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And I'll judge the cover by the book

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6:00 am

Harry doesn’t need to get up for two more hours to get ready for his first class, but he roars and stretches his limbs in his king size bed, curling in his pink silky sheets before starting the day.

You’d think a twenty year old student living in a spacious loft with his two best mates would be waiting last minute to get ready, hammered from a party the night before and about to wear a pair of sweatpants and a snapback, but this was not the life Harry was about.

He’s the kind to wake up to the sound of his artificial fountain close to his bed, making him feel like he’s lying in the middle of a creek and not a bedroom in Buckingham. He’s the kind to make his bed right after stepping into his maroon slippers, the kind to open the curtains to take a deep breath and greet the day even though the sun has barely risen, and the kind to grab his yoga mat to spread in front of his bed to start his morning stretch, going through child pose and warrior II until he’s become aware of himself before walking to the bathroom.

He might or might not spend about an hour there, pampering until he feels himself clean, smooth, and fresh enough to get dressed.

As usual, his outfit is already hanging on the mannequin in his walk-in closet since the night before. He had convinced his mom - a successful fashion designer - to get him his own eccentric male statuette, just for the aesthetic. He called it Manny Kin and no one had the right to comment on that.

He slips into his tight black jeans costing more than they should - but totally worth it seeing how often he wears them – and half buttons his black Marc Jacobs shirt with pink flamingos on it, short sleeved because it’s the end of August and he’s planning on making the most of the weather while he still can.

He puts his socks on, grabs his black Saint Laurent leather boots - because it’s the end of summer in England, not a tropical island - and takes his pre packed Tom Ford duffle bag, filled with extra clothes and the football gear he really wishes he didn’t have to own.

He checks himself out in his six foot tall mirror one last time, nodding at the sight of his bum in those amazingly fitted jeans, and walks to the kitchen, throwing his bag on the couch on his way.

He gets all the fruits and greens he needs from the fridge and chooses coconut water to complete his morning smoothie. He then grabs a granola bar and fills his glass with his green mixture before sitting on one of the stools behind the bar overlooking the living room, and goes through everything he needs to check whilst sipping on his juice.

He goes over his mails, Twitter, Instagram, and every possible social media until he switches to the news. He frowns at the sight of another riot at one of his mom’s shows, this one initiated by an organized crowd trying to raise awareness towards animal cruelty by boycotting the fur industry.

If she weren’t his mother, Harry would be leading that crowd.

Once he’s done reading most news and chugged his smoothie down, he rinses the greenish glass and puts it next to the sink before grabbing four toasts. He slides them into the toaster and opens cupboards to get the jam and Nutella out, and turns the coffee machine on for his friends, still snoring in their beds.

8:00 am

For the first time of this year there’s a sudden series of alarms going off and an echo of groans from the hallway, making it official: the school year had started.

Harry shakes his head in disbelief even though he’s had two years of this already to get used to it, and goes to pour coffee in two travel mugs, making sure to get the toaster going before getting napkins.

He can hear showers and several ‘fuck’ after a loud noise, and he’s already done spreading blueberry jam and butter on two toasts he piles up to make a sandwich for Liam, doing the same with Nutella on the two others for Niall, when they both come running towards him, patting his back and kissing his head to thank him for their breakfast before storming out quickly to get to the car.

They’d agreed on taking turns with the driving since the university’s parking lot wasn’t that big, and today was Harry’s turn. It doesn’t feel crowded at all in his black M-Class SUV Mercedes and he really enjoys his friends’ company, making him laugh and emerge from slumber just a little bit more as they chat and prepare themselves for the day.

Once they’re parked, Niall waves them goodbye to go to his own building, still half asleep with his coffee in hand as Harry and Liam walk to their literature class. And it’s definitely weird coming back after three months of doing absolutely nothing intellectual. Unless hooking up with a handsome writer in Barcelona counts. It has to, right ?

“How did you find the last question ? I feel like I completely missed the point of it.” Harry sighs as they get closer to the doors.

“What are you talking about ?” Liam frowns, genuinely confused.

“Liam…the questions we had to answer for today…about The Fifth ? The ones they sent with the schedule.”

Liam doesn’t say anything and just turns around to walk back to the car in panic, but Harry quickly pulls him backwards by the sleeve of his plaid shirt to drag him to class, doomed or not.

“I completely forgot about that ! Soph’ called and then-“

“Spare me. Your room is right next to mine…I know the rest.” Harry shivers. He’s heard details about Liam’s love life way too many times already and it was far too early for this.

They get in as Harry laughs at his friend’s upcoming misfortune, not to enjoy his misery, but because he’d called it last night and can’t be blamed for Liam’s libido.

He really wishes they could just sit together so he could whisper the answers to his friend if needed. Liam always helped him with Economics and he felt bad not being able to do the same in this class. But it wasn’t his call.

This wasn’t high school. But this was nothing like public universities.

In order to enter the prestigious master’s degrees in universities around England and America, they had to graduate from a three year program of their choice in a private school selecting the best students to either get where they selected or where they deserved to go. You either worked hard enough to get the one you wanted or let your future in the hands of a jury who could send you in a remote town, graduating from a subject you did not care about at all in the first place.

Harry knew he had this. He worked hard and already dreamt about walking around Oxford where he could study journalism. He loved writing and figured becoming a journalist was less risky than trying to become an actual writer. And this was not the opinion of his parents, but yes it had highly contributed when they explained how he wouldn’t earn any money from the start by writing books. They weren’t even completely fine with him becoming “just” a journalist, but they could handle it better than the other ideas Harry had. He couldn’t even say the word “photography” without an instant flashback of their last argument about his future.

He wasn’t completely there yet though…

Most subjects, he could pass. He wasn’t too skilled in Economics but Liam was the master of  graphics and theories and helped him whenever, making it sound like the easiest thing in the world, which turned out to be very true whenever they studied together. He wasn’t that great in Spanish either, but Niall was fluent so he managed to keep up with that as well. He loved literature which was more of a hobby than actual work, so nothing to worry about there. He also had Political Science, a few History classes and other general subjects that weren’t that bad.

His only weak spot was the non intellectual field.

In order to qualify for his university, he had to validate an annoying sweat producing chore. It’s not that he hated exercising. He loved jogging, spent enough time at the gym, and he was pretty sure he could have pursued a career in boxing. But it was football they were talking about here, as in chasing a ball across a large field without tripping over his own feet or getting distracted by the running shorts and sweaty backs, reminding him of how much of a horny teenager he could turn into sometimes. He would’ve been fine with something like gymnastics, or volley ball even, but Harry couldn’t have it perfect, could he ?

He walks to his assigned seat next to Ed, a nice guy obsessed with music whom he really wished was performing and not studying to get whatever degree he needed to take over his family’s label. He was gifted and really belonged on stage, not behind it. His parents wanted to pass the torch to their son though, so he just mainly posted videos of his music on Youtube for only a handful of people to watch.

“Hiya mate !” Ed beamed at the sight of his classmate, not waiting for him to sit to tell everything about the new song he’s been trying to compose.

It was a shame they all had to study general subjects some of them won’t even need in the future, because Harry’s not sure knowing how to comment on a book would help in the technical side of the music industry.

They’re both deep into the conversation when Harry gets hit by a small ball of paper that landed on their table, and he doesn’t need to turn around to know where it’s coming from. He unfolds the paper to read ‘FAG’ and rolls his eyes.

Because some people never grow up, this private university was very much like high school in the social aspect too. They were only about forty in each class, so cliques had naturally formed. There were groups of friends acting like royalty, others like the masters of knowledge and, of course, there was the annoyingly immature one who also happened to be the most reclusive – because let’s say things as they are: they looked like trouble - four twats fighting to impress with their overinflated ego and inability to understand the meaning of respect.

Harry looked over his shoulder to flick one of them off. This one, Calvin, started giggling obnoxiously with his friend behind him, discretion clearly not part of his vocabulary. Although not many words were part of it anyway.

Harry could deal with it though. This clique he had it on his back since high school when him, his mom and his sister moved to Buckingham for a reason Harry still don’t know. His mom had said she needed “fresh air” after the divorce. They still had the house in Holmes Chapel though, now occupied by his grandparents, allowing them to go back there for the holidays.

They mainly picked on him because he was an easy and obvious target. He was openly queer, could look rather ‘feminine’ sometimes – even though he hated when people said that, because who declared nail polish and well fitted white pants were a female monopoly ? – and had the best grades of each year even though he didn’t brag about it, and that wasn’t seen as tolerable by this group of homophobic borderline sexist wankers determined to exert their so called hegemonic masculinity. That’s what it looked like anyway.

“How old are you again, Cal ?! That was so fucking-” Another one of them mocks the childish gesture before closing his mouth, interrupted by the teacher walking in, putting the whole room in a dead silence. And Harry was glad to not have further comments from the guy.

This one was the worst. He was sort of like their leader, if such thing even existed in a group of self-obsessed idiots.

He was the loudest, always ready to pick a fight for anything and defend his friends like he would his own family. He was always the one getting told off and often called to discuss his behaviour, miraculously always freed without even as much as an hour of community service. The university wasn’t enforcing that, but still, it would be nice to have some sort of punishment, even just a mention of it in academic records, when someone was being this uncontrollable.

They were nothing but closed-minded bullies, and Harry was glad it was his last year before leaving them behind. There was just no chance any of them would follow him in Oxford. He wasn’t being judgemental because they happened to come from a different ‘background’, but they did nothing to change the clichéd struggling children with poor aspirations, unless they aimed for a career in drug dealing or something. That was the common thought.

“In the second paragraph, there’s a hint of what the author is trying to convey through-“ Mr Miller explains, cut by Harry raising his hand.

He knows he’s one of the few to actually pay attention to this seemingly boring class, but he loves being able to discuss his favourite books, as nerdy as that may sound sometimes.

“Yes, Mr Styles ?”

“I think she was foreshadowing the upcoming downfall by using this range of words, contrasting dark and light in the environment to describe the omnipresent contrast in the two characters’ dynamic, inevitably leading to chaos…” He says tentatively, just thinking out loud really.

He can hear the irritating choked laugh of the king of stupidity near the wall, hiding next to Liam behind his book.

“Do you have something to add Mr Tomlinson ?” The teacher frowns, making Harry turn to face the tosser who’s mocking his thoughts, as if he could do better. Or maybe he was just having a laugh with Liam…hard to tell.

“No, Sir.”

“Then I’d rather you keep your thoughts to yourself.” The whole class gasps quietly, making the student turn red, clearing his throat as he straightens his back on his chair to give the illusion that he’s not fazed at all by this.

The class goes on and Harry really tries to ignore the occasional giggles around him whenever he speaks, but it’s still getting on his nerves, especially because he’s the only one receiving them, and because he knows exactly why.

It had nothing to do with his will to participate in this class and everything to do with the fact that he enjoyed men for more than just camaraderie, and that those I-can-fuck-five-girls-a-week idiots knew it and needed to point it out whenever the topic could be brought up. And maybe dating a member of the high school football team wasn’t the smartest idea he ever had since they were all his teammates and the lockers had to be a place of personal confessions and curious ears.

“Louis !” Liam scolds in the quiet class while Mr Miller writes something on the board.

Harry turns, ready to defend his friend, but he only sees Liam red from laughter trying to escape Louis Tomlinson’s grip, picking on him as usual.

Liam didn’t have a problem with Louis. He actually loved him. He always talked about him in a positive way and Harry always wondered if they were discussing the same guy, because he looked nothing like what Liam described. He always put him in trouble and pranked him, but Liam never seemed to mind, assuring Harry it was his fault just as much, always defending that twat for some reason like his own brother. ‘Just a bit of banter’ he always said.

Their families knew each other though. They were friends since they were kids, so Harry figured it might have been altering with Liam’s opinion. You tend to defend your childhood friends more easily. Or at least that’s what made sense here.

He sometimes asked if Louis could stop by the flat, and Harry always made sure to not be around when that happened. He kept his room locked and rolled his eyes whenever they ran into each other briefly, not willing to engage in any kind of interaction.

It wasn’t because Louis clearly couldn’t appreciate things like them, or because he owned the same dodgy looking green pick up since he got his driver’s license, that Harry despised him. It wasn’t because he was the loudest guy who didn’t understand implicit social rules either. It was because of himself being bullied by his little gang. Harry had been through enough because of his friends, he didn’t need anymore coming from him.

“Tomlinson ! I’ve had enough !” Mr Miller growls, making every student widen their eyes in shock. He usually kept his calm, ignoring how noisy Louis could be, but he must have been having the worst morning of his life, because his veins were ready to pop and Louis even stayed quiet as if he was fearing a knife being thrown his way.

“Sorry, Sir.” The menace acts polite and fakes a smile, trying to save himself from a trip to the disciplinary administration on the first day.

“No. Not this time. I won’t put up with you two this year. I want you to move away from Mr Payne.” The teacher adjusts his glasses on the bridge of his nose and sweeps the class with his eyes until he stops…on Harry. “Go sit next to Harry. Now !”

The sun was out of sight, the room was too silent, and Harry’s heart had dropped for a second, throat tight and head spinning. There was no way he was agreeing to this. He had managed to go through two years in the same class and not once sit next to Louis, and he wouldn’t accept ruining his very last year before freedom for the sake of this loud prankster unable to stay still for two hours.

He didn’t mind having someone chatty next to him. He would have been fine with Liam or anyone else, just not him.

“Um…not to protest Sir but-“ Harry tried but Mr Miller was having none of it and rushed Louis to get his stuff to sit next to him, and Harry was pretty sure his world was on the verge of destruction. He wasn’t completely wrong.

He wasn’t scared of him or anything, he just couldn’t stand the group he belonged to. He’d never tried to get to know him, but he didn’t need to. If he could associate with them, then he couldn’t be that different from them. And judging by how loud and teasing he could be, there was no way he was going to make this easy.

“It’s temporary, right ?” Harry smiles to his teacher, trying to comfort himself that he will not have to deal with this ‘British Rogue’ for nearly ten months. He’d named himself that, and that was just proof Harry wouldn’t survive this. He wasn’t a perfect angel himself, but he had the decency to stop acting reckless when his future depended on it.

“I reckon this is the new sitting arrangement. I’m sorry Harry.” Mr Miller always favoured his student and Harry blushes a bit because he’s the only one to be called by his first name like that, and he feels a bit mothered right now, which doesn’t help at all. Why did they all need them to sit in the same place all the time, that was the real question. It surely couldn’t be that hard to find each student if they changed seats. But trying to voice your opinion in a private school was like talking to yourself, with a minus in your grades to keep you quiet. They were paid to get you in a good institution, not to hear you out.

“Just my luck.” Louis mutters, clearly as pleased as Harry about this. The latter doesn’t even look at him, just drags his chair far away from him and pretends he’s ignoring him, even though he can see the guy roll his eyes.

Louis had always been quite hostile with him. He looked at him in the corner of the eye in the hallways, clearly commented on his actions all the time, and sometimes stared without realizing until Harry caught him. They represented two different worlds and they just couldn’t tolerate each other. Sure they’d never actually talked, but they didn’t have to. Implicit social rules and all that.

“Fuck…” Louis cusses under his breath after a while.

Harry takes a quick glance next to him to notice Louis has run out of paper to write on. You’d think even him would have thought about a notebook coming back to class – laptops being prohibited in this class - and he almost hates himself for always wanting to help people all the time.

He rips three pages out of his own notebook and gives them to his new desk neighbour, who looks suspicious, taking the papers so slowly Harry turns to check if he’s not frozen or something.

“It’s just paper…you won’t become a good student if you touch them. I promise.” Harry fakes a smile, rolling his eyes when Louis just groans and takes the offered paper, breathing an exasperated ‘piss off’ instead of a ‘thanks for helping me even though I’m a dickhead’.

This was going to be a long year…

“So, which character is portrayed throughout the last paragraph ?” Mr Miller asks once they’re going over the homework.

Harry wants to raise his hand but he figures he might as well give someone else a chance to get participation points. He looks next to him to see a blank page in front of Louis, the book opened on the wrong side.

It’s not a surprise though. Harry had witnessed this guy’s summer over Instagram and Facebook to the very last day because of Liam always liking posts, and there was no way he had the time to read the book, let alone do the assignment. He was clearly more interested in partying with random girls at crowded nightclubs and smoking weed in his pick up truck with his minions. If his name was called, he was fucked.

The school had a strict policy on grades and participation. Only the best students could pass this last year, and there was just no second chance, no possibility to save yourself, no room left for failure. Everyone had to gain enough bonus points to secure their future since the spots were limited. It sounded a bit like the Hunger Games. And it sort of was. It relied on a competition rule: you only succeed if someone else fails.

“Too busy being straight, huh ?” Harry murmurs, earning a subtle middle finger and a scowl.

It’s not that he had something against heterosexuals, of course not, but Louis’ thing was to make sure everyone knew he was into girls and would kill the first person who dared calling him gay – since idiots could not be bothered to educate themselves on other existing sexualities. But that was another issue.

It had happened a few times given how flamboyant he could be back in the beginning of high school. It might have been sooner, but he had moved to Buckingham at the same time Harry did, so the latter couldn’t tell. Liam never noticed anything because ‘clueless’ was basically carved on his forehead.

That trait had somehow vanished after the first few laughs and names he got, sometimes by his own friends, turning him into the manliest laddy lad getting random girls in his car after parties and making sure everyone knew about it by taking and sharing too many pictures. He was very close to sticking ‘I AM IN FACT STRAIGHT’ as his driver’s license at one point.

Harry had seen things proving the opposite when he first arrived to town and saw him, or when drunk Louis made an appearance, but that was a long time ago when they were practically orbiting around each other during the time you figure out where you belong, so he pushed the thought away.

He sort of had a crush on him back then, when Louis was two classes above him. He was funny and nice, or so it seemed, and his mannerism was endearing. He was part of the drama club the first year Harry arrived and nailed his performance as Danny Zuko, until his will to look tougher made him quit. And then high school drama happened, and Harry found out Louis staying around him longer to redo year twelve wasn’t that much of a great news after all.

“I’m just not the best at this, okay ?” Louis grunted, as if Harry had hit the wrong button, the insecurity button he wasn’t even aware someone like him could even have.

He was about to make a joke, enjoying this guy having his own weak spot, but the expression on the boy’s face made him stop. There wasn’t anger or sassiness, or any will to impress. He looked genuinely disappointed in himself for not having the answer, truly struggling with this, not just acting like he didn’t care about his grades.

“Tomlinson.” Mr Miller cut Harry’s thoughts.

“Hmm ?” Louis looks up, shaking a bit, trying to get more time to make up an answer.

“Can you answer the question ? Or have you been unable to understand the homework once again ?”

Even Harry feels bad when he hears that. It’s like the teacher doesn’t expect Louis to be clever enough to get it right, and even the meanest person he knows doesn’t deserve that.

Elizabeth.” Harry whispers in his fist, leaning closer to Louis who raises a brow. “E-li-za-beth.” He tries again, tilting his head to make him understand it’s the right answer.

Louis hesitates and stutters, but he gives the answer Harry’s just murmured to him, with a bit more confidence the second time.

“Um…well…you’re right.” Mr Miller’s throat apparently aches to admit that before asking the next question to someone else.

Louis lets out a heavy sigh and bites his lip before nudging Harry’s side discretely.

“Thank you.” He purses his lips, surprise clear in his confused frown.

Harry just nods and goes back to the book, trying to pretend Louis is not staring at him with bewilderment, apparently shocked that Harry’s not selfish and willing to let him drown.

The rest of the class isn’t that much of a nightmare with Louis sitting close.

He stays quiet, more quiet than usual anyway, and doesn’t bother Harry at all, thanking him again for the help and not arguing whenever he explains something he clearly is confused about. Harry loves helping people with that, so he’s glad to see the ‘ahhh, I get it now’ look, no matter the person he reads it on. And Louis apparently wasn’t one of those people who can’t accept help when needed. So he could be nice.

When the class ends, they’re both silent. Harry grabs his stuff and Louis gathers his. It’s a bit awkward when they bump into each other by accident and apologize at the same time, but they both instantly chuckle, and Harry notices the soft features on the boy’s face, something he thought he’d never see again.

Louis immediately stops smiling and looks away, bending down between them. Harry is confused but relaxes when Louis sits back up with the pen he’d dropped.

He’s about to thank him when Louis’ friends emerge, circling him expectedly like docile puppies.

“I’m sorry for you, mate !” Oli pats his friend’s shoulder.

“Why ?” Louis frowns.

“For sitting next to that dick sucking prince !” Calvin jumps in, laughing the only insult he knows and making Harry swallow a response he’s aware won’t go anywhere. He’s not so much of a fighter and his words have never convinced any of their stubborn minds to shut up, so he sort of just ignores their comments now. If they had an issue with him, that was their problem, not his. They didn’t matter enough.

Harry looks up to see Louis glance at him discretely, checking if he heard anything, biting his lip when he realizes he did. He looks apologetic, and Harry wonders who’s that guy right next to him, because he’s nothing like he imagined him to be. He had expected to have his shirt glued to his chair by now.

“Wanker…” Harry huffs as he stands up and makes his way to Liam.

“What did you call me ?!” Calvin pulls him back by his shoulder, and Harry really wonders why he had to be against violence right now, because that idiot deserved nothing less than his Cartier rings against his jaw.

“Just drop it, Cal.” Louis says sternly and waits for his friend to step back before chuckling and turning around to follow his chief.

“Dickhead.” Harry snorts.

“C’mon, let’s just go.” Liam hooks his arm around Harry’s waist and leads them out. There would be other situations where Liam would’ve knocked that guy out for his friend, but if he did every single time he’d probably have a cast instead of his hand.

The rest of the day is thankfully as calm as it could be. Niall joins them for lunch and they decide on the new green place Harry recommended, trying out a vegetarian lifestyle after watching Earthlings and crying as he shut his laptop when it got to dolphins, skipping the making of leather and dairy products because it was too much in one go.

His friends don’t argue because there’re plenty of tasty vegetarian options including pizza and surprisingly mouth watering tempeh burgers. They end up thanking Harry because the burgers taste like actual ones and the chips are out of this world, and Harry wiggles his brows with pride, patting his own shoulder for not contributing to animal cruelty as much for even just a day.

They get to their next classes and Harry is glad to be sitting with his usual classmates for each one, including Economics next to Liam without whom he probably couldn’t get very far.

And then there’s P.E.

Harry hated a lot of things about the mandatory physical aspect of this day. First of all, it was a Monday. No one should be arsed to get this sweaty at the end of the first day of the week, especially right after a three month vacation. Most guys seemed to like it, love it even, but Harry wasn’t that good at football, despite his knowledge and understanding of the game, and it made him cringe every time he embarrassed himself in front of the guys living for it.

Thank God he at least gets to see panting fit men in shorts, otherwise he wouldn’t even show up honestly.

He wasn’t sure that made up for the before and after part of it though: the lockers.

No macho guy apparently seemed to understand that just because he likes men doesn’t mean he’d jump on all of them, and it was rather insulting when they sprinted out of the showers with their towel wrapped around them as if their dick was the golden treasure Harry was fishing for at every second of his day. He had fucking taste.

He had no trouble exposing himself, however. He'd learnt to ignore the very few stares and just get dressed without as much effort as the others, not twisting to hide his body. It makes him laugh when one of the guys that once hit on him runs to hide himself, and he makes a scene staying in just his boxers as he looks for his shorts in his bag, forcing the guys to have his arse in their sight to make them wonder if they’re really sure about their sexuality. He’s not vain or anything, but he’s been doing lots of squats and he’s not blind.

“I think she’s going to break up with me…” Liam whines once he’s dressed, slamming his back against the locker right next to Harry’s.

“What ? Why do you think that ?”

“It’s been ten minutes and she hasn’t replied to my text. Did I do something wrong ?”

Harry can’t believe how insecure Liam can be sometimes when he’s head over heels in love with a girl. Harry had met Sophia a few months ago and quickly got along with her, and she looked just as obsessed with his friend. But they were both incredibly incapable of showing it to each other.

“I’m sure she just doesn’t want you to think she’s clingy. She loves you, mate. Don’t worry.” Harry taps Liam’s cheek to make him relax, immediately interrupted by a few disgusted noises behind them.

“Ew, take your gay business elsewhere !” Stan – another one of Louis’ friends – laughs. This one wasn’t in their other classes, but he had only been accepted to the school for his football skills, granting him a scholarship, so he attended this course. He’s quickly followed by the entire gang.

Louis is behind them, laughing until he meets Harry’s eyes, instantly rubbing his hands as if he were Pablo Escobar or something, tilting his head back and making himself look much taller than he is. In every way.

“I can’t believe you’re friends with that guy.” Harry says as he sits down to lace his trainers.

“I promise he’s not like that when he’s not with them. You’d like him. I told you we should hang out and you’d see-‘

"No thanks. He never objects to what they say Liam…his silence says enough about him.” Harry shrugs and closes his locker before jogging to the door, not ready to run around, but also not ready to take the risk to fail his year.

They go over the program first so Harry doesn’t have to panic for a while, just sitting on the bleachers like everyone else as the coach talks about the new grading policy and how it’ll work for the final exam. Exciting things.

When he’s done talking and makes them run to the pitch for warm up, Harry is already groaning. He hates it.

Every time a guy bends over in front of him, he checks if Harry is behind. Every time he himself stretches a bit too much, he gets remarks from behind about how he looks like he’s made to be in that position, and he laughs it off most of the time because they think it’s just playful, but it really gets to him by the end of the first hour. It’s like all he is for some of them is his sexuality, like it’s what defines him somehow, even though it’s the last thing he’d think about when describing himself.

Thankfully, there’s only a minority of his classmates who shares that view. Harry’s in fact mostly loved and respected by everyone. He’s charismatic and always makes everyone laugh, but the abundance of comments by the small group of people disliking him for no reason is so frustrating that he sometimes forgets that.

He’s a bit of royalty here though. Girls idolize him because of his mom and his looks, guys want to be his friend because of the girls always around him. He’d dated girls before and not everyone had a problem with him not caring about genders – mostly because not everyone understood what that implied – so he was just appreciated everywhere he went. It was a bit hard sometimes to be himself since this town wasn’t the most progressive place and he still feared rejection for his interests, but fortunately the upcoming generation was slightly better. Slightly.

“Tomlinson ! Show us how to stretch since you’re so good at it !” Coach scolds when he catches Louis laughing at his Oli, struggling to bend and touch his feet.

Louis doesn’t argue much. He walks to the front and resumes the stretching, and Harry really tries to keep his eyes away, but Louis knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing a really good job at arching his back and exposing his bum depending on the exercise, making Harry lose his focus a bit.

Louis was one of the best players he’d ever seen. Of course he doesn’t really know if his opinion is accurate enough, but it doesn’t take a genius to see the potential in the guy’s ability to dribble with his feet and dodge numerous tackles until he shoots winning goals like it’s nothing.

And he was just as precise with his warm up.

“You’re drooling.” Liam giggles next to his friend who’s a bit awestruck.

By men in tight shorts and sweaty backs, Harry might have been exaggerating. He enjoyed Louis in tight shorts and shirts sticking to his back. But that was not something to be acknowledged. He was not attracted to a twat. He didn’t have a crush on this Adidas promoter dork, not anymore. He just happened to have a really nice body, that’s all. Harry had let it slip out that he looked 'cute' on the pitch when chatting with his friend, so the latter never missed an opportunity to joke about it ever since. 

“Shut up !” Harry slaps Liam’s shoulder and goes back to admiring Louis’ curves as he stretches, and thinks for a second Louis might be getting this bendy on purpose, just to make the practice even harder to bear.

After the second round of testing his stamina running around the pitch, Harry is done. He usually jogs up and down the street, not around a fucking field over and over again without any limit. It’s hot outside and the sun is still bright, so he’s half certain he’ll end up with a red face and a tan line from his shirt. He rolls up his shorts to avoid a leg tan catastrophe, and he’s ready to head to the showers. Thank God Coach didn’t make them run around along the track between the trees or he would’ve fallen in the lake.

When Coach whistles, however, he’s carrying a ball, and Harry is reminded that they are in fact there to play a specific game. He doesn’t hate the sport in itself, but it’s not his favourite. Yoga is enough of an exercise to be honest, but he can’t really yell that here.

“Payno !” Louis shouts from afar once he gets the ball, kicking it towards Harry’s friend, making the latter focus only on him and leave Harry as a prey when Louis’ clique approaches.

“You’re supposed to move, Styles.” Stan bumps his shoulder into Harry on his path, and runs to the ball.

Harry sighs and starts strutting before speeding up, pretending to work as defense even though he’s just avoiding the ball at all costs really…

It’s not like anyone’s going to pass it to him though. If last year was anything to go by, they all knew Harry can’t keep the ball for long or shoot in the right direction. He’s not the worst and he sometimes surprisingly passes to the right person, and even scored once, but he was so afraid to get it wrong that he usually did.

“Styles !” Harry hears and turns to see Oli passing him the ball, and he knows this dick is just trying to make fun of him, catching him off guard.

He gets the ball between his feet and starts to run towards the goal, searching for anyone capable of shooting in his place. The nearest teammates are all trapped behind the opponents though, so he cusses and just goes for it, focusing on making a straight line.

He’s got this. There’s no one near him to stop his legs for once and they’re all too busy circling his team to attack him. Maybe he has a chance, maybe he can-

“Fuck !” Harry shouts as he falls on the grass, harshly tackled by Calvin who runs backwards with the ball until there’s a whistle and loud cheering because the guy obviously scored whilst Harry winces, holding his leg against his chest because that scumbag nearly destroyed his shin for a stupid ball.

“You’re alright, mate ?” Ed gives Harry a hand, which he gladly takes to get to his feet again.

“Yeah…” Harry nods but he shrieks every time he stands on the attacked leg, whimpering a bit but swallowing the pain until he can finally walk to the lockers behind everyone.

“You’re done crying, Styles ?!” Calvin shoves his fist in Harry’s back when he walks behind him and Harry has to close his eyes and count to ten to not break his neck.

And he’s done with the day.

He waits for everyone to leave as usual, too exhausted to handle the stares from Louis’ friends as he walks in and out of the shower. Liam always waits for him, so he’s not going to rush and get knocked over the wall or get his clothes stolen again. And to think they call it ‘banter’…

“Mate ! There’s no service in there ! I’ll be outside !” Liam yells from behind Harry’s shower stall. The latter yells an ‘okay!’ back and reaches for his soap.

He might spend a long while under that cold water, but it’s been a long day and he really needs his brain to be a bit frozen for now. He washes his hair, noticing the few green leaves flowing to his feet, reminding him how he ended that bloody game.

Once he’s done, he reluctantly dries off and wraps his towel around his waist, letting it fall low on his hips, knot sliding down his crotch and exposing his v-line. He doesn’t really care though, everyone’s gone and Liam’s seen him naked before, so it really doesn’t matter if the towel isn’t secure enough.

He runs his fingers through his damp hair as he walks and looks down as he shakes the wet curls to make them messier, when he hears someone close a locker.

He looks up to see Louis, who turns to face him when he notices he’s not alone.

Neither of them say anything, but Louis is staring and Harry really thought he could get away without an annoying comment this time.

There’s none though, so he breathes and goes to his locker on the opposite side, getting his bag and putting it on the bench between them to get his clothes.

“Hope your leg’s alright…” Louis chuckles, as if it was meant to be a joke. “Calvin can be a bit of a…”

“Dickhead ? Yeah, I noticed.”

Harry can feel Louis’ eyes on him and he fights himself not to check because he can’t have an awkward glance that’ll create names the day after. It’s a bit draining having to face being called gay - as if it was still an insult nowadays - by a few bored blokes who think they own the world when it’s the opposite, but it’s been like that for ages and it still hasn’t changed, so he just has to deal. It’s not like their opinion matters in his own circle of friends anyway.

“Yeah…” Louis says after a while when Harry has already forgotten the conversation.

He pulls out his boxers, his jeans, and an old band tee he kept from the concert he went to a long time ago. He’s quite glad he got it two sizes too big, because it fits like a glove four years later.

“You like The Script ?” Louis asks, as if Harry wasn’t allowed to like them.

“Um…yes ?” He half answers, half asks, not really sure where this is heading.

It’s the most he’s ever said to the guy in the five years they’ve been around each other. They never had to interact since they were practically on opposite sides of the world – they were just in different groups of friends, but it still felt like an invisible wall separated them- so it was a bit new.

“I like them too.” Louis says in a low and gentle voice, far from the loud and disturbing persona Harry knows…heard about…whatever.

“Ever seen them live ?” Harry frowns at himself.

Was he really making conversation with him ? With Louis Tomlinson ? Head of the dickhead squad ? Owner of the green pick up always parked in dodgy parts of town ?

“Yeah, I think it was about four years ago. I went to the show in London when they were sold out.” Louis shrugs.

“Really ? I was there too…” Harry smiles. “That was a sick concert.”

“Right ?! I lost my voice that night, everyone was looking at me like a fucking creep the day after.” Louis giggles.

“Same ! I couldn’t even go to school the week after. My mom thought I'd been attacked.” Harry laughs and Louis laughs with him, making himself look softer when he hides his giggles behind his hand as if he’s not allowed to do so.

There’s a brief silence as the giggles falter and leave a sort of tension, but not a bad one.

“They’ll be back in February next year. Are you…are you going ?” This feels extremely foreign and bizarre and Harry has given up trying to get dressed because he can only focus on one task at a time.

“I want to. But I don’t really know anyone who likes them enough to go to London for a weekend just for them…” Louis shrugs and almost pouts, and Harry almost feels bad, understanding what he means. His friends probably only listen to shitty rap objectifying women. Or they probably don’t fancy going to London just for a band they don’t care about.

“Well, I’m definitely going. My friend Niall got tickets for us.” Harry says. He looks down, takes a deep breath, and jumps off a cliff. “But you could come with us if you want ? Liam will be there too…”

And okay…did he really just say that ?

It’s just that he can’t stand people not being happy because of others. He knows how ecstatic going to concerts of bands he likes makes him, and the look on Louis’ face makes it clear that he’s dying to go, but wouldn’t dare going by himself.

And he’s not being too much of an arse right now, so maybe Harry could let Liam deal with him to make sure he has some company he won’t insult or something. Not that he ever directly insulted Harry…but still…he witnessed, and that was pretty much the same thing, right ?

“Really ?” Louis frowns, making Harry very aware that they’re not exactly friends, far from that, so going to a gig together could be weird. It doesn’t feel like it would be though.

He nods and stares at him, a bit unsure of what to say or how to act in front of him. Maybe Liam wasn’t lying. Maybe Louis was in fact a completely different person when not surrounded by pricks, and maybe Harry could tolerate him. Just for now.

Harry only realizes they’ve been looking at each other in silence when Louis clears his throat and looks at the ceiling, pointing at Harry’s waist. He looks down to see his towel slowly sliding down, exposing a bit more of him, his shaved crotch making the cloth hang too loose over his hips.

“Oh ! Sorry !” Harry apologizes but Louis shakes his head with a grin.

“No, you’re fine…” He bites a smile. It’s not the usual mocking smirk. It’s even…soft ? No. It’s Louis Tomlinson Harry’s thinking about, and nothing about him is soft. He’s a hundred layers of tough and intimidating.

He snaps out of his confusion to get dressed, wondering why Louis isn't just fleeing outside instead of standing there, staring at the walls as he waits for Harry to be a bit more covered.

“Hey, um…” Louis starts as Harry slips into his jeans. He’s turned around to give him some privacy and sounds like it's taking everything in him to talk. “…thanks again for the help in class this morning.”

Harry is about to say something after a brief pause when the door to the lockers opens.

“Tommo ! What the fuck are you doing ?! We’ve been waiting for you and-“ Calvin erupts from outside and Harry is already snorting. “Styles ? You’re as slow in the lockers as you are on the pitch !”

Louis rushes to get his bag and purses his lips in silence, watching his friend walk to Harry once he’s fully dressed and ready to go.

“Don’t you ever take breaks being an arsehole ?” Harry huffs, trying to make his way around the guy, but stopped when he walks in front of him again.

“Don’t you ever take breaks being a fag ?” The guy giggles, and Harry looks at Louis who pretends he wasn’t being a decent human a few seconds ago.

“Let’s go.” Louis coughs, not even acknowledging the situation. And maybe Harry doesn’t want to go to a gig with him anymore.

“You’re okay ?” Liam asks when Harry walks out, brows furrowed and face red for another reason than the sun hitting him a while ago.

They walk to the car and find Niall already waiting, leaning against the door with his earphones plugged in, drumming his fingers on his leg.

They drive home and Harry’s never been this happy to fall on his bed after trading his clothes for a leopard robe his friends find tacky. He’d usually stay up with Liam and Niall for a while, but he feels like today’s been a week already and he’s ready to finish every assignment he has to turn in tomorrow, plan his outfit, and slide in the slippery sheets as smooth as his skin.

He checks his phone in his bed with the lights off when all is done, and posts a black and white picture of himself from his chin to his waist in his worn out band tee with the caption ‘4 years and a T’.

He then goes through his Twitter feed, reading Liam’s four tweet long tale about accidentally spilling his bowl of pasta on himself. He laughs loud enough so his roommate can hear him from his room, and he freezes when he gets a notification from his Instagram.

He’s not sure he’s seen it right, so he goes to check again, and he widens his eyes when he realizes he did not hallucinate.

louistommo liked your post

In another universe, Harry would be indifferent to this, or maybe irritated by the obvious mockery. But after talking a bit today, he doesn’t really react the way he should.

He wonders why the guy would risk liking his picture and damage his reputation. Harry refreshes the page and the notification is still there, but as soon as he goes to the actual picture, it’s gone.

Oh.

He was just looking at his page then, nothing weird about that. None. Nothing odd about the leader of his bullies checking him out – his Instagram at least – total accident. Harry didn’t even know he followed him. He checks to see that he actually doesn’t. And okay, this is nothing, not a big deal. They talked about the band and he must’ve understood what Harry meant in the caption and absentmindedly liked it before realizing, no worries.

Harry’s not one to obsess over meaningless things like that. Of course he isn’t. He doesn’t care if this twat checks his profile, doesn’t care if he might have liked the post for some reason, and doesn’t care if he seemed nicer than usual today. He’s still the head of the wankers clique, so it doesn’t matter.

He does fall asleep to the thought of his nice smile and his soft laugh, but that’s not to be discussed, and he definitely won’t think about that guy again. He’s an idiot who doesn’t comprehend the importance of wearing actual clothes and not sweats four times a week, and that makes a difference. Maybe.

  

****

 

The shows are going great and we even got Alexander Wang to sign for next summer !”

“Oh really ? That’s great ! Look, I really wanted to talk to you about-” Harry sighs on the phone when he hears his mom yell at someone in the background.

The girls are running everywhere, honey ! I’ll have to call you back ! And Gemma says hi !” Anne, Harry’s mother, hangs up, leaving her son with his mouth still ajar, closing his eyes to the sound of the tone in his ear.

Harry couldn’t complain. Both his parents worked hard and made sure to pay for his education and anything he wanted, so he just couldn’t complain. He wasn’t a spoilt child and knew how lucky he was to have everything he needed, and more, and he wouldn’t make a fuss because neither of them had enough time to listen to him talk about his insignificant day.

He missed talking to his mom and his sister about everything though…

His dad wasn’t with them anymore, had left after the divorce and moved to New York to expand his company, and he was back and forth between America and England to manage everything, so Harry could only see him about three times a year, and never dared calling him outside of that, time zones being a pain in the arse.

He used to be very close with the women in his life when he was home before his mom got solicited to show her collection in other places than London. Now, she was flying everyday from Italy to France, from France to Japan, showing off her work to the smallest catwalks and the biggest museums privatized for fashion purposes, sometimes traveling just to get inspired for upcoming collections.

His twenty-five year old sister worked with her as a make up artist, so he did not see her either, and had to patiently wait for the both of them to go back home as often as his dad to have a chance to spend time with them. They usually skyped when their hotel had fast wifi though, so they were still a family. Sometimes.

“Haz ! Ready to go ?” Niall shouts, making Harry recompose himself and wipe the tear he let escape before standing from his chair facing the window. His friends had said it looked dramatic, a ginormous purple couch facing outside only to be used in rainy days with a tragic novel. Harry liked to be dramatic though, so he’d thanked them.

“Yeah !” He says with faked excitement and follows his friend for the party they were heading to.

Parties held by wealthy students were just the normal happenings in this part of town. Most inhabitants were going to the university and it was a remote kind of community for the…let’s say the luckiest students around.

Harry liked those parties. That’s what he knew. He could get drunk and be sure to have a shoulder to lean on, friendly enough with everyone to not get dragged into anything that bad. It’s not like there was much to worry about anyway. Everyone’s always too preoccupied to not lose their expensive watch, and too obsessed with befriending the right people, to do anything else. The most awful thing they could do was to offer him the champagne he disliked.

Besides, they all loved having him around and wouldn’t dare making a mistake with him. He’s a bit of a rock star anywhere he goes, and he’s not sure why he gets that kind of attention, but he would lie if he said he didn’t like it.

He never had to beg for it, never had to struggle much to get a crowd around him if he wanted to, and never felt embarrassed showing off his moves when his favourite songs were blasting, or when he was just too tipsy to not sing Abba and twirl around with the first person he caught in his arms.

Sometimes he does question the intentions of some people who call themselves his friends. His mom has access to the prestigious catwalks and purses the girls are all craving and his dad makes sure he gets enough things to share with guys begging to enjoy what he has and hit on the girls glued to him wherever he goes. He can’t complain though. He just cannot complain.

Tonight is the very first big party of the year. Ed is the host and he’s invited pretty much the entire neighbourhood. It feels like there’s barely enough room to breathe even though he’s living in one of his family’s mansions he shares with his brothers.

Harry does what he does every time and downs a few shots with Liam and Niall before letting Sophia kidnap his friend and watching Niall laugh his way to a crowd of guys crammed into the couch in front of the sports game that’s airing.

He leans against the bar and watches everyone for a bit, smiling to every person waving at him even though he doesn’t recall their names. He does get overly friendly when he’s happily drunk, and he’s just glad he’s more the kind to forget names than to forget his actions.

He remembers every person he gets a bit too close with, everything he says, and every thought running through his mind when he decides he’s not going to like getting to know them more than that.

He hasn’t had a serious relationship since the football player two years ago – even though he can hardly even call that a relationship – and he’s not interested in hook ups outside summer, but he does like to charm and flirt. He just loves being loved really, and he doesn’t hold himself back when he finds someone he figures might be interesting. He often leaves them hanging because they’re just not it, but he still enjoys the exchange and ends up learning more about himself.

Of course he wishes he could meet someone different for whom he’d just settle. He had a clear plan for the future and it did involve someone by his side. But he was young and he hadn't met anyone worth thinking about that way so far. He was a bit of a helpless romantic though, so he was beginning to think he should lower his expectations.

“Shit.” He grunts when he’s pushed forward, feeling his back cold, white shirt dripping with beer. And he’s thankful he’d changed his mind about the yellow shirt his mom had brought him back from Japan.

Of course it’s Oli and Stan, who really shouldn’t be here, but Harry senses they just snuck in, using the crowd to hide themselves and not be rejected at the doors. Harry knows Ed doesn’t like them, and he’d never allow their presence in here.

“Are you in love with me or something ? Can’t even get off my back for a second…” Harry should use a teasing voice but he’s nothing but angry. This was a delicate fabric.

“Urgh !” Oli pretends to vomit.

“Chill, mate ! Just an accident.” Calvin assures.

Oli, Stan, Calvin and their other friend Luke start laughing, so Harry has the feeling it really wasn’t an accident. And now he’s just smelling like alcohol, back sticky and hair probably just as dirty because these guys are obsessed with humiliating him and crashing parties they don’t belong to…aren't invited to…Same thing.

“I’m not your mate.” Harry groans, pushing Oli’s shoulder with a firm hand because he’s a peace maker, not a lifeless punching ball.

“What the fuck ?! You don’t touch me like that, fag !” Oli is a raging lanky redhead obviously hammered. Great.

The feud draws attention and everyone gradually gets closer to witness what’s happening, whispering as Harry prays for the beer to stop feeling so disgusting against his skin.

“Hey ! Hey !” Louis makes his way to them and Harry just rolls his eyes. The last thing he needs is getting dragged by the leader who looks too drunk to not have a go as well. “I got it…Let’s go back to the car.”

Louis seems to talk about something specific and it doesn’t get a science team to know he’s just talking about weed. Of course they just crashed the party to get an expensive spliff and fuck off to get high in a car.

Louis gives whatever he’s holding to Luke and they all walk outside, except Louis who stays next to Harry until they’re out of sight and the rest of the crowd is back at whatever they were doing before that.

“You’re okay ?” Louis sniffles to sound indifferent, as if someone had forced him to do that.

Harry frowns and walks away.

Three weeks had passed since the seating arrangements.

Louis wasn’t that much of a burden and was somewhat nice. They chatted briefly when Louis wasn’t distracted by his friends, and Harry had even started to grow a bit fond of the way he always sat, an arm around the back of Harry’s chair and his legs stretched in front of him, chewing on his pen as he got lost in a daydream.

Harry should’ve been annoyed by the intrusion of his personal space, but he didn’t really mind, and Louis was being rather quiet so he figured he had no reason to attack him for getting comfortable.

They’d been grunting at each other a few times for meaningless remarks, but other than that, it was going well.

Louis had also liked another one of Harry’s picture. He wasn’t sure how that mattered, but he felt like it did because he didn’t unlike it this time.

“Hey !” Louis chases, gripping Harry’s bicep to make him turn. “I’m sorry about them.”

“Why ? S’not like you’ve ever cared before…” Harry turns back around again and walks upstairs to where he knows is the least visited bathroom. He doesn’t need to walk in on any blowjobs right now, he just really needs this shirt off.

When he steps into the bathroom, Louis is still following him and closes the door behind them. Harry gets to the sink and throws his shirt over his head to inspect it, knowing he can say goodbye to it because it’s too much of a fragile fabric to be fixed.

“Fuck !” He grunts and drops the shirt in the small bin under the sink. Thankfully, his hair is untouched and his back only needs a wet cloth.

He turns around to see Louis is still here, just watching him fix the mess his friends have made.

“Do you want to take pictures ? Or is your thing just liking them on Instagram ?” Harry mutters, looking for a clean cloth in the many drawers.

“So you saw that…” Louis says shyly, reaching a small towel behind him. Harry frowns and takes it hesitantly before wetting it a bit, struggling to reach behind him.

“Yes.” He simply says, too focused on trying to rub the sticky spot to wonder what that boy’s thinking about. He must’ve figured Harry had too many followers to check who liked his pictures.

“Um…” Louis raises a finger as if to ask something, but sighs instead and walks closer, taking the cloth from Harry’s hand to clean his back for him. And Harry would swat his hand, if it weren’t for how good it feels. The towel, not Louis’ hands.

He needed the help. He doesn’t have a choice here. It’s either suffering with Louis rubbing his back, or walking home smelling like cheap alcohol. Even though it’s not so much of a suffering. His hands are rather careful and the pattern he goes for feels like he’s just massaging his back, so maybe Harry can cope with it.

“I wasn’t stalking you or anything…just so you know.” Louis justifies himself, still dragging the wet cloth all over Harry’s back, sliding it down his spine as he speaks.

“I didn’t think you were.” Maybe he did, maybe he wished he was. Wait…no, he did not wish it. He just…these hands are quite nice.

“I was just going through other people’s likes and found Liam’s.” Louis says as if Harry was debating his intentions. There’s a brief silence before he says something else. “I like your pictures…they’re like…artsy and stuff.”

“Thank you ?” Harry frowns for a split second before turning around. “I think my back is clean enough…thanks.”

He’s not sure when he says that, because his back might be squeaky clean right now. He just got a bit lost in Louis rubbing it gently and Louis might have been too carried away to stop the gesture that shouldn’t have been taking over five seconds.

“Oh yeah, sorry.” Louis clears his throat and hangs the towel on one side of the sink.

“So you like my pictures ?” Harry smirks. Maybe it’s the vodka still flowing in his veins that makes him be friendly with Louis, or maybe he just enjoyed their rare chats…who knows.

Louis nods with a smile that makes his eyes all crinkly and small and Harry wonders why he’s never seen that smile before. It’s not like he’s ever actually looked at him, but still. He did occasionally notice his curves and secretly laughed at his jokes when he was talking loud enough for everyone to hear, but he just never saw that face, not since high school anyway, probably blinded by what he represented.

“I liked the one with your sister on the boat. Must be the black and white filter, but it looked really good…”

“Thank you…again.” Harry smiles. He can’t believe this, but he actually, genuinely, smiles. It’s not everyday that someone recognized his effort, let alone someone who didn’t owe him courtesy.

“Why the black and white theme though ?”

So Louis had gone through enough photos to see the one of Gemma from two months ago and notice he has a theme. What ?

“Dunno…” Harry lies at first. He looks at Louis’ disappointed expression and he’s suddenly explaining himself. “I heard that song about the whole world being in black and white until you meet someone that makes you see in screaming colours.”

“So you figured you’d only post in colour when you meet that someone ?” Louis doesn’t look amused by it. Harry would’ve thought someone like him would have been laughing at his face. But he was starting to think he didn’t really know how Louis was actually like.

“Yeah.” Harry nods and can’t help pinching his bottom lip with his thumb and forefinger as a nervous reflex. And that makes him even more anxious because he doesn’t know why he’s being nervous.

“That’s…” Louis starts but doesn’t finish, pouting instead as if he almost said something he shouldn’t. He waits for a few seconds before speaking again. “I don’t even really use mine. I was forced to even make one, pressured by the modern world.” Louis says with a playful grunt that makes Harry chuckle.

There’s a brief silence as they stop laughing, and Harry is not sure about what to say next, but his mouth seems to be independent.

“Why are you being nice to me ?” He can’t help asking. He sits on the edge of the tub behind him and doesn’t expect Louis to sit next to him, but he does.

Their knees are brushing against each other and it shouldn’t matter this much. Harry almost punches his stomach to make the feeling he’s having go away. It’s not that Louis is intimidating, but he kind of is, and it’s like Harry’s own respected reputation doesn’t even matter right now, because he’s not with someone who cares about it.

“Why wouldn’t I be ?” Louis frowns, looking down at his lap.

“Dunno, your mates hate me…And you’ve never really been friendly with me.”

“I just realized how stupid it is. None of us should pick on you for that…” Louis sounds sincere and Harry is a bit taken aback. Is he…apologizing ?

“What ?”

“I know it sounds rubbish coming from me, but I really didn’t know how bad it was. I just thought you were different. I thought you were too self-centred to care or something.”

“Yeah well…I’m not. I’m proud of who I am, yeah, but it still hurts.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“Again…what ?”

Louis giggles and Harry tries to fight his smile but the sound is contagious so he really is just grinning, almost touched by what Louis is saying. He’s never actively taken part in the harassment Harry’s been through, but here he is, still trying to make it right somehow for some reason.

“I understood things and-“

“What did you understand ?” Harry asks and is almost slapping himself. It’s like he’s scared him off with this question and he’s about this close to talk to the old version of Louis who threatens to comeback. But he just squints for a second before talking again.

“It’s hard getting to know yourself when you’re always being criticized for who you are or what you do…”

“It is.” Harry says matter-of-factly and Louis looks at him with sad eyes, almost like he gets what Harry went through because of them. Like he knows.

He wants to ask, but Louis is looking at him a bit too intensely and he doesn’t dare breaking the gaze. The bathroom is gigantic but it somehow feels too small, and Louis is close enough so that Harry can smell his homely scent of fabric softener and the smooth hint of tobacco coming from his black shirt. And maybe he’s a bit too close if he can smell that.

He looks at him looking at him and it should be awkward, but it’s getting more comfortable by the second. He notices the way his fringe covers half his face, hair newly cut on the sides – not that Harry ever looked at his hair, of course not – giving an accentuated bad boy look that really doesn’t match his words or his eyes.

He scoots closer and Harry would swear he saw his eyes drift to his lips, when the door slams open, making the both of them jump and stand up as a drunk girl giggles her way to the toilet to throw up.

She’s followed by a guy Harry’s never seen before who rushes to help her. They get out trying to ignore the weird look he has, as if he’d just walked in on them doing more than just look at each other. But maybe Harry’s paranoid and he just recognized who Louis was and how he wasn’t supposed to be here.

“Aren’t your friends waiting for you or something ?” Harry asks, once the door is closed behind.

“They’ll manage.” Louis says dryly. “I’m talking to you for now.”

Harry has a strange tickle in his chest but he ignores it. He doesn’t care if Louis just chose him over his friends and sounded authoritative about it. It doesn’t matter if he used a voice that made him sound like a powerful leader that could do whatever he wanted and would do Harry for now. And by ‘do’ understand give attention to. Although maybe Harry wouldn’t mind the other meaning…Too many shots.

“Why ?” He frowns.

Louis brushes his hand against the boy’s hip and brings him closer to the wall to make him stop walking, and Harry becomes very aware of three things. One, he is not wearing a shirt and Louis’ hand feels like a lot against him. Two, this hallway is very dark and that music is too loud for him to think properly or hear anything. And three, that boy is looking at him like he’s going to corrupt his soul.

“Why not ?” Louis’ eyes are sharp and reach Harry’s spine. He’s not daring or anything, he’s just genuinely asking, as if he doesn’t get the real reason why they’ve never talked to each other before. Harry asks himself the same question.

“Are you drunk ? Are you not aware of what I am to you ?” Is what he asks out loud.

“What do you think you are to me ?” Louis tilts his head on the side and licks his lips as if he’s amused by what Harry may think, and the way he places his hand next to Harry’s head to lean against the wall has him melting. There’s no height difference right now. To be honest, Louis could be called the tall one and Harry would agree.

“I don’t know, but I know I’m nothing but a ‘dick sucking prince’ to your friends.”

“I’m not my friends.” Louis says seriously.

Harry has no clue how to react to that. Is he…trying to befriend him ? The idea is laughable really, but the way he stares and the voice he uses and the way he keeps getting closer is not what Harry imagines homophobic stoners allergic to posh students to be like.

He can’t really let anything out, a bit intoxicated by alcohol still – surely – and lost in those blue eyes he only fixes for balance, not because of the way they’re glowing. He also only stays glued to this wall next to Louis’ hand to not fall from dizziness from the shots he had when arriving a lifetime ago, and only lets Louis lean closer because he’s polite.

“Is it wrong that I wanna get to know you ?” Louis whispers in Harry’s ear, only because the music is too loud to be heard standing far from him. No other reason, obviously.

Harry looks at how pensive Louis looks, like he’s asking that question more to himself. Harry doesn’t even have the answer. He may have asked himself that same question the past few days, but he still had no clue.

He’d been trying to convince himself he couldn’t possibly like the guy. He was nothing like his usual friends. He seemed to speak his mind and do what he wanted without a constant chain to his feet. He wasn't afraid to be controversial and had a hard time biting his tongue. And Harry was struggling to remember he wasn’t supposed to like him.

“Is it wrong if I want to get to know you too ?” Harry whispers back, looking annoyed by the way things had to be. They probably could’ve been getting along, under other circumstances.

They look at each other in silence long enough for Harry to smile and ease the seriousness of this. It turns into a nervous giggle. Louis chuckles and fixes his fringe to look down and hide his smile.

It might be because they’re both drunk – that’s the only plausible explanation anyway – but Louis leans even closer and Harry doesn’t pull away.

After a moment of clear hesitation, Louis’ lips are brushing against Harry’s neck slowly before applying a gentle pressure, leaving a tickle on his skin he has to focus not to enjoy too much. He’s not protesting when he feels the hand back on his hip, and still doesn’t do anything when he feels the tip of Louis’ tongue against him.

By ‘getting to know him’ Harry thought Louis just meant talking about music or pictures or whatever they would agree on. A part of him even thought Louis was possibly just bored and wanted something from him. But he wouldn’t go this far just so Harry could help him attend parties, would he ?

He tries to not let himself enjoy this, but he can’t. Louis had been his first real crush in high school and he had thought about something like that happening, and now that it was real he couldn’t bring himself to stop.

Louis is clearly not that confident about it at first, but the more Harry leans into it, the more mesmerizing it gets. Louis is on the verge of full on sucking on his neck and Harry’s eyes can’t stay open.

His lips are soft and feels like his silky sheets, his tongue is warm and tastes his skin so slowly it feels like time is no longer a thing, and his hair tickling Harry’s ear is sending paralyzing goosebumps.

And then he comes back to reality.

“What are you doing ?” Harry breathes, not as loud and blunt as he intended. He’s almost panting instead, and it has Louis smirking as he rubs his thumb on his glossy bottom lip previously glued to Harry’s neck.

“Hmm ?” Louis hums when he looks up and smirks. It’s not devilish in any way though, it’s like he’s too pleased with himself not to smile.

Harry just looks at him. It’s getting a bit tricky to talk and he doesn’t know what’s happening right now. So he can only wait for Louis to say something.

“Did you not like that ?” Louis frowns, worried he might have made a mistake, far from the controlling punk who doesn’t care about his actions. Although that part does return when he leans again, because Harry’s apparently paralyzed now.

He did not like that. He did not like the way his lips fit with his neck, did not like that gentle hand in his hair making him purr, and he most definitely did not like the subtle brushing of chests. Absolutely hated all of that.

As soon as he lets go of his doubts and just gives in, bringing a hand to Louis’ back, the latter pulls away with an awkward pout.

“I’ll stop bothering you then. See you in class, yeah ?” Louis starts to walk away whilst Harry is still speechless. “Not a word about this, Styles, or I’ll end you.” He warns with a bright smile, only half joking before rubbing his hands as he usually does like he’s taken care of some kind of business.

 A drink. Harry needed a drink.

 

 

*****

 

 

“You’re alright, mate ?” Liam pats Harry’s shoulder while they wait for Niall in the car.

“Yeah, ‘course.” Harry says nervously.

Of course he’s fine. It’s not like he’s about to face the guy who was basically sucking on his neck this weekend, not like he’s supposed to pretend it didn’t make him feel some type of way, and not like he has to walk in there like he hasn’t spent the whole day before thinking about it, getting too distracted to be productive. The water was frozen by the time he got out of his bath last night, too lost questioning everything. 

He hadn’t found the courage to talk about it to his friends. He was half scared of their reaction, half scared of his own. He couldn’t talk about it out loud and risk hearing himself and feeling how tight his chest felt just forming the words. It’s like he wasn’t allowed to let that happen or something, even though it felt amazing when it did.

He had to erase the memory. They were both drunk and he wasn’t ready to get beat up by Louis’ friends if he acknowledged the situation. Not that he thought Louis would get them to do that…Was that what he was talking about in that bathroom ? Had he been apologizing because he knew how it felt to be mocked by them to the point where he had to pretend to be someone else ?

Harry was as confused as he was when it happened, and walking towards his chair had his heart racing with fear.

Should he ask ? Should they talk about it ? Would he want that to happen again ? Not that he expects Louis to be into him, but he was kissing his neck rather nicely and that breathed moan wasn’t out of Harry’s mind. But was he, himself, willing to think about him that way ? It’s not that they belonged to opposite worlds, but they sort of did, and they couldn’t really mix…

When Mr Miller steps into the room and the class starts, Harry thinks Louis might just not show up. He dares thinking it’s because of him. Maybe he regretted what had happened and didn’t want to even be in the same room as him. Had he asked to be transferred to another class ? Was Harry going to deal with constant questioning now ?

He tries to forget about it and focuses on Mr Miller’s voice when the door opens again and Louis sneaks in, fifteen minutes late.

“Happy to have you with us Mr Tomlinson. Hope you liked your extra sleep.” The teacher says even though he’s not even facing the class, and everyone laughs at Louis’ smug expression when he nods without Mr Miller knowing.

“Did I miss anything ?” Louis whispers, looking at Harry as if nothing happened between them.

Okay then.

“Um…no…we’re just going over what we did last week.”

“Great. Goodnight then.” Louis immediately drops his head on his crossed arms and closes his eyes, snuggling into his sweater paws as the wind coming from the open windows blows through his messy fringe.

And that’s a sight Harry didn’t really expect.

Louis’ long lashes are fluttering and make him look so delicate and angelic, and that bloody scent of fabric softener coming from his grey jumper falling below his collarbones keeps Harry from listening completely to whatever Mr Miller is talking about.

He averts his eyes from this cuddly looking troublemaker and clears his throat to make his whole body get it together. He would literally punch himself to suppress the thoughts he’s having right now if it weren’t for the other forty students in that class.

They go over the current chapter until it’s time to answer the questions they had to work on for the day, and Harry wants so bad to wake that boy up so he doesn’t get in trouble, but he has no idea how.

He has no obligation to help him, of course, but he’s been rather nice to him and maybe he’s starting to understand Liam a bit more. It’s like you just can’t help it, like this boy casts a spell on everyone who looks him in the eye to have them at his mercy. All they have to do is see his smile and they’re doomed to become his slave. It’s funny because that’s what Niall always said about Harry, so he was sort of experiencing what he meant by that.

Harry wouldn’t mind obeying his orders under certain circumstances if he’s being honest though…If in imminent danger for example, or if in need of specific instructions in peculiar situations, you never know, it might help. Louis giving orders with his sweet smile to make you feel like it’s only normal to oblige when he-

“The first question was…” Mr Miller raises his voice and enables Harry to stop this train of thoughts.

He’s still not sure how to do this though. Should he let him sleep and get told off ? Should he pat his shoulder or kick his leg ?

He’s running out of options as they go through the questions, and he really isn’t thinking properly when Mr Miller eyes Louis. He doesn’t know why he wants to help so much, but he has to wake him up. He probably could’ve gone for another way to do so though…

Louis jumps when he feels Harry squeeze his thigh under the table.

He looks at him with absolute befuddlement and Harry discretely points at the paper with the homework to make him understand why he just grabbed a handful of his fucking firm thighs that are as full as they look in those tight skinny jeans looking more like jeggings on him. And it’s just Harry’s luck that he has something more to think about now.

“Shit ! Where are we ?” Louis panics, combing his hair with his fingers to make it look like he didn’t just spend an hour sleeping peacefully.

“Question 3.” Harry stretches his arm to show him on his paper and he does his best to ignore Louis gripping his wrist gently as if to keep his arm there.

“I don’t have this one.” Louis whines, still holding onto Harry’s arm for some fucking reason.

“Do you even have one of them ?”

“No ?” Louis shrugs as if it’s completely normal.

Harry gets his arm back as the boy peeks over to his side to get the answers, and he really shouldn’t let him, but his face is close enough to remind him of the feeling of his lips on his neck. He’s invading his personal space again and Harry should mention it but he just prays he invades it a bit more.

“It’s not hard...” Harry murmurs, definitely not talking about his mental dick. “…just general questions about the book.”

“Haven’t read it.” Louis wraps his arm behind Harry’s back on his chair to lean on it and get comfortable as per usual. It feels like Harry’s being trapped by warmth and he can’t help the small grin from spreading across his face. He does forget he’s actually bigger than Louis and shouldn’t feel this small right now.

Thank God Louis’ too preoccupied on Harry’s work to notice that.

“Why do you even come to class ?”

“Don’t wanna fail the year. This class isn’t much fun though.” It really shouldn’t hurt to know he’s not entertaining Louis enough. They’ve been sitting together for weeks and Harry still hated his guts not long ago. Okay maybe not hated, but definitely despised.

“I know, it’s almost like you have to study for it and stuff. Mental.” Harry says sarcastically and it makes Louis laugh in the back of his hand, eyes all crinkly again. And even Harry starts giggling at whatever he said that made this boy ignite.

“Can’t wait till it’s footie time.” Louis remarks once he’s done making Harry feel like he’s the most hilarious guy on this planet.

“Yeah…” He gives a dopey smile before realizing what he just said. “Wait, no. I hate that.” He corrects himself. He got a bit lost, alright ?

Louis gasps, bringing a hand to his chest, being as dramatic as he can be without getting caught. And no, Harry’s not going to weep over the absence of his arm behind his back. Not out loud.

“Are you serious ?!” Louis wants to shout but can only choke the words. “It’s the only fun class !”

“It’s only fun when you’re good at it. Which I’m not.”

Louis frowns and is about to say something with the look of someone ready to bring comfort, but his phone buzzes in his pocket. He checks it under the table and starts typing a text while Harry pretends he’s listening to the lecture.

“Chatting with your dealer ?” Harry jokes, but it doesn’t pass as funny as the last one. He still gets a smile though.

“What do you like to do for fun then ?” Louis changes the subject, turning his body and replacing that arm behind Harry’s back as if they’re not in the middle of a literature class. They’re rather far from the front and most students are sleepy on their table, so no one pays attention to that.

“Um…I don’t know like…reading, music…normal stuff.” Harry takes a lifetime to talk and he knows it, but Louis is still waiting for every word without a sign of boredom. He has to check if he’s just told the most thrilling story, because that’s what it looks like.

“And painting ?” Louis strokes Harry’s fingers on the table, still stained with red.

“Oh no, I was just helping Niall with his art project this morning.” Harry says easily as if Louis’ supposed to know Niall. “Niall is-“ 

“Your mate. You mentioned him, yeah.” Louis smiles. And it seems like it’s the only thing he can do every time he’s around Harry now. The latter doesn’t complain. “Bummer, always had a soft spot for artists.”

And with that, Harry’s mind goes off.

Is that not flirting ? Is that guy not hitting on him or is Harry just overreacting here ? Also, why is that arm not sewed to his back yet ? It’s been ghosting behind it but never coming in contact and it’s driving him insane.

“Writers are artists too.” Harry says as if he needs Louis to be interested in him. He does seek creativity whenever he’s writing something. He has to portray emotions through a story and juggle with inventive techniques to express his thoughts. So maybe he can be called an artist, especially if it means getting Louis’ attention. Not that he wants it. This class had just reached its peak in irrelevance, that’s all.

“You write ?” It seems to pick his interest even more and Harry deserves a medal for best impro ever.

He nods shyly, hoping Louis doesn’t ask to see any of what he’s worked on. When he doesn’t ask for it right away, it makes him feel even worse. Does he not want to see it ? Also, why is Harry caring about his opinion so much suddenly ?

“Would you let me read it ?”

Harry wasn’t aware he lacked oxygen until then. He nods, biting a smile when Louis brushes his thumb behind him. Or maybe he’s just having a cramp he’s trying to soothe. That might be a more valid reality.

“Not sure you’ll like it though…it’s a bit sappy…mainly poems about love and stuff…” Harry blushes and pouts as if he should be ashamed of that. His friends thought his poetry was cheesy and delusional, and Louis looked ten times tougher than them.

“Who says I’m not into that ?” Louis shrugs and sits up for a few seconds before going back to resting his head on his crossed arms. This time, however, his eyes are kept open, directly staring at Harry.

Should he be concerned by how torn his stomach is right now ? He shouldn’t feel this hot inside…Is he getting sick ? It feels like he’s going to pass out with those blue eyes stuck on him.

He has pretty eyes, okay ?

Although it’s far from being okay. This is a twat we’re talking about here. He’s supposed to be someone who belittles people, someone who doesn’t react to offensive slurs being thrown at vulnerable people’s face, someone whose idea of fun is getting high with idiots and crashing parties they tend to ruin. But it just doesn’t feel like he is any of that right now.

Screwed, that’s what Harry was.

When the class ends, he has no clue what they discussed about The Fifth. He’s either been staring at Louis, or thinking about Louis, or chatting with Louis. It’s all been Louis Louis Louis and he can’t remind himself of who that prick is supposed to be for a full second before going back to hoping he keeps getting his attention like that. He didn’t really need anyone else’s right now, Louis’ was better than the entire population’s.

He has a feeling he’s not the only one thinking that way though.

A few classes have passed and Louis’ been keeping his eyes on Harry all the time. He was whenever Harry checked anyway. He even stopped turning around when caught at some point, just smiling at him and making him blush when he winked and made funny faces or mimicked the teacher for only Harry to laugh. His loud cackle may have gotten him a few looks, but he really couldn’t care less. And he was just utterly fucked.

“What’s so funny ?” Liam nudges Harry’s side in Economics after Harry’s been giggling like a madman at Louis flicking Oli’s neck and pretending to be innocent, enjoying his friend lose his calm and groan too loud as he turned red from laughter. A five year old. That boy was a five year old. And Harry was back in kindergarten.

“Huh ?” Harry doesn’t even bother turning to his friend, not willing to miss one bit of Louis enjoying himself. He could sit there all day just to admire what he’s like.

“I thought you hated him.” Liam says suspiciously.

“What ?” Harry chuckles before finally facing him. “What ? I do. I mean, maybe I don’t really…He’s been nice lately.”

And he’s been kissing my neck and looking at me like I’m the only one worth watching.

“You believe me now ?” Liam asks proudly.

“Let’s not go that far. I’ll admit he’s not as annoying as I thought.” Harry hesitates but figures Liam might know something since he’s known Louis long enough. “Do you know if…um…”

But again, if Louis had told Liam, Harry would know. He’s a great friend but the worst at keeping secrets. The last thing he wants is hint that Louis might not be as straight as he claims he is. Because, again, Liam is not good at keeping secrets.

“If what ?”

“Nothing.” Harry shakes his head and coughs.

The day keeps going until football practice. Harry gets tackled and dragged to the ground and falls too many times because of his unsteady legs, or because he’s been staring at Louis getting soaked by Calvin when they reached the water fountains near the lockers. The reason is not clear yet.

By the end of the last hour, he’s just sitting on the grass with Ed, pretending to listen to whatever he’s saying whilst his eyes stay on Louis who’s dripping everywhere. His white shirt might as well be a second skin and his black shorts are making his bum and thighs look ridiculous. His newly cut hair never looked that offensive, and he’s laughing loud and scrunching his nose and-

“Mate, you’re not gonna kill them with a stare.” Ed taps Harry’s knee. “They’re not worth your time. They’re nothing.”

He should really stop being this obvious, for Christ’s sake. He’s pretty sure he would be looking at him like that even if nothing had happened at that party but he would admit he’s been a bit too fond today knowing Louis could look back to smile this time.

He just has a nice smile. That’s all.

“Yeah...” Harry stands up and goes for the shower, and he most definitely doesn’t have to focus to not disturb anyone when the images of Louis being that wet comes to his mind whilst being stark naked.

Thankfully, everyone’s gone by the time he gets to his hair, so he can get some sort of relief against the wall. He doesn’t think much about it, or about how wrong this should be anyway.

He just rests his forehead against the wall, bites in his hand and tugs at his cock thinking about Louis in that shower with him, his lips against him, hair pushed back by the water, chest glistening and cheeky smile blinding him as he looks down at Harry getting on his knees to-

“Harry ?”

“Harreeehhh ?” Louis calls for him from behind the showers and it really isn’t the right time but it’s very helpful because it just makes Harry come with a choked whimper within seconds. It could’ve been very different if he had appeared a few minutes earlier, but no harm done here. And no, hearing him call his name won’t be the same anymore.

“Coming !” Literally.

He goes through the water one last time and dries himself off, makes sure to breathe normally and look completely relaxed, and walks towards his locker with his towel wrapped around his waist.

“Yeah ?”

“Ah, there you are. Coach told me to give you this.” Louis hands Harry a note, and he figures Louis has read it when he sees the concern on his face.

He’s had that notice before. It’s a reminder that he sucks at football and will have to spend extra hours on the pitch to not fail his exams. He knows he’s the only one in that case though, so he’s not looking forward to having a one-on-one practice with whoever gets the role of his tutor, since Coach declared he has more interesting things to do than ‘not get paid for his charity work’.

“Great. It’s only been four classes and I’m already failing.” Harry snorts and sits on the bench, dropping his head in his hands, elbows on his knees as he nearly cries, his ruined future flashing before his eyes.

“It’s rubbish you know...” Louis suddenly says, sitting next to Harry. “You’re not that bad. You just need to practice the basics.”

“Easy to say.” Harry doesn’t mean to sound harsh but he’s not very happy about the news. He doesn’t even know when he started crying until he sniffles. And of course he had to sound like a fucking baby when the number one mocker is around.

“Hey…” Louis says softly and brings a gentle hand to Harry’s back. “You’ll pass. It’s not hard.”

Hasn’t he heard those words before ?

“Maybe for you it’s not…”

“I mean…literature looks like a piece of cake for you even though it’s a completely different language to me…” And oh, that’s where he’s heard that then.

He had himself told Louis how their class was nothing complicated. To him anyway. He didn’t get how Louis struggled, and maybe Louis was feeling the same regarding football.

“I guess…” Harry sniffles.

“C’mon, don’t put yourself down. Those tears take away your smile and I don’t like that !” Louis playfully scolds and waits for Harry to rub his hands on his cheeks before cheering in victory. And Harry feels a bit better…

He looks up and gives Louis a bright smile that has him shout a loud ‘that’s what I’m talking about !’, making Harry laugh and forget why he was crying in the first place.

“Much better.” Louis tucks a curls behind Harry’s ear naturally, and it creates a sort of tension Harry was not expecting. He grins anyway and it seems to relax the both of them. 

They keep looking at each other though, just smiling. They’re literally just watching each other smile. Not talking, not moving, barely even breathing – Harry isn’t anyway - just enjoying the radiating joy and chuckling for no real reason. Harry might need to start scouting for a grave right about now.

“I should probably get dressed before they lock us in here.” He finally breaks the silence.

“Yeah.” Louis nods but doesn’t move to leave Harry to it. Alright then.

Harry grabs his boxers and doesn’t really think about it when he gets rid of the towel to hang it on the open locker. He’s never had a problem being nude in front of his mates and it shouldn’t be any different with Louis. Even though it is.

It somehow feels nerve-wracking to give a full sight of his bare bum, and he doesn’t dare turning around as he slips into his Calvin’s because he’s pretty sure he’s red and he’s never regretted getting naked in public that much. It’s not that there’s a crowd watching him, but Louis clearly is. And that’s enough pressure to become very self-conscious.

Louis hasn’t said a word and there hasn’t been any noises giving proof of any movement coming from him, so he’s probably still sitting right behind him, watching him get dressed. And maybe Harry had made sure to forget Louis might be attracted to guys to have an excuse to do all of this and not feel guilty about it.

“Nice boxers…” Louis chuckles.

Harry had had personalized underwear made for him by the brand when he featured in a campaign once. It wasn’t anything big, he didn’t have a contract or anything. They just needed a guy next door last minute to look attractive enough in their boxers, and Harry was around and happy to help his mom’s friend…especially when it meant having his own yellow bottoms with his name on it. He liked the subtle pun as well.

“Thank you.” He pretends he doesn’t hear the sarcasm, making Louis laugh.

He then slips – jumps – into his skinny jeans and gets his Rolling Stones white shirt on before sitting to put his black socks with white polka dots and his maroon suede boots on.

“Should we talk ?” Louis says after a while when Harry’s working on the second boot. He hadn’t even considered Louis wanting something. At this point he figured they both enjoyed just watching each other for no fucking reason. He didn’t really need one anymore.

“About ?”

“The party…”

“I don’t know…do you think we should ?” Harry tries, not looking at him because he’s pretty sure his red cheeks will be the death of him.

“Dunno…” Louis sighs. “But I don’t want you to think I’m like that.”

“Like what ?”

“You know…” Louis clears his throat and whispers the next word as it’s forbidden to say it out loud. “Gay.”

And here it is.

Harry had dealt with his fair share of  “Can I kiss you ? No homo though !” and “Am I sucking you well enough ? As a completely straight guy ?” and his personal favourite “That was only a one time thing, I don’t usually fuck guys. It was an accident, bro.”

“I’m not saying you are.” He simply says, but Louis doesn’t look happy with that.

“Really ? Even though I…I mean…”

“You were drunk and I was stunning. I don’t blame you.” Harry jokes to lighten the mood because he’d never blame someone for not being completely comfortable with who they are. He’d always had enough support but he did struggle with himself at first and he understood being confused and in denial. There was nothing unnatural about the way Louis had touched him, he just didn’t want to admit it.

“Yes you were.” Louis says immediately, and he might as well have punched Harry in the stomach. It’s like he wanted Harry to know he liked him, but he didn’t want himself to know.

“You shouldn’t be ashamed of that.” Harry tries to ignore the butterflies wrecking him. He had only talked to this boy on few occasions and here he was, getting ecstatic over him finding him stunning. He was already so far gone nothing made sense. “There’s nothing wrong with just going for whoever you fancy.”

“Are we being cocky now ? You think I fancy you ?” Louis teases with a soft laugh. Harry turns to face him and their eyes lock, and if Louis doesn’t fancy him then he’s the greatest actor of all time.

“You don’t ? You’re missing out.” Harry opts for the cheeky smirk and leans closer, wiggling his brows to make it look like he’s joking even though he definitely wouldn’t push him away if he sucked on his neck again. He’s generous and giving and he’s always eager to help confused souls, he’s just helping someone out, that’s all that is.

He giggles and stays as close, freaking out a little when Louis shifts closer as well and stares at Harry’s lips, clearly fighting himself not to do something about them.

“I think I might.” Louis whispers, but it’s like Harry wasn’t supposed to hear that. He gets inches closer and by the time Harry can make up his mind about this, their nose are touching and their breaths are uneven. He closes his eyes and leans further as Louis does the same, but he quickly jumps to the sound of the lockers’ doors colliding with the wall.

“I’m closing the lockers, if anyone is in there it’s your last chance !” The janitor yells and it takes a few seconds for Harry to close his untouched mouth.

They both grab their bags and exit the lockers, walking in silence towards the parking lot, avoiding any awkward talk.

Harry stops once he sees Liam and Niall waiting for him and turns to say something to Louis, but the latter is already moving his lips.

“See you around, Curly.” He smiles and walks to his car, jumping in and making the loud engine growl before driving too fast, cigarette in his mouth as he takes a turn to exit the parking lot.

And Harry is going to need a shovel and a deep enough hole to hide in.

 

 

****

 

The next few weeks are series of homework and chats with his mates at the flat in front of the telly and a concerning amount of parties and juice cleanses to make up for it. Oh, and Louis. They’re overtaken by Louis as well.

Harry has noticed Calvin, Oli and Stan have been less on his back and he suspects Louis to have something to do with it. They do call him names once in a while and make his life on the pitch difficult, but he’s not being harassed as much. Or maybe he just wants that to be true.

He has to work harder at home to make up for his distraction in class when he’s sitting next to Louis, but he really doesn’t mind at all. He gets to make him laugh and have him discretely squeeze his thigh and stroke his hand to see his notes, and he’s not having the worst time watching him sleep. He does have a hard time not kissing him when he feels like it though…

They ended up chatting through Facebook after a few days, when Harry posted a picture on Instagram that linked to his wall, and they had to debate over how dramatic Harry ought to be over Jack Nicholson. They somehow still talked hours after, having switched to Whatsapp, for nothing but practical reasons of course, and Harry was glad he had sent an invite to him back in high school when Louis pretty much accepted everyone. Okay maybe not everyone, but he had accepted Harry so it could’ve been true.

Since then, Harry would regularly receive random texts and emojis because Louis had a new found obsession with them, and he pretended that bloody ‘ding’ didn’t destroy his chest every single time.

He’d been texting him all day today and had been grinning at his phone whilst watching golf with Niall in the living room.

“Fuck ! That was close !” Niall exclaims but Harry is laughing at the picture Louis just sent him of him trying to read the book he’s supposed to know by heart by now. He’s in a red jumper in his bed with the book open upside down on his face, and it shouldn’t be this hilarious, but Harry’s stomach hurts. Or maybe it hurts for other reasons…Harry is going with the laughter theory.

“Who are you talking to, mate ?” Niall laughs even though he hasn’t seen the picture.

Should Harry show him ? Would he laugh ? Would he get why it’s this funny ? Is it even funny or is he just in too deep ?

“Just Louis.” Harry says easily with a grin he can’t control, reading the new messages he just got, comments on the book’s plot with the word ‘fucking’ every two texts. He laughs again.

“You two seem to get along pretty well lately…Liam told me you’re always talking in class and-“ Niall is trying to have a conversation but Harry’s not listening. Louis’ just sent a picture of him pouting, begging Harry to do the new assignment for him.

“Harry !” Niall slaps his friend feet next to him.

“Ow ! What ?”

“Since when are you two friends ? I feel neglected.” Niall whines. Harry drops his phone on the couch and crawls to Niall’s side to rest his head on his lap. His friend instantly smiles and plays with his hair. “I’m listening.”

“I don’t know…He’s just nice ? I guess.” Harry shrugs. “He likes James Bay and has the best jokes.”

I like James Bay, but you’re not staying up all night to hear me talk about it…” Niall accuses.

So what if Harry spent a while on his phone with Louis before going to sleep ? He should probably stop laughing that loud or keeping his roommates awake at two in the morning, but there was nothing wrong with just chatting.

“Yeah, but it’s not the same.” Maybe he shouldn’t have said that.

“Is there something I need to know, Haz ?” Niall sounds suspicious and Harry really wants to tell him, but it’s their secret and he sort of likes it being this hidden.

It’s not that they weren’t allowed to be friends, but it didn’t feel like they were. They couldn’t be near each other and not be too close, couldn’t talk freely in public and not spend half the time just smiling at each other, and couldn’t have an actual conversation without teasing each other and using pet names for fun. It was sometimes more overwhelming than just fun, but no one had to know that.

Louis called him baby cakes and Harry called him sweet cheeks. They both called each other pumpkin and it sort of escalated quickly and there weren’t many names left to call each other by now.

They weren’t a thing though.

Whenever they found themselves alone in the lockers – which had become a habit – they stayed close and sometimes absentmindedly held hands when talking, but nothing more. Harry didn’t dare push it and Louis didn’t dare risk it. They were just friends not allowed to be friends. They just happened to crave each other’s touch and attention.

And it just made Harry want more of it.

“No.” Harry answers after a while. “Just talking.”

“Let me know if he bothers you.” Niall frowns although he’s not the best at dealing with conflicts. He’s usually the one to sit in silence and watch a fight in front of him, but he still needed Harry to know he had his back. “He’s probably being nice because he wants something.”

“Do you think I should let my hair grow a bit more ?” Harry completely ignores his friend. “Louis says it’d look good, but I’m not sure…”

“Um…Harry…” Niall forces his friend to sit up, meaning he’s about to say something very serious. Or ask him to cook.

“What ?”

“Are you sure nothing’s going on with Louis ? I don’t mean to scare you, but you’re talking like you’re…um…”

“I’m not. I can’t even talk to other people without you being jealous, Niall. I thought this relationship was based on trust !” Harry is making a scene and joking because he knows Niall’s right and he’s just not ready to admit it.

He stands up and goes to his room, checking his hysterically laughing friend isn’t following him before falling on his bed to open the text app again and sell his soul to that boy who should get paid by Adidas for how much publicity he gets them.

It all goes pretty well and no one – except Niall that is – suspects anything weird going on between them, no matter how many times they almost get over a bro pal boundary in class.

Louis is a bit obsessed with Harry’s hair after all, and it’s not clear if he should play with it that often when he has his head on the table, or if he should squeeze or stroke his cheeks that much instead of thanking him when he helps him out with a question.

No one asks because no one thinks those two could ever be anything more than courteous. They’re not meant to be friends. Or anything else for that matter.

Harry had been taking extra lessons with Ed who volunteered to help him with football, and he’s walking to his car he had to take to let his friends go home before him. He notices Louis’ pick up still parked and looks around to see him in the trunk, head between his bent knees against his chest with his phone in hand.

“Hi pumpkin.” Harry says when he scurries around the car.

“Hey gorgeous…” Louis says with a weak voice.

“Is something wrong ?”

Louis shakes his head no and hides his tears behind a shaky hand as if Harry hadn’t heard them already, immediately trying to look unfazed. Harry focuses not to be too preoccupied about getting dirt on him and drops his bag to climb in the trunk, sitting next to Louis to rub his back the way he had for him that one time in the lockers.

He still doesn’t say anything and looks hesitant but ends up giving Harry his phone, opened on an email sent by the university.

Louis is failing literature. He has the worst grades of the year so far and will not pass if he doesn’t get a wizard to magically get him at least a seventy-five per cent at the next assignment and at least a sixty per cent at the semester’s finals. In other words, he might as well drop out now.

Harry doesn’t really understand why Louis is crying though. If it were anyone else, he would get it, but this was Louis. He’s always saying he doesn’t care about grades and everyone knows he’s in that private school because his uncle is the professor in charge of their degree and managed to get him in.

Harry doesn’t even know what Louis wants to do after this. It never crossed his mind because he always thought Louis just did not care. But right now, seeing him so helpless, maybe Louis did want something more than to mess around with his friends.

“I could help you if you want ?” Harry says before he can stop himself. It’s not that odd though. He’s been helping him in class and it’d probably be easier if they just properly studied together. It’d only help Harry revise some more and help Louis with whatever he needs to achieve.

“What ?” Louis chuckles, as if Harry can’t be serious.

“I wouldn’t mind. You could stop by the loft and we could study together, s’not a problem for me.”

“You’d do that ?” Louis’ eyes are full of hope and Harry shouldn’t smile so big and nod that frantically.

“ ’Course. Anything for you, sweet cheeks.” Harry nudges him playfully.

“I owe you. I promise I’ll help you with anything you want !” Louis sounds like the concept of help in one way doesn’t exist and his excitement keeps Harry from telling him he really doesn’t owe him anything. “Wait, I could help you with football ?”

Although…

“Really ?”

“Sure, babe ! I’d feel bad taking your time and not give you anything in return…And no offense, but Ed doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Harry laughs and doesn’t really think about it when he leans to kiss Louis’ cheek to thank him. They’ve been close, yes, but kissing has not been included since the neck licking incident.

He internally winces a bit, unsure of whether he went too far this time. It was so weird how affectionate they could be even after knowing each other for a few weeks. They always touched somehow and it felt so natural they never questioned it.

Harry is mentally cringing until Louis smiles. It even looks like he’s going to kiss Harry’s cheek back, but he’s aiming the centre of his face and a panic button is going off in Harry’s head.

Louis closes his eyes and cups Harry’s cheek and, before the latter can comprehend what’s happening, their lips are touching. He doesn’t move because he could still just be that close on accident, but it lasts long enough to be deliberate, so he slowly kisses him back, a chaste peck of the lips that has him forget he’s in a rather dusty trunk in the school’s parking lot with Louis Tomlinson.

Louis’ lips are thin and soft and they’re tentative at first but fully feeling Harry’s after a beat, and it’s like Harry had the worst memories before Louis. It’s like he’s being kissed for the first time really. And they’re not even opening their mouths.

When Louis pulls back, his hand is still on Harry’s cheek as if to not let go. Harry can’t help his teeth from showing, grin splitting his face and probably showing deep dimples, because Louis digs his finger in one cheek and kisses it as well.

And Harry might go for his lips right after that…

He’s starting to get what’s the hype about Louis making out with girls in that pick up. It feels like one of them Tumblr sceneries and the only thing they lack is a blanket. The sun has slowly vanished and the lights in the parking lot are the only thing helping them outline each other’s faces in the growing dark.

They stay close, only smacking their lips repeatedly until Louis kisses Harry’s neck, and then they do it again, and again, giggling for no reason in between and looking at each other in silence because they apparently don’t need words to talk.

Harry doesn’t even remember when they decided staying in the trunk of Louis’ car instead of going home was a good idea. Maybe they didn’t even decide it. It just kind of happened.

They probably would’ve spent the entire night in that parking lot if Harry’s phone hadn’t interrupted them. Louis had his tongue on Harry’s neck and Harry had his hand ghosting on his lower back under his Adidas jumper, and it felt too good to stop. He tried ignoring it and kissed Louis’ mouth instead, but that bloody phone kept going. 

“Hello ?” Harry whispers, lips barely apart from Louis’, eyes still closed.

“Why are you whispering ?” Liam whispers.

No clue. Maybe because it feels like he’s supposed to be quiet about what’s happening, maybe because he doesn’t dare being too loud and break the calm that settled a while ago, or maybe he’s just breathless after being kissed by that boy.

He clears his throat and raises his voice, sitting with his back against the car.

“Um, no reason. What’s up ?”

“What do you mean what’s up ? It’s almost eleven and you’re still not home. I’m worried. Did those pricks steal your clothes again ? Or did you not check that flat tyre I talked to you about ?” Yes Liam was a second mother. Harry was glad though. He’d probably spend his life in distress without him.

“Liam !” He groans like an angry teenager bickering with his parent.

“Sorry bro, but are you safe ?”

“Yes, yes I am.” Louis must hear the conversation, because he squeezes Harry’s thigh as if to confirm his answer.

“Alright…Just text me next time. Niall’s been waiting to talk to you about golf since we got here and I don’t understand a word he’s saying.”

Harry chuckles but promises he will do before hanging up, putting his phone back in his pocket after checking the time. Three hours and a half with Louis in a pick up ? Yes, that was definitely different. He’d normally be in his robe and slippers watching the news with his camomile by now.

“Who stole your clothes ?” Louis frowns, as if he wasn’t in on that prank his friends pulled last year.

“You’re joking, right ?”

Harry feels offended but he notices the way Louis raises a brow as if he truly has no clue about that.

“Oli and Calvin once waited for me to go in the showers to steal my clothes and put them on the roof of my car so I had to walk out naked in front of everyone. Don’t tell me you didn’t know about that…”

“Oh yeah…but wasn’t that after you and your friends called them peasants or something like that when they walked next to you ?” Louis raises a brow.

Harry does recall pointing out their inappropriate clothes for the year’s gala, but that was nothing but a fact, not a reason to get his clothes stolen. Okay not stolen, just placed somewhere else, but still taken without permission.

“That doesn’t justify it. We didn’t insult them in front of everyone.”

“No, but they still heard it…” Louis mutters to himself. “ They just didn’t take it well and wanted to have a laugh.”

“Yeah, well, careful, they might tell you they were just having fun shooting a stranger in the street because he noticed the hole in Oli’s shoe.” Harry warns sarcastically and Louis’ face falls.

“Don’t judge them.”

“Like they don’t judge me you mean ?”

“They just have a different view on things…”

“I have divergent opinions, but I won’t go spit on someone who doesn’t agree with me.” Harry sits up, creating a painful distance between them.

“I always tell them to stop that. They don’t listen to me though.”

“Bollocks. You’re like their god or something. They always look like they’re on a mission when ganging up on someone. Don’t tell me you don’t give them orders.” Harry waves his hand and Louis hisses.

“The fuck you’re talking about ? They’re too stubborn to listen to anyone. Do you think we’re like a gang or something ? Because we’re not. Just because we’re not like you doesn’t make us criminals or whatever you think we are.”

“What do you mean not like me ?”

“I don’t mean you as in you you, I mean the majority of this school, your friends... We don’t have nice cars and huge mansions and we don’t own bloody personalized boxers…If we didn’t make sure to be respected, we’d be the ones to be trampled.”

“It doesn’t make a difference how much money you have…” Harry states the obvious. 

“Oh yeah ? And how much were your shoes ? And how many cars have you had over the last three years ? And more importantly, what about your friends ? You’d never find one that doesn’t have the same answers as you.”

Harry frowns. The answer shouldn’t feel so wrong. There was nothing bad about owning things they probably could live without as long as they didn’t hurt anyone…Sure they had their own sort of implicit codes and it probably was tricky trying to fit in when you didn’t have the same things as them, but they didn’t go around and terrorize those who weren’t like them.

“That doesn’t justify calling people names and intimidating them.” Harry defends.

“No, but it’s a little consolation to being rejected at the doors of a party because you’re on a bursary.”

The hurt and anger are obvious in Louis’ voice and Harry feels like he’s the prick now. He didn’t realize Louis and his friends may have formed a clique because they couldn’t fit in any other here…It was just so natural for him, this golden world was his home and he didn’t know anything else, so how could he tell how it feels to not be a part of it ?

“You should go home, your friends will worry too much.”

“Yeah…you should too. It’s getting a bit lonely in here.”

“I can handle it.” Louis shrugs and Harry might hear something that just cut Louis’ throat.

“Do you…You can come over sometime…” Harry rubs the back of his neck awkwardly.

He really doesn’t want it to sound like he’s pitying Louis, but he’s not too comfortable with him wandering by himself at night. Although he did manage to do that all this time. Maybe Harry just needed to not judge every aspect of a life he didn’t know. “…we’re having FIFA night on Thursday. You should join us.”

“You ? Playing FIFA ?” Louis chuckles and Harry’s just glad there’s no tension anymore.

“Hey !” He squeezes Louis’ thigh with a pout. “I’m better virtually. I could probably take you down !”

“Is that a challenge, babe ?” Louis licks his lip.

“Maybe…” Harry smirks.

“I guess I’ll have to come to prove you wrong then.”

Harry laughs and kisses Louis’ cheek before crawling to hop off his car, grabbing his bag that has dirt on it now – which he has to struggle not to mention out loud because now is not the time to sound like a preppy prince – and making his way to his car.

“Hey, Harry !” Louis calls after him. He’s already jumping from where he was and that truck looks very high when he does it. It looked four inches high when Harry did. He really wished he could just carry Louis in his pocket to have him all the time.

And yes, he did slap himself with that thought.

Louis rushes to catch him and checks there’s no around before kissing him, intertwining their lips with a hand on his hip and another light touch around his neck. When he steps back Harry follows him and brings a firm hand to his back to keep him close enough to kiss again. They both part their lips when Harry walks the tip of his tongue along Louis’ bottom lip, but it only makes Louis pull away.

“Careful on the road.” Louis smiles and leaves Harry to his car, flustered and ready to crumble.

And it doesn’t matter that they already spent hours in that pick up when they text each other for hours again before going to sleep that night.

As soon as Harry manages to leave his phone on the nightstand, he feels like an arse. Even though he really shouldn’t. Since when was it wrong to be wealthy ? Who decided it was a crime to own things ? After all, half of it Harry didn’t even ask for.

Sure he asked for those expensive sheets no one was allowed in because of how precious they were, sure he might not need that much space and a walk-in closet being a student, and sure he owned plain shirts that could pay someone’s food for three days. But that didn’t make him a bad person.

Just because he had the money someone needed didn’t mean it would help that person in need by not using it. He had donated a lot to charities and had volunteered in hospices and he knew the value of money unlike most of his friends.

But maybe he didn’t do a great job at not judging people who didn’t have as much next door…

He could have sympathy for a child living in a shoe box in Vietnam, yet he rolled his eyes when Oli showed up with the same shirt three days out of five. Maybe he needed to apply his philosophy to his own world, not just the one he always sees on the telly and through Twitter. Maybe compassion and understanding had to start at home.

It’s not that Oli was desperately in need, or any of the members of the gan- group of Louis’ friends. But maybe he would be more inclined to insult Harry as a defence mechanism if the latter looked him up and down as if he were trash.

Or maybe he’s just overthinking it.

He brushes the thoughts away to focus on what made him smile instead. And that was Louis’ lips against his, and a promise to continue whatever they were doing as long as Harry learnt how to respect his point of view, which happened to not be completely despicable after all.

And it wouldn’t be that much of a chore if it meant having that boy touch him like that all the time, as a friend that isn’t his friend.

 

 

*****

 

“Louis ! It’s been hours and we still haven’t done any-“ Harry tries but giggles anyway.

They’re sitting on the floor in front of his bed with their books everywhere around them and Louis’ been very good at not paying attention to his lesson. He’s been tickling Harry’s side and asking questions about his room and giving love bites as if that wasn’t crossing any boundary, and just making sure to not get any work done.

“Alright, alright !” Louis says seriously and untangles himself from Harry, even though he still keeps his leg between Harry’s and his shoulder against his. And it should feel weirder than it does.

“What do you think about David’s characterization in the sixth chapter ?” Harry lazily rests his hand on Louis’ thigh and lets the boy lean on his shoulder to fake a cry. “Lou ! C’mon, you’ve read the book now. It’s the part where Elizabeth takes him to the lake and he feels free and in love for the first time and stuff.”

“Is that when they jump in that dodgy water and Elizabeth is being a slag ?”

“Heyyyy ! Being comfortable with her body doesn’t make her a slut !” Harry scolds.

Getting naked in front of someone to jump in water instead of getting her clothes wet didn’t make her less of a respectable woman. Harry would’ve done the same thing and he doesn’t like the idea of Louis judging her…him…whatever.

He later finds out Louis wouldn’t have judged him, and he wonders if it’s being nice or having double standards. He chooses the first option.

“Sorry. Was that the part where Elizabeth was…being confident ?”

Harry smiles.

“Yes.”

“Then I think David was described as a horny loner. He’d been spending a lifetime with a woman he didn’t love and found the first girl who charmed him in a while and got excited. He’s characterized as man blinded by his desires.”

“Wanting to be in love is not being blind…” Harry defends.

“Oh come on, he’s acting like his life depends on that woman he just met. It’s like he can’t live without her, as if he hadn’t spent almost thirty years without her already.”

“But that’s the thing. He wasn’t really living. She’s the one to make him see what life really is about. Have you never met someone and wondered how you managed to live without them all this time ?”

Louis frowns to think and purses his lips briefly as if to hold back a comment.

“Whatevs. Can we get something to eat ?” Louis has the attention spam of a goldfish. He does look like he’s just not comfortable talking about the topic though.

“Lou !”

“Hazza !” Louis mimics him and it shouldn’t make Harry laugh.

He looks proud of himself and takes Harry’s chin between his fingers to kiss him softly, a simple smack that makes him forgive his lack of concentration. He really should make Liam teach him how to be more bossy.

Louis stands up and gives Harry his hand, which he doesn’t drop until they’re in the kitchen - and that’s only because Louis wraps his arms around his middle behind him as he looks through the fridge because it’s just established now that they cannot possibly not touch at all times. Harry didn’t have an explanation for that, the constant need to be close to each other, but he wasn’t gonna ask for one.

“Do you like tofu ?” Harry asks even though he suspects Louis might not be into that.

“What do you think ?”

“It’s just soy. It’s better than meat you know…”

“It’s also less tasty.” Louis tightens his grip so Harry forgets his point.

“Niall will kill me if I take his hot dogs.” Harry mumbles but Louis has already grabbed one.

“I’ll deal with him.” For a second it sounds like Louis is genuinely going to get Niall killed if he says anything about it. He then accidentally drops the food and shrieks with an abnormally high pitched voice and a soft cackle, so maybe not.

“Karma.” Harry laughs.

They end up eating the pizza Harry had made the day before and Louis doesn’t know he’s moaning over a vegetarian pizza with tempeh on it. Harry doesn’t tell him.

They’re sitting on the couch next to each other, chatting about the most random things until they’re done eating. Louis lazily rubs his tummy under his shirt as he gets more comfortable in the cushions, and he takes his time to study the room’s decoration, as if he’s never been there for Liam.

“How do guys pay for a place like this ?” Louis asks. “I’ve seen Liam’s room and now that I’ve seen yours I’m scared to see Niall’s.”

“Our parents helped a lot. Niall also got money from his job at his uncle’s label and sports brands pay him to say good things about certain teams. He’s the Dalai Lama of all things sport related and everyone fights to have him play for them as a guest because of his family and stuff, and that involves a lot of free gifts.”

Niall was the very admired son of a star of golf and the admired Irish woman who won three Olympic medals in a row in tennis during her glory days.

“What about you ? I know Liam’s been working with his dad in the family business. But I don’t know about you.”  Louis runs a hand in Harry’s hair and it makes the latter lean into it. He finds himself resting his head on Louis’ shoulder, Louis’ arm behind his neck to keep petting his head comfortably.

“My mom’s a fashion designer and my dad has a public construction kingdom. But I also get it from my grandparents’ heritage. I rarely pay for things though. People are happy to help my family because they’ve all helped a lot of people on their way up and those people want to give back.”

“Must be nice…” Louis murmurs, stilling his hand as if he’s about to say something too important to be distracted by Harry’s curls. He seems to think otherwise and move his hand again. “My mom’s a nurse.”

“That’s cool.” Harry’s always admired people who worked to help others, especially when it was about helping lives in some way, not just avoiding a cocktail dress disaster or build an office where people’s lives would be reduced to numbers and routines.  “What about your dad ?”

“He doesn’t count.”

Not going there then.

“How are your sisters ?” Harry asks instead. He remembered Louis picking them up in high school and figured they had to count.

“They’re good. Just being teenage girls and all that.” Louis makes a funny face as he tilts his head on one side and Harry has a feeling that means they’re a handful. “Phoebe and Daisy think they’re adults now that they’re ten.”

Wait , what ?

“Ernie and Doris crawl everywhere tugging at things and waking everyone up in the middle of the night.”

Harry didn’t know Louis had more than two sisters. And how old where the last two ? How could his mom manage to take care of everyone ? Louis was probably lucky to not be home to have to deal with that many people in one house. Even though it wasn’t clear if he lived on his own or with his friends…

“Do you have a flat or are you in the dorms ?” Harry asks because he’s not good with guessing.

“Um…I’m actually still crashing my own bed at home.” Louis says, embarrassed.

“Really ?” Harry doesn’t mean to sound this shocked. He just meant it must be hard to be around so many young siblings, not that it was a shame that Louis lived in the crowded family house. Louis doesn’t get that though.

“Not everyone can afford a fucking palace at twenty one.” Louis frowns, as if he’s been hurt.

“I’m twenty.” No, not a good comeback. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant…I’d lose it if I still lived with my sister, so I can only imagine having six siblings around.” Harry tries to make up for his lack of manners and Louis seems to understand. And thank the Lord because he had missed those fingers on his scalp.

“It’s not as awful as it sounds. Lottie and Fizzy are barely there, always with their friends or working. The twins are mainly with their dad all the time since he got a new dog, and the baby twins are adorable enough to not be blamed for their crying.” Louis smiles and Harry has the feeling he loves taking care of them. He wouldn’t mind meeting them himself. He has a slight obsession with babies and he’s trying really hard to not show that right now.

“Can I meet them ?!” Harry beams and it might not seem like it but it’s the most calm he can be about it.

“Um…I guess…Are you sure you want to spend time with those little terrors ?” Louis chuckles.

“I loves kids.” Harry coos and Louis smiles fondly enough to make him forget they’re supposed to study right now. Or that, you know, Harry visiting Louis’ family could be quite bizarre.

They stay on the couch and it feels like they’ve only been kissing for five minutes when they see the sun gradually go down through the window.

Harry had panicked for a second when he licked Louis’ lips, being afraid Louis wouldn’t want to go for it, but he ended up parting his lips and deepening the kiss himself, so it did nothing to help go back to the book.

They almost sound eager for more as they keep going, breathing in each other’s mouths and practically licking every corner to explore each other enough as if they needed it to fuel a part of them.

Louis keeps his hand on Harry’s cheek as he does indescribable things with his tongue whilst enjoying Harry’s hand under his shirt on his back, fingertips gently stroking.

Harry couldn’t tell how they’d found themselves this close, almost panting, but he was willing to go on forever.

Except he doesn’t live alone and his friends apparently got bored of Jamie’s ping pong tournament after class.

“Harry !” Niall calls from the front door, making Louis unwrap his arm from around Harry’s neck and wipe his mouth, clearing his throat as he slides far away on the couch.

“In here !” Harry shouts reluctantly.

“Oh hi, Louis…” Niall stops smiling when he enters the living room and finds who’s sitting in his spot.

“Hey, mate !” Louis pretends they’re friends even though every time he came over Niall was eyeing him disapprovingly. Niall probably figured they’d be done studying by now and Louis would be gone already.

He flops into the couch between Louis and Harry and the latter really wishes Liam could make an appearance and get his friend far away so they could go back to what they were doing right before.

“So, how’s the studying going ?” Niall asks.

Really good…” Louis grins at Harry as if Niall isn’t even there and his voice sounds too suave for what it’s supposed to mean. Harry bites a smirk.

“Uh huh.” Niall pretends he doesn’t get it. He’s witnessed Harry’s smile whenever they texted each other and he’d heard him cry out Louis’ name that morning they vowed to never talk about again. He knows. “Are you staying tonight ?”

Harry pinches his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger, a bit nervous that Niall starts treating him like he’s something more than just Harry’s friend. They both know they’re not just friends but Louis definitely doesn’t know that and doesn’t want other people to know that either.

“For the FIFA game I mean…” Niall says when Louis frowns in panic.

“Oh um…yeah…that’s alright with you, lad ?” Louis asks as if he needs Niall’s permission when he already has Harry’s, because the blond lad just does not like him.

“I’m not your l-“

“Of course it is.” Harry jumps in before Niall speaks his mind. “We should finish what we were doing before though. The thing with the chapter and stuff ?”

Harry stands up and gestures for Louis to follow him before Niall can stop them. Liam is probably still in the car talking to Sophia on the phone, and Harry just hopes he doesn’t barge into his room once he’s done, because he’s never learnt to knock on the door.

As soon as they’re in Harry’s room, Louis closes the door and pulls Harry into him to kiss him again, but Harry has priorities. He pulls away and sits on the floor among the open books and dozens of notes they still need to go over.

“I thought we were going to finish what we were doing…”

“We are.” Harry points at the assignment and Louis rolls his eyes.

“I have enough time to do this.” Louis gets the papers off Harry’s hand when he sits down next to him and pulls him closer by his thigh to nuzzle in his neck. “I don’t know when I’ll get to kiss you again.” He murmurs and gives a light kiss.

No, Harry is not melting. What do you mean he’s sweating ?

“You could get to kiss me all the time you know…” He mumbles, slightly scared to say it too loud. And rightfully so because Louis sounds stressed out about it.

“I don’t want people to talk.”

“You mean you don’t want your friends to talk…”

“Please don’t ruin this.” Louis groans and Harry is not sure how he’s in the wrong right now.

“What even is this though ? Are we just…What are we ?”

“We’re friends.” Louis says with an awkward shrug that only convinces himself.

“Okay…” Harry gives up.

Maybe Louis needed more time to face the reality of this. Harry could wait.

He likes spending time with him even if it means not talking about it ever. He’d be happy to not watch his every move to make sure he’s not getting Louis in trouble with his reputation, but he understands. He doesn’t entirely want to make this more than it is either. It’s not that he doesn’t like it, but there’s something inside that makes him feel like they shouldn’t, that they’re not allowed or something.

Louis is about to say something but his phone rings. And Harry hates everything.

“Hello ?...Yeah…Yeah…I’m busy…Piss off, like you didn’t ditch us for Ella yesterday.” Louis grunts and it makes Harry eavesdrop a bit more. “You’re such a twat…I won’t be home tonight…No I didn’t get my balls chopped off by a girl, I just-…Alright, fine ! Be there at nine.”

No, Harry’s not hurting. He just happens to have his throat tight and his heart heavy, that’s all.

Louis hangs up and sighs, rubbing his eyes as Harry waits for him to cancel their night.

“Can we take a rain check ?”

“Sure. Wouldn’t want your friends to think I’m chopping your balls off.” Harry gathers the pile of papers and puts it on his desk before opening the door.

“Baby, I-“

“It’s fine.” Harry fakes a smile and tries to not let the nickname sink too deep so he can remind himself that this is not something that serious. And why the hell did he have to fall for a closeted troublemaker ? Not that he was falling…but he didn’t feel on solid grounds anymore.

“I promise I don’t want to go, love. I’ve just been hanging out with you non stop for days, they’re starting to ask questions.” Louis justifies himself and Harry nods because that’s what he’s supposed to do. He knows he’d do the exact same thing anyway, so he can’t exactly be mad at him for it.

If someone finds out they’ve become ‘friends’, it won’t only mean that Louis will have to face the comments of his friends, it’ll also mean that Harry will have to face the comments of his own. And saying you don’t have to care about people’s opinion is great until you put it into action and lose everyone. Surely.

“It’s okay. You don’t need to justify yourself. We’re just friends anyway, aren’t we ?” Harry shrugs and he’s glad Louis’s jaw drops because he might begin to feel how Harry felt when he said that.

He nods and steps outside Harry’s room without saying anything or kissing him and it shouldn’t feel like he’s taking a piece of him away.

He’s not falling. He has already crashed.

“I thought he was staying for the game ?” Niall frowns once Harry gets the wireless controller from the coffee table.

“Not anymore.” Harry selects the multiplayer mode and he’s glad Niall doesn’t ask anything more and just plays.

Liam joins them soon after and Niall shakes his head no when he asks about Louis, and Harry pretends he doesn’t see that.

He also pretends he’s not falling apart and pretends his head is not ruining the game for him. He pretends his eyes aren’t watery and pretends it’s not hard to not text Louis goodnight before going to bed. And maybe he also pretends he doesn’t hear his phone ring when he ignores Louis’ text.

 

 

*****

 

“You’re not focusing.” Louis remarks as he walks towards Harry on the empty pitch.

Coach had agreed to let him take over Ed’s job to tutor Harry and the latter wasn’t as happy as he was when he got the news. He wasn’t happy to be reminded that he couldn’t expect Louis to not check if anyone was watching whenever he adjusted his hips or looked at him for too long.

“I am !” Harry was in the worst mood and Louis scolding him wasn’t making things easier.

“What’s going on, Haz ?” Louis walks closer to rub the back of Harry’s neck as if he weren’t the reason for that outburst.

“Nothing.” Harry lies and shrugs to make Louis drop his hand.

“Are you mad at me ?” Louis sighs.

“No.” Harry says dryly.

“Liar. You didn’t even answer my texts last night. Did I do something ?”

“No. I’m just over being paranoid whenever I feel like kissing you.” Harry admits.

There’s a long silence after that. Louis is looking down at his feet, pursing his lips as if he shares the same thought but can’t say anything about it because he can’t say he wants it to be possible and face what that implies.

“Do you want to come to mine after this ?” Louis asks, as if inviting him at this place for the first time would make Harry change his mind. It does a little, and maybe he’s being blinded and hypnotized by that soft voice. Yes blinded, that’s what he was.

“I don’t know…do you want me to come ?” Harry doesn’t look up.

“Yes. I haven’t had enough of you today.” Louis nudges Harry’s side with a soft smile to make it sound like he’s joking. Harry wonders if he is. “You’ve barely talked to me...Is it crazy that I miss you ?”

Why, just why did Louis have to be so damn adorable and flirty. W-h-y

Also, that could have been a legitimate question. They had seen each other the day before, they just didn’t have their usual five hour phone call and texting at bedtime. Should they be missing each other this much ?

“As a friend ?” Harry tries even though he fears the answer.

“As Harry.”

And maybe that wasn’t such a bad answer.

He shouldn’t smile. Dammit. He was trying to be mad at him and it should’ve lasted longer than a day for fuck’s sake. Maybe it was because he wasn’t really mad at Louis, more at the supposed reason why they couldn’t be honest about this.

“C’mon let’s start again.” Louis pats Harry’s shoulder before running to be goalkeeper, even though he doesn’t need to do much because Harry never gets it even near the fucking poles.

“This isn’t going anywhere !” Harry shouts from where he’s standing, exhausted after retrieving that ball he keeps kicking in every direction.

“Have a little faith, love ! I told you, just aim slightly more to the right. Kick with the side of your foot and not just the tip of your shoe !”

Harry repeats the advice in his head but gets distracted by the way Louis positions himself, bending and leaning his weight on his knees, bringing all his attention to Harry. The way his grey beanie is hiding too much of his hair doesn’t help because it makes Harry admire that light beard he has going on, and he really shouldn’t be blamed for missing that goal again when Louis lifts his hoodie and t-shirt to rub his sweaty forehead.

“Fuck !” Harry grunts, kicking the grass. “I’m just shit at it !”

He lets himself dramatically collapse on the grass, face in his hands, wondering how the hell he’s going to pass if he can’t even control his limbs.

“You can’t get it right first try. Don’t stress out about it.” Louis says when he joins him, kicking Harry’s feet.

“But that was the twentieth. I’m going to serve burgers for the rest of my life !”

“How is sucking at football making you a better waiter ?” Louis sounds offended and Harry realizes he might have insulted anyone having that job. He really needed to think more thoroughly of what he said.

“You’re right. I’d probably suck at that as well.” Harry whines.

There’s a short pause after that and Louis looks like he wants Harry to smile again because him not being happy at all times is apparently painful for him.

“What else do you suck at ?” Louis asks with a smirk, and it should be a normal question but the cheeky lick of lips and subjective tone makes Harry giggle and grip one ankle, making Louis lose his balance and fall next to him. And Harry’s glad Louis always knows what to say to make his frown go away.

“Take a guess.”

“I don’t know…Dancing ? Singing ?” Louis pretends to not have the obvious answer. “Lollipops ?”

Harry bursts out laughing and lets Louis wrestle with him, arms and legs fighting on the ground until Louis finds himself straddling Harry’s lap, panting and sitting right above his crotch, securing Harry’s hands above his head to make him stop.

He looks down at him and smiles before releasing his wrists. He sits up and they start a chat about the best lollipops flavours as Louis sneaks his hands under Harry’s shirt to trace the outlines of the laurel leaves tattooed on his hips, making Harry’s hair stiff all over. He tries not to make that obvious though, because Louis is stroking his skin like it’s the most casual and totally normal thing he could do.

Harry slides his fingers under Louis’ shorts on this thighs, circling his fingertips there and enjoying the way Louis blushes and bites a smile, eyes becoming two thin lines because he’s a tiny ball of sunshine whenever Harry is looking at him and showing a tad of affection.

It was just so easy with him…He didn’t even realize he was basically caressing his thighs until he saw Louis blush. That’s what they did. They found themselves almost too close all the time and never realized friends might not touch like that.

But again, there wasn’t a lot they did that normal friends did too. Unless regular friends kissed and held hands when talking and stroked each other’s cheek for no reason or even cuddled when studying without second guessing it.

And maybe regular friends didn’t caress each other like that whilst lying on the grass, feeling the warmth of their bodies after an exhausting practice.

They’d probably stay like that for ages, but a few drops of rain start attacking them, and, by the time they surrender and get off the grass, they’re soaked.

The lockers are closed already because it’s not the usual practice hours, so they find shelter in a narrow corner near the water fountains, laughing as they take in how wet they are, obliged to share the small space until it stops raining. Not that they mind.

“Guess the showers being closed is not a problem anymore.” Louis giggles and Harry would too, but he’s leaning his back against the wall and Louis is standing close in front of him, back stuck to his chest.

He rests his hands on the boy’s hips and kisses his neck, making Louis turn his head to kiss him properly. His hand quickly finds Harry’s hair and it feels like he’s having his self control completely vanish. The feeling of his tongue licking his lips makes him whimper and pull the boy closer into his chest.

They keep kissing with the deafening sound of the rain still pouring, giving them an excuse to stay hidden in that little corner, forgetting about a life outside these walls.

Harry tries his best to not give into temptation, but he’s standing perfectly so that he can reach Louis’ front, so it’s not his fault if he slides a hand over his shorts, palming him slowly and waiting to get slapped because friends definitely don’t do that. Except he doesn’t.

Louis moans into Harry’s mouth instead and keeps tugging at his hair as he arches his back, and it’s enough motivation to have Harry slide his hand in his shorts to keep going, trying hard not to actually stroke Louis’ cock right in his boxers, because he needs permission. It sounds like Louis definitely wouldn’t object, but he’s not sure his legs would be helpful if he actually felt Louis even more than that. It’s already taking everything he has to not drop to his knees right now.

The rain is slowly calming down after a while but Harry isn’t, and neither is Louis, if the bulge he’s stroking is anything to go by.

“I want…Can I…” Harry is breathless and sounds too eager to touch Louis properly. The latter nods before he can say anything else, and he clearly didn’t expect Harry to kneel down and turn him around, sliding his shorts and boxers right under his bum because it had been building up and there was no way to not stop without a cry.

Fuck.” Louis whispers, pushing Harry’s hair back as he wraps his lips around the tip of his hard-on, wet with Harry’s hand previously stroking his soaking shorts.

He’s looking at him as he licks the head and swallows him down slowly, rosy lips and swirling tongue surely looking obscene from up there.

Harry focuses to not get too carried away, but Louis is thick and his hand is soft in his hair, so he gets a bit lost into it. He steadies himself by placing a hand on Louis’ arse, and it’s the worst idea ever for someone who was going for a relaxed blow job. It’s nothing but relaxed.

He’s already whimpering around Louis’ cock and can’t stay still as he sucks him off, damp hair still dripping in his eyes before Louis fixes the mess, getting it worse somehow because he’d have to take care of another wet situation if he kept going like that.

The sounds coming out of Louis’ mouth are wrecking Harry’s spine and his cock is destroying his throat, but he’d definitely deal with a hoarse voice if he gets to suck on it longer.

He keeps going, speeding up and slowing down when he realizes it might finish too quickly, tilting his head to feel him in every way possible. Louis finds support against the wall and keeps following Harry’s head with the hand buried in his hair, casually resting there, not pushing at all. And maybe Harry shouldn’t take his time with his ‘friend’, but he is and Louis isn’t rushing him, so he’s allowed to enjoy himself.

He looks up and sees Louis already staring back at him, lips tight to keep quiet as Harry drags his tongue all the way down to his balls. And yes, Harry gives up trying to be casual about that as well.

When Louis tightens his grip in his hair and stills, Harry sinks, taking him all the way down, reaching the back of his throat, eyes almost watery as he hollows his cheeks and swallows Louis’ cum, getting high on the sound of his high pitched moan that made him look as adorable and cute as someone could look whilst coming into someone else’s mouth, firm hand tugging at the curls giving a rough bonus.

Harry pumps him through it and lets out a loud kissing noise as he frees his mouth, rubbing his thumb against the tip to wipe the remaining cum before dressing Louis carefully, smiling to himself at the sight of the boy still trying to catch his breath with his eyes closed and a hand still on that wall, damp hair falling on his face.

 “I guess it’s not that bad if I suck at some things…what do you reckon ?” Harry giggles.

It’s probably too soon, because Louis covers Harry’s face with his free hand to make him shut up while he comes down. Harry just laughs harder and figures he’ll have to take care of himself at home because Louis might be too dizzy to do anything right now.

Once the rain has completely stopped and they’re nearly dry, they step outside their cocoon and Harry can’t stop smiling at Louis who’s still cussing every three steps because he leaned too hard on that wall and his arm is hurting like hell.

He slides his fingers into Harry’s, keeping him close as they walk to their cars parked next to each other. That was not on purpose. It was the last empty spot and Harry wasn’t going to drive further down. Sure he saw those four spots on the other side of that row, but this one was quicker. That’s what he told himself anyway.

Liam and Niall had taken Liam’s car knowing Harry would have to practice late, so they probably didn’t even notice his car there. It was all fine. Harry had this. He was discrete and subtle, nothing to worry about. 

“Tommo !” Stan calls from behind, making Louis drop Harry’s hand so fast it’s like they never even touched. “What are you still doing here ?”

“Forgot something in the lockers.” Louis shrugs.

Stan takes a good look at Harry standing next to his friend and chuckles.

“What are you looking at, Golden Boy ? Fuck off !” Stan groans and walks closer. Louis doesn’t object and Harry’s suddenly reminded of why he was frowning a while ago.

He rolls his eyes but doesn’t move. Not just yet. He’s crazy enough to think Louis will say something. And he really should lower his expectations. It’s like he was a completely different person with him, and it almost made him forget who he was to other people.

“Chill out, Stan.” Louis brings a hand to Stan’s chest when the latter gets too close to Harry. “He’s just going home. Leave it.”

“Since when do you protect that prince ?” Stan laughs. “I don’t remember you defending him when we-“

“Shut up.” Louis pushes his friend before he can say anything. Harry pretends there’s nothing to say.

“Whatever.” Stan huffs. “Can you drive me ? Not feeling like walking right now.”

Louis gulps and glances over his shoulder to see Harry look up, already knowing the answer to that. Of course Louis would choose his dick of a friend over him again. Harry doesn’t wait to hear it and walks to his car, already settled by the time Louis ends his chat with Stan and walks to his pick up with him.

 

Please don’t be mad at me…

 

Harry read that text so many times the words don’t even make sense anymore. He didn’t want to keep going after what he couldn’t have. Louis could be the greatest person he’s ever met when they were alone, but he turned into someone else whenever one of his friends showed up, and he wasn’t sure he could put up with that.

He had spent enough time hiding himself for people, he wasn’t going back there. Louis could either acknowledge what they were, or call it a day. It’d be painful to not have him the way he did, but it was even more painful to not actually have him.

 

It’s not you I’m mad at.

 

He sends back after an eternity and only gets a sad emoji as a response. And he’s not ready to go back to his classes the day after if it meant pretending to not want Louis around him.

 

 

****

 

 

“What do you think about this one ?” Harry asks Niall who’s munching on his sandwich, sitting at Harry’s desk, going through his phone while Harry’s trying out outfits to the all white party they decided to go to last minute.

“Yeah, looks great…” Niall mumbles, not even glancing at his friend.

He would’ve asked Liam, but he was at Sophia’s, so all Harry could do was ask his friend who didn’t give two fucks about fashion. He had been wearing the same shirt for four days. Not the same shirt though, he just happened to have bought the exact same tee four times. That’s just what he did. He hardly ever went shopping, so whenever he found something he liked, he bought it several times to make sure to never run out of it. His ridiculous range of shoes and sunglasses made up for it.

“Are these jeans too-“

“Tight ? Yes.” Niall gasped once he looked at his friend.

Harry had chosen the white skinny jeans his sister didn’t want and had given him. Okay maybe not given him, but she didn’t ask for them after he took the jeans from her closet, so same thing.

It made his thighs look heavenly and his bum glorious. It put the thin underwear he’s wearing to good use because you can barely tell he has any, and the sheer white shirt gave a full view on all the tattoos on his torso. He’d already styled his hair, smiling when he realized it had grown a lot.

He chose a white blazer to top everything and grabbed his golden heeled boots, and he looked a bit like a young Mick Jagger replica going to a wedding, but that’s the look he was going for so it’s just perfect.

“I’m ready then.” Harry nods in the mirror and Niall rolls his eyes but doesn’t argue.

They have to leave later because Niall got tomato sauce on his white tee, and laughs all the way to the car, explaining how his ‘buy four of them if it fits’ strategy is coming in handy right now.

The party is nothing but boring.

Harry hasn’t been able to enjoy anything lately. It’s champagne and designer clothes and shallow conversations and no one daring to be too loud and do something that someone could be shocked at.

It’s all rules and courtesy and fake smiles and he’d never noticed how bloody choreographed everything was.

He’s drowning in his sixth glass of champagne by now, but he’s still too aware of everything. He’s aware of the girls giggling around him and the few guys eyeing him discretely whilst grunting like animals around the rugby game, and Harry could really use some fresh air.

Fucking Louis Tomlinson had to make him realize what this world was about. Before him, it was home and friends. Right now, it’s Hell and vultures.

He reaches the gardens of his friend Matt’s house, invaded by a crowd of rich kids assuring they’re doing enough kindness by donating five pounds annually to charities they don’t even know anything about whilst taking advantage of people with less in their own school.

Harry hadn’t stopped thinking about everything that makes his sphere a breakable illusion. He knew so many people, yet he’d still probably only call Niall or Liam if ever in need. He claimed to not be like everyone, to actually care about something other than the things he owned, but he’d still get those thousand pound glittery boots he saw in town and treat them like individuals more worthy of his time than people around him.

And maybe that boy was getting too deep in his head.

He also couldn’t bring himself to charm anyone. He’d usually already be on someone’s lap or have someone on his lap, yet here he was, watching the ridiculous scenery in front of him in the garden couch, finishing his glass of the finest drink that could probably feed a whole community somewhere in the world.

Fucking Louis Tomlinson.

“Harry, Mate ! How’s it going ?” Matt flops down next to his friend on the couch and the latter tries hard not to look dead.

“Do you ever feel like we’re too much ?” Harry asks, rubbing his thumb on the rim of his glass.

“What ?”

“Do we really need all of this ? Is that all we are ?”

“What did you smoke, bro ?” Matt laughs.

“I’m being serious.” Harry straightens his back to face the silver blond guy wearing a mustard bow tie with his white suit. “Don’t you ever feel like we’re snobbing other people ? Like…when was the last time you talked to someone who wasn’t loaded ?”

“I dunno…” Matt seems to take it into consideration, lighting up his cigar.

“Why is Louis Tomlinson’s clique forbidden to come to our parties ?” Harry dares asking. He always figured it was just because they were jerks. But maybe there was another reason. What Louis had told him had been stuck in his head and it was driving him a bit crazy.

“Because they don’t belong here.” Matt shrugs as if it’s obvious. “They’d probably break sculptures and steal from the safe. They’re on bursaries, mate. They don’t know how it works here, they’d be out of place.”

Harry can’t help frowning at that. He’s definitely heard that before and he’s reminded that he also definitely agreed to that statement multiple times before.

“Have they ever been caught stealing or trashing the place ?”

“Um…no…but that’s because we don’t give them the opportunity !” The part time model affirms. “What’s with you tonight ? You don’t seem to be having fun…You should already be grinding on a pole by now.”

“I’m not feeling too into it…” Harry sighs.

“Dash brought what you need to make you feel like it. You should take some.”

Harry frowns as if to suggest it’s the last thing he wants to do.

“Are you feeling sick ? You can stay here tonight if you want. You have your spare room here, you know that.”

Harry smiles kindly at his friend and nods, letting him pat his shoulder before returning to the party when he spots Niall leading the crowd towards the guitar in the hall. He wonders if he’s being friendly because he genuinely likes him or if it’s just to keep partying with him in his dad’s villa in Monaco.

The wind outside is a bit freezing given that it’s already October, but Harry was hot enough in the house and the alcohol is still burning inside. He’ll probably catch a cold if he stays outside too long, but he just can’t get himself to go back.

It feels wrong, like they’re in the wrong side of society, like they’re the kind of people Harry thought he was strictly against. He had only been introduced to this lifestyle when he’d moved to Buckingham, but it was such a long time ago he barely registered the life he had before, how simple it used to be, how freeing and not this much.

He spends the rest of the night in his lonely corner once it gets too cold, refilling his glass and letting his head spin as he watches his golden world unfold before him, irritating laughs and meaningless conversations about whose parents went bankrupt and who dared wearing a baseball cap at a polo match.

He lets himself lean back in a chair and struggles to say no to every offer when his friends circle him with their white lines, or pour drinks after drinks and laugh obnoxiously until everything becomes a blur and a repetition of polite laughs and numbness.

“Harry ? Harry ?” Liam shakes Harry’s shoulders but the latter doesn’t want to wake up. He’d been dreaming of blue eyes and soft hands and he wasn’t ready to leave them.

As soon as he opens his eyes, he’s reminded of what happened the night before. He did take on Matt’s offer about the spare room, but that wasn’t the only offer he had accepted.

He had had a little too much right after he realized he might not be the person he thought he was.

Someone was walking with a tray of shots and then someone else was sniffing coke next to him and then he had an arm around him and it all happened very fast. He had been staring at his phone, searching for the only number he wanted to remember, and had hung up the second he heard the sweet voice that made him smile.

His phone had rang again so he’d answered, and he really shouldn’t have been getting so much in his body because it had made his brain incompetent.

“C’mon man, I’ll take you home.” Liam whispered with his reassuring voice.

He wrapped an arm around Harry’s waist to carry him through the house and Harry could barely walk, eyes only half opened and burning as soon as he saw the sun. His legs felt like jelly and his brain felt even worse.

He groaned all the way to Liam’s car and was glad Sophia wasn’t there, because he could really use his best friend as a parent right now, and Sophia was still a bit too new to hear him talk about everything going on in his life without the necessary dictionary. Harry vaguely remembered Liam to be with her and didn’t really know how he had ended up with him, but he was glad.

“Wanna tell me what went down in there ?” Liam asked as he turned on the engine, making Harry wince and curl up in a ball, noticing his blazer wasn’t on him anymore. He just hoped no one got red wine on it or it’d be a nightmare to clean, and Lucy had already scolded him after that colour paint party when she couldn’t get the pink out of his white jacket. Also, what was that on his jeans ?

And oh, what a mess that night was…

“I got fucked.” Harry sighs and searches for sunglasses in front of him, moaning in relief when he finds the Ray Bans he’d left there last week.

“Okay…um…did you know the guy at least ?”

“No ! I don’t mean it like that, Liam !” Harry sounds outraged. Sure he was found in quite a subjective state, but that didn’t mean anything. As if  he could possibly have someone touch him when Louis could. “I just had too much. And I…I fucked up.”

“How ?”

“Promise me you won’t judge me.” Harry begs. He’s already regretting this but Niall would be with his family all day today – as he said before leaving the party early. He only had Liam and needed urgent care.

“I never do. What happened ?”

“I called…someone…and I told things I shouldn’t have. Like, personal stuff. Fuck, I should probably jump off that car right now, I don’t know what I was thinking.” 

“First of all, calm down, no one’s jumping out of a moving car. There’s always a solution and you’re always being dramatic. Who did you call and what did you say ?”

And here was the tricky part.

He was so exhausted and still dazed and really wanted someone to help with his issue. So he just went with it, praying it wouldn’t cause any trouble. Or make them crash the car.

“Louis. I called Louis and told him…I told him I needed him.”

“What ?!” Liam gasps, looking away from the road to widen his eyes at his friend almost vanishing into his seat. “What did he say ? What did you need him for ?” 

“No I mean...I sort of…um…I sort of described how I needed him…” Harry can’t say it out loud to Liam. He could share a lot, but these kinds of details he knew his friend wasn’t comfortable hearing. 

“I don’t get it. Why did you need him ? Why didn't you call me ?” That boy was so clueless Harry rolled his eyes at himself for ever thinking Liam might have suspected something.

“I said I wanted him to fuck me, Liam ! For fuck’s sake.”

“What ?!” Liam takes his eyes off the road and lets go of the steering wheel before quickly grasping it in time to not drift away, and Harry reconsiders talking to him while he’s driving.

“Yeah…and I don’t even remember all of it. I can’t go back to class, Lima. I have to change my plans, move to another city, change my identity and leave my past behind.” Harry says, tragically falling back on his seat.

“Calm down, calm down ! What did he say ?”

And ah, maybe that was the worst – best – part of it all.

Louis had listened. He had taken the time to actually hear Harry out, letting him speak his mind with no interruption. Harry had snapped about him ruining parties for him, about him criticizing his world enough to change his mind about every little thing, and about his smile. And that had started a whole new quarrel.

He had started to angrily describe all the things he wanted Louis to do, including attending the same parties he did, kissing him in front of his friends, and maybe also treating him the way he treated the girls he claimed he had taken in his car. And yes, Harry had gone overboard there, but that bad boy attitude with a big heart had worked on him and he was annoyingly starting to admit he was addicted.

“He said I was his boy and could have him anyway I wanted.” And other things, but Liam probably shouldn’t hear everything. Harry also didn’t remember all of it, mostly because he couldn’t believe he’d actually said some of those things.

“What ? His boy ? Anyway you want ? What does that even mean ?”

Harry sighs and hesitates but he’s too tired to fight anything and sarcasm won’t work with Liam who apparently bought they’re “we’re not even friends” act.

“We’ve been…you know…getting close ? As, like, more than friends ?”

“Oh my god.” Liam says in shock, nearly getting out of the road again to face his friend.

Harry didn’t think it’d be so much of a surprise. Louis spent hours at their flat to ‘study’ but never got his grades up in class, and Harry had had several late practices but still missed every ball. No need to be very clever to connect the dots. Especially given how much Harry talked about that boy. But maybe it was too much to even believe.

“You’re not being very helpful, mate.”

“Sorry, sorry. But we’re talking about Louis Tomlinson ? The guy who nearly broke someone’s jaw for pointing out the rainbow on his shirt thinking he was supporting gay people ?”

“Yes. That one.”

“Fuck... I’ve always thought the way he talked about men was a bit strange. That explains things, I guess. But are you sure it wasn’t a misunderstanding ?” Clueless. Liam was clueless.

“Yes Liam I’m sure, he made it very clear several times and there’s not much you can misunderstand when a guy lets you- Anyway.” Liam looks thankful. “Now what do I do ? I can’t stop thinking about him that way and now he knows.”

“But he clearly feels the same if he said you were…I mean…whatever he said sounded positive, right ?”

“Maybe…but he can’t admit what it means. He always says he wants to spend time with me and makes sure I’m too distracted by the way he touches me to truly talk about what we are.”

“Wait what ?!” Liam gasps, yet again. “What do you mean touch you ? You’ve done things ? With Louis ?!”

“Oh my god. Yes Liam ! Focus ! Anyway, do you think I’m just getting my hopes up for nothing ? He doesn’t want to say it but I don’t wanna push him too far…” Harry snorts. “I shouldn’t have let him kiss me.” Harry says to himself.

“So I’m gonna pretend this is not very new and that you didn’t keep all of this from me…But I know the guy, Haz. He’s the worst at showing feelings seriously. If you think he feels a certain way about you, then he probably does, but he also probably won’t admit it straight away. I’ve known him for ages and he still punches me when I tell him I love him as a friend.”

There’s a long pause before Liam talks again.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be open about it because of people talking though…Like, I know it’s messed up, but, apart from him liking a boy, it’d be him liking you. And you’re not exactly…um…similar ?”

Harry stares out the window and rubs his eyes under the glasses as if to make things easier. His brain is still busy though, his vision is still blurry, and his stomach is still a mess. And let’s just not talk about his heart. He can’t think about what Liam’s just said. Mainly because he knows it’s true.

“I think I might like him…” Harry confesses after the heavy silence.

Liam reaches between them to squeeze the back of his friend’s neck and pouts. He lets Harry look down before rubbing it gently and it’s all Harry needs to let go of everything through a few silent tears.

He doesn’t want to go through that. He doesn’t need that. He can’t handle an hidden complicated friendship and he can’t let go of it either. He’s torn between having the affection he craves from the person that makes him smile the most, and not letting himself get dragged down by pretence. He wants all of Louis, so it’s frustrating to only have the part he’s allowed to have when they’re not watched.

They get to the flat a few moments later and Harry nearly runs to his bed, getting rid of his clothes before burying himself in his fucking expensive sheets, wishing he had allowed Louis to get in them just to have his perfume and pretend he had him whenever he wanted. There was just something about him he couldn’t let go of.

Sure, it was only when it was the two of them. But it was still something he’d never known. The few people interested in him apart from Liam and Niall were all there for the wrong reasons. They wanted to be seen with him and boost their popularity, wanted to get to his mom’s shows, wanted to get to the VIP sections at events only Harry had privileged access to…and none of them ever cared enough to get to know him.

And that’s one of the reasons why he liked Louis so much. He didn’t care how many VIP passes he had for the upcoming fashion shows, didn’t even know why it mattered. He didn’t need popularity because he didn’t belong to the same circle, and he didn’t care if Harry wore an old shirt from a cheap concert or got dust on his bag to climb in a pick up truck .

The only thing that mattered to him was Harry's laugh, his opinion on random things no one had ever asked him, his hands, his lips…He was the first one to actually notice he’d changed cologne or the way he drank his tea and, as silly as it may sound, it did make a difference. It meant Louis had been paying enough attention to him to notice the little things and not just what he said, and that mattered. That fucking mattered as well.

He had tried to push the thoughts away so hard, convincing himself it wasn’t anything that important, nothing to be concerned about. He just liked Louis’ company, that’s all. And maybe it sometimes felt wrong in public because they didn’t belong to the same group of friends, but it felt like fucking paradise when they were alone, and maybe he wouldn’t mind feeling that way all the damn time.

He’s still dwelling on everything in his bed when his phone rings from the floor. He crawls to reach down and just lets it ring, because he doesn’t know if he’s ready to face the consequences of his intoxicated self.

“Hello ?” He almost whispers after the second attempt, unsure of what to expect.

“Hi, love !” Harry can hear the boy grin, and he smiles back instinctively. “Slept well ?”

“Could be better to be honest.” Harry sighs.

“Told you. ”

“What ?” Harry frowns, having no clue what he’s talking about.

“You don’t remember, do you ?” Louis laughs and Harry can picture him looking up in despair.

There’s a brief silence on the phone before Louis realizes Harry might not.

“You don’t ?” There’s another pause because Harry doesn’t answer that, and it makes Louis add something else. “I’m sad now. It was quite the conversation…”

Harry barely even remembers last night. He does remember most of the phone call that lasted for way too long. He also remembers saying things he shouldn’t have, does remember vaguely hearing Louis calling him his boy, but he’s not sure he can get himself to remember the rest. It couldn’t be real.

“Last night’s a bit of a blur…” He can hear his raspy voice and realizes he doesn’t have to elaborate further for Louis to understand it’s been tough on him.

“You don’t remember me saying I wished I was there then ?” Definitely not. “That I’d take you with me to show you how to enjoy a night ? You sounded very happy about that…” Louis giggles. So that was real then. Alright.

“I do remember that. But I honestly thought you wouldn’t want me to…”

When Louis doesn’t answer after a few beats, Harry shoves a pillow in his face. Was that too harsh to say ?

“I do.”

Well then.

“Is the offer still on ?” Harry smirks, not controlling his mouth apparently.

“Of course, babe.” Louis laughs. “I would’ve picked you up last night if I wasn’t risking getting chased by the police if I showed up at that house.”

“What are you doing right now ?” Harry asks after a while, feeling guilty that Louis would face authority if he just wanted to party with people he went to school with because they were judgemental brats. Not that he thought differently of his friends now…but…okay, maybe he did.

“Nothing, just chillin’ in me couch. I’m knackered. You do talk a lot when you’re drunk, babe !” Louis laughs. They might have stayed on the phone until the sun was up.

Harry doesn’t dare saying anything, and not just because whenever Louis calls him his babe he forgets how to do the talking thing. He wants to ask if Louis would be willing to hang out with him today, wants to ask if he’s been thinking about him the same way he had, and wants to ask what colour his walls are painted. He goes for something else.

“Have you finished the assignment for next week ?”

And yes, he could’ve gone for pretty much anything else and it’d be better than this.

“Um…” Louis sounds a bit taken off guard. He probably expected something very different. “I haven’t written the biggest part yet.”

“What did you write so far ?”

“My name ?”

Harry giggles and rolls on his back, twisting a thread of his blanket around his forefinger as he grins at the ceiling.

“Do you need help ?”

“Always. But I think we’ve established you’re not very good help with this.”

“Heyyy ! It’s only because you always distract me ! You’d be a Lit. genius already if you didn’t get your hands all over me instead of the book.”

“Do you not like my hands on you ?” Louis asks with an innocent voice. He is probably smirking, probably licking his lips, and definitely making Harry’s heart choke him. “Joking.” He chuckles. “Help me now then, my hands are nowhere near your chubby hips.”

“Are you calling me fat ? It’s not the best way to get my help you know…” Louis is laughing loud enough to make it the only sound in Harry’s head. It was the only sound in his head anyway , but now he has an excuse to say it.

“I’m not calling you fat, Hazza. You know I love your hips.” There’s an almost awkward silence after that because Harry needs some time to process that thought. “Anyway, who’s being distracting now, huh ?”

“You. Literally you.”

“Shut up. What’s the assignment about again ?” Louis grunts. He probably didn’t even check the topic since he got it, and that was two months ago.

“We have to do a detailed commentary on how the book is a criticism of modern society, using the bibliography and everything we worked on since the beginning.”

“How long does it have to be ?” Louis asks, and this is just proof he probably lost the paper with the instructions.

“At least six pages. I advise you start right now.”

“Will you stay on the phone with me ?” Louis is using that hypnotizing suave voice that would make Harry drive over there and write that bloody thing for him if he patted his head.

“Sure, hun. Can we skype though ? I’m supposed to finish the essay for history.”

“We have to do an essay in history ?!” Louis gasps.

“Lou !” Harry scolds only to burst in laughter, covering his face with his hands in disbelief. That boy was on another planet and it was a wonder he had made it this far academically.

“Oh for fuck’s sake ! I’ll just finish that commentary thing first. I’ll find an essay online.”

“You’re…” Harry starts but just sighs and gets his laptop before going back in bed.

He wonders if he should get dressed or at least put a shirt on, but it’s Sunday and some things are sacred, like naked Sundays. He’ll just have to keep the blanket over his lower body, that was enough sacrifice already.

They don’t hang up on their phones until they can see each other properly on the screen. Louis is now sitting on the floor somewhere, probably his living room given that there’s a large couch behind him. He’s wearing a blue jumper that emphasizes the colour of his eyes, and grey sweatpants. His feet are shoeless, sockless, and tiny. And Harry tries hard not to stare at them and say ‘cute’ out loud.

They start working in silence, with the occasional questions coming from Louis’ side. Harry knows he’s just pretending to write something down and he fights back a smile whenever he changes position.

He’s now lying on his stomach on the floor, laptop angled so that Harry can see his back, jumper slid above the dimples down his spine. He’s resting his crossed feet on the couch behind him, and Harry can’t help noticing how small that room looks. He also tries to not notice Louis’ perky bum.

Everything seems to be piled up everywhere and there’s an endless amount of random toys all around, a dozen framed photos on the wall, and a TV Harry had forgotten even existed: a non flat screen. He pushes back his snobbish comments.

“How are you doing ?” He asks when Louis stops with his questions.

“I don’t know, why don’t you tell me…” Louis lifts his notebook to show his work. It’s beautiful, well thought, detailed…and really nothing near literature. It’s a sketch of a dagger in a rose and it’s taking half the page Louis’ supposed to write on.

“Louis ! It’s been almost an hour !”

“I know, I know !” Louis whines, dropping his head on the floor. Harry wished he could be comforting him physically right now. He’s always using humour, but it’s clear he’s just insecure about what he can actually do. He could do so much if he just tried.

“Do you…” Harry sighs, biting his lip because he’s never proposed that to anyone in this school because of the competition rule, and he definitely wouldn’t do it for anyone else. “Do you want me to send you mine so you can get inspired ?”

“Oh fuck, Harry that’d be fucking great ! My lifesaver.” Louis’ eyes are glimmering and his smile is soft and thankful and Harry forgets the world for a minute.

“Not a problem.” Harry blushes. “I’ll sent it to you via Facebook. Just take some ideas on the general way to write and try to come up with anything, yeah ?”

“Yeah yeah, it’ll definitely help to see how to link stuff…Thank you.”

They stare at their screen as if they’re actually facing each other and Harry has a feeling Louis would be hugging him if they were in the same room. So he really wants to be.

“Are you doing anything later ?” Louis asks before Harry can.

He’s invited to Sophia’s birthday with her family and closest friends and he’s got a few homework to get done still, and he promised Gemma he’d call her and spend hours on the phone with her to catch up. His day is all planned really.

“No.” He jumps at his answer, not expecting his mouth to not listen to his brain.

“Can we hang out ?”

“Yeah…” Harry nods slowly, smirk betraying his will to keep it casual. “Actually,” He shakes his head, remembering he’s got commitments. “There’s Liam’s girlfriend’s birthday thing tonight. It’s nothing big, just about ten people tops, but I promised I’d go. Bought her presents and all that…”

“Oh. Alright…”

“But you could come with me ?” Harry says before he can stop himself. “I’m sure Liam wouldn’t mind introducing you two, and you’d keep me company. Niall’s with his cousins today and I won’t know anyone there…”

“Um…are you sure ?” Louis raises a brow, puzzled and completely weirded out by Harry inviting him to a private party.

“I’ll just ask her if I can bring someone.” Harry is already jumping with excitement as if he’s about to ask his mom if he can have a friend over to play with him. It’s not that far from reality because Sophia is quite maternal with him, but still.

He takes his phone and doesn’t wait to ring her, and he probably should’ve closed his laptop because Louis can see his face, and he really shouldn’t.

“Hi Soph’ ! Happy Birthdayyyy !” Harry sings and waits for her to thank him a million times before saying anything else to not sound like he only called for Louis. “Hey, um, about tonight, can I bring someone with me ?”

He glances at the screen to see Louis full on smiling and chewing on his cheeks to stop himself once Harry notices. It makes the latter’s chest drag him lower than he already was.

Sophia assures him he can bring whoever he wants to not be by himself, and he does his best not to answer too bluntly that it is not in fact a date.

“What did she say ?” Louis asks nervously once Harry hangs up with a frown. He’s upset about another info he just got though, not because of a negative answer.

“She said yes.” Harry forces a smile.

“What’s the matter then ?”

“She invited Eleanor…”

Sophia wasn’t in their department and didn’t have the same friends. She was in the foundation years department for fashion and design and didn’t know anyone going to the other side of campus apart from Liam, Niall and Harry. One of her friends, Eleanor, knew who Louis was, however.

Louis had dated her and she had been getting looks ever since. Not that Louis was a shame to be with, far from it, but he was the rebellious troublemaker all the girls fell for, and thus nothing but the disreputable kid from Doncaster for her parents and about every other person she knew. Unnecessary drama had ensued.

“She’s not still holding a grudge, is she ?” Louis laughs as if he doesn’t know what Harry’s worried about.

“Maybe not, but she might tell someone she saw us together…”

“I’m friends with Liam too though. I’ll be careful not to keep you all to myself too much.” Louis winks, but Harry isn’t happy about that.

He wants Louis to keep him for himself. He doesn’t want to be with anyone but him. He doesn’t want him to hold himself back and not touch him and make sure he’s the only one he pays attention to. Was that a possessive thing to say ? Not being able to be with him openly had made Harry come up with ways to have Louis only for him when he could.

“I’ll text you the address. Unless you want me to pick you up ?” Harry regrets asking that the second it’s out. Louis looks tense and Harry wants to rewind time. “Or not…”

“It’s not that I don’t want to. But I’m not sure your car will go unnoticed around here and Stan lives right across from me…”

“Right… I’ll see you there at six then ?”

“Wait, am I supposed to look proper posh ?” Louis squints and scrunches his nose and it makes Harry giggle because even when he’s not saying anything he’s still funny.

“Just presentable. Like a pair of jeans and a button up or something. No need for a suit, but don’t come in sweats.”

“Fuck, I’ll see what I can do.” Louis rolls his eyes and pouts, as if it’ll take a lot of efforts from him to do that. Harry laughs again. He should probably stop giggling so much every time that boy does something or he’ll soon have his cheeks cramp.

“Just show me what you have and I’ll tell you if it’s alright.” Harry shrugs.

“Um…alright. Hold on.” Louis gets up and grabs the laptop to walk in his house, and Harry pretends it’s not a quarter of his loft.

The white walls look unfinished and the stairs are cracking. The hallway is too narrow for that many people living there, and the number of doors suggests that Louis’ siblings may be sharing rooms.

It doesn’t get too long to reach his room, and Harry nearly gulps. It can only fit a bed. A single bed. There’s a closet taking the rest of the space and Louis has to climb over something at his feet to reach his clothes.

“Don’t look, it’s a bit messy.”

Harry doesn’t want to comment on that. As soon as Louis places the laptop on his bed, he can see why Louis had to go through an actual adventure to make his way to the clothes. There’s a mountain of sneakers near the door, several presumably dirty jumpers all over the floor, half full backpacks and a few school books.

“Not judging.” Harry promises. He’s not judging, but he already has three different suggestions to redo the place for efficient storage.

“Ok, so here are the options…” Louis begins. “There’s this…” He chooses a black Harley Davidson tee and Harry waits to see if he’s kidding. He is not.

“Do you have anything without skulls on it ?”

“Mmmh…” Louis bends down to look among the clothes that fell from the hangers, and Harry is definitely not staring. His dimples are showing once again, his arse looks fucking sinful, and he really wishes he could tug at the showing waistband of his boxers.

“Is that good ?” Louis asks after a while.

“Yeah…” Harry nods, soon confused because Louis’ not actually talking about his bum but a baby blue button up. “Yeah yeah, that’s nice.”

“Get in !” Louis says between in teeth, feeling victorious.

“Calm down pumpkin, we still need shoes and jeans.”

“Shit.” Louis says under his breath. Harry smiles. “I think I can go for these…?”

Louis shows the black skinny jeans Harry quite enjoys, and it’s a winner. He then chooses fancy dress shoes in a classy black – not too shiny to bring attention but not boring enough to look cheap - coming right under his ankles, and he nods proudly because this wasn’t such a hard task. He even agrees to roll his jeans above his ankles.

“We’re all set then. But um…” Louis had been looking nervous since the phone call. “…you didn’t ask Sophia if I could go…”

“She said I could bring anyone.” Harry shrugs, not really understanding what he means.

“Yeah but I’m not just anyone. I’m like…not like...” Louis gives up and just sighs.

“What ? Tell me.” Harry sits up on his bed, crossing his legs under the blanket.

“I’m not an idiot. I know I don’t belong in places like that. Liam invited me at your place because we knew each other when we were kids, but he would never approach me at a party or something. I’m not sure that’s a good idea…”

“Louis.” Harry says sternly. “First of all, Liam’s obsessed with you. Not even half as much as me, but he’s somewhere near that. Second of all, if anyone says anything, I’ll make them shut up.”

“Oh, will you now ?” Louis teases, as if Harry was the last person to be feared.

“I can be intimidating too !” Harry assures with his hands on his hips, the new lavender sheets with a floral pattern not helping the whole tough act.

“Oh baby, you look adorable.” Louis coos and Harry pouts. That doesn’t help his case and sort of makes him look like a precious baby. Louis is looking at him rather pleasantly though, so he keeps it going a little longer.

“I promise it’ll be fun !” Harry begs. “Come for me at least ?” He tilts his head on one side and flutters his lashes.

“How can I say no to that ?” Louis chuckles.

“See you tonight !” Harry rushes and hangs up before Louis can protest again.

The door slowly opens and Harry has enough time to go back to not grinning too much before Liam enters his room.

“It’s easy you know, all you have to do is move your wrist like that and make sure your fist makes a noise with the door.” Harry gestures knocking to teach Liam that one thing he’s just not comprehending.

“Haha.” Liam pretends he’s listening. “Did you just call Soph’ to ask if you could bring Louis or are you just bringing someone else and I’m being paranoid ?”

“No. I did ask her for him.”

“Harry…” Liam rubs his face and it’s the ‘you’re an idiot let me teach you about life’ rub of hands that comes right after when he sits on the bed before Harry scolds – precious sheets are not to be touched– and makes him take a chair.

“He’s going to behave. It’s not like his friends will be there…”

“I know. I don’t mind him there, I love the guy. But Sophia’s family might not. Just make sure he doesn’t say anything too…Louis like…in front of her parents and stuff. I’m still on probation after that car dent disaster, I can’t have him curse too loud or make fun of Stanley or something.”

“He’s not from a different species, mate.” Harry frowns.

“No. But he might as well be.”

Harry doesn’t respond. He lets Liam leave in silence and he ponders the words. Did they all sound so fucking tactless ? Did he sound like that when he spoke about Louis and his friends ? How the hell did he never notice how screwed up their point of view was ? Should he tell Louis to stay home ?

The last thing he wanted was for people to patronize Louis, or for himself to do so, even unwillingly. He didn’t know if Louis was used to have a bazillion forks next to his plate and if he knew the order in which to use them, didn’t know if he could keep up a conversation about monarchy, and didn’t know if he was aware of the ‘sit straight and never put your elbows on the table’ diktat.

His brain was nothing but mash.

The thing is, he really wanted to see him. He also really wanted to go to his friend’s birthday gathering. He was torn.

The choice was clear when Louis sent him a picture of his outfit for a final check a few hours later. He looked clean cut, charming and ready to be a respectable son-in-law. Harry sent a thumbs up  and heart-eyes emoji and sped up to finish dressing up with no second thought.

He opts for his black skinny jeans, a cream shirt he struggled to actually button all the way up because Sophia’s family might not fully appreciate his exposed pecs and tattooed swallows, and he grabs his Saint Laurent aviator jacket with his suede boots. He also styles his now rather long hair, letting them loose and curly over his shoulders.

He takes the presents he got for Sophia – a Lush basket with too many bath bombs and a bracelet from his mom’s new jewellery collection- and waits for Liam to be ready so they could go.

They’d been waiting for Louis for twenty minutes when he finally arrived, and Harry figured it might not have been traffic but nerves holding him back. Louis can’t bear people knowing he has weaknesses though, so he keeps his head up and pretends it’s not a big deal.

Liam tries too hard to treat him like he doesn’t know things and Harry has to talk whenever he’s about to say something awkward, but Louis doesn’t pick up on it. He only has eyes and ears for Harry and it’s just the way it should be all the time really.

They all enter Sophia’s family house and Harry can’t stop looking at how amazed Louis is by everything. He’d never himself even look at the cherub statuette on the porch, never notice the importance of the kind of wood the floor was made of, and never really got struck by how high the ceiling could be.

“Harry, darling !” Martha, Sophia’ mother, greets her friend with a hug. She knew his dad so it apparently made her instantly attached to him. Logics. “Liam, Sophia’s been talking about you since she got here, please go find her.” She playfully pleads and Liam is happy to oblige.

She then takes a scrutinizing look at Louis, and Harry thinks it’s her that should learn manners, not him. She’s looking at him with slight disdain, as if his entire life was written on his forehead and it just read ‘failure’. Harry wondered if he should look at her the same when hers read ‘adultery’, but Liam would probably kill him, and so would his dad.

“This is my friend Louis. We go to uni together.” Harry says when she stays silent.

“Oh !” She smiles, relieved that he could possibly belong to their circle. “Louis…?” She gives him her hand to shake.

“Tomlinson.” Louis chews on his lips as he shakes it.

“From Birmingham ?” She asks, trying to find if he’s related to someone respectable enough as she drops her hand to her side again.

“Um..no…from Doncaster.”

“Oh…” She shamelessly raises a condescending brow and gives a quick forced smile to Harry before walking away.

“Wow, I do not feel like complete shit at all…” Louis whispers as they take off their jackets. He looks around, probably in search of a coat rack. Harry just waits.

“Sir, I’ll take this from you.” Stanley, the family butler appears to take the jackets. Louis is left shocked and ready to run far away.

“C’mon.” Harry takes his hand before he does so and leads him forward. And yes he does reconsider inviting him, for his own sake.

Harry is introduced to everyone he doesn’t know, which turns out to be less than he thought because everyone is somehow linked to someone else here, successful people’s own sectarian royalty and all, and Louis tries hard to pretend he can fit in easily.

As soon as Harry is done taking everyone’s number and chatting for a bit about how they went to the same hotels in Bali or Cape Town and how they both befriended a certain famous model at the same gala last summer but never noticed each other, he finally gets to Eleanor.

Louis doesn’t acknowledge her, and she doesn’t either, apart from the roll of eyes followed by the overdramatic walk to the buffet with her best friend Max.

“How’s it going so far ?” Harry feels sick asking this because he hasn’t heard Louis laugh or even talk normally for an hour now. They’re sitting on the couch slightly away from everyone. Close enough to look like they’re trying to socialize, far enough to not actually do so.

“It’s alright.” Louis smiles politely and sips on the glass of champagne he was given.

“Harry, my love !” Sophia finally walks to them after isolating herself with her boyfriend. “Thank you for coming !”

“Of course. Happy Birthday again !” Harry kisses her cheek and informs her he left her gift on the appropriate table.

“Louis, right ?” She smiles at him with sincere enthusiasm and Harry’s glad that girl is nothing like her relatives. She thanks him when he wishes a happy birthday and looks thrilled to have him here. “You make yourself comfortable, sweetie. Did you have any amuses bouche ? The foie gras is to die for !”

She quickly flees to greet someone else and waves them goodbye, clumsily bumping into Liam on her way, making the both of them giggle and hug as if they actually hurt each other. Harry averts his eyes from seeing how they get to be couple-y with no one flinching around them.

“The hell is a foie gras ?” Louis asks with his thick Yorkshire accent, making Harry struggle not to laugh because it’s the cutest thing he’s ever heard.

“Trust me, you don’t want to know.” Harry cringes at the thought. He did enjoy it more than anything before watching that bloody documentary. And ‘bloody’ is to be read as full of blood here.

“Is it gross or something ?”

“They fatten up ducks and pump their liver…the foie gras is what comes out of it.” Louis laughs and playfully punches Harry’s chest as if to make him stop saying shit like that. Harry doesn’t dare tell him he’s extremely serious.

The rest of the evening goes smoothly, mostly because they managed to escape and relax in the indoor pool area giving an unobstructed view on the property. They lay down on one of the large deckchairs facing the gardens behind the glass wall, and enjoy the silence and the marble of the walls giving the room its ostentatious atmosphere, sculptures and artistic pool designs making Louis roll his eyes instead of being stunned. It does the same to Harry at this point.

The latter is leaning against Louis’ chest, low enough on the large deckchair so the boy can run his hand through his hair easily.

Harry’s positioned himself between his legs and enjoys the warmth of Louis’ torso against his back. He also doesn’t object the strong thighs on each side of his waist. He keeps his eyes closed and makes the most of his new favourite place to rest.

“What are your friends doing today ?” He asks with a low voice, not willing to have it echo.

“Playing footie at Luke’s.”

“Do you regret missing out on it ?” Harry asks, feeling a bit guilty that he’s making Louis fake smiles instead of having fun with his mates.

“No. I’d rather be with you.”

When Harry’s done smiling like an idiot, he turns his whole body and pushes the deckchair down so it’s flat. He leans down to kiss Louis, taking him by surprise, but not encouraging any objection.

He takes it slow, as if they have all the time in the world, and places his arms around Louis’ head, fingers in his stylish fringe, pecking his lips a few times before parting them with the tip of his thumb, enjoying the tickle of Louis’ nose and the teasing tongue, enough to forget about everything else.

Louis quickly takes over and pushes Harry’s hair back to not get it in his mouth, and he giggles when Harry apologizes, even though he doesn’t seem bothered at all. He gently slides his fingers under the hem of Harry’s shirt, and strokes his lower back, sending goosebumps to Harry’s skin and butterflies to his stomach, as if the one tattooed on his chest had come to life.

He doesn’t even realize that he’s moving, rubbing his chest slowly against Louis’, making other parts of him touch Louis’ as well. He can feel the grip of Louis’ thighs tighten around him as if to make him stop, but he’s quickly free to move again, until his shirt is high enough to crease.

They keep kissing cautiously, as if their bubble would pop if they went too hard. Their tongues are dancing in sync and their hands are merely brushing against their skin, and Harry’s even stopped half grinding on the boy because he needs this to last.

“My shirt shouldn’t fold like that…” Harry murmurs in Louis’ mouth. Sure he probably shouldn’t worry about that when he’s snogging with that boy, but he does. That fabric is ruthless to motion and he’s been twisting his body too much already. He doesn’t want the guests to think badly of him, or of Louis.

“Take it off then.” Louis breathes.

“What if someone comes ?”

“You don’t take many risks, huh ?” Louis smiles, tucking Harry’s hair behind his ear as he likes it. Harry, not Louis. Or probably Louis as well. Anyway.

“I do.” Harry says, offended. Of course he could be a bit mischievous sometimes. He once left a café without tipping the waiter. That was stressful. He doesn’t say it out loud.

“Take it off then.” Louis pulls him back down by his neck to kiss him again, a bit more sloppily, and Harry can’t believe himself as he unbuttons his shirt and hangs it next to them.

“See ? Wasn’t that bad, was it ?”

Harry shakes his head no but his guts say ‘yes it was’ because he has the feeling he’d get in trouble if they were to be found here like this. He stops thinking when Louis’ hands starts stroking his bare chest. If he thought that moth had started moving inside seconds ago, there was now an entire breeding.

They resume kissing but it’s ten times worst – better - than before and Harry can’t help the quiet moans every time Louis thrusts up by an inch, subtly brushing against Harry’s crotch as if he knows what to do, as if he’s done it before.

“Have you…” He wants to ask. He doesn’t. “Nevermind.”

He still doesn’t ask when he feels Louis’ hand go down his spine and slide up again, reminding Harry of that time he rubbed a wet towel there, making it clear he was enjoying it more that he let him think back then.

“Have I what ?”

“Nothing. Just…nothing.” Harry shuts him up by grinding roughly, scolding himself because that probably came out as desperate.

“You wanna go somewhere else maybe ?” Louis is clearly joking, but Harry is panting a bit, looking at him with his docile eyes, completely failing at trying not to look like he’d do anything if Louis asked with nothing but ‘please’.

“Sorry…” Harry apologizes.

He’s never had to slow down. Usually, when he met someone, that someone only wanted one thing from him, for that one time, and that was for Harry to please them or for them to please him and then go back to their life like nothing happened. Even his ex boyfriend, if he could even call him that, had made sure they took things fast enough. So yes, that was a bit new.

“S’alright, love.” Louis scrunched his nose. And how could he look like a hot gang leader one second, ready to rip Harry’s clothes off, and like a soft kitten careful not to break him the next ? Nonsense.

If Harry expected Louis to slow down as well to avoid having an uncontrollable mess between his legs, he was proven wrong.

Louis resumes kissing him with a firm and controlling hand behind his neck and gradually walks both hands lower to grab Harry’s bum, lifting him a bit higher on the deckchair, making him let out a choked whimper. It could have been because Louis needed Harry higher on him, but the second Harry felt Louis pull him down on his crotch, he knew it was for a different reason.

That little shit just wanted Harry to know how hard he was getting, and that’s all he needed for a semi to rub Louis’ thigh, making him keep his hands where they were to keep him going. By the sound of it, they would both get in trouble if they didn’t stop right now.

“We should go back there before…” Harry doesn’t finish that sentence. Louis shouldn’t know what he’d do, or rather what he’d let him do, if they didn’t relax.

“Yeah…” Louis sighs. Harry pretends he didn’t hear that tone meaning he already had ideas if Harry was willing to go on.

“Ah finally ! Where were you guys ? Martha and Tom went upstairs to sleep.” Cameron, one of Sophia’s friends, announces as soon as Louis and Harry make their way back to the party.

“We were around.” Harry clears his throat and avoids the question. “Are there any olives left ?”

“Yeah, right there !” Liam takes Harry by his arm as Cameron engages in a conversation with Louis.

“Wicked ! They have them green ones I like, it’s-“

“What the fuck are you doing, man ?!” Liam asks, clearly angry even though he smiles and pretends he’s saying something pleasant.

“What ? Are they not good ? They looked so good from afar and-” Harry frowns and Liam seems on the verge of breaking down.

“I’m not talking about the bloody olives ! Your shirt is a fucking mess. And Louis’ hair is like an attacked nest on his head. You can do whatever you want anywhere, but this is the Smiths’ house. If they see you, it’ll get me in trouble.”

Harry picks a napkin and a few olives.

“Sorry. I’ll behave. But it could’ve been worse to be honest. He did that fucking thing with his hips where he-“ Harry tries to explain by moving his own hips towards Liam and the latter takes a step back.

“Harry !” Liam scolds.

Harry laughs and almost chokes on his olive when Liam acts like he’ll need therapy if he let him go on. He’s actually glad because it means he will hate repeating the words enough to keep their secret.

“Hey, do you mind going home alone ?” Liam asks when he’s done overreacting. “Soph’ is driving back to her flat tonight and I don’t want her alone on the road this late.”

“And you’d like to give her her actual birthday present.” Harry nods comprehensively as he munches on his olive. “Can’t believe you asked why I wanted to take my car…”

Can’t believe you asked why I wanted to take my car…” Liam mocks with a dumb voice and slaps Harry’s cheek playfully with the back of his hand before joining the guests.

Louis joins him right after by the olives and picks one in Harry’s hand instead of the full bowl on the table. Harry doesn’t mind. He lets him eat his olives and lets him invade his personal space and keep him close enough to protect him from an upcoming danger, even though the most dangerous thing around is that stuffed deer on the wall, and he lets him squeeze his hip and wink in the most affectionate way one can wink.

Harry’s somehow falling deeper.

“Liam’s staying with Sophia. Tell me when you’ve had enough.” Harry announces.

“I’m actually having fun…That Cameron is quite nice and Eleanor treats me normally. That Max guy is kind of a knob, but whatevs…Jesus, these olives are fucking sick.”

Harry giggles and bumps his hips into Louis’ before walking to the empty spots with everyone. Louis sits right next to him, and Harry should probably warn him that his hand is currently on his leg, lazily stroking his thigh, but he doesn’t.

“Hey Louis, I like your shirt. Whose is it ?” Stephanie asks. “Dylan’s been looking for one for ages but he can’t find any.”

“Um…mine ?” Louis raises a brow, shocked that she’d think he’d steal a shirt.

“She means which designer…” Harry whispers discretely.

“Just kidding.” Louis smiles, trying to make up for that. Everyone thankfully just laughs. “It’s from Topman, I think. But I got it a while ago.”

“Ah.” She smiles politely but doesn’t insist. The ‘it’s not expensive and new enough for him to get it’ is left unspoken.

Louis probably can’t translate that though. He frowns in confusion and Harry slips his hand between the couch and Louis’ back to lift his shirt and sneak a few fingers under it to distract him. It works.

“Where do you want to go next year ?” Cameron asks. Harry is thankful because it’s clearly on purpose to not make his friend uncomfortable.

“I really want Manchester. They have the best football program there and I’d feel honoured to go where legends have been.” Louis looks passionate about it and it makes Harry smile and forget the entire room just to focus on what he’s saying. He looks nervous for a second, like he actually doesn't mean what he just said, but Harry doesn't overthink it.

“Oh, you play ?” Jerome, Sophia’s brother, asks.

“Yeah. I’m no Beckham, but I’m not too bad I guess.”

“He’s the best.” Harry says immediately. Louis blushes and looks at him with all the fond he has, and Harry is still staring when Jerome suggests they play together and starts a conversation he can’t understand without the appropriate translation.

They’re soon talking about the last world cup and Harry feels like Louis isn’t giving him any attention anymore, eyes lit up as he chats with Sophia’s big brother.

“They have nice shorts.” He interjects when Jerome asks Louis what he thinks about the Belgian team.

It creates an awkward silence and Harry’s glad Eleanor is a Belgium shorts amateur as well. But she’s not Louis and Harry’s done with the party. Although it’s not as much of a party as it is a polite chat. It’s still very nice though and Louis seems to be enjoying himself.

There’re only about three out of the nine people there who look down on him, and the ones accepting him are friendly enough to make up for the rest.

The dinner part ended up being avoided since it was more small bites on their lap, so Harry can breathe.

Louis’ even sad to leave when Sophia puts an end to the night. He takes Jerome and Cameron’s number and Eleanor half hugs him as if they had no bad past to speak of. Sophia is treating him like her son – as she does with Harry and Niall – even though she’s a year younger, and Stanley the butler laughs at his jokes and seems charmed by his kindness towards him. Harry reckons this discrete outing was a success. And he’s thankful Sophia is the most private person who doesn’t post pictures of everything she does and everyone she’s with.

“I’ll see you tomorrow ?” Louis asks once they’re between their cars, the rest of the group far away on the porch. He checks behind Harry and pulls him closer before gently grasping the back of his head to kiss him.

Harry nods into the kiss but places his hands behind Louis’ back, making it last just a little bit longer.

“Drive safe.” He whispers and lets Louis kiss his cheek before pulling away.

“You too.”

They should be hopping in their respective car by now, but they’re looking at each other as if they’re waiting for something. Louis finally blows a kiss and opens his door, making Harry turn to do the same.

When he gets home, it’s like he’s been on the best date of his life or something. He’s all giddy and smiling as if someone had sewed his jaw like that and he can’t help the bubbling feeling in his stomach. He feels like his sixteen year old self with a crush and he’s not mad about it one bit.

Today was a proof that they could be public about at least being friends, and he was happy to know there was a chance he could actually be Louis’ and have everyone know it without side eyes. If Louis wanted him that way that is.

He skips to his room as if he’s throwing petals on his way and gracefully falls on his bed, not even caring that he’s not showered enough to touch the sheets. He wouldn’t even care if he stained them right now. All he cared about was Louis.

And he might have been thinking about them hanging out in public as he fell asleep later on, smiling at his daily reminder that his chest is forever screwed.

 

Tonight was siiiick !!! Goodnight baby cakes :) x

 

 

****

 

“And did you know he once pushed the button that powered an entire studio ?! Crazy…” Harry giggles by himself. “And he said my new boots looked like Captain America, can you believe that ? I can admit it’s ‘quirky’, but come on. They’re cute…And last night he-- Liam ?”

Liam looks like he’s praying for the teacher to kick Harry out of the class to get him away from him. He’s holding his face in his hands and it almost looks like he’s crying. Harry pretends he’s not and just keeps talking.

“Anyway, so he made me order a Nike sweater. Do you think that’ll suit me ? I haven’t worn anything like that in ages…Casual clothes look so good on him I don’t know how he does it…” Harry stops to picture Louis in his own sweater. He’d probably look so small and cuddly. He tries to not think out loud again. And fails. “Have you noticed his eyes change colour to match his clothes ?”

“Shut. Up. Pleeeaaase !” Liam begs, dropping his head on the table. It makes Harry frown, and he has to give up after the second attempt to unwrap Liam’s arm from around his ears.

He grunts and looks around to see Louis looking at him, leaning against the wall as if he’s been staring at him the whole time. Harry just hopes he hasn’t heard any of it. He probably hasn’t though, he’d be looking at him weirdly if he had.

Louis smirks and pokes the inside of his cheek with his tongue repeatedly as he moves his fist in the same direction, and Harry blushes at the gesture. He nods and discretely grabs his own crotch, making sure Louis understands that he wouldn’t mind the gesture on himself.

He looks away when Liam makes him, the teacher asking a question he was supposed to answer. He just wishes she hasn’t seen what he was previously doing.

His phone soon lights up in front of him, hidden by Lydia’s back in front of him, and he can’t help grinning when he sees the text.

 

Your car at lunch ? :)

 

Harry is already ecstatic, but he tries to contain himself and hopes they can eat something first because he wouldn’t mind seeing Louis, but he’s starving.

 

Aren’t you hungry ?

 

He takes a brief look over his shoulder to see Louis type his answer, and he sees his smirk and smug expression right before reading the text.

 

Yes. Very.

 

Food can wait then.

The students haven’t even truly started to stand up when Harry flies through the door. He’s pretty sure Liam called him, but he will deal with that later. He walks to the parking lot and gets in his car.

He waits for Louis to hop in the passenger seat when no one’s around, and drives outside the parking lot to a remote place they won’t risk getting caught. They’d tried several places, but the spot behind the deserted park had become the best choice. There were many perks lately about living in a remote town.

Louis doesn’t waste any time to cup Harry’s cheeks and kiss him as roughly as they usually kiss when rushed. It’s a mess of tongues and it’s loud, but it’s just as great as when they take ages to even part their lips.

"You smell extremely good today, love…” Louis pants, kissing Harry’s neck as if to swallow his perfume, stopped when he starts to work on a love bite.

“I’m running out of excuses for that, Lou !”

“Can’t you say it’s an allergy again ?” Louis begs. “I like seeing my marks on you.”

Louis pouts and flutters his lashes.

Harry doesn’t argue further.

Louis goes back to sucking on Harry’s neck as he slides a hand between the boy’s legs to massage his crotch, earning a few pleased noises he smirks at. He then goes to nibble at Harry’s bottom lip when his mouth is wide open and his eyes screwed shut, and the speed at which Louis can make him lose it is getting concerning.

He taps Harry’s belt twice for him to undo it because that’s the worst possible angle for him to do it – they’d found it the hard way, no pun intended – and he watches him slide his jeans and boxers just low enough for Louis to stroke the hardening cock he’s been craving all morning.

Literature had been the starting point of all of this when Harry had described to Louis how abnormally big his penis looked from certain angles the night before when they were on the phone. And no that wasn’t a conventional conversation to have but it just came up somehow and there wasn’t much they kept from each other anymore. They had no filters whatsoever and that's just what made them…them.

“Okay, so it does look um…yeah.” Louis stutters at the sight and chuckles pleasantly.

He tugs at the length a few times before bending down, wrapping his thin lips around Harry before licking the tip and taking more of him as he bobs his head up and down. Harry keeps a hand in Louis’ hair, following every move, sometimes thrusting up knowing Louis didn’t mind at all.

Those car moments had been multiplying over the last few days. Harry always took his car now to make sure he could stay later to hang out with Louis, and they’d ended up being in each other’s car more than each other’s houses. In fact, Harry still hadn’t been to Louis’ place.

He didn’t dare ask him though, because it seemed like the kids were more untameable than usual and Louis didn’t look comfortable dragging Harry into it. He sometimes wondered if it was because Louis felt a bit ashamed compared to Harry’s loft, but he ignored those thoughts.

So they were enjoying Harry’s Mercedes and Harry couldn’t say the pick up was rubbish anymore.

“Oh sh-“ Harry almost curses. He was tilting his head back with his eyes closed, moaning and enjoying Louis sucking him as he loves it, until he saw familiar faces pass by.

“Hmm ?” Louis hums with his mouth full.

“Don’t stop, but go faster !” Harry struggles to say without screaming. He can see Louis wants to ask why but he was close enough already, so he speeds up and hollows his cheeks until Harry comes in his mouth, biting his hand and keeping Louis’ head down. “Don’t get up.”

Louis seems too busy to listen. The only reason he’s not up yet is because he’s making sure to finish swallowing Harry to the last drop.

In the meantime, Harry smiles at Mr Miller and Mrs Cooper walking by with their takeaway to eat on the bench in the park right in front of his car. There was no non awkward way out of this.

Harry was so focused trying to come up with an idea and not pass out trying to contain himself that it led Louis to think he could sit up, lips still wet.

He straightens up in one brusque move, licking his lips and smiling at Harry only to see him petrified, eyes straight ahead.

They saw that. There’s no way they didn’t see that.

Harry was breathing as if he were having a stroke with his mouth wide open in an ‘o’ and Louis’ head was bobbing up and down until he sat up wiping his mouth. It just didn’t look good.

While Mr Miller seemed oblivious, Mrs Cooper waved shyly at them from afar. She seemed so horrified they had no other choice but to burst in laughter, going red trying not to laugh too hard so their teachers wouldn’t hear them. Harry couldn’t even drive because tears were flooding his cheeks laughing that hard. And let’s just say this was no longer their hidden spot.

They had grown quite fond of each other over the past few weeks.

They both had to make enough time for their friends to not alert anyone and it was tricky to be themselves without being paranoid, but they eventually managed to stay late enough in the parking lot or on the football pitch, and Liam and Niall had started to knock on Harry’s door.

It’s not that they ever went that far though. Harry was scared. He’d never been scared to trust someone for this, but he was shit scared to do it this time. It’s like it meant something, like he was going to give his life to that boy. So he dodged it.

Louis didn’t seem too rushed to do anything either. Both could be eager and breathless, yet they’d still settle for nothing more than a blowjob or a friendly hand. They made sure they made up by grinding on each other when in the right position, but Harry was craving every inch of him. And they couldn’t keep pretending they wanted it to be casual.

There was nothing casual about them.

They started using the pet names for real and the touches became more deliberate and less playful, genuinely wanting each other’s affection more than the mere attention. They had started to get more personal when they talked, and Louis now knew more than anyone in Harry’s life about a few things. Louis wasn’t as open, but Harry did manage to break his shell sometimes and find out things he’d never even suspect.

They stayed on the phone for hours and sometimes let Skype on for an entire day even though they did nothing but study or watch telly, putting the same channel on to comment on everything together. It was driving Liam and Niall insane, but Harry really didn’t care. It’s like Louis was living with them now and they weren’t allowed to protest.

Niall had even given up being suspicious about Louis’ intentions. He laughed louder at Louis’ jokes than Harry’s. The latter had even caught them chatting in the kitchen when he went to the bathroom, coming back to them having a serious conversation about bread, Niall looking amazed by whatever Louis said about that.

Harry had even met Doris and Ernest. Yes there was a screen making it impossible to squeeze their pink cheeks, but Harry still squealed and made funny faces, making the twins giggle. He was later on informed that they rarely liked anyone, so he was obsessed with them and demanded regular updates on their daily life as well. He wasn’t disappointed. His phone was filled with pictures of them and he didn’t intend on deleting any of them any time soon.

He had a few photos of Louis as well though. Besides the one he sent himself, Harry had started an habit of taking random shots without him knowing, capturing his truest faces when he read, looked deep in thought, smiled, laughed, or when he fell asleep on the couch after watching a rom com he had shed a tear for. And Harry really wished he could post at least one of them with an artsy filter and a cute caption. But this had to be casual.

They were convincing themselves that they were just friends by not sleeping together. It was the only thing left to keep pretending. They assured friends could kiss, friends could please each other for fun, and friends could stay on the phone for hours in silence just because they needed the other’s presence. Friends definitely did that, right ?

Friends could also leave their supervised jog between the trees to find a remote place to snog sneakily. Friends could stare at each other the way they did and hold hands, and friends could definitely feel like their entire bodies were aching to be close…right ?

“What the fuck ?! That can’t be right ! Fucking cunts !” Niall yells at Simon Cowell on the screen.

Louis was spending more time at the loft, and that meant watching the X Factor on Saturdays. No one complained.

Harry somehow ended snuggled up against his side, head resting on his shoulder with one leg swinging between Louis’ thighs. Niall and Liam weren’t acting weird, so Louis relaxed in front of them. It’s like he knew they knew and they knew he knew they knew, but everyone pretended that there was nothing to know.

They also pretended nothing was going on when Harry kissed Louis’ neck, and kept the chat going when Louis stroked Harry’s thigh on him.

When there’s a new commercial, Harry takes the opportunity to whisper something he could say out loud but only needed Louis to hear, because he had become the only one that mattered when he was in a room. He’s soon interrupted by Niall clearing his throat.

“So I was thinking about next Friday for the party ?” He announces.

“What party ?” Louis asks discretely to Harry, because he also only cares about him in a room full of people, apparently. The latter takes too long to answer because he’s been distracted by Louis’ lips moving, so Liam jumps in.

“Niall wanted to host a party at the loft for the match.” He explains.

Each semester, the football team played against the nearest public university. It wasn’t anything major and it was only about adding bonus points when you participated, but most people saw that as an excuse to prove their supremacy and party for several days to not let anyone forget the victory.

Niall was always the host. He might not be in the actual team, his cheering was loud enough to be part of it. And it had became the consensus.

“You’ll be there, right ?!” Niall asks excitedly to Louis, as if he’d be devastated if Louis didn’t come, which…alright…

Louis and his friends weren’t invited. They always fled after the match and acted like they didn’t care, as if they weren’t even in the same school. It’s like they were above all of this celebration, like they were forced to play and didn’t care about the social part of it. Or maybe they didn’t want to be rejected when trying to fit in.

It’s obvious that Louis doesn’t feel comfortable, but he gives a smile that shows how much he appreciates the invite.

“I was supposed to go out with the lads…” He hesitates. He rarely mentions his friends in front of Harry because of their past, and there are reasons. But he’s been hanging out with Harry’s friends several times and trusted him when going to Sophia’s, so maybe Harry could make an effort as well.

“They can come too.” Harry says, smiling when Louis turns in shock.

“Really ?” He frowns.

“Sure. As long as they don’t splash beer on my shirt.” Harry meant to sound amusing but Louis looks like he’s having war flashbacks.

“I’m fine with it.” Liam speaks louder, seemingly trying to ease the sudden awkward atmosphere. He never liked Louis’ friends either, but he’s been making sure Louis stays with Harry. Just like Niall, they’ve been enjoying Louis’ frequent company a bit too much to let him go just yet.

“Me too.” Niall nods. “I don’t know them, but I guess the loft is big enough for more people !”

Louis bites a smirk and agrees to come with his friends as Harry kisses his neck again and pokes his leg with his hanging feet. And he might spend the rest of the program watching Louis instead of the telly, but no has to know.

By the time the show ends, Liam has already left to his room, and Niall is dead asleep on the end of the couch with a half eaten bag of crisps on his chest. The lights are still off and the screen isn’t helping much, flashing images too dark to light anything in the room.

Not that Harry needs to see much.

He’s been napping on Louis for a while now, enjoying the delicate hand in his hair and the thin lips pressed against his forehead. If he didn’t know it was nothing but a comfort matter, he’d think Louis wanted to place his mouth there, gently keeping him as close as he could.

“Do you want to go in my room ?” Harry whispers when he opens his eyes, seeing Louis sigh when whatever he was watching ends. He looks unsure about what he should answer, but nods and follows Harry anyway.

It’s one in the morning and they have class the day after so they should probably end the night there, but Harry never wants that boy to leave and he’d keep him tucked in his pocket at all times if he could.

Louis enters the room and stretches his arms, swaying on the tip of his toes as he yawns before falling on Harry’s bed. Not showered. On the expensive sheets.

“Um…” Harry winces as he watches Louis squirm in the sheets he’s never allowed anyone to even look at.

“Hmm ?” Louis hums when he turns to lay on his stomach, jumper sliding above the waistband of his black skinny jeans. At least he’s not wearing shoes.

Harry means to tell him about his rule, but Louis gestures for him to join, so he might forget about it and go lay down right next to him. Also not showered and completely clothed.

“Shit, my back is killing me…You should invest in a more comfortable couch, love.” Louis moans. Harry wanted to change that pile of rocks as well, but he was the one to insist they get it so he didn’t want to admit defeat even if that meant having a bad back. That was actually the reason why he had to start doing yoga: his stubbornness.

“You’re lucky I give wicked massages.” Harry says proudly, already climbing on top of Louis to soothe his pain.

Louis gladly obliges and buries his face into the pillow under him, groaning as soon as Harry digs his thumbs in his shoulder blades. The jumper is a bit thick though, so Harry gently slides his hands under it, circling his thumbs on Louis’ lower back this time, feeling the dimples at the bottom of his spine before going up slowly, putting his gigantic warm hands to good use.

And Louis lets him. He lets him go higher under his jumper, massaging his bare skin that feels too cold for someone wearing a jumper. But it’s like Harry’s hands are enough to create heat, making him almost sweat by the time he reaches his shoulders.

Harry frowns and bites his lip in concentration as he locates the few knots, leaning on his elbow to rub circles on the perfect spot with it, making Louis curse in the pillow, choked ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ making Harry chuckle as he keeps going.

And then he doesn’t think.

He just sort of hopes Louis takes it as part of his massage. His touches become softer, light caresses down Louis’ sides followed by a mere brush of hands along his spine, purely enjoying the newfound warmth of his skin and the way he absentmindedly relaxes under his touch.

He wants to bend over so bad, lean closer and kiss his back, and possibly just every inch of that boy, release any tension left, everything that’s making him this tense. He wants to get that jumper off and keep making him feel better, see that look in his eyes whenever he’s letting himself go, caught off guard as he becomes how Harry likes him: happy.

He’s practically shaking when he decides to bend down to kiss the back of Louis’ neck, hands still under his jumper, grazing his skin with his fingertips.

He repeats it a few times, getting more confident as Louis turns his head to give him better access, visibly pleased by the idea. When he drags his lips lower, Harry becomes very aware that he’s sitting on the boy’s bum, feeling it clench under him when he moves, and for a good reason.

Louis clears his throat as soon as he realizes, making Harry stop and fall next to him on the bed, panicking a bit at the thought of going too far. He didn’t know how much Louis wanted, how comfortable he was, and whether or not they could stop pretending they didn’t want to be impossibly closer.

“I should go.” Louis whispers when he gets his head out of the pillow, but makes no effort to get up.

“You can stay you know…” Harry pouts. He’s trying to sound casual but he really wants to scream how much he wants him to stay in his bed until they’re dragged outside after days of isolation.

Louis crawls closer until he’s kissing Harry’s lips gently, a simple peck Harry knows means he’s back to being cautious again. Cautious enough to pretend this didn’t mean anything to him, cautious enough to assure they were barely even friends, too cautious to realize how attached Harry had been getting.

“What have you done to me, Styles ?” Louis chuckles into another kiss, making Harry grin when the boy gets under the covers, visibly changing his mind.

“Nothing !” Harry giggles when Louis starts to tickle him, making him shriek and nearly cry, feeling Louis’ quick fingers against his ribs, moving too fast for him to grasp his wrists in time. “Stop it !”

Louis doesn’t listen and keeps wrestling with Harry who barely makes any effort to defend himself, letting the boy – who’s significantly smaller but somehow stronger – make him cry from laughter.

They’re still being loud when there’s a knock on the door, making them go quiet as they hear Niall beg for silence. They choke on giggles trying to stay mute and end up laughing even louder. Niall doesn’t knock again.

It’s about three in the morning when Louis realizes sleeping with skinny jeans can’t be the best idea. Harry didn’t have a problem being in his boxers and was already half naked, watching Louis undress next to him, surely blushing too much if Harry could see his red cheeks in the dim light.

When he climbs back into bed, he’s more quiet than a few seconds ago. He fixes his fringe and gives a timid look at Harry before lying on his back, sighing as if he’s just restrained himself from doing something.

Harry stares at him, his eyes stuck on the ceiling, head resting on one arm as the other rests lazily on his bare chest.

He doesn’t say anything as he brings his hand to Louis’, intertwining their fingers and letting Louis pull him closer in a half hug. He nuzzles his nose in the crook of his neck and hums happily as Louis giggles, tickled by the tip of Harry’s nose. And he doesn’t push him away when he rests his head on top of his, breaths getting even as they both fall asleep in each other’s arms, because that’s just what friends that are not friends do.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Can you stop bouncing so much ? You’re going to cut your finger at this rate. Gimme that.” Liam takes the knife from Harry’s hand before he chops a finger trying to open the bag of red cups. “What’s wrong ?”

Harry would’ve preferred his friend to not mention his nervousness.

Nothing was wrong. Nothing was wrong apart from the fact that Louis’ friends were about to come in less than two hours and he’d have to be polite and fake enough smiles that’d make them feel welcome without giving away that he only cared about their very straight friend.

He tries to avoid Liam’s question by staying silent, but his friend has known him for long enough to understand.

“It’ll be fine.” He starts as he gets the cups out of the bag. “I’m sure Louis’ been talking to them not to be too…them. Besides, I’m here if you need. I’ll kick them out if they do something.”

“I’m not worried about that.” Harry sighs.

“What is it about then ?”

“I don’t know if I can keep hiding anymore. It’ll be hard enough to have Louis’ friends with everyone else and pretend it’s normal, I’ll also have to pretend I don’t want to spend the party with him…”

“Hey, mate.” Liam walks to his friend and squeezes his shoulders, leaving his firm hands there to give him his weekly pep talk. “I know you don’t like to talk about it, but Louis’ been around a lot and he’s been comfortable here. I think you should talk about it, tell him that you like him and everything ? You shouldn’t keep pretending there’s nothing there. He might end up thinking you don’t care that much.”

“But I don’t even know if he likes me that way…”

“Are you serious ?” Liam laughs. “I don’t sleep like that with people I don’t like.”

Harry turns red. They’ve never said anything about that in front of his friend so he’s trying to replay everything in his head to remember when they messed up and got caught. But nothing comes to mind. Sure he’d talked about spending the night, but Liam said it like he’d witnessed it, so it makes him stutter.

“I…Um…”

“Chill out, mate.” Liam chuckles. “Just close your door when Louis’ around, yeah ? And stop going to bed that late. You can have him over but you need a good night sleep otherwise you’ll fall asleep everywhere and it’s not safe.”

“Okay…dad.” Harry rolls his eyes but Liam gives him a warm smile and a quick hug. And yes, he’s very happy to have him as his surrogate father.

They begin to set everything up for the party, move the furniture around and slide the dining table against the wall to put the trays of food on it. They also pick out a few bottles to display in the corner next to the red cups, and leave the cooler under the table.

They turn the TV on and Harry reaches for the DVD Niall had made to play, their entire game recorded with the echo of his friend shouting nonsense.

As he watches the first few seconds, he smirks. Niall always focused his camera on Louis, and Harry was very thankful for once. He keeps watching as he jogs around the pitch as warm up, laughs loud at something in the distance, and gestures something Harry remembers was directed to him.

The entire game replays in his head, and he can’t help grinning like a madman.

With no surprise, Louis was killing it. The crowd in the bleachers were all chanting for him, and every member of that team counted on him to win. And for the first time, Harry had noticed a frown on Louis’ face, as if he could feel the pressure consume him.

He’d discretely jogged towards him to smack his bum to have him smile, and he’d felt like a hero for getting what he wanted.

The real surprise of that game wasn’t Louis. It was Harry.

They had been practising a lot and a few people couldn’t make the difference between them. At some point, Harry stood the same way Louis did, ran the same, kicked the ball the same, crossing his legs and dragging his free foot in a way no one else did. He stole the ball from the opponents the way Louis would, and scored using the technique Louis had showed him.

And everyone was in shock. Harry included.

Louis had ran up to him when he’d scored the winning goal, ruffling his curls and jumping on his back to kiss his head. Several other teammates ran to hug him and cheer as well, and Calvin, Oli and Stan looked like they were about to throw up.

Harry just hopes Niall was jumping too much to caught what happened after that.

As Louis had realized he was clinging to Harry Styles’ back, he’d made a joke about Harry finally being useful, and everyone had happily laughed, taking it as teasing more than a harmful comment. They’d all shifted their attention to Coach right after, and Harry had forgotten everything, overwhelmed by the adrenaline, leaning towards Louis’ mouth with a wide smile he couldn’t control.

Louis might have taken an instant step back, but he’d only done it after too long to pass as rejection. His first instinct was to lean as well and, from where Niall had been presumably standing, it could’ve looked like they were too close.

Niall didn’t want Harry to see the tape before everyone else. Liam seemed too busy with the food though, so Harry tried to find the moment he was stressing out about, when Niall slammed the front door, back from helping Ed and Matt with the beer.

Harry immediately turns everything off and pretends he wasn’t about to burst.

“Oi !” Niall shouts when he spots Harry with the remote.

“I promise I didn’t watch.” Harry says solemnly and greets his friends.

Soon enough, the loft is full with the entire football team and a few of Niall’s classmates. A few girls are there as well, thankfully so because there would only be the sound of the TV in the loft if some of them weren’t playing DJ. They were always the best for the choice of music and the ambiance of the party, in Harry’s opinion, and he rarely felt the need to hang out with anyone else.

The only people still absent were the ones Harry fears the most.

It’s been about three hours into the party when the front door opens again. Harry had been trying to calm himself with a few drinks and a pleasant chat with Lydia and Jeff near the window with a cigarette. Harry didn’t smoke that often, but he felt like it tonight.

“Louis !” Niall exclaims behind them, making Harry almost snap his neck trying to turn faster than possible.

“What the fuck ?” Jeff frowns to Lydia who’s just as confused. “What is he doing here ?”

“We invited him.” Harry says nervously, making a point by not saying he’s the one to blame for the change. “He’s cool.”

“You serious ?” Lydia laughs. “I hope you’re not attached to anything in here.”

“Heyyy…” Harry says, offended. “They’re not gonna do anything.”

“Mate, that guy is wearing a hoodie.” Jeff giggles, talking about Oli who indeed could’ve made an effort. It wasn’t a fancy party, but everyone was still quite dressed up.

“Oh wow, who’s that ?” Lydia’s eyes widens at the sight of Luke. Harry had only seen him a couple of times back in high school and at Ed’s first party, but Lydia didn’t need much info about him to drop her cigarette and go introduce herself, making Jeff and Harry laugh and go back to their original conversation.

Harry turns once in a while to check where’s Louis. Their eyes meet at some point and Louis gives him a soft smile before Calvin hides him from Harry’s sight.

He’d thought having him in his loft automatically meant being glued to each other. But that only happened when only Liam and Niall were around. And Harry wanted that party to end already.

Jeff had been talking to him for a while without him listening. He liked the guy, but he couldn’t chat about the new boat he was planning to buy when Louis was this close to Lucy, Lydia’s twin sister.

She’d always said she was attracted to him and Harry felt something he didn’t want to feel at all. She was laughing too loud at whatever he was saying, let a wandering hand on his arm to get his attention, and gave him the eyes. And it sort of helped when you had such grey sharp eyes even Harry couldn’t resist.

“You’re alright, mate ?” Jeff pats Harry’s shoulder, bringing him back to where he was a few moments ago.

“Yeah, sure.” Harry says too firmly, looking at his feet.

“What’s up with you lately ?”

“What ?” Harry looks up.

“You’ve been so MIA and weird…It’s not like you to be this distant.” Jeff was a genuinely caring friend, Harry decides. He always asked him how things were going for him and always helped him out with anything he wanted. He was almost just as rich, so he didn’t need him for anything material, and Harry was exhausted.

“I’ve been seeing someone.” He lets out.

“Oh.” Jeff looks half surprised, half disappointed.

“But he wants to be just friends, I guess. He’s not like…out ?”

“Oh…” Jeff says again, as if he’s at loss of words. “What do you want ?”

“I don’t know…I just want to be with him all the time, not just when we’re alone, you know ? But he doesn’t want to be public about it. And I don’t want to scare him away.”

Jeff nods but looks like he’s preparing a speech in his head. He steps closer and hooks his arm around Harry’s neck to talk in his ear.

“Drop him then.” Harry frowns at that, but lets his friend go on. “You should be with someone who’s proud to be with you.”

Harry means to speak, but Jeff suddenly kisses his cheek, and he’s suddenly too disoriented to think straight. He’s had a few drinks as well so he might just be interpreting things wrong.

“Harry !” A loud voice makes Jeff let go and step aside.

Harry turns to see Louis walking towards them, suddenly not glued to Lucy anymore. He has the face Harry figures he uses when he’s about to ruin someone’s life, eyes dark and jaw clenched, hands in the pockets of his denim jacket forming obvious fists.

“Do me a favour ?” Louis scolds Harry, making the latter excuse himself to join him. He doesn’t know what Louis meant by that, doesn’t know why he’s suddenly acknowledging him, but he’s thrilled.

“Hi.”

“Hello...” Louis is back to smiling. “Having fun ?”

“Not really….”

“Good then.” Louis says to himself, probably thinking Harry didn’t hear that.

“You ?”

Louis shrugs and gently pulls Harry’s sleeve towards him before walking away, making sure Harry’s right behind him as he gets to his room.

He waits for him to enter before closing the door, and nearly make them fall when he jumps onto him, making Harry lift him up by his thighs until he’s carrying him because they’ve missed each other too much again.

Harry slides his hands under Louis’ bum and walks to his bed to lay them down on the mattress, staying locked between Louis’ thighs as he sucks on his tongue and hold him tight enough.

“Do you like my cupcakes ?” Harry giggles when he pulls away.

“What ?”

“I can taste the chocolate. You’ve had one.”

“I’ve had two, and yes they’re sick. Now let me taste more of your Mojito, please.” Louis pulls Harry back down by the back of his neck and the latter doesn’t fight him, making a smooth mixture of chocolate and mint blend on their tongue. And yes, it’s that great.

“What were you talking about with that Jeff guy ?” Louis breathes.

“Hm ?” Harry isn’t very keen on talking about his friend when he has his tongue in Louis’ mouth, but Louis insists. “Nothing.”

“Didn’t look like nothing.”

Harry stops at that. He leans on his elbows to take a look at Louis’ expression, annoyed and suspicious.

“Were you being jealous ?” He chuckles.

“What ?! No !” Louis rolls his eyes, and Harry wonders how the hell he managed to get a leading role in a play.

“Oh, okay.” Harry plays along. “If you were I would’ve stopped talking to him like that. But if you’re not…”

“I’m not.” Louis repeats. “But I wouldn’t mind if you chose not to go near him again…”

Harry laughs and resumes the kiss, unable to stop smiling.

“Jealous.” He whispers, and Louis doesn’t argue this time.

“You’re one to talk…” He says after a beat.

“What ?”

“I thought you were going to jump on Lucy. You were staring at her like a psycho.”

“Of course I was. She was getting all your attention and I wasn’t.” Harry doesn’t even try to pretend otherwise. He couldn’t stand someone else having so much of Louis’ attention, couldn’t stand someone else touching him like that, and couldn’t stand a flirtatious tactile girl around Louis because that clearly made him uneasy and ready to leave.

“Are we supposed to be that possessive ?” Louis jokes, but Harry truly wonders if that’s normal.

“I don’t care.” He shakes his head, making Louis laugh as they go back to swallowing each other in a sloppy kiss.

Harry is about to get up, used to limited touches when hiding like that, but Louis squeezes his arse. He’d figured he just wanted to chat, not start anything, but here he was, keeping him for way longer than he thought, closer than he usually does.

He’s taken aback but gladly welcomes the gesture, until Louis’ hands find his belt on his front. He stops kissing him because he can’t focus enough, and just watches as Louis unbuttons his jeans and unzips them before sliding the red loose shirt above his head.

Harry wants to ask, but he lets Louis do whatever he wants instead.

He lets him turn them around so he’s now lying on top of him, and lets him bite and suck and kiss his skin, from his cheeks to his neck, from his neck to his collarbones, and from his collarbones all the way down to his hips before going back up.

Harry pretends he doesn’t hear a choked ‘mine’ when Louis drags his lips all over his torso.

He’s sucking a bruise where his jaw meets his neck when a loud knock deafens them, even over the loud stereo. Liam is inside yelling within seconds, not even surprised by the scene in front of him.

“Come here ! Now !”

They both frown at each other and get more dressed before rushing outside. Harry doesn’t miss the redness of Louis’ face, and he had almost forgotten how he wasn’t supposed to let him know that Liam wouldn’t be shocked by finding them like that.

“We were busy, Liam !” Harry slaps his friend’s chest, until he sees what’s going on.

Calvin, Oli and Stan had apparently taken over the party, because their voices were the only ones heard. There were people Harry didn’t know and was pretty sure neither Niall nor Liam knew, a disturbing and heavy smell of weed, creating a fog in the loft, and the sound of broken glass somewhere.

“What the…” Harry walks closer to the mess to hear his friends complain, almost scared.

“Put that down !” Liam yells when he sees a random guy use their china vase as an ashtray.

“Stop that !” Harry groans at Calvin who’s laughing as he watches his friends ruin the celebration.

“Stop what, faggot ? We’re just having fun.” The guy smiles as if it’s completely normal. “You invited us. We’re enjoying the party, that’s all.”

“You’re not partying, you’re destroying the place. Stop it or I’ll kick you out.”

“If I leave, Louis leaves.”

Harry feels something strange spread inside of him. It’s like Calvin knows what that triggers in him. As if he knows what Louis being away from him means. And he’s not sure he likes the idea.

“No. He’ll stay, because he’s not like you.” Harry speaks his mind before he can stop himself.

Calvin bursts in laughter, bending as he holds his stomach.

“And who do you think he’s like ? You ? This is who he is, prince. This is the kind of party he likes, not that boring posh thing you had a few minutes ago. He’s not your friend, Styles. He’s nothing like you.”

Harry doesn’t know what to say to that. He looks over his shoulder to see Louis standing there, clearly listening to them. Calvin looks at him as if to support his words, but Harry knows him better by now. He knows Louis feels himself here. He had a great time with the people he used to despise, and he loved being with him. He couldn’t fake a smile as genuine as the one he always had around Harry.

“Tell him.” Calvin challenges his friend.

Harry fixes Louis with a frown, waiting for him to make his friends shut up and leave. He knows Louis doesn’t belong to that. He knows he’s way more like him and Niall or Liam, more than he wants to admit. And he knows how much he wants to stay.

But Louis stays silent, apparently too torn to make a decision.

“He’s staying.” Harry turns back to Calvin when Louis doesn’t say anything.

“You really are an idiot.” Calvin chuckles. “Hey, Andre !”

Oli arrives at that nickname they have for him and looks amazed by Calvin, and Harry figures he might have mistaken Louis for being at the head of that clique when someone else was actually in charge even if it didn’t look like it from the outside.

“That wanker thinks Louis wants to stay without us.” Calvin explains to his friend, trying hard not to laugh every word. Oli laughs immediately and hooks his sweaty arm around Harry’s neck.

“He’s only been talking to you to get his grades up, mate ! Honestly you’re such a joke !” Oli giggles and Calvin looks at Harry like he’s been waiting for that all night.

Harry wants to ask if Louis only sucked his dick  and sucked on his neck to pass the semester as well, but he figures he better not. He wanted to trust Louis more than he wanted to hear those guys out.

“C’mon Louis, tell him !” Calvin pulls Louis by the arm to encourage him, making the boy hide behind his fringe and try not to crumble in front of everyone.

“We’re friends Calvin, so piss off.” Harry grunts, stepping closer to free Louis from Calvin’s grip.

There’s an odd exchange between him and Calvin as everyone else watches them. Louis’ friends have stopped breaking everything to wait for Louis’ answer, and Harry wants so bad to think he won’t make a mistake and just admit they’re not classmates, he doesn’t expect what’s coming out of Louis’ mouth.

“That’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard.” Louis chuckles, but Harry doesn’t find that funny. He looks guilty the second he meets Harry’s eyes, but doesn’t take it back.

Jeff is suddenly at Harry’s side, shoving his hand in Louis’ chest.

“You’re not welcome here anymore. Fuck off.” Harry’s friend says and holds on to Harry’s arm protectively, which seems to trigger an overwhelming rage in Louis, making him look down, right before punching the guy’s face.

“What the fuck Louis ?!” Liam shouts as he walks closer to keep his friends from fighting. “I think you should go.”

“You shouldn’t even be here…” Jeff says through his teeth, nose bleeding.

“What the fuck does that mean ?!” Louis yells, and Harry would’ve pushed him in a remote corner if Louis hadn’t just denied their friendship in the worst way possible.

“It means you’re trash and we’re not. It means shit happens when you’re around because that’s the only thing you can do. Look around, you don’t belong here. Harry’s just nice.” Jeff says and wraps an arm around Harry’s waist, even though the latter isn’t focused on anything but the fact that Louis is more willing to ruin what they have rather than admitting that it exists.

“You’re so fuck-“ Louis starts but Harry cuts him.

“Get out.”

Louis looks like he’s been punched as well. He keeps his mouth open and looks at Harry like he said the worst thing possible. But he’s just trying to give him what he says he wants.

“You and your friends. Get out.” He groans again and doesn’t wait for Louis to say anything before nodding towards Liam, giving him his agreement to kick everyone out.

Everyone knows Liam turns into a machine and could take everyone with one hand for his friend, so they leave willingly. Louis is the last one to do step outside, and Harry watches him look straight back at him, eyes weak and expression still too shocked to let Harry’s conscience clear. He didn’t beat him up, didn’t rip his heart out, didn’t destroy anything he cared about, but that’s exactly what it looked like.

It’s not even two in the morning yet but that incident had killed everyone’s mood, so Niall leads people out as politely as he can with Liam’s help, while Harry does the dishes and cleans the mess Louis’ friends have made.

“Harry ?” Niall calls in the doorframe, waiting for Harry to nod before stepping into the kitchen to wrap his arms around him from the back, hugging him tight because that’s the best he could do to comfort his friend.

They tidy up the place together in silence, the match still going on the telly. When Niall’s loud cheers make them look for the remote to turn the volume down, Harry sees it. He sees that moment he thought no one noticed. He sees himself lean closer to Louis and he sees the way Louis lifts his hand to his neck before dropping it, fast enough so Harry didn’t feel any of that when it happened.

And there’s no way Louis thought they weren’t whatever they were. You couldn’t fake this reflex, couldn’t fake that hesitation before stepping back, and couldn’t fake that bloody smile Harry never saw from a screen. And it made everything worse.

Niall turns it off the second he puts his hands on the remote and gives a knowing look to Liam who calls for Sophia – who had been taking care of the broken bottles scattered on the floor – so she can take Harry somewhere else. She was the only one Harry managed to truly speak to about his feelings. Liam was a great listener but the worst at not judging, and Niall was the best at not judging but the worst listener.

She takes his hand and leads them to Liam’s room since it’s the closest one, and she lets him lay down on Liam’s bed before climbing next to him, sitting with her legs crossed as she waits for him to speak up. But she might realize she doesn’t need to hear it to know.

“You love him, huh ?” Sophia asks, digging the sharpest knife in Harry’s chest because he’d never let himself come close to that thought. He knew he wasn’t allowed to fall in love with that boy. But he did. He fucking did.

He tries hard to keep a straight face, but starts sobbing when tears stain his cheeks, and he finds himself crying in Sophia’s arms a few moments later, holding onto her like he would his sister.

Maybe that’s what he needed. His sister or his mother’s wise words. He hadn’t talked to them in so long, hadn’t talked to anyone in so long to be honest. Not about that. He never shared that part of him because that’s the part that most confused him. But keeping everything to himself had made him a ticking bomb, and he was ready to explode.

“It hurts...” Harry sobs quietly, making Sophia tighten her hug and massage his scalp to calm him down. “It fucking hurts.”

“I know, love.” Sophia sighs. “I know.”

When he can speak again without stuttering, Harry wipes his cheeks and straightens up, sitting on Liam’s bed with his head down, staring at his fingers fidgeting with the annoying thread coming out of his shirt.

“I should probably pretend it never happened.” Harry says, more to himself than his friend.

“Harry you can’t-“

“I will. If he can deny it, so can I. He’ll find someone else to torture like that.” Harry says sternly, feeling his heart freeze at that. It’s like he’s going numb, trying to push away every feeling he has to stop that excruciating pain that comes with the rejection. The holidays were close and he could use the break to clear his mind and get over that feeling wrecking his chest. 

 

And he figures being heartless might be better than being heartbroken.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe that wanker thought you guys were friends !” Oli laughs too loud, tripping over a stick because being high turned him into a walking mess.

They had taken Louis’ pick up truck and driven to their usual spot, a narrow alley near the lake behind the university’s buildings. The trees went on forever so they couldn’t be seen from the road, and the shelters across them hid everything they didn’t want to show from inside.

Louis had found the path to that place back in high school. His uncle worked there – and no, he won’t admit it’s the main reason he got accepted there in the first place – and he was walking around the university at the time, waiting for him , when he ended up wandering along the lake, admiring the colours of the sunset reflecting on the water. He’d looked up and figured no one would see him if he were on the other side of it. So it became his favourite place.

The first night he’d run to sit in those woods was still very fresh in his mind.

He was crying his eyes out, completely out of breath from the run and choking on the way he felt. He was eighteen and wanted to stay away from everything and everyone just to focus on the water with a pink and purple reflection.

That day had been one of the worst of his life, he thought. He’d come to a conclusion he wasn’t comfortable with, and had to witness his family fall apart once again. It felt like he was carrying the world on his shoulders, and he needed to run away from it, pretend that none of it existed, that nothing mattered, nothing but this colourful water and the overwhelming silence only broken by the trees swaying in the wind.

He’d never admit to his friends why he needed that spot though.

Calvin, Oli, Stan and Luke wanted to smoke weed where they wouldn’t get caught, and Louis didn’t want to miss out. He’d struggled to make friends when he arrived, but they were part of the football team and were the only ones that didn’t look at him like his whole life was a disgrace because he wasn’t wealthy enough. So he led them to it.

They needed a remote location, and Louis needed company. They would only go there under Louis’ suggestion because they didn’t really care and preferred Oli’s garage anyway, but it slowly started to lack the intimate aspect it used to have, forcing Louis to be surrounded by that constant will to escape a place that used to feel like home.

“Yeah, like Louis could possibly be friends with a guy like him...” Calvin huffs.

“I actually think he’s nice.” Stan says firmly, catching everyone off guard with his defensive tone. Louis had spotted him chat with Niall, but he didn’t think he genuinely got along with anyone at the party, especially not Harry. “And that Irish lad is pretty funny. I was having a good time…”

“Are you joking ?!” Calvin snorts like Stan’s betrayed him. “It’s called pity, Stan. They won’t be that nice on Monday. I don’t even know how you convinced us to go there in the first place.” He turns to face Louis.

The latter is completely lost in his thoughts, trying hard not to let his friends notice how disgusted he is right now, how guilt is taking over his entire body, and how he’d rather be alone in silence right now.

He’d already pushed himself to walk up to Harry and get him away from that prick that kept flirting with him, he couldn’t possibly have it easy. He didn’t even know how he’d gone from undoing Harry’s jeans to shoving his fist in his friend’s face.

“I thought it’d be cool to party with everyone else for once. Harry let you in and you couldn’t even make a fucking effort…” Louis tries to sound normal but his voice is breaking over the anger and even he can hear that.

No one seems to mind though, except Stan who frowns and doesn’t stop staring at him, until Oli hands him the shared spliff.

“Oh my god…Did he promise to invite you on his yacht or some shit ? That’s not happening, Louis. I hope you know that…You think he’d be friends with you when he’s best friends with bloody rich twats and celebrities ?!” Calvin laughs and Oli chuckles, the face he makes when mentioning Louis making the latter almost crumble on the spot because of how condescending he sounds.

He didn’t think he’d keep feeling this way after so many years working on that part of him no one accepted. He thought if he got rid of it, suppressed that aspect of himself, then he wouldn’t be mocked anymore, he would be taken seriously, and he wouldn’t be fighting back tears right now. But here he was, the target of his own friends he chose over that one person that made him feel like there wasn’t so many things wrong with him after all.

Louis knew Harry wasn’t pitying him. He never treated him like he thought those people could, and he never made Louis feel out of place - not on purpose anyway. His friends were clumsy sometimes, but they ended up being respectful and mostly friendly, bringing all focus on what he’d say and not what he ‘belonged’ to. Harry always made sure they didn’t say anything inappropriate, and even apologized twenty times when he himself said something offensive by mistake or patronized him somehow.

And Louis just thought his own friends could do the same.

He was crazy enough to think he could do like Harry and try. He didn’t have high expectations, but he did think his friends weren’t the closed-minded ones. He really thought. They were always talking about how cruel this part of society was, always describing the town’s elite as the nightmare of the century because they shared one mindset and couldn’t see beyond that. It was ironic to find out they were exactly what they hated the most: just like everyone else.

Louis takes the joint Stan hands him, but gives it right back. He was feeling a thousand needles in his stomach and he needed to be by himself. He felt even worse about showing them his peaceful place by the lake, now intoxicated with memories of getting high and swallowing his thoughts whenever they talked about that thing Louis always has to lie about.

“I’m going home.” He almost spits and looks down as he walks towards his car.

He knows he’s going to pass out. There was no way around it. His throat had felt too tight ever since he’d let those ghastly words out and looked at Harry’s face when he denied what they had - whatever that was. He had something so different to say right before that, was ready to say it out loud and face every consequences if it went wrong, but everything got out of control and he was suddenly saying the total opposite.

He didn’t want anyone digging the knife deeper. He just wanted to go home, hope his mom was still up to keep him together, and pretend there was nothing wrong with him.

“What the fuck, mate ?!” Oli whines. “We took your car !”

“You can walk home tonight.” Louis would normally give them a ride, but he wasn’t in the mood for more pretence or unpleasant company. He frankly just felt like throwing up.

It’d be so easy if he could do that, throw up the part of himself that’s been eating him alive, get out of his body everything that’s been making him feel so damn dizzy, and maybe go back to being that tough person everyone is so sure he is even when he felt nothing but weak.

He doesn’t even turn around to hear what his friends are saying. They might have known him for years now, they still couldn’t tell when it was time to be serious. They still couldn’t tell when he was upset, and they still couldn’t tell why.

“Louis !” Stan runs after his friend when he reaches his car. He looks unsure of what to say, nervously rubbing the back of his neck before speaking up. “It’s fine with me.”

Louis raises a brow, finally turning when he’s about to climb in the pick up. A quick jolt spreads through his body and makes him panic for no apparent reason. He doesn’t know what his friend means exactly , and he doesn’t know why he feels the need to say that, but he was half certain he’d get dragged further down.

Stan doesn’t do anything but stand there and sigh.

“I’m glad you had fun.” Louis gives a fake smile. It was weird to think Stan would be okay with them hanging out with the people they usually sneered at, but he wouldn’t say he was mad about it.

“That’s not what I meant.” Stan had never looked this jittery. And he really shouldn’t be this dramatic over partying with the rich kids. “I’m here if you ever wanna talk, bro. About anything.” He pouts and turns on his heels to join the others.

Louis might have run to catch him if he weren’t this irked by a million other things.

He finally climbs into his car and turns the engine on, staring at the steering wheel for a few seconds before finally letting go of what he’d been holding back for the past hour. The tears were cutting through his chest and his head had never felt this heavy.

He couldn’t believe he’d said what he said, couldn’t believe he’d done what he did, couldn’t believe how stupid he always had to be about this. He couldn’t help ruining every chance he had of feeling alive and himself, and it was driving him insane.

But he couldn’t admit it out loud.

He saw Harry’s face, heard him call them friends, and couldn’t do anything right. He was afraid. So fucking afraid. He was afraid because of what that meant for the people he had been relying on for years, and he was afraid because of how wrong it felt to call Harry his friend when it went far beyond that.

He had no idea how far it would go when he accidentally dropped that shield he’d spent years building.

When he was forced to go sit next to that boy, he just thought he’d go through Hell, being judged every second. He thought he’d be treated like absolute trash and mocked every time he would say something dumb about the lecture. He thought he’d have to put up with a selfish twat, to be honest. But he was so far from the truth he still couldn’t believe how much of an idiot he had been to listen to other people before himself.

Harry was nothing like he’d heard.

He was kind and helped him out with no rude comments about his struggles to understand the things that seemed so obvious to others. He’d murmur answers and give him tips to write a proper commentary, and Louis never needed to ask for him to explain what he needed to know. He just happily did. This might have been nothing for anyone, but they were in a private university that encouraged competition, not solidarity, so yes, he appreciated the gesture from the head of the class.

Harry was also the most selfless person Louis had met. He always talked about the people in his life and their happiness before his own and always made sure to not hurt anyone else when doing what he wanted. And Louis liked that. The mentality of his friends was more of a ‘I don’t give a fuck who’s affected by it I’ll do it anyway’ kind of mantra.

And that’s why he didn’t realize he’d have his world turned upside down.

One day he was easily chatting with Harry about bands his own friends never bothered checking out, the other he was thinking about those rosy lips shaping a heart when pouting and that weird sense of humour as he tried to fall asleep without smirking too much.

He was inexplicably ecstatic whenever he saw him sat at their table in the morning even though he already knew he’d be there. He was starting to look forward to that class he usually couldn’t stand, and he miraculously attended every one of them even if he had to resume his slumber on the table. He enjoyed staring at Harry when he opened his eyes once in a while, making the boy blush when he winked at him because he couldn’t help himself. And that was pretty much it, he couldn’t get enough after that.

He hadn’t felt like that since high school and, funnily enough, the first time he’d felt this mesmerized by someone, it was still for Harry. He’d spotted him when he’d arrived in Buckingham. He was younger than him but had skipped a year and always hung out with Liam, and Louis quickly started to stare from afar, captivated by the light the boy seemed to spread wherever he walked.

He’d never attempted to talk to him back then because he was afraid of the way he felt about him. And he still was, years later, crying for the same reason, near the same lake, for the same boy.

He wasn’t ignorant, he knew it was different, and he knew exactly why.

He knew deep down what it meant to feel this way about a guy. He knew his friends didn’t feel butterflies in their stomach when seeing a bloke, weren’t all flustered and pleased when thinking about kissing a boy, but he also knew that meant something that’d make him an easy target for humiliation and rejection. And there was only so many times he could take that.

It was enough to be criticized for the way he stood, the way he fixed his hair, the way his wrist hung in the air and got ‘too loose’. He had no clue how doing that was a bad thing -as if he could control his reflexes to suit other people’s comfort - until he heard those words he still can’t bear.

If he hadn’t worked so hard to change this part of himself, if he hadn’t denied who he was back then, maybe he would’ve found the courage to tell the truth at the party, and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t be about to puke.

He couldn’t deny what had been happening for the past few months, nor did he want to.

He couldn’t lie about liking the way Harry looked at him, like every fucking word he said was the most important speech of his life, as if that boy only needed to hear Louis’ voice to be happy. There was really no other way to describe it.

He couldn’t keep pretending the way Harry always fidgeted with his hand when talking didn’t make his heart twitch either. It’s like Harry didn’t even notice how he made Louis feel when touching him. He still wondered how he could so comfortably brush their skin together and pretend it wasn’t burning. Louis was always distracting himself with a joke to not have his cheeks heat up too much, but he couldn’t even care about his entire body being set on fire as long as Harry stayed right next to him. He was even enjoying him swatting his hand away when his habit of biting his nails would arise. Anyone else doing that would have died within seconds, but he could beg Harry to do it right now.

He couldn’t claim he didn’t crave his presence every single day, couldn’t conceal that fond smile that crept its way on his face with every text, every call, every time Harry took a picture he thought Louis wasn’t aware of, or every time he laughed at his jokes as if Louis were hilarious. He knew he was funny, but no one was that funny.

He also couldn’t pretend, right now, banging his head on the steering wheel, that he didn’t feel like he’d just damaged a part of himself, and maybe a part of Harry as well.

Harry had joined his list of the people he needed to protect. He gradually felt the need to defend him when one of his friends insulted him in private, always looked after him when they wanted to pull a prank, always managing to distract them until they eventually let it go. Harry had somehow become his boy and he’d do anything to protect him. He may look confident and tenacious for his friends, Louis always felt his need to be looked after, to have someone stand by him when he felt like no one else was ever behind him. Yet here he was, failing to protect him from himself.

He wipes his tears and finally leaves, driving to his house that, thankfully, wasn’t that far. He was still slightly drunk, and driving when he felt this distressed wasn’t the greatest idea.

He parks his car in the driveway, cursing when he hears what he figures is Phoebe’s bike under the tyres, and grabs his phone in his pocket to stare at it.

He wants to call. He wants so bad to check on him, make sure Harry knows he didn’t mean it, make sure he didn’t ruin the one thing that made him want to wake up everyday. He’d probably made Harry feel like what they had was nothing, when it was everything to him, and he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t at least try.

He tries to call several times but it goes straight to voice mail. So he sends a text. Or four.

 

I’m sorry. I promise I didn’t mean to say that shit…

Please answer me ? I know I’m an idiot but please answer me ?

I’m so sorry.

I’m so fucking sorry.

 

Louis types the same words but they’re very different in his head. His mind is screaming three other words he’s been trying to say tonight, but all he can do is apologize. He wants to type them, wants to scream them at the top of his lungs until it reaches Harry’s room from the other side of town. But he doesn’t. For some reason he doesn’t get, he just doesn’t.

He texts his mom instead. He knows it’s nearly four in the morning and everyone should be asleep, but his mom had night shifts at the restaurant open all night down the street, so he takes his chance.

 

You up…?

 

He doesn’t wait long before his phone buzzes.

 

Kitchen !

 

Louis takes a deep breath and rushes to the house, making a mental note to hide the broken bike so his sister doesn’t replace his soap with glue or something.

His mom doesn’t need to say anything to have Louis cry all over again, this time in her arms, holding onto her back like it’s the only way he can stand. Because it sort of is.

“Shhh…It’s alright, Lou Bear. It’s alright.” Jay murmurs as she rubs his back, swaying the both of them like she would when Louis was small enough to be carried. Being a grown man didn’t change anything about the comforting gesture he held on for dear life.

It had been the both of them against the world for a long time, so he trusted her with his life and felt lucky enough to have her as his mom, always ready to pick him up when he felt everything collapsing around him.

He keeps crying on her shoulder for a while before pulling away, letting her lead them to the couch in the living room with two cups of tea.

He sits across from her, both legs crossed on the cushions even though his mom always scolds him for it. Now, she just holds his hand in both of hers, waiting for her son to empty his mind any way he wants.

“I’m…” Louis tries, but sighs and gives up immediately, just like the other hundred times he’s attempted to say it. “I’m so sorry.” He says instead, because those were apparently the only words he managed to say tonight.

“What ? What for ?” Jay asks carefully, circling her thumb on the back of Louis’ hand. It reminds him of that one night he came home crying a few years ago when they were still in Doncaster, and it makes it even worse. Especially because it was the same issue he still couldn’t deal with.

Louis brings the hand previously in his mom’s grip to fix his hair and sniffles as he looks down at his lap, not risking looking at her straight in the eyes.

“I think…” and then he throws up the words. “I like a guy. A lot.”

The word silence was invented just for the moment right after that. He can’t hear anything. The room is too quiet and he already feels the need to get up and run far away from here. The one thing he couldn’t take was his mom being ashamed of him. She’d always been so supportive of him, he didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship they had. If he didn’t have her by his side, he didn’t really know who else he’d turn to.

“Louis…” Jay brings her son into a warm embrace and kisses his cheek. “I know.”

Louis immediately jolts backwards, wide eyes and shocked frown making his mom smile as if it weren’t the worst news ever.

“What do you mean you know ?!”

“I always hear you talk on the phone when I come home, honey. I didn’t want to talk about it since you were clearly not ready, but I know you don’t stay up ‘til six in the morning for just anyone, love.”

Louis doesn’t even know how to form words. He didn’t think anyone could tell the way he felt by the way he talked. He wonders what it is exactly his mom had heard. Was it the three hour conversation about cakes ? That night they spent choking on laughter over the way Louis had described The Fifth ? Or was it the time they shamelessly talked about how much they wanted to see each other ? There had been so many late phone calls he had no clue what could have given it away.

“I hope you don’t feel like you’re not allowed to be with whoever you like, Lou. I heard you say Harry so many times, I just figured.” Jay purses her lips. 

Louis wants to speak, but he cries instead. He never kept the tough act in front of his mom, and it was nice being able to let go of everything in her arms, especially knowing he was still welcome in them.

He doesn’t know how to thank whatever is above their heads for having a mother like his. Lord knows his dad would never say the same thing. For one, he would have to actually be there, and, second of all, having a “gay kid” would’ve made him leave if he hadn’t already.

Louis had spent years fighting it, telling himself he was just too drunk, too high, that it was normal to feel this way for a guy, until he realized none of his mates got more flirty and flushed when talking to men than women. He’d even looked up for any kind of “phase” he could be experiencing, refusing to actually call himself gay. But he was in no way attracted by anyone else and kept thinking about boys the way his friends thought about girls, so there wasn’t many options for him left. He just made sure no one else suspected anything. Not in Buckingham anyway.

“Who is it ?” Jay asks when Louis’ calmed down, sipping on his lukewarm tea.

“Harry Styles.” Louis says with a weak voice, drained by all the tears he’s had to deal with by now.

“Styles ?” Jay’s furrowed eyebrows remind Louis of that slight detail.

“Oh yeah, it’s Anne Cox and Des Styles’ son…Liam’s roommate.”

Jay seems as shocked as anyone would be, but she looks more surprised than disapproving. Louis had talked about him before, just not in the way that would’ve led his mom to think he liked him. He sometimes went on and on about how irritating he was, and his mom couldn’t add anything without him talking over her as if he was just debating with himself.

“I didn’t know you two were friends…”

Apart from the way Louis used to talk about him, even his mom knew who Harry Styles was in town, and how odd it was to think her son could be linked to him in any way. She knew Anne because she’d often come to the clinic, so she had her own perception of the family.

“Miller made us sit together this semester. Turns out he’s not that annoying...” Louis shrugs. He’s still acting casual and nonchalant about it even though, if he had to describe Harry, his words would go way beyond ‘not that annoying’. But one step at a time.

He had been so terrified to open up about his doubts, confess how he truly felt about boys. And now here he was, telling his mom about that one boy that made him feel like life’s fucking amazing and filled with rainbows and bloody pink silk sheets, putting the sunset water from the lake to shame.

“Meaning ?” Jay smiles, and Louis rolls his eyes but gives in.

He explains everything that makes Harry…Harry. He spends a while describing every little thing about him and every little thing about them because it feels incredibly satisfying to finally talk about it. He does leave out the part where they messed around in their cars or the kind of personal conversations they could sometimes have, but he sums up everything his mom needs to know to understand how attached he is to this boy. And he can almost hear himself smile without even noticing.

“He’s been helping me with Lit.” Louis finally says, smile toned down because he can control himself, sometimes. “He’s funny, definitely a charmer…” Louis rolls his eyes in annoyance even though he’s everything but annoyed by that. “I don’t know…he just makes me feel…”

“Happy ?” Jay rests her head on her arm bent against the couch, staring at Louis in adoration. It was seriously making him blush. He feels like a child talking about holding hands with his crush in kindergarten.

“I guess. Yeah.” Louis smiles to himself. “But I fucked up.”

“Language !” Jay slaps her son’s knee and mumbles. “For fuck’s sake.”

“Sorry.”

“What did you do ?”

“There was this party his roommate was hosting tonight at their place and they invited me and the lads. It was going alright, but then Calvin called a few people that weren’t supposed to be there and it got out of hand. When Harry tried to fix it and told Calvin we were friends so I could stay but they had to leave, I panicked and said we weren’t…in the worst way.”

“But why ?”

“I don’t know !” Louis whines and falls back on the couch, uncrossing his legs to put them on his mother’s lap, earning a gentle foot massage because his mom was the absolute best. “Cal was looking at me like I was betraying them or something ! They’ve never liked Harry and I didn’t want them to hate me for liking him, let alone…you know…”

“You already know what I think about Calvin.” Jay pouts with a raised eyebrow, sassiness slapping Louis’ face. “I don’t know Harry, but he’s made that sweet smile of yours come back.” She squeezes Louis’ foot with a smirk. “So he can’t be anything but lovely. ”

Louis doesn’t respond to that. He just lets his mom go on with her speech as she tugs at his toes.

“Honey, I know you think your friends are everything now, but as you grow up, you’ll realize how staying true to yourself is far more important than meeting someone’s expectations, especially when said someone lives his life without a care about how you feel. I know I’m not here enough to say that, but I’m scared for you when you’re not home. I know you’re not a kid anymore, but life’s bigger than this, Lou Bear. If you find someone who can anchor you, don’t let that person go.”

Louis frowns a bit at that. Harry did contain him a lot. He didn’t think about smoking weed or fighting someone in a bar or risk spending a night in a precinct when he was with him, just because he didn’t feel the need to impress him. He stayed quiet at a table to study and fell asleep peacefully with no will to be anywhere else. It’s like Harry was enough high to forget every other way to distract him from everything else.

“You can’t let other people make you feel like you can’t be who you want to be or be with whoever you want, love. Never give permission to anyone to make you feel like that.”

The tea isn’t burning Louis’ insides, but his mom’s words are enough to get rid of that need to feel numb. He knows what she says is the reality he’s tried so hard to ignore. He knows he can’t keep letting people bring him down like this. He knows he can’t hide who he is forever and give the opportunity for others to define who he is by not saying who that is exactly.

It was just easier to breathe and look away, easier to pretend it didn’t hurt, easier to dodge the feelings and accept the label you’re given. But it being easy didn’t mean it felt good.

Being with Harry was what felt good.

Talking for hours about anything, watching movies knowing Harry would eventually fall asleep on his shoulder, feeling his hand on his leg just to be close enough, laughing about the dumbest things, that feeling of sharing the same brain, being one hundred per cent comfortable around him…that’s what felt good.

“Don’t lose what you want because you’re scared to lose what you already have, Louis.” Jay adds after a pause and gets up to bring their empty cups to the kitchen. She’s back within seconds and Louis can only thank her with a gentle hug.

“Thanks, mum. For everything…Except that tea, no sugar is the only way.” He whispers like a secret, still hugging her. He kept his voice soft and smiled internally for the way Harry’s tendency to be dramatic had grew on him as well.

“Well, sorry if king Louis takes his tea different from everyone else…” Jay huffs. “But that’s what I’m here for…life tips and a failed cuppa.” She pats his back and holds him tighter.

“Please don’t tell anyone, yeah ?” Louis knew his mom wouldn’t tell Dan or his sisters if he didn’t give his consent, but he still wanted to make sure he’d be the one to tell everyone else. Or let them find out when he’d get married, whatever.

“Of course. But you have to.” Jay lifts her pointer finger as if to give an order. “I think there’s at least one person who needs to know.”

Louis sighs but nods in agreement. Harry did deserve to know that. He was probably hurting even more all this time knowing what was going on even though Louis always changed the subject. He’d seen the way his smile faltered whenever they brought it up, whenever Louis assured they were nothing but friends. It felt like the biggest lie whenever it left his mouth, and it was obvious it made Harry feel just as uneasy.

He stays in silence on the couch for a while before dragging himself to his bed. He gets rid of his clothes and crawls under the blanket, and he keeps his phone on the pillow because his entire body is aching and he knows he won’t forgive himself if he doesn’t try one more time.

But Harry doesn’t answer.

Louis could’ve dealt with anger, could handle him yelling or telling him to fuck off once and for all. But not hearing how he felt, not getting the chance to at least explain himself, that he wasn’t ready to face.

He leaves a message every single time and curses at the end of each one because he knows it probably won’t make any difference. He apologizes and almost begs for Harry to pick up the phone, to not shut him out just yet, but he has the feeling it might be too late for that, especially when he can’t find the right words and somehow digs his hole deeper.

So he puts his phone back on the pillow next to him and falls asleep with wet cheeks, not sure if you’re supposed to hurt this bad, if your chest is supposed to feel this tight, or if your bed is supposed to feel this empty.

 

 

****

 

 

“To be fair, I sort of already knew…?”

Louis was beginning to think he wasn’t as subtle as he thought about this.

Liam wasn’t even a little surprised at his confession. He just jumped off his bed to hug him. It was a miracle he’d accepted to let him in the loft after what had happened two days before, but he knew Louis wanting to talk meant serious matter. Liam was always the one making plans for them because Louis pretended he didn’t like Liam as much as he actually did.

“How the hell do you know ?!” His voice goes too high pitched and he almost chokes trying to come back to his normal tone.

“J-Just a guess.” Liam stutters, not making eye contact. “Also, Harry told me about it. I just pretended I didn’t know…” Liam winces, shielding himself as if Louis was going to punch him.

As soon as he relaxes and gets his arms against his sides again, Louis punches him.

“Ow !”

“What did he tell you ?!” Louis hides his face in his hands, not sure if he wants to hear the answer. Of course he suspected Harry to tell at least one person, and he was actually hoping it’d be Liam or Niall. They didn’t even comment on Louis whispering in Harry’s ear with a hand on his legs, so maybe they were okay with this.

“Just that you were quite close and stuff…” Liam shrugs but Louis can feel he’s not saying everything. “And I sort of saw you sleeping in his room.”

“Oh god.” Louis turns red. He didn’t even worry enough around Harry to care about closing a door. All he cared about was the warm cheek against his chest and the endless legs tangled in his.

“S’alright, mate…You know it’s completely fine, right ?” Liam squeezes Louis’ shoulder, staring at him with sincere eyes to make sure Louis knows he means it. The latter nods and gives a wry smile.

To be honest, Louis didn’t think Liam would be that fine with this. If he weren’t friends with Harry, he would think Liam was repulsed by the very idea of two men being more than friends. And even just thinking about it makes Louis anxious, because he still has to come to terms with openly identifying to that.

But he figured Liam was the best option to help him out. He was the best way to know how Harry felt, and how he could make it up to him. He also didn’t want to dive into this and find out he didn’t feel the same, even if he had to.

There was no way someone could fake that kind of smile, or have an incentive behind those gentle pecks of lips. Harry kissed him like his lips were made of feathers, like his neck was as soft as his sheets, and that couldn’t be any less than what Louis thought it was when he looked at him with all the innocence and honesty in the world.

“Have you talked to him yet ?”

“No…He won’t answer me.” Louis says just as the sound of footsteps approaches Liam’s room.

“Liam !” Harry shouts from behind the door.

The second he gets to the room, Harry freezes for a split second before clearing his throat, turning into the most hostile version of himself, voice hoarse and scowl making Louis wish he weren’t there. “I’ll talk to you later.”

Louis had never felt more invisible in his whole life.

Harry didn’t even glance at him. He didn’t glue his eyes on him as he usually would, didn’t say a word to him when he would normally only talk to him in a room full of people, didn’t even completely enter the room as if to not risk being in the same perimeter. He just walked away. And Louis felt like throwing up once again.

Liam looks down with apologetic eyes in the awkward silence that settled, and Louis has a feeling it’ll be even harder than he thought.

The last thing he wanted was to hurt his boy, even though he wasn’t sure he was his anymore. Or ever had been. He knew he had to make it up to him by speaking his mind and doing that other thing he wasn’t ready to do just yet, owning up to the Louis he was behind closed doors, but it would be difficult if he couldn’t even go near him.

He looks at Liam and doesn’t need him to say it. He knows by the way he looks at his feet that he’s gone too far. Keeping their complicated friendship secret was one thing, denying the existence of it was something else.

He doesn’t say anything and just walks out to reach Harry’s room. The door is closed and his heart drops. Harry never closed his door if Louis wasn’t already inside with him. And he figures that means he won’t listen to him today.

He stares at the doorknob for a moment, sprinting out of the loft before turning into a walking puddle, annoyed at himself for crying so much.

And he doesn’t want to leave his bed after that.

He’d thought about a million ways to apologize, and none seemed to be enough. He didn’t know how to phrase it, didn’t know how to make sure Harry didn’t hate his guts, and couldn’t help letting The Fray make him twist and turn in his sheets and cry the way he did so many times before. He had no clue how the hell everyone saw a tough bully in him when he knew damn well how it feels to get knocked down by people around him, enough to fear going for what he wanted.

It’s almost ten at night when he gets up after typing and deleting a text for the umpteenth time. He couldn’t just text him because no words were good enough anymore, couldn’t expect him to pick up the phone, and was clearly not invited to his room anymore.

He walks to his backpack and grabs the book he should’ve been working on all weekend. And it makes things even worse.

Everything reminds him of Harry. Every line of the book he has to work on was now linked to a memory of tickle fights on the floor, gentle touches, silly jokes and too many questions that somehow ended with a kiss.

Louis had only loved the book after Harry had explained how he interpreted it, making it his favourite story he’d come across in a while.

Before him, it was just about a guy bored with his life, fed up with his wife, in search of something exciting to spice up his dull days. It was about a woman desperate for company and a man desperate for sympathy. And he had read it all wrong.

The thing is that Louis had never wanted to see things as they were. He grew up a romantic and was never allowed to show it because it wasn’t ‘manly’ enough. He pretended it was a myth and random hook ups with girls was all he could have, but he secretly watched romantic movies and read about those love stories you can only dream about, always wondering if he was cursed to be forbidden to find his own.

He’d spent so much time denying himself, denying the kind of love he wanted because it felt so wrong when talking about it with other people, he’d sort of denied love altogether and stopped looking for it. And then Harry happened. He wasn’t afraid to talk about the topic, and he wasn’t ashamed to write poems and let himself drown in his own idea of love, just the way Louis thought was shameful.

Louis had never experience being in love. He’d dated a few girls, trying hard to force himself to be like his friends. He kissed girls and wanted to crawl to the ground, went as far as he was supposed to and didn’t enjoy it so much, and that was the rare times he managed to think about the right things to go somewhere with it, because girls were never that much of a turn on no matter the type he went for. He still made sure everyone thought he loved it though.

He’d only tried it with one guy before.

He was on holiday with his cousins in Barcelona and got too drunk. His cousins wanted to have a laugh and went to a gay bar, and it sort of confirmed everything he needed to be sure of when they were too busy making fun of everything.

He got lost in the crowd and didn’t fight off the few men trying to dance with him. That night is still a stain in his brain, but he remembers very clearly how he’d ended up snogging a guy. He remembers how he’d let him manhandle him the way he wanted at the time because he was far less guarded than he is now, and he remembers liking it, enough to go as far as he could go.

He might have been in a crowded bar, might have known the guy for just a few hours, might have been drowning in beer and blue cocktails, it still felt a hundred times better than any girl he ever went out with.

He loved the manly hands on him, loved the strong arms holding him, and loved being able to be rough and not worry about it. He just loved it. He also loved getting to try out what he’d usually do with girls, finding out it was way more enjoyable for him with a guy.

That year, he started dating Eleanor.

The more certain he was getting about it, the more efforts he made to run away from it. He did feel bad for dragging this girl into it, treating her the worst way possible because he had no will to be with her, being distant and barely appropriate, but he knew deep down that she was well aware of what the issue was. And yes he was still thankful she respected him enough to not spread her thoughts on that, no matter what trouble she got into. She needed to stand up to her parents with a punk-ish boyfriend, and he needed a cover. It worked.

It wasn’t that bad, and Louis was convincing himself he did feel something for her, but he didn’t see that one thing he saw straight away in Harry’s eyes.

So needless to say that learning he’d have to study an entire book about the sensitive topic of love had made him reluctant, until Harry brought light to it.

He saw the man as Louis saw himself. For him, David was just unsure about the choices he’d made in his life, the way he’d let everyone dictate what he should do, who he should be, indirectly leading him to apply everything they thought would suit him better. He’d married a wife he had no interest in, got a job he loathed, and pretended it was exactly what he wanted.

The striking part was the way he’d said the man had fallen in love with the woman he’d met because she was everything he didn’t know. She breathed freedom and beauty and even Louis got attached the character after a while.

He did think she was a fraud at first. There was no way she could be this free and confident. But that was only because he’d never known what being free meant. He only had that messed up mindset built up by everyone around him. She could talk to anyone she wanted, got involved in any interest she was passionate about, and wasn’t scared to charm the man she’d fallen for to the point where he questioned every aspect of his life before her. Louis had found that unrealistic. But then Harry had made it real.

That boy was just confidence and freedom in Saint Laurent. He sure had his insecurities, but he still skipped around a room as if to throw petals on the floor, determined to spread as much love as he could. He wrote poems and did yoga, could go on for hours about defenceless animals, and made Louis feel like he only cared about him when in a sea of people. He wasn’t ashamed of who he was or who he liked, and he owned up to the random things he was into.

The first time Louis had walked into his room, it was screaming just that.

Lavender silk sheets and an artificial fountain, tacky robes and a bloody mannequin Harry treated like a treasure. There were piles and piles of books and none of them had anything to do with zombies, and the framed poster of Mick Jagger and David Bowie with a small rainbow sticker at the bottom left corner was proudly taking all the attention.

And he fell in love.

“Louis !” Lottie shouts from the hallway, taking Louis away from his reading. “I’m going to Sam’s and Fizzy’s gone with Ricky and Maddie !”

She doesn’t wait for an answer to jog downstairs, because she knows she’s not going to like it. Louis rushes to the entrance but, by the time he gets to the front door, Lottie has already jumped in her boyfriend’s car. And he was left alone with the baby twins, as per usual.

He didn’t mind taking care of his siblings, but he would’ve been quite grateful if he weren’t the only one. His mom had to work all day at the clinic and all night at the restaurant, her husband worked two hours away, seven days a week until midnight, and his sisters were almost never there. Phoebe and Daisy were spending the weekend with their dad, and Louis wanted just for this one time to be left alone. It was enough trying to take care of himself right now.

He takes the novel and a notebook with a pen and walks to the living room where the twins are taking a nap. He falls to the floor because the carpet is more comfortable than the couch, and he tries his best to not think about anything but what he’s supposed to write about. And, for once, when reading the instructions, he’s inspired.

The next day makes the awful weekend seem like paradise.

Harry doesn’t look at him, keeps a wide gap between them, and makes sure the only thing Louis can see of him is his back. He’s dead silent and his face is a constant frown, and Louis feels like he’s taken away all the joy this boy had in him. And he doesn’t dare say everything he’s dying to say.

It was terrifying how desperate he was to interact with him, to talk to him, look at him smile and have him scoot close enough so he could smell his cologne and get lost in his warmth.

He takes a deep breath and lifts a finger to poke Harry’s shoulder, but he’s quickly interrupted by Oli shoving his fist in his back. And no, his nightmare wasn’t over.

“Hey mate ! You’re done being pissed over nothing or what ?” Calvin laughs next to the ginger lad.

“Why don’t you just fuck off for once, yeah ?!” Louis snaps.

He wasn’t in the mood for this. He’d had to look after the twins and deal with them crying all night because of a fever. He’d had to skip sleep as usual because of it, and add that to the fact that he felt like a part of him had been ripped apart, and you’ll get the angriest version of himself he’d ever shown.

Calvin seems to get the message. He holds his hands up as a shield and takes a few steps back until he’s out of sight. And it feels new to have him shut up for the first time in years, but it’s definitely good, and freeing.

Louis turns back around and digs an hesitant thumb in Harry’s back as he intended before that twat came along - and he’s not just talking about a few seconds ago.

Harry looks at him and it feels like he wants nothing but to kill Louis right on this table, as if nothing had ever happened between them, as if they were back to their separate worlds and there was no possible way to link them. Louis tries to smile as fondly as he always had, but Harry doesn’t return it. Instead, he bites his bottom lip and drops his head back down.

And he doesn’t make any move to acknowledge him for two hours.

By the time the football practice arrives, Louis is exhausted. He’s been subtly chasing Harry all day to no avail and he’s going insane. He doesn’t know what to do to have him back, doesn’t know what to do to see him smile or laugh at his jokes or just bloody look at him for just a second.

And it goes on like this for two weeks.

Harry avoids him and Louis ends up doing the same. He was motivated to fix his mistake but realized how harder it was when they were watched. He couldn’t get Harry’s attention without being too close, couldn’t talk to him when surrounded by other people, couldn’t speak with his eyes because Harry pretended he didn’t get it, and it sort of created an invisible wall, two strangers standing on each side as if they didn’t crave each other.

 

****

 

“What do you want to do for your birthday, sweetheart ?” Jay asks as she runs around the house to find her purse and go to work.

“Dunno…nothing special.” Louis shrugs, trying to focus on the telly and not that day he’s not too excited about.

“What ?! It might be your last birthday here, you can’t just do nothing, Lou !”

“You don’t know if I’ll get into Manchester, mom. I’m probably gonna have many other birthdays here. I really don’t wanna do anything.”

Truth is, Louis wasn’t looking forward to celebrating his birthday because it meant one more year spent being someone else. He had been avoiding everyone the whole week, dodged every call and ignored Stan at the door. He didn’t want to go out, didn’t want to do anything but silently fall apart in his bed.

“Is it about Harry ?” Jay dares asking, stepping in her shoes. She slows down, visibly not caring about being late if Louis needed to talk.

He doesn’t answer, only pretending to be concentrated on whatever he’s watching at six in the morning instead of being asleep – or on the phone with Harry. She gives him a kiss over his beanie and walks out, sadness clear in her eyes. And of course Louis had to hurt someone else.

His birthday - and Christmas - was in three days. He knew Harry would be home in Holmes Chapel with his family. He’d told him how eager he was to see his mom and sister again, how chuffed he was to sleep in his old squeaky bed he loved so much, and how thrilled he was by the idea of homemade meals that brought back the sweetest childhood memories.

Louis just wished he could hear about it to make sure he didn’t spoil that as well.

Or maybe he just really wanted to hear about it, period.

  

****

 

By the time his birthday arrives, Louis still hasn’t talked to anyone but Liam.

Calvin and Oli had stopped reaching out to keep partying without someone ‘ruining the mood’, Luke was with his family up north at this time, and Liam had left for Wolverhampton with Sophia the day before.

Louis realizes he really didn’t have many actual friends. He was partying with crowds and yet only about four people called or texted him. And he might have been trying to act and look indifferent, it was hurting him enough to ruin the day completely.

But he knew this wasn’t what hurt the most. What hurt the most was how, even if a crowd chanted his name today, he’d still only care about one voice. And if he didn’t hear it chant his name as well, then there might as well be silence.

His mom had the next four days off. Dan only had the twenty fourth and twenty fifth. Daisy and Phoebe’s dad was on vacation in France with his new family, so the whole family was together at the same time for once. Louis loved how Lottie and Fizzy had plans every single day, but still kept that one free to spend his birthday with him.

He’d usually spend it with his family during the day and party with his friends at night, but he didn’t even feel like he had friends anymore.

The only thing he wanted was a good roasted dinner and Grease. That’s all it took to bring his mood sky high again, and something else might have worked, but it was probably sipping on hot chocolate in Cheshire right now.

It’s two in the afternoon when Louis’ mom comes banging on his door.

He’d been awake for about three hours already, but he had no will to get up. If he did, then it’d mean the day was really starting, and he had no interest in going through it. He’d rather stay in his bed in sweats and torture himself with all the pictures he had of Harry on his phone, fighting himself not to call him and ruin his day as well. He was groaning every five minutes because of how pathetic that sounded, sulking because Harry would probably intentionally not wish him a happy birthday.

“Louis.” Jay crosses her arms when she enters the room. Louis hides under his blanket and grunts because he’s apparently not older, screeching when she opens the curtains as if he’d vanish in ashes. It’s not that sunny outside, but the pitch black he was previously sinking into could make everything else seem like a blinding light.

“You can’t spend the day in bed again. Not this day.” Jay insists. She’d already tried to get him downstairs, singing happy birthday with the girls and Dan only to have him free his arm from the blanket to give a thumbs up before begging them to let him sleep as a birthday present, emerging from his room when the day would be over.

“Yes I can.” Louis grumbles in his pillow.

He can hear his mother sigh and take a few steps closer until she’s sitting down next to him, rubbing his back quietly because she understands.

“He’s going to wish you a happy birthday.” Jay says, as if she could possibly know that for sure. Louis doesn’t even bother wondering how she figured what he was thinking about. “I’m sure he will.”

“Why would he ? He hates me.” Louis squints when he hears how exhausted he sounds, like he’s been crying for a month straight and all he can let out is a choked sob. He can feel her weight on the bed shift as she stands up, living only the ghost of her comforting hand to let him dwell on everything by himself.

“I’ll make you some tea, love.” She whispers as if to not shake him, and exits his room.

A few minutes pass as a growing headache makes Louis sit up. He gets off the bed to go take a shower and freshen up, as if it’d make a difference to rub his body with his fruity soap. He does feel more like a human being when he comes back to his room, damp hair dripping on his bare shoulders, but he still feels hollow and pulled by his bed like a magnet.

His phone vibrates on the nightstand and he has every intention to ignore it, but he figures he might as well accept another birthday wish and call it a day.

When he checks the screen, he drops the towel previously drying his hair.

Happy Birthday. Have a good one. H

Louis couldn’t possibly smile wider and feel horrible at the same time. On one hand, he knows it’s not much, but it’s something. Harry hadn’t said a word for weeks and this felt like the warmest hug. On the other hand, that’s the kind of text he’d expect from an acquaintance, not the guy he’s been kissing and taking naps with, and certainly not the guy who texted novel long messages just to say goodnight.

Louis sits on his bed and tries to think about the right answer for long enough to let his mom bring him some tea.

He shows the texts and Jay sits down next to him as if she’s about to take part in the next step, quickly rolling her eyes when Louis makes her leave because he does not need his mom’s help to text Harry. Not yet.

Thank you !

He sends first, already wondering if that exclamation point was too much or not enough.

Even though I’m an idiot…

Louis decides to type. He figures the dots will start a conversation, giving him an opportunity to make up for the shit that happened, but Harry answers with something Louis assumes means he’s about done here, a cold and intimidating nothing, check sign to signal he’s read the text but has no intention to text back.

He can’t even try to come up with something else when he hears his mom call for him downstairs. He finds Stan on the porch, freezing with the cold weather.

“Happy birthday, Lewis !” Stan shouts happily, arms wide open to hug his very unmotivated friend.

“Thanks, mate…” Louis purses his lips and pats Stan’s back, all of it feeling extremely forced.  

Stan usually spent Louis’ birthday with him, no matter what. He lived ten steps away so he didn’t really need an invitation anymore on any other day either. He even came around when Louis wasn’t even there, bonding with Jay when she was home and otherwise entertaining the twins. He’d even manage to be there enough to befriend Lottie and Fizzy and become the weird and funny cousin they didn’t have.

They go to Louis’ room so he can finish getting dressed, and Stan lazily flops on the bed, arms crossed under his head. He’d come with a gift and Louis had a feeling it was just snacks, but he started to rip the green wrapping paper anyway.

“So…what are we doing today ?” Stan asks with a mischievous grin, watching Louis unwrap the box.

“Not in the mood for anything.” Louis shrugs as he sets the half opened box on the bed to get a shirt. If he was about to get into one of Stan’s prank, like an empty box or a pack of gum like last year, he’d need to be fully dressed to chase him around the house and kill him.

There’s a brief silence that lets Louis assume Stan just cursed, and he really shouldn’t be this eager to see Louis open a present, confirming the prank hypothesis.

“You talked to Harry ?” He asks out of the blue, making Louis turn with a frown.

When he does, he sees Stan reading his phone’s screen, scrolling down to check every notifications because he’s the last person to ask for permission.

“What ? Give me this !” Louis jumps on the bed to get his phone out of his friend’s hands, checking the screen to see Harry had texted him.

“Did you guys make up ?” Stan asks, forcing Louis to contain himself not to look at the text just now and cry in front of his audience.

“Um…no ? Why would you-” Louis frowns, not really seeing Stan’s point when he never cared about the guy and shouldn’t think Louis was actually friends with him. He even sounded more cautious than teasing, and that couldn’t be good.

“I’m not stupid you know...” Louis avoids Stan’s gaze but the latter tilts his head to look at him and give a stern look . “I saw you go to his room at the party, and I wouldn’t think much of it, if I hadn’t seen the other stuff. I thought you were just taking care of the twins when you weren’t with us as much, I even thought you were studying ! But then I saw you talking to Harry all the time and suddenly you were helping him on the pitch and going in his car during lunch breaks and stuff…” Stan pauses and Louis really doesn’t want to know if he saw anything that happened in there.

“What are you talking about ?” He still couldn’t admit it. It was like an instinct to protect himself.

“Louis. It’s cool. I know I gave shit to that guy, but I see how he made you…calm ? Not that I don’t like you messing about, but you became…I don’t know…” Stan rambles. “And his roommates are alright, I guess…and he did invite us despite the crap we put him through and stuff. I’m seriously okay if you like to suck his dick, mate.” Stan has never looked this serious, not a trace of mockery. Louis throws a stuffed bear his direction but doesn’t object to anything.

He lets him tug at his shirt to make him lay down, arm hooked around his neck in a brotherly embrace Louis didn’t even know he needed.

“You’re my best mate, I love you man. I don’t think I care if you like cocks as long as you stay away from mine.” Stan says and pinches Louis’ cheek playfully, finally breaking the solemn atmosphere. He was never great with words, but he got to the point.

“Thanks ?” Is all Louis can say shyly, heart racing as if the roof could fall on them any minute for implying Stan is right. He bites his nails to distract himself from the milestone he’d just reached and all of a sudden, he’d gone from not admitting it to himself to having his secret exposed to three people close to him. It felt weird and terrifying, but so, so relieving.  

A moment passes before Stan speaks again.

“So…how is it like ?”

“What ?” Louis untangles himself from Stan’s arm to face him, turning on his stomach.

“With a bloke. With Harry fucking Styles !” Stan chuckles. Louis laughs with him because he still can’t believe he fell for the prince of Buckingham University himself.

“Fucking sick, mate…” Louis almost whispers. He’d never talked about a girl that way, and he did tell Stan everything. His cheeks were burning with each word and he didn’t know how honest he could be, but he figured Stan would’ve stayed far away by now if it bothered him. “It’s like…like the way he looks at me, and how he actually gets what I say, and the way it feels when he-“

“Wait.” Stan frowns. “I was expecting disgusting details, not fucking…feelings ! Do you…are you…”

Louis drops his head on the mattress, nodding in the blanket folded in a ball.

“Oh. My. God.” Stan gasps. “Harry Styles ?! Didn’t see that one coming…”

“It doesn’t matter.” Louis says when he gets his head back up. “I ruined it.”

“Um…excuse you, have you met me ?” Stan flicks Louis’ ear, making him almost let out a squawk. “I don’t care if I have to serenade a love song and throw pebbles at his window every night, you’re getting that di- Harry back.”

“What ?”

“You’ve been acting like a fucking arse since the party, pissing everyone off ! I’m not getting a fist in my face because you screwed up.”

“You didn’t exactly help…” Louis mumbles, taken aback by the way Stan acts, as if he’d always been accepting Harry near them.

“I know, I’m sorry.” Stan pouts. “I was an ‘uneducated twat’.” He mimics Harry’s voice and kneels down in front of the bed, bringing his hands in a prayer to beg for forgiveness. “But then I saw my best friend hide what made him the happiest, and I felt like crap. So I’m gonna make it right again. You welcomed me on your couch when I didn’t know where to stay, mate. I owe you.”

Louis smiles and rolls his eyes because he is not one for dramatic moments like these. Not with someone watching him.

“And don’t tell me you ruined it.” Stan adds. He grabs Louis’ phone again and unlocks the screen, making Louis wonder why he’d given him his password because he’s already going into his and Harry’s texts, reading the last one Louis still hasn’t seen. Stan reads it out loud with Harry’s posh accent and speaks slow enough to prevent Louis from stopping him.

Yes you are.” Stan widens his mouth at that and slaps the back of Louis’ head. “Fuck !”

Louis almost pinches his arm to make sure he’s not dreaming. Stan, the guy who’s been calling Harry names and using a sexuality as a go-to insult, was feeling bad about the situation ? About the fact that Louis had chosen his friends over Harry ? About him not being with Harry ?

By the time Louis realizes what’s happening is in fact real, Stan has already typed something.

“Hey ! Don’t fucking-” Louis tries to get his phone but Stan rolls over to the foot of the bed to escape him.

“You’ll thank me later. Now, do you have a gross pet name for him or something ?”

“What ?! You’re not texting him, give it back !” Louis wrestles his friend but can’t get past his legs.

“You call him ‘Haz’ sometimes, I’m gonna use that.” Stan explains, effortlessly typing away whilst keeping Louis away with his legs. “Done !”

“No !” Louis shouts and finally falls on his friend, cursing and punching him enough to make him get off the bed.

I’m so sorry… My friends are twats, especially Calvin. Stan is great. The best. I really want to talk to you Haz, I’ve been miserable because of it. Can you at least hear me out ?

When Louis is done reading, he wants nothing but to kill his friend. This wasn’t the way he talked, and he wasn’t planning on bringing the spotlight on his friend like that, but most of all he hadn’t planned on telling him how devastated he was.

He’s climbing on Stan’s back and yelling at him when the phone rings, interrupting their fight to almost collapse on the bed to get it in time.

As expected, it’s Harry. And, as expected, Louis can’t answer.

“The fuck are you waiting for ?! Slide that bloody thumb !” Stan rushes, weirdly as impatient as Louis has been all this time.

He lets the phone ring two more times and finally answers, failing to keep Stan from turning the speaker on.

“Hello ?” He says nervously, making Stan roll his eyes because Louis was usually the loudest, most chatty guy ever, but leave to Harry Styles the skill to turn him into a red ball of softness.

“Hi…” A raspy voice comes through the phone’s speaker, weak and just as tentative.

Louis doesn’t say anything, so Stan gestures for him to ask how Harry is doing. He’s almost thankful his friend is giving him guidelines, because he’d probably just hang up from the pressure.

“Ho-How are you ?” Stan gives a thumbs up and pinches the bridge of his nose waiting for Harry to talk back.

“I’m alright.” Harry answers, voice telling the opposite.

“Mpfh, fucking lies.” Stan huffs, quickly bringing both hands to his mouth, earning Louis’ feet on his shin.

“What ? I didn’t hear you…” Harry says, making Louis relax.

“Um…just wondering what you were up to.” Louis makes so many weird faces he’s left breathless. Stan still has his hands on his mouth and stays focused on the phone, as if his own life depended on that call.

“I was-” Harry starts but stops himself, as if he were about to say more than he intended to, as if Louis wasn’t allowed to hear about his day anymore. “I’ was just about to watch a movie.”

Stan may have frowned when seeing Louis smile too big, surely thinking it were the least relevant answer, but Louis had heard the way Harry wanted to stay vague but couldn’t help talking to him anyway, as if, no matter what happened, he was still craving a conversation with him. He might have been overthinking this, but it felt good to know he wasn’t the only one to miss that.

“Really ? Which one ?” Louis bites a smile, fidgeting with the blanket between his fingers.

Stan raises a brow and drops his head on the mattress, bored to death by where the discussion was heading. Louis was thrilled.

“Grease.”

Oh my fucking god !” Stan mouths, exaggerating his disgust with repulsed faces that make Louis chuckle. He knew it was Louis’ favourite movie, so he was probably dying form giving a comment.

“Don’t judge me, it’s a respectable movie and the last scene is still the best piece of cinematic genius I’ve ever seen.” Harry defends himself, as if Louis could possibly make fun of him for watching that.

“Oh no, no ! I was just…it’s my favourite movie. I even played Danny Zuko in high school and I always perform the last scene when I watch it. I’m the lame one here.” Louis giggles, making Stan bury his face in a pillow.

“I do that too ! And you were great as Danny, I came to see the show every time and always-“ Harry speaks fast, carried away. He stops himself and clears his throat. “Anyway.”

“Yeah…” Louis couldn’t even talk properly with the grin on his face. Thank God this wasn’t Facetime.

“So…you wanted to talk ?” When Harry says that, Stan instantly throws the pillow out of the way and gets closer, almost as if he’d be the one talking for the next topic. Louis bumps his shoulder into his, but he doesn’t flinch.

“Um yeah…” Louis winces, looking at Stan in despair. The latter mouths words Louis tries to understand, and he does his best to translate it, because he doesn’t know if Harry could wait for two hours so he can get it together and come up with a proper speech himself.

“I’m sorry…” He starts, watching Stan gesticulate like an octopus trying to make Louis understand the words. “I didn’t want to hurt you, I just didn’t want my friends to attack me either…I panicked and didn’t think one word. I screwed up, but I wanted you to know I didn’t drink it.” Louis frowns and realizes he got that last word wrong. “Mean it ! I didn’t mean it.”

Stan gives several thumbs up as Louis repeats the words he mimics, and he’s doing a very good job at apologizing, until Stan points at him, shapes a heart with his hands, and points at the phone.

“Okay, that’s enough.” Louis means to tell Stan but speaks loud enough for Harry to hear.

“Um…right…” Harry sounds offended, as if he were waiting for more.

“No, not you !” Louis waves his hands as if Harry could actually see him. “It’s um…Doris. She’s…pulling my hair.” Stan fakes applauses and shakes Louis’ shoulders like an hyperactive child, or a proud coach.

“Oh.”

“I know you hate me, but I wanted you to know.” Louis asks with a mellow voice he didn’t even know he had. Stan rolls his eyes.

“Don’t say that…I could never hate you.” Harry says back with a tone just as gentle.

There’s a brief silence where Louis ponders those words. Stan doesn’t say anything and he can’t thank him enough for that illusion of being alone with Harry right now. It was nice knowing he didn’t hate his guts, knowing there was still a bit of him that didn’t want Louis dead.

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

“Louis.” Harry says firmly, but Louis can only focus on the butterflies in his stomach whenever Harry says his name. He didn’t say it the way everyone else did, pronouncing the end with a sound Louis would frame if he could. And yes he was starting to get why he had to conceal his soft side. “You did hurt me and stuff…but I know you didn’t mean it, I just wished you didn’t have to say it in the first place, that we could be friends all the time.”

Louis needed a moment to take that in. Harry wanting them to be friends outside hidden places felt like he’d choose him over his status, and that was definitely the best birthday present to receive.

That boy could hang out with anyone, any celebrity, any rich kid, anyone who understood his lifestyle and knew who Marc Jacobs is. He could find a guy with a boat, a guy already sure to get into a prestigious university, a guy who lived in a mansion and drove the most expensive sports car. But he still wanted Louis.

The latter repeats the words in his head and pictures what that means. He can see them hang out as they usually would, chat or have a laugh, and there’s just something missing about it. And he can’t bear that.

“But I don’t want to be friends with you !” Louis snaps before he can stop himself, making Stan nearly rip his eyes out. It did sound even worse than the other bullshit Louis had said before, but it was the complete truth. He had no intention to be mere friends with Harry. “I want-“

Stan immediately looks at Louis, more interested than the end of that Marvel movie he’d forced Louis to watch despite the bad reviews. He’s tugging at his own hair in anticipation, but Louis couldn’t deal with that kind of pressure right now.

Get out !” He mouths to his friend, swatting his hand in the air to make him exit his room.

Oh, fuck no !” Stan mouths back. Louis physically pushes him out of his bedroom, locking the door and dropping back on his bed, hoping Harry didn’t hang up just yet.

“I want…fuck…I want to be with you. Like, actually with you ?” Louis says and shakes his head in the pillow he grabs to choke on. It’s even worse when Harry doesn’t say anything back. He can feel his heart beat in his throat and he’s already doing his prayers because he’s pretty sure the world will end right now. “Harry ?”

“Yeah…” Harry mumbles, at loss of words for once.

“So that’s a bit awkward, innit ?” Louis regrets getting Stan out. He would’ve mouthed the right words and avoid him this humiliation. “Sorry, I just thought-“

“How ‘with me’ are we talking ? Do you want to be with me in Cheshire ?” Harry teases. Louis is just glad he can hear his playful voice again, innocent sound making him feel all bubbly because he turns into a flustered mess when Harry does it.

“Don’t push it. You know what I mean.”

“Mmh, not sure I do…” Harry insists.

If Louis had had this conversation a week ago, he’d brush it off, saying he just needs to study together, wants to play FIFA on the big flat screen or even just wants to chill out. Right now though, after knowing how it feels to be away from him in every way, he wants nothing but everything.

He wants to hold his hand at all times, wants to kiss him whenever he feels like it, wants to call him his and hear him do the same, wants to spend his days with him in his arms and wants to smell that passion fruit shampoo in the softest hair he’s ever had the pleasure to bury his fingers into. He wants to keep this boy next to him and make him smile as often as he can, and he really just wants to make sure he’s the happiest on Earth.

But he can’t put that into a simple sentence. So he figures he might as well give him that speech when his phone isn’t about to die.

“When are you coming back ?”

Harry sounds surprised by the sudden change of conversation, but he doesn’t sound reluctant. It’s like Louis was breaking every brick he’d piled up to protect himself over the last few weeks, like Harry had been waiting for the slightest opportunity to let him do just that.

"Next week...”

“Are you free on Saturday ?”

“Um…yeah ?” Harry sounds like he’s biting on his finger, and Louis smiles at that because he doesn’t know when he learnt to hear Harry’s habits.

“We could go eat something then ? Like…out ?” Louis asks with the most timid voice he has. He didn’t even know how to do this, never had to do any of that this way. He would usually just show up late if he got a text asking him if he was into it, or hooked up with someone at a party. He’d never done the asking thing himself, let alone for something that didn’t include getting drunk and pretending to be straight.

“Are you-- Are you asking me out ?”

“Maybe ? I think I am...Am I ?” Louis doesn’t even know what he’s saying at this point.

“I hope so...”

There was a time where Louis didn’t feel his cheeks sore from smiling. Harry had put an end to it. He was almost squeaking in his pillow. He could be twenty-three years old today, Harry made him feel like the most gleeful child.

“I’ll text you the time and place ?” Louis asks when he takes control over his face again.

“Hold on. You’ll have to at least pick me up.” Harry negotiates with the sweetest voice.

He had the kind of voice you’d want to swim in, smooth and delicate, deep enough to sink but beautiful enough not to mind. And Louis was too deep to see the surface anymore. At this point he could lull him into doing anything, like jamming to Taylor Swift or something, and he’d probably just smile and happily sing the words he really wished he didn’t know.

“Of course.” Louis nods. He hadn’t planned on that but if it was what people did on a date, then he’d do it. The word sounds so scary, so official, but not being with Harry sounds way worse.

“And open the door of your car for me.” Harry adds.

“Sure, babe.” Louis chuckles, pet name easily sliding right back out of habit. Harry doesn’t seem too bothered by it.

“And tell me I look nice.” Harry finally says, making Louis laugh because he could literally see him pout like a baby right now.

“When do I not tell you how good you look ?”

Harry might have been biting his finger even more, might have been blushing, and might have been betraying himself when he let Louis hear a quiet laugh that sounded more flustered than amused. Louis didn’t even know how it was possible to be so endeared by the way someone behaved on the phone.

He lets the silence spread until someone knocks on his door. Jay doesn’t wait for an answer and walks in, immediately scolding Louis for leaving Stan alone and making everyone else wait.

“I’m coming !” He promises with a simper, making his mom mouth Harry’s name because Louis apparently had a face just for him. He gestures for her to leave, and he really should stop letting people in his room.

“Hello Harry !” Jay says loud to reach the phone on the bed. Louis has to force her out as well, making Harry shout a ‘Hiii’ because he’s too polite to let it go even when he has no clue whom he’s talking to.

“Sorry, that was me mum bugging me to come downstairs.”

“She sounds very kind.” Harry says as if he’d actually had a conversation with her. “You talked about me ?”

“I might have mentioned a Harry…” Louis says simply, not implying anything like the way he talked about him, or for how long. Harry chuckles and clears his throat again.

“I’ll let you go. You must be having people over and stuff…”

“Um, not really no. Just Stan.” Louis considers telling him his friend had given him his blessing, but he figures he said a lot already.

“But you’re turning twenty-three today. You should celebrate.”

“Dunno…didn’t feel like it. Besides, what’s the point if you’re not even going to be there ?” Louis speaks his mind without thinking, mentally punching himself for saying that last thing he wasn’t sure would pass as casual. Harry was talking normally, but Louis was still on probation. He changes the subject fast enough. “I was actually just going to force everyone to watch Grease until it’s just me and Stan singing. He doesn’t know the words so it’s fucking annoying, but what can you do, huh ?”

“I wish I was there.” Harry says, sincere tone making Louis squint because Harry’s voice apparently provoked shivers in his entire body. “To sing I mean. Gemma hates it when I sing along…”

There’s another pause where Louis closes his eyes, trying to find the best way to ask Harry if staying on the phone to watch a movie was something they could still do. He couldn’t ask him to Skype because he’d probably spend the whole time just staring at him to make up for all the days he couldn’t, and he really wasn’t in the mood to do that in front of nine other people.

“Just call me when you’re watching so I can watch at the same time ?” Harry says before Louis can find the right way to ask himself. “I promise I’ll sing in sync.”

As they keep talking about the movie, it’s like the wall that had been built slowly breaks, until they’re naturally laughing with each other and joking like they used to before the incident.

Louis gets to hear Harry speak slowly enough to get lost in the story and he figures Harry is just as pleased when he’s done explaining his catastrophe that happened with his cousin’s dog when he pretended there was a squirrel. He always liked it when Louis listened to the end instead of shushing him mid story because of how focused you had to be.

They keep the conversation going for way longer than they should, until Stan erupts into Louis’ room, making him hang up against his will.

His friend wiggles the present Louis has still to see, and forces him to open it before he does it himself.

When he gets to the actual gift, he punches Stan in the stomach.

“I thought it’d be a more appropriate gift this year ! Happy birthday Lewis !” Stan laughs and fails to dodge the green dildo thrown at his face.

 

 

****

 

When Stan made Louis call Liam to perfect his plan, he had no idea it would involve so much work. He did want to try hard for Harry, but he was exhausted by the time he was supposed to drive to the loft.

He gets there early enough to talk to himself in the car. He didn’t expect Liam’s Audi to be this fast and nice to drive, not making him slow down or take forever to go over a bump.

He turns the rear view mirror to check his hair, sweeping his hand across his forehead as he usually would if he had the messy fringe he’s been sporting for years. He looked older somehow, maybe his actual age for once.

He adjusted the collar of his black shirt coming around his neck, making him choke a bit but giving the classy look Stan and Liam begged him to go for. It had been quite the scenery to see the two of them agree on Louis’ outfit, but they promised he looked handsome, which was a lot for them to say, complimenting a guy on his appearance being listed in the top forbidden things not to say when you’re laddy lad. So he trusted them.

Liam had taken him shopping the day before, spending a lifetime somewhere Louis would definitely never go again. There was absolutely no one inside, no children screaming, no concerned mother looking for the dress her teenage girl asked for, no line of buff fathers or boyfriends carrying ten bags, waiting for whoever they went with to finish. This was Burberry.

Louis didn’t even know there was what resembled a small village just for haute couture and luxury shops, only a handful of bourgeois hats and suits walking around, smiling at each other – surely because you end up knowing everyone going there when it’s just the ten of you.

He stayed close to Liam who shook everyone’s hand when entering the shop, expensive wood theme making Louis feel cheap in his stained ripped jeans and green hoodie. He almost asked if he should take off his old Vans to not risk making the carpet dirty.

Thankfully, Liam introduced him as his brother – not taking the time to be precise about that fact – which resulted in a hurry of  “would you like some tea, Sir ?” or “do you have a preferred colour for the fitting room ?” and even a “do you need us to close the shop for you two ?”.

Mental.

After an hour of trying out suits in a fitting room bigger than his bedroom, Louis was starting to like it. He did roll his eyes when Liam caught him smiling, but he couldn’t stop smirking at the sight of his bum in the navy blue dress pants he tried first, hugging his curves like tights. Even the white shirt made him look like a sculpted Greek god even though he could still feel that double cheese, ham, pepperoni and jalapenos pizza from lunch.

He’d tried four suits and settled on a black one, encouraged by the blond woman walking by to give him a cup of Yorkshire tea to his demand. She kept staring at him and gave him a smile that made him blush, wondering if it’d have the same effect on a certain curly haired man.

He wasn’t sure about the size though. And he kept his mouth wide open when Liam informed it was going to be tailored to perfection. He let the man take his measurements, frowning a bit when he reached his inner thigh and relaxing when the man chuckled but made sure to keep a straight face to not make Louis uncomfortable and risk his job.

Louis winced when the man accidentally poked his ankle with a needle, and he felt incredibly powerful when he saw the poor guy’s face, ready to be yelled at and dragged by his feet out of the room. He felt slightly uncomfortable, having a man at his feet – literally and figuratively -  looking down at him with the power he really shouldn’t have over someone. He laughed it off with a “No worries, mate. My blood will probably match this colour.” and made the man laugh, smiling shyly as if he weren’t usually allowed to.

And here he was now, wearing that perfectly fitted black Burberry suit with new dress shoes, enough hair product to keep his quiff high, beard neatly shaved and ready to seduce a middle aged woman. Or a twenty year old man with expensive taste.

He repeated everything he’d gone through with Liam and Stan for two days and read the notes on his phone one last time before stepping out of the car. Not wearing jeans or sweats was definitely not his forte yet. He was just glad he’d parked inside the loft’s building to not wear the pea coat he’d borrowed from Liam’s closet. This suit was already a hundred miles out of his comfort zone.

He walks up to Harry’s door rubbing his hands, not sure why he felt like this was the first time spending time with him. They’d spent hours together, in Harry’s room, on Harry’s couch, in Harry’s car…and that thought reminds him he still hasn’t invited Harry to his house. And that very thought reminds him what his house actually looks like, and that is to say nothing like the way he looks right now.

He’s thinking about how Harry would definitely hate his tiny room when the latter appears behind the door. He opens his mouth to say something, but Louis will never know, because the boy stops and widens his eyes instead.

He scans Louis up and down, from the classy quiff to the five hundred pound shoes. He looks petrified, as if he’s staring at a stranger he’s scared to let inside his flat. It makes Louis panic, but he’s been trained to follow the plan, so he says what he’s been reciting in his head all day to not be taken by surprise and run.

“Hey, love.” He smiles and brings one arm behind his back to gesture the way out with the other.

He takes one good look at Harry, eccentric suit he would definitely make fun of if Harry didn’t pull it off this well, a geometric pattern making the blazer and dress pants look like curtains with a simple black shirt that probably cost more than Louis’ entire closet. He styled his hair the way Louis thought an entire beauty team would, perfect chocolate ringlets falling on his shoulders because he had to look like royalty as well as live like it.

“You look stunning.” Louis says absentmindedly, looking at Harry’s smirk because he’d just owned up to one of his promises. It had nothing to do with it though, Harry looked straight out of a Vogue magazine. And Louis could actually tell, he’d been going through a lot issues waiting for Liam in several shops.

Harry is still gawking at Louis as they walk to the car. The latter opens the door for him, enjoying his shock when he sees they’re actually taking Liam’s Audi, and Harry hides a smile behind his fist when he pretends to clear his throat the moment Louis brings a hand on his lower back to guide him in.

The drive is more silent than Louis would’ve liked. The radio is making the entire conversation as Louis repeats in his head everything he needs to do tonight. Harry keeps fidgeting with his blazer and still hasn’t said a word, but Louis doesn’t have room in his brain for doubts right now. He’s determined to make Harry have the best date he’s ever had.

When they get to the hotel where the restaurant is, they get to the lift Louis could have mistaken for the actual place, spacious and furnished with a burgundy cushion on a long bench, balanced on marble walls. He was in the middle of wondering whether it was actual marble, making the lift weigh enough to crash everyone, when a man walked in, doors closing to lead them to the second floor.

He was about Louis’ height, similar quiff, similar suit, only a shiny silver watch hanging on his wrist for bonus. His beard was neatly trimmed, and the smell of aftershave was invading the entire space.

Louis stayed one step behind him to study him a bit while Harry looked through his phone. He started watching the way the man rubbed his chin, clenched his jaw, and nodded politely with a small smile when stepping out of the lift, resting a hand on his torso where the button of his blazer creased his shirt.

Louis and Harry walked right behind him, and Louis tried mimicking the man, straightening his back the way he did, and practising the polite smile he’d just received, placing his right hand where his blazer closed.

He waited for Harry to catch up, trying hard not to stress about how distant he was being so far, as if he’d rather be somewhere else. Louis was too far into this already, there was no coming back possible, so he just went with it.

He brought his hands behind his back and stretched an arm towards the open door of the restaurant.

“Shall we ?”

Harry pursed his lips and nodded, surprise clear in his eyes. He followed Louis and stayed silent, surely trying to figure out if that in fact was Louis next to him.

“Good evening, Sir.” The receptionist smiled, a young brunette with perfect teeth whose white shirt read ‘Le murmure’, sewed with thin red threads on the left pocket.

“Hello. Reservation for Payne ? I’m Louis Tomlinson.” Louis whispered, making sure Harry was too busy smiling at other people to hear him. He wouldn’t have gotten a reservation if it weren’t for Liam’s connections. It was basically Liam’s date at this point.

“Of course. Table for two next to the window, right ? Follow me.” The man instructed and Louis gave that smile he’d been practising, earning another puzzled frown from Harry who walked beside him.

They followed the brunette to a remote table, overlooking the town’s lake, a breath taking view Louis had to pretend he wouldn’t gasp for. He didn’t flinch when the waiter pulled his chair for them to sit down, and made sure to keep his back straight as he propped an elbow on the table to rub his chin with his jaw clenched, giving a warm smile to the waiter handing them the menu.

“No need.” He said, not looking at Harry who was either still too upset to talk, or too shocked to breathe. “We’ll have the vegetables tian with a side of mussels. I’ll then have the chateaubriand with dauphine potatoes, and he’ll have the sea bass with your zucchini mousse, no rice.”

Louis wanted to let a heavy breath out when he was done reciting everything, but Harry’s eyes were stuck on him, watching his every move, so he stayed still, waiting for the waiter to nod before smiling.

“Any wine to go with that, Sir ?”

“Yes. We’ll have the Corton-Charlemagne Chardonnay.” Louis almost sang in his best French accent.

“Very well. I’ll be back with the bottle.” The brunette half bowed and walked away with his untouched menus.

“Who are you and what have you done to Louis Tomlinson ?” Harry asked very seriously. Louis shrugged and grabbed the white napkin in front of him to unfold and spread on his lap, as Liam instructed. It felt like drama club all over again, choreographed gestures and lines learnt by heart.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, this is my favourite place.” Louis wiggled his brows, making Harry crack a wry smile.

“Funny, cause it’s mine too. It’s also my favourite table.” Harry looked like he wanted to laugh, but he contained himself and just bit his bottom lip.

“Oh really ? Had no clue.” Louis lied. He had received a complete report on Harry’s favourite places in town and had memorized every detail about it. “Anyway, how was Holmes Chapel ?”

Harry hesitated, surely not used to talking to Louis after so long spent apart, but he must’ve recognized the efforts it took to bring him here. When Louis had asked him out, he probably pictured a takeout in his trunk, not a fancy dinner in a five star hotel.

“Good.” Harry simply says, fidgeting with the empty glass in front of him. Louis looked down and sighed silently, fearing he’d destroyed the easy chats they could always have, had ruined any chance of Harry opening up to him the way he had. He was starting to think that phone call was just a birthday present, not a promise. “Gemma will work for the London Fashion Week without my mom this year.”

Louis looks up, smiling as Harry slowly starts speaking the way he used to.

“That’s great.” Louis had no clue what that meant, but he figured it had to be good news, and he was frankly too happy about Harry actually talking to ask more questions.

“Yeah…my mom is planning on opening another shop in Japan. It’s going great.” Harry announced, the way Louis would tell someone their pet had to be put down.

“Harry.” He frowned.

“Hmm ?”

“How was Holmes Chapel ?” He asked again, more sternly, crossing his arms on the table before quickly dropping them on his lap, replacing just one forearm on the edge of the table cloth because he didn’t have the hang of this public manners circus just yet.

Harry sighed but gave in.

“Awful.” He ran his finger through his hair, tucking a lock behind his ear with his thumb and middle finger pinched together, wincing at the gesture as if it hurt to touch the softest curls Louis had ever had the pleasure to stroke. “For Christmas my mom was always on the phone and Gemma was too exhausted to do anything. My grandparents were in the Caribbean and no one wanted to cook so we ended up going to this horrendous place that only served kangaroo and made me raid the fringe right after. So it sort of sucked.”

“I’m sorry…” Louis said, apologizing for so much more than Harry spending a shit holiday. He wanted to reach out across the table to stroke his hand, but the waiter interrupted his attempt.

“Here it is, Sir.” He poured the wine in Louis’ glass, just enough for him to taste it. Louis brought it to his lips and inhaled discretely before taking a light sip, subtly chewing on liquid before nodding to serve the both of them. Thank God he’d watched so many movies, because he probably would’ve taken the wine and chugged it down lazily from the bottle.

The waiter half bowed – as if they were fucking royalty – and excused himself, leaving with his chin up and an impeccable smile that had to be as artificial as his hair.

“What about you ?” Harry asked with a weak voice.

“I spent the whole time with Stan and my family in weird Christmas jumpers my nan knitted, so that’s that. The twins got wooden toys they broke within an hour, Lottie freaked out over some make up called ‘Naked’ - which worried me a bit - Fizzy twisted her wrist trying to fight me over the last slice of chicken pie – I won, obviously - and Dan got me enough socks to be fucking rude about it. Oh, and Daisy and Phoebe actually won at Scrabble this year so they got to choose the movie we’d watch. Lottie and I wanted Home Alone but noooo, we settled on The Grinch.” Louis says with an annoyed voice, constantly waving his hand to match his story. Harry giggles, smiling sheepishly behind his fist.

“Sounds like a great holiday.”

“M’yeah…I suppose.” Louis didn’t see how it was, but Harry seemed to like the summary, so he didn’t overthink it.

They keep catching up on the holiday, the upcoming finals, and Harry’s newfound obsession for berets as the starters arrive, making Louis moan loudly before covering his mouth to not draw attention to their table. Harry smiles fondly though, relaxing him a bit in this foreign world of perfection.

By the time Louis’ steak arrives, making him seek Harry’s approval before he can take a bite without getting killed liked that poor animal on his plate Harry would have probably saved from a farm, he figures it’s about time to talk about what he actually wanted to talk about. Harry speaks before that though.

“Why did you bring me here ?”

“Liam told me it was your favourite place to eat…It’s not ?” Louis starts to panic. He’d made sure Harry had the best night to ease the talk, but he didn’t seem as pleased as Louis thought he’d be. He looked nothing but disappointed.

“I didn’t mean it like that !” Harry quickly says, bringing his hand across the table to rest on Louis’ before backing off when he realizes. “I just…You don’t have to try this hard for me.”

“I just wanted it to be a date you’d enjoy…I thought it’d be a good way to make up for that shit start we had ?”

Louis didn’t regret anything that happened between them, but he did wish it’d happen in other circumstances. He did wish he didn’t have to pretend not being so fucking in love with this boy when every thought was taken by him. If it weren’t for his friends, he’s sure they wouldn’t have to deal with this much nonsense.

“I’m so sorry, Harry.” Louis takes the opportunity to say what he’s been meaning to say all night. “I didn’t mean one word. I…I fucked up. I was so sure everyone would leave me or make fun of me, and that scared the shit out of me.”

Harry looked down at his folded hands on his lap, so Louis continued.

“But then I talked to my mom and Liam and then Stan fucking—anyway. Let’s just say I realized I wouldn’t lose the people that actually matter ? So…um…I figured you should know as well…” Louis took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a second before saying it as if to dive in the deepest water. “I’m gay. I’m sorry I put you through my doubts like that. I shouldn’t have. I liked you from the start and pretended nothing was happening, but it did mean a lot to me. I liked spending time with you, and I fucking loved kissing you, and I can’t let you believe it meant nothing. Bloody hell, I even had a crush on you back in high school and didn’t do anything about it !”

Louis feels like he’s having an out-of-body experience. He’s rambling, trying to make sure Harry knows just how much he liked everything about what they had, hoping they could go back to that. He feels like he’s embarrassing himself, telling him about his first crush and the way he felt, making him cringe because he can hear himself be vulnerable when he’s spent years being everything but that.

“Harry ?” He stares as Harry keeps his eyes on his lap in silence, making Louis almost jump out the window. “Can you say something ? Anything ?”

“I don’t think we had a shit start.” Harry says first. “And I sort of had a crush on you in high school too.” He blushes, chasing Louis’ hand on the table.

He looks at their fingers as he intertwines them, rubbing the side of Louis’ hand with his thumb. Louis can’t keep his face from stretching enough to blind him. He can’t tone it down, teeth exposed and crinkles by his eyes definitely too obvious. He feels like he’s on the fucking moon having Harry’s hand in his, gentle smile back from war.

They both laugh, fixing that part of Louis’ heart faster than the dozen of movies he’s had to cried in front of. They keep staring at each other in silence and they don’t need to say anything, because they never really did.

Louis can still see that Harry isn’t completely fine just yet though. He’s usually scrunching his nose, smiling too big and telling endless stories that should be exciting but end up sounding boring with the slow pace of his voice. It was boring for everyone but Louis, however, because he was always pleased to see Harry get into his well chosen words and be amazed by the most random things. He could sincerely hear him talk about trains for hours and still enjoy every second of it.

He looks slightly less hostile than a few weeks ago, but he’s clearly still trying to not let Louis in too much, and it shouldn’t hurt like this.

“This has to be the worst date ever.” Louis sighs and almost cringes at the word because he’s never tried to plan a date for anyone ever. He’s not even sure that’s what it was, but it sure felt like it. And he also felt like he’d ruined it.

To Louis’ surprise, Harry laughs. He lets go of whatever was holding him back before and just giggles loudly, squeezing Louis’ hand as if to comfort him.

“You did get the order wrong…I usually get the mash, and I hate that wine.” Harry laughs louder, unable to help giggling in his napkin as if he’s in on some kind of inside joke Louis can’t get.

The latter kicks Harry’s feet under the table, but he laughs with him anyway. It was a bit ridiculous how far he’d gone to make sure Harry enjoyed a night with him. He’d had dates take him to the most luxurious places, the biggest yachts, and the only thing Louis had to offer came from Liam.

“Do you like it ?” Harry raises a brow. “This place ?”

Louis had appreciated his days of fake wealth and high status. He was treated like a king and could have anything he wanted with a finger snap. He felt elegant and important,  like he actually mattered. But that had made him despise the idea a bit more. He understood the appeal because he himself was so far into this he almost forgot who he was, and maybe that’s the only problem he found there.

The second people give you a kind of power you shouldn’t have, you naturally want more of it, until you overuse it. That’s what it felt like looking down at the man fixing his dress pants in the small room in the shop. The look on the face of a man equal to him resembled fear and resignation, and that was a look Louis wasn’t comfortable inducing.

Here, looking after everything he does as if a single mistake would ban him from the place, he’s not sure he likes it so much.

“Not really.” He replies. “That wine is indeed bloody awful. And I really can’t breathe in that thing.” He stretches the tight collar strangling him, earning a soft and flustered smile. “A burger would’ve been alright…chilling on the sofa with sweatpants and a good movie...”

“Dessert ?” The waiter walks by them, taking away their plates. They should sit back on their chair to get the menus, but they keep their eyes on each other, sharing a silent conversation Louis is not sure he’s understanding.

“No, thank you.” Harry says without even looking at the guy, serious eyes stuck on Louis.

“Just the bill then…?” The brunette asks, probably uncomfortable to watch the two men devour each other with a stare.

“Um…It’ll be on Styles.” Harry says, low enough so Louis can’t hear it. He does.

“Fair enough. Have a good night Mr Styles. Sir…” The waiter walks away as Louis frowns because that should not be happening.

“I was going to pay, you know.”

“I don’t want you spending your money here.” Harry shakes his head.

“I knew you didn’t like it !” Louis accuses but doesn’t let go of Harry’s hand. Not again.

“Not when I’m with you. I spend my time keeping my back straight in a chair and pretend I don’t crave a bowl of cereals for dinner. I’d much rather chill on a sofa with a movie...and you.”

“Let’s get the fuck out of here then, because that collar is itching my throat and I can’t feel my fucking toes.” Louis is glad he can still make Harry laugh as he stands up, dropping the clean napkin on the table to walk towards the exit.

He turns around when he’s in the middle of the room, making Harry raise a brow in confusion. He slides his hand in his and walks them out, smiling at everyone walking past them, some of them actually going to their university and the parties Harry attended. The latter just squeezed his hand and fastened his pace to match Louis’.

They get into the empty lift and Louis stretches his arm to press the right button to the parking lot, trying hard not to glance at Harry staring at him like he’s about to jump on him.

“What ?” He chuckles, finally turning to see Harry biting on his finger with dark eyes.

“I can’t believe you did that for me…”

“Well, if I knew you wouldn’t like it, I would’ve opted for something else.” Louis says in defeat, dropping his head to check how tight the collar of his fancy shirt is, sliding a finger to stretch it away from his skin and breathe again.

The lift suddenly stills.

Louis checks above his head to see they still have one floor to go. They’re just not moving. He turns to see Harry just pulled the emergency handle, closing the gap between them until Louis is gently pushed against the marble wall behind him.

“What are you—“

“I do like it. You. I like you.” Harry says in Louis’ neck, hands brushing the suit from the shoulders, down the ribs, hands circling the waistband of the dress pants, taking in the details of the fitting. “I like your hair like that. And you sounded very important.” Harry nods to himself, fingers getting the black shirt out of Louis’ pants as if he could tell it was bothering him.

“Oh…” Louis nearly gulps before recomposing himself, because he suddenly felt too overwhelmed. “I actually did feel important. Like a successful business man. Or a sugar daddy.”

Harry laughed, leaving light kisses in the crook of Louis’ neck, unbuttoning his collar enough to allow him to breathe, fixing everything going wrong with Louis’ outfit as if he’d been through it before, getting the right button, twisting the blazer in the right angle, poking his feet on the right spot to make him feel his toes again…

“I could be your sugar baby.” Harry jokes, Louis thinks, even though he whispers the words seriously enough to make his knees weak. He laughs it off to not lose it more. Harry being this close was something he longed for and having him murmur in his ear and touch his torso with his bloody gigantic hands was enough already.

“Is that so ?” Louis buries his fingers in Harry’s hair to guide him towards his face. Harry leans in and lets Louis do the last move to press their lips together, as if they both were too deprived to do anything else, needing each other in every way.

Louis never got used to the way Harry’s lips felt. It didn’t even feel real. They were always soft, plump and pink like an actual doll. The curves always fit perfectly with his mouth and he could never have enough, sucking on them slowly to sink into the feeling.

He licks Harry’s bottom lip with the tip of his tongue until the boy lets him in, allowing Louis to quietly moan and bring his other hand on the back of his neck, playing with the hair curling at the nape.

“What do you want, Sir ?” Harry asks behind Louis’ ear with the voice every staff member he’d encountered when walking with Liam had used. And it really shouldn’t make him feel this way.

“You’re such a knob.” Louis giggles, widening his eyes when Harry grabs a handful of his bum, pulling Louis closer to his front. Harry had only started acknowledging Louis for a few minutes, and here he was, making up for the days he spent without his hands all over him.

“C’mon, you can have anything.” Harry insists, leisurely stroking Louis’ crotch with two fingers he then tucks in the warm space between Louis’ pelvis and the waistband of his boxers.

Shit…” Louis nearly chokes.

He’d been hanging out with Liam for about three days and started to see what the appeal of that world was. He could ask for anything and have it on a silver plate within seconds, never had to explain himself, was respected and treated like a king. And if Harry wanted to keep it up for a while longer, then who was he to stop him ?

“I could get used to this you know…” He murmurs as Harry sucks on his neck, making himself small to make sure Louis feels taller and stronger than him. That boy was so convinced he was tiny even though he was a head taller than Louis without heels it was adorable. But if you asked Louis, he didn’t notice that. He absolutely did not because he didn’t spent his time thinking about Harry’s every move.

“To what ?” Harry asks before kissing Louis’ mouth, nibbling at his bottom lip.

“Not being scared of someone seeing us.” That made Harry smile into Louis’ mouth, stepping closer to brush their chests together.

“I’ve missed you.” Louis breathes. He didn’t actually mean to, but having Harry’s hands all over him and his wet lips against his sort of made him lose any restraint.

He wants to punch himself when Harry pulls away, wiping his lips with a serious frown.

“We should probably talk…” Harry brings his hands on his hips, taking a few painful steps away to sit on the bench.

Louis joins him and waits for a moment before resting his hand on Harry’s thigh, making him look at the small smile on his face.

“I like you. I like being with you. And I’d like to be with you all the time.” Louis turns to face Harry who shouldn’t have that upsetting scowl.

“I went on a date with someone.” Harry says and Louis takes his hand away, feeling his stomach twist.

“Oh.”

“It wasn’t like that…I got a bit drunk at my cousin's party and Jeff was there and tried to kiss me and…I stopped him but…but then he asked me out and I said yes.”

Louis nods, pinching his lips together to not curse and drive to that Jeff’s house. He knew that guy had his eyes on Harry and he didn’t even try to hide his anger towards him. He’d tried to get close at Niall’s party and it had made Louis go red, even more so when the wanker thought he could protect Harry more than him.

“But I hated it.” Louis looks up. “He was so uptight and serious and took me to a French restaurant on a boat and got me a pocket square, and I hated it. I was trying to convince myself of something, but I said I had another guy in mind. And that I really didn’t want to be with anyone but that guy…Do you reckon he feels the same ?”

“I reckon he does...” Louis whispers instantly. “Do you think we could take it slow though ? I‘m not used to the whole relationship thing, if you do want one with that guy you’re talking about that is….”

Harry smiled big enough to show his dimples. He turned his entire body towards Louis and placed both hands on his thighs.

“Of course I do. But only with that guy. The one who drives the ugliest truck I’ve ever seen and wears sweatpants five times a week. That’s the guy I like.”

Louis laughed at that. He did feel away from himself dressed like a CEO, ordering wine that really didn’t taste that good and probably cost three months worth of his mom’s salary.

“Alright. Let’s go somewhere I can wear sweats then.” Louis stands up to unlock the emergency handle, but Harry pulls him by his blazer.

“Wait…it’d be silly to waste a suit like that,” Harry looks up at Louis with an innocent look that’s making him almost faint. “Sir.”

Louis was glad Harry didn’t like that place so much, because the footage the security cameras would have after that would probably ban the both of them from there.

 

 

****

 

“Harry ! What the fuck are you doing ?! It’s almost eight fift-“ Liam is in Harry’s room before Louis has the time to cover the both of them, pink sheets caressing his bum too gently to be sure of whether it’s actually hiding him between Harry’s legs. “Oh fucking hell !”

The door is slammed shut immediately, and Louis should be horrified to know his friend just walked in on him making the most of his morning, but he just bursts out laughing and goes back to making Harry squirm and whimper in his ear.

They’d had a week to themselves before class started.

Liam was spending most of his time at Sophia’s, and Niall wasn’t back from holiday yet, so Louis had spent everyday at the loft, making up for every hour they’d spent apart.

He’d stopped lying to himself on more than just liking a boy. He admitted bath bombs weren’t that shameful, especially when it involved Harry in a glittery purple water, bathtub big enough for five people, or two very energetic boyfriends.

 Boyfriend.

Louis had let the word slip the morning after they’d went home from the hotel’s restaurant.

Harry had been biting on Louis’ neck the whole drive home and made sure Louis was panting from the large hand between his legs. They had rushed to Harry’s room, laughing every time they bumped into something because they couldn’t be bothered to turn the lights on.

Harry had gotten rid of Louis’ clothes before his own, and Louis was thankful because he had no clue how to get them off. They’d found themselves swirling in Harry’s bed, knocking over the lamp Louis thought was made of precious rose gold. Harry didn’t seem to care about it, too focused on Louis’ thighs, digging his fingers in the skin until Louis turned them around, making Harry fall on his back with his head on the opposite side of the headboard.

Louis didn’t even have to search very long for anything. This boy had a grey box with pastel pink dots on it, a creamy white ribbon neatly wrapped in a bow to close it. You’d think it kept jewellery or macaroons, but it was filled with a concerning collection of lube, condoms and other things Harry seemed very proud of. And no, Louis wasn’t done learning things about this boy with an angelic face.

Harry had started to stroke himself in desperation and Louis didn’t know what to do with himself. He had this beautiful man spread on silk sheets just for him, pliant and almost drooling on his forefinger in his mouth, looking like the most innocent cherub. He seriously only needed actual wings to make Louis think he was about to wreck an angel.

He was shaking a bit at first but quickly got his brain working properly when Harry started begging politely, soft ‘please’ and ‘go on, Lou !” creating what Louis would describe as the exact reason he’ll end up in Hell.

Harry was smooth and incredibly obedient, letting Louis be gentle and rough as he pleased, moaning shamelessly loud and not depriving Louis of any obscene sound he could make closer to his high, tugging at the sheets and choking on his long hair stuck to his face, eyes shut as Louis thrust into him, cursing certainly way too much in his neck.

Louis thought having sex with a guy had to be the most amazing thing he’d experience. But then there was Harry.

There was Harry’s sweaty torso and Harry’s open mouth and Harry’s deep whimpers. There was Harry’s hands on Louis’ arse and Harry’s thick thighs pressed against Louis’ waist, Harry’s swaying hips and Harry’s throbbing cock brushing against Louis’ tummy. And he didn’t mind burning in Hell if he got to reach that cloud first.

He’d let himself go just as much and stopped holding back, making the bed squeak and the walls trap their moans until there was almost no sheet left on the mattress and no breath left in his lungs.

He’d circled his arms around Harry’s head and gently tucked his hair behind his ear as he slowed down, watching Harry take every inch of him and still look like the most beautiful boy he’d ever seen, lips almost red and skin glowing with the light sweat.

He opened his eyes when he felt Louis fingers in his hair and Louis would’ve preferred them closed, because the sincerity and sparkle in Harry’s eyes distracted him from not finishing too fast. He’d been repeating his usual words to keep himself going, but he could only sink into those green eyes then, coming closer to rest his forehead on Harry’s as he reached the sort of high he wouldn’t have to be concerned about.

He let Harry hold on to his back and probably leave marks, let him moan loud enough to deafen him, and let him stroke himself to come between them as Louis filled the condom and stopped pursing his lips to let out the high pitched sound he wasn’t ashamed of anymore, seeing how happy Harry seemed about it.

He’d collapsed on him, only pulling out when he was sure not to pass out.

He didn’t think it was possible to lose his mind like this. Harry kept whispering the way Louis felt and that didn’t help the shivers spreading down his spine. They were both as eager to please each other and both comfortable enough to ask how. And Louis was rather happy to learn Harry liked to be guided and be taken care of, purring like an actual kitten every time Louis would just stroke his hair and kiss his forehead.

They’d dozed off on the wrong side of the bed, in the middle of a mess Harry didn’t seem to care about anymore. And Louis might have let out those words he was afraid to say when Harry’s breathing went back to normal, the lack of response confirming he was already fast asleep.

The morning after had been just as pleasant, long bath and scrambled eggs making Louis say it as he grabbed two plates.

“You’re such a good boyfriend, making me scrambled eggs and everything.” He froze at that and turned around only to see Harry smile and keep his eyes on the pan, biting his lip discretely to let the word fly in the room long enough to make it official.

After that, it was impossible to keep them apart, even more so than before.

“Have you seen my—“ Louis starts but quickly gets his lilac jumper on his face. It was technically Harry’s, but he felt hugged by a thousand pillows when he wore it so he decided it was now his. It fell low under his waist and went past his hands, but he rolled the sleeves up, pairing it with his black skinnies and Vans, matching beanie hiding the nest on his head he had no time to style and dip in products. Also, Harry might have mentioned he preferred his hair soft with no hair product, so there was that.

Harry stepped out of his closet with dark blue jeans ripped at the knee, a grey hoodie and Nike sneakers, hair tied up in a bun. And Louis gasped in shock.

“Who are you ?” He walked closer to turn Harry around, no sign of any expensive designer clothing anywhere, not even his Rolex.

“I didn’t get any outfit ready yesterday…and this is soft.” Harry shrugs. Louis tries but he can’t help imagining how warm Harry’s torso might be right now. He always radiated heat and that hoodie could only make it even better, making the inside of his shirt all toasty and his skin hot and-

“Louis ?” Harry cut Louis’ thoughts, making him cough and take Harry’s hand to get to class.

Liam and Niall had taken Liam’s car, not willing to be late because Louis and Harry couldn’t skip one morning urge.

They only had twenty minutes before the beginning of literature, so Harry grabs a banana and Louis takes the chocolate flavoured cereals he put in Harry’s cupboard. They sprint to their cars and drive fast enough to have five minutes to kiss in the parking lot, already crying over the distance they’ll have to put between them in the upcoming hours.

As expected, they’re late.

They giggle their way to the class, under the suspicious eyes of not only Mr Miller, but also every classmate, everyone but Liam who just averts his eyes as a reflex, blushing because he certainly didn’t recover from walking in on them earlier.

They sit down in silence, still whispering as they get their stuff out, completely ignoring every eyes on them. Louis could feel Calvin and Oli staring at them and he was somehow glad. He smiled fondly at Harry when the latter rested his head on his arms crossed on the table, and ruffled his curls, biting on his shoulder over his hoodie for a reason he doesn’t have. Or need.

“As you all know, the exams are starting next week. You’ll have an hour for the quiz and two hours for the essay. Now, today I’ll give you your papers back, counting for half your final grade...” Mr Miller explains, bringing Louis back to Earth.

He’d forgotten about that paper he had to turn in before the holiday. He did remember what had inspired him though. He had to work with two babies playing around him, but he did think he’d done a good job. Still, he was shaking.

“Hey…” Harry slid his hand between Louis’ tucked between his legs. “It’ll be alright, yeah ?”

Louis wondered how the hell Harry always managed to make him feel like that, like the world could come crashing down but it’d be okay if he had those green eyes staring back at him, like nothing was that bad if he had Harry to go through it, like nothing mattered but that hand spreading enough comfort to forget all his worries.

He nods and nearly jumps when Mr Miller calls Harry’s name, making the latter bring his hand back on the table to get his paper.

70%

Louis takes a glimpse at Harry’s work and congratulates him, feeling as happy as he would for himself. He knew Harry was going to nail this, but he also knew how much it meant for him, and he squeezed his shoulder before getting his own paper on the table.

He was scared to look. That paper determined his future by half. If he had less than seventy five per cent – which was more than likely to happen – he could say goodbye to any chance of getting into Manchester. He still had no clue if he wanted to go, but Manchester was the logical choice for his football scholarship, so he did want to have the possibility to get in.

“I can’t look.” He whined in his hands, hearing Harry take the paper from his side.

“C’mon, I’m sure you got it.”

“Look at it first.” Louis almost cries, bouncing on his chair. “I don’t wanna see it. If you had seventy there’s no hope for me, I can’t look.”

He can hear Harry turn the paper over to check the grade, and the boy gasps loud enough to make everyone turn to watch them. Louis immediately frees his face to see what that was about, and he watches Harry’s eyes widen and his mouth form an ‘o’, eyebrows raised too high for a regular bad grade.

“Oh god. It’s that bad ?!” Louis leans back on his chair, lifting the collar of his – Harry’s – jumper to the bridge of his nose, submerging himself with the Tom Ford cologne to make up for not going to Manchester.

“You got an eighty per cent.” Harry says, turning the paper so Louis can see by himself. “You got a fucking eighty per cent, Lou !” Harry screams in a whisper, a skill Louis really wished he had. He shrieks and takes the paper from Harry’s hand, crushing it because he needs something to squeeze to not shout.

“Keep it down, please.” Mr Miller demands, but Louis could swear he saw him smirk when turning to face the blackboard.

“You did it !” Harry says more quietly, visibly as happy about it as Louis.

It was definitely weird feeling that kind of shared happiness. He wasn’t just happy he got a good grade, he was happy Harry had a good one too and it was the same the other way around, like their fate was one, like both their future was his, like this boy’s happiness mattered just as much, if not more, making him pause for a second to wonder when that happened.

It might have been when Harry first smiled at him, or when he said that one joke Louis still didn’t get the point of but laughed all the same because it made him look radiant. It might have been when he kissed his cheek and made him lean for more, might have been when he felt his breath on his chest when falling asleep or when he watched him sleep in his arms, looking more peaceful than he’d ever seen as if his arms were as light as actual clouds.

But it also might have been when they went to town to get the ice cream Harry wanted a few days ago. They’d walked past a crowd gathered around musicians playing on drums and tambourines, encouraging passers to dance in the middle.

When Louis saw the way Harry stared, amazed, looking fondly at the people offering a hand to a stranger to dance, he didn’t think about it. He took the empty ice cream cup from Harry’s hand and threw it away to pull him through the crowd. They reached the centre and Harry was blushing, but he twirled and pretended Louis was tall enough to lead on his tiptoes, making himself small enough to pass under his arm and let him wrap it around his middle to dance side by side, making him giggle and choke on laughter, happiness hitting Louis’ chest.

And that’s when he knew he wouldn’t mind spending his life watching this boy’s happiness, especially if he could be the the source of it. It was so new to him to feel like this about someone, finding out it wasn’t just an exaggeration, that the way he thought people just rushed things was actually driven by the purest feeling of love and affection, exactly the kind he had in that moment.

When the class ends, Louis has no clue what they talked about. He was too busy grinning like a madman, waving the paper at Liam who shouted a loud ‘yes!’.

“Good job... Did you write it for him ? That’s not gonna make him like you, fag.” Calvin laughs towards Harry when he walks to their table.

“Fuck off.” Harry rolled his eyes and stood up as Louis did.

“Hey, control your puppy, Tommo !” Oli jokes, only making Calvin laugh.

“He’s not my puppy.” Louis frowns. He looks at Harry walking away, surely expecting Louis to give in to his friends. “He’s my boyfriend.”

There’s about twelve other people turning around to stare at that exact moment. Liam and Harry included.

“Your what ?” Calvin raises a brow while Oli looks like he’s going to faint.

“My boyfriend. So I’d rather you don’t insult him, yeah ?”

Calvin keeps his mouth open in shock and watches Louis join Harry who’s just as confused, letting Louis rest his hand on his hip to lead him out whilst chatting with Liam as if he hadn’t just come out. He didn’t bother look back, but still smirked when he saw Harry turn around to see the few reactions, enjoying that new feeling.

For the first time, Louis doesn’t spend the lunch break either eating a shit sandwich in a corner of the school with Calvin Oli and Stan, nor does he run to hide in Harry’s car. Instead, he gladly follows Liam and Harry to Niall’s building, joined by Stan whom Harry nearly punches until Louis clears things up.

Stan had made mistakes but he apologized and informed Harry Louis’ quiff was his idea. That seemed to convince him enough to invite him to lunch with them.

They chose the cafeteria near the lake and everyone turned to look at them, their weird table with rich kids and stoners, Harry’s unusual outfit not making things any easier. Niall had bonded with Stan at the party and he did miss Louis when Harry stopped inviting him over, so it really wasn’t that awkward.

“Are you guys ready for exams ? I already forgot everything !” Liam whines in his pizza.

“I almost feel ready to be honest.” Louis shrugs.

“Of course you’re ready, you’re fucking mister hundred per cent…” Stan mumbles, making Niall cackle with his mouth full.

“Heyyyyy !” Harry’s offended scowl only makes Louis laugh. It did have a few benefits to spend a week straight with the first of the year.

“Don’t worry, babe. He’s just jealous.” Louis rubs Harry’s thigh, kissing his cheek to have him smile again.

“I can’t wait for the next holiday to come...” Niall changes the subject. “Are we still going to London ?”

“Hell yeah.” Harry nods frantically. “They’re playing on Friday night so we’ll take the train in the morning, yeah ?”

“What ?” Louis frowns, slightly miffed to not be informed of those plans. Sure he’d only be back to being in Harry’s life for about a week, but still.

“Oh yeah, I forgot to ask you. Do you wanna be in central London or do you prefer a more quiet hotel ?” Harry asks as if Louis knows what he’s talking about. He frowns again. “The Script, Lou ! Remember ? We said we’d go together.”

“Ohhh !” Louis hadn’t thought about that for so long, he genuinely thought Harry was just being polite about that. “Well, I don’t know if I can afford a palace but—“

“Don’t worry, mate !” Niall jumps in. “My dad’s best friend owns the Mandarin Oriental, he said we could take his suite.”

Louis wanted to ask but no one seemed as shocked, not even Stan, so he pretended that was normal.

“You’ll love it.” Harry whispers, resting his head on Louis’ shoulder. “There’s a spa and it’s next to Hyde Park. We can spend all weekend there, all week if you want. I can get us a room ?”

“Who’s the sugar daddy now ?” Louis pursed his lips. He didn’t mean to sound this serious, but Harry looked like a hurt baby deer. “I’m kidding, Harry.”

“No, I know…” Harry clears his throat, because he definitely wasn’t kidding.

“I did like my five minutes of wealth the other night. I could survive a few days in a five star hotel, I suppose.” Louis shrugs. “I’ll just have to warn my mom so she can find someone to look after the twins.”

Harry stays silent as if he’s keeping thoughts inside, and Louis doesn’t need to ask. Harry had become an open book and Louis wondered if he was supposed to understand the different ways Harry Styles could sulk.

Louis hadn’t invited Harry to his house yet. He was dying to meet the baby twins but Louis still had doubts about his reaction. He didn’t have all the things his friends had and, even though he knew Harry would never hold it against him, he still felt uncomfortable to the idea of him tripping over the toys in the squeaky wooden stairs.

“Come home with me tonight.” Louis murmurs, rubbing Harry’s back under his hoodie. “You’ll probably convince my mom faster.”

“Really ?” Harry’s eyes are full of something Louis thinks might be glitter. At this point he wouldn’t even be surprised.

“Sure. Unless you don’t want to meet Doris and Ernie…”

“No ! No ! I want to !” Harry says excitedly.

“Alright, alright !” Louis laughs, trying to contain the bouncing giant next to him. He smiles to himself and cups Harry’s cheek, bringing his face closer to peck his lips twice, quickly turning the innocent kiss into a sloppy mess of tongues.

“Guys !” Niall snorts.

Louis doesn’t listen and he’s glad Harry doesn’t mind the PDA either. It was almost addictive to finally feel comfortable enough to not hide, to not check around them, to not have his heart race to the thought of someone catching them. He was almost calling for everyone to watch right now and dare say something so he could kiss Harry even harder right in front of them. It couldn’t possibly be worse than not being with him.

He doesn’t even know when the other guys left. When he opens his eyes, it’s just the two of them on the bench, the cafeteria almost empty, the world still spinning even when they thought them being together would lead to a catastrophe. Turns out, the sky is still blue, the birds are still chirping, and no one died.

  

****

 

“I envy you…” Harry whispers, voice raspy against the pillow.

Never did Louis imagine Harry would say those words to him. He had everything, and more, and yet he wanted what Louis had, which wasn’t much, in his opinion anyway. He couldn't afford anything without taking two jobs, couldn't brag about having the nicest car, and couldn't even invite Harry to dinner without a friend's help.

“What ? Why ?” Louis huffs in the back of Harry’s neck, hair tickling his nose. 

“Your family. They’re very nice.” Harry said, curling up further into Louis’ chest, chasing the heat in his socked feet. “And they’re like…there.”

Louis feels his heart ache at that. He didn’t know Harry’s family, but he knew how much he missed the way they used to be, when they had enough time to spend time together, when it wasn’t so much about making money and cotillion. Louis thought someone like him didn’t need anything, that he couldn’t complain because he had it easy, but he was wrong about that as well.

It didn’t matter if he had a nice car or enough clothes for several years, they couldn’t comfort him when he was upset, couldn’t make him laugh, couldn’t help him out when in need, and couldn’t give the love he craved so much.

Louis had all of that, and he thought that was nothing because he didn’t have a nice car or nice clothes, enough money to buy drinks at the bar the other students went to or the “right” kind of friends.

It was somehow ironic, how both of them craved the other one’s life, how jealous they had been of each other when they were experiencing the same kind of emptiness, lacking that something they’d found in each other.

“Yeah…a bit too there. We can share anytime !” Louis giggles, making Harry shake as well. “But hey,” Louis tightens his grip around Harry’s torso, enjoying the warmth of his back even though he’s almost too small to wrap completely around him. Harry was an exceptional little spoon, but an abnormally big one at that. “I’m sure your family wants to be there for you.”

“I know…I just wished things were like they used to be.”

“How was it before you moved here ?” Louis asks, kissing Harry’s bare shoulder.

“Amazing.” Harry smiled. “We lived right next to a large field and I worked in a bakery on the weekends. My sister and I used to sneak out at night to go in the tree house we had to pretend we were spies…” Harry giggles, turning on his back.

Louis’ bed was half Harry’s but it didn’t seem to bother the latter, even though his feet nearly went over the edge. The David Beckham poster didn’t bother him either, nor did the stuffed bear with a Doncaster Rovers jersey next to them or the socks scattered all over the floor.

Louis leans on his elbow to look down at him, resting a delicate hand on his chest.

“My mom would find us in the morning and bring waffles before we woke up. We’d hang out with my cousins most days and take care of the animals at my uncle’s farm or play video games and stuff. When my dad was still here he would take us to the old theme park so we’d go on all the rides until we threw up our milkshakes…” Harry laughs, making Louis smile and lay down on Harry’s torso, chin resting on his hands.

“When Daisy and Phoebe’s dad left, I thought nothing would be as good anymore. I thought everything was over, that there was no point in sticking around the house because it wasn’t the way it used to be…” Louis explains, playing with Harry’s cross necklace to not look at him in the eyes and see how deep he’s looking back at him. “But then Dan came along, and we made new memories. We moved here because my mom was transferred and he had a job not that far, and it did change a lot, but the world also didn’t end, you know ? Life’s shit sometimes, but it doesn’t mean you have to focus on that and miss out on the good parts, I guess.”

Harry nods, fixing Louis’ fringe to get it out of his eyes.

“How can you be so positive ?” Harry asks, making Louis laugh because he’s about the last person to ever find the positive side of things. He’s more the kind to worsen what’s normal and end up crying over everything.

“I’m not. I just went through shit, but I also didn’t die. And what’s the point of having only great times ? If you don’t go through some shitty days you can never have better ones, right ?”

“Right.” Harry smiles. “What’s today for you ?”

“Definitely a better day.” Louis bites his bottom lip. “The best.” He kisses Harry’s cheek and winks at him, making the latter tilt his head on the side and pout because he’s an actual kitten in need.

“I love you.” Harry murmurs when Louis pulls away.

Louis had thought he’d run away when he’d hear those words. He’d thought this would be it, his queue to exit and never look back because that was the point of no return, the moment he’d know everything could only go downhill from there. But something makes him settle between Harry’s legs and kiss his forehead.

And there’s not a part of himself that’s keeping him from speaking, smile almost painful because he hadn’t expected to hear this just yet, or ever. And it feels better than he thought.

“I love you too.”

  

****

 

 

“Give me highs, give me lows

Give me thorns with my rose

I want everything

When you laugh, when you cry

If you’re sober or high

I want everything”

 

Louis was glad to have convinced everyone to get floor tickets instead of the VIP box they’d gotten, too far from the stage to call it a concert.

He loved the feeling of blending into the crowd, singing and cheering and losing himself with each beat, warmth creating that feeling he was addicted to. He didn’t go too many shows, but whenever he did, he sought that adrenaline, that unique shiver that makes you jump and dance and stop having a care in the world.

He closed his eyes and kept singing the words he could finally relate to. He danced between the other people moving around him, swaying his whole body until he felt two hands on his hips, gradually coming around his waist to circle him, creating a sort of cocoon he sank into blissfully, matching his moves to the hips rubbing against his.

Harry was resting his chin on Louis’ shoulder as they danced, kissing his cheek faster than he could realize, giggling in his ear as the beat dropped, pace of the song speeding up, making them look towards the stage to see the confetti falling on them.

 

“With you, with you

Our colours come alive when I collide

With you, with you

Our colours come alive when I collide

With you”

 

Louis shouted the way Niall and Stan did while Harry sung the lyrics to him, left hand in the back pocket of his jeans to make sure they wouldn’t lose each other in the sea of people.

He wasn’t sure they ever would though.

He was pretty sure he could find his way to this boy if they were on different planets. And that might have made Louis’ heart jolt when he thought about it, but it sort of felt like he’d always find his way to Harry because he’d always find his way home, as dramatic as that sounds.

They say home is wherever your heart is, and his was definitely with Harry, in his arms, in his eyes, and wherever they were together. It was such a weird concept to grasp, to fall so hard for someone, to feel incomplete without that person, to feel like your sole purpose is to make that person happy, and have them do the same.

It was different when it felt like they came from different worlds, but Louis knew that, right here, in Harry’s arms, maybe it didn’t matter, maybe those two worlds didn’t matter, because they’d built their own.

“I love you.” Louis whispers in the cab on their way to the hotel. He hasn’t let go of Harry’s hand and the latter has been looking at Louis the whole time, as if he’d disappear if he didn’t, as if Louis would run away the second he’d turn around, something he very much would’ve done if he didn’t know how it feels like to lose him already.

The smile that spreads on Harry’s face is priceless. It starts small and just expands until dimples appear, eyes focused on Louis’ lips as if to replay the way he says those words. He doesn’t hesitate to just kiss him, a quick but gentle smack of lips making Louis blush, as if he hadn’t turned into a red human already.

“I love you too.” Harry finally says back, biting on his bottom lip to contain that grin that’s still blinding Louis.

Niall, Liam and Sophia were there too, but they might as well be in Buckingham still. Neither Louis nor Harry could hear or see anyone besides each other, being in a city where they weren’t afraid to be themselves, away from their judgemental friends and the status quo that felt like chains on their feet.

Here, they could walk beside each other and not pull away when their hands found their way to each other’s, they could touch and kiss and laugh and not worry for a second that it might not please someone. And, when they get to the room they shared, they weren’t worried to have to say goodbye in the morning or keep words they felt are forbidden.

After a long shower to get rid of all the dust and sweat and other aftermath of the concert, Louis drops on the bed, burying his face in the soft pillows as the mattress swallows him in the best way. He’d never been to hotels like this one, and he was seriously starting to wonder how he ever despised the idea of it.

Just because he didn’t need it to live, it still made life that much better, and he really wondered how he managed to get mad at other people for enjoying it. If he could afford it, he’d probably be living in one at this point.

He’s smelling the fresh scent of flowers in the sheets when a sudden weight settles on him. Harry always wrapped himself around him like a koala, and Louis could barely pretend he wasn’t choking, too happy to feel the way this boy relaxed and used him as a teddy bear.

This time though, Harry is just resting on Louis’ lower half, head comfortably balanced on his bum, hands spread on both hips as if to keep him there.

“That’s nice.” Harry murmurs with a sheepish smile, brushing his face against Louis’ arse to make his point. Louis giggles but lets him enjoy himself, because if Harry was this happy just feeling his bum, then who was he to object ?

“It is.” Louis sighs when he stops laughing, enjoying Harry’s hair stroking his lower back.

He was wearing his boxers and a large tee shirt he’d borrowed from Harry’s suitcase – just because – and he wondered how the white tee had already slid up his waist to let Harry give him enough goosebumps to sink into the bed a bit more.

He’s slowly starting to doze off when he feels Harry’s lips down his spine, brushing gently before letting light kisses all over, hands still keeping him in place. He keeps his eyes closed and smiles in the pillow, peacefully enjoying Harry’s breath against his lower back.

When he sneaks a hand under his boxers to stroke his bum, however, Louis is suddenly less tired and at ease. He doesn’t move or say anything, just curious to see where Harry is going with that.

He also happens to be frozen, unable to focus on anything but Harry’s hands on his skin and the soft sheets on his tummy. They didn’t come as near as Harry’s, but it was still more feathery than his own.

He’s wondering if he should get silk sheets when Harry gets rid of his boxers, slowly sliding them down, waiting for him to lift his hips up to bring it all the way to his feet, dropping it somewhere around them before coming right back where he was.

Louis was not one to stop Harry from doing whatever he wanted, but he would lie if he said he wasn’t nervous about this.

Had he thought about it ? Of course. Had he spent a concerning amount of time picturing it in the shower ? Certainly. But having it happen for real, having Harry sounding eager to please him, that he was not ready for.

Harry walks his thumbs on Louis’ cheeks as he lightly bites into them and kisses the same spots, making Louis relax enough to ease his way between his thighs. His hands are taking Louis’ entirely like it’s nothing and it should be wrong to feel this way, because there’s no way to explain it, no words to describe how ecstatic Louis feels to have Harry touch him like that.

He does wonder how the hell he managed to convince himself he wasn’t into that, wasn’t into boys doing that to him, but he’s sort of glad he did and just waited for Harry to be the guy who would make him feel like this, because maybe it wasn’t just about him liking boys, maybe it was simply about him liking Harry.

He’s starting to whimper and tug at the pillow case when he feels his tongue, and picturing the face he must have right now is enough to make him rock back, involuntarily grinding on the mattress when he’s spread enough to feel Harry’s mouth on the right spot.

Harry does it the way he speaks: slow, careful, and passionate.

He walks his tongue around the rim, squeezes Louis’ bum, kisses his thighs, breathes loudly and makes sure Louis is on the verge of crying, bringing a hand to Harry’s head when he dares pulling away to check if Louis is okay with this. The latter can’t be tortured like that and just massages Harry’s scalp to keep him going, mouth wide open in the pillow he’s probably drooling on.

It somehow feels easy and not at all nerve-wracking anymore, to be this exposed to him, to trust him this much, to crave his touch enough to not second guess anything, letting his body react to him with no restraint or doubts.

He can feel Harry’s mouth slick and slippery, and he can’t help chasing it, making Harry brush his skin with very wet, very soft and also very efficient lips before feeling his tongue all over again. He can even feel Harry’s rings against his waist and it makes it better somehow, the cold of the silver contrasting with the warmth of his tongue.

Louis doesn’t even realize when he reaches down to get some sort of relief before passing out, turning in time to not make the bed less perfect than it was. He doesn’t expect Harry to follow him though, wrapping his hand on top of his until his entire face is shining and his lips are glowing.

He shouldn’t look this pretty, shouldn’t sound this nice, and shouldn’t frown with his mouth wide open, shamelessly dripping on the sheets with no care in the world.

And no, Louis wouldn’t forget that sight anytime soon.

“Very nice indeed.” Louis smiles, breathless, when Harry climbs up to rest his entire body on him. He just smirks and nuzzles his face into Louis’ neck, mumbling nonsense until he’s asleep, leaving Louis alone with his thoughts for a second, fingers in Harry’s hair and heart in Harry’s chest.

He doesn’t even know how he ended up like this, giving himself to this boy who wore thousand pound boots just to fetch his mail, to the guy who talked poetry and pranced around campus like a fucking rock star.

He hadn’t even realized how right his mom was, how no toxic friends could possibly bring him as much happiness as the one person he loved, the one person he felt himself with, the one person he could somehow trust enough to not be scared of whatever would happen anymore, just because there was no way it could be that bad if they had each other.

He’d found out the price of his cars and outfits didn’t even come near his own worth, how looking past all the things he owned was the best thing he’d ever done, because he’d forgotten how they were just that, things, and how it shouldn’t define an individual, how it shouldn’t take all the attention and hide the kind and beautiful boy he had in his arms right now, making him feel more safe and home than any other hidden corner of a lake or any room in his house.

 

 

They spend four days in London.

Sophia and Liam take Niall with them to go shopping on Regent’s Street, and Harry takes Louis to Hyde Park. They walk around until Louis finds a dry spot on the grass in front of a tree, facing the ducks floating in the lake, sun out and occasional music making it better than he remembered walks to be like. Parks usually involved weed and mistakes for him, so he was glad to have a new aspect of it.

Harry settles down in front of him, sitting down between his legs with his back against his chest because he always managed to make himself small enough.

Louis leaned his back against the tree and wrapped his arms around Harry’s middle, burying his nose in the crook of his neck with his eyes closed, trying to literally breathe in the last day they had where there was no concern and no doubt.

As Louis let Harry’s hair tickle his face, Harry took his phone from his pocket to capture the blue sky and very green grass - exceptionally green for the season anyway. He takes a few pictures and looks hesitant as he switches the camera to front, turning to face Louis as if to ask for permission.

The latter kisses his neck and lifts his head up enough to get a good angle, waiting for Harry who looks as surprised as amazed, trying hard to get a good picture of them linked like one person. He smiles and the way he squints to bear the sun makes Louis chuckle, making the first photo a sweet memory he was sure to go back to when he’d need to smile.

Harry takes another one where Louis makes a funny face, and he sticks his tongue out to match his idea. He then turns to look at him, and Louis smirks and kisses him, waiting to hear the sound of the camera before pulling away, kissing the tip of Harry’s nose because he looked too adorable like this, pink cheeks and deep dimples making the cherub aesthetic rise again.

That’s why, when it’s time to take the train back home, neither of them really wants to leave. Niall, Sophia and Liam don’t even dare coming close to them, not willing to risk breaking the bubble they’d been in since they’d left town.

They’d sort of fell in love with London too. They had been there before, but it felt like it was the first time, as if discovering the city together had made it completely new.

They go through the photos and videos they’d been taking, trying hard not to be too loud when everyone else in the train was asleep, Niall snoring on Liam’s shoulder becoming the last photo of the trip.

“I like this one.” Louis points at one of the photos they took in the park, the one where they’re just looking at each other right before kissing, the one where you can actually see how much they care for each other, like they’re each other’s everything. That’s what goes through Louis’ mind anyway.

“Me too.” Harry smiles down at his phone, looks at Louis the way he does when he’s about to do something he won’t tell Louis about, and opens the Instagram app.

Louis watches him choose the right filter, and he almost gulps when he doesn’t go for a black and white one, choosing to enhance every colour of that picture instead. Harry thinks about a caption and ends up writing ‘My everything.’ and looks at Louis expectedly.

The latter can’t hide the smile he really wishes he could control by now, and nods, feeling his chest so tight he wonders how he’ll manage to breathe once Harry presses the final button, posting that picture of them standing out among the dull pictures he’d been posting for so long. It’s like all the other pictures taken in black and white are just the background of the colourful photo, as if the rest was nothing compared to that one shot of them together.

Harry gets too many notifications right away but ignores it, turning it off to lie down on Louis’ lap instead. The latter cups the cheek resting on his thigh, and leaves his hand there, caressing Harry’s face as he takes his nap, wondering how he got so lucky to feel this alive and happy with no drug or ridiculous amount of alcohol.

 

 

****

 

 

“You look very pretty.” Louis laughs when he joins Harry in his living room.

The thought of Harry Styles sitting on the carpet with his baby brother on his lap and his sister putting little bows in his hair was still surreal for Louis.

He’d been hanging out at his house more often the second Louis realized he didn’t really care about how small it was, how much the stairs cracked, how loud it could be sometimes, and how simple it was.

He’d met Jay on several occasions and, despite an attempt to be responsible to make sure her son was in good hands, she sort of adopted him, being his mother when his own was unreachable. He’d found out that it was actually all Harry ever needed.

It was one of those things you couldn’t change, one of those bad side of life you have to deal with, because you can’t always make people around you change their plans to fit your needs, because you sometimes have to let other people be happy and find your own happiness elsewhere, because that’s what it was about as well, adapting to all the unexpected changes thrown your way.

“Thank you.” Harry smiles, apparently not hearing the mocking tone in Louis’ voice.

He lets Phoebe braid one side of his hair whilst Daisy tangles several bows and flowers in the other, and he pouts and makes funny faces for Ernest, giggling and making bubbles of saliva because Harry’s humour was apparently more appreciated by children.

Louis had gone upstairs to get the letters they’d decided to open together. He sits down next to him and waits for Phoebe and Daisy to finish their work before bringing it up, making sure Ernest’s carefully sitting next to his sister in the cradle first.

This was more than just letters. It was the result of a year of making efforts in all the ways they could’ve.

Whatever the answer was though, Louis couldn’t possibly wish for a better way to end his first three years of university. He’d come to terms with who he was, found out who his real friends were, Calvin and Oli long gone the second Louis dared calling Harry his boyfriend. He’d realized he could really do great when putting the efforts into it, and he’d figured all the troubles he was dealing with partly vanished when he made the decisions he actually wanted to make, because there was no better decision than the one that made him the happiest.

People had congratulated the both of them. They actually came up to Louis and smiled, saying how happy they were for him for coming out, as if they weren’t the ones making it difficult in the first place. They were so eager to stay Harry’s friends and not provoke Louis either, that they completely accepted the idea of them dating, as if the pain they’d put themselves through was just a construction of their own insecurity.

They’d found out that it wasn’t people that kept them hidden, it was themselves. People didn’t care as long as it didn’t affect them directly. If they did, they’d eventually get over it and see it as completely normal after a while.

They’d been putting so much pressure on themselves to stick to what they knew, to not risk taking that one step they thought would destroy their safety, when, in reality, they only started to feel safe when they did.

It wasn’t terrifying anymore to hold Harry’s hand in public, to be protective and affectionate the way he instinctively was, to be spontaneous and not worry about what might happen if they kissed, because all that triggered was a spurt of happiness and one suspicious look out of thirty. And maybe Louis could deal with that.

That’s why, no matter the words he’d read on that letter, Louis would still be proud of himself. Proud of the both of them.

I’m sure you’ll have it. You don’t even have to worry about it !” Louis sighs, knowing Harry didn’t even need to stress out about not getting into Oxford with the grades he had. He did almost fail sports, but there was no way he hadn’t gotten enough to pass.

“I don’t know…” Harry frowns, as if there’s something is not telling Louis. The latter means to ask, but is interrupted quickly. “You’ll go to Manchester though. They’d be crazy not to take you.”

Harry says it with both excitement and sadness.

Louis sort of guessed what that was about, but he was frankly not too keen on exploring that path. He knew Harry would get into Oxford and he, himself, would either go to Manchester or stay in Buckingham another year or two. And something about that was scary, because there wasn’t a spared thought of a way they could be in the same place.

They had avoided talking about it every time it came up.

Louis thought he couldn’t possibly admit what he thought so soon, especially being in his first proper relationship ever. Harry didn’t seem ready to talk about it either, and they just kind of shrugged it off every time, focusing on the time they had for now.

“Should we open it at the same time ?” Harry asks, almost trembling next to Louis who nods nervously and slowly rips the envelope, not waiting to read what the jury had decided for him. He’s not even as eager as he would’ve been a few months ago. His brain is sending too many information and he’s glad he’s sitting down because he probably would’ve collapsed on the floor.

When he finishes reading, he can’t speak. His heart has stopped beating for a second, his head is spinning, and he has no words to explain how he feels.

He didn’t get into Manchester.

Next to him, Harry is just as silent, dropping his head on the back of the couch behind them as if the world had just crashed.

Because he didn’t get into Oxford.

They both look at each other in silence, not needing to speak up to know what the matter is. Louis is crushed, a hundred emotions slapping his face because he truly thought he would get in, he truly thought he’d managed to get this right for once.

And now, not only would he be away from Harry, he’d be doing something he’s not interested in.

Of course, he hadn’t looked at the designated university yet, but knowing he didn’t get the one he wanted so bad was enough to feel tears come up his throat. He didn’t even know what hurt the most, the rejection, or the inevitable separation that would ensue.

Harry must’ve felt the same, because his eyes started reddening and his lips started shaking slightly before he bit on them.

“They affected me to London.” Harry sniffles, finally breaking the heavy silence.

Louis decides to check where the hell he got affected as well, and he just happens to cry even more, for a whole other reason. He can’t help himself and laughs, making Harry frown because he’d just gone from devastated to amused within half a second.

“What ?” Harry wipes his cheeks, almost furious Louis would laugh at such a time.

“I got into London too.” Louis smiles at him, and the way Harry shakes his head as if he can’t actually believe that news makes him laugh even more.

They start laughing together like maniacs and end up hugging on the carpet, because they realize that it feels even better than what they thought getting the university they wanted would feel like. They’d both been avoiding talking about it mainly because they didn’t feel the same about their future anymore, not if it didn’t include each other.

And now here they were, selected for the same university that provided both football scholarships and journalism, in a place they’d been the happiest, taking away all the fears they had, making that ball they’d had in their stomach vanish, because they didn’t have to worry about it anymore. They didn’t have to lose each other anymore.

“This is ridiculous.” Louis grunts but smiles the same, wiping both his and Harry’s tears because they must look like lunatics jumping on each other crying and laughing at the same time like that. “We didn’t even get what we wanted !” He keeps laughing.

“I did…” Harry shrugs with a shy smile.

And maybe Louis could admit that he did too.

 

 

****

 

“Liam, it’s a shelf…” Louis tries to gently pull Liam away from the shelf he’d been almost hugging for ten minutes in the bookstore. He was sniffling every two steps and Louis didn’t know how to hold him together at this point.

Sophia had put an end to their relationship.

She was going to Australia for her work, and she made it clear she wouldn’t survive a long distance relationship. Liam couldn’t keep her from chasing her dreams, so he let go of his own with her. He’d gotten the university he wanted, near London, but he was a broken heart that neither Louis nor Harry could comfort enough.

Niall had started to hang out with them even more instead, not the best at dealing with heartbroken friends, always distracting him with something instead and panicking when it didn’t make his friend laugh enough, because some wounds aren’t healed that easily.

Louis wondered how it feels like, because it could have been him.

He could’ve been leaving for Manchester and watch Harry leave for Oxford and, even though it wasn’t on different continents, it’d still feel too fucking far. He wonders if he would’ve let go of Harry, if he would’ve survived having this piece of his heart go away. And he’s glad Harry chooses that exact moment to wrap his arms around him so he doesn’t have to find out.

“Why are we here again ?” Stan snorts, carrying too many comic books in one arm.

He’d joined the group they’d been forming as well, ditching Calvin and Oli for the best friend he treated like a brother, even more so after finding out who that was. Harry had forgiven him when he found out he was behind the phone call for Louis’ birthday, the one phone call that had prevented them for making the biggest mistake, and Niall found him too entertaining, so they sort of walked around as a new clique, a pretty unusual one at that, Adidas sweats mixing with Burberry suits, but it somehow worked, because money and reputation didn’t matter when you found the kind of people that make you grow and be proud of who you are.

There was still a few issues like the parties they’d attend, sometimes failing to cope with a few looks and unwelcome remarks, but they made it work.

They also switched plans to match each other's budget, and Louis scolded Harry for becoming so generous with him because there was a chance he couldn't give back. The latter only insisted money didn't matter if he spent it on the people he loved, so there was that.

“Harry is looking for a book they don’t have anywhere else.” Louis explains, slapping Harry’s bum to make him actually look for that book before they lose Stan the way they’d lost Niall in the golf department.

“Here it is !” Harry exclaims and rushes to get the one book that looks nothing like he’d usually go for.

Louis had seen the kind of readings Harry enjoyed. He’d even read the few poems he’d written, without him even knowing, and that was nothing like what this book looked like.

It was simple, a plain cream cover with the title and author in a black and bold font, a synopsis too short and vague to convince anyone to buy the four hundred pages novel. Harry usually went for the covers that screamed passion, so needless to say it was confusing.

“Why this one ? No one’s even buying it…” Louis turns the book around in search of a single reason to get it apart from the enigmatic title.

“That’s what I like about it.” Harry shrugs. “I read somewhere that the best stories are hidden behind the covers you don’t usually go for, that you have to read the whole story to fall in love with the book, and then enjoy the cover to remind yourself of the story.”

When Harry says that, Louis sort of freezes, because he’d heard those words before.

He’d actually written those words before. He was so sure he’d managed to hide that paper from Harry’s sight, the one time he was inspired and got an eighty per cent, the one time he threw up all those thoughts he’d been keeping to himself to describe a book he thought he’d hate and despise, until he actually got to the story…

“I love you.” Is all he can say to that.

He’s not just saying he loves Harry though. He’s saying he loves the story, and the cover, and every single detail about him as a whole. He’s saying he loves him with his four Mercedes and he loves him in a five year old tee. He’s saying he loves the quirky habits and the weird sense of humour. He’s saying he loves him and everything about him.

He’d thought about a million ways this could go wrong, a million ways he could ruin this, but he hadn’t.

He’d thought he could never experience this, the genuine feeling of finding his way home into someone’s eyes, the honest need to make that person happy, and to be willing to lose everything he held on to take the chance he was given to let his heart guide him to that person that made him realize how wealthy he actually was, having a family he realized wasn’t that bad, big enough to share it with someone who needed one more than he needed anything else.

And he doesn’t know how long it’ll last, doesn’t know if it’s normal to feel this gone for someone, but he figures it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t get the answers to that right away, because life doesn’t look that scary anymore when he’s got that man looking back at him the way he does to make sure he knows they feel the same.

“I love you too.”