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Only Several Miles From the Sun

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There’s flour on the fridge and handprints to match, little smudges of white smearing against the plastic. Louis feels a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, his own hand reaching out to touch. He should be used to this by now, the constant state of the kitchen, but it still makes his heart skip a beat, makes his eyes go wide with wonder every so often.

Louis checks inside the fridge, a bit disappointed to find there’s nothing in there that would explain the flour. There’s a note on the counter though, also smudged with white, just barely sticking to the granite. Louis plucks it off, laughs a bit at the messy scrawl just barely fitting on the paper.

woke up late and almost forgot to make the cupcakes for Babs’ birthday. was in a rush, sorry for the mess! see you there xx

- H

Louis folds the note up and sticks it in his pocket. He’s got a bad habit of stashing these, letting them pile up in his drawer. He used to re-read them sometimes, his fingers going over the pointy lettering until he could almost recite them from memory. He’s not done that in a while, it hasn’t been that necessary, but he still can’t help but add this one to the pile, just to keep.

It started with these things after all, almost like little secrets Louis got to carry around in his pockets.

It started with the notes.

But it didn’t. It started with a walk and unexpected rain and Babs. It started with a smile and green eyes and a bag of warm apple cinnamon muffins.

Actually, it started with the bakery.

-----

The bakery stands at the end of the street, small and unassuming. The door sits propped open on Saturdays, because that’s bread-baking day, and the bakery is small enough that the whole place heats up from the oven.

There’s a display case to the right of the door. It gets scrubbed clean every morning, the glass wiped until it shines under the lights, the racks free of crumbs and leftovers. If it’s early enough, there are donuts, the big ones, glazed with vanilla icing and hot from the kitchen.

There are eight chairs (eventually there will be seven, one being dragged away on a Sunday afternoon, held up by two boys and taken up the stairs to the flat on Cherrywood Lane). All the chairs are worn in, comfortable. The wood is faded but polished, a lifetime’s worth of being rubbed against and moved around. The scuff marks on the floor are a map of their movement, of the long hours spent chatting across a table with a friend or being hunched over a textbook or stuck inside waiting for the rain to pass.

The eighth chair sits near the back, in a corner. It’s generally unoccupied because the sun doesn’t shine that far back, and the table is usually empty. No one knows but there is a crack on the arm of that chair, from a boy too tall to stand on it but fearless (or stupid) enough to try it anyway.

The kitchen is full of secrets, recipes and ingredients that will never be given up. It smells consistently of sugar and cinnamon and flour and bread. There is a woman who stands at the stove, her grey hair tied up in a bun and her apron tied back in a bow. She hums while she drops cookie dough on a pan, a little song that continues while she mixes cake batter and squeezes glaze over honey buns. Occasionally she will call for help, and a curly-haired boy will walk into the kitchen, eyes green and alight with mischief but still good-hearted.

She calls him Harry and he calls her Babs, and they both look up when Louis walks in, just before closing but drenched from the rain. The woman will hand Harry the bowl and she doesn’t need to give any direction because he knows, because she’s taught him everything she knows. So Harry will mix and bake and frost and the woman will greet Louis, the lines of age on her face etched with welcome and kindness.

-----

Babs says Louis is too skinny when she first sees him, too many lines for a young man, she says. She makes him pick a table, and he picks one in the back, away from the rain and the chill of the air outside. It’s a little darker back in this corner, almost as if the lights won’t reach, but Louis feels comfortable, feels the warmth settling deep over his bones.

Babs is like a contained ball of energy, held close together by the strings of her apron. Her eyes are sharp, her smile sharper, when she asks how a lost soul like Louis could have found her bakery.

“I got a bit turned around,” he admits, as he sips chamomile tea and catches glimpses of dark, curly hair in the kitchen. Babs helps him dry off, her touch gentle but firm in a way that reminds Louis of his mum. “I’m a little far from my flat.”

“So you decided to go exploring all by yourself?”

Danielle is at the flat, her touch lingering in all the crooks and corners. Louis loves her, loves how happy she makes Liam. He’s less fond of the way her legs take up most of the couch, the way her toothbrush sits next to his and Liam’s and Niall’s in the bathroom. He tripped over high-heeled shoes on the way out, had to kick them against the wall with the other shoes that line the entryway that don’t belong to any of the boys.

She’s a lovely girl though, but Louis hates change. Hates the adverts that show new flats that don’t have a Liam or a Niall. Flats that are empty in a way that their flat hasn’t ever been. He’d felt a little too gleeful about the swift kick to her shoes, the sharp sense of satisfaction he’d gotten from the sound of them knocking against the wall.

It’s only February, but the end of summer will come soon enough, and Louis will have to choose one of those empty flats circled in black ink in the morning paper.

For now, though, he gives Babs a paper-thin shrug that barely holds up, his edges folding in on each other, crumpling under a knowing gaze.

She leaves him though, humming under her breath as she sweeps and cleans up the shop. The sky is leaning toward nightfall now, no new patrons coming in as the bakery nears close.

Louis watches her move in and out of the kitchen, her voice mixing with a deeper one, one that’s smooth and slow and slides over Louis’ skin like honey. The boy with the curls, Louis names him, after one look too many, his neck craned uncomfortably in an effort to see the boy’s face.

There’s no need for that though, because the boy brings out a tray of cookies with Babs’ blessing, each one golden brown and sugary sweet.

His name is Harry and his eyes are green.

“Your jumper is too big,” is the first thing Louis can think to say, his hands warm from too-hot cookies and melted chocolate.

Harry sits down across from Louis, his long limbs curled beneath him and creaking in the chair. All he does is smile though, and it’s sort of unnerving in how genuine it is.

"Babs says it seems like you're looking for something."

Louis checks his pockets for things forgotten, finds his keys and phone and wallet all there. "I've got everything I left with."

"Maybe that's it, then," Harry tells him. "Maybe you're supposed to take something back with you."

Harry has flour on his nose. His curls are a wreck, pushed back from his face and a bit greasy. His cheeks are tinged pink from leaning over a hot stove all day, from sticking his face close to the oven display and watching the cookie dough rise. He is a stranger to Louis, this boy with the green eyes, but Louis still finds himself asking, "How do I find it?"

Harry doesn't know everything, it seems. He shrugs, his broad and bony shoulders deflating in his uncertainty. "Maybe it's supposed to find you," he says eventually.

He gets up, long limbs stretching down for miles, it seems. His jumper hangs off him like a child playing dress-up, stumbling into their parents' clothes and wishing for another life. Harry tugs at the hem, like a nervous habit, but his voice sounds sure when he tells Louis, "I have an idea."

Louis' tea has gone cold, the taste now bitter and unsweetened. He lets the conversation from the kitchen warm him instead and thinks of home. Harry and Babs speak in low tones, soothing almost, about locking up and taking out the last batch.

Finally Harry comes back, armed with muffins this time, hot and soft and buttery. They're stuffed half-hazardly in a bag, smushed together and probably already crumbling.

There’s a post-it on the bag. Blue with bold, black lettering. For Louis, it says.

"You can take these back with you," Harry says, "until you find whatever you're looking for. Or it finds you. Okay?"

Louis inhales, stores away the smell of them coming out the oven piping-hot. It won't be the same later, once they've cooled and he has to share. He wants to keep this bit stashed in his memory, locked away.

"Okay," he agrees.

Yes, that's how it starts.

-----

Louis has a bad habit of hiding how he feels, tucking away his emotions and burying them deep under his skin until it feels like he’s stretched too tight.

Exams come too fast, a buildup of knowledge he doesn’t have and information he can’t help but glaze over as he pores through his textbooks. Niall’s idea of coping with the stress is eating, ordering enough takeout for all three of them and going through each container one by one. There’s a method, Niall says, an art to being able to store away that much food.

Liam finds Louis on the couch, his knees tucked up to his chest and his glasses pushed up on his nose. He’s got a theatre exam coming up, with monologues and playwrights and themes to memorize. It’s hard to concentrate, because his thoughts keep sneaking back to brown curls and bright green eyes, to muffins and cookies and Babs. Because Louis has never really thought of himself as lost, but now he can’t help but want to find something, or as Harry said, something to find him.

Liam nudges Louis once before settling next to him on the couch. Louis takes the invitation to stretch out, laying his legs over Liam’s and taking a break.

“Revisions going all right?” Liam asks. He’s always concerned, always worrying, but in a way that isn’t overbearing, doesn’t make Louis want to retreat.

Louis lets his textbook drop to his chest. “Think I might drop out and become a hobo.”

Liam still laughs at the stupid things Louis says sometimes, and it’s nice because Louis says a lot of stupid things. Liam has the most sincere laugh Louis has ever heard, and sometimes he wants to bottle it up and carry it in his pocket for when he needs it.

“You’re too good-looking to be a hobo, Lou,” Liam tells him, his eyes wide and guileless. He’s not as innocent as he looks, but he likes to pretend. “Eventually some wealthy man would come and snatch you up.”

Louis’ textbook hits Liam square in the chest, and Louis can’t help but laugh at the tiny oof he lets out. “What do you know about being a kept man, Liam? Do I need to have a chat with Danielle? What’s she teaching you?”

Liam doesn’t get a chance to answer, because Louis launches himself at him, his knees digging into Liam’s thighs, fingers slipping precariously off his sturdy shoulders. They’re a tangle of limbs, Liam struggling to get away and Louis putting up a valiant effort to keep him pinned.

Liam manages an elbow to Louis’ stomach, and he falls backward with a grunt, breathless and taken by surprise. They land on the floor in a painful heap, but Liam’s fingers are threatening to dig into Louis’ ribs, and Louis can almost feel the convulsing laughter threatening to take over him.

“No, you win,” he pleads. “Anything but the tickling.”

It doesn’t matter, because Liam isn’t as nice as people think. He’s ruthless, really, and Louis can barely breathe while he tries to twist away, almost hysterical in the way he’s laughing.

Finally, Liam stops, when Louis is red-faced and teary-eyed. They collapse on the floor next to each other, catching their breath. Liam smells earthy and expensive and so familiar that Louis can’t help but blurt out, “I’m going to miss this,” and he doesn’t have to clarify because Liam always knows.

“Me too,” Liam says, and he means it; it’s not just something to placate Louis. “But you’ll find something, too.”

And Louis doesn’t know if he means something or someone but he knows he needs to find it soon.

“What if I don’t?” He’s not sure if he’s asking Liam or himself, or if he even wants to hear the answer.

Liam is warm next to him, solid and constant and sure. “Won’t know until you start looking.”

Louis wants to stay here, wants to watch Niall eat his weight and wrestle with Liam and tease Danielle about all her shoes. He wants to stay here in this place forever, but he can’t.

“Hey, do you want me to pick up some more of those muffins?” he asks, and he’s already moving to collect his books, his arms reaching for his jacket. “From that bakery I told you about?”

Liam doesn’t move, just closes his eyes and lays on the rug. “We both know you’re not going for the muffins.”

The thing about Liam is that he knows too much about everything.

-----

The last table is empty again, so Louis settles in the same chair with his textbooks. It’s quite busy, with it being a Sunday morning and all, and Louis lets the chatter become background noise.

He’s not sure how much time passes when a shadow crosses over the table, tall and unassuming. Louis fights a grin but feels the edges of his lips twitch anyway.

“Hi, Harry,” he says, because Harry’s wearing a pink apron and there’s a bit of pink frosting to match that’s stuck in his hair.

Harry blinks down at him, green eyes enquiring. “Well?”

“Well?”

“Did you find it then? What you were looking for?” Harry’s holding a tray of cookies, smells like oatmeal this time, in one hand and a bag of sugar in the other. It all looks quite heavy but he shows no signs of moving away any time soon.

“I can’t say I’ve looked very hard,” Louis admits. He doesn’t know what to do with the slight disappointment on Harry’s face, the way his lips turn down at the corners, pink and disapproving. “Though to be fair, I’ve been a bit busy with exams.”

Harry looks down at the textbooks Louis has scattered across the table. He has a ton of the passages highlighted, green and blue and pink to distinguish one from the other. Louis watches as Harry’s eyes flit over each one, absorbing all of Louis’ thought processes.

“Are you into theatre then?” Harry asks, and one of his fingers trails across a line, highlighted in blue. “Shakespeare?”

Louis shrugs, feels the tension in his neck and shoulders from leaning over his texts too long. “I’m studying to be a drama teacher.” Louis feels his cheeks heat, just a bit. He’s not embarrassed about it, but Harry is looking at him like he’s behind a glass for observation, and it makes him nervous. “This is all for my Shakespeare class.”

Harry sets down the sugar and the cookies. He picks up one of the books, The Tempest, and flips through the pages, his icing covered fingers leaving smears on the edges. “Do you mind?” he asks belatedly, but it doesn’t matter because Louis doesn’t. Can’t seem to care when Harry squints to see Louis’ notes in the margins of the text, the way his lips part as he reads, how his nose scrunches up at how Louis folds down the corners of the pages.

“Bad form to do that, you know,” he says. He’s not looking at Louis, he’s looking at the little doodles stuck between the words page 118. The Tempest is quite dull, and often enough Louis finds himself drawing faces and squiggles and lines to keep himself interested. “Ruins the book.”

“What? Drawing in it?”

“No,” Harry says, and he snaps the book shut. “Folding down the edges. Better not let Babs see that. She’ll have your head.” He looks at the queue getting longer and catches Babs’ glare. “The witch beckons,” he whispers, but he’s smiling, this little fond thing that shows off a dimple, so Louis thinks he might be joking.

He grabs the sugar and grips his tray tight. “Think the cookies might be cooled now. I’d better go back and help her.” He glances down at Louis’ books again. “Will you be here for a bit?”

Louis wasn’t planning on it, but Harry’s still got frosting in his hair and stuck to the tips of his fingers. He’s got a dimple in his right cheek and those terribly green eyes. So Louis nods. He’ll be here for a bit, yeah.

“I’ll be back, then,” Harry says, before he’s lugging his sugar across the bakery. Babs swats a hand at him, and he ducks, laughing.

Louis picks up his pen and stares at his book. It’s got frosting caked at the edges now, shaped like fingerprints. He thinks he ought to be mad, would have been mad before, but his brain is stuck on a constant loop of I’ll be back, then, so instead he waits.

(Louis doesn’t see Babs whisper in Harry’s ear, or the way both their eyes flick over to him when he’s not looking. He misses the way her eyebrows raise at Harry’s almost blush, and how she slips three over-sized cookies into a bag and puts it to the side.

Louis doesn’t see the way Harry’s horribly green eyes wander back over to him while he’s studying, the way Harry watches when his hair falls out of place, or when he bites the end of his pen. He misses the way Harry smiles when Babs nudges him when he stares too long, when a customer is being rung up and Harry’s eyes are drawn across the room.

He doesn’t catch the way Babs leans in close to Harry and says, “Have you got a bit of a crush, then?”

Louis doesn’t see the way Harry shrugs, broad shoulders all caught up in embarrassment. Louis is still wrapped up in Shakespeare, his eyes tired from running over the lines in his head, repeating the same words over and over again like a song until they stick. He nods along to the rhythm of the lines, too focused to hear Harry say, “I’ve only got eyes for you, Babs.”

And Louis completely misses the way Harry’s eyes tell her the truth.

And Harry swipes another post-it from the stack in between patrons, his scratchy writing taking up too much space. He looks up to make sure Louis isn’t watching, and he’s not, so Harry smiles and writes and glares at Babs when she peeks over his shoulder.)

Harry comes back an hour later with a bag of cookies, still soft. Three of them.

“You have two roommates right?”

“Liam and Niall,” Louis tells him. “Do you know you’ve got frosting in your hair?”

“Do you know you’ve got ink of your face?” Harry asks. His lips quirk when Louis tries to rub it off, searching hopelessly for the ink smudges. He doesn’t even bother trying to get the frosting out, and Louis almost envies him for it. “Babs has me on kitchen duty for the rest of the day.”

“Oh,” Louis says. It’s not like he doesn’t have work to do, because he does. “Well, okay then.”

Harry shoves the bag at him, the smell of cookies fresh out the oven taking over all of Louis’ senses. “Will you tell me when you’ve found it?”

It takes Louis a second to catch up, because Harry looks so earnest all of a sudden, like he genuinely wants Louis to find whatever the hell it is he’s supposed to be searching for.

“I might not ever find it, you know,” Louis confesses. “I’m not even sure if I’m actually looking for anything.”

Harry shakes his head. “Keep looking. If you don’t find it soon, I could help you.”

“Could you?”

Babs calls for Harry, her voice carrying over the conversations around them. Harry reaches out a thumb and wipes it over Louis’ nose. “There,” he says. “Ink’s all gone.”

And then Harry is too.

(Later, much later, Niall will call for Louis from the kitchen in their flat.

“Found a note in between the cookies,” he tells him, mouth full, stuffed with oatmeal and raisins.

It’s a yellow post-it. It’s crumpled and grease-stained and the ink’s a bit smeared.

for louis, what light through yonder window breaks? it is the east and juliet is the sun.

that’s the only shakespeare quote i know. good luck on your exams. and share these cookies!!

- H

“Who’s H?” Niall asks.

Louis folds the paper back up. He’s got the first one stuck in the bottom of the drawer next to his bed.

“He’s helping me look for something,” is all Louis can say.)

-----

Louis isn’t pining. He doesn’t pine, but Harry’s hair and Harry’s eyes and Harry’s mouth seem to take over every thought in his head, settling deep into the crevices and playing on a constant loop. Harry is quiet and genuine and young. He’s only eighteen, but he’s already larger than life, larger than anything Louis could ever hope to be.

The chair in the back (the eighth chair, Louis’ chair) has grooves in it. Not deep, not too noticeable, but the grooves are erratic, mimicking the nerves Louis feels when he sits there and watches Harry, when Harry sits across from him and smiles.

Babs figures out that the apple cinnamon muffins are his favorite, so she makes them most often. There’s a pan of them in the oven every Saturday morning at nine sharp (and at half past eight on Sundays), right after the last batch of bread comes out. Harry’s in charge of the bread, so Louis sits in the back alone, waits for Babs to come out and let him taste some cookie dough.

“Should I start paying you, too?” she teases when Louis comes in for the fourth or fifth or sixth time. It all starts to blend together until all Louis knows is weekend mornings and dough and Harry and this table in the back, watching the patrons walk in and be charmed.

Louis offers to help some mornings, when he wakes up too early and his footsteps creak in the hallway. Niall always sleeps through it, but Liam never does. He leans against the doorframe, eyes sleepy but alert.

“Going to the bakery again?” It’s a courtesy, because Liam knows everything about Louis there is to know.

Sometimes he can see Danielle from behind Liam, her hand raised in a wave, hair tangled in the sheets. He loves them, he does, so he smiles and nods, doesn’t even think about lying. Louis has always been an open book for Liam.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he says, because he feels restless without the sound of a timer going off and Harry whistling out of tune. He can’t concentrate without Babs going through the recipes of the day under her breath while Louis studies his notes in the dim light.

Liam nods, his eyes heavy. “It’s a bit early, isn’t it?” The sun is out and bright, those early morning rays that make you blink a few times when they streak into the room between the blinds. “I could make breakfast if you want. Niall will wake up as soon as he smells food.”

Liam makes the best pancakes. Fluffy and warm and soft. He always gives Louis three, and sometimes he’ll make a smiley face with whipped cream on top for Louis and a shamrock for Niall. He gives them syrup in these little cups he brought from home, sat to the side and the perfect size for dipping.

Babs makes the best muffins though. With just enough sugar sprinkled on the top. Harry will bring it out with a cup of orange juice if there’s any in the fridge in the back. His hair will be messy and his eyes still puffy from sleep. Sometimes his apron comes untied so he’ll bend down and turn his back toward Louis and let him tie it and ask him to tie it again.

Louis shrugs on his coat and ties a scarf around his neck. “That’s alright, Li,” he says quietly. “Go back to sleep, mate.”

“Call if you’ll be out late,” Liam calls out as Louis slips out the door, and Louis is already out of sight so he doesn’t have to hide his smile.

The walk to the bakery is carved into Louis’ brain now, as automatic as tying his shoes and riding his bike. He doesn’t have to think as his feet travel over the pavement, ducking down narrow backstreets and behind houses to shorten the walk. Louis tugs his beanie down against the morning chill, tugs his jacket a little closer. He makes a note to ask for tea this morning, because Babs puts in lemon and Harry yells about it being sacrilegious.

The door is shut when he gets there, still too early for Harry to open up shop. Louis raps his knuckles against the screen and waits, his eyes peering between the slats of the screen door and peering inside.

“What are you doing here so early?” someone says from behind him. Harry looks like he’s drowning in his huge coat, his curls blowing over his face and hiding his eyes. “Bit creepy, yeah?”

Louis can’t help the step forward he takes. Harry’s like a magnet, it seems, constantly drawing Louis in and making him stick there. “Couldn’t wait to see you, I suppose,” he quips. Neither of them acknowledge the truth in it, and maybe Harry doesn’t even realize. “Got any tea? It’s freezing.”

Harry unlocks the door, keeps his body close to Louis as he turns on all the lights and preheats the ovens. He looks vulnerable under the soft lights, the bags under his eyes more pronounced and his mouth looking pinker than usual. He smiles at Louis before he takes down two mugs from the cabinets and sets the kettle.

“I’m not putting any lemon in it,” Harry tells him, his back pressed against the counter. His grin is crooked and smug and Louis almost hates him for how easy it is to be charmed. “My tea, my rules.”

Louis puts on a sigh, but he knows as soon as he turns away Harry will squeeze just the barest bit of lemon in his mug. Not as much as he’d like, but enough to inspire a frown on Harry’s face every time Louis takes a sip.

“Where’s Babs?” Louis asks instead. He has a hard time not watching Harry roll up his sleeves, drape his apron over his neck.

“Visiting her sister, I think,” Harry tells him. He’s struggling with his apron, his fingers missing the loops when he tries to secure the strings. “Tie me up?” he asks finally, and Louis’ fingers are already hovering over the strings, gentle as he makes the bow that falls on the back of Harry’s neck.

His hair is soft back there, and Louis risks running his fingers through the fine strands. Harry tilts his head forward in response, and Louis does it just once more before he forces his hands away. “All done.”

Harry smells like soap and sugar and sleep and it lingers when he steps away. “Thanks, Lou.”

Harry moves with precision in the kitchen, his hands skilled and quick as he grabs ingredients and starts prepping the bread and muffins and cookies. He grabs Louis’ tea first, presenting the mug to him with a flourish. “Tea a la Styles,” he says quietly, his mouth quirking into a grin. “With no lemon.”

There’s lemon, of course, and Louis can’t be sure when he missed that. He doesn’t mention it though, just raises his eyebrows when he tastes it. “And what can I do to repay you for this?”

“Help me bake.”

-----

Harry swears Louis doesn’t have flour in his hair or on his face, his eyes bright with humor as he checks. “It’s all gone, I swear.”

“I told you I’ve never baked anything in my life,” Louis complains, dough sticking to his hands and clothes. “You’re a cruel man, Harry Styles.”

Harry wets a rag and brings it over, his face half-repentant and half-amused. “Here.” He wipes Louis’ face, his own awfully close, close enough to see how green his eyes actually are, how his cheeks flush pink from the heat of the oven. “It wasn’t so bad, was it?” he asks, and Louis can almost feel the words being formed against his skin. Harry’s voice is still rough from the early morning hour, low like always, his words coming out slow like they’re designed to make Louis shiver.

“No,” he breathes out, forces his eyes up and away from Harry’s mouth. “Wasn’t so bad.”

Harry nods once and steps away. “Good.” Louis misses his warmth when he pulls away, has to force himself not to inhale deep when Harry’s scent stays wrapped up around him. “Will you stay for awhile today? To keep me company?”

“Well, I can hardly go around in public looking like this,” Louis teases, gesturing to the state of his clothes, the flour and sugar dusting his shirt and pants, and how his hair sticks to his forehead. “I’ve no choice but to stay.”

He thinks Harry might kiss him when he leans in a bit closer, he wants Harry to kiss him, can feel the desire and need thrumming through his blood. Louis holds his breath, afraid to make even the smallest movement. Harry watches him, a little questioning, a little challenging. He smiles suddenly, leans in even further, and Louis is overwhelmed with the scent of his shampoo, the heat he emits, the bit of collarbone Louis can see from where Harry’s t-shirt drapes down a bit in the front.

Louis can’t help the way his eyes close. He can feel Harry right there, so close, his body lean and solid against Louis. One of his hands comes up to grip Louis’ shoulder, firm and sure and warm. Louis counts in his head, gets up to six before he feels the slight press of Harry’s lips against his cheek.

Louis’ eyes pop open, and he can’t tell whether he’s more relieved or disappointed. Harry pulls back and stares at him. His eyes are calm, a hidden depth of humor lurking behind the green. “I’ve got to open the shop now,” he says.

Louis can still feel Harry’s hand on his shoulder even when he steps away, can still feel his lips on his cheek clear as day like they were still pressed up against him. “Okay,” he tries, but his voice sounds rough, shaky, and he has to work to clear it. “That--yes, okay.”

Harry’s laughing at him like he knows exactly what’s going through Louis’ head. “Ready?”

Ready. Louis feels shaky, his breath coming in shallow pants. His face feels flushed red and overheated and Harry is teasing him.

“Yes,” he manages, “Ready.”

--

Harry lets Louis sit in his back corner for most of the day.

Louis spends most of that time watching Harry. He’s fascinating, the way his cheeks dimple when he smiles, the way he pushes his curls back from his face. Louis is drawn to how pink Harry’s lips are, how warm his skin looks under the lights.

It’s not like he has much else to do but look. And think. And he’s not pining, he’s not, but he wants and wants and wants everything Harry could possibly give him. He wants Harry’s bony fingers and his messy hair and the quiet way he laughs in the morning. Louis wants Harry when he steals one of Louis’ drama texts, his voice dripping slow onto the pages, the way he unfolds the corners and sticks a post-it note in to save Louis’ page instead.

(There’s one on page 52 of his copy of The Odyssey, bright purple and written in red ink.

This is a bit depressing, don’t you think? Read something happy.

- H

Louis found one in the back of Antigone, crumpled between the last page and the back cover. It had made him smile, thinking of Harry writing it, eyebrows drawn and his mouth twisted into that frown.

Well, this certainly didn’t turn out like I expected.

- H)

Louis doesn’t think of retaliating; it’s Harry’s thing, after all. He peels them off carefully, folds them up and sticks them in his pocket until he can get home. It’s silly; it’s ridiculous, but it’s them. It’s Harry.

It’s Harry that sits down across from him when the shop gets quiet, right after the midday lunch rush. He’s got his own work to do today, his pen held between his teeth and his highlighter making marks all over his notes.

“It’s just so ridiculous,” Harry says. The corners of his mouth are turned down in that way that makes Louis grin, his eyes crossing as he reads through his book. “We go to school and uni for so long and then what? We get a job that makes us miserable.”

Louis has a hard time imagining Harry being miserable about anything. He broods sometimes, if Louis catches him on the wrong day, when his fingers get too jittery from all the pent up energy he has stored up inside him. Sometimes it seems like Harry might burst from the seams, like his very soul might burst through and drag Louis with it. It scares him a bit, Harry does.

But, Louis can’t ever imagine Harry being miserable, ever not being satisfied or at least trying to find a way to get there. “Then find a job that won’t make you miserable.”

Harry huffs. He gets like that sometimes, when Louis won’t entertain him. It’s hard to keep up with him, because Harry’s always thinking something more, something deeper, and Louis has never been one to delve past the surface.

“Take Babs, for instance,” Harry pushes. “She loves baking. So much that she opened up her own bakery. That’s her job, just doing something she loves. I want that.”

“Okay,” Louis starts. He traces the ridges in the chair, the bumpy grooves that match the stuttering beat of his own heart when he’s with Harry. “Well, what do you love?”

Harry shrugs. He looks too hard at Louis, like he can peel back all of his layers and just take what Louis’ trying to hide. “People,” he says. “I like making them happy. I just want to do that.”

“You make me very happy, Harry,” Louis says, and he forces himself to sound just this side of teasing. “I’m the happiest boy in the world.”

It works, because Harry flicks some crumbs at him. “Twat,” he murmurs, glancing around to make sure no one can hear him. “Just for that you’re on dishwashing duty tonight.”

“You know how much I hate washing dishes,” Louis complains. “It makes my fingers prune.” He wiggles the ones on his right hand for good measure, makes sure his hand doesn’t shake when Harry takes it in his own.

“Diva,” Harry admonishes. He keeps Louis’ hand though, for a bit, almost absently.

“You love it,” Louis says. “Couldn’t live without it.”

Harry shrugs again, but his eyes crinkle at the corners when he tries to hide a smile. “Probably not, no.”

(He’s still got that half-smile on his face later, when he forces Louis to wash the dishes and gets the soap bubbles all over everything.

Louis’ fingers do prune. He shoves them at Harry, rubs the wrinkled tips against his skin and laughs when Harry makes a face.

Harry hums while he sweeps the floor, twirls the broom around and pretends to dance. He’s silly at night, more ridiculous without the sun shining through his hair and bouncing off the green of his eyes. He sings a song at Louis, something old and jazzy. His voice curls around the words and Louis tries to dance, this absurd thing that makes him dizzy and happy and light.

It’s been dark for awhile when Harry finally locks the door to the shop, both of them pulling their coats tighter against the cold. The wind is picking up, and Harry’s curls whip around his face when he looks at Louis underneath the street lights.

“Thanks for staying,” he says.

Louis tightens his scarf and fidgets with the buttons on his coat. “Anything for you, Harry.”

It’s not much of an admission of anything, but Louis still feels sort of laid bare. Even more so when Harry steps closer, reminiscent of the morning and just as terrifying. He’s so close that Louis can see that his lips are chapped, that his nose is flushing red in the cold. It hits him suddenly that Harry might be waiting for something, with the way he hovers close, but not close enough.

“This morning,” Louis starts. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to say, or if he’s even supposed to say anything. “In the kitchen. Were you--would you have, you know. Kissed me.”

Harry laughs suddenly, loud and heavy on the quiet street. “Maybe,” he says. “I think you’ll have to find out for yourself though.”

“Find out for myself?” Louis repeats. “What does that mean?”

Harry touches him for a second, his hands on Louis hips, almost buried in Louis’ pockets before he backs away. “It’s cheating if I tell you.”

He’s still close enough that Louis could grab him, could kiss Harry himself and get it over with. He almost does, can feel his feet take a step forward before he stops himself. “Why am I the only one trying to find something? What are you looking for?”

Harry sobers a bit, his smile falling only a little. “I already found it, Lou. Just waiting on you now.”

Louis watches him walk away, his heart pounding in his chest on overtime. It’s not until Louis is hanging up his coat that he checks the pockets, feels the crumpled paper Harry must have stuck in there before.

i’m right here.

- Harry

And Louis sticks that one on top of the others, just so he remembers.)

-----

The thing is, Louis doesn’t pine.

He doesn’t read through his drama texts looking for hidden notes from Harry, doesn’t order the ones in his drawer by date. He doesn’t ghost his fingers over the keys on his phone, contemplating just texting or calling or something. He doesn’t put his coat on early Saturday morning and walk towards the bakery, hovering around the side streets because he doesn’t--he can’t.

The thing is, Louis is pining.

It’s Niall that calls him out on it, actually. When Louis is draped across the sofa with his coat on, scarf wrapped loose around his neck and his beanie pulled down around his ears.

Niall pads out of his room, walking right past Louis and into the kitchen. Louis listens to the sounds of him making toast, wrinkles his nose at the slight burning smell when he leaves it in too long. Niall’s mouth is already stuffed when he walks past again and stops short at the sight of Louis bundled up in their living room.

“Er, why are you here?” he asks, and Louis manages to only roll his eyes a little bit.

“Live here, mate. Have been for a bit now.”

Niall pushes his legs over and squeezes in on the small couch. “Not on the weekends, you don’t,” he says. “Always at that bakery, yeah?”

“Aw, Niall,” Louis teases. “Don’t be jealous, babe. I’ll always love you and Li best.”

Niall throws his crust and squawks when Louis eats it. ‘Oi! Is this what you’re going to do instead of mooning over Harry?”

“I don’t moon,” Louis tells him. “I’m not mooning. We’re just--we’re friends. Same as you and me.”

Niall chokes on his toast. He raises his eyebrows and Louis automatically feels defensive. “If you talked about me the way you talked about him, I’d file a restraining order, mate.”

“I don’t talk about him any sort of way,” Louis argues. It’s not that Louis is hiding anything, really, but he hadn’t thought he was being obvious enough to warrant Niall’s attention. Niall, who never notices anything but food and girls and new trainers. If he’s been obvious enough for Niall to notice, then he must be shining like a beacon for Harry, trumped up in flashy lights with Louis’ heart set right in the middle. “Do I?”

Niall stares at him, strangely serious for once. “Liam!” he yells. “I think Louis is having a crisis.”

“I’m not having a crisis!” Louis yells back. He thumps Niall on the shoulder. “Now he’s going to come and mother me. Thanks for that.”

Niall shrugs. “You were making that face.”

“What face? This is just my face.”

“That face! That face you get when you talk about Harry!”

“Oh, for god’s sake, Niall!”

“What are you two arguing about?” Liam asks suddenly, rubbing sleep away and staring at them. He squints at Louis, his eyes going sharp. “Did you and Harry have a fight? Why are you here?”

Louis sighs and shrugs. It’s impossible to hide anything from Liam, and so Louis had long since given up trying. “We didn’t fight, just don’t know what to say to him, I suppose.”

“Why? What’s happened?” Liam nudges Louis over and snuggles into the couch. It’s not big at all, so Louis stretches out on top of Niall and Liam, his head resting in Liam’s lap. “Did you do something stupid?”

“I haven’t done anything,” Louis complains. “Why do you assume it’s me? You don’t even know Harry. He could be a terrible person.”

He feels Liam’s hand in his hair, brushing it back from his face. Liam’s the only one allowed to do that, so Louis lets him, lets the soothing action calm him down. “Is he a terrible person?” Liam asks.

“No,” Louis tells him sulkily. “He’s a lovely person. He has stupid curly hair and and dimples and he writes these ridiculous notes and I think I might be a bit mad for him, really.”

“So in other words,” Niall starts, “you’re mooning over him.”

Liam laughs at the look on Louis’ face. “Sounds a bit like mooning, Lou.”

“What do I do?” It’s not like he’s never fancied someone before, never got a bit wide-eyed when he looked at someone and felt his heart speed up. But Harry gets under his skin, burrows through all his other thoughts and makes him dizzy with it.

Niall shrugs and pushes Louis’ legs off him. “I’ve never even met him, how would I know?” He bangs around in the kitchen and yells, “Christ, I’m starving. Why is there never any food in here?”

“Because you eat it all,” Liam tells him. He lets Louis stay where he is, doesn’t stop petting his hair. “He’s right though. We can’t really help you if we’ve never even met him.”

Louis turns so his head is pressed against Liam’s shirt, his voice muffled. “I’m scared.”

“You’re what?”

“I’m scared,” Louis says louder. “That you won’t like him. If you don’t like him, then I can’t like him, and everyone would just be miserable.”

Liam laughs, and Louis feels the vibrations of it through his whole body. “Is he anything like you?”

Louis shakes his head. Harry is--Harry is quiet smiles and messy hair and dimples. Harry is sugar and sweets and heat all wrapped together. “Exact opposite, really.”

“Well, then I’m sure I’ll love him,” Liam teases. “So bring him over and stop being a dolt. Come on.” He shoves Louis off, kicking him slightly when he allows himself to fall on the floor. “Time for breakfast, idiot.”

Louis follows him into the kitchen. Niall’s hovering by the stove, watching Liam make pancakes. He always feels the need to tell Liam exactly how to make his, even though Liam has been making them pancakes for almost two years now. Liam never gets frustrated though, just smiles and does everything the way Niall wants.

Louis tries to imagine Harry here, with his friends. He wonders how Harry likes his pancakes, soft and fluffy or drizzled with butter and syrup. He wonders if Harry even likes pancakes. It’s such a small thing but suddenly Louis wants to know everything, even the boring bits like how Harry likes his breakfast.

“Lou?” Liam asks. “You all right?”

“Yeah,” Louis tells him. “Just, you know. Thanks. For, you know.”

Liam rolls his eyes, sets Louis’ plate down next to him. “You have such a way with words.”

“You love it.”

Niall snorts and Liam gives him a warning look. “Of course we do, Lou. Now eat before your pancakes get cold, please.”

-----

How it happens is like this:

They all lay out in the living room. Louis, Liam, Niall, and Harry (and Harry’s friend Zayn, with his big hair and his even bigger eyes and the two cases of beer he brought with him). Louis stretches across the couch, lets no one but Harry squeeze in next to him.

Harry looks good like this, away from the bakery. His curls look tamer without him combating the heat from the kitchen and his own jittery fingers. He’s wearing a jumper Louis has never seen before, something cream-colored that brings out the flush in his cheeks from the alcohol.

“Hey, Harry,” Niall says. His accent is ten times thicker when he drinks, and so far it’s done nothing but make Harry laugh. “Hey, Harry, hey Harry.”

Harry shoves his face into Louis’ shoulder and giggles, this full body thing that shakes his broad frame. “Yes, Niall?” he manages.

“Next time you come over you should bring me things. Baked, edible things.”

Liam nods next to him. It’s such a rare thing for Liam to drink, and Louis can’t help but delight in it. “Yes, bring us all the baked things. Lots and lots of baked things.” He laughs at himself, red-faced and messy and absolutely hysterical. “You too.” He directs this at Zayn, points a shaky finger at Zayn’s hair. “I think you can fit baked things in your hair.”

“Hey now,” Zayn says. He’s chill, Louis likes him. “My hair is not for baked goods. I don’t even know how to bake.”

“It is rather big,” Louis points out. He dodges the bottle cap that gets tossed at him and lays back on the couch.

Harry moves with him, pressing his warmth into Louis and tangling up their limbs.

“Having fun?” Louis asks him.

Harry nods, his face open and his curls falling limp in his face. “I rather like your flatmates. I think Zayn does too.” He nods over to where Zayn is letting Liam pet his hair. “He’s never let me touch his hair.”

“That’s because you destroy your own hair, Harry,” Zayn tells him. “I don’t want to know what you’d do to mine, you menace.”

Harry rolls his eyes and snuggles closer to Louis. “My hair looks gorgeous, doesn’t it?”

Louis runs a hand through his curls, lets out a laugh when Harry closes his eyes and sighs. “Absolutely stunning, you damned feline.”

“Feels good,” is all Harry says, so Louis doesn’t stop, just lets his fingers run through the thick strands without worry.

Niall gets louder the more he drinks, so Louis lets him take over the conversation, lets Zayn and Liam and Niall get to know each other so Louis can keep Harry for himself.

“Don’t fall asleep on me,” Louis says, and Harry only mumbles into his chest. “Should have known you’d be a sleepy drunk.”

“’m not sleepy.” Only it doesn’t sound convincing. “Will you get me another beer?”

The thing is, Louis doesn’t want to move. Harry is warm on top of him, his weight steady and comfortable. Harry’s breathing matches his, both their chests rising and falling in synchronization. “You’re sure you want another?”

Harry nods and shifts a little so Louis can move. “I’ll be here when you get back.”

Louis pulls himself off the couch, grabs the empty bottles that are tossed to him. Liam follows him in, his feet a little unsteady, his face pleased.

“No more for you,” Louis tells him. “I can’t bear to see you with a hangover tomorrow.”

Liam nods and gets some water from the tap.

“Good lad,” Louis says. He pulls a few more bottles from the fridge and stacks them in his arms. “So, what do you think? Zayn’s pretty ace, right?”

Liam smiles, eyes crinkling. “Very ace, yeah. Ace hair too. I like him.”

“Me too,” Louis agrees. “Do you think Niall likes him?”

“Niall likes everyone.” They all joke about it, but it’s unwaveringly true.

Louis nods and fidgets with the bottles. Even smashed, Liam can read him line by line, understand the tension that makes him hunch his shoulders and bite his lip. “Go on then,” he says. “Ask me about Harry.”

“Well?” Louis prods. “You like him right? He’s quite lovely, isn’t he?”

Liam rolls his eyes. “He’s very lovely, Louis.”

“Is there a ‘but’ in there somewhere?” Louis questions. “You already said he was lovely. You can’t take it back.”

Liam opens his arms and Louis burrows himself in them, inhales the familiar smell of Liam, comforting even when smothered under beer. “You must really hate him. You only give hugs when you have something terrible to say.”

“I don’t have anything terrible to say.” Liam never lies; it’s something that’s always irritated Louis, but right now he holds the truth close to his chest and waits. “Just--you know he’s crazy about you, right?”

Louis tries to pull back but Liam keeps him there. “I’m serious, Lou. He’s just as mad about you as you are about him.”

“How do you know that?” Louis mumbles. There’s something like hope clogging his lungs, making it hard to breathe. “You’ve only just met him.”

Liam shrugs. “Maybe I’m just not as stupid as you?” He pulls away then, his mouth pulled into a shaky but gentle smile. “I really like him okay? So stop being ridiculous.”

Zayn and Niall are glued to the television when they get back, and they both shift to let Liam back into the middle.

“Where’s Harry?” Louis asks, and Zayn points down the hallway.

Harry’s somehow managed to find Louis’ bedroom. He’s laying in the dark on his back, long limbs taking up most of the twin bed. He’s got his eyes closed, and faint streaks of light from outside illuminate his face, highlight his cheekbones and his mouth.

“How did you know this one was mine?”

Harry shrugs. He lets his eyes slide open lazily, smiles a bit when he looks at Louis. “It felt like you.”

Louis joins him on the bed. It’s a tight fit, so he turns on his side so he can face Harry. There’s a small smile on his lips, his eyes hazy but content. It feels like there are a million words in the room waiting to be chosen and said, but Louis can’t seem to find the right ones.

“Are you tired?” Louis settles on.

Harry laughs, quiet, composed, a little forced. “No. I was waiting for you. I’ve been waiting for you, you know.”

“I know.” Louis lets his own eyes slip shut, lets himself really feel the rapid hammering of his heartbeat and the tightness in his chest. “I’ve been a bit stupid, haven’t I?”

Harry hums, and Louis feels fingers on his ribs, tapping out a slow rhythm. “A little bit, yeah.”

It’s almost unbearably overwhelming to have Harry here in Louis’ room. It felt safe at the bakery, when Louis could pull away and pretend that he didn’t know it was always going to lead to this.

“You were going to kiss me that day, weren’t you?”

He locks away the sight of Harry’s smile, the way his eyes crinkle and his cheeks rise. “Nope.” Louis can hear the others down the hall, but it feels like it’s just him and Harry for miles and miles and miles. “I wanted to see how long it would take you to figure it out.”

“It didn’t take me that long.” He’d known. Vaguely. Distantly. Deep in his bones where it really mattered.

Harry scoffs and digs his fingers into Louis’ skin. “It took you ages. Almost forever.”

Louis shifts so he’s hovering over Harry, rests most of his weight on his legs. It’s hard to remember when he first walked into the bakery sopping wet, when Harry sat down across from him with his too big jumper and told him he was lost. “What if I’m still looking for something?”

“Impossible,” Harry tells him. “I’m right here.”

Louis drops so all his weight is resting on Harry, and he smiles at the little oof he gives, the way he shifts to accommodate the both of them. “Are you saying this whole time I’ve just been looking for you? Bit conceited, don’t you think?”

“If it’s really bothering you, we can look after you’ve finished kissing me,” Harry says. “Kissing comes first.”

It seems like everything has been leading up to this one point. Harry’s fingers dig into Louis’ shoulders, his nails leaving indents in the skin. Louis struggles to hold himself up; he hadn’t been expecting it to be this overwhelming, kissing Harry. But it is. He almost pulls back at the first touch, but Harry presses his mouth closer, insisting. He tastes like beer and sugar and Harry, hot and sweet and sure. Louis pushes himself up on his knees, and he almost doesn’t know how to handle it when Harry raises his hips to follow.

Louis lets his hand wander under Harry’s shirt, feel the warm heat that’s settled there, the goosebumps that start to rise. Harry shivers a bit and sighs into the kiss. His hands go around Louis waist, his fingers digging into the soft flesh that makes Louis laugh.

They kiss until Harry starts making these needy little noises, when his hips rock up into Louis’ and he can’t help but tighten his grip on Harry. They kiss until they’re out of breath, until Louis’ hands are shaking and Harry’s pupils are blown wide. They kiss even though they can barely see each other, squinting through the faded streetlights and running hands over exposed skin. They kiss until Louis’ lips feel sore, until he pulls back and can just make out how red and swollen Harry’s are.

Until Louis starts feeling dizzy and Harry goes out of focus.

They kiss until their eyelids get heavy, their mouths moving slow against each other. Louis must be heavy by now but Harry doesn’t complain. Just keeps kissing him until the sounds of the other boys start to fade and Louis loses chunks of time where he might have fallen asleep.

Until eventually sleep does overcome the both of them, Louis’ head pillowed on Harry’s chest, and they don’t notice the three boys peeking in through the crack in the door.

Until they can’t anymore.

-----

The thing is, Louis wakes up with Harry’s curls in his face, with Harry’s hand twisted in his shirt and his own dick throbbing through his jeans, with his head a little fuzzy.

He wakes up with the sun streaming through the blinds, with Harry plastered to his side, with the flat quiet and peaceful. Louis wakes up with his mouth still sore from kissing and a boy warm next to him, smelling like old cologne and beer and sugar. He wakes up with his hand gripping Harry’s hip, with Harry’s shirt a bit rucked up so Louis can see the tightness of his belly.

Louis lets his hand slide over Harry’s waist, lets his finger trace the trail of hair that dips under Harry’s trousers. Harry shifts in his sleep and mumbles into Louis’ neck.

“Harry,” Louis whispers, his breath ghosting over Harry’s neck, ruffling the hair that lays limp and ruffled from sleep. “Wake up.”

Louis presses his hand a little harder, thumbing over Harry’s hipbones and the muscles of his stomach. It’s hard to stop touching now that he can, now that he doesn’t have to worry about Harry’s reaction.

“Harry,” he says again. “Stop sleeping.”

Harry shakes his head and presses his face into Louis’ neck. “Sleep.”

His voice sounds gravelly, rough with the early hour and the long night. It’s slightly like Louis knows from opening up the shop with him, from walking into a kitchen at seven on a Saturday or Sunday morning and listening to Harry talk about the people he passed on his way in.

It’s also slightly different. Louis has never been this close to Harry when he sounds like this, has never been touching him when he rasped out slow and easy. Harry is pressed into his side in a bed too small for them and Louis wants to hear him say more, wants to know how long the husk in his voice lasts before he sounds like himself again.

“Wake up,” Louis tells him. “I want to touch you.”

Harry’s voice is muffled in Louis’ skin, his breath hot and Louis shivers. “You’re already touching me.”

“I want to touch you more.” Louis runs his fingers down Harry’s arm, down his side, fingers the waistband of his pants. “Harry.”

Harry groans and shakes his head again. “You haven’t even kissed me properly yet. I’m not that easy.”

He tilts his face back and Louis almost stops breathing at the way his eyes are droopy with sleep. The way his curls press against his forehead and his mouth looks bitten red. They kiss slow, because Louis’ head is still fuzzy from too much to drink and too little sleep. Harry tastes like stale alcohol and he keeps his eyes closed even after Louis pulls away.

“Okay,” he murmurs, and he still sounds so wrecked that Louis can’t help the way his hands tremble where they fumble against Harry’s belt loops, the way his breath hitches in his chest. “You can touch me now.”’

“Clothes,” Louis whines. “Less clothes.”

Harry exhales on a laugh, the sound right in Louis’ ear, vibrating through him and settling under his skin. “Do it,” he says. He moves so Louis can get to his zipper, lifting his hips up so Louis can slide his trousers off. “And you too.”

Louis can barely stand to take his hands off Harry’s skin. His eyes linger over his long legs, the way they tangle in his sheets and how the muscles bunch together when he moves.

“You too, Louis,” Harry says again, and his hands push at Louis’ jeans. Louis takes over, shimmying out of them and kicking them onto the floor. He smiles at the contented sound Harry makes deep in his throat.

Harry looks obscene, his shirt half-buttoned, the collar stretched and hanging off his shoulder. Louis can’t help himself from pressing his mouth against his exposed collarbone, nipping at the skin. Harry slides over so he’s laying on top of Louis. His boxer briefs stretch tight, his dick filling out the material, and he tilts his head so Louis can kiss his neck instead, can suck at the skin until it purples.

“Better than sleep?” Louis asks. His tongue goes over the bruise and Harry nods, a little shaky.

Harry kisses him again, his tongue heavy in Louis’ mouth, his hips grinding slow and lazy. Louis’ fingers dig into Harry’s hips, keep him still when he moves too much.

Harry pushes at the hem of Louis’ shirt until Louis manages to get his arms up, the shirt getting stuck over Louis’ face. Harry drops his head and laughs, so quiet it’s almost just a breath. “You look hot like that,” he murmurs.

Louis pulls it off, and he’s still too tired to care about how his hair looks, can only put his hands back on Harry’s body.

He only gets another two buttons of Harry’s shirt undone before they’re kissing again, and Louis is almost aching with how much he wants him. “Help me with the shirt,” he says, and Harry shakes his head, his hands fumbling with his pants.

“Forget the shirt,” he gasps out. “Please tell me you have something.” His eyes are still hooded, the green barely visible with how dilated his pupils are. “I’m going back to sleep if you don’t.”

Louis keeps a hand on Harry’s hip even as he scoots over on the bed and fumbles around in his bedside drawer. It’s been awhile since he’s done anything, been with anyone, and his chest feels lighter when his fingers bump against the lube he’d almost forgotten about, some scattered condoms he’d taken out of his wallet after a string of unsatisfying dates. “As if you could go back to sleep now,” he says.

Harry’s face is flushed pink, and it spreads down his neck and chest. “Less talking,” he says, and Louis’ fingers fumble with the condom packet and the bottle at the sound of his voice. “More touching.”

“Are you sure?” Louis murmurs. He wants this, he wants more and everything, but he can wait. He’s content laying here, Harry grinding down almost absently as he watches Louis with glazed eyes and swollen lips. “We can--”

Harry bites at his neck, a warning. “I’m sure,” he croaks out. “Come on, Lou, I’m tired of waiting.”

Louis swallows hard, feels like something gets stuck in his throat at the look on Harry’s face. “Okay,” he whispers. His own hands shake when he pulls his pants down, and he fights against the vulnerability he feels when Harry’s sleepy eyes rake over him, hungry. “Okay,” he says again, just to be sure, just to be safe.

He gestures at the small bottle. “Do you want me to--?”

Harry shakes his head and takes it, shifting up on trembling arms and arching his back. “I’ll do it.”

Louis feels light-headed when Harry reaches behind himself, when he lifts up and Louis knows he’s fingering himself, getting himself ready.

“Oh my God, Harry,” and he doesn’t mean it to sound so reverent, so admiring, but it does and he won’t take it back.

Harry gives him a weak smile, his eyes fluttering shut as his fingers press deeper inside. Louis has to take a breath to calm himself down, has to clench his fingers in the sheets to keep from getting too excited too soon. “How many?” he asks, his voice coming out choked.

“Two,” Harry says, and Louis can’t help the, “Do another,” that tumbles out of his mouth like an order.

Harry puts a hand on Louis’ chest to steady himself, but he nods, his head dropping down. He lets out a sharp sound, a bitten off moan that makes Louis shiver. “Feel good?” he breathes out.

Harry’s voice is rough when he answers, his jaw clenched. “I want to feel you.”

“Okay,” Louis says. “Are you--” he breaks off, his voice catching. “Are you ready?”

Harry takes his fingers out, lets both his hands drop onto Louis’ chest as he struggles to hold himself up. “Yeah. God, Lou, come on.”

Harry shifts impatiently as Louis gets the condom on, lubes himself up. It’s hard to do when Harry watches his every move, licks his lips as he watches Louis get ready. “Are you sure--”

“Shut up,” Harry mutters, taking hold of Louis’ dick and lowering himself down. “Shut up, oh my God.”

Louis bites his lip so hard he thinks it might be bleeding. It’s just that Harry feels so good, unbearably tight and hot around him, clenching around him as he lets Louis go deeper. Harry’s breathing goes shallow as he tells Louis to hold on, to give him a moment. Louis’ entire body feels like it might shake out of his skin as he fights the urge to thrust up, to take.

He looks up at Harry’s face, to his bruised mouth and his eyes all glazed over with pleasure. His curls hang in front of him, and Louis pushes them back and smiles when Harry leans into the touch.

“You feel amazing,” he says.

Harry responds by moving, grinding his hips down. “Like this?”

“Yeah,” Louis tells him, and he pushes up into Harry. They move slow, in tandem, the pressure building up low in Louis’ spine. “Like this, yeah.”

It’s hard to stay focused. Louis’ eyes flit from the mark on Harry’s neck to the flush on his chest, to the slight tremble in his thighs and his arms.

His chest feels heavy. Louis grabs Harry’s waist and pulls him down closer, controls the movement of his body as he fucks himself down onto Louis, lazy and slow and good. “You feel so good, Harry,” he says, and his throat feels tight around the words.

Harry looks wrecked, his nails scratching Louis’ chest as he lets himself be moved, takes everything Louis gives him. “More,” he says. He closes his eyes and grinds down harder. “I can take it, come on.”

Louis tries to keep a rhythm, tries to keep steady, but Harry feels so good, so tight, and he thrusts up harder than he means to, goes deeper, makes Harry cry out. “Are you--”

Yes.” Harry grabs his own dick, arching his back as he fucks himself into his own hand. “Yes, please, yes.”

Louis lets out a hurt sound when he feels himself getting close, his fingers digging bruises and marks into Harry’s skin and squeezing his eyes shut against the feeling. “I’m close, I’m too close.” He feels like he’s babbling, like he can’t control himself.

“Come on, Lou,” Harry murmurs. He moves a little faster, pressing against Louis and making himself take all of him. “Jesus, you feel so good.”

Louis’ whole body shakes when he comes, and Harry keeps moving, keep grinding down through Louis’ tremors. His body gets jerky as he moves his hand faster, his breath coming out in little whimpers. Louis watches through heavy-lidded eyes, fighting exhaustion as Harry curses and comes, spilling over himself and Louis.

“Oh my god,” he says, his head dropping down on Louis’ chest as they both try and get their breath back.

Louis hums, lets his fingers thread through Harry’s curls, a little damp with sweat now. “Good?”

“Shut up,” Harry says. His legs shake and he moans when he lifts himself off Louis, wrinkling his nose as he peels the condom off and tosses it. “Sleep.”

“What about a shower?” Louis asks, but he’s already drifting off, his mouth curled into a lazy, satiated grin. “We’re filthy.”

“You’re filthy,” Harry murmurs back. “Sleep.”

So they go back to sleep, because it’s still early and Harry is still here in Louis’ bed.

-----

They take too long in the shower, washing away signs of sleep and sex and exertion. Louis takes a moment to admire the long lean line of Harry’s body, the way the water drips down the dip in his back. His hair looks ridiculous like this, the curls plastered to his forehead.

Louis can’t help but kiss him, push him up against the cold tiles and feel his slick mouth. Harry moves easily under him; he lets himself be maneuvered backwards, grins when his back hits the wall.

“I can’t stop touching you,” Louis admits. He bites down again on the bruise on Harry’s neck. “This is all your fault.”

Harry’s laugh echoes off the walls. Louis feels like all his blood is rushing to his head, making him dizzy. He wants so much, wants Harry more than he’s ever wanted anything. “It’s not funny, Harry.”

“It is,” Harry tells him. “It’s about time you came to your senses.”

Louis trails a hand over Harry’s stomach, feels a wicked grin on his face when Harry sucks in a breath and his muscles quiver. He kisses him again until they’re both breathless. Harry’s face is flushed from the steam, and Louis feels his own heat up.

It takes them even longer to dry off. Louis keeps getting caught up in Harry’s body, can’t help but licks at the droplets of water that get missed. By the time they make it out of the bathroom, their mouths are almost rubbed raw, and Harry has a matching bruise on the other side of his neck.

Niall rolls his eyes when they walk in the kitchen, Harry in a pair of Louis’ pajamas, his ankles peeking out of the too-short pants.

“Could you be any more obvious, Louis?” he asks, and he doesn’t even bother ducking when Liam swats him over the head. “You two look obscene.”

“Good,” Louis tells him. He takes his usual seat perched on the counter, and Liam raises his eyebrows at him. “Even though a gentleman never kisses and tells.”

“To be fair, you don’t have to tell,” Zayn cuts in. He’s still in his clothes from last night, looking rumpled and over-tired. His hair hangs over his forehead, and he looks comfortable. “We can all see for ourselves.” And he gestures at the bruises on Harry’s neck. “Bit obvious.”

Harry stands by Liam at the stove and looks over his shoulder. “Oh, are you making pancakes? Those are my favorite,” and something in Louis’ heart fits into place. “Do you have any chocolate chips to put in them?”

Niall stands close to Louis and smirks. “So I was right,” he says.

“Right about what, exactly?”

“You were mooning!” he says.

Louis almost wants to deny it, but Harry’s laughing at something Liam has said, his green eyes bright with humor. “Maybe I was mooning just a bit.”

“Keep telling yourself that, mate.” Niall moves over to where Liam is, his eyes on the mixture cooking in the pans. “Hey, can you make sure mine are extra fluffy?”

Zayn puts his feet up on the table and ignores Liam’s panicked yelling. “People eat there!”

“You’ve got to loosen up a little,” Zayn tells him, and he grins when Liam sighs, defeated.

Harry finds the chocolate chips stuffed in the top drawer. Louis doesn’t remember ever putting them there, and Liam mumbles something about them maybe being stale. Still, Harry dumps half the bag into the mixture. “I like them with a lot of chocolate chips.”

“I’ll remember that for next time, then,” Liam tells him, and Louis tightens his hold on the counter.

Something must show on his face, because suddenly Harry is in front of him, eyes uncertain.

“All right?” he asks, and he still looks hesitant at Louis’ nod. “Are you sure?”

Louis pulls him close until he’s settled in between his legs. This is the only time he’s ever been taller than Harry, so he enjoys the feeling for the time being. “I’m sure,” he says. He shrugs, a little speechless, because Harry is in his flat, in his kitchen, and Liam is making them all pancakes. Harry likes chocolate chips in his pancakes and Liam will remember because it’s something that will happen again. “Just a bit surreal, I suppose.”

“Shouldn’t be,” Harry tells him, and of course he doesn’t need Louis to explain. Doesn’t need Louis to say much of anything before he understands. “I’m right here. Always have been.”

It’s an overwhelming urge Louis has, to say I found you right now, to put all Harry’s notes together like a map and mark his location right in the middle. He thinks Harry might have planned it that way actually, might have purposely led Louis in this direction.

That's alright though, that Harry might have found him, because Louis doesn't particularly mind.

(Later, much later, days or weeks or months later, Harry will bring it up, when Louis has him pressed up against the counter in the bakery while Babs cleans up in the kitchen.

“You’re not still looking for something, are you?” he asks, in between kisses. “Because--”

“Already found it,” Louis tells him. “You knew that.”

Harry freezes and Louis bites his lip in retaliation. “Well, I thought--”

Harry,” Louis says. “You knew that.”

Harry nods, slow but firm. “I might have known that,” he admits, and he lets Louis kiss him again.

Later, always later, Harry will start to use the key Louis gave him to his new flat, hesitant and unsure in the middle of the night.

“You don’t have to use it,” Louis will say. “But you’re here all the time anyway, and Liam has a key.”

Harry’s half-asleep when he takes it, barely opening his eyes as he smiles and leans over to set it on the bedside table. “Liam made me a copy of his two weeks ago,” Harry tells him, and even exhausted he still manages to sound like he’s laughing at Louis. “He said you might overthink it and change your mind.”

“Well, I didn’t change my mind,” Louis says. He makes a mental note to call Liam in the morning. “And I didn’t overthink it,” he adds, but Harry’s already asleep again.

In the morning Louis finds a note on the mirror in the bathroom.

I’m sure you look gorgeous as always.

- H

And another on the fridge.

The cupcakes in here are not for you, they’re for Danielle. Remind her to come and pick them up. Babs said she would make you muffins today so come in after lunch.

- H

And another on the front door.

Thank you for the key. I gave it to Niall since I already had one. Don’t forget to make one for Zayn. You know how he sulks.

- H

And a last one stuck just underneath, written much more carefully than the others. Louis peels this one off the door, his fingers tracing over the letters in a familiar way. He folds it up and sticks it in his pocket and gives himself a silent reminder to put it in his drawer.

I love you xx

- Harry

But that all comes much, much later. Days and weeks and months later.)

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