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walk my days on a wire

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The tweet remains online for four minutes before his manager notices it and deletes it.

Apparently, four minutes are long enough for leagues of fans to see it, screenshot it and tweet said screenshots so intensely that, by the time Louis wakes up, articles are already being written about it.

His phone struggles to hold all the notifications he received overnight, and he hasn’t even had a bloody cup of tea yet.  He’s never going to be polite ever again.

Or not pay attention to which buttons he’s pushing and ending up posting for the world to see what was supposed to be a DM.

Or try to hit on famous popstars via proxy. He should avoid that as well.

 

*

 

Louis has done a good number of stupid things during his few years in the spotlight. Talking back at rude, unprepared journos, giving inappropriate answers on talk shows, making faces on the red carpet, the lot. He’d been involved in such an epic twitter fight once that he’s now the celebrity to call when someone wants to stage a fake one, if the context fits – it usually does, Louis is quite versatile in his work, life and public dislikes. He and Zayn have almost monthly meeting during which they get high and do dramatic readings of all the mutual trash-talking sources close to them have heard them do.

Louis has done a good number of stupid things. He knows the drill.

The first to arrive, unsurprisingly, is Niall. Niall’s the savviest, sneakiest, most reserved man Louis has ever met. He’s the son of a producer who was fully determined to do nothing with his life but spend his family’s millions until Louis hit on him in a bar. Niall saw something in him, something that made him want to put Louis on his jet to LA and never come back. He’s made Louis who he is, talked him into things he didn’t want to be caught dead in and out of projects he would have died to do – and smirked at him when they inevitably flopped and Louis’ movies rose until he was so famous it was realistic for him to come out and still find jobs.

In return, Louis lets Niall come in unannounced and eat his food while he makes fun of him.

(In return, Louis promises himself to never quit Niall, and also never quit making movies, not even when he’s fat and old and everyone thinks he’s a joke.)

“Harry Styles?” Niall asks him when he’s done bugging Louis to cook him breakfast. “The lad’s come out, like, two days ago, hasn’t he? You sure don’t lose time to get ‘em, Tommo.”

“I’m not getting anyone, Niall, please,” he answers. There’s been a bit of wishful thinking, right, some fantasies here and there – Harry Styles is gorgeous. And he’s single. And he’s bi. But nothing more. Louis is sure nothing will come of it.

“Oh, and dear Gemma, would you do me a favour?” Niall says, in a voice all raspy and high-pitched that is a perfect imitation of Louis’ own, not that he’d ever admit it.  “Could I please have your brother’s ph –”

Louis stops him with a huff, giving his own raspy and high-pitched protest about how that isn’t what he wrote, isn’t what happened at all, and he does not speak like that, honestly.

It’s what he wrote. It’s what happened. He speaks exactly like that. Niall is kind or uninterested enough not to reply.

“Liam’s gonna flip,” he says, instead, before diving his fork into a sausage. It’s almost raw. Louis is a terrible cook, and Niall must be thinking the same thing. He doesn’t say this either. “I’ll bet you ten quid that he’ll come with resignation papers. Again.”

Betting against Niall is always a bad idea, but Louis reaches for his hand and says, “Deal.”

Liam arrives half an hour later, frantic, wearing a wrinkled t-shirt and carrying a stack of documents. “Have you seen the articles?” he says, and Louis is already reaching for his wallet when he adds, “It’s a bloody blast. I talked to Styles’ rep and a couple of people at Sony. They’re on board.”

When Liam is done explaining what they’re on board with, Louis shimmies in front of Niall with a, “Oh no, Niall,” and collets his ten quid.

It’s all settled, a group of publicists and media consultants is working on Liam’s idea, lawyers are drafting contracts and Liam seems more excited than when Louis got an Oscar nod.

It’s still a fucking shock when, as an answer to Louis’, @GemmaAnnStyles Thank you for the nice interview !! p.s. since we talked about him.. is there a way to get your brother’s number?, Harry tweets, Thought you’d never ask. x

 

*

 

“They want you to have a fauxmance,” Zayn says, or asks maybe, around a puff of smoke. They’re sitting in the basement of Zayn’s house in London, where he keeps his paintings and sculptures. The smell of turpentine almost made Louis faint the first time he stepped foot here, but now it’s comforting, grounding.

Louis looks at Zayn’s hands, speckled with paint as black as motor oil, and can’t remember the last time he’s seen them clean. Last year in Cannes, probably, when Zayn had been dressed in all black and didn’t smile once the whole fortnight. He likes the black on his hands more.

He supposes Zayn does, too.

“Not a fauxmance, per se,” Louis says, defensive when there’s nothing to be defensive about. “A bit of banter. A couple pictures. A comment on the red carpet. It’s just that – you know, there’s Cannes.”

Cannes, a year later. The weed makes Louis laugh at how things just roll.

Zayn nods, and Louis wonders if he’ll watch them marching in front of armies of photographers when it starts. If he’ll feel a pang of envy, or only relief. If Louis will ever fully understand him for leaving all this. Then, Zayn nudges his shoulder with the knuckles of his paint-streaked hand. “I’m not judging, bro, we’ve all done things. A gay fauxmance, though. Never thought I’d see that.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, and pries the spliff out of Zayn’s fingers. It’s an exhilarating thought. A gay affair used as a marketing tool. “I guess gay sells.”

It’s mostly a lie. Louis thinks of the followers he’s gained since @Harry_Styles has started following him.

It’s not gay that sells.

It’s Harry.

 

*

 

Liam arranges for Louis to take a jolly stroll in front of a camera as he walks in his neighbourhood. Harry is in London, too, but their teams want to let everyone speculate about them a bit more before having them meet. The irony that, in all this, Louis hasn’t even exchanged a DM with the actual Harry is not lost on him.

So Louis lets Caroline pick an outfit that conveys a casual but still dressy vibe, and a photographer documents every step from Louis’ front door to his Porsche. Liam tells him to smile a hundred times, and texts him the same thing while Louis walks.

The next day, tabloids are full of articles commenting the pictures of Louis grinning at his phone while he gets into his car. Did Louis Tomlinson finally get Harry Styles’ number?

Louis scrolls an article because Liam won’t stop pestering him. It has too many comments for Louis to read them all. He guesses he, too, sells a little.

 

*

 

They keep the banter up with twitter. Oh, and Instagram too. One morning Liam takes a picture of his apple, celery and cucumber smoothie and posts it to Louis’ Instagram with the caption Yikes !!. Harry’s fans go nuts.

“But is he actually a health nut?” Louis asks Niall, putting down the script he’s holding. It’s so trashy he can hear bunches of neurons dying with every line.

“No, he’s a soldier who comes home from war full of paranoia and becomes a sort of deranged superhe –“

“I mean Harry, Niall. Harry Styles.” And then, “I’m not taking this part. I’m a bit offended that someone would see this and think I’ll be great in it, to be honest.”

Niall sighs and gives him his constipated face. Louis hopes they’ll get a better offer, because Niall can be very persuasive otherwise.

Right now, Louis is determined to get an answer about the Harry thing.

“Like, I heard he gets facials with sheep interiors to cleanse his pores or something,” he prompts, and tries to steer away from the image of Harry getting other kinds of facials.

“Yeah. I also heard you were straight and bringing three blonds in your hotel room at once,” Niall says, throwing an arm on the back of the couch. He has a point. “I got no fucking idea, mate. We only played golf together that one time.”

Louis remembers, which is why he’s asking him. He wants to know everything about it. If Harry’s hands looked so big wrapped around a club as they did around a glass the first and only time Louis saw him in person. If his voice is as hoarse and deep and circular as it seems in videos. If what everyone says about him is true – that he talks to you as if you’re the most fascinating person he’s ever met.

He has some dignity left, so he doesn’t press. He stays silent, reaches for the beer he’s left on the table in front of him.

“He did hold his club up with his dick during a break, though,” Niall says, making Louis almost spill beer all over the script. “Thought that’d be a rumour you’d be more interested in.”

Harry’s infamous giant cock. If it’s true, Louis could almost forgive him the health nut thing.

 

*

 

With all the anticipation that’s been building up, their first meeting is rather anticlimactic.

“At the Dorchester? Really?” Louis had protested as Liam watched him flail with an impassive expression. “Why not have us meet directly in Buckingham Palace, have tea and scones with the bloody Queen? Take a couple of shots of us holding the new baby princess for good measure.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Tommo. The Dorchester is posh, but sexy posh. There’s nothing sexy about meeting the Queen,” Liam had said. He’d also mumbled something about Harry ranking right below the queen in the list of the most powerful people in the UK, although honestly Louis hadn’t know what to make of it.

Two days later, Louis is getting ready for a sexy lunch with Harry Styles. He’s mostly gutted he doesn’t get to cuddle little Charlotte.

Louis has been through this circus before. He’s had a beard for the first three years of his public career, and a tasteful fauxmance with his female protagonist when he’d landed the role of The Rogue.

He’s never had to fake-date someone he’s real-interested in, though.

Louis is bitching at Liam, at Caroline, at anyone who would listen to him – the shirt is too tight, and it doesn’t look genuine at all because he only wears shirts at awards, the shoes push on his pinkie toe, and who goes to lunch for a date? And that’s how Harry finds him: with his shirt halfway out of his trousers and only one Oxford on, as Caroline puts two band aids on his bare foot.

“Good morning,” Harry says, and the whole room stills.

Louis is slightly comforted he’s not the only one who stops, enchanted, to stare at how Harry lifts a hand to push his long loose curls back, then walks around to shake hands with every person in the room. His manager and his stylist, the only members of his staff Harry has brought with him, follow to do the same.

Harry keeps him for last, maybe as a courtesy so Louis can slip his foot back into a shoe. He crowds Louis’ personal space, standing so close Louis has to raise his gaze a tad to hold eye contact. His huge hand envelops Louis’ like a glove. “Louis,” is all he says. No introductions, then.

He’s not smiling – he’s not frowning either. He’s absolutely fucking peaceful. Absolutely fucking beautiful, clad in all black, his shirt unbuttoned enough for the top of the butterfly inked on his abdomen to peek out.

Louis feels the urge to ask him for an autograph. A picture, too, maybe. It’s with the thought that they’re literally putting up this charade to be photographed that he says, “Harry. Nice to finally meet you.”

Harry only hums, sliding his hand out of Louis with infinite slowness, as if he was fighting not to hold on. He steps away, then, and Louis stares at him until someone calls him from beside him.

“A pleasure,” Jeff Azoff greets, looking at Louis like this is all a particularly funny game to him. It must be exhilarating to manage someone whose career only seems to improve.

Being Irving Azoff’s son mustn’t hurt either.

He shakes Louis’ hand lazily, and Louis raises an eyebrow at him with a smirk. “The pleasure’s mine, mate.”

Louis has never been interested in the music industry, and all he knows of the Azoffs comes from hearsay and his usual gossip mill, but all sources agree that Irving is a business genius who will set houses on fire if displeased. Something in Jeff’s watchful nonchalance tells Louis he inherited the trait.

Louis is rather fond of his house.

“Very well, lads,” Liam says, walking up to them and patting Jeff on the shoulder. “Let’s get his show on the road.”

Louis glances at Harry out of the corner of his eye, hardly contains a smile as he sees the stylist attacking Harry’s cheekbones with a giant brush, and Harry frowning and crinkling his nose as he’s hit by a cloud of powder.

Harry notices him before Louis can avert his gaze, and shrugs. “Yeah,” he drawls. “I’m quite hungry, as well. What about you, Louis?”

“Bloody starving,” Louis answers, holding eye contact as if it were a contest.

Thank God it isn’t. He’s not sure he’d be winning.

 

*

 

For starters, the health thing is true.

"I'll take anything the chef recommends, as long as it's vegetarian," Harry tells the waiter, handing him his menu. "Thank you."

Louis mumbles vegetarian, gosh under his breath, low enough not to be heard, but he's caught off guard when the waiter turns to him. "And you, sir?"

Louis rattles his order as smoothly as he can with Harry staring at him in anticipation.  Maybe he did hear is quip. Will Harry judge him for ordering the roasted duck?

"Leave the wine list, please," Harry says, and the waiter shoots him an of course before walking away.

Right, they haven’t even started yet and Harry’s already planning on getting drunk to survive this. Good job, Tommo.

Louis wipes his palm on the napkin on his lap and, when he lifts his eyes, Harry’s watching him bemusedly.

"So you're a vegetarian?" Louis clears his throat and asks, at the same time as Harry says, "Do you know they have a white wine that costs 5900 quid a bottle?"

"I'm not," Harry answers, but he looks pleased by the interest, the tiniest littlest dimple appearing on one of his cheeks as he smiles. Louis always wants to make everyone laugh, it's why he wanted to become an actor in the first place, but he's never felt this urge. Like he'll never be satisfied until he reduces this man, this beautiful, stoic, quietly impassive man, to an helpless mess of giggles and happy tears.

Louis may be in need of some wine as well.

"I never eat meat at lunch, though," Harry continues. "Fish, sometimes. Lots of vegetables, lots of cereals." He snorts, then, and pushes some locks behind his ear with a hand. The light of the chandelier above them catches on his three rings, and Louis takes a hold of his fork to stop himself from adjusting his own fringe. "You don't give a fuck about my diet, sorry."

I would literally listen to you read nutritional infos off quinoa packages and enjoy it, Louis thinks, but what he says is, "Nah, I admire your dedication to making yourself miserable."

And Harry chuckles, his head bobbing a bit, his nostrils widening as the line of his lips gets wider, pulling his cheekbones up. Louis follows him, gives him a close-mouthed hum, unsure if it's because he thinks what he said is funny or because Harry's dimples are the most exhilaratingly endearing thing he's ever seen.

"So, about that wine?" Louis asks before Harry gets a chance to defend his disgusting eating habits. "Would serve Sony right for choosing the most boring place in London."

Harry smirks at him, leaning more comfortably back against his chair. "Actually, it was my idea. I saw Alain Ducasse on Masterchef the other day, and wanted to try his restaurant. None of my London friends likes French cuisine."

"Well thank you for thinking of me, then, mate. Thanks a lot," Louis rebuts with a high-pitched protest, trying and failing to hide his mirth behind it. "Are you liking it at least?"

"I mean," Harry shrugs, one of his silk sleeves drooping on his shoulders. "There is a reason I kept the wine list."

 

*

 

It's the best date Louis has had in years, and he only feels a tad pathetic admitting it.

A tad less pathetic, though, because it may be mutual. It takes them ages to finish the meal.

They can't seem to shut up, banter flowing steadily like in the best written comedy, the champagne bottle only half finished because they need no other spark – not the 5900 pounds one, but still more expensive than whoever’s picking up the tab would like. Louis insists on sharing a dessert, and Harry only frowns for a second before caving in. In turn, Louis orders the fruitiest, healthiest thing they have on the menu. He only complains twice about the lack of chocolate.

Harry makes the waiter bring them pralines with their coffees and teas.

It’s effortless and exciting, like driving on an empty road with the top down, the air hitting your face as if it could lift you up and into the sky. Louis feels more in a movie than when he’s acting, feels in an Hallmark card. All the clichés in the world become true with Harry, roses are red violets are blue I even like your pimples please take me home with you.

The shutter of a camera goes off at their left, once and then another time after a while, so faint and distant that you’d notice only if you were expecting it. Louis is honestly startled by it, but catches himself before he can turn around, see whoever’s behind the camera and their impending tabloid coverage.

Harry is much better. Louis vaguely remembers hearing about Harry’s subpar acting skill, but the Harry in front of him is placing his forearms on the table and leaning forward like a pro, giving an illusion of intimacy with the simplest of gestures. 

It takes some skill to be that good and make people believe you’re hopeless at it.

Whom are you putting up a show for, Harry Styles?

“Jeff won’t be happy,” Harry says, grinning like the world is theirs to make fun of. “They’re photographing my bad side.”

“What are you going to do about it? Sue them?” Louis asks before he can think it through. It’s become a sort of inside joke with Niall and Liam when they found out just how many injunctions Harry has filed. He uses lawyers like you use the @ feature on twitter, Tommo, Liam had said. Louis hadn’t answered his calls for two days in return.

Harry stares at him for a long time, taking a truffle between two finger pads and rolling it around. You’re lucky I didn’t sue you, Louis imagines him saying. Harry pops the truffle into his mouth and dramatically chews on it. “I’ll spare them if they make at least you look good.”

“You might want to call your people, then. I’m afraid my best side is currently sitting on this posh design chair thing.”

Louis won’t even be surprised when he’ll open the People website tomorrow and find the picture of Harry laughing with his eyes clasped shut and a hand on his mouth not to spill pieces of candy on its homepage.

 

*

 

“Bloody fucking hell,” Louis hisses when the car door closes behind him. Random flickers of coloured light are still exploding in front of his eyes as he wipes them with the back of his hand.

Harry nudges his leg with a knee, sympathetic. “Not a big fan of flashes?” he inquires gently, offering him a tissue. Louis only takes it to have something to play with.

“Big fan of keeping my eyesight, more like.”

Harry answers with a rumbly chuckle, and Louis drops his hand so he can catch Harry’s gaze. Harry’s eyes are a dark, sleepy, moss green and Louis winks at him. There’s a quiet understanding between them, and Louis knows it’s hypocritical of them to act like they’re above it all, just going along with this pantomime, but he can’t help it. His heart seems a bowstring, widening and tensing with every passing second, ready to either break or go off.

He can sense the same exhausted anticipation in the way Harry’s body lies slumped on the seat, but his attention won’t leave Louis. It’s only when Harry’s phone buzzes in his pocket that Louis consciously realises Harry hasn’t taken it out once for the entire lunch. He doesn’t do it now, either.

“It’s Jeff,” Harry shrugs. “Bit anxious, he is.”

“Worried I’d kidnap you?”

Harry licks his lips. “More worried I’d run away, I guess,” he explains, and Louis wants to ask – but the car comes to a halt, Louis knows, where Jeff is waiting to pick Harry up, and all Louis can do is let him go his merry way until the powers that be decide they want to milk some more promo out of them.

“We could still hijack the car and make a gateway, the M4 is not too far from here,” Louis says as Harry scoots closer to the door the driver is opening for him.

“Being arrested for stealing one of the Queen’s cabs would make quite the story,” Harry concedes, turning back to face him, stuck with a leg already outside. He grabs Louis’ wrist for leverage and leans back into Louis’ space, and Louis’ bloody bowstring heart is just about ready to launch itself straight into Harry’s chest as he ducks his head and drops a kiss to Louis’ cheek. “We’ll take pap pics over mugshots this time. Lunch was lovely, Louis, thank you.”

Harry is out of the car before Louis can process it, and he feels as wired and bursting as a can of coke which’s been shaken before opening and is now spilling all over the leather seats. He maintains just the amount of mind presence necessary to roll down the window, spot Harry’s retreating figure, walking alongside Jeff and a muscly bodyguard, and shout after him, “When someone comes yelling for the wine, I’m blaming you.”

And it’s with Harry’s quick, “Good luck convincing them, The Rogue,” that Louis realises just how fucking in over his head he is.

 

*

 

The best thing about Cannes is that Louis is terrified of it. He’s done everything in his power to dissociate himself from the everyman who can only star in blockbusters and cheap comedies, but you get no points for efforts in the business. This could be anything from the turning point of his career to a pitiful flop. Rebrand, Liam calls it when he’s feeling particularly yuppie, and Louis feels like a family car in Pimp My Ride. He just hopes they’ll keep some of the parts he likes.

Louis is terrified of it, and he can’t think of anything else, not even of popstars strolling around LA in sinfully tight jeans and sparkly pink boots.

He throws up before getting on the plane to France, then walks the opening ceremony’s red carpet in a pinstriped suit and a killer quiff and smiles coyly to all the interviewers who ask about a certain fellow Brit celebrity. He stays long enough to give the impression he’ll actually attend, then goes straight to the harbour and sails away on a yacht with Liam and Niall and all his close friends who could take a week off their real lives.

They drink more wine than water and only ever sleep in the sun, and it’s the best week ever but for the nagging way his insides won’t quite settle, like caught in an unstoppable spin cycle. He’s louder and brasher and more reckless than he’s grown to be, like a younger Louis visiting from another time, and he’s only kept afloat by the feeling that he’s fooling everyone, even himself.

On Sunday night, he claims a bit of fatigue and settles in the master bedroom with his laptop, and watches the man he has a pathetic crush on win an award on another continent and thank Billboard for having him, as if it wasn’t the world the one being graced by his visible nipples. When Liam stumbles into the room and asks why he’s still awake, Louis says he’s watching porn because it makes him less ashamed.

That night, he dreams of holding Harry’s hand, but their joined hands liquefy as soon as they touch as Liam’s voice chants breach of contract over and over and over.

 

*

 

Harry lands in Cannes the day before the premiere of Louis’ film, dressed in a Rolling Stones t-shirt with a pair of sunglasses on his nose and another on his head, as per Liam’s report. Louis is trapped in a flurry of interviews and press conferences, and instructs Liam to make fun of him on his behalf when he goes to greet Harry’s entourage. Liam doesn’t appear compliant to the idea.

It’s a good day. The press is more interested in James’ creative vision than any gossip surrounding the actors, Mister Corden, what was your inspiration for such a risqué movie?. Louis replies smoothly to all the questions for him, glad that for once he can be genuine when speaking of how much he likes the film. He only fumbles a little at Gemma Styles’ cheeky quip about the not-exclusively-emotional nakedness of his performance.

“Had to tell me mum not to bring my sisters to the theatre – a scarring conversation for all the parties involved,” Louis tells her and the room dissolves into appreciative chuckles. Louis wonders if the lights above him have always been this hot. Wonders what’s the brother-sister protocol for fake boyfriends in the Styles family. If Harry had asked her what she thought of Louis after the interview. If she’d been as impressed with him as Louis had with her wit.

If Harry gives a fuck.

 

*

 

The first Styles Louis spots on the terrace is the one with the wrong shoulder-to-hips ratio. Gemma’s standing with a bunch of critics, empty handed, and she’s staring at them with the same subtle contempt they usually reserve for Louis’ movies.

“Champagne?” Louis offers, coming up behind her so she’ll have to turn away from the group to speak with him. She spins around so fast her skirt swirls.

“Please”. She takes the glass from his grasp immediately, and only jumps a little when she realises he’s not a waiter. She puts on a cheeky grin, then, imperturbable like her brother. “Louis. Nice press conference today.”

“No one stormed off, cried or offended any minority. Bit of a dull affair, to be honest.” A corner of Louis’ mouth lifts as Gemma snorts into her glass. "Classy, though, despite some people’s attempts to make things raunchier."

"Come on, it had to be asked. I couldn't bear another gush about Corden's pioneering take on ensemble casts. We all know what people will go see this movie for."

"My acting chops, you mean,” he teases, although he can’t argue with Gemma’s point. He doesn’t appear on a variety of official posters dressed in an unbuttoned white shirt and nothing else because they couldn’t find clothes the day of the shoot.

"I mean, if that’s how we’re calling it now,” a giddy, deep voice says from beside them. Harry materialises with two flutes in one massive hand and his phone in the other, clad in a flowy tunic that could only pass as formal wear on him. His nipples are sadly well covered tonight.

"Hi Louis, how –“ Harry starts, extending one of the glasses to him and one to his sister, but he stops when he spots the champagne already in Gemma’s hand. “Oh, I see how it is. A movie star glances your way and you suddenly forget your dear, thoughtful brother."

"The brother who promised me alcohol twenty minutes ago,” Gemma retorts, “then abandoned me with those pretentious fossils to go kiss Ben Winston's arse?"

Ben Winston, plagiarist and human equivalent of drinking vinegar. Louis lets out a displeased hum. "Terrible, Harold, truly. First of all, how could you abandon your lovely sister?” he tilts his flute to point in Gemma’s direction, and she nods like Louis’ giving the answer to Fermat’s theorem. “And secondly, we need to talk about your taste in arses."

"I have a rather diverse taste, I think. I try not to limit my options,” Harry answers mildly, not missing a beat, pulling an involuntary chuckle out of Louis.

They smirk at each other above their glasses, and Louis feels the same tug as during their lunch, the rush of flawless chemistry and timing. Gemma speaks, and Louis has to employ all his self-control to look away from Harry.

"And on this note, I'm going to leave you.” She downs the remaining contents of her glass and dumps it on the closest flat surface. “Don't fancy finding my face on the Sun tomorrow as the mystery girl creating tension between Larry Stylinson. I'll see you later, boys."

She steps between them before sauntering off, both of their gazes following her as she disappears in the crowd. It’s only then that Louis realises how many people are discreetly but undeniably watching them.

You’ve got to stop looking at him like that, Niall had said, clutching a tabloid with a full figure picture of Harry and Louis walking out of the Dorchester on its front page, or they’ll end up believing it.

"Congrats on the Billboard award." Louis speaks quickly, whipping his head around before he can get too self-conscious about the attention, or before Harry can decide to go seek someone more entertaining.

Harry doesn’t seem intentioned to leave at all, though. He rests his back against the railing of the terrace, his elbows on it, his figure a long, relaxed, straight line.

“Thank you. Congrats on your film,” Harry replies, raising his glass to clink it against Louis’.

Louis meets him in the middle, then brings it to his lips and takes a sip. He shrugs, trying not to sound phony when he says, "Thanks. We're not actually going to win, though."

"You can't know that." Harry frowns, two deep lines forming on his forehead.

"At least I know what the film is about."

"Hey, I know that too,” Harry cries defensively, but his mouth proves unable to hold a pout for more than a second. “I, like, googled the plot, watched the trailer and everything. Did a proper research. I'm quite intrigued, can't wait to watch it."

Louis’ stomach does a twisty-turny thing at the idea, his throat drying. He regrets never watching the trailer himself. The delight at Harry going out of his way to find out things about him mixes with the embarrassment of having such a private part of him bared in front of Harry without control of how it’s been cut and edited. He doesn’t mind millions watching him, couldn’t do this job if he did, but when it’s someone whose opinion he cares about, like. It’s harder to be detached.

"You mean you're coming to the premiere?" he asks with a casual coolness he doesn’t feel. He knows the answer already, because Liam informed him that, unlike Louis, Harry apparently can stay still for two hours on a plush chair and watch a movie.

"Sure, I have to assess the chops.” Harry’s eyes travel from Louis’ head to his feet and back, in a blatant exaggeration that has Louis shaking his head and willing the sudden heat to get away from his face. “And it's called Loaded Gun. I love a good penis joke."

"There's a lot of those in it. The script is fucking good, to be fair."

Harry hums, tilting his head to the side, his curls falling gracefully on his shoulder. "And there's a full frontal nude of yours, if Wikipedia wasn't lying."

"You sure weren't kidding about the research,” Louis says, his voice growing in pitch as Harry giggles as if they were exchanging knock-knock jokes and not discussing Louis’ privates. “First of my career, even. Exclusive stuff."

"First time I'll see my alleged boyfriend's dick, and I'll be in a room full of pretentious fossils."

"Want me to give you an early screening?" Louis offers, shimmying his hips. He appreciates how Harry doesn’t skirt around their fauxmance at all, how it’s just a thing that is for him. He also appreciates how Harry, despite the raucous laughter that escapes him, lets his gaze linger on his groin a tiny bit after Louis has stopped moving. "Seriously though,” Louis continues, more sombrely, “you'll have to tell me what you think afterwards."

"About your dick?" Harry teases, waggling his eyebrows. Louis gives him an eye roll and a snort, although he’d push down his pants and accurately tailored trousers at the briefest hint. Harry’s features soften, then, morphing into a dimpled, content grin. "I will, though. Are you nervous?"

Whenever he thinks about it, Louis feels the calloused hands of the pretentious fossils closing around his throat and squeezing. Nervous doesn’t even begin to cover it.

"Er, I mean you just can't not be, I think? Like, every time you put something of yours out there.” They press on his trachea and on his carotids and on all the structures whose names he had to learn when he did two episodes of a medical drama. Still, he carries on, Harry’s eyes squinting a little, studying him more carefully. “But this is not me home. It's harder when you're in an unfamiliar place."

"Are you proud of what you created, though?" Harry asks, careful.

"I - honestly. I don't know. We filmed during a bit of a strange period and I, like.” Louis looks up at the clear sky of Cannes. They said it’s going to rain tomorrow. He hopes it doesn’t pour as well.

He half expects Harry to interrupt him, but he doesn’t, so Louis delivers the line that will decide if the plot goes left or right. As with all the well-written ones, he doesn’t recognise it. “I have the final cut saved on my laptop, but I just never got around to watching it."

"Oh." Harry takes a pensive sip of his wine. "Did you bring your laptop to Cannes?"

"Well, yes, but -" Louis tries, wide-eyed, the thought of watching Loaded Gun with Harry more terrifying than anything critics and tabloids may ever do to him. This time, Harry does stop him.

"You said you'd give me an early screening,” he reminds, and the gentle tinge of his voice has Louis powerless.

Louis shakes his head and inhales sharply. "I did."

"Great.” Harry lifts his flute in the air, toasting at Louis’ impending heart attack, then finishes the drink with a happy hum. When Louis does the same, he pries the glass out of his hand and waits for a waiter to come and collect them, because it seems the only thing Harry wants to leave a mess of is Louis. Pollution prevented, he clasps his palms together and asks, “My room or yours?"

And cut.

 

*

 

“Fuck.” Harry’s breath itches beside him, and Louis’ lips twitch with a strange kind of raw satisfaction.

“Fuck,” a Louis that’s not Louis says in front of them, clutching the edges of the sink, his naked body heaving and trembling. The scene has such low saturation it may as well be black and white, the lights giving roundness, thickness to each of Louis’ angles and curves, his ribs straining underneath his skin as if fighting to break free.

Louis gets a faint craving for pizza just by watching himself, remembers the two months eating nothing but rabbit food and turkey to reach the weight of a desperate man.

The camera is positioned as if it were the mirror not-Louis is staring into, with condensation from the shower on its edges and a crack on its bottom left. Not-Louis lifts a hand to his jaw, tugs at his cheeks, at his hair, and Louis tries what Harry suggested him to do – watch it as if it weren’t the film he starred in. As if he didn’t know that broke bellboy William would steal a customer’s laptop and sleep with his manager not to be fired, and never recover from it. Didn’t know that William’s fist would collide with the mirror, shattering shards of it in the audience’ faces, only to be found by his future love interest bleeding and crying on the bathroom’s floor.

They both jump when it happens, their gasps louder than the sound of bones on glass.

Louis feels a tug on his sleeve as the scene switches to another subplot, one Harry doesn’t seem to have much interest in. He turns to find Harry staring at him with watery eyes and a half smile. “Please,” he says, choked. “Tell me it gets better from here.”

Louis chuckles, slumping his body toward where Harry’s seated. “No way. I’m not spoilering you.”

“You owe me.” Harry raises his hand from Louis’ wrist and drapes his arm on the back of the couch, his fingertips almost brushing Louis’ hair. “You had me thinking you were playing this cheeky, sexy character. You’re a bit of a fibber. Now I, like, feel bad for thinking he was cute.”

“He is cheeky and sexy,” Louis protests with an incredulous frown, and gets that wonderful dimpled grin in response. “He’s just going through a lot. Leave the poor lad alone.”

Harry gives a soft pat to the nape of Louis’ neck. “You’re brilliant,” he says, and he seems surprised at his own honesty. “I mean, from my extensive knowledge of the, like, nuances of acting, I can tell. That you’re, you know. Good. Brilliant.” His face splits into a self-deprecating smile as he shrugs, and Louis can still feel the heat radiating from his hand. “Brilliant at acting.”

Louis hears the sharp slamming of a door beside him. “We should, um,” he gestures to the screen, where a frail looking William sits curled up on grey bathroom tiles. It had taken them a whole morning just to get that first short right, Louis suffering the disconnect of filming such an emotional scene and minding that his cock and the thin layer covering it weren’t peeking out between his legs. “Like, pay attention. This is an important one.”

He doesn’t thank Harry for the compliment. But afterwards, when Harry repeats the same question as before – are you proud, but this time asked as if it was rhetoric, as if there wasn’t a doubt in Harry’s mind -, Louis says yes.

Surprisingly, he isn’t acting.

 

*

 

It takes hours for their conversation to reach a comfortable lull, their knees touching, Harry’s silk pyjamas against Louis’ dress pants. Louis’ mind is a whirlwind of Harry’s opinions and habits and desires, and he’s so terribly endeared by it all, the things he agrees with and the things he would have judged anyone else for, but on Harry they’re just so lovely and quirky.

Harry loved the film, though he really doesn’t keep up with new releases and is stuck at The Lord Of The Rings film culture-wise. He’s never been to Cannes before, and its beaches are too crowded for him. He unironically likes California. He wants to go everywhere, and some of those everywheres coincide with Louis’. They both wish to reach the edges of the earth, from Cape Horn to Iceland, possibly by car and with no fixed schedule. Neither remembers the last time they had a holiday that felt like one.

Harry tells him of tour, of how he'd spent years longing to play stadiums and how he misses the intimacy of small gigs now. Of big crowds blending like tiny dots in a pointillist painting, and how no matter how many there are, you always play for the handful of people whose faces you can make out. Of how extraordinary things become the new normal with an ease that frightens him, and how he doesn't know if he could deal with them not being there anymore. How sometimes he wishes he'd never got a taste of it, because he'd go mad if he had to leave the table now. How he pretends he has control, but doesn't know if he'd step back if it was killing him.

In return, Louis tells him of being a different person for months on end, of moulding his body and actions to fit someone else's life. Of the time he had a role that required a wig and he let his hair grow past the point of what his mum considers decency just because he could. He makes an offhand comment about how much he likes Harry's hair, and watches Harry blink slowly as he thanks him, pleased and smiling, his eyes so so warm.

It’s only then, when there’s a longer break between one subject and the next, that Louis wills himself to swallow his lust, put a nice, casual expression on and excuse himself. Harry trails after him and opens the door like the good host he is, and Louis can’t tell if he only imagines the slight disappointment on Harry’s face when he says his goodbyes and shuffles away without so much as a handshake.

(It’s just that, right. Louis doesn’t trust himself with touching any part of Harry and not landing straight on his lips, that’s all.)

 

*

 

They don't walk the red carpet together. After leaving the party together last night, they don't need to. They don't even sit together. Everyone and their editors know why Harry's here anyway.

Except they don't, they have no idea. Somehow, not even the incessant rumour mill of the industry can fathom the bizarre complexity of what is happening between them.

A couple of minutes before the film is bound to begin, Louis is still standing and shaking hands and testing all the polite variations of thank you, get out of my face that Liam has thought him. He searches the crowd behind the head of a director who’d never have Louis in one of his movies, berating himself for not checking the seating arrangement. He spots Harry just a couple of rows behind him, sitting with his leg crossed and looking like he’s only half paying attention to what the people around him are telling him. Their gazes lock as Harry averts his eyes from his little gathering and tries to stifle a yawn without being seen. He nods at Louis with his hand still in front of his mouth and raises his fingers in a peace sign, like Louis has seen him do so many times while posing with fans.

In all honesty, Louis has no idea either.

 

*

 

If last night was French wine and cocktail dresses and contrived chatter, tonight's a proper Hollywood bash. The music's too loud to talk, the surroundings covered in luscious red and gold and there's a theme, Louis couldn't possibly tell what it is but there's one. He's leaning toward a good old delusion of grandeur aesthetic.

Someone stops him with a hand on his arm as he’s pushing through the dancing mass of bodies. A woman, whose face Louis vaguely recognises from one place or another. She yells something he can't make out, but he yells back a thank you. Either it’s the correct answer, or no one could fault him for being rude anyway.

Everyone is so impressed and so astonished and so happy for him, and all Louis wants to do is find either Niall, Liam or the bar. Or Harry, but that's neither here nor there.

It's Liam who finds him first. "Tommo," he puts his hands on Louis' shoulders and guides him across the room, draping himself against his back. "You were so great. I'm so proud."

The lad has a tendency to get weepy when he's drunk.

"Thanks Payno," Louis shouts back as they approach the end of the dancefloor. "You kind of had already seen the movie at least a couple times, though, but, you know."

"Oh no, not as an actor." No, clearly, it's not the job that puts food on both of their tables. "You answered nicely to everyone. Didn't pull faces on the red carpet. Stayed there for the whole screening, didn't even run off to hunt innocent pop stars."

Louis frowns, volume dropping lower when they step into a quieter room. "But I'm... supposed to be seen with Harry?"

"Yes! Which is what we're about to do now. Be seen, publicly, where your weird eye fucking can be documented for cd-buying and movie-watching posterity. Do I have to ask where you disappeared last night, young man?"

Louis is about to ask if Liam’s having him monitored, but he’s long learned not to ask questions he doesn’t want to know the answer to. "I was tired. I went to lie down. In my own bed. Alone. Please drop this accusatory tone, Liam."

"Be glad Alberto’s better than a father confessor.” Liam sighs, and yeah, Louis got quite fucking lucky in the bodyguard department. “Just be careful.” Liam squeezes his shoulders before letting go, his voice starting to get drowned by the sound of laughter and hollers in the distance.

“That’s fucking cheating,” is the first thing Louis can properly hear, said in Niall’s unmistakable Irish rumble.

“Fucking cheating,” someone else parrots, and Louis is only half-surprised when he finds Harry chuckling as he pokes Niall with a cue.

“I didn’t see him touch the ball.” Jeff bends on the pool table, examining it with a hand on his chin. Then, he stands up with a shrug. “Nope, honestly couldn’t say.”

Louis suspects he’s Harry’s teammate.

Gemma’s the one to notice their arrival. She interrupts her facepalming and sets her cue down to greet them. “Thank God. This was getting painful.”

Harry pulls his pouty open-mouthed sad face, no doubt ready to protest, but everyone’s attention is suddenly captured by James’ raucous entrance.

“Louis!” he calls, his cheeks a bright red and his shirt only partially tucked into his trousers. “Where’s Louis? Where’s my little star?”

Little, Louis mumbles under his breath as James slings his arm around his shoulders and plants a wet kiss on his temple. “Happy, James?”

James stares straight into his eyes, fiercely, their foreheads almost pressed together. “Ecstatic.”

“Guys,” Liam says, as loud as he thinks he can get while remaining polite. “Since you’re all here, can I tempt you with a casual, not-at-all set up trip to the photo booth at the entrance?”

 

It's almost... enjoyable. Or, a bit more than almost.

James is on an absolute high, and Louis suspect it really is just from the film. He still grabs a bottle of vodka as they pass the bar and brings it in the booth with them, and they take shots off it like teenagers sharing a joint.

"Make sure to hide it in the pictures," Jeff warns, voice slightly slurred. "Harry here has young impressionable fans."

Louis shuffles where he's sitting half on Niall and half on James. It’s terribly hot, the lights too shiny as they reflect on the white walls, and it’s the most fun Louis has had in ages. "No licking vodka out of my belly button, then, I guess, Harold."

Niall and Gemma have to clutch each other not to fall on the floor laughing, both well tipsy now, while Harry leans forward to look at him and mouths maybe later with a wink.

When he's recovered enough, Niall reaches out for the start button, the other hand on Louis’ waist not to jostle him too much. "Alright lads, Gems, ready for the next round?"

Next round. Louis couldn’t say how long they’ve been in here for. Maybe there’s a queue outside. He turns his head back toward Niall as everyone around them straightens up and adjusts their hair. “You doing okay?” he checks, because Niall has a problem with closed spaces.

“Yeah, yeah, the alcohol helps.”

"Should we switch positions this time?” Liam suggests eagerly, and it’s clear what he’s hinting at. He’s one to take the notion of 24/7 service very seriously.

Louis hears Jeff snort beside him and irritation crawls over his skin, because mocking Liam is only okay when he’s the one to do it, but suddenly a hand closes around his wrist, and what crawls over his skin is something completely different.

“Come here.” Harry tugs on his arm until Louis is standing and walking past James and Jeff to sit in his lap. He lets go of Louis only to sneak that same arm around his waist, leaning forward so his chest aligns with Louis’ back and his curls tickle Louis’ neck.

There’s so much Harry around him, broad and solid and shifting to accommodate him better, and it’s like Louis’ brain can’t process the overload, can’t make sense of all their points of contact. Louis yearns to do all those little things that calm him down – rearranging his fringe, smoothing down his clothes, throwing signs at the camera --, but at the same time there’s something so calming in Harry, even a drunken Harry who’s squeezing him a bit too tightly.

Louis swallows his uneasiness and puts his own hand on Harry’s, not quite holding it, and feels Harry nosing at his neck in response.

The screen in front of them comes to life, repeating instructions they could all recite by heart now. “Remember to look at the camera and keep your eyes open,” Harry and the recorded voice say at the same time, only one is a bit more sultry and arousing than the other.

Needless to say, when the flash goes off, Louis is neither looking at the camera, nor has his eyes open.

Time passes at double the speed from there, a haze of vodka and barely getting breaks to breathe before the next hilarious thing, from Niall coaxing Gemma to let him climb into her lap to Harry too sloshed to remember the right punchline to knock-knock jokes. Soon enough they’re being gently invited to get the fuck out of there. They stumble back into the pool room, all of them falling on the couches when Harry casually takes a ball out of his pocket and puts it back on the table.

“You took a fucking ball?” Niall shrieks, still bitter for their earlier game. Harry shrugs and plops down next to Louis, arm on the back of the couch, as much behind Louis’ shoulders as it can be without actually touching him.

Louis tilts his head to look at him. “You do know that’s not how you cheat at pool, right?”

“It was right outside of a hole. Even Niall could put that one in.”

“I heard that!” comes Niall’s protest, but Louis can’t tear his eyes away from Harry’s, not even to make a stick and hole joke.

Harry slips a boot beneath Louis’ ankles and one above them, caging and lulling them in a sluggish caress. Louis is pissed enough to tone down the flare of panic surging from his toes and scoot to the side to rest his head on Harry’s pec, nuzzling into the sheer chiffon shirt Harry’s wearing under his blazer.

“Darlings.” James announces, making Louis groan and lift up.

Harry’s chest wobbles with laughter, his arm aligning with Louis’, as James stands up and brandishes their second vodka bottle high in the air like a banner.

“It’s time for the guest of honour to return to his acolytes. I know for a fact though - that fact being that Liam’s quite talkative while drunk - that you’re all staying in Cannes tomorrow, so I say you all join me on my humble raft.”

“Would that be alright with you?” Louis rolls his head back and whispers.

Harry gives him an upside-down nod, then addresses James with a simple, “Sure”, everyone else following with their own approvals.

“I’ll handle the deets,” Liam slurs. Louis has trouble believing he could handle walking in a straight line at the moment, and he tunes out the conversation when Niall and Jeff start talking business.

He headbutts Harry's shoulder until Harry gets his attention back to him. He’s sporting the same wide grin and googly eyes Louis has already received a couple times, the one that never fail to make him afraid and a bit eager that Harry wants to devour him whole. There's a long list of eating activities Louis would gladly do to and be done by Harry.

"Should we go back as well? Fancy a dance, Harold?"

"Alright, if you don't mind risking a couple toes."

"It's fine. I always do my own stunts."

He pulls Harry to the main room, hands clasped and swinging between them.

It doesn't take long to find out that Harry wasn't kidding. He throws his arms in the air and sways left and right with no care for coordination or for the integrity of anything around him, from ornamental plants to people's heads. Louis saves him from the smoke machine twice, and keeps a firm grip on his hips when he sashays to the open bar and would be too polite to hold his spot ahead of other guests otherwise.

When the bartender spots Harry in the crowd, she rushes to fix his order, her face flushed the same colour as the cosmos she's making as Harry mumbles random cheeky comments. Must be a gift, to be pleasantly flirty with someone who sees all kinds of pushy creeps at every shift, with another man draped on your back for good measure. Louis' irrational pang of jealousy lasts no more than a minute before Harry's leaning back against him, his face lolling to the side to whisper in Louis' ear.

"Want to go outside, get some air?"

Louis nods against his shoulder, then leads Harry up the stairs and out on the patio in front of the club. It's full with groups of people smoking and chatting, but no one pays mind to them. They sit on a railing, their feet dangling, and Harry places the drink in Louis' hand.

"To your film," Harry cheers, raising his glass.

"To your tour." Louis mirrors his move, his arm stopping mid air when Harry's mouth turns into a frown, his eyes dropping to the ground. It's a blink-and-miss thing if it's a thing at all, Louis' spinning head making it difficult to focus on details.

"Glad to be back, you know, on the road again?" Louis nudges Harry's side with his elbow, lips quirking.

Harry barks a laugh and washes it down with a deep gulf of cosmo, licking his wet lips afterwards. "I'd like to go on record and say I didn't choose the name of the tour. I wanted to use the album title, but people reckoned The Raconteur Tour just didn't work."

"You could've called it The Racountour."

Harry's eyes widen, his face splitting in a full teethed smile. "I tried telling them."

"Would've sounded a bit like a pestering, thieving, furry mammal on stage, though."

"Isn't that what it is?"

"Nah, I wouldn't call you furry, Harold."

In many months of occasional social media stalking, Louis has never seen him with more than a lazy shadow of moustache and rare dusting on his chin. He traces the sharp curve of Harry's jaw with a fingertip, his inhibitions sufficiently dampened, and marvels at the soft smoothness of it. Despite his stockiness and piles of ripped muscles, every new part of Harry he discovers is just so soft.

Louis snaps out of his dermatologic appreciation when Harry relaxes against his hand, Louis' eyes flashing up to meet his.

He lets his arm fall between his open legs. "Come on, Rocket, let's go back inside. I don't think I've seen the last of your shapes yet."

"Rocket?" Harry asks with his scrunched expression, the one that makes you wonder if he's confused or judging you.

"Rocket Racoon?" Another blank look. "Guardians of the Galaxy? Marvel comic turned movie? Last year’s highest grossing superhero film?”

"Are you in it?"

"I fucking wish."

"Then I've no idea.” Harry shrugs, his mouth jerking like he’s trying not to smile. “Lord Of The Rings, I told you."

"And my filmography."

"And your filmography. I haven't seen them all, but, you know. I've read the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I could probably fake it."

"That's oddly flattering,” Louis admits, his eyebrows shooting up. “I guess.”

Harry smiles behind his glass, the soft lights of the lamppost above them landing on the deep pink of the drink and Harry’s heated cheeks. "I'm not sure,” Harry starts. “They did call you an empty fridge with a broken light at one point."

"Why would you bring that up?" Louis squeaks, sitting up, his arms opening and almost spilling cranberry juice on the floor.

"Sorry.” Harry cocks his head to the side, plump lips twisted in the phoniest pout. “I have seen that particular one though. You were great, the light was definitely on."

He snickers, then, because Harry Styles is indeed the kind of person who’d snicker at their own jokes. Louis snickers with him. Harry’s quiet, honest confidence is impossibly intoxicating.

"I hope you don't think you're getting out of a cinema lesson with a couple compliments,” Louis says, voice still airy with laughter.

Harry bows his head, his hair swaying with it. It falls on his face, and he readjusts it with a smoothness worthy of a shampoo commercial. "I’d never. I'm ready to be enlightened."

Harry’s at once more flushed and more intimidating than last night, bleary eyed but clad in a red and black pinstriped dream. He’s the most open Louis has seen him yet, like a wall of wariness between them was finally starting to crumble down.

"I'll set up a program."

"Or you could just do it now,” Harry’s quick to suggest, frowning right after when Louis’ too taken aback to reply. "Unless, like. Have you got other plans for the night?” He asks, uncertain. “It's your party after all.”

"It's James' party, actually. I'm part of the decor." Louis checks his watch, mostly to look away from Harry’s hopeful stare. It’s decently late, though. Perfect time for a pap walk. "I just need to say some goodbyes so Liam’s coronaries don’t burst, then we can go."

"Sure. I’ll make the rounds too.” Harry regards him as if Louis had told him they’re going to Disney World, or to, like, a vegan organic fairtrade street fair, his words falling one over the other. “You know, talk to Jeff. Talk to my bodyguard.”

“His name’s Dale, right?” Louis’ eyes briefly shift to the man standing in the shadows against the nearest wall, who’s been watching their every move and preventing people from approaching them.

“Yeah,” Harry hums, nodding in Dale’s direction.

“Alright, give me twenty minutes.”

Louis hops off the railing and darts away so he isn’t tempted to say fuck it, grab Harry’s hand and flee.

 

*

 

“Food,” Harry mumbles, mouth already opening around a cheeseburger. Apparently, even Harry enjoys some grease after a night out.

Louis pops a nugget in his mouth, and speaks before he’s fully chewed it. Harry appears too busy ravaging the burger to care.

“It went well, tonight, I think. Did you like it?”

Harry washes down a bite with some iced tea, sucking noisily on the straw with a contemplative frown. “I hadn’t been to a premiere in a while before tonight. I did like it, it was nice. Like, chill. Your crew is very relaxed. James, too. Fun lad.”

“James’ a blast, you’ll see tomorrow.”

Harry nods, his lips widening in a smile. “And how was it, seeing Will on the big screen?”

“Less cringe-worthy than some of my previous parts, that’s for sure.” Louis shrugs even as a surge of pride sizzles in his chest. He lowers his voice, giving Harry a teasing look behind his lashes. “Did you cry again?”

Harry lifts a finger in his direction, burger still clasped in his other hand. “Only a tiny bit.”

“Not judging, mate. I cry in front of films all the time. I’m big on the crying thing, to be honest. I’ll probably bawl in front of Guardians of the Galaxy too.” He pointedly tips his head to the side. “Again.”

Harry raises an eyebrow, mouth twitching. “Raccoons make you emotional, Louis?”

“Sure, alright, take the piss now.” Louis pries the last piece of burger from Harry’s fingers and eats it before Harry can protest. “Let’s go, I can’t wait to see you weep like a fucking baby.”

Harry just laughs, licking some sauce off his thumb and gathering all the empty containers to store them in the take-out boxes.

 

Is his Mac always so slow? Louis groans as the desktop finally comes to life, adjusting it on his tights and scooting further into the cushions of the large bed. Both he and Harry had agreed they were too tired to pretend they didn’t want to lie down.

“Ah! Almost ready,” Louis proclaims triumphantly, just as Harry murmurs a quiet, “It’s, like.”

Louis’ fingers still on the laptop, and he becomes acutely aware of the shoulder that’s grazing Harry’s. Harry’s been silent for a while, settling wordlessly on the bed after shedding his jacket and shoes. Louis glances toward him, and finds him staring into nothingness, his hands folded over his stomach. Louis stays as immobile as he can, waiting for Harry to continue.

“I thought I was going to hate this.” Harry smiles, but the corners of his mouth don’t quite curl up, his voice quivering with something deeper than the residual alcohol. “I put off my arrival as much as I could. I thought you were going to be, you know. A bunch of snobs.”

“Says the man who wanted to have lunch at the Dorchester,” Louis replies playfully, leaning into Harry, and vows to find out what’s happening underneath his placid and cool surface.

Harry sneers, finally looking back at Louis. “I’m sorry about that. I think I wanted to, like. Test you, maybe.”

“Did I pass?”

“With flying colours,” Harry says, not even a second after, low and rough as if it pained him to admit it. “But,” he halts himself and huffs, bringing a hand to his forehead.

“Harry.” Louis exhales, sitting up and brushing two fingertips against Harry’s wrist. He watches Harry’s chest expand, his shirt straining and showing lines of skin in the spaces between buttons. 

Harry’s head rolls back on the pillow. He shakes it and lets out a bitter cackle. “I’m drunk, I’m sorry.” He takes the elastic on his wrist and pulls his hair into a bun, the movement making Louis’ hand fall on Harry’s leg.

“Let’s watch the film, please,” Harry commands softly, before Louis can enter a mental debate on prying versus minding his own fucking business.

“On it.” Louis opens the file and tilts the screen at the perfect angle for Harry to see, his fingers working but his mind stuck on static. Living with four younger sisters has taught him a thing or two on how to get someone to spill, but he doesn’t want to pester Harry. Or, he wants to. He’s dying to. But he won’t.

“I’m glad you’re not hating it, Harry,” he allows himself to say, eyes on the screen. Then, he turns the lights off and presses play.

Harry's asleep before the end of the opening sequence, exhaling wet puffs of air into Louis' neck when his head droops on his shoulder. The blueish light glides on Harry’s gentle features like a caress, his full lips parted and trembling with every breath, his lashes fluttering.

Louis sighs. He moves the laptop to the bed as quietly as he can, adjusts the duvet over Harry’s legs and lets Awesome Mix Vol 1 lull him to sleep.

 

*

 

When he wakes up, his head is threatening to detach from his neck and the only proofs that last night happened at all are empty takeout boxes and Harry’s jacket, lying abandoned on the back of a chair.

The striped pattern hurts his fragile eyes, so he leaves it there and tries to forget about it.

If Harry wants it back, he can come and get it.

 

*

 

James' humble raft is so huge Louis can't bite down a comment about what he's compensating for, which only makes James chuckle and pat him on the shoulder. They haven't had time to hang out properly since they finished filming, but being here is eerily similar to the dynamic on set. James runs around playing host, his adorable wife and kids make appearances, and some producers and members of the cast sunbathe like the spoiled cold-blooded creatures they are. Louis hadn't bonded much with the other people involved, this time. Had taken it a tad too seriously, maybe, too focused on his mental litany of don't fuck up don't fuck up to socialise as well.

It still gives him an advantage, though.

He and Harry are to receive a proper pap shoot today, with not quite subtle encouragements to get a little handsy, and that's enough for Louis' heart to catch more or less where his breakfast lies undigested.  Louis is just glad he'll be surrounded by his people, instead of being stranded on the Azoff's yacht. He's not completely sure Jeff’s warmed up to him, and vice versa.

Harry, as it turns out, loves yachts. He happily follows James for a full tour, then enters the captain's cabin and only emerges once they've left the harbour.

"Lovely lad, very good teacher too," he tells Louis with a happy bubbly drawl. He takes the sunglasses hanging on his t-shirt and puts them on, his face relaxing when they slide into position. He must have a hangover from hell, but he hides it flawlessly. True rockstar, innit.

Louis tries to shake his head and snort, but he knows he's doing the weird eye fucking thing again. At least Liam is nowhere near them now. He doesn't even have it in himself to poke fun at the double pair of sunglasses, because honestly he kind of digs his hair pushed back. He thinks his heart might be getting digested as well. "I'm going to go change. I'll meet you later, alright?"

Harry nods, the sunglasses threatening to fall, and Louis leaves before he can do something stupid like readjust them.

 

Louis wakes up when the yacht stops. In his sun-heated grogginess, he rubs his eyes and thinks, it's time. He flips around to lie on his back and runs a hand through his slightly sweaty hair, knowing the pictures won't have that many details but still feeling self-conscious about it. He hears wood creaking under footsteps, but waits until they stop before daring to look up. He's hot all over, the shirt and trousers clinging to his skin, and maybe he should have done what Harry did - wait for them to stop, then make his way down like a perfectly coiffed merman in ridiculously short shorts.

Harry hovers over him, standing, and Louis holds his breath. A drop of sweat rolls down from a bent knee to his foot, and Louis can already hear the joke, because yes, his job dictates if he can get tanned or not, and this time it was not.

But Harry says none of that. He simply drops a towel next to Louis' and lies down on his side, propped up on an elbow to stare at him, his eyes almost all green in the sun.

"I thought we were going to do this on the sun deck. Took me some time to find you."

He looks away from Louis, his gaze wandering on the water five feet from them. They're in the back, away from the chaise longues of the upper layers. Louis loves that it's on sea level, and he can put his feet in the water if he wants to.

"We can still go up. I'm sure he," Louis tilts his head in the direction of the power boat near theirs, "wouldn't mind switching angle."

"No, no. I like it here. More private."

More private, of all the adjectives. Harry drapes a hand on Louis' hip, over the thin white linen, and raises his eyebrows as if asking if it's fine. It isn't really, but Louis gives the tiniest of nods, and Harry keeps it there.

"When do you start filming?"

"Three weeks from now.” Louis regards Harry curiously. He seems unbothered by the company behind them, just very enraptured with whatever Louis is about to say. He’s only betrayed by the soft tapping of his fingertips on Louis.

“Want to know the fun thing? The character, Brad, is probably going to have a tan."

“All this effort only to end up coated in chemicals,” Harry chuckles. “You don’t look like a Brad, though.”

“To be fair, the director would agree with you. The last time I heard from her, she said something about a buzz cut.” He shakes his head as Harry’s eyes widen. “I don’t think I’ve the bone structure for that.”

“I mean.” Harry lifts his hand to swipe Louis’ fringe away from his forehead with one gentle stroke. He inspects the result, lips pursed, before breaking into a grin. “I mean, you can always hope no one’s going to go see the movie.”

“Oi!” Louis bats Harry’s hand away, and Harry puts it back on his curvy side, a tad lower than before. “Even your hair sometimes looks like you’re about to drop on your head and mop the floor with it, but I’d still tell you you look nice.”

Harry squints his eyes. “You know, you’d kind of resemble Mr Clean a bit with a buzz cut. I’d be honoured to get into the cleaning business with you.”

“Compared to a bald American bloke with a tacky earring. That’s just bloody rude and deeply wounding, Harold.”

“Would you prefer Mr Muscle? You’ve been working out.”

Harry’s hand trails up, following the dip of his waist and landing on his bicep. He squeezes it, and Louis closes his hand in a fist to make it bulge. He has been working out, thank you very much.

Louis flashes Harry with a smug grin. “Not bad, uh?”

“I thought you hated the gym,” Harry comments, intent in tracing the edges of the muscle.

“I do,” Louis sighs. “Unfortunately, Brad doesn’t.”

“This Brad sounds quite high-maintenance.” Harry muses, fingers now idly fondling Louis’ arm. His hand suddenly stills, though, his eyes shoot up before Louis can answer, mouth twisting in a loop-sided grin. “Is Brad against getting wet as well?

“No, getting into the water is fine. As long as I bathe myself in this bloody anti-UV stuff again later,” Louis sneers, wiping his nose with his index. A layer of almost transparent cream sticks to it, and Louis smears it on Harry’s cheek, Harry dimpling under it.

Harry reclaims his grip on Louis’ hip, thumb caressing his bone. “So you can swim?”

“Of course I can  - ” Louis gets cut off when Harry slips an arm beneath his knees and one behind his back and bloody lifts him like a feather, so fast it almost gives Louis a head rush. “Fucking hell, Harry, do not,” but his words enter the water with him, and from there it’s nothing but cold and wet and dark and trashing around and you’re going to fucking pay for it.

Louis re-emerges with a gasp, the noisy soundlessness of the sea morphing into Harry’s laughter like two movements of a melody. He opens his eyes to a world glimmering with light, the sun catching on the waves and on his hands and on Harry’s sweaty brows.

"You fuckin," he sputters. "You fucking - fucker."

"Eloquent," Harry says as he smashes a cheek on the back of his hand, which is lying flat on the floor just like the rest of him.

Louis swims forward until he can put his palms on the boat, one on either side of Harry’s elbows. The wood is scalding against his wet skin, his clothes are bloody heavy, his fringe his dripping on his face and Harry is so, so spectacular from this close.

"You should hurry." Harry sticks his head out, studying him. "I can see some redness on your nose already." He pushes his neck out even more, their noses barely brushing, and harry has his head tilted at the perfect angle and they could. But not even the deep red of Harry’s shiny lips can make Louis forget their pantomime.

Louis uses all the new strength of his biceps to lift himself on his arms, a flow of water dripping off him in fat drops. Harry scampers to his knees as soon as he sees Louis moving. His face remains mere inches from Louis' as he places his hands on Louis' waist, crumpling some of the wet fabric between his fingers. Louis feels his shirt ride up, exposing a bit of his hip, and Harry helps him up with the same ease he raised him before.

"Bloody fucking prick." With his bent legs back on solid ground, all Louis can do is circle his arms around Harry’s neck and cling to him with his whole weight, sending him flat on his back with Louis between his legs. Louis bends down, breathing words straight into Harry’s mouth. "Were you trying to make this photoshoot a little more R rated? Is that it?"

Harry’s grasp on him tightens, so intense it's almost pinching his skin. At least Louis knows it's not a damn dream. “Only trying to earn the favour of your fans with some wet Tommo. How do they call themselves? Tomlindaughters?”

Louis stills, stunned, before his forehead drops on Harry’s shoulders, his body rocked by laughter.

“Please don’t say that in front of Liam.” He raises his eyes, finds Harry looking down at him with a grin and the barest hint of double chin. “He’s tried so hard to erase any trace of whatever Tomlinrelative.”

“Not hard enough, I’m afraid.” Harry sneaks his arms behind Louis’ back and squeezes, their chests touching, Harry’s skin raising with goose bumps at the dampness. "I have my sources."

"Well, my sources told me you were a kind and gentle soul, but so far all I got was snark and two angry calls from Sony. I hope yours were more reliable."

"Mine told me you were bratty and a smartarse." Harry's hand traces a path from the dip of Louis' waist to his mid-thigh, his long index finger teasing the sensible flesh under his bum. "Not sure about the smart, but I can confirm the rest."

Louis lets out a dry cackle, his eyes crinkling. He pushes himself up and wiggles away from Harry, Harry’s hands falling on his torso as Louis sits down cross legged next to him. “You can get away with anything, can’t you?” he teases, gaze caught on the sparkling beads of water coating Harry’s body where he was touching him. “Must be the dimples.”

But Harry doesn’t laugh. If anything, he scoffs, leaning up on his elbows and staring into the sea. “With this job? You get away with fucking nothing here.”

“Tell me about it,” Louis replies lightly, even though he can sense he’s touched a nerve. “One twitter mistake, and next thing you know you can’t compliment Harry Kane’s goals without causing a meltdown.”

“Was it?” Harry asks, sharp green eyes landing on Louis’, and Louis feels as if he’s just cut himself with grass.

“Was it what?”

Harry looks down, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “A mistake.”

And oh, oh.

“You,” Louis starts, eyebrows knitting in confusion. “You think it was a ploy?” he chuckles, with no humour behind it. “Sloppiest ploy of all times, it would be. Unprofessional and honestly quite daft.”

“It worked, though. I’d find it rather clever.”

“Then you’re overestimating me, mate.”

Finally, Harry glances back at him, forehead wrinkled and jaw locked. “I don’t think I’m overestimating you at all.” He runs his tongue on his lips, then, and takes Louis in – Louis, who’s strung like a bow and fidgeting with the hem of his shirt and trying to let someone see him, for once. It works, maybe, because what follows is a quiet, “But no, I don’t think it was a ploy, not really.”

Louis’ spine relaxes in relief, but there’s still a lump in his throat, his brain racing a mile a minute.

“But Jeff does,” he concludes, and it’s not a question.

Harry nods, sitting up himself and resting his arms on his bend knees. “He’s cautious,” he replies sheepishly, his head lolling to the side. He looks eerily similar to last night, while he was sleeping. Young and impossibly tired.

“It’s kind of his job to be.”

“It’s that, you know. Liam was awfully quick to come up with, like,” Harry holds up a hand, flutters his long fingers between them, “all this.”

Louis has a dozen jokes about Liam’s quickness on the tip of his tongue, but he thinks of Liam, who’s spent most of his time in Cannes holed up in his hotel room making phone calls and organising Louis’ life, and of Harry, who’s watching him with guarded, tentative hope, his big eyes unblinking and focused.

“He’s,” he starts, clearing his throat and staring down at his hands. “He’s the real Mr Muscle. Been cleaning up my messes for years now.” He looks up at Harry, then, and tries to convey all the turmoil he himself feels.  “Haz, you don’t have to believe me. I’m an actor after all.”

“Mh,” Harry hums, rubbing his hands together. He keeps his poker face for seconds before a smile threatens to split it in two. He locks eyes with Louis, leaning toward him and bumping their shoulders. “You’re not that good.”

Louis looks up at the sky with a low groan that makes Harry giggle, but leaves his side pressed with Harry’s.

“Louis,” Harry murmurs into his ear, voice rough and hot. When Louis turns, he finds him right there, their mouths breathing air into the other’s. He tilts his head as soon as Harry gets closer, Harry’s velvety soft lips landing on his jaw.

Harry moves back like he’s been whipped, wide-eyed, his in-control façade momentarily dropped. “Sorry, oh God. I’m sorry, I thought -”

“No, no,” Louis cringes and places a hand over Harry’s knees. Fuck, what a fucking absurd predicament.

“No, we never discussed kissing, I overstepped, I’m - ”

“Harold,” Louis says, more gently, squeezing one of his knees. “It’s fine, you didn’t, like,” he braces himself, hopes he hasn’t completely misunderstood Harry’s intentions. “You didn’t do anything I didn’t want you to do.”

“Oh,” Harry says.

It’s so not the place nor the time to have a bloody heart to heart, not with a pap in front of them. The distance between real and fake has been no more than a line in the sand for the last days, maybe even from their lunch, but now it’s like a wave had wiped away any trace of it and left nothing but a wet, soggy shore.

“What, then?” Harry asks, his trademark cocky frown back in place. “Is there, like, a rule? You only kiss in front of cameras if you’re getting paid?”

“I’ll kiss you in front of the camera, if that’s what you want.”

Louis stands up and pulls Harry with him by the hand, Harry following easily and taking advantage of the maybe three inches he has on him to hover, bottom lip gaping.

Louis has no intention of making things so easy for him.

“We jump at three,” he informs a puzzled Harry, and counts so fast Harry can’t do anything but comply when Louis drags him into the sea.

Their hands remain joined as they sink down and get lifted back toward the surface, and fuck, Louis did this once in a film, but it wasn’t like this. It was in a pool, with a petite, graceful actress who knew what she was doing. He hasn’t considered the salt, the shock of the changing temperature, or Harry’s body, his rippled arms and broad shoulders and legs that seem to be everywhere.

He reaches blindly, clutching Harry’s neck before he can swim upward and dives in. It’s more heads bumping together than a kiss, and it looked much better once edited than it does now, but. But he can feel the precise moment Harry starts grinning against his mouth and presses harder, his abs contracting as he kicks his feet to keep them underwater. His hands squeeze Louis to his chest, so close not even water can slip between them.

They put some space between them when they come up for air, breathing heavily with their eyelids half-shut and their grips loose around the other.

Louis blinks his eyes open and finds Harry staring at him with parted lips, droplets falling from his soaked hair. He swims the five feet to the yacht, bringing Harry with him, and puts one elbow on the deck.

 “That worked better in my mind,” he whispers, using his free hand to move a damp lock behind Harry’s ear, the disappearing curls accentuating the gentle curves of his cheeks.

“It worked fine.” Harry leans into Louis’ hand and holds him tighter, one palm sliding under Louis’ shirt and just roaming, as if he can’t believe he can touch. “Now, we should get out before the London commuters have to read of my semi on The Sun tomorrow.”

“I’m not sure,” Louis teases. He hooks a leg around Harry’s waist, and feels Harry freeze and hold a breath in. “It’d be more interesting than most of the rubbish they print.”

“Lads.”

They both whip their heads up, to where James is standing at the top of the stairs with his hands on his hips.

“If you’re done filling tabloid columns, we’d be ready to eat.”

“Be right there,” Louis yells, then turns around and shoves his bum into Harry’s face as he tries to climb up.

“How’s that semi doing?” he asks when he feels Harry’s hands digging into his hips.

Harry sighs, pushing him up. “Just get on the bloody boat.”

 

*

 

They do their best to enjoy the rest of the day, even if Harry seems ready to swallow his entire fist in frustration and Louis has to keep his legs crossed for twenty minutes after Liam challenges Harry to a push up contest and Harry, in a display of unexpected competitiveness, decides to have Louis sit on his back for it.  It’s an experience Louis and his right hand will remember fondly for a long time.

They try to act normal, but there's no normal here. Their teams watch them like hawks, and Louis imagines Liam taking notes of every time he places his palm on the small of Harry's back, or he shuffles closer so Harry can run his fingertips on his arm. 

They're supposed to be cordial at best, it’s the thing. Louis would have happily pretended as such, because he's confused enough about this delicate thing with Harry without having to give explanations to Liam as well. Honestly, they can't.

They act like teenagers and they feel like it, like they've just confessed to each other that yes, they'd love to go to the movies together that Saturday, but didn't get to share a proper sloppy snog before the bell had rung.

Every time Jeff stares at him a little too long, Louis vows that he'll keep his distance. Next thing he knows, he's diving after Harry, the sun soft enough to do it shirtless, and clinging to him when the water turns out to be fucking colder than it was, or seemed, this morning.

They climb back on the boat and wash the salt off their skin in the outdoor shower, but the wind soon gets too cold and too insistent to stay there. They run to a bedroom to dry off, and strip and change in the small space with their backs turned, and it’s not as awkward as it should be. They laugh for the whole time – it seems they’ve been laughing nonstop for hours. Harry reaches back blindly to pinch Louis’ hip, making him yelp and jump, and Louis retaliates by stealing Harry’s hair tie from his hands, forcing him to keep his hair loose and slowly curling as it dries out.

They join the others outside when the sun is already setting, the sky and sea enveloped in the same golden and pink hues of the champagnes and rosés James is freely pouring in everyone’s glasses.

They have dinner as they sail back to the harbour, toasting at the film and at life. Nothing like being tipsy on a yacht in the French Riviera, surrounded by beautiful, smart people, to make you think you’ve made it.

Harry’s arm draped on the back of his chair helps, too.

 

*

 

Jeff and Niall have rooms on the same floors as Harry and Louis, which makes sneaking into one of them impossible. Harry, unfazed, bypasses the problem by pressing the button of the top floor of the hotel as soon as he gets on the lift, ignoring the looks of the rest of their group.

Louis watches him with the same curiosity as everyone else, and a lot more anticipation, but no one dares say anything. Only Niall, the last to step out, throws a calculatedly bored, “Have fun,” at them before leaving them alone.

As soon as the doors shut behind him, Harry lolls his head in Louis’ direction, and that’s all it takes for Louis to crash their bodies together. Harry’s back hits the wall with a dull sound, his lips parting in surprise, his eyelids already drooping closed. He drops his ridiculously posh travel bag on the floor and digs his hands into Louis, touching everything from his hips to his arse, while Louis cups his cheeks and fits their mouths together.

It lacks the poetry of their first kiss, but Louis gets to find out how Harry tastes. How he knows what he’s doing but his enthusiasm surpasses the need for finesse. How Louis was wrong to expect him to be a quiet, careful lover, when he’s actually ravenous, sucking in everything Louis gives him, and giving back just as much. How Louis has to be the one to stop them when they reach the top floor, leaning back as Harry leans forward, chasing his lips.

“Let’s,” Louis exhales with the little air that’s in his lungs, nodding at the door. He grabs Harry’s bag in one hand and his hand in the other, not that Harry needs any coaxing to follow him.

All there is around them are white walls and a locked glass door. Louis would happily fuck Harry on the floor at this point, but this may be a bit too literal for him.

“Charming,” he says, and feels Harry plant a giggly kiss on the nape of his neck.

Harry sashays forward and puts a hand on the doorknob.

“I came here last night,” he explains as he jiggles the handle, waiting for it to give. “They must have some problems with, like, –“ the door falls open, and Harry finishes, triumphantly, “- the lock.”

Louis trails after him as they cross the door and climb the stairs to the terrace, and doesn't ask why Harry had run away to the roof of the building after leaving his room yesterday. Harry is bubbling about the view and the pool and the chairs in his happy, lazy drawl, his hands moving in front of him in a precise dance. Louis won't ruin the mood.

Harry gestures to leave the bag on a sun bed, then leads him to the edge of the roof, dropping his elbows on the bannister. Cannes lies underneath them like a dressed up woman, adorned with jewels on her ears, cleavage, arms, sparkling with light, but with her shoes abandoned at her sides and her bare feet immersed in the sea, the waves threatening to seep into the seam of her glittery gown. 

"You didn't need to bring me here to get laid, you know," Louis says, nudging Harry's shoulder with his. "A bed would do. Or a cot, to be honest."

Harry nudges back, his head tilting to smirk into Louis' neck.

"I didn't bring you here to get laid. That'd be only a bonus." 

"Then what? You wanted to enjoy the view?”

Harry kisses his temple, and it feels more intimate than anything they've done yet. "I’ve been enjoying the view for three days now,” he whispers, leaning his head back and dropping an exaggerated glance down Louis’ body.

“Oh, Harold,” Louis coos, his eyes crinkling completely out of his control as he takes Harry’s face in his hands, Harry’s cheeks warm and velvety.  “You’re so getting laid tonight.”

They meet in the middle, their lips fitting together awkwardly, both smiling too wide for a proper kiss.

"I'm not the biggest fan of hotel rooms,” Harry whispers on his mouth. “It feels weird, like, staying in a place without a kitchen. Having to wait half an hour for room service if you want cheese on toast."

"Honestly, I'm good as long as there's a kettle, but hotel rooms mess with my head. They're all the same but slightly different, and I always trip if I wake up at night to wee.”

“Does that happen a lot?” Harry grins and slips his arms around Louis’ waist, his joined hands coming to rest at the bottom of his spine. “Starting to get prostate problems? At your age, I’m not surprised.”

At you age, the fucking nerve. “You’re two days younger than me.”

“Three years, actually,” Harry specifies, although Louis’ too focused on the kisses Harry’s pressing against his neck to do any sort of math.

“Whatever, my prostate’s –“ Louis inhales shakily, like he’s forgotten how to do it, when Harry sinks his teeth right below his ear, “–  perfectly healthy.”

Harry licks on the same spot, soothing it. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. If you make a joke about examining it, Harold, I fucking swear to God.”

And Harry laughs and holds Louis closer, hooking his chin on his shoulder and just hugging him for a while. Louis holds him back, his hands caressing his curls, soft and beautiful even after a day of sun and sea water.

“Let’s move this somewhere else, yeah?”

“Lead the way.”

 

*

 

They go to Harry’s room for the simple reason that it’s one floor closer to the roof than Louis’, and it’d be shameful to waste those ten seconds.

(Harry has Louis lying on the bed on his back in less than ten seconds, so, yeah, good call on their part.)

“You look so beautiful in white,” Harry mumbles after he’s taken Louis’ trousers off but left his white t-shirt on him, dropping kisses all over Louis’ exposed collarbones and then traveling down. “That poster, Louis. Every time I was pulling myself off I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking of it, your thighs under the hem of the shirt, God.” He noses, licks, bites where Louis’ boxers end, his bare skin shivering under Harry’s mouth and tickled by his hair in an overwhelming blast of pleasure.

“Have you ever thought of me while you were touching yourself?”

Fucking hell. Louis nods minutely, but Harry keeps his head buried between his legs, determined to leave a bruise on the fleshiest and more sensitive part his right thigh, so he uses his hand on Harry’s hair to anchor himself. “No, never. I’m,” he has to stop to stifle a moan when Harry decides to idly fondle his pants and everything underneath them. “I’m hardly getting hard right now.”

Harry drops his forehead against him and laughs into his skin, nibbling on it until it twitches and Louis’ heel slips on the mattress. “Easy,” Harry warns, looking up at him and dragging his palm on Louis’ clothed cock.

“God.” Louis pushes his hips into Harry’s hand and arches his back when Harry squeezes, circling his fingers around him over the fabric. “Just get on with it, would you?”

“Not a chance,” Harry comments, measured, as if he was unaffected and hadn’t pounced on him mere minutes ago. “It’s your weekend, Lou. Tell me what you want.”

Lou. That’s new.

Louis lets out a long, steadying breath, his eyelashes fluttering. When he’s confident he can open his mouth without whimpering, he takes the front of Harry’s t-shirt into his fist and yanks him forward. “I want you to kiss me,” he orders as Harry’s hands leave him and land to bracket his head, Harry’s lips parting and his cheeks flushing. “And, then,” he extends his free arm and runs his knuckles along the hard line on the front of Harry’s jeans. “Then, I want to know if the rumours are true.”

“What rumours?” Harry asks with the most knowing shit-eating grin, bats Louis’ hand away and drives his hips into Louis’ in one fluid move.

 

("Am I living up to the hype?" Harry asks, later, when he’s rocking slowly into Louis, a hand behind the back of his knee, spreading him a bit more open, driving into him a bit deeper with each thrust.

"Living up," Louis mumbles, barely coherent, feeling as if his wit and sarcasm are getting fucked out of him. "Can you sue a paper for underestimation?"

Harry presses an airy laugh into his neck while he pushes Louis' thigh as close to the mattress as possible, the strain of the muscle mixing with the added stretch and fullness of Harry's cock and making Louis' head light and floaty, like a helium balloon. 

"I'll let it slide this time," Harry says, his hips picking up pace, as if proving a point.

They don't talk much after that.)

 

*

 

“Lou.”

A hand flicks Louis’ fringe away from his eyes, and the bed dips under a weight. Louis growls, opening an eye and focusing it on Harry, already dressed and sitting next to him.

“I have to fly back,” Harry explains, his voice low and breathy, fingers gently fondling his scalp, his cheek, the shell of his ear.

“No,” Louis whines, tilting his head and pressing his lips into Harry’s palm. “Not fair. Come back to bed. Take a later flight.”

Harry giggles and leans down over Louis to kiss him, feather-light on the corner of his mouth. “There’s no later flight. It’s my private plane.”

“I’ll buy you another plane,” Louis scoffs, and Harry must find it either witty or endearing because he deepens the kiss, licking against Louis’ tongue despite his morning breath, his heat waking Louis up completely.

Even when they detach, Harry keeps kissing him, peppering his whole face with tiny, loving pecks until Louis is sighing happily, warm all over.

“Alright, alright,” Louis concedes, sliding his hands into Harry’s hair and joining their mouths again, kissing him with no technique, all instinct and roughness, trying to memorise Harry’s taste, the texture of his hair, the sweetness of his smell. “Your own private plane, how posh can you be?”

“I’ll make you ride it sometimes, you’ll love the difference.”

“Don’t speak of riding when you’re leaving me here like this, aroused and alone.”

“I’ll make it up to you,” Harry chuckles, standing up and walking to retrieve his bag, his boots heavy on the marble floor.

Louis clutches the duvet in his fists, his heart rabbiting and swimming around his chest. Harry has a contractual obligation to see him again, but that doesn’t reassure him at all. He knows the nature of their jobs, and he knows how their success confines them in a limbo of intense relationships that soon become but fickle, dull polaroids in their minds. There’s nothing fickle or dull about Harry.

“I’m going to Canada in a while,” Louis says, a propos of nothing.

Harry slings the strap of his bag on his shoulder, “To film your movie, I know.”

Louis says nothing, only stares at him. Harry’s wearing skinny jeans and a pink and black patterned shirt and Chelsea boots, and it looks like a uniform more than a choice.

They stay like that, Harry standing with his body facing the door, cocking his hip as if he was posing already, and Louis with the sheets pooled around his hips but feeling more naked than he was last night.

“I’m sure they’ll work something out for us,” Harry says, finally, his tone devoid of any inflection.

Louis swallows, his mind racing to find the right thing to say and getting blanker and blanker with every passing second.

“Okay,” is all he comes up with.

Harry nods at his pathetic mumble, and this isn’t how it’s supposed to end, but Harry’s walking away before Louis can stand up, or move, or talk, or do anything that isn’t mouth like a fish at his retreating back.

The rest of Harry’s luggage has already been brought out, and all Harry leaves behind is an empty, bland hotel room and a lump in Louis’ throat.

 

*

 

That, and the bloody pinstriped jacket.

Louis hasn’t even put one step outside of the bathroom when, “Oh, Louis,” Liam whimpers, holding the jacket up.

Niall, who’s lying on the untouched bed with his shoes on and his arms crossed behind his head, gives an amused sneer. “You’re not seriously surprised, are you?”

“Harry and I, two attractive young queer men, had sex. Unexpected and truly shocking, I know.” Louis throws a t-shirt over his head and sits down next to Niall. “Now, can you two stop talking shit and listen?”

Louis is met with a professional nod from Liam, and a snort from Niall he interprets as a yes. “So, Harry. We have two evenings of flirting, two nights of deep conversations, a boat trip with more sexual tension than between Niall and a seven iron, and a fantastic shag to top it all. A bloody successful three days, right. And then, this morning, all he can say is,” he drops his voice lower, imitating Harry’s flat tone, “’m sure they’ll work something out for ooz.”

“Ah, that’s right,” Liam chirps. “We spoke to Jeff, we have some things in mind.”

“Yeah, but that’s the business stuff, not the Harry and I stuff.”

“You and Harry are the business stuff,” Niall says. “You’re here because you’re an idiot and because we want you to stay relevant while you explore the world of cinematographic integrity. He’s here because he wants your older audience and because he was pressured to say yes. Which, from what Jeff’s told me, he wasn’t thrilled about.”

And Louis knew that, their conversation on the yacht was unequivocal, but it’s not the same as hearing it from someone else.

“So, I should,” Louis swallows and fixes his still damp fringe. He doesn’t like this at all. “Should I wait? Should I talk to him? Should I send a fruit basket to bloody Jeff Azoff and beg his forgiveness? Invite all of them for some Sunday golf?”

“If you actually like Harry, I wouldn’t let him see you holding a golf club,” Liam says, which, fair enough.

Still, “I’m not that bad,” he protests.

“You’re not bad at all, you’re just whiny.”

“Right, the golf is a no,” Louis concludes, sending Liam an unimpressed look. “Really, though. Do I have to just, you know, wait for me, Harry and a flock of paps to stumble across each other in the same part of the world? Is that how it’s going to be?”

“Well,” Liam starts, but Niall’s quicker than him.

“The French have a term for what you’re doing,” he says, crossing one ankle over the other. “‘s called branlette intellectuelle.”

Louis frowns. “What does that even mean?”

“It means get the fuck over yourself, Tommo.”

 

*

 

Branlette intellectuelle translates to intellectual wank, and indicates the act of useless overthinking. Louis isn’t sure it applies to him, but he knows Harry would love it.

He slumps further in his business class seat and closes google, working as fast as he can before a flying attendant catches him and makes him turn off his phone for take off.

It’s only when he opens a new message that he realises it.

Harry never gave him his number.

 

*

 

It takes Louis a month to get the fuck over himself.

This time, he double checks and triple checks before pressing the send button. He watches the tiny balloon of text pop up and closes the twitter app before he can cringe too hard at his, Harold do I need to @ your sister again or

Two hours later, while he's lounging in his trailer and contemplating life, he gets a call.

"What," he answers, barely lifting his eyes from the candy bar he's so not supposed to be eating.

He only half makes out Harry's Good morning, sunshine, on the other side, as the lad is busy snickering like he does when he thinks he's being particularly funny.

"Harry," Louis exhales before he can get a grip on himself. A bit of chocolate starts melting between his thumb and index. "How did you get my number?"

"I bribed your sister with concert tickets."

"As if any of my sisters would ever go to one of your hipster gatherings."

Harry giggles, his voice growing more indulgent. "I made my manager call your manager, you know, like normal celebrities do."

"See? No poetry in that, young Harold. No sentiment,” Louis says, tossing the rest of the candy bar on the bed and getting more comfortable on the covers. “I almost liked the other explanation better, as much as I'd hate you corrupting my innocent siblings with your satanic kale rituals."

"I don’t know how the kale thing started. I genuinely hate kale."

“Well, that’s surprising.”

“Not if you’ve ever tried kale,” Harry snorts. “Could I corrupt you, though?”

“As long as it’s less of the cabbage variety and more of the rooftop in Cannes one.”

"No, I mean,” Harry says, perky with something that Louis decides to optimistically interpret as fondness. “They said something about you coming to one of my concerts. I'll be in Toronto next week."

"Oh, sure, no problem.” Louis rushes his answer, sitting up straighter and berating himself for not recognising this as the business call it is.

“We can work on the rooftop part,” Harry adds in a soft teasing drawl, and Louis can breathe a bit better. Maybe he didn’t hallucinate Cannes after all.

There’s a pause, the kind of pause that precedes goodbyes, but Louis won’t let Harry get away so soon.

“About that,” he says. “I still have your suit jacket, the Lanvin one.”

“From the premiere? You can keep it.”

Louis didn’t actually mean to give it back, but he still snorts. “And what would I do with it? Sell it if I’m ever in a bad financial strait?”

“I don’t think it’d be worth that much,” Harry says, and Louis imagines him with one of those grins, the grins he wears when he knows he’s talking bullshit.

“Harry. They sold your vomit on eBay some months ago.”

“All right, smartarse, but how much did they pay for it?”

“Um.” Louis reaches for his mac and struggles to pry it open with only one hand, but he triumphantly manages to open Chrome.

“Are you googling it?”

“No,” Louis answers, while typing h-a-r-r-y s-t-y-l-e-s v-o-m-i-t p-r-i-c-e.

“Lou, leave my body fluids alone,” Harry scolds with the conviction of a parent watching their kid do something socially inappropriate but terribly endearing. “Tell me about your hair, instead, I’m a bit concerned.”

“Err.” Louis shuts the laptop and places it down on the bed. He scoots back on the pillows and runs a hand over his head.

It must be the most boring topic in the world, but they have a serious ten minutes conversation about Louis’ not-quite-buzzcut, which turns into one about the most outrageous things they’ve had to wear in their jobs, and from there it jumps to best Halloween outfits, favourite holidays, families, cats and dogs and assorted pets. Louis is in the middle of a story about the time he befriended a chimp on set when someone knocks on his trailer’s door.

He doesn’t have time to process it properly, because he blurts out, “I have to go, I’ll call you tomorrow,” before his brain-to-mouth filter starts working again.

Harry, though, doesn’t even flinch. “Sure,” he says. “I don’t have a show tomorrow, so call me when you get off work.”

And. There’s that.

 

*

 

The late night calls become almost daily appointments. 

Sometimes one of them is too exhausted to even hold the phone to his ear, so the conversation is nothing more than a Hi how are you have a nice day tomorrow.

Sometimes something truly exciting happens, and Louis spends an hour smiling as Harry tells him every detail of his encounter with Mick fucking Jagger, and how he smelled of beer and freshly printed dollars, and that he said Harry was talented and that he liked his shirt. 

Mostly, they just talk. Harry's an helpless storyteller, losing himself in long monologues about nothing at all and without a clear ending, but that never fail to soothe Louis. Louis finds himself storing away every vaguely amusing thing he sees on set during the day, and makes it a mission not to say goodnight to Harry before he gets at least one proper bark of laughter out of him. Harry, thankfully, is an easy audience.

Louis doesn't want to read anything into it, but it builds a certain anticipation. Harry tries to visit at least a little bit of each city he plays in, endlessly fascinated with how American the US can be, but even more with the way every place has a discernible something ("A vibe," Louis suggests, quiet enough not to distract Harry from his tangent. "A vibe, yes," Harry says, then resumes his narration, but with an exclamation mark in his voice every time he says vibe.)

Well, Toronto is an extremely vibey city, despite its Canadian-ness, and Louis'd be honoured to show Harry around, possibly starting from his flat.

Louis has had this exact sentence rehearsed for a week now, but he waits until the last day before Harry gets here to use it.

"As long as your flat's vibey, too," Harry answers, grinning at him in the low quality of Louis' phone screen.

"Ah, Harold, love. It's the vibey-est place in town."

 

*

 

Filming goes on for ages the day of the concert. Even with Liam's anal planning, Louis only arrives when the supporting act is well and over, cranky and with some make up still on his face despite the quick shower he took. 

The backstage is a pit of organised chaos, buzzing with the frenzy of people who have to do routinely things in a different setting every night. Louis makes small talk with Dale and the stylist he met before their first lunch. He thinks her name is Lou, but he refrains from saying it to be safe. He asks after her daughter, though, a four year old blond doll that Harry mentions all the time, and has a gallery of pictures with. Baby Lux is, apparently, doing spectacularly, and will love it when she hears Louis Tomlinson asked of her. She's a fan. 

Louis sincerely hopes she's seen a censored version of his filmography. 

He only spots Harry's fluffy mane as a security guard is escorting him to his place below the stage. He's resigned not to talk to him until after the show, if that, but Harry stops in his tracks when one of his assistants points in Louis' direction. 

Louis reckons he does a great job at keeping his cool after Harry's entire bloody face lights up like a flare. Harry's in front of him in a blink, long lanky legs flying across the floor. He only has enough time to envelop Louis in a one-armed hug and murmur a good to see you into his neck before he has to go do whatever popstars do during pre-shows, but the feeling of lips on his skin doesn't leave Louis for hours. 

The Harry Styles is not a singer, no. He's a conductor, the crowd swaying left and right and screaming and jumping at a single flick of his mic. He's a magician who has each of the fifty thousand people below him hanging on his every move, a chameleon morphing from macarening nerd who's had too much to drink for the office's Christmas party to seasoned pole dancer with the ease of a quick-change artist. Louis contemplates sliding a bill into his boots when he hooks his leg on a barrier and grinds on it five feet from Louis' face, but he still maintains some regard for the teenagers in the audience. 

"Toronto! How are you? Are you having a good time?" Harry shouts with a stage voice that's the tiniest bit rougher than Harry's everyday one. Not that Louis can pick up much beside the high-pitched roar of the audience. 

"Great, me too. You may know that this is the part of the show where I sing a cover," Harry strolls down the long catwalk, stopping across from Louis. "Tonight, as some of you might have noticed, we have a special guest." 

Louis' surly face appears on one of the maxi screens, and the crowd goes wild. Even wilder, when Louis lifts his eyes, shakes his head at Harry, brings a hand to his neck and makes a cut it motion. Harry ignores him with gusto. "Louis Tomlinson everybody, let's give him a nice welcome!" 

The nice welcome will make Louis' ears buzz for a week. 

"I know, I know. Bit difficult to recognise him without all the fringe." The audience laughs, some girls standing behind Louis screaming that he looks nice anyway. Louis turns around to wink at them, and gets rewarded with some more ear damage. 

"I think he looks nice too. Proper Hollywood star, he is, ignoring me to go film a movie or summat. I wanted to dedicate tonight's song to him, but does he deserve it?" He addresses all sides of the stadium, walking back and forth on the stage. "What do you guys think? Should I sing it? Should we forgive him?" 

The sound the crowd produces isn't quite a yes, but Harry decides to take it as such. Louis is honestly too busy trying to blend with the nearest security guard to pay much attention. 

"Alright, alright, you're too good. You're so great, Toronto. Aren't they great, Louis? 

"The fucking best," Louis yells. 

"Did you just swear?" Harry's mouth falls open in a scandalised frown, the bloody jerk. He's the one who sings a ridiculous ssssh instead of shit and grabs his dick two songs after. "You can't swear at my concerts. Dad, yeah, dad with the blue shirt," he points to someone behind Louis. When Louis checks, there's a poor sod with a phone and a regular camera in hand, surrounded by an army of teenagers. "Hello sir, do you think it's okay to swear? Would you like to teach Louis a lesson of manners?" 

The man shakes his head at him, and Harry tells him, “I can’t tell what you’re saying no to, but I’ll let you handle this as you see fit. Thank you random dad, and thanks to all the dads at the show tonight.”

With his free arm waving in the air, he strides forward and yells, "Alright, Toronto. This is for Louis. And for all of you, too, you beautiful people!" 

The band starts playing a mellow tune, like something from the Beach Boys, Harry’s backing vocalists harmonising over it. It's surfy and upbeat and, for a second, it doesn't seem too bad. Louis even starts tapping a foot to the rhythm. 

Then, Harry sings. 

 “All you fine young honeys, all you grown-up queens, listen here while I tell ya I’m the man of your dreams.” He sashays all over the stage, hips popping and arms flaying, exposing his lower abs and fern tattoos. He overplays the song, exaggerating it with an American accent.

I'm the sweetest hunk of man that your eyes ever seen. Why, pretty baby,” he whips his head toward Louis and catches his gaze, his scratchy baritone dropping even lower, "I'm Mister Clean." 

Louis simply collapses, can’t keep it together for one more word. He clutches his tummy and watches the rest of the performance through a veil of tears. Harry maintains his pitch for another verse, but he spends the last one half-singing and half stopping in front of Louis and laughing.

It’s the first thing Louis tells him when he meets him backstage at the end of the show, when Harry has already changed but still looks like he’s just run a marathon he hadn’t signed up for.

“Mister Clean, seriously?” he says, arms crossed in front of his chest and hip cocked.

“Don’t pretend you didn’t like it.”

Harry grins and puts a palm flat on the wall next to Louis’ face, towering over him. It’d be terribly hot, with Harry’s bicep in full display and his t-shirt clinging to his skin, if it weren’t for the perfunctory way he moves, how distant and unfocused he looks underneath his confident mask.

“Maybe a bit,” Louis concedes. “And you? How was it up there?”

“Mh?” Harry blinks, like he’d been lost in his thoughts. “Oh, good. Good, yeah. Loud crowd.” And then, faster, before Louis can interrupt him, “There’s a couple of things I need to do before we can leave, alright?”

Louis nods, numbly, but can’t help his eyebrows from knitting together. “Yeah, sure.”

Harry lets his arm fall heavily against his side and turns around, his back slumped, but he only takes one step before stopping in his tracks.

He faces Louis again, walking closer than he was before. His hands grab Louis’ hips and pull him in with one good squeeze.

“Thank you for coming,” he whispers over Louis’ lips and then he kisses him, kisses him like it hasn’t been a month but years since he last did it.

It tastes bitter, but Louis does his best to lick it away.

 

*

 

Harry has two free days before his gig in Montreal, and he settles into Louis’ routine more or less like his first Porsche had settled into his garage: with Louis unable to look away, but unsure of what to do with something so precious without ruining it.

(minor detail: Louis wasn’t in love with a car. He’s also not in love with Harry, but. Y’know.)

Thankfully, Harry seems ready to entertain himself. When he wakes up, Louis finds him browsing a list of 20 things to do in Toronto on his iPad, hair up in a bun and nothing but the sheets of Louis’ bed covering him.

“I’ve never seen the falls,” Harry says, tangling a hand into what remains of Louis’ hair as he scoots closer to rest his head on Harry’s thigh.

Louis grunts and whines as he snuggles into Harry’s impressive thigh muscles. He hasn’t checked his watch, but he’s quite sure there’s no good reason for him to be awake yet. “Good morning to you too. We’re not going to see the falls. They’re not even in Toronto.”

“They’re at number one on this list. The most interesting thing to do in Toronto is to get out of Toronto.”

“Sure that’s the most interesting thing, Hazza?”

“Mh, see. If sets were places of visit, you could probably make the list before any of Toronto’s actual attractions.”

“I’m not cooking you breakfast for your tone alone.”

He actually doesn’t cook Harry breakfast, because he has no non-cereal breakfast food in his home and he doesn’t think even his natural charms could make a bowl of dry coco pops look classy. He brings him to a quiet diner in his neighbourhood though, a homey place where they can make a drinkable cup of tea and populated mostly by regulars who’d soon stopped taking interest in him.

Harry waits until they’re almost done eating to ask him if he can come on set, and Louis is so surprised that he says yes and that, that is something.

“Don’t get cocky now,” Harry tells him around a forkful of eggs. “I only want to meet Taylor Swift.”

When they get there, Harry trails after Louis with reverent quietness, introducing himself to everyone but careful not disturb anyone’s work. Louis makes sure they catch Taylor when she has some time to chat, so he can properly embarrass Harry in front of her. Taylor’s been America’s sweetheart and protagonist of countless sickening comedies for years now and really, Louis should’ve known Harry’d be a fan.

“So you haven’t watched all of my movies, but you’ve watched all of hers?” Louis teases when Taylor excuses herself.

“I like love stories. It’s not my fault you only used to act in films with more explosion sequences than credited actors.”

It’s nice, having Harry around. Simply bloody nice. Louis feels his attachment building already, when he hears a funny thing and wants to run to tell Harry immediately, or someone mucks up and he wants to complain to him. Or when they’re about to wrap up for the day, and Louis is bloody tired of having people around him all day, and he still wants Harry draped all over him.

Before leaving, Harry excuses himself to the loo and Taylor approaches Louis, congratulating him for the good work that day. “You know,” she says, voice lower and lips smirking. “I’d have bet it was a PR thing, the one between you and Harry.”

Louis smiles and shrugs, because there’s no right answer to that.

 

*

 

That night, they drive the 80 miles between Toronto and Niagara and go see the falls.

They stroll through Queen Victoria Park with their shoulders brushing, silent but for Harry’s random comments about the sky, the plants, the smells. It’s quite fucking romantic, if one can ignore Dale, Alberto and a park guard following them.

They stare at the rainbow lights over the falls for more than it must be healthy, but the colours flicker so beautifully over Harry's content expression that Louis wouldn’t dream of interrupting him. So Louis leans back and watches Harry watch the falls, not looking away even when Harry blatantly catches him.

A couple of minutes and some fidgeting later, Harry reaches out and takes Louis’ hand in his, and he doesn’t let go until they’re back in the car.

They stop to eat on the way back, their driver suggesting places along the way until Harry’s satisfied that they’re about to experience Real Canadian Cousine. The realest, most Canadian thing on the menu is a monstrosity made of chips, melted cheese and thick gravy, hot and filling and dripping all over their fingers as they dine like starved men. They both go for the same long chip at one point, and Harry orders Louis to stay still until he’s taken a picture of their hands. He captions it That’s no routine poutine!, like the restaurant’s motto, and the visible bit of Louis’ tattooed wrist makes any tagging unnecessary.

“I love your rope,” Harry says, tracing its shape with two fingertips, like Louis remembers him doing while they were lying in bed after sex in Cannes. He still has his phone in hand, and he uses it to snap a quick pic of Louis’ crinkly happy face.

“Should I expect that one on Instagram, too?”

Harry shakes his head, popping a chip into his mouth.

“No, this one’s for me.”

 

*

 

“I’ve seen the set, but you haven’t told me anything about the film yet,” Harry asks during the drive, his soft tone enough to jerk Louis from his half-slumber

Louis yawns into the back of his hand and blinks, his eyes readjusting to the low light.

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, what is it about?”

“I mean,” Louis starts, stretching his legs as much as he can in the small vehicle. “Soldier comes back from war, soldier is fucked up, tries to adjust, goes bonkers, dies. That’s basically it.”

He could end it there, but Harry’s silence prompts him to go on.

“At its core,” he continues, his voice growing more wistful, “it’s just a film about PTSD. The traumas of war, and all that. But it’s so intimate, you know?”

He looks at Harry, who nods at him encouragingly. “When I read the script, I hated it. I thought it was plain stupid. And like, if I’ve to star in a stupid movie, I’d at least pick one with hopes of staying in theatres for more than two weeks. But I see so many new things in it now. It’s the story of how extraordinary circumstances shape us in irreparable ways. Angelica, Taylor’s character, like. She’s someone Brad wouldn’t have looked at twice before. And then she becomes the only one who speaks his same language.”

Harry hums, staring at his hands in his lap, and Louis can still feel their smoothness, how solid they were in between his own. “Do you think it’s the same for us? Are we here only because of the likeliness of our jobs? Of our lives?”

“We’re here because we have inventive managers,” Louis says, giving Harry’s leg a little nudge with his knee, but all that’s going around in his head is, I think I'd be in the same spot in every possible universe.

 

*

 

Louis has a day off next. His PA, Oli, organises a nice itinerary with a personal car and the option of a local guide to lead them in the discovery of the landmarks of the city (Oli's words). Harry hijacks the trip at the first stop.

"I'd like to walk, if that's alright with you," he says, head high up and taking in the gigantic colourful graffitis that cover the walls of the whole street.

"Harry, it's Saturday and this place will soon fill with teens," Dale reasons, sounding pained that he can't accommodate Harry's wishes. He sighs when Harry shrugs and takes two steps back to their van. "A stroll, just a stroll, okay?"

Harry bumps their fists together, like a ritual, then dashes forward to a huge piece with a rose, a dagger and a skull.

Louis reaches his side and elbows him, where Harry's ink rose sits on his arm. "Looking for something to complement it?" 

"Not for me, I - " he trails off, lowers his gaze. "You'll find it silly."

Louis frowns. "Try me."

Harry puts his palm flat on one of the petals, his long fingers looking so small and dainty over the bold crimson. "I like matching tattoos. Or, the idea of them. I've never gotten one with anyone yet."

Matching tattoos. Louis rubs his ankles together and thinks of Zayn, of the same screws Louis has inked on his foot.

"That requires a lot of commitment."

"Yeah," Harry concedes, brushing the spot where the dagger enters the rose. "But would you spend the rest of your life with someone who wouldn't give you a piece of their skin?"

Louis lets out a snort, crossing his arms in front of his chest and ignoring how clammier his hands suddenly feel. "What if the love of your life doesn't like tats?"

Harry only gives him one of his patient whatever looks and resumes walking, and Louis has to speed up to keep his pace.

 

It's frantic and quiet at once.

Harry wants to see everything. The two Little Italys. All the food on display at St. Lawrence Market. The beaches from the top of the CN tower. The beaches from up close, already swamped with people even if it’s not quite hot yet.  

He takes his time with things, with places, his phone camera never turned off for long as he snaps pictures of any pretty street or artistic cloud in the sky or couple kissing. He titles the album Touronto despite Louis protests and writes a caption for every shot, even though most of them will never leave his iPhone. 

Most of all, he takes his time with Louis. He listens to his sparse stories about filming, and coming out in the industry, and always missing home, and Louis talks and talks and talks, not once feeling like he’s doing too much, being too much. He knows he can be overwhelming at times, even bloody annoying according to some, but the only time in which Harry effectively shuts him up is when, at lunch, he pushes him into a toilet stall, lips finding his before the door even closes behind them.

All in all, they do a great job of ignoring the giant clock ticking above their heads.

 

*

 

That night, Louis pushes Harry down on the couch and waves his Guardians Of The Galaxy dvd in front of him.

“Is it going to be like in The Holiday?” Harry asks while Louis sets up the telly.

“At least you've seen it,” Louis says, kindly deciding not to take offence for being casted as Jack Black’s character. But alas, Jack Black gets Kate Winslet in the end, after having courted her with his cinematographic knowledge for ninety minutes, so Louis will take it.  

“Course I have, there's Jude law in it.”

“Oh.” Louis pushes the dvd in and walks to join Harry, plopping down beside him. “Jude and I are pals. We've actually played a charity football game together once. He touched my bum.” 

“Really?” Harry asks, making his surprised and elated seal face. “If I touch it too, would it be like vicariously touching Jude law?”

“You've touched my bum plenty of times. I think that ship has sailed.”

“Now, now. One more time can’t hurt.”

Harry tugs on Louis’ shirt until Louis is leaning into his side, taking advantage of his closeness to slip his hands between Louis’ bum and the couch. Louis rolls his eyes, but he goes pliant in Harry’s grasp and lets himself be squished.

In return, he does some fondling of his own. He brings Harry to lie down with him and tries to memorise every point that, when touched, makes Harry gasp and sink his head further in the crook of Louis’ neck. There’s no kissing involved, as Harry turns away every time Louis’ lips get too close, making them land on his jaw or his cheek.

Finally, after they’ve started sluggishly rutting their hips together and Louis is afraid he’ll catch fire from the heat, Harry fits his mouth on Louis’.

It’s nothing more than a quick peck, followed by an equally frustrating, “Come on, we have a movie to watch.”

Louis groans, refusing to let Harry go, and Harry has to reach beyond him and to the coffee table to get the remote. When he presses play, Louis gives in and climbs behind Harry, a hand draped on his abdomen.

Harry never shuts up during the film. It’s always brief, deadpan comments, but they are relentless and hilarious. He doesn’t like the protagonist, nor his name (Quill), his storyline (Knock knock, Who’s there?, Quill, Quill who?, Quill me please) or the fact that he’s played by Chris Pratt. He takes an immediately liking to Groot, of course. Gentle giant humanoid plants that only repeats ‘I am Groot’ – Louis knew Harry would eat that up.

Half an hour into the film, Harry says the magic sentence. He tells Louis that he should have been cast as the sarcastic and damaged Rocket Raccoon instead of Bradley Cooper and, God, after that Louis is ready to call it a day, crawl down and swallow Harry’s cock in one move.

Louis starts quietly sniffling when Groot sacrifices himself for the rest of the Guardians, but Harry too tenses up when Groot lovingly wipes a tear away from Rocket’s eyes and dies after a heart-clenching, “We are Groot.”

“I told you you’d cry,” Louis whispers into Harry’s ear, moving some loose locks behind it.

“That was cru-cruel.” Harry elbows him, hitting Louis’ tummy. “Making me watch this was cruel. Why did he had to die?”

Louis drops a kiss on Harry’s temple. “Spoiler. He’s fine in the end.”

 

*

 

Seeing a tiny potted Groot reappearing at the end of the film prompts an enthusiastic round of tender, slow sex. Afterwards, they lie in bed, idly making comments on the film and on their touristy activities, but Louis can’t shake the dreadful feeling of impending doom anymore.

“So,” he says, propped up on his elbows as Harry draws spirals on the small of his back, “what now?”

Harry’s hand stills, his whole palm coming to rest on Louis.

“Have you heard my album?”

Louis could probably re-record it himself, acapella and without breaks between tracks.

“Maybe once or twice.”

Harry’s mouth twitches, his dimples deepening, but he doesn’t call Louis out on his lie. “I’m dropping a new single in, like, a month. Stockholm Syndrome. Hope you’re ready for the fanfictions about us to get a bit kinkier.”

“If you think the fanfictions about us can get kinkier, Harold, you’ve been browsing the wrong archives.” Louis lies back down on the mattress, his face suddenly inches from Harry’s on the pillow. “But that’s not what I meant.”

Harry leans forward and kisses him, Louis suspects for no other reason than because he can.

“I know,” he says, scooting back. He drags his fingers up Louis’ entire back, leaving shivers behind them until he can cup Louis’ cheek. The way he’s touching Louis – his reverent gentleness, his awe, they’re all answer enough, but still he adds, “Now, we do whatever we want.”

 

*

 

What happens next is nothing different from before, but a more organised nothing.

They develop a routine.

They call, they skype, they facetime. Louis sets a second clock with whatever time zone Harry’s in on his phone, and starts bringing it everywhere with him, even in the loo. He flies out when Harry has a show in DC on a Saturday, meaning he can finally remain in the same city for the entire weekend and can spend a whole 24 hours with Louis.

Louis watches the show from backstage this time, careful not to be spotted and trying to ignore how Harry repeats the same precise words to every crowd, not like someone who’s delivering lines but as if having an unchanged script could make time move faster.

Harry’s bubbly and restless after the show. He brings Louis straight to his hotel, skipping dinner, and the only thing Louis has seen of DC by Sunday night is the stadium and the airport and their bed.

He’s not about to complain.

 

*

 

The next weekend, Louis flies out to Philly only to board Harry’s private jet to Detroit and fly back from there.

“I think my brain’s getting pressurised too,” he complains into Harry’s shoulder as they’re driving to DTW, legs and hands entwined as Harry drags his thumb over Louis’ palm.

“Not much need for a brain in that job of yours anyway.” Harry presses a kiss to his hair, his joke coming out weak and unsure. “I’ll come to you next time, alright?”

Louis nods, mouthing at the slightly sweaty skin of Harry’s neck, sucking on it but not hard enough to leave a mark. “Please.”

It feels unfair to ask, because Louis might be on set for twelve hours a day, five days a week, but Harry’s job is 24/7. It reminds Louis of the dreadful press tours he had to endure when he was The Rogue, an endless circus of planes and hotels and cameras on his face while he had to play the part of himself. Not a part Louis has ever particularly enjoyed playing publicly.

The bags under Harry’s eyes have been a steady feature for some weeks now, only worsening, and his face is never free of a couple of red spots. The sight has Louis queasy and worried.

He leaves a trail of kisses over Harry’s jaw and chin, which never fails to make Harry giggle, before capturing Harry’s open mouth with his. They kiss lazily, hands roaming each other’s body without real aim, and Louis can almost feel the water enveloping them, like that morning in Cannes.

They only need to pull back before they drown.

 

*

 

Harry’s playing a show in Houston the day of Louis’ wrap up party. Louis has his first glass of champagne after lunch, and stays tipsy-verging-on-drunk until he convinces the whole crew to take part into a proper pub crawl.

The next day, his memories of the celebrations don’t get further than the round of shots they did while eating cake at six pm and his body feels like it’s been washed, squeezed and left to dry in the sun.

He’s absolutely positive he spoke to Harry at some point, distinctly remembers reciting an ode to Harry’s curls and smell and Harry laughing fondly, eyes crinkled and almost pressed shut in the small screen of Louis’ phone.

So why does he have three missed calls from Harry at 8.30, when Harry was supposed to take the stage?

Louis checks all of his messaging apps for signs of drunk texting, but all he finds is a video of him and Liam TP-ing Niall’s car. As much as Harry may be opposed to violence against Range Rovers, he doesn’t reckon it’d warrant being late to his own concert.

He dials Harry’s number and can’t do much more than groan and grunt when Harry answers, all chipper and bright.

“Hi, love,” he mumbles while squishing his face against his pillow in an attempt to stop his head from throbbing and possibly imploding. “How was your show?”

“Fine, fun. Good crowd,” Harry says with only the barest hint of hesitation. Louis would’ve no trouble believing him if he hadn’t read the reports of Harry being half an hour late and disappearing for fifteen minutes in the middle of the setlist. “How’s your head?”

“’s doing great, very great, let’s ignore its existence.” Harry gives him an unsympathetic giggle that sends a jolt of pain reverberating through his skull. “Did you need anything last night? I saw you called me.”

“Oh, right, I -” Harry says, and then remains silent for an eternity. When he speaks, his voice is rough and eerily similar to his stage one. “I just wanted, you know, like, I wanted to. Like –“

“Haz,” Louis interrupts him, wiping his free hand on his closed eyes. “You’re a great liar when you want to, but you’re really fucking shitty when you don’t.”

“Excuse me, we can’t all be Academy Award nominees.”

“Do you want to keep talking shit or do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”

Harry breathes on the other side of the phone, and it’s the only sign he hasn’t hang up on Louis. Louis already has a sorry on his tongue, but Harry precedes him. “Not now, please. Not on the phone.”

Louis growls and whines and doesn’t even feel ashamed about it, because Harry’s impossible and he’s sick of imagining worst case scenarios. “We won’t be on the same bloody continent for, like, months.”

“I think it’s more like twenty days.”

“See? An eternity, Harold, honestly.” Louis lets out two long sighs into the phone, and his head feels a bit  lighter when he hears a timid chuckle from Harry. “Have we even spent more than two weeks apart since the first time in Toronto?”

“Mh. I don’t think so but, like, distance makes the heart grow fonder?”

“Whoever said that was a fucking idiot, and probably a eunuch,” Louis scoffs, but his tone softens when he takes a deep breath and asks, “Are you alright, now, babe? I’ll wait, but, if you’re not okay –“

“That’s,” Harry’s voice is sharp and precise, like he’s making an effort to keep it from shaking, “not an easy question.”

“Okay.”

“Lou.”

“Haz, you don’t have to comfort me,” Louis exhales, although he’ll probably go find some comfort in a bowl of Bloody Mary as soon as they hang up. “Just, I’m here. Not, like, technically.” He sneers and shakes his head, feels like his mouth is full of cotton and stupidity. “And fuck, I’m sorry I didn’t pick up last night.”

“No, I -”

“Don’t you dare say you’re sorry, Harry, I swear to God. I’m your boyfriend, you’ve every right to call me whenever. You have to call me whenever, if you feel like it.”

Of all the reactions Louis expects, Harry snickering isn’t one of them. It’s a quite Harriesque one, though, all things considered.

“Boyfriend?” Harry asks with a laughter, the nasal quality of it the only reminder of before.

“Well, TMZ says you’re my boyfriend, so it must be true.”

“It is true.” Harry’s voice gets gentler, his trademark monotone drawl tinted with fondness. “I never had to, like, introduce you to anyone. ‘s not like people don’t know who you are, or what’s between us.”

Allegedly,” Louis specifies, even though tabloids have long stopped alleging anything and just went loose. “Wait, what about, I don’t know, your mum? Did you shove a copy of People in her face and were done with it?”

“No,” Harry replies with a disarming ease. “I told her you were, like, my Louis.”

“Your Louis,” Louis repeats, deadpanning, while his heart threatens to hit his ribs fast enough to jump out and fly to his rightful owner in bloody Houston. “I guess that works, too.”

 

*

 

They don’t mention the Houston thing anymore. But, on stage at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Harry makes sure to drop a casual my boyfriend is also called Louis, although he’s no saint for fifty thousand people to hear.

He starts at 8.30 sharp and plays the whole show without faltering once.

 

*

 

The Stockholm Syndrome music video gets released the next week, while Louis is in London for a photoshoot, and he spends the whole day watching it an laughing manically.

Harry’d offered to show it to him before, but Louis is glad he refused. He even ignores his strict no searching yourself policy, because the fans are commenting it with reactions even more hilarious than the video.

He knew there was a reference to him in it. Hell, he’d greenlit it.

But Harry about to get tied up with a rope shaped like an infinity symbol.

Talk about fucking subtlety.

 

*

 

“This reminds me of the time I was offered the male lead in Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“You bwere?” Harry sputters on the other side of the phone, mouth full of toothpaste.

“Then Niall informed them that my career was about to turn fifty shades of gay rather soon, and they left me alone.”

Harry spits and rinses, the distinctive sound of water hitting porcelain in the background. “But you wouldn’t have accepted any way, right?”

Louis chuckles at Harry’s frowny tone, although he’s right, he wouldn’t have.

“Now don’t be a prude, Harold. You’ve just convinced your whole fandom I keep you tied to a headboard in my basement in between shows.”

“It’s a metaphor,” Harry says pointedly, but Louis can hear a hint of laughter in it.

“Alright, John Green. Time for bed. You have a big day tomorrow.”

“The concert’s the day after tomorrow, Lou.”

Louis rolls his eyes, and he knows Harry knows he’s doing it. Harry’s being difficult on purpose, anyway.

“I meant seeing me, God. Aren’t you supposed to be the romantic one?”

 “A staged walk in Central Park, in August, in the middle of the afternoon,” Harry huffs, the bed creaking under his weight. Louis shifts in his own bed, his belly fluttering with the thought that they’ll be in the same one in just a day.  “You have a weird definition of romantic.”

I don’t give a shit, he thinks, I just want to see you.

“You know that my family’s coming to New York as well, right?” Louis starts, and waits for Harry to hum before continuing. “Well, if you agree, me mum wouldn’t mind tagging along with the little ones.”

Harry gasps, and Louis can imagine his pretty mouth gaping open. “Babies?” he asks with a frankly disproportionate amount of excitement. “We get to bring the babies with us?”

“So now you’re happy about the pap walk? Wow, Harry, way to wound a guy.”

“Twins,” Harry says, dreamily. “Baby twins wearing tiny shirts and tiny trousers and tiny shoes. You don’t stand a chance against them.”

Louis hates giving anyone the last word, but for this once he’ll leave it.

 

*

 

Honestly, Louis could up and go back to the hotel and it’d take his family a while to notice. The only one who occasionally looks in Louis’ direction is the pap appointed to document the trip, and even he seems more focused on finding the perfect angle of Harry cradling Doris in his arms with the Pond in the background.

Which is one of the most adorable things Louis has ever seen, so. He sympathises.

“Eh, little lad,” Louis starts, bending down over Ernie’s stroller. “We’re not the stars of this show, uh? It’s my fault, I’m afraid. You know, the lack of curls.”

He wiggles his fingers in front of Ernie’s chest and waits for him to grab one against his palm.

“Youeh,” Ernie babbles happily, waving Louis’ index around.

“Yeah buddy, that’s mine,” Louis coos, letting Ernie play with it until it’s about to finish into his eager mouth. He removes the finger from his grasp and stretches both arms in front of him, Ernie immediately reaching for him as well. “Alright, love, up we go.”

He balances Ernie against his hip, the baby’s small curious palms rubbing on his shirt, neck, jaw, and gets closer to his mum and Harry. The two are involved in a passionate conversation, most likely about one of Louis’ favourite topics: either children, or himself.

“Boo,” his mum tuts when she sees him. “You didn’t tell me Harry was such a gentleman. And so handsome, with all those curls.”

“Told you,” Louis whispers into the top of Ernie’s head, and he can swear Ernie’s subsequent gargle could be a glimmer of laughter.

“Thank you, Mrs Deakin,” Harry replies politely. “It’s Deakin, now, if I’m not mistaken?”

His mum is hanging off Harry’s words so badly he could probably ask to keep Doris and she’d say yes.

“It is, dear.” She shows off the new ring on her hand proudly, and Harry gives her all the appropriate oohs and aahs. “But you can call me Jay. Please do, in fact!”

Harry gives her the brightest smile of his repertoire, shifting Doris higher in his arms and apparently unperturbed that she’s pulling his hair like they were church bells. “Alright, Jay.”

His mum beams, then turns to Louis. “We were just speaking of Harry’s concert tomorrow. I was congratulating him on the sold out tour, and on playing the Yankee stadium as well. Very impressive.”

“He’s a very impressive lad all around, to be fair,” Louis comments with emphasis, sensing Harry tense up next to him and trying to deflect.

Thankfully, his mum’s attention is already lost on something behind Louis. “Oh, Dan’s back,” she informs them, waving at her husband who, when Louis checks, is carrying two partially melted ice creams and looking partially melted himself. “Why don’t you two darlings put the babes back in their prams and go give the papers something nice to write tomorrow?”

“I don’t think we could come up with anything nicer than tiny siblings, mum, but,” Louis glances at Harry, who’s sticking his tongue out at Doris as she giggles and bangs a small fist against Harry’s jaw and shit, Louis is two funny faces away from helping Harry steal her himself. “I guess we could do with a stroll.”

“Okay, let’s go,” Harry says, eyes lost on Doris. “I have to leave you for a bit, pumpkin. I’m going to miss you so much,” he tells her while carrying her back to her pram, his flat tone making for the most serious baby talk Louis’ ever heard.

Louis mirrors his movements and, when they’ve both deposited the kids and ensured none of their body parts had been yanked away by their grabby fists, he lets Harry put his hand on the small of his back and lead him around the perimeter of the pond. He vaguely notices one of their publishers instructing the pap to go ahead of them and get some ever natural walking toward the camera as if we were blind shots.

“You know,” Harry says after they’ve been walking for a while. “There is something that could beat the baby siblings.”

“And what it is?”

Harry wiggles his eyebrows at him, staring intently at his lips, and oh God.

“Do you have an exhibitionism kink or something, Harold?”

Harry gives a loud bark of laughter, the one that usually means Louis’ onto something. “We haven’t kissed properly in ages. I just want to, like, pull you behind a bush and have a snog.” He holds Louis closer, speaking against his ear. “Not a long one, only a little tongue. Maybe fondling your bum a bit.”

“I’m all yours for the week, love.” Louis circles an arm around Harry’s waist too, settling on the gentle curve where his sides start to get meatier. “We’ll do much more than fondle.”

“So not even a peck?” Harry pouts pitifully, even though they both know he’s just messing with Louis, both of them aware of the skyrocketing value of any of their interactions.

“We’ve got to save it for, like, our OUT magazine cover and six-page spread. Or, you know, if your next album flops.”

“Or if your next movie flops.”

“Oh, Hazza. Be realistic,” Louis says, bumping his hip with Harry’s, and aggressively tells himself that the long term talk is just banter.

 

*

 

It’s ironic but unsurprising that it happens before the most important gig of Harry’s tour.

One of the reason why they couldn’t even find a single day to meet before reuniting yesterday is the crazy amount of rehearsals and preparations Harry’s thrown into this show. Ariana Grande’s coming to duet with him on a song he wrote for her album. Ed Sheeran’s opening and joining Harry on stage to back him up during some song Ed wrote for his album. The cover section is occupied by a Rolling Stones tribute featuring Ronnie Wood himself on the guitar.

It’s the dream show for any fan, and a fucking lot of pressure for Harry.

A voice at the back of Louis’ mind keeps repeating that something’s about to go down, but he leaves Harry backstage with a kiss and a hair ruffle before Ed’s set is bound to start and joins his family in their private area on the stands.

Ten minutes later, a hand lands on his shoulder and his blood freezes when Jeff whispers a reluctant, “He’s asking for you” into his ear. If Jeff came to find him in person, things may be worse than Louis thought.

Louis follows Jeff and a member of the stadium’s staff along a series of shortcuts, torn between asking Jeff what’s going on and waiting to see himself. Jeff doesn’t seem much better off, mouth stuck in a thin line and occasionally wiping his palms on the sides of his jeans.

The only option that makes sense to Louis is stage fright, but even then, why would an artist of Harry’s calibre not be popping beta-blockers like candies as soon as he feels the first sign of anxiety?

“Thank you for coming,” Jeff says when they reach the door to Harry’s changing room, a hand already on the knob. “Don’t make it worse.”

Louis has no time to process Jeff’s shifting behaviour, because the door opens to a Harry calmly sitting on the couch in the middle of the room, neither sweating nor vomiting nor breathing in a paper bag. A woman who looks like an older and female version of him is stroking his hair, but he’s just there, not enjoying it and barely acknowledging that it’s happening at all.

It takes Louis two seconds to realise this isn’t stage fright. This is a man who wants out.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” says the woman – Harry’s mum, if the nose and eyes are anything to go by. She gives a last caress to Harry’s cheek with her knuckles, then makes a beeline for the door, halting in front of Louis and extending him a hand. “Nice to meet you, Louis.”

She tells him to call her Anne while they shake hands, much like Louis’ mum did with Harry. They smile at each other hesitantly, trying to make it nice even with their minds focused on something, someone else.

The door closes behind her with a dry click.

Harry doesn’t look at him, doesn’t give any sign he’s noticed Louis is there for a good minute. Then out, he lets a rough wheeze and says, “You look worse off than I am.”

Louis takes in Harry’s pale face and glassy eyes and tousled hair and replies, “I truly doubt that, pal”, uncertain if Harry wants him to be his mordant self or needs a little tenderness.

Harry’s eyes shoot up to meet Louis’, startled but with a trace of relief in them, and he laughs, laughs with a hand clutching his stomach and a couple of tears trailing down his cheeks and a cutting bitterness that Louis hopes to never see again.

Louis isn’t even surprised when Harry can’t stop the tears from falling, and his laughter turns into open crying, his breaths coming out in heaving staccato beats. He walks the ten feet between them and kneels on the ground in between Harry’s legs, palms on his knees, one thumb slipping into the cut of his ripped jeans.

“Babe,” Louis calls softly, staring up at Harry’s face, hidden behind his hands.

“I’ll.” Harry’s mumbles come out harsh and jumbled, each attempt at calming down and unfurling the words coiled up at the base of his throat followed by an even more violent sob. “I will, I don’t,” he exhales, pressing his curled up fists into his eyeballs.

Louis shushes him, running his hands over Harry’s thighs and feeling his legs muscles unclench beneath them. “Easy, love, easy.”

“I don’t need, uh,” Harry sniffles, a clogged and thin sound. “I don’t need, like, a pep talk.” He lets his fists fall in his lap, his shoulders hunched and his head tilted down. “I’ll do it. I’ll go out and play –“ his voice cracks, his eyes clenching shut as more tears spill out, “play the, uh, the show.”

Louis wants so badly to tell him no, you don’t have to, but he kinda does. Jeff’s warning ricochets in his brain like a mantra, don’t make it worse don’t make it worse don’t make it worse. He dares brushing the back of one of Harry’s hand with a fingertip, and relief floods him when Harry turns his palm over and clasps their hands together.

“Okay, no pep talk.”

“Lou,” Harry wails, folding in on himself even more and, when he opens his eyes, they are green and wet like thick paint, some snot caught at the bottom of his nose. “Am I the most foolish, ungrateful person in the world?”

“Not at all,” Louis states with all the earnest vigour he feels, bringing his free hand up to cup Harry’s cheek.

“Then what am I? How do you call someone who’s had all of his dreams come true and wishes he’d never, like, stopped working in his hometown bakery?”

“That’d clash a bit with your no refined sugars diet, though,” Louis can’t help but say, his mind temporarily dazed by the image of current Harry in an apron, bagging scones and complimenting old ladies on their dos.

Harry chuckles, nuzzling against Louis’ hand, and Louis uses the moment to wipe the remnants of tears from under his eye.

“Up,” Harry orders with the hint of a grin, pulling on their tangled hands until Louis gets to his feet and on Harry’s lap. He hugs Louis close to his chest and squishes him tight enough to make Louis squeal a little.

Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s neck, delivering some squishing of his own. He can’t be arsed to remember the scientific basis behind it, but he believes in the power of cuddles.

“Feeling better?”

“A bit,” Harry hums, pressing a kiss into Louis’ cheek. “You know, I. Like, I always feel so lonely up there now.” Harry’s voice is completely calm now, almost timid, and it makes the admission all the more heart-breaking. “Maybe this solo artist thing is not –“ he stops, searching for the right words. “Maybe I should have been, I don’t know, in a band.”

Louis snorts. Just as some people are invariably destined to be extras even in their own lives, Harry couldn’t be anything but the protagonist. He would have been the frontman in any case, be his band a church choir or an actual boyband, if those even exist anymore.

“You won’t be alone tonight. Ed, Ariana, Ronnie. You could almost form a band with them.”

“We’d be called Ronnie and the Woodpeckers.”

Louis lets his head roll onto Harry’s shoulder, giving him an exasperated sneer as Harry beams at him with a self-satisfied smile. “How long have you been planning that one for?”

“Ronnie would appreciate it.”

“I’m sure he would, but let’s not find out.”

Louis sighs, glancing down at his watch. “Fuck, it’s later than I thought.”

“Mh?” Harry leans forward, reading the time too. “Right, I should go. Lou has to paint a new face all over this mess.”

They both stand up, and Louis starts walking away but is stopped by a hand on his elbow.

“The phone call, after your party,” Harry says. “I told you we’d talk. We can, later, if you still want to.”

 “Or course I want to,” Louis reassures him. “That is, if you actually feel like it.”

Harry nods, releasing his elbow.

Louis makes to turn around, unsure if he should’ve gone for a kiss, but, “Lou,” Harry calls, and this time Harry’s biting his bottom lip and swaying from one foot to the other.

“Not being alone isn’t the same thing as not being lonely.” He takes a step, coming to stand in front of Louis, the tips of their shoes touching. “But you’re right, I won’t feel lonely out there tonight.”

He cups Louis’ face and kisses him, so ardent and charged that the fireworks in Harry’s show have nothing on it.

 

*

 

“Your boyfriend’s grinding on Ronnie Wood,” Lottie deadpans while Harry and Ronnie are in the middle of Where Do Broken Hearts Go.

Literally grinding on the Wood. Louis can’t wait to tell Harry, he’ll love it.

“I know, isn’t it fucking great?” he replies, and can’t even be bothered by her perplexed stare.

Harry’s grinding on Ronnie Wood, and making bloody art with Ed and his loop pedal, and getting half the audience to weep during Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart with Ariana, and generally looking like the weight on his shoulders has lifted at least a little, at least enough to enjoy the other performers.

Harry can bloody snog every member of the Rolling Stones for all Louis cares.

 

*

 

Louis regains consciousness sometime around noon the next day, sighing happily at last night’s memories. The only person Harry had and had wanted to snog was him, backstage as they popped magnums of champagne after the show and at the afterparty Jeff had organised and later, at the two-person party they’ve had in their penthouse suite, where Harry had demanded to be fucked while still wet from their Jacuzzi. Been dreaming of it since the yacht in Cannes, he’d confessed, hands in Louis’ dishevelled, damp hair.

Louis couldn’t very well say no.

“You’re up.” Harry’s leaning against the glass door that leads to the terrace, stark naked and smug, a book in between his crossed arms. Harsh light floods the room, swimming past Harry’s frame and soaking him and everything else.

Louis gives him an inarticulate moan and stretches lazily, arching his back and cracking his knuckles.

“You’ll get arthritis if you keep doing that,” Harry warns, crossing the distance between them and sitting down next to him on the bed, the book abandoned on the nightstand.

Louis yawns and fits his hands under his cheek on the pillow, body turned to the side to face Harry.

“That’s actually just a myth.”

Harry bends down to kiss the top of his head, filling Louis’ chest with hazy, bubbling warmth.

“Talk?” Louis asks while Harry’s still leaning on him, without any heaviness or expectation. He’s learned to read Harry enough to know he’s not as unaffected by what happened before the show as he’d like to make other, and maybe himself, believe.

Harry nods, mouth tilting in a grateful smile. “Food first, though. I’ve ordered something, there’s stuff on the balcony. They’ve got a remarkable boxed cereal selection for such a posh place.”

“They’re Americans. You could probably talk them into listing froot loops as desserts.”

“I’ve seen the state of your kitchen cabinet in Toronto, Lou. I don’t think you have room to judge.”

“Whatever,” Louis mumbles, waving Harry away and rolling on his belly.

Harry chuckles and drops a kiss behind the nape of Louis’ neck. “I’ll wait outside. Don’t be long.”

“Mh, alright. If you actually want us to talk, you should maybe put some pants on.”

 

Harry’s wearing both pants and a t-shirt when Louis steps outside, freshly showered and dressed. The terrace is the nicest part of the whole room, Central Park lying behind it like a lake of green, so close you’d think you could almost dive right in it.

Louis marvels at the impressive brunch Harry’s set up, but he can’t take more than a few bites, his stomach too twisted in anticipation.

He takes a last sip of orange juice and, “So,” he prompts, unsure if he should be the one to start or should just, like, shut the fuck up until Harry feels ready.

“So,” Harry repeats, fidgeting with his hands in his lap. He’s sitting in an half lotus pose on the outdoor sofa, and Louis leaves his place at the table to join him there.

“I don’t have stage fright,” Harry says when Louis has settled. “But you knew that already. I used to have it at the beginning, then I was taught how to control it and it just kinda went away. I miss it now, if that makes sense. You’re frightened because you want to be good at it, right, because you care. I just – I just want to be done with it now. Not only on stage. I,” he pauses, digs the heels of his hands into his temples. “Some days, I wish I could rip my face out so no one could ever recognise me again.”

Harry lowers his hands to his thighs and lays his head against the cushion, his eyes lost on the clear sky over Manhattan.

“I think it stopped making sense after a while. You know, I really think I was born to live on a stage. How fucked up is it when the only thing you can do makes no sense anymore?”

“You can do a lot more than move like a puppet for an hour and a half on a stage,” Louis objects.

“Tell that to my label.”

"Fuck your label," Louis says, making Harry whip his head at him with a raised eyebrow. "You only owe them what's written on a stack of papers. They don't own you."

"But do I own myself? Half the time I can't even remember what kind of clothes I like. How making plans without alerting managers and security details and, like, the bloody national guard feels. If I've stopped drinking Coca Cola because I don't feel like it anymore or because Pepsi would throw a fit if I was photographed with one. I fucking hate Pepsi."

"Yeah, but how much money did you get for their Super Bowl commercial?" Louis teases.

"Bought myself a house and still had some left." Harry brings his knees up to his chest and hugs them, his calm drawl filling with snark. "And for what? A ten second shot of me looking constipated while I read a line off a teleprompter? Why do people even fall for that?"

"You make them happy."

"No, not me. I'm a mediocre singer and an even worse songwriter, and people wait for months to scream my own songs at me and watch me repeat the same script to every city in the world. They write me letters telling me I've saved them, while all I am is a thief who sold himself to the most profitable market. Whatever makes them happy isn’t me. I can hardly save myself. And, like, this is the nice part." He hides his face between his knees and breathes, and when he lifts it back up the unforgiving New York sun catches on his wet eyes. "Then there's the stalkers, and the threats, and wishing I'd never dragged my family into this. The suits that hang their contracts over my head like a sword and the fans who yell at me to smile when I try to tell them to stop bloody following me. That time at the Dorchester you made fun of me for suing paps, but, the things my mum had to read about me -" he halts, his voice but a screech as he makes himself smaller and smaller on the sofa.

"I didn't mean to make fun of you, I'm sorry," Louis mumbles.

Harry glances at him, lips pursed and tense but with a glimmer of something other than tears in his eyes.

"Don't apologise. We wouldn't be here if I hadn't liked it." 

Louis scoots closer to him, then, and digs his nails into the couch. "Did I make it worse?" 

"What do you mean?"

"You and me. Having to pretend. The press running every rumour about us, no matter how stupid." Louis licks his lips and swipes his hair from his sweaty forehead, his throat suddenly so dry. "People calling you a scared homosexual hiding behind a bi label."

"Ah." Harry chuckles drily, his knees falling open on the cushions. "You saw those."

He stands up and walks to the table, filling two glasses of water and carrying them over to the couch. He gives Louis one, and Louis chugs it down with a grateful moan.

"You did," Harry says, sipping with more composure, and Louis feels the water he just drank filling his lungs and choking him. "Make it worse, I mean."

"Then why did you agree to it?"

"Because we're taught to make decisions about our personal time as if it was only business, and we feel like emotional children when we refuse." He smirks, then. "And because a lot of money could come off it. Always a nice incentive."

"I truly am sorry, Harry." Louis sits up, hands flailing as he trips over his own words. "I just, I never meant, honestly -"

"Lou." Harry circles his fingers around the closest of Louis' wrists, stilling him, and lifts Louis' hand to his lips. He drops a kiss on each knuckle, Louis too stunned to do anything but watch. "Louis. Do I have to say something sappy about you being the nicest thing that's happened to me all year or can you stop by yourself?"

“No apologising.” Louis raises his free hand in surrender. Then, softer, he adds, “Also, same.”

They sit in silence for a while, everything around them so quite they feel closer to the sky than to the earth, the city moving on mute underneath them. Harry lays Louis’ hand on his thigh and keeps playing with his fingers, his brows furrowed, lost in thought, and Louis wishes he had something more to offer.

“Last night went well,” Louis tries, tentatively, aware that Harry may have been screaming inside and still put on a flawless act.

“Mh.” Harry lifts his head, blinking as if surprised to find him there and speaking to him. “Yeah, it did,” he answers when he’s processed what Louis said. “Especially the parts with the lads. And Ariana, as well. I’m quite sure she hates that song, but she had fun, I think.”

He inhales deeply, holding his breath like to brace himself. “I’m fine when I’m up there. It’s just muscle memory, now, innit? And it’s not like you could ever get used to having a sea of people willing to lose their voices to sing something that used to only exist in your head. It’s the before that’s awful, and the after. The lack of control and the fear you’re wasting time.” He sneers, cruelly. “Just four months left now. Every month it gets better, closer to the end. And every month all the past months pile on top of it and it’s like dragging a ball and chain, and the ball keeps getting bigger.”

Louis clutches the fabric of his joggers into a fist and thinks of Harry’s Instagram, of a black and white picture from weeks ago, a close up of the stitching of his jeans with the caption I Got Stripes. A Johnny Cash quote, I got stripes, stripes around my shoulder / I got chains, chains around my feet.

“How long has it been going on for?”

“The second show of the tour, maybe?” he answers, his jaw clenched. Harry’s tour started sometimes in January, in South America, and for once Louis’ glad he’s memorised Harry’s schedule. “I’ve got all the coping mechanisms in the world, though. I can do what I’m expected to do. I’m not, like. I’m not going to disappoint all the people who work on the tour. All the people who’s still to see their show. It’s just been getting, like, a bit bad lately. I had something similar during my last tour, but I worked it out, and I was fine. I’ll be fine this time, too.”

“What did you do to work it out?”

Harry stares at Louis with an amused tilt of his mouth, palm rubbing his left bicep, over the ink there – the ship, the filled-in heart, the rose. “I got a bunch of tattoos.”

“Well,” Louis slips his hand away from Harry’s tight and claps. “Don’t you think it’s time for a new one?”

“Yeah, but, um.” Harry grits his teeth and squints his eyes, his face contorting in a grimace. “No, I. I couldn’t,” he finishes, shaking his head sheepishly.

It’s a no that sounds very much like a yes. And someone with as many tattoos as Harry has, without at least one planned for the future? Not bloody likely.

“I mean, no one’s forcing you if you don’t want to.”

“No it’s not that. I want to, but.” His eyes dart down at Louis’ right wrist before settling on Louis’ face, studying it. “No, no way.”

“Come on, spill.” Louis scoots even closer, close enough to lean right into Harry’s space. “What it is? Is it embarrassing? Is it, like, Ronnie Wood’s face? The YSL logo? Something on your bum cheek?”

“All of the above. Ronnie wearing a YSL necklace, using my buttcrack as a guitar strap.”

“Come on, what is it?” Louis pokes Harry’s arm with a fingertip. “What is it? What is it? What is it?”

“Stop it,” Harry giggles, half-heartedly trying to wave Louis’ hand away. “I’m not telling you, stop it.”

Louis lays his cheek on Harry’s shoulder and sing-songs, “Hazza, just tell me.” He pushes his bottom lip out and flutters his lashes, and can see Harry’s resolve cracking even as he rolls his eyes. “I promise I’ll only laugh a little.”

“I don’t think you’ll laugh at all, but alright.”

Louis sits back up, eager, and watches as Harry swallows and open and closes his mouth a couple of times, nothing coming out of it. When he’s about to put him out of his misery, tell him it doesn’t matter, Harry drawls, “I’ve told you I like your rope.”

And Harry’s wrong, because Louis lets out a delighted cackle. “A rope? That’s what got your panties in a twist?” He drapes his palm reassuringly over Harry’s shoulder. “I don’t mind if you get a rope. ‘s not like I’ve got the exclusive on the design.”

“No, I don’t, like.” Harry groans, frustrated. “I don’t want a rope.”

“Okay. Then, err?” Louis prompts, sticking his neck out in an inviting gesture.

“I don’t want a rope,” Harry repeats, his voice raw and drained. “I want an anchor.”

This time, Louis doesn’t laugh. He just sits there, wide-eyed and with his mouth gaping. He only snaps out of it when Harry lets out the saddest huff and says, “Told you.”

Louis takes Harry’s elbow into his grasp, squeezing until Harry looks up at him.

“Where?”

“Lou,” Harry whines, pulling his arm closer to his chest. Louis releases his hold on it immediately.

“Where do you want it?” he tries again, only a tad louder than the faint, sweet sound of the breeze that’s picked up.

Harry sighs, but answers. “Here,” he points to the outside of his left wrist. Louis covers it with his right hand, caressing the creamy skin and soft hairs there, the rope marking an even harsher contrast with Harry’s pastiness. “I want something to keep me grounded, keep me from getting lost, but can raise if I ever want to sail away. To remind myself that, despite everything, I can still decide not to be washed away by the current of hands that want to grab a piece of me until there’s no me left.”

He lets out a self-deprecating bark of laughter, then, and follows it with a, “Or something like that.”

I think you’re the most exquisite man on the planet, Louis thinks, not for the first time. He’s got enough composure not to blurt it out, even if the thought invades all of him, pride and affection electrifying all of his nerve terminals.

“Let’s do it, then,” is what he says. “Yeah?”

Harry drags a finger up and down his bare wrist, and whispers, “Yeah.”

 

*

 

The first thing they do is stop for coke, the largest size they can find.

Harry sucks on the straw with his eyes closed and an expression of pure elation, so content Louis can’t even bring himself to make fun of him for the refined sugars thing.

“I’m afraid there’s no going around the security detail part,” Louis says, apologetically, taking his spot in the backseat of their van and waiting for Harry to sit next to him. “But we can do whatever you want before your appointment.”

They’d spent an hour browsing galleries of tattoo artists based in New York and found someone with a style similar to the rest of Harry’s sleeve. She was all booked, unsurprisingly, but had agreed to see Harry after hours that evening, turning Harry into a kid at Christmas.

“I’ve never been inked by a woman before,” he’d commented after hanging up with the PA who’d made his reservation, smiling the smile that lifts his whole face up, and something inside Louis had eased.

(He keeps hearing it. Don’t make it worse don’t make it worse don’t make it worse. Just less often. Just a bit fainter.)

Harry licks his bottom lip, catching a drop of coke that spilled on it.

“There is a place I’d like to see.”

“Alright, let’s go there.”

“You’re not even going to ask what it is?”

“Nope. I already know it’s going to be a hipster nightmare, at least let me enjoy the ride.”

Harry laughs but doesn’t deny it, giving their driver an address in Queens and showing Alberto the details of the place on his phone.

The place is an hipster nightmare, it’s obvious from the building it’s in. But, when Louis reads its name, he knows he won’t even get to complain about it. Harry’s brought them to the Museum Of Moving Image, and that’s either because Louis’ influence is working or he purposefully picked something Louis would enjoy too.

It’s infuriatingly thoughtful and the museum’s just sick, built for visitors to interact with it.

Harry lets Louis drool inside the Mad Men exhibition, but what they’re here for is the Sensory Stories one, a collection of virtual reality experiences that might as well have been taken straight for one of Louis’ wet dreams. Honestly, the Google Cube almost makes Louis weep and come at the same time.

They touch and try everything, the museum almost empty on a weekday. Louis talks Harry through the more sectorial installations, adding little backstories on the ones he’s already seen last year at Sundance and such. Harry, in response, gives him some spontaneity, distracting him from how things work and showing him why they work, never failing to challenge him with his perceptive remarks. It’s always nice to get a peek into Harry’s mind.

It’s also nice to just have fun with him, he thinks as Harry drags him to the Dark Room Sex Game and shoves a controller into his hand.

While waiting for Harry to start the game and grab his own controller, Louis moves his around.

“Ah,” the controller moans.

He tries again, and he gets a, “Harder.”

He looks at Harry and Harry looks at him, the same expressions of amused disbelief, and they start laughing in the same moment, the movement jostling their controllers and eliciting a choir of uh and move and there.

“Okay.” Harry wipes some tears away with the back of his hand. “We need to focus now. I refuse to do badly at this game, alright?”

“I don’t know, usually coming as fast as possible is not my main goal,” Louis replies, making a swiping motion with the controlled and being rewarded with a low whine from it.

Harry does the same, locking eyes with Louis as he circles his wrist. “Think of making me come, then.”

“Oh, babe.” Louis slashes the air with enthusiasm, the controller’s voice already growing squeakier. “I can do that.”

They reach their virtual orgasms embarrassingly quickly, then take advantage of the dark room part of the game and snog and laugh and talk of nothing at all until a museum employee comes to check in on them.

They have dinner at a vegetarian place on the Lower East Side Harry was recommended, and Louis pretends not to enjoy it even as he bats Harry’s fork away from his onion chocolate tart and tells him to get his own. They have their usual half-hearted argument over the check, which turns into a tally of all the good and bad places they’ve been to recently. It only ends when Louis takes advantage of Harry reminiscing of a particularly great Italian one in Chicago to slip his credit card into the check holder and sneak it into the hands of a passing waiter. He lets Harry pay for the dollar hot dogs they get when they get out and realise they’re still hungry, though.

They eat them quietly in the van, Harry stealing glances at Louis over mouthfuls of onions and mustard.

“You okay?” Louis whispers, wiping some ketchup off Harry’s chin with his thumb and cleaning it on a napkin.

Harry nods. “Just, like, restless. I want it to be done already.”

“We’re almost there, love.”

Five minutes later, they’re standing inside the tattoo parlour, empty but for a man working on a stack of paperwork at the register and Harry’s artist.

“I’m Becca,” she introduces herself, and giggles when Harry does the same. “My sister has a poster of you in her room. Although I don’t think you had this many tattoos in that poster.”

“I know.” Louis puts his arm around Harry’s waist, caressing his side. “Used to be such a nice, well-mannered boy, then I guess the popstar lifestyle ruined him.”

Becca snickers, shaking Louis’ free hand.

“Well, let’s ruin him some more.”

She leads them to the counter, where her colleague greets them as well. She takes out a ring binder and opens it on a page full of anchor designs.

“You can browse this and tell me what you like, and,” she gives a sketch to Harry, who takes it and keeps tilted for Louis to see, “your assistant said you want a realistic looking anchor, four inches big, with some nice shading.”

She explains that her last client went faster than she expected, so she’d had time to doodle something for him, but Louis only hears half of it. Both his and Harry’s eyes are stuck on the anchor. The anchor that has no rope.

“He told me nothing about the rope so I didn’t include it but, if you choose this one, I can add it.”

“Thank you,” Harry mumbles, looking up at her and immediately looking back down. And Harry may take ten minutes to decide if he wants his hamburger with pickles or not, but he’s not one to hesitate out of politeness. If he didn’t like it, he’d have said so already.

Louis doesn’t notice he’s been scratching his wrist until Becca glances at it, her eyebrows rising.

“To be fair,” he starts, because someone has to say something, “everyone’s going to think they’re matching anyway, so.”

“I could draw the rope, and we can always take it out if you don’t like it?” Becca suggests.

“No, um.” Harry says, putting the sketch down. “I think I want this one as it is.” And then, at Louis, “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

Louis leans over and drops a kiss to the corner of Harry’s mouth, reassuring but brief enough not to make Becca uncomfortable.

 “It’s your body, love, you do what you want with it. But no, I don’t mind.”

Harry hums and beams, his arm pressing against Louis’.

 “So, just the anchor?” Becca asks, smiling at them.

Harry nods, fervently, his cool and collected persona slipping more and more.

“Just the anchor.”

 

*

 

They go for a celebratory beer afterwards, and get recognised by a group of girls. Harry poses for pics with his arm tilted, the anchor still wrapped but more visible than if he was pointing at it with a neon arrow.

Louis repeats an endless mantra of not for you in his head. But, when one of the girls asks for a picture of just the two of them, Louis’ can’t help but take Harry’s hand in his.

The rope and anchor align like stars of a constellation.

 

*

 

The next week is bloody blissful. Louis’ schedule for the whole month is empty but for two photo ops with Harry, hardly a hardship, and Harry has a break before the start of the European leg.

They fill a suitcase with only swimsuits and board a plane to Tahiti without a second thought.

They drink and fuck and sleep and read awful paperbacks and don't speak of anything that isn't them and now. Harry gets a sunburn on his shoulders on the first day, and Louis has to soak him in after sun lotion twice a day for the whole stay. He winces when he puts shirts on and has to keep his healing wrist covered at all times, and yet he looks the most beautiful Louis has ever seen him. 

Louis knows it's just a temporary pause from real life, but he's still relieved when, after months, the skin under Harry's eyes stops looking so puffy and tender.

He's also relieved to find out that they can handle the other's constant presence for more than a weekend at a time, so well he begins to dread the prospect of going back to his London house alone but for his goldfish and his housekeeper. The prospect of no one stealing bites of food right from his plate, or leaving strands of hair in the sink in the morning, or waking him at six am with his rummaging as he gets ready for his run. 

Harry snores, insists on keeping the air conditioning on low even when it's scorching hot and never sticks to his own half of anything, and all Louis can think of is that the wardrobes of his London house are even less than half full anyway.

They have an unspoken agreement to avoid serious conversations, but it's their last evening, and Louis has to say something. As they walk along the seashore, shoes in their hands and feet caked with water and sand, he's filled by the melancholy of the end of journeys, when you realise it'd be hard for life to ever bring you back to the same place, but still don't know if you should say goodbye or save it.

"Haz." Louis' hand reaches blindly at his side, his pinky brushing the sleeve of Harry's shirt.

Harry circles his arm around his waist, fingers curling on his hip, and pulls him to his side. He plants exaggerated kisses on Louis' hair, his cheek, the corner of his mouth, their steps  getting sloppier and making them zig zag in the shallow water.

"Let's sit for a while," Harry says, nose nuzzling into Louis' neck, then leads him away from the waves, where the sand is dry.

They land heavily on their bums, Harry's hands leaving Louis and digging in the powdery sand, almost silver under the timid light of the moon.

"Everything always seems so small in front of the ocean," Harry muses, and the moon makes his profile seem coated in silver too. "Makes you want to write poems about it, doesn't it? Even if there's nothing new that could possibly be said."

"There's always something new to be said. For example -" Louis lolls his head, staring up at Harry through his lashes as Harry gives him an indulgent smile. "- and I'm just throwing ideas around here -, no one has written anything about my eyes being like the sea, and that, I think, is quite shameful to be honest."

"Eyes like the sea, smile like the sun, arse like a constellation."

Louis lets his head fall on Harry's shoulder with a chuckle, gently, mindful of his sore skin. "I can't tell if that was a compliment or an insult."

"A compliment, of course." Harry brings his mouth closer to Louis' ear, lowering his voice. "I'd never spit where I eat."

"Har-old."

The back of Louis' hand connects with Harry's abdomen in a light slap, but Louis goes easily when Harry drags him into a kiss, a hint of the champagne they've had at dinner sweet on his tongue.

"Is that what you've been scribbling like mad all week in that journal of yours?" Louis asks, his forehead against Harry's. "Poems about the sea?"

"Poems about your arse." Harry flashes his small self-satisfied grin, his dimple appearing even deeper in the low light. He settles on his elbows them, putting a small distance between them. "Just, stuff. I write to clear my head sometimes. I put down a couple of song ideas."

"Songs," Louis wets his lips, unsure. "Songs for you?"

He'd get it if Harry couldn't stop writing. Couldn't stop singing, even if it hurts him. You only need a few moments in the spotlight to become afraid of the dark.

"Maybe, I don't know. They don't have to be for anyone. I can’t, like, not write.”

Harry looks down at his lap, his brows knitted in a frown, but his face clears just as quickly. He turns to Louis, sheepish but excited. “I have a fitting one. Not ground-breaking lyrics, but I like its vibe. Would you like to hear it?”

“Fuck yes,” Louis blurts, a bit breathlessly. He’d never noticed before, but Harry’s never sang in his presence outside of concerts.

“Alright, it goes like this,” he clears his throat, his head thrown back. “And you say it's hard to keep a secret, babe don't leave me all alone in this hotel,” he sings, the tune reminiscent of a 1975 song, voice raw and rugged at the edges for the lack of practice. “And these shades can hide us from the streets yeah, one weekend I'll promise that I'll never tell.

He leans into Louis, eyes sparkling as he gets louder, more confident on what is obviously the chorus. “You should probably stay, probably stay, a couple more days, come on let me change your ticket home.” And again, closing his eyes, loosening his usual tight control. “You should probably stay, be with me, a couple more days. Come on let me change your ticket home.

He holds the last home while Louis starts clapping without a trace of irony. If they weren’t this comfortable, he’d give Harry a standing ovation.

“I like it,” Louis says. “Catchy, summery.

“So it’s a yes?” Harry shuffles closer, turning on his side and swinging a leg over Louis’ stretched ones. Louis doesn’t need much convincing to lie down, arms around Harry’s neck and no care at all for the fistfuls of sand getting into his clothes and hair.

“Yes what?”

“We’ll change our tickets and never leave this island?”

“Don’t you miss home?” Louis asks idly, distracted by Harry using his leg to pull him near, pressing their bodies flush together. “You know, the smog, the muggy weather, the traffic, the evil pigeons.”

“And the evil foxes,” Harry adds, a corner of his mouth tilted up. “But I’m not staying in London, remember?”

And that’s it. That’s Louis’ open.

“Er, about that.”

Louis contorts his features in the most comforting expression he can muster, which mustn’t look comforting at all by the way Harry’s studying him with a quirked eyebrow.

“I have a house. In London, I mean,” he says, whatever connection there was between his brain and his mouth clearly severed.

“That’s, um, good,” Harry squints his eyes in confused amusement. “Seeing as you live in London.”

“Yes, right, so. My house’s also at a reasonable distance from Northolt, which is where you usually land, right? Unless you’re one of those who like City, which, bit pompous, but not judging. Or are you a Luton kind of lad? I had a row with Simon Cowell’s jet in Luton once. I won it. One of the highest moments of my career.”

“Northolt.” Harry interrupts his rambling with a hand on his cheek, his expression tender and expectant. “I like Northolt. Lou, what are you trying to ask?”

Buy a country house and adopt ten babies and a German Shepherd with me, is what he’s trying to ask, but he settles on, “Come stay with me in between shows.”

“It’s in a nice, quite area,” he adds when Harry does nothing but lick his lips incredulously, the light catching on the wetness and making them glimmer. “My house, I mean. You can hear the birds chirping in the morning even. If you’re awake for it, which I’m usually not, but. And there’s food, not like in Toronto. I even buy vegetables sometimes.”

Harry blinks at him.

“Did I make it weird?” Louis grimaces. “I guess we were going to do that anyway.” He moves away from Harry, lying on his back and clenching his lids shut. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

He feels Harry shuffle and, “Alright,” Harry says, his voice coming from above him. He peers up, his heart thumping so loud it takes him a moment to understand what Harry’s saying alright to.

“Alright,” Harry repeats, more confident, a corner of his mouth tipped up. “As long as I’m not intruding into your downtime.”

Louis’ eyes fall open completely, focusing on Harry’s grin, his glittering eyes, his loose strands almost long enough to brush Louis’ cheeks.

“Oh yeah. Having someone to shag on the reg and talk to beside my hundred years old housekeeper. Such an intrusion, such a burden.”

“I hope you don’t shag your hundred years old housekeeper on the reg.”

“She’s very fit for her age,” Louis rebuts, then tangles his hands into Harry’s hair and yanks him down for a kiss.

 

*

 

Louis thinks things will stay the same as they did in Canada, in America, in Tahiti, but of course they don’t.

It starts slowly.

After the first two concerts, Louis takes his Range Rover out of the garage and goes to get Harry at the airport by himself. He’s learned to live his life pretending drivers and bodyguards and assistants aren’t there, but, when they could actually not be there, he’s going to take advantage. His time with Harry already feels so insufficient, Harry always running off whenever Louis’ just getting used to him being there.

Two gigs later, and he’s learned the road to Northolt well enough that he can spend the ten miles from it to his house with one eye on the road and one eye on Harry.

The signs of Harry’s presence, too, increase gradually. A toothbrush in Louis’ en suite. Pyjamas in his drawer, even if Harry sleeps naked most nights. A box of green tea next to his rigorously black ones, and a mug with a kitten and cat puns freak meowt written on it. A steady escalation that culminates in Louis tripping on his feet while accidentally wearing a pair of Harry’s too long skinny jeans.

Louis takes a pic of the rolled up jeans, captions it ‘Missing something?’, tags Harry and posts it on Instagram. He gets rewarded with a picture of Harry’s hand holding his phone, a tanned and smiling Louis sitting on a hammock as its lockscreen. The simple ‘Yes.’ under it melts the hearts of the most cynical fangirls, while Niall’s text telling him this is so good I almost can’t believe it’s real melts Louis’.

He sends a grinning emoji to Niall, then opens his whatsapp conversation with Harry.

(Their last exchange went like this:

Your bloody jeans almost killed me

Which ones?

The black ripped ones

What does it matter Harold ALMOST KILLED ME

Hope you didn’t ruin them. I love those jeans.)

Did you change your lockscreen just for that?, Louis writes, deciding to be lenient and ignore Harry’s lack of empathy.

Maybe, Harry answers. It’s a lie. Harry’s lockscreen was an artsy shot of backlit palm trees at sunset no more than twelve hours ago.

I think I’ll leave it, though. And I do miss you, Harry adds a moment later, and yeah. Maybe Louis can forgive him.

 

*

 

Harry doesn’t talk of how he’s doing, and Louis doesn’t ask. Not outright, at least. He makes subtle attempts to steer any concert-related conversation in that direction, but to no avail. Harry smiles, shrugs and always has a witty remark to distract Louis. Louis, for lack of a better plan, lets himself be distracted.

It’s not like he doesn’t see the signs. He lets it slide, doesn’t say anything when Harry steals a cigarette from Louis’ pack and smokes it in silence before Stockholm, or fucks him desperately after Paris, rough like Louis wants it but thought Harry would never do, too afraid of hurting him. It leaves Louis’ body as pleased as ever, and his mind a pit of helpless worry.

Harry tosses and turns the whole night before he’s bound to leave for Madrid. He has six shows back to back and won’t be back in London for ten days, the longest he’s been away since the US. It doesn’t take much to make two plus two.

And Louis tries to do nothing, he does. He ignores it when Harry barely touches the pasta Louis has lovingly overcooked for him, or when he fishes one of Louis’ white tees from his wardrobe and puts it into his suitcase. But later, when they’re driving to the airport, Louis receives a call from Liam about the ADR the sound editor needs for the stupid action film Louis had shot at the beginning of the year, because he still has a mortgage to pay. Louis sort of remembers hearing something about it, probably from Liam himself, but he can’t honestly be expected to pay attention to everything Liam says.

He agrees to fly to LA in the next two weeks but, as he and Liam discuss possible dates, he watches Harry torture his bottom lip and he snaps. At the airport, he gets on the plane with Harry.

Harry’s not big on PDA, but he curls up against Louis’ side on the jet’s posh camel leather couch and stays there for the whole flight. He wouldn’t bet on it, but Louis would swear he sees Jeff smiling a little less sardonically and a little more warmly at them.

Harry’s been singing a cover of a Hozier song for the last shows. Louis could sing it too, because Harry had blasted it nonstop for days when they got back from Polynesia. It’s only when he’s there, looking up at Harry, alone on a stool against the orange sky and with nothing but some strums of an acoustic guitar to accompany him that he gets it.

Way she shows me I'm hers and she is mine, open hand or closed fist would be fine, he croons, harsh and thick, as if he were feeling each slap. The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine.

His voice breaks on And it's worth it, it's divine, I have this some of the time, growing higher with cutting laughter only to crack and fall on the ground in a deep, dragged whine.

It’s one of the most authentic things Louis’ ever seen him do on stage, and it’s dreadful. Harry sings of how much being up there wounds him and gets ravenous applause for it.

It’s not a bad thing. It may be a progress, even, the pretence dropped.

Louis only wishes he could unsee it.

 

*

 

Louis follows Harry to Barcelona, but agrees with Liam to take a red-eye to LA that night.

It’s a lot hotter than in London, but they catch a windy day, and the secluded beach they pick is empty but for couples with kids and couples with dogs.

It’s the day before the show, so the city isn’t teemed with Harry’s fans yet. Only a young woman with a stroller spots them, and they’re both happy to squat down beside it and take a picture with her sleeping one-year old daughter.

“Do you think she’ll recognise us when she’s older?” Harry asks as they walk away, his expression still soft and warm.

Louis doesn’t answer. He takes Harry’s arm under his and leads him closer to the water, where the sea seems so much bigger than any worry about the future.

They spend the afternoon shopping lazily, buying souvenirs for their families, then stop on a terrace bar to have tapas y cerveza. Louis fidgets with the small bag in his pocket, cringing at his own cheesiness, and waits for Harry to be halfway done with his beer before settling it in front of him.   

Harry swallows the cracker he was eating and takes the tiny satin packet in his hands with a questioning look.

“You were busy choosing a fridge magnet for your mum,” Louis explains. “It made me think of you.”

Harry unties the bow, warily. “As long as it’s not, like, a mosaic frog.”

“I’m quite sure Gaudì’s is a lizard, not a frog,” Louis says, laughing, but it comes out a bit forced, his eyes glued to Harry’s face and taking in every reaction. He wishes he had gotten something as bland as a mosaic frog.

Harry pries the bag open with careful movements, confused as he hears the contents jingle inside it. He takes out the bracelet, the orange light of the sunset catching on its silver coins. He smiles his giggly half-smile and rolls the bracelet between two fingers, examining it all, his thumb caressing the engravings on the coins and the loops of the chain.

“I know you’re more of a ring man, but,” Louis trails off, gritting his teeth. But I can’t very well buy you a ring. “You don’t have to wear it. You can use it as a paperweight for your piles of money, or something.”

“I think my piles of money are fine where they are.” Harry extends his arm toward Louis, shaking the bracelet in front of him. “Can you put it on me?”

Louis clasps the bracelet around Harry’s wrist, right over the bottom of the anchor.

“Nice,” Harry says, watching intently as the coins clink and clang with every movement of his hand. “This way, it’s like I have a rope even when you aren’t there.”

“Oh,” Harry continues while Louis’ busy stress-crewing a peanut and ignoring the itch on his right wrist. “I meant to tell you. I know you refuse to buy a house in LA because you’re a stubborn fuck, and you have a place you usually stay when you’re there. And I know it’s weird, staying at someone’s house when the owner isn’t there, but I wanted to, like, return the favour? And I’ll be there next week anyway, and moving stuff from one place to another is a pain, so, like.” Harry trails off, his head tilted to the side expectantly and one hand fidgeting with a paper napkin.

Louis purses his lips, eyes widening before he lets out a snickering, “Are you shitting me?”. He waits just the time for Harry to frown and open his mouth, then, “What a show-off,” he scoffs, “What a fucking show-off. I give you a trinket and you offer a bloody house.”

Harry gives a gentle laugh and looks away, the corner of his mouth turning up. “So?”

So, Louis is screwed and this man will be the death of him.

“Aren’t you afraid I’d steal your silverware?”

“Nope,” Harry says, grinning like he’s won the lottery, “and not even my piles of money.”

 

*

 

Their free time in LA soon becomes a competition of who can bring the other to the most outrageous party, make them meet that one idol they’ve only ever caught a glimpse of at that one event, suggest the funniest activity. They start with tame trips on Harry’s motorcycle and skinny-dipping in the cold water, and work their way up, until Harry refuses to follow Louis as he goes bungee jumping off the Bridge To Nowhere.

They do shots and laugh into each other’s necks after Harry introduces Louis to David Beckham at someone-or-other’s bash, because Harry and David are apparently best buds. Louis, in the midst of his drunken fanboying, tells Harry of the first time he saw him in the flesh, wearing a fedora and a smirk that could make anyone fall at his feet.

(“That was my awkward length phase,” Harry says, beaming and pressing Louis harder against the wall he’s leaning against.

Louis stares fondly at him and threads his fingers into Harry’s hair, petting it. “Yeah, the hat was horrific. Can you wear it again?”)

The good things and the bad things – everything feels like a holiday with Harry, but it’s nice to be the one slipping into the other’s life this time.  Louis has only visited Harry’s London home once, because Harry had to get some stuff from it, but it hadn’t felt lived in. Harry had explained about his house in Cheshire, near his mum’s, and that he goes to London just to do promo or visit Gemma.

(“Or, you know. It used to be like that,” he’d whispered, his head stuck into a wardrobe but not hidden enough to completely conceal his uncontainable smile.)

Harry’s LA home is a giant cliché, as if he’d just called an architect and said ‘make this as similar to the set of the Kardashians as you possibly can’. There are bits of Harry everywhere, though, from his collection of videogames to the tacky merch of that American football team whose games he forces Louis to sit through.. His collection of hats and his collection of boots, ordered from less to more sparkly, and his poetry books, which he keeps everywhere and always with a pencil nearby. Louis thinks of the half-read copy of Rumi’s Selected Poems sitting on the nightstand of his house in London, and of the casual, natural way in which Harry’d said, “I’ll finish it when we come back.”

Louis stops feeling like a guest very soon, precisely when he realises that Harry moves around his own home with the same level of comfort he has in Louis’, stumbling around a bit lazily, always half-naked, amused by Louis’ inability to stay still for long but ready to indulge him.

One morning, Louis wakes up to Harry snoring into his chest and feels he has all the time in the world, and the next time he blinks he’s boarding a plane to London, a sleepy Harry trailing after him. Maybe it’s coming back together, knowing they’ll have another night in London before Harry needs to leave for Dublin and Louis starts his press circus for the release of Loaded Gun, but, of once, it doesn’t feel like the end of something.

It’s only another stop on the road.

 

*

 

They get one day to themselves before the London premiere, the first full day they've had in more than a week.

They decide to spend it fighting.

Louis is at the end of the press tour in England - he went on Graham Norton, he went on Alan Carr, he talked to what seemed to be every news outlet in the country. And it's been good. In between his stock answers, he even gets to tell a charming story about him, Harry and a sea urchin in Tahiti, and it's so liberating, speaking of Harry for everyone to hear.

He's just not ready to up and go do the same thing on the other side of the ocean, only with people assaulting him with American accents. He wants to sleep in his home and drink tea and complain of the weather and follow Harry around on the last bit of his tour, check if he's really doing better like he says he is, now that he gets to play arenas and smaller venues.

It starts innocently enough. They're both bent over suitcases, Harry unpacking what he brought back from Ireland while Louis packs for LA. And Louis makes a comment, a stupid jab about something of Louis' Harry had with him for emotional support. And Harry's touchy about it, either because he truly feels better and he wants Louis not to question it or because he's trying to convince himself, but Louis is making banter, doesn't even notice how Harry's lips purse and his jaw sets. 

"You didn't even tell me you took it," Louis says lightly as he attempts to fold a t-shirt, only half his mind paying attention to their conversation. Afterwards, he won't remember for the life of him what thing they were talking about.

He only turns to face him when Harry takes a sharp intake of breath, the sounds of clothes being rustled stopping.

"Maybe I'd talk to you more if you didn't look at me like you were dying to take notes to update my mental status file."

"What do you mean?" Louis asks with an incredulous, soft voice.

Harry scoffs, standing up and towering over him. "All the looks and the pregnant pauses on the phone, like you're waiting for me to confess something. It's bloody exhausting, Louis. I'm fine."

"Are you," Louis blinks, his hands dropping the shirt he was holding, "are you mad at me because I worry about you?"

"It's like I can never not think about it with you. You're, like, always waiting for me to break down."

"Should I remind you the times I had to hold you while you cried? Or had to bear your mood swings when you wouldn't just fucking tell me something was wrong?"

"I'm okay now, I told you,” Harry says, defiant, crossing his arms in front of him.

It prompts Louis to get to his feet like a spring, and his words come out in the same way, like they’d been compressed for so long. "How can I fucking believe you? You're always dismissive, you don't tell me shit, I never know what you're thinking. I'm not in your fucking head, Harry."

"And thank God for that. I don't want you to be in my head. You're not my therapist,” Harry sneers, a vein throbbing on his forehead but his eyes glassy, like a lake under a rainstorm.

"No one's your therapist since you oh-so-cleverly refuse any bloody help."

"How many times do we have to have this argument? I can deal with this stuff by myself.”

Harry drops his arms to his side, his hands closed in fists, and Louis wants to laugh at him, laugh at how Harry’s tone doesn’t get an inflection even now, always the same single chord tune, and he doesn’t know why he’s so livid and bitter but he is.

"Oh yeah, and that's been working so well for you, hasn't it."

"It has. I'm doing better, Louis, why won't you leave it?"

"Leave it?” Louis says, louder than he intended, and he’s on a roll, the anger crawling all over him and covering the powerlessness that he truly feels. “I want nothing but to leave it. Nothing but not spend all the shows away from you holding my breath and fearing tonight will be the last straw. Having to come up with ways of asking without asking. Typing messages to Jeff and never sending them because it feels too much like a defeat. Trying to decipher your fucking Instagram, if the black and white nights are the good ones or the bad ones. Do you think I enjoy worrying about you all the time? Because I bloody fucking don't."

His throat is all dried up when he finishes, panting and wired while Harry is still as a statue, staring blankly at him.

"You should've told me this sooner. That I was too much work for you. Would've saved a lot of plane fuel."

And that’s – that’s not – except it’s exactly what Louis said. He’s had his two minutes of ferocious annoyance and now it’s gone, like a firework going off, blinding and powerful, then dissolving into thin air seconds later.

"Harry,” he pleads, daring to reach forward with an arm, “come on, don't -"

But all Harry does is turn on his heel and walk away, speaking with his back turned to Louis when Louis runs after him.

"You've been rather clear in your little speech,” Harry says, dispassionate, his back unnaturally straight for someone that’s always slouching. “I'm doing just what you asked. You won't have to worry about me anymore."

"Harry," Louis steps in front of him, stomping his feet to stop Harry' determined stride, and takes his face in his hands. Harry looks like he wants to pull away, but he rolls his eyes and lets himself be held. "This isn't what I want at all."

"That's too bad," Harry spits. Something in Louis' panicked expression must placate him, because he presses his forehead to Louis' and says, voice trembling, "I need to think. To be alone. Please, let me go."

Louis lets his hands fall down wordlessly and steps aside. "I'll call you a car," he says, moving toward his phone but glancing at Harry every few seconds, hoping for a change of heart.

Harry keeps his head down.

 

The day before a big night is always useless. Even the few hours Louis gets to himself - before his house is invaded by an army of hair stylists and make up artists and the people in charge to make sure Louis doesn't end up on a worst dressed list - are spent doing nothing but slothing around and thinking of all the things that could go wrong that night. Today, there's the bonus of thinking of all the things that could go wrong with Harry.

He hasn't heard from Harry at all, doesn't even know where he's staying. Thankfully, everyone's too busy contouring his cheekbones and adjusting the seam of his suit to notice his foul mood. 

He keeps looking around during the red carpet, praying to see a mane of feather duster hair in the crowd. Harry only arrives when most people are already inside and Louis had started to lose hope. He turns around, determined to check one last time, and Harry's there, sitting with his legs crossed in his seat two rows behind him.

He's staring down at his phone, his free locks hiding his expression, but he's wearing the double-breasted charcoal suit that subtly matches Louis' instead of the black one his stylist was pushing for, according to what Harry had told him after the first fitting some days ago. It must be a good sign.

Louis resolves to look back once every ten minutes or so, as much as he'd love to pull out his phone, open the internal camera and just train it on Harry the entire time, Harry who's still watching the screen intently, captivated, despite it being the third time he's seen the film.

That is, until there are only twenty minutes left. Louis peers back at him, wondering if this is the time he'll catch Harry's gaze, and finds his seat empty.

Louis is up and out of the theatre before he knows it, Alberto trailing confusedly after him, but Louis gestures to him to go back inside, that he's not going anywhere. 

He tries the loos, first, but Harry isn't there. He isn't in the lobby either, nor near the bar, nor in any place Louis can think of.

Harry probably left already, and Louis can't go back in that room with the knowledge that Harry ran away because he didn't want to even say hello. Might as well go for a smoke.

Louis opens the door of the nearest fire escape and steps into the crisp air of London's winter and, of course, Harry's there,  sitting on the short wall at the edge of the small terrace with his legs spread and his ever-present phone between them. He stops typing, or scrolling, or whatever he was doing, but doesn't look up.

Louis walks the few feet between them and leans with his side on the wall, his chest almost brushing Harry's knee. He takes out two cigarettes from the packet in his trousers and puts them both in his mouth. He lights them up, the acrid and soothing taste of smoke invading his mouth, and gives one to Harry, shaking it in front of him.

"Thank you," Harry mumbles, pocketing his phone and taking the cigarette, careful not to touch Louis' fingers, as if afraid he'd get burned.

They smoke in silence for a while, until Louis has to stop the whirlwind in his mind or he'll go crazy.

"Where did you sleep last night?"

Harry sighs, finally raising his eyes. "In a hotel. I didn't want to see anyone."

"I am," Louis starts, rough and raspy. "I'm sorry, I really am."

"Do you even know what you're sorry for?"

One of Louis' eyebrows shoots up at Harry's harsh tone, and he takes a particularly long drag before crumpling the cigarette on the wall. It may be Louis who started it, but Harry should be apologising as well.

"I'm sorry I made you feel under scrutiny, and I made you think I was sick of it." He nudges Harry's knee with a closed fist, gently, but Harry still jumps at the contact. "And you? You've got nothing to say?"

Harry shakes his head, not like he's actually answering but more like a bitter gesture, like he can't find the words.

Louis wants to grab his shoulders and shake him, shake this disconsolate stillness out of him. It's terrible, having this unapproachable Harry in front of him, but. That's the thing. Harry's here, and it counts for something.

"I'm glad you came," Louis says, tentatively.

He glances up, where Harry's holding the cigarette between two fingers, not smoking it, just watching the flame slowly eat through the filter. 

"Didn't have much choice, did I? We still have our arrangement."

Harry slumps his shoulders even more as he says it, curling into himself, but all Louis can process is the cutting sharpness of his lifeless, almost indifferent voice.

Louis feels his temples pulsating with that hurtful brand of anger typical of when things don't go as they should, and all you can do is watch.

"Well, our arrangement," Louis hisses the word, hoping that the sneer will mask the sad helplessness he feels, "is over in a month. After that, I'm sure Jeff will be thrilled to organise a spectacular break up for us, and you'll be free to fuck off."

Harry throws his half smoked cigarette to the ground and stretches his leg to put it out with the tip of his boot. "Don't be stupid," he says, not raising his eyes from the ground. "We had an argument. I'm not going anywhere."

Relief washes all over Louis like a sudden wave of heat during a freezing winter, his stomach coiling with the force of it. He hooks a finger into his collar and pulls it away from his neck, trying to make some of it dissipate.

"Don't get too confident. Maybe I'll be the one to fuck off," he teases, because it's either that or jumping in Harry's arms and crying and maybe asking for his hand in marriage. It still comes out more gingerly than Louis'd like, as if he couldn't bring himself to even joke about it.

Harry lets out an uncontrolled nasal sound and looks at Louis, grinning. "If you type in d in the google search bar in your laptop, do you know what the first suggestion is?"

Louis is quite sure he does know, but he puts on his best oblivious face.

"Doncaster Rovers? Drawing of dicks? Drunk Harry Styles pictures?"

"No, that's the third, which," Harry shakes his head fondly. "Louis."

"I'm sorry, it's just so cute when a bodyguard has to guide you by the hand to the car. Almost Christmas cards material."

"Dagger tattoos, Lou," Harry interrupts him, merciless and smug. "The first suggestion is dagger tattoos."

Oh, bloody fucking hell.

Louis tugs on his collar a bit harder.

"Ah, but you know me. Daggers, swords, axes, knives, the occasional bayonet. And arrows, of course," he points to the place where his arrow sits under his shirt. "I'm all about the weaponry."

"The second suggestion is dagger and rose tattoos."

Louis, at a loss, just exhales. "What a fucking coincidence." He takes a deep breath, then, and starts. "Shit, Haz, I want you to be happy. If the way I treat you doesn't make you happy, I'm going to think it through and apologise for it. If you say I made you feel bad, then I did, I'm not going to argue with that." He looks up at Harry, who's staring warmly at him, the corner of his upper lip threatening to lift up. "But you've got to meet me halfway here. You can't leave me in the dark about certain stuff."

Harry remains silent, but his whole face splits into a sheepish smile. His only answer is to flail his arms around Louis and pull him in. The angle's odd, with Harry's knee digging into Louis' stomach, and Louis is at risk of eating more than a strand of Harry's hair, but the feeling of Harry's mouth near his collarbone, of him taking Louis' smell in, is better than having hundreds of fans camped out and screaming Louis' name.

"So, I'm not fucking off," Louis says, voice muffled by Harry's curls. 

Harry nods against his shoulder, leaning more weight on him and holding him closer. 

"You aren't fucking off either." 

More nodding, more frantic than before. 

"It's not your fault. I'll be more open, I swear," Harry pleads, still buried in the crook of his neck, his grasp unwavering. "You won't have to worry so much about me anymore."

I'd gladly worry about you for the rest of my life, Louis thinks, and for once he allows himself to be honest. He pushes back on Harry's chest until he can see his face, his eyes glassy and clear like aquamarines, his cheeks just a bit blotchy.

"I'm so committed to you, Harry," he says, the echo of a random chat during a pale morning in Toronto.

"That's not what people usually say," Harry chuckles, but he doesn't seem disappointed at all. "I'm very committed to you too, though."

"And you've got to stop singing that song," Louis adds, quickly, taking Harry's hands in his and intertwining their fingers.

"What song?"

"The Hozier song. The one about walking your days on a wire. Cherry Wine, I think it's called."

Harry hums, nodding, his smile turning a bit melancholic. "That's alright. I don't feel like singing it anymore anyway."

And Louis tries not to read too much into it, but that feels more reassuring than tens of I'm okay on skype. "Really?"

Harry manoeuvres Louis until he has him between his legs. He bends down, and Louis stands on his tiptoes to reach up. "Really," Harry whispers, right before meeting Louis halfway.

 

"You truly were excellent," Harry tells him, later, when they're cuddling in bed, their naked limbs entwined. They'd been silent for a while, and Louis doesn't know what Harry's referring to.

He gives Harry a playful squeeze on his bum. "All thanks to the, um, romantic novels I used to steal from me mum."

Harry laughs, loud and unrestrained. 

"I knew you had to have learned it somewhere, for your throbbing manhood to penetrate my hot cave of pleasure like that," he says once he's recovered, bringing their faces closer together on a single pillow. "But no, I meant in the film. Every time I watch it I'm more in awe of you."

"Thanks." Louis kisses the tip of Harry's nose, waiting for him to continue.

Harry preens, his face doing that thing where his eyelids droop as his lips widen. "You're going to get some big awards for it, aren't you?"

"Get them, I don't know. Get nominated for them, I mean, it's possible." He makes a vague hand gesture in the air. "Hollywood loves an underdog, as long as he's white and male."

"And straight, from what I gather," Harry adds, pointedly. "You'd still be an unusual choice. Don't sell yourself short."

Louis drapes his forearm over his eyes and sighs. He’s not selling himself short. He’s heard the rumours. But in Hollywood everyone’s a pawn, and everyone has an agenda. Whether he gets considered or not will have a lot more to do with politics than with how many times he can make Harry cry with his performance.

“Nothing to do but wait and see, at this point.”

Harry’s wet, soft lips press on his neck and jaw, and he drags his nails over Louis’ side, tickling him gently at first and moving faster and faster until Louis is a convulsing mess underneath him, his arm slipping off and thrashing to push Harry away.

Louis is crying and screaming, his mind filled with nothing but this will never stop please make it stop, and Harry decides to have mercy on him only when Louis’ heel inadvertently hits him near his thigh. Louis gives another humourless, gasping chuckle before collapsing back on the bed.

“Fuck you,” he mumbles, slapping the first part of Harry he can reach, Harry’s snickers only getting wilder.

“I’m sorry,” Harry lies, laying his head on Louis’ thorax and looking up at him with his get-away-with-murder smile. “You were getting all serious and sad.”

“Mh.” Louis tugs on one of Harry’s curls, beckoning him closer. “Come here, then.”

Harry complies easily, scooting up and fitting their mouths together. They roll on the bed, kissing idly, and Louis feels all the serious-and-sadness abandoning him and leaving behind nothing but a lovely burn in his stomach.

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“Would your hot cave of pleasure be up for round two?”

 

*

 

Beside an unexpected fascination for Louis and Harry’s relationship from the American public, Louis trip to LA is uneventful. He goes, does his interviews, gets humiliated on Ellen by a slideshow titled Louis Fondlinson, and gets back to Harry waiting for him at the airport wearing sweatpants and with a bag of take away in hand.

Louis can follow Harry around the UK for some of the remaining dates, and they stop to properly meet each other families when Harry’s tour brings them North. They promise to come back for Christmas hols, and don’t even wonder when this started – making plans including the other.

They’re back in London when the Golden Globes and SAG awards nominations are announced, the two days before Harry’s last show. The Golden Globes one is nerve wrecking and Louis doesn’t bother pretending he can just wait for Liam’s call if there’s good news. They set up a livestream and watch it with their hands clasped in Louis’ lap, and Louis couldn’t say who cheers louder when Patrick Dempsey reads his name.

They’re a bit more relaxed for the SAG awards announcement, mostly because they’re hungover from last night’s celebrations and only adrenaline is keeping them awake. Afterwards, Harry doesn’t have the strength for more than mutual congratulatory hand jobs, but Louis makes sure Harry comes with SAG award nominee Louis Tomlinson on his lips.

There’s still one more day of tour in front of them. Only one more day.

 

*

 

Harry’s been covering an awful hit song for the last shows, something that has him dancing and prancing all over the place, but tonight there’s a stool on stage.

Louis gets chills just looking at it. He hasn’t been out on the floor since Madrid, opting to stay behind the scenes with the people he’s become friends with during those months and skip the ear-splitting part, but Harry’d been adamant that he should watch the show from outside tonight.

It’s weirder in an arena. Even if there’s the same amount of space between stage and fans, it all feels a lot closer, like Harry could fall on him at any time.

Except, Harry fucking flies on that stage, effortless and with a contagious energy that can’t be faked. He seems to be taking everything in, scanning the crowd, taking pictures and even a selfie with it, like he’s savouring every last second of it, every single person who’s there screaming his name. He doesn’t acknowledge Louis for the whole time, and Louis doesn’t mind at all. This is for Harry. Whether it’s the last time he ever steps on a stage, or just the last before he realises he misses it too much and has to go back up there, it doesn’t matter. Harry deserves to enjoy every last phone raised for him during slow songs, every silly poster, every time he stays quiet and the crowd continues a verse for him.

At the cover song part, Harry comes as close to the stage’s edge as he can. He stares ahead, bows his head a bit when the audience starts applauding him when he looks too choked to speak.

“This has been an incredible year for me, professionally,” he says, his voice steady only because he must have rehearsed this in front of a mirror a hundred times. “And for that I have you, every single one of you, to thank.”

The crowd hollers, and Harry claps his hands for them and waits for the noise to die out.

“But, personally,” he licks his lips, briefly looking down before facing the crowd again. “I had some up and downs this year, I’m not going to lie. So I’d like to take this moment to thank you all, again, for the relentless support, and to thank all the people who stuck by my side when I wasn’t at my best, starting with my family and everyone who works for me. Thank you, thank you so much.”

He glances as Louis, then, like to make sure he’s paying attention, and Louis gives him a little nod. Louis doesn’t have to look at himself in the big screens to know he’s smiling his crinkly-eyed smile.

“I also want to thank someone else, someone who’s shown me how bright life can be even without spotlights.” Everyone behind Louis goes wild and, fuck, Louis would join the screaming too, if he could only catch his breath. “He’s the loaded gun to my Stockholm syndrome, the rope to my anchor and, of course, the Rocket to my Groot.”

“So, thank you, love,” Harry finishes, while the band starts playing the intro to a song Louis knows all too well. In the movie, it’s played while Quill gets tasered and hosed in prison. Louis sympathises, as he feels a bit tasered as well.

It’s not the official soundtrack’s version, though, it’s the sappier and quieter original. Someone comes on stage to give Harry his acoustic guitar, and he sits down on the stool. He strums some chords idly, his eyes closed and his head swaying with the musing.

I can’t stop this feeling deep inside of me,” he sings, and locks his eyes with Louis. “Boy,” he says more than sings, while the actual lyrics say girl, and Louis laughs when Harry winks at him, a laughter so teary and so overjoyed he can barely reign it in. “You just don’t realise what you do to me. When you hold me in your arms so tight, you let me know everything’s all right.”

He gets up for the chorus, gravitating toward where Louis is standing and not even pretending he isn’t doing it on purpose. “I’m hooked on a feeling, I’m high on believing that you’re in love with me.

And the thing is, they’ve said it. They’ve said the word love in so many ways before that, from late night flights to the draping a blanket on the other when they fall asleep in front of the telly, from sharing clothes to sharing copies of their house keys, but hearing it is still so wonderful and so intense.

Louis mouths the rest of the song along with Harry and, for three minutes, there’s no one else inside the O2 arena but them.

Lips as sweet as candy, its taste is on my mind. Boy, you got me thirsty for another cup of wine.

 

*

 

When Harry finishes the encore and steps backstage, his face blotchy with the tears he’s shed during the last roaring applause, Louis is there, waiting for him.

Harry dives straight into his arms and Louis squeezes him as tight as he can, even if Harry’s sweaty and a bit gross. “You did great, love,” he whispers, rocking their bodies from one foot to the other. He leans back, dries the tears and the sweat from Harry’s cheeks and eyebrows with his thumbs.

“I really am in love with you,” he says, because he can’t hold it back for a second more. “I love you so much.”

Harry smiles, dimples in full display. “Nice. I haven’t made a fool of myself in front of twenty thousand people, then.”

Any sarcastic retort dies on Louis’ lips as Harry kisses him, deep and hot and unrelenting, even when members of his crew passing by whistle and yell to get a room.

“I just thought,” Harry pants into his mouth when they separate, dropping pecks on it every few words. “Our contract’s just ended. You know, unless you want to sign a new one.”

“Absolutely not. This has been hell. I’m never signing anything with your name again.”

“Yeah?” Harry grins, the cocky half-grin that doesn’t become him at all and makes Louis want to drop his pants to the ground on the spot. “You can’t think of any other document with my name next to yours you may eventually like to sign?”

Louis can think of a long list of them, actually, but, “Hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he says, running his hands on the collar of Harry’s damp t-shirt. “You didn’t even tell me you love me back yet.”

Harry steals another kiss, his arms clutching Louis closer. “I do,” he admits, and there’s no sarcastic tilt in his voice, nothing but honesty mixed with a tad of shakiness. “I love you terribly. I love everything about you. I love how your feet smell when you wear shoes without socks, how you can never set the dishwasher to the right program and how petulant you get when you’re tired. Every single thing.”

Louis snorts, if one can snort and be moved at the same time. “Always the charmer, aren’t you?”

Harry just beams, and repeats it, I love you, I love you love you love you, and it’s a sound Louis won’t get tired of anytime soon.

“I love you too,” Louis answers, matter-of-factly, and how did they go for so long without saying it?

“What do you want to do now?” he asks, then. “End of tour party? Celebration with the lads?”

“I think we’ve celebrated enough,” Harry says, taking his arms away from Louis and stepping back. He extends him a hand and Louis readily takes it, their fingers slotting into place.

“Let’s go home.”

 

*

 

Louis won’t win any of those awards.

Some months down the line, he’ll come back from the most important night in Hollywood’s calendar with Harry’s arm around his shoulders. While Harry quietly trash-talks every member of the Academy, and the winner of the Best Actor category, and all the other nominees – because how dare they think they could be in the same category as Louis –, he’ll mumble something about being okay, about having won something better than a tacky golden statue anyway.

He thinks Harry will pardon him the cliché.