaggle of dogs past a young couple pushing a stroller. One of the dogs pokes its head into it, and he laughs at the way the young mum slaps her hands over her mouth in shock and the dog walker yanks on the leash, trying to pull the dog away. The mum is fussing with her baby’s blankets while the woman with the dogs rushes off when a knock sounds on the front door of the flat.

Louis straightens up, eyes going wide and excitement fluttering in his belly. He pulls the camera away from the window and turns it toward his face. “Who could that be?”

He keeps the camera on as he crosses the room and walks back out into the living room. He’s bouncing on the balls of his feet while he unlocks the door, impatience and anticipation battling it out for dominance. Impatience wins out, and he nearly yanks the bolt off its chain in his haste to get the door open, aims the camera toward the corridor and swings it wide to reveal -

“Hiya, roomie.” Harry is standing there, hair windswept, cheeks flushed pink from the climb up the stairs, and an assortment of suitcases stacked around his feet. Ready for this, Louis turns to mount the camera on the tripod he’d set up on the table by the door, so that it’s still trained on them, but he’s got both hands free.

Shaking his head, Louis reaches out and fists a hand in Harry’s jumper, drags him through the sea of suitcases until they’re toe to toe and murmurs, just loud enough for the camera to catch, “Hiya, boyfriend,” before tugging him into a kiss. This part won’t be edited out.

 

fin