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Hiding Out in the Kitchen

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There are four dozen coffee shops in what Harry considers walking distance of his flat. He’s been spiraling through all of them, one after another, on his brief breaks in London, and it’s always the same story. He sneaks out the back of his building and makes his way to the coffeeshop unnoticed, but within half an hour—sometimes within five minutes—he’s been spotted, tweeted, and stalked.

Harry’s glad they have fans. They’d never have gotten as far as they did without that kind of devoted following, and Hang Twenty wouldn’t be sitting high on the British charts without it. Harry’s lucky, he knows that. Just—sometimes he just wants to go out and get a fucking cappuccino like anybody else.

He’s got three days of break, this time; Niall and Zayn have gone home, and Liam’s staying with Danielle, but Harry’s stayed in London alone this time. Holmes Chapel keeps getting beseiged, and it doesn’t seem fair to do that to his parents or their neighbors every time Harry’s off tour.

So today is another coffeeshop adventure. Harry packs an extra Sharpie, because he knows how this game ends.

It’s easy to get out the back, at least; the crowd out front is usually pretty significant when he’s on break, but there’s no easy way for them to surround the place, and Harry makes sure to come out front and sign occasionally to keep them from sneaking about too much.

The shop he’s headed to today isn’t far, but it had been pushed down on his list by shoddy Yelp reviews; apparently the staff are a bit mad. Harry doesn’t mind mad, all things considered; it’s starting to feel familiar, like the rocking of the bus when he sleeps.

He has some trouble finding it, and he’s glad for his beanie and his shades when he’s making confused turns in front of the West End crowd. The entrance turns out, in the end, to be more in an alley than a proper street, which explains some of the poor reviews. It doesn’t bother Harry, though; less foot traffic could buy him an extra ten minutes to be out in the world without a security guard on his tail.

“Hey, mate!” The kid manning the counter grins at him. He’s got flour all over his red jeans, and artistic holes sliced in his jumper. “Fancy a cuppa?”

“Latte,” Harry says. “Thanks.” There’s no one else in the place, which is probably a bad sign for the coffee, but gives Harry a slightly better chance at sticking out a solid half-hour. The kid doesn’t seem to know who he is, at least.

The kid—Harry shouldn’t be thinking of him that way, he’s probably older than Harry is—the guy nods approvingly, and then he gestures to the glass bakery case. “Go on, try something,” he says. “You won’t be disappointed, we’re the best in the city.”

Harry has to fight the urge to take a pointed look around the dim interior. Simon’s starting to rub off on him. “Er, maybe a scone.” He gestures at the buttery-looking ones at the near side of the case.

“Jam and cream?” The guy behind the counter is already getting everything ready, distractedly manning the espresso machine while he shoves the back of the case open with one foot.

“Yeah, thanks,” Harry agrees. He can’t keep himself from watching the guy at work, because he’s like some kind of puppy, active and overeager. “Been a quiet day?”

The guy shrugs. “It’s half one on a Tuesday. You should see us just before nine, though, suits as far as the eye can see. And we pull a good evening crowd.”

Harry should collect his food and sit down, shouldn’t chat to this guy, but—but leaving his flat just to sit alone in a coffee shop doesn’t seem worth it, particularly. “You work here long, then?”

The guy grins even wider, which Harry didn’t realize was even possible. “Coming up on a year,” he says. “I pretty much run the place now.” It’s a brag, but it’s—sweet. It makes the corners of Harry’s mouth turn up despite himself, at the pride in this guy’s voice.

“Cool,” Harry says, and pays for his latte and scone. “You, um. You don’t have a jar.” It feels awkward, asking, but it seems ruder to just tuck his change away without an attempt to tip. Besides, tipping ridiculously is one of Harry’s favorite things to do now that he has a chequing balance that almost doesn’t fit on a standard receipt.

The guy starts, and then he’s grinning again—not that he’d ever really stopped—and pulling out an absolutely ridiculous fish-shaped jar from under the counter. “Owner hates it,” he says. “But I think it really adds something to the decor, don’t you?”

Harry laughs, dropping in his change and one crinkled note. “Totally,” he agrees. “You could have a whole theme, maybe.”

“We do need to shake it up,” the guy agrees, nodding. “No windows and all! We need to brighten the place up, honestly. I’m surprised we haven’t had more decaffeinated people falling asleep in line. We could just get in some track lighting and maybe some yellow paint for the walls and a couple strings of little chili lights, you know the kind?”

Harry does not, but he’s pretty sure this guy isn’t stopping for anything, so he leans one hip against the counter and sips his latte.

“Or we could go the other way, right, go full tearoom—er, the kind with, er. Tea.” The guy bites his lip. “I mean—that’s the only kind. Obviously.”

Harry can’t help but snort a laugh at the guy’s embarrassment. “I’m sure I have no idea what you mean,” he says, as deadpan as he can manage.

“Right,” the guy says. “Right. Yeah. Where was I?”

“You were telling me about the tearoom decor,” Harry prompts, and settles in with his scone.

***

No one else comes in during the hour Harry spends talking to the guy—Louis—at the coffee shop. Twitter has no idea he’s left his flat at all.

It takes the whole walk to his flat for Harry to realize that that means he can go back again tomorrow. He’s whistling when he comes up the stairs.

***

Harry goes out with friends that night; he’s glad so many of his school chums have funneled out to the bright lights of London for uni or for better jobs. They’re all busy during the day, usually, but at least he can hang with them at night.

He can’t help being spotted at clubs, of course, but he’s brought along Sal from the label’s security team. Harry likes Sal best, because Sal never bugs him unless it’s important, and it’s almost never important. That’s the main upside to the irritations of being followed around by twelve-year-olds; they’re none of them what he’d call dangerous.

Harry’s friend Lila is pushing through the crowd to get in against Harry’s side. “When’re you leaving us again?” Lila’s one of Harry’s best friends; they’d expected to be at uni together by now, and instead she’s there without him, and he’s—well. Harry Styles of Hang Twenty, beloved by the tabloids.

“Two days,” he shouts back. “Australia!”

She grins at him, knocks an elbow into his side until he wraps an arm around her waist. “You gonna surf, then? Do justice to the name?”

“I didn’t pick the name,” Harry protests, for the millionth time. “Liam picked the name.” Lila just grins and squeezes him closer.

“Two days,” she says. “Hmmm. So you’re off tomorrow, then?”

Harry twists his lips, fighting a smug smile. He knows where this is going. “Not a plan in the world,” he agrees. “You?”

“No morning classes. I could be up as late as I want.” She’s laughing, a little, and Harry wants to join her, because they’ve never been very subtle with each other.

“All right,” he says, and waves to the rest of the group. “You got everything?”

“I’m set,” she says, and Harry gets Sal’s attention and gets them out the door.

***

By the time Harry wakes up, it’s almost two, and there’s a post-it stuck to his face.

Tx luv. Have fun in Oz!! x x There’s a smile drawn under the exclamation points.

That’s why Lila is Harry’s favorite; they’ve got a very similar philosophy about hook-ups. He’ll text her a couple of Xs later, if he remembers.

Harry’s a little blurry, still, from last night, and he rolls his neck on the way to the shower. He wants coffee, something fancy and sweet. And he can actually go back to the place from yesterday, which is a first. He’ll probably get spotted today, and have to move on to the next, but still. It’s enough of a change that by the time he’s dressed, he’s raring to go, to get out and get another scone, or maybe a bit of coffee cake.

Louis is behind the counter again when Harry comes in, and the place is as empty as yesterday. “Harry!” Louis shouts, an obnoxious sound that nonetheless makes Harry laugh.

“I’m starting to think you’re having me on about the morning crowds,” Harry says.

“Oh, it’s a right riot,” Louis insists. “Pushing and shoving. You don’t want to be here when we run out of sausage rolls, I’ll tell you that. Latte?”

“Light and sweet today,” Harry says. “So it’s just the afternoons that’re empty, then?”

Louis nods. “Owner doesn’t want to close up, but this shift makes me stir-crazy, I’ll tell you. No windows, no customers, and there’s only so many YouTube videos a guy can watch before he wants to overdose on muffins and die.”

Harry laughs, glancing at the muffins. They look like a good way to go, actually. “But now I’ve got you to entertain me,” Louis says, and there’s a question in it.

“Sure,” Harry agrees, and pulls up a chair. “Youtube videos, huh?”

Louis laughs. “All right, maybe I can stomach a few more. I’m a bit of an addict, to be honest. I put some up myself occasionally—d’you, erm, d’you want to see?”

This could be very, very boring, or very, very awkward, but Harry doesn’t have to come back, if it is. “Sure. Wow me.”

“Dunno about that,” Louis says, and pulls an open laptop up from under the counter, starts typing and clicking. “Er—okay, here, this one’s new. My mate James plays a bit of guitar, we thought we’d collaborate, like.” It’s playing before he spins the laptop around so Harry can see it. Harry doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t this, wasn’t singing. A scene, maybe, or sketch comedy. But this is Louis singing a Beach Boys song into the camera while a guy plays guitar offscreen.

It’s pretty. Louis isn’t perfect, probably isn’t trained, but he’s got that other thing, that indefinable thing—charisma, maybe. Showmanship. Harry knows a lot of guys who can sing a bit, but not many who’d want to put it on the internet for anyone to see. Not many who’d stare down the camera like that. He’s smiling at the screen without even realizing it, and when the song ends he glances up to find Louis smiling down at him, hand on the back of his neck.

“There’s—” Louis doesn’t give Harry a chance to say anything. “There’s this great one I found the other day with a cat barking, have you seen that one? You should see that one, it’s great, hang on.”

Harry wants to say something, wants to tell him it was good, but Louis doesn’t want the compliment. “Barking cat?” he says instead. “That sounds good, I want to see that.”

“Cheers,” Louis says, and swings the laptop back around.

***

On the third day, Harry’s at the coffee shop by noon. He’s got to pack tonight, and Niall and Liam will be back and wanting to hang out. It still doesn’t make sense to schedule himself five hours or so of leeway on his coffeeshop visit, but—whatever. He’s up, he wants coffee. That’s all there is to it.

“Prince Harry!” Louis says this time, and Harry fakes a shudder.

“I don’t do Nazi gear. Or thrones, for that matter.”

“Just Harry then,” Louis agrees. “A latte for Mr. Harry?”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “And a scone, thanks.”

Louis starts his routine, espresso machine buzzing to life. “You know,” he says. “You’re going to spoil me, if this keeps on. All these boring afternoons are becoming pretty fun.”

Harry smiles, and then he catches himself. “Actually, I’m about to leave for a month,” he says. “Flight’s tomorrow morning.”

Louis turns away, towards the machinery. “That’s too bad,” he says. “Work or pleasure?”

“Work,” Harry says. “But, I mean. I think it’ll be fun, too.”

“‘S nice to have both,” Louis agrees. “This job can be all right, but my other’s the one for me, you know?”

Harry takes the proffered mug. “You have another job?”

“Well, I say job,” Louis says. “More—vocation. In that way where I might get paid someday. Or, er, hired. I’m trying to get into theatre. Came down from Doncaster for it after I bombed my A-levels.” He’s puffing up a little, proud, and Harry can’t help but smile into his latte.

“West End’s the place for it.” Harry’s drama teacher in school had started out here, he’s pretty sure.

“Yeah,” Louis agrees. “I’ll get in something soon, I’m sure. My mate James has a role this summer. They’re in rehearsals now, I practically never see him anymore.”

Harry can see Louis on the stage, easy. He’d draw the crowd’s eye, even from the chorus. Louis has that spark about him. “I’ll go see your play, when you get one,” he says. “You’ll be stellar.”

The smile on Louis’ face seems to light up the whole shop. “Thanks, mate,” he says. “I’ll let you know, then, when I get one. Next time you come in. Probably won’t get something this month, anyway.”

“Well—” Harry really shouldn’t do this, but. “If you do,” he says. “You can email me, how about?” He’s got a Sharpie on him, like always, and Louis passes him a scrap receipt. “Here.” It’s not Harry’s main address, but it’s one that bounces there, one he’ll see as soon as Louis emails, if he emails. “You can—if you get bored in the afternoons, you can email me. My schedule’s gonna be pretty packed, but I’ll read ‘em for sure, anyway.”

Louis tucks the receipt into his trouser pocket. “Writing letters into the void,” he says. “It’s poetic, I like it.”

“Sending Youtube videos into the void, more like,” Harry says, because he has a feeling he knows what a Louis email is going to look like.

“Only the best ones,” Louis promises, and crosses his heart.

***

Australia is staggeringly beautiful. Harry’s not much of a photographer, but he can’t stop taking pictures of the scenery, every time they’re between cities. He gets plenty of Liam and Niall, too, crashed out on the bus or in green rooms, or making faces at each other to pass the time.

The interviewers here are a whole other species, too—and Harry’s been interviewed by Sugarscape, so that’s saying something. “Er, not circumcised,” he confirms.

“Ah, right,” the woman says. “We’ve all seen the picture, haven’t we?”

“That’s not me,” Harry says, but he knows he isn’t selling the denial. Ah, well. It adds to his image.

“Mmm-hmm.” She smirks, re-crossing her legs. “And what’s this about you leaving a club in London with a pretty girl on your arm last week?”

“Lila’s just a friend,” Harry says. For once he means it, even if it isn’t exactly answering the question they really want.

“A friend who was photographed heading into your flat?”

Harry shrugs. “Dunno what to tell you,” he says. “She’s a good friend from school.”

The interviewer hums and moves on, but Harry suspects he’ll be facing that round of questions again. And again, and again.

Well—maybe not the circumcision part.

***

Hey Haz,

It’s me Louis from Fine Roasts! I haven’t gotten a play yet, soz, but thought i’d write anyway if that’s okay. (Of course taht’s okay, because i am fascinating and you miss me loads, right?)

It’s pissing down here, has been pretty much since you left. I think this might be your fault, taking all the good weather with you to Oz. Well I guess they probably had good weather already, but still. There aint no sunshine when youre gone, mate!

Hope alls well down under. Here’s a video of a cat solving a find-the-lady game. You’re welcome.

Louis x x

Harry reads the email three times. He’s supposed to be preparing for the next interview, but this is way more invigorating than mouth exercises and stuff. Louis is just so very Louis, even in writing.

“Whatcha readin’, Harry?” Niall pops down next to him in the big armchair, half on top of Harry’s hip.

“Er, email from a friend,” Harry says, and puts his phone away. Niall leans back against him.

“So you and Lila—” Niall starts, and Harry flicks him in the thigh. “Hey, mate, I just want you to find someone.”

Harry knows he does; Niall is a closet romantic, and for whatever reason, most of it is focused on Harry. “Lila’s not my someone,” he says. “Not that I’m saying there’s only one someone.” Harry’s pretty sure there are lots of someones, and it’s just that people generally pick one to stick with.

Zayn nods from across the room. “So many potential someones,” he says. “Especially that girl you were seeing break before last, what was her name? She was a stunner.”

“Alli,” Harry fills in. “She’s got a boyfriend now.”

Zayn shakes his head. “Huh. Does she have a sister? ‘Cause, really, mate, she was a catch.” He tilts his head back, eyes falling closed like he’s thinking about it, and Harry laughs, throws a pillow at him.

“I should start setting you up with my mates, Haz,” Niall muses. “I’ve got this friend you’d love, only he’s been studying in Glasgow, but he’s down to London now on the job. You’d get on, I bet.”

Harry glances over at Paul automatically. “I don’t think—they wouldn’t like that. Y’know.”

Niall ignores him. Niall’s good at ignoring the parts of reality he doesn’t like. “I hear he’s a great kisser, too. And he was in a band for most of Junior Cycle, you’d have loads to talk about. Here—” he digs his mobile out of his pocket, elbow coming dangerously close to Harry’s face. “I’ve got a picture, I think. He’s fit, you’d like him.”

“Like who?” Liam asks, wandering up. He’s clinging to his mobile like a lifeline, and Harry thinks, from the soft smile on his face, that he’s probably just been talking to Danielle. Harry loves how much Liam adores her; it reminds him of his mum and stepdad, a bit.

“My mate Jack,” Niall says. “See?” He turns the phone towards Liam, who nods approvingly.

“Seems a bit of all right,” he agrees. “But—”

“I know,” Harry says. He doesn’t want to hear it. “I haven’t agreed to anything. You can save the lecture for Niall.”

Liam bites his lip, climbs up on the other arm of the chair to hug Harry. “I don’t mean to lecture,” he says.

Harry sighs. “I know. It’s okay. Anyway, I’m sure Niall has loads of girl friends he can set me up with, eh, Niall?”

Niall starts scrolling through his pictures like he’s seeking out the perfect companion for Harry, and Harry leans into Liam and tries not to think about anything.

***

Harry doesn’t find the time to write back to Louis for two days. He gets three follow-up emails from Louis during that time, one of which is just a link to a video of some teenage boys dancing to Single Ladies. It makes Niall snort up part of his lunch, which is impressive feedback indeed.

He manages, finally, when they have an evening of hotel lock-down thanks to some particularly overzealous fans. Harry doesn’t feel much like going out and dealing with them, even if he thought he could talk Paul into it, so he chills with the guys in Niall’s room. They aren’t even really talking, just sort of being quiet together, and he pulls out his phone and starts typing his response to Louis.

Hey Lou,

Sorry the weather’s rough, but it’s kind of your own fault for being English. At least that’s what my mate Niall says every time I complain about it, because apparently Ireland’s weather is glorious all the time. Doubt it. It was rainy as all hell whenever I went there on school trips and stuff.

We’re going surfing next week, my mates are really excited about it, it’s kind of an in-joke about our jobs. None of us have ever been, but I bet we’ll be alright. Or we’ll be terrible and it’ll be hilarious. Either way, really.

I’ve been missing your scones, the ones around here are rubbish by comparison. That’s probably unfair to Melbourne, I’m sure they have very good scones somewhere, but we haven’t found any yet. The coffee’s all right, but it’s lacking in the strange noises and weird conversation you got me used to.

When’s your next audition?

Harry x x

Zayn’s flipping channels by the time he hits Send, and Harry climbs up onto the bed to join him. There’s lots of familiar stuff, American imports mostly, and they end up watching Friends, with Niall snoring at the foot of the bed. Harry’s smiling fondly at Chandler and Monica when his phone beeps with an incoming email, and he pulls it out of his pocket.

Hey sooooo the owner got a subscription to a bunch of the dailies this week, so customers have something to read, and your face is all over the Sun. Apparntly you’re sort of famous or summat, did you know? Anyway now I get your surfing joke!! Try not to get eaten by a shark okay, that would be sad. For me and apparetnly for like every 12yo girl in London.

Lou

Harry tosses the phone onto the bed, irritated. Louis had been—safe. The stupid coffeeshop had been like a haven, completely outside his real life, where he was just some guy. “Y’okay?” Zayn asks, sleepily.

“Yeah,” Harry says, but it’s probably not very convincing. He turns his focus back to Monica’s issues. Louis can wait a few more days.

***

Surfing is—interesting.

Liam’s the best of them, and Niall’s all right, but Harry’s taking an unreasonable share of tumbles into the waves. His cheek is raw from being dragged against the sand, and his legs are shaky from trying to balance on the stupid board.

“More like Hang Fifteen,” Harry mutters to Josh, who squints at him for a second before he gets it.

“Ten, I think,” Josh says. “Since Zayn didn’t even come with.”

“Maybe even less than ten,” Harry says, and peels off the wetsuit so he can flop onto a towel in his swim trunks. “I’m bringing the band average down to negative scores, probably.”

Josh shrugs philosophically. “Well, you have other skills. And you’re a charming bastard, so probably no one will ever care if you can’t surf.”

Harry huffs a laugh. There are a bunch of paps taking his picture, but Paul and the guys are keeping them back, and anyway, Harry’s pretty sure he looks good right now. He doesn’t mind too much.

He thinks, suddenly, that Louis might see these pictures, that the Sun might run an article about “Hazza’s Beach Body,” or something. The thought makes him need to stretch out his toes, like a sudden tightness in his muscles.

“So you’re not gonna have a go?” Harry asks Josh, trying to distract himself. “You might be aces, you know.”

“I’ll stick to the drums,” Josh says, and takes a long drag of his Corona. “Anyway, it’s fun watching them at it. Liam looks like he was born in Malibu or something.”

Harry comes up to his elbows to watch. Liam’s paddling out, far enough that he’s more of a speck than a person, and Harry can see the moment when he jumps up to standing. “It’s a good thing he’s so nice.” Harry’d be about ready to kill him if he weren’t such an adorable puppy the rest of the time.

“That’s what’s gonna be on Liam’s tombstone,” Josh agrees. “‘It’s a good thing he was so nice, we’d have all hated him else.’ Too bloody good at everything.”

Liam’s still headed toward them, momentum carrying him almost to the shoreline, and as he gets close he climbs off and trots over to them, board under his arm. “Hey, boys!” Liam says, cheerful as ever, and Harry can’t help but smile back.

“You’re good at this.” He taps Liam’s board. “Have you been secretly practicing?”

“Dunno, does my scooter count?” Liam sets his board down next to Harry’s and spreads his own towel out. “I’ve been missing it. We should bring it with us on the next tour.”

“Mmm,” Harry agrees. “Ride through the venue hallways making people dodge out of our way?”

Liam looks appalled. “We’d only use the empty ones! Or some of them have such nice back lots, we could play around there.” He tips his face into the sunlight, closing his eyes. “That sounds nice.”

Harry lets himself slump back down onto the towel, throws an arm over his face. The sun’s beating down, but it feels good, warming him all the way through. “We’re so fucking lucky,” he murmurs.

“Don’t I know it,” Liam says, and his voice is full of awe.

***

Louis hasn’t emailed in two days. Not that Harry’s noticed, or anything. Just—probably he’s feeling weird about the whole stupid famous-band thing. Probably Harry should, like, tell him it’s okay.

He’s passing his mobile from hand to hand, trying to decide whether to open up an email, when Niall pops into his room. “Hey, Haz,” he says, and Harry drops the phone, moves over enough to let Niall up on the bed with him.

“Thought you were gonna go check out that restaurant?”

Niall shrugs. “You should come with,” he says. “You can still go dancing after. The guy at the radio station says the fettuccine alfredo’ll blow your mind.”

“He said it’d blow your mind,” Harry clarifies. “I think he was hitting on you. He’ll probably be there, like, wearing a rose corsage.”

Niall’s too easy-going for that kind of ribbing to make much impact. “As long as he doesn’t get between me and the alfredo, I’m cool.”

“You’re always cool,” Harry agrees. “Yeah, okay, let me throw on some clothes.” He climbs off the bed and starts rooting through his luggage for something suitable. They’re sure to be photographed; the label’s been very clear about their expectations for wardrobe on public outings.

“Oh, hey,” Niall says, behind him. “I found someone to set you up with.”

“I’m sure Jack is great.” Harry pulls a henley over his head. “Just—you know.”

“Bloody ridiculous,” Niall says, and his voice is vicious. “But no, this one’s Nicky. Or—Veronica, technically.”

Harry pulls on some dark trousers, adjusts himself. “I’m not really looking, Nailfile. We’re never home, practically.”

“We’re home often enough for Liam and Danielle,” Niall points out. He’s waving his phone at Harry, a picture of a pretty girl sticking her tongue out at the camera. Harry can’t help but grin at the image.

“She’s got your accent?” Harry asks. “That might be a dealbreaker.”

Niall flips him two fingers, and then they’re out the door, headed for some spectacular fettucine alfredo.

***

Niall doesn’t come to the club, but Harry and Zayn dance their arses off. It’s easier to get served here than in America, and Harry takes full advantage, beer and shots and a couple of frilly mixed drinks. One has an umbrella in, and he tucks the end of it in his curls before he heads back out onto the dance floor.

One of the techs picks it out of his hair, twirls it between her fingers. Harry thinks of Mary Poppins, and then of Audrey Hepburn. Harry grins a soppy, drunken smile at her, steals the umbrella back and slides it gently into her ponytail. “Dance with me,” he says, and she comes in close, lets her fingers trail down his bicep.

Harry loves this feeling, loose and confident. He loves the way her arms come up around his neck when he presses in close, and the laugh on her lips when he presses his hand to the small of her back.

The music is pounding, and Harry knows people are watching him, but he doesn’t care. She’s lush and curved against him, and he wants to see all of those curves spread out, wants to stroke her all over until she’s panting.

He presses a kiss to her ear, stays there to whisper. “Y’wanna come back and see my etchings?”

She laughs again, low and dirty, and turns her mouth into his ear. “Sorry, rock star,” she says, “but I’ll dance as long as you want.”

“Deal,” Harry agrees, and squeezes her waist, just to show there’s no hard feelings.

They dance until Harry’s soaked with sweat, and then he kisses her goodnight and grabs a last drink before Paul herds them out, back to the hotel. Zayn’s half-asleep in the van, not in any fit state to keep Harry entertained, and Harry pulls out his phone instead, checks his mail. Still nothing from Louis.

Well, fine.

hey lous
yeah so im kindfof famous. sry. well not sry but sry i didtn tell yu i guesss. nvr get to be outsde antmore wthout paps yk? it was nice. but ont anymore i guess.
nice while it lastd antway. good lkcu with erything

Harry wonders if Louis has already sold the story. He thinks probably not—but then, everyone’s always telling Harry he’s too trusting about these things. For all he knows, someone from the Sun is interviewing Louis right now. Louis probably doesn’t make much at the coffeeshop; it’s hard to begrudge him whatever he might get from selling the story. Probably he’ll say Harry talked about girls the whole time; that’s what the papers always want to hear.

“Blokes are stupid,” Harry mumbles, and Paul glances at him in the rearview.

“Sometimes,” he agrees. “Don’t forget to take some Nurofen, eh? And lots of water.”

“I’m not gonna have a hangover.” Harry curls up into the bench seat, knees pressed into the door.

Paul shakes his head. “Tell it to your seven-o’clock alarm,” he says, and then, “Okay, screaming fans in three, two, one—”

***

Harry’s wake-up call makes his head pound, but he downs some Nurofen and by the time they’re in the van, he feels okay. “How was the club?” Niall asks. “Not as good as the pasta, I bet.”

“You don’t think anything is as good as that pasta,” Harry points out. To Niall’s credit, it had been pretty spectacular. “It was all right. I think Zayn danced with half the girls there. And Sandy’s tech was there, you know, uh—”

“Janice,” Liam fills in. “She’s nice, she helps me with my earpiece sometimes.”

“Janice,” Harry repeats. “Yeah. We danced for a while. She’s pretty good.”

Niall raises an eyebrow at him. “Shall I call off Nicky, then?”

It takes Harry a minute to remember who Nicky is. “Nah,” he says. “I don’t think Janice wants a boyfriend.”

“And you don’t want a girlfriend,” Liam says. Harry can’t really deny that. Ever since X-Factor, it’s just been—it hasn’t made sense to try to commit to anything other than this. Hang Twenty is Harry’s girlfriend. Everyone else is a visitor.

They have to wait for setup before they can soundcheck. Harry used to try to help out, hauling equipment, but a few months ago someone at the label pulled him aside and told him to stop. “The people you’re helping out won’t have jobs if you get hurt—you see what I’m saying?” Harry gets out of the way, instead, these days, holes up in the green room with Zayn and Niall.

They get lunch delivered, pretty good sandwiches, and Harry’s munching through a chicken-and-veggies one when he pulls out his phone to check his email. There are three unread messages, all from Louis.

Mate, are you drunk? Wait, rhetorical question, you are obviously drunk. I wouldn’t have taken you for a maudlin drunk but there you go with it anyway. Nothing has to change.

and then, half an hour later, like he’d thought better of it,

I mean I guess it changes that I did’nt know? But i’ll try not to make a big deal or anything. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard your stuff, mate. Probably my sisters have, dunno.

And ten minutes after that:

Wait okay I looked you up on wikipedia and I have heard that one song, because it’s all over the radio. You guys are pretty good actually. I guess you know that already. But anyway, we don’t have to talk about this. Assuming you still want to talk to me. I have an audition on Tuesday, if you were here I’d make you run lines with me, rock star or not.

Harry finds that he’s grinning, a big stupid grin, down at his mobile. He can’t really make himself stop, puts his hand up to hide it, instead. He doesn’t have much time, but he can at least write back quickly.

If the time zones work out I can run lines with you over the phone tonight, we should be back at the hotel by 9 tonight. It’s 8:20am here, you can do the math. Probably. You are a drama kid, maybe you suck at math. Kidding! Anyway, email me if the time works and your number. And the script, I guess.

I’m sure you’ll get the part, either way.

Harry’s smiling through all of that morning’s interviews, even when they ask him about Caroline. It’s good to have his friend back.

***

They don’t end up running lines; Louis emails back I don’t get up at 6am for anyone, even people who are half-naked in the Sun this morning. But you can help with the next audition. He sends his number anyway, and Harry types it into his phone and saves it as “Louis Louis.” He should probably find out Louis’ last name, since Louis knows his now.

Harry finds that he’s looking forward to their long holiday more than he’d expected to. He loves his job, all things considered; he adores touring, getting to put on shows for screaming crowds. There’s nothing like that rush, of having thousands of people hanging on his every word. But—he wants the two weeks at home, too. He keeps lingering on it. He’s not usually that guy, or he tries not to be. It’s important to Harry to live in the now, instead of always looking to the future, but there’s something about this particular holiday that’s just calling to him.

He wants to see his mum; he wants to hug his sisters; he wants to see his school mates and maybe shag Lila a couple of times; he wants to talk to Louis in person again.

If he’s thinking about that last thing more than the others, he doesn’t let himself linger on it. Louis is new; Harry has always liked new people. They’re exciting.

Liam’s itching for this break, too. He tries not to let it show, because he’s Liam, but Harry can see the way he spends half their downtime on his mobile, talking to Danielle or staring, heart-eyed, at her texts and emails. Harry hopes Paul was right about the SIM cards they got, or Liam’s mobile bill for this trip might actually make a dent in his bank account.

“Maybe you’ll get sucked through the screen and get to live in her email forever,” Zayn says, grumpily, and Liam pushes his shoulder into Zayn’s in gentle retribution. They’re in the last week, and as much as they love each other, it’s easy to get on each other’s nerves. Harry’s just staying out of the way, trying not to start anything.

His phone beeps, and he digs it out of his pocket. Louis. Harry smiles and opens it, finds a link to a dance remix of the sneezing-panda video. Louis is a strange lad. He sends back a video of some American teenagers singing Lady Gaga songs a capella, and a quick paragraph about how much he’s craving good fish and chips from the place by his flat.

We’ll get some as soon as you’re back, Louis writes back. It arrives almost as soon as Harry’s sent his, feels like, and Harry likes the idea that Louis read his email as soon as it arrived.

Deal, Harry sends. Back on Sunday night, we could go Monday eve. You’ll help keep me from succumbing to jetlag.

There’s a longer wait this time, and Harry supposes Louis has gone to sleep or something. He still hasn’t bothered to learn the time difference. But his phone beeps just before they arrive at the radio station: Sounds good we can meet at Fine Roasts. I know you’ve been missing it loads. It misses you!

Harry tucks his mobile back in his pocket and prepares to get out of the van into the screaming crowd. He does miss the coffee shop, actually. It’s ridiculous; he’s only been there three times. But it was such an unexpected oasis from the paparazzi and the fans, and it had Louis, who’s—who Harry had just clicked with, right away, the way he had with Liam and Zayn and Niall. So maybe it’s reasonable to want to go back there as soon as the plane touches down. He won’t, of course; that would be ridiculous. But he wants to.

“Okay, boys, once more unto the breach,” Paul says, and then the doors are open and all Hary can hear are the screams.

***

Harry wakes up at 5AM the morning after they arrive back in London, and he lies in bed watching the sun rise, glad to be home. He’s got good plans for this break, and he’s ready for all of them.

By noon, he’s raring to go, but his first plan is dinner with Louis, and he’s got hours and hours to go until that. The other boys are already heading to see their families, but Harry’s are expecting him later in the week. His London friends are probably all at school or work, and he doesn’t much feel like texting everyone to see who might be free to hang out for a few hours.

So he goes to the coffee shop.

It’s silly; he’ll be seeing Louis in the evening anyway. But he’s itching to get out of the flat, and he at least has somewhere he can go and maybe not be recognized. Well, by anyone other than Louis.

Louis’ double-take when he walks in more than confirms the correctness of Harry’s decision. “Hazza!” Louis says, grin overtaking his face. “You’re back right-side-up, then?” He’s holding his arms out, and Harry doesn’t think about it, just leans over the counter and hugs him, face pressed into Louis’ hair.

“I am, yeah,” Harry agrees. “Sorry, I should’ve texted.”

Louis waves him off. “Of course not,” he says. “You’re always welcome, you’re our celebrity customer. Only I promise not to put your photo on the wall or anything.”

Harry snorts. “Thanks, mate. That’d kind of ruin it for me.”

“You want a scone?” Louis asks. “Baked ‘em myself, the owner’s been teaching me.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and gets a latte, too, pulls up his usual chair. “So how’s everything?” He feels pretty up to date, thanks to Louis’ frequent emails, but there’s got to be stuff he hasn’t heard.

“Next audition is coming up,” Louis says. He hadn’t gotten the last part. “I have the script, you want to run lines?”

Harry smiles. It’s good to be home.

***

The plan for the fish and chips reminds Harry of a heist movie, but in a good way.

Harry gives Louis directions to the place he likes, and to his flat. Louis will pick up the food while Harry sneaks back into his building and watches for Louis to approach. Then he’ll dart out long enough to sign some autographs while Louis goes in behind him, hopefully unnoticed. The whole thing has Harry stifling a giggle, because his life has taken some strange turns indeed when he’s plotting a Thomas Crown setup just to enjoy some haddock and potatoes with a buddy.

It goes off without a hitch, anyway; by the time Harry comes back in from having taken what felt like a hundred thousand photos, Louis is sitting comfortably in the lobby, working his way through one of the baskets of chips.

“Thanks,” Harry says, and he means it. The whole thing hadn’t been meant as a test—not consciously, at any rate—but if it had been, Louis passed with full marks. “C’mon, I’ll take you up.”

Louis is appropriately awed by Harry’s flat, and Harry lets him wander around while he sets up The Notebook on the DVD player, because they both, apparently, have a soft spot for it, and because Louis had vetoed Lord of the Rings. Harry’s watching the menu repeat and starting to dig into his fish when Louis wanders back, shaking his head and carrying one of the good cushions from the other living room.

“I don’t know how you ever make yourself leave,” Louis says. “I’d have parties in here every night, and sleep every day.”

Harry shrugs. “I have parties sometimes,” he says. “But I couldn’t pay the rent without the other stuff, and—and I love it, honestly. I wouldn’t want to just party when I could be touring sometimes instead.”

Louis nods, considering. “Yeah, okay. I’d want to act even if I had fifty million pounds like Brad Pitt or someone. It’s better than—anything, really.”

Harry can see Louis being like that, more famous than Harry is, splashed across every magazine all over the world. Louis is gorgeous, even if he wears ridiculous clothing most of the time; he could be a Brad Pitt. Harry would go to all of his movies. Maybe Louis would invite him to some of the premieres.

“Oh, hey,” Louis says, interrupting Harry’s train of thought. “There’s a party this weekend at mine—I mean, I’m throwing a party. Speaking of parties. I dunno if you’re around or if you—do that, but I mean, my friends are cool. I can tell them not to, like, hassle you or whatever.”

That sounds fun, actually. Harry wants to meet some of these people Louis is always talking about, Stan and Alice and James and so on. “What night? I’m up with my family for part of the weekend.”

“Oh, yeah?” Louis asks. “When do you get back?”

Harry spears a bit more of his fish, trying to remember his schedule. “I leave day after tomorrow, I think I’m back Saturday afternoon,” he says. “Pretty sure.”

“It’s Saturday,” Louis says. “D’you think you’ll be too tired?”

Harry shakes his head. “Nah, that sounds good.” Paul won’t like it, but maybe Harry just won’t tell him. “Drama kids throw good parties, right?”

“The best,” Louis agrees. Harry grins, lets his legs splay until their knees bump.

“Notebook time,” he says, and clicks Play.

***

Niall’s friend Nicky texts on Tuesday. In the neighborhood, going for a curry. You in? Harry has to smile at the forwardness of it; of course a girl like that would be friends with Niall.

sure, he texts back, and heads out to meet her.

She’s already got food in front of her when he gets there, clicking around on her phone. “Sorry, I was starving,” she says, and offers him a bite. He takes it, looking her over. She’s pretty; she’s got what Harry’s step-dad calls the map of Ireland on her face, and a t-shirt from a band that one of Harry’s sisters loves.

“That’s okay,” Harry says. “Is it good, though? Maybe I’ll get the same.”

“It’s to die for,” she says, “but don’t take my word, I love everything.” Yeah, Harry can definitely see why she and Niall get on.

“A quality worthy of respect,” he says, and catches the waiter’s eye.

He gets a beer with his meal, and Nicky orders one as well, and some chips. “Did I mention I’m starving? It’s been a day, let me tell you.”

“Yeah?” Harry leans on his elbows. “What’d you—Niall didn’t mention, do you work in the city?”

“School,” she says. “I’m doing maths. It’s—what’s the phrase? You know, it’s the worst thing in the world, except for everything else.”

The waiter drops off their beers, and Harry takes a long draw of his. “Yeah,” he says, finally. “I know that feeling. Goes the other way, too, eh?”

She smiles, like he’s understood. “The other way, too. Yeah.”

***

The more Harry sees of Louis, the more tactile he gets.

Harry’d gotten the idea pretty early on that Louis is just like that, cuddly on a whole other level. Harry likes a good hug as much as the next bloke, but Louis seems like he wants little else than to drape himself all over Harry, and Harry’s curious for Saturday, to see whether he’s like that with everyone.

It’s a long drive back into London from Cheshire, and by the time Harry’s parked at his flat and bringing his luggage in, he’s already running a bit late for the party. Well—he’ll call it fashionably late. It’s easy to get a cab, at least, and when he pulls up at the address Louis had given him, it’s obvious which flat is his, windows open so the light and music and chit-chat pour out.

The doors are propped open, and Harry leans his head into the flat, trying to spot Louis. It’s not a hard task, because he’s at the center of a knot of people, laughing his head off, and he’s wearing one of the sillier scarves that Harry’s ever seen.

That, and he spots Harry instantly.

“Harry!” He dodges through the small crowd, hugs Harry tight in the doorway. “This is Harry, everyone! Try not to be weird, we want him to come back!”

There’s some weirdness, despite the instruction; Harry can see several sets of wide eyes and a few dropped jaws. But the nearest group is just smiling, sticking their hands out, like maybe Louis warned them ahead of time.

“Harry, this is Stan and James and Priya, and—well, you’re just gonna forget, aren’t you?”

Harry shakes the proffered hands. Everyone’s being carefully normal, and that’s its own brand of awkwardness, but Harry can handle it. “James and Stan are my flatmates,” Louis says. “Stan’s our token straight boy.” Harry had been pretty sure about Louis, but it’s sort of nice to have it confirmed. More than just sort of nice, maybe.

“You’re in a play, right?” Harry asks James. He remembers the warring envy and pride on Louis’ face when he’d told Harry that.

James smiles, bashful. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s not a big role, but—yeah, it’s pretty great.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Stan interrupts. “It’s totally a big role. He’s just being all James about it.”

“Only one I ever want to be,” James says, and Harry likes him already.

Louis goes and gets Harry a beer, slings an arm around his shoulders and one around James’ while they talk, Priya having wandered off to a knot of girls in the kitchen. “Harry’s just back from Australia,” he says. “Girls throwing their knickers at him for a month, if the Sun is anything to go by.”

“Which of course it isn’t,” James points out, pushing his glasses up his nose.

Harry laughs. “It’s funny, I always knew they were a little—y’know, but now they print stuff about me, it’s amazing how often they get it wrong. But we do get knickers sometimes. Bras more often, and just—random stuff. Lots of letters. It can be a bit dodgy, you’re trying to dance and there’s envelopes under your feet.”

Louis squeezes his shoulder. “You dance, too?”

“No,” Harry jokes. “Okay, yes, but—really no. We’re rubbish.” They really are, honestly. Harry has no self-consciousness about how absolutely terrible they are. He feels it might actually be part of their charm. “Well, Niall’s all right.”

James nods. “I had to take all these lessons,” he says. “I dunno how I even got through auditions, didn’t want to dance at all. But it’s not so bad now.”

“We take lessons, too,” Harry says. “Hasn’t helped yet.”

Stan leans in, smirking. He’s the sort of blokey guy Harry has trouble picturing living with two theatre queens, hanging out at parties with them, and Harry’s not sure, yet, how to take him. “James gets most of his practice in at the clubs now, don’t you, Jimmy?”

James smacks his shoulder, but they’re both laughing, a joke between them that Harry’s not privy to. “You’d know, you stalker,” he says.

“Twat,” Stan says, and James laughs, smacks a big, obnoxious kiss on Stan’s cheek. “Oi, cooties!”

“Yeah, you love it.” James ruffles Stan’s hair. “Stan loves hanging around us, it gets him all kinds of birds he’d never pull if he had to rely on his ugly mug or his massive lack of charm, eh Stan?”

Stan smirks. “Being a straight guy around all you theatre types is like being a—well. Like being a rock star, I was gonna say.”

“Oh-ho,” Louis says. “He’s calling you out, Harry, are you going to defend your honour? I think the Sun says—”

“Bugger the Sun,” Harry says, and throws an arm around Louis’ waist so he knows that isn’t meant for him. “It’s not like that, honestly. I mean, there are a lot of girls who—would, or think they would, but it’s—it wouldn’t be fair to them, or much fun. You know? We’re better off going home with friends. Well, and Liam’s got a girlfriend.”

Louis’ fingers tighten briefly on Harry’s neck. Harry hadn’t really noticed that they’d slid up from his shoulder. “Friends, eh?” It’s clearly rhetorical, and Harry takes a long pull of his beer, lets the conversation wander on to topics that don’t have anything to do with him or fame or fans.

***

Harry loses track of time. Louis’ friends are fun, especially once Harry’s had a few beers and started dancing with them all, and Louis himself is at his most entertaining in this kind of setting. He’s been doing voices and bits all night, and they’re ridiculous and over the top but Harry can’t stop laughing.

“You should go into sketch comedy,” Harry slurs. “Or—something, something spontaneity. Spontaneous. Spont-ane-ous. Yes.”

Louis laughs, face in Harry’s shoulder. They’re pressed together at one end of the couch, and Stan’s making out with someone at the other end, really going at it. “I think he’s forgotten we’re all still here,” Louis stage-whispers. “Maybe we should remind him.”

Harry hasn’t known Louis all that long, but he knows him well enough to predict what’s next. “Bonsai!” Louis shouts, and tackles the couple, knocking Stan onto the floor.

“Oh, you are such a cock,” Stan says, exasperated, but he’s laughing, and so is the girl. Louis just seems to have that effect on people.

“C’mon,” the girl says, winking at Stan. “We’ll go get a room, shall we?”

Stan blinks at her a couple of times and then jumps to his feet. “Right. Later, boys.” He doesn’t look back, and Louis snorts after him, sliding back against Harry’s side.

“You know what would be cool?” Louis says, apropos of nothing. “If there was, like. Conspiracy theorist Jeopardy.”

Harry has no idea what that means, but Louis usually doesn’t need any prompting to keep talking about his strange ideas.

“Like, ‘the cure for this disease has been found and covered up by the NHS since 1986’—BZZ! ‘What is “all of them,” Alex?’ Or, like. ‘This planet is the homeworld of the aliens who built Buckingham Palace—’”

“BZZ!” Harry cuts in. “What is Mars?”

Louis laughs, arm tightening around Harry. “How wrong you are! It’s obviously Venus.”

The flat is emptying out; James and Stan have gone to their rooms, each with someone in tow, and the last few people are starting to file out the door, waving to Louis. Priya, who’s last out, hits pause on Louis’ iPod, and the room is suddenly, deafeningly quiet.

“There are conspiracy theories about me, you know,” Harry says. “I mean, mostly it’s just rumours, but some of the stuff goes way beyond that. Mostly it’s about who I’m secretly sleeping with.”

Louis tilts toward him a little more. “Yeah? Who are you secretly sleeping with, then?”

“Not Liam, that’s for sure,” Harry says. Louis is in front of him more than next to him now, right in his eyeline, and Harry can’t keep his gaze from dropping to Louis’ mouth. “Not much of anyone, really.”

“That’s hard to believe,” Louis says, and then he’s kissing Harry, pressing him into the back of the couch.

Harry—shouldn’t, probably. Except that no one needs to know, really, any more than they know about Lila or any of the girls Harry sees now and again. Louis can be discreet, Harry’s sure of that. It’s no one’s business but theirs if Harry folds himself into the kiss, hands in Louis’ hair.

“Yeah,” he mumbles, half into Louis’ mouth. “Yeah, okay.”

“So much more than okay,” Louis says, and then he’s straddling Harry’s lap, and Harry’s stretching up to kiss him again, hips rocking against Louis’ arse.

This is—it’s been forever since Harry’s gotten his kit off with a guy, or it feels like that long, anyway. He’s pretty sure the last one was Jeremy Bixton in year ten, and that’s a fucking eternity.

Jeremy Bixton was no Louis, either. Not that Harry’s comparing, exactly, but it’s impossible not to notice that this is maybe one of the better kisses of his life. He’s sweating, the way he usually doesn’t unless they’re touring somewhere painfully hot, and his thighs are all-over goosepimples, and he can’t keep from sweeping his hands up under Louis’ hideous shirt. “We should—not here,” Harry manages, pressing the words into Louis’ jaw.

“Yeah,” Louis says, but he doesn’t make any moves to get up, keeps stroking Harry’s chest through his t-shirt, down to the waistband of his trousers, like he’s asking permission.

Harry wants to give him permission, but not right here. “You can,” he says, “but we have to go to your room. Okay?”

Louis sits back, blinking, like he’s coming out of a daze. “Ye—yes. Yes.” He climbs off Harry’s lap and nearly falls into the coffee table, and Harry catches him by both arms.

“Steady there, mate,” Harry says. “Don’t want you injuring yourself before we can get there.”

He’s glued to the sight of Louis like this, glassy-eyed and pink-cheeked. Louis looks like maybe this is as ridiculously good for him as it is for Harry, like maybe this isn’t how he feels every time. Or maybe he’s this wrecked with everyone—Harry doesn’t mind, really. He’s just glad he gets to see it.

Well, maybe he minds a little.

It’s easy to forget that, though, when he’s kissing Louis down the hallway, knocking into the walls and laughing. “They’ll hear us,” Harry whispers, and Louis shakes his head.

“They’re a little busy,” he says. “Stan’s been trying to chat that girl up for weeks, and James and Verve are like—like bunnies or something, you don’t even know, it’s obnoxious. And they won’t stop hooking up in the kitchen.”

Harry would stop to ask whether Verve’s parents gave him that name, except they’re in Louis’ tiny bedroom now, and he’s just stopped caring about anything else.

“God. Take off your trousers,” he says, and Louis laughs, pulling his shirt off instead.

“Can’t tell me what to do,” he says, and Harry raises an eyebrow at him.

“I bet I—” and Louis cuts him off, pushing him back into the flimsy door, hands tight around Harry’s wrists. Harry can feel the plyboard bowing under them, and he doesn’t fucking care, because yeah, okay, can’t tell Louis what to do. He’s good with that. That’s excellent. Yes.

Louis lets go of one of Harry’s wrists and slides his hand up under Harry’s shirt instead, petting his stomach.

“How much are you gonna judge me if I tell you I cut out some of those Star photos of you on the beach? You look so fucking good like that, Haz.” He drops to one knee, pushes Harry’s shirt up enough to kiss his abs, the vee of his hip muscles. “Christ, you’re like a porn star or something.”

Harry laughs, despite himself. He should probably be weirded out that Louis has been jerking off to his paparazzi photos, but instead it’s hot, staggeringly hot. He can see it, Louis lying in this room, crumpling a photo of Harry in one fist and pumping his cock with the other.

“I want to blow you,” Louis says, and it’s muffled against Harry’s skin. He’s still holding one of Harry’s wrists against the door.

“Fuck, yeah,” Harry says. “But I’m gonna fall over. Can we move to the bed?”

Louis is already pulling Harry by the time he’s back to standing, fingers tightening on Harry’s wrist. “You can—lie down, you can lie down.” His voice is catching, and Harry watches him reach down to readjust himself, hard in his trousers. He looks—from this angle, in those khakis, he looks huge. Harry wants to see him for real, but he supposes that can wait, maybe.

Louis climbs onto the bed after him, between Harry’s thighs, and he leans up to kiss him some more before he heads back down, popping Harry’s button one-handed and carefully lowering the zipper. “Yeah,” he breathes, and Harry can feel the warm air through his pants. “Yeah, fuck, I need to—” He licks across the cotton, between the spread teeth of Harry’s zipper.

“God, Lou,” Harry says. “You can—feel free.”

Louis takes the suggestion, pulls the elastic of Harry’s waistband out and down, just enough to free his cock. Harry brings his free hand up and slides it into Louis’ hair, not pulling him down, just rubbing the soft strands between his fingers, and Louis looks up at him with a soft smile before he leans down and takes the head in his mouth.

Harry doesn’t have any words for this. He can’t stop watching, even though it’s hurting his neck to keep craning down. Louis’ lips are stretched around him, his cheeks hollowed out, and his eyelashes are long against his cheeks. He looks—like porn, and like an angel, sort of both at the same time. Mostly porn.

He wants to do this to Louis; his mouth is watering, just thinking about it. It’s been so fucking long since he’s sucked cock, and he wants to taste Louis, wants to hear him moan. This, first, though, because right now Harry thinks he might stop breathing if Louis took his mouth away.

He lets his hand drift down from Louis’ hair to his cheek, his jaw. Louis’ skin is soft under his fingers, and when he strokes up under Louis’ ear, his eyes open, blinking up at Harry. It’s intimate, in the quiet of the room, and Harry should look away, but he can’t quite make himself. Louis breaks eye contact first, eyes tracing over Harry’s wrinkled t-shirt, and Harry scratches his nails through the soft fuzz on the back of Louis’ neck.

He wants to come, and he wants this to go on forever; it’s the age-old conflict. But Harry’s 18, so there’s really only one way his struggle ever goes. “Close,” he mutters, and Louis doubles down, sucking harder, fingertips digging into Harry’s wrist.

Harry chokes out a gasp when he comes, almost coughing on the way his lungs yank the air into him, and then Louis is on him, mouth on his. Harry can taste himself on Louis’ tongue and he takes advantage of the way Louis has finally let go of his wrist to fist both hands in Louis’ hair, hold him close.

“My turn,” Harry says, and he can hear how raw his voice is. He’s going to have to drink some lemon and honey, but he can’t think about that now, can’t think about anything but the way Louis is rolling them over on the small bed.

Harry rarely initiates the fame-and-fortune jokes, but something in Louis’ face makes him grin, push Louis’ fringe to one side and say, “Bet you’ve never had a pop star suck you off before.”

“Just that one time with Bowie,” Louis says, grinning. He looks sated, even though Harry’s the one who’s just come. “Oops, I’m not supposed to tell people about that.”

Everything about Louis makes Harry smile, it seems like. “Cat’s out of the bag,” he says, and then he’s pushing Louis’ terrible shirt up and kissing down his belly to his ridiculous trousers. “I really need to take you shopping,” he says. “Or, well. My stylist needs to take you shopping.”

“Oi, I’m stylish,” Louis says. Harry laughs into his waistband, pops the buttons of his fly.

“Keep telling yourself that, mate,” Harry says, and then his mouth is too full to keep talking.

***

Harry’s only been back at his flat for a couple of hours when his phone buzzes with a text from Nicky. In your hood again, burgers or summat?

sounds good, Harry texts back. meet you here if you like. There’s no point using paparazzi-avoidance techniques with Nicky; the label loved the last set of photos. PR at Syco, in Harry’s experience, are brutally forthright. He’d gotten a call the next day telling him, “Good work with the blonde bird, and try for some snogging next, all right?”

Harry doesn’t have anything against kissing Nicky, but being told to do it makes his skin crawl.

She’s dressed up a bit more than he expected, when she arrives. “Sorry, it’s—my mum thought I looked rubbish in the papers last week, she raked me over the coals about it. D’you mind? We don’t have to, if it’s weird for you.”

Harry shakes his head. “I’m used to it,” he says, although he’s not sure he’ll ever really be used to it. “As long as you’re okay, I’m okay.”

“I’m okay,” she promises, and offers him her arm.

They end up at an upscale pub in Harry’s neighborhood, where the burgers all have fancy names and strange ingredients. Nicky gets hers with bacon, avocado, and goat cheese; Harry’s has rocket and beets.

“You’re heading back out soon, right?” Nicky asks.

Harry nods, swallowing. The beet flavour works strangely well. “Some recording in Sweden, and then back to America.”

“Because—look, you know how Niall is, hopeless romantic and all, but I’m not, right? I don’t think that’s a great situation for, like, dating with intent.” She sets her burger down. “But I like you, you seem to like me, I don’t see why we can’t have some fun. Yeah?”

Harry smiles at her, picks his glass up to clink against hers. “Sounds about right,” he says.

They slip into his flat the back way, because it’s one thing to deal with paparazzi, but it’s another to ask a girl to run the fan gauntlet out front. He’s pretty sure someone shot them kissing out front of the restaurant, though; that’ll make management happy.

It’s a bit odd, going home with Nicky so soon after Louis. Harry’s not exactly new to the concept of dating a few people at a time, but usually there’s more buffer. He feels like he can’t help but compare and contrast, and that’s hardly fair to Nicky. In the end he goes down on her until she’s writhing, because it’s hard to think about anything else, anyone else, with her thighs trembling around his ears.

“Right,” Nicky says afterwards, panting. “I hate to say it, Harry, but the newspapers are right about you. You really are Britain’s youngest ladykiller.”

Harry laughs into her shoulder, tucking up tight against her. “Thanks, I think.” He’s thinking about Louis again, suddenly, about Louis’ mouth on him—not the most skilled blowjob he’d ever had, not like Louis has had tons and tons of practice, but. Somehow still the best one he’s had, or very close to the top of the list.

Nicky’s pretty distracting when she wants to be, luckily. “C’mere, then,” she says, and wraps her hand around him, warm and firm.

“Yeah,” Harry says, mouth on her shoulder. “Yeah, that’s good.”

***

Harry’s only got a few more days in London, so he wants them to be good ones. He’s out the door to see Louis almost as soon as he’s awake, heading down the back streets to the coffee shop with the sun high above him.

“Hey,” Harry says, closing the shop door behind him. Louis looks up from the coffee machine, grinning.

“Harry! Pull up a chair, then, I’ll make you a latte.”

“Light and sweet today.” Harry pulls the chair up backwards and straddles it, arms folded on the counter. He doesn’t miss the way Louis’ eyes trace the splay of his legs, and it makes Harry’s heart speed up a little, wondering if Louis is thinking about the same things he is.

Harry loves this stage of dating: the obsessive lust, the desperate desire to know everything about the other person. It’s got him on overdrive right now.

Louis, by comparison, is suddenly fighting a grin. “My temptation to make a ‘light and salty’ joke right now is extremely high,” he says. “I’m controlling it only for your sake, you should feel special.”

Harry barks a laugh, covers his mouth in embarrassment. “I feel pretty special, yeah,” he says, and takes the mug from Louis, letting his fingers trail over Louis’ hand.

“Well—” Louis is staring at him, his expression soft, and then he blinks out of it, back to his normal self. “Well, good, then. Scone?”

***

Harry leaves just before shift change, but they arrange for Louis to pick up some dinner and meet back at Harry’s flat. It’s kind of a perfect day, actually, and by the time Louis is slipping out of Harry’s bed for work the next morning, Harry already wants to go see him again. Not right now, because Louis is always telling him about the morning crowds, but later, yeah. Harry smiles into the pillow, thinking about how his afternoon’s gonna go.

That’s when the phone rings. “Hey,” Harry says. It’s never anyone but the label at this time of the morning.

“Harry. There have been some reports of a gentleman coming to your flat. I’m sure—” He can hear the way Chris is biting his tongue against the urge to say more. “—I’m sure that this gentleman is only a friend, but today would be a good day for you to go out with that nice girl again, don’t you think? She seems very sweet.”

Harry doesn’t say anything, but Chris knows how to take a lack of protest. “Very good,” he says. “I’m sure the photos tomorrow will be perfect.”

Harry listens for the click of Chris hanging up, and then he tosses the phone down to the foot of the bed. “Goddammit.” It’s a stupid thing to care about, really; he likes Nicky just fine, has no problem seeing her again. But he’d wanted—he’s on sodding holiday, and he wanted to spend the day with Louis.

Well. Probably Louis could use a day off, anyway. Harry’s been taking up loads of his time. He’ll just go back to sleep for a while, and text Nicky when he wakes up. It’ll be fine. It’ll be fun.

He rolls over, staring at the ceiling. It’s too light out for this. He and Louis had gone to sleep at a fairly reasonable hour, because Louis had to get up so early, but Harry’s used to being up past two and sleeping the morning away. He’s tired; he just can’t sleep.

Maybe he could see both of them; the afternoon with Louis, the evening with Nicky. Except that would hardly be fair to Louis. It’s one thing to be non-exclusive, and another to be an arse about it.

Fine. Fine. He’ll just—he’ll see Louis tomorrow. He can wait. It’s only twenty-nine hours or whatever. The thought makes him laugh, hand over his face, because even inside his own head it’s got an annoying ring of melodramatic teenager. Harry’s being ridiculous, clearly. He’ll take Nicky out, and he’ll see Lou tomorrow. And he won’t let himself get caught up in all this ridiculous moaning over it.

“Right,” Harry says, and pushes the covers back. Maybe he’ll hit the gym. That’ll distract him for a while.

***

Nicky’s up for dinner, and Harry takes her to a Greek place a few blocks away. He likes the gyros here; the lamb is spiced just right, and they roll them on a thick, sweet bread Harry doesn’t know the name of, instead of a regular pita.

“Didn’t think I’d see you again before you left,” Nicky says. She’s got a Greek salad and spanakopita; there’s more green on her plate than in Harry’s whole produce crisper.

Harry shrugs, covers with a smile. “You’re glad, though, right?”

“Yeah,” Nicky says, eyes crinkling. “You’re an all right dinner date, Styles.”

They’re close enough to the plate windows that the paparazzi hovering outside can probably see them, if not get photos, and Harry can’t help but think about that when she drops her hand on top of his and squeezes it. “Hey,” she says. “You okay?”

“Sure,” Harry says. “A pretty girl just said I was all right, after all.”

It’s enough to turn the conversation, turn the corner of her mouth up, and by the time they’ve finished eating they’ve run through half a dozen topics, music and football and not a small amount about Ed Sheeran, who Nicky loves and Harry is always happy to talk about.

“He’s aces, basically.” Harry taps his fingernails against his water glass. “And so talented, I’d hate him if he wasn’t so great.”

“God, his latest video just about killed me,” Nicky says. “Can’t believe you know him.”

“Shouldn’t you be impressed with me like that?” Harry jokes. “Like, can’t believe you’re out with an international pop star?”

“Mate, I grew up with Niall,” she says. “You’ve got no chance at impressing me.” She’s grinning, and Harry thinks, yeah, this is why I like you.

“I seem to recall I managed to impress you the other night,” he says, and smirks until she catches his meaning. He wouldn’t mind a repeat of that; she’d been musky and warm on his tongue, the perfect after-dinner flavour.

Nicky just laughs, kicks him gently under the table. “Dirty,” she says, but she’s leaning in closer, tongue darting out to wet her mouth. “Yeah, you’re a bit of all right at that. I suppose.”

“Only suppose?” Harry’s leaning in himself, now. “Think I’ll have to give you another demonstration, if you’re not convinced.”

“Mmm,” Nicky says, and then she’s kissing him, awkward over the table. Harry’s smiles into her mouth, can’t help himself, and she pulls away and sits back in her chair, laughing. “Shall we, then?”

Harry drops a few bills on the table and stands up, offers his elbow. “M’lady?”

She nods, faux-solemn, and puts her hand on his arm. “Such a gentleman.”

“I try,” Harry says, and shepherds her past the crowd of photographers on the sidewalk.

***

Harry had meant, back in Australia, to do something with this holiday that wasn’t copious amounts of sex. He’s not sure why that had seemed like a good idea at the time, because this is turning out to be the best break of his life.

“Right,” Louis says, rolling off him. He’s still shaking a little, and Harry wants to see Louis like this all the time, loose and oversensitive from his orgasm. They’re pressed tight together in the middle of Harry’s big bed, and Harry yanks the duvet up from where they’ve managed to kick it to the foot of the bed, covers them up.

“So that was pretty good,” Harry says.

“Passable,” Louis agrees, nodding.

“We should probably try again to see if practice makes perfect.” Harry kisses Louis’ collarbone, strokes his fingers over Louis’ ribs, and Louis shudders.

“All kidding aside, I think another round like that might actually kill me. At least before we’ve had some food.”

“Mmm,” Harry agrees. He can’t make himself stop petting Louis’ damp skin. “I can make us something.”

Louis turns his head enough to kiss Harry’s hair. “You cook? That’s it, I’m never letting you go.”

Harry feels warm and a little bit fuzzy at that, and he throws one leg over Louis’ thighs, under the covers. “Okay,” he says. “That seems fair. Except I have to catch a plane day after tomorrow.”

Louis sighs, the breath ruffling Harry’s curls. “I’ve got tomorrow off,” he says. “I mean, if you’re not tired of me already.”

Harry’s lips curl up before he’s even finished processing Louis’ words. “Good,” he says. “You should stay here.”

“Right here?” Louis asks, and reaches down to readjust Harry’s leg, scratches his nails across Harry’s knee. “You just want me to stay naked in your bed, and you’ll bring me food?”

“I might let you get up now and again,” Harry says. “I suppose. If you ask very nicely.”

Louis surges up, suddenly, rolling back on top of Harry, catching the blankets between them. “How about you ask me?” he says, and his voice is low, a dirty whisper in Harry’s ear.

“That works too,” Harry says, breathless. “Are—are you sure you need to eat?”

“I can wait,” Louis says, and lays his teeth into Harry’s shoulder.

***

Louis helps him pack. “Your stylist is boring, mate,” he says, examining one of Harry’s many, many henleys. “You know what this could use—”

“If your suggestion involves scissors, I’m vetoing,” Harry says. “I don’t want to think about what putting holes in my shirts would encourage the fans to do to me.”

Louis makes a face. “Okay, never mind then. Best not.”

“Y’know—” Harry hesitates, because—they’ll be working, mostly, but. “It’s only like a hundred quid round trip to Stockholm, on Ryanair.”

Louis’ eyebrows come up. “That’s—did you just invite me to Sweden?”

Harry shrugs, looks down at the jumpers he’s folding. “We’ll mostly be working, but if you wanted to come out for a couple of days, that’d be, y’know. That’d be nice.”

“I—” Louis sits on the edge of the bed, ankles crossed. “Could I kip with you, then? I might be able to swing the airfare but not—”

“Yeah,” Harry interrupts. “Of course, yeah. And I’d feed you and stuff. Just—between recording and the next tour, it’s a short break, and I don’t want to not see you.”

Louis’ smile makes Harry feel like he’s squeezed in a heavy wool blanket. “Okay,” he says. “That sounds nice, then.”

They do the rest of the packing in relative quiet, Louis handing things to Harry as he asks for them, Harry humming snatches of things.

“I’ll email, too,” Louis says, suddenly. “While you’re in America. Won’t have you to entertain me in the afternoons, anyway.”

“Right,” Harry agrees. He doesn’t really want to talk about that, about being gone for weeks on the other side of the planet. This sort of thing—this is why he doesn’t commit. It’s this bad leaving Louis when they’re just dating; it would be a nightmare if Louis were his boyfriend.

Louis comes around the bed, slings an arm around Harry’s chest and squeezes. “Hey,” he says, soft in Harry’s ear. “‘S okay, Haz.”

Harry leans back into him, glad they at least have tonight.

***

“A friend of yours from London,” Paul repeats, like he’s not certain he’s got this right.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “That’s okay, right?”

Paul hmms noncommittally. “So he’ll need a room for which nights?”

“He’s here Thursday through Saturday, but he’ll kip in mine,” Harry says. “No worries.”

Behind Paul, Harry sees Liam and Zayn, suddenly looking at him. “That’s—a bit more worrying, actually,” Paul says. “Harry—”

Harry’s not in the mood. “No one will know,” he says. “Look, I’ll kiss all the girls Chris tells me to, but the label doesn’t tell me anything past that, okay? Christ.”

Paul at least has the decency to look embarrassed. “Will we be expecting your friend at the studio on Friday, then?”

Harry hadn’t been planning on it, but— “That okay with you guys?” He directs the question to the boys, and they shrug agreement. “Yeah. Thanks.”

Paul purses his lips and waves Harry off. He’s already getting on his phone, so Harry guesses he’s about to have to talk to Chris again, but whatever. Chris can deal.

“So, uh,” Niall says, tentatively. “You and Nicky—”

“We’re still going out,” Harry says. She’d sent him a nice “have fun in Sweden” text yesterday. “She knows it’s not, you know. Girlfriend-boyfriend.”

That seems to be answer enough for Niall, but Liam looks taken aback. “You’re dating both of them?”

“Sure,” Harry says. “They’re both great.” He doesn’t miss the thumbs-up and the impressed expression Zayn’s sending his way.

Liam doesn’t say anything else, but Harry has a feeling he can expect more questions as soon as Liam’s processed this. Harry supposes it’s one thing for Liam to know about Harry’s one-night stands, and his friends-with-occasional-benefits, but this might be a little further out on the scale for him.

It’s hard to care about any of that right now, though, because first thing in the morning they get to start recording, and three days after that, Louis will be here. He’s got his boys, he’s still a bit buzzed from the drinks on the plane, and in about twenty minutes, he’ll be naked in a nice hotel room. Perfect.

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he pulls it out to find an email from Louis. See you soon! In the meantime here is a video of a lion trying to eat a toddler through glass. x x x x etc

Yup. Life is good.

***

Recording is amazing. They’re better at it by now, massively, and they’ve put more of a hand into the process. It feels more like their album this time. They’re writing, too, although Harry’s not sure they’re very good at it, but they have people to help them, and Harry’s been sending stuff to Ed for feedback. Ed’s good at that kind of thing.

Harry likes the rhythm of recording. It’s so different from touring; it’s an echo chamber instead of a crowd, mornings instead of late nights, long hours every day instead of periods of clawing boredom. He likes that they get to do both, break up one with the other.

“So,” Liam says, interrupting Harry’s thoughts. “How do you decide? Like. Which one to be with for real?”

Harry loves Liam, so he stifles his sudden urge to roll his eyes. “It’s not like that, exactly,” he says. “I’m still not looking for what you have. I don’t know when I’ll be looking for that.”

“So you just—date them until you don’t,” Liam fills in.

“Well, yeah. I mean, it’s usually a mutual decision.” Harry believes firmly in staying friends with his exes.

“So—how long do you think it’ll be for them? Nicky and Louis?” Liam pauses. “Also, is it weird for you that their names rhyme with yours?”

Harry huffs a laugh at that, slides closer to Liam and leans into his shoulder. “Dunno,” he says. “Nicky’s one, like—if we’re both single, I feel like we could have a bit of a hookup thing indefinitely, you know?”

“Not really,” Liam says drily. “And Louis?”

That’s the question Harry hasn’t wanted to ask himself. “Louis is—different. He’s, like—he’s more of a Danielle, I guess. So probably it’ll end when he gets done with me going away all the time.” Harry rubs his thumb against the pad of his ring finger, feeling the way the whorls catch against each other. “Maybe—maybe eight months, if I’m lucky.”

“Doesn’t that make you sad?” Liam sounds like Harry’s just kicked a puppy in front of him. “Doesn’t that—that would ruin it for me, I think. If I thought Danielle and I had an end-date.”

“Well, saying it out loud was no fun,” Harry says. “But mostly it doesn’t bother me. I just really like spending time with him, you know? It’s worth it.”

“Okay,” Liam says. He doesn’t sound convinced, but he’s more relaxed, now, leaning into Harry’s side. “Guess I’ll look forward to meeting this guy, then.”

“You’ll like him,” Harry says. “He’s easy to like.”

***

They like him. They like him so much that Harry has to pretty much drag him away after dinner. “See you tomorrow!” Louis calls, and Zayn waves back jauntily, Liam and Niall grinning after him.

“Okay,” Harry says, pushing Louis into the elevator and jamming the door-close button. “It’s great how you won my band over and all, but it’s been almost a week and I really need you to fuck me.”

Louis’ mouth goes slack for a second, breath suddenly coming faster, and Harry glances up for a camera and then puts his mouth to Louis’ ear. “Want you to open me up and pound me so I’ll feel it in the studio all day tomorrow.”

Louis isn’t responding, except to walk down the hall when the elevator doors open, and Harry’s not sure, for a minute, whether he’s crossed some sort of line, made Louis feel uncomfortable. He slides the keycard in, because it’s probably best discussed inside, and then Louis is grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him to the bed, wild-eyed.

“Okay,” Harry says, dazed, and Louis gets up long enough to strip, fast, and climb back over him.

“God, Harry,” Louis says, biting at his neck, his jaw. “The way you make me feel, it’s—fuck, so fucking good.”

Harry squirms under him, trying to get enough arch in his back to work his shirt up, but Louis is pressing him firmly into the mattress. “Lou,” Harry says. Louis is yanking his collar aside to suck at his collarbones now. “Louis, let me—you can’t fuck me through my trousers, mate.”

“I can try,” Louis growls, but he rises to his hands and knees, enough that Harry can push out of his clothes. He doesn’t help, but Harry’s kind of enjoying the way Louis is—out of it, can’t seem to focus on anything. The way he’s this hot for Harry’s arse.

Louis is on him again as soon as his pants are off, grinding their hips together. Harry is suddenly very glad that he’d put stuff in the nightstand the first night they’d arrived here; he’d wanted the lube to jack off with, and it had just seemed rational to throw the condoms in as well. He owes his past self some kind of thank-you card, clearly.

“Here,” Harry says, and stretches to grab both, passes the lube to Louis. “You want to get me ready?”

Louis kisses him again, plucks the bottle out of his hand. He has to climb between Harry’s legs to let him spread them, and there’s an awkward tangling moment before they figure it out, enough to make Harry laugh into Louis’ cheek. They’ve got it after that, though, and Louis slides down Harry enough to make it easy for him to slide a finger into him, stroke lube around his rim.

“Yeah,” Harry says, because fuck, he never bothers to do this alone but it’s so fucking good when Louis does it. Harry liked fucking Louis, and he plans to do it again soon, probably before Louis goes back to London, but this—this is overwhelmingly good. “More—you can—more,” Harry mumbles, and Louis lays his teeth into him, a sucking bite over Harry’s ribs. He pushes a second finger in, and Harry arches into it, cock pushing into Louis’ belly.

“Stroke yourself,” Louis says, and Harry slides a hand down, fists his cock and rubs his thumb under the head. “God, I need—”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Yeah, come on, just—”

Louis has Harry’s knees up in the air before Harry can finish his sentence, the rest of it trailing off his lips. “Condom,” he grunts, and Harry grabs one and tears it open, rolls it down Louis’ length and strokes him a few times. He almost doesn’t want to stop; Louis feels good in his hand, firm, and it’s making Louis’ breath catch.

Louis pulls his fingers out and Harry groans, tilts his hips up for Louis. “C’mon, need you, need your cock—”

“God,” Louis says. “God.” It’s a stuttery stroke when he pushes in, like he can’t quite smooth it out, and it makes Harry’s nerves light up. He’s lost all his words, but so, he thinks, has Louis. Louis is just panting, hot breath against Harry’s shoulder, and Harry pulls his knees up higher until Louis is hitting him just right, frees a hand so he can go back to jerking himself off.

It’s so fucking good, and Harry is so fucking glad Louis came to Sweden, and he’s so fucking glad they all get their own rooms these days, and he’s so fucking glad for the invention of lube and reliable condoms and fucking, god, whoever invented fucking is Harry’s favorite favorite favorite—

“Oh oh oh oh,” Harry gasps out, and his hand is dripping and sticky when he transfers it, shakily, to Louis’ back, urging him on. He doesn’t want this to stop; he wants Louis to fuck him sore, to fuck him until he can’t walk, until he can’t move.

Louis is close, though, muscles quivering, and he’s almost whimpering into Harry’s damp chest, little choking sounds he can’t hold back. Harry can’t get enough of how much Louis wants this, of how much he wants Harry. It’s heady in a way that fan adoration isn’t, because Louis knows him, and he still wants this so much it makes him nearly lose control.

The bed shakes when Louis comes, whapping against the wall from the force of his last few thrusts, and Harry whines up into it, ankles hooking together behind Louis’ back. They thump down to the bed together, panting, and Harry carefully disentangles himself. Louis is slow to pull out, and fast to settle back down onto Harry, like he can’t stand to not be touching him.

“Missed you,” Louis mumbles.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Missed you lots.”

***

Louis cannot seem to stop touching things.

“Mate, if you mess up the levels, Simon himself might send his trained guards down to beat you mercilessly,” Zayn warns him.

“I’m not moving anything,” Louis argues, just as his hand slips on the console, knocking a slider from -5 up to 14. He wrinkles his nose and fixes it. “Um. I’ll just sit over there, shall I?”

“Probably a good call,” Harry says, and steers him toward the couches. Probably he should have let Louis play with the gold records instead, or the instruments. Clearly, like a toddler, Louis has to have some kind of toy, and Harry hasn’t got any pots and pans for him to bang on. “It’s lucky for you that you’re too charming for anyone to throw you out.”

Louis has the decency to look abashed, at least. “Sorry, I just—it’s all so—you know. It’s all so real. This is a real recording studio where you’re recording a real album, you know? One that’s going to sell millions of copies.”

Harry shrugs. “Record sales are down every year,” he says. “Might just be ‘million’ of copies.” He gets it, though. It’s still like that for him, sometimes. He hopes he doesn’t lose that. It’s nice, having Louis here to remind him of the way he felt the first time they’d walked into the X-Factor studio to record.

“You know, I almost tried out for X-Factor the year you did.” Harry thinks, for half a second, that Louis has read his mind, and then he sees the way Louis is looking at the recording booth, hungrily. “My mate Hannah tried to convince me I should, but I thought it was a long shot.”

Harry doesn’t know what to say to that, exactly. “Dunno if I’d have met you,” he says. “Maybe it would have changed everything. You’d be a singer and I’d be in Cheshire selling scones.”

Instead of answering, Louis reaches up and grabs him around the waist, hauls Harry awkwardly down onto his lap. Harry can’t help but laugh, leaning back into Louis’ chest.

“Am I not allowed to go back to work, then?” Harry asks, letting himself settle into Louis. He curls an arm back to scrub through the soft hair at the back of Louis’ head.

Louis shakes his head, arms tight around Harry’s waist. “You’re my prisoner,” he announces. “No leaving.”

Harry’s tempted—he’s damned tempted—to call a half-hour break and drag Louis into the loo, but they’ve only got a week here, and he has Louis to himself this evening, in real privacy. “I’ll be your prisoner later.” He whispers it into Louis’ ear, lips pressing close. “Yeah?”

Louis swallows loud enough that Harry can hear it, loosens his arms a little. “Ye-yeah,” he says. “Yeah.”

Niall smirks at Harry when he comes back into the booth. “You might want to readjust, mate,” he says, and Harry flips him a couple of fingers but he sticks a hand down his trousers, too, gets everything more or less where it’s supposed to be.

“I think there’s ice water at the front,” Liam says, cheekily. “We could pour it down you.” Harry doesn’t know why the fans think Liam’s as innocent as a kitten, honestly.

“I’ll pour ice water down you.” Harry manages half a glare, but it’s hard to even fake being angry at Liam, at least so long as he isn’t waking Harry up in the middle of the night to ask, again, about whether Harry thinks it’s too soon for Liam to be thinking about asking Danielle to move in with him.

Harry always says the same thing: “It isn’t, and if you wake me up again, I’ll tell her you keep clown porn in your bunk, you arsehole.” Admittedly it’s mostly mumbled into a pillow; that probably explains why Liam has never actually stopped waking him up for relationship talks.

Tonight, Liam’s sure not to sneak into Harry’s room, though. Louis is a good buffer for that. Louis is good for a lot of things, really. Especially blowjobs. And kissing. And—

Zayn’s waving his hand in front of Harry’s face. “Earth to Harry,” he says. “You’re up, they want to rerun the chorus into the second verse.”

“Right,” Harry says, and gives himself a little shake, head to toe. Right. “Let’s do it, then,” he says, and throws himself back into singing.

***

Harry can’t go with Louis to the airport. “Look, I’ll stay in the van,” he offers, but Paul just shakes his head.

“Veto,” he says. “Sorry.”

Sometimes Harry isn’t clear what the point of being rich and famous and good-looking is, when he can’t even get his tour manager to listen to him.

“You’re not going to—this isn’t so you can get him alone and, like, try to pay him to go away, right?” Harry asks. He can’t quite help the suspicious tone, although he’s pretty sure this is all down to his mum’s Mills and Boon novels and isn’t the sort of thing Syco engages in. Harry’s a big important person for the label, but he isn’t actually a princess.

“Yeah,” Paul says, deadpan. “A hundred million pounds to preserve your virginity. But I’m sure he’ll refuse, out of the depths of his love and all.”

Possibly Paul’s mum reads Mills and Boon too. “Well, all right,” Harry says, a bit embarrassed. “But just—I like him, right? So please don’t be all—whatever. He wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Paul shakes his head, squeezes Harry’s shoulder. “Haz, you know I don’t give a fuck, right? It’s just—it is what it is, with public perception. All those girls wearing ‘Mrs. Styles’ t-shirts and all, they buy front-row tickets to get close to you because they think they have a shot, you know? But I don’t care. He seems like a nice guy.”

“He is,” Harry says, softly. “He is a nice guy.”

“I won’t say anything,” Paul promises. “But you can’t come to the airport.”

Harry sucks his upper lip into his mouth. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Okay,” Paul says, and wraps Harry in a gruff, one-armed hug before he goes to bring the van around.

***

“Write me lots,” Harry says, too effusive but not in the mood to care. “Write me all the time.”

Louis grins up at him. “I’ll do nothing else,” he says. “I’ll waste away, starving slowly to death while I write you emails about my suffering and how I would be cured by one more touch of your lips.”

“Maybe not that.” Harry pulls him in a little closer, mouths at his jaw. “Maybe just regular stuff, between your normal eating and sleeping and making lattes and stuff.”

Louis is tilting into Harry’s mouth, giving Harry access to his neck, and they seriously don’t have the time for anything, but—but it’s nice enough, just this, just Louis’ skin under his lips. “Write me dirty things,” Harry whispers. “Write me the things you want to do when I get back.”

“All right.” Louis’ voice is low and throaty. “Write me—write me sweet things, then. Sweet Harry.”

Harry tilts his forehead into Louis’ skin, blinks against his cheek. “I—okay,” he says. “Sweet things.” There are a lot of sweet things he can think of to say to Louis, but he’s not sure he could write any of them down, send them out without the heat of Louis’ skin against him. He’s not sure he can make them permanent. “I think sweet things about you a lot.” He’s not sure he’s speaking loud enough for Louis to hear him.

“Me too,” Louis says, and Harry leans back and finds Louis’ mouth, kisses him until Paul’s knocks finally pull them out of it.

Harry hands Louis his suitcase. “Safe trip,” he says. He can’t help reaching out to run his fingers over Louis’ cheek one more time.

“Have fun with the rest of the recording,” Louis murmurs, and then he’s gone.

***

America is always exciting, is the thing. It doesn’t matter what mood they’re in when they leave London—or what mood they’re in when they arrive, exhausted, and fight through the paparazzi at the airport. As soon as they’re rested, it’s—it’s a tour of America, a headlining tour. It’s amazing. It had been amazing as a support act, and it’s staggering now.

“This one seats 16,000,” Niall says, voice choked with awe. “16,000 people, Harry.”

“Yeah,” Harry says. They’ve got four hours' drive to get there, because America is nothing if not big. “That’s a lot of people.”

“And it’s sold out,” Niall says. “Every seat.”

Harry shakes his head. “Dunno, mate. Seems like maybe they like us or something.”

“Or something,” Niall agrees. He doesn’t stop staring at his phone, at the capacity number he’s found on Google. “Y’think—how do people get over this? When it’s done, four or five years out, when we’re not us anymore—how do you go back to normal, after this?”

Zayn knocks on the wood panelling next to his head. “Hey, now,” he says. “No jinxing.”

“He’s right, though,” Harry says. “Four, five years. We’d be lucky to get that, even.” Harry doesn’t know what they do after that. Liam could produce, maybe; he loves their studio time, all the widgets and gizmos on the sound boards. Niall could join a band, a regular one with instruments and longevity. And Harry has this image of Zayn as a cosseted trophy husband, napping and playing video games until his lovely wife comes home. But Harry—Harry doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t have a backup. “Dunno what we’ll do without this.”

“It’s kind of addictive,” Liam says. “All the—I mean, the screaming gets to be a bit much, obviously, but it’s still, it’s still amazing. It’ll be hard to give that up.” He looks contemplative, staring out the window at the passing scenery. “We should probably cultivate other interests to sustain us.”

“Oh, sure,” Niall says. “I’ll start a stamp collection, shall I?”

Harry snorts, but he climbs onto the sofa next to Liam and wraps an arm around his shoulders to show he’s not making fun. “Rocks for me,” he says. “I’ve already got that one from Suffolk that looks a bit like a cat, that’s a start.”

“If I never hear about your rock that looks like a cat again,” Zayn says, “it’ll be too soon. For the record, nobody cares.”

“I care!” Liam pats Harry’s knee, consolingly. “I care, Harry.”

“He doesn’t,” Zayn insists. “He’s just being Liam about it, that’s all.”

Zayn’s definitely right about that, but Harry’s having too much fun to stop their bickering. “We should get a kitten,” he says instead. “For the bus. We could take it back with us after the tour.”

“Veto,” Paul shouts from the front of the bus. “No pets!”

“Spoilsport!” Harry shouts back, and he hears Paul’s guffaw, grins at the boys. “Hey, you know what we haven’t done in a while?”

Niall’s lips turn up at the corners, anticipating. “Got any ideas, then?” he asks.

“Wait,” Zayn says, brows furrowed. “What are we talking about?”

“Pranking Paul,” Harry whispers, patiently, and Zayn nods understanding. “We could—”

“We could discuss it later,” Niall whispers, and Harry nods, mimes zipping his lips and pulls out his phone instead.

“Oh, all right, bye Harry,” Liam says drily, and climbs off the couch to grab his laptop. “Maybe we’ll see you again in a few weeks.”

“Mm-hm,” Harry agrees, not really listening. He’s got a few emails from Louis, and one from Lila, and he pops the latter open first, just to see.

hey mate did you hear about Jo and that bloke Carey she can’t stop talking about? so we were out last night, most of the boys and Alli and me, and Jo comes in, and she’s dragging this girl behind her, right? Turns out Carey’s a bird, has been all along. Did you know that? I def did not know that. Anyway, they made out on the dance floor for like an hour, you missed a good show. Can’t say I didn’t appreciate Jo’s skills, Carey seems like a catch.

Other than that not much exciting back here. Ran into your mum when I visited mine last weekend, she said you were still in Sweden then. Very excited for you of course, but you know that. My mum says hi too btw.

oh hey I saw in the tabs you’ve thrown me over for some Irish lass ;) she’s pretty I can’t fault you, even if I bet she doesn’t know about that thing you like with the—well anyway, never can be sure who’s reading emails right? ;)

x x Lila

Harry smiles down at the message and vows to write back soon. He hadn’t known about Jo; he’s known Jo for ages, and she’s always been boy-crazy, papered her walls with cutouts from Men’s Health and all that sort of rubbish. Harry’d always liked her room at home for that, and his one visit to her dorm had been much the same, only she’d upgraded to nice framed prints of Mappelthorpe photos. He supposes it was pretty homoerotic, actually, but not in the girl-on-girl way.

Louis’ emails are mostly the usual, Youtube videos and comments about the coffeeshop.

Crowd this morning almost mutinied when I ran out of creamer, Louis writes. If only you’d been here to defend me, you big strong man, you. Harry can picture Louis’ smirk, the way he’d smile down at his phone or his laptop while he wrote. I fought them off with butter cookies and dark roast but I tell you, it was very nearly the French Revolution in here, and not the fun parts with Eponine or anything.

Harry’s only seen the movie, but he doesn’t remember any fun parts with Eponine. Probably aspiring theatre kids take a different view of “fun,” though, when it comes to depressing musicals where half the cast dies by the end. Harry prefers Twelfth Night, thanks ever so.

The Sun says you’re into older ladies. I should probably tell you I’m twenty. I know our age difference is immense but since you’re into that I hope you won’t mind, the next one says. I promise not to forget my dentures on your nightstand if you don’t leave your nappies at mine. Stan would be traumatized.

Harry grins at the phone, remembering that party at Louis’. Stan had been fun, and James, and the people Louis doesn’t flat with, whose names have mostly slipped Harry’s mind. Louis probably throws a lot of parties; Harry could be missing one this week, even. Throw me a party, he writes back, recklessly. When I get home, yeah? Your friends at your place, like when we first fucked. That was a good night, even before you put your mouth on my cock.

Harry’s written dirty stuff in emails before, but it’s a little weird doing it on the bus in front of Niall and Zayn and Liam, even if they can’t see what he’s writing. Louis was supposed to write him dirty things, anyway. Harry’s not sure this counts as sending Louis sweet notes. ps miss you loads, he adds, and signs off with some Xs.

“Oh, hey,” Niall says, and waves a hand at them. “I thought of a good one.”

“C’mere, then,” Harry says, and shoves over on the couch to let the other boys press in close enough for whispers. He tucks his phone back in his pocket. Maybe after they prank Paul, there’ll be a new email from Louis. Harry can wait.

***

It’s not that Harry forgets about Nicky, exactly. It’s just that she’s an in-town sort of girl, and he’s pretty sure she isn’t waiting by her phone for him. So it’s a surprise when Chris calls from London to tell him they’d like her to fly out.

“For the next couple of shows,” Chris says. “She’s in London, right?” It’s nice of him to pretend they don’t already know everything about her. Well, sort of nice.

“Yeah,” Harry says, resigned. “She’s in London.”

“And she’s on hols,” Chris says. “So you call her up and we’ll book the tickets, right?”

Harry takes a deep breath, counts to five as he lets it out. “Fine,” he says. It’ll be nice to see her, anyway, even if it’s—this, even if it’s for show. He likes her plenty, and she’ll be a fun addition to the bus. Harry’s never tried to go down on a girl in the bunks before, but he’s willing to risk the concussion.

Her phone rings through, and he leaves a voice message. “Hey—this is weird, but my label wants you to fly out here. To America, I mean. Well, we’re in Canada right now, but we’ll be back in America by the time you get here. Anyway. They’re kind of—yeah, but it’d be good to see you anyway, if you don’t mind that part of it. They’ll buy the tickets and all, you don’t have to worry about anything. Uh, you can email if you don’t want to pay for the call back. No worries. This is Harry by the way. Okay. Bye.”

Harry covers his face with his hand as soon as he hangs up. He’s usually about a thousand times better with messages, and with girls, than that. It’s Chris’ fault, for getting him all off-kilter.

His phone buzzes, another email from Louis. They’ve been coming fast and furious, from the moment Harry stepped off the plane on this continent, and every single one has made Harry smile, made him desperate to write back. oi Haz, been thinking about trying for a musical, what do you think? Haven’t landed any pure drama roles yet, I might as well try, right? If you were here I’d make you run lines. Probably only in the shop, though; if I had you to myself in your flat or mine, I don’t think I’d be able to focus on anything except whether I could pull your zipper down with my teeth. I bet I could. I’m pretty motivated to get to your cock.

The message ends there, not even any Xs, like Louis wanted to send it before he lost his nerve. Harry has an immediate urge to reassure him, to pay him back in kind. You could, Harry writes back. But I’d probably already be naked. I like stripping down anyway, but around you it’s practically a compulsion. I can’t stop wanting to feel your skin, every last inch of it. Starting with your cock, right against my fingers, and my lips, and my ass. I want to feel your cock everywhere. How’s that sound to you?”

He clicks his phone closed, wanders over to where Lou’s starting to set up her gear. “Anything I can help with?” She never says yes, but he’s usually bored enough, this time of the day, to try again.

“I’m all right, love,” she assures him. “You could go play with Lux for a while, though, if you like. She’s between feedings, you’ve got a while.”

“Cheers,” Harry says, and pulls Lux out of her playpen, shouldering her bag and stopping so Lou can kiss her forehead before they head out.

Harry and Lux walk around the back of the venue for a while, looking for a good place to sit on the floor and play. Harry’s looking, anyway; Lux is mostly tapping Harry’s shoulder and making nonsense noises. Harry doesn’t consider that to be a contribution to his efforts, exactly, especially when her adorableness keeps making people stop them to say hi to her. “You’re slowing us down, babe,” he tells her, pasting on a mock frown. “You’re the weak link in this Amazing Race team.”

“Ba-ba,” she says. He’s going to take that as acceptance of her failures, and resultant contrition.

They find a lounge eventually, one that isn’t filled with people playing video games, and Harry settles them both on the couch and pulls a couple of stuffies out for her. She’s more into biting them than anything else, but Harry’s not judging. As long as Lux isn’t biting anyone’s actual pet rabbit, he thinks she’s okay.

“Rabbit,” he says, and waves the stuffie in front of her. “Can you say ‘rabbit,’ baby girl?” She claps her palms together, almost missing, and strains to get the stuffie from him. “C’mon, say ‘rabbit.’”

“Ba,” she says, and reaches again.

“You know, I’m gonna call that a win,” Harry tells her, and sets the bunny in her lap so she can suck on its fuzzy ear. “That was a whole syllable, that. And you almost got the consonant right. Very impressive work, there.”

She’s paying him less attention now, too focused on the rabbit, and he pulls out his phone and takes a few photos of her. He’s documented her since birth, pretty much; he’s got a million photos of her, enough that he’s glad he upgraded his phone last month. He wonders if Louis likes babies, if he’d think a picture of Harry and Lux was sweet. Harry’s supposed to send him sweet things.

“All right, baby,” Harry tells her. “Do your best model pose, okay?” He leans in next to her, holds the phone in front of them. “Cheese!”

He takes a few more, just to be sure, and picks the best of them to send to Louis. Harry himself looks a bit weird in it, he thinks, but Lux looks adorable. Louis knows what Harry looks like already, so that’s all right.

You said to send you sweet things, Harry types, keeping an eye on Lux. Don’t think this was exactly what you meant but I thought you might think it was sweet anyway. Or I could say, like. I’m back in London beginning of July, we’ll be there most of the rest of the year, and—I’m really excited to be there, and not just ‘cause I’m tired of sleeping on buses. Is that sweet enough?

x x x and other stuff,
Harry

Lux is still infatuated with the rabbit, and Harry pockets his phone and tugs her onto his lap, rabbit brought along by the tight grip of her fist. “Good baby,” he says, and leans down to smell her hair. He’s not needed in makeup for an hour; unless they need to rerun part of the soundcheck, he and Lux can just chill here. “How’s that sound, Lux? You want to veg out with Uncle Harry?”

“Ba,” Lux declares, and goes back to chewing her rabbit.

***

It’s early June when Nicky flies in. Harry loses track of dates when they tour—he can barely remember cities—but Chris had sent him her itinerary, and he’d noted the day then. He’s encouraged to go to the airport to meet her, and much as the request gets Harry’s hackles up, he also doesn’t want her to have to drive in with just security for company.

There’s paparazzi everywhere. Harry’s assuming that’s Chris’ doing, or someone in PR, but it’s still sort of heady, to think that there’s this much coverage of him just picking someone up at an airport. Harry gets used to the rigmarole and the hassle of fame, sometimes, but occasionally the ridiculousness of it hits him full force. The photos will probably be online ten minutes after they’ve gone, in some article with a headline about Harry’s “steady girlfriend.”

Nicky trots to wrap him up in a hug as soon as she spots him. “This is so weird,” she whispers, and Harry barks a laugh.

“I know,” he says. “Thanks for it.”

She takes his hand, grins at him. “Mate, I’ve got an all-expenses-paid vacation in America with a guy who gives fantastic head. I’m definitely thanking you, not the other way around.”

Harry doesn’t have to fake a smile for the cameras. “You hungry? Come try out an authentic—uh. Something authentic to this city. That we’re in.”

Nicky cracks up at that, hand tightening on his. “Chicago,” she says. “There’s a massive sign about it right in front of you.”

“Chicago,” Harry agrees. “Pizza, then?” He follows her into the back of the van, and Paul closes them into it, camera flashes still lighting up the interior.

“Are your friends with the cameras gonna write mean things about me if I eat lots?” Nicky doesn’t sound like she’s joking, particularly. “I’d rather get take-out if it’s gonna be, you know. Sun articles about the size of my arse.”

“You’re gorgeous,” Harry says firmly. “And—dunno. But we could get something and take it back to the venue. I’m probably due back pretty soon anyway.”

Paul climbs in, finally, having cleared them to go, and Harry clears the pizza plan with him, gets them on their way.

They call Lou and get everyone’s orders, pick up a dozen pizzas of varying kinds, and Harry and Nicky switch to the backseat of the van so the pizzas can ride in the middle, Paul’s arm keeping them firmly in place.

They have a good view of the city on the drive back from the restaurant, and Nicky cranes around to look out the back glass at it. “So Niall didn’t come out to meet me, huh? It’s like that now?”

Harry looks with her, trying to remember if he’s seen any of these buildings on American TV shows. “He and Paul had a bit of a fight over it, to be honest,” he says. “But you know Niall, half the time his idea of a fight is that he glares at you once and then offers you some crisps.”

“The other half can be wild, though,” Nicky agrees. “Be good to hang with him, anyway.”

“We’re on to Mexico tomorrow,” Harry says. “And then California. You’re flying back from there?”

“Yeah,” she says. “I think it’s next—” Harry’s phone beeps, and she cuts herself off, gestures that he can check it.

“Thanks,” he says, and thumbs open his email.

Hey Harry,

This is sort of awkward sorry. Um my mate James just popped into my room to say there’s this picture of you on TMZ with a girl, I guess the same girl from some Sun photos when you were back here last, but in America. Anyway, not that we ever, like, said anything, I just thought I’d ask, you know. If I should like take a hint or something. Only it didn’t seem like that from our emails but maybe I misunderstood. No worries.

There aren’t any Xs at the bottom. Harry’s chest feels tight. He’s so—he’d been so fucking stupid. Of course Louis would see the photos, and think—think that Harry hadn’t flown him out to America. “I—I have to answer this,” he says. Nicky’s frowning at him, concerned.

“Of course,” she says. “Are you okay? It’s not your family?”

“No,” he says, “no, nothing like that, just—I did something stupid, that’s all. I’ll just be a moment.”

It’s longer than a moment, really. He can’t quite figure out what he wants to say.

Louis,

I am so sorry, that was really colossally unforgivably stupid of me not to warn you ahead of time. PR at the label wanted to fly her out and I’ve been sort of pretending it’s not happening and I just didn’t think.

I am definitely not throwing you over. I think—I thought—you knew we weren’t exclusive, but

Harry doesn’t know where to go from there. He wants to reassure Louis that Harry feels strongly about him, that Nicky’s a friend, admittedly one he’s sleeping with. He’s not sure that’s any reassurance at all, potentially, and it feels—it feels like too much of an admission. Louis is supposed to be a friend that Harry’s sleeping with, too. It’s not supposed to be more than that, not really.

He bites his lip, turns back to the phone. but I should have been more clear, and I am really really sorry about that. I hope you aren’t going to want to throw me over. I’d want you to come out here if we could. I really am hugely excited to spend more time with you when I get back to London. I miss you loads.

x x x x x x x x x x x x not enough xs x x x x x x Harry

“Right,” Harry says, resignedly. “Er, I’ll just keep this out in case I get a reply, shall I?”

They go for pizza, and back to the venue. Harry’s phone doesn’t beep once.

***

Niall steals Nicky from Harry as soon as they arrive, whisks her back to the lounge so she can tell him all the gossip about their mutual friends. Niall doesn’t call it gossip, of course, but Harry isn’t fooled. They manage about five minutes of that until it devolves, inevitably, into roughhousing, and Harry and Zayn play about on their laptops, watching the carnage.

“I think she fouled him there,” Zayn comments. “Do you have a yellow card handy?”

“Street rules,” Harry says. “As long as she keeps her elbows above his belt, I think we can best stay out of it.”

Nicky and Niall break apart then, laughing, and she messes up his bangs. “Dunno who convinced you you’re some kind of sex symbol, mate,” she says. “Little old Niall Horan. Emphasis on the little.”

“Oi,” Niall says. “Harry, show her that thing.”

“Oh, god,” Harry says, and clicks open his bookmarks. Liam had found it, a photo of a girl’s bedroom, postered floor-to-ceiling in photos of Niall. They’d teased him mercilessly, but now he sort of loves it. “Here.”

“See that?” Niall crows. “That right there. International sex symbol.”

“You’ve got your shirt off in that one,” Nicky points out. “Why would anyone want a photo of you with your shirt off? Do you think the girl whose bedroom this is has some kind of mental confusion? Maybe she’s sexually attracted to pasty things. It could be a condition.”

Niall tackles her, and then they’re back at it, and Harry rests back against the couch. They’re almost a distraction from the gnawing ache in his belly, the tightness in his throat. Harry’s not very good at waiting; he’s very poor indeed at waiting for bad news. “I’m gonna—I’m gonna go do some calisthenics,” he says, closing the laptop. “Anyone in?”

“I’ll go with you,” Liam says, getting up from the chair in the corner. “You guys try not to break anything, right?”

“Sure, Daddy Liam,” Niall says, and Liam rolls his eyes, herds Harry out of the room.

“You all right there, mate?” Liam, as always, is gentle with him, but Harry’s not about to tell him this. Liam hadn’t understood before; he won’t sympathize with Harry’s screw-up, not the way Harry would want him to. It’s enough that he’s here, anyway.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Let’s go do a million push-ups.”

***

In the four days following Louis’ last email, he and Nicky are photographed at two bars, seven rest stops, one hotel, and three shows. Harry guesses that isn’t helping Louis figure anything out, but there’s not much he can do about it.

They haven’t had sex since Nicky arrived. Harry feels like a bit of an arse about it, but he couldn’t be less in the mood. He’s always liked the idea of coming offstage, worked up and filled with adrenaline, and going straight into someone’s arms, but now that he’s got that option for the first time, he doesn’t want it at all.

They’re in a hotel tonight, which makes Harry feel about ten times worse about the whole thing. They could be having really top-notch sex right now, if he could get back in gear. “It’s really fine,” Nicky says. She sounds more exasperated from having to reassure him than from the unexpected celibacy. “Look, would it make you feel better if I kipped with Niall? He’s got plenty of room.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Harry says. “I’m sorry, this is ridiculous, of course you don’t have to do that. C’mere.” He lifts the covers a bit more, and she rolls into his arms. She’s warm and soft against him, and he pets her hair, the soft bare skin of her arm.

“You want to tell me about her?” Nicky’s voice is soft. “It’s really all right, you know.”

“There isn’t—”

“Harry,” Nicky says. “I’m not an idiot.”

Harry takes a deep breath, presses his face into her hair. “It’s a him,” he says. “That’s why—that’s why they wanted to fly you out here, and all. I think there have been some rumours. He came out to Sweden when we were recording, and there weren’t any pictures or anything, but people talk.”

They’re quiet a long moment, Nicky’s fingers threaded through Harry’s, her thumb stroking the back of his hand. “I’m sorry,” she says.

“He’s—he saw the photos of us at the airport,” Harry says. “They were online before we even got out of the van. He didn’t know—I didn’t tell him ahead of time that you were coming, I didn’t think of it.” His breath catches in his throat, and he tucks his face tighter against her shoulder. “I really fucked up.”

Nicky twists around until she’s facing him, wraps her arms around him. “Oh, babe.” She rubs his back in circles, like his mum used to do when he was sick. “You really did.”

Harry laughs, although it sounds a bit more like a sob. “Yeah, thanks.”

“You’re really into him,” she says, and Harry can’t pretend it’s not like that, not right now. He nods into her neck. “And he dumped you?”

“Not yet. He—he might not.” Except he still hasn’t written back, not one word. “Probably will. I would, probably, if I were him.”

She’s quiet again for a long moment, still rubbing his back, and Harry starts to breathe a little easier, the hitching in his chest smoothing out. “I guess—you can let him go, or you can try to convince him,” she says.

“He’s kind of far away at the mo,” Harry says. “I can’t—I want to, but I can’t, and by the time I get there, it’ll probably be too late. And we’ll still have—I’ll still have to pretend, you know? I’ll still have to sneak him in the back way every time, and be photographed kissing pretty girls. It’s not fair to him. It’s—that’s why I just date, you know? It’s not fair to him.”

Nicky sighs, the rise of her chest lifting Harry’s shoulder. “It’s not fair to you, either,” she says. “Rather unfair to me, too, actually. If I were really into you, it’d be—it wouldn’t just be a free trip and some great concerts, you know?”

“Sorry,” Harry says. He feels like all he’s done lately is apologize.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” she says. She pushes him off, a little, so she can look him in the eye. The light is dim, just what’s filtering through the sheer curtains from the streetlamps and lights of the city, but he can see her expression well enough. “The whole thing’s not fair, and that’s—I’m not blaming you for that, not really. But it seems like maybe you should think about all of that, not just about this one—not just about him, and not just about me. The big picture.”

Harry can’t look her in the eye, not for this. “I do think about it,” he says, softly. “I hate it, I hate the—lying. I hate feeling ashamed, or like—like I’m supposed to be ashamed, every time PR calls me up to warn me there are rumours flying around. But it’s out of my hands. It’s not just about me, you know? A lot of people’s jobs rely on us. And Niall and Liam and Zayn—”

“Hey,” Nicky says, and Harry stops, the room suddenly quiet. He thinks maybe he’d been talking too loudly, there. “I don’t want to argue about it. Just—you seem really unhappy right now, Harry. And in London you were, like, glowing. I just think maybe you should think about your options, that’s all.”

Harry takes a deep breath, and then another. “Okay,” he says. “Thanks.”

“Add it to my gratitude tab,” she says. “Although I have a feeling I’m not gonna be getting any of the orgasms I was expecting in payment. You don’t have a brother, do you?”

Harry laughs, lets her roll away to the other side of the bed. “I’ve got a cousin,” he says. “But I don’t think you’d like him, he’s just turned eight.”

“Best not,” Nicky agrees, yawning. “G’night, Harry.”

“G’night,” he says, and settles into the pillows.

***

It takes another day without anything from Louis before Harry asks Niall, Liam, and Zayn to come into the back lounge of the bus with him. They usually don’t close the door on the lounge, much less lock it, and Zayn’s head comes around when he hears the click of the lock. “Harry, you all right?”

“You guys know—you remember Louis,” Harry says. He sits on the couch, fiddling with his wristbands.

“Sure,” Liam says. “Is he okay? Did something happen?”

“Sort of,” Harry says. “The—the thing is, he—” Harry feels like he can’t quite get the words out that he wants. “You remember how I told you he was a Danielle?”

Niall and Zayn look confused, but Liam nods. “He’s—boyfriend material,” Harry says. “And I want him to be.”

Niall’s face goes through a couple of competing expressions—happiness, and then suspicion, and then confusion. “But—Nicky,” he says. “She’s just out the front, Harry, this seems a bit not nice.”

“She knows,” Harry says. “She helped me—figure out what to do. But if you guys tell me not to, I won’t. It’s—at the end of the day, it’s us four against the world, as far as I’m concerned. You guys come first to me.”

“Harry,” Liam says, patiently. “Tell you not to do what?”

“Come out,” Harry says. “Be—out. Preferably with Louis, if he’ll still have me, but if not, then just—just for me.”

Niall crosses over to him, climbs half onto his lap. “You know what I think,” he says. “Although it’s too bad I didn’t get to introduce you to Jack.”

“I like it,” Zayn says. “It’s too much hassle trying to remember not to mention anything to anyone. Be easier if we could just be honest about you. And Louis is a good guy, I liked him.”

“Me too,” Liam says. He’s hovering by the door, awkwardly. “Do you—do you think it would be all right?”

Harry bites his lip. “Maybe not,” he says. “Paul says the fans buy tickets because they want to marry us. They might—stop. That’s why I wanted to ask you guys. I don’t have to—I wouldn’t want to do that to you.”

Liam’s making a hurt face, and Harry pauses, trying to interpret it. “Harry,” Liam says. “Harry, that’s not what I meant.”

Harry doesn’t get it, shakes his head, and Liam looks desperately sad suddenly. “I meant would it be all right for you, because people—say nasty things,” he says. “Is that—is that what you think, Harry? That I care more about ticket sales than—”

If Harry felt guilty before, it’s ten times worse now. “Fuck, Liam,” Harry says. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, you don’t deserve that. It’s not—there’s nothing wrong with being concerned about—it’s our livelihood, it’s our career. It’s—Sal and Lou and Paul and everybody, relying on us.”

Liam shakes his head. “They’re—they’ll shepherd the next group, when we fall out of favour,” he says. “And we’ll move on to new things. But Harry, I don’t think—I don’t think it’s that simple, anyway. It was one thing when you weren’t serious about anyone, but if you—I’d never want to get between you and a Danielle, Harry, not ever. Not for anything.”

“Group hug,” Niall suggests, and Liam and Zayn clamber up onto them both, the four of them smushed together on the couch until Harry’s short of breath.

“Love you guys,” Harry says. “Love you guys so much.” He doesn’t let go, and they don’t pull away.

***

When he wakes up on the day of the San Jose show, clock just turning noon, Harry opens up the email from Louis again. He hasn’t let himself reread it before now, because he remembers it all too well, but he thinks maybe—maybe before he tells the world, maybe he should tell Louis.

Louis,

That other email I sent you was a bit shit, I’m realizing. I hope you’ll let me try again. I hope you don’t just delete this.

I haven’t had a girlfriend or a boyfriend since I started with Hang Twenty. It just didn’t make sense, with all the travel, and so I told myself I didn’t want one, anyway. And it was easy to believe that because I didn’t meet anyone I really wanted to commit to until the day I walked into your coffeeshop I still can never remember the name of.

So—until you, it wasn’t that bad, having to keep up my reputation and make sure there were lots of photos of me kissing girls in the tabs. And for a little while after I met you it was still okay, because I hadn’t really fallen for you yet. But after that it got harder and harder, and when I got the call saying they wanted to send Nicky out here, I was really upset. I like Nicky, she’s really nice, but I didn’t want her out here; I wanted you. And I couldn’t have you.

Nicky and I are just friends now. I couldn’t keep any of it up, because I can’t even think about being with anyone but you. I miss you so much, and I miss all your emails and your silly videos and your Xs. I miss your weird t-shirts and your tight trousers and your flat and the way you say “Doncaster” and the way you talk about your mum and your sisters, and the way you talk about your boss. I miss your smile, and it makes me crazy to think that I’ve made you stop smiling even for a minute.

Maybe this is too little, too late. I should have told you the truth earlier. I should have explained better. I thought I could just keep pretending that you and I were just dating, that I wasn’t totally gone for you.

I’m gonna do something at the show tonight. I hope you like it, because, basically, I really like you. More than like you.

I’m sorry, and I hope you’ll forgive me,

Harry

By the time the two-minute warning comes around for their opening song, Louis hasn’t written back. Harry thumbs his phone off, drops it on the table in the green room, and heads out to do his job.

***

When Liam and Niall run off the stage the way they always do, and Harry doesn’t, it takes a moment for the audience to notice. People are streaming out the back, and Harry wonders if anyone’s still got battery left on their cameras, if anyone will record this. If Louis will be able to see it.

“Er, hey everyone,” Harry says.The crowd screams, deafening even through Harry’s earpieces. “Usually we just end there, but I’ve got—I’ve got one more for you, if that’s okay. It’s—it’s sort of a love song. And Jon’s gonna help me out on the keyboards back there.”

He fiddles with the mic, not sure how to say any of this, waiting for the screams to die down.

“You’re, um, you’re probably all thinking this is for someone who’s here with us tonight,” he says, and there’s a confused half-cheer from the audience. “But it’s actually, er, it’s for someone back home in London, someone who really likes Les Mis. And this is the only song I know from it, and it’s probably pretty, er, melodramatic, but this is—yeah, this is for him.”

There’s a beat, and then the noise level rockets upward, the chatter of “what did he just say?” followed by screams and camera flashes, all over the arena. Harry glances into the wings, where Niall and Zayn and Liam are standing with Nicky, and they give him a thumbs-up, smiles on all four faces.

“So—this is for Louis,” Harry says, and behind him, Jon starts playing the opening notes of On My Own. Harry takes a deep breath, looks out in the audience, and starts singing. “On my own, pretending he’s beside me ….

***

Paul’s standing sidestage when Harry comes off. To Harry’s surprise, he’s fighting a smile.

“You’re trying to get me fired,” Paul says, but he throws his arms out, wraps Harry in a hug. “You arsehole, you just made my life a living hell.”

“You seem really upset,” Niall comments, deadpan.

“Yeah, well.” Paul squeezes Harry tight enough to push the breath out of him, and steps back. “For some damned reason I really like you bloody kids.”

Lou hugs him next, pulling him tight to her chest. “That was not just pretty melodramatic, Haz, that was embarrassingly melodramatic. I hope your boy likes drama, because the tabs are about to break down his door.”

“I have to go make about a hundred million phone calls,” Paul says, and wraps Harry in a hug of his own. “It’s your fault, so Lou and I decided you’re on Lux duty all day tomorrow. You clean up after her while I clean up after you.” It would be more of a threat if Paul could keep the pleased smirk off his face. Well, and if Harry didn’t adore Lux.

“Does that mean I can take her into interviews?” Harry’s been trying to convince them that interviews would be more fun with Lux since the day she was born, pretty much. He doesn’t think he’s about to win that one, but it’s always worth a try.

“If you think we’re having any of the scheduled interviews, you’re off your rocker,” Paul says. His phone starts ringing, an insistent trill. “Here we go.” Harry sees Nicky look up at the sound of it, and she smiles at him, keeps talking to Niall.

Harry thinks of his own phone, suddenly, of Louis. Maybe—maybe he’ll hear about this soon. Maybe one of his mates will see it and wake him up. “I have to—lemme just get my mobile,” Harry says. “You can all lecture me as soon as I’ve got it, promise.”

There’s nothing from Louis. He can’t have heard about this by now, Harry supposes, unless he was combing Twitter, but he must have seen Harry’s email. He must have read it, unless he deleted it.

“Okay,” Harry says, just for himself, and drops the phone back onto the table so he can change. Okay. There’s still a chance. There’s still a chance.

***

“Harry.” The voice is too loud, the room too bright through Harry’s eyelids, and Harry rolls away from both, presses his face into the pillow. “Harry.”

Someone’s shaking him, and this is just monumentally unfair, because Harry has an alarm, Harry never sleeps through his alarm, and if someone is waking him up before his alarm they had better have a pretty good—

“Oh,” Harry says, and rolls over, sits up and stares at Liam. “What—what is it, what happened, did Simon fire us? Did Louis call? Oh, god, my mum, did my mum call?” Harry’s mum knows about Jeremy Bixton, but maybe she didn’t expect Harry to be singing a love song to someone she’s never met. Harry’s pretty sure he’s supposed to warn her about stuff like that, now he thinks about it.

“No one’s firing us,” Liam says. “But I think you should get your laptop.”

Harry isn’t sure that sounds like a good idea at all, but he takes it when Liam hands it to him, opens it up and calls up Sugarscape. Whatever this is, they’ll have it.

The top headline is, “OUR BACK-UP DREAM CAME TRUE! Harry Styles sings love song to West End actor—and he’s a boy!”

He skims down— “He still hasn’t sung Sugarscape any love songs, but our second-favorite fantasy about the curly-haired charmer seems to be coming true. Well-known girl-magnet Styles sang a depressing but very pretty love song from Les Miserables at a concert date in California, addressing the song to ‘Louis.’ Careful readers may recall that there were reports of Harry having brought a boy with him to Sweden last month.

Reports are in: the Louis in question seems to be one Louis Tomlinson of London, an aspiring theatre actor who was cast last night in the upcoming West End production of Room on the Broom, based on the children’s book. Sugarscape has this from a couple of sources, and if it’s right, we’re betting that yesterday is probably going down as the best day of young Mr. Tomlinson’s life.

If we can’t have Harry to ourselves, we’re hoping we can at least get the sex tape. Press release photo of Tomlinson on page 2—he’s a cutie!”

Harry looks up at Liam. “He was cast in a play yesterday,” he says. Liam shrugs. “He was—he was really busy, yesterday.” His heart is racing, suddenly, and he can’t quite make his fingers type in the URL for his email, keeps hitting the wrong letters. “My phone, can you—Liam—”

Liam tosses it to him, and Harry thumbs it on, clicks his email open. There’s one from Louis.

Harry,
This has been a hell of a morning. I got cast yesterday in a play, a real one. I’m not a major part or anything, they called me like ten minutes before they released the cast list because they knew I’d take it for sure, but I’m still reeling. I was out with Stan all night getting hammered, and I woke up this morning about ready to kill all the people who were ringing my mobile, and thank god James burst in to stop me answering any of the calls, because it’s the Sun and the Mail and everyone else calling for quotes.

All of that is to say—I would have written back earlier, but I wasn’t checking my email, and then I was asleep. But when you get this, please call me, I want to hear your voice. And not just on a shaky Youtube video, even though I may never want to watch any video except this one for the rest of my life.

x x x x x x x x x xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Louis

Harry stares at it for a moment longer, trying to process. Louis doesn’t say, exactly, but—but that’s a lot of Xs. “I have to—I have to call him,” Harry says, and Liam nods, folds up Harry’s laptop and sets it on the desk. “Liam,” Harry says. The clock next to him says it’s four in the morning. “Thank you.”

“Anytime, Haz,” Liam says, and lets himself out.

Harry gets a busy signal, and then another, and another, and finally he texts instead. can’t get through what’s stan’s number

A text comes back almost instantly, and Harry dials, not even caring that someone could have hacked Louis’ phone, that he could be calling up the Sun offices right now. The Sun can hear whatever they want, Harry doesn’t care.

“Harry,” Louis says, cutting off the first ring. “Harry, hi.”

“Hi,” Harry says. He can’t, suddenly, think of anything to say. “Hi. I—you saw it, then? The song?”

“Yeah,” Louis says. “I—there’s like a dozen videos of it already, and I think there’s more coming. It’s everywhere.”

Harry laughs, suddenly. “Shit, I’m never gonna be able to go to your coffeeshop again,” he says.

Louis laughs, too. “You can come to my flat, though. You’re—you’d be welcome. In case you were—I was pretty mad, but. You sure know how to apologize to a guy, Harry.”

“You’re—god, your play!” Harry can’t believe he forgot to say something right up front. “Congratulations, you have a real play. That’s amazing.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, and his voice is soft. “It’s—it’s so great. Everything’s—everything was so shit, and now it’s so good. Except I guess that I’ll have to change my mobile number.”

“Sorry about that,” Harry says. “I should have—I didn’t think they’d figure out who you were, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Louis says, and it’s sharp. “Don’t be sorry for—I’m so fucking proud of you. Not just for me, but for—it’s gonna mean a lot to people, you doing that. It would have meant a lot to me, as a kid. Really a lot.”

“I wish you were here,” Harry says, interrupting, because he can’t think about much else right now. He wants Louis to be next to him, wants to be able to pet his hair and stroke his palms.

“Rehearsals start Monday,” Louis says. “I wish you were in London.”

Harry groans. “July 2nd,” he says. “That’s—July 2nd, I’ll be back. I don’t know if I can wait that long.”

“You can,” Louis says. “I’ll meet you at the airport, what do you say? I want to help with your luggage.”

Harry smiles, picturing it. “And you’ll come back to mine with me? I want—god, I want everything again. Want to suck you off.”

“Jesus,” Louis says, and Harry hears a door closing. “It’s the middle of the day here, you know. But—if you want—”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Fuck, yeah, take your trousers off and tell me everything.”

There’s a ragged breath on the other end of the phone, and rustling. “I—for the record, I haven’t done this before, exactly,” Louis says. “Maybe if you started.”

Harry can do that. “I want your cock in my mouth,” he says. “If I were there I’d drop down in front of you and—”

“On your knees, then?” Louis interrupts.

“Yeah, on my knees,” Harry says, and Louis groans. “Oh, you—you like that? You like me getting on my knees for you, looking up at you while I pull your cock out.” Louis is making hitching sounds into the phone, and Harry doesn’t stop, can’t stop, any more than he can stop the hand he’s whipping over his cock. “I want it so much, I want you to fuck my mouth a little, make me think about how your hips will move when you’re fucking my arse after.”

“Haz.” Louis’ voice is strained. “Are you—are you jacking off?”

“Fuck, yes,” Harry says. “Just thinking about—just hearing your voice like that, the way you sound when you’re turned on, when you’ve got your legs around my waist. Love your arse, your tight—your gorgeous tight arse, Lou, god—” Harry’s losing track of his words, too caught up in the feelings, the sounds, the ideas. “Lou, Louis.”

“Yeah. Yeah, yeah—” Louis’ words turn into a moan, long and low, and Harry hears the background noise going quiet, the rustling sounds that must have been Louis stroking himself. Harry can almost see it, the way Louis’ hand would have been rubbing up and down the length of him, the way his hips would have bucked up into his fist, come pouring out of him.

Harry’s own orgasm is quieter, more of a gasp than a cry, but it feels like the first good one he’s had in weeks. “Lou,” he murmurs, as soon as he’s got his breath back. “July 2nd, okay?”

“Okay,” Louis says. “I’ll email you some silly videos later.”

“I want to hear about your audition, too,” Harry says. “And everything I’ve missed.”

“Everything. Promise, Harry.”

“I have to sleep,” Harry says. “But. Thank you for—thank you.”

Louis is quiet a second. “You should maybe watch the videos,” he says. “I don’t think anyone in the world could have been stupid enough not to take that apology.” Harry’s still struggling to find a response to that when Louis says, “G’night, Hazza,” and hangs up.

Harry lies in bed, staring at the ceiling, phone still pressed to his ear. He can’t seem to wipe the smile off his face, and eventually he stops trying.

***

It’s the longest two and a half weeks of Harry’s life. Harry’s pretty sure the whole X-Factor tour felt shorter than these 20 days feel.

Niall takes Nicky to the airport when she goes, and there’s a round of tabloid reports about “girlfriend-swapping.” None of them much care, but it makes Harry glad he’d hugged her goodbye in the venue, lest they report some kind of threesome.

Louis sends Harry rehearsal anecdotes every day, silly stuff about blocking and people dropping their scripts and the director’s Napoleon complex. Harry doesn’t understand half the theatre terms but he reads and rereads the emails, trying to picture Louis onstage, wearing bright trousers and some kind of ridiculous scarf.

It seems like the right play for Louis—a musical for children, light and fun and funny. Harry wants to see it when it comes out. He wants to see it every night until he can say the lines as well as Louis can, and bring Louis bouquets that dwarf what the main actors are getting. He wants to embarrass Louis in that way Louis would probably like, make him feel special and important.

I have all gay interviews today, Harry emails him. This guy at the label who always seemed to hate me and called up all the time to tell me to kiss girls is suddenly scheduling me in with Attitude and the Gay Times and all these American ones, too. He sounds totally different on the phone now, it’s weird. I think maybe he hated having to tell me that stuff, instead of hating me. That’s kind of nice to think.

I don’t really know what you’re comfortable with me telling them. I was just gonna say I’ve always been into boys as well as girls, and that I happened to meet you at the coffee shop and we clicked. But I can keep it more vague than that if you like, I don’t even have to mention you other than to retell the San Jose story. It’s up to you. I can tell them about Jeremy Bixton in year ten instead, I bet he’d get a kick out of that.

Louis writes back almost right away. Whoever Jeremy Bixton is, please know that I may now be forced to track him down and tell him he can’t have you.

Tell them whatever you want. I’d sort of like everyone to know I’ve staked my claim on you, Mr. Styles.

Harry bites his lip, grinning down at the phone. “Are you and Louis sending each other dirty photos?” Zayn asks.

“Yup,” Harry says. “Loads of ‘em. Here, you want to see?” He holds the phone up and Zayn flinches, fast enough to make Harry fold up with laughter.

“I see more than enough of your naked arse, Hazza,” Zayn says, and flips him two fingers. “Hey, you want any of us to come with you today?”

Harry smiles at him. “That’s okay. Thanks, though.” He’s pretty sure he can do this, actually. He’s pretty sure he wants to. “You guys gonna do fun things without me?”

“Probably,” Zayn says. “We’ll bond over being the three-quarters of the band that’s into girls or something.”

“Oi, I’m into girls,” Harry protests. “You’ve seen me with girls loads of times!”

Zayn’s grinning at him, the cheeky bastard, and Harry crosses to his couch and drops down next to him, head on Zayn’s shoulder. “Arsehole,” Harry says, and Zayn slings an arm around him.

“Yup,” he agrees. “You’re into that, though.”

Harry flicks him in the ribs, but he laughs, too.

***

By the time they’re in the airport to head home, half the magazine covers in the airport shops are about Harry. “Well, we’re definitely still newsworthy,” Liam says, flipping through one of the really shoddy rags. “Oh, hey, they’ve got a poll,” he says. “Dunno if it’s a real one or anything, but it says 64% of readers think you’re just as sexy now. 16% say sexier.”

Harry groans, plucks the magazine out of Liam’s hands and sets it back in its slot. “Can we talk about anything else. Anything at all.”

“We could talk about Liam moving in with Danielle,” Zayn says, and Liam swats him.

“Be a little louder, why don’t you, I don’t think the entire airport heard you.” He’s smiling despite himself, and Harry squeezes his shoulder, grins at him.

“Everyone’ll know soon,” Harry says.

“But preferably not before I actually ask her!” Liam says. “Christ, what a way that’d be for her to find out. ‘Liam Payne of Hang Twenty wants to move in with girlfriend.’ She’d kill me. My mum would kill me.”

Niall, still sorting through the snack selection, snorts. “Your mum’s gonna kill you anyway, mate.”

Liam makes a face. “Maybe not. I think—she said something on the phone the other day about how she sometimes misses this nice flat she and my dad had before they got married, I think maybe that was a hint.”

Harry laughs, knocks his shoulder into Liam’s. “Aww, you’ve got her blessing, how sweet. You have mine, too, if that matters any.”

“It doesn’t,” Niall puts in. He’s taking his haul to the counter, and Harry goes over and grabs some trail mix for himself and throws it on the pile.

“All right, boys,” Zayn says, clapping his hands. “Who’s ready to go home?”

They all raise their hands, and after a beat, Harry lifts his other, too. “Pretty ready,” he says. “Pretty much very ready.”

Niall hands Harry’s trail mix to him, and they head back towards the gate, Paul trailing close behind. “Does Louis know he’s gonna get mobbed at the airport?” Niall asks Harry. “Could be a real scene.”

Harry shrugs. “He knows. But he says it’s worth it.” He can’t really help the way the corners of his mouth turn up at that.

Liam turns back to look at Harry. “I like this guy, Haz. You should keep him.”

“That’s the plan,” Harry agrees, and pops a cashew into his mouth.

***

If the crowd of paparazzi had been bad when they checked in, it’s nothing to the mob waiting for them at Heathrow. “Jesus,” Paul says, and shoves Harry behind him. “No contact, no delay, no quotes, just move. Got it, boys?”

“Got it,” they chorus, and for once they mean it; Harry doesn’t want to get caught without security in this crowd, and he’s pretty sure none of the others do, either.

They press through, and Harry scans the crowd for Louis, for his floppy hair and his grin. There’s someone pushing through the crowd, and Paul sees before Harry does, pushing one of the temp security guards in that direction. “It’s Louis!” Harry shouts, and Paul nods agreement, says something to the guard. It takes them a few moments to fight through the crowd, but suddenly the guard is emerging with Louis in tow, a big “HEY HARRY” sign in one hand. Harry’s cheeks hurt from grinning at him, and Louis ducks into the knot of security and band, presses a kiss to Harry’s jaw without slowing down their forward momentum.

“Hey,” Harry says. “Maybe we won’t have you meet me at the airport again, that seemed a bit rough.”

“Yeah,” Louis agrees. “A whole crowd of twelve-year-old girls were asking me about your bum, it was pretty terrifying.”

Harry laughs, tucks his arm around Louis’ waist and pulls him in closer. “How’d you get here? You can come in the vans, right?”

“I’m yours,” Louis says, and Harry can’t fight the grin that spreads over his face. “By the way,” Louis adds, “I don’t think you can come back to Fine Roasts anymore. We’ve been besieged lately.”

“Kitchen entrance at the back,” Harry suggests. It’s become the best way to eat at restaurants, lately, but he can’t say he’s ever used the trick for any kind of assignation. It sounds much more fun like that. “Or I could rent out the place, I guess.”

They’re outside now, although it’s no less crowded or deafening, and Paul’s pushing them into vans, Harry and Louis first. “That sounds good,” Louis says, when he’s settled in the backseat. “Plus there’s yours and mine.”

Harry slides in next to him, thighs pressed together. “Yeah,” he says, “but I want to keep you entertained on afternoons, too.”

Louis’ smile is lighting up the whole inside of the van, feels like. “That sounds nice,” Louis murmurs, leaning forward to press the words into Harry’s neck. He swings his legs over Harry’s, twisting on the bench to face him.

“Yeah,” Harry mumbles, not even certain what he’s agreeing to right now. Louis is too distracting. He’s in a thin t-shirt, right for the July weather, and Harry can’t stop running his hands all over Louis’ torso to feel the warm skin underneath.

“You know the glass isn’t fully tinted, right?” Niall says, and Harry manages to look away from Louis for a moment to pay attention to him instead, sitting in one of the bucket seats next to Zayn.

“Er,” Harry says, and glances out the window. They’re in stopped traffic on the way out of the airport, and there’s people in the next car over openly gawking at them. “Oh well?”

Zayn laughs. “At least keep it in your trousers until you’re in your flat, that’s all I ask. There’s already that one naked photo of you on the internet, that’s plenty.”

Louis’ mouth comes off Harry’s neck very fast. “Sorry, there’s what now? Where?”

“Haven’t you seen it in person?” Niall asks. “I’d think that would be good enough.”

Louis tucks his face back into Harry’s shoulder, laughing. “Yeah, okay, good point. It’s been a long three weeks, all right? There’s a lot of shirtless photos of you online, Haz. Like, loads and loads of them.”

“Oh, I bet there was loads of something,” Niall says, and Zayn makes a grossed-out face at them all.

“Maybe we should all just stop talking,” Harry says, and gets a hand on Louis’ jaw, draws him into a kiss. The people in the next car over can just deal with it.

***

“Bye, then,” Zayn says, half pointed and half laughing, when Harry stumbles out of the elevator on his floor, dragging Louis and his luggage behind him.

“Later,” Harry shouts, and then he’s unlocking the front door with shaking hands, shoving his suitcases inside. “C’mon, c’mere, I need—”

Louis turns them, presses Harry into the door and throws the deadbolt. “Yeah, yes, let me—” He’s got his mouth on Harry’s, his hand on Harry’s cock through his trousers, and Harry moans into it, hips bucking.

“We can do this here if you really want,” Harry manages, “but I want to fuck you, and all the stuff is in my bedroom.”

Louis groans into Harry’s cheek, and then he’s pulling him off the door, hustling him toward Harry’s bedroom. “Yeah,” he says. “Want you to suck me off first. On your knees, like we—like we talked about.”

Harry’s on board for that. He gets the lube and a couple of condoms out first, throws them on the bed, and then Louis is in front of him, sitting on the edge of it, and Harry drops to his knees, pushes Louis’ shirt up and kisses his belly. “Just—like that,” Louis gasps, and Harry looks up at him, licks his bottom lip as showily as he can. “Harry.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and draws Louis’ zipper down, pops his button. The bright trousers are too tight for Harry to pull them off easily, but he yanks them to mid-thigh, and Louis’ pants along with them. “Missed you,” he says to Louis’ cock, and then he’s sucking the head into his mouth, no preliminaries at all. They’re both too worked up for teasing.

Louis spreads his legs, as much as he can with the trousers binding him, and he leans back for the lube, presses the bottle into Harry’s hand. “You can—yeah,” he says, and Harry makes an agreement noise, enough of a vibration around Louis’ cock to make his hips jerk forward.

The lube is cool on his fingers, but Louis’ skin is hot, and Harry presses a finger in easily, petting around Louis’ rim. It’s hard to focus on both tasks, but Harry can zone out on the blowjob a little, think instead about how Louis’ arse feels, about whether he’s ready for another, yet.

Harry wants—Harry wants everything. He wants to lick Louis open, to fuck him bareback and lick him after, too, taste his own come in Louis’ arse. He wants Louis to hold him down and fuck him, over and over until Harry can’t even come anymore, can’t even react to how fucking good it feels. He wants Louis to stay in his bed forever, and also he wants Louis to walk down the street with him, holding hands. He wants to sit in the back of Louis’ rehearsals, maybe, if they allow that sort of thing. He wants to buy Louis ridiculous jumpers with holes cut in them. He wants to take Louis to movie premieres and make sure he gets to meet all the actors.

Louis is bucking back into his fingers more than forward into his mouth, now, and Harry slides in another finger, bobs his head faster. Louis is close—Harry can taste that, the way he’s starting to drip precome, the bitter taste of it filling Harry’s mouth.

“Haz,” Louis says, half a whisper, and Harry glances up at him, wants to see. Louis looks desperate, mouth open, staring fixedly at Harry’s face, at his lips. Harry wants Louis to see this, to see the way he’s sucking him down.

Louis’ hips are stuttering, and Harry sucks harder, crooks his fingers, because he wants Louis to come, wants to swallow it down for him. It’s fast, when it comes, Louis’ hand shaking in Harry’s hair and his cock jerking in Harry’s mouth. Harry nurses him through it, licks him clean, and then he’s pulling his fingers out long enough to stand and strip down.

“Your trousers, you’d better get them,” Harry says, and Louis pushes them the rest of the way down, kicks his Toms off and skins out of his shirt. Harry has his hands on Louis again as soon as he’s naked, lets Louis push him back on the bed.

“Like this?” Louis says, and straddles Harry’s hips. Harry just nods, half-frantic, because he needs, he needs to be inside Louis.

Louis opens a condom and rolls it down Harry, stroking him a couple of times with a suddenly lube-slick hand. It feels like a practiced move, and Harry likes it, wants to see what other tricks Louis has hiding up his sleeve. “Yeah—c’mon,” Harry urges, and Louis climbs forward a little, rising to his knees so Harry can’t even get any friction.

“When I’m ready,” Louis whispers in his ear, and Harry whimpers, suddenly shaking with how much he needs this, how much he wants it.

“P-please, Louis, just—” Harry can’t think, can’t form words anymore. There’s just Louis, hovering over him, and his cock, aching, and Louis’ mouth on his neck, on his chest.

“Okay,” Louis says, finally, and then he’s lining himself up and sinking down, slow and steady, onto Harry’s cock.

Harry can’t take his eyes off Louis, off the way his hair is falling into his eyes, the wrinkles in his forehead where he’s focused on the burn, on the pleasure. He can’t stop watching Louis’ mouth, the way his tongue dips out to lick it. He wants to say things, to say a million sappy things, and he can’t make his throat work for any of them.

“Feels—so good, Harry.” Louis rocks his hips, and Harry groans, breath hitching and interrupting the sound. Louis strokes a hand up Harry’s chest, catching a nipple with the pad of his thumb, and Harry’s hips buck upward. Louis pulls his hand down, presses Harry’s hips hard into the bed and holds them there. “Stay,” Louis says, and Harry tilts his head back, panting.

Louis starts really moving, then, bouncing on Harry’s cock, and Harry can’t breathe for how good it is, for how much he wants it to never, ever end. He remembered that sex with Louis was—was stellar, was fucking fantastic, but he can’t believe it was this overwhelming in Sweden, or before that. He’d never have been able to leave, if it had been like this.

“Need,” Harry gasps, and Louis rocks faster, arse tightening around him. Harry can’t, he can’t last, can’t do anything to hold off the desperate need to come. “Lou—”

Louis moans, bringing a hand down to stroke himself. There’s no way he’s going to beat Harry to the finish, and Harry gives up on trying, grabs the coverlet with both fists and comes, shaking. Louis stays on him for what feels like far too long and not long enough, and then he’s knee-walking farther up Harry’s chest, cock against Harry’s lips.

“Just—” Louis says, and Harry opens his mouth, brings his hand back around to Louis’ arse and pushes three fingers into him. “Good—good, yeah, Harry.” Louis grips some of Harry’s curls in his fist, holding him in place while he pushes his cock into Harry’s mouth, and Harry tilts up into it.

“You look—perfect like that,” Louis says, and he’s shaking, holding himself up over Harry with one trembling arm on the headboard. “So good, so—right. Need your mouth, I need, I—” He’s quaking, the whole bed quivering with him, and Harry fingerfucks him harder, pushing him, because Louis needs to come, Harry can feel it. “I—Harry—”

Louis’ hips jerk when he comes, cock slipping out of Harry’s mouth and hitting his cheek, his ear, the pillow. Harry’s got come all down his jaw and his sideburns, and he reaches up to touch the slick places. Louis groans, staring at his fingers, at his face, and Harry grins at him. “It’s like that, is it?” Harry asks, his voice hoarse.

“Maybe,” Louis says. “If that’s all right?”

“That’s all right,” Harry says, and lifts his fingertips to his mouth, laps Louis’ come off of them. Louis’ mouth is on his in an instant, licking the taste off his tongue, and then he’s licking Harry’s jaw, every last trace of it from his skin.

Harry feels loose and lazy and happy, and he tugs Louis down next to him, curls in close. “We’re going to cuddle now,” he tells Louis, and Louis laughs, hauls Harry in even tighter.

“I have never turned down a cuddle in my life,” Louis says. “I’m certainly never going to turn one down with you.”

“Good,” Harry says. He yawns against Louis’ chest. “Can you stay?”

“Rehearsal’s in—” Louis checks Harry’s alarm clock. “I’ve got a few hours. I should keep you awake, though, you’ll get all jetlagged.”

“Mmm,” Harry mumbles. “Sure.” He’s pretty sure that’s a lost cause.

“Maybe just a nap,” Louis says, and kisses Harry’s temple. If he says anything after that, Harry’s not awake enough to hear it.

***

“This doesn’t mean I don’t still want a party at your place,” Harry says, grinning. Louis is setting up a karaoke machine in the corner of the shop. He’s been claiming that it belongs to James, but Harry’s pretty sure he saw a big “LWT” scrawl on the bottom of it when they were bringing it through the kitchen. This being Louis’ home turf, though, Harry’s decided that discretion is the better part of valour.

“Obviously,” Louis says. “We’re going to be party people, all the next six months. Parties all the time, all over the place. Your friends and my friends are going to be so intermingled they won’t know what to do with themselves.” He unlocks the front door long enough to check the “Private Party” sign and then relocks it, shutting out the afternoon sunlight.

“Stan’s not allowed to hit on any of my friends,” Harry warns. “You should tell him that. I’ll kick his arse.”

Louis puts a hand to his chest. “You wound me,” he says. “Stan is a very respectful fellow, I’ll have you know.”

“He really isn’t,” Harry says, and Louis laughs, grabs Harry around the waist.

“We may have to fight over this,” he says, and wrestles Harry down to the well-swept floor of the coffeeshop. “It may end in sex, I’m warning you now.”

Harry struggles, but mostly only to feel the way Louis is holding him tight. “You know the guys are coming early to help set up, right? Do you want to traumatize Zayn more than we already have?”

“I’ll take that risk,” Louis says, and kisses him.

***

The party’s in full swing, and Harry has lost track of Louis. They’ve been mingling and dancing and generally co-hosting since the first guest—early-bird Liam, of course, with Danielle at his side—had arrived to help set up. It’s a bit odd that Louis has managed to disappear in the small shop, and Harry excuses himself from chatting to James and Verve to go and track him down.

He finds Louis in the kitchen, tucked up between Liam and Zayn. Danielle’s sitting on the counter behind them, looking over Liam’s shoulder at the phone Louis is holding. “So that’s when we were at the bungalow, at the very beginning,” Liam’s saying, and Louis is smiling down at the phone, swiping his finger to the next photo. “Oh, there he is in the pool. There’s lots of video of us there, but this was ages before that. You can see all our trunks in the corner there, Harry’s a big proponent of nudity.”

“I’ve noticed,” Louis says. He’s still smiling that soft smile down at the phone, and Harry stays in the doorway, watching him. He knows—he thinks he knows how Louis feels about him, but it’s something else to see it like this.

“Oh, that’s where he—d’you remember, with the marshmallows?” Zayn laughs, looking over at Liam, and he spots Harry in the doorway. “Harry! C’mere and join us.”

If Louis had been smiling before, he lights up when he sees Harry, grin showing all of his teeth. “Yeah, come over and let me make fun of your baby face, Hazza.”

Harry tucks himself in between Louis and Zayn, plasters himself against Louis’ side so they can all still see the phone. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “I remember that, that was—when we made that fire, the second night, and we tried to sing off that list they’d given us for boot camp.”

“We were so shite,” Zayn says. “But it was so much fun.”

Danielle’s whispering something in Liam’s ear, and Liam’s tilting back into her, blushing. Niall wanders in, heading straight for the sandwiches, but he switches course when he sees them all there, slides in next to Zayn. “What’re we looking at, then?”

“Photos from the beginning,” Liam says. “Louis wanted to see baby pictures of Harry. Relatively speaking, anyway.”

“His mum’s got the real ones,” Niall says, reaching over Zayn to ruffle Harry’s curls. “Fucking adorable, this bastard was.”

“I just bet.” He’s biting his lip, and Harry can’t stop looking at the way his mouth is curving up, like he can’t help the smile.

Danielle says, “Awww,” and Harry grins up at her, puts his hand up for a high-five.

“Oh, hey,” Zayn says, snagging the phone. “Aren’t there still all those ones on here from Simon’s house? There’s that one where Harry’s making the really dumb face, Louis should see that.”

“This is why I love you guys,” Harry says, deadpan. “Because of your dedication to making me look good in front of my boyfriend.” Louis’ hand tightens on Harry’s waist, and then Louis is kissing him, one lingering peck at the corner of his mouth.

“You always look good to me.” Louis’ voice is throaty. Danielle, behind him, “awww”s again, and Harry tilts his forehead down into Louis’, hand on Louis’ neck.

“You too,” he says. He turns back toward the phone, lets Louis wrap his arms around Harry’s chest. Harry thinks he could happily stand right here forever, sandwiched between his bandmates, his back against Louis’ chest.

“This is a pretty good shop,” Niall comments, munching on a biscuit he’s nabbed from the plate next to Danielle’s hip.

“Yeah, I liked it right away,” he says, and Louis presses a kiss to his ear. He pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath. “I—I’m quite in love with it. Actually.”

Niall’s still munching, gazing out at the main room, but Louis is tense behind him, not quite breathing. “It’s just such a lovable—shop,” Harry says, quietly. “It’s very, er. Funny. And loyal, and a bit ridiculous, and kind of short on boundaries, actually, and—I guess I feel a bit strongly toward it.”

There’s a soft laugh in his ear. “It’s got a big cock, too, right?” Louis whispers, and Harry elbows him, not too hard, lets out an embarrassing bark of laughter. “I love it, too,” Louis says, and Harry turns around again, back to him, kisses his collarbone.

“And its big cock,” Harry fills in, wondering if they’re really keeping their voices low enough or if the others are just granting them privacy.

“And its curly mop,” Louis says. “And its gorgeous voice, and the way it makes me breakfast in bed and reads lines with me for hours even when it’s really tuckered out. Oh, and there was that one time it sang me a really, terribly melodramatic ballad in front of sixteen thousand people and all of Youtube.”

“It’s a really good shop,” Harry says, and then he lets himself catch Louis’ eye. “You’re a really good shop, Louis Tomlinson.”

“Mm,” Louis says, and kisses him, gentle and lingering. “You too, superstar.”