Harry felt dead on his feet when they finally arrived at Heathrow. There hadn't been a direct flight, so they had to change planes in Frankfurt, which had finally tipped him into exhaustion.
Niall looked just as tired, his eyes red-rimmed, and his skin even paler than usual. He stood next to Harry in front of the conveyer belt at the luggage claim area, yawning repeatedly.
Saying goodbye to Louis in Narita had been strange. They had both been hesitant about it, before Louis had made a move, hugging Harry and wishing him a good flight. Louis, Liam and Zayn had taken a different flight, going directly to Los Angeles where they'd get straight back to recording.
Over Louis' shoulder, Harry had caught Liam smiling and Zayn looking sceptical. Niall had seemed suspicious, but he hadn't said a word about it yet.
Harry wouldn't have known how to explain it anyway. He couldn't possibly explain what had happened in Sapporo, or what had shifted between them. All he knew was that he didn't want to be angry anymore, that he just wanted things to calm down and for Louis to stop being wary around Harry.
"That's yours," Niall said, pointing at a suitcase. Harry stepped forwards, heaving it off the belt. Only a few minutes later, his guitar case showed up, as well as Niall's suitcase. Harry checked his guitar, and made sure there was no damage before they walked over to the exit.
"I'm not gonna take the train," Niall announced. "We'll take a taxi."
"No objections," Harry mumbled.
They stepped out through the sliding doors, and Harry stopped in his tracks when he saw Perrie and Ed, both grinning widely. Perrie held a paper that read Welcome and had lots of glittery hearts drawn on.
When he wanted to ask Niall if he had spotted them too, Harry turned at just the right moment to see Niall drop all of his luggage and open his arms to catch Barbara. She threw her arms around his neck and Niall buried his face in her hair, arms tight around her waist, lifting her off the ground.
Smiling, Harry glanced at Perrie when she turned up next to him. He slung an arm around her waist, pulling her against his side and kissing the top of her head, while catching Ed's eye and returning his smile.
"You look tired, mate," Ed commented.
"I could fall asleep right here," Harry said, resting his cheek against Perrie's hair.
"I've changed your sheets," Perrie told him. "You can just fall into bed when we get home."
Humming, Harry opened his eyes again, gaze settling on Niall and Barbara. They hadn't moved much, obviously in their own little bubble. Niall had pulled back slightly, breaking their kiss, and Barbara kept running her hands through his hair.
"Missed you," she said quietly.
"Missed you more," Niall answered, grinning.
"No." Barbara shook her head. "No, Niall. You don't get it."
Niall frowned, setting her down. "What? Seriously, Babs, of course I do. Hotel beds really aren't---"
"I love you," Barbara blurted out, framing Niall's face to make him look her in the eye.
Harry could see Niall's face fall, and felt Perrie's fingers grip his jumper tightly, tugging on the fabric. Slowly, Niall turned to them, blinking dumbly.
"Please tell me you just heard that too," he pleaded.
Perrie laughed. "You're supposed to say it back, you twat!"
A warm feeling spread inside Harry when Niall faced Barbara again, her eyes soft and patient, waiting for Niall's answer. Niall kissed her lips once before he buried his face against her neck, and Harry could pinpoint the second he said it back. Barbara's face lit up, a grin spreading over her features.
For a moment, they stayed like that and Harry didn't even dare to move. Then Niall tilted his head back and grinned madly, lifting Barbara again, arms tight around her waist.
"Come on, you lot. We have to get going," Ed announced. "Parking fees are ridiculous."
Niall set Barbara down, and she took his hand, staying close. Harry turned to Perrie, seeing the dreamy look on her face and poked her arm. She rolled her eyes and grabbed one of his bags.
The ride home was quiet. Harry didn't take in too much of it, his eyes falling shut immediately, only Niall and Perrie's chatter from the backseats keeping him barely awake. Ed was humming along to a song on the radio and rain was drumming onto the windscreen and roof of the car.
When they arrived home, Harry didn't manage much more than stripping off his clothes and falling onto his bed, pulling the duvet up to his chin.
The sheets smelled weirdly unfamiliar, and it didn't feel like his own bed. It made him dream of a time when he had shared his sheets, rare times when he had woken up beside someone else, had buried his face in a pillow that smelled of herbal shampoo and sweet cologne.
It mixed up with images of a dark hotel room and Louis' sleeping face, his hand on the pillow, fingers short and thin, looking fragile. Images of winter, a red scarf tying them together, sparkling snow clouding Harry's vision.
He dreamt of long gone days mixed up with current memories. Louis's lips moving under his own, Louis' skin against his, cold spreading in Harry's chest.
The dreams didn't stop.
"So," Liam said, looking at Louis with an arched brow.
Rolling his eyes, Louis leaned back in his seat, looking out of the window. Liam was sitting next to him, Zayn was in the seat in front of them. He was turning around now, looking expectant.
"What?" Louis asked.
"So," Liam repeated. "You and Harry."
For a split second, Louis wondered if they had planned this; getting Louis to sit in the window seat, so they could easily corner him. It did look like a perfectly laid out plan, the way both were closing in on him now.
"It's not what you think it is," Louis simply said. "Don't say it as if we were sneaking behind your back or something."
Zayn arched a brow. "What exactly were you doing then?"
Louis shrugged. "Looking at a weather phenomenon, I guess."
"You guess?" Liam asked.
"Well," Louis drew out the word. "Snow that sparkles in the sunlight, yes."
Zayn and Liam were both quiet for a moment.
"And you wanted to see that?" Zayn's tone was sceptical.
"Why not?" Louis asked, shrugging.
"Lou," Liam just said, impatient.
Sighing, Louis closed his eyes. "Yeah, okay. I wanted to go with Harry. It was pretty, though."
Zayn frowned. "So, you guys just stood there, looking at snow?"
Louis lowered his gaze, biting his lip.
"I knew it!" Liam exclaimed. "What happened, Louis?"
"I asked him to be friends," Louis answered, quietly. "I realised that after the tour we wouldn't see each other anymore, and everything would go back to how it used to be."
"So you thought you'd rather be friends than nothing," Zayn noticed. "I assume he was on board with that idea?"
Louis nodded. "Yeah, he was."
"I couldn't be friends with any of my exes," Liam pointed out.
"Exactly," Zayn agreed. "Especially not with any of those who hold grudges."
"It's not like that," Louis argued, feeling his heart drop a little.
"You wanna tell me he doesn't hold a grudge?" Zayn asked. “Well, Louis, you may remember how exactly the Asian leg of the tour kicked off for you. You were fucking trapped in a shell."
He had been, Louis remembered. He had been afraid of every word or glance towards Harry, afraid to do or say something wrong to upset him even more.
"We've talked," he said weakly.
"And did it solve anything?" Liam wanted to know.
Louis thought of the anger in Harry's eyes when he had left the room after the kiss, thought of the empty expression on his face when Louis had sent him out on stage.
He could still feel Harry's arms around him, could still feel the sigh shuddering from Harry's lips against his temple. That had been an answer, too, hadn't needed words like all the other confrontations throughout the last month.
They'd be okay, Louis knew that things would work out if he just got a chance to make an effort.
"We're better," Louis answered vaguely. "I'll work on it."
Zayn sighed. "Just be careful."
Louis smiled slightly before he turned to look out of the window again. If he got hurt in the process, he'd take it; take all of it and just endure it.
It was much more important that Harry didn't get hurt again.
Being back home meant only one thing for Harry -- work.
For two weeks straight, he didn't get much else done other than giving interviews where he was asked about Escapade nonstop, and recording in a studio, as well as meeting with people from the record label. They advised him on marketing strategies, gave Niall a list of PR agencies to contact and talked about requirements for Harry's first album.
As much as being on tour and playing in front of sold-out arenas had felt surreal, this felt even weirder to Harry. He was stopped on the street for pictures, asked for autographs, and girls followed him, taking pictures of him when he went to Tesco's before going home.
Today, he had his first day off in weeks, and Harry liked how it had turned out so far. He lay on Perrie's bed, sprawled on his stomach and Perrie sat behind him, painting her nails. A Christmas movie was on the telly and Harry only took in parts of it, nodding off every once in a while.
"This is nice," Perrie said. "You've barely been home since you came back from Tokyo."
Harry yawned, turning his head to look at her. "I've missed this. Being lazy is really nice."
Perrie laughed. "It is." She grabbed Harry's hand and rested it on her knee, starting to spread green polish over Harry's thumbnail. "Have you talked to Louis since the tour ended?"
Harry watched her for a bit, shaking his head no. "Too busy."
“Come on, Harry,” Perrie urged him on. “What exactly happened?”
Harry hadn’t told Perrie yet about everything that had happened on tour. He had told her about the cities and the things he had bought, local stuff he had brought for her and explained. But he hadn’t talked about Louis -- only that they were trying to be friends now.
“A lot,” he answered, closing his eyes again.
“What does that mean?” Perrie went on to Harry’s forefinger, painting his nail. “A lot of talking? A lot of shouting? Any fistcuffs?”
Harry laughed quietly. “Talking. Like, they kinda tricked me into accepting the offer.”
“Who is they ?”
“Niall and Louis,” Harry clarified. “Niall was behind it, actually. He wanted me to take the offer, so he had Louis… press my buttons,” he murmured, remembering Louis’s words. “And it worked.”
Perrie gasped. “Niall?”
“I figured it out once we’d been on tour for a few days. Louis completely avoided me and kept looking at me like a beat up puppy.” He shrugged, shifting slightly so Perrie could grab his other hand. “I just figured that Niall had something to do with that.”
“Did you kick his arse?” She wanted to know, sounding angry.
“Kinda,” Harry confirmed and sighed. “I was mad for a few days, but eventually, I couldn’t take him apologising anymore, so I forgave him.”
“Not cool, though. Especially not since Louis is probably the biggest trashbag to team up with.”
Harry pondered his answer for a moment. “He’s not so bad, really.”
“He was such an arse at the club,” Perrie argued. “I can’t really imagine him not being one around you.”
“That wasn’t him, Pez. It was just an act. He said it didn’t matter,” Harry murmured, thinking of Louis’ face when Harry had confronted him. “I already hated him, so it didn’t matter.”
For a moment, silence stretched between them, Perrie quietly painting Harry’s nails. “Did he at least apologise?” she asked then.
“Yeah,” Harry answered. “He apologised and he explained himself.”
“Hm,” Perrie hummed, and Harry didn’t know what it meant.
“He kissed me,” he said then. He hadn’t even told Niall, but he felt like Perrie would understand.
Her hand slipped and Harry felt the wet brush on his skin.
“Fuck,” Perrie mumbled, grabbing a tissue. “He kissed you?”
“Out of the blue.” Harry shrugged, not feeling as riled up about it anymore as he had in that moment -- quite the opposite, actually. Something warm glowed up in his chest at the memory. He opened his eyes, looking at her. “And I got really mad.”
“Of course you would!” She rubbed the tissue over Harry’s finger. “What an---”
“I want to kiss him again.”
Perrie froze, stopping her motions, and she looked up. The surprised expression on her face turned sympathetic when their eyes locked. “Are you really gonna go there?”
Harry shrugged. “Apparently not.” Seeing her confused look, he added, “He came with me onto the mountain in Sapporo. You know, where I got you the good luck charm?”
“He came with me, and suddenly, he said all those things, about how he would always love the boy I was four years ago, and how he admires who I am now.” Harry swallowed thickly. “I thought he was going to tell me that he loves me, that he wants a second chance.”
“You can’t give him that, Harry,” Perrie reminded him. “He doesn’t deserve a second chance.”
He probably didn’t, Harry thought, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling. Harry shouldn’t be so weak, but Louis had been right --- a first love was someone you loved forever. Maybe that was the reason Harry still felt so attracted to Louis.
“He doesn’t want one,” Harry told her. “I thought he was going to kiss me and literally beg for another chance. Instead, he told me that he just wanted me in his life, and asked if we could be friends.”
Perrie was quiet and Harry didn’t dare turn his face to her. “That’s actually quite sweet,” she said then. “But, still. It doesn’t change what he’s done to you, Harry.”
Harry nodded. “But he’s changed. I actually like the person he’s become.”
“You gotta be careful with him,” Perrie reminded him. “Don’t go too fast, or you’ll regret it.”
“No,” Harry agreed. “I won’t do anything stupid. I just want to get over the pain and the hatred.”
“And is that working?” Perrie inquired.
“In a way?” Harry tilted his head, frowning slightly. Thinking of Louis now was still painful, and while the hatred was mostly gone, it still left Harry with a desperate feeling. A different desperate. Harry couldn’t grasp what it was. “I’m not sure how to be friends with him, though. I haven’t even talked to him since the tour ended.”
Perrie hummed. "The whole being friends thing isn’t working out too well, I suppose."
"It's a bit weird, isn't it?" Harry asked. "I don't even have his number."
"Ha!" Perrie grinned. "So you did think about contacting him."
Harry was quiet for a second. "'Course," he said then, shrugging.
"Hey," Perrie murmured running her hand through Harry's hair. "It'll be okay, yeah?"
"I hope so." Harry closed his eyes again, letting Perrie finish painting his nails.
She was the best, actually. Being resentful and angry had been hard to keep up for Harry, and Perrie understood that he just wanted to leave that behind him. She always understood him, and while she was also looking out for him, all she was concerned about was Harry’s happiness.
Perrie was the very best.
Her words made Harry realise that it was probably up to him to reach out to Louis first, though. After all, Louis had been brave enough to make a step towards Harry and say all the things he had kept inside. The least Harry could do was make a step towards Louis now and show him that he was sincere about being friends.
"You're stupid for not getting his number, though," Perrie pointed out, breaking the comfortable silence.
Harry giggled. "I didn't even think about it."
"There's quite a bit you didn't think about, apparently," Perrie said in a huff. "You, lucky bastard, were around Zayn for a month and didn't even think of getting your faithful, caring and loving housewife so much as an autograph."
"I prefer the term spouse," Harry simply answered, earning a shove to his shoulder.
"Twat," Perrie mumbled before she rolled off the bed and grabbed her coat. "Gotta get to work. Are you dropping by later?"
"Sure." Harry let his head fall back onto the pillow, watching her tie her scarf. "I'll pick you up."
Grinning, Perrie winked at him through her reflection in the mirror. "See you later, love."
Harry raised his hand, waving half-heartedly. When he heard the front door fall shut, he let go of a sigh and sat up, grabbing his mobile from the table next to Perrie's bed.
He opened Twitter and looked up Louis, pressing the follow button when he had found him. Frowning, he realised that adding Louis wouldn't do the trick. He was a celebrity, obviously Harry couldn't just send a direct message.
He tapped on Louis' name and then stared at the white space, thinking about what to write. Friends, Harry reminded himself. They were friends now, so Harry had to sound friendly. Biting his lip, he typed out a tweet to Louis.
@Louis_Tomlinson Trying to reach you, mate. It'd be easier if you added me.
Without thinking about it twice, Harry hit the send button, letting go of his breath when the tweet was out. Immediately, his notifications blew up with people tweeting him. Harry frowned at the list of tweets.
@Harry_Styles Story of my life. You'll have to wait at least a year for him to notice you #louisdoesntjustaddanyone
Didn't he know it? Harry snorted, putting his phone away. There had been a time when Harry had been looked at Louis for months, waiting for Louis to notice him. He had, eventually, and Harry was sure it would somehow work again.
He took the woollen blanket from the foot of Perrie's bed and curled up underneath it, eyes glued back on the TV screen. It only took a few minutes before Harry nodded off again, the quiet voices lulling him to sleep.
When he woke up, a rerun of an old Friends episode was on, and Harry watched it with bleary eyes for a few minutes before he remembered the tweet he had sent earlier.
While he had been asleep, his mobile had blown up with notifications. He had almost five hundred new followers, just as many mentions and twenty DMs. Frowning, he reopened Louis' profile and immediately saw the tweet at the top.
@Harry_Styles it'd be easiest if you had my number ;) check your dm.
Ignoring the other messages, Harry scrolled through his inbox for Louis', opening it to find nothing but a string of digits. He copied it and saved it to his contacts, opening a new What's App chat.
Hii. Sorry if I'm bothering you .
He saw Louis' status change to online before it changed to typing .
No problem. should ve given you my number earlier I suppose.
Harry smiled slightly, his heart beating a bit out of rhythm. This felt strange, a little unfamiliar -- although texting Louis had been an essential part of his days just three years ago.
Actually, I was wondering... Could you do me a favour?
For a moment, there was nothing, then Louis' answer popped up.
What do you need?
"I can't believe you're doing this to me," Zayn complained as Louis parked his car.
The area looked a little dodgy, so Louis was worried about his car not being here in one piece when he came back later. He shouldn't have taken the Range Rover -- it would actually hurt if something happened to that car.
"Stop whining," Louis said to Zayn, turning. "It's just one evening, and you'll get a free meal out of it."
"I can get free meals anywhere I want, Lou," Zayn reminded him.
"Harry's cooking is something else, I promise."
"You just want to score points," Liam said. "I don't know why we have to play along in this."
Louis got out of the car, frowning. "I'm not. We're trying to be friends, Liam. And he can only be my friend if he's friends with you lot, too."
"You're selling me to get in his pants," Zayn reminded him.
"Fuck off," Louis growled. "It's just a tiny favour. He said you're always welcome."
"He's not selling me off," Zayn pointed out. "You are."
Louis rolled his eyes. "And don't you dare making any of those comments in there. You'll scare him off."
Liam snorted. "Wouldn't want to ruin your chances of getting laid."
"Not trying," Louis shot back, giving them a glare to make them shut up.
He noticed the small footie pitch next to the building and stopped for a second, staring at the huge billboard displaying a poster for a movie, bold letters stating Right Next To You . Louis stared at it for a moment before a shrill noise made him wince and turn back to the door.
He followed Liam and Zayn inside, taking the stairs to the third floor where Niall waited for them at an open door.
"Merry Christmas!" Niall greeted them, wearing a silly Santa hat.
Liam went easily when Niall opened his arms and hugged him. "It's good to see you, mate."
Niall didn't even give Zayn a chance -- as soon as he had let go of Liam, he launched himself at Zayn, embracing him. "Zayn, hey!" he cooed and Louis watched Zayn give in and hug him back, a fond smile on his face. "How have you been?"
"Good, man," Zayn said. "You?"
"Always good," Niall confirmed and turned to Louis, grinning widely.
"Hi, Ni," Louis greeted him, going for casual.
"Come here and get your Christmas hug." Niall spread his arms.
Without hesitation, Louis stepped into his embrace, hugging Niall back tightly. He sighed a little, feeling much better than before.
"Missed you," he said quietly and Niall squeezed him just that tiny bit tighter.
"Come in, come in," Niall said then, ushering them inside.
While Louis took off his coat, he saw Zayn going straight to the table at the window, stretching out his hand for the girl sitting on a chair and folding napkins.
"Hi, I'm Zayn!" he said in his friendliest voice. "Surprise!"
Louis blinked, watching the girl do the same, her expression confused and a little bit scared. Then he got distracted by Harry bursting into laughter. Louis turned his head to see him at the cooker, wearing a ridiculous apron showing a design of a woman's body in a Santa dress.
"That's not her, Zayn," Harry pushed out between giggles. He turned some of the knobs at the cooker and cleaned his hands on his apron. "She'll be coming later."
Zayn frowned slightly, but kept his hand extended. "Um, well," he mumbled. "Still. Nice to meet you."
The girl laughed, taking his hand. "I'm Barbara. And Perrie's gonna freak out when she sees you. Maybe you could be a bit less forceful about it, though?"
"Thanks for the invitation, Harry," Liam said politely, putting a hand on Zayn's arm. Louis knew it was to calm Zayn down. The words "freak out" always triggered panic from Zayn.
"I'm happy you guys could make it." Harry smiled genuinely.
"It's a bit less busy with Christmas just around the corner," Liam told him. Then he turned to the ginger boy who was quietly watching them. "Hi. I don't think we've met. I'm Liam."
"Ed," the boy answered, shaking Liam's hand. He wore a headband with a fake halo in white and gold.
"It's a Christmas party," Niall announced, coming from one of the other rooms. He held several hairbands in his hand. "You have to dress up properly."
"You're not serious," Louis complained. "I'm not wearing that."
"Yes, you are. You can be a Christmas angel like Ed." Niall stuck it into Louis' hair, grinning. "And you two," he turned to Liam and Zayn, "can be reindeers."
Reluctantly, Liam and Zayn put the hairbands on, both looking as though they had antlers on their heads.
"Nice," Harry commented. Then he pointed to the table. "Sit down. What would you like to drink?"
While Harry served them drinks and Niall chatted away happily, Louis took in some more of the flat. It wasn't big, but it looked nice. It was obvious that a girl lived with Harry, as there were a few feminine touches to the furniture.
"Perrie is still at work, but she should be back any minute," Harry said when Louis focussed back on the conversation. "She doesn't know you guys are here, though."
"Where does she work?" Liam asked.
"In a pub," Harry answered. "It's not too far from here. Ed used to play there Friday nights. It's nice."
"You're a musician too?" Zayn asked, turning to Ed. Niall joined their conversation, one arm slung over the back of Barbara's chair, and she turned to Liam, asking him about his plans for Christmas.
Louis glanced over his shoulder when Harry went back to the cooker, stirring one of the pots. Louis got up and approached him carefully, leaning against the work surface.
"Do you need help with anything?"
Harry glanced at him with a smile. "No, thanks. I'm fine."
"What did you make?" Louis asked, eyeing the pots.
"Turkey, roast potatoes and cranberry sauce." Harry lifted the lid of a pot. "And Christmas pudding."
"All by yourself?"
Harry shrugged. "I like cooking."
Louis only hesitated for a second. "I know."
Harry smiled again, then he turned to look at the table. "I know, I asked you to bring Zayn because of Perrie, but if he's uncomfortable with that---"
"It's alright, Harry," Louis reassured him.
"I just don't want him to think that's all he's here for." Harry frowned slightly, eyes trained on Zayn.
"He knows that," Louis lied, thinking of what Zayn had said earlier. It didn't matter, though, because Zayn would realise that Harry wasn't like that, that Harry genuinely wanted him here.
"I think Perrie's coming," Barbara said suddenly, and everyone else fell silent.
There were steps outside the door, stopping and followed by some rustling.
"Open the door for her," Niall whispered to Zayn. "Quick."
Zayn exchanged a look with Louis, and he knew exactly what it said. You fucking owe me, Tomlinson . Louis bit back a grin, just nodding at Zayn.
Holding his breath, Louis watched Zayn approach the door, and when he opened it, Perrie came into sight. Louis could only see Zayn's profile, but it was enough to catch the initial shock in his eyes.
The shock on Perrie's face was bigger, though. She lifted her head, hand buried deep in her handbag. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, lips painted purple and her hair tied up in a bun. She gaped when she recognised Zayn, and dropped her whole bag.
Louis felt embarrassed just watching them as they both got to their knees to pick up what had spilt from Perrie's bag. Zayn kept throwing her nervous glances while handing her a pack of kleenex and a lipstick.
"Better than I expected," Harry commented quietly.
"He's completely struck," Louis told him.
"I think that's good." Harry winked, turning back to watch Zayn hold the door for Perrie.
"Um," Zayn mumbled, pointing inside. "Welcome home?"
Perrie walked past him, glancing at Liam, then at Louis before she went for Harry. "Are you fucking joking?" she hissed.
"Told you I'd have friends over for dinner." Harry shrugged, smiling innocently.
With a glance at Louis, Perrie fell silent, giving Harry a long look before she said, "I need to change."
"What?" Niall piped up. "We've been waiting for you to start dinner. I'm starved, Pez."
She turned back to Niall with a keen stare. "I need to change."
Barbara leaned in to kiss Niall's cheek before she got up and followed Perrie into her room. Niall groaned, rolling his eyes.
Harry turned to Zayn, giving a helpless shrug. "She may not look it, but she's really happy. Thanks."
Zayn just nodded briefly. "No problem."
Grinning, Louis sat down at the table, exchanging a look with Liam, who was biting back a grin himself.
"Let's drink to that," Ed exclaimed, suddenly drawing attention to himself and raising his glass.
Louis followed suit. "Good idea."
"I see you've been quite busy," Liam commented while Harry started to arrange food on the plates.
Harry shrugged a little, glancing at Niall. "I guess. Loads of promo, really."
Niall nodded. "We're doing loads of summer festivals, and have a tour planned for autumn."
"That sounds great," Liam said, beaming.
"How about you guys?" Ed asked. "Busy year ahead?"
Louis shrugged, setting his glass down. "We're in the middle of changing managements right now."
Niall lifted a brow. "You are?"
"The old was a bit..." Louis made a vague gesture with his hand.
"Old-fashioned," Zayn provided.
"So you have quite a few changes ahead, then?" Harry asked, bringing the first two plates to the table. Louis got up to help him serve the plates and earned a sweet, grateful smile from Harry.
"Basically," Liam said, "we won't be as busy touring anymore, and get more time for writing and spending time with our families."
"That's nice," Ed said.
"The bullshit stories will stop too," Louis pointed out, his gaze locking with Harry's for a moment. "I mean, they never really will. But at least it won't be our own management selling them to the media."
Just then, Perrie and Barbara came back into the room, both giggling over something, exchanging pointed glances.
"Get over here," Harry demanded, taking his seat next to Ed. "Food's getting cold."
Both girls rushed over and Louis watched Perrie throw her arms around Harry's shoulders from behind him, pressing a kiss to his hair.
Harry smirked to himself, patting her arms and leaning into her touch.
It looked nice, Louis thought. He didn't quite understand the pang of jealousy making his stomach clench, but that smile on Harry's face was reserved for the people closest to his heart.
He hadn't directed it at Louis once since they had met again.
"Barbara seems nice," Louis said, kicking the ball to Niall and jogging back to his position by the goal.
"Nice?" Niall asked, mocking offence. "She is the hottest, wittiest and loveliest girl gracing this planet, mate. And all you can come up with is nice ?"
Harry laughed, glancing between them. This actually felt familiar -- the three of them, just like in the old days. Of course, everything was different now and nothing was remotely like it had been back then -- but it resembled the old times well enough to make Harry feel nostalgic.
After dinner, Perrie and Barbara had offered to do the dishes and clean the kitchen, and Niall had insisted on a round of footie with Louis. Harry had tried to convince Liam, Zayn and Ed to join them, but none of them had wanted to go out in the cold.
So it was only them, kicking the ball around and chatting.
"I don't really know her," Louis defended himself. "But from what I could see, I'd say you guys make a good couple."
"The best," Niall corrected him, passing the ball to Harry.
Harry tried to stop it with his foot, but failed, losing his balance and falling on his back. Groaning, he sat up and rubbed his head. Louis and Niall were both laughing madly, so he shot them a glare.
"That was not funny," he complained.
Niall shook his head. "Yeah, it really was. You're such an idiot."
Louis jogged over, extending a hand and still giggling. "You okay?"
"I hurt my bum," Harry complained, grabbing Louis' hand.
"Nothing there to cushion the fall," Louis hummed, shrugging.
"We can't all have arses like yours, Tomlinson," Niall reminded him, grinning.
"I've been informed that there's no other arse like mine out there," Louis confirmed. He sighed, feigning modesty. "There are lengthy posts on the internet dedicated to the curve of my glorious bum."
Harry rolled his eyes. "And you googled each and every one of them to save them to your computer."
"You do seem like the type to google yourself every day," Niall threw in.
Louis smirked. "There's too much, really. I'd be busy all day."
Harry knew that Louis probably didn't like to read any of the stuff that was written about him on a daily basis. It was very likely that most of it wasn't very nice, after all.
Louis gently played the ball over to Harry, like he would for a child, maybe. Harry didn’t know if he was endeared or offended.
“Zayn googles himself quite often,” Louis commented.
“Perrie googles Zayn quite often too,” Niall immediately answered.
Louis threw Harry an appalled look. “Is he safe in there?”
“Perrie’s not a crazy fangirl,” Harry protested, kicking the ball a little harder than necessary in Niall’s direction. “A fan, but not crazy. I bet she tries to avoid him and gets all shy.”
“She didn’t seem shy to me,” Louis pointed out. He shrugged then, receiving the ball from Niall. “Zayn’s pretty shy too. Guess that won’t lead to much, then.”
“Maybe if they got to meet again,” Harry suggested, rocking back and forwards on his heels.
Louis seemed to perk up upon that. He shoved the ball around, rubbing the back of his neck. "I was wondering, since it's my birthday soon..."
"Won't let you beat me in a kick-off,” Niall deadpanned. “Not even for your birthday."
Louis kicked the ball in Niall's direction. "Shut it, you twat. I was inviting you to my party."
"Oh, great," Niall said. "A party's always good."
"You could bring Barbara, if she wants to come," Louis said before he turned to Harry, and the hopeful glimmer in his eyes actually did make his heart sting. "And Perrie and Ed are welcome, too. They're nice."
Smiling, Harry took a small step backwards. "I'll be home during the holidays."
"It'll be on New Year's Eve. No one’s really got time over Christmas, do they?" Louis shrugged. "There'll be loads of people. I sent Nick an invite," he added then.
Harry blinked. "I didn't know you were friends."
Blushing, Louis averted his gaze, looking at the ground. "We're not. But I thought since you guys are--" He shrugged his shoulders again. "I thought it'd make you more comfortable."
Harry caught the look Niall gave him, genuine concern and empathy in his eyes. "Tell him," he mouthed at Harry, nodding his head.
"Thanks," Harry murmured, turning back to Louis. "For, like, inviting us."
Louis just nodded, glancing at Harry. "Yeah. No problem, really."
"Maybe you should tell Ed, Babs and Perrie yourself," Harry suggested. "The girls will be over the moon at the prospect of a party."
Louis grinned, the spark not quite reaching his eyes. "Great. So you two are coming?"
"Deffo," Niall agreed.
Harry smiled. "Yeah. Didn't have plans yet."
"Cool," Louis answered and Harry could see relief washing over his face.
One step at a time, he told himself, and this would feel normal too. He just had to work a little harder on it, then the whole thing about being friends would work out somehow.
When every trace of insecurity had vanished from Louis' expression and stance, Harry could feel himself breathe again, his heart beating a little faster as Louis started to run, chasing after Niall and they both ended up falling over. Tilting his head back, Louis barked out a laugh. His eyes crinkled, he slapped his thigh and held his stomach, losing his breath.
Harry forced himself to look away.
Louis’ laugh was still as infactuous as ever.
"I need your ID, please."
Staring at the bulky man in front of him, Harry handed his ID card over, making more space so the others could hand over theirs too. The man looked at all of them before he glanced up, eyes roaming over Harry's face.
They were standing in front of the door to Louis' flat, loud music pounding from inside, and what he could see from outside was a spacious hall, brick walls and modern furniture. That, as well as having to go through a security check, made Harry realise once again that Louis was a different person now, was living in a completely different world.
He held the box with cupcakes closer to his chest while the security man checked his list for their names. How stupid of him to make cupcakes for a party with a budget that was probably bigger than Harry's yearly income.
"Ian," the security man said then, handing their IDs back and looking over his shoulder. "Could you please lead these guys directly to Louis?"
Another guy turned, frowning slightly. "All of them?"
Harry's heart started to beat a little faster, and he was afraid something was wrong. Perrie shuffled a little closer, her hand coming to rest on Harry's back.
"Mr Styles and all of his guests," the bulky one answered. He gave them a smile. "You can't pass just like that, though."
"Need us to go through a casting first?" Niall asked from behind Harry.
The guy grinned. "Wouldn't want to make you embarrass yourself in front of your girl," he said before he looked back at Harry. "I'm afraid you'll have to leave one of the cupcakes."
Harry blinked, then he felt relief loosen up his tense muscles. "That's not a problem." He opened the box and let the guy choose one of the sweet delights.
"I'm Alberto, by the way," he introduced himself. "If you need anything, just let me know."
"A beer," Niall answered promptly.
"I'll let Louis take care of that," Alberto answered. "Ian's gonna get you to him."
"Thanks," Harry mumbled as they went inside where Ian was standing.
"Thanks for the treat!" Alberto turned away then, greeting the couple that had just arrived.
Perrie linked her arm with Harry's and over his shoulder, Harry checked if Niall and Barbara were still behind them before he followed Ian.
"Hey!" Louis yelled when they came into a living room that was twice as big as Harry and Perrie's flat. The windows were huge, there was a big cream-coloured sofa, a glass table and wooden floors. One wall was red bricks, the other white and almost completely covered by a gigantic flat screen.
Louis was surrounded by men, mostly. Handsome and very attractive men. Harry's fingers tightened around the box, and he felt an odd heat in his chest at the sight of all those guys solely focussed on Louis.
Louis however got up and stumbled over to them, eyes bright, lips and cheeks pink and his hair a little dishevelled. Harry wondered if it had been someone else's fingers messing up the strands.
"I'm glad you came," Louis said, going for Niall to hug him.
Niall went easily, arms wrapping around Louis instantly. "Happy belated birthday, mate!"
"Oh, yeah, what's my present?" Louis smirked, swaying slightly when Niall let go.
"I'll probably let you win in a one-on-one footie match," Niall promised, winking.
"Oh, you," Barbara hissed, rolling her eyes. "We got you something. I hope you'll like it."
For a moment, Louis looked at her with wide eyes, then he hugged her briefly. "Thank you," he murmured, sounding genuinely touched, before he turned back to Perrie and Harry.
"I made something for you," Perrie said, handing over her wrapped present. "Happy belated birthday."
"That wasn't necessary," Louis pointed out, taking it. "Thanks."
There was tension for a moment, and Harry knew that Perrie was still wary around Louis. But eventually, she sighed and shrugged. "Yeah, totally was, love. Your hair's pretty long and those black headbands you always wear aren't very fashionable."
Louis gasped. "Are you implying I'm not always fashionable?"
Laughing, Louis pulled her into a hug too. "Thanks for helping me improve, I guess."
Perrie patted his back. "Someone has to, I guess."
"I assume you're the one who braided Harry's hair tonight too?" Louis asked as he pulled back.
Perrie shrugged. "Can't have him rock the same style every day, now can I?"
"And does he paint his nails himself or are you responsible for that too?" Louis inquired, smirking.
"Hey," Harry interfered, drawing out the word. "I can hear you, you know."
Louis turned to him and his smile was lovely, open and mischievous. "Never said I didn't like it," he commented, lifting a hand to run his fingers over the part of Harry's hair that Perrie had braided.
"I made cupcakes," Harry said because he had to say something before his heart threatened to beat out of his chest.
"You don't expect me to share them with my guests, do you?" Louis asked, eying the box.
Handing it over, Harry shook his head. "They're yours. You can do whatever you want with them." He hesitated for a moment, then he leaned in and kissed Louis' cheek. "Happy belated birthday."
Louis seemed a little tense, holding on to the box, then he turned abruptly, going over to the table.
"We got cupcakes," he announced loudly. "The first one's mine, mind."
"Hey, Louis, I got you another drink," someone said and Harry watched a guy approach Louis, touching his lower back and handing him a glass filled to the brim with dark liquid.
"Great." Louis accepted it, smiling before he turned back to them. "Drinks are in the kitchen, help yourself."
Niall was off within a fraction of a second, and Perrie squeezed Harry's arm before she followed him together with Barbara. Harry almost didn't register it, his attention focussed on the guy next to Louis.
"Aiden, you gotta meet Harry," Louis said, leading him over. "He was our supporting act for the Asian tour."
"I remember," Aiden said, and Harry studied his face closely. "You're sick, mate."
When he smiled, it clicked and Harry blurted out, "I know you!"
Aiden blinked. "Do you?"
"We--" Blushing, Harry glanced at Louis, unsure how to proceed. "We met in a club once."
Aiden looked horrified. "Oh, shit."
Louis choked on his drink, coughing and spilling some of it over his t-shirt. When Harry faced him, the rosy colour had vanished from Louis' cheeks, and his mouth gaped open.
"No," Harry protested vehemently. " No . We just had a drink together."
Aiden breathed out in relief. "You just gave me a bit of a scare, you know."
"You tried to pull Harry?" Louis asked, appalled.
"Well, I mean..." Aiden gestured at Harry, as if his argument was obvious.
"Fuck off," Louis growled and stepped closer to Harry, hand coming to rest on Harry’s hip. "Keep your hands off him."
Harry faced Louis, blinking slowly. That sounded a lot like jealousy, and Harry wasn't sure Louis was entitled to be jealous. "What?"
Louis' head snapped around to him and he looked as though he was only realising his actions now. His hand jolted back like he had burned himself. "I mean," he said sheepishly. "You deserve better than this twat here. Even for a one-night stand."
"I'll remind you next time," Aiden pointed out.
Harry looked back at Aiden, processing those words, because they could only mean one thing. He felt his fingers go numb, and wondered if he himself was entitled to jealousy -- because what he felt was definitely jealousy.
"Are you guys--"
"We should get you a drink, Harry," Louis cut in, gripping Harry's arm.
Harry turned back to Aiden once, saw him smirking into his glass while Louis dragged Harry off to the kitchen. They passed Zayn and Perrie on their way, and Zayn briefly acknowledged Harry with a smile and wave of his hand.
The kitchen was empty, cupboards open and water running from the tap in the sink but Louis didn't seem to care. He took a plastic cup and filled it with whatever he had mixed in a huge bowl. Harry noticed him adding lots of fruit before he handed him the cup.
Their fingers brushed when Harry took it from Louis, their gazes locking, and Louis took a step closer.
"Listen, Aiden’s just a friend," Louis said.
"So am I," Harry answered promptly, surprised by himself.
Louis broke the eye contact, looking down. "Yes, of course."
Setting the cup down, Harry reached out tentatively, fingers brushing over Louis' arm. "It's a bit odd, I guess," he said quietly. "With everything we were. Once," he added in an afterthought.
"I just don't want to make this awkward," Louis admitted.
"You're not," Harry reassured it. "Let's just forget about it."
Nodding, Louis took another cup and filled it. "Okay. Great," he agreed, the cheerful tone sounding not entirely genuine.
Harry lifted his own cup in cheers before he downed half of it in one go. He had a feeling this would probably get easier once he was drunk. Right now, it was very difficult not to reach out and pull Louis in, maybe kiss him, just a little.
The urge was fierce, Harry's fingertips tickling with it. He resisted, smiling forcefully when other people piled into the room and stole Louis' attention.
A refill seemed like a good idea before Harry left the kitchen to find Niall or Perrie.
When Louis came out of the kitchen, he couldn't spot Harry in the crowd of his living room. He saw Zayn in a corner of the room, leaning against the wall, and listening to something Perrie was telling him. The way they were standing, close, Perrie leaning in to talk into Zayn's ear while his fingers brushed her elbow -- no question that Zayn had secured himself a midnight kiss for later.
Liam was outside, smoking with a group of friends, and Louis spotted Niall among them, his arm slung around Barbara's waist. They were laughing at something, Niall's laughter the loudest.
"So," Aiden said, appearing at his side. "That Harry is the infamous ex?"
Louis decided to just down his drink in one go. At this point, it didn't matter anymore. "Don't know what you mean."
"Maybe you should see your face when he's around," Aiden suggested.
"We're just friends." Louis shrugged.
Laughing, Aiden glanced at Louis. He shook his head. "You're head over heels for him."
"Shut up, Aiden." Louis was about to turn and join Liam outside -- since he really didn't want to go over and ruin Zayn's chances with Perrie -- when another group of people came into the room. Nick Grimshaw was leading them, an arm thrown over Harry's shoulders. Harry had his hands buried in his pockets, dimples pressing into his cheeks and he looked as though he was a bit tipsy.
"Hey, there he is!" Nick yelled and pointed at Louis.
Great, Louis thought, now he would have to face Harry and his new boyfriend, and pretend he wasn't bothered by it. Aiden put a hand to the small of his back, and stayed close by Louis' side.
"Thanks for the invitation, Tommo," Nick said politely, and Louis would have appreciated it if he had taken his hands off Harry, but no such luck.
"I'm glad you could make it," Louis answered, avoiding looking at Harry. Instead he glanced past Nick and inspected the rest of the group.
"We just wanted to get some more drinks," Nick said. "Care to join us for a round of shots?"
"Always," Aiden answered. "How about a drinking game?"
Louis rolled his eyes. "You just want to strip."
Aiden shrugged. "Sue me. How about it now?"
"Yeah, why not?" Louis answered, looking at Nick again. "You?"
"Sounds fun," Nick agreed and pointed to the sofa. "Get us some alcohol."
Louis glared at Nick's back when he led Harry away, arm still around Harry's shoulders as if he belonged to Nick.
"Please tell me this is one of your tactics and that it'll end with Nicholas Grimshaw vanishing from my party," Louis inquired as he followed Aiden into the kitchen.
Aiden set shot glasses onto a tray, frowning at Louis. "No? I just want to strip."
Sighing, Louis grabbed a bottle of Tequila and made his way back into the living room where Harry sat on the sofa, squished between Nick and Niall.
"We've found some more players," Nick announced, gesturing at Barbara, Niall, Perrie and Zayn.
"Where's Li?" Louis asked Zayn.
"Haven't seen him in a while. You should be worrying about your bedroom, mate." Zayn smirked.
Rolling his eyes, Louis crossed his legs as he sat down on the carpet. "Okay, what's the game?"
"A classic," Aiden announced, drawing a card from a pack. "We'll pass it around with the mouth, obviously. Whoever drops it, gets a kiss. Both have to drink, though."
Nick already filled the glasses, humming in agreement. "Rules are clear."
"Also, we'll have to switch the order. No couple sitting next to each other." Aiden pointed from Barbara and Niall to Perrie and Zayn.
"We're not--" Perrie started, but got cut off by Aiden.
"Just go sit on the other side, love." He winked at her. "We both know he'd drop the card on purpose."
Perrie blushed, but she wasn't too shy to shoot back an answer. "Maybe I would drop it on purpose."
"Just proves my point," Aiden replied. He gestured at Harry and Nick. "That counts for you, as well. Split up, lovebirds."
Louis saw Harry nervously glance at Nick, and Nick got up, changing seats.
"Gotta try something new every once in a while, don't we?" he said lightly as he sat down between Barbara and a guy Louis had never seen before.
"It's just pecks, right?" Barbara inquired, frowning slightly.
"Better not drop that card," Zayn told Niall, poking his ribs.
Niall just winked at Barbara.
"Positions have to be changed after the card is dropped," Aiden went on explaining. "Other than that, get snogged. Get drunk."
Louis instantly glanced at Harry across from him, catching him staring back before Aiden tapped Louis' shoulder to get his attention. When Louis turned to him, he leaned in to take the card with his mouth, breathing in to keep it attached to his lips.
"Looks like tonight I might get that Tommo kiss after all," Niall joked.
Hey, no kissing other boys , the memory replayed in Louis' head, Harry's voice, much younger than now, sounding upset and offended. He passed the card on to Niall who promptly dropped it when Zayn leaned in to him.
Three kisses and four shots later, Louis had to change seats again. He had kissed Barbara which had been okay, just a friendly peck, and he had kissed Liam who had joined them in the fourth round. Liam had framed Louis' face, drawing the kiss out, a big, wet smack to Louis' lips. The third one had been Nick and Louis had decided to take an extra shot for that.
He slumped down onto the sofa, his vision a little blurry and his limbs pleasantly loose. Watching Barbara and Niall exchange the card made Louis frown, but he didn't say a thing because they didn't use the opportunity for a snog. What a lame couple; they were disgustingly sweet.
When Louis turned his head, he noticed Harry next to him. He hadn't swapped seats yet, had always passed on the card without dropping it once. He was staring at his fingers now, oddly interested in his nails, apparently.
Aiden turned from Nick and passed the card on to Harry, winking at Louis when Harry leaned in. He didn't drop the card to steal a kiss from Harry as Louis had suspected. Instead, Harry received it and turned around.
The card dropped before he had even bent forwards to Louis.
"What an idiot!" Nick yelled.
"Shots!" Niall added.
Glancing at Harry, Louis took the glass and brought it to his lips. Harry did the same, downing his shot. Then he got up to change seats and Louis wanted to reach out and pull him back in, take the kiss he deserved.
Instead, someone came in at that moment, announcing, "It's only two minutes 'til midnight!"
"Better join the outside crowd to watch the fireworks," Liam mused.
Everyone got up, slowly piling outside, and Louis watched Harry leave together with Nick by his side, chatting to Niall. With a frustrated sigh, Louis filled another shot glass, gulping down the burning alcohol.
He had been so close. So close to a kiss -- just a small one, just a shadow of what the one in Malaysia had been, of all the ones they had shared four years ago. Why couldn't he even have it in a game?
"Hey," he heard a soft voice say and turned to see Harry approach him. "Are you not coming?"
Staring at him for a moment, Louis thought about just standing up and taking what he wanted. Standing up and hauling Harry in, claiming his lips in a rough kiss, tasting the alcohol and cupcakes on Harry’s lips, and make him moan, just ever so slightly while he would go all pliant and soft in Louis’ arms. He couldn't do that, though. It wouldn't feel right.
"In a second," Louis answered.
"That may be a little late, because--"
"Ten! Nine! Eight!" The crowd outside started to count. "Seven! Six!"
Louis looked past Harry, found Zayn standing close to one of the windows, briefly looking back. He winked and nodded his head before he turned around again.
Everyone outside started to yell, an outburst of happy voices, the fireworks going off with a loud noise, painting Louis' garden in bright colours.
When Louis faced Harry again, he looked just as desperate as Louis felt.
Harry came up to him, fumbling with the hem of his shirt before sitting down next to Louis. Louis’ heart completely stopped beating, every cell focussed on Harry, and he shivered when Harry’s gaze dropped to Louis’ lips for a split second. He inhaled deeply and Louis could see a nervous flicker in his eyes before Harry leaned in and caught Louis' lips in a kiss.
It was different, completely different from how it had been in Malaysia. It didn't feel less urgent, but it was definitely calmer. Harry's lips slowly dragged over Louis', opening up his mouth with gentle nips, his tongue only flicking over Louis' bottom lip.
Louis tilted his head, opening up for Harry and did what he had wanted to do all night -- he buried one hand in Harry's curls. Harry made a delicious noise, sighing into their kiss and brought one hand up to Louis' waist.
They pulled apart, and as Louis opened his eyes, he saw Harry's lids flutter open, his pupils wide, eyes a little glassy. Louis licked his lips, catching Harry's taste on them and leaned his forehead against Harry's.
"Happy New Year," Harry murmured.
Louis closed his eyes, knowing the magic would be over in a second. "Happy New Year."
Before either of them could say anything else, people came back in, and brought along loud noises and excited chatter. Harry pulled away, standing up to fall into Perrie's arms while Liam tackled Louis from behind, throwing his arms around Louis' shoulders.
After that, Louis lost sight of Harry completely, wondering where he had gone off to, and who he was with, if he had kissed someone else, if he still tasted Louis on his tongue.
Maybe it had just been a dream -- it certainly felt like that.
Harry sighed tiredly, curling up on the sofa, his head resting on Niall's shoulder. Barbara had already fallen asleep, buried in the sofa cushions.
Almost everyone had left already. It was only them remaining, as well as Perrie.
"Why don't you take her upstairs?" Louis suggested. "You guys can sleep up there."
"Really?" Niall asked. "We can call a taxi."
"It's almost seven, Niall. Just get some sleep." Louis pointed upstairs, turning to Harry. "You and Perrie could take the spare room, if you don't mind sharing a bed."
"Zayn's already sleeping there," Perrie informed him. "He was feeling tired earlier and told me he was going to lie down there."
"And he never came back," Louis commented. "Old story."
Harry looked at him, staring at Louis' lips as he said something else. He still felt them on his own, moving under Harry's, languidly, lazily.
It had probably been wrong to give in to that desire, but Harry couldn't yet bring himself to regret it. He had tried to keep his distance afterwards, well aware that if he got closer to Louis again, it would only end in Harry planting another kiss on him.
It was complicated, because Harry still felt wary about it, but at the same time, every bloody fibre of his body was attracted to Louis, wanting him in every way possible.
Harry decided to keep all regrets for when he was be sober again.
"Hey, Haz," Perrie said, touching his shoulder. "Are you asleep?"
Harry shook his head slowly. "Almost."
"We'll just stay here on the sofa," Perrie told him.
"Would rather you sleep in the bed. Zayn's not gonna jump you, is he?" Harry asked, frowning a little.
"The bed is quite big," Louis pointed out. "And Zayn's asleep; of course he's not gonna jump anyone."
"You take the bed," Harry instructed, tiredness making it hard to form sentences.
"Okay," Perrie gave in.
"Do you need something to sleep in?" Louis asked. "I can lend you a t-shirt and sweats."
It was the last Harry heard before they were out of the room, Niall behind them with Barbara in his arms. Harry kicked off his boots and opened the buttons of his shirt, winding his upper body out of it before he got rid of his jeans.
Resting his head on a cushion, he was almost asleep when he jolted awake again, someone saying his name. Blinking his eyes open, he found Louis in front of him, a thick bed cover in tow and dressed in boxer shorts and a t-shirt.
"Budge up," he whispered. "We gotta share."
Harry rolled over until he hit the back of the sofa and Louis lay down in front of him, spreading the cover over them. Gentle, grey light streamed through the windows and without a thought, Harry curled around Louis' back, burying his nose in Louis' hair.
"Hey, Haz," Louis murmured quietly, fingers coming to grip Harry's wrist.
"Hm?" Harry reacted, trying to hold off sleep for a moment longer.
"It wasn't just a drunken fantasy, was it?" Louis asked, his thumb gently rubbing over Harry's pulse point.
Harry wanted to tell him that it had been exactly that. It would have been much easier to deal with if they pretended it had never happened. Instead he shook his head, nose brushing over the nape of Louis’ neck. He didn't dare to say a word.
He was afraid whatever he said right now would destroy the fragile peace he felt while lying here with Louis. He just wanted to fall asleep like this and forget about anything else.
Louis lifted Harry's wrist and pressed a short kiss just beneath his palm.
"Go to sleep, love," he whispered.
Harry nuzzled closer, and did exactly that.
He woke up alone.
When Harry sat up, scratching his head, he was completely alone in the spacious living room, pale sunlight flooding the floor. Rubbing his eyes, Harry looked around and found himself surrounded by a mess of empty bottles, plastic cups and dirty dishes.
The heavy bed cover had pooled around his waist and Harry snorted out a laugh when he recognised the Iron Man print. Louis was a bloody toddler.
When he shivered slightly, Harry realised that his chest was completely bare and for a second, he panicked, eyes checking upon the tattoo on his arm. He had forgotten about it, had let down his guard completely.
What if Louis had seen it?
With a wildly beating heart, Harry grabbed his shirt off the floor and pulled it on, not caring to button it up. It was enough that the sleeve covered his arm. Dressed like that, he crawled out from underneath the bed cover and stumbled over to the kitchen, a constant rhythm pounding behind his temples.
Louis wasn't there. Instead, he found Niall, Liam and Zayn at the table, eating pancakes.
"Hey, Harry. Morning." Liam saw him first, waving him over.
"Morning," Harry mumbled, sitting down next to Niall.
"Here," Zayn said, shoving a glass of water and two pills in Harry's direction.
"My kind of breakfast," Harry commented and swallowed the pills before he gulped down the water.
"Do you know where Louis slept?" Liam asked, spreading butter over his pancakes.
"Um," Harry mumbled, lowering his gaze.
"He'll pop up like you did, Liam," Niall commented. For Harry, he added, "Barbara found him in the bathtub this morning."
Liam shrugged. "It was quite comfortable, actually."
Laughing, Zayn shook his head. "You could have joined me in the guest room."
Harry's head snapped up at that. "Where's Perrie?"
"She was still asleep when I got up." Zayn threw Harry a glance, rolling his eyes. "Don't look at me like that, Harry. Nothing happened."
"Alright," Harry murmured, nodding.
"Which only leaves us with the question where Louis has disappeared to," Liam noted.
"He showed us to his bedroom and took the bed cover with him," Niall commented. "I thought he was going to join Harry on the sofa."
Feeling his cheeks flush, Harry got up to refill his glass with water.
"He did leave the cover with Harry," Zayn commented.
"He stayed," Harry told them without turning around. "He stayed with me."
"I knew it!" Niall shouted, making Harry's ears ring.
"We just shared the sofa," Harry protested. "I shared a sofa with you a million times."
"I'm not your ex-boyfriend you've been pining over for years, though."
Zayn laughed dryly and was about to say something when the terrace door opened and Louis came in.
He was wrapped in a woollen jumper and a thick scarf, his hair covered by a dark beanie. His nose was red, his lips pale and he looked completely exhausted. Harry wanted to go over and pull him in, warm him up by kissing every inch of his body, put him back to sleep with gentle touches and soft words.
Louis' eyes roamed over Harry's torso, apparently taking in every detail and Harry remembered the tattoo. He pressed his arm closer to his chest, staring at Louis intently to find any hint of whether he knew or not.
"Where have you been?" Liam asked.
"Kicking a few balls in the back garden," Louis answered, voice rough.
"Got a bit bored lying next to Harry, or what?" Niall joked.
Louis' jaw clenched and he averted his gaze to the ground, clearing his throat. "I'll take a shower."
The other three boys all turned to Harry when Louis left. Zayn raised a brow, Liam folded his hands on the tabletop and Niall had a sympathetic look in his eyes.
"What did you do?" Niall asked.
Harry pulled the shirt together over his chest, suddenly feeling over-exposed. "Why do you assume I did something?"
"Because he's just like he was when you first joined us on tour," Liam explained.
At that moment, Barbara and Perrie came into the kitchen, both looking fresh and awake, even though they were in their dresses from the night before.
"Morning," Perrie chirped, sitting down next to Zayn. He wordlessly got up to get a plate for her.
Barbara took Harry's vacated seat and stole a bite of Niall's pancakes. Niall didn't even complain, just cut another piece for her.
Liam still watched Harry with expectant eyes and Harry swallowed thickly. Harry thought of the kiss, of Louis slotting against his body perfectly, Louis' lips dragging over Harry's wrist.
He hadn't done a single thing -- all of it had just happened .
"I'll call a taxi," he said, moving back towards the door to the living room.
He'd better be gone before Louis came back from his shower.
Harry felt the others gaze after him but didn't dare turn around. Instead, he picked up his jeans from the floor and pulled them on before he buttoned up his shirt. He searched for his coat in the entrance hall, finding it buried beneath a pile of other coats and hesitated at the door for a moment.
Gazing up the stairs, he listened to the noise of running water. He imagined Louis under the spray, hair wet and plastered to his head, water dripping from his chin, running over the curve of his back, drops gathering on his shoulders and in the dip of his collarbones.
He’d use some herbal shampoo -- that’s what his hair smelled like, Harry had it memorised from last night.
Perrie came into the hall, looking worried. She opened her mouth to speak, but Harry cut her off with one glance.
"The taxi will be here in five," he said, opening the door. "I'll be waiting outside."