The Styles triplets have lived down the road from Louis for as long as he can remember. He’s three years older than them, so they only went to school for a year or two before Louis graduated and moved onto college and then university. He still knows them quite well, has gone to a few ragers they’re at or will catch a movie one of them, and it’s nice and simple and easy.
They work in their stepdad’s bakery around the corner from his uni though, and Jay (Louis’s mother, but even he calls her Jay, everyone does) is addicted to their poppy seed loaves so Louis regularly visits them. Let’s be honest – the Tomlinson family, with their five children, were probably their number two clients behind old Mrs. Walker, with her fifteen cats and grandchildren spread across the country who stocks up on baked goods like the next world war is coming.
Louis had his own group of friends and the Styles triplets – that’s all they were known as around the village, no real individuality, as is what generally happens with multiples – had their own groups of friends and that was about the extent of it.
Edward, or Ed as he preferred to be called, was the eldest and most laid-back of the three. He regularly wore a beanie to hide his curls, never putting in more effort in than his Converse, skinny jeans and whatever t-shirt he could find. He was the brainy one but hardly ever studied; education and knowledge just came naturally to him. They were all in sixth form at Louis’ old college, and Ed was going to graduate top of their class; some whispers were going around the village that he’d already gotten offers from Oxford and Cambridge to study law or medicine or something equally as impressive. (Ed told him last time he was at the bakery that he had gotten into Oxford and was planning on enrolling in engineering, so Louis smirked and held it close to his chest every time he heard people talking about him.)
Next was William; the typical middle child – overlooked, not particularly brainy but he had a voice on him like nothing else. He played guitar mostly and sang lead vocal in his band and wanted to be a musician. He was rather emotionally intense and had a few tattoos hidden under his plaid shirts, living in those or rock band shirts of groups Louis hadn’t heard of most of the time (to be fair, anyone who wasn’t Ed Sheeran or Katy Perry didn’t get much attention from Louis, no matter how many concerts he got dragged along to or how many albums got shoved into plastic bags and paper packages whenever anyone in his family would pick up bread). He hated working in the bakery most and generally skived off out the back, smoking to get his voice ‘sorted’ and reading biographies on his rock idols.
Last was Harry, the youngest of the three. He wasn’t hysterically intelligent like Ed or intensely musical like Will – he was a smart kid and could sing if he had to, and he was quite tender as the youngest. He was fairly good at sports and captain of the football team, but it wasn’t a passion. There was no fire in him for anything, really – not that Louis had seen, anyway. Harry was gay, and while it was knowledge of Louis’s that one of multiples being gay increased the likelihood of the others, Will and Ed had vocally stressed their heterosexuality several times while supporting their little brother with an almost militant intent.
Harry was the one who intrigued him the most of the three.
Harry, who stared at Louis with his big green eyes while Ed served him, chatting away about whatever test or exam or movie he’d done or seen. Harry, whom Louis always felt his eyes sliding back to, packaging bread or pastries for whomever else was in the store. If there was nobody else, Harry would lean on the counter and watch them, quiet and intrigued, smiling at Louis’s jokes and dodging his brother’s errant elbows.
Louis would always offer up a smile and greet Harry first, inwardly preening whenever the boy would flush and stammer out a ‘hello’ before disappearing behind the counter or out the back. Harry was the one he felt trying the most with, working the hardest to get some flash of personality out of him. The reward when he was greeted with a blush or a stammered response was something else entirely – something worth continuing to push for.
Their mother Anne was a firecracker, and was quite close with Louis’s mother, especially after the divorce last year. That particular day he’d come home from uni and found her sitting with Jay and a bottle of wine, laughing and joking about their day together.
“Oh Lou, Harry’s got your order at the bakery. Ed and Will are down in London for the weekend for some concert, so it’s just him this afternoon. Could you run by and pick it up before he closes up? I want Jay and the girls to try the new loaves we’re trialling!” Anne announces as he wanders through the door one Friday afternoon, exhausted from a day of study.
Niall and Zayn, good friends of his from university, were coming by later and they were going to spend the weekend together in London. He was actually planning on meeting up with Will and Ed and their mates for the very same concert, and he had hoped to spend the next hour packing.
“Yeah, sure…,” he mumbles and walks back out, keys jangling in hand.
By the time he gets to the store Harry was out the front, bent over to pick up the sign. He was in chinos and a white shirt stained with flour and brown smudges from fruit and chocolate, and his hair was hidden in one of Ed’s beanies. He knew it was Ed’s, mostly because nobody else would wear one that particularly horrible shade of puke green. He’d seen it on all three of them now, and it didn’t quite suit Harry but even then it looked pretty damn good; Ed’s face and all.
“Harry? …or is that Ed?” Louis jokes, wandering up behind him and chuckling as Harry starts and almost drops the sign.
“N-no, it’s Harry,” he says, missing the joke entirely, flashing a quick smile at him as he grabs the sign and heads for the door. Louis weaves around him and holds it open, bowing theatrically as Harry walks through and notes the high flush on his cheeks. Yes.
Louis was openly bi, if there was such a thing, having had both girlfriends and boyfriends. It hadn’t ceased to pass him that there was an increasing gap of time stretching between his last date and now. (He regularly wondered if it had anything to do with his slightly newfound but also slightly quite old interest in the youngest Styles brother.) There’d been bullying, as there always was in a small village in England, but he’d shrugged most of it off and used his humour to deflect whatever damage it might’ve done to his psyche or his body.
He idly appreciates Harry’s recently developed tallness as he reaches for a tin box hidden on the ledge of the doorway. The triplets had all spurted in the last year, growing almost a foot and lengthening out, all long limbs and burgeoning muscles and defined faces.
Will constantly bitched about all the wood he had and how his sort-of girlfriend Dani wouldn’t do anything about it, while Ed had bemoaned his pimples when Louis had dropped by to get an apple turnover between classes one afternoon with Niall. (He’d introduced them and Niall had declared his love for Ed in particular, his mouth full of eclair.) Harry seemed to escape the acne, and it wasn’t like he’d ever have the ability to mention erections in front of Louis, way too shy.
“Are you always this chatty?” he asks as Harry ducks into the back room to put the sign away, emerging with two large bags filled with bread and pastries. Still flushed, Harry apologises, handing the bags over. Louis’s fingers brush against his, and he doesn’t fail to notice Harry’s jolt.
“Hey, is everything okay?” Louis asks, leaning forward a little, suddenly concerned. He tries to think of whom Harry hangs around with, if maybe he’s feeling left out that two of them have gone away without him. Maybe he should invite him to come along to London with Zayn and Niall.
Harry nods and wipes his palms against his dirty apron, smoothing it down against his thin legs. Harry’s all sharp angles and soft hair, his eyes darting nervously to meet Louis’ as he chews his lip.
“W-what? Oh no, I’m fine. Really,” he says, his curls fighting to escape his beanie. Louis nods slowly, unconvinced, and waits as Harry rings up his change.
“So, you’re here all by yourself this weekend?” Louis tries again, and Harry nods, humming.
“Nice and quiet,” he says slowly, a small smile on his face, and Louis feels his stomach flip when Harry’s dimple flashes. It’s strange; he’s seen this dimple a thousand times on Ed and Will but it never gives him the feeling that it does when it’s Harry.
They’re identical triplets, only the tiniest of flaws differentiating them – Ed’s hair settles on the right instead of the left, and Will’s nose is more pronounced and pointier, but you’d only know that if you knew all three intimately. He nods and Harry places the change in Louis’ palm, this time readied for the contact and there’s no flinching. Only that smile again, playing at the corner of his mouth. Louis wonders what it’d taste like.
“Well, um. If you get lonely, you should send me a text. I’m on my phone way too much anyway, might as well talk to someone interesting,” Louis offers up, and Harry flushes, looking at his feet again.
“A…aren’t you going with Ed and Will anyway? And your mates?” Harry’s eyes don’t leave the ground, and Louis just wants to reach over the counter and pull his face up, wants those green eyes back on him – wants them on him forever.
“Yeah, and? You’re my favourite anyway,” he says, and with that slings the bread over his back and heads towards the door, calling a goodbye behind him.
He fails to notice Harry sliding down behind the counter, utter bliss spreading across his face as he grabs his phone and punches in #2, waiting for Ed to pick up.
"Hazzaman, what’s up? How’s the shop?"
"Louis just came in."
(Ed knows all about Louis, and what Louis means when Harry says it.)
"Oh. What happened? Are you okay?"
"I’m great, man. I’m so great."
"Haz, did it go well?"
"Yeah. I think so. He said I was his favourite."
(Ed chuckles and Will looks up from the bed, playing Fruit Ninja on his phone and cursing as he slices a bomb. Ed tells him it’s Harry, and that he was alone in the bakery with Louis, and Will’s face morphs into a soft smile.
Will knows all about Louis.
Harry had gotten drunk one night and told him, cried into his favourite plaid shirt over it. Will hasn’t been able to wear it since, like it holds some sort of fragile part of Harry he can’t bear himself to parade around in public.)
"He said you were his favourite? Well, I’m insulted."
"He told me…something else."
(Will and Ed are hunched around Ed’s phone, on speaker now, both of them aching inside for their little brother, so in love.)
"Yeah. He said… He told me to text him, in case I got lonely. He wants to talk to me."
"Well, that’s great Harry. It’s great, isn’t it?"
(Harry’s face is starting to hurt, he’s smiling so hard and so wide, and his entire being feels like a supernova.)
"Yeah. It’s really great."
Louis arrives late that night with Zayn and Niall in tow, parking at the Travelodge and standing in the elevator as they head up to the 15th floor where two of the Styles triplets are waiting.
Ed and Will are both showered but not changed yet, lounging around in their towels while their hair dries, eating pizza. Niall and Zayn are ready and launch on each of them, while Louis hangs back and laughs, diving for the pepperoni before it gets squashed.
They’re at the concert and it’s fucking insane, they’re all crazy wasted, Will moshing next to him and Ed belting out the lyrics and Zayn and Niall doing some weird dance and Louis can’t remember how they got back to the hotel or back to their rooms, but he does remember this –
He remembers standing outside the room he’s sharing with Niall and Zayn, Will leaning against the wall next to him. Will’s a gossip and he’s maudlin right now, and Louis doesn’t know if he can stand to be around someone who looks exactly like Harry but isn’t, not in any way he wants.
“Harry told us you saw him today,” Will starts as Louis fumbles for his key. It’s always us, never just one. They share their feelings and their lives, so interconnected and it’s so much bigger than just one.
He stops and wonders why Harry would tell them about his visit, shrugs it off.
“Erm, yeah. I had to get bread, your mum told me to pick up some new stuff. My mum loves it, by the way. Thanks a fucking lot - more of our money on bread. I reckon we overtake the old bat now,” he jokes, his limbs heavy and warm and his tone slurring and Will snorts.
“Fucking bakery,” he says, and Louis nods.
“Indeed. Fucking bakery.”
Will isn’t finished though, can tell by the look on his face even though he’s smashed, so Louis turns around and leans on the door. They listen to hear Niall and Zayn roughhousing inside.
“I called him my favourite and told him to text me if he got lonely,” Louis offers up while waiting for Will to talk, and Will’s eyes slip closed and he nods, that smile on his face with that dimple that’s Harry’s but it’s not, not at all.
Louis wonders if this is going anywhere, until Will just sighs loudly and kicks away from the wall.
“You should text him first. He’s never going to text you.”
Louis goes into his room and passes out on his bed, but wakes up the next morning with Will’s departing words still on his mind. They spend the day together in London, and Louis snaps silly pictures and sends them to Harry – taking Will’s advice but not, not really. Harry usually just sends back a smiley face or a little factoid about the area; Ed notices and says Harry’s filled with all sorts of random knowledge like that.
“We take him to pub quizzes. He fucking decimates everyone, it’s insane. His favourite facts are about animals, though. He’s crazy about animals. When we were younger he decorated his room with posters from magazines of lions and monkeys and giraffes and all sorts of shit. He’s the reason we’ve got so many pets, he makes that fucking face at our parents, and they’re mush. I tried to get him to teach it to me but I just look constipated.”
Louis laughs but stores the knowledge away – when they’re in a gift store, he gets Harry a Paddington Bear and wonders if this is going to overstep some sort of boundary. He doesn’t know whether Harry’s just painfully shy or if there’s something more there.
They all drive back together and Louis is in the back with Will and Niall, while Zayn and Ed are up the front fighting over what album to play next. Niall is sacked out against the window and Louis has his bag on his lap, his fingers stroking over the face of the Paddington sitting on top of his spare jeans and a phone charger.
“What’s that?” Will asks as he closes his book, his face unreadable.
“Mmm, I got Harry a gift. Thought he might like it? I think I remember seeing him wear a Paddington jumper once, or watching a video or something… or was that you?” Louis struggles to tell the three apart most of the time, his memories becoming murkier the more they make together. Will’s face softens, and a smile spreads across it.
“Nope, that was Harry. How the hell did you remember that? He thought he was being such a hipster, but he fucking loves Paddington. Had the books and movies and even a bedspread at one point. Did Ed tell you about the animals?” Will asks, and Louis nods.
“Harry loves animals,” he says, stroking the face of the bear. Will scrubs his hand through his hair – they all do when they’re stressed, or when their hair is sitting funny. Harry rearranges himself the most of the three, Louis has noticed. He goes to say something but stops, and turns to stare out the window instead. Good idea, Louis thinks. He can probably only take life-changing confessions from one Styles brother, with that face and those eyes.
He waits a few days before he heads to the bakery, choosing a time when he knows it won’t be busy, and they won’t be rushed, and it won’t be weird. He texts Ed before he leaves, asks if now’s a good time – he gets a ;) in reply and snorts.
He takes the keys and the family’s demands for donuts and loaves and rolls and buns and piles into his car, the bear tucked in his backpack. He was so horribly put together in jeans, old Nikes and a dark green hoodie with his hair under a beanie, but he was feeling ill and moody. Not winning any personality awards or pageants today anyway.
When he arrives. Will is out the front smoking, one long leg crossed over the other and glaring at the overcast sky with his green eyes squinting.
“How can you be angry already? I only just got here,” Louis jokes, and Will flips him the bird.
“I’m sick, all your fucking fault.” He offers up first and Louis shrugs, shoving his fists into his hoodie pocket and edging his backpack up higher.
Will descends into a coughing fit and continues, “Ed’s been teasing Harry all afternoon, saying you bought him a gift while we were in London,”
Louis wonders if this is where the “Hurt my brother and I’ll kill you” conversation starts. Instead, Will just stares at him for a few beats and takes a long drag on his cigarette.
“Ed will kill you if you hurt him,” he follows up with, and Louis nods. There’s a time for joking, and this isn’t it.
“What about you?” he hears himself ask, and Will just shrugs.
“I’ll tell everyone you’ve got herpes and write your number on every phone booth in town.” Will’s always been the one Louis was most unsure of, and he’s just realizing now that it’s because he’s the most protective over Harry. He nods and sighs, rubbing his face.
“I don’t even know what the fuck I’m doing,” he admits, and Will shrugs.
“Neither does he.”
He jerks a shoulder, and Louis nods and walks past, the door jangling as he enters. He inhales the smell of bread and hears Ed holler a greeting from the back, wandering out soon after. He’s got flour on his cheek and in his hair, greasy strands flying out from his beanie, and Louis messes it and laughs as Ed swears and curses, staggering away and into Harry who emerges just behind him.
“Shit, sorry Hazza!” Ed hugs his little brother who tries to duck away, flapping his hands at him, and Ed bursts into laughter.
They calm down soon enough, and Louis just waits, leaning against the counter and watching fondly as Harry dodges and ducks from his older brother. Ed finally remembers he’s there and saunters over, holding out a hand and Louis slaps the order down into it.
“Big one today, lads!” he says, and Ed rolls his eyes.
“When isn’t it? Fucking Tomlinsons...” he jokes and pretends to be wounded when Harry jabs him.
“Don’t be rude!” the youngest snaps, and Ed rolls his eyes and walks to the far counter, busying himself.
“Will told me that my surprise for you has been kind of ruined,” Louis begins, and Harry flushes; his stomach squeezes and his heart flutters and this boy is going to be the end of him, honest to God.
“Nah… I don’t know what it is, so it’s not completely ruined,” Harry says, leaning a foot away from Louis on the glass, green eyes meeting blue for longer than a split second. Something has changed since last time, reaffirmed inside of Harry or giving him more confience, and Louis can’t say he’s disappointed, only curious. He reaches into his bag and smirks.
“Close your eyes,” he instructs, ignoring the heat pooling in his stomach as Harry’s eyes slide closed on command. Such a trusting little lad indeed.
He pulls out the Paddington and tries to think of how to arrange it – in the end he settles on just popping it in Harry’s cupped hands.
“Open,” he says, and Harry’s eyes open and slide down to his palms.
Louis waits while Harry just takes in the bear, and the silence starts to stretch from astonishment into something awkward. Louis leans on the glass counter, a fist propping up his face and he just waits. Ed has moved closer and seems to notice his brother is either having some sort of breakdown or has just disappeared completely.
“Harry, say thank you,” he says, walking past his younger brother and hip checking him gently. It seems to bump Harry back into reality, and his eyes slide from the bear up to Louis’s, surprise and something Louis can’t quite put his finger on hovering across his features.
“H…how did you, I mean. Did Ed or Will tell you about…” Harry can’t finish a sentence, and Louis smiles, taking it as a good thing.
“Nope, I remembered all by myself. I saw you baking one day with a Paddington shirt on or something, I don’t know. Just kind of stuck with me since.”
Harry remembers what he’s talking about; he was 14, and Louis was graduating, and Harry was hopelessly in love. He’d been hopelessly in love since as long as he could remember, pining from a distance and nursing himself through broken hearts every time Louis was with someone else.
He hadn’t been with anyone for a long time now, and the hope had built up in Harry’s chest to a painful amount; he couldn’t breathe or think straight around the older boy, and now he’s done this… remembered one tiny, insignificant detail from years ago about Harry – not Ed, his genius older brother and not Will, the musical savant – but Harry, the nobody.
Louis is waiting on a response, and Ed clears his throat again before turning the ‘Closed’ sign on the door and heading into the back, shutting the door behind him, so they’re alone. Louis can see a smudge of flour on Harry’s nose and cheek, and wonders if he’s been fighting with his brothers again. They always seem to fight amongst the flour and end up with it everywhere.
“I was 14,” Harry says simply, and Louis shrugs.
“Okay? I don’t really remember how old you were, just that it happened. My memory is kind of stupid-” Louis mutters, Harry quickly cutting him off.
“It’s not. Your memory, it…it isn’t stupid. Nothing about you is stupid.”
Harry’s heart is beating a thousand miles an hour in his chest, and he clutches the bear close to him, Louis’ eyes bright and clear, and his face looking surprised and pleased and a million other feelings Harry can’t quite figure out how to verbalize.
(Harry has a gift, but he’s never told anyone or shown anyone. He writes. He writes stories and poems and ficlets and enters competitions on the Internet and has thousand and thousands of words stored on his laptop. He’s just finished a 75,000-word story on a boy who fell in love with his neighbour. It didn’t have much of an ending, and Harry thinks he might just have to rewrite it if this goes as he’s hoping and praying and wishing it does.)
“I…thanks, Harry,” Louis manages, and Harry smiles.
“I love it. Thank you so much,” he says softly, and Louis nods.
“I just. I wanted to thank you for texting me…for including me. I didn’t say much but uh, it was really special,” Harry continues, and Louis can’t stop smiling. This is probably the longest and most wonderful conversation they’ve had to date, and he never wants it to end.
“No problems, babe.” The endearment slips out without Louis meaning to, but he’s still smiling, and Harry turns red and Louis can’t stop himself from leaning over and rubbing a finger against the flour.
“You’ve got some, on your nose,” he says as his eyes drop to Harry’s lips. He can feel Harry’s breath speeding up against his face, and his hand drops to Harry’s chest, pressing his palm against it and Harry’s heart is thumping so fast, so loud, and it’s all for Louis.
It doesn’t take much to close the distance, and Harry melts into him. Louis brings up a hand to tangle in his curls, and the other wraps around his side, pulling them closer together even though there’s a counter between them. His lips move languid against Harry’s, breathing in the younger boy, trying not to get too emotional over this moment.
He manages to pull apart a few seconds (or minutes or hours later) and laughs at how wrecked Harry looks, still clutching his bear.
“You look really good, all kissed and messed up by me. I like it,” Louis says, his throat dry and lips sore. Harry blinks slowly and nods, rasping a “Yeah,” and staring at Louis like he just solved the world’s biggest mystery or something. Louis never wants that look to leave his face.
The trance is broken when the door opens and Will storms in, growling about some old woman who yelled at him and told him to put out his cigarette, staring at the two of them and realizing he’s just interrupted something.
Louis just shrugs and picks up his order, left on the counter by Ed moments earlier, and shoves it into his bag. Harry stands there, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Louis won’t be the one dropping it. Instead he tangles his fingers in Harry’s hair again and leans over to press a kiss or two or three against his lips and pulls back, telling Harry he’ll text him later tonight to tuck him in. Harry nods, dazed, and Louis walks outside, looking just as wrecked.
Will stands next to Harry and sinks down with him behind the counter, leaning against the display cases and letting Harry hold his hand, his other clutching the bear to his chest. The door opens and Ed appears, and he sits down in front of them, and the two older ones stare at their younger brother.
“He got me a Paddington, all by himself,” he says, and Will nods.
“That he did, mate, and he kissed you. How are you feeling?”
They coddle their youngest brother, fearing it’s made him fragile as a result, and it only makes them want to coddle him some more, but actually Harry is stronger and runs deeper than the two of them combined.
“I’m feeling great,” Harry says and nods down at the bear, looking back at Ed and then to Will.
That night, Louis’s phone buzzes while he’s getting changed into his pyjamas, and he picks it up to see a message from Ed. He opens it and snorts.
Hurt him & ill kill u. & Will will spread rumours x Ed
A few seconds later his phone buzzes with a text from Harry –
Ed won’t kill you, and Will’s not going to say anything.
Louis smiles, and tucks himself into bed, wondering how to respond.
It’s okay mate, I understand. I’m planning on saying the same thing to Lottie’s first boyfriend. Are we okay?
He holds his breath until Harry responds, sinking down under his covers and turning off the light.
We’re okay. More than okay. Come by tomorrow?
Louis chews on his lip for a moment, wondering if that’d come across as too needy or too ...well, expecting of something further. He doesn’t want to pressure this, this gentle thing they have.
Only if you want me to.
The response is almost instant.
Of course. See you then .x
Louis has always liked that little .x the triplets sign off with, even when they’re shitty, and it takes on a whole different meaning now.
See you xx
He puts his phone on his side table and slips down further, almost covered with pillows and duvets, unable to shift the smile off his face or the sense memory off his lips. He tucks his earbuds into his ears and shifts through his playlists, landing on one of his favourite songs and closing his eyes as the opening strains play through his eardrums.
– Settle down with me,
Cover me up,
Cuddle me in.