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Want You More Than A

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Harry liked order. He liked to put his freshly sharpened pencils in one row and organise his sweater vests by colour. They were mostly brown and beige, admittedly, but they were always nicely folded and arranged in a neat stack, sorted by a shade.

Sometimes people at school made fun of him for being the way he was, yeah. Called him a nerd and a loser, said he dressed like a nan. Didn’t like that he got straight As and raised his hand when he knew the answer or that he liked to spend his lunch breaks at the library. He didn’t understand what was so wrong about wanting to learn, so that he could get a nice job and a nice husband with whom he would have at least five babies.

Which was why it made no sense that he’d had a massive, most embarrassing crush on his brother’s best friend -- who was chaos personified – for almost two years. Well, step brother, but his mother kept insisting he called him his brother, so Harry tried his best to make her happy. Despite Liam being a bit of a twat.

“Why can’t you just wear normal clothes?” Liam complained as he drove them to school, his thick eyebrows seemingly perpetually furrowed. “Lads at school wouldn’t make fun of you so much if you did.”

Harry clutched his backpack and stared out of the passenger window. “What does it matter what they think? I’m not trying to impress anyone.”

Liam snorted and turned up the volume of the radio, the kind of top ten pop song that would be stuck in Harry’s head for hours.

“Not anyone? Really.” The car slowed down to a stop. Harry watched the red light and quietly willed it to turn orange. “How is that even possible? You’re seventeen.

Harry just shrugged, but didn’t actually answer. He’d never been a good liar.

“What’s with the sudden interest in my love life? Didn’t know you cared.”

“I don’t.” The light turned orange then green and the car started moving again. Thank God. “But… you’re kind of my brother and all that. Reckon I should.”

Harry whipped his head around and blinked at Liam, suspicious. “Has Mum said anything to you?”

Liam shifted in his seat, fingers that had been tapping out the rhythm of the song on the steering wheel pausing. “Maybe.”

Bingo. Liam always got a five-minute kick of conscience after he got one of those talks. Then he always went back to ignoring Harry and pretending he didn’t know him at school, which Harry was fine with. Really. “Well, don’t. Just because we live in the same house doesn’t mean you have to care.”

“Hey,” Liam said, the corners of his mouth turned down. “I’m not a complete arse, you know.”

Harry distinctly remembered Liam watching on as Andy, Liam’s friend from the footie team, stole all of Harry’s clothes and shoved him out of the locker room into the school corridor half-naked for everyone to see. It was last week. Harry had been wearing pink briefs with Minnie Mouse on them that Mum had bought him at Disneyland last year. Still, Liam had done exactly nothing to help Harry or even tell his friend to fuck off, so, “Sure. All right.”

Liam just sighed. “Do you want me to drive you home today?”

“Not unless you want to wait for me. I’ve got Math.”

“Wait, I can’t anyway. We’re going to get food after footie practice with the lads. Never mind then.”

Sparing ten minutes to drop Harry off at home was, apparently, the limit to Liam’s idea of brotherly bonding. “I’ll take the bus then,” he said, even though he’d have to wait half an hour at the bus stop.


Liam turned the corner and sped up. Harry wished he was eighteen already so he could get a driving license and borrow his mum’s car, just so he wouldn’t have to suffer through the mile deep distance between him and his step brother nearly as often.


If there was one nice thing about being Liam’s stepbrother, it was this. Getting to see Liam’s best friend walk up to the car and press his face against the passenger window to make a silly face at Liam. Harry sighed deeply and tried not to notice how dainty Louis’ hands were. How the pinkie on his right hand were just a little bit crooked. Tried and failed. Spectacularly so. He just failed at being a functional human being in general, but it got so much worse whenever Louis was near.

Liam just grinned and pulled the keys out of the ignition before hopping out of the car. Harry would have too, but Louis was still standing there, arms probably folded up on the roof of the car, because all Harry could see was the golden sliver of Louis’ belly where his T-shirt rode up. He swallowed hard, pushed the glasses further up his nose and dropped his gaze to his lap, told himself not to be bloody stupid. Louis wouldn’t notice him. Not in a million years. He was too bright and magnetic and loved by everyone, and Harry made jokes nobody laughed at and talked too slow and wore sweater vests when it got chilly outside. They were as far from compatible as physically possible.

It wasn’t until Liam knocked on the window that Harry jolted out of his thoughts. He could feel heat rushing into his cheeks when he noticed two pairs of expectant eyes on him. He held onto his backpack and somehow managed to climb out of the car without embarrassing himself any further.

“All right?” Louis asked.

Harry just nodded, tongue tied, feeling very much out of place as Liam went to lock the car. Louis had always been nice to him, was the thing. Never made fun of him, not once. It was probably a really low, sad standard for Harry to have, but he couldn’t help it. Louis was just so bloody lovely.

Louis smiled a little and even as he and Liam started to walk towards the school entrance and leaving Harry behind, he knew he’d have a hard time focusing the entire day.


All right. So, there was a chance Harry was hiding in a janitor’s closet. Maybe. A little bit. He wasn’t a coward. It was just… self-preservation. He just didn’t feel like dealing with snide remarks so early in the morning. They never did anything awful to him. Just, Harry was feeling a bit sensitive today and the last thing he needed was for someone to make him cry in the middle of a busy school corridor because they called him names.

He hugged his books close to his chest and cursed himself for wearing a sweater west today. It was really stuffy in here and his collar was starting to chafe, the back of his neck flushed.

The door creaked open.

He tucked himself into the corner on autopilot, squinting against the sudden light.

“What are you doing here, Harry?” an equally startled blond lad Harry remembered seeing in his biology classes asked. Niall. Yeah, Niall Horan. Their biology teacher had kicked him out of the class once because Niall couldn’t stop laughing at a picture of a flaccid penis. He also had a girl wrapped around him right now, and oh. Harry had never really thought people snogged in the janitor’s closet outside of teenage rom-coms.

“Um… I just wanted some quiet?” He really hoped that sounded plausible.

“Oh, sorry. We can—”

“No, it’s all right. I should probably go anyway.” He made a spastic sweeping gesture at the cobweb-y dusty little cubicle of a room. “’S all yours.”

“You sure?” Niall asked, flushing bright red when the girl started to mouth at the back of his neck.

“Very sure,” Harry replied and squeezed past them, tips of his ears burning. Some day, when he was out of sixth form and at uni, he’d find someone to drag him off to snog his lips off too. That was what he told himself when he saw everyone around him going at it anyway. One day. And maybe it wouldn’t be Louis Tomlinson, but in the meantime Harry could live with his head in the clouds and doodles of a stick-figure-Louis playing footie in the margins of his notes.

He didn’t realise he had strings of cobwebs draped over his hair until second period.


It was raining outside and it wasn’t helping Harry in not pissing himself. Even Shakespeare on the open pages of his English literature textbook was starting to look as if he was mocking Harry for being an absolute tit.

He squeezed his legs together and banged his head on the top of his open book, because his room didn’t have a loo. The closest loo was, funnily enough, down the corridor. The very same corridor where Louis and Liam were kicking back and forth a football, since they couldn’t go outside. Harry really had to pee.

Should he do it out the window? Surely the gardenias could use some extra watering.

Bloody hell, he was being stupid. Nothing bad would happen. They’d just ignore him, as they usually did. He just had to slide past them and maybe say “hi” to Louis. And that was the problem, wasn’t it, he thought as he stood up and walked over to his door, clammy hand hovering over the doorknob. He could hardly look at Louis without blushing like a fool, never mind speak to him. It must have been so painfully obvious he was surprised nobody had called him out on it yet.

You can do it. You’re a strong, independent man, and you’re not going to piss your pants like a scared child. Absolutely not.

As soon as he stepped out into the corridor, the ball hit him right on the side of his face. It wasn’t too strong a shot, but he still stumbled into a wall, dazed, glasses knocked off his face.

“Fuck! You all right, mate?”

Harry tried to blink through the fog in his head when a warm hand settled on his shoulder, steadying him. Louis’ hand. Louis, who always seemed to be around to witness Harry embarrassing himself. Brilliant. Harry’s karma was shit.

“I’m… I’m okay. I think.” He couldn’t really feel half of his face. Probably a good thing.

“I’m really sorry, shit.” Louis dropped to his knees and his head was right next to Harry’s crotch, and Harry didn’t know if his head was spinning because he’d just been hit by a ball or because he had the unrequited love of his life looking up at him from a blowjob angle.

“Here,” Louis said as he stood up as fluidly as Harry could only hope to, squinting in focus as he slid Harry’s glasses back on his face. The skin of Louis’ knuckles where it brushed Harry’s cheekbones was warm. “As good as new.”

“I really need to piss,” Harry blurted out and promptly turned red. Or, well, redder. He probably had a ball imprint on his face too, and not even the fun kind.

“Well then,” Louis said with a confused smile. He must have thought Harry was an absolute idiot incapable of human interaction. He wouldn’t have been wrong, but still. “Far be it for me to keep a man from his business.”

Harry just nodded, dragging himself and his bruised ego towards the bathroom when Louis called out, “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Harry managed a small smile, hoping it wasn’t glaringly obvious just how in love he was with this boy. “I’m okay. Thank you.”

He could hear Liam start laughing the second he closed the bathroom door and felt like the biggest idiot in the world, and he wasn’t even being dramatic. And the worst thing? The dull throbbing in his head was well worth having Louis touch him, however platonic. Pathetic, that was what Harry was.

By the time he made it outside -- which was barely more than two minutes, because he really didn’t need Louis to think he went in for a shit – they were no longer there, probably relocated to Liam’s bedroom. As he settled down in the quiet of his room with only Shakespeare to keep him company, he tried not to feel too disappointed and maybe a little lonely.

He took his glasses off the second he realised trying to focus on homework was futile and pressed his fingertips gingerly against his hot-to-touch cheek. He was just about to get up and get some Tylenol from the medicine cabinet when someone knocked on his door.

Falling out of his chair when he spun around too fast wasn’t his proudest moment. Neither was the door opening to reveal a very concerned Louis, who immediately rushed over to help him up.

“Fuck, you all right? I’m sorry, mate. Didn’t mean to barge in. Just… heard the clatter and got worried, so I… yeah.” He guided Harry over to sit him down on his bed. Louis’ hands were surprisingly firm and steady and Harry had never wanted to crawl under his bed and melt into the floorboards more. “Shit, you don’t have a concussion, do you?”

“No, you just… you startled me a little? Don’t worry about it, really.” Not a concussion, no. Just about to get a coronary, but that was more likely related to Louis’s hand still resting on his shoulder. Harry was definitely not already composing a sad love ballad in his head, complete with a violin solo.

“Well, I do, which is why I brought you, um…” Louis straightened up and smiled sheepishly as he lifted the bag of frozen peas in his hand. Harry tried not to tear up, because nobody but Mum, Gemma and occasionally Geoff had ever shown this kind of concern for him. That wasn’t a good enough reason to get emotional over it though. Maybe he did have a concussion.

“Here,” Louis pressed the bag gently against the reddened side of Harry’s face. Their fingers brushed when Harry took over, and for one crazy moment he wondered if he was hallucinating. “Should keep the swelling down, yeah? Helped when I hurt my knee at a footie game last year.”

Harry remembered that. Definitely recalled trying to subtly wheedle information about Louis’ wellbeing out of a very clueless Liam. “Thank you. You didn’t have to.”

“I brought you painkillers too, just in case.” Louis fished a bottle out of his too tight jeans and put it down on the mattress next to Harry’s hip, because he was an actual angel. His hair smelled like strawberries and vanilla. Harry was pretty sure that counted as evidence.

“Thank you,” Harry repeated, wishing his ability to articulate himself didn’t sink so far below zero every time Louis was near. “Really, I… you’re always so nice to me. Thanks.”

He dropped his gaze to his socked feet, grateful that he had the peas to hide his blush behind.

“Yeah, of course,” Louis said, as if it was no big deal. Which it wasn’t, not really, Harry reckoned. Funny how his pounding heart didn’t seem to get the memo. “Come fetch me if you’re feeling queasy, yeah?”

Harry swallowed past his dry throat and managed a small smile, eyes flicking up to Louis’ unfairly stunning face. “Okay.”

“Okay, good. Try not to die, please, or Anne will kill me.” He grinned, all sharp teeth and eyes crinkling at the edges, and Harry felt so stunned by how pretty Louis’ smile was up close that he almost dropped the peas.

“I’ll… I’ll try not to.”

Louis lingered, hands stuck in the pockets of his jeans and Harry just couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t handle the silence, so he did the first thing he always did when he had no clue what to say. “Hey, Louis?”


“Why did the banana go to the doctor?”

The corner of Louis’ mouth quirked up in a wary half-smile and Harry knew he was digging himself into a deep, deep hole before he even got the point of the joke out. “Because it wasn’t peeling well.”

He met Louis’ unblinking eyes and curled his toes into the carpet, wondering why he hadn’t yet learned to keep his jokes to himself.

He didn’t realise he’d been holding his breath until Louis’ sudden burst of a laugh startled him into exhaling.

“Oh God, that was—”

“Tommo,” Liam bellowed as he ran past Harry’s open door, “Don’t dawdle, the food’s here!”

“Hold your fucking horses!” Louis called out as he glanced over his shoulder. When he looked back at Harry, he lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “Sorry, I better—”

“It’s fine.” Harry had never wanted to put lemons into Liam’s cleats more than he did now. But he wouldn’t, because he wasn’t mean. They’d also ran out of lemons yesterday and Harry had forgotten to restock when he’d gone grocery shopping, so.

“I’m,” Louis started, shuffling towards the doorway, “sorry, are you hungry too? We could save you some. I didn’t think—”

“I’m okay. I, um… I ate already.” He’d cooked it himself too. Maybe he should have mentioned that, but Louis was already halfway out of his room, the chance to woo Louis with his incredible domestic skills gone with him.

“Hey,” Louis said as he peeked back in, his face the very picture of mischief. “Peel better.”

In Harry’s haste to muffle his embarrassing bark of a laugh, he dropped the bag of frozen peas on his foot. Luckily, Louis was already gone.

Harry buried his face in the pillow and tried not to giggle like a lunatic on crack. He was really in fucking love with that boy, and it wasn’t getting any better.


He couldn’t look Louis in the eye. The last time that had happened, it was after he’d accidentally thought of Louis during his special shower time and felt incredibly guilty afterwards. Somehow, this time it was even worse. He worried he might turn to mush the second he actually looked at Louis. Louis, who sat down next to Liam at the kitchen counter, both of them staring at Harry as he tried to make a sandwich with shaky hands.

“So, Harry,” Liam started and Harry was so distraught he put mustard on his sandwich even though he hated mustard. “I hope you won’t be a little snitch and tell on us.”

“What?” Harry paused. A piece of ham slipped out of his fingers and landed on the counter with a splat. His cheeks burned, and he focused very hard on avoiding Louis’ face because his brain kept replaying flashbacks of his very vivid dream like it was a bloody movie reel. It hadn’t even been naughty. Just dumb, and Harry tried not blush even harder because he’d dreamed of holding Louis’ hand, of Louis pulling Harry to a stop under the streetlamp in front of their house so he could lean in to kiss Harry on his cheek, and somehow Harry was sure Louis would take one look at him and know.

“What Liam is so eloquently trying to say,” Louis interjected, “is that we’re going to throw a very posh party here.”

Liam snorted.

“Yes, Liam, posh. Because someone’s bound to bring wine too, and I’m sure that makes it a very posh affair. Anyway,” Louis said with a burdened sigh, “We would very much appreciate it if you didn’t tell Anne and Geoff? It’s not like we won’t clean up before they come back from their little… eh, anniversary shagfest.”

Liam’s loud groan was one of those rare moments Harry found himself relating to his stepbrother.

“There is no shagging. They’re too old. All they do is sleep and hug. That’s all, okay? Okay.”

“All right, Payno,” Louis said, his tone playful and warm and Harry wanted so badly to be teased by Louis that he busied himself with tearing lettuce into tiny pieces instead. “I’ll let you live in your delusion. Until you do something shitty, in which case, I’ll be happy to remind you again.”

Liam dropped his forehead on top of his folded arms with a grunt of someone who had given up a long time ago.

Harry was so preoccupied with trying not to meet Louis’ eyes, or feeling all prickly when Louis rubbed Liam’s back, that he almost missed being addressed. Again. It was a good thing he didn’t have a history of heart diseases because his heartbeat had sped up so fast he could feel it pulsing in his ears.

“So, will you?” Louis asked, leaning in closer with his elbows propped on the counter. “Keep our secret?”

Harry made the mistake of meeting Louis’ eyes. He should have been used to his face by now, but the sight of sunlight catching on Louis’ eyelashes and shattering off the light blue of his irises still caught Harry unaware. Still made him unsteady on his feet, mouth running dry as he struggled to see past the tunnel vision of Louis’ face that turned the rest of the world into a meaningless blur.

“I,” he opened his mouth and swallowed hard, relieved that he managed to make any sound at all, “Yeah?”

“Yeah?” Louis repeated, sharp canines flashing in a pleased grin and fuck, Harry should really put that knife down before he accidentally sliced off his fingers.

“Yeah, okay. I will. Keep your, um… your secret.”

Louis leaped out of the chair with a loud whoop and bounced around the counter to pull Harry into a quick, one-armed hug. Before Harry could even draw a proper breath or acknowledge that his bones had not, in fact, turned into jelly, Louis was already scuttling off and pulling Liam along.

It took Harry five minutes until he could move again.


The party was far from posh. It was full of drunk teenagers and soon-to-be carpet stains and stifling breathed-out air that made Harry’s head feel like cotton for the five minutes he’d darted downstairs. He’d never felt more as though he didn’t belong, so he’d just escaped back to his room with a bottle of wine, clambered out of the window and settled down with his back resting against the wall of the house, legs stretched out on the dirty roof tiles. If he hadn’t drank one third of the bottle already, he reckoned he’d have balked at getting his favourite pair of sweats dirty. As it was, he just tucked the bottle of red wine between his thighs and tilted his head back to look up at the cloudy night sky.

He could still hear the dull throb of music, feel the walls vibrate to the beat of the bass. Couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with him. Why he couldn’t find it in himself to be down there and enjoy it rather than hiding out on the roof with unkempt hair and a threadbare T-shirt with a hole under his armpit.

“At least I’ve got you, Don Pinot. You’re a good mate.” He pursed his lips over the rim and let the bittersweet liquid splash into his mouth. It burned his throat on the way down, settled in his chest like a little ball of French sunlight.

He caught the drop about to spill over with the tip of his tongue, and why wasn’t anyone making use of his nimble tongue skills? The world was missing out. He was too. People were probably snogging under his very roof right now. He wanted to snog someone too, was that so wrong? Maybe he’d just kiss Don Pinot, see if he cared.

The upward slide of the window right by his shoulder almost made him spill wine all over himself. He startled, drew his legs up to his chest and stopped licking Don Pinot’s rim because what the fuck. That was his room someone had just invaded and this was his roof, invitors not… invited. Wait. That sounded wrong. Eh. Harry was too tipsy to care.

All he could see of the intruder at first were shapely calves and strong thighs and the round curve of a bum in tight, tight jeans, and okay. Maybe they could stay for a bit.

“What are you doing here?” the voice asked once the rest of the boy’s body slipped into view and Harry had to blink, push the glasses further up his nose and wonder whether the wine had been mixed with absinthe.

“It’s my… um, my room.”

“Oh, right. Didn’t realise. Sorry, mate.” Not sounding particularly sorry at all, Louis just sat down as if Harry wasn’t about to fly out of his skin. “Still doesn’t explain why you’re out here.”

He’d climbed out here because the wine he’d snuck in from the kitchen had told him it was a brilliant idea. That he wouldn’t feel as lonely as he had in the middle of a crowd. Who was he to argue? “Wanted quiet.” He burped.

“Are you drunk?” Louis asked and his skin was so golden Harry kind of wanted to touch it to see if it would leave glitter on his fingertips.

“No, sir. I don’t… do that. Sort of thing.” He picked at the already peeling corner of the wine’s label and let it flutter to the roof. Don Pinot was wild enough to not mind being naked in company of strangers. “’M responsible. A very young adult.”

“Mate, you shouldn’t be sitting here if you’re out of it. Might fall off.”

“Not that high.” He rested his head back against the wall and closed his eyes to keep the world from swaying. “Liam’s higher.” He giggled at his own pun. No wonder he got straight As.

“Awful,” Louis said, but not in a mean way, Harry didn’t think. In the way he sometimes teased his friends. Then again, maybe Harry was just delusional. “Be a good lad and hand me the bottle. It’s rude not to share, you know.”

Harry hugged it close to his chest. He and Don Pinot had a connection. Mates for life. Kissing buddies. Until the last sip did them apart. “I promised not to let go. This door is big enough to hold both of us.”

“If you start singing My Heart Will Go On, I’m going to have to put you in a chokehold.”

If he had, Harry wasn’t ashamed to admit he’d have nuzzled Louis’ armpit and called it the best day ever. The fact he’d caught the Titanic reference clearly meant he was Harry’s soulmate. “Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel yo—

Louis smacked his palm over Harry’s open mouth. “No.”

In an effort to look down at the hand in question, Harry’s eyes crossed so much he got dizzy for a bit.

“’S a classic,” he muffled into Louis’ palm and wondered why Louis wasn’t running away, screaming about catching Harry’s nerd cooties.

“You’re three sheets to the wind, babe.”

Louis took his hand off, but Harry didn’t even mind, because babe. BabeBabeBabe.

“You have dimples.”

Harry blinked “Oh.”

“A stunning revelation, I’m sure,” Louis said dryly, shaking his head. Then he poked his finger into Harry’s cheek, nodded in approval when Harry’s dimple deepened beneath his fingertip. Harry was practically rounding the second base with the man of his dreams. His sober self would not believe this.

“Why are you here?” Harry asked, his dimple already missing Louis’ touch now that he dropped his hand. Harry wanted Louis to touch his face forever and ever.

“Turning the question around on me, aren’t you?”

“Don’t have to tell me if you don’t want. ‘S okay.” He gave Don Pinot one last mournful look before he offered him up. His mum always said that sharing was caring, and being tipsy was no excuse for bad manners. “You can have him.”

“Is it a he now?”

“He’s French. Not a gentleman though. Proper dirty.” Their fingers brushed when Louis took the bottle off him. Harry wondered why he hadn’t offered it straight away. And then it happened. Louis’ lips pressed against the rim, the very rim Harry’s lips had been on a mere minute ago and this was it. They might as well have kissed. Tonight was wild.

“I’m not normally into wine, but… gift horse and mouth and stuff. It’s not tequila, but it’ll do.”

Harry knew nothing about horses, but Louis was wiping his wine-stained mouth with the back of his hand and Harry briefly considered offering up his own mouth to do the wiping.

“Do I have something on my face?” Louis asked, hand reaching up to wipe again.

“Just… too much pretty.” Fuck, had he said that inside his brain or out loud?

Louis’ hand stilled, dropping down to pick at the label, a bashful smile on his face. Bashful. Didn’t he know how pretty he was? Harry had always thought he must have heard it at least a hundred times a day, because if Harry was his friend he’d have been telling Louis at every opportunity, and Louis had a lot of friends.

“All right, mate. I think I’m cutting you off.”

“’M not drunk.” He sat on his hands to keep himself from running them through Louis’ soft fringe.

“Of course not.” Louis grinned and stretched his legs out. The tips of his toes barely reached the point where Harry’s ankles were. Harry knew he was taller, of course. There wasn’t much he hadn’t obsessively observed about Louis, and imagining tucking Louis into his arms, fitting so perfectly against him, had fuelled many a dream, but. He’d never really felt the difference until now. Louis’ personality had always been big and bright and loud enough to fill entire rooms, made him appear so much bigger and more intimidating than he actually was.

“Why don’t you ever wear socks?”

“Are we playing twenty questions now?”

Harry didn’t know whether he should be endeared at Louis’ sharp-toothed grin or annoyed that he answered questions with questions, the centre of him always boarded up with defensive humour. Harry wanted to get to his centre very much a lot. Lick his way to it, if that was what it took.

“My feet get sweaty if I wear socks in my shoes and I hate it,” Louis admitted after a lull of expectant silence. Harry wanted to keep learning random, useless facts about this boy until he was old and grey and all their blue-eyed, curly-haired babies were grown up. Harry wanted at least six of them, so they could play impromptu football matches in their back garden even though Harry was awful at it.

“You can take your shoes off, if you want. ‘S just me here. I’m not wearing any either.” Just socks with laughing bananas on them. If Harry was in possession of all his faculties, he may have found this mortifying. As it was, he just wriggled his toes and smiled.

Louis turned his face to look at him, just watching quietly without saying a word. When he smiled slowly back and toed off his Vans, the warmth of this entire ridiculous situation expanded in Harry’s chest, and he hadn’t even taken another sip of the wine.

“I squeezed out all Liam’s toothpaste and put lube in there instead, because yesterday he only ordered pineapple pizza, even though I told him I didn’t like it,” Harry confessed because he didn’t want to leave this one-sided. “Please, don’t tell him.”

Louis let out a startled laugh, eyes crinkling at the edges. Harry felt his own mouth stretch into a wide smile, worried for a while that he’d be unable to un-smile ever again. But. He’d made Louis smile. He’d made Louis smile. Again. Nobody but his mum and Gemma ever found his jokes funny, but they were pretty much obligated to by the unwritten family law.

“I won’t tell,” Louis promised and literally crossed his heart, just in case Harry had forgotten just how cute Louis was, which Harry would never. “As long as you tell me all about his reaction once he finds out.”

The force of his nod made the world spin for a bit. Louis actually wanted to talk to him again. “He’ll be so mad.”

“Nah. He’ll just stomp around a bit and get over it ten seconds in, I reckon.” Louis nudged Harry’s socked foot with his bare one. Harry almost toppled over at the unexpected contact. Couldn’t help but sigh wistfully at how painfully cute Louis’ feet were. Harry wanted to nuzzle his ankles. “Why do you have lube anyway?”

Harry’s mind drew a blank. He could almost hear static. “Um…”

Louis just laughed and cradled Don Pinot to his chest. “Just teasing, Harold. Don’t die of a heart attack now. I’m shit at CPR.”

Harold. That wasn’t even Harry’s name, but Louis could call him that any time he wanted. Really. “I use it for door hinges,” he blurted out, face probably as red as those trousers Louis had been so keen on wearing last year. “Makes them un-squeaky.”

“Hinges. Sure,” Louis said with an amused quirk of his eyebrow. “Whatever you say.”

Harry hid his flaming face in his hands, would have quite liked for a hole to open up right now and swallow him whole.

Soft, gentle fingers circled his wrist, tugged his hand away from his face and just. Louis was touching him with his actual hands. Skin on skin. And his hands were a bit chilly, but Harry didn’t care at all because he’d have confessed hundreds of embarrassing things if it meant Louis touched him right after.

“Hey,” Louis said, his thumb rubbing back and forth over Harry’s rabitting pulse point. He was honestly feeling faint, everything but Louis flickering out of focus. “It’s all right. Would be a bit hypocritical of me to judge you when I’ve got one too.”

The squeak of a noise Harry made had better not been real. “You do?”

“Yeah,” Louis said with a wink and let go.

The skin of Harry’s wrist burned as if he’d held it over open flame for a second too long and he couldn’t stop himself from looking down at Louis’ dainty hands. Couldn’t help but imagine him spread out on his bed, naked and sweaty and whimpering, trying to fit his fingers in one by one or wrapped around his lube-slick cock. Fuck.

Louis’ throat bobbed up and down as he lifted the bottle to his lips and swallowed a mouthful. If there was a one-to-ten scale of being uncomfortably turned on, Harry would have shot right past the ten and reached a hundred.

“Not half bad,” Louis said as he stared down at the half-ripped label on the bottle. His profile was the prettiest profile Harry had ever seen. If he could draw anything past stick figures, he’d have painted Louis on every available surface. Maybe even on the Head Teacher’s desk and the side wall of the gym.

“You look really lovely.” What the bloody hell was wrong with his mouth to brain filter tonight? Christ.

He saw Louis duck his head out of the corner of his eye, because he refused to watch his reaction dead-on.

“I… I didn’t even get to do my hair. Didn’t have enough time ‘cause Mum needed help with the girls. ‘M a mess.”

Harry blinked down at his banana socks and swallowed hard, spurred on, because Louis had to know. “No, you’re… I like it. I like it soft. It’s…” Makes me want to lie down next to you in a field somewhere with your hand in mine and feel it tickle my face when you let me kiss you. “It makes you look very cute.”

“Cute!” Louis huffed. “I’d quite like to be handsome and rugged instead, thanks.”

“You’re that, too,” Harry mumbled truthfully and picked at the loose fabric of his sweats over his knee.

“Thanks,” Louis said quietly, fingers fidgeting with Don Pinot’s jaggedly torn label. “You’re quite cute too, even with your hair like this.”

Harry ran his hand self-consciously through the mess on his head and grimaced. “I don’t like it like this. Like it not messy.”

“I figured, what with your room being all clean and in order. You’d balk if you ever set foot in mine. It should come with a ‘biological haphazard’ warning.”

Harry really hoped Louis hadn’t seen the journal on his desk and noticed Harry Tomlinson doodled on the spine or Harry would have to change his identity and relocate to another continent. “I don’t mind if other people make a mess. I like to clean.”

Louis turned to face him. “Are you for real? What kind of seventeen-year-old are you, babe?”

“A weird one, apparently.” He drew his knees up and rested his chin on top.

“I didn’t,” Louis started, hand reaching out as if to touch. He dropped it before it could ever make contact. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way.”

“No, it’s okay. I know.” The smile on his face felt a bit heavy. “Still true though. I am weird. I don’t mind, really. I like the way I am and I’d never want to change to please someone else.”

“That’s good, you know. I wish I was more like you.”

Harry sat there for a moment, unsure of what to say, because Louis wasn’t perfect, no. Harry was in love, but he wasn’t stupid. But. Louis was a nice person. Impulsive and sweet and funny and. A million other things Harry could fill two more journals with.

“Why would you?” Harry asked, his heart picking up speed. “At least people want to listen to what you say. Want to… be close to you. Kiss you, even. I’ve never—” He snapped his mouth shut and looked resolutely ahead.

“Harry,” Louis said, shifting around to sit Indian-style, facing him, being so, so close Harry had trouble breathing evenly. Why had he even said that? StupidStupidStupid. “Surely someone has… you know. Like, at least a little bit? Like, in fifth grade or something?”

Harry shrugged, not really keen on coming off as even more pathetic. He was suddenly feeling a lot more sober. “Not really. Not even in kindergarten. It’s all right. It’s probably not even as nice as everyone says anyway.”

“Fuck it.” Warm palms cupped Harry’s face and coaxed him to turn to Louis. Louis, who was so close Harry could feel Louis’ breath tickle his own lips and count all Louis’ eyelashes.

“W-what are you doing?”

“Can I? Like, kiss you?”

“I don’t want you to kiss me because you’re… if you’re feeling sorry for me,” he said, voice unsteady, and shit. Could his brain shut up for one second and let him have nice things? Apparently not.

“What if I want to?” Louis said, determined, looking kind of like he did every time he was about to do a penalty shot. It didn’t feel right.

Harry’s cheeks burned where Louis was touching him and this was something Harry had been dreaming of for two years, but. “Why would you?”

Louis’ thumbs rubbed over his cheekbones, tongue flicking out to wet his lips and Harry was so, so weak. Felt like he was about to buzz out of his skin. Either that or throw up. He really hoped he wouldn’t throw up. “I don’t know,” Louis replied honestly. “I guess I haven’t kissed anyone in a while. Don’t you want to?”

I want you to kiss me because you like me. I want it to mean something, he thought and circled Louis’ wrists with shaking hands, not knowing whether he wanted to push Louis away or hold onto him so he wouldn’t change his mind and leave. “I’m—” Pulling them off his face was a lot harder than he’d expected. Harder then admitting to his mum that he liked boys, even. “I’m… I do. I just. Not like this, if that’s okay.”

“No, yeah. Of course it’s… like, I’d never do anything you wouldn’t want. I didn’t mean to, like, assume. Fuck. I’m sorry, Harry, I—” Their hands untangled as Louis rose to his knees, shuffled away. “I’m really sorry.”

I’m sorry too. He kept it to himself. “Don’t be. It’s all righ—”

The rest of his sentence was cut off by the sound of someone retching into the gardenias below. And they just. Wouldn’t. Fucking. Stop.

“Christ, I feel like I’m watching an exorcism,” Louis said, studiously avoiding Harry’s eyes as he looked down at the front yard. “I better—” He jerked his thumb towards the window. “The lads are probably looking for me.”

Why are you here then? Harry wanted to ask, but didn’t. “Yeah, you better go.”

As he watched Louis distractedly pull up the window, he tried to tell himself he’d made the right choice. It was really fucking hard, especially with that bum practically in his face as Louis climbed back into his room.

“Hey, Harry?” Louis said as he ducked his head in, cheeks a little pink and eyes serious. “I’m glad I got to talk to you.”

“Me too,” Harry said sincerely, the most sober he’d been in the last hour.

It wasn’t until the window closed that he realised Louis had left his shoes behind.